Pick a card, any card.
1. Hospice Thrift Store. A cheerful gray-haired woman announces all the clothing and bags are a dollar each. We smile brightly at each other. I’m smiling brightly because I’m alone and somewhat disoriented, out in the marina’s “courtesy van” for a trip to do errands all on my own, without anyone else to be responsible for. The afternoon is full of thoughts tumbling over each other--and fears, like that the ambulance going the other way is responding to an emergency featuring someone I love. I try to write it off as the product of too much coffee. I find a couple of bags, too good to pass up for only a dollar. I feel like spending money. I feel the money in my old bag (about to be replaced) getting up and getting out all on its own.
The woman at the checkout says, Have you been here before? Someone like you came in and bought all these old-timey clothes. She was just going crazy because there were all those old-timey clothes. Unfortunately that wasn’t me. We all smile at each other and I say with great sincerity that I’ll be back soon. I think about the woman, someone like me, who bought the vintage clothes, trying to imagine what they might have been. Feeling a little jealous. I think about who might have unloaded them in this little corner of a strip mall in Alliance, North Carolina. I remember a yard sale I went to my first summer in New Orleans--someone was selling all her vintage wool suits. I had never seen so many perfect wool suits, all being cast off cheap. I looked at those perfect little suits and shuddered. Who in their right mind would buy them? Who could possibly touch wool? I imagined the fibers of it sticking to my hand. It was not possible that cold existed. I learned so much at yard sales in the summer. Cast off things are as good as mystery novels any day.
2. We sit in the audience at the Old Theater in Oriental. Our new friends Richard and Penny had suggested a night of Shakespeare--a “concert reading,” where the performers read from scripts and don’t wear costumes. A blend of performance and rehearsal. I’m watching the performers in their street clothes grappling with the archaic diction and vocabulary of Henry IV, Part 1. I can see the women’s pale thighs in their shorts, the men struggling with their reading glasses, and feel how terribly remote is this whole notion of monarchy and succession. The audience chews over Shakespeare’s words, and I can’t be the only one who longs to join in--to try my hand and take a place in the long echoing line of performers speaking these same lines over centuries.
I wonder if it is harder now to let go. To let the self you have worked so hard to craft float away. I wonder if the Lord Chamberlain’s Men could let slip their identities like leaves in the current. I can see the gears of selfhood turning on the stage of the Old Theater and the parts Shakespeare has written struggling for purchase in these new bodies. To possess them.
I’ve recently discovered that writing is like that--no matter how much I want characters to speak through me, my self won’t flake away, and I (meaning what?) must hustle it off into the shadows.
3. Everyone goes to Paul’s Produce--local produce and the best deal in town. Women run Paul’s--friendly mother-women I want to tell secrets to, even in full earshot of other customers. They offer comfort. The other day they had big trays of scuppernongs and muscadines, deep purple ones and dusky green ones and I fell upon them and filled up a big bag and when I got out to the car I started eating purple ones as if they held the secret of life. I sat in the driver’s seat of the courtesy van biting into a huge purple grape and it was so dense and sweet, so perfectly sweet that I bit the seeds too, what harm could it do--and the seeds were bitter and the sweetness was shot through with it and I sat there tasting bitter and sweet I could see that it was true--bitterness is the most perfect part of sweetness. And that’s the real reason we’re here in Oriental, North Carolina, a place none of us had ever heard of six weeks ago--because this life we’ve chosen is the kind of thing that breaks your head open. Eating a grape will just break your head wide open.