The plan was, i would go into the hole, sit in the queen’s chair, and exit my body.
It started with the chair, the queen’s chair, on the day of the abandoned and stolen vehicles auction. i was buzzing south on I95, sort of driving toward the auction, where you could get a beater car for like ten dollars, but really, i wasn’t going anywhere. i hadn’t been going anywhere for a long time. And then i saw that chair, it was such a ribald red! And with the curvy lion’s paws legs in what looked like but probably wasn’t gold leaf, what a beautiful sight. i had to have that chair.
if i wanted to go anywhere, i would need my own car but all i wanted now was the chair.
The man driving the truck in the next lane, a tumble down Ford truck with only that one chair set in the back, majestically reclining there on the old rusted out flat bed, absolute in red silk and hand carved wood, so proudly ruling the freeway i felt i had to call it a queen’s chair, the man held his grey beard high and sucked on a pudgy cigar stump. He looked dazed and dirty, but kind of sweet. Maybe he would sell me the chair.
Of course, i had no money for ornate furniture and nowhere to put it. Part of the reason why i was going nowhere. The car auction was free, i was driving my cousin’s car, and if i wanted to go anywhere in Florida, my newly adopted home state, i would need my own car. But really, all i wanted now was the chair. So i dropped back and followed the man in the truck with the regal red chair when he turned off the interstate, followed him down a lonely asphalt road headed east toward the beach, then turned off again and kept close behind him as he puttered along Dixie Highway, heading farther south past all the kitsch, all the liquor bar-stores, the dusty tire shops and blackened pawn windows, drive-thru 24-hour milk and cigarette places, all the gun stores you could ever want.
Looked like maybe i would miss the auction. Maybe i would get myself the chair and return to my cousin’s condo where i would sit in the queen’s red chair instead, sit in that banquet chair, the chair of spoiled royalty, and look out at the sea with its delicious array of mystic blues rippling with variations on white and gray, on clouds and spray. Maybe i would feast there in my mind. Maybe, sitting in that chair on a perfect stretch of hot sand before the biggest mouth in this world, maybe i’d leave my body and travel, maybe i’d actually but not physically go somewhere, traveling that other way, the way my mother and my aunt and my grandmother could and did.
Eventually, the man in the truck pulled off Dixie and onto a dirt road leading deep into Florida’s version of underbrush, spiky wild grass, cactus-sharp weeds and wrinkled brown palms. i followed in my cousin’s VW beetle, the right side tipped and dragging as if suffering from a stroke. i had to balance the car half in a dry gully and crawl along behind the truck, which pitched precariously toward a murky canal beyond the rut we were paralleling. i worried obsessively about my chair (i was already possessive about it) until the truck pulled onto an even patch of sand and dirt where a lawn once might have grown. Suddenly, there we were in front of a 1930′s topple-over ranch-style bungalow, and the truck stopped. i pulled up close behind, my cousin’s black bug sniffing the truck’s exhaust in a doggy sort of way.
i’d decided on the way to this remote outpost in this mosquito infested corner of the universe to do something wondrous with the queen’s chair, something suitable to the historical luxury of owning such a fine specimen of abundant leisure. i myself had an abundance of leisure, mainly because i was lazy and sort of sleazy, actually, not because i had ever tasted the finer ways of living.
Then, in the moment when i turned off my cousin’s car and listened to the two cooling motors ticking at one another under the scorching glare of late morning sunlight, the plan simply unfolded in my mind: i would dig a hole in the sand and sit in my queen’s chair in the hole until i exited my body like my mother and my aunt and their mother had done. But unlike my proud female ancestors, i would do this only once, now, while i was still young and unattached and childless, and i would permanently withdraw from my body so i would be sure not to pass on this special skill or sickness or mental illness or whatever it was to anybody else.
“You representing anyone I don’t want to talk to, young lady?” The man was out of his truck and looking my way like mad, ogling my breasts in their day-glo orange bikini top, as i leaped from the car and started toward the chair. “Hey, don’t come any closer please, not until you answer my question. Please, miss.” He held up both hands like a traffic cop.
He didn’t have a weapon though, and he seemed like a polite sort, if a little paranoid or wary or something, but his eyes were sky blue like on cloudless Florida afternoons and they seared. My skin felt braised.
“Sorry. It’s just that i want to touch the chair. It’s like the most gorgeous thing i’ve ever seen.”
i stood my ground like he’d said to, but it was all i could do not to push past the guy and start fondling it. My chair. My queen’s chair was waiting for me. i could see he was puzzling over this. Up close, he looked nearer to my own age than i’d thought, maybe in his early forties, and his beard wasn’t gray, it was blond. The cigar turned out to be a Tootsie Roll, which he chewed and slurped, swallowing brown saliva and nougat leisurely while he looked me up and down, stripping off my bikini top, my jean shorts, my pink thong, and then licking his sticky lips.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asked, his voice thick with sloppy chocolate.
“Probably. But from the prey’s point of view,” i answered automatically. i didn’t care if this hurt his feelings. i’d had enough men in my thirty years of life to last me a dozen lifetimes. i wanted his chair, not his hands on my legs.
There was nothing i wouldn’t do for the queen’s chair, though, so i did nothing and let him do everything he cared to. After, he wanted to lie around and trade life stories, and as he droned on and on i grew increasingly nervous about the chair, my chair. What if he refused to let me take it? What recourse did i have?
“What about the chair?” i ventured when he gave me an opening in his monologue by heading to his honky-tonk kitchen for beer. He padded back into the bedroom with two long necks and kind of strutted over to where i lay sprawled across his waterbed. Why did men like this, truck driving, candy chewing, slow handed southern men with drawls and bristly beards and crummy jobs that barely paid the rent, men who walked like studs with bottles of beer in their work scarred hands, why did men like this always have waterbeds? He balanced a cold brown bottle on my glistening white belly and waited like a nurse at medication time while i took a few sips before he responded. He knew about tension, and wanting, and the friction inside me.
“What about the chair, babe?”
And why did men like this, men with shy fingers and salty skin brown where their tee shirts don’t cover, men with coughs from too many cigarettes and ex-wives and kids they call rugrats who live in other states, why did men like this always have to call me babe?
“Can i have it?”
i’d done my part. Now i wanted the chair.
He laughed. Jasper. Jasper from Stinson Beach. A carpenter and used furniture reupholsterer. A loser, like all the men i slept with in between loser boyfriends. Jasper laughed, not meanly though, he was pretty sweet, then he sucked down the rest of his beer in a sudden burst of thirst. He stripped me again with those hot blue eyes.
“Babe, you can have anything you want. As long as we get to do this little number again soon.”
Jasper had bought the chair at an estate sale for a hundred and fifty bucks, or so he said. He intended to mend some of the material wear around the seat edges, and one of the back legs was weak. He promised he would do what needed to be done and deliver the chair to me by Friday night. Men like Jasper think Friday nights and what happens on them are significant.
i’d grown annoyed with all the work my body required just to keep it going, fed and clothed, sexually satisfied, healthy…
So i gave Jasper the address of my cousin’s condo where i was hiding until i was sure my most recent deranged boyfriend had given up stalking me, and i headed off to the abandoned and stolen vehicles auction. My heart wasn’t in it, though. i kept daydreaming about the chair.
To prepare for the arrival of the chair (how would i be able to wait through Friday night while Jason indulged us in round two before i could be alone with my chair?) i began to dig the hole. The wide white beach outside my cousin’s multilayered cake-like condominium building was rich with dunes, but these dunes were flatter than the kind i’d trekked across on Cape Cod. Compared to the dunes i was used to, these were half dunes, really. Sand bumps shorter than me. But there were enough of them between the condo and the sea that i could kneel down to dig and hide myself in the middle of them.
At first i used a sun-bleached plastic sand shovel, some kid’s discarded toy. That proved pointless. i felt like a fairy tale princess trying to spin straw into gold. So i ended up borrowing an adult-sized shovel from the maintenance man for my cousin’s building. i made progress after that, serious progress.
Before long, i was in the hole looking up at the sky. It was dusk and threatening darkness. The clouds were mashing together, scrunching up and then fluffing out. But i couldn’t feel the wind. i was snug down there. It was quiet in the hole, so quiet i could barely make out the shushing of the tide and an occasional sharp cry as a laughing gull flew overhead. There would be enough room, just enough room, for me and the queen’s chair.
i smoothed over the floor of my hole, then climbed out. Some of the sand fell back in the hole, but it still looked adequate for my needs. i peered down into the hole, a big old crater as distant and eerie as one on the moon, a place to launch myself from, and i felt my excitement gnawing from the inside out like a kind of hunger. Before returning the shovel to the maintenance room in the carport under the condo building, i covered my hole with several dried up cabbage palm fronds.
So i had the hole, and soon i’d have the chair. Then i could put the chair in the hole and exit my body. Bye bye pleasure machine. So long little trouble maker. Au revoir my sweet taxicab to sex and desire, debt and pain.
Over the last few years, i’d grown increasingly annoyed with all the work my body required just to keep it going, fed and clothed, sexually satisfied and healthy enough to go out and get all its needs met. i’d begun to think of my body as a drag. Here i was, dragging it around like a security blanket or a noose i was too afraid to hang myself from. Enough of that, i was tired of being trapped by my own flesh, i needed a new kind of freedom. Freedom from my body, and from all the other bodies out there with their smells and their outbursts, their swellings and drippings, their petty cravings and crimes.
Ever look for yourself late at night in the mirror over a crowded bar and there’s nobody that looks like you there, in the reflection? You see women with scars for faces, and men with knives in their teeth, hulking apes and cheetahs on the prowl, cackling yellow chickens and black winged raptors, but you don’t see yourself anywhere in the unruly pack? That’s the kind of erasure i was needing.
My mother and my dear aunt, and my grandmother before them, read the tarot and healed the sick with touch and spell. The three of them regularly left their bodies, traveling in spirit forms to the mystical realms where they could perform the necessary exorcises required for fortune telling and small time shamanism. My grandmother was much admired in her tiny Russian village. My mother was a head case, an alcoholic who died of cancer and depression. i’m not sure which came first, but she left her body behind for good when i was only a teen. My aunt had been institutionalized at one point for twelve straight years. Now almost sixty, she lives here in Florida in a sort of younger person’s nursing home.
Talk about going nowhere. She is part of the furniture now, that plastic-covered Sears furniture you might see on a television show about suburban life the 1950s. She melts into those couches, she sits and smokes, or lies there, smoking and running her yellowed fingers through what’s left of her hair. Part of the reason i’m such a mess. She was like a mother to me after my mother died. My cousin and i grew up like sisters and my aunt fed us, clothed us, listened to our whining, and loved us just enough so we weren’t too jealous of each other.
But my aunt laid the whole trip on me. On me and my cousin when we were seventeen (me) and eleven (her). Taught us how to lie on our twin beds, cots really, and close our eyes and lift off, floating out of the physical shell and darting lightly across the room. My cousin claims she has forgotten those lessons my aunt gave us. My cousin is a night nurse in a veterans hospital. She treats soldiers with head wounds, old men with nightmares and delirium tremens, ex-Marines with bad drug habits, pregnant GIs who will be discharged and gypped of their pensions once their babies are born. She has no time, she says, to bolt out of her body and fly around, making trouble.
i do nothing but make trouble. Me and my body, we are always up to something together. Sex with strangers, drinking boiler makers in dank dance halls with Harleys parked at an angle outside, shooting things into weak veins and then pumping at it, flailing about, only to return again and again to the same empty space in this fragile throbbing shell. That’s why i plan to leave my body behind. i’m tired of trouble.
My most recent ex-boyfriend basically chased me here, or at least he forced me to flee the state of Virginia. i had a little money from waitress work so i took the bus north to confuse him, then i hopped another bus and came straight south to my cousin’s place. That was a month ago. It was good to see my little cousin so thick around the middle in her whites. She is so industrious, so solid, she would never fly up and float off in a gust. It was good to see my aunt on her plastic couch with her Camels and her bald spots from fiddling and pulling at what once was a full head of thick lustrous red hair, the kind of hair that has gotten her (and me) into too much trouble over the years. It was good to figure out the plan, to find the chair and dig the hole. It was good that there was a Friday night coming along with my celibate and disapproving cousin away at work until six am and my legs smooth shaved and a bottle of tequila beside me on the night stand next to this bed i am resting on after what seems like too many years spent running away and spreading my legs and digging holes in the soft warm sand.
The doorbell sings out and i don’t bother to pull on my shorts, just stroll on out to the foyer in my oversize basketball shirt with the number 33. Larry Bird’s old number, remember? One of my Boston lovers left it behind one night and on me it hangs just the way men like it, sporty and a shade too short. My mouth tastes of limes and salt. Time is speeding up and slowing down simultaneously and if i can make it through the next couple of hours of redundant and wildly exhilarating sex with this man i barely know and don’t wish to know better, the chair will be mine.
i open the door and he sweeps in past me, smelling of Irish Spring and cigarettes and chocolate, and i see at once his hands swing by his sides, empty. There’s so much heat coming from his Crayola crayon cornflower blue eyes that i can feel myself starting to sweat and i am wondering if this is his dream i’m in now because it isn’t mine. Where is my chair? Can i be rude and ask? i am silent and so is he.
Might as well get on with it. i walk into the bedroom and he follows, lap dog style, like all men following their dicks into trouble and more trouble. Maybe it’s my dream after all because he says, “Honey, your chair is out in the truck. I’d love to haul it in here for you but first, I’ve got pressing business to attend to.”
He’s cute the way his tan crinkles around his eyes and his hands are rough on my warm skin, a kind of wood rough, like lightly sanded slabs of fresh cut cedar, and the friction against my flesh is delicious and i reach over my head so he can pull the big cotton shirt off and get down to his business. i’m enjoying myself now, the tequila swirling around in my bloodstream like mist through the sea air, clouding and fogging without clogging the flow and he’s nice, he smells good, and the chair can wait because we can’t.
Darkness swallows up the curves of his back, his pale hip, his thick shoulder and brushy kissable face snoozing beside me on the damp sheets. i roll over and look at the clock my cousin set beside the bed in her attempt to subtly suggest how i might want to get up once in a while and maybe do something around the house, or go somewhere productive and get my own car and possibly secure some kind of employment. Little chance of that. i have deeper plans, holy plans, me and my chair. The little black squares of the clock face tick themselves over and shift around until they form an idea: time is now and now is time, the perfect time for me to go sit in the hole.
i inch real slow off my side of the bed. Jasper from Stinson Beach doesn’t move from his dreams so i step forward into mine.
Before dressing in the big shirt and my jean shorts, i pour a quiet but very stiff glass of tequila, the good and punishingly pungent Mexican tequila i have purchased with almost the last of my waitress money in the kind of tall glass usually reserved for ice cream sodas which i will carry with me when i tiptoe out of the room, out of the condo, and down to the parking lot to search for the truck with the queen’s chair. i can hear my heart pounding in my chest and my head, the beat of this body, a decent and fairly young body i will leave behind on a chair in a hole on the beach outside my cousin’s condominium in Satellite Cove, Florida.
Jasper lies on his right side inhaling the night and exhaling a silent goodbye to any chance he might have had to love me. He sleeps hard, although he is not a hard man, he seems to be a gentle and giving kind of man, maybe even a good man, i don’t know yet and don’t plan to find out.
Quietly, i take my greedy glass and i leave in my bare feet, leave the front door unlocked and the lights in the living room on so Jasper can find his way out when he wakes up. i close the heavy metal door softly, then drink heartily from my sloshing glass. i want to stem the thoughts, dull the familiar tape in my stupid head, the one that preaches to me about the opportunity for love and tenderness, hope and fulfillment. The liar’s loop, i call it. i’ve heard it so many times i am clued in to its lure and its detours around the helical pattern i have been cycling over practically my whole life. i drink to shut the loop down, and then i drink more, gulping the burning see-through liquid until my eyes are blurred with it and my mind is a slurry. Before i arrive at the parking lot, my glass and my heart have been properly emptied.
The truck is parked under a street lamp and the chair stands there stiffly in the pushy sea breeze. The chair glows magenta in the lamplight like bougainvillea under a full moon. It’s ravishing! Upon closer inspection i can see how smooth the upholstery is, seamless and shiny, with all four sturdy-looking legs flashing gold in the yellow light. Jasper has fixed my chair perfectly and i am grateful, but must acknowledge the truth as well. i have traded my body for this lovely chair, and on balance i believe i am coming out ahead.
Fortunately for me, i am a solid woman with tight muscles that will bear, due to more than a dozen years of carrying trays piled high with beer mugs, dirty dishes and heavy silverware, more than two dozen years of carrying myself from place to place, of hiking myself up and heaving myself into the next dream. It proves not difficult, only a bit awkward, to hoist up my chair (it’s my chair now), lower it over the side of the truck bed, and heft it along, taking short breaks to rest my arms, until i reach the dunes.
Maybe a flashlight would have been a smarter choice of equipment than the glass of tequila, but it is too late for such thinking now. In fact, it is too late to think about wrong choices and wrong steps, about running away rather than loving someone fully and with grit, it is too late for all that now. This is my dream and i’m flying into the hole and soon i’ll be flying out again–sans body.
It proves to be a tricky maneuver to lower the chair into the hole, which is undisturbed and quiet under the palm fronds, still hidden in the low dunes where i’d left it several days ago. i drag the palm fronds aside and stare down, down, down into the blackness. The hole is deep and i am unwilling to fall in, so i must decide if i can bear to drop the chair into the hole. Can i let go of it? Will one of those frail golden legs Jasper has appended and smoothed with his gratifying carpenter hands, will the refurbished leg snap off? i feel i have no choice and so i rest the chair against one side of the hole and let it slide down in, hoping the chair will do just that, slide down into the hole as i imagine it should do, softly and in an upright position.
It doesn’t, of course, and taking the gravity here on this plane seriously, my chair plunges into the hole. In the dark, in the sway of the Mexican tequila and the sea wind and the black still night, i cry out. Then i slide in after my chair, into the hole and the blackness, the silence and the cool sand, tumbling onto my chair. This time i don’t cry out, not for myself, not for my body, not for what i am about to dispose myself of here in the hole in the night.
My shins and my palms hurt and the chair feels all sandy, but i set it upright and brush it off, speaking softly as my eyes begin to grow accustomed to the starlight and under it the loose walls of beach earth. Am i praying? No, i am talking to my chair, introducing myself and sharing the plan for our immediate future together. Carefully, i sit down on the edge of the seat of my chair for the first time, perching lightly like a visitor, before settling in comfortably and fully, feeling privileged and special, ruler of my own small empire. i whisper shyly to my chair, “There. Now we can be royalty together.”
Stroking the gloss of the upholstery and wrapping my ankles lovingly around the curved legs of my chair, i relax in the night and the hole in the sand and i begin to let it all go. i no longer worry about what the rest of my life will be, nor about what all of my life has been up until this moment. Nothing is the only true answer to both concerns, nothing has passed and nothing will pass before me. So i have nothing on my mind and i am feeling nothing but the realization of a fleeting pleasure at being seated here in my chair in the hole i’ve made for myself, the darkness beyond no longer calling to me, forcing me to bend over and indulge, making me into shadows and casting me out.
For once in my sorry life, I feel like a real person.
The wind nudges against the tremulous walls of the hole with an angry sort of impatience until sand begins to drift down onto my head. I let my body go, let it go, let it go. This is better than sex, better than living! More sand collects itself around my shoulders, in my lap and around my feet. The hole is filling itself with itself. While my flesh melds into the fine red silk and my high-strung hands disappear under a miniature dune, the hole around me gently caves in on itself, filling rapidly with the only world it knows, the world of earth and how it stays together and creates something physical and recognizable, something the rest of us can believe in enough to live on.
I am leaving my body and the chair and the hole, the night-smoothed beach on the Florida coast, the rocket launch pads out on the isthmus into the wind-brushed sea and the sea itself, and I am going on ahead, riding my freedom like a wave toward a distant, unimaginable shore.