WOMAN RENDERED SPEECHLESS BY SUNSET

ALINA STEFANESCU

 
 

The rosy pink sunset light is like a knife against my throat, a color which keeps me from speaking. Not once in my life have I turned to speak and heard a lover, friend, or other say: “Hark”.
 
If there was a headline above me, it would read: woman rendered speechless by sunset.
 
If this was a French film, there would be no subtitles. The lack of white moving words would serve the right silence. And doesn’t silence sound the same in French and American? It runs the same nerve in any language.
 
Randall sits in the den with his brother and a few odd relatives: a handful of wives who may be mistresses part-time, and the bald uncle from New Jersey.
 
“Sometimes I don’t know what this country is coming to,” he announces.
 
Then everyone returns their attention to the screen, to the parade, and it is as if he hasn’t said what he said. It is often like this with the TV and then no one saying anything. Not what he said, at least.
 
But silence eludes us. There is no silence because the announcers are rousing watchers to admire the floats–look at that purple feather boa and how many birds does it take to make a boa like that–and the adjectives are vivid, almost verb-like, followed by exclamation points. In a sense, the silence stolen by the parade in some podunk, rural town diminishes the power of the sunset which rests like a half-melted lozenge on my tongue waiting to be explained. A sunset alternates between lozenge and blade in less than an hour. Yet nobody mentions it.
 
I stand near the kitchen window doing two things: watching the lawn change colors and pretending to watch the lawn change colors. At one point I find myself perched inside the strange instant betwixt watching and pretending. Time is a smooth surface rumpled by speed-bumps. Like any well-traveled road, the present has its tire-filled ditches, its liminal parts.
 
In the den: “So Randall, those leaves could use a good raking-to. Maybe you ought to invest in a blower.”
 
In response, a surly grunt from Randall. A change of channels. Not anything he says aloud.
 
Because: he did not buy the leaf blower like he promised three weeks ago. Whatever he bought was not a leaf-blower. Whatever he did was not keep a promise.
 
The leaves clutter the sidewalk and the gutters as they did in the old days. I remember my childhood– it’s pink oak dusk. Those neighborhood boys with baseball caps and bottle rockets. The reckless haste of half-hidden hand-jobs in janitor closets at the Methodist church. The scent of fresh sperm and fake leather hymnals. One can’t help but conclude a vast amount of current kink arose from that innocent combination.
 
The sunset wanders into its usual oranges and gold. Pink is the shortest part. Silence opens like a fruit bowl waiting to be filled for display. Until Marjorie muddies it up. Her high, shrill giggle streams into the kitchen where I can almost see her lady-fuschia nails brushing across a man’s arm as she lowers her gaze. That Marjorie and her fool-flattering approbations. We might have been bosom buddies if it wasn’t for the way she pretended to love football. Or the way she took Randall’s side about guns and hunting decor in the foyer.
 
One trusts a woman like Marjorie like one counts on the sun to stay pink– for one split second– and then, not at all. I keep a tight lid on expectations given contrary physical evidence. See, I know for a fact that Marjorie isn’t half the onslaught she lays on so thick and creamy.
 
It must have been last Easter because the bunny displays were out. I stopped by the auto parts store for a battery. At the time, Marjorie was still working her way up from a cashier position. There was a man in heeled boots at the counter asking about windshield wipers for his truck but I could tell Marjorie’s heart was not in it. Her hands fluttered round her head like game hens but the voice came across flat, disenchanted. The man clicked his boots on the tile floor–he was trying to buy something, he was ready to lay money down. But Marjorie wasn’t ready for much. She hid her face behind a brochure to avoid cashing in the exuberance of her high-plucked eyebrows.
 
I suppose there’s no use in confusing a client. He has a right to expect good service but the smile part is context-dependent. Either way, I don’t recall if the man bought much, but then I pity the fool who buys into Marjorie.
 
I pity the fool I married, too. A man who can’t find the silver lining or the fleece in adjacent silence. The noise he needs blaring through every room in the house so he doesn’t have to notice walls change colors.
 
It may be consolation to believe we belong to some fiction. Consolation or curse. Terrorist or freedom fighter.
 
“Any more Havarti in there?” Randall calls.
 
I haven’t decided whether to stay silent. There’s no Havarti left, but I can’t make that more interesting than the screen.
 
Randall and I met on a flight from Tripoli to Beirut back in the 1970’s when there was still a good reason to study anthropology. Field work was the call of the times. As soon as the drink service began, two men in black masks and a woman with a scarf tied across her face announced the plane was hijacked. At the time, Randall was the man across the aisle wearing frayed jeans and thick angle eyelashes, a prayer rope over his collar. The silence was loud as a ferris wheel–all the screams we held in for fear of drawing attention. Only Randall seemed to exist outside the horror and excitement, his eyes following the terrorists up and down aisles.
 
It struck me as polite and impossible when he raised his hand and waited to be called on.
 
A terrorist spoke in clipped foreign syllables, the intonations not yet colored by years of CNN.
 
“Yes,” Randall said. “I was just wondering if there was anything I could do to help speed this show along? I have a harmonica, for example. I could play a few tunes while you freedom fighters decide what to do next. If the passengers get bored, they are likely to distract you from whatever your mission is. If you have a mission, that is. Maybe go on and say it and I’ll pick up from there.”
 
The clicking noises from the airplane cockpit, the undisguised horror on the faces of passengers, the dimmed aisle lights which added to the ambiance we would later recognize as a classic terror scene from a television show. It was as if Randall already knew.
 
“Yeh,” a German accent, a casual nod.
 
The female holding her knife in the air made chic, suggestive slashing motions as the short terrorist said: “We are a group fighting for the freedom of Konigsberg which must be returned to its rightful German owners. We are the LAK or Liberation Army of Konigsberg. If you follow instructions, no one will die. This is merely a hijacking for money and weapons. We are–” the man blanked.
 
“Fuck Kaliningrad!” the woman shouted from beneath her muffled mask, knife in the air.
 
“Yes,” nodded Randall. “Why don’t we fuck Kaliningrad!?” And with this he began playing a melange of Mississippi blues on his harmonica as the terrorists whispered happily amongst themselves.
 
I had read somewhere that both Hannah Arendt and Emmanuel Kant were from Koenigsberg, the German city which had become Kaliningrad after the Soviet invasion. Also that Kaliningrad was home to the Baltic fleet and fancy Soviet submarines. I imagined the furor of smoldering heimat.
 
The expression New World Order had not yet reached its zenith as a catch-all, so there was no way to describe how it felt to be serenaded by an American on a hijacked flight to Beirut. But there was an aura of revolution and superstition in the air–a certainty that whatever came to pass would be fantastic and entertaining for viewers at home.
 
And as for you, Manly Man of the Dartboard in a Small Town Bar, I think we’ve all heard your opinions on hostage situations before. Keep that glossy hairless chest to yourself. Keep that flag in your pants. I have never been the kind of woman that gets hungry for a Manwich.
 
Our landing in Beirut was uneventful. We were not even dehydrated or famished because the terrorists had distributed all the items from the food cart in an effort to show how nice life would be in the Republic of Konigsberg.
 

“Do you have reservations at a hotel with cable?” He asked.
 
I nodded.
 
Randall had told me his name as we ate crackers. He wanted more SkyMiles. He wanted to see Maronites. He wanted to part of something big that hadn’t happened yet. But he didn’t want to be part of Vietnam–no, he had protested with Dr. Spock at the capitol–because he preferred not to take sides in other folks’ wars of liberation.
 
“If you take a side, it always looks wrong on TV and there’s just no way to recover from that,” he said.
 
“You can stay in my hotel room.” I said.
 
If there was such a thing as hero, it was Randall, the bard of the LAK hijacking, the mystic of international flight space.
 
I remember the way he looked from behind on the balcony as he smoked bidis. The sharp red of his hair, the silence he never let happen. And when he turned, the sunset shrouded the cityscape in a damask fog, a haze of singular pink. At this point, I was already naked.
 
Randall nodded, his hair the flame of flowers.
 
“I think this looks just about right,” he said.
 
It was the light.
 
“No, it’s the noise. I like to know the noise that’s coming. This will be good noise,” he said. “This will be an ongoing level of good noise.”
 
It’s the noise and the silence and the sunset. Terrorists or freedom fighters. I guess you know what when the light feels right.

 

 
 

∘∘∘