Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pippah and her Box, or, Septuagenarious Long-Form Love Part II: It Does Get Easier, It Seems



Snowed in back on February 1, 2011, I got bored and decided to post an intro to a fiction piece about Saul and Pippah, two geriatric lovies who start a cross-country affair in their late 70s. I'm not sure about continuing to post, despite very kind comments from lovely people asking what happens next. The lovies are wrapped up in an early draft now (edits, not cold breezes). A mentor told me once that nothing should be kept more private than early drafts. A different mentor says that advice is bullshit. I don't know who to agree with. What I do know is there's more story and some of you have requested it, so I'm putting it up. I can catalog facepalm regrets later. 

It's a bit long--read a bit, take a break, grab a highball, return if you fancy. Bourbon feels appropriate. Or vodka stingers. Old ladies love vodka stingers.


Meet Pippah. She just landed.


It Does Get Easier, It Seems (continued)

Pippah Allenson hated New York City. The lack of sky. The unfamiliar faces. Paved main arteries crowded with taillights, glowing day and night. Something vaguely sinister about it all. Little things in that city triggered hidden anxieties, crept over her normally squared shoulders like a heated straitjacket, pulling her in on herself. By day’s end there she was always an inch shorter, hunched over slightly at the shoulders, finding it hard to breathe. New York City took her breath away and not in the good way. 

The people there were kind enough, or at least more than how the biddies back in Boise frequently complained they were. New Yorkers opened doors for her, offered up their train seats. Kind eyes or a helpful hand when going up steep stairs. But she found their reckless speed distressing, as if at any moment she would witness some catastrophic collision, the kind one sees behind closed eyelids long after the event takes place. She especially felt it on subway platforms--that sucking pressure in the tunnels stirring dread into the air, the monster in its cave approaching, rats skittering around. From the safe distance of tiled walls or behind oversize public trash cans Pippah would watch foolish local prey creeping closer to the edge, flinching when they clamored over one another as each screaming train pulled in. She always worried one of them would topple over, spilling onto the death trap of track and toasting on the third rail. 


Or worse, knock her in during their graceless racing if she stepped too close herself.

Pippah found the city streets only marginally less distressing. The grid of midtown’s avenues were easy enough to navigate, but other sections of town, the insidious “villages” in particular, were as poorly organized as playing cards thrown onto the ground. Sometimes street signs disappeared under unsteady-looking scaffolding, rendering them unidentifiable without younger eyes or ladders. And their names, the layout, the lack of logical progression...they had been organized with no directional rhyme or reason she could distinguish. The West Village for example, where West 12th Street was not followed by West 11th; Bank Street separated the two, with Perry and Charles appearing after 11th but before West 10th. And there was no West 9th at all. Just Christopher Street and then Grove--which, if you walked in a certain direction, turned back into Christopher again. The city was a labyrinth designed to test her patience.

Just as autumn’s orange tinge officially set down roots in Ada County, Pippah boarded a red-eye flight from Boise Airport to JFK, exiting a terminal in Queens, New York, on the morning of her 76th birthday. She came alone this trip. John was, almost thankfully, unable to join her, due to his participation in a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament that weekend at their local Elk's Lodge. She was characteristically unsentimental about the day or its significance. 75 had been the big one. John and a few friends had taken her for dinner, passed around bottles of sparkling white while she tucked into veal. 76 was just another blip en route to the next milestone, which she levelly had reasoned was 80 or death. Given the reason for the trip she preferred not celebrating at all.

Pippah’s endurance began being tested the moment she arrived at baggage claim and found her suitcase had vanished, or at least failed to complete the trip as punctually as she. The day’s first little finger prick. A set of doors. A line. She read and reread the letter from the offices of Burrows & Corrado while she waited for an ambivalent customer service representative to provide the necessary forms. 

Sign here, please. 
Sigh there, please. 
Yes, we’ll do our best. So sorry for the inconvenience.

The cab she’d nearly fist-fought for to get away from JFK reeked of foul exhaust. The traffic crawled on slug-like until she’d missed the morning’s first appointment. By the time she climbed four flights of stairs to the filthy one-bedroom in a crumbling building under the subway in Astoria, Pippah’s bladder and midwestern confidence were already stretched to their limits. 

Using the key that had come in the mail Pippah opened the creaking door to apartment D7. The sound of her heels on uncarpeted floors as she carefully stepped around the space competed with the gurgling squeal of a radiator in the corner. So many boxes. Stained photographs. A brown couch and dead house plants. No one to come help her sort out the remaining mess. The cramped bathroom, which she used, had dark lesions from black mold. Resentment started gnawing at the morsels of her resolve, nibbling with persistence until she waved it aside. No time for this now. She checked her watch, looked around then headed for the door, locking the noxious smell of cat piss behind her as she exited.   

Four stops toward Manhattan on the N train--thank heaven for an elevated stretch of train, it’s little glimpse of sky--and five blocks by foot delivered Pippah at a faceless grey building next to an anonymous office park. Her breath made little vapor clouds as she checked and rechecked the address, again referring to the note from Burrows & Corrado. Inside, another line of people. She signed some papers, waited in a plastic chair and finally was called on. A girl with dark eyebrows behind the counter wished her happy birthday when Pippah passed over her driver’s license for identification. Pippah politely nodded and then the girl was gone, meandering into the maze of hallways and rooms half-visible from the waiting area. Pippah absently tapped the thumb of her right hand against the tip of each finger while she waited again. Pinky, ring, middle, index; pinky, ring, middle, index. 

Pinky.
Ring. 
Middle.
Index.

Resentment nibbling at her innards again, grief tagging along with it. She reflexively waved them both away when the counter girl returned. 

The girl with the dark brows produced an average-looking square box, wrapped in brown parchment paper and tied tightly down the middle with a piece of white string, placing it in front of Pippah.

“And I’m the only one?” Pippah asked from her side of the counter, afraid that putting hands on the box tied her to an invisible contract.

“According to this?” the the eyebrows replied, furrowed from behind their paperwork. “Yeah, that’s you." Then: "Sorry for ya loss, ma’am.”  

Feeling it improper to put the box in her purse and worse about carrying it around in the paper bag the eyebrows offered, Pippah chose to hold the package right out in the open, clutching it closer to her tiny chest as each brutal piece of day sped on. Subway to the city. Cab to the west side to meet with people at Goodwill. Traffic again downtown. Thousands of bodies milling around no matter where she went. Soon careless nudges from passersby or failures to find a cab were worming their way into her throat, growing and swelling into a stubborn lump that Pippah could not quite swallow. With every errand and errant stop she focused strength into the parcel, until by noon it had become both battery and burden. Three days more, just three days more, then this will be over.

It was 4:45PM by the time Pippah left the offices of Burrows & Corrado, fumbling out the door in an overwhelmed daze. She had not eaten yet, still hadn’t checked in at the hotel; her cell phone hadn’t signaled any arrival of the missing luggage. 4:45PM and still so much to do...where to go next, how to get there, what to do with the box? How to make a plan for tomorrow and the next day and the next... 

Selfish. Pippah stewing, heated straitjacket tightening around her. Selfish, this whole request. Latch the sleeves into their buckles. A final manipulation at the hands of a relative stranger.

A relative stranger. She rolled the phrase over in her head as she raced up Madison Avenue, searching for the E train which would finally take her to the hotel.  

She was still rolling the words and their relevance when she smashed full-speed into Saul Silverman just as he was rounding the corner at 50th Street and Madison. The blow knocked Pippah Allenson’s package to the ground, where after a few unsteady steps she very nearly joined it.

“Where the Hell’re you going?” Saul barked out to her hoarsely, greying eyebrows furrowed into an arched line of disdain. 


“I...,” Pippah began slowly, disoriented from the collision. She was still looking at concrete, shocked by the sudden impact. Pippah collected herself and stared up at the strange, tall man. Silvering hair, steely blue eyes, sloping Roman nose. What sounded like a New Jersey accent when he verbally accosted her. Another unfamiliar a face demanding unavailable answers. She suddenly noticed the wrapped box laying on the ground between them, brown parchment scraped back on the corners where it hit the pavement. Something about the paper, how it looked like skin, seeing it on filthy sidewalk knowing what was inside... 

“I don’t know!” she barked at the man in uncontrolled reply, voice gone jagged at the edges. Half the corner turned to watch its latest confrontation. “I don’t know, I don’t know, Idontknow, Idontknow!” Her voice cut off entirely as Pippah sunk down her knees, reaching for the box as she dissolved into the first tears she’d cried in thirty years. 


(to be continued)

29 comments:

  1. wow i need to read more of this

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  2. :D
    FANTASTIC!!!
    I am so excited by this. The teasers; your beatiful turn of phrases; ahhhh why can't there be more now?!

    One little thing: " which she levelly had reasoned was 70 or death." Did you mean 80 or have I missed something?

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  3. Beautifully written. There are writers and then there are artists. Each line perfectly sculpted, although I think I spotted a typo, but I don't count those :)

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  4. @dys*func*tion

    @TC

    I like to pretend typos are art, but they're not. Yet. Good eyes. Fixing.

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  5. I can't wait to read more! It's perfectly done. Thank you!

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  6. Are you writing from the heart, is this also your interpritation of New York. Very nice writing i can "see" what you are writing even though I have never been to New York.

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  7. This is Hugh Padgham hooky. Want more Pippah and Saul please! Really excellent work…

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  8. really great so far... I really liked the part about the mattress, in the last post, the duality of the metaphor works well.

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  9. Never have I been happier to see a (to be continued) more.

    Lovely work.

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  10. I love her! Definitely want more!

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  11. Hi ! (I'm french so don't judge me about wht i'm writing haha, stupid apologize to hide the fact that i'm writing stupid things :)
    To write a comment as more hard than read your text, you really write so... Wow.

    Ps : Go on my blog, it's a "fashion" blog of a little frenchie, if you're interesed. :) kisses!

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  12. not nearly long enough! I love these two and can't wait to read more.

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  13. I love it, can't wait to read more about these two.

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  14. You had me hooked to begin with. This is just - Better. I feel I'm going to learn more about NYC than I do about Boise. I've not been to either. Keep on keepin' on.

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  15. I haven't in the past read stories like this one(love stories-romance), but after reading the first one I've found myself wanting more. I've read it out loud (to myself). I can see those streets, hear the cars and noise,I can even feel the cold air. And the fear/anxiety, the straight jacket-I can feel those too. Can't wait until the next installment.

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  16. This is really interesting, and I hope you continue the story!

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  17. As a writer, I enjoy your apparent ease using texture, something I know is not that easy and which gives me trouble. I like how S and P meet. Better than a car crash. Whoops! Nice work.

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  18. I love reading about Pippah and Saul. I hope there is more coming soon! All the best.

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  19. Oh, how I hope you're going to turn this into a lengthy story or, if you're feeling ambitious, a novel. I already feel deeply involved with these two characters and you've only given us a small taste of their world and lives. Bravo.

    Cheers

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  20. Wow...I've just recently ran into your page. I'm flabbergasted as a fellow poet/writer. Kudos!

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  21. http://www.youtube.com/user/walkmusik?feature=mhum

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  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  23. This is beautifully written. I love your use of words. Also, this is a very interesting plot line. I haven't seen it before, but I like it. I think I'll be watching for more of this story.

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  24. So great! I have been following your blog for a while now! I would be honored if you cam to read some of my poetry and potentially comment on some of it!

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