When Maggie Thinks of Matt
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64 When Maggie thinks of Matt she thinks of an Edward Weston photograph of a large plaster mug in the middle of a desert with the word coffee painted onto it as an enticement. She thinks of misplaced , mismatched old things, such as the mildewed movie house just up the street from her apartment in the neighborhood she didn’t know was dangerous, and of the movie star he said she could be. She thinks of the building facades in downtown Syracuse, gray and leaking soot, of the inside of the old opera house, opulent with decay . She thinks about his bad teeth and tiny handwriting—squared and old-fashioned like the keys on a typewriter. The woman with a baby on the porch next door, who looks at her so she can’t look back. She thinks of what she can’t remember—of petticoats, green silk undergarments, hospital sheets, carved mermaids shedding their scales, and overripe fruit. She thinks of her privileged longing for experience. It’s strange to her that she used to touch him. It makes her shiver to remember. Even then it made her buzz with a mixture of excitement and revolt. Yet it was she who called him up, because he was smart—really smart, she thought, and forty-five years old. She said, “Come over for dinner,” and he arrived with a bottle of wine and a smile that set all his wrinkles into high relief, made his face crack open with pleasure, made him look terrible, the way she looked as a When Maggie Thinks of Matt 65 When Maggie Thinks of Matt small girl, smiling so hard her lips climbed up over her teeth so only her gums showed. She remembers thinking, oh no, he’s like me, and, this will never work. She remembers trying not to look at him during dinner. She’d forgotten his skin was crepe, his face not strong boned, and that his eyes were dull, with a brown ironlike spot, similar to the surface of anoldtoywherethewhitelacquerhadbeenrubbedaway.Buthekept looking at her and catching her looks, crinkling up his face and smiling . His energy was so strong, she thinks, a little like a wound trying to heal; a desperate sucking, as if she were air and light. How could she resist being pulled into all that intensity? Still, it’s embarrassing to recall herself as the person who was flattered by his way of looking—the winks she mistook for wisdom but now understands as a simple recognition of her loneliness, and a romantic ploy. He had a way of looking that said, “We’re both sad souls alone in the universe”—which is exactly what she would have wantedhimtosee—hersadnessthatcameinandout,thatshethinks of now as a quirky gene, but once entertained as deep, once wanted someone to unearth, in order to show everyone how she might be a Sylvia Plath, or a young Virginia Woolf, under the youthful pleasure of her looks. But that was ten years ago. Last week an old friend told her that somewhere in that space, Matthew had been driving, he’d slipped off an icy road and died. So she remembers carefully, her boldness with him that first night, how she took him up to the attic because it was dusty and full of antiques and forbidden by her landlord, which made it more erotic than the candy-colored couch under the windowsill covered with bright glass bottles, where he would surely look too old and decayed. Theatticcontainedthefull-lengthmirrorshe’doncestrippedinfront of, which held her body in a flattering light, made her small breasts look bigger, her boy-frame yellow, buttery, and full. 66 Elegies for Uncanny Girls Climbing the attic stairs, she remembers becoming aware that having a man behind her could be sexy. She’d seen it in a movie, the slightly affected pivot of the hips, the surprise of being taken from behind. And as she climbed his wrinkledness vanished. He became a dark shadow, taller, until, in the attic, his shadow dropped. The attic was brighter than she’d remembered, lit up with fluorescent light. And he hesitated, turned stiff and self-protective. And this is where she fills in what she wants him to have been thinking. He might have been thinking that he was twenty years older, had two children, and liked to dress in women’s clothing for erotic pleasure.Hemighthavebeenthinkingabouthowthiswouldbeused as evidence against him by his ex-wife in an upcoming custody case. He was...


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