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Mysteria

From: Tampa Review
45/46, 2013
pp. 50-56

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James Graves. Untitled. 2012. Gelatin silver print. 10 x 10 inches.

So how did he come to be lying beneath this beautiful young woman in the middle of a spring afternoon, raindrops clinging to her window, purple wisteria blossoms swinging outside like bells in the wind?

who are you? he wondered, noticing she didn't shave under her arms, had a ring of hair around each nipple, the Coriolanus effect, he called it

which made her laugh, showing the silver stud in her tongue

her hair, down now, black and tightly curled shrouded his face as she moved, her black hips slid against him hard ax blades and

sweat and

sweat

in the heat of a rainy Alabama afternoon

you don't even know me, he said

if you want the honey, she said, you can't fear the hive

the stings

hadn't he driven sleepless through rain and darkness with no destination other than away, pure flight?

where am I now? Elmore wondered, windshield wipers flapping, each place as good as any other for what he had in mind. He thought of his estranged wife and children receding from him in Pennsylvania. No one waiting up for him anywhere, so he

drove all night and all day, stopping to use the bathroom at this vegetarian diner in Birmingham, Alabama, The Bottle Tree. So much food he'd never heard of: edamame, tahini, quinoa, falafel. Fifty-six years old and this passed for exotic. His final meal would be unrecognizable.

What's your name, sugar? the young woman asked.

Aren't you supposed to tell me your name? You're the waitress.

She smiled, the white of her teeth a sunrise. That right? she said. Wait. Tress. I can wait. I'm not the one's hungry.

Elmore.

Seriously? she said.

Can I get a burger and French fries?

You can if you go to McDonalds.

I'll take the sweet potato fries and the black bean soup.

Yes sir, El-mor-ay, she said. Maybe French for love. English for eel.

Elmore turned on his iPhone, free wi-fi everywhere. Wikipedia:

Moray eels are cosmopolitan eels of the family Muraenidae. The approximately 200 species in 15 genera are almost exclusively marine, but several species are regularly seen in brackish water and a few, for example the freshwater moray (Gymnothorax polyuranodon) can sometimes be found in freshwater. They possess large teeth, designed to tear flesh as opposed to holding or chewing. Larger morays are capable of seriously wounding humans.

Seriously, he thought, he could find anything on his phone except the things he needed to know. Those were not on the internet. They're not in any net. They are the fish that always get away.

He watched the rain run like static across the restaurant window and wondered why he'd stopped here. His waitress had

mocha skin, so much hair it looked like an urn of water balanced on her head. This made Elmore think of the famous bust of Nefertiti, painted limestone, three thousand years old. The waitress Nefertiti brought him

a large platter piled high with sweet potato fries, soup almost blue, the only blue food he'd ever seen

How old are you? he asked.

I am old enough to know better, she said.

I can't eat all these fries by myself.

They're best if you add a little salt and dip them in horseradish, she said. Fingers like cinnamon sticks, nails painted purple. See, she said, you get the sweet, the salty, and the spicy together. Juxtaposition, El-more-ay. The secret of life.

I came down here to die, Elmore said.

She dipped a sweet fry into the creamy, pungent sauce, put it into her mouth, chewed, watched him intently. Intensely.

Offered her hand, palm skin smooth as wax. My name is Rosa.

On the long, long list of beautiful things Elmore had never seen: the nude body of a dark-skinned woman, an Alabama thunderstorm, wisteria blossoms. Rosa laughed when he asked what kind of grapes were growing on the trellis outside her window.

She left the bed, pulled a book off a shelf, stood...



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