She did more than stare at trees. She talked to them and it wasn’t in English or Spanish or some other language I’d heard riding city buses. There were grunts and cheers and she ended all sentences on a high note.
I first spotted her west of the river. I took an easy swig from my vodka flask and walked closer. She didn’t seem to be bothered.
“What tongue you be speaking miss?” I asked in a fake southern accent.
“My tongue is my treasure,” she snarked back. “Yours to discover,”
We were both on the grass. I had no interest in courting her. I’d been burned too many times by what my friend James called the love mine field and I knew it took courage to be romantic and I was far from cocksure, but she was talking to trees and so I took another swig from the Captain Karkov Vodka bottle and walked even closer.
“You’re The Magnet,” I declared and she began to dance, as if she knew she had me.
“These trees have names,” she explained, “And not just scientific ipshin takis weltis genus and species names, but names I can see in each tree’s branches and bark and the direction its leaves sway.”
She went on to tell me that some are male and some are female and some are neither and that some needed water on quarter moons and others needed even more water on half moons.
“And what about full moons, Miss Magnet?” I asked.
“I don’t know about full moons,” she said. “I stay inside and dance to music, all kinds of music.”
She had olive-colored skin, on her face anyway. There were also patches of peach on her arms and black on her legs. She had dark eyes…..eyes you could never know, like outer space, and infinity and all that. I figured she had a bunch of cats, clipped coupons, and loved simple black coffee.
“You can tell a lot about someone the way they park their shoes for the night,” she continued, “the two facing different directions, one towards Bismarck, the other towards Galveston.”
God I loved her in that moment and then it got even better.
“I glean things from the Salvation Army,” she revealed.
“What kind of things?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know, like sweaters, silverware, old books, boots, whatever I feel like. Changes every day.”
I was hooked. I was screwed. I loved her. I told her I had to go. It was all happening too fast, but it was serotonin spike real.
“Well, now you know where I am,” she said and began that dance again, a dance that stayed in my mind like a walk-off grand slam.
It was spring and I started thinking about train station scoreboards and unknown destinations and The Marshall Tucker Band echoed in my mind, that song, “Can’t you See” and I wished it was a full moon and I was at The Magnet’s apartment listening to all kinds of music, to The Marshall Tucker Band, so she would know what she was “Doing to Me” but I’m sure she already knew.
She coulda been 55 or 25 and either way I would have loved her. I was no priest.
I shook my head as I walked away, one shake after another, shakes of starry skies and tombstone weeds because I knew what I was in for, the same as last time – beautiful trouble. I crossed the Locust Street Bridge and there was a Sentry grocery store on the other side and I needed a distraction; I needed people, other people to cure me and there beside the magazine rack, reading the Farmer’s Almanac was Andy Watts. He had given me a book of his poems a few months back. He had one poem about rewriting the 10 commandments and two of the commandments were the same – to love more than your significant other. He decorated his car on the outside with sculptures he’d made, mostly human heads with animal bodies. He talked to strangers. He hung out at diners and was glad to see me. He didn’t waste any time. He invited me back to his apartment. That’s what I loved about the world. You could meet people and yes, mom was right, don’t take candy from strangers, but that was only part of the story. Not everybody drives around in hearses with a megaphone strapped to the top, screaming end of the world…….no, there were actually some pretty god damn cool people and yes, they had to pay bills and deal with bullshit, but they were also going for it, trying to hook up with others and compare notes and make love and what not.
Andy bought the Almanac. He said he liked reading the parts that predicted the weather. We walked along Downer Avenue to his little apartment near the lake. Andy never locked his door. He invited me to sit down at the kitchen table. I offered him a drink from my flask. We passed it back and forth for a few swigs. And then he disappeared and returned with some cardboard. I had no idea Andy loved baseball cards. I had no idea he loved baseball. I had no idea he knew I loved baseball and baseball cards.
“You know Enos Goudey?” he asked.
I squinted my eyes, a signal for Andy to continue.
“These are Goudeys,” he explained and he went on and on about the cards being from 1933, about the beautiful colors and player poses, and the gum company’s founder, Enos Goudey being from Nova Scotia.
“The baseball cards came after Goudey sold the company. Pick one. Take it to her,” he encouraged.
“To who?” I asked, defensively, shy, embarrassed, refusing to admit that everyone knows.
“Bring it to her.”
Andy spread the cards out. There were colors everywhere.
“Take your time.”
I liked them all…..really gave me goose bumps like it might do some other kid at the Louvre, but Edgar “Sam” Rice caught my eye, not only because I loved rice, but because of the look on his teeth; he looked a little like a rabbit or maybe not, but he did to me and well I knew about rabbit habits when it came to love making and I had “The Magnet” on my mind.
“Take it and go well young lover,” said poet Andy and well, I never trusted orders, but this felt like a blessing so off I went, to cross the Locust Street Bridge again, to see “The Magnet” and when I got there, she wasn’t dancing or talking to plants, she was stomping like an angry kid who had missed Christmas morning and crying too and when she noticed me, she indicated with a wave to get lost. She was kicking me to the curb. We hadn’t even kissed yet and already I was in her dog house and I loved The Magnet even more. I flashed her my Edgar “Sam” Rice Goudey card.
“And don’t come back,” she added.
But I knew I’d be back to see her again and again and again and I’d bring her more Goudey baseball cards and she would talk to them too and I knew The Magnet would once again talk to trees as well and spring and summer would warm up to humid and all the world would be loose and me, I mean we, The Magnet and I would drink Vodka and walk along the forbidden railroad tracks and trespass in cemeteries and spend hours at Burger King, making a deck of cards out of empty cigarette packs we had collected and her horse mane hair would shine and there would be new day coffees and spots under the abandoned highway 770 overpass and the view from Charboneau hill, ahhhhhhh, The Magnet, just daydreaming about her was better than beer and bible Wednesdays at old St. Hedwig’s even if The Magnet apparently never wanted to see me again.