Geishas and Constellations  |  Jessica Harman

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             Once, when color photocopiers were new, before cell phones and microwaves, Rabeca stepped into a Xerox place, made ten color photocopies, which were seven dollars each—even more at that time if you factor in the inflation since the 1980’s—and, instead of paying, she ran out. She kept running. Shouts behind her let her know that the manager of the store was yelling at her. The manager was not following her, though; Rabeca could tell because the sound of the shouts got further and further away as she ran down St. Catherine Street: “Hey! Hey! Hey!” The sheets of paper Rabeca carried, still hot from the Xerox machine, flapped in the wind in her hand as she ran. She turned up Atwater Street and ran all the way home.
             She feels bad about it to this day, even though she knows she is not alone in the land of eat-and-run. Once, two of her best friends had fries at City Café, then ran out the door. No one pursued them. It was a busy day. Alexander and Mary still laugh about it: “Hey, remember that time we ate and ran?” Their teeth whiten, their cheeks blush, and they slap the knees of their jeans. They always look like alabaster statues to Rabeca. Even when they’re in motion, they’re posing and part of myth. Not a specific myth, just myth in general. She thinks her friends know this and know that Rabeca is not made of the same lively stone, the same myth.
             Rabeca liked myth, and that’s what drew her to her friends, who most likely had constellations named after them. Some people do, you know. They are really The Big Dipper or Orion’s Belt, and to everybody else they just look like ordinary people—except you know there’s something special about them, something celestial and grand. They are secretly Taurus, secretly the starry template of Gemini stamping out the character of everyone born under that sign. Such people are not shadows of anyone or anything else. They are the shining ones.
             Shine as they may, they can’t go, as a twosome of Mary and Alexander, or as a threesome for that matter, to City Café, anymore. That’s a shame. It was a good place. There was a rainbow mural of a field in blossom on one wall. The other two walls were black, and they drank all light and made the waitress appear silvery against them as she moved like a sparrow among the round tables. The waitresses in City Café were usually anorexic. Their eyes were tired like pink rose petals wilting in the rain, but they casually and happily brought everyone glasses of ice water, anyway. They understood that life was tiring, but we go on, hoping for a beautiful day to find us and catch us by surprise. The waitresses there, at City Café, are the orphaned children of nymphs.
             Rabeca knew that the waitress probably had to pay for Mary’s and Alexander’s fries that day. Rabeca felt bad, even after all those years, for the waitress, even though she—Rabeca—had nothing to do with it. The waitress probably got over it. It was only three dollars and fifty cents, after all. But it was the morals of the thing that were disturbing. The break in the pact of trust in society that holds everything in place day to day.
             At moments when she was walking down Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington, in 2013, looking at the warm, blue sky with puffy clouds floating in it like cotton balls, Rabeca was plagued by pangs of guilt for stealing the color photocopies in 1987. She didn’t mean to steal them. She had wanted to make only one copy, but then she made more. And then she realized she couldn’t afford them, so she ran. And she escaped. If she hadn’t escaped, she would probably have a criminal record. All because she liked a drawing of a geisha she’d made and wanted to have more copies of it, for no other reason than she could. Xeroxes were invented, and if you did a nice picture of a geisha, why not make ten color copies of it?
             The photocopies of the geisha in a green dress with pink flowers are long gone now, Rabeca knows (after moving countries, losing things, putting stuff in shoeboxes in closets, and then cleaning closets out, a minor flood), but sometimes the geisha comes to her in dreams. The geisha washes Rabeca in a stream. The cold pebbles of the stream feel so good on Rabeca’s sore back as the geisha gives her a spa day. Sometimes, Rabeca is the geisha. She’s wandering through a garden of pink magnolia blossoms, looking for people to talk to, to massage. The wind is gentle on the folds of her kimono. She understands that it’s good to feel all shivery in one’s own skin. All you have to do is glide. Rabeca’s dreams are happy when she is the geisha. She knows she is just a woman, doing nothing much, being wanted, being there, beautiful. She feels precious, like gold in sunlight that takes on a sinful glint and makes her even happier.


             Once, Mary dressed up as a dead geisha for Halloween and went with Rabeca and a group of friends to Matt’s party. Matt lived in the St. Lawrence Boulevard area, near the rue Coloniale. The friends made their loud way on the 24 bus along Sherbrooke Street that was mostly lined with brick and stone apartment buildings that got fancier the further into Westmount they went, then got less fancy the further east they went.
             Rabeca had a crush on Matt. He worked in a pet store, and she went every day to look at the kittens and to see Matt. Matt said that the kittens needed attention, so she could come play with them, and it was good for them to get some exercise. Matt had a coffee complexion. He was so tan from being in Jamaica all the time: every break from work he could get, and sometimes a long weekend. He was really laid back and from Vancouver, originally where people were more environmentally conscious and brought their own metal cutlery to barbecues so they wouldn’t have to waste plastic forks. He was a vegetarian and loved animals. Sometimes, he played with Pete, the iguana who was very expensive, as Rabeca cradled a white, fluffy Angora kitten in her hand, the kind of baby animal that appears in commercials for Scott tissue.
             Matt gave her his phone number when she asked if she could have coffee with him sometime.
             He said, “Sure, Dude.”
             She was not a Dude, but she knew what he meant. He meant that she was sorta, kinda like a Dude—a friend like a guy would have been. He did tell her about his Halloween party and where it was, at his house, though he had not specifically invited her to come. Or had he? With Matt, a lot of things were vague.
             He was happy to see them all, nonetheless, when they showed up on Halloween.
             At the door, he said, “Hi! Come on in!” as if he had been expecting Rabeca, Mary, Alexander, and a few of their other friends who were dressed as demi-goddesses.
             Mary was a dead geisha to rival all dead geishas. Her red lipstick ran like a trail of blood down her chin, and she was a very pretty dead geisha, indeed. Alexander was Disco Reaper. He had a rainbow Afro wig and a scythe, and Rabeca was a pig with wings.
             “Matt, I know we’ll date when pigs fly,” she said.
             For some reason, Matt found this hilarious. He was dressed in a disheveled suit jacket, boxers with the fly flying precariously open, a half-undone maroon and navy horizontally striped silk tie, and a woman’s lipsticked kiss left on one tan cheek.
             “What are you?” Rabeca asked.
             “I’m the other man.”
             Rabeca found this funny. Her friends went into the living room and began dancing to some hip-hop. She saw them in action through a window in the kitchen that had no glass in it and was cut in the kitchen wall so that you could see into the living room. A lot of Montreal apartments have those.
             The fridge began to hum loudly all of a sudden.
             “Darned thing needs replacing,” Matt said.
             Rabeca went into the washroom and examined her face. She had a pig’s snout elastic-banded to her real nose. Her eyes were like clear Jupiter moons. The fake eyelashes she recently applied were staying on okay, and that was good. It was a party. It was weird. Halloween was always weird. She didn’t really understand it. It was supposed to be fun, but it was always awkward to have fun in a costume with crinkly wings that shed feathery slivers of fluff. It seemed like the last five years of Halloweens she’d had things that fall off of wings.
             Rabeca went back into the living room, and Matt was flirting with Mary.
             “You’re dressed like my mom,” he said, touching her kimono above the breast.
             “Your mom dresses like a dead geisha?” She smiled.
             “She does,” he replied.
             Then, he turned to this girl named Trish and kissed her. She was dressed as an angel, and her halo shook slightly as her lips met and met and met Matt’s.
             Rabeca said, “Oh,” then went to Mary’s side, hoping for protection, though protection from what, Rabeca couldn’t say.


             She remembers that night now as a moment that was necessary in her life, just as the photocopy theft was, as the playing with the kittens in Matt’s pet store was, but it wasn’t necessarily pleasant. The moment when Mary and Alexander ate fries and ran out of City Café decidedly defined Rabeca, too. She didn’t know why. Perhaps these were the moments that she used to define herself when she asked, “How bad am I?” She was no worse than ten stolen color copies, knowing people who didn’t pay for fries once. She was no worse than once showing up at Matt’s Halloween party uninvited. She was no worse than loving Matt and not being loved back.
             She wasn’t that bad, all in all. These things happen to everyone—or do they? Besides, if she wasn’t bad (or wasn’t really that bad), what did that make her? Was she good? She didn’t do many really big acts of kindness: no volunteering, no working in orphanages. She mostly just tried to appeal to God and get through life okay. She wasn’t brilliant—or at least she hadn’t shown herself to be—although a fortune teller once told her she had unused talent, as a beaded curtain rattled in the wind. Rabeca wasn’t too depressed, or too happy, or too angry. Once, she went through a bout of depression, after losing her job at the hospital, but she read some self-help, got some therapy, took some Zoloft, and was okay, after a while. Could she ask life to be more than okay? Or is it okay if everything is just okay? Did she really have to be happy to be happy?


             There were parts of her that became hungry now and then. She liked food, and she needed to date someone regularly. If she was alone, she got wriggly, like a pig trying to preen its wings. She needed to be the geisha, if only in her mind, lovely, an object of wonder. She wanted to be used, if not loved. At least someone could use her. But really what she wanted was to be beautiful in a beautiful place with someone who was beautiful outside, as well as inside. Usually, her plans to make this a reality failed in life, but she still let the rays of that dream warm her.
             She would be outside and then inside, inside then outside, walking in the garden, tending to making tea, letting the light breeze be real around her.


             After the Halloween party, Rabeca never went to the pet store in Alexis Nihon Plaza again. Even though she passed it when she went to buy groceries—and glimpsed Matt’s unkempt and sexy hair as he stood behind the counter, handling a parakeet or a hamster for a customer—she never caught his eye anymore. Only once did he see her looking at him. He looked up, under the bright light of the store, and she looked away, down at the ground in front of her. The handles of the plastic grocery bags full of cans of small peas, milk, and croissants were cutting into her hands. Sometimes, she’s thankful for pain, if it’s only a small amount and distracts her. Matt was a cut gushing blood inside of her.
             Rabeca dreams about him sometimes, still, and it is always summer in her dreams. She dreamed that they were riding a giant Angora kitten like a wild stallion. The kitten had a saddle, and Rabeca held onto Matt’s waist as he held onto the kitten’s mane. They galloped along the beach. Suddenly, she was in a blue kimono with her hair up in sticks. They rode the kitten into the sunset, and that’s when the giant feline began to get feisty and tried to bite them. With that, she was able to fly, and she carried Matt away from the violent kitty. They went into the sky, over the ocean, to a faraway land of gardens and blue skies. After they walked around a bit, they began flying again, this time, together, and she didn’t have to carry him.
             Next, they were in a sushi maki restaurant in Tokyo. She was happy, just sitting there, in the room that was extremely elegant, where the lines of the tables and benches were so smooth, made of fine, light wood. The waitress, dressed like a dead geisha in a green kimono with pink flowers, brought them crazy maki with shrimp and dragon maki and miso soup. Then, Rabeca recognized Mary, who was being their waitress. Rabeca invited Mary to eat and have tea with them. Mary sat down with them, but in the dream, unlike in reality, Matt did not flirt with her. They went outside together after dinner, and there were tons of stars in the sky.
             Mary pointed up to the sky and said, “That’s where we all are, in a way. We’re there, and here, too. We come from there, the heavens, the stars, and we never forget it. Our flesh never forgets it, and we yearn for the sky. That’s what the pain is, and also desire. Waves of us are there. We are eternally beautiful because of that. We hunger for the sky in others, too. All of us are hungering for the sky above us, in us, and in others, despite our petty crimes against ourselves and each other. There is light and love. Let it unite us.”
             Then, Rabeca woke up, but she had a good feeling in her, as if she were forgiven, as if she knew that it was okay to forgive herself.

♥ End ♥

Jessica Harman is a poet who has been venturing forth into short stories, lately. Her work has appeared in Nimrod, Spillway, Bellevue Literary Review, Arion, and Poiesis. A full-length collection of short stories, Wild Stabs at Love, or Something Like It, is available as a free download from Philistine Press.

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