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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Where They Were Not
The opaque yellow is the same as Serengeti—the color of elsewhere. Christophe, the light bulb maker, makes them the color of desert. Lighter than chardonnay. Before he meets her, Christophe believes adventure is for outcasts. Afterwards, he sees his bulbs in the shades of cardamom and camel.
Alison is an original beauty, a girl who dreams of moving to Lanai to roast pigs on a spit, to eat poi, to swish swish her already-bronze hips at the luau. From her family vacations, she knows to move her joints down like she is scraping the inside of a barrel with her knees. This was how she thought Christophe would fall in love with her. Move like this, she told him as she taught him to hula.
Alison is not a good dancer, but she is thin. Her muscles are sashimi. She wears evening gowns before five o’clock, the ones that are silk, shine like opal, pink and fall to the floor waiting for her slender, too-long feet to trip on the seams. This is winter wear. The Big Island calls. So do the smaller ones where she plans to make a home and harvest coral from her feet when she’s walking in the ocean’s shallow and takes a wrong step.
Christophe continues making light bulbs at the factory and hangs two postcards side-by-side. One is of Waikiki beach. The other is of his hometown in Lebanon, Ohio. When Alison first met him, he spelled the name of his town, and she thought he was from the Middle East. She was disappointed when he told the truth. He said: I am Viennese, first generation. He was nothing if not parochial. She got over it, and two months later, she moved in. She liked patchouli, tuna, never-Japanese food.
Over lamps, Alison warms her hands in their phosphorescent glow.
All I want is to be warm, she says. She paints herself goldenrod and her hair, white Plumeria.
They used to watch the lightning as it came out of the sky looking for a place to plant, and they counted the seconds until the thunder clapped against their eardrums. Christophe feared what accompanied the percussion.
I’m going to move to the Mojave, he said.
The winds came faster now. The trees blew in diagonals. It was the rain he minded, the water that found its ground like bright yellow currents.
I’m going to move to the ocean, she said.
I know he said.
And they continued on like this. Each one knowing the other by where they were not.
The winds of Ohio pick up speed, and they push like determined hands against Christophe’s face as he walks home from the factory. On his way, he pictures the thousands of glass bulbs, how they came off the wheel like a colony of albino heads.
When he walks in the door, Alison is in the bathtub, his creations gathered into the room, pouring light from their orbs, hooked up to a power strip, and from a tin can, Alison has sprayed the room to spell like Ocean Mist. There are floor lamps lined in rows like strips of Hollywood palm trees.
The toilet seat is a table for small lamps—one, their first one, from Walmart when they first moved in together. One with red ink bubbles that rotate in heat, and Alison calls Krakatau. Christophe sees it and thinks of women’s blood. On the bathtub rim, Alison lined miniature desk lamps, flashlights, and neon glow sticks.
You’ll kill yourself one day, and then you’ll be sorry, he says.
She flashes her toes out from the bubble bath, the sea foam. She drops her foot hard into the water and sends up a splash over the lamps, over the tub, a miniature tsunami. It knocks over one of his pieces, but it falls on the right side of the tub.
Nothing but light is original. Christophe thinks of rays of electricity shooting through her body and water. Vicious eels of light. He sees her eyes white and reshaping as pears, made of cheap glass, filled with zirconium. Her pupils would string into filament and her skin would smooth to tungsten.
Katrin Tschirgi is originally from Boise, Idaho and is currently an MFA candidate at Bowling Green State University. Her work is forthcoming in Alice Blue Review and Post Road.