Willow Verkerk’s Fiction

Mar 8, 2017 by

Willow Verkerk’s Fiction

 

The Woman with Eyes of Gold

 

I. Hello, my Name is Nina and I’m Here to Make You Love Me

You will find me beside the Ionic pillars on the front porch braiding my sister Bridgette’s hair in the sunshine. It is late afternoon and the light is an orange hue. I’ve let one shoulder of my sundress slide halfway down my arm and I’m grinning at the line of people coming up the stairs. They aren’t here for the weekly meditation with the Tibetan monks. It’s the painters and the musicians and a few writers with pretty girls. Most of them are smoking and it’s my job to point out the ashtrays. If they don’t listen I block the door and they laugh while Bridgette tells them to sit on the front lawn. Why do they come? For the poetry recitals? For the wine? The wine makes them slur their words so they can’t speak or sing clearly. It gives some sort of gusto. The painters, they just come for the ladies. As for myself, I stay close to the arched doorways, hide in the corners of the yard, and make general mischief with Bridgette.

Each week we perform a ballet for the salon or a puppet show. Once we did a linguistic piece of our own secret language but Bridgette cut it off early because she had to pee. I have this dream that I do a grand jete into them and they catch me, passing my body from person to person, tenderly holding me so I don’t fall.

When the last of them walks inside, my mother’s oldest painter friend places his hand on my cheek. The woman he’s with grabs his wrist and glares at me. He laughs. Thelonious Monk comes streaming through the windows.

Hello! I shout and jump down the stairs with Bridgette. We do cartwheels and somersaults on the green lawn with no chemicals. My name is Nina and I’m here to make you love me.
 

II. Underwear is Made for Wearing

They pretend they come here to practice their arts and talk philosophy. I know they come to escape. Like my father, Paul, who used other languages to hide from people. He taught himself Italian by reading newspapers and watching movies. He wrote Italian words onto cue cards and categorized them with green and yellow highlighter pen. The favorite words came from films that he asked me to watch with him, but I didn’t understand because the sub-titles went away too quickly. There was one movie I liked, it started with a T…Teorema. The lady took off her clothing in the forest and ran around. When I saw how much fun she was having, I asked Dad if we could do it too. We went into the backyard.

We were jumping over the honeysuckle and circling around the flower garden when Mom found us. She kissed my forehead. Underwear is made for wearing, she said.
 

III. Chemicals

Many gardeners and Christians live on our block and one of them told me that Christ sanctions the use of herbicides. Mom yelled at Tony, the engineer next door who said that he mixes his own chemicals. She told him that he is killing the earth and that neither God nor engineers did anything good for women. The other next door neighbor has Alzheimer’s and used to be a psychiatrist. We whisper through the fence to him when his wife is not watching and I pass him berries.

Once I went with Bridgette to Tony’s for lunch. We rolled around on the short soft grass, ate green figs with purple and pink insides, and brought home some tomatoes from his garden. My legs were itchy and red and I got a rash on my bum. Mom threw away the tomatoes. She told me that grandma died from asbestos poisoning and Tony was poisoning his grass. When you eat their food, you eat their chemicals too. They are stupid, she told me. Some people are just like that and you cannot do anything about it.
 

IV. What Came Before

Our house was built in 1909. It was the home of a judge and his family, not an illegal triplex like it is now. Mom added a basement suite after Dad died at work; she got a friend of his to do it on the cheap and raised the floor so that it would stay warm. This made it so that only short people can live downstairs. We share the backyard with different kinds of short people who change every six to twelve months. Usually they are students because they don’t mind paying in cash. They like the salons and Mom invites them to all of her parties.

When we moved here, I was two and the house was white and a light blue. The back façade was peeling and I used to lean up against the warmth of the shingles and pick at the coils of paint. We had a sandbox and Bridgette made mud pies with the laurel leaves. I found an arrowhead in the garden when I was helping Mom pull out dandelions and buttercups. It was old from the First Nations people that lived here before the judge and they used it on the end of a long stick for catching fish. Mom put the arrowhead in a secret box to stop the city from digging up our land.
 

V. Escaping

I tried to escape once but two dogs caught me while I was running away. They looped around in circles as I cried, watching their speedy legs enclose me. Mom pulled me up just in time, she hugged me into her chest and I cried until we were home. In the kitchen, there was a lady with blond curls and white high heels. She made us sweet lemonade, washed my face with a cool cloth, and told me about other better ways of escaping. To Monaco, or Alexandria, or even London, she said and lifted her chin with laughter—if you can find the right man. She crossed her legs, wore tight skirts and had very smooth skin. Men sent her cash in the mail wrapped in newspaper and she collected engagement rings. Everyone stared at her like she was a sparkling crystal that made rainbows on the wall. But not the painters at the salon. When she told the same story about her prince in Monaco they frowned. The painters said that her pussy was a bank vault. It was a vault that kept things from men and didn’t respond to any of their desires.

One time I went driving with this lady in her white rabbit car and she took a short-cut on the sidewalk. There was too much traffic, she said, and she was not the kind of woman to wait. Her teeth flashed in the sunlight and a man walking by tripped and ran into a pole. When she saw him fall, she shrieked in joy and kissed my cheek. We flew down the pavement, dodging parking meters and pedestrians.
 

VI. Searching

I’ve been searching for another woman with eyes of gold just like her. I saw her smile in a woman with long red hair and a small waist who danced on the front lawn with one of the painters. I recognized her gestures in a woman who pouted her lips and rolled her shoulders back with precision—men loved listening to her talk. I found her laughter in a tall brunette who smoked long cigarettes. She would sit on the front porch and tell us about her travels to Europe and the beautiful beaches off the Amalfi coast. When men came to sit with us her laughter would last longer ending in sighs and ahhhs.

Where was the lady with the rabbit car? Did her husband die too? No dear, Mom said, her husband didn’t die. She divorced him for someone new and then when she was tired of the new one, she found another one, and when she became bored of him then another. She collects men, Mom said.
 

VII. Collecting

Tomorrow you will find us sitting on the front porch with our collections of stickers and stamps. Bridgette and I trade them, scratch and smell the berry stickers, and handle the stamps carefully, checking a map for the new countries. I ask how to trade stamps in for men and Mom laughs. She tells me to watch out for the stamp eaters and I imagine a woman with blond hair piled high on top of her head. Stamps go inside her mouth and out comes small bronzed men who jump into the earth and sink inside. Like the plants, they are waiting for the warmth of the sun to sprout up and grow. When they are big enough they go out into the world and hunt like barrel-chested lions for the woman with eyes of gold.
 

Willow Verkerk teaches Philosophy at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, London (UK), publishes short stories and academic works, and has a forthcoming book Nietzsche and Friendship (Bloomsbury).

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