When I hit rock bottom, I talked Marissa into the Magic Chef tattoo. It would hurt, the tattoo artist said. Most painful location you could choose. Didn’t matter, the Magic Chef left her no choice.
Now I’d like to introduce my Bible study group: Rick, Moose, Andre, Dave the Hammer. Take the shortest route to the puck and arrive in ill humor, to quote an aside whispered to me by our group leader during a break in the action.
And Marissa. At the worst moments in my life I go looking for a Bible study group—that’s how I connected with Marissa. She moved in, “in” being the room I shared with the Magic Chef.
I said unto the Magic Chef, Magic Chef, are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath day?
The Magic Chef replied, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?
Marissa, sprawled on the bed, gave a deep sigh of contentment in her sleep. I opened the door and fixed us a light brunch. Marissa’s goal was to efface color from the world. Okay, I was in. I was up for effacing color from the world. The Magic Chef was in, too. He had a head start on practically everyone. Sleep defeated me because of the clatter of Krink paint cans in the alley. The mirror had been scarred by Krink. Same with the coffee maker, the microwave, the nightstand, the waste basket big time. Not the Magic Chef.
The tattoo on the palm took some persuading, on account of the other palm.
I went to the bed and opened Marissa’s hand. I uncurled the fingers, curled the fingers, exposing and concealing Marissa’s secret that went way back. This was a place she guarded even as she spun out her schemes of brute force domination of the color palette. I put one quarter of a fried egg sandwich into her hand and chipped away some more.
I told her about my hardscrabble childhood in Medicine Hat, the arcane initiation rituals of north-of-the-border Scout troops, also the jamborees as they were called, humiliation, scorn, abasement, coercion as regards bathroom needs, interrogations, public shaming of the I-call-bullshit variety, adult-on-child public shaming, all occurring in subzero Montreal.
I told her about the red jacket. That opened her eyes. The red jacket and breaking up fights. Phil Collins and the red jacket. The break room, hazing. I made a fist and showed Marissa the scars from breaking up fights. The tattooed letters on my knuckles: AAIIH. Hootie & the Blowfish and the red jacket. ABBA and the red jacket.
Marissa laughed, which didn’t necessarily mean I’d made progress. The Magic Chef himself laughed when in whispered exchanges I described my Marissa strategies. I grew up learning to draw a high line on Zuma beach. I hadn’t ever been north of the border.
My rotund little confidante cheered me up and sent me back to work. I said unto the Magic Chef, Magic Chef, are there not twelve hours in the day?
His starched white shirt bursting at the seams, the Magic Chef replied, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?
“Rear it up” rang in my ears like the echo of the carillon that overlooks the Bank Vaults south of Sipora on the Mentawais.
Marissa’s palm, its fragrance of underpowered microwave: here was plainly written the name she wouldn’t allow me near. Soon the other palm would bear the name of our group leader—the group leader of our room. The other palm, forever welcoming.
In jet black, the name tasted of fresh yolk. Our group leader had put us on a diet of stained flesh, from his dais above the microwave. I decided I would oppose secrecy with candor, or maybe I didn’t decide, the thought came to me as I was tasting, not a decision so much as a sudden unplanned wrenching of the steering wheel.
I told Marissa about the first rough days of training camp and how my two best childhood friends were publicly abased, banished from their host families, sent down, paraded through a tunnel. Cutthroat table tennis. Sore losers with roof rack headlights. Ambushes in whiteouts, altercation quotas. I made the sound my jaw made when I chewed.
After an interlude of tender carnal pleasure, I picked up where I left off. I told Marissa about the fairgrounds. It was as if the Magic Chef had whispered the word “fairgrounds” from a verse that would work the magic. The word would resonate with the innocence that Marissa so closely guarded. The name on her palm was all about innocence, that’s as far as I’d gotten.
I told her about the spectators whose faces turned red just before they keeled over in their own imaginations. The theater of the individual spectator, enraged. Genuine prank wrath. Excruciatingly painful counterclockwise tape-winding drills. Charley horses. “Make your peace with the target on your back” and other inspirational fairground slogans.
The Magic Chef and I were on a roll. I envisioned him in the control booth, behind the slanted glass, welcoming the crowd. First welcoming, then urging, exhorting, pumping up. The exhorting Magic Chef, that’s who I wanted on the other palm, a pumping-up reminder of Moose et al. Marissa extolled the imagination of her tattoo artist, but still, I would be there at her side, drawing him a picture as far as could be done without actually drawing. In a way it would be my palm because I was investing so much effort in getting to know the other palm, opening myself up to Marissa in these affectionate reminiscences. One palm would empty into the other palm.
One chubby arm would be thrown out to the side exactly as it was now, the other balled into a fist, pumping to the beat: a rough sketch, I was just getting started.
I told Marissa about the scalding coffee horseplay, pranks that backfired, Iodex.
I told Marissa about Coach and his laptop, the word “Coach” spelled out in tape.
The sun was effacing color from the world, we were still at it. I turned on the TV which only received the Armenian variety show channel. There wasn’t any reason we couldn’t stay in bed as it was a day off from study group. We could stay in bed while the variety show proceeded through its many segments that appealed to all tastes and ages.
I told Marissa about how I liked to rank my Bible study groups in lines: first line, second line, third line.
Inspired by the variety show, I did an impersonation of Moose rallying the troops in the voice of Coach. Again Marissa giggled and again I had a good feeling, a feeling of breaking through, being let in, Marissa on the brink of divulging, sharing. I led her fingers to my wrist where they made an incomplete circle, a kind of horseshoe, good luck.
I did Coach’s signature wake-up call as it would be done by Moose. Coach asking a question in study group in the voice of Moose. Moose banging into a corner in the voice of Coach. Moose shaking off a cheap shot in the voice of Coach. The study group impersonation was fun because Moose put out the chairs at study group, that was his sole contribution. I thought about these chairs and how they formed a horseshoe, another horseshoe. All in all, a tight formation pointing us toward the desired outcome. We lingered in bed, on and on, lazy in the best way, the best kind of loose. Shinny.
Fortunato Salazar’s newest writing is forthcoming in PEN America, J Journal, Washington Square Review, Amtrak’s The National and elsewhere.
Photo: John Mahnic