Friday, July 25, 2008

Francine's File: One Watery History

Francine looked up at the stars, her head flung backward over the side of the seat with her curls trailing down, dangling free. She'd never seen so many stars. And there, clear as could be, was a shooting star. Then another, quartz opal and larger than the first until it flew apart into hundreds of lavender fingers of light that faded into a pale warm glow.    

A man's voice, echoing like over a faulty microphone said, "Wow. You were really flying." His pink Venetian mask with black swirls in a figure eight around tiny peepholes glided into view on a halogen stick. The faulty microphone voice asked "Is there someone I can call for you?

"I'd love to play," she heard herself whisper. "Will there be games with prizes I can win?"

A swirly pink straw with full smiling perfectly shaped red lips slid around from behind the mask. "You must be thirsty, love," it said. The straw dripped warm water onto her cheek. 

Puckering her lips as though for a kiss, water flowed around them and slid sideways.

"You are not the surface of the lake, you are the lake," the water said. The smooth opening bars of Beethoven's 9th played on the current which lowered first her head, then her feet. Her fingertips and toes spread out, warm breath hovered all around like a halo. 

Her father sat erect up front driving a carriage pulled by two white horses. Her mother peered from inside, her fingers beckoning, drawing the halo closer and closer.

Bliss. She smelled it. Like white birthday cake with butter cream icing. 

The lights shifted through a rainbow spectrum. Francine drifted off in a bubble of perfume. 

A vibrant orange silk ribbon wrapped itself around the sphere like a package with a big bow. With her breath, Francine unfurled the bow into translucent bubbles where she saw her reflection. Or was it her mother's reflection? Or was it the reflection of someone she had yet to know? 

And then, poof, the bubble was gone. Francine, Francine, are you there or have you gotten lost?  

Monday, July 21, 2008

Enlightened, exotic, better than Star Wars

Jirapen comes to our house in the San Fernando Valley every month to cut my husband's hair. He brings the old red schoolhouse chair from the back bedroom into the middle of the kitchen floor, while she sets up her scissors, razors, talcum and brush, and spray bottle on the counter. 

It's all very unhygienic, but they've done this long enough that neither one of them even thinks about food and hair in the same breath. It makes me cringe. For the next week, I imagine hair in my food.  The one time I finally got him to put the chair on the patio, the sunlight lasered down on them like a spotlight making little wafts of his grey hair stick wherever they first met sweat.

Jirapen quit trying to brush them off his neck. He didn't notice anyway. What brought the chair back into the house was when those little balls of grey fluff glued themselves on her face, kind of like very soft light fur. She never stopped talking and laughing the whole time. 

I didn't see her wipe her face, but the haircut continued as soon as the chair, the kitchen floor and my husband connected. Her face pale and clear as ever, her big brown eyes all sparkly, her long straight brown hair down her back, and the pink silk blouse smooth as a baby's butt.

"I'm so sorry," I said. "I didn't realize how hot it would be."

"Thailand very hot," she said. "Not like L.A. L.A. not so hot." 

She looked pretty hot to me that day. It was a couple years ago. I don't know if she's forgotten. I sure haven't. 

Now Jirapen is very conservative Christian.  Her father was a well-respected attorney in Bangkok so she didn't get much education because it was always assumed she would marry well and it wasn't, well, I guess you'd say, lady-like in those circles. She had lots of brothers and sisters and her mother lived like a queen, waited on hand and foot.  

But what happened is Jirapen ran away with a boy all the way to the United States. Of course, he wasn't the kind of boy her family had in mind or they wouldn't have had to run away. They married and had a daughter but things didn't work out and she became a single parent. Without an education, far from home, learning a language very different from her own, struggling to make a living. 

She worked at the same place as my husband, who probably liked her because she was pretty, and exotic and fun. I'm sure he admired her gumption. She also knew how to cut hair and offered to come to his house to do it. Clincher right there.

That was all 15 years ago. 

Meantime, she's  hardly lost any of her accent. So, when she says rose it comes out like loses--long o--and and when she says her own name it comes out like Jillapan. Words kind of run together with lots of laughter linking them, and pauses stop the lilting language like light posts.That alliteration of sounds, like chimes and tinkling bells, in a rhythm all it's own with those unexpected halting silences, tells stories without needing to make sense. Still, I think of that day I made them go out to the patio, and feel ashamed.

Tonight as she was cutting David's hair in the kitchen, she asked me if I knew the story of Daniel. She's gesturing at me with the scissors, leaning this way and that while she laughs those linking lilting light l's, looking heavenward from behind the glasses she wears nowadays, and wanting a reply from me, but I'm not getting any of this, just the aesthetics of the sounds.

"The King of Babylon," she said. "He had a dream about a tree, high to sky, and no-body can interpret. What to do?"

My husband sits there. Silent. Comprehending, I don't know? I'm not sure what she's referring to so I don't answer either.  

"Do you know the story of Daniel from the Bible?" she asked me. "King has a dream. Better than Star Wars." 

Now remember all the r's sounds like l's, so I am listening very closely to follow what she's saying which still sounds more like music than speech to me.

"No," I say. I really don't and it's so pleasing to hear her voice that I would want her to tell me even if I did know.

"No one can interpret King dream except Daniel," she says. "King tell Daniel he heard heavenly voice say, cut down the tree because is so beautiful and animals eat from under,  all so big and..."  She's waving her hands over the floor, then lifting them above her head and opening one hands upward, razor gripped in other hand, and laughing again. "You see what I say to you?" she asks.

I nod. I really do.

"The voice said to  leave the, oh what it is called, the thing low to ground...?" She's getting frustrated, unable to find the English word.

"The stump," my husband pipes up. 

"Yes. Voice says to put a round it." Her index fingers point moving like two little spoons stirring a thick pot of stew and moving her body in a circle.

"Put a fence around it," I say.  "Like a chain-link fence, in a yard with things growing on it."

"Yes, yes, yes." She's excited realizing that I get it. However, she has stopped cutting my husband's hair and he's twitching slightly not wanting to show his impatience but the frown is a dead give-away.

"So what happens?" I ask, as I look at her then back at my husband. 

"He has nice hair, you see that?" she asks as she lifts a section of hair between her fingers and clips off the uneven ends. "Beautiful hair, white like an angel." She's sectioning off another lot between her fingers and clipping.

He lets out a sigh and the twitching stops, relaxation drops his shoulders beneath the plastic cape snapped at his neck and draped over his body. His arms move slightly.

"Daniel tells the king tree is you, the king," she says, getting back on story track. "Daniel said worship God first, or he will get cut down and lose kingdom. King look all around, up and round, admiring all he has. God says you become like animal after one year, you admire kingdom still."

Long pause as she sections and measures and clips. A large pink hair clip gets moved to the other side of his head and she scoots around him in the red chair to begin the cutting process again. 

I'm leaning on the cook top completely swept away by the musicality of it all and sort of following the story, eager to know where it is going.

"You know the story now? she asks.

My husband nods his head. Just cut blinks like a neon sign on his forehead.  He's too kind to say a word but ever hopeful of getting this haircut over sooner than later.

"I'm following," I answer, wanting to hear her but also wanting the haircut finished.

"Oh," she's dancing around and laughing again, not cutting. "He had to live as an animal for seven years!"

"I don't understand. Do you?" I ask my husband. I am thoroughly perplexed.

"Yes, yes," he says, not moving his head but blinking his eyes faster and faster. "The king had to live like he was an animal. Head and body of a man, but eating from the ground like an animal." Curtness filling the space between us, which is about three feet. 

Jirapen doesn't seem to notice, clipping tiny fly-away hair now, bending and looking into his face, she's all smiles, he's not.  "Look good. Want to go look in mirror?" she asks.

He practically jumps up heading for the bathroom. 

"Take mirror to see back," she insists. "Broken but you can see how you like it."

The smile and calm and bliss has never left her face, being or body. Happiness radiates around her. "Good hair cut," she says. "Do you like it?" she calls out to him.

So what happens I ask her. 

"You do not know this story?" she says, stopping, silent, waiting for an answer maybe, maybe not. "Okay. Lord bless him and he get back everything. Made him humble not ashamed. God not like shame, he was worship. Why have to wait to see God. Know right away. Love God with all you heart. Feel good."

That's the whole story. Book of Daniel in the Bible I learn from my husband upon his return after asking her to make a few adjustments. 

Then I get it. She never complained about the heat that day on the patio because she is humble and believes, has faith that all will go well for her. She has no doubt about that. And it does work that way for her. Things do come her way. She needs an apartment, and a house is offered to her along with payment for her outstanding bills. She loves God and he takes care of her. 

Besides, Thailand is much hotter than L.A. And, it's only a haircut for her friend who pays her money that she needs. I kiss her goodbye, she says a quick prayer hugging me in the process. A bag of oranges from our tree goes with her. We wave at each other from the front porch. She says something unintelligible to me, but I understand by the look on her face she loves me. My husband walks her to her car and pays her cash which she much prefers to a check. 

We'll do this all over again in a month. That day on the hot patio recedes into the past.  

When you are a whole being, all things come to you. Lau Tzu said that in something like 650 A.D.