"Your purse threw up," I said. An electronic dictionary/thesaurus had slid out, along with a guitar pick, a beer coaster, a cell phone, and a little plastic monkey.
She turned from her book and glanced over at her purse. She looked up and said, "Thanks, guy." She put the remaining items back into her purse and pushed it between her legs just as her cell phone beeped. She ignored it and continued with her book. She was here for Neruda.
At the indoor coffee cafe on the other side of the store a man could be heard swearing at a girl behind a cash register. He wasn't using his indoor voice when he gave his opinion on how much a 16oz cup of "lukewarm" coffee should cost, and now everyone else in the store knew how he felt too. It was a vulgar attempt at side-stepping consumerism and his repoire made me want to leave poetry, locate the section on weaponry, find the biggest book on the subject, and slam it against his face. Apparently my anger was shared by a man standing nearby, as the situation quickly turned into a scuffle and security was called.
I turned my attention back to my aisle. She was still reading Neruda, seemingly unaffected by the loud outburst that had just taken place. Her hair was dark brown, long and pulled back in a pony tail. She wore a fluffy white blouse and mango colored corduroys. Mostly, I could picture her and I feeding seagulls together, laughing as they swooped down to retrieve each new offering, crying as they flew away.
Without looking up from her book, she started talking, "My brother used to always backtalk and yell at my mother until one day my father caught him doing it. He grabbed my brother around the neck, dragged him into the living room, pulled the biggest hardback he could find from the family bookshelf, and turned his ass inside out for the next four minutes. I know it lasted four minutes because I was sitting in the corner chair the whole time, listening to Sister Christian by Night Ranger in my headphones. Length of punishment equaled duration of song. I turned the volume up loud enough to drown out the sound of my crying brother, but I could still hear and feel the impact of the book each time it connected with his reddening bare ass. Toward the end my father's arms grew tired, and while his delivery remained sharp and powerful, his aim faltered and the corner of the book would sometimes graze my brother's ass, leaving long, red welt lines that looked like worms crawling across fevered skin. My dad never noticed me sitting there."
She paused for a moment and flipped through a few pages before speaking again, "Fast forward to present day. I'm 31 now, and the only way I can orgasm during sex is if that song is playing loudly and I am being violently spanked. It's amazing how fragile our early years are, and how all it takes is a four minute moment to completely affect an adult life. "
"Which book?" I asked her.
"Pablo Neruda," she answered as she flipped over the book she was holding so I could see it.
"No, no.. I meant which book did your dad use on your brother?"
"Oh, it was one of those giant Do It Yourself home improvement books. Like the ones you see for sale at Lowe's Hardware and such."
I spotted Sexton down near her knee and excused myself as I retrieved the book from the shelf. Her complete life's work in 600 pages, her words waiting to be read. She knew Plath. They were friends against doctor's orders. Gas, pills, poetry... c'est la vie, ladies.
Now it was her turn to look at me while I peered into a book. "So you like poetry, huh?" she asked. "Can't say I know many boys who like poetry. And when they do like it, they typically say so using a fat tongue stuck in a warm cage. I have to pee." She stands up and brushes out the creases in her clothing. She is beautiful and my heart feels like it sprinted seven flights of stairs. We are in the poetry section together. Her eyes are mildly grateful and she has to pee. If I don't say something right now, she will leave.
"Why the monkey?" was all I could think to say.
She smiled thinly and asked me who my favorite poet was. I told her it was a three-way tie between Bukowski, Plath and the man she held in her hands. She smiled again and asked me to prove it. I removed my backpack, reached in and pulled out the very book she was holding. I stood next to her, shoulder to shoulder, and rifled through my copy so she could see the marks I made on all my favorite poems. I looked back and saw her fishing around inside her purse.
"Here, you can have it," she said as she handed me the plastic monkey. "Did you know the oil of freshly picked cashews is highly caustic to the skin until you roast them? Our soldiers in WWII used to call them Blister Nuts, but I call them Monkey Nuts because it's a favorite food of monkeys in Africa." I told her I didn't know that and thanked her with a smile as she began to walk away. I looked down at the plastic monkey. It was fat and slightly heavier than it appeared and I noticed a dividing line where the head and neck met the rest of the body. I twisted it and the two halves separated from each other, and inside the belly was a handful of roasted cashews. I smiled and looked back up. And as I spotted her walking across the store I stood there watching her go, gently holding my nuts in my hand.
Oh the time has come
And you know
That you're the only one to say
Where you going
What you looking for
You know those boys
Don't want to play no more
What's your price for flight
In finding mister right
You'll be alright tonight"