The Poet & the Baby
A Short Story by Margaret C. Murray
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
—W. B. Yeats
Blue ocean, white dunes, strong wind, fall leaves. Provincetown shimmers emerging out of the translucent Atlantic. At the window of The Anchor Cafe, I sit writing in my notebook. I am on my break from waiting tables. Today, as usual, I see P-town’s famous young residence poet and an older bearded man in tweeds walking down Commercial Street. Judith Woodchild is taking slow measured steps like an egret stalking in still marshes. Maybe she’ll come into The Anchor again?
I glance down at the story I’m working on called “The Icebox”. The last paragraph reads:
“Ice. Myself. The doubt image of constancy and playfulness twists my face in a pose of betrayal. I will come through. I must. The jealousy melts on the other side of the trick door, my coffin, my cage.”
As quickly as I write, I cross out–whole lines, paragraphs even, as if instant obliteration confers value on what is worthless. Each time I cross something out, I stop and look out the window.
The picturesque street is too quiet. Shop owners have shipped their inventory of jewelry, objects d’art, bikinis and Givenchy purses back to Greenwich Village. Fancy restaurants are opened on weekends only. The beaches are empty.
With my fingernails I scrape at the built-up residue on the edge of this small table by the window. I can see Judith’s slight, compact figure posed against a background of blue sky, wild waves and glittering sand. What does she think about? How many of her riveting poems materialize out there on the dunes, jutting into her consciousness like small-jeweled crabs. I wonder if she carries a notebook in her pocket or maybe her purse. Does she even carry a purse?
Sipping coffee, I look up just in time to see them come in. Banging the door behind them, Judith and the bearded man enter. Countertop rumor has it that this man is her lover.
“Good morning. Do you have any herbal tea?” she asks Don, The Anchor owner.
Don looks to me so I get up and go behind the counter to get the teapot and tea bag.
How neatly the red Pucci scarf is tied around Judith’s long nearly black wavy hair. How clean her diction is, how delicately she crosses her legs in their smooth brown high-healed leather boots. Instantly I see the thread of her passionate writing life and follow it, each one of her days like a pearl-white line of a new poem.
Rising early, walking to the beach where she meets her lover, stopping at The Anchor for tea, writing until three or five, her poetry flying off into bookstores like flames atop the apostles’ heads. She’d be attending book readings where she’s featured, going to those literary parties about which I overhear wild drug-filled stories at The Anchor counter.
After setting down the cup, saucer and a full teapot with teabag, I stand over her table with my pad and pencil.
“I don’t know if I dare eat,” Judith says, looking sleepy-eyed and seductive like a baby at the man who has just suggested they order omelets. He has crinkly blue eyes, a strong chin, and big hands. I wonder what his name is. He must be her lover.
“I feel like I’m gorging myself,” she says, a dimple showing in one cheek. “Maybe that’s why I threw up last night after that lobster dinner.”
They both laugh conspiratorially.
“Tell me,” Judith looks up inquiringly. “Do all women feel like they’re gorging themselves whenever they eat?”
“You asked the wrong person,” I say. “I don’t eat much.”
“May I ask why?” Judith crosses her legs the other way.
“Working here. . . you get tired of food,” I say.
“You look so thin, doesn’t she, Eric? Isn’t it awful what our work forces us to do,” she says. As she speaks to him, I noticed how Judith’s eyes jump away, how her mouth, the soft red lips, tense as if to say, “This is so difficult but I must make the effort.”
He smiles too brightly at her question. I back off, realizing I’ve been dismissed. Hurrying back to Don calling from the kitchen, I miss out on the rest of their conversation.
That night in my rented room on Pearl Street, I reread my story, “The Icebox”. In it, Celine, a big girl of five, hides on the porch in her grandmother’s old-fashion wooden icebox. Celine suffers from a bad earache. Her new baby sister has just been born that night. She’s frightened and wants her mother to come home from the hospital. She’s ashamed of crying too and angry with her father and aunt who are arguing inside the house about whether or not they should get the doctor.
Inside the icebox, Celine discovers a trick door that leads her to. . . . Where? I’m stuck again.
I have a sister too but we’re not close. She’s a statistician at the University of Pittsburgh. I think it started with grandma’s icebox. My mother always referred to my grandmother as Grandma-in-Heaven. I only knew her from the small picture on my mother’s bedroom dresser and her old ice chest that sat out on our front porch on Foliage Street for years. She died four years before I was born.
To download the complete short story . . . Sign Up on the Top Right to receive updates from Margaret C. Murray.