I.

Of all the months amazing events could take place in, I suppose November is as good a month as any. With all those misty mornings and red leaves and the summer all dried up and watered down and the autumn just throwing its pumpkin vine-grape leave tendrils around the little houses, trying to find its footing. I suppose I shoulda known that November magic couldn't always pass me by. Here I am, already talking about magic as if I believed in such a thing. Well, even if I did one couldn't blame me for it, after what I saw in that split ends-broken toe building.

I've never been called a beauty, although I suppose the word quaint isn't too strong an adjective to describe my physic. I'm on the shorter end of things, and my hair never seems to stay styled the way Lydia wants it to. Lydia spends hours on it, gallon of spray and a fortune of shampoo and when I leave her parlor each month I swear I am afraid I'll drown in the sea of clippings around my feet. No use though, may as well have pumpkin vines on my head, all tangled and knotted and growin every which way with no regard for social expectations.

I won't bother telling you about how vibrant and green my eyes are, ripe grapes all dewy as if I was looking real hard into the sun or taken by a fit of romanticism on some full moon night. I won't bother telling you about them because they are so well hidden beneath the tendrils of rebellious hair and my thick glasses that no one ever sees them anyway.

Jason and I live at the end of a dead-end street just off the main thoroughfare, in that gray area between the good part of town and the bad part of town. Jason is not my husband. He is not my boyfriend, lover or fiance. I cook him breakfast each morning and every evening fall asleep beside him in a bed too big for us to fill. Jason is my cat, a languorous creature of the turtle shell variety. Jason yawns at life. I like his attitude.

I cook Jason fish and eggs. Scrambled, is how he likes them best. For myself I excavate some hardened leftovers from my fridge. A slice of stale pumpkin pie and cheap wine. I put his food on a plate and set it next to where he lounges on our kitchen table, beside the red vase with the wilted flowers. I go to the window and look out into the mist-dawn-water-sun November morning. Across the street Mrs. Vanguard is pulling trash out to the curb. She wears a red bathrobe. Her skin reminds me of wilted flowers, straining to the ground.

"I'm going out."

Jason doesn't care. He yawns. I don't bother locking the door. I've nothing of value and even if I did thieves could just as easily break open the window, may as well save myself the expense of broken glass.

The city walks where residential gives way to commercial are all tumble round discarded foam cups and indiscreet items that pay homage the previous night's festivities. The street cleaners in their orange and green suits have only just begun their task. Cars rumble past in a broken stream, stopping now and then at lights the colors of fallen oak leaves. One driver opens his window to tap his cigarette into the mist.

The market I get my paper from is a hodge-podge of beer ads and neon signs. I go there because I know the man who works the morning shift. His name is Dave and he is a fan of coffee, cheap and black. I never read the paper. I figure that whatever it says will only be bad. I buy it because it is expected of me.

The door swings open and a bell announces my arrival. Dave looks up from his Styrofoam cup and raises a callused hand in a sloppy wave. "Morning, the usual?"

"I never deviate."

Dave punches numbers on the old cash register as I collect my paper from the stand. I stuff it under my arm before I get a whiff of the headlines. Too early for headlines. They smell like rotted corpses and half truths and moldering things left out too long in the wet November night. I hunt for coins in my shoulder bag, jacket pockets, jeans.

"You want something to drink?"

"Too early, can't handle your toxic waste till well after noon."

"You don't drink coffee after noon."

"Exactly."

"Well, you wanna grab something other than coffee tonight? Maybe go down that old cafe near--"

I slam the coins on the counter and walk out of the shop. I feel sick. Probably the stone hard pumpkin pie, or at least that's what I tell myself. Once, after I broke up with my last bow, I came home crying to Jason. I poured my heart out to the damn cat. Long paragraphs that bobbed and capsized in my throat as I choked them out. I was prostrate on that bed and it had never seemed bigger or colder. Those blankets were paper thin, crush at the touch leaves that did nothing to keep one warm. Finally I looked to Jason for an answer. Jason yawned. I think that's when I hardened. Like three week old pie. Cheap wine. Early frost.

The street is a little cleaner now, the cars somewhat more numerous, the fog still thick like ghost vines clinging to a ghost terrace in a ghost arbor. I fight my way through this morning jungle. I can't go home yet. Can't face Jason's yawn, his condescending realism. I throw the paper on the ground. The headlines are too clear cut.

Across the street a pair of lovers lean against a lamp post, kissing and whispering. The woman laughs. I imagine they must be saying all manner of idealistic things, probably talking about snowflakes and picnics and apples and cider and all those things people talk about in November. Lovers never mention January. They never mention how cold and long winter nights become after Christmas. They never once admit that they may spend those nights alone. They assume. Well, I know better. I imagine Jason would yawn to see them so foolishly caught up in their fancies. I try, but only manage a frown. My frown reminds me of a wilted flower, red petals straining toward the earth. I'm disgusted with myself.

"You a fancier of works of art, Miss?"

The man who addressed me stood at the head of a side street, a tributary on the rushing downtown road. Maybe it's just the tendency to romanticize people in memory that makes me remember him now as siren like. He was leaning against the stop sign, arms crossed lightly. He wore one of those hats artists wear that remind me of a pillow with all the stuffing sucked out. It was red. His eyes were black. His hair was blond. His jeans were torn. I don't know why, but I felt my cheeks get hot.

"Only vases." I say.

"That's all we have." He replies.

He hands me a flyer with an address and a photo of some black and white vases made grainy by a bad printing job. I never take flyers from people. I took this one. I looked at his face for a moment before I stepped away. There was an expression there that I could not place. I looked again at the flyer. There was something about the vases that seemed vaguely familiar to me.

"We just moved our main gallery from the neighboring city and are looking to draw new patrons. There's an opening party tonight where we'll showcase some of our most lovely works. No pressure to buy anything, just come for the experience. It's wonderful to know our work is being enjoyed."

"I doubt I will come."

"My name is William. I hope you change your mind."

I turn and walk away without responding. I walk fast, so that the chill air will ice my cheeks. When I get home there's a message on my telephone. Jason gets up from the top of the television set and gives me a credulous look. I toss my bag and the flyer on the kitchen table, next to the vase with the wilted flowers. I look back at the cat but can't quite meet his gaze. "What?" I demand of him. I go to the bathroom, slam the door and turn the shower full blast.

The message was from Denise. If I had to admit to having a close friend I suppose Denise would fit the description, although I would never admit to something so shallow. The friendship is kept alive purely through Denise's stubbornness. She is a woman used to getting her way. Sometimes, I'd imagine that in the womb she was already plotting, choosing which cells she wanted where and what genes she preferred from what parent. She certainly looks as if she had planned her appearance from conception. All sunflower tall and her hair ripe wheat blond and her breasts like persimmons left on the branch beyond their time and liable to fall from their own weight.

The telephone rings while I am scrubbing my hair dry. The message machine clicks and complains and then Denise's voice comes on and I pick up before she can start wondering where I am.

"Anna? Is that you? Oh, it's wonderful to talk to you, dear! Now, just how have you been this morning? Did you read the paper yet? My goodness, what a mess we're in! I never thought we'd go so far to prove a point, but anyway, at least they've caught that murderer, I was so afraid to go outside at night but now I feel just perfectly safe again, thank goodness. Speaking of going out at night, I haven't seen you in ages, well, what I mean is it's been ages since I've seen you save for tea or lunch or at the park and oh, you'll never guess what I saw in the paper today! Oh, but I'm sure you saw it too, a new gallery is opening on Cedar Street, right across from that delightful cafe we adore! We simply must go grab dinner and peak in at the art, why, won't we feel just so cultured? Aren't you just so excited? Is it a date then?"

I make feeble excuses, but Denise won't hear of them and finally I give in as I always do.

"Oh, wonderful! You know, we could bring someone else along, perhaps Dave? I'm sure he would be thrilled to see you, although I dare say the vases will bore him."

"Vases?" I ask. My cheeks redden at the word. I hate them for it.

"Why of course, didn't I tell you? The whole gallery is devoted to vases, quite the novelty. So, I'll call Dave and--"

"No, Denise, I would hate to impose on you. I'll give him a ring and ask myself."

"Well..."

I assure Denise that Dave and I will be at the cafe by six and hang up. Of course, I have no intention of calling Dave or informing him of the event, but if I had told Denise that she would have just gone into a glowingly sympathetic tirade about how I needed a man to heal my broken heart. Foolishness. I yawned.

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