OWES ME AN
U M B R E L L A
One day Anna lay down in a large field and died.
This is a true story.
Who can do all that is asked for in this world?
I am just as short as I look. Thank you for lending me your umbrella—it gives me the veneer of decorum.
She was a small child, unusually small. She mapped her surroundings carefully and christened them with names culled from fantasy—Fairy Rock, Fox’s Den, The Between-Field. The foxes left bones lying around and the fairies disrupted the growth of lichen on the surface of their rock. Ants—the spies of stranger creatures—moved back and forth across The Between-Field making their observations. Anna was small and kept watch in the wild grass for the certain arrival of fantastical things.
Anna is a good student and well-liked, wrote Anna’s teacher though these two statements contradict each other. She should have known. Secretly Anna’s teacher wanted to poke her with a stick, hard.
The adventure is: I’ll arrive at the café early—very early—with a book. I’ll order my coffee “for here” so it comes in a real, china cup. I’ll be so absorbed in my book that I won’t notice you come in. It’ll be something old and octavobound in red cloth. I won’t be the only one there, so look carefully. Make sure you’ve got something clever to say about what I’m reading.
Anna is an epistolary being, one letter at a time. It takes all her concentration to think up a lump of nice things to say, slowly and clearly. She loves to concentrate. Her concentration is so intense that sometimes she mistakes trashcans for mailboxes. So much of her correspondence is lost this way.
Here are the three red tiles I promised you. Terra cotta, actually. They come from a little stack on the patio that must have been left over from remodeling the kitchen. The tiles blister under the thick air in there, although I never cook. I don’t even try to keep milk anymore. Do you miss the heat?
You will say, Anna is short, but it is not so simple. You will say she is beautiful, but her beauty moves behind the eyes and is difficult to trace. It oscillates between her body and yours. You will say she looks familiar, that she reminds you of someone, but is it another of whom she reminds you, or just herself? You will say she is smart. You will say she is good to you. You will wonder what you had meant to say.
Anna is descended from thinkers; it is purely coincidental that she has a body, a nice one, and that she inhabits it well. That she has a penchant for its use. Surprise! It is a pleasure to others.
I have arrived but am in no way prepared to unpack. I put all of the things I took from you in a pile in the middle of the table. Have you figured them all out yet? I will tell you that I included the handkerchief with rows of little castles printed on it, which I don’t think you’d realized I’d taken.
The towels in the bathroom here have blue pansies on them. They make me think of Pascal’s Pensées: blue thoughts. The color of recollection in tranquility. You know the French call it struck by lightning—love at first sight?
Anna is made of forgetfulness. When Anna wants to forget something she knows right where to put it. Her well-being depends upon this subsumption of feeling.
Men who have done something to hurt Anna’s feelings tend to contact her with apologies and entreaties at precisely the moment when she has replaced their misdeeds with the misdeeds of another.
~What is it this time?
~The adventure is that I will run toward the ocean. It’s September and finally hot. You’ll run after me. Just when I think I’ve put a safe distance between us, you’ll speed up and take hold of me. You’ll know the outcome based on whether I laugh, or scream.
~What if I can’t tell the difference?
My name is Anna.
I’m sorry I had to walk out into a field and die.
But I realized it was just going to get worse each time.
Thank you for understanding.
Where are the thoughts from? Are they mined from mineral pressure, like the famous diamond? Do they drop from trees like Newton’s apple? From the Family Tree, like Poe’s wife? Are they scraped off the human body like a graft? Are they gleaned from the vagaries of the brain, as in analysis? After many lifetimes do they suddenly appear on the open plain, as in prophesy? Hatched, or birthed live? You ask such stupid questions.
Anna makes meanings out of river-clay and when she breathes on them they do not come to life—Anna does not have the Breath of Life, she’s just a girl. But she leaves them out in the sun to dry, and they do dry, and little bits flake off in places.
Is anything really off-limits? I doubt it. We may not be saints, but we are clever.
The bookstore is finally closing. All the books are off the shelves, flapping around like bats slamming their dark bodies blindly against the walls. I told you paperbacks can’t stay put. I’m going to miss the upholstery fabric you used in the front window display. I like that fabric.
But that’s not true, is it? Bats always know where they’re going.
The adventure is that you are a customer in the shop and I am the shopgirl. This is a real-life adventure. Your wife has finally insisted that you pick out a new suit, but has refused to accompany you on this most important of missions. Naturally, you need my advice…
I’m doing fine, you know. The weather here is indecipherable…each cloud pattern a reëducation. That’s the reason—I can’t dissociate you from the weather. Do you remember that morning by the water, the bird flew right into my head? You were right, it was funny, but I’m sorry it hurt the bird. Birds avoid me now, as though they know.
On deck the fog leaves its scent on the wind. I watch the oceans every day. I am overwhelmed watching the oceans change places: Pacific to Atlantic, Atlantic to Indian. It’s remarkable. I wish you were here to see this. That’s a postcard: Wish You Were Here!
Anna felt a contraction in her chest where the seat of emotion is said to be. She could even recreate a ghost of this feeling on command with memories, or the memory of memories. She came to understand that she was capable of providing so much care and attention—that her greatest skill would always take more from her than it could ever hope to give in return.
To Whom It May Concern:
I have been at sea for several months and have only just returned. I’ve received no previous correspondence on the subject of Anna and am unfamiliar with the letter you mention. Who are you? In what way are you connected to Anna?
Oh, and if you see her, would you please remind her that she owes me an umbrella?
There is another ending in which Anna is not dead, one in which she begins an adventure by saying: The adventure is that you make everyone think I’m dead. Then we run away—
There is a third ending in which Anna was much more unhappy than anyone around her realized.
When you say physical ideal, what do you mean exactly?
And a fourth ending in which she was much happier than anyone realized.
~The adventure is: strangers on the metro.
~Surely that’s been done before.
~But not by us, and not so well!
~All right—strangers on the metro. Strangers on a Train. How will we ever have time for all these adventures?
~Life is long…
There is an unending. Then we run.
A love story, said Anna.
A love story between two composition notebooks.