Trudy used to say that it’s never winter in Iceland if you’re leaving Springwater by foot. She’s lying on my front lawn again, face down, her arms and legs splayed like a star, her 14th suicide in a month. I know she’s not really dead, not even bleeding, but that could be my heart playing possum. If only she weren’t so reckless in her need for attention, so formulistic in her strategies to battle rejection of any kind. Whatever possessed me to get intimate with my haircutter?
It’s not so much Trudy’s doing this, the act, that bothers me. It’s more like what the neighbors will think when they look out the window and see Trudy week after week, a fixture becoming more threatening, a Dali painting more surreal, a gimmick more a nuisance. Is this the lady who fell to earth, vanishes, and returns? Is this some kind of sick Act 1 to a twisted relationship? And what kind of monster am I to put this poor girl through this? A Jason casting aside his Medea?
I can picture the couple over me, the Thompsons. Mr. Thompson boasting of the healthy heart of his marriage, in his red streaked undershirt, advocating how tomatoes, Big Boys or Black Krims, San Marzano or Roman VFs, the Tomato, the goddess of the Island of Lycopene and the armies of antioxidants, would prevent most every disease imaginable. And Mrs. Thompson, speaking with her back to her husband, speaking as if cemented by the window -- honey, I think I know that girl lying on the front lawn. It looks like my hairdresser at Divine Celine. She really does a nice job, but I wished they’d have more specials.
The first day, Trudy and I met, I stared speechless into the wall mirror, while she bobbed around, holding a pair of shears that imitated the sound of chattering wind-up teeth. I didn’t exactly want the Vin Diesel style, because it was winter in Pierre, and that’s exactly where I was headed. Too late, I thought, my hair, what was left of it, tiny nibs poking through my scalp and I thought she had crossed a line.
She was saying something I thought was scatterbrained, or maybe too torpedo-deep for me, that she had an internet friend in Reykjavik and that they chatted about something more than just the weather.
“And did you know,” Trudy said while snipping ringlets of my salt-and-pepper hair, “that there must at least 200 volcanoes in Iceland and this makes up about a third, a third mind you, of the earth’s total lava flow.”
That’s really amazing, I said. But you’re taking off too much hair. She swung me around in the chair, away from the mirror, and said, I’m so sorry, but you really look better with less hair and not more, like the model‘s picture on the wall. And she would even it out around the sides and back. And I said but who is paying for this? Isn’t the customer always right?
The currency of love, she was saying, cannot be measured in kronas.
Exactly five hours and forty five minutes later, I was saying to Trudy in my Springwater condo, elbows propped up on my bed, as we rubbed noses like experienced Eskimos who’ve sinned and managed the guilt trips, what was so wrong with just a wash and cut?
“You really look better with less hair and not more, “ she said, rolling her gooseberry eyes towards my forehead.
We stared into each other’s eyes for minutes, and hers was an odd intense kind of stare, as if she could morph into a high priestess of sacrificial love, or maybe she fantasized she was my eye doctor and could offer outrageous specials on contact lenses.
So, weeks later, there I was on the phone with Trudy saying that our relationship would go nowhere. And after I asked her to repeat what she was saying through a bad phone line she said something like “Isn’t life like the weeks of autumn?”
Come again, I said.
“Isn’t life like the weeks of autumn?
“OH! You mean isn’t life like the Rings of Saturn?” I wondered how many rings Saturn actually has. Is it seven or three? And which ring would define us?
I decide to take a new approach to this problem, like you would if frying an egg to please a difficult guest who only eats scrambled. Maybe invite her in for apricot brandy and try to reason with her in a gentle non- threatening way, which many would call THERAPEUTIC. And then, perhaps after the third glass, I would tell her my musings over getting a restraining order.
So, Trudy is standing in the middle of my love-barren but art-decorous apartment, brushing the snow off her boots, her ginger-colored skirt, her hibiscus-patterned blouse. Trudy, I say, setting her brandy snifter down by the black leather love seat, don’t you think this is getting to be a little repetitious? I mean, 14 suicides in one month?
She swings her head towards me, the hair, matted, auburn with streaks of marigold, but darker now, because of the snow. There is a look of boredom, that what I have just said is too trite, the orgasmic thrill of a tautology, the lips pushing inward, the upper lip puffing out.
“Repetition,” she says, “breeds victory.”
“On whose side,” I ask.
“Mine. Of course.”
Two hours and twenty minutes later, Trudy is passed out in my bed, eyes rolling up and over just at the moment when I was about to give in and ask for sex, one last time, of course.
So, now I’m force feeding Trudy one cup of black coffee after another, and this might be love of some kind, I wonder. It’s a thought that’s scaring me.
Trudy, I say. I’m expecting someone over in a hour. I have to clean up the apartment.
Are you throwing me out, she asks in her faux-astonished voice. And could this be a woman, she wants to know.
In a manner of speaking, I say, I am throwing you out. And the other part belongs to my personal space, which is not a manner of speaking.
Well, she says, throwing off the fire- engine red covers of my bed, and swinging her orange painted toenails over the floor, if you want me out, you’ll have to drive me home.
Well, how did you get here, I say. You just didn’t fly through the kitchen window.
No, she says, I threw myself plop down in the middle of Myrtle Ave. and an oncoming truck skidded, the driver jumped out, and felt hopelessly responsible for my safety.
I gave him this address, she says, buttoning her wool Balmacaan coat, wrapping a blue-red scarf around her chin. I told him you were my idiot savant brother who I’m looking after. The guy had a lot of heart. You could tell. He had Icelandic eyes.
If my luck is any indication of a karmic state, I must have done something horribly wrong in my past life. Like maybe assassinating the Mother Superior of a Carmelite nunnery, or infiltrating a Buddhist monastery and planting lascivious thoughts in the monks’ heads, or turning the whole place into a brothel. But my VW gets a flat tire a half mile or so from Pierre, which is where Trudy lives, and I’m some five miles and three light years from a hot date at my apartment with someone I met through my cousin Eunice, who suspects I‘m sexually frigid because I‘m not married yet.
It’s kind of poetic, isn’t it, says Trudy, lifting her eyes at the falling snowflakes, as I watch my VW hook up with a tow truck. For some reason, I can’t come up with any rhymed couplets. Maybe just a writer’s block.
So, we’re trudging in ankle deep snow, Trudy covering her nose with the scarf, and her words coming out muffled. Icelandic men, she says, as she shuffles behind me. would keep their partners warm. This isn’t Iceland, I say. I like to think of Pierre as more like Switzerland.
We drag our wind-bruised, cold-pierced selves into the city, and I spot a diner and point. I have to warm up, I say, and for once, Trudy and I agree on something.
We sit down at a back booth, rubbing our hands, which might be extensions of phantom limbs at this point. Trudy orders a hot roast beef with gravy on the mash, and me, a large bowl of French onion with hot chocolate.
Trudy looks up at the waitress with her reddened nose, looking swollen, one that reminds me of Mr. Thompson‘s ideal of the perfect tomato, and says she likes the mash, firm, able to hold the puddle of gravy, like the way craters hold lava. The waitress continues to scribble in her pad while she nods. Her eyebrows are like two open bridges.
“Not soggy,” Trudy says.
“Not soggy. Gotcha, “ says the waitress jotting with stenographer speed and walking away.
You know, says Trudy, placing the flat of her hands on the table, I’m really kind of glad this happened.
“That what happened, ”I say. “That we got stranded in the middle of nowhere and almost froze to death. Or that today marks the 14th anniversary of one of your many lives.”
“No,” she says, “Seriously, you really don’t appreciate Icelandic men. You could learn a thing or two from Icelandic lovers.”
My lips smack after a thick stream of hot chocolate infuses my numb body.
“Trudy, all I know is that we seem to be going in circles.”
“Like the Rings of Saturn.”
I begin to stare into her gazed gimlet eyes. It sounds funny to hear her say that without all the telephone static.
I swipe my hand across the varnished booth table to make a point.
“Relationships must go in straight lines, not circular, or semi-round, or oblong, or zigzag.”
“Hmm,” she says, studying me with her head perched in both hands. Hmm.
“ Do you know what I think your problem is,” she says.
She sits back, letting her hands fall into her lap, and with a straight, sphinx-like face, she claims I’m emotionally frigid.
“I mean, you go through the act and all just to impress your partner, but where’s the feeling? Now in Iceland, it’s much more romantic. Because it’s so cold, and people must travel long distances to see one another, and there’s always the danger of volcanoes destroying your house. So, when couples come together there, which is not here, they’re less likely to leave each other. That’s Icelandic love for you.”
Trudy, I say, trying to swallow a lumpy glob of mozzarella cheese stuck in my throat.
They’re in love. We’re . . . I’m not. Thumping my chest as I’m saying this.
Her eyes suddenly grow into scarred oval battlefields.
“Not even a pinch?” She presses her finger and thumb together.
“A pinch is not enough!” My voice fires into the air like a howitzer.
I turn around. My face feels like 120 degrees. A couple in a diagonal booth turn around.
Trudy wipes her lips and throws down her napkin.
“Excuse,” she says, “I feel a little sick.”
She stands, scowls at me, and rushes off to an area around the waiters, and then disappears from view.
Why do I allow her to make me feel so damn guilty, every time she pulls this crap. How many times have I told her that with her it’s not a question of want, or love, but of transient need. She’s really a constant pest.
Okay, I tell myself, she’ll be back, and it’ll be the last time you see her. But it’s been a whole fifteen minutes and she hasn’t returned. I thrum the tabletop with my fingers. Twenty five minutes. Was she abducted? Did she try to flush herself down the toilet bowl? Did she meet and fall in love with Mr. Clean?
I pay the check, and ask the man behind the cash register whether he has seen Trudy. He shrugs. I describe her. He says to fill out a police report because he is very busy, but I don’t see any customers at the register.
I scramble over to the front of the ladies’ room, knocking and yelling, “Trudy? Trudy, are you in there?”
A middle-aged woman in ski jacket opens the door, and says “Mister, I don’t think this person,Trudy, is in here. Now do you mind if I get back to finish what I was doing?”
The temperature outside must have dropped twenty degrees. It’s enough to make me dream of spending a vacation in Siberia.
I walk around the diner, up and down the snow-layered streets. Trudy, I call out, Trudy. My insides are beginning to numb, to feel like empty rooms, locked from access.
I’m walking down alleys and avenues, continuing to call her name. People shoot me incredulous stares. Outside on his front lawn and shoveling, an old man waves his hand and smiles. Truman died long, he says.
It’s really bugging me. Not so much the cold. But I’m starting to worry about her. ME worry about TRUDY? I need to speak to Eunice to put me in touch with a warm and patient psychotherapist who can deal with the neurotic need to be manipulated. To deal with this neurotic need to live a circular existence.
I whip out a cell phone and dial a cab. Tell the dispatcher I need a ride to Springwater.
Thoughts invade my private space, my mental sanctuary. Suppose Trudy did something to herself? I mean what if she did something, although she never did anything. Except the one time she used chocolate syrup to mimic blood. Would I be able to forgive myself? Would I be able to look into the eyes of my cousin, Eunice, and say, I caused a somewhat unbalanced woman to fall over the edge. Can I excuse everything by blaming it on my lack of maturity?
The cab driver honks his horn.
He lets me off, peering out the window at my front lawn. I pay him and climb out. Feeling really depressed. Feeling like a schmuck. Worse than a schmuck. A heartless schmuck more than Saddam Hussein on his worse day. Worse than Roy Rodgers accidentally shooting Trigger.
But the vision of her is real. There she is.
She’s lying on my front lawn. Face down in the snow. Arms and legs outstretched, like some stick-figure comic character. Slowly, the head begins to rise.
“I’m so fucking cold,” she says.
And in a strange but familiar sort of way, I’m beginning to fall in love.
Kyle Hemmings is finishing his MFA in creative writing at National University. He enjoys cooking, baking, and cartoon art, and is a lifelong fan of the Beach Boys. He's looking forward to an endless summer, even though Jersey winters are usually tough.
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