Reading June 2, 2007
"Embedded With Mangoes
in the Garden of Duelling Delights"
"What Happens Here Stays Here:"
Julia Klatt Singer
The last thing I remember was 1984, dancing
to the Talking Heads, Burning Down the House, in the front
room of a friend of a friend’s apartment in Chicago.
The room was crowded and hot, the smell of pot in the air,
and then I was feeling really really tired. I was at the party
with a friend of mine, Robin, but she was nowhere in sight
when I suddenly felt the urge to lie down, so I asked where
the bathroom was, figuring a bed wouldn’t be but a door
or two away.” She is spinning back and forth slowly
as she talks. The two drinks he bought her are gone and Dick
is making them more.
“I found a dark room that smelled like
snow. The window was open a couple inches and it was cold
outside. Snowflakes the size of quarters floated past the
window as I climbed under the down comforter. I remember thinking
how nice it was to be surrounded by all that fluffy white.
The pillow, I swear to god, was like a giant marshmallow and
as I watched the snow float by, I thought this is heaven.
Heaven is a cozy bed with a party down the hall, and no one
to bother you.
“Somebody woke me up in 1992 to move the
bed from the room. They didn’t like the idea of waking
me up, but the movers refused to take the bed down three flights
of stairs with me in it. They did let me climb in the back
of the van and lay down again, once the bed was loaded in
the truck. After that, I couldn’t really tell you what
was a dream and what was real, the sleep, like a hibernation.”
As Dick slides the drinks in front of them, he raises his
eyebrow. These, Dick says, are on me. Dick only buys drinks
when he thinks a regular needs the help, socially, to look
more like a regular happy guy.
She takes a long drink, then continues, “I
remember hearing a woman scream hysterically. ‘Yah right.
You don’t know who she is. You just found her in your
bed, buck naked. Oh, after a party. Somebody left her and
you couldn’t just throw her out. You are one hell of
a gentleman.’ I heard in his voice a weariness, like
he’d had this conversation before, and he knew exactly
where it was going.
“I remember late night sounds of ice cubes
trays cracking, replaced by the motorized sound of crushing
ice. Sounds of a piano, of jazz floating on the air. Heavy
shoes on a wooden floor, the smell of a cigarette burning,
the sweet smell of pot. The clicking of keys. He’d sing
sometimes, lyrics I didn’t recognize, tunes I didn’t
“I remember thinking about Quisp and Captain Crunch.
About Snap Crackle and Pop. How I wished to wake to the smell
of bacon frying, coffee percolating. I remember feeling sad
when I realized I’d miss breakfast. I remember feeling
utterly alone when I realized I hadn’t heard his shoes
on the wooden floor in a very long time.”
He watches her suck down two more drinks and her words keep
coming, clear and crazy at the same time.
“Really,” he say. “That’s a long time
to be asleep. You must be a really sound sleeper.”
“Oh I am,” she says. “I majored
in sleep, in college. I found myself asleep during most of
my classes, and my professors complimented me on my ability
to sleep so gracefully at my desk, that I decided to make
it my major. You’d be amazed at how many professors
wanted to watch me sleep. I stopped attending classes. Private
tutorials only my junior and senior year.” She furrows
her brows, for the first time a wave of sadness crosses her
“I guess I didn’t finish college,
if I fell asleep at that party in Chicago. That was January
and I had a semester left to go. I wonder if they missed me?
My professors. If they wondered what happened to me?”
She swings his direction, looks him straight on and says,
“So tell me,” she says, “what have I missed?”
He shakes his head. Tries to think of something
important, something worth knowing, something that has happened
‘Breakfast,” he say. “You
missed breakfast. Do you like French toast? Hash browns? Scrambled
‘Yes,” she says. “Almost as
much as I like gin.” She has this crooked smile, a dimple
in one cheek, teeth white and clean—she bites her lower
lip when she realizes he is gazing at her. Those lips he want
to kiss, but doesn’t dare.
He takes her back to his house on Nicollet Island. It is a
short walk and the night is cool, the moon resting on its
side. “This is nice” she says. “To be up
at night. What was I thinking, sleeping all this time?”
His house is old, built in 1896, narrow and
made of wood. He takes her coat and hat and scarf and tells
her she can look around while he makes breakfast, but please
he says, stay out of my bed. This makes her laugh, makes him
laugh too, since he has never said those words to a woman
before. He finds the bacon and eggs, brews a pot of coffee.
While the bacon is cooking he finds a station that plays jazz
on the radio, plays it just loud enough to hear in the kitchen.
This is a dilemma. Normally, he’d feed
this girl, notice the time, ask her if she was tired, did
she want to lie down. Normally he’d kiss this girl,
take her to bed, explore her body, see how much she was game
for. But this girl makes him nervous. What if a kiss is fatal?
What if something terrible happens to her, to him? And if
he let her lay down, what if she falls into a deep sleep again,
never wakes? He likes her. He wouldn’t mind if she was
always in his bed, but he could see how things could get difficult.
Like changing the sheets. And what do you do with a woman
asleep, honorably? He is wishing she knew the name of the
man with the heavy shoes, the man who let her stay in his
bed until what? What had finally driven him to abandon her?
Okay, it is late and they’d drunk a lot
of gin, but now he is starting to wonder what had happened
to him, to the man whose bed she had been sleeping in. Had
a curse been put on him too? Men turn into frogs, right? And
he lives near the river and all and…
“That smells so good.” She is standing
in the doorway of his kitchen, her head resting on the door.
“You look nervous all of a sudden,” she straightens
“Oh I was just wondering.” His voice
cracks. “Do you like frogs?”
“To eat? For breakfast?” She walks
across the room, rests her hips against the counter next to
him. She is wearing jeans that hug her hips, a white v-neck
t-shirt and a soft baby blue sweater. When she looks at him
he sees it is the same color as her eyes.
“God no. Do you like them. I mean, if
you found one, would you take care of it? Good care of it?
Make sure it didn’t jump in the river or anything.”
“Wouldn’t it prefer to live in the
river? Than with me? Wouldn’t it be happier there?”
She inches closer. Her elbow brushes against
his. He feels a jolt of energy surge through his body.
“God no. The river is filthy. It would
lose a leg or grow a third one.” She is hazardously
close to him now. The left sides of their bodies are touching
at every possible point.
“Where would I keep it? Where would he
be happiest. In a fountain? Or could I keep him in my bathtub?
Would he bathe with me?” He can see the lace of her
bra, and it is all he can think about now, and he is wondering
how hungry she is.
“He’d love that. Nothing would make
him happier.” He can feel the heat of her body.
The heat of her glowing skin and he knows she
is looking at him as he gazes at the tips of her shoes. Maybe
he should find a way to lay her down on the rug in his living
room, where it is chilly, where he can keep her awake, kiss
her everywhere but on the lips.
Wasn’t it a kiss to the lips that changed
~an excerpt from the story, "Beauty
Rest" (available in the TIC
JULIA KLATT SINGER writes short
stories and poems. She received a masters degree in creative
writing from Hamline
University and participated in the Loft
Mentor Series in non-fiction and poetry. She works
as a visiting writer to the school through COMPAS.
She is one of four writers who collaboratively wrote
12 Branches, published in April 2003 by Coffee
House Press, which was nominated for the Minnesota
Book Award. Her stories and poems have appeared
in over three dozen journals.