It was the vertigo of a place returned. Water tanks appeared to be bloating, and wires strung between telephone poles looked lax and vibrational and emitted an off-crackling that disturbed her inner ear. The sky flashed white when she looked up into it, searching as she did each afternoon until the black spots appeared, always first as if on her retina, then circling closer and lower until they became the bodies of vultures come to visit her like before.
Mary Magdalene stood on her apartment’s patio, high up in the heat of San Antone—a city of highways and dry patches and brittle cedars depleting water from the ground. Her nurse, as usual, watched through the patio’s glass doors. The birds flew in and Mary Mag saw their white wing tips materialize, their heads focusing from black into gray, the grays becoming warted, their head flesh wrinkled, and bumps of anticipation rose on her skin.
Her action was always the same, but the results she could never pin down. She held a plastic breakfast tray in both hands. When the birds landed, she rotated her shoulders and hips, leaned in, lifted up with the legs, back with the arms and tray, and swung with a perfect tennis backhand at the nearest of their heads.
Hhhhhh then ————————. The telephone wires seemed to transmit a void of hearing at impact. Her elbows too always felt as if they clacked, but she heard nothing, nothing at all.
Another location in her life: the garage. Mary Magdalene moved from elevator to car with an arthritic choreography of key in hand. The nurse trailed as always, watching Mag climb in, flexible but slowed. A rosary hung over the dash: a hazard to Mag’s vision, her driving, her hair. Vulture shit whitewashed the hood, and the key was turned, the sound of the machine there it is, slipups of break and go her lurching pedal routine toward a garage door motioning car after car into view. Mag steered into a lane maybe not looking. No blinker. The nurse sucked breath in, clasped hands in her lap, and poles flashed roadside, electricity strung.
Leaving it seemed had become the same as returning after the course of this many, after how many gones and backs no longer a circle? Away from and toward having merged at some directionless, infinite point? Mag peered at the sky again searching. She sped fast on land, eluding thoughts with talk.
“Drunk only with an S,” she says to the nurse, “A pneumonic. And now she’s got that girlfriend with the boyfriend and the boyfriend that’s the same age as her son. She’s given the power of eternit—a-attorney, everything. His insurance. But she has to pay well those dollars, I don’t know, on the mortgage on the house and well let’s build a swimming pool let’s get a new bed let’s do this, new washing machine new stove or something. It’s not going to last maybe a couple of—”
The nurse nodded her head in reply or else shook it. The speed limit inevitably changed.
The breakfast tray may have whacked one of the beasts square. But what Mary Magdalene saw was, that is when she could not hear was, well maybe she closed her eyes.
There was something wrong between impact and after, not an occurrence, but a semblance of a lack. Perhaps in her San Antone after does not come? The cedars bore the weather, shedding bark day to day. How long had they stood, them-these poles? The nurse meanwhile was always looking, always holding her body on its varied parts. The vultures, how many? One and one and one, same or another, Mary Mag counted, circling, landing, perching, until the breakfast tray. Or was it before that she? A patio so high up was absurd maybe, but it was hers. The heat belonged to no one, of course, but she stood out in it regardless, having lived for so long.
In the car. The drought wind swirled dust into the air so she closed the vents. A good squirt from the wipers helped Mary Magdalene forget. She executed this with her thumb in intervals as they passed the university lot, the dry creek, corporate lawns watered against ration. She drove with tires in both lanes with a girth like a building or simply her Cadillac. Objects were and were not what she made of them here in San Antone where movement reined, where birds knew thirst, where time was stale, an aftertaste—no impossible— no (a silence).
The Cadillac’s bumper sticker read “Jesus Wept.” The words trailed Mag and her nurse as they wove through near misses on the freeway, the hazards of parking spots, horns so loud at them, the jar of rumble strips, containment rails, undercarriage scrapes, and daily when they returned home dry-eyed to sleep. They slept one body a door away from the other. Mary in bed, the nurse on a fold-out cot. The distance was such that Mary could not hear the nurse’s prayers. But the nurse heard each trip Mary Magdalene took to the john.
Whiskey at the Tennis Club masked with Coke. Mary Magdalene drank up daily. The nurse took coffee meanwhile across a parking lot, behind the hot dog rollers and tabloid rack in a convenience store booth. The Tennis Club was not for the help. Jews there required strings. The nurse would sip, her hands not so unlike the color of her drink, the thickness of her shoes belonging to a woman who has not, but gives.
An old man in the Tennis Club had blood on his shirt. “I guess one more razor wins again, right?” he says. “Right?”
“I don’t play anymore, can’t,” says Mary Mag with a hand on her elbow, “but in my dreams. Doubles all the— with my late husband even. Oh—” “
At least it’s near the button hole,” he says, “I’m telling you, I got this deal going with this razor, weird. Have you ever heard of that, have you ever heard of a man fighting his razor? It’s a relationship right. Just when I think I’m good, he bites me again. If it was winter I could put a little sweater on over. ”
“Well that is, THIS is, I’m so glad we got together,” she says, “You know I used to—”
Who was listening to what?
Time for the car again always arrived too soon and often too late. Not so unlike how all that passed, upon passing, Mary Magdalene could neither quite recall nor forget. Simply, there were days when she showed up on the wrong days. Holidays, gentleman’s poker night, and she would take a flower arrangement from the Club, hide it in her purse wet and all to compensate. The stems at least were something to grab while the days were so filled with nothing, or sky, or with here and there as movement only.
“None of us gets out alive.”
“Us, this. None of us gets out alive,” he jokes.
When she could not sleep, Mary Magdalene stared at the chart in the bathroom. The macular disturbances were more gray than black, hovering where she could expect them, soothing even in their position, the chart enabling a measure of going blind night by night. Lines vertical and horizontal, warping but static and, turned away from the mirror is realistic, she thought. Safer. Then, this quiet disturbs and something vague about the nurse, a wordless knowledge of another’s body near. Mary Magdalene listened to the appliances throughout the house. Or rather, sensed them below audible. Maybe it was too cold in there in the air. Maybe she should go out onto the patio to breathe a little heat and watch the cars always passing below. A moving focuslessness to it all.
If she could blame the telephone poles for something, blame their weird electricity and voices strung out, or the water towers for their influence on her eye parts her eardrums her kidneys . . . Or the trees, or insurance money.
Mary Magdalene slid open the glass doors, and went out to search for vultures’ blood.