Valerie Stoyva was born in San Francisco, California, grew up in Boulder, Colorado, attended the University of Michigan and Knox College, and lived for four years in Turkey. Prior to the pandemic, she worked in Early Childhood Education. She lives in Boulder and studies Tai Chi.
Aesthetics The Lotus
She drifted outside the cafe, named The Lotus. The stars had fallen onto the sidewalk. People stood around in small groups. As the trumpet player walked off, chanting into his phone, she stared through the bakery window at the lighted display of iced and immutable cakes, and felt, all at once, devastated and empty. Heading back inside, and sitting down to shipwreck on an island of colored sands, she smiled at the couple on her right and raised her half full water glass. Her senses warmed. The root of existence was gnarled and ugly--monstrous (everyone must die, love cannot save anyone)-- but delicate flowers grew all around it. Tightly closed but ready to open. A crisp, instrumental piece began the second set. Then the singer made his way to the front, as if he were running to catch a train, sprinting after someone he knew, trying to get their attention. The pianist threw his head back, and an elderly couple, regular addicts, danced without a break. On her way out, she stopped at the edge of the Persian rug, the tree of life, alive with birds and roses. The musicians were packing up their instruments, as if filling up suitcases for a journey to other worlds. "That was wonderful," she said to the singer. He smiled and took a step towards her. And she held her breath. "Thank you," he said. "What's your name?" "Alicia. Alicia Barnes." "Thank you for coming, Alicia." He smiled. "I'm Ron." "I enjoy these concerts so much. I come whenever I can…" "I've seen you…" She stepped away. "Wait...Would you be interested in meeting? Next week, maybe? Are you able?"
The two met in a new and rather trendy little cafe, where, sitting at a table under a poster of Prague, they made introductory remarks. He said he woke up every day at six to mediate. He had two cats and cooked special food for them. He stirred his milky drink and offered her a taste. She declined, repressing a shiver. She said she began each day walking in her garden and deciding how to spend the day. She was, at the moment, reading a collection of Chekov's short stories. "He drank champagne in his final hour," she said. "He died just lying on his bed, following his doctor's orders." "That doesn't seem like such a terrible way to go." "Yes, but he had tuberculosis, so he really suffered." "Well, life is a Pandora's box." "All the plagues of existence, and then hope." They agreed to meet again.
She had driven up into the high, cool mountains, and was walking slowly through leafy corridors. She was separated from her husband, but his voice would still fill her head. "You are worthless! Trash!" She drew in the precious air, and gazed at the distant, snow-covered peaks, home to unknown gods. Driving home, she thought of the singer as she followed the glittering creek and took the curves carefully, alert for cyclists, whose faces were fixed with pain as they made the steep climb. She could see dozens of people carrying inner tubes under their arms, walking through cottonwoods toward the water. She got out of her car and stood on a bridge, watching the party on the river, hearing laughter and calling. She was leafy green, full of emeralds, intoxicated with light. That same day, a Saturday, she visited her friend, who lived down the street and was an economics professor. They sat barefoot in the backyard, drinking green tea from chipped cups. The sun was pirouetting above the treetops. Basil plants sang in clay pots, and little cherry tomatoes, tethered to stakes, made joyful noise. Across the street, a child was practicing her violin on her a front porch, the notes thin and scratchy, with stops and starts. "So?" said Julia, pushing back auburn hair and looking at her directly. "Did you and your singer ever connect?" "We met for coffee. He seems nice. But I'm afraid." "Why?" She saw herself lying awake in bed, listening to her paranoid husband curse her as he paced the hallways, drunk. Remembered waking up in the morning, heavy with exhaustion, crumbling. At last, her life resembled that of others. She could go for walks, buy flowers, exercise...No one yelled at her, for the reason that there was no one. "I have peace." "No one deserves that as much as you," said Julia, who knew her story well, and had, over the years, cut through Alicia's social isolation. "Dip your toe in the water, walk a few steps." "I'm not so sure." The little girl went inside, suddenly finished, and a screen door slammed. A tiny dog yipped on his spiritual summit. "You're overthinking this. Meet him again. It's a script. And take some of these tomatoes."
The heat made everything shimmer, but the shore was cool and shaded, and the river an endless, crystal staircase, all rainbows. Invisible hands had dull, earthy heavy rocks up into unfinished totems, right on the edge of the orchestral waterfall. He was telling her about his year in France, when he tried to establish himself as a composer and performer. "I gave myself a certain amount of time to make it, and I didn't make it." Alicia sympathized. "You took a big risk." "Yes. But it was calculated. I didn't lose as much as I could have lost." They walked away from the river and stopped beside a pond, full of cattails and reeds, little birds circling and calling, notes running up and down the scale--a singing school. And everything was green, including the air and water. Like mirrors. "I actually live near here," he said. "Would you like to visit?" "Okay." Just follow the script, she told herself. Easy. They crossed the street and turned a corner. He pointed. "There, by the linden tree. That's where I live." A modest, two storey house. The yard was a little scruffy, a little weedy, untended. There were rocking chairs and a swing on the front porch. They climbed up the steps. "Sit down," he said, "I'll be right out." She was sticky with perspiration. She rocked back and forth, which reminded her of her nights with her children, when they were babies. Days, too. She craned her neck to look up into the branches of the linden. It was massive and delicate. She could hear bees and insects. He returned with two jam jars, filled with mineral water. "Thank you," she said, reaching. He sat next to her, in the other rocking chair. "I have a friend who's an artist," he said. "I'll show you. She's really incredible." He handed her his phone. "See...She starts with a blank canvass, and twelve hours later…" An image of a woman with a beaked head. White wings. Broken eggshells. The violence of birth, one's own birth. He brushed her shoulder with his fingers, gently, playing a chord. "You have pollen in your hair," he said, staying close. "From the linden tree…"