An artist as well as a writer, Kurt Cole Eidsvig received an MFA from the Creative Writing Program at the University of Montana and has been published in journals like Slipstream, Hanging Loose, Borderlands, Main Street Rag and The Southeast Review. A featured columnist on BigRedandShiny.com, and a regular contributor to sites like Examiner.com and ArtAmerica.org, his work won a Warhol Foundation / Creative Capital Fellowship, a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship, the Edmund Freeman Award, and a University of Montana Teaching Fellowship. Eidsvig's writing has earned semi-finalist awards from The Sawtooth Poetry Prize and Zone 3 Books, as well as finalist recognition from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Media outlets such as The Boston Globe, The Improper Bostonian, Boston Neighborhood News, and The Weekly Dig have featured Kurt and his work. He lives an works in Key West, Florida and maintains a website at Www.EidsvigArt.com.
MARIGOLD IN WINTER
After Ramona left I couldn’t afford any more emotional lacerations. So I sweat, I kissed, I heaved and kissed some more. With any new girl I met, I insisted on being the answer to questions they never knew they had. My sex life was basically a series of infomercials. For the blonde at Whiskey’s who drank vodka crans, I offered one product; for the redhead bartender at Sola’s with the extra-thin eyebrows, it was something else.
In and out of bars, up and down the black asphalt of Boylston Street, I premiered my over-produced paid television spots. And in room-mated apartments in the Back Bay, in Fenway, in Southie, in the 3 a.m. glow of the city, on sheets that smelled like girl, I’d present my one-time-only offers. Act now with no money down:
My dick is a Mighty Light, I’d think.
My dick is a Stretch Buddy.
My dick is an Insta Hang.
My dick is a Lint Lizard.
My dick is a Sobakawa Cloud Pillow.
My dick is a Grout Bully.
My dick is a Micro Touch Max.
My dick is a Brazilian Butt Lift.
My dick is a My Lil Pie Maker.
My dick is a Chord Buddy Guitar Learning System.
My dick is a Comfy Control Harness.
My dick is an Easy Reach.
Clearly I wasn’t out at the bars every night, but I definitely wasn’t sleeping. It was either limited time offers to unsuspecting bedroom sequels, or lying on one of the couches in me and Campbell’s garden level apartment, watching television do its thing until the sun came up.
While Soupy and I looked different, we were in identical poses on the twin couches while a big biceps bleached-blonde ponytail guy jogged around the studio, squatted down next to Sears catalog-looking models, and indicated how their choice in footwear could change anyone’s life. The sound was off.
“Campbell,” I said. “What’s your favorite?”
He rattled the pack of Marlboros, lit another, exhaled a ring. “My favorite is when you bought the Ab Roller.”
One of those water bug/nightcrawler/centipede/creepy-crawly things moved around on the far wall behind the light of the television screen. I looked down at my prominent gut.
“You know what mine is? My favorite was when Ray Jay the realtor told us this was a ‘garden level’ apartment,” I said. “Tied for second with when you told me the name for those suckers was ‘water bugs.’”
“Aren’t you supposed to be out, fucking your way past Ramona right now?” he said. He exhaled more smoke. And his cigarette gave me the advantage when the phone in the kitchen rang.
“Not it,” I said. My finger pressed convincingly on my nose.
“It’s almost three o’clock in the morning. It’s not for me,” he said.
“Not it,” I said. I reminded myself it couldn’t be Ramona.
The phone rang again.
“Not it,” I said.
“It’s definitely for you,” he said. He was almost at the phone though. We both knew he wanted to claim the loophole that it wasn’t his fault I’d dropped my cell phone in the toilet, and I should be the one to get up off the couch. But the rules of Not It were clear, so why argue?
The phone was absolutely for me though.
“Some girl. Says she’s looking for the Egg Genie,” he said.
I took the cordless to my bedroom.
I know now that Marigold was planning a series of robberies on the front stoop of my crappy apartment building while she waited for me to come outside. Her tangled brown hair, cast into strands from the light of the lobby, reminded me of her one bedroom apartment above the convenience store in the North End. It made her different. She was a moaner, and I spent some time the night we met watching the neon reflect against her teeth. Her bottom row looked like a deck of cards in mid-shuffle.
“How did you find me?” I whispered in the direction of the ember at the end of her cigarette. I had the feeling she could have dialed every buzzer on the door while she’d waited for me.
There are many things to steal on the side streets of Boston at three in the morning. In that, Marigold was ingenious. She and I ripped the license plate off a Dodge after a decent amount of grunting. We pulled unclaimed mail from boxes, and she seemed intent on finding something good. I mimed knowing what I was looking for. There was a framed print in an open lobby Marigold pulled down. I was encouraged to remove the small clay pot from a windowsill. I set it down a few paces away.
After a bit of our meandering and heightened borrowing, two green bottles of Rolling Rock emerged from Marigold’s extra-large purse. She handed me one and it was oddly cold.
She pushed her hair out of the way, tipped back, and drank half. Then she kissed me beneath a street lamp before reaching down and taking a stack of free Phoenix newspapers from the display box next to my shaky legs. We distributed escort ads and massage parlor classifieds beneath the windshield wipers of every car down the block.
As it started to rain, I watched the bad color and newsprint black melt into smudges against all that glass.
“Why don’t you have a real phone?” she said. She was going through another mailbox.
“I dropped mine in the toilet.”
“Taking a picture of your junk?” She put the circulars back in the box and slugged down the other half of her beer.
I considered the growing exhibition of naked penis photography springing up around the city. If my sex life was a series of infomercials, my genitalia self-portraits were print advertisements. Marigold was either psychic, comic, or tragic.
“When I figure out how to get a new phone, I’ll take one for you,” I said.
Of course I was hurt.
“I have some hash,” she said. “If you want to smoke it.”
Soupy was in bed by the time we came in from the rain.
“Google,” she said. “You told me you used to work for the cable company.”
I never had much food, but Marigold and I were eating Saltines and peanut butter. Each swallow made my throat confused.
“It’s a lot easier to find a land line,” she said. And if a peanut butter moustache was something possible to get, Marigold had one. I tried not to imagine the fiasco in the bottom row of her teeth.
She insisted on candles, and portions of her face wobbled in the light. Empty coffee cups, Ding Dong wrappers, and other random trash from the city collected in the window wells outside. The apartment held the sound of refuse getting battered as it combined with insistent raindrops. Flames from the candles bent and moved to this music.
“You guys watch a lot of late night commercials?” she said.
I chewed in light from the television that was always on. Between moving pictures and the candles, and Marigold’s curly hair, there was plenty of curvy color in the room.
“It’s kind of sad, don’t you think—all these things that no one will ever need?”
“Do you hear the toilet running? Like someone needs to jiggle the handle or something?” I said.
“Go ahead,” she said. “Go sit on the toilet and take pictures when things are starting to get good.”
After I locked the door to the bathroom, I heard Marigold get up and leave.
The next night Soupy was pissed. Marigold stole the remote. Of course I didn’t have her phone number to call and make demands. I couldn’t even remember the location of her apartment above all that teeth-glowing neon.
“You could go walk around the North End with me until I find the place,” I said.
“You’re answering the phone for a week,” he said.
Campbell shook his head, no, when he looked over and my finger was on my nose. I had pushed the boundaries of Not It.
“Not it to letting some crazy bitch in our house at three a.m. so she can gank the remote control,” he said.
“All we watch is infomercials anyway,” I said.
“I like to flip between them,” he said. “And why does it smell like salt and vinegar chips in here? And feet?”
“Me and Marigold ate your crackers,” I said. Even though he raised his hands in disgust, I knew he was just joking.
“Marigold?” he said.
“She knows I take pictures of my dick,” I said.
“It’s called sexting dill-weed. George Foreman knows about sexting, and he named all his kids the exact same thing. Billy Banks knows about sexting. It helped him invent Tae Bo. The Video Professor? The Stop the Insanity lady? The two of them actually did an infomercial about sexting together. It won an Infomercial Emmy.”
“I thought sexting was just dirty talk,” I said.
“You should have watched the two of them sexting, instead of going out and stealing shit with your new girlfriend last night,” he said.
“Her bottom teeth are all confused. Some of them are going this way, and some of them are going the other,” I said.
“If she doesn’t bring the remote back, I’m tacking it on to the rent this month,” he said. “But besides that… she seems like a real keeper.”
Campbell relented a few nights later when I was on an especially tricky level of Sword Masters IV. The phone rang just as I pulled the jewel from the carved lion’s paw. I only had a few seconds to throw it down the waterfall before the cave collapsed.
“So the first part says, ‘Will you accept a collect call from Station Six of the Boston Police Department?” he said.
The cave collapsed.
“From ‘The Showtime Rotisserie,’” he said.
“Did she really say that?” I said.
“It’s a recording, I have to press one if you’re going to accept the charges.”
The video game flashed CONTINUE? And 9 – 8 – 7, etc.
“Press one, press one,” I said.
He did and handed over the phone. If I’d crossed to the waterfall with the jewel as fast as I made it to the kitchen, we wouldn’t have to go all the way back to the parachute drop on top of Everest in Sword Masters.
“You know what I miss most about the remote?” he said. “Was when we used to flip-flop between HBO and HBO Latino and hear the difference in the voices. Remember the guy who dubbed Clooney in Ocean’s 11?”
“Hello?” I said into the receiver. Campbell was starting over in the living room. “Hello? Hello?” I said.
“I was going to send you one of those things with cut-up letters from different magazines and newspapers,” she said.
“A ransom note?”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t notice your TV clicker is missing,” she said.
“Our remote is missing?”
Soupy laughed insincerely. “You sound like high-pitched Mexican Clooney,” he said.
He powered-up twice and jumped over a rabid wolverine before finding the revolver behind the roadmap and shooting the minute hand on the clock tower.
“Isn’t it time you asked me on our second date?” Marigold said.
The background noise of her geography was as bizarre as mine.
“You mean, third,” I said.
“The time at my apartment doesn’t count because all we did was copulate.” Before she gave me dial tone, Marigold finished with “I’m at the station behind Northeastern University. Bring two hundred bucks.”
What I hated most about entering the huge police station down near the Ruggles T stop was that Soupy and I were both wearing flannel shirts. They weren’t the same pattern, or colors, but how different can two grungy checkerboards be? His was tucked into a leather belt and khaki pants, mine was unbuttoned above a Cypress Hill t-shirt. The idea was still the same.
“I think that’s what you were wearing the last time I bailed you out of jail,” he said.
“Thanks for doing this,” I said. “I had no idea she was my type.”
“’Criminal’ is your type now?” he said.
“You said it yourself, just now.”
“Do you think she has our remote control on her?”
We headed up toward the receptionist in the cop uniform.
And maybe we both saw it at the same time, but Campbell was the first to say, “Ramona?” My blonde ex-girlfriend was right there, smart-phoning on one of the waiting room chairs. Probably more crap about Justin Beiber, or Do You Think You Can Dance?
“Soupy?” she said.
He had his index finger pressed to the tip of his nose.
I said, “Hi, Ramona.”
Even with the bright police house lights, I could make out some stars above the city when the three of us exited the station.
“Don’t you think it’s a little ironic?” Marigold said.
Campbell said, “That you stole our remote and went to jail for shoplifting on Newbury Street? Not really. It does remind me of the old Alanis Morisette song though, where nothing is ironic.”
She said, “I mean your roommate’s ex-girlfriend. She’s dating a cop, he’s dating a criminal? And what’s with his 90s drug dealer outfit? Is that a Cypress Hill shirt?”
“Who said we were dating?” I said.
“Like every time that bitch sings, ‘isn’t it ironic?’” Campbell said, “I yell ‘no’ at the radio.”
“Third date,” she said. “You said it yourself.”
Marigold took Soupy and me on each arm. She gave us both a peck on the cheek.
“I wish I was wearing flannel,” she said.
“That’s ironic,” Campbell said.
I was definitely the first to see her the second time. In the parking lot, in a cruiser, Ramona’s blonde hair whipped and twirled in front of someone else’s face. It was clearly her under the police station lights. My hesitation and confusion made our little chain of three stagger, stop, and break.
“Is that your whore ex-girlfriend?” Ramona said.
“You kiss your mother with that mouth?” Soupy said.
Whatever you wanted to say about Ramona and her love for the Kardashian’s, the girl had perfect timing. She stopped sucking face with the sergeant, who was presumably my replacement, and straightened her hair before giving the three of us a fingertip wave.
“You dated Playtime Barbie?” Marigold said.
We watched Ramona whisper in the ear of the living action figure beside her in the cruiser. He was a bit ruffled from Ramona’s heavy makeout technique, and had lipstick on too. But he looked exactly like the POLICEMAN in coloring books.
“See what happens when we leave the apartment?” Soupy said.
The three of us made our way toward the street. Inside the cruiser, Ramona flicked on the flashers and the blue lights swirled.
It’s hard to say which of us was more surprised by our post-bailout sleepover. But Marigold was definitely more comfortable with toothbrush sharing the next morning, and the morning after that. And while our living room started to have the luster of a Honda Accord with stolen rims, spoiler, and decals, Marigold hadn’t bothered to steal herself a toothbrush yet.
“Can you believe that most inventions aren’t successful?” This was Marigold on my old couch, laying in the position of Soupy on the other. I’d just returned home from my new job at American Apparel. She exhaled some sort of smoke. It was hard to tell which kind anymore.
The living room was the same basically dingy room in the same basically dingy basement apartment. Only it was more decorative and elaborate now, with floor lamps, textiles, and small rugs—even a glass vase filled with marbles on a table in the corner. This was our version of a busted-up car made beautiful by the accessories one can steal.
There was also a permanent smoke haze: a mix of Marlboros, Parliaments, hash, pot, and Hungry Man TV dinners fresh from the microwave. A pair of these trays sat empty and devoured on the new coffee table.
“How was folding, dear?” Campbell said. At least he made a show of trying to sit up. Marigold was relaxing.
“Who measures these ideas?” she said. “Today I decided to do a series of artworks using old cell phones for paintbrushes. You know how Hemingway always said write what you hear? Well, why can’t anyone paint what they hear?”
Campbell lay back down. “I think they mean things like the hula hoop, or the Ab Roller.”
“There’s nothing left in the freezer,” I said.
“What about gravity? Donuts? Dog leashes?” she said. “Most inventions are unsuccessful? No, I don’t believe that, Mr. Bad Hair.”
Picasso should have had such witnesses. My first response was to fix my hairdo, but the rest of the room was invisible to poor Marigold and her marching orders from inspiration. While me and Soupy and the insensitive commercial pitch man were all there for the start of Marigold’s greatest series, none of us could see something bubbling inside her, cooking in the cast light particles and super-strings bursting from the flat screen.
Weeks later, Soupy said to me, “After that invention infomercial moment meltdown, your girl Marigold’s life was summed up best by Track One of the Beastie Boys multi-platinum debut album: The song, Rhymin’ and Stealin’.”
“Except Marigold’s poetry didn’t rhyme,” I said.
“And poetry isn’t really the same as a series of ransom notes to no one,” he said.
“But, of course, the Beastie Boys never recorded a song called ‘Repetition and Stealing,’” I said.
“Isn’t that what you two had in common?” he said.
I thought of all the things I’d ever stolen, all the nights of same-toothbrush French kissing Marigold and I did in the privacy of my bedroom. I thought of Rolling Rock and jail cells.
I guess Soupy knew I was at a loss. “Repetition,” he said. “How many sexual infomercials did you produce after Ramona? How many pictures of your dick did you take for the cell phone exhibition titled ‘Please Text Me Back?’”
How many? How many are there?
He said, all those weeks later: “Repetition. That’s how I knew the two of you were in love. You and the girl with the crazy hair.”
Campbell was right. Marigold and I, if nothing else, shared repetition. We were predictable criminals.
I invented the pain of nostalgia.
Back on the couch that night, Marigold exhaled a blue cloud, forcefully.
"I invented the death penalty. I invented suburbia. I invented two-party politics,” she said.
She sat up and started to put her shoes on.
“I invented nine to five, I invented cubicles. I invented weapons of mass destruction,” she said.
“Do either of you have a pen?” she said.
I was at the refrigerator still, Soupy was at a cigarette. Marigold located a Sharpie and a stack of index cards, told us, “never mind.”
Before Marigold walked out of the apartment she said, “I invented racism. I invented dishonesty. I invented syphilis.”
The door closed behind her. After I took her warm spot on the couch I looked at the empty Hungry Man trays on the table, and then back at the television.
“Want to order a pizza?” I said.
“I don’t care what you say,” I looked at his nametag again. “Rob,” I said. “These stupid squares don’t make folding that much easier.”
We were in the back of the store. I hated Rob least out of all the douches I had to work with, even if I could never remember his name. In my new job, I was a folding machine, assisted by this plastic square Rob kept encouraging me to use.
“Like this,” he said. “Like this.”
This was after my backroom watching of a series of training DVDs on a crummy laptop. I had tried to appropriately rename each title in the collection as I watched along. One was “Don’t Climb A Ladder Like a Drunken Imbecile or Your Manager Yells.” Another was “Your Coworker Doesn’t Want to Do the Humpty Dance in The Stockroom—Even if She Dresses Like an Eager Background Dancer—So Keep Your Hands Off Her Titties,” which was admittedly, a little long. My favorite was, “If You Wash Your Face With Cleaning Products, Expect Trouble,” or “This Stuff Is For The Toilet, Not To Clean Your Contact Lenses.”
But Rob? Rob was an infomercial for the plastic square. “Seriously, look how much easier it is.”
“Look how much easier it is,” I said, after he walked to the front of a door to assist two girls find size zero. In that, the store was a physics lesson. The clients were collections of particles bouncing off one another, bouncing off the extents of new products, the lasting qualities of homemade fabric dyes and the finest blended cotton. Our store was the start of the universe; our store was the end of the universe. And because of the infinity of in-store music loops and daily shipments of new and improved sizes; because of the complexities of size zero and the fact that my work shifts were never bearable, I was certain of this theorem:
There is no such thing as nothing.
“Easier,” I whined. The clearance table was misshapen balls of purple and green, wrinkles and discards. In the world of retail, I was a junk collector. I was the Asian woman collecting bottles in a shopping cart all over Boston at night, a doctor’s mask across her face and rubber gloves on, the reek of remnant beer and soda combusting in the air above the cart’s wobbly left-front wheel. I was caring for things other people never wanted. Fold, and fold, and fold.
Pinned to the back of a pair of Silver and Asphalt Polka-Dotted High-Waist Hot Shorts, wrinkled in a way no plastic square could possible revise, was an index card.
I INVENTED FAKE LAUGHTER, it said. It was written in black marker.
I scanned the store and was sure there was less of everything: less striped woven shorts, less three-tone zipped hoodies. There were even less piles of make-up bags and bottled nail polish.
There were the same amount of security cameras though. Then there was Rob flirting with the high school girls. The eyeglasses remaining in the case still had no lenses in them.
“Rob,” I said. What worse place to interrupt than when he was discussing leggings? But what could I do?
Who would I talk to from corporate to explain that the training seminar had left off the movie, “Retail Rerun Romance,” or its steamy sequel, “Klepto-Nympho-Maniacs and The Men They Love.”
The girls giggled at Rob’s unmistakable power as I held up the shorts for his inspection.
Soupy and I saw less of Marigold. At least I did. When I got home from folding every night, she was out in the city. She snuck in to fondle me half-heartedly in the pre-dawn dark most nights, and was still snoring—a light whistle emitting from a nostril—when I showered before noon. But beyond the living room accessories, and the new set of stainless steel pots and pans, the shoe tree and the steam mop, Marigold was everywhere.
There was a box with what I am sure was a stolen ribbon wrapped around it waiting for me on the coffee table when I got home one night. Soupy watched a home shopping network segment on HP printers.
The lady spokesperson said, “This is really more of a computer than a printer. It has a dedicated email address and can print out coupons for you!” So much perk.
The box on the table, covered in brilliant pink and black writing and graphics, held similar promises.
“Looks like you finally got a new phone,” Campbell said from the couch.
“Not many girlfriends would get a guy a burner phone,” I said. I untied the ribbon and noticed the box had been opened.
Lifting the phone from the convenient packaging, I saw by its glowing face, the item was already powered on. There was a text message waiting. I INVENTED PICTURES, it read.
Figuring out how to open up the photo album was almost beyond me, but as a skilled employee of a retail chain, and someone who had completed DVD training in computerized sales transactions—something I called using the cash register—I eventually rose to the task
Photo one was a Barbie doll wearing a bikini, on what looked like, our kitchen table. Photo two had a GI Joe—I guessed Recondo—who was significantly smaller than Barbie, applying tanning oil, or giving a karate chop, to her back.
Photo 3: Barbie was naked.
Photo 4: A feigned blowjob.
Photo 5, and 6, and 7: And on and on and on.
“This gives new meaning to action figure,” I said.
Campbell didn’t pay any attention. The last of the Barbie and G.I. Joe images had the two of them melted together in a smush of colored plastic. Faces had moved, clothes bore scars from burning. They were a disfigured mess of fornication and violence.
The next photo was even worse.
I must have gasped or gagged or made some sound, because Campbell was laughing from the couch. “What do you think?” he said.
I scrolled and found image after image of penises: Black, white, shaved, curly-pubed penises. And then another. And another.
“She hooked it up for you,” he said.
“Marigold’s been busy,” I said.
“They aren’t new boyfriends. Your beautiful felon stole a stack of gay porn mags from a shop in the Combat Zone,” he said.
At the bottom of the box, below where the phone had been cradled by molded plastic, a pair of crumpled up index cards were smashed in the hole. Each had the Sharpie lines and sudden swoops of Marigold’s signature notes.
One read, I INVENTED PRE-LOADED CELL PHONES.
And the other: I INVENTED MELTING.
As summer moved into autumn moved into wintertime, I could never figure out if Marigold was Jesus or Santa Claus. Even if I knew which she preferred.
“She steals toys?” Soupy said. There was a pile of boxes Marigold had stacked up to make the shape of a minimalist Christmas tree. She’d even tied tiny flashing lights around some items, but wrapping paper had escaped her.
“Is that a Millennium Falcon?” he said.
It was. And that was a Barbie Dream house. That there was an iPad protector. There were accessories to products we didn’t have the originals of. Of course, there was an index card taped to the top of the consumerist sculpture. If the boxes were boughs and branches, Marigold’s ransom note poetry was the star.
Campbell said, “I was on Boylston the other day, and there was one of Marigold’s index cards taped to the front window of Anthropologie. You know that kid, Booberman, used to play in Mime Field? He told me he saw one on the Dorr’s Liquor’s wall of shame, next to the confiscated fake ID’s.”
“Every time I fold a shirt at Urban Outfitters, there’s another one. At first I thought they were love notes to me, to lost things, to stolen things, to America. Now, I don’t know anymore.”
“I haven’t seen a Cabbage Patch Kid since ’84,” Campbell said. The tree was, in fact, beautiful.
He said, “She left one in my shoe this morning. It said, ‘I INVENTED WALKING.’”
I pulled the card from the top of the tree. It read:
I INVENTED KEEP THE RECEIPT.
When the phone in the kitchen rang, both of us walked toward the kitchen to answer it first.
At Station Six, they weren’t as pleased with Marigold. Snow wandered around outside, looking for motivation to make it all the way to the ground. She was in handcuffs next to the booking desk.
“Can you ask Soupy if this is ironic?” she said.
“What’s that,” I said.
“Well, I would guess you used handcuffs on your blonde whore ex-girlfriend from time to time. And now her boyfriend is using handcuffs on me.” There was a female policewoman talking to Brian at the reception table across the room, supposedly about bail. But, as with all late-night police station conversations, their words sounded more like a weather report.
“I don’t think that’s her boyfriend,” I said. The woman was black and weighed nearly three hundred pounds. I INVENTED EXTRA LARGE UNIFORMS, I thought.
Marigold hissed, “There is only one policeman in every city. He just wears different disguises.” Her hair looked like the inferior product from the steam mop infomercial.
“I know I made you steal all those things. You were trying to impress me,” I said. Marigold didn’t answer. She only spoke in index cards anymore.
“I invented the death of Marilyn Monroe,” she said.
On the walk back toward the subway, the illusion of white flecks breaking from the sky and falling soundlessly made everything seem quiet.
“We had to leave her there,” Soupy said. I was certain Marigold would have somehow invented escape.
“People don’t want solutions to their problems,” I said. “They want reasons they can’t be solved.”
Soupy said, “Plus…” He exhaled smoke at everything beyond us. “If you want to be their answer, you have to take the blame.”