She bought me flowers, and the packages which were waiting beside them were the kind for which one keeps an eye out for the metal chocolate flank labeled ‘UPS.’ One contained a bathing suit, the other upwards of four gold medals emblazoned with keys.
The bathing suit had been a splurge, the result of unmetered deliberation; the medals had been just the opposite. They were small and gold and it was a strange phenomenon to look at them on the counter beside the wilting prism of the butter, the spontaneous plastic sculpture of the forgotten milk; I understand there is a kind of embarrassment which arises with such things, tokens of what one has done. I understand it is an unconscious response, as is the biting of the bottom lip for those who do it. I wonder as I gather up the little gold pins what it is about success that encourages secrecy.
I take the bathing suit upstairs. It is a Maraschino red one-piece with an exposed back and a halter which fixes in a drooped bow like the ears on a plush rabbit but thin. It had come in a package the color of a grocery bag with printed on its side, slightly to the left, the word J-CREW in imposing, clean lettering like that of the New York Times heading removed the italics.
Just as I understand the gold pins downstairs on the counter as the logical derivation of the hours spent at my laptop this fall, I understand the bathing suit as born from a fit of post-cramming recklessness, but it still looks strange to me on my desk, that physical manifestation of anxiety-ridden digital perusing.
The nylon on it is well-made and as I pull it away from the tissue I think that it is of such a sturdy quality it looks almost conscious, sad, the drooped nylon tie I finger great tears crying at itself or at the story I heard in an interview last week about a near-scare with a baby’s umbilical cord caught in a loop about its neck.
In the bathroom where I assess the bathing suit in the mirror, the tight clamp on the ribcage, the exposed plane of back where it will become tanned the honey color of the surrounding buildings in España but where, in the States, it is presently white, the afternoon’s loss strikes me.
I tell myself it is the fit bathing suit knowing it is not the fit, which I like; I tell myself it is the cold knowing it is not the cold, for the tiny mountain range raised on my calves subsides quickly to the two identical denim tunnels of a pair of well-worn, dark jeans. It strikes electric and immediate as did the anis spots on my winter hands as they dove into the metallic cave of a bag of Kettle cooked salt and vinegar chips way back in December.
She bought me flowers, I tell myself, knowing it true. She wanted to color my failure flamingo, I think, to construct bulwark of petals between my comprehension and that result, to mask my inadequacy to the judge’s board of review in the wrapper of success.
I try to think of other things. How last week my sister said that Guinness beer looks like chocolate milk. How I wanted to write a Hemingway satire of the GOP health care bill’s stillborn delivery titled “For sale, reform bill, never used.” When distraction fails I do not so much as attempt subscription to excuse. I was not made for it.
The tiling in Chelsea market with which I attempt to line my brain doesn’t save me; nor does the science journal photograph of emerald in the raw, nor the process of how horchata is made (from cinnamon and strained rice), nor does anything else. The fact remains that she bought me flowers because my words fell flat. The fact remains that I wanted either to win, or to lose with grace, and I had done neither.
I meant to do a Google search for that, a tutorial on how to lose and do it with grace, but somewhere between realizing I’d slipped my jeans back on over the red nylon bathing suit which had to go in the wash, and a contemplative second over how my jean pockets were patterned with lucky clovers which had defied their name, I find the white rectangle of my i-Phone framing, instead, a scientific article by the BBC which tells me that flamingos take their hue from “a natural pink dye called canthaxanthin that they obtain from their diet of brine shrimp and blue-green algae.”
My head hurts. If there is a way to lose and do it with grace, I don’t know it. In my room, where it is dark and warm and where I try and fail to sleep, I turn that word “canthaxanthin” over my mouth as though it were a Halls drop or a puck beneath which is an air hockey table composed of my tongue.