10.5 / September & October 2015

Dorothy & the Tin Man

The magazines sink the trunk into the carpet. For years I’ve said I’ll go through them all and throw out most, but I’ve kept them as much as a hoarder keeps cereal boxes, and I have not gone through any of them ‘til now. ‘Til now, compulsively I flip every page, lingering over advertisements to make sure there’s not something I might use, something that might strike the match of my imagination. I’m like a detective in that way, browsing evidence of what was in the name of what might be. On Dorothy, I stare the longest. The scene is this: Keira Knightly falls for the apple, her knees deep in grass. She is both Dorothy and Eve, opening the door between worlds, paradise and earth, earth and Oz. With one hand stretched, her eyes rise to the Tin Man, to the ax raised above her head. Have her joints stiffened? Or, is she merely imitating him? Perhaps, empathy is a demonstration. Perhaps, the proof is in the pain. I understand your sadness because I’m sad too. See how I can’t move.

An actress, a man who feels heartless but isn’t, an oil can unused, and those iconic slippers which—here—don’t even glitter. They look like velvet, soft as a Christmas stocking. Maybe as magical, but certainly not as glittery as Glinda’s smile. Would the renovated slippers still take Dorothy home? It seems so much gets lost in the whirlwind between there and here. The adaptation from book to movie loses the silver of the slippers. The adaptation from movie to Vogue loses the sparkle. I drop the magazine back in the trunk, thinking how we reversed the tale; our Oz—the silver, the sparkle—, an antecedent to Kansas.

Rain, thunder, lightning, the hungering wind beating the windowpanes—all was a sound or a light over the runway in Philly. Queued behind a dozen other planes, our plane was bound to the runway by storm protocol; there needed to be an appropriate distance of time and space between each plane before we were permitted takeoff. I nudged off my black ballet flats and fished a magazine from my carryon. I’ve always been a dreamer with stories in my lap, even before I worked in advertisement—I loved to read and envision. I carried a sharpie in my purse, and for fun, I’d scratch out advertisements I didn’t like and rewrite my own to fit the picture and product. Ange ou demon: THE NEW FEMININE FRAGRANCE La Woman’s Choice.

With the magazine still in my lap, I dozed off to the pilot’s voice sounding over the intercom. In sleep, I swallowed the ocean. Never had I been so bloated in or out of dreams. Straining with the weight of the ocean, the flesh of my stomach thinned until my belly was like a fish bowl, ballooning clear and luminescent. Feathered fish with diamonds adorning their scales swam in and out of view. I thought them bizarre and beautiful, but the swish of their tails made me queasy. I worried that my stomach might crack, the pressure of the ocean impossible to suppress. If my body broke open, I would drown North America, and all my friends and family would die because of me. I thought about catching a bus to Cape Canaveral and sending myself to outer space for the sake of my loved ones, but before I could get to a rocket ship, I awoke to passengers laughing and cheering. The pilot with trumpeting red hair paraded down the aisle tossing snacks. A look to my watch. Midnight.

Nice jumper, the pilot said, stopping near me, referring to the red and white polka dot jumper I wore for comfort. Here ya go, Minnie Mouse. He tossed me a bag of Cheez-Its. Funny. I bit my lip not to laugh. After we landed in DC, I lingered in my row “searching” for an earring. He found me and, over coffee, told me that Minnie Mouse was his niece’s favorite Disney character. Was that a sign? The lightning, the thunder, the polka dots? A sign of what—I’m not sure about the concept of fate, but when he asked me What are you doing here anyway?—I knew I was there to meet him.

Later, he brought me to Paris, bought me un café near l’Avenue des Champs-Élysées. I drank it fast because I never liked coffee. He thought I liked it so much he bought me a second cup, so I sipped it. That afternoon, jittery from the coffee, my lips quivered when we kissed. Later, I learned to make coffee for him, for the mornings after. He liked me best in the morning, he said, with dreams still in my eyes. I liked him best all the time, every moment—a whirlwind of laughter and light.

I leave the trunk behind in the living room as I move toward the kitchen. The morning light from the window over the sink begins to etch the walls. When we moved in, the walls were gray. We’ll paint them, he said. Pink? I said, half suggestion, half demand. The realtor—she laughed. The house had belonged to a widow, a former nun who had abandoned her vocation for love. Her husband died shortly after their marriage. After we moved in, we found a miniature nativity scene on the second shelf in the bathroom cabinet. I told him that could be his shelf. He tickled me to tears and Stop it! Stop it! Afterwards, I found the baby Jesus in my coffee mug, Mary in the soap dish, and a sheep in the blender.

The first time it happened, he kissed my forehead and promised we’d try again, but after the second time where I almost bled to death—he kissed my forehead and didn’t say anything. Dorothy said, with hesitation, “You are very kind, but there must be some mistake. I have not killed anything.” Is it possible for something to be dead before it lives? I don’t know. I think the popular answer—the contemporary answer—is no, but I keep thinking about my mom’s aunt or cousin who had an abortion. On her deathbed, she gripped my mother’s hand white, crying for the child she didn’t have.

Whenever we drive by Planned Parenthood with anti-abortionist protestors picketing outside, my husband honks. Shortly after he decided we wouldn’t have kids, he pulled over when he saw a teen walking toward the entrance. She was a little spritely thing with a mature face. She could have been anything from thirteen to seventeen. And she walked with a bounce in her step, unashamed. It angered him ‘til he was trembling, his finger shaking at her. Do you know what you’re throwing away? She looked from him to me. We lost two children, he said. He looked to me like he wanted me to tell her exactly what we lost. “I’m not pregnant,” she said. “I just wanted some condoms.” “I have not killed anything,” Dorothy said. She’s not pregnant, I told him. She could be, he said. But she’s not. She just wanted some condoms.

Marriage is colorless Kansas now, stained only by the red of our bed and the red of our words. Wine still on my tongue, I sweep the rest of the glass shards into the dustpan. As I rise from the floor facing the fridge, the dustpan shivers in my hand. A few shards slip from the lip of the pan, but I don’t bend again to collect them. My sister’s wedding invitation, pinned beneath a magnet for two weeks, has since been defaced. Over her smile, in black marker: I DON’T WANT TO GO. When did he do that and how did I not see ‘til now—my little sister’s blackened smile? Once, he had teased her that he would wear a light up bowtie to her wedding. Now, he doesn’t want to go. I set the loaded dustpan on the kitchen table. I should spill the glass into the trash. I should vacuum, but I don’t want to wake him up like that.

I open the junk drawer and beneath uncapped pens and markers, I uncover a nativity sheep with one of its legs broken. I dig beyond the sheep for a Sharpie and close the drawer again. My hand shakes. I haven’t slept. In large enough letters (so he won’t need his glasses), I write WE’LL PAINT THEM on the wall over the Goodwill gateleg table. I’M JUST UNHAPPY I write on his box of Cheerios. I pick up a wine bottle from the recycling bin and leave it on the table with a new label: I DON’T LIKE TO DRINK ALONE. Before I leave the kitchen, I write I LOVE YOU in thin, quivery letters underneath a foot of his Windsor chair.

If I was a genie and could grant you three wishes, what would they be? I asked him our first night in the house. For my first wish, I’d ask for a daughter, he said. And then? I asked. Another daughter. And then? Another daughter. Three daughters? Yeah. That’s all? I have everything else, so yeah, that’s all. Why not sons? Don’t you want to play baseball and talk about girls? We’ll play baseball just fine, and I’ll cross my fingers for a lesbian.

And then? I walk up the stairs, Sharpie dragging in the air. At the top step, I can hear him snore. In what would have been the nursery, I continue to write the things he said to me: I like you best in the morning with the dreams still in your eyes. Underneath the bed of the rocking cradle, I write for my first wish and I’ll cross my fingers. A leave of absence, I write in very small letters under the lamp, like a signature. On the last page of Good Night Moon, I write WHY ARE YOU SUCH A BITCH? I don’t yet know how to write the sound of his wine glass breaking or the way the sobs flooded his throat. CRASH! or Boo-Hoo don’t do reality justice. So—dreams, the first wish, fingers, absence, and a bitch.

I write: Why don’t you cry? with lipstick on the bathroom mirror. And then? I write: I don’t want to try anymore. And: It’s not you. It’s me. It’s me. It’s me.

In the magazine, the Tin Man’s suit was sleek, shiny, and silver, just as Baum must have imagined the slippers when he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. His eyes were downcast, his lips looking grim upon Dorothy. “Yes,” answered the tin man, “I did. I’ve been groaning for more than a year, and no one has ever heard me before or come to help me.” “What can I do for you?” she inquired softly. He snores from our bedroom. I sit on the edge of the bathtub, doodling on the walls with my lipstick, the words and stick figures blurring. I know without him I wouldn’t drink at all. I wouldn’t have to. But if I don’t drink with him, then it won’t be a husband and wife splitting a bottle of wine. It will just be a husband, drinking the recycling bin full. Eventually, I think he’ll stop sharing the bottle with me anyway, but until then, I’ll drink every glass he pours me.

It will likely be just like the coffee. I drank it every morning until he laid his hand over my cup. He had learned by then to recognize the distaste in my face. Sometimes, I wonder if it wasn’t just my almost-death that changed his mind about the three daughters. Maybe he saw what had always been there in me, an anti-motherhood, an undesire to birth and nurse and cradle. My sister’s fiancé once said he wanted children because he didn’t know what else there was to do beyond a career, but I thought—no, there will always be so much to do. There’s the sheets to throw out, the glass to sweep, the walls to paint, the husband to stir awake—it’s morning, wake up, try to love me again today even if I am the actress and the one with the ax.

Tess Congo was told she can have anything she wants because she’s—"very pretty”—"a bitch”—“fake"—"a college graduate”—“vulnerable”—“smart”—"so gorgeous”—"a little funny”—“curious”—“soft”—"a piece of porcelain”—"a doll”—“closed”—“white”—"a magic spell”—“glowing.” Tess aspires to love wherever she is and be wherever she loves. Currently, she loves New York City.
10.5 / September & October 2015