COLORED EDGES by Sharon Skolnick-Bagnoli
THE FIRST 10 PAGES.
PART 1: RED THREADS
In the middle of the 20th century’s final decade, on a solo picnic in Marin County, a world of its own pasted just above San Francisco’s peninsular thumb, Aarona Iris Miller sat heavily on a horizontal piece of concrete rickrack.
She bit into her turkey and camembert wrap and gazed past masses of tiny deep green acorns festooning a pin-oak tree and out onto a liquid field of teal rivulets lined up horizontally straight ahead, rolling in to splash on the tiny beach.
That was when she came to the conclusion that this place did speak to her soul after all, and that it might be worthwhile to stick around and hold onto her life here, pitted with potholes as it was.
Iris knew Marin County brimmed with educated, shapely, and unmarried women, pretty much like herself.
She was also aware that their male counterparts were amassed fifty miles to the south, in Silicon Valley’s technology haven, and couldn’t be bothered to commute north for a date.
Therefore, a reluctant celibacy often turned out to be the ongoing price for single women to bask in the glorious coastal nature located just north and west of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The way things were going, Iris admitted to herself, it looked like she would probably remain single, here or anywhere. That pesky extra twenty pounds kept her out of the running. Lose the pounds and men’s heads would turn. Gain them back and the looking would abruptly stop, leaving her stranded in matronly invisibility. Only twenty pounds! It was so damn Pavlovian!
Recognizing that fact did little to cheer her up. She supposed she’d turned out way too feisty and direct in her midlife to ever, ever, snag a handsome and happening male.
Most guys these days were blinded to all but those currency-groomed willowy blondes, with whom they would conjugate to spawn throngs of stick-thin children.
This was the reality of America in the 1990s, so why couldn't she just get used to it?
Sighing, she stacked the remnants of her picnic lunch inside the fraying wicker basket, hoisting it to her shoulder, and trudging uphill to the California State Park gate and her car.
Without a plan, Iris wandered lackadaisically from day to day. But in a shallow depression beneath her featureless flat surface, her big picture psychodrama continued to roil.
At its very center pulsed a secret ambition to achieve greatness by saving the world—an ambition that was to lead her over some very sharp edges.
Iridls wanted to deliver a mud pie ice cream cake to Jefferson Stetson’s place.
She recalled that when she’d brought one with her the year before to an open workshop at his farmhouse, he’d really liked it.
As for her, she really liked him. It had started with a dream where she and Jefferson stood on a rowboat, like George Washington crossing the Delaware River, and he slipped a twisted iridescent celluloid ring (the promise of movie-star fame and shared greatness?) onto her finger. She knew they would do great things together.
After she woke, the remembered dream seemed a definite sign that Jefferson Stetson could be The One, her soulmate, her brass ring dream-man. Her prince.
“Why shouldn’t I bring him another mud pie?” Iris grumbled petulantly, her tense voice and up tight body language at odds with the astonishingly spacious vistas spread out beneath them: the aquamarine Pacific Ocean on one side, the smooth animal haunches-layering of lush green hills on the other, and very far off, two architectural model mini-cities, San Francisco and Oakland, shooting miniscule skyscrapers into an azure sky.
Bettina Coates and Iris Miller had driven up the winding roads of Marin County’s singular mountain, Mt. Tamalpais, passing through its paradoxical soils and flora and varied micro-climates that overshadowed the lowlands and foothills, patiently fending-off an onslaught of New Age McMansions and pseudo-Indigenous fabrications.
The two friends sprawled in languid disarray in a sunny spot that warmed their blankets. Behind them only a baseball diamond’s-length away, wild winds whipped a stand of oak trees silhouetted on the summit and chilled a few other hikers who had found this unmarked treasure.
“I don’t see why you need to do that, take over another mud pie, I mean,” said Bettina. “Just because you had this huge crush on Jeff last year. He’s somewhere else now.”
“Jefferson was crowned Chief Councilman of San Rafael, and he didn’t invite me over to celebrate. I know he thought I was trying to do a seduction thing on him before he ran for office. That was before we started rubbing each other the wrong way.”
“Were you? Rubbing?” Bettina sat up and reached for her ever-present journal. She was an Impressionist painter’s rosy-cheeked angel in the foreground of a pastel sweep of greens and blues, the San Francisco Bay Area spread out at their feet.
“Not rubbing, not that way!” Iris cried. “I wasn’t some teeny-bopper over there, out to hook the alpha male! At least l, I don’t think I was. Anyway, all we ever did is hug hello.
“But, oh my God, Bettina, the feelings! That guy can stir me up like I don’t know what! Maybe it’s not even him, maybe it’s his fame that’s the aphrodisiac. Or, maybe it was that dream I had before I went to Oakland to find him, that dream that told me to go out and meet him and get him. Not to get him, but—
"Hey, did I show you that poem I wrote about the charge I get from being around Jeff? I can hardly look at it, it’s so intense. I know that poem might grab his attention, but I’m too chicken to show it to him.
Besides, he never gives me any private time.
“Jefferson hides out. He’s constantly among groups of people. But he does love those weekly pot lucks he throws.”
“What does that mean, ‘he hides out’? You mean he protects himself?” Bettina yawned, her eeeyahhh! ascending into the air like the call of a circling redtail hawk.
“It means that Jeff doesn’t do one-on-one’s very well. He’s really guarded. He always has this turtle armor on. He even collects little turtle sculptures, did you know that?
“I really tried to make a connection with him. It felt like a calling to me, spiritual and sensual all at once, you know?”
Bettina snorted, “I think you saw your relationship with Jefferson as more than it was. He has a lot of people around him.”
“Why don’t you understand, Bettina? I had these very intense feelings for him. I thought he was my destined other, so I went over there to show him my portfolio, but—uh, I admit there was a sort of, uh, seduction agenda tucked underneath.”
“Well, no wonder he was guarded!” exclaimed Bettina, stretching out on the grass, her arms flung above her head.
“Yeah, I guess. I think I scared him, actually,” Iris admitted. “I think he was afraid I would get myself upstairs, down the hall and into his bed some night, before he’d had a chance to bar the door and barricade his psyche.”
“That must have hurt.”
“What must have?”
“The way he wouldn’t ever acknowledge you.”
“What I really wanted was for him to totally fall in love with me, or at least to admit to me he saw the kindred spirits we are—our Shiva-Shakti link, you know, our male-female opposition dance. I did have that dream, after all!”
Iris’s eyes welled up. She tossed her head and sniffled. “You’re right, you’re so right, Bettina. It did hurt, but I kept on going back for more.
“You know, Bettina, you really are an empath, like that woman with the dark curly hair and skin-tight coveralls on Star Trek. You know, Counselor Deanna Troy? She reminds me of you.”
“I don’t watch Star Trek,” replied Bettina.
“Anyway, things got strange and weird with Jeff.
I kept on hanging around there, going over to be around him, but he never let me in, not really, and he even got uptight that one time I invited him to leave the farmhouse with me and go down into Bolinas to get some coffee.
"He wouldn’t go. He has this way of protecting himself, and he makes other people come to him.
“Eventually, I kind of gave up on him. I mean, I’m not really a hanger-on yes-woman. I’m not, am I?
"When I seek out these mover and shaker guys,
I sort of see myself as a guru-of-gurus, a teacher of teachers, working to change the world by association.”
Iris stood up and paced around. “Or maybe I’m lazy.”
“Yeah, lazy, for not changing the world myself!
“Anyway, after a few months of feeling strung-out like that, I managed to stay away for a few weeks. Then, when I did show up for another pot luck at the farm, Jefferson complained! He said, ‘I thought you’d abandoned us!’ And I said, ‘Oh, never! I couldn’t do that—you’re in my heart!’“
“I think he’d missed me, I really do. But he hasn’t been the same to me since then. I didn’t know my presence there had made such a dent, but I guess it had.”
“So he does care a little. That’s something,” Bettina commented, adding some soft-pencil shadows to her new drawing.
“But that Jefferson, he can kill you with a look! One time he gave me this withering look that said, ‘Get out!’ and all I was doing was standing nearby
waiting to talk to him after he had finished schmoozing with this Korean community organizer.
"Well, maybe I did interrupt them a little bit by just standing there.”
“How do you know Jefferson’s look meant ‘Get out!’?”
“If you’d seen how he looked at me, with absolute brick-wall icy cold non-acknowledgment and animal rage, and then how he held that look until I had to
look down and slink away, you wouldn’t need to ask me that. If looks could kill, you’d be saying Kaddish for me now!
“After that, I went to a gathering over there one more time, and I did one evening of phone-banking to help him with a Marin County referendum issue, and that was that.
“The last two times up there, I felt torn-up inside. It was like entering a minefield for me to open that farmhouse gate. I cannot begin to describe the weird twists of emotion I’ve been feeling about that guy since he sent me away. It’s like, I see through him and his bullshit act, but I still want him!”
“Maybe he’s a trigger for your childhood stuff, or else some past-life stuff,” mused Bettina.
“Your New Ageisms are showing, Bettina. But maybe you’re right,” responded Iris. “Oh, screw him, anyway! But now I really want to take another mud pie over to his little pot luck circle!”
“Are you sure that wouldn’t be stalking?” asked Bettina, her voice a cartoon-caption of stern authority.
“Stalking? Of course not, we’re friends!” Iris sat down again and shifted her position so she could stare out at the Pacific Ocean’s cobalt surface, skinny waves marching out to the horizon in thinner and thinner stripes.
“You know,” Iris whispered, “if you threw one of those half-frozen mud pies into somebody’s face, you could really hurt them.”
“Are you still seeing your therapist?” inquired Bettina.
“No, why?” crowed Iris, and she and Bettina burst into Banshee howls of laughter, dropping down and rolling around on the sun-warmed mountain grass.
“You deserve a lot better than Jefferson Stetson,” decreed Bettina, giving Iris her final word. “You deserve someone who appreciates what you have to offer.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” sighed Iris. “This Jefferson obsession is probably the last gasp of my tired old seduce-the-rabbi, move-the-mover and shake-the-shaker pattern.
“When I was younger, my body and my female beauty seemed to be tickets to somewhere. It all probably circles around my love-goddess-as-female-Messiah thing.
"That started when I was ten years old and went downstairs to my Hebrew class, held then in our basement. I was in short-shorts on purpose, to get the young rabbi’s attention. That was after I’d asked that rabbi whether a woman could be the Messiah, and he answered, ‘No!’ Boy, was I mad! Job discrimination! I must have been the first feminist as well as the first hippie!”
“But, really now," said Bettina, "‘Mrs. Councilman of San Rafael?’ Fund-raisers and boring meetings and hosting official dinners? Is that what you actually want? Come on, Iris!”
“But that’s not what this Jefferson Stetson thing is about!
"See, I figured that if a woman gets to be the power behind the throne and that’s it, that’s our portion in life, then I was going to go out and find me the biggest throne in town and become some kind of super mega-power behind it!
"It’s the ancient idea of the holy union, where the male and female energies dance and the energy they generate is amplified for the good of all. I’ve done it before. But it was easier then, when I was younger and looked more the part of the sensuous love goddess.”
“With whom, may I ask, have you ‘done it?’” Bettina’s British accent lent a level of BBC news-reader dignity to her question, seeming to lift their conversation beyond girlish gossip. Iris felt as though she were being interviewed on location.
“With a great man, a hero. I’ll tell you sometime.”
“And you were his groupie, too?”
“I was never a groupie! That is so cold, Bettina! There were no groups. It was an admiration thing, and I concede that in my mind, it was also a nailing the alpha male thing. But it always had something more behind it.
"It felt as though I’d been called by holy energies to merge with this person for the good of the tribe, and for changing the course of history.
“It was like mixing love with glory and dedication and the harnessing of Earth energies, all in a great big poki bowl for the purposes of heaven. Do you like poki bowls?" Bettina nodded.
"It was such a heady mix! It was so high, like a cocktail from heaven! You couldn’t get any higher than feeling that feeling!”
“Only, Jefferson didn’t want to play those high games, right?” asked Bettina.
“Not games! Well, maybe holy games. But Jeff did play with me for a while. It felt as though his higher self did pick up on mine, to some extent. I met with him about helping him write his book, things like that.
"But, hey, you’ll keep all of this in confidence, won’t you?”
“You mean about Councilman Jefferson Stetson of San Rafael, soon to be president of the world? Sure. Don’t worry,” Bettina’s voice soothed, “This mountain isn’t bugged.”
“OK, but just in case you ever do get a job at the Marin Independent Journal or something, you swear you won’t tell?"
“I swear, promise, and affirm. Unless you give me permission to speak about it later on.”
“Thanks. Maybe this sounds like sour grapes and an obsessive disorder to you, but I did feel a rush of love for that guy, and sometimes it felt so profound.
"As though he were my muse, and I could change the world through him with my genius and his aligned together in service to an evolution of reality.”
“Evolution of reality! Oh, wow.” snorted Bettina.
“Only, he would never sit down with me and cop
to it, or even ever talk about it. That guy doesn’t have a clue!”
“A clue? As to what?” Bettina asked, extending the interview.
“That it may be a divine connection to have me there. That I may have been sent to him.
"Guys like that can’t easily experience genuine human connection. To them, it’s more of an avoidable occupational hazard of their charisma.”
“Do you feel like you’ve failed in your mission, on some level?” Bettina asked.
“Yes, and I feel like a fool on some level, too. But I still want to go to him and throw my arms around him and just be there for him.
“And I still want to think that deep down, he misses me and wants me with him.
"I got to feel so useless around there: no function, no special close relationship. I could never make the transition into being just another member of the Jeff Stetson Club. He seemed to think I saw myself as above doing mundane tasks for the cause—really, his cause.
"But he was looking out from inside his own tunnel. Did I tell you he complimented me once?
"He said, ‘You see the bigger picture.’”
“We all have our tunnels, and our tunnel vision,” sighed Bettina.