It’s Christmas and you are stringing up strands of tiny multi-colored lights. They’re everywhere in your apartment, like your friend from Hollywood had hers, once. Every room is bathed in glow, and it’s romantic in lowlight. It’s your second real place, and it has a little kitchen with a vintage stove that’s tiny, with a door that creaks loudly as it bangs shut, but you make it magic, with the music that you play. Your friends drop by all the time, from college, and you’re having parties on your own now.
You get the biggest tree possible. It’s huge and it goes all the way up to the ceiling. By now you have gotten more ornaments and lights and you are beginning to assemble an actual kitchen, on your own. You’re buying a mixer, and pots and pans from France that are red with enamel interiors.
You’re buying cookie sheets, and you are establishing traditions. Some of these come from your mother, and some from your grandmother. Across the street there is a park filled with pine cones and you gather them along with greenery that you can use for garlands. You spray them golden, just lightly like a dust, and pile them at the base of the tree, along with your carved wooden angel.
You’ve got cider with mulling spices going on the stove, and The Ink Spots are playing that year because this song runs over and over in your head after you’d seen the Chanel ad that used it on television. Your best friend lives upstairs in her little apartment — it’s even tinier than yours is — and the two of you are keeping an eye on each other from a distance. You’re watching each other choose boyfriends.
She invites you up for dinner and she is fixing a tuna casserole for him. Her mother taught her everything about how to keep men happy and she does this over and over again as the different ones arrive. She’s good at making homes, no matter where she lives. Your apartment is different. Sometimes you use the kitchen as a darkroom.
You knock on each other’s doors formally now. It’s different than when you were fourteen, giggling at a sleepover. A decade has gone by.
“Come in,” she says, and her eyes are full of glee. He’s so tall that his head full of blond hair just misses the low rafters. He’s sautéing mushrooms and smiling, and they have rock and roll on the radio and the two of them can’t keep their hands off of each other so you just smile sort of shyly at the whole thing.
She’s pouring water from the big pot full of noodles and the steam rises in her tiny kitchen that’s about half the size of yours, but her stove is normal sized. You wish you were more like her. More feminine, more of a woman, more of a housewife, more…
“John taught me how to make this,” she says, wielding paprika.
“You did?” you say.
“He’s a great cook.”
“Aren’t you?’ she says, throwing her arms around him.
They seem like a team that is going to last, is what you are thinking. They seem like they might make it and you want them to because you want this for her after so many boyfriends. She wants that for you, too, but the two of you never say it aloud to each other. It’s like you’re just watching as your lives unfold into your twenties and marriage is some far off horizon but it’s getting closer every year.
There is a glow that year, in the year the two of you become grown up. It glistens from your first ornaments and your first trees and your first little kitchens and your first pots and pans and the way you are learning to flow with men. She’s not speaking to her mother. She’s dropped her out of her life completely. It’s not a subject she wants to discuss with you, either. She invites your mother up. It’s as if your mother can be mother to her in those years.
Your mother is a mother to everyone but you. You wonder how that happened. You wonder why she looks to you to be the mother, or the hub, or the center.
You wonder why she needs this from you, so much.
Finals went well, you think, that year. Finally you are taking it all seriously, and you’ve picked your major.
Your best friend has become a hairdresser. She shaves her head that year, giving it a buzz cut after they break up. She does your hair that year, too, giving you bangs. It’s something she’s good at, doing hair. She comforts people with her hands and her casseroles and the two of you work on growing up as you watch each other flower from a distance. Almost like strangers.
“He’s good looking,” she says, winking.
He was an artist who wanted to go home with you after the show you helped hang in the little museum at school. It’s cold that night, afterwards. He tells you tales of how people survive in Alaska when it snows. They leave little cabins in the wilderness open so that people can stay alive on the nights when it drops below zero. They do this for strangers.
Your clothes lie in a pile at the foot of the futons, under the Christmas lights, next to the tree. He’s inhabiting your universe, now, just briefly, with his long blond hair and his slow lidded eyes. He pulls you on top of him, but your heart doesn’t feel anything. They expect this falling together in those days. Everyone tumbles from bed to bed and love to love that winter you’re in college.
His hair sweeps to his waist, like a waterfall that he tosses around — making impressions.
He doesn’t mind the glow in the darkroom, or the fact that you don’t have cookies on plates. He understands studios, or that artists make them wherever they go. He’s fixing Irish coffees in the dark. He’s lighting a smoke. He’s looking for the cabin in the snow that somebody left open for strangers, with a light inside. He thought that might be you.
“He’s really, really cute,” she says the next morning.
You’re holding Alladin in your arms, and he’s purring and there’s this glow that is emanating from your little home. The second place you ever had on your own. You’re collecting records, and pots and pans and memories like ornaments. You’re sitting having coffee with her on the little wooden steps that lead up to her place in your kimono on a warm sunny day in the middle of the California winter and Christmas is just days away and that glow extends around you and your best friend like a halo.
There’s this warmth that the two of you share across years. It comes and goes because you watch each other from a distance.
You watch how your friends are faring.
The pile of books on the chair are for Spring Quarter. You stay in bed all morning looking at paintings and photographs that other artists made and the music floats in the air surrounding you and a piece of her casserole is in the kitchen so you’ll have something to eat for later and the pomegranates on the tree next door hang ripe red swaying gently overhead.
Years later you remember his hair and the way he held you and that piece of pottery he gave you that was from the show.
“He’s really good looking,” she says, comparing notes.
“glow” — cpoyright 2010 — by Valentine Bonnaire — all rights reserved