|Zarathustra and the Alluring Shoes
This is my morning, my day beginneth: arise now,
arise, thou great noontide. F. Nietszche
Thallia ran a smooth finger of cherry-flavored lip gloss across her lips, enjoyed the blur of her reflection as she whirled out of the bathroom and then headed downstairs to answer the door. Her mother had disappeared earlier on some pretext of getting detergent for the dishwasher. Thallia opened the door.
"Daddy," she said.
"Are you ready?" His skin was pale, and his dark eyes glowed opaquely like tinted glass. His Dracula-black hair was slicked back, his inquisitive nostrils seeming to sniff the air for her mother.
"Come in," she said and walked into the kitchen for the beer she'd left sitting on the counter.
"Want a beer?" she asked.
Her father's tentative footsteps followed her. She was trying to remember the last time she'd seen him. It must have been a couple of years ago. And then another couple before that. But he always looked the same--lost and pale.
"What kind?" he asked and then, "Where's your mother?"
"Not here," she answered and then, "Miller."
He sneered and let the sneer fold into one of his big smiles. His teeth were large and protruded forward. The effect was oddly handsome. It was his smile that disarmed people, made them laugh even as he insulted them. It was a monstrous gigantic smile. She wondered why he bothered to smile at her. Why try to charm her? She was only his daughter. Then again, perhaps charm was the theme for the night like some scent you could spray on your neck and wrists.
"No thanks," he said.
She took a sip from her beer and then poured the rest down the sink. She had no more interest in it. Now it was her turn to smile, big and bright like the streetlamps outside. She wore a black dress and a tiny gold chain with a gold horn dangling below her neck. She had veered between black and white, and finally decided on black. She slipped the strap of her small handbag over her shoulder and said, "Shall we?"
Outside the day had softened like warm butter into evening. She opened the door to the old Falcon that he'd had ever since she was a child and got in. She had turned seventeen that summer and he had called a week or so after her birthday to offer to take her out to celebrate. He'd never even sent a card before.
"How much more school do you have?" her father asked as he
drove toward the beach for their dinner date.
"A year," she answered. She had long raven (it used to be just dark) hair that tickled her waistline. She was feeling the texture of her skin, amazed at what a comfort it was, like a child's favorite blanket. She had discovered that she was beautiful for the first time in her life, and everything about her body seemed almost foreign in its newness.
"And college. Then you'll have to go to college. When I was at Princeton, Frost once came to visit. He wasn't a particularly likeable fellow. Do you like Frost?" he asked. Then he began in a sonorous voice, "'The people along the sand all turn and look one way. They turn their back on the land. They look at the sea all day.' Sandburg also visited the campus once. Now there was a visionary."
Thallia yawned. She wanted to tell her father about her own visions. Recently she had become positive she had been an Egyptian in her last life. She could tell by the way her back ached sometimes that she had been an Egyptian pyramid builder. She could feel the rough rope digging into her hands and shoulder, the sand blistering against her feet as she drug the stones inch by inch along the carpet of desert.
I was just about your age when I discovered Neitzsche," he said, sailing through a traffic light as it turned red.
"Oh," Thallia said. She pulled her hair down to see just how long it really was. She was practicing a certain way of making it float around her when she walked as if it were a black velvet cape.
"I wish I had a cape," she said. "I remember once Virgil Fox, the organist, came to play at our church and he wore this cape that went all the way to his ankles. It was black and lined with red satin." She paused and then whispered the word, "Exquisite."
The word felt like velvet on her tongue.
"Fox? Hmmm. I understand he played more than just church organs. Does your mother still date dentists?" he asked.
"She has never dated a dentist that I know of, Daddy," Thalllia said sweetly as if he had always been around and as if she said the word daddy three or four times a day instead of three or four times a decade.
"Philosophy is an interesting pursuit, young woman. Observe your fellow man. If he is not a creeping conformist, he is quite often insane. But is there anything wrong with insanity, that's what I want to know," he said and scratched at the shadow on his cheek.
Thallia had always enjoyed the rare times that she'd spent with her father, but now she only hoped that this would not be the longest night of her life. She looked around and wondered if her father ever played the radio in this car. She wondered if it even worked. And while staring down, she noticed the interesting way the bones in her foot made a V, pointing straight up toward her shin. Her father leaned toward her without warning.
"A person who thinks he is invincible dives from the roof of a skyscraper. What do you suppose that person is thinking as he passes the windows, the air sucking at his ears?" her father asked in a conspiratorial whisper.
Thallia shrugged her shoulders.
"His will be the thoughts of a someone who is utterly alive," her father said with a triumphant bang of his fist on the steering wheel.
Thallia checked the side view mirror to make sure her lips were moist.
The restaurant was all white table cloths, dark blue carpeting and gorgeous busboys who surfed between the tables, the ocean crashing outside the big plate glass windows. A man sat at a black grand piano at the far end of the room and played "My Funny Valentine."
Thallia thought about taking the busboys outside and kissing them one at a time. She smiled sweetly at her father. She would never get married, she decided, but would have a different boy for every day of the week.
"What will you drink?" her father asked. "Heineken?"
Thallia's eyebrows scrunched toward the middle of her forehead, and she said, "No. A gimlet, I think. Yes, I'll have a gimlet."
"Your usual, Professor?" the waiter in crisp white and black asked her father.
Her father shook his head.
"Two gin gimlets," he said.
"Perfect," the waiter said. Thallia sighed with satisfaction.
"This is my daughter," her father said to the waiter, presenting Thallia with a flourish of his hand as if he had suddenly conjured her from nowhere.
"You're joshing me," the waiter said. He was an older man and seemed to know Thallia's father well. "A daughter, my, my, my. A daughter? Do you live far away?" he asked her.
"About fifteen miles," she said. Her cheeks were beginning to get tired from smiling at the waiter. A bus boy walked by and she sent the smile winging toward him. The busboy tripped and dropped a tray of glasses. Ice cubes skittered across the floor.
"Holy Christ," the waiter said and hurried over to the fallen bus boy.
"So what do you plan to do with your life?" her father asked.
Thallia inhaled. There was a candle burning on the table and she could smell wax and smoke and alcohol from the other tables and her father's tart aftershave and someone else's steak. She picked up a fork and clinked it against her knife just to hear the sound. She felt her father waiting for an answer.
"I can't decide," she said finally. Lately she found it impossible to say anything of any substance before the words sorted themselves all out in her head and stood before the mirror of her mind a few minutes to see if they were the very right words to come tripping out across the pink carpet of her tongue. "I think I might apply for Italian citizenship."
"Italian?" he asked. "Why not German?"
"German?" she gasped. "I thought Italian for Chianti and Roman arches and Michelangelo."
"German for Liebfraumilch and dark German beer and Mozart."
"I love Liebfraumilch," she said and sighed.
"All children do," he answered. He took a pack of Chesterfields from the pocket of his white short-sleeved shirt, shook one half way out and offered it to her. "Smoke?"
Thallia looked carefully at the cigarettes. My father smokes Chesterfields, she thought. Now she would know in case anyone ever asked.
"I don't think so," she said.
The waiter came by with their gimlets.
She picked up the glass and started to take a sip, but her father stopped her with a look.
"You need to let the ice melt a bit," he said.
Thallia raised an eyebrow. So it was to be an educational evening, after all. She stared at the drink, noticed little lily pads of lime juice on the surface and then finally took a sip and licked her lips. A busboy stood at a table a few feet away and she felt his eyes trying desperately not to linger. She leaned her shoulders toward her father.
"I love this," she said.
"Hmm. Beefeater's," he said. "Not bad. What will you eat?"
She looked at the menu. All her life she had eaten fried shrimp at seafood restaurants, but then, all her life she had been flat-chested and freckly and well, maybe, cute on a good day. She ran her hand through her hair and wondered how it would look if it were another color--snow white or rose red.
"Shrimp etouffe," she said.
"Hmm. I think I'll have scallops," he said.
My father likes scallops, Thallia thought. These were things she would tell people when they were talking about their fathers. Mine likes scallops, he smokes Chesterfields, and he doesn't believe in God, she would say as if he were someone she had known all her life. The last was something her mother told her.
"We are sorest bent and troubled by invisible hands," her father said, finishing off his gimlet with a giant gulp.
"Should I cut my hair? Should I dye it blond?" Thallia asked, staring at the darkening sky outside the big windows.
"Thus spake Zarathustra," her father said and with one eye stared at her through the bottom of his empty glass.
The waiter came with more drinks and took their order. They sat silently but not uncomfortably drinking gimlets until the food came and dishes covered the white tablecloth. Thallia picked out the busboy that she would marry, for she now decided that a different boy every day would be a bore. They wouldn't know her well enough to really love her. The one she wanted had blond hair and sloped shoulders. She always preferred blond men. The pianist was now playing "Some Enchanted Evening," and her father had begun to hum along.
Her father looked closely at his scallops as if he were reading them.
"Some say that a man who leaves his family is cursed," he said. "They are the death preachers who don't understand that a man must strive to serve his own Self. The Self is the Creator. Nietzsche tried to tell them. But they did not listen. He was scorned, rebuffed, and worst of all, ignored," her father said, stabbed a scallop and popped it in his mouth.
"The etouffe is delicious," Thallia said and tilted her head at what must have been a very lovely angle, she decided. A plate crashed in the distance.
When dinner was over, her father said he would have a brandy. Outside in the sky a pulse of lightning licked at the sky. Ground to cloud lightning is the rarest kind. Thallia knew a lot about lightning. She was the ace of the science class at school.
"I'm going outside, Daddy," she said. "For some air."
She walked through the long restaurant past the tables with their oceanside view, candles flickering, her chin lifted, a smile playing across her lips. How many? How many busboys had their eyes trained upon her?
She pushed open the door and the ocean breeze ran up to her and hugged her. She was unable to stop herself from laughing and stepped right out of the black high heels that had made her look so elegant. And now she was wearing only pantyhose, her new black bra and her black dress and the gold chain with the gold horn dangling below her neck. She walked down the wooden steps to the beach and shucked the pantyhose from her legs.
Each foot sank delicately through the sand as she made her way down-going to the water's edge. She looked at the dark plate glass windows of the restaurant. Large floodlights shined from under the eaves of the roof and cast a silver coating across the sand. She waved, hoping her daddy was watching. The breeze blew her hair in front of her face and she whipped her head around to free herself. The water like a great sleeping animal nuzzled against the shore.
She reached down and in one elegant gesture, worthy of Audrey Hepburn, she pulled her little black dress over her head, and flung it to the sand. Then she unhooked her bra and let it fall away from her. She raised her arms above her head as if reaching toward the night sky and stepped into the water. Supergirl. She dove forward.
She felt the salt water pressing against every inch of her body--a body which lost its boundaries in the liquid. She sank down and let the waves wash over her--back and forth. And then, how strange, she thought. Tiny fishes began shredding her skin. Her fingers floated off. The strands of her hair unloosed themselves from the follicles one by one. The limbs of her body dispersed. Eels swam through her belly. Crabs climbed along her bones. The cells of her body floated around haphazardly. Then a high whining sound like a song or a scream sounded as though seventeen years worth of life had been rolled into a ball and was barreling into existence.
Without knowing how it all happened, she was rising, wrenched from the water. She gasped at the air and it felt just like the first air she had ever tasted. Then she noticed thousands of bright green flecks floating around her. Phosphorous. She laughed and twirled in the water, creating swirling works of art. It was all shining. She was shining. She was sure that everyone for miles could see her. She was a lighthouse. No, she was lightning. Ground to cloud.
She looked toward the shore. Her father stood there, his hands making strange jerking motions.
"Come out of there. Right now," he bellowed.
"It's all right, Daddy," she said. "You don't need to worry."
"Come out, I tell you," he insisted.
Thallia stretched out her arms, sank back in the salty water, let the water smooth back her long hair. What she did now would determine the course of the rest of her life, she believed. Then she slowly raised herself up and walked through the shimmering, shining surf to her father. Above them the stars blinked adoration in a secret code.
Thallia got out of the water and stood before her father.
"What's the matter, Daddy?" she asked.
He thrust her dress at her.
"Get dressed this instant," he said.
"Oh, I can't put this dress on. I'm all wet and I'll ruin the material," she said and began to walk back toward the restaurant.
"What are you doing?" her father asked, his voice squeaking.
Thallia didn't answer. Instead she looked at the entrance of the restaurant and saw the busboys crowded around the railing just outside the door. The older waiter came out behind them.
"I love you," one of the busboys called out to her.
"Marry me," another pleaded.
"No, me, me," the third one cried out.
"I'll give you anything you want," the first one said.
Thallia smiled and her father rushed to stand in front of her.
"I'll have you all fired. All of you," he yelled, his fists opening and closing spasmodically.
The waiter shoved the busboys back into the restaurant.
"Get to the car quickly," her father said.
Thallia stopped for her shoes and then languidly got in the car.
"That was so heroic, Daddy," she said.
He grunted, started the engine and made the tires of his old Falcon squeal as he left the parking lot.
Thallia turned the radio on. It was an AM radio, original with the car, and she twisted the tuner until she found some music. The sounds of Tommy Dorsey poured out of the tinny speakers.
"Cool," Thallia said. Her father said nothing for fifteen miles. Thallia listened to the music and watched the road as the car sped through pools of artificial light. She sat primly in the front seat with her dress and her bra on her lap. The pantyhose had been lost. Her hair was damp and stiff with salt and sand.
"What the hell is your mother going to say?" her father asked as he pulled into the parking lot of her mother's apartment complex. "I wish you would at least put on your goddamn clothes. I could get arrested!"
"I've got my high heels on, Daddy," Thallia said with a smile, feeling the wind like waves of silk on her body. "Aren't they great looking? Not too high and slutty looking, but still rather sexy with this slender stem. No, not sexy. Alluring. Yes, alluring."
Other drivers had their eyes on the road, but at least one guy in a pick up truck at a red light began to honk wildly after a moment of visible shock. Her father pounded the accelerator and wound between cars to get away from the blaring horn.
He parked in front of the apartment, and Thallia got out and walked to the door in her alluring shoes. Her father got out of the car, too, and followed her at a distance. Thallia put her key in but before she could get it turned, her mother opened the door.
Her mother's mouth dropped open. Thallia stepped in feeling her nudity like a mink coat and kissed her on the cheek.
"Three busboys proposed to me, Momma," Thallia said. "I'm just pooped. I'm going straight to bed."
She headed up the stairs of the apartment to her bedroom, and heard her father bluster, "She's insane, Margaret. You have raised a lunatic."
Thallia turned around and asked, "What's wrong with that, Daddy? Gentle is Zarathustra to the sickly, or didn't you know that?"
As she continued up the steps, she heard the door close. How they had bonded, Thallia and her daddy. It was a wonderful late birthday, she thought, slipping out of her heels, climbing naked and salty into bed.