A grammar of taste

The sky speaks.

She (or he, it is still too early to quite decide) is caught up in that hour before morning loses its solitary scent. Ignoring the kitchen’s light switch and working from the ingrained comfort that comes after months in the same place, her mind drifts, loose and roaming, to where the traces of dreams are yet to be fully scrubbed from the eyes’ grimy corners.

From the window of the apartment looking into hers, four flights up and across a slightly nauseous gap she has learned to bear, a camera flash, or a too early glimmer of sun. Or just a lamp flicked on for long enough to confirm the hour is yet small enough for a return to the luxurious coma of sleep, a few more placeless, anaesthetised minutes before facing the day. Sometimes a light is just a light, a trick the mind offers us, rather than a question. Sometimes it is also the hand behind it, reaching outwards and guiding.

Her fingers (and we seem more sure it is a ‘her’, if reading mannerisms and outlines allows us a clue) clutch an orange, bought two days ago, moving slowly over its pores. With a thumb nail, pressure and a little leverage, soon the bittersweet notion of citrus breaks free. She expects this to happen, knows it with a familial reassurance, but smiles a little anyway, content with this tenderness meant for her alone, this moment. It is a singular pleasure, one of very few she’ll permit herself throughout the day. With its stubborn weight of routine, soon the rigid hours will own her again, she will serve them. Soon, she will check off tasks and the hours, meetings and nods and handshakes and a mind knotted up in the daylight life that eats into night, where even then are there few shadows to escape into for their little pleasures.

As she pops a segment into her mouth, this could be her madeleine moment – someone should call her now, coincidentally and early, that they might together appreciate the cool spice and tang of this shared reprieve – but her tastes these days come more from the self-improvement section, not her childhood indulgences. She gave them up, gives them up, in order to keep reaching and floating and moving. Past loves have faded, for the most part, and they say exes are best remembered in their most rancid form, to fan away regret, rather than regurgitated from that confusing emotional pit. She prefers not to let her mind turn down those corridors, though what can she do in those unscheduled absences when the wind rushes in, umbrellas are unfurled from sleeves, and couples link arms to hurry down grey-slopped streets together?

Best to remember that she knows where to draw her mantras and heroes from, now. The commute to work, still by train on a practically gentrified line, is filled with a self-talk of generic phrases congratulating her on upgrading her attitude and wardrobe, reminders and rehearsals about how posture and volume lead to partnership, faint echoes of Mrs Waugh in fourth grade and those constant reminders about “stiffening up your spine, girls” that now seem to be the best-selling creed of bleach-toothed success stories.

She cycles through her morning playlist, much of it at a tempo fast enough to psych you up for an adversarial joust or performing CPR, whichever comes first. Days require you to be versatile, even within the monotony. Chomping at the bit for action, her foot detaches from her thoughts, in a tss tss tss, a nodding blur that almost matches time with the train’s steady rattle, a free and cracking whip of motion and force and elsewhere. Her mind works up a sweat.

Portrait #12: Woman contemplating an orange near daybreak.

She’s caught up with the way the rind slips her little hints of memories, though she doesn’t get to choose which ones. She’ll go there anyway, resting an elbow on the chopping board, and even taken somewhere else she almost notices that the light may have flashed again. It seems she’s tallying up the purchases she’ll need to make, a mental inventory. The necessary maintenance and chores and taking out the trash that will be added to calling her mother for a second time this week. Add extra chocolate to the list, coffee beans, new tumblers. No new tumblers. No more tumblers.

Can’t we get her to focus, even in these empty minutes before the freeway whirs into life, on something other than the here and now?

The sky is watching, or will be watching, speaking in tongues and rays and indecipherable little hints that we ascribe a mind of their own. We must give her a grammar of taste, a way to name the dangling emotions and savour the run-on thoughts as more than a slow stream of juice that wets lips and appetite.

Speaking to an empty room, though, the sky offers nothing this morning. Nothing that will be taken.

But it has time, it will be here tomorrow too.

As she exits, she pockets a fruit for later, and hurries off to join the whirring crowd.

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