Elizabeth Powell

I SPY: Associated Writers' Conference, Chicago, IL

He had wanted everyone to love him, especially the tall skinny ones with highlighted hair and razor sharp shoulder blades. The ones that had spurned him at Saint Augustus High School. It made him dizzy as a drunken bee to think that someone might not like him. It made him want to call people names and roll on the floor laughing at them if they could not see his genius. He had made a career out of getting people to think he was aces. When his charm didn't work the whole world went white with television fuzz. Yet, when he saw her at the conference carrying Professor Bigshot's carry-on luggage he wasn't sure who he was more in love with. He had read all of Professor Bigshot's poems. He loved the controversial one about 9/11 the best. But he couldn't concentrate, her aquiline nose turned up like the edge of Connecticut.  Held in by expensive French underwires, her breasts were as molded as summer aspic. Through her diaphanous rose colored shirt he could see his own blushing. In his newly acquired Brooks Brothers suit he thought he might be two inches taller. How perfect the collision when she tripped over his well placed loafer. How fortunate to extend a hand to her and her boss before they made their way to his very own poetry reading where he extolled the virtues of the downtrodden made good, where he dove stanza by stanza into conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory. From the podium he ruled the world, a Napoleonic type desperate for any cheerleader that might surrender to his forces, plow under him like an ancient Europe finally conquered. A full and final power over this chick and all she might do for him made him enunciate his words so Choate Rosemary clearly even he surprised himself. Professor Bigshot applauded with certainty, shaking his head in agreement, up, down, up, down. He imagined the three of them in his revolving Marriott sky top room paid for by the National Arts Foundation. There would be no democracy tonight.

I SPY: Healthy Foods Co-op, Madison, Wisconsin

She knew he was a famous cartoonist, well sort of. Famous enough for The New Yorker, but not famous enough to turn down the local rag. Standing in line at Healthy Foods Coop she saw him carrying a ten pound bag of organic carrots. She didn't like his cartoons and had heard he was stuck up. From his strip in the local paper she had deduced over her morning coffees and buttered rolls that he was not happily married. The man needed someone to cook him a steak and fuck him on featherbed; that was evident from the way his face was squinching up as he passed the carrots from arm to arm. She wanted to be repulsed by him, but couldn't stop staring. His large red Puma sneaker sporting an untied shoelace, the newspaper under his arm. What was all the fanfare about, she wondered, gently unloading her cage free eggs from her shopping cart and onto the sticky black conveyer belt? Perhaps she would find out. Something about him made her want to speak French again, wear the kind of panties the teenagers wore, the ones that go up the bum like decorative floss. Averting her eyes she began to feel his eyes on her now. Oh, she didn't like the outline marks he made around her with his cartoonist's eyes, how he traced her over and over again until she could feel a sort of charcoal hum around her. Yet, that was his appeal, that simplification. That cartoon world. In the paper next Sunday she could she herself, her caricature, the young but school-marmish type, her hair up in a bun, her long thin fingers tickling him with the imported spring mesculun salad mix in her cart, her breasts sprouting out her shirt like a Saint Pauli girl, a bubble darting from her mouth, trying to say, something.

I SPY: Saint Christopher Episcopal by the Sea, Palm Beach, Florida

He was in Palm Beach on vacation and appeasing his Edith Wharton grandmother who told false stories about famous people she had met over the course of the twentieth century. Today, they had been late for church, Grandmother having developed the habit of having to count of the church steps upon ascension. Now, as he sat quietly next to her thumbing through his Book of Common Prayer, he felt a Guerlain breeze move by him and into the pew ahead. The young woman was a Rite One kind of Anglican and kneeled before she got into the pew. How he studied each strand of her hair ahead of him. As if it were a psalm to be meditated upon. The altar hummed with a privileged devotion, filled with the feeling of white lights, like those hanging from trees at the Tavern on the Green. Everything smelled upper middle class, cedar on lavender, hot iron on cotton.  Her shoes were pink and strapped around the ankle. He stared at the back of the heel as if he were ascertaining the distance one must swim when faraway from shore. The backs of her calves were slightly freckled and made him think of eating blueberry jam in Maine with a cousin he had once French-kissed.

I SPY: Fletcher Allen Hospital, Burlington, Vermont

She wrapped him in the shroud of the MRI machine, pushed a button and slowly he entered the cavern like a large penis entering a large vagina. Everything was white, the inside of the tunnel, the blankets over him, the white lights. The loud magnets wrestled invisibility threw him, clapping something that sounded like Donald-Donald-Donald, and then alternately Cowboy-Cowboy-Cowboy. He could feel the resonating part of the magnetic resonating imagery. He could feel it cut through his chakras like waves, like transcendence. He wasn't claustrophobic, instead he imagined her in the glass surrounded booth with all the knobs, the headphones she wore in case she needed to hear him whisper help, or squeeze the panic button which meant get me the hell out of here. He imagined he was part of a science fiction story, that all the humming and tribal thumping was replacing his soul, or his personality, and that it was she who turned the lever that would switch him to what she wanted. All that and swallowed into this large white womb, reminded him why he ached for the musky, macho orderly who walked in on him putting on his Johnny, his Romanesque nose, his large hands holding the extra ear plugs the technician had called for, the ear plugs that tried to mute out the clanging of a General Electric kind of world he wanted to leave behind.

I SPY: Appletree Point Community Picnic, Briarcliff Manor, New York

For months they sat in the back of the car chanting please-mommy please-mommy please-mommy with an engine like intensity. The other mothers in the neighborhood had done it last Thanksgiving, someone had an in with the City of New York or Macy's, she couldn't remember which.

Later, at the Neighborhood Block Party she brought bruschetta with roasted garlic and plum tomatoes and basil from her window garden, and had put it all on a platter she bought last month from Martha Stewart.com. The saran wrap pulled over it so tightly it felt like her face, newly done for her 40th birthday.

As a child she hated the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Holding her grandfather's large hairy hand through the crowds, the Woody the Woodpecker had scared her with his huge, Godlike beak. She would play the good mother and ask the gossiping PTA mothers how one got to be a balloon holder in the first place. Their French-pink manicures pointed across the street to - him.

He was sitting on the hood of his old 1973 BMW 2002 eating a plate of ribs. So he was the balloon man, she thought. Somehow he worked for the city, in what capacity she did not know.

Later, that Thanksgiving she stood next to him, holding adjacent ropes of that Ledean woodpecker. He had gotten her a security clearance to do this. She thought she might be lifted to the air in flight, when instead to hold the balloon made her feel as if she was descending, descending, all the way down into the bowels of history.