|Youre Stanley Now
G. K. Wuori
Oh Ann thought her husband would be pleased when she asked the one man about the
ships registry, about the credentials of its captain, about the safekeeping place of
its records and whether or not its broken things were even occasionally repaired. A story,
thats what Oh Ann had heard, was that when you contracted with Men Who Transport
Very Fine you were sometimes treated like a midnight cat kicked, sprayed with
hoses, yelled at. It seemed only prudent to inquire as to what the ground rules of this
tremendous new phase in their joint life would be.
Oh Ann knew her husband would be proud of her astute
questions, of her concern for their safety and comfort.
The captain, though, a man who looked both kind and
wise with his white beard and his windblown and shaggy white hair, had Oh Ann beaten by a
small man whose tongue was never all the way in his mouth, one of those rascals who
reminded her of early school where the very smallest boys would sometimes respond to the
constant taunts and teasing by grabbing even the biggest offenders by the throat until the
eyes looked like they would pop out through the back of the head. Such boys never
"won," of course, but no water is ever sweeter than that which dampens
This little man, at the captains urging, used a
plastic bottle filled with American soda pop. He broke one of Oh Anns ribs with it,
and blackened both her eyes.
That night, in the ships hold, a greasy place
that had only recently held crude oil not a good place for even the one kerosene
lamp that hung over the turd bucket, although that was as good a spot as any for there to
be at least some light that night Oh Anns husband held his feet to the walls
of the ship until they were icy cold and then he placed them against her swollen eyes. His
feet burned from the chill after a while, and he was heavily exerted the way any chubby
man would be contorting himself that way.
Oh Ann kept thanking him until finally he put his
fingers to her lips and said, "Listen."
Oh Ann did listen as next to them two people made love
with endearments and barely visible motions. Neither Oh Ann nor her husband had ever been
so close to the passion of others, though they were not embarrassed by it, not ashamed
since they knew that in the time ahead they would have their own moments in the
softly-turned shadows, things that needed to be done while others shed their own
awareness. The journey was said to be very long.
"Are they men?" Oh Ann asked Youre
Stanley Now (the hurry-up name given her husband by a clerk back home, men always advised
not to use their real names).
"Not two days out," Youre Stanley Now
said, "yet loneliness rises faster than all the tides. In a week or two they will
hate each other and fight."
"Husband?" Oh Ann said.
"Take your feet off my face. They are warm
He laughed quietly then and told her that in the
America a man was not allowed to put his feet on his wifes face. He had heard that
and said it was only one of all the strange laws they would have to get used to, like
sleeping late on Sunday mornings and going to the church of your choice on Wednesday
nights. Oh Ann said she didnt think theyd have to go to church at all, that it
was not required. Perplexed, Youre Stanley Now said he thought it might depend on
what sort of job you had, then he said they ought to try to get some sleep, or at least
look like they were getting some sleep so that the men next to them would feel alone when
they were done, and could make the small talk that is such a vital part of lovemaking.
By the time the group of them boarded the old DC-3 for
the trip over some mountains in the South America, Oh Anns eyes had healed. Her rib
still hurt but bones, she knew, were like that. They did all the hard work of the body
with very little thanks, so it was understandable they would complain following actual
Oh Ann sighed audibly over the word complain, since
Youre Stanley Now had complained about her beating the very next day. One of the Men
Who Transport Very Fine had said, thats it, this aint no cruise ship, and
Youre Stanley Now would have to go, that this was a perilous trip in perilous times
and they could all be blown out of the water by even the smallest of governments seeking
training exercises for new ship crews or fresh airplane pilots. "Perilous
times," the man shouted at Youre Stanley Now, "require bravery and iron
discipline. Those who cavil and whine are like a terrible rust eating out the innards of
an old ship.
"You seek new lives, yet you would do it with old
laxities?" the man continued, actually shouting, screaming, the man clearly
hysterical, Oh Ann could see.
She could also see, for the first time, the gulls
following the ship, ugly sea gulls the stuff of evil and spitefulness in every
childrens story shed grown up with. Sea gulls ate your eyes and pissed on your
laundry and theyd lay eggs in the mouths of infants. It was even said the devil was
in all the sea gulls, that he deceived sailors into thinking land was near so that day
after day the screeching would drive them insane.
Oh Ann stopped thinking of gulls just then as she saw
a half dozen of the Men Who Transport Very Fine wrap her husband in a blue tarpaulin. She
worried that they would beat him when he was helpless, or that they would make him lie in
the sun that way, baking like meat in a stiff roll.
"Woman!" they shouted at Oh Ann.
"I will not have you hurt my man!" Oh Ann
"Then lead him to the bow of the ship," they
said, "where his impudence will guide us over the never-ending sea."
Oh Ann draped her arm across her wrapped
husbands shoulders and said, "Youre Stanley Now, I am afraid."
Her husband gave her words of reassurance, though they
were muffled by the heavy plastic wrap. He was asking her about the sky and what color it
was, if it was cloudy or if there was a good sun that reminded her of the afternoons
theyd spent grilling meat in the park and walking barefoot in the shallows of the
Lake of Saving Heroes. She said yes, of course, to all of his memories, and she said when
they got to the America they would do all those things again. Already, she said,
shed read about hot dogs and hamburgers and how to cook them on a portable fire.
Then she remembered hed asked about the sky and she said it was delightful, that the
sea air was as crisp as pickles, the ocean filled with waves that looked like gently
"Okay," one of the Men Who Transport Very
Fine said, in English, too, unaccented as though he were reading drama on the CNN program,
"heres the deal."
With that, Youre Stanley Now was pushed into the
sea and Oh Ann could only think, one minute ago I was a wife and now I am a widow
or perhaps I will be wife to all these men, a sickened wretch whose idea of the future is
one hour from now, one of those who was always called The Speechless Woman because any
word was always evidence there could be other words, and with words there could be hope
and The Speechless Women had no hope. They were tended like mushrooms that grew in mink
dung; then they were eaten and forgotten.
The Most Honorable Pirate himself, however, the
captain of the ship, apologized to Oh Ann. He said things had gone too far, much too far,
but what else could he say? He was forced to work with angry men in an angry business
"Steel cutting through water, my darling," he said to Oh Ann, "is a
most savage and unnatural act. Those who do it, those who oversee it, know that the sea is
a beast with no head and no tail, whose every inch, instead, can destroy, can
Then he invited her up to the bridge house of the ship
where they watched as a single steel cable was wrapped around each neck of the six men who
had made Oh Ann a widow. As the cable was tightened by a slow machine, the six angry
widowmakers were quietly strangled. She would rather have seen them standing in the dock
in a courtroom, their heads bowed, their voices filled with soft remorse. Perhaps they
would have family people nearby so that the tragedy might have the depth afforded by many
Oh Ann said thank you to the captain because she knew
he expected it.
That night, once again back in the oily hold in the
middle of the ship, Oh Ann turned to the two men who had made love the night before and
asked them if they would mind making love again, that she needed soft things, like sounds
and slippery flesh, old words whose edges had been buffed by time and patience. The two
men then, hardly more than a shadow in the company of shadows, barely visible in the
kerosene light over the turd bucket so far away, smiled at her and removed their clothes
good clothes, still, not yet raggy, torn, bug-clotted, bloody, as would happen in
the wear and tear of such a journey one of them called, in English, Bill, the other
Cookie, and neither of them clear anymore as to whether they, themselves, had been
expelled from their homeland, or had fled, or had simply seen a new life far away as
something an old life should always move toward.
Oh Ann heard them kiss and could hear the sound of
flesh sliding on flesh. She thought one of them was singing something, very softly, an old
song that children often sang when a bird was found dead. Eventually, the smell of sex
drifted over to Oh Ann, the smell of Youre Stanley Now (or perhaps his clothes and
cosmetics in the small valise next to her), the smell of her father, the smell of little
boys about to be terribly naughty.
Silently, Oh Ann cried for her husband and for
herself. In a day or so she would be strong and would try to remember all the widows she
had known and the nature of their ways. She would have to mourn in travel clothes and that
would be hurtful, though her undergarments were still white and white was always the color
of those who were in a colorless place. For the moment, though, she was near soft people,
and she let the softness overcome her as she rolled over onto her belly and wept, not a
word being said, no objections or expressions of shock or impropriety, as she reached over
with her hand and placed it softly on an ankle of one of the lovers.
Oh Ann remembered that night, yet few of the nights
that followed. They came to land and there was a truck, the first of many trucks, then the
old DC-3 that rattled like a monster as it pushed and pulled and bruised them over the
snowy mountains. A port followed the flight, along with day after day spent hidden in a
warehouse. There were forbidden forays during those days, sneaky doings by some of the men
and women. Bill and Cookie went out one time and brought Oh Ann cooked meat and chewing
gum on their return, a part of the increasing watchfulness they slowly layered upon Oh
Ann. Cookie liked to rub her back when she was weary, his cool fingers especially gentle
in the vicinity of her healing rib.
She told them her contract called for her to sell one
kidney and one lung, perhaps some grafting skin and a few bones from her feet.
"Research," she told them, "it is for one of the finest of all medical
centers in the world."
Bill and Cookie, however, told her that was a sham, a
ruse, that those things were illegal in the America. More likely, Bill said, she was
scheduled to become a Speechless Woman, either that or the wife of some church that would
use her soul as though it were a wedding bed unoccupied since the time of Judas of
Ischeus. She would end up cleaning benches and bells, her mind a soup of contradictory
"Come with us," they said to her. "We
are to be foresters, artists of the arbor with all of nature our palette. Ten American
dollars an hour."
"I would climb trees?" Oh Ann said,
"shave my legs with an ax, brush my teeth with a chainlink saw? Already, I am a
legend I peed on that captains floor as my husbands executioners were
strangled. How many more legends can I become? How many more times must I be a story
before somebody says we need to leave her alone?"
The truth was, she hadnt believed the contractor
herself when hed said her organs could be removed for good money. Her future had
been in her husbands hands, those wonderful hands, those skillful hands. Now her
future was at the bottom of the sea in a location she couldnt name.
At the end of two weeks the group was separated and
put on two small boats for the trip to the American coastline, a place called New Orleans,
Oh Ann thought it was. Unfortunately, Bill and Cookie were put on different boats with
Cookie on the same boat as Oh Ann. Although they vowed to meet again in this New Orleans
place, Cookie was miserable and inconsolable.
"Weve lost our men," he said to Oh
Ann, "you and I. Shall we cleave unto one another?"
"Your English is like an old book, Cookie,"
Oh Ann said, "and I dont think we shall cleave. We brought love with us, both
of us, that love that is like the child sprung from this ground, this true earth right in
this certain spot. That love of the lover always has his fathers eyes, his
mothers nose, the snooty way of the sister, perhaps the drunken humor of the uncle.
That is gone for us, Cookie, and we wont love again. I may cleave in a shop chopping
chickens, but I will have no more men."
Cookie, she knew, was like a mouse on a clock, a
gentle man but swift and he had no love of prisoners. "We will not argue," he
said to her.
Oh Ann was glad of that. The losses kept mounting up
and she knew it. They left holes on you, small dents that sometimes filled with a
winters snow or the dirt and sweat of work. They could be filled with sound, too,
the sweet music of an always lonesome bird, the roaring fire of some grand symphony played
to completion by distraught musicians. Those holes, though, the wind could sweep through
them, deadly germs could be born there. They might itch or even be painful.
She looked down and noticed that she was still
carrying Youre Stanley Nows small valise a dead mans underwear,
his toothbrush, and, amazingly, a ring of keys. Why had he brought his keys? What locks,
what doors had he thought might still be waiting for him? She dug deeper into the bag and
found only handkerchiefs, worn socks, and a picture of a woman, a photograph of someone Oh
Ann didnt know. Very young, standing expectantly, her smile not quite finished, not
quite polished by the seismic strain of disappointment. Dainty? She would look burdened
holding a small kitty cat, though her nose was perfect, definitely that, a nose that could
properly nasalize the languages of strangers. Had Your Stanley Now kissed that
photographic nose? Or the real one? Oh Ann thought those young lips still lacking in
shape, perhaps lacking mystery though clearly they were ready to tend anything that needed
tending. Oh, my husband were you pedophile or philanderer? I see jewelry, the
subtle taste of a designer.
Oh Ann looked up and saw that they were nearing a
rickety-looking pier in a rural place no houses, no shops, and many trees. Cookie
noticed Oh Ann going through Youre Stanley Nows bag and he said to her,
"He was with you always?"
"Yes, he was," she said. "We worked
hard and we loved only each other. My God, there wasnt time for anyone else. I mean,
wed make a meal, wed read to each other, wed sleep. Who is this
She gave Cookie the photograph and Cookie said this
was a beautiful woman. She had encouraging cheekbones and beneficent eyes. Her heart was
at peace with the troubles of the world she had negotiated a civil median, like
children in a game who agree to be dead, but only for a certain time.
"He wished for her," Oh Ann said,
"perhaps he hoped hed find her in our new life."
"Come now," Cookie said, "we have to
go. I will be your husband since you cannot do these new things alone."
"Apparently, I was going to be doing them alone
"Silly girl," Cookie said. "Dont
you see it? Didnt you look closely? It was only a photo of a dream, of something he
would have if only the clouds would rend properly or the clock bells strike in harmony. It
was you, Oh Ann, who was always with him, but he carried the picture so that someday, if
you had to part, you would still be there in his deepest being, youth and beauty that had
never changed, even though you might have been old at that time, or stretched or scarred
or twisted with execrable thoughts. Regardless, he wanted you to see always that he was
with you as your man. You were with him as his dream."
Oh Ann kissed Cookie then, not at all sure that he
made enough sense so that she could ever tell this story to anyone else. But it was a good
story, and as they all stood up to leave the boat, she took Youre Stanley Nows
keys and the photo and put them in her own bag. It was hardly heavy to begin with, but she
thought it all right to leave the socks and the underwear of her only husband behind. She
looked up at Cookie finally and said, "You have a photo of Bill?"
"Yes, I do," Cookie said.
"And he is beautiful?"
Oh Ann felt hopeful then, and completely certain that
she would never be one of The Speechless Women.