Square Black Key

Margo Berdeshevsky

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“Let the snake wait under his weed . . . ” (William Carlos Williams)

The Norman coast woman, no longer in her middle American housecoat as she remembers it, now naked under fuchsia silk, recalls the old robe on its peg in once-upon Akron. Was it called a housecoat? Yes. A thing to knot and tie. Oui. Skins like dropped petals scattered and buried between seas. That robe, quilted in shades of mid-summer golds, pearl buttons, red embroidered petals big as fingernails, June bugs scattered on the collar curves, on the low hemline, on long cuffs. That robe bore a scent of daily Nivea moisturizer cream, it whispered femme, and craving, when she swayed inside it, down a flight from its pink banal and overheated winter after winter boudoir to the kitchen landing where coffee would need to be brewed, on time. Always on time. Often, she spilled it. A menstrual-colored canary would be uncovered, and knew its job was to sing. A rolled morning paper would be given entry through the back door flap, to the accompaniment of a jingle bell. Now, none of that. One leftover word, on ice.

Now, French silk, middle age, perfume bought across the channel at Harrod’s, a second marriage content with its weight, bodies made for second helpings, artichokes, foie gras, a laryngitic cabaret song in the heart for the used skins, shed. Good to be a snake. Who needed old skin?

Awake in la Belle France, a white orchid flowering on morning’s Tuesday sill. Object: a single phalaenopsis petal. Object: an old robe. Object: sunlight bleeding through pastel curtains that did need washing. Another kitchen, another sill. Back to the white orchid: will you live until one more fall, are you part of a whole story, or only soft as any woman’s hidden petals, unsusceptible to rain or aging as other flesh? Ready to die? Ready not to? The wearer of the second incarnation robe mixes fresh cream with her aromatic Italian coffee. What liquid, or skin, can have the flavor of la vie, la vie, la vie? She’ll dance naked in her second kitchen this morning, right now. Take that, old robe. Take that, la vie. She’s stripping jiggling, sobbing.

The white orchid that needs so little to flower, applauds. Drops a few pale petal peals, for show. Her husband does not come into the kitchen to take away the pain. But wants his café crème. He’s already seen her naked, anyway. But he hasn’t ever seen her shedding her skin. He didn’t think of her as a snake. He does, now. Nothing but uncovered flesh left. No old once-golden robe that she remembered, here; no new life of silk, that’s the thing—not the old, not the new, not the middle, but flesh; no bastion against tedium or ruined timing or no timing, or black keys. No skin. La vie. And the square black key, inventing—surrenders to an arrival unexpected. Object: unanticipated. Object: unsentimental. Object: unwoven threads caught dangling at the window. Another thing: a naked, thirsty, hungry country crow lands on her sill and for show, he too pecks and nips and spits and sheds his feathers. Sheds his iridescent blue-black hues, his haunting voice dropping octaves, and more snake than bird, sheds his skin, too. Ainsi-soit-il. Defenseless woman. Defenseless bird.

Missing key: the un-invented savior.

Square black key, a thing no larger than a fingertip, points back at its timid hovering-above-it digit, hoping to be pressed into service—the letter “I,” impersonal as any other, but black, and white as a dream without color, story with an unborn point of view, body in its doorway, neither in nor out. Object. Key. One of twenty-six alpha-beticals plus symbols, numbers, arrows, ampersand, shift, the abbreviation for the word “control,” a slash, a parenthesis, a dash, a tilde, all permitting eighty points of pressure not to mention the upper case alternatives and including the longer black space bar . . . mute slave of the non-injured, for a morning missive in motion to a woman on La Manche, in coastal Normandy, probably still in her dressing gown. Darling . . . how could you have known we would be so cruel?

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