|Essence of Mitchum
by Richard Peabody
having one of those typical days when I can't summon the energy it takes to open some
frozen waffles and instead stand in the kitchen contemplating the way the rain is
cascading down the Andersen windows. I discover a cabinet ajar in the bathroom, and think
maybe I'll at least shave, make some tiny impression on this day, and discover Cynthia's
deodorant where my shaving cream usually sits. What's this? Mitchum? I heft the pastel
green canister. is Cynthia cheating on me? Did some guy leave his...? Oh, now I see the
daintier pink and white letters wrapping around the boldface Mitchum. This is Lady
Mitchum. What nutcase thought of naming a woman's scent after Robert Mitchum? Those ad
execs at Revlon must be high on crack.
Cynthia calls me from work. She's in a foul mood.
"I got a ticket."
Typical Cynthia. Always talking about consequences and
never her responsibility in setting any particular ducks in a row.
"So what'd you do? Run a stop sign?" I say.
She's got this new habit of rolling through stop signs
that really scares the pants off me.
"That's not funny, Chip."
I can sense her lip quivering. My clue to stop being a
"Sorry, babe. Tell me what happened."
She's been driving with her Walkman on. No big whoop.
Her Honda is such a piece of shit that the stereo system has been d.o.a. since I've known
her. But this driving around with the Walkman on is new. Of course, she didn't know it was
against the law. And I can't say I've ever heard of anyone being busted for doing it.
"What's the fine?"
"Ouch," I say. But I'm thinking, there go
the weekend pizzas. Damn.
Somehow her predicament pumps me full of energy. I get
creative. Open the fridge. Bang some pans together. I make some soup from scratch. Drop
veggies in the pot. Let it simmer all day. I can see Cynthia's pissed off when she comes
in the door but she's a sucker for cumin and pleased that I've made dinner.
"I'm sorry your day was so shitty," I say. I
hold her. Kiss her cheek. Bury my nose in her walnut-colored hair and breathe deep.
"I'm gonna take a shower," she says into my
armpit. And I let her unpeel from my arms.
I slice tomatoes, sprinkle them with oil and basil. I
cut open our last two baguettes. And then I ladle the soup into the only nice bowls we
own. Off-white with cerulean blue stripes.
Cyn surprises me by coming from the shower to join me
still wrapped in plum-colored towels.
The soup is good and I relax and watch her eat.
Re-energized, she becomes more talkative. But I've tuned out her meaning. I'm locked into
the musical quality of her voice and I can't make out the individual words. Plus, I'm not
used to eating dinner with a woman displaying this much flesh and I'm having a hard time
pretending I'm not staring. Because I am, every chance I get. Staring at the little folds
on the inside of her knee where one leg cocks over the other, at the place where the towel
pulls away from her thighs, still steamy pink from the shower, at the way she's tucked the
towel into her cleavage.
"Chip. You aren't even listening."
She looks hurt. So I gather my wits.
"Sorry, babe. I was just thinking about you and
that cop this morning." She shakes her head. "Thanks for making the soup. Next
time add a little more garlic. Okay?" She pushes away from the table. I snatch at the
purple cloth around her waist as she walks past. She swats my hand but giggles and soon
we're on the beige carpet in the living room and our two disgusted cats jump down from the
futon and walk away ashamed of their owners.
That night I dream about Robert Mitchum. I'm in the
middle of the street. Old Tucson or something. And he's walking toward me obscured by this
swirling sand. He's also singing. I can make out the words to "Thunder Road." I
can see the black cowboy boots but I can't quite make out his bohunky face. He's maybe
twenty yards away before the wind begins to die down. And then I see him. It's Mitchum all
right, and he's still singing. I can't move. My feet won't obey my brain. I want to run.
Because Mitchum is wearing a dress. One of those Gunsmoke Miss Kitty numbers.
Ostrich plumes and fishnets. Ultima II Sexxxy Red lipstick on his thick lips. He stops in
front of me. A spaghetti western moment. And then he says, "Pucker up."
wake in a cold sweat, stagger out of bed, and wander into the bathroom where Lady Mitchum
awaits. I open the "Powder Fresh" canister. Sniff it through the trio of
medieval vents. Not very memorable. Must be that Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex gly.
Whatever the hell that is. I automatically try it out. I don't feel any different.
Tomorrow, I promise myself, I'll get a haircut and maybe look for work. There is
definitely too much free time on my hands. Then I stumble back to bed.
Peabody was born in Washington, D.C. and has published four books of poems and two short
story collections. He currently teaches fiction writing in John Hopkins University
Part-Time Graduate Writing Program and at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Peabody is the founding editor of Gargoyle Magazine, and co-editor of the Mondo series
(Mondo Barbie, Mondo Elvis, et al) for St. Martin's Press. His most recent book
is A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation, which he edited for
Serpent's Tail/High Risk. He can be reached at email@example.com
in Arlington, Virginia.