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Essence of Mitchum
by Richard Peabody

I'm 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 wise-ass.
      "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."
     I 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.

© Richard Peabody
    spanish translation
 |catalan translation                       

"Essence of Mitchum"
appears in Open Joints on Bridge: Stories by Richard Peabody published by Argonne Hotel Press. This electronic version is published by The Barcelona Review by arrangement with the author. Book ordering available through Argonne Hotel Press
This story may not be archived or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.
Author bio: Richard Peabody

Richard 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 hedgehog2@erols.com in Arlington, Virginia.

navigation:                         barcelona review #16                       January - February 2000
-Fiction Juan Abreu: Tendernesschip
Guillaume Dustan: Serge the Beauty & Rendezvous
Len Kruger: Hotline
Norman Lock: In the Time of the Comet
Richard Peabody: Essence of Mitchum
-Poetry John Giorno: Three Poems
-Article January and February in Barcelona
-Quiz Federico García Lorca - win a book
Answers to last issue's Samuel Beckett Quiz
-Regular Features Book Reviews
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