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Terreson Profile
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Upstairs


Upstairs

(for night workers of a certain class I have known, and for whom la cuisine amounts to a devotional.)

We would climb the stairs in the afternoon before the sun had crouched behind the ridgeline. We would swing open the room’s heavy door, and we would stand there just inside. The door would shut itself behind us, releasing the air in a sigh. And the light that warmed the room would be coming through the south side windows with their shutters half-open. It was a golden light that glazed the walls, a light like ripe d’Yquem coating your mouth. And we would remark again on how the room was meant for different things. For an artist’s ideal brushstrokes or for holy invocations. But we knew the kitchen had been reducing its scheme for hours, and we could see the straight-backed chairs still piled on the tables. The dirty linen from last night’s service would be crumpled like a ghost in a corner on the floor. And we would start again imagining how we would serve our platters that evening.

Somewhere inside the room there was always a table with chairs left around it at easy angles. The wrinkled cloth stained with port would tell again about the money counting, the leftover wine, and the nervous cigarettes that had followed on midnight. The razor burn marking the cloth would still be visible too. It was what was left of the lines we had drawn to start us on our late night wanderings. They were the wanderings that tended to end in the chilly halls of home at dawn. And seeing our remains in the afternoon, we knew we would set those shakier dreams into motion also. With false starts and slowly we would begin to get ready all of the new night’s illusions.

We would somehow take hold of the room. We would return it to the less natural planes and perpendiculars that were demanded of it. Everything in there would become as quickening materials in ours hands until they took on the shapes we meant them to be. The newly stretched cloths would be flattened against the tables, and the second-hand silver would be made to frame the china that so easily chipped. The crystal glasses for water and wine would be turned down before the plates, and the stiff, slatted wood chairs would be tucked under their settings precisely. All of these things would pass through our fingers like dumb materials on their way to something more precious. And the light from the windows, with their shutters latched back, would be touching the cream colored walls. The shades of early evening would be turning from a soft lavender to a deeper lilac, while the sun was barely holding its head above the Blue Ridge skyline. And it was somewhere outside those window, and just this side of the sky’s unmeasurable border of blue translucence, where those of us who had stopped by would find an opening portion of something shimmering. So true this is. Sometimes the dark bistro workers from downstairs would stop by as well. And we would see what each of us saw out there, in the quivering light, just above the slanting night. But we were here. All of us were in here. And the evening’s first diners would soon be here too.

 They would be coming, in large parties and small, and we would meet with each of them over their own idea of la cuisine. We would banquet the large parties with the kind of care meant to make serving seem easy. And we would persuade the smaller parties into believing they were dining alone. If all the strands connecting kitchen to service met perfectly then touching friends would be certain the magic they found in themselves was touching us all. And if the strands were in some place broken our bony waltz would show how without tempo the bump and grind of pleasurable living’s last waltz can be. And each night held inside itself the chance our patrons would let themselves go; that they would let themselves be served. And this was the game maker’s freedom we wanted most of all. The animal tastes and earth-nourished seeds that had been tended over points of purest heat would then be swept before all comers. And the suspended wines of Bourgogne and Bordeaux, the Echezaux and La Tour, would be waiting in a smaller room all their own. They too were looking to be free. To be opened and poured, and to live and be lived, they wanted only to breathe easily once again.

But all of this would come later. We still had time to polish glasses, and to finely stretch the nervous chords strung inside of us. And standing by the windows, with napkin and glass in hand, we would see that the sun had finally leaped from his wiry crouch, and that he had broken through to the earth’s other side. We felt sure he would not reach her whom he was after and that he would likely find disappointment. He would still be chasing her though the night, his day, but he would not find her. And now that he was gone we could see how the spread of lilac in the sky was wilted, and how it had all the time been making mauve. We could see that a new night was getting born out of another dead day. We could see the sharper shades of blue and red now mixing. It was in the field of thick matting, violets reaching beyond the sky’s limit. It was letting loose its petals like a robe opening. And there inside the undone robe was the white moon. She was a smiling face scimitar and she was quartering high. Still be chasing. And she firmly held herself in the purpling that was turning around her, while she herself was making for places of unequal contests. She was making for places of seriously played pastimes that always are their own sweet stakes, while, with our backs to the room, we would have once again lost our sense of space. We would not have noticed the Maitre d’Hotel dimming the light to a right and pleasing tone. His delicate touch would have gone unnoticed. And as we returned to our stations we would take note of the room’s only stroke of color. It was in the single carnation set on each white table. It was starkly set against the room’s near perfect monochrome. It was in the deepest spilled shade of red. Like the bull’s blood running out over the sand. Or like the Virginia red bird scratching for seed in frozen snow.

Terreson
Mar/13/2010, 8:12 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Upstairs


Tere,

Lovely. You have taken as much care writing this as you took serving those customers long ago. You've captured all the little preparation details that go into turning the act of dining out into the magical experience it can sometimes be. I am reminded again of that famous quote, author unknown to me, about a writer being someone on whom nothing is lost.
Mar/14/2010, 8:13 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Upstairs


Good quote, Katfriend. And if it is true I thank you for the compliment. I can tell you this. The two writers who taught me the most about how to make stories were both women. Anais Nin and Colette. They taught me two lessons: look to tell the story from the inside looking out, not the other way around; and look to build the story tectonically, on the little details showing the subterranean shifts and faults.

Tere
Mar/15/2010, 5:44 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
pjouissance Profile
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Re: Upstairs


Hi, Tere,

"smiling face scimitar" -- now that's very fine, as is the last paragraph, my favorite.

It's difficult to sustain a story in the conditional tense. This seems to be the one appropriate time, a memory of a series of events.

If you are still making changes, I suggest deleting all "And"s which begin sentences. I know it feels right, but it ain't right.

Thanks for the posting,

Auto
Jun/9/2010, 11:35 pm Link to this post Send Email to pjouissance   Send PM to pjouissance
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Upstairs


Thanks, Auto. This is not the first time you've found exception with my use of the conjuctive starting a sentence. Keep it up and I may just have to change my ways. Thanks especially for pointing to the last paragraph. I cannot tell you how difficult that paragraph was to get into shape. Seriously. It took years of revisiting.

Tere
Jun/10/2010, 5:31 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
vkp Profile
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Re: Upstairs


I love this piece, for so many reasons. I see it all -- thank you.
Jan/14/2012, 9:20 am Link to this post Send Email to vkp   Send PM to vkp Blog
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Upstairs


You're welcome, vkp. Glad the scene comes through for you. In retrospect an odd subject maybe. On the other hand, small moments have always interested me.

Tere
Jan/14/2012, 1:54 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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