Monday, January 25, 2010

The blues

Almost exactly a year ago, I was on Nusa Penida. This time of day, the rainstorms had rolled in and I was probably napping on the futon in Mark's kitchen house, swatting away flies from my bare ankles and cracking my eyes open when the others came home on their motorbikes, bringing bananas, rice, hundreds of tiny violet shallots and cooking oil stored in empty water bottles. The same empty water bottles that they sold arak in, the sweet, bitter bathtub-brewed hard liquor that was tolerable only after a Bintang beer or two.

One night we all huddled in the space between the metal gate and the inside of one of the family's cell phone shops, drinking Bintang and playing Mario Kart, all of the Indonesian boys smoking clove cigarettes and flirting with us American girls. I had a headache and went to bed early, but one of the boys walked me home and sat outside murmuring with my host family and drinking hot sweet tea while I unpeeled my sleeping bag and started my nightly battle with the heat and the bugs that drank my blood while I slept.

One afternoon instead of napping I listened to my headphones for the first time in three weeks. I stared at the geckos flickering around the ceiling and listened to Junior Wells sing a schoolgirl over to him with a harmonica and a voice that sounds like bourbon. I imagined the studio where he was singing so many years ago, stuffy and lit only by the tips of cigarettes, and felt very far away from home.

The blues will always sound a little like those afternoons, too, in the space between when the rain came in across the mountains and when the sun came out and lifted it out of the ground again.

I'm knitting a scarf out of blue cashmere and sometimes forgetting for a moment there is no old army-green jacket hanging on my coat rack, no cold toes in bed, no more burritos eaten while shoeless on the rocks of a northern California beach even though it's too cold to go swimming. I keep little things - memories, letters, a bottle of sand, a length of fabric - and bring them out until they are creased and soft from handling.

Cashmere has memory but no strength, and needs no care to be soft. Sometimes it feels as if it will break apart in my hands, but it hasn't yet. And it looks like it will be a beautiful scarf when it grows up.

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