Below is Part 11 of 23 monthly installments for Visitant.
To celebrate the season, Agnes Person hangs two ornaments in her ears, dons a red plush suit, and ties her hair to the front like a white chin wig, a spectacular beard worthy of Saint Nick. Fixed arrangements please her, and she joins an organized Holiday stroll through the furniture rooms of the City Museum. The period settings are elegant. The polished tables, chairs, mirrors, and settees present the challenge of four-sided things placed in three-sided spaces. No angle to hide cheat, chip, use.
As she now recounts to her therapist, Dr. Wanda Winkle, the Museum staff wasn’t crazy about an early visit from Santa.
But Ms. Person, you don’t work for the Salvation Army.
Correct, and I don’t carry a tin cup, ring a bell or touch children.
Period rooms, good choice, her therapist agrees. Triangles do help situate anger.
But what could Dr. Winkle know about layers in a club sandwich, let alone rightness of place and light, the moment of enchantment?
Boundaries, the doctor advises, mark good relationships. Work on fence improvements. Read Robert Frost.
Agnes would rather lift weights.
The therapist also prescribes a book of crossword puzzles for Tuesday/Thursday week nights. Down and Across, Agnes suspects the shrink has rigged the puzzles with insight words like succulent, anther, ovary. Winkle knows Agnes enjoys glossy seed catalogs and tends an urban window box.
The word game is the fence, Agnes realizes. Careful of corners, she can handle trios, triads, and threesomes, but she’s wary of squares.
To heal, Agnes plays along and writes TUNNEL (19th-century serf soil task) in six empty spaces. Wrong. Tuesday’s deep insight word is TURNUP. Agnes erases NNEL and writes RNIP, as in turnip, thick edible root, to PERTURB Doc W.
Agnes has delved a secret.
Forget Vermont covered bridges and the glories of maple syrup. Snow-flaky Frost, she has discovered, wintered in North Central Florida with his first wife Elinor at Gainesville’s finest, the downtown Thomas Hotel.
Agnes imagines him opening the cheerful Yuletide cards friends send his fragile spouse. To stay cheery, Agnes supposes, Frost writes poems for these little pictures, nursery rhymes about little ponies, big trees, and grumpy stone fences. He reads them at dear Elinor’s bedside to let himself know he’s still there despite (or because of ) the other road not taken in woods dark with midst of life, mist of life.
Agnes leans in and realizes Frost is reciting the opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy: Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai par una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita. This is real poetry, and Agnes feels more kindly towards Frost. Wife Elinor is dying, and this gorgeous language gives her comfort. Frost continues: Per me si va ne la città. To enter the lost city, go through me, past my gates, the fence of my teeth.
Agnes imagines the lost city as Shangri La. The poet is Elinor’s portal. Agnes would love to wander through the Beloved like a city. Of course, back then, the Old World traveler needed a trusty steed. She feels the pony’s breath warm on her arms and listens for the muffled sleigh bells. Agnes knows Dante’s portal is the gateway to Hell, but Elinor can choose for herself. She may elect to depart by another way, the path less traveled, TUNNEL. Perhaps she knows a secret opening, 6 letters, Down.
Working her puzzle, Agnes tools along with BRIC (not brac), DATE (palm fruit), and ROE (low-rent caviar). She pauses over 3, Across, female farm element. EGG, no, HEN. To be a pill about fences and bounds, she pens in HEM.
Agnes scans the Down list. CUSPID she writes for sharp tooth. Wrong, CANINE. Agnes quickly changes CUPID (as in wild child) to FERAL and, erasing the first letter of LOVE (king of hearts), free-lances with JOVE.
Moving right along, she is stumped by school jewelry, 9 letters. LOCKET, no, PAWNSHOP, no, PIERCINGS, almost. Agnes sighs, thinking fondly of LOCKER, GOINGSTEADY, PINNED, PROMNIGHT, ah, CLASSRING.
Finishing the last word for Across (iris wand), she forces WILDFLAG like bulbs into six boxed-off squares. Done. Good enough. She would have preferred a puzzle of Fs—ferns, furniture, foreign…ah, froth.
Agnes returns to Frost. At the woods’ edge, even the trees turn back. The little horse, impatient for oats, shakes his harness. Fir boughs, heavy with new snow, shift the moonlight. Agnes parts the branches and spies Mrs. Frost studying the crossword puzzle on the back page of the Gainesville Daily Sun. Her handsome Robert sets aside the bed tray and touches his wife’s hand. Moving their lips, they seal word fit with faint smiles, quick kiss.
In deference, Agnes drops her gaze and fast-forwards to the present. For Friday’s session with the shrink, she decides to skip the sleigh bells and little hair ornaments. Maybe the doc doesn’t celebrate Christmas. No need to offend, but can’t hurt to bring a supermarket poinsettia or vase of candy-cane striped chrysanthemums.
Agnes explores a new path and tie-dyes her hair a tasteful blue-green for spruce synergy and frosts the ends to make her point. For a subtle touch, she adds double lines of red-brown, marks sleigh runners leave on new snow. The doc, she knows, plans to highjack the session and half the W with V-words about sex, Down and Across.
Leave VERMONT to Frost. Agnes is ON with VIRGO, VOW, VERBATIM, VERBENA, VOLATILE, yo, VAS DEFERENS. Ready for fences, she ponders possibilities of ATHER, ASA, and ANYA, short A names like her own. Stone by stone, she also knows she’s pregnant.
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