The Art of Tetman Callis Various Loose Items

Various Loose Items

First published in Angel City Review, Issue 8, July 2019. Copyright 2019 by Tetman Callis.

          1 bottle of Avon-brand men’s cologne in a brown, translucent horseshoe-shaped bottle with a horse’s head in bas-relief on one side, and a spherical red screw-top. About a fifth of the cologne is missing. It has evaporated; no one has ever worn this cologne. It was a Christmas gift from your first lover, a long time ago, the last Christmas you—what? spent together? You didn’t spend it. You threw it away? Not that, either. You let her go. She let you go. But you kept this bottle of cheap cologne. You will not ever wear it.

          1 transparent glass bottle with a plastic stopper. Taped to its side is a handwritten label, “Rocky Mountain Air, 1979,” in red ink. The writing is your mother’s. She lived with your father in western Colorado in 1979, and you visited. You’ve never opened this bottle. You wonder how much of the Rocky Mountain air it still holds. You know of osmosis, you’ve been to school.

          1 brown plastic compartmentalized container with a pale white translucent lid, containing military medals and ribbons and shoulder patches, medals for performances of poetic and dramatic works, and five-and-a-half Mysoline tablets wrapped in aluminum foil. High school things, mostly, though the Mysoline came later. The military medals and ribbons and patches, those are from the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. You could handle a rifle well enough. The Maltese crosses were your marksmanship medals. Marksman, sharpshooter—never an expert. You couldn’t say what the ribbons signify. Good conduct? Personal appearance? Those were two of the most common. You were often a good cadet. You followed most orders and you polished your uniform brass insignia, ironed your shirts and trousers, shined your shoes and boots, and made sure your hair was always freshly cut the regulation length before inspections. You made it all the way to officer. But you were a skirt-chaser and you smoked marijuana. There was to be no place in the army for you.

          And the medals for poetic and dramatic performances? Those would have been for second and third place, not for first—first-place earned trophies. The one you earned you gave to the high school. It sat in the trophy case near the front door, with many other trophies, almost all larger, almost all for sports.

          And the Mysoline tablets? Those were toys. The game was, take anything to feel how it would make you feel. You don’t remember how Mysoline made you feel. It was for epileptics. You knew two epileptic young women when you were a young man. One wasn’t much to look at. The other was a petite strawberry blonde you wanted to fuck. You worked with her older sister, a cocktail waitress. They lived with their older brother and his family, who protected them.

          1 empty dried baby formula can with a translucent white plastic lid. The brand was not the most popular, or the best-selling, but your wife and you did the research and agreed it was the best. You wondered why it wasn’t the best-selling. The wife was your first. Sometimes you’ve said she was your second, but if there was a wife before her, that marriage was common law. This marriage was church and was state-certified. As for the can, it is a memento. You remember that it was the last can of baby formula for the child this wife and you created. She had wanted to breastfeed and was not able. Something went wrong. You remember her distress, her tears, her fear that her baby, her firstborn, would be—what? what’s the word, or words? that he wouldn’t get enough of what he needed and that he could get only from her body? You told her it was all right, everything would be all right, the two of you had already bought the first can of formula before he was born, and baby bottles, too, just in case, and you and she would feed him and he would be strong and healthy and smart and it was all right, she was not a failure, she was not a bad mother, and you loved her, and everything would be all right.

          Various primitive child’s drawings on oversized paper. These are drawings made by that very child, the boy, when he was quite young. You used to have more—you kept every scrawl he made—but they proved to be too many and you did not have room for all of them.

          1 green ceramic frog, crowned with a yellow crown and wearing a silly and friendly smile, spring-mounted on a flattened stone base bearing in ink the inscription, “Love Is A Rainbow Between Two Hearts.” It may be that, a many-splendored thing. It may be what makes the world go ‘round. It may be the meaning of life. This tchotchke was given you by the woman who preceded in your affections (and your bed) the woman you married and made the baby with. You never stopped feeling guilty about dumping this preceding woman. Sometimes you felt caddish. But that passed. She was a good person. She deserved better (than you) and you like to think she went on and did better. In fact, you know she did. She forgave you and you remained friends and she had a rich and fulfilling life. The two of you were to have been wed. It is likely she has long known how lucky she was. She had a—what? passion? that’s not it. She had a fondness, that was it, a fondness for frogs. Not so much for the cold creatures themselves as for depictions of them, and her bedroom was decorated with—no, you don’t remember anymore, except to remember that her bed was arrayed with various stuffed and plush frog toys and pillows, though you can’t see them in your memory, you can only remember that it was so. And many years after you had discarded her for her successor, you collected, for unrelated reasons, various small and colorful soft plastic models of poison dart tree frogs.

          1 old and worn blue Mickey Mouse T-shirt. This belonged to your best friend. He lived with you and your first wife—the church-wedding one, not the common-law—and he left it behind when he moved out. He got it when he went to LA for a few days to visit with a trick. You wore it until it was no longer wearable. You don’t remember if it reached that point before or after he died.

          1 old pair of cotton young men’s briefs, size medium, faintly stained in front with a rust-colored splotch. The things men keep. You were sixteen and she was sixteen and you were both virgins. She was the one who gave you the bottle of Avon cologne.

          1 white t-shirt bearing the logo of the Old Plantation discotheque (with locations in Dallas, Houston, and El Paso). The Old Pantation—the OP—was a gay bar. You frequented, and then worked at, the one in El Paso. Your best friend introduced you to it. He was gay. You were not, but you liked the place. The drinks were cheap, the music was loud and was the latest, and no one there wanted to beat you up. Straight women would come in, see all the good-looking young men, get a little drunk and want some action, and find out you were the only straight man on the premises. You got laid by a dozen different women your first year there, including the first woman you lived with—that arrangement didn’t last very long—and the woman who became your common-law wife. Also, you made a lot of money, much of which you spent on drugs and trinkets. Inflation was bad and you thought it made more sense to spend the money rather than save it. Also, much of the money was stolen—skimming was endemic in a cash-based business with literally liquid assets—and your conscience wouldn’t let you save it. You did declare it on your income taxes, though, which you came to regret. It took you months to pay off the back taxes and penalties.

          1 battered, coverless, and spine-broken copy of the paperback edition of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, combined 2nd and 4th series. This is from childhood. Your mother gave you this. You don’t know why you kept it, except possibly that you kept it for so long, the keeping of it became the reason for keeping it. You read it over and over when you were a child. Believed every word.

          3 broken cameras—1 Instamatic, 1 Polaroid, 1 Brownie. The Instamatic was your first camera. Your father’s older sister gave it to you when you were ten. When you were in high school and had a job and could afford film, you took scores of pictures with it, many of them of girls you knew. You were girl-crazy from the get-go, from way back when, from for as long as you can remember up until the day after tomorrow. You don’t remember where the Polaroid and the Brownie came from, of if you even ever used them.