Moonflowers at the Cekirdek Cinema
by Kim Brauer
He met her in her store.
Her fingers skipped from bowl to bowl, teaching his fingertips how to see red: “Durango Red, Mesa Red, Sedona Red, Fat Red.”
He visited regularly, feeling calmer and better and more generous when he was with her.
She chose her clay each day from the heavy slabs beneath her workbench: Sonora White, Arctic White, White #27. He watched bowls and mugs spin magically into their own precise forms under the pressure of her hands. She narrated the process until it absorbed her and she forgot he was standing there.
He stayed until she closed, when the sun was a glowing ball of kiln fire, glazed Tigerlily, Tangerine.
People who aren’t friends don’t touch here much, except to shake hands, so they’d become friends, of course, by the day she ran her hand along his cheek, having wanted for a while to really see his face. A gesture extended, she slid her fingertips down the roughness of his cheek, made asphalt by the scarring and pitting of years of acne. She gasped and the shame of a hundred adolescences overwhelmed him. He thought: It’s the end. I want to die. He pulled away and her hand followed.
“Oh, your texture. It’s fantastic. So much better than anyone I’ve met. It’s like earthenware, heavy with shamot.”
“Roughness. Grog. Tiny bits of pre-fired clay that are worked into raw clay.”
“To add character, really.”
He grabbed her hand in a rush, before he could falter, blurted, “Come to the movies with me,” like a teenager.
“Pass me the taller one.”
She stacked the kiln, each cup and bowl arranged with its same-height comrades, lowering shelves slowly down the kiln’s round maw, balancing them on narrow blocks to give her another layer of space to fill.
“Do you need help with that?”
“Takes practice. I hardly need to look anymore. I do it by feel, balance.”
“How do you know what color these will end up?” He peered at the dull chalky layer that would burn into glaze.
“Chemistry, experience. The first time I order a new glaze I wonder why I’ve bought Parchment when I already have Driftwood and Sandbar, but when it’s finished and I pull the tide of glazed treasures from the mouth of the cooled kiln, I hold it close to my eye – close enough to see the flow and splash of every detail of the hue, close enough that it’s my whole universe.”
He remembered the movie when she had him peer at the difference between Tidepool and Shale. When he saw how close she held the glazed surface to her eye.
“Can you? We can do something else.”
“It’s fine, I’d love to. Television would be impossible – it’s just a kaleidoscope of colors, moving too quickly, but cinema I love.”
“Action movies are usually too fast, and too many documentaries are full of crowd scenes that blur like the city through bus windows on a rainy day. But the right drama can be fantastic. The kind with one or two people and lots of close-up dialogue. I fall in love with the characters in those kinds of movies. Their expressions are so much clearer than real people’s, so much easier to understand.”
“They’re two stories tall.”
“Yeah,” she nodded, smiling. “Helps.”
“We’ll be late if we stay,” he pulled her from her workroom, from her garden of glazepots lining the shelves: Chamomile, Dandelion, Poppy, Mulberry, Mint.
The neighborhood is a checkerboard, the graceful curves of stately old buildings alternating with industry-square window-eyes poked evenly in the blank facades of prefabricated housing. Gaps were filled decades ago with the putty of small shops and the mortar of kiosks, constructed hastily and still painted with the shabbiness of in-between. Other gaps remain empty, bare lots.
The Çekirdek Cinema is an old idea, new here: an open air cinema in a city with very little open air. An empty lot with huge faces of blank wall on either side serves little other purpose, and even a hastily cleared courtyard is divine on a balmy summer night. As they found seats near the front she studied the wall that would be pressed into service as movie screen, debating whether it was more Buttercream or Butternut.
A scattered assortment of wooden chairs was brought over from the restaurant next door, and upholstered chairs from the restaurant owner’s apartment one floor above. Rickety chairs showed up almost daily in the small lot once people got used to the cinema being there; chairs whose owners had freed them from monogamy, let them wander to where the action was, where they’d be needed.
Everyone leaned back on these chairs eating sunflower seeds as fast as they could. He showed her how to shell them one-handed, fast as Turks. Bite the edge once at the narrow end, pop. Flick your tongue against the tiny barnacles of salt clinging to the shell. Bite the edge again, once in the fat center, crack. The shell splits wide, and fish the seed out with your tongue. Bite, pop, bite, crack, fish and toss, and the whole cinema was slowly covered in mounting piles of empty shells, like a giant birdcage. Small city lizards darted wide-eyed from the bushes and skittered along these salt flats to prize with their rougher thinner tongues the discarded seeds from once-bitten shells.
The rhythm built to a crescendo during scenes with doorknobs, creaking hinges, waiting killers. “Don’t go in there,” bite-pop-crack-toss, “you stupid girl!” the crowd yelled and hooted in Turkish, bitepopcracktoss.
The girl entered anyway, passed through the open scream of the door, the film sputtered and vanished. Intermission, to refill tall hourglasses of Hefeweizen. The sky directly overhead had darkened from Catalina to Wedgewood to Midnight.
“Everywhere they call these the seeds of sunflowers,” he leaned over to explain, “but in Turkish they are ayçiçek, the moonflower.” Beer-fetchers returned to their seats and the movie reel clicked, began to snap and then play.
They turned their faces expectantly toward the light.
“If you’re serious about her you’re going to need to find work, oglum. You can’t tell her you’re unemployed. Ayip sana!”
“She hasn’t asked, ma.”
“Just like you to skirt the issue, try to avoid it. Face it canim, you can’t court someone on borrowed money.”
“There is no work here.”
“Saçmalama, poor excuse. If you get anywhere with this lady how will you provide? Are you good enough for her? Can you be good enough for her?”
The generation gap split wide open and he was sucked in.
He found work, Schwarzarbeit with money under the table, in the back room of a butcher shop. She asked why he didn’t spend as much time in her shop. He avoided an answer, didn’t want to admit he was a butcher’s backroom hack, asked when they’d go to the cinema again.
“I saw your new work in the shop window. Are they moonflowers?”
“I’m so glad you noticed them!” she clapped her hands together like a child, “Of course they’re moonflowers. I loved that. I have something for you.”
She murmured a yes as she slipped out to the storage room and came back with a large bowl, deep with steeply rounded sides. Aegean Blue, with moonflowers bathing their pale Ice Blue faces in the light of the bowl’s rim.
“For you,” she reached out to him.
He walked home with it, mesmerized by the details. She had incised the edge of each moonflower before it was glazed, sharp enough to darken and define each line, but shallow enough to allow the glaze to feather slightly like the furry stalks of the real plants. The face of each bloom was pressed, textured instead of drawn, the petals abstracted rather than blocked out like a child’s drawing.
He pressed a thumb to the face of what he’d decided was his favorite bloom and the bowl shifted in his hands. An imbalance, the smooth slickness of glaze, grasping, a quick grab, but he’d stiffened too soon in slow-motion disbelief.
The bowl shattered on the sidewalk. The shards blinked up at him, shocked, their pale pupils exposed behind splintered blue-glazed lids.
Texas White, Pueblo White, Coronado White.
She wondered what she’d said, wondered what she’d done. Why would he disappear so suddenly?
“Maybe the bowl was too much, too personal somehow. I’ve known guys who panicked over less,” a friend confided.
Maybe she was all wrong for him, maybe she wasn’t enough. Who wanted a half-blind potter with a small life, half the size of a neighborhood, solitary, since crowd scenes blurred like windowglass in the rain? She’d shown him her world of color, but he must have been bored by it –- by her.
She finally buzzed his doorbell, to ask. No answer.
She went to the Çekirdek Cinema. He wasn’t there.
Her hurt built up in dusty layers until it finally burnt itself into the hot glaze of anger. Now she thought about how much she’d trusted him on so little information. Where did he work? What did he do? Did he really live there, where she’d buzzed? Was he really from this neighborhood? What if he brought her moonflower bowl home to a wife? The possibilities expanded into an endless pattern of potential betrayals, shattered her idea of him.
“I’m too old for teenage heartbreak, to old to be dating like an expectant girl,” she said out loud to a Majolica pots-and-bowls audience. “And way too old to fall in love, giving little gifts to some guy I hardly know.”
This is a big city, she decided, and I’ve been gullible.
Give it a week or two, her friends said, and she’d stop being so angry and hurt. She’d stop worrying all the time about running into him, a friend would set her up with his colleague and they’d all make blind date jokes.
The kiln was cool, and the new glaze she’d been waiting to examine could be held up for that moment of discovery, that unusual clarity. Milkglass. She held it close to her eye, waiting for it to consume her attention, become her whole universe.
It angered her that she thought of him, just then, that he’d intrude on that moment that usually gave her so much solitary pleasure, and make it seem lonely instead.
He avoided her shop, yes. At first he simply didn’t want to admit he’d broken the bowl, but it went too long. He’d spent so much time thinking over what he’d say, planning a good time to do it, a good way to admit he’d shattered her moonflowers. Each time he’d practice the line, while shaving his rough cheeks to go deliver it in person, he’d look long and hard in the small mirror and understand it with the fresh sting of the first time: he wasn’t good enough for her.
On his way to work he stood across the street from her shop again, trying to will himself to cross it, hating who he was without her. He hadn’t meant to stay away, but now it seemed impossible to return.
Late again for work. He pulled himself away.
He hacked at stubborn tendons and thought to himself Danish White, Nile White. At the end of each day he washed down the tile room, his ceramic cell, his boots and gloves sticky with Sunset Red, Ruby Red, blood.
About the author:
Kim Brauer has been living in Berlin for three years, founding writing groups and events, and haunting queer clubs and Kreuzberg cafes. She’s currently at work on a novel about a woman’s journey through the Maghreb and a crime novel about an art theft in Jordan. You can also check out her work in the Spring 2005 issue of the Blithe House Quarterly at www.blithe.com, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.