Mirabel picked another playing card off the street. This time she found the Queen of Hearts leading her to wonder when she’d meet her next lover. She ambled on the empty street reaching her cluttered apartment. As she squeezed in the door, her cat greeted her with purrs and rumbles.
Mirabel answered a phone’s ring. One of her other found objects, a waif she met at a bus stop, lamented on the other end. “Mirabel, you’re not going to believe this!”
A sigh escaped Mirabel’s throat.
The found object, Roxanne continued. “I saw him with another woman just after he had broken it off with me. Can you believe that?”
Yes, Mirabel believed because she often professed that she knew what lurked in men’s hearts. Unlike Roxanne, Mirabel knew how to play the game, look out for signs, and leave a man before he abandoned her. But not all women possessed that gift, obviously not Roxanne.
As the minutes ticked past, Mirabel purred a feminine response into the receiver while Roxanne ruminated over the details. Perhaps, Mirabel thought, the Queen of Hearts was meant for Roxanne, the Queen of Broken Hearts. After all not everyone can play the game of lost and found. While it certainly wasn’t fair, she categorized her friend as a lost cause. Of course, she sympathized but after a few dramatic moments, she wrenched the receiver away from her ear.
After she hung up on Roxanne, Mirabel placed her new card on her altar of found objects. Lately she begun to resemble a patron saint of lost causes, of discarded sentiments, and failed dreams. But she realized that she couldn’t fix other people’s lives and she didn’t care about that any longer. In the past, she recycled other people’s trash, dated men on the rebound, and added more found objects to her cluttered home.
Not long ago she took in a stray cat that she named Orphan. And she often caught herself describing the tabby as a feline Oliver Twist to the people that passed through her life. When she had time to daydream, she conjured up images of the artists, intellectuals, and self-proclaimed gypsies that she’d met. They faded from her life like a sepia tone photograph, but she never truly forgot them.
She wondered about the whereabouts of the Latino intellectuals encountered in cafes or the French man she bedded for over six months while earning her graduate degree in theatre. Though the past haunted her, she dismissed the present, and quietly waiting for her future to appear like objects found on a Quixotic quest to nowhere in particular.
Ticking another Monday off her calendar, Mirabel stared out at the fog-drenched landscape while fingering her lace curtains confiscated from a garage sale. She pulled on a pair of red sweats and then stretched like a ballerina. Stuffing her feet into overpriced running shoes, she chased away guilty thoughts about sweatshop labor. After all, she rationalized, life is one great compromise and saying “no” to Nike wouldn’t debunk the patriarchal system’s greed posing as healthy commerce. Like the sweatshop workers, she also felt like a victim of the system.
Moments later she lumbered up a bike trail, dripping sweat and gasping for breath. When she peered into the distance, she noticed a lone figure lounging on a bench. As the fog lifted like a curtain, she stopped and regained her composure, still staring at the figure on the bench. Intrigued she approached the bench and noticed an attractive man with curly brown hair and hazel eyes.
But did he already belong to someone? It could go either way. Men have a way of telling women they’re not available by mentioning their partner in their greeting. “My girlfriend also likes jogging in the park. Or my wife recommended this park to me.” They said that so Mirabel would know that she didn’t have a place in their paint-by-number lives.
Taking her chances, Mirabel plopped down on the bench and she studied her found object’s face.
The found object titled his head coyly. “So what brings you here?”
Mirabel chuckled, “That sounds like a pickup line from a bar.”
“Doesn’t anyone engage in small talk anymore?”
“Personally, I despise small talk. There are other ways to break the ice.”
“Go on and tell me about these alternatives.”
“I didn’t say that I was an expert on the subject, only that I despise small talk. It has a dumbing down effect on us.”
The man looked down at his feet, most likely feeling dejected. Mirabel softened her approach.
“I’d be willing to find out.”
“You’d be willing to find out what?”
“…if you’re interested in me.”
The man laughed nervously. “Who are you?”
Mirabel stared deeply into the man’s eyes. “I secretly refer to myself as the Queen of Found Objects.”
The man extended a carefully manicured hand to Mirabel. “I’m Denis and I don’t secretly refer to myself as anything. Why do you call yourself the Queen of Found Objects? Are you bitter or poetic?”
“Perhaps I’m bitter, but that’s not why I collect. It’s a game I started playing when I was a child so that I could understand my relationship towards the world better. Then as I grew into an adult, I didn’t want to act like another mindless consumer with a habit for quick disposal. That’s when I started collecting other people’s refuse.”
Denis chuckled. “So are you a trash collector or a scavenger out to do a service for humankind?”
Mirabel shook her head. “Neither. I’m a writer who reached the conclusion that we live in a throwaway society and that has turned us into heartless consumer robots. We toss out animals when we no longer want pets, we break up with lovers over trivial matters, and we consume like nobody’s business.”
A week later, Denis waited at a table in a cramped café and on occasion he stared up from his newspaper and scanned the street. He spied Mirabel dashing across the street. He gasped as a VW Bug nearly swiped her.
Unscathed Mirabel sauntered into the café shaking out mist from her red hair. She plopped down in a seat across from Denis and her green eyes stared at the steam that rose from Denis coffee cup. She brushed bangs off her forehead while Denis explored the contours of her face.
“Would you like something to eat or do you prefer to dig your dinner from the trash?”
Mirabel smirked, “I bet that comment amuses you. I prefer to order my food fresh and I eat it like a normal person. And since you asked, yes, I’m hungry. If you’re offering to buy me lunch, I’ll have a baguette with salmon pate and a cup of Joe.”
Denis swaggered to the counter to place the order. Mirabel waited patiently at the table chuckling at the absurdity of the situation.
After learning that Denis had been unattached for two years, Mirabel dragged him to her apartment. She saw no reason for making the poor man wait another two years before she properly laid him. Besides, even if she wouldn’t admit it to herself it had been over two years since she attached to any found object. She reached for Denis’ belt, but he pulled away from her.
“Wait. Now you’d tell me if you’ve collected any diseases?”
“I think you’re taking this game too far. I insist that you take responsibility and use a condom.”
Denis groaned then raced toward the door. “Right, I shall return.”
Panting, Mirabel fell onto her bed, the mismatched sheets she rescued from a sales rack at a thrift store. Meanwhile Orphan leaped up onto the bed recognizing an opportunity for an all body massage and reminding Mirabel to feed her. Mirabel responded on cue and Orphan purred a habitual response.
Moments later, Mirabel stretched out on her stomach lifted a needle of an old phonograph and she dropped it onto a John Coltrane album that she inherited from her older brother. The bluesy saxophone vibrated throughout the apartment and marked Denis’ arrival. He waved a pack of condoms in front of his flushed face and then tossed them at Mirabel.
“Oh, I see the conquering hero has returned with the goods.”
She ripped open a condom package with her teeth. She placed it on the nightstand as Denis tentatively approached her. She unbuttoned his silk shirt then she slid her hands over his smooth chest.
“I adore a smooth chest. The last one was too hairy for my taste.”
Denis caressed Mirabel’s hands. “You know, beggars can’t be choosy.”
Mirabel chuckled, “Are you calling me a beggar?”
Denis shushed Mirabel with his lips on her mouth. She didn’t mind and she reached to undo Denis’ belt buckle. “Allow me to do the honors.”
Denis yanked Mirabel’s flowery dress over her head and then he yanked off her bra and tossed it across the room where it entangled on a curtain rod. Mirabel pushed Denis down onto the bed and she struggled to pull off his jeans. She laughed at his boxers, but felt pleased with what hid underneath. At least he was modest and his goods underneath baggy clothing. They made love while the confused cat watched from a perch on the windowsill.
A string of dreaded Mondays and six months passed unnoticed by the blissful Mirabel whose days wrapped themselves in sexual experimentation and divine ecstasy. As she glided down a neighborhood street, she found herself relishing that she found love without domestic strings attached. Not once had Denis mentioned marriage and any time she waited on him hand-in-foot it was her choice and not because he demanded that she play the role of the love slave. However, Denis interrupted Mirabel’s normal routine and she slowly lost pieces of her soul along the way.
On good days she could at least remember her name, but on bad days, she felt that Denis recreated her in his image. Mirabel realized that Denis had never abused her in any way and he made no demands. But why did she gladly give herself completely to him and stay stuck in someone else dream? She worried that Denis dreamed her and caused her to lose her identity.
Realizing that their roles had reversed, Mirabel phoned Roxanne. Mirabel’s friend had surrendered to her unattached status nicely. The irony didn’t escape Mirabel. Was she a found object now?
The friends met at a café even though Roxanne wondered if Mirabel’s desperate vibe would bring her bad luck. After all, no one wanted a distraught friend hanging around them. Life was precarious as it were so why push your luck?
Roxanne munched on lettuce and tomatoes while Mirabel nibbled on a croissant. Mirabel confessed, “He’s wonderful. How could I ask for a better partner?”
Confused and frustrated, Roxanne let out a sigh. “If he’s so perfect then why are you acting like a martyr?”
Mirabel wiped a tear from her eye. “Because I’m losing myself and my routine has changed. Because I forgot the rules to my game, because I forgot when to discard a lover.”
“What is it that you don’t get? You can’t go around looking for signs of when to dump a lover. It’s not about symbols strewn along your path. Denis isn’t some stray, but a human with needs.”
Mirabel sobbed uncontrollably into her napkin, attracting the attention of other café dwellers. Roxanne looked on with an embarrassing expression zooming across her otherwise placid face. She shot a nervous grin at a particularly earnest customer. She whispered to Mirabel, “Get a grip, girl.”
Mirabel blew her nose. “Show me some compassion.”
“I’m here aren’t I? What more do you want from me? Do you want me to dredge up some emotion portrayed in a movie of the week?”
Laughter erupted from Mirabel’s throat lightening Roxanne’s mood.
“Look, you’ll find yourself again and it’s not the end of the world because some man loves you. I should be so lucky. Your pain comes from you growing roots. And you’re not losing your soul at all.”
Mirabel wiped her nose on the sleeve of her sweater. “I don’t quite follow you.”
“Don’t you see that you’re not some changeling that landed on this planet out of nowhere? That’s your fantasy that you use to cover up your feelings because you feel too deeply. I think Denis shown you a new way to define yourself. He has melted your hard heart.”
“That’s not it at all! You’re projecting your own fantasy on me and giving Denis way too much credit. I don’t believe that men come into our lives to send our roots in the ground. And I don’t believe that he’s melted my heart. It’s not made out of butter, you know.”
In a huff, Roxanne rose from her chair and tossed dollar bills on the table. “Yeah, I can’t help you. If you think you have all the answers then I’m not going to sit here and play therapist.”
Mirabel watched helplessly as Roxanne exited onto the street, her lifeline striding away, and out of reach. Was Roxanne right?
The park awaited another visit. As Mirabel strolled through the leafy surroundings, she returned to her old habit of picking up stray objects as she went along. She found a pen and a discarded notebook. She found another playing card, the King of Clubs which she stuffed into a coat pocket for later. She considered writing Denis a letter, but after scribbling nonsense and crumpling note after note, she tossed another attempt in the trash. She couldn’t write the letter because her thoughts seemed fuzzy to her. Maybe Roxanne was right, but then everybody seemed right those days.
Mirabel swallowed everyone else’s words as her own and she even mimicked other people’s sentiments. She wondered where she started and other people stopped.
A stray dog passed by her and when he glanced at her she saw nothing reflected in his eyes. There’s nobody home. Had she ever acted authentic in her life? Had she become a conglomeration of advertisements, of statistics spat out by Barbie doll cutouts posing as news anchorwomen; of theories explored by psychoanalytical professionals and hack journalists sputtering juicy adjectives?
As she delved further into her psyche she wondered about the blank canvas she’d become and others projected their fantasy onto or even worse, their greatest fears. Their psyches were constructed from a collection of recycled thoughts passed down from one generation to the next in the form of a broken record. They were manufactured from discarded theories belonging to scientists and academics from a bygone era; from fractured religious ideologies that no one bothered to question any longer. Now, Mirabel felt like rebelling; but against whom?
If she could awake from the collective nightmare called the human experience then what would happen next? Although others had called her an individual her, she realized that she could never free herself from collective thought. She reached the conclusion that the reason why she never sank down roots was because she never found firm foundation to hold her. She had never felt safe anywhere so she created walls to protect herself and those same walls crumbled leaving her vulnerable to the whims of madness. However, she couldn’t give up on herself. She had awakened and that was a good start as any.
Mirabel wrote that letter to Denis and then she enclosed the playing card. She slipped it into the mail not knowing what would transpire. A week later, she met Denis at an art house theatre. He arrived late smiling as he strode past a line of disgruntle moviegoers. He embraced Mirabel, truly happy to see her puzzled face.
“How did you know that I was a Rohmer fan?”
Mirabel planted a kiss on Denis’ mouth. “I didn’t. But I thought that I’d put you through the wringer and see if you could pass my test.”
“And what test was that?”
“I can’t tell you and it doesn’t matter in anyway. You passed it with flying colors.”
“I don’t get you. How can I pass a test that I wasn’t even aware of? You said in your letter that you were through with your strange games.”
Mirabel grabbed Denis hand and dragged him to the door and through the lobby. “There’s one last game that I have no choice but to participate.”
Denis stared pensively at Mirabel’s face. “What game is that?”
“It’s the game of life.”
A week later Mirabel found a playing card, the Queen of Hearts. She stuffed the card into her pocket then strode to her apartment. She heard the phone ringing as she squeezed through the door. Orphan greeted her, hungry again. And Roxanne lamented on the other end of the receiver.
“You’re not going to believe this.”
But Mirabel believed all of Roxanne’s drama. She listened for thirty minutes then wrenched her ear away from the phone and hung up the receiver. Her eyes darted to the altar of found objects.
Pulling on a pair of familiar sweats Mirabel decided to go for a jog in the park. She stuffed her feet in overpriced running shoes while rationalizing that she was as much as victim as the sweatshop workers.
She lumbered up a trail, sweaty and breathless. That’s when she spotted a man, a lone shadowy figure sitting on a bench. After regaining her composure, she approached him. She considered she’d learn about his relationship status within the first paragraph of their encounter.
Mirabel also considered that if the man was available then she’d reconsider discarded sentiments recycled from stale greeting cards. Nothing original existed anymore, but that didn’t mean that she gave up living.
On the contrary, she thought humanity kept weaving the dream hoping to find fragments of ourselves that when pieced together, created a whole human.
Story by Patricia Herlevi
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