Grieving the Shmoo
I wasn’t completely sure that Frosty would set foot in a place as civilized as the Hotel Bel Canto. So much more the surprise when he arrived fifteen minutes early. I cracked open my door and smiled at him under my still-wet bangs. After two dreary, stormy days without, I was entirely too desperate for him. I knew I had to fight it.
“Frosty!” I said. “Come on in. Have a seat. I’m still about five minutes from perfection.”
“But you don’t under... . never mind.”
He sat on the edge of his chair like a sprinter in the blocks. I abandoned conversation for the roar of the blow-dryer, but I could see him in the mirror, jaw muscles tight as guitar strings.
“It’th jutht goh-jeth out theah,” I said, lisping around my lipstick. “I left the blinds open last night, and this morning the sun just about exploded me out of bed!”
After this bit of declarative puffery, I felt Frosty’s touch at three different places: a hand on either side of my waist, his mouth on my right earlobe.
“You wouldn’t believe what’s going on out there!” he whispered. “Frosted Glass Woman has scattered a full left arm along the rocks. Two kneecaps. A chin and both ears!”
Frosty was now touching me in four places. I wiggled my rump just to make sure it stayed that way.
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “I can’t afford to start anything right now. But do save these items for later.” His fingers sledded my half-moons, sending laser-shots all through my posterior regions – that is, until I registered what he was saying.
“Frosty,” I said, er... frostily. “If you don’t want to hear the song, perhaps you shouldn’t drop your quarter in the slot.” I turned to poke him in the ribs, but found him kneeling at my feet, desperate.
“Please oh please forgive me, Sandy, but there is enough glass out there to supply a Coca-Cola bottling plant and I GOT-ta HAV-va FIX, man!”
He began writhing on the floor, slapping his arm, looking for a vein. How could I not reward such bad acting? I lifted a foot onto his chest.
“I forgive the lowly addict. However, having juiced my oranges so early in the morning, young man, if you expect me to spend the day bending and harvesting like a migrant worker, this evening I expect you to apply that little kielbasa of yours to divine purposes. Got it?”
I didn’t bother waiting for an answer, but charged into the bedroom in search of my jeans. Frosty’s voice rose from the bathroom floor in a Calypso reverb.
“Lohr! What a woo-man!”
Minutes later, Frosty was nudging me to the point of a great rockpile, somewhere near our previous treasure trove. The diggings were so plentiful, in fact, that Frosty had assigned this date its own place on the sacred calendar of Frosted Glass Woman: The Day of Royal Crescents.
In any case, there he was prodding me forward as I dug in my heels like an underfed mule. So sue me – I had become nervous around breakers.
“You must go forward!” he commanded. “You have to go right to the edge or you won’t understand.”
“Understand what? Dampness? Sogginess? Pneumonia? I understand that very well, thankyouverymuch!”
After a few minutes of this pushme-pullyou, my spirit weakened and I edged my way forward, until my toes were fixed upon the crest. Looking down, I found a peacock’s-tail of rocks, possessed of that semi-gloss sheen denoting recent contact with the ocean. A wave bore down on me, curling over the top like a pompadour and landing smack! on the sand. I braced for the shock of cold liquid on my feet, perhaps up to my kneecaps, but then... a funny thing happened. The water struck the rocks and just... died. The pile soaked it up like a sponge. I looked back to find Frosty’s grin.
“Cool, no? Something to do with friction and inertia. The rocks create all these little explosions of water, and they basically kill each other off. And I’ll tell ya, it’s just about the most glorious glass-hunting perch in the world. Same technique as fly-fishing, only now it’s one step down, pick it up, one step back and you’re safe. And then the wave comes in and reshuffles the cards, revealing ever-more gems as you go.”
We spent the day ranging our sun-sated beach, prairie-dogging the royal crescents. Beyond the easy gluttony of it all, I noticed two interesting patterns. First, that in this environment, green was the most unnatural color and thus, easiest to spot. Second, that every fiftieth wave did, in fact, conquer the peak and splash you good. (These were, however, about as subtle as Godzilla, so they were pretty easy to evade.)
At the end of our six-hour traverse, we crowbarred our bodies onto my chocolate-colored rock and observed the unsettling pitch-change of the Whalespout. (I wondered if all those hours of opera were having an effect on my hearing.) We then dumped our respective Zip-Locks all over the surface of Mocha Rock, and piled through them like two kids with a new set of Legos.
“Pick out your favorite,” said Frosty, his eyes flashing.
That was easy. I had been admiring a marshmallow white that resembled the Shmoo – a storybook character from my childhood. I picked it out and placed it in Frosty’s hand. To my great horror, he proceeded to chuck it into the ocean, about halfway to the Whalespout.
“What the... what the fucking fucking fuck did you fucking do that for?” I was mad.
“A sacrifice to Our Lady,” said Frosty, quite seriously. “To keep absolutely everything from a Royal Crescent day would constitute unspeakable greed, and thereby desecrate the great name of Frosted Glass Woman.”
“Well, why the hell didn’t you tell me you were going to do that before... before you did that?”
“If I did, would you have picked out your favorite piece?”
“Of course not! But I also wouldn’t be experiencing this great desire to wring your fucking neck!”
Frosty sorted through his pile and handed me a glassine chocolate bar. I hurled it into the drink with great speed and efficiency.
“There,” he said. “You feel better?”
“Yes,” I said. It was a lie; twenty percent of me was still grieving the Shmoo. “But… how do I know that was your favorite piece?”
“Would I denigrate the sacred name of Frosted Glass Woman by offering less than the best?”
I had always figured these pseudo-religious comments as some kind of subtle, elaborate joke, but their consistency and fervor were getting to me. Before I could raise a question, Frosty pulled a pink stick from his pack and handed it to me.
“Salmon jerky. I’ve got some mango nectar to wash it down.”
After our marathon harvest, I was famished, so not even the powerful fishy smell could drive me away. Frosty, meanwhile, offered the next item on our agenda.
“There’s a trail near the lighthouse that winds down to a little-used cove. The sunlight hits there only in the afternoon – about now, actually. When was the last time you walked a beach in the buff?”
I tried to keep the blood from my face, but the look in Frosty’s eyes told me I was failing.
“Unless you allow for the possibility of previous lives,” I confessed. “Never.”
“Ah!” Frosty barked, wagging a finger. “Today we pitch another taboo into the Pacific!”
“So what was it like?” asked Frosty.
“Well, you know. You were there, too.”
Frosty chuckled. “It wasn’t exactly my first time, darlin’.”
“So, when was your first time?”
“I was nine. My parents were nudie dorkers.”
“Eck-skyuse me?” I said.
“Nudie dorkers. Naturists. One time when I was twelve I was hanging out buck naked in the back yard when the crusty old Serbian guy next door yells out, ‘Hey! Hey you! Nudie dorker! Yes, I see you. Put your clothes back on or I’ll call the cops!’ And I said, ‘Mind your own business or I’ll call the cops on you, you Peeping Tom!’”
“You evidently got your cojones at an early age.” I said.
“And not afraid to show them off, nee-ther. It’s a powerful thing, teaching your kid to be comfortable with his body. So… what was it like?”
“Damn! You are so well-tracked!”
“I’m a choo-choo train, baby!”
I folded my arms and feigned contemplation. “Okay. I’m vi-zhoo-uh-lizing. We’re at the cove, the sun is shining, and I’m unzipping my jeans – Oh! There it is. That classic Puritan American conflict. Utter shame and paranoia, mixed in with a definite sexual buzz. I’m picturing an old Irish pub in my head. Seated at a table in the center of the place are a fat, pinch-faced nun and a hooker with blood-red lipstick and huge tits. The two of them are carrying on this fierce shouting match over the immorality of public nudity.”
“What are they drinking?”
“Ummm, the nun has whiskey, the hooker is working on her third pint of Guinness.”
“Egad!” said Frosty, slapping the table.
“Never mind. I’ll fill you in later. So… what did you feel like afterward?”
“Well, gradually the whole thing became less and less shameful, and, at the same time, less sexual. The nun and the hooker had both gotten sloppy drunk and were staggering around the pub singing ‘Molly Malone.’ A breeze swept across me like a giant paintbrush, left shoulder to right buttock. Then I began to observe the way my body really works – not separate units mapped out by articles of clothing but all one fluid, immaculately designed machine.
“Ten minutes later, an astounding thing happened. I actually forgot that I was nude, just for a moment, forgot all the little flaws I was putting under the glare of daylight. I swept myself around and took in the seacliffs, the battering of the waves, the track of light across the wet sand. This’ll sound just godawful kozmick, but it made me feel very ‘at one’ with it all.
Frosty raised his hands and said, “The Moment of Eden.”
And I thought, Exactly. The momentary erasure of self-knowledge, the return to nature, the raised objection to Yahweh: Hey, ya big moron, you’re the one who made us like this – why should we be ashamed of our bodies?
Frosty smiled knowingly. “I’ve heard of it lots of times, but never really experienced it. I don’t have those fences to jump, I’ll never know that moment of… unexpected victory. It must be like a really good drug.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what it was,” I said. “And thanks for dragging me into it.”
We huddled next to the fire, finishing off yet another culinary miracle: chicken curry salad, sourdough bread dipped in olive oil, steamed asparagus in a lemon herb sauce. The only flaw was dinnerware. In his eagerness to get to the glass, Frosty had skipped his morning dishwashing, so we ate off Frisbees. After a day like that, I wasn’t about to complain.
I soon discovered the reason behind that “Egad!”
Frosty extracted two, well… frosty glasses from the cooler, planted them next to the lantern, then cracked open two pints of Guinness and poured them. The lines of foam worked their way heavenward, dropping out flocks of maple syrup seagulls till both glasses were black with a half-inch cap of custard-colored foam. My first sip was rewarded with a spreading licorice calm – pot roast in a glass, someone once said. Frosty matched me sigh for sigh. Not a bad time to bring up a long-delayed question.
“Frosty, I don’t want to sound like I’m teasing you, but whenever you mention Frosted Glass Woman I get the funny feeling that you’re serious. Is it some kind of religion?”
Frosty took on a serious expression, scrunching his face until a crease spread across his forehead. He raised his index finger and posed a question.
“In the general progression of ideas and ideals, what is the level of thought directly preceding a religion?”
I took a sip, wiped the foam from my mouth and answered, “I would say… mythology.”
“And mythology is begat by…”
“Yes! And before that?”
“A search for meaning. A need to explain the universe, and one’s place in it.”
Frosty drew a finger down the length of his nose, smiling with my answers. “You’ve thought about this.”
I let out a muted snicker. “Lately, I’ve had to.”
“Good. Now, let me ask you this: do you think it would be possible to invent a religion?”
I considered this carefully. “No. You can certainly invent stories, and rituals. But I think it takes dozens of generations – and the mouths of a million people – before it takes on the shape of mythology. Then you’d have to have a few centuries and some kind of… organizing force to turn it into a religion.”
“Perhaps a well-equipped army?”
“And a well-equipped church,” I said. “With strong, charismatic leaders.”
Frosty looked a bit past me and rapped his knuckles against the table in a random pattern.
“Okay. Let me ask you this. Would it be possible for someone to invent a body of stories with the conscious intent of having them someday evolve into myth and religion?”
I had to let the idea swim a couple of laps through my Guinness. Was there some religifying property inherent in Irish ales? Would this explain the deep Celtic affection for both pagan mythologies and powerful religious traditions? And what the hell was the original question? Oh, yeah…
“Y-y-yes. At least, with that aim in mind. I wouldn’t guarantee the results.”
Frosty eyed me discerningly, took a deep drink, and then, as if talking to himself, announced his decision. “Yes. I think you are ready.”
And then he took off his clothes. I thought this amusing, but before I could deliver a wry comment, Frosty pursed his lips in a hushing gesture. He switched off the lantern, leaving us in leaf-lights of fireglow. He undid one of our nearly-bursting bags of glass, and then began placing them, as precisely as chess pieces, around the fire. Once that was done, he laid out a blanket, sat upon it, and asked me to get naked.
This being early October, I should have been freezing, but the fire, the memory of the afternoon sun and Frosty’s wolf-gaze lifted my blood to the surface. I stood before him as he rose to his knees, cupping my pubis in his hand like a goblet. With this kind of mysterious, ritualized foreplay, I didn’t need much of the real thing, and soon I was crouched over Frosty’s erection, feeling him part my lips and make his way inside.
I began to realize that this coitus was a means to an end – foreplay to mythology. Neither of us was bound to last for long. The branches of the trees flashed through my vision as I trembled into orgasm, the plates of my spine lining up like rivets on a beam. A minute later I recovered my muscles and began my work on Frosty, matching the motions of my hips with the expressions on his face until he, too, was overtaken, his semen painting streaks of heat across my womb.
We stayed that way for a few minutes, panting in counterpoint until our breaths linked up on level ground. Then he pulled out of me, placed me beside him, picked up an old Navajo blanket and wound it around our bodies. He took a glance in the direction of Cassiopeia (the imprisoned queen) and began his story.
Far away, in the birthplace of music and strawberries, there lived a race of beings with skins of glass. Not the brittle, breakable glass of Earth, but a kind of self-contained fluid, a substance that could heal almost immediately after being scratched or punctured. Their organs were made of metals – soft, organic versions of silver, copper and titanium. In order to hide these organs from view, their skin had developed an opaque, frosted appearance, much like Earth glass that has been tumbled in the ocean.
Because of these differences in their physical makeup, these glasslings lived much longer than humans, and were a highly evolved, creative race. Their greatest creativity came from their women, whose powers reached their peak during a psycho-physiological phenomenon known as a “blossomfire.” Considered events of great awe and mystery, blossomfires would begin appearing in glass women at the age of maturity – about a thousand Earth years – and would cease at the age of reverence, around 4,300 years. Blossomfires usually appeared every 200 years, and lasted only a few Earth days – in glassling terms, a very brief period. Occasionally, however, there came a glass woman who carried the capacity for much lengthier blossomfires; one who was able to cultivate heightened powers and ever-expanding levels of creativity.
Just such a being was Frosted Glass Woman, who for purposes of this telling we will call “Sandy.” Sandy’s first blossomfire lasted for three of our weeks. As she matured into young womanhood under the tutelage of a woman of reverence we shall call “Lowiltry,” her blossomfires lengthened into months and years, and her creative ventures grew ever larger and more complex. Her first was a process for distilling the elements of individual personalities into the form of perfumes. Her second was a kind of jewelry that changed shape and color according to the direction, intensity and pattern of a person’s gaze. Another time, she invented a form of music that she called “jazz,” but she had no idea what to do with it.
Nearing an age of 30,000 Earth years, Sandy realized that her powers were coming to a peak. For her next blossomfire, she settled on an unprecedented project: the creation of her own world. Her mentor, Lowiltry, warned against this. A project this expansive would extend Sandy’s blossomfire to dangerous lengths. Those attempting this kind of extension before had fallen into a state the glasslings referred to as “the hardening,” in which the fluid glass of the skin becomes hard and fragile like the glass of Earth. The condition lasted for a thousand years, during which time the victim had to be hung by wires over a bed of snowy egret feathers.
Shortly after this warning, however, Lowiltry was overcome by a sudden illness and began to rapidly deteriorate. At the very start of her student’s Great Blossomfire, she passed away, her elements rising to the sky in banners of copper, silver and white vapor. Spying this sad but lovely vision as she entered her creative trance, Sandy was more determined than ever to achieve her ends, if only as a tribute to her mentor.
Dipping a hand into the glassling world’s still-molten third moon, Sandy drew out a sphere of hot elements and blew it cool with her breath. As the crust began to harden she drew canyons and mountains with her fingers, and then outlined long gouges and wide depressions that she filled with her tears. She plucked out strands of her hair and formed them into trees, plants and seaweed, then molded small bits of the crust into mammals, fish and birds, animating them with drops of perspiration. She also found places for her previous inventions. The perfume she swept into the hearts of a million flowers. The jewelry she deposited just under the surface, where they awaited the wandering gaze, the searching hands. As for jazz, she hid that in the trunk of a tree on the plains of Africa.
Sandy completed her new world just as she felt her Great Blossomfire ending. But her creation was missing something, and she knew that this was something not even she could produce: living spirits, souls, intellects, sparks of self-knowledge. She felt great sadness, for what good was this new world of hers without some form of cognizant being to behold, observe and admire its beauty?
By the time she came to terms with her defeat, it was too late – the hardening had begun. Sandy felt great, sudden terror, not at the physical reality of her petrifying skin, but at the thought of spending year upon year suspended by wires as her creation sat there with no knowledge of its own existence.
Stumbling along on her stiffening limbs, Sandy drew herself down a path behind her home to the top of a great sea cliff. By the time she approached the edge, she could move only her left arm. But this was enough. With painful effort she pulled her green arms and face, her white torso and brown legs alongside the drop. She lifted her blue eyes in a final prayer to Lowiltry, then pushed off as her arm froze into place. Frosted Glass Woman hurtled avenues of air and fell to the rocks, smashing her skin into a million pieces.
Aware of their daughter’s wishes, Sandy’s bereaved parents spent the next three hundred years roaming the shoreline, gathering the pieces of their daughter’s skin and scattering them over her newly created world. As the pieces became more and more difficult to find, and finally disappeared completely, her father became overwhelmed by grief. One morning, in a burst of anger, he picked up his daughter’s world and hurled it into the vast recesses of space. The new world settled into orbit around a small, stable sun, and the pieces of glass took physical form, becoming that which we call women.
To this day, Frosted Glass Man wanders the shorelines of Earth, hoping one day to reassemble Frosted Glass Woman and bring her back to life.
I sat there in a daze, searching for words. But what do you say to a man who has just granted you the power to create worlds? I took the blanket from our bodies, eased Frosty onto the cold earth and placed our green, brown and white jewels along the contours of his body. Then I lay down beside him and cried rivers, lakes and oceans into the recesses of his skin.
Photo by MJV