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Home DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories
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Beauty Through Broken Glass

Millie Ehrlich

Armand, a young Black art student I'd met at the Brooklyn Museum two weeks ago, told me he wanted to live with me. My therapist, Dr. Goldberg, didn't think it was a good idea. He thought it was too soon, that I should wait until I developed more of a relationship with Armand. Dr. Goldberg was the first person who'd taught me the meaning of the word “relationship.” I'd been seeing Dr. Goldberg for a year, and he made me feel protected. He was kind and wise and took care of me as my own father, who paid for the visits, didn't know how to. I usually lay on the couch, not able to see Dr. Goldberg during therapy sessions, but how easy it was to get up and look into this man's face now that I knew I had another man. I told Dr. Goldberg it was time to break off. I was going to find an apartment with Armand.


Armand and I went to The New York Times building on Friday night to be among the first to get the Real Estate section from the Sunday issue. We answered an ad to rent a room in a brownstone apartment in Park Slope--within walking distance of the museum--and went to see the apartment on Saturday afternoon.

The landlords, Peter and Patricia, were a young, married, white, middle-class couple. We knew this as soon as Patricia greeted us, though we didn't get to meet Peter till a little while later.

"Come in," said Patricia, exuding a smell of jasmine as she opened the door.

She wore no make-up and had an Ivory Soap complexion. She was slightly plump, and wore a black and gold kimono and her long auburn hair in an upsweep--reminding me of a photograph of my grandmother as a young woman.

She shook Armand's hand and then mine, and led us down the hallway, stopping once to point out a couple of institutional-green plastic bins, half-filled with empty cans and glass jars.

"We recycle," she said, smiling.

She might have said she believed in extraterrestrial life or protecting rain forests, or some other cause Armand and I knew nothing about. But we sensed it meant that she was on our side.

We smiled back and followed her into the living room.

There I was enchanted to see a grandfather clock, a roll-top desk, and a working fireplace. On a far wall hung a Georgia O ' Keefe poster of pink and white flowers blown up to gigantic proportions, with visible pistils and stamens protruding from vagina-like openings.

"Would you like something to drink? I have herbal tea."

"No, thank you," Armand said for both of us.

"Did you have to travel far to get here?"

"No. We walked," said Armand.

"Where do you live?"

"Near the Brooklyn Museum," I said.

"I see. Well, we have only one room available."

"That's what we're looking for," said Armand.

"Of course, you' d be welcome to go through the rest of the apartment. We think you'll find it very special."

Armand and I were standing next to the sofa, but Patricia hadn't invited us to sit down. My high-heeled shoes were beginning to hurt my feet, and I was tempted to tug at the hem of my navy blue rayon dress, but instead tried to focus on looking poised.

My eyes were drawn to the open living room window--with white translucent curtains blowing. On the inside window sill, I saw a magical collection of bottles in blue, yellow, lavender, pink, and green--all in the palest tints. The bodies of the bottles looked strangely full and round with graceful necks like swan or giraffe necks.

"Are you both native New Yorkers?" asked Patricia.

"Yes," said Armand.

"Peter and I are from Chicago."

While talking to Armand, Patricia kept one eye on me, and noticed where I was looking.

"They're blown glass," she said, walking to the window, picking up one of the most delicate bottles and placing it in my hands, as if it were alive. I felt a sweep of pleasure, as if she had run a hand down my back, to know she trusted me not to break it.

I held the pink bottle reverently for a minute and then placed it carefully back on the window sill. As I turned around, a large wooden object in the next room caught my eye. It was a giant loom, partly strung with red woolen threads. On the parquet floor at its base, skeins of nubby wool filled a wicker basket -- loose strands escaping over its rim like springy red and orange worms.

Again, Patricia noticed where my eyes had wandered.

"That's my studio," she explained. "I'm a weaver. I design rugs."

"Oh! Wow!" Armand and I both exclaimed. I was disappointed not to be able to take a closer look at her work, but didn't feel it would be polite to ask, when we were there on business.

Peter, who had apparently overheard our conversation, stepped in from the kitchen, carrying a bottle of mineral water, and introduced himself.

He had all-American good looks, was of average height and build, wore a red plaid flannel shirt, and jeans with blue suspenders. From the way both he and Patricia dressed and decorated their home, I could tell they were hip. But Peter still seemed tame compared to Armand, who stood a few inches taller and whose head -- with its leonine hair--was much larger.

"Patricia wove most of the rugs in our apartment," Peter said, picking up the conversation like a dropped thread. He beamed at his wife. "I'm an insurance salesman," he said. "But I write poetry in my spare time. I follow in the footsteps of Wallace Stevens," he added, laughing. Then he suddenly stiffened and blinked, as if he thought he might have said the wrong thing--that Armand and I might not have understood who he was talking about.

"The poet," I said.

Peter nodded, smiled, and exhaled.

"What did he write?" asked Armand.

"One of my favorites is 'Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.'" Peter stopped and bit his lip, as he met Armand'ss inquisitive dark eyes. He took a quick sip of his mineral water. "The Blue Guitar' is also beautiful," he said.

"That's the name of a painting by Picasso," said Armand.

"Yes. The painting inspired the poem."

"I'd like to read that poem some time," said Armand.

"I'll get a copy for you."

Did he mean he would give Armand a copy of the poem after we had moved in? Was he saying that he wanted us to be his tenants?

Peter cleared his throat. "How about you folks? What do you do?"

"I write poetry, too," I blurted out. "But I work as a secretary at the Brooklyn Museum."

"I'm an artist," Armand said simply.

Peter and Patricia seemed to accept the fact that Armand and I were an inter-racial couple, and even seemed to admire us for it. I watched them watching us as we looked around--their blue marble eyes shining with good will.

"Let me show you around the rest of the apartment," Peter said, waving his bottle of water. He gestured with it towards his wife, "Or dear, would you--?"

Patricia raised her arms above her head--her wing sleeves cascading all the way down to her shoulders. I caught a glimpse of wooly auburn hair in her armpits, that seemed somehow right for a weaver. She took a minute to stretch, and then led us into "our room." Armand and I followed without speaking.

The bedroom they were renting was furnished and faced the street, and there were iron grills on the curtain less bay window to protect it from intruders. We would also be able to share the large walk-in kitchen with all the cooking utensils. The apartment was filled with shaggy rugs and potted plants and antique furniture. I particularly noticed one chest that was painted South Sea blue and looked like a treasure chest from a pirate story.

Armand' s eyes met mine, and a look of understanding flew between us like a glistening fish leaping between ripples in the same river. I let him say it.

"How soon can we move in?"


After we had been there about a week, I found little boys climbing up outside the window of our room to look through the grill. They must have seen us making love and were excited and curious, and had come back for more. I shooed them away but was worried they would return. I vowed to buy opaque window shades as soon as possible, but meanwhile felt a little like an animal in a zoo.

The next day, in search of peace and reassurance, I took a walk through the neighborhood, passed a square block with an empty lot, and was amazed to see the remains of a demolished church. I came running home and happily found Armand there in a rocking chair, reading.

"Armand," I gasped, "there's a lot a few blocks away where there's a church in ruins. I saw a wooden door with a stained glass window, but I wasn't able to carry it back by myself."

He came with me and we climbed through the rubble--feeling like archaeologists in a Third World country--intent on salvaging the holy door. I took him to the spot where I had found it--and there it was, in all its ecclesial beauty--its jeweled window miraculously still intact. Nobody had beat us there to plunder our treasure.

Armand flashed me a look of disbelief. We bent down on either end, simultaneously lifted the heavy oaken door, made our way out through the rocks and dust, and smiling into each other's eyes, carried it back to our apartment through the streets of Park Slope--like ambulance workers carrying a stretcher.

"Do you think it'll fit in our doorway?" I asked, when we had gotten it inside our room and propped it against the wall to the left of the doorway.

"I dunno."

"We'll have to get hinges...Do you think Peter and Patricia would mind?"

"Yeah. Let's think about that later," he said, wiping his hands on the legs of his chinos. He studied the door for a minute. "I think it looks good there."

His white shirt was smeared with dirt, and bits of debris were stuck in his hair.

"You look like a mess!" he said. "You'd better take a bath."

"What about you?"

He smiled slyly and slipped an arm around my waist.

"I'll take one, too."

We left the door leaning against the wall, as if it were a work of art.


In the next issue, Millie and Armand throw a party to celebrate their new home. Millie assumes that Armand likes to dance. But does he?