Eating Fells Point

Lunch at the Paper Moon, crab quiche on special where the chaotic detritus of our collective childhoods has been brought together and glued to the walls, willy-nilly, a collage of body parts and the reconfigured uses of dominoes and jelly beans.

Brightly painted mannequins wearing Lego panties and bras made of pennies exude their eternal disdain of the living despite missing hands and limbs, ever confident despite their bald heads and missing haute couture, where they have become a landscape for tracks covered in matchbox cars.

Boxes of doll heads stare with one eye from a shelf as I dip another spoonful of crabmeat into the mug of steaming bisque, while all around us salvaged toilets are sprouting bouquets of pansies and sinks overflow with something succulent.

The moon out front hangs in a hasty crescent, weighty and threatening, over the heads of guests that stand in line for hours to be allowed inside. The moon reminds me of Bobby’s wings, covered in the happenstance of random discoveries brought together for one last hurrah before their final descent into oblivion. Or maybe they’ll float off over the rainbow to the chatter of tiny beings like those we used to be when we thought you could keep all the pieces together if you were careful and saved the box.

Couples collect around a wall of Pez dispensers as though they are the remains from an ancient civilization. Some of the characters are so obscure that they begin to argue.

Remembering is essential for any appreciation of the action figures that form an army of ruin around the bobble headed Snoopy that nods like a placid guru amidst the clutter, daring us to laugh, no matter how many years have passed, how many times he has ridden his doghouse or danced to a toy piano.

We clear our heads and stretch our legs, escapees from a mad house or just new in town. These are deeply rooted cobblestones, decaying and stubborn, tripping and catching the well heeled along with the homeless. A misty drizzle covers everything in a slippery sheen and Poe taps on our shoulder so that we glance up to admire the lights on the ships in the harbor winking out of the fog like vessels from a dream.

In the liquor store a woman talks loudly to someone on her cell phone while the rest of us scurry around, whispering, doing our best to avoid contact with the warm bodies around us.

Figures in dark clothes disappear into the night like silhouettes before a brief moment of illumination under the antique streetlights. In a flash the bridge of a nose, the curl of a lip, the height of a cheekbone come and go without looking up or whispers exchanged. Only a disaster would bring us together, a bomb or a gunshot, the wind from a hurricane shoving us into each other’s arms where we would huddle for warmth and protection.

The rocket’s red glare flashed and fussed between buildings echoing the reports of battles long silenced where revelers now walk the streets in stiletto heels and the glitter of sequins.

We sit at the substantial bar with its shell studded mounds of crushed ice and a smooth round edge daring you to drink until you roll off the edge past the smooth round footrest to a spot in the corner where you will be out of the way. From your vantage point you can watch the shoes walk by attached to bodies hurrying with outstretched politeness in their clean hands.

Flashing lights pass by, bright streams of warning that blend with the holiday decorations so that for a moment there is confusion. Sirens become hilarious noisemakers, behind faces out of a painting by Toulouse Lautrec. Someone at the next table is telling a funny story or choking to death.

In short black dresses and new jewelry we look out from dark eyes; we’re smelling of perfume under headpieces with their glittery messages and a fringe of black and silver tissue. We have all agreed to look ridiculous together in our cardboard top hats and tin foil tiaras.

Tonight I’m the mom that is introduced around like some rare breed that will be gone once this damn holiday is over and things can get back to normal with those long slow days of restraint and saving for that elusive future, that horizon glowing with perfection where all the lights work and there is enough room to breath.

As we count down together, I suddenly feel alone in this crowd of strangers. We are all shouting together, the freakish light more sinister under the influence of dirty martinis. I face a wall of backs jumping up and down. At Times Square the ball descends and time, that measured construct that separates one moment from another, tics off another year.

They sang to me over the phone on Christmas Eve. They are repeating the performance now that I am here in person. I watch their faces move and the looks in their eyes as they weave the sound together. Watching Sara’s fingers on the little instrument, Karl laughs when she hesitates between chords. They make small adjustments so that the sound continues to flow, like water lapping a shore in waves that swirl and eddy around stones, seashells and dead fish.

Tina Vivian is the costume designer for Alma College, a small liberal arts college in central Michigan.