Dancing with Flies


I count in German. "Eins, zwei, drei, vier, funf, sechs, sieben, act, neun, zehn . . " 
I’m naked with a fly swatter. Pauli is on the bed laughing. I flit around his tiny room, chasing flies, slashing air, squashing them, one by one. Swing, eins, swing, swei, swing, drei . . . .
I am dancing with flies. 
"You are beauty," Pauli says in broken English. 
Pauli lives on a farm in Austria. I'm an American backpacking in Europe. I don't remember how we met. Must have been Vienna? Pauli is tall, thin and bearded. His eyes are kind. I go home with him. He is twenty. I'm nineteen. We make love. He falls in love with me. I revel in it and can't wait to leave. The next adventure beckons. 
It is my nature after all. 
We take walks. One day we see the farmer yelling hard consonants and poking the tines of a pitchfork into a male pig, prodding him to mount a sow. The sow is so little to the male's huge and squeals over and over, trapped in it’s nightmare. We watch horrified and mesmerized and hysterical. 
Pauli is an artist. On a trip to Vienna, he sketches me while I sleep. He swipes a few lines of charcoal across a large piece of paper with a conductor's flourish creating a full-bodied, minimal expression summing up all that I am. He colors in the border of my blanket with bright red pastel. A final touch. I fold the drawing into a square and slip it in my backpack. I've kept it all these years. The fold creases are permanent. I don't mind. They show time passing which is as it should be.
The day I leave, Pauli presents me with a mug he bought for cheap at the Gmundner Keramik factory, a few miles away. 
"They sell it hundreds years," he says.
It’s white, with hand-painted green swirls racing around its perimeter. A spill of green paint drips down its insides underneath the shine of glaze.
It’s imperfect. It’s perfect. 
I carry the cup back home across the Atlantic and drink years of coffee from it before I drop it in the sink. A large triangular piece breaks off the rim. I super glue it back on and use the cup for two more years of coffee before it breaks for good. 
Pauli sends me letters. Inside one is the key to his apartment. I don’t write back and one day the letters stop. I still have the letters. Not the key. 
After I left my husband I scoured eBay for used Gmundner ceramics. I buy most of what I find. 
The crazed and chipped ones are my favorites.