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Throw the car into reverse. Wait a minute. I hesitate just a second. There's a van behind you, remember, those guys from the gas company are still checking the meter or something. Fine. Slowly now, you know how many times you've run into a goddam car in your own stupid driveway. And you always wreck your own car. Perhaps just as well. Eyes in the rear view. Focus. No way I'm gonna do that again. I feel composed and ever so slightly pleased with myself in anticipation of a successful getaway. Thud, followed by a screeching grind. The basketball goal.
I turn over so that my face is near hers under the cool sheet. "I can't do this much longer" she whispers. "What?" "Mouth breathing," she says. "Mouth breathing? " "Yes, it's very bad for you". "For me?" "No,for anyone,silly." "Really?" "You don't believe me." "No, I mean, I don't know, is it.. is there.. I mean.. why?" "Well, don't you think it's obvious?" "No, I don't." I try to kiss her neck. "You just don't get it, do you?" Silence. Then: "See, you're doing it too." "I don't do it while I'm kissing you." "Whatever. Go on then."
Darren will be home soon. The sun creeps up, but the moon still hangs on grimly, caught up on some high branches in the neighbor's yard. An anemic lemon slice dangles in my gin and tonic. I make a move to throw away the empty bottle, stop, and brush some coffee grounds from the countertop instead. I punch the pillow on my side of the bed and ruffle the sheets. Pause, and then punch his pillow too. Punch it again, for good measure. Then I throw another lemon slice into an empty glass and position it lovingly on his nightstand.
Bernice was so bossy it made my head spin. "Challenging," said my mother with a faintly wrinkled brow, like if she was Bernice's mother that sort of thing wouldn't fly. Which was rich because everyone knew that my brother Bobbie ran rings around her. One night after she asked him to do the dishes, I got up late to go sit on the porch. There she was, neatly stacking the final plate in the drainer with a beatific expression on her face like she had just finished painting the Sistine Chapel. I left the storm door open, to vex her.
Ever since I remember, I have hated toddlers. Even when I was a toddler myself, and probably before: I have a depraved memory of sinking two newly minted front teeth into a grubby fist that wormed its way between the bars of my infant cot. Although caged like a baby sloth in a petting zoo, I was far from defenseless. The satisfying yelp and swift withdrawal of my antagonist to the sniveling solace of his mother's skirts must have offered me such consolation for my bondage that ever since, I have used toddlers as evil foils for my beleaguered ego.
On Monday she forgot to three hole punch the handouts she copied for his presentation and on Tuesday morning she woke at 2 am necklaced with sweat. This is ridiculous, she told herself sternly, but she could not get back to sleep. At 9 am, his freshly printed Asset Purchase Agreement resting on her lap, she felt a sore red warmth spreading slowly upwards from her thighs as if from an injection site and was horrified to discover that there was also some associated swelling. Heavens Above, she muttered, crossing her ankles and taking a restorative sip of green tea.
Spring bursts into the mortuary, resplendent in pressed green scrubs and Nike Airs.
"Show me the body!"
A gurney creaks from the penumbra, wheeled by a gruel-complected attendant.
Spring peels back the grimy sheet.
"Sun lamp! - Turn down the thermostat!"
"Nothing, Doc," whines the lumpy hierodule.
They lock eyes over the motionless corpse.
Spring's honey-speckled irises glint behind rimless spectacles.
"Dive bomb with sparrows!"
A single oboe note – barely discernible at first – buds and swells. The toe tag flutters.
Sweet alchemy of Spring - the resuscitation has begun. The prodigy marvels at his own triumph!
"Bring out the joggers!"
Useless little red dog. We took you to the vet and we didn't bring you back.
The patch of soil where you liked to lie (sun in your fur) can now grow daffodils and we can paint over the scratches on the back door. We'll just shift the rug over the stain where your bed lay. The exultant cats rule the house; the rabbits will eat the spring lettuce. That next door dingo sniffs around your yard and doesn't even flinch at my curses.
Our useless little dog. Your weary head was heavy in my hands as you left us.
Curses! If I hadn't decided with smug self-deprecation that April 1st was the perfect day to sign up at the local gym, or having signed up, had called it a workout and gone straight to Moe's for a filthy martini, I would not have seen Debbie's Friday date in polyester short shorts, supine on a crash mat, industriously squeezing out buttock exercises - hairy white inner thighs shuddering, pelvis pumping metronomically toward the styrofoam ceiling tiles. At Starbucks the next day, Debbie sighs: "You know, he has a really amazing ass," and I nearly choke on my Morning Glory Muffin.
Brainy Helen was queen of the Rubik's cube. At break, when the northern drizzle relented and allowed us to venture forth under still ominous skies, she would hold court on the shallow steps that led down to the Home Economics portakabin. Groveling subjects approached with lamentably scrambled offerings and were swiftly and miraculously rewarded with a neatly color-consistent hexahedron. My incomprehension was twofold. First, (most frustrating to my stubbornly lubricious nature), who cared if the sides matched? and second, where was the vaunted challenge now? I must be observing some arcane form of tribute to her royal algorithmic majesty.
My upstate relatives were proud owners of Cobb Manor, an architectural lab experiment gone hideously wrong. My grandfather was the mad scientist behind this unnatural creation: a Victorian mansion– tall-windowed, majestically paneled and spangled about the eaves with revivalist scrollwork- which sprouted from its backside a concrete block, shaped like a Tsquare. Midway through his sixth decade, my progenitor, a portly patriarch with fearsome moustaches and starched collars, had converted to Bauhaus and updated his homestead accordingly. Concurrently, whispered my mother, he came down with an intractable case of hemorrhoids that persecuted him for the rest of his days.
Kimberley, who works for the City, always smiles at me in a soft crinkly way with eyes that are so sad and brown. I run into her on my way into the rest room- which unnerves me- and she’s wearing a fluffy salmon pink sweater and dagger heels- which confuses me. On the john, I ponder the significance of her ensemble. I exit, she's still there, applying mauve aqualux lipgloss and crinkling at me in the mirror. I realize that I am clutching a large blue and yellow can of disinfectant spray and I have absolutely no idea why.
He partied all weekend with his boyfriend in her hardearned Chevy Malibu; then he drove it up the curb and shredded a tire. She had to hitchhike to class and was obliged to do a tuck and roll from a semitrailer at Muller and tenth. She paid for the apartment. He hung sheets in the windows, smoked a pack of Basics for breakfast and lied about everything. Her mother's gold locket showed up in one of his greatcoat pockets. I feel like I knew her, he murmured, with downswept lashes. For a moment, she almost considered giving it to him.
She should come with a warning. Not a big hazard sign in reflective paint, but something a little more subtle, understated. So you don’t have to shine anything directly on it to illuminate it. So you subconsciously realize it as you go about your day. Like italicizing the words ‘extra spicy’ on an innocuous jar of curry, or putting a spiked collar on a miniature poodle. Because if it’s dusk, or one of your headlights is out, you know you're going to miss that hazard sign, and wind up rear-ending her cattle truck on a 31% grade.
Latter day Mark Twain of the armchair variety, I drift down the Mississippi with a magnifying glass, observing as it writhes back and forth towards the distant Gulf. It's restless between its modern bounds. Coils of scarlet, purple, black, overlap, shift and displace on the alluvial map. I'm gathering the evidence of a primordial struggle: abandoned oxbows, cutbars, fluvial slivers, fragmented meanders. Weals of time submerge the plain. Then, rounding a bluff, I glimpse: a pastiche of fields, a frail latticework of streets and a name scarcely legible.
. Proud city of 363 souls, clinging to the sea serpent's back.
Lucille was miffed to find herself locked out of the apartment, with a busted TV, a tufted armchair and a tattered copy of Vogue ("this spring is predicted to bring a completely new point of view to the clothes-conscious American woman"). She consoled herself with the fact that, silky thighs bared in a crushed midlength velvet robe, sporting white cowboy boots from the heady heydays of Hullabaloo, she rocked the musty hallways of GardeniaMeadowes and would soon be rescued by the granite-jawed janitor who roamed the complex with his trusty key fob, smelling reassuringly of PineSol and OldSpice.
The city gave him bad dreams. The beltway compressed his mind; the streets caged his soul. She sat up with him all night as he tangled in the sheets. She tried to understand. She discovered she envied him. A child of the prairies, her nightmares were different, and wakeful. As he thrashed, she watched the familiar corners of their town fall away to horizons of panic grass and spiked sedge. Beads of blood on her brother's feet. The car door open with the engine running, and a single word in her father's mouth (dry and wide as the sky) -
The flag is at half-mast again and today I have a face to put with it. A third grader with sticky out ears and shining eyes. A name that seems back to front. Smiling into the camera, holding a placard with words in awkward letters. He is proud of himself, but a little timid. Around him are the trappings of an elementary classroom: brightly colored markers, a container stamped "recycle", a row of cartoon children (each with differently shaded skin) and a smiley face. It's a delicate microcosm, casually optimistic. His sign reads, impossibly, "No more hurting people. Peace."
Contemplating the perfect blue dive - complete with pike, tuck, twist and whatever else would make it fancy - from the top of the perfect blue building. Just look at it!! Stark and clean and alone like the first tombstone in a newly dedicated graveyard. The clouds float right through it on a summer day. They think those chicks are crazy, up and down the stairwell nine times. Maybe they are. Why make it hard? I'm going to ride the elevator up to the roof garden and take the beautiful way down. I'll show them the meaning of a perfect rip entry.
Two things I will never assist in: human trafficking and Honors Geometry homework. Although being asked for help with one does tempt me to engage in the other. I've never clapped eyes on a math book since I was thirteen years old and never again intend to. No amount of pleading, stomping or whining will persuade me. Squiggle squiggle lateral perimeter of the surface area of 2bc, piR squared, blah, complete and utter nonsense. No, I have no idea what it means. But if you don't hurry up and get it finished I'm going to sell you to the gypsies.
Her memory was a mothy old quilt in which new holes appeared daily. So it made sense to channel the memory of others. She theorized that if she closed her eyes and conjured up a face then that person must exist or have existed at some point in time. Extrapolating further, she decided that the scraps of sentences that fell through her brain onto the paper must likewise be the memories of other lives better lived but untold. Lately though, little Vitalija, a Samagotian orphan refugee from the bloodthirsty regime of Kunigaikstis Mindaugus, had been severely grating on her nerves.
The time he rescued her, after three long hours stranded on I-69? When he gave her the kitten discarded by his ex?
The note to her mother, after the MCL debacle?
When he stayed up all night consoling her jilted best friend?
…Garbled monotony of a basketball game punctured by a distinct "Fuck." The sound of a PBR bottle hitting the trashcan.
His sterling work on the Missions and Values Committee?
She tossed a sprig of cilantro onto the cucumber salad and tightened her grip on the knife. He was a complete dick.
The week before, there was a "snow" day. She got to work early - slaloming along the empty highway - but still, she estimated at least two and a half inches of bona fide slush. Now, it was suddenly, oppressively, disgustingly - Hot. She spotted a girl in the mud on the riverbank, fishing in galoshes and a bikini. A/C units wheezed like asthmatics. Then abruptly – perversely – sleet was forecast again. She would be watching the kids at the weekend track meet, blue lipped and chilly kneed, as temperatures plummeted and personal bests remained unachieved in the face of a howling gale.
Time to get the Book Fondler out of my life. Every day, on the bus, on the sidey ways seats so I just can't avoid her, she sits right
- in a candy striped hat and purple crocs - reading
. She's never any further along, as far as I can tell. Her lips move lasciviously around the words, as she caresses the cover with her left forefinger, over and over. The cringing hoodlum on the jacket can't get away, and neither can I. But today, I swear, I'll jump right up and pitch them both out into the traffic.
Where the kid got shot in the face and lay there all night before anyone found him - down by McCormick Park. Round to the right there is a red and white sign. You never noticed it before, but it's been there a while, and it says: Chucks Detail And Hand Wash. Underneath, in those movable black letters, like the church signs that promise: JESUS IS TOUCHING YOU, it says: FEEL GOOD IN A CLEAN CAR. The kid lays there with his face in the sand, watching the sign turned on its side, and all the world drives by, not caring.
Sheldon's mother (our neighbor) looked after my babies when they were babies. At the time, it seemed I had better things to do. She was a sweet soul. When she died, his father said, thank you Lord Jesus. Eventually, I stopped returning Sheldon's calls.
I run into him at the bank and want to ask, Who got busted at your place on Thursday? (We stood behind the door and peeked through the sidelights, but we couldn't work it out.)
But instead I say, What are you up to?
Gonna get my graduation certificate framed.
Great job! I chirp.
I'd finally had it. I was going to get the sludge out of my brain. Monday morning, first thing, I called the contractors to have them fill in my septic tank and hook me up to the city sewer. It was a complicated process involving all kinds of plumbing reversals and grade calculations, clean outs and lateral stubs. But when it was finally done, the effect was hardly less than miraculous! With an infinite sense of relief, I could now sit down, let rip and let my daily musings sail gaily off towards the White River - not my problem anymore.
Am I the target of a workplace poltergeist? First, a computer cable snakes itself around my ankle like a kraken. I fly across the office to faceplant inches from Susan's lap. There were skid marks on the carpet (-mine?) Then, as I withdraw my microwaved egg, it explodes with a distinctly malicious Pop, covering me (and an innocent attorney fetching a cup of coffee) with ectoplasmic jelly. What next? I suspect my slapdash predecessor (who disappeared, leaving a snarl of deranged paperwork) may be objecting to my efforts to finally erase her memory by restoring sanity to the filing system.
Some reasons why I like bicycling to work:
I can play chicken with Canadian geese. I like riding with the top down in 24 degrees. At any moment, I risk being flattened like a highway cone by a lout in a minivan and a T shirt that reads "drunk as shit" (pure adrenaline). And, best of all, cycling to work is more socially unacceptable than sleeping with a co-worker or farting in the elevator, and twice as effective at making those uptight execubitches get out of MY way as I drag my sweaty ass duds in through the lobby.
Despite the green 'walk' sign, they are nearly scythed down by an SUV. Her co-pedestrians mock lament, "Don't flatten us! We're four weeks from becoming eye doctors!" Imagine the loss. Astigmatisms undiagnosed. Thousands of Namibian cataract victims uncured. Ocular Manifestations of Xeroderma Pigmentosum, authorless. She gets to wondering how she might plead for her life. Wait, my boss needs this document converted to PDF - my closet reorganization project is so close to completion - my cats won't re-home well - I really am a huge fan of the arts. She might as well admit it. She wouldn't have a prayer.
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