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Depression has been turned inside out, but not quite. It is more like his joints are broken. He should have looked twice before he stepped into the parking lot. His boss was overheard to say he had seen him do that before. They are waiting for the EMT. Depression is obviously in a lot of pain, but he makes no noise. He mouth opens as if to scream, but nothing comes out. His shoulders are back at a weird angle, like a huge thumb was pressed into his back. His legs are wrong; the knees folding in a reverse direction.
Vexation was a seamstress before the war, before the mill was bombed, before she got too old and tired to do something else. She made hats, lovely hats, and now there are times she sits in her darkened living room before the faint glow of the grate, her fingers darting, sewing on a brim or a fetch, an imaginary piece to an imaginary hat. Her eyes are bright with her work following every movement of the fingers that were so talented, not like those knotted sticks frozen in pain. This is what she sees. It doesn’t matter what we see.
Despondent sits off the end of the locker room bench, head hanging between his spread knees. He is wearing his large rubber boots and his yellow jacket which would normally make his day. He loves his yellow jacket. But today the yellow jacket is no good. His close-cropped head is covered with sweat and dirt, and he stares at the brown concrete at the base of the bench, the old wad of chewing gum there, and the seam where the slabs of cement meet. His buddies are dressed and leaving, slamming their locker doors. Despondent doesn’t speak. He doesn’t move.
Prospect ducks into the shade, stepping up onto the boardwalk, a new short shovel tucked over his shoulder. He wears a long beard and work jeans rolled up to his knees. He is thin, sunned, and muscled. As he strides the decking a young woman steps boldly in front of him. Blue eyes lock into blue eyes. Her parasol spins playfully off the corner of her smile. Prospect feels queasy and is suddenly aware he needs a bath. She is obviously waiting for him to speak. Prospect panics, unable to think of anything to say, unable to remember the reason.
Ameliorate is troubled as she comes home taking off her gloves. She is of two minds. She cannot decide. She does not even know if she is the one who is supposed to decide. Is she a transitive verb or an intransitive verb? She does good works. She is known for her good works. But do conditions improve because of her efforts or do they just improve because they would have over time anyway. Is she merely decorative? Do bad things get better, or does she help them get better? Does she have a purpose or does she just pretend?
I remember when Shantori first showed up at the house where Tom and Heather were renting a room. He was an intricate and interesting man with a fascinating and nimble mind. It was still summer, and I have a notion we were on the porch with Shantori in a swing, but I doubt that house had one. Probably an old couch shoved out of the door instead. Things weren’t going well at the house for Tom and Heather. They were crammed into a tiny room living with a group of people who had odd habits like peeing on the floor.
Diminished Capacity starts across the frozen pond in a tan overcoat hanging open in the thirteen-degree weather. He immediately launches his arms to steady himself on the hard ice. The wind blows knots of loose hair across his forehead and stings his eyes. He wore the wrong shoes. These won’t hold against this ice. He wonders if he will be able to climb the bank when at the other end. Not to wonder. That is for then, he thinks. He is halfway across. Pausing, he lifts his head into the empty wind, confused. He has forgotten where he is going.
I’m thinking of the mummy movie where giant scarabs crawl under your skin. It is like that except there is just one. I have found that if I remain still there is not so much pain. I have considered and exhausted other options, and there doesn’t seem to be any alternative but to let the thing do what it wants. It is lodged at the back of my neck, just below the skull, which seems to be an odd place, considering what it needs to eat. I’m thinking of the space movie where the computer asks if it will dream.
Stranded stops on a patch of snowy grass half way to the laundry room, a basket of towels cradled under his arm. On his way there, he has just had a minor vision of himself coming back the same way yesterday. This sudden sense has frozen him long enough for a small dim shadow to cross the yard and touch him. Maybe it has been following him all day for this moment. We don’t know. But Stranded gasps at the shadow’s touch, spilling his basket, and it is not clear now that he is on his knees to gather towels.
Stranded makes it to the laundry room, but all the machines are occupied. They are occupied in a literal sense because not only are they all running, but also there are people sitting on every one of them. No, one is vacant. Then he notices the people are not real. They are mannequins, with signs around their necks. The signs read “Anxiety,” “Mourning,” “Lament,” “Depression,” and so on. His eyes fall for a moment on one particularly appealing female mannequin labeled “Delight.” There is a sign on the empty machine with a string attached to it. The sign reads “Stranded.”
Stranded sets his laundry basket on the vacant machine. A washer going into spin cycle causes Inebriated to fall against Lassitude knocking Lassitude’s arm off and spinning across the painted concrete floor. Stranded looks at the arm slowly moving to a stop, and the hook on the end. He has a sudden impulse to feel his own arm. Pulling the “Stranded” sign out from under the laundry basket, he looks at it. Hand lettered, it has a cotton string running from one end to the other. It is the kind of string Stranded remembers flying kites with as a boy.
Stranded was beginning to feel a little uneasy. He set the sign down on his basket of laundry and went to the door. Out the window, he could see that it had started snowing heavily. He must have been in the laundry longer than he had thought because there was over a foot of snow on the ground. Turning the knob he shoved at the door, but it was hard to open because of the snow piled up against it. Heaving his shoulder against it, he got it open six inches, then nine, then maybe a foot…enough to squeeze through.
Stranded was about to squeeze through the door frame when he was stopped by a voice behind him, “Hey, You gonna leave me here?” He looked back. The machines were thrashing away in an empty room. A mannequin pitched headfirst onto the floor. Stranded stepped back into the narrow room. “Hello?” he asked tentatively. “Over here.” It came from his direct right. The one labeled “Delight,” her vacant blue eyes staring past him. Stranded peered closer at the plastic model. “Whatchu lookin’ at?” The voice seemed to come directly from the mannequin’s head. Stranded leaned over to peer behind her.
Stranded decided it was nonsense and headed back for the door. It was getting dark outside. He had left the door open and the snow was starting to pile up inside. There was a six-inch skiff on the floor already and outside there appeared to be another foot on the ground. This was an unusually voracious snowstorm, he thought. As he approached the door, he heard the voice again. “Please. Don’t leave me here with these dummies.” He looked back. Delight still had the same vacant stare, but her head had twisted a little to follow him. It was odd.
Stranded slid out the door, ignoring the voice from the dummy behind him, stepping into the two-foot block of snow wedging the door open. This was no drift. It was the even depth as far as he could see. But it had stopped falling. It was early evening, and the sun was out. Maybe it was a little earlier than he thought. Looking down the side of the building, he saw a woman with her hand on the doorknob frozen in position. Then he noticed she had one of those signs around her neck. He wondered what it said, “Hopeless?”
Punching through the snow, Stranded noticed other figures scattered about. One woman wore a long dress that the wind carved around her hard plastic legs. She wore a stocking cap and a sign reading “Envy.” As he came to the parking lot, Stranded noticed a couple of mannequins bent over one another, their pants down and their signs in disarray. He paused a moment, looking around, noticing a stuffed terrier nose-down in a drift. There seemed to be no one around but mannequins, and only one of them was talking: Delight. He was beginning to wonder what was going on.
Coming around to his apartment, Stranded noticed his neighbor’s truck in the lot, with a mannequin propped up against the side wearing his neighbor’s coat and hat. Walking up to him, Stranded saw that he had a half a beer clutched in one plastic hand. His sign read “Bounty,” and he had a snow shovel stuck in a drift next to him. Stranded pushed on Bounty’s chest with his finger and Bounty slid down the truck a few inches. He looked a little bit like the real Earl, enough that Stranded didn’t want to pop him into a snow bank.
Stranded knew he wasn’t dreaming. He wasn’t stupid either. The idea he had was that his entire apartment complex had been turned into a macabre movie set. He didn’t get the memo? He wasn’t important enough for anyone to go to this length for a joke. As he approached the building he saw what he quickly recognized as a mannequin, teen version this time, a young girl in a slip, head turned in a lower window, arm raised and smiling gaily. Her face and head were plaster white with no coloration. Stranded opened the heavy door and climbed the stairs.
Back inside his apartment Abandoned was processing these events, but was also avoiding thinking about them. He went to the corner and flicked on his stereo amplifier, and waited for the tubes to warm up. But as they did, no music came from the speakers. Little pieces of plastic materialized at the speaker grilles and fell to the carpet. As the amplifier warmed up, the pieces of plastic became defined plastic notes, quarter notes, half notes, ties, and rests, spewing and clattering to the floor. Abandoned turned off the amplifier and the gush of plastic notes slowed to a trickle.
Abandoned knelt in front of one of his speakers sifting through the pile of black plastic music notes. He was thinking along several paths simultaneously. At one point he was marveling that they came in three sizes, corresponding to the three drivers on his speakers. Reaching into a port on the speaker, he pulled out a quarter note that had wedged itself there. He also wondered why this particular shift in reality, if it were external, would decide to spew western musical notation in plastic from his speakers. He pulled off one of the grills. Everything was in order beneath.
He looked out the door wall to the club house and laundry below. It was either still evening or it was another evening. The snow had been drifting. He couldn’t see his tracks any more. As he got up, the plastic music notes spilled out of his lap onto the carpet, rattling against one another. He didn’t see another living person. He wondered if he should try calling someone…the farther away the better. Then he remembered Delight from the laundry room. She had spoken to him. He was confused. Someone was pounding on the door. “Abandoned? Are you in there?”
Abandoned walked to his door. As he touched the knob, the pounding and shouting stopped. Peering through the peephole, all he could make out was a curved flesh-toned surface. He unlocked the door and opened it. A male mannequin fell into his arms, dropping a long-sleeved canvas jacket. Two others, wearing some kind of hospital uniforms were poised on the landing behind the one he had just caught. Abandoned heaved the mannequin upright, knocking down one of the others who flipped over the railing losing an arm. There was a busting noise and clatter as it hit the railing below.
Laying the first dummy on the landing Abandoned leaned over the rail. The hand rail below was covered with plaster dust where the mannequin had been decapitated. The torso with one leg attached lay on the bottom of the stairs. The head was nowhere to be seen. The whole thing was getting to be a little overwhelming. Going back into his apartment, he slipped his cell phone out of his pocket to call someone, perhaps his sister he thought, but the phone didn’t work. It just displayed a picture of a beach scene and none of the buttons were operational.
Abandoned thought a moment. The laundry room scene came to him. It seemed to be where everything started. He remembered the one mannequin talking to him. Delight was her name. He decided to go back there. When he opened the apartment door, the two outside were gone. The broken one on the stairs was gone, and the dust had been cleared away. Outside it appeared to be midday, and much of the snow had melted away. He wondered if he had fallen asleep at some point. He walked through the melting snow to the laundry room and let himself in.
In the Laundry room, Abandoned saw that most of the “people” were gone. His laundry was where he had left it on a dryer, but the dryers had been replaced by large cardboard mockups. The washers had also been replaced by cardboard mockups but these were soggy and had collapsed in the middle. Delight was there, hands linked with one of the male figures, labeled Rod. He was facing the washers while she had fallen back against the dryers. They looked at each other with concern. Abandoned lifted her, leaning them against the washers, forehead to forehead, eye to eye.
Abandoned stepped out of the laundry room with a sense of physical panic combined with emotional numbness. He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t reacting to what was happening or not happening. He felt strangely unconcerned, yet his body felt jumpy and on alert as if he hadn’t had anything to eat but stimulants for several days. What day was it anyway? It was daylight again, but foggy. He didn’t know what time it was. It was warm, and the snow was melting. He felt as if part of his brain had been turned off and he couldn’t re-connect with it.
Abandoned saw a car sitting on the curve through the mist and fog. It was stopped in the middle of the road, the engine off. He walked over to it. There was a woman driving, glasses, blue coat, both hands on the wheel. Glancing at her hands he could see the seam at the wrist, and the uniform color of the plastic fingers. A child’s seat was in the back. He went around to look, but it was teddy bear all buckled in wearing a snow suit. Looking forward through the passenger compartment he saw the speedometer reading 28 mph.
As Abandoned walked back to his apartment he saw the fog had lifted, replaced by a strong chilling wind. He was sleepy, tired, and hungry. Approaching the walk to his building he saw an array of toy soldiers on the sidewalk, weapons pointed at his door. A toy SWAT tank lumbered up the sidewalk, buzzing, its cannon head flickering at him. His door was plastered with yellow crime scene tape. He wondered if he would actually encounter a real person by tearing it down, which he did as he pulled open the door which had been broken off its hinges.
His apartment door was also unhinged, and his home had been violated. Bookcases and planters were overturned. A glass coffee table was smashed. The TV and stereo were gone, and the trail of anarchy wandered off both toward the bedroom and the kitchenette. Abandoned up righted a chair and sat down looking out the door wall. It appeared to be early morning, and for a moment he saw birds playing in the frost on the ground below. Then as he watched they were gone. He wasn’t sure. Maybe he was crazy, or dead, but he didn’t feel either; just tired.
Abandoned woke up. The light was bright on a new coat of snow outside. From where he sat, he could not tell whether it was sunlight from an overcast sky or a very bright moonlight. He could not decide whether the horizon was a haze or brightly-light night sky cloud cover. As he looked down to the ground below, he realized he could see more of it than normal. He could see through the building. He could see the ground and snow clearly outside clearly through the building, yet he could see the floor, the carpet and the plants too.
Abandoned looked down at the sign on his own chest in the curious light. He looked to the side, raising his hand, and looking at his hand. He could see the hand, the skin, and he could see the bones and muscles inside the hand at the same time. This was sight and was not sight as he could also clearly see the room and furniture behind his hand. Looking closer, he could see individual cells making up his hand and moving in the blood vessels. Closer and things began to lose shape and color, becoming mostly space, mostly nothing.
The Tip Jar