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Suppose this means I'm subscribing to March. Suppose this means I get to come up with 3100 interesting words to say, and string them together in some sort of logical, linear fashion, some orderly alphabetized grammatically correct harnessing of those little fragments that flit about in my head and congeal into a gelatinous mess that manifests itself, ultimately, on the printed page. Suppose I should go study, or work out that kink in my back, or go to bed. Suppose I stick around for March, and see what the lamb brings in. Suppose I find what the lion kicks out.
M tells me his favourite word is "ineffable". Or "poignant". He hasn't decided definitvely yet. But when he says poignant, he spits the "g" hard, and I laugh a little bit. We're on the phone, and I'm laying on my back, twirling the cord around my toe.
"Yeah, well, what's your favourite word?" he asks.
"Shadenfreude," I say, without missing a beat.
"Mmm," he says. "Because I'm going to have to look that up, does that make you a snob?"
I quoth the interwebs: "'The downside to being better than everyone else is that people tend to think you're pretentious.'"
Real-Life Friends and Acquaintances and their Equivocal Counterparts as Cast in my Hollywood Biography:
Svetlana Boginskaya as Mentor:
Post-Cold War Era Russian spy trained under Gorbachev regime. Wants to kill me/help me.
America Ferrera as Wacky BFF:
Self-depricating quick-whip, holds back my hair when puking from alcohol poisoning, warns me of potential heartbreak from The Stud.
Russel Crow as The Stud:
Zach Braff as Unrequited Guy Friend Who Will Never See Any Action From Me:
Listens to me vent about The Stud, holds my purse whilst I shop, masochist. Ends up with America Ferrera.
Salem Saberhagen as The Talking Cat:
It's a talking cat!
Okay, I'm smoking.
("You're a doctor, how can you smoke?")
But I do, and I am right now. And yes, I have seen the cancerous lobectomies expunged from their host, the matted, irregular borders of a tumor that has seeped from its thin membrane into willing, distant tissues. They stain a bright indigo and pink, and swirl about before my eyes at a ten-x.
It's an informed decision I say. Free will. Or spite; thumbing my nose at the gods. Because cancer sounds like a party compared to my days. I smoke because I'm a doctor. I smoke because I'm an asshole.
"If I have to ask for help, you had better run. That means something has gone bad. Very bad. And very fast. And you better pray to the Virgin, or Vishnu, or Thor, or shit, pray to your mother, I don't care. But you run, and you don't look back. When you get to the summit, you ask for Elijah; they'll know who he is. You tell him I had to ask for help, and he'll take you someplace safe. Keep your mouth shut on everything else; you don't know me, and you don't know anything about what happened here."
“So he’s done way early, and then rolls over, and I’m still left. Rode hard and put away wet. Like a Camero.”
“A modern dilemma.”
“Or an El Camino. Do they still make those? I say, You can’t do this, leave me like this! And I stomp to the bathroom and shut the door. I yell from beyond the lock and say, Listen, we’re a team, we’re a DUO, we’re fucking partners in crime, we’re like superheroes."
“Yeah. Man. You two are like Batman and Robin.”
“Ppssshhhttt. I bet Batman would have topped off Robin.”
“That’s what I’m sayin'!”
It’s a Friday night, and the only thing more pathetic than sitting home on a Friday night drinking alone and watching internet porn is sitting home on a Friday night drinking and reading internet articles about the rules of grammar and searching dictionary.com for obscure, contrite words to fill that blank in my head, searching to find that one word that will sum it all up, that will actually define what that “it” is. Okay, getting drunk and reading McSweeney’s and laughing to no one in particular is also pretty sad, which is how this particular Friday night naturally progresses.
I hope you’re having fun at the opera. I hope you know, and she knows, that I’m in a bathrobe at 9:48 PM, having more fun sipping and swilling out of a gas station coffee mug laced with Jack than you are, trying to appreciate some champagne-glass-shattering performance conducted entirely in Italian. That fat chick on stage? I know her intimately. I had her laryngeal polyp on MY stage. I had her cancer under my oculars, and knew that soprano more intimately at that moment than you ever will know the little girl sitting next to you, that Grassy Knoll.
And, by default, by the proverbial six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon, I know Meadow better than you. Indeed, even after the folds of flesh have told their tale, I know that Meadow was actually crying for all those baby seals and Obama and the lead bitch’s laryngeal cancer. She’s also crying because she just listened to a Johnny Cash cover back at your place, and it moved her. So. Deeply. Like, it fucking touched her soul and shit. It was profound, she said, and it ranked in her top-ten-of-all-time biggest life experiences, in the mere twenty years she has wandered and polluted the earth.
I'm using a long, serrated knife. (I believe it is what the culinary call a bread knife, but since I've eschewed carbs and trickled my vegetarian diet down to candy necklaces and Vitamin Water, there is no actual bread loaf around.) With the distinct but miniscule waft of spring in the air, my back has decided to shed. This is inopportune, as my roommate has just moved out, and I cannot reach back there unabated. The knife, however, scratches that unreachable itch, and I briefly consider the irony of one false move allowing me to stab myself in the back.
Writing prompts designed for fourth graders…
Last night, I had the most unbelievable dream. It was about…
The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is…
The worst day of my life was…
The one thing I would change about myself is…
My most unforgettable family member is…
The one thing that upsets me is…
If I could change one thing in the world…
If these walls could talk…
One time when I was really surprised…
I found the strangest thing in my pocket…
Describe how your mother looks when she smiles at you…
…Or, therapy session talking points?
Eight-hour test, Day 1
A 36-year-old Caucasian male family physician sees you in your office for a yearly check-up and physical.
(A family physician? What a thankless job.)
He confides in you that he hasn’t been sleeping well
, and that he and his wife have recently separated
(She’s probably a bitch. This is for the best).
He admits that he’s now drinking a fifth of whiskey a night
(That sounds really, really tasty right about now)
, and that he now has right upper-quadrant pain that intensifies on inspiration. What is the next best step?
Eight-hour test, Day 2
A 16-year-old Caucasian female comes to the emergency department with a two-day history of intense, persistent and diffuse lower abdominal pain. The abdomen is tender to palpation. She is currently sexually active and monogamous with one male partner, and uses—
RUN TIME ERROR /3254.http//334r4
Windows will now shut down.
(Three restarts, a call to the Help Desk in Johannesburg SOUTH AFRICA, complete paradoxical indifference, a handful of trail mix, and fifteen minutes later…)
--condoms for contraception. A beta-HcG level comes back positive at 20,000. What is the next course of action?
A Birthday at the Grocery Store: An Exchange
“Did you have any problems finding anything today, Ma’am?” Says the young white girl with punched-out lytic earrings, covered with very conspicuous black electrical tape, behind the register at Hannaford.
(She’s nineteen going on thirty, or maybe she’s thirty now. It’s hard to say; it’s hard to keep up when time is on its way.)
“No, I always know where to find the Diet Coke, especially on sale… So, they make you cover up your earrings here?”
“That’s so lame.”
I read her mind; she says, inaudibly, “
See this scar here? No, lower. That one’s a birthmark. This one’s from my Momma. I was wrapped up in her for 38-hours straight, didn’t want to come out. The doctor was missing his Saturday night poker game, so he finally whapped her upside the back, and I finally plopped out. The mark here is from where I hit the bedpost on the way out. If you squint, it kinda looks like Italy. But the scar, I didn’t get that from getting’ born. I was eighteen, and it was about the time when I fell in with the Carnie Folk.
He was called the Great Mystero, but I knew him from when he was Johnny P, when he would skip school, shoot at strays, and hold me down and piss in my hair. (‘Course, that only happened once. I pulled a switchblade on him and snatched off a chunk of his rat-tail with my free hand.) He needed someone with lady parts to get into a box so he could practice his act. On my eighteenth birthday, it was either a life at the Carnie or the Quick-E Mart, so I figured I’d have another go around with Johnny P.
So the scar. It’s all jagged, ‘cause Johnny decided he wanted to use some rusty old saw he found in his Uncle Herbert’s shed. I had to get a tetanus shot after that; I do believe that sumabitch hurt more than Johnny’s little miscalculation. “Suck it in, Tubby,” he had told me, “and the saw’ll miss it by miles. You just gotta smile pretty and I’ll make all the magic. You get ten-percent; twenty if we get to the State Fair.” He didn’t know that when we got to the State, I was taking a hundred percent, and heading East.
We’ve been driving the 285 since leaving Albuquerque; it’s a desolate two-way, the other lane an accessory; we’re the only ones, and have been for the past two hours.
Ethan has fallen asleep in the passenger seat, his head leaning against the frame away from me, strands of his long black hair set free through the cracked window and fighting each other to escape into the wind. The radio is broken, but this is a blessing. No honky-tonk, no Grand Ole Opry, to awaken demons, transport him back to his childhood, open old wounds, twist switchblade deeper into his insides.
I welcome the silence too, because the steady rattle of the truck has lulled him to sleep—the first his bloodshot eyes have been closed in close to 48 hours. I do not know if he is having a peaceful sleep; he’s catatonic, and there hasn’t been eye twitch, or a moan, or a shift in position on his part since we left his brother’s house. I keep him in my peripheral vision—should he reposition, I will snag my jacket tucked under his thigh—but my hands remain steady on the wheel, and my mind focused on the road.
A vibrant horizon, from a day that does not want to retreat to night, hovers in the distance, the indigos and the oranges coalescing, the unbreathable day deferring to the crisp twilight air; the smell of cold. Nights like these, my grandfather said, make for tumultuous mornings. The map says we’re fifty miles from anything, in any direction. I shift, untucking my left foot from the seat of my pants. An old salty bottle of water quenched and crushed sits in the corner by Ethan’s feet, reminding me that I’m going to be in need of a pit stop soon.
On the side of the road, I find an old, one-pump filling station, the weeds and mesa grass overgrown. Three of the four walls of the station still stand; the windows are somehow still intact, but browned, with a thin film of dust and sunburn coating each evenly. Even the ghosts of travelers past have found a newer place to haunt. The pick-up slows, and I put the old girl into first and roll her to a stop. Ethan, who’s been skimming the surface of sleep, awakens. He’s disoriented for a few seconds, bats at his eyes with his fists.
“Jenna,” he says. “Where are we?”
“We’re on the side of 285.”
This makes sense to him now, and he pops open his door. “I should probably stretch, drain the lizard,” he says, and ambles to the back of the building.
I click open my own door, letting my feet dangle over the side of the cab. My snakeskins are in the back of the truck; once at the rear, I lean against the taillights. I grab the boots and toss them into the dirt and work my feet into each, my soggy right and left resisting with each tug.
Sunday Morning, with You:
The window was left open last night; you're warm against me. We're rank, and it's delightful; we laugh. We watch ESPN, and I crack jokes about your breakfast meats, and how they're touching my toast. You rant about A. Rod, I read the Book Review. We lay around, you in your boxers, me in your boxers. We fall asleep on the couch.
Sunday Morning, without You:
Instant oatmeal, cinnamon, with raisins, almonds. They are antioxidants. I watch
Meet the Press
. Steve Roach, Steven Hill: my aural companions. I check my e-mail. Repeatedly.
Your Day in Haiku (5:10 AM to 8 AM)
Alarm at five ten
Morning zoo FM assholes
WHACK! Snooze, snooze, snooze, snooze
Your Day in Haiku (8 AM to 12 PM)
Questions I don't know; fuck me
Guessing is fun, too
Your Day in Haiku (12 PM to 12:10 PM)
Exam is complete
Back door is left unguarded
Home in ten minutes
Your Day in Haiku (12:10 PM to 4 PM)
Nap was delicious
No dreams despite dreamcatcher
Your Day in Haiku (4 PM to 6:02 PM)
D-listed, Perez, PIT-NiB
Mail times three: snail, E-
Your Day in Haiku (6:02 PM)
Many Haikus here!
Nothing of substance today
Tomorrow's Preview: Your Day in Iambic Pentameter
There’s a blue tarp in the truck that’s been sodered down with J-cables and bungee cords, holding our cargo steady. Ethan’s still behind the station, and I double check this before I lift the tarp. Ethan’s mother—thin, cachectic, yellowed with age and with liquor, and missing half her face—is still there, virtually untouched from the funerary position we placed her in not twelve hours earlier.
Enough time has passed; the glow of my cigarette a substitute hourglass, the orange ash now at the level of the filter. I head toward the back of the building to get Ethan.
He’s got one hand pressed up against the concrete siding; this is holding him up. The other is holding his male parts; his posture slumped, his head, hanging. He’s sobbing quietly, and he doesn’t hear me approach. It’s not until I rest my hand on his shoulder that he cocks his head to the side, his face hot and red.
“I can’t pee,” he says, crumping against my shoulder and moaning inaudibly, pressing his teeth into my neck, his fly still open. I run my fingers through his long hair; they stick halfway down. I maneuver him to the steps.
He sits there, his weight pressed against me, his head slipping from my neck to lap. I tuck his flannel back into his pants, straighten him behind his zipper.
We sit like this for a while. There’s no sound that I hear other than the steady in and out of his breath through his nose. He stirs with the occasional gust, the air and his hand giving me gooseflesh; he has taken to slowly rubbing my belly, his rings dragging circles around my navel.
“Jenna,” he says. “You ever wonder? You ever wonder if she would have been like her?”
“Or you? Or me?” he continues.
“I don’t think about those things,” I say.
“You’re always thinking, though,” he says.
“Not about those things.”
“What do you think about, then?” he asks, and slips his thumb around my waistband. “Do you think about me?” The top button slips out of its hole.
“Sometimes,” I say. He buries his face in my jeans, his hand falling to my side.
“I’m so tired, Jenna,” he finally says. “Larkspur ain’t even on the map. Did we pass it?”
“So five, six more hours to the reservation,” he says.
“Something like that.”
He brings his body to a stand and wipes his face with his sleeve. He looks out to the brush, and points. “There’s a dead coyote out there,” he says, and my eyes follow his. He’s right. “I’m going back to the truck. Take care of your lady business and let’s get back on the road.”
After he rounds the corner, I drop my jeans to my ankles and squat. The stream of piss jumps up from the dirt, spitting on my boots and leaving a trail of steam. I pull up and adjust, and walk out into the brush.
Two, three hundred yards. One coyote, no flies, vermin; no other pestilence has found its carcass. In fact, it is completely intact; I see no blood, no wounds, no tufts of fur stuck in nearby cacti. There is no smell, putrifaction, waft of decay. Its eyes are open, glassy, and looking at nothing in particular; its tongue is pink, and lolls out from in between its teeth. I nudge it with the steel tip of my boot, and it’s stiffened all around; only the tail remains limp, flaccid. I wonder how it died, and if it was supposed to live.
Ten miles out from Schenectedy, I find a low-rent station playing Cake, and Beck, and other hipster-friendly tunes. Halfway through "Loser", there's a jarring Jay-Z interruption. I can go both ways, so I stick around. I realize the signal waxes and wanes with Dave Matthews, and is solely dependent on the Taurus next to me: iPod FM interference. I write "DMB?" on a slip of paper, and hold it up to my window as I pass the Taurus. The girl driver laughs, and as I slide into fifth to tailgate, she speeds past, and I never hear her playlist again.
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