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The light flickered above her widened eye, which was frozen as if it were sculpted from wax. Her brother must be in the bathroom now: the light always flickered when he entered. She returned her attention to her mascara wand and proceeded to gently dab her darkened lash. She loved applying her make-up. It was an art, a way to express her inner beauty. Blue specks fluttered to her lap as she worked. She knew some women stared, whispering she looked cheap, but she didn't care. The resistance of the thick shadow on her eyelid reminded her she was alive.
There was a lake at the end of the lawns that stretched between our two houses. You couldn't find it unless someone brought you there; once there you couldn't understand how you never noticed it. Despite the thick shrubbery eating most of the land, on his property the lake’s lip formed a smooth, wide beach. I was always jealous of his beach (he constantly reminded me it
his, and not mine). I would swim to the middle of that lake and tread water, and watch him and his little sister play in the sand. I still remember that beach.
There was a symphony tonight, and an audience of one. Her fingers drummed the worn steering wheel. The wind whistled where the glass didn’t meet the doorframe. The radio buzzed illogical static, intermittently interrupting a lost country song. She drove over the empty highway, following the moonlight toward the end of her tunnel. The dashboard hula dancer rustled its skirts spastically, and the fan belt moaned. Like a bang of a gong, unexpected and jolting, her last headlight blew out. She slowed the car, and the music waned. The nighttime bugs grew louder; their silence would awake her at dawn.
Carla looked around in disgust. She should have known how he was the first time she saw his property. There were no trees, except tall pines blocking the view from the street. No weeds dared grow between the dusty driveway’s pebbles. A discarded boat rusted away beside the garage. She knew it once was beautiful; its color was faded and strong masts collapsed, aching for the sea. She stared at that boat, knowing it had once taken him to secret places. Its wasted body woke her from her reverie and she promptly stuffed the papers in his mailbox and left.
One hundred. Only one hundred. For a moment she thought she stopped breathing. She saw lights; something flashed like those old-fashioned camera flashes, which sort of POP in your face. Jingle Bells played in the peripheral of her imagination. The brightness faded and she realized she was staring at the girl behind the deli. The woman who had dropped the bomb on her was fixing her hat, talking and walking away. She stared after her, as if she expected the woman to turn around and tell her it wasn’t true, that there was more than 100 measly days to Christmas.
What the fuck. No, seriously. What the fuck. He slammed on his horn, swerving his car around the degenerate driver who enjoyed driving 60mph in the fast lane. Does this world make ANY sense? Since when is
these people their licenses? He turned up the radio and exhaled with annoyance, settling back into his seat. He glanced in the rearview mirror and got a moment of satisfaction watching the driver try to navigate into a slower lane as people were passing him. Some people were such idiots, he swore they existed just to fucking annoy him.
One-a-daisy, two-a-daisy, three-a-daisy, four
. There was a world out there they’d never seen.
My mother told me to be a
Prostitutes, musicians, bankers, chefs, limo drivers, pilots, students they’d never met.
Ring a-round the rosy, a pocket full of posy
History they didn’t understand and
How much wood would a wood chuck chuck
politics that meant nothing more to them than distance of
God bless the moon and God bless me
the moon from the earth. Do they even know what earth is?
Leave them alone and they’ll come home bringing their tails behind them.
Do they even have to?
She walked into the kitchen and her mouth filled with the cool night air. The window opposite of her was open, letting in outdoor sensations. It was the time of year when summer fought valiantly to keep her flowers alive, and autumn simply walked through undaunted, slowly trampling summertime's wishes. She held the glass in her hand, seemingly frozen by the unexpected scents and memories that overcame her. Suddenly she was biking in October with Christopher… taking down the tiki lights with her mother while her father removed the house awnings. She stared at the window, unable to walk away.
The shower water tasted like a childhood memory. When had she done this last? The pressure was stronger than usual and the beads of liquid beat her face. She squinted and drops dangled from her eyelashes. She dared to part her lips again; the first time had been an accident; now was quite intentional. Water dribbled over her mouth and swam in the crevice between her lips. Rivers started running faster and faster. She inhaled, then coughed. Water sprayed outward and she laughed at herself. Was she so old she couldn't remember how to drink in the shower without choking?
The constellation burned brightest when I wasn’t looking. I knew it without anyone telling me. The entire night would be dedicated to arranging my telescope, laying out notebooks, protractor, and my clickity-click pencil. I’d usually forget the extra eraser (the clickity-click pencil’s eraser was nonexistant) and have to go back to get it. It was security having an eraser by my side. Then I would watch, talk to myself, draw and adore. But, as the night wore on, the stars faded. Yet inside, in bed, eraserless, the light from the constellations licked into my room, bragging, available, out of reach.
We had a fire drill today. The alarm was not invasive or shrill, like a panicked parent; the repetitive sound merely asked us to vacate the property, if we so desired. Outside the crisp autumn air, the still warm sun that would have heated my head had I lingered, and the calm trees, turning colors and performing efficiently, teased us. I walked inside alone, down the silent hallway. There was a different kind of freedom in the quiet of the usually bustling building: serene, unadulterated, empty. In the case of a real emergency I felt could hide in this silence.
I dare you all to have a go at me
, he shouted from the top of the building. We stared up, our hands blocking the sun from our eyes.
Try and touch me now, assholes!
came the next declaration, accompanied by arms flailing. We inhaled as one, fingers tightly crossed together and brows frowned in worry.
I never knew anything was wrong,
I heard whispered next to me.
He’s just seeking attention,
came the reply. I didn’t know; he was shouting again, perhaps he was crying. I could see in him the little boy, whom everyone told he couldn’t fly.
My first rescue attempt came when I was ten years old. He was eleven, and lived next door to me. I had liked the way he built a castle out of legos and told me I could be the girl knight in shining armor, saving him from the evil dragon. I perched myself (Malibu Barbi) on top of my horse (My Little Pony Sunshine) and rode bravely across the train tracks and to the moat (which had had real water). He laughed when I threw my hair up for him, but didn’t mind splitting my ends on the way down.
When she cried she sobbed true tears. You’ve never seen bluer tears. You’ve never tasted heavier drops of water, not even when you were sucked under in the ocean with the salty sea and blinding waves rushing in and out of your open mouth. The panic was the same, as was the sensation of energy leaving one’s body like a retreating soul. The sun is blocked when she cries, by giant gray clouds, and goosebumps adorn regretful skin. I knew her tears could last forever; at least under water you knew an end (which, that was uncertain) would come soon.
Etched in the giant oak tree outside my parents’ house was the first declaration of love I ever made. JEANNIE + PAUL- except the “ul” had been scrunched so that it looked like PAL with a strange arm growing out. I never showed Paul, although I don’t know if he didn’t know- we did use to swing from the arm of that oak tree when the tire swing was still alive. And even though Paul moved away in the second grade I swear, later that year, there appeared another “+” between the mutant “ul” and the start of my name.
He had a gum rule. He had no exceptions to the gum rule. At the start of each meeting he roughly peeled off the shiny silver wrapper from a stick of gum and ceremoniously shoved it between his thin lips. His employees eyed each other under cover and shifted nervously. “OK” he started, smacking the juice in his mouth as he sat down. “Who’s going to give status first?” Thus the meeting began and people rushed- watching anxiously that rolling dribbly mouth, praying the taste wouldn’t disappear and thus denote the ending of the meeting, before they said their piece.
My nights are phenomenally obsessed. The music I play disturbs my roommates, so I switch the headphones. I wish the windows were bigger, and I have taped back the wide curtains with duck tape, giving the windows a look of permanent surprise. I want a huge sunroof. This place suffocates me with its closed walls and dusty corners. I want to see one. I wait every night with my binoculars and stop watch (so I can accurately record the exact moment I see one). I wait, and watch the sky for any sign: a dash of light, a wave hello.
I said “hello” as “goodbye” was leaving your mouth. We stared at each other over the crash, each blaming the other for the collision. I desperately wanted to retreat, backpedal to the morning when I lay in direct sunlight in bed, my aspirations still in flight. I could see you wanted to backpedal the last year, probably to the night before that football game. Perhaps you could have gotten sick and stayed home; perhaps you could have ignored my innocent eyes. But our rewind was broken and at our feet our shattered future lay bleeding, a fatality at our union.
I had my first kiss when I was 16, the year the Everything changes. When I was 26 I had my first love affair. I was a freelance photographer living in Italy. I joked I saw Italy either through a lens or tinged red. He was handsome, and full of admiration. I loved being wrapped in his foreign arms, as if I could acquire some of his experience by proximity. I had my first child when I was 36, with neither the boy nor the Italian. One day I shall tell my daughter of them both. Perhaps she already knows.
I drowned yesterday and no one noticed. I fell into the rushing, swirling foamy water, my eyes wide trying to catch a glimpse of a rescuer. No one came. They were eating and drinking and laughing about their gorgeous new baby. I don’t know if I wanted them to come, all open-mouthed and fearful eyes as they watched me drown, the men trying to be valiant and throw a hand or an arm of a coat, women holding their children thinking so glad she’s not mine. No, I’d rather be alone, letting the cold white water caress and erase me.
“I ran with it. I ran with it as far as I could run, and then I crawled, kicking and screaming. You’ve never seen such a great fight.” She flicked ash from her cigarette onto the chalky gray floor. Her eyes were always half-open, or half-shut, it was hard to tell. “They had nothin’ on me, and still don’t. Whatever.” She shoved the cigarette between her snarling lips, inhaling as if saying a final goodbye. “Those bastards got nothin better to do with their time, then fine.” She eyed me, a spark shooting out. “But I ain’t surrenderin’ anytime soon.”
Sleep. Beeping. Up. Cold floor. Hot shower. Bathrobe. Coffee. Toast. Baby. Diaper. Feed. Toddler. Hug. Diaper. Husband. Lunch. Good day. Oldest. Breakfast. Television. Bottle. Spilled juice. Phone. Repairman. Soothe. Newspaper. Dishes. Hairbrush. Crib. Weather. Dress. Playpen. Clothes. Bag. Bottles. Diapers. Rattles. Binky. Cookies. Dress. Dress. Diaper. Hats. Shoes. Keys. Phone. Bag. Keys. Kids. Lock. Car. Carseats. Seatbelts. Binky. Heat. Breath. Careful. Drive. Lights. Horns. Sing. Coo. Juice. Stop. Park. Preschool. Out. Carseats. Cuddle. Balance. Hug. Kiss. Soothe. Leave. Carseats. Binky. Cell phone. Mother. Seatbelt. Drive. Stop. Park. Drycleaners. Out. Carseats. Balance. Hold hands. Inside. Receipt. Cash. Bag. Kids. Go. 9:30.
I wanted to travel the world. When I was six I made my parents buy me maps of exotic, faraway lands: Africa, India, Australia, Iceland, China. Topographic, weather, road, physical maps. I studied the mountain ranges and memorized where the latitudes and longitudes intersected. By twelve I had started on the politics: presidents, prime ministers, dictators, parliaments, houses. My dolls became my cabinet; as first female president I wore a sash and used my no-nonsense voice. I passed house laws (the dictatorship I lived under often vetoed them). I led demonstrations and pickets. I was a voice of the future.
She squealed in delight, throwing her arms above her head. He laughed, smiling as he watched her glow. The stars winked above them, and the metal chair of the ferris wheel swayed gently in the breeze. She felt free, high above the multicolored tents and cotton-candied children. It was their tradition: first day of summer vacation, responsibilities as far away as the be-kernelled ground. She inhaled the fresh air deeply, her hair splayed out behind her shoulders. Her eyes sparkled at him, her toes in his lap. The ride was slowing; they were suspended midair. Smiling, he moved toward her.
Her trunk was filled with things she needed to return. There was the ice-shaver she had bought last week, whose box promised more refreshing frozen drinks. The hammock she had used once now lay amok in the trunk, awaiting return. The oversized water cooler's corner protruded into the air, preventing the lid from shutting. A stuffed Siamese cat eyed her disdainfully between a lava lamp and a gumball machine. She groaned. Why did she buy all this junk she didn't need?! She urged the trunk shut, her credit card moaning as it squished between her purse and the swollen car.
In an effort to save time and heartache, she sat them all down and handed out a blank sheet of paper and a number two pencil to each. "All right, by my go, answer the questions you see on the board… Go!" She smiled sweetly, a ruler clutched between her hands. This should take care of them. The heads of the boys were bent forward. Some wrote furiously, others took care and a few scratched their heads in confusion. Out, and out, she mentally marked. She couldn't wait to read the answers for number 4: "Describe your ideal girlfriend. "
When she awoke, there were elephants falling from the sky. At first she was afraid. The trumpeting noises cried for help. The animals' large paws whirled helplessly. She ran to the living room. Her mother and sister were eating in front of the T.V. A rerun of M.A.S.H. played. They chewed and she stared at them as another elephant crashed to the ground outside the window. She moved slowly to the kitchen where nothing seemed unusual. Her mom hushed her from speaking. She sat down. She had some O.J. Soon, she didn't even notice the elephants, falling to their deaths.
There was only night left now. Her dress was pressed and hanging bagged on the door and all the tags and pins had been removed. Her shoes were in a box, below. Her sapphire and diamond bracelet, her blue, shined on the bureau. Her phone was silent beside it. The tiara she borrowed from her older sister encircled her lipstick she didn't want to forget. Everything was packed. Her home was empty. Ex-home, tomorrow. Soon she'd be sleeping on a new bed, looking into a new mirror, writing a new name. Tonight was the last night to change her mind.
He looked down, twenty-thousand feet down, to Earth. He wondered how many people were looking up at him. The camera guy, Joe, was beeping and talking into his headphones. He couldn't be bothered with Joe, who thought he ran the show. He knew that he really ran things up here, where no one could touch them. He felt a lump of anger and jerked the helicopter left just to bug Joe. Joe didn't notice. The traffic crept along below them, the sun having made her appearance. He wondered how many of those people were driving to a job like his.
I knew her from college. Some would say it was a love-hate relationship, although now it's certainly been painted black. We were vibrant then, in those in-between years, responsibilities far ahead and parents far behind. We knew how to have fun, and knew when to lay quiet, catching our breaths. I liked being still with her, outside the chapel in the middle of the lawn, or in our room, privacy sheet down, Julia Roberts movie on. That was before the badness rose to the top, wanting to suffocate everything in my life, including myself. I look back with no regrets.
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