The last time I saw you alive was on the corner of 16th and Mission begging for money which I knew was for drugs. And I thought about the time when we were around 12 or 13 and cooked some hot dogs in my backyard using Kleenex tissues for the fire and wire hangers to hold the hot dogs, but didn’t realize that sparks had caught the fence so that when we returned, the firemen were there, and the only thing that kept us from going to juvenile hall was my grandmother assuring them that our parents would deal with us severely. And I remember that I was grounded for weeks and lost my allowance for months to help pay for the fence.
There was a spider on the windshield. It didn’t move. The mid-November rain stopped 20 minutes ago and I’d forgotten to turn the windshield wipers off, or at least had forgotten to put them on the lowest setting. The wipers were going full speed and making weird dry-rub noises against the windshield, but to the spider they must’ve seemed like they were on a full-blown, vengeful, arachnophobic attack. The spider still didn’t move but it was able to dodge the wipers as if it were a stuntman in a James Bond film lying flat under a passing truck during a fight scene. I finally turned the wipers off after 10 seconds of crudely wondering how the spider would navigate this situation. It didn’t navigate at all. The moment the wipers were turned off, the spider decided to turn on its 8 legs and started moving towards the top of the windshield. The amount of real estate it had to cover given its size and depth would be the equivalent of a football player running 100 yards, end zone to end zone. Maybe this spider was Jerry Rice, or maybe it was just a spider. These are the thoughts that run through my mind when the weather seems to be even more Bipolar than my doctor claims me to be.
My ears pulse and hum, pushing in on me. I swear they’re going to collapse… or explode… and then I’ll be deaf. Forever.
That’s a really long time.
What if I don’t make it until then? What if my forever is over? Oh, God. I can’t breathe. There’s a hippopotamus sitting on my chest and it’s fighting with the lion that’s clawing to get out of me. It hurts. My lungs, my ribs, my heart, they hammer and stutter and hammer again. Testing me, making sure I’m still alive.
I’ll have the fish and chips. Hmm— Could you change that to a chicken steak sandwich with extra onions and fries on the side? No, better make that a salad. Or coleslaw, but vinegar, not mayonnaise. The sweet potato fries look good. Yes, cancel the coleslaw. To drink? Let’s see. Sweetened iced tea? Don’t have any? How about Coke? I’ll have Diet Pepsi, then. Is it caffeine-free? On second thought, water’s fine. If you’ve got one of those fruit-flavored waters—yeah, strawberry-kiwi sounds good. I think that’ll do it. Oh, wait. You know what, I could really go for some red meat. Would you mind changing the sandwich to a rib-eye steak? Rare. No, medium rare. No, make that well done. I hate to do this, but I think I’d rather have fish and chips after all. Halibut though, not cod. The chips, are they thick fries? If you’ve got fresh catfish, I’ll have that instead, and can I substitute potato salad—German style, of course—for the chips? You know, I think I’d like to try the blackberry-pomegranate flavored water. Sorry for taking so long. I see you’re busy. Won’t keep you, but could you leave a dessert menu? Don’t have one? No problem. How’s the pecan pie? Never mind, I’ll have a piece of blueberry cheesecake and a cup of coffee, black. Better make that a decaf … with one cream and one sugar. That’s it. Well, maybe an extra napkin if it’s not too much trouble. Thank you for your patience. Really, you’ve been terrific. Absolument!
Excuse me? Would I mind sharing my table? Uh … no, I guess not. You mean with the giant in the tattoos and black leather who’s headed this way? Boyfriend? And a handsome gentleman he is, but I don’t think—I mean, isn’t there a free, er, more private table—over by the rest—
My grandmother slid her tiny frame under the stall door and cussed the Atlanta airport. “Goddamn quarter to pee. The kid’s five years old, can’t even reach the coin slot yet, for crap’s sake. Bet your ass they don’t pay at the urinals.”
The latch clicked as soon as she was in. We took turns on the toilet and held the door for each other. When she was done she slid the latch and propped open the door for the next woman. We washed up and walked out with heads high.
Painted black walls, painted black mirrors and blacked out windows. Sunlight peeks through the faded paint on the window. Velvet curtains were then brought up. Too heavy to allow sunlight to sneak through. I hate the velvet, there’s something disgusting about it. Velvet is likened to skin, which I can remember too distinctly.
When I stand close to the window, anger raises deep in the pit of my stomach as I hear people outside. They speak so loud and shout curses daily. My mind tells my body to be nervous, scared even when I hear the voices of people I will never meet.
She is very old.
The lines that crease her sunken cheeks stretch parchment-like across the bones of her dry, sun-burnt face.
Her body lurches with each tentative probe of a wooden cane and, holding on to the iron bar of a tattered buggy with her other hand, she moves forward in a lopsided manner.
She smells bad.
The old black sweater and skirt that never leave her body reek from months of unwashed neglect. Her shoes, sandal-like in appearance, slide dangerously under her fragile frame as she hobbles from one sidewalk dustbin to another, hoping to find a discarded treasure to add to her collection.
It all began when she walked into her new workplace and saw a friendly shock of hair amid rows and rows of cubicles. And when the owner of the hair introduced himself to her as Malhar later in the day, she knew she would fall in love with him.
She slipped parts of his personality into all the artworks she did after that. There would be a random observer in a nature scene that she imagined to be him, a boy with his dimples in a rustic hut, his curly hair on an urban lass in a pub, his red Che Guevara t-shirt in a political scene… He was in everything she did, although he could never know that. Even while he admired her works, he never smelt his inspiration on the drying paint. She was elated and disappointed at the same time – she wanted equally to be found out and to keep her secret.
I detest the morning status meetings, but I sat there and listened to Peter drone on about numbers. My mind drifted as I stared at the barely tepid synthetic sludge—the snarky label read coffee.
Who didn’t know that Station 53 was in the red? That corporate management drove short-term profitability at all costs?
“OK, Peter. Just stop. I get it,” I interrupted.
His worried eyes widened. “Yes, Ms. Ott. Sorry—”
“Don’t apologize, Peter. And, call me Mary. Please.”
He looked at the floor. “Yes, ma’— Mary.”
Peter was too nice a kid for this job. He’d never survive.
“Let’s take a walk,” I said.
“Why aren’t there zombie worms?” Breck kicked at the dirt. There was zombie flesh filled full of worms.
“What a thing to say!” Ruth flinched. When they were composting zombies she was very nervous. “Don’t get any on you.” She would continually say aloud. She said it as much to herself as to the lifers helping her.
“And zombie plants for that matter?” Breck turned over the soil and put it on top of the rotting zombie pieces.
“No zombie flies either thank someone.” Ruth suddenly realized it was good only humans were affected by zombie stuff. A zombie raccoon would be double scary. She hated raccoons because of the havoc they caused in the gardens. “Zombie compost is the only positive thing with a zombie.”
A hand popped up from the dirt. Ruth screamed which embarrassed her. She was always afraid but didn’t like showing it.