Life is a series of doors opening and shutting.
A carnival maze.
i hate those salty hugs at dawn:
when all the time is spent.
hope for adventure ends right now,
yet what we’ve said we’ve meant.
when all our clothes reek of love
and mist and sweat and dreams,
that’s all we’ll ever have,
the stuff in between.
See, she felt this tug. This cosmic pull and ebb. It grew, from something sinewy in a sinus is where it began. Then it was a pin unremoved from procedure.
It rendered her almost helpless. A package under her arm and what was she here for again?
That tug, it rendered her almost weightless in that way that you disappear in a room that no one’s watching. Locked or empty, a room that no one cleans.
A pressure, almost. A fissure . She walked this street at a brisk, reasonable pace. No one would notice that chasm. But oh! It was there.
Aggressive and unashamed in its intensity. A pull, a tug. It moved to her heart.
And walking was hard now, without a purpose, it seemed. That tug. And she stumbled quite a lot. She longed to keep her limbs in line. And everyone held a string, like a marionette, or a set-piece. Always all above her and they yelled and they all knew the best routes for everything, and they all had an opinion about that package.
And Hollywood kept on its old lights, missing bulbs, all through the nights now.
20 needles stuck in the places she never thought she had.
That pull, that tug, glued itself in lapels and labels. It dug its heels into ravines of bliss and rancor. It watched from closed closets as her form shifted and shaped, adapted to door-frames, letting strangers in to rest, while her heels clicked on.
But where her rest? Tiny pins still prodded and poked. Where this pin? In perfect embroidery or distant cloth?
She walked by glossy cars; they tried so hard. They tried so hard to show you what they’d seen. And a thousand adventures and talks and tasks and accidents were all at once just one bright, artificial line that crested over windows and glass.
There would never be time for all these willing stories. No times these cars would be a character in a story. No time for those who made these stories.
There would never be enough time to make it to the post office and it was dark anyways and there would never be time for all the details and descriptions and sensations and minutiae.
Shores were never bounds, but invitations. There had to be time for people that felt that though, right?
And she hit the pavement harder and the cars had no lives again, and all the ancient dirt lay miles deep beneath her feet and to see the shore would cost you $20.
But up ahead there was a time where the days wouldn’t end suddenly and that home on her lips was an actuality. And all the attention poured like syrup over everything was more like concrete than love; it could build and it shaped and it lasted.
She walked. It was timeless and lonely. The store windows had no neon, the streets didn’t know how to hold rain. Forever she walked.
Everyone else’s nights rose in an angry clatter to dissipate into ill-fitting dreams; discordant desires that no one noticed had died months ago.
She walked. She had to. Inside she was a hundred tiny fluttering things, battering themselves against her ribs and chest.
A thousand memories, all alive, as the gum-speckled sidewalk fell beneath her.
Something tugged inside: an orchestra had played for her once and it pressed against her throat from within. But this lonely night, she walked alone.
Something waited for her, resplendent and gold, no timber and ash, perhaps nothing out of place.
The Los Angeles skyline tried to glow. It tried to light itself and breathe something of cohesiveness and purpose, somewhere hard above her head. But she?
She kept walking.
Everything she’d been promised dissolved into that hazy ether and the sprawling city around her.
And suddenly she was near the moon.
Near a place where the crowds were gentle, and you could be alone, and the glow came from all around and these little storefronts didn’t mean much after dark. And there suddenly was the moon and peace. After walking and thoughts and strange pains and worry. Suddenly there was the moon.
The package she carried, she remembered. It didn’t mean much now. All crisp paper and some one else’s purpose.
There was some joy in the fact that none of the delivery mattered, but all the tiny, sparkling pieces of trash underfoot did.
How she longed to throw the package into a long-standing gutter and feel somehow, tinily, heroic.
A bomb. It could be a bomb or a terrible manuscript or a stack of ill-timed letters.
She didn’t need those.
Creation sprung from beneath her. Into that cloaked evening where everyone around became sheets of vibrating paper. Shaking sheets of construction paper on which their light yellow marker dreams were written.
She wouldn’t deliver that package. She ran a few steps and then dropped the package afterwards, into some side street gutter, all awkwardly and obvious.
The crowd pressed around her and still she moved. Lighter.
What good is there to staying when you’ve already decided to move on?
The package would never make it to delivery. The people would press on, whirling dervishes and thick, heavy hopes spinning and pressing against one another into weak, thin nights forever.
They’d disappear into carriages and Priuses and clouds of smoke, unmade beds and bedtimes and hangovers and chords they couldn’t play or notice.
The stores around her would open and close without them seeing what they looked like from without, and their window decals and details would be forgotten or destroyed or painted over.
Mondays would come and go, but she would run because she didn’t need those people or that package.
And its recipient would never notice.
Above, jurassic leaves and supreme purpose. Something larger. Something lost.
She ran to the moon.
I stand there for almost a minute and just stare. AIM, Crest, something called Polident…I don’t remember the last time I saw anyone use a toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes? Was that ever truly a thing? I never saw an inorganic source of electricity, as my grandparents had often mentioned. I couldn’t believe people had ever used it to do something as mundane as to clean their teeth.
I slide my tongue around inside my own mouth. I’ve got 19 remaining, and they seem fine. Around me, the aisles of the looted store are virtually empty. Plastic, empty cans, litter and empty shelves surround me. Utensils are all gone, snatched by looters who use everything, even whisks, against anyone and everyone. I can’t remember the last time I could speak out of line even in our tribe of 8. The world as I’d known it had always been desperate. I do recall running into a pair: a father and daughter who were walking along the edge of the broken highway, parched and confused. She held a small plastic spatula and he had a long pair of metal tongs from over 100 years ago. It was an easy takedown.
So many toothpastes. I try to think of a time when these sorts of needs had purpose. Trivial upkeep and tiny vanities. I cannot picture it. The long aisle, nearly untouched after all these years, speaks to how much has changed over the generations after the fallout.
Why did my great grandparents ever care about these small things? I question, running my hand over a filthy stand with a rotten rubber conveyor belt under a sign reading “self-checkout”. Abandoned now, looted and all the scanner’s copper pulled out and stolen. Frozen food? I can’t even imagine how that would have looked or tasted — there hasn’t been electricity for over two decades. What were diapers? Why did people need dog treats? Those seem to last forever.
I run my hand over the empty shelves and let my fingers dance up across the tops of strange nail polish remover bottles and sun-ruined concealer bottles. Was anyone ever that color?
Hundreds of people had flung themselves into this tiny store after the fallout. What they took spoke volumes. I always tried to remind myself of that when I snaked my way up and down through the store. There couldn’t be anything of value, now, left. I heard the stories: produce and fresh food and people taking time to read and learn and diaper their babies. To buy these very concealers that matched their pale skin.
We learn to shoot and loot and run fast. You have to distrust, be bandits, sing the songs of the elders and walk without shoes for days. Learn to identify the rabbits that would make you sick from the ones you could actually eat. There is no need for the old indulgences: those are strange snake oil products that have no bearing on us today — things like hospitals, doctors, dentists, people called acupuncturists, meter maids, cashiers, plumbers: all gentle jobs from the past, which I couldn’t say was real save a few diaries I’ve seen in abandoned houses and a few newspapers in hoarder’s houses.
I look at another section next to what was once the lip balm area. “Floss”. People once had the time to run tiny string through their teeth. A whole section devoted just to that. It’s full. No one took that while they ran.
I pick one of the floss packages up. I turn my back to face the dusty, dark front of the store. I’ve never seen the sun, but my tribe says the dust might finally clear in a few more decades. Maybe. I don’t know what to believe, but what else can I do. There are too many options in the toothpaste aisle, and I can’t imagine a world where there aren’t.
Such a rainy day at IKEA. The rain coats our car in white noise. The escalators purr along ceaselessly under our feet and the carts wait patiently for our hands on their grips. No one else around. Trails of sparks sizzle out behind us, tiny fires from daily friction, matches left burning under the cap of the car to snuff them out. 200 square feet. 987 dollars. What a sweet rug. The rain beats down like a gentle chime. The grey sky rolls on forever over the blue hills outside, an ocean ofAppalachia. Inside it’s just us walking arrow to arrow at a quiet shuffle. Soft musings on bunk beds and didn’t we want them so badly as children. A tease about the bottle cap glasses. That glance, almost feline. The empty store hums beneath our pressed palms. Organic electric when our fingertips touch, an earthy calm. Four-eyes. Yes, we should get that rug. It’s so sweet.
christmas comes early
and i get a gift.
after a week, its shine still glows
in the pocket of my mind.
but like any greedy child,
my desire grows.
and now i want my gift and more,
some cake and eat it, too.
to smile inwardly,
to know all these secret pleasures,
i’m vindicated in the fullest of ways,
and yet still, tediously, not in others.
and all these sweet, personal treats,
i’d drop them in a heartbeat,
perhaps to reverse it all.
no, i won’t. but at least, my fantasies do.
There was something so poignant about it. So final. I cried when I walked away, down a hotel hallway that twisted and turned for miles. I cried at the space in between it all. The stuff that grows like a scarf you never stop knitting. Pooling at the floor near your feet, growing longer and more unmanageable every day.
Work and life and careers and goals get in the way. It’s no longer magical when you’re not just two kids with no scarves yet. You weave in their own thread; it becomes a part of you. But you lose the stitch, and it’s too late; you can’t stop and pick it up. All that living robs the magic. Makes you calmer maybe, and just more sad. Frustrating because this is the sort of living that makes you forget the magic. Ouroboros. What was once standing on the corner, eyes locked, everything unsaid, nothing unfelt, becomes knowing when to leave. Knowing it gets duller. This person doesn’t exist, it’s just a slightly changed, aging version of that person with a list of stuff of their own. Lives aren’t rife with possibility. You’ve flown the coop, you’ve got to keep flying.
He had some of his familiar compendium of ticks, but his eyes seemed different and body slower. His smell was the same, oh god, exactly the same. His lips, too. His teeth shifted slightly, but he moved the same. But this time it wasn’t exactly the same, it was just softened. A pair of old jeans you are just slightly too big for now. But you’re always dreaming of how good you felt in them. If I could just squeeze into them…Can I? I want to.
His touch wasn’t as narcotic. Was it? Yes. Maybe. I think so, but he didn’t care anymore. His kisses were sweet and good, but his distance was apparent and my craving for connection wasn’t there. I could have done better, I’m sure, but I knew how it would end. Those sparks just can’t last. He didn’t want that. I liked it like I liked an old movie that was once a favorite.
A dream, all a dream. It crushes me that we’ve all been flung out from the roundabout on the playground in our own separate trajectories, and we’re not coming back. We’ll never fight and we’ll never date and we will never dance and never vacation and he’ll never show up in LA for me again. He’ll never come visit and I’ll never sleep in my car with him. I want to feel that again, so badly, but I won’t.
I’ll never end up in Brooklyn, so mad I can’t breathe. Won’t show up the next year, so intoxicated by being together that we can’t breathe. We won’t meet at a bar for a drink, expecting nothing and end up kissing and staring and craving and feeling and evaporating into some electric nightmare. It’s not about the untouched, raw people in us now. It’s our jobs and how we pay our bills and choose our lives. We’re no longer kids defined free of care, through testing dreams and desires and all the little things. We are defined now by the path we take in all the big things.
And I cried and left and walked away because for a moment there it was just us, just two scarfless kids wanting one another and feeling one another. Needing one another. A snowy hug, an appreciation for a touch on the thigh. Just who we were once, the secrets we had and the big, wide future ahead of us like an empty plain. Now we’ve built our cities, and paved our streets and I erected my shrine somewhere in there for him. And I’m not sure how his city is; he might not even be building one. He doesn’t open all the way. At least to me. He shut down somewhere along the way. Chose this path. Pretends he likes it. Like we all do. We all pretend.
A few minutes there we lived without that; still a game, still a chase. Still a distance we long so much to bridge. Laughter: we laughed together. More than I remember. Kids. Snow. Braving it because there is something there and always was. Will always be. Whispers in private, spoken with two different languages. Gone when the game is won, a short round of tag.
Unsolved, floating out there somewhere in the stuff between.
I always wondered what Jamie saw in those bad girls. Those girls who laughed loud and didn’t care about curfews.
I mean, it’d been awhile since I knew any of his girls, but I always went back to high school. Those days were lodged in my mind like touchstones. Those high school girls, so reckless with their undone hair and chipped nails. Jamie always had one around.
I looked at my own manicure. Gel. Pink. Flawless. I tried chipping a bit off now, as I stared at my thumbs. Nothing budged. I hadn’t been able to look up yet. Couldn’t imagine under the enamel and wood that Jamie’s soft face was there resting as if sleeping in the coffin in front of me. I’d spoken, our family friends had, a handful of people from his boys’ school shifted listlessly though the funeral home.
What a time to die, I thought. Between high school and college. Not enough real, close friends. Kids you were stuck with in younger years filtering in and out, most opting to post on a soulless Facebook wall. “RIP JAMIE”
At ten years younger than me, Jamie was still a baby. Had been. Had been still a baby. His wide, pale face and long dark lashes framing his large, dark eyes. Warm and always almost devilish. His big mouth, soft and almost bloated. A mop of dark hair. Dead hair.
Or was it? Had’t I read somewhere that hair kept growing a bit after you were dead? I tapped the screen of my phone to look it up. Then I stopped.
My fingers looked thin and fake. They seemed dry and nervous. I glanced up at the white casket. It was closed. A car accident wasn’t the way Jamie was supposed to go. And not the way to go for an open casket.
I almost choked on a cough and stood.
Where was I going? An embarrassed hesitation, and I walked outside.
Outside the day was beautiful. It was one of those New England fall days where the sky is so unreachably high and the blue is so crisp, it’s almost fake. The leaves are loud and only seem to rustle when it’s an important pause in conversation or when you notice them, shifting as softly as dying things can in an unshakable, frigid wind.
The marble steps were wide and I sat myself down, looking at the three best friends Jamie had in the last few months. They drank something from a paper bag and nodded at me. I managed a smile but secretly I hated them.
I hated them for killing Jamie. Hadn’t they? Hadn’t they led to his downfall, his partying, his fast days and sleepless nights? I choked myself inside for not being more present. More sisterly. Wasn’t that an older sibling’s job? Take care of yours. And look what you’d done. Nothing. Jamie was dead. Little Jamie in his baggy baby pants and then his blazer for middle school and asking for homework help and looking at you with those pleading eyes and how could you have let him down?
How? Those times he wanted help with the fridge and that time he had pissed in your bed when you were ten and the babysitter laughed. How could you have followed suit? Those times you could have been better. Those times he looked up to you and you were gone. At summer camp. At debate camp. At model U.N. Then gone. College. Boyfriends. Gone.
My idiot brother. Troublemaker. Class clown. Late night drunk dialer, annoyance, so sorry, my brother. Gone.
I rested my forehead on my thin fingers and wept. I kept seeing those faces, those pretty faces of his bad girls who filtered in and out. That one with the black hair and the dark skin who paused before tip-toeing down the back stairs that long-ago night and gave me a look like, “I’m sorry. Not like this, I’m sorry.” She was beautiful. What had they seen in him? What had he seen in them?
My chest hurt and I tried to calm myself. I could feel a few nervous glances but I didn’t care. I let my back shake and my tears hit the edge of my dress. When I opened my eyes, I saw the dark spots on the hem of my slip and breathed in deep. Mascara dotted and speckled its silk. I felt ruined.
And I wanted to see him, Jamie. I wanted to see Jamie like an almost man. Not a little boy. I wanted to see him like those girls who crept in like smoke. Those girls I was so jealous of, those girls who could be themselves. For better or worse. I looked up and the three friends were still there. They were looking away. All were but then, not one. He looked at me, that tall blonde kid with the lanky frame. He didn’t look away. He just turned, and his hand was at once level to mine, closing in a few strides away.
Then it was upon mine. His hand held out a cigarette.
I finally looked up at him. A curtain of fringe fell in front of his grey eyes and blended with my tears and I snatched it. I took that cigarette and I shook.
I wanted to see what they all saw. I wanted to be like Jamie. I held it like I’d seen in the movies. My lips were dry and parted themselves and my hair caught in that fucking cold autumn breeze.
“Do you have a light?”
Like a large ship groaning under a sinking side, I eerily and slowly made my swan song with creaks and deep wails. Otherworldly, I compressed my metals and crushed my parts under the weight of it all.
Who had even constructed the behemoth of me? What bolts and scraps went into my hulls and engine. The smaller pieces popped and melted, no contest for the outer seawater, the foreign world I was so meant to float on.
But some crack, some leak, some outer force slowly dragged me under. Weighted my compartments with freezing ocean, both buoyed and sank me.
And I bent and took it all on, until the air was naught but pressure. And all my pretty lights flickered under the night water and within minutes, went out.