The landlord is in the kitchen trying to fix the electricity. The light fixture is on the floor, where the ceiling plaster is starting to pile up as well. Colored wires stick out like spiny plants from the hole in the ceiling where the landlord’s hand is stuck, and now there is more plaster on the kitchen table, especially in the banana bowl. The landlord is yelling swears. The kitchen is dark, and the sun is almost down. There will not be time to cook the dinner.
Sometimes Adam comes downstairs to do his homework with me. On these occasions, I let him have the good porch chair in honor of his company. I make us both tea, and we sit together pleasantly. Sometimes though, Adam gets irritable with word choices, and I feel my back starting to cramp up from the wrought iron chair. I stay cheerful though, and use different colored highlighters to engage my mind. This will be nice for a while. But then, if Dave comes home, he’ll want to join us. So he’ll make himself tea out of the raw ginger root he’s always buying (which clogs the kitchen sink and brings more fruit flies to the dishes pile). Also, he’ll have to drag another chair out, which makes me nervous because I know the landlord doesn’t like his floors getting scratched. But it will happen, and although it makes me nervous, usually I’ll be back in full to my reading and on track with the rest of my things (mental things) within a few minutes. But then, if the time of day is right (after five o’clock), James will get home from his job at the library and see us three together, and he won’t take out the trash because he’ll want to join the fun. So even though it’s his turn (last time it was my turn), the trash won’t leave the house, and the fruit flies hatch more eggs. And then since James is on the porch and I like joking with him, I won’t get my reading done. And by this point Dave will have irritated me enough to cause a great pot of anxiety to boil up in my head. I will look to Adam to roll my eyes at Dave, but Adam will be asleep by now, so comfortable in the big cozy chair, and James will be playing guitar, and I will be getting hungry, and it will be too dark to read on the porch anyway. So I’ll want to go inside. But then I’ll remember we still don’t have a light in the kitchen.
DOTTIE AND LUIS.
Dottie and Luis live in the apartment through the wall. Luis just had a stroke and a heart attack, and Dottie chain smokes on the porch wearing greasy purple sweatpants while yelling into a cordless phone. Dottie?s granddaughter, Francisca, claws at the screen door when I leave for class in the morning. ?HI! HI! HI!? She pleads through pudgy cheeks. I hurry down the skeletal stairs to my car with its ridiculous number of seat adjustment buttons. When I come home later and Dottie?s still standing in the same place, leaning over the railing and feeding sparrows cheese doodles, she asks me how was school. ?Oh, just dreadful,? I say. I had three classes in a row! She says, ?Yeah.? So I ask her how was her day. Her sunken face looks like a pumpkin. ?Francisca?s mother?s gettin? outta rehab tomorrow, but her father just got thrown outta the army for havin? relations with some foreigner. And the section eights movin? in downstairs.? She heaves a sigh, puffing out a giant plume of thick white smoke from her drooping Marlboro Red. ?Yep. You wanna buy some wrapping paper or somethin?? Francisca?s gotta sell it for the school.? She hands me a catalogue filled with pictures of cartoon Santas, fancy nuts, and a cat sleeping by a cheery fire on a manufactured cat bed with the name ?Mittens? embroidered on the side. Dottie says, ?They got some nice stuff this year.? I fidget with the key to my own apartment, the door of which is just feet from where I stand. ?Definitely, ? I say, snatching it up. ?I would absolutely love to buy some wrapping paper.? I take the catalogue inside. I mean, it?s only fourteen dollars.
THE PRINTING PRESS.
In the library, everyone is a scholar. Everyone is thinking and churning, padding along through vicariously sensual books. Dust clouds like energy hover above fingers typing, typing, typing. Everyone is having original thoughts. All the books watch from the shelves. All the librarians are eager to assist. Everyone is printing their papers out in Times New Roman size 12. Everything is not the same.
Kombucha is a handmade Chinese tea that is delicately cultured for 30-days. I buy it for $3.60 per 480 mL bottle at Stimpson?s House of Nutrition off of Raymond Avenue. It is fizzy and smells like stale beer, vinegar, and mushrooms. Once a bottle of it exploded in my bag and for weeks when fumbling for a pen or a stick of gum, WHOOMP out would pour the smell of rancid crotch. But regardless of its repellent odor, Kombucha is a delight. It can cure me of whatever ails me. If my bathroom floor is covered with murky brown water and Dave says he clogged the toilet, Kombucha brings me solace. If my father sends me $300 in the mail and asks me to visit, Kombucha is my excuse not to (let?s pretend). If I wake up in the night with vomit pains in my stomach, Kombucha is the only one patient enough to sit up with me. Once, when somebody stole my Gingerade? Kombucha from the refrigerator, I had a panic attack and nearly fainted. Kombucha keeps me alive. I?m so distressed right now, just thinking about how much I need it. If my boyfriend tries to taste it, I?ll slit his throat.
?You can?t do this now, I?m on speakerphone.? The boy was authoritative and argumentative. ?Okay, sorry.? The girl felt bad and her words hung in the air. ?When can we meet tomorrow.? The boy didn?t have much free time. He said, ?Oh, I don?t know. I?ll call you.? Then he hung up. The next day, the girl wore a dress. She ate Raisin Bran for breakfast. The boy got up early and ran three miles in the park. He double-knotted his shoelaces. At 3 o?clock, he called the girl. They agreed to meet under a tree, where the girl sat alone reading Foucault.
Soon enough, the boy approached, and he stood hovering, casting a long shadow over the girl. ?You know, you?ve always been a bit sadistic,? said the boy. ?Well, you?re boring, and your stories have the names of too many people in them,? said the girl. She dog-eared her book and stood, only an inch or two below eye-level with the boy. ?And not to mention, you?re a selfish lover.? The girl hadn?t wanted to fight about it. She always believed that anger only led to anxiety ? and car accidents. The boy looked at her face. ?Fine. You?ve got too many freckles anyway.? He turned, and walked back towards the way he had come. It was alright. He still had the incriminating pictures.
BATS AS PETS / DOUBLE NEGATIVE.
People sometimes desire having a bat as a pet. Yes, bats are beautiful and something we all love, but the act of keeping one as a pet will cause it to experience great terror. Instead, why not settle for a dove as your new companion? So white, so pure, and never too afraid not to stay silent for hours.
Halloween is the best holiday because it so highly validates diversity. On Halloween, everybody can be friends ? monsters, dead celebrities, inanimate objects and mythic creatures, all standing together and slurping down beers. Why yes, I do have blood dripping down my neck from this giant gaping knife wound on my face! Isn?t it nice how hurt I am? And oh, is this your tail? I found it lying on the ground near the toilet! Yes! You?re welcome!. Nobody is alarmed. Nobody is afraid of death or the unknown. Everybody eats candy. Everybody bobs for apples. Kids are allowed to see the neighbors. Kids are allowed to roam the streets, to play with knives and guns, and to make rude demands. And, if you go to bed early and don?t welcome strangers, your house will be brutalized by eggs. If only we could always be this honest.
A lucky time of night (and exactly two hours and twenty two minutes after the witching hour, at that)!
My boss at the florist shop is a woman of the progressive era. Her name is Mrs. Kris Engstrom, although her ex-husband has long since moved to California. Sometimes she goes on Shamanistic retreats, so I have to work double as hard on these special Saturdays and Sundays. Two weekends ago while she was gone on one, she did something spectacular, and she told me about it in the white moving van on the way to Westfield last Thursday with the peony arrangements in the back. She said, ?We had to save a man, because he had an evil demon spirit in his body!? This brought an image of J.K. Rowling?s Lord Voldemort sadly to my mind. I said, ?What did it look like?? She said, ?It was a tumor, beneath his ribcage!? I thought of a devil in the shape of a grapefruit, sticking out from a fat man?s swollen stomach. I said, ?How did you get it out?? She said, ?We all rubbed our bodies down with a paste made from the blood, liver, heart, and brain of an eagle!? This puzzled me ? aren?t eagles an endangered species? I said, ?How did it come out, then?? She said, ?The shaman pulled it out, and we chanted!? I said, ?Did it leave a bloody hole?? She said, ?No, it left a beautiful hole!? What the hell is a beautiful hole, and how could it get out without breaking the skin? I said, ?What did the thing look like?? She said, ?It was black and slimy with tentacles, the size of a baby?s head, with teeth and claws!? I thought, this bitch is nuts. Then I said, ?So what happened to it?? She said, ?It withered up in the light, and we threw it in the ocean!? I said, ?Huh.? Then I looked out the window and worried about my dad.
She went to the store and bought flowers for her mother. They were red ones, and big. She brought them to the place she used to live and where her parents still lived (though her father was in the hospital and had been for months) ? the yellow raised ranch on Oak Hill Road. Her mother sat inside everyday now, in her chair in the living room, because her legs would crush beneath her own weight if she stood (Osteoporosis, not obesity). Jean said, ?Here mum, I?ll put these in the blue vase you like, and set them here on the kitchen table.? Jean filled the vase about three quarters of the way up (?is the vase three quarters full, or one quarter empty?? she thought to herself). She added the flowers, and heaved the whole 10-lb project from the sink to the table. But when she let go, it was too top heavy, and the whole thing tipped over. Right onto mom?s compartmentalized medicine box. Sticky water running right over the family silver, the placemats from her sister?s trip to Africa, the monthly hospital bills, the new NewsWeek from her mother?s new subscription. Jean watched the whole mess unfold, cascading now from the table to the floor, from the floor to under the refrigerator, and then probably into the electrical wiring for the entire house, the entire block, and the entire city. She gasped, her heart sank. ?You know, you?ve always been a bit of a failure.? Her mother chuckled from her seat in the living room.
The lady in the room had not been with a man in over thirteen years. Her blue collar husband had been killed a while back when a freak bolt of lightning struck his car and he?d crashed off the freeway right into a giant hole. She went to his funeral, but didn?t speak ? she hadn?t had anything to say. Now, although wealthy from insurance claims, the lady led a highly rigid life contained within the high walls of her Victorian home. She cleaned regularly and fastidiously, keeping various kitchen cloths dedicated to specific areas ? the stove, the table, the sink, the floor. She had three cats (Edmund, Randy, and Eleanor), but kept them shaven for fear of fur building up on her white carpeting.
One day, as the lady stood in her living room admiring the pillows, the phone began to ring. ?Hello?? She answered quietly, inquisitively, not to be overbearing on whomever could have decided she was worth the pushing of seven buttons and the raising of a receiver to an ear.
?I have a proposition for you, Lisa Allen.? The raspy voice of an older man creaked its way into her ear.
?Hello? Who might this be?? The lady thought of all of the men she knew over the age of fifty. When she could think of none, she thought of all the women she knew over the age of forty who sounded like men, or who were heavy smokers. Her stomach knotted.
?Of no matter. It?s the proposition, Lisa, not the man.? His voice sounded familiar, like a dream re-emerging from that inner place where so many things get lost. ?But here?s the catch. Before I tell you what I have to propose, you have to accept.?
The lady stood in the center of her oriental carpet, clutching the phone to the side of her head in a terrible desperate manner. For suddenly, she knew who she was speaking to.
The voice started again. ?That is all, Lisa. Think it over. You have one hour to call me back.? The click of his end of the line shutting off resonated through the whole cavity of her inner ear. She sat down on the ground. The VCR said it was 3:35. She paused, counted to three, touched the telephone cord six times, blinked nine times, and held it all in. In one hour, it would be 4:35. She closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, the clock read 3:36. She wished she could think of something to do. But her name wasn?t Lisa anymore. Now, she was just the Lady. And the Lady had no time for this nonsense. She had no time to sit in the middle of her rug with a phone in her lap brooding over a past life, a lost love, and her inner needs and desires. So, instead, she decided to re-mop the bathroom floor.