and she comes back over with a muffin in her hand, the crumbs still sticking to her skin as she sits down and asks me to play Pat-A-Cake. I think of the journey these traces have made, from the Starbucks, to the customer, and finally to my fingers as I smack my hands into hers and muffin motes pass between us, some landing on the floor, some on my pants, some getting carried away by the air-conditioned wind.
"Bake me a cake as fast as you can…" she says, more into the task than I. Her eyes are focused on my elbows. Why did she go and get food if all she wanted to do is take me back to Kindergarten?
"As fast as you can as fast as you can as fast as you—" she breaks off as her phone buzzes. She’s signed up for alerts for our flight, because the spot we’ve nabbed — the one next to the only power outlet in the gate — is too far away from the information desk. She’s receiving text messages every five minutes, telling her the same thing, over and over. The flight is on time. The flight is on time. As fast as you can. The flight is on time.
I use my carry-on as a seat. I’m pretty sure I’m not squashing my laptop, although I should be more concerned about my spine than my electronics. Can the position of the legs affect the spine? One would think, what with them being an extension. Although it’s all an extension, isn’t it? Should I be curling my toes more? Will that stop me getting scoliosis? I should call a chiropractor, or, better yet, someone who knows something about the human body.
She says she doesn’t understand how people can even think such things, and I sort of shuffle sideways and look at the ground, bite my lip, don’t even tell her that I think of those things all the time. I think it part of the human condition, that one’s brain is always churning up these horrible scenarios, glimpses of hell. I don’t tell her that those scary movies she doesn’t watch sometimes play in widescreen inside everybody’s head, that she’s the only one who is spared, that we don’t know why she alone gets to live in peace, but we’re jealous. All of us. Jealous.
And she gives this withering look, and makes this exaggerated hocking-a-loogie-sound and pretends to spit on the movie poster, like that would do anything. It’s kept behind glass. Coming attractions, humanity’s sickness, protected.
I’m refreshing the page, but I won’t get anywhere. My internet has been down for five days, and the most I’m gaining from my brief periods of connectivity are slices of jpegs from the image-heavy blogs I follow. I am tired of seeing the tops of heads.
"Stop it. Be patient," Emma says. She’s sitting on the bed reading a book, one of the kinds that doesn’t even have any pixels. She’s having to use a lamp, like some kind of idiot, to illuminate the pages, the same pages she has to turn. With her hand.
"I need my internet back," I say, "I need to keep current." Anything could be happening out there, I’m thinking, the whole world could be falling apart and I’d be stuck inside with a computer that might as well be useless and a girlfriend with her stupid head stuck in a book.
"Look out the window if you want to know what’s happening." I do, and all I see is rain, and cars passing by. The real world is nice, I’m sure, but it’s nothing compared to what I can get online. All the opinions, and news, and TV shows, and diaries, and pictures, and stories, and lives — so many websites these days are keeping track of my friends and offering me their LIVES. I tell Emma all this and she puts her book down for a second, and comes over to me, kisses me on my forehead.
"You can’t get THAT on the internet," she says. Which is a lie. Why the hell does she think I keep refreshing?
You might bristle at all this, but just imagine if we were to show it how it really was — you fingers breaking under the stress, the gasoline leaking all over you as you pushed the car up, ever up, the stench of vodka and blood in the air, and your brother’s face all broken. All wrong. The audience wants something a little less tragic. You understand. Who would want to go through all that struggle for nothing? You understand.
I’m blogging again, just like I told you I would. So you can stop refreshing the page over and over, like I’m sure you were doing, I said stop now stop.
So much has happened since I stopped blogging (sorry, I’ll try not to bring up those dark times again, but except I will because there’s some stuff I just have to talk about. Like my uncle died. Lol! Lol? No, no lol, we miss him.
(It’s not a funny story, how he died, but you could be forgiven for thinking that it was because, well, he was at the barbeque, and he was wearing that blue shirt with the stripes (the red stripes) that I talked about in another post (I’ll find you a link) and he was biting into a hot dog and he got mustard on his shirt. And my mom (she was manning the grill, dad was over in the lounge chair lounging) said “Oh, no, you’re ruined your shirt Edward (his name was Edward, which always stuck me as very Victorian, and not like him at all, wait, should I be putting this parenthesis in the quotes like this?)” and she said he should probably quit it with the barbeque’d food for a while and he yelled — YELLED — “I don’t think so, Barbara. Nothing could keep me from another hot dog!” and then he bit into the one he was already holding and he choked and he DIED. Isn’t that funny, and also sad, and also funny? He completely died after saying that thing about hot dogs.
(The really terrible thing is that I took that first aid course recently. And so when he was choking my whole family looked at me like DO SOMETHING DO SOMETHING (I blogged about their high expectations of me before, I know, and I’ll try not to do it again) and I just blanked. I couldn’t remember what to do when someone was choking. And my cousin, Grace, she was crying, because everyone was so upset, and so I went over to her. And I held her, and I stroked her blond hair and I told her it was alright and my family kept yelling for me to DO SOMETHING and I wanted to yell back that I was doing something, I was doing all I could, thanks, but I didn’t want to frighten Grace by yelling, and so I just held her, and she stopped crying after a while, after the ambulance came, but I didn’t let go of her, and she struggled at first, but her arms are little and I’m quite the hugger and it wasn’t until it was dark that I let go, and I had to go home, and I was crying.))
The other thing that happened is I went to WalMart and got a bunch of supplies for school. I know that sounds boring, but it means a new header image for the blog! which I know I’ve been promising you guys for a while, but now I think I can really draw something amazing. Maybe a hotdog.)
So anyway, I’m back to blogging. Sorry I was away for so long! I know I should have kept in touch. I should have done something.
There are never enough foggy mornings for Gerald. When he was a boy, his mother used to tell him that waking up to mist was a good thing, because it meant the sun would be out in the afternoon, brighter than ever.
Gerald didn’t know if this was scientific fact, or common knowledge, or just something his mother had noticed, but it seemed true enough. He would walk to school on foggy days wearing shorts, with sunglasses in his pocket. Waiting.
His mother is gone, now. At her funeral, Gerald tried to talk about the fog, tried to relate it to his mother’s struggle with dementia. Something about her memory being gone, but the memory of her blazing bright, like the sun in the afternoon.
The words wouldn’t come. Gerald just stood there at the pine lectern, looking out at his family and crying. He wore shorts.
Every store owner on main street has an explanation for why the town river runs uphill.
Leo, who runs the pizza place, tells visitors that he used to pray to God for something to make his dough taste better, and that the Lord told him to use some water from the stream. And he did, and his pies soon became known as the best in the state. Leo stole too much from the river, though, and the river took revenge, running up and away from his cup. He still has some of that special dough, though, just enough for one more pie. If you have some cash to spare.
Bella, the proprietor of the jewelery shop, maintains that one day, when she was digging for rubies over the hill, she saw a great winged beast with three heads pluck a dolphin from the river. She says that the dolphin fought and thrashed so hard that the momentum to this day still ripples out, carrying the water up, defying gravity. She says she managed to pluck some feathers from the flying hunter, some feathers like the ones in the earrings she’s showing you. Eighteen dollars, plus tax.
There’s a scientist who works at the university. He says that the town sits on top of a caldera, a super-volcano. He says that the water coursing through the river is tainted with lead, and iron ore, and that it is powered uphill by great blasts from underground geysers. He says we should all be terrified, that we should help him secure a grant, so that he can study the river more, and learn its secrets.
The story I believe is the one my mother told me. She said that many years ago, before the town we lived in had even been dreamt of, the stretch of land it now occupies was dry and arid. She said that when settlers finally came, they dug a deep trench all the way from the mountains to the ocean, and that they danced for weeks until clouds gathered and filled the trench in with rainwater. They made this new river the center of their lives, washing their clothes in it, baptising their children in it, spending hot summer days playing in it.
When they died, they would have their ashes scattered in the river, wanting to become one with it. And the river, wanting to keep these people in the town they loved… well, the river refused to meet the ocean anymore. It ran uphill, instead, carrying the dust of its creators to the peak of the mountains that you can see from where you’re standing right now. With a powerful enough telescope, you can even see great black swathes on the snow caps — the gathered remains of my forefathers.
You know, I happen to have a telescope with me. What luck! I’ll even let you use it. For a price.
I wanted glasses so I would look like Peter Parker. There was a point in my teenaged life when I was obsessed with Ultimate Spider-Man, the alternate-universe telling of the super-hero’s life. In the first few issues, a pre-power Parker wears a pair of specs that really complimented his curtained bangs and serious nose. I wanted them.
My eyes were perfect, though, and my attempts to fake it through an optometry appointment (“No, my head hurts all the time, and I can’t see the whiteboard in school…”) proved unsuccessful. I was to remain envious of a comic book character for his eyewear.
It occurs to me that I picked perhaps the lamest possible thing to be jealous of Spider-Man for. I wasn’t hoping that I would be able to shoot webs from my hands, or climb walls. I was hoping that my eyes would be a little bit broken. Like that’s the very first thing you think of when you picture Spidey.
I wear glasses now, because I need them. I do not fight crime.
I have a pet lizard that I refuse to name. I tell people that it’s because I don’t want to ruin the mystique, but really it’s because I can’t figure out what I’d want to be called if I were someone else’s pet lizard. He watches me from his tank, sometimes, and I think he’s judging me for not being able to come up with something to call him. I try to apologize, sometimes, but I don’t speak reptile, and it’s hard to sincerely hand someone a gift basket full of crickets.
Once a year, he sheds all his skin, and the funny thing is that I never have a problem coming up with a name for that. Sometimes something normal, like Steve, or Lucy. Sometimes something silly, like Scalesy McShedshed. Or Crinklebutt. I remove the sloughed skin from his tank, and I mix it in with his food, because it’s a good source of calcium. Also, I’m hoping that maybe if he eats enough of something I’ve been able to christen, he’ll somehow get a name of his own. Without my having to do the naming.
So far it hasn’t worked, and I tell people that I live alone, save for the company of an anonymous lizard. His heat lamps are a strain on my wallet, but I don’t know who to make the invoice out to.
Here is the way the world was while John’s snowball soared through the air. John himself was smiling, delighted at the hours he was spending outside, like a child. His wife was back home with their new baby, and she was angry he was gone, and she understood, and she was tired. John’s face was turning a light brown from all the light reflecting off the snow, and his large, round nose was looking to turn as pink as his son’s skin.
John’s friend, Ray, was at the other end of the street, in the middle of ducking, trying to escape the missile’s path. He was wearing a knitted scarf his mother had made him. It was brown, with green check marks, and he didn’t like it, and hoped it would get ruined in the snow.
John’s arm was still in mid-arc, having released the ball and become stuck for a second. His muscles ached a little, for he was just a few years too old for this sort of play. He felt like he was shirking his responsibility, because he was, and he felt like he wanted to run away to some place where it was like this all the time. Crisp, and cold, and cut off from the people that needed him. John didn’t really want that though, because he would miss television, and his bed, and, he guessed, those people that needed him.
There was a car on the road, red and new and driven by a teenage boy with a fresh license and a careful manner. He had to swerve to avoid John and Ray, and he felt a strangeness to the situation. They seemed like they had switched places, him and the men. It seemed like he should be enjoying himself in the snow, when instead he was behind the wheel, worrying about the control he had to exert. Those men looked so free.
It wasn’t winter.