I was inspired by an article I read about a local artist who would take cigarette butts and arrange them into glorious, intricate paintings. I would rake the muck in the street and pick out all the garbage: a medical marijuana pouch, a Pringles top, one time a condom, unopened. These items went into a plastic tub from Wal-Mart, clear as a cataract. I kept the dangerous finds, too- the needles and the condoms that had been filled. But I just left it all in a tub. If I filled one, I got another. Until towers of acquired garbage filled the spare room. The room that was meant for the baby. I’d open the door and the scent of new plastic would wash over me. It smelled deeply familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Then one day, I remembered: cabbage patch dolls. The tops of their heads. That chemical joy. Their forever smiles.
Four Dollars In Quarters
Sunday begins. My boyfriend tells me I need to write to let it all out, to feel normal. I tell him what I need is a job, a stand-up boyfriend, some groceries, and maybe a baby. We are not trying, not preventing: NTNP.
I do not drive to Indian Hills Laundromat because I only have four dollars in quarters. Everyone knows you can’t launder with that kind of money. Instead, I drive around town, pumping the heat, blasting Bob (We play everything!), just hoping for a heartbreaker.
This you should know: I have nothing. I have no hair, no dog, no true love, no house, no job, and no money. No joke! I’m, like, the perfect Buddhist.
I steal a jacket at Forever21 the color and texture of whale nipple. I only ask white businessmen for directions, because they are so good at explaining. When the fish jump in the river, so does my heart.
I drive around Wichita looking for my boyfriend. He could be anywhere: bar, strip club, Kinko’s, who-the-fuck-knows. I pass homeless figures transitioning into luggage.
I wish I had those two cigarettes my friend from Kansas City dropped from his pocket: white, slim, brandless. I want to tune out, become a chimney. I want to conduct, be a conduit, disappear.
He said he’d be home by now. Sometimes, if I get into bed in the middle of the day, I can lose myself in nightmares. The cool thing about nightmares, they end.
One day, you need pie.
You can’t explain it,
Your new sweet tooth.
But in your heart of hearts
It has to do with
Your 40th birthday,
Silver sprouting in the nest.
Your best friend brings you
Her baby to hold.
You put your nose to her neck,
Yes, familiar as your dreams
It doesn’t do to imagine him
Holding your hand
In the birthing room
At St. Vincent’s,
Or his olive cheek
Against what would be
Porcelain, blue eyes cracked open.
For now, you need pie.
Maybe you’ll make it yourself!
Joy of Cooking, scoop all those pits.
But all of the cherries have collapsed
To dried blood on the stems.
And your hands, red as a killer’s.
Superbowl Sunday and I finally feel pretty. My bangs have transitioned. I take my dog on a walk to look for flowers for the table. There is one bush of candy-striped rose-shaped blossoms, but it sits on the corner of the yard of a self-proclaimed Bachelor’s Palace. Out front is someone’s son shooting a basketball. A few men sit or lean on the porch, looking skinny and beautiful, their bangs in their eyes.
My dog shoots me a look. I’ve been standing here too long. I’ve been standing here, growing skin, growing hair, growing layers of myself like a redwood that’s been in the forest for decades, standing alone.
Back at the house, half-time is starting. A woman with an anime-inspired ponytail dances with projections of light. Men in dolphin suits flank her. Her skin is made of glitter. My husband sits in front of our large window, his face in his own shadow. I think he is smiling.
It’s a thick fog morning and only the dockworkers are coming in so far, this early in the day. Still, it’s enough to keep busy and I’m working through my cups, reading Adrienne’s thick Sharpie scrawl, juggling the syrups in one hand, the shots in the other. Sometimes she writes little jokes on the cup, inside stuff, that our customers wouldn’t pick up on. She draws a football for the nonfat latte (NFL) and a few minutes later writes “CAPP,” the quotes being a mockery of somebody’s 20 ounce cappucinno (a drink that doesn’t exist, but, “Okay. Here’s your c..a..p..p..u…c..i…n..n…o!”).
I’m starting to recognize the old men by their moles, the shape of their glasses, or the thing they say. There’s always a thing they say. One guy, he usually exclaims at the prices. “$2.75?? For a cup of coffee?!” He will ask, shaking his head, all the same digging out the change and putting it, coin by coin, in Adrienne’s hand.
Another guy comes in, saying we should shoot our wishes up into space, for the new year. He has gold lame paper, “Biodegradable,” he says, but I know paper, and there’s no way that shit will fall apart in space.
“Where have you been walking lately?” Marty asks. “Oh, you know, around Columbia Park,” I say, “Peninsula Park, the Bluffs.” I don’t tell him I don’t walk anymore; that walking makes me more anxious, because who would believe that? Meditating makes me panic, CDs of soft relaxing sounds of rain that people give me to fall asleep only keep me up, listening. Listening for the loop I know is there, trying to find that seam where the producer tied the whole thing together. I have tried silence I have tried to listen to my own blood in my head, but it has a pitch, too, and I wonder if silence even exists at all?
Sometimes there are so many bodies in here that the air gets that stale quality you find on an airplane. The art on the walls is warping. I start to feel that there’s been a mistake. How did I end up here? The mothers seem like children and the children like small people pretending to be dumb and noisy.
“How’s school?” Bob asks, “How’s your writing?” I have begun to collect writing instruments: typewriters, paperclips, pencils and note cards. I walk into the office and stare at my typewriter, and it stares back. At night, in my head, it sits in a far corner of my brain making a sound like a shadow. “It’s fine,” I say, “it’s good.”
There is a customer who is silent. He can be, because we know his order. We say hello and he shrugs back. We call out his drink an he shrugs, comes to get it. Only when he is opening the door to leave does he say the thing he says, “See you in the future.” One day Adrienne says it back, her cheeks flushed with anticipation. “See you in the futureeeeee!” She calls out, so everyone can hear. He never says it again.
“Come to my show,” Randy says, “Come see my band play.” He wears shorts in the winter, he is not yet old; I think he lives above this coffee shop. He likes his shots to sit on the top of cold milk, so I dod it. I imagine the crush of bodes, the sour smell of polyester blouses, always the cold pine of the benches out back the bar, the stars punched like holes in the sky, the hum of something close by, or maybe far but getting closer, like a siren or a lost cat or just your same old ordinary blood, rushing around in your skull.
It’s like if I caught my heart and held it captive. In the suburbs or in the country. We read books and we read more books. We take the words and devolve them into sounds: a vowel, a guttural hmmm, a sinking-into-night.
Becoming plaid. I cross stitch and you “make pizza,” adding tiny green olives to the Tostinos crust, the same one we greet as cardboard at the door, crossing into the threshold of salt.
The day has birthed us into the middle aged people we will soon become. The tired way we now take escalators, as if guarding against the silence of the day we can’t. Won’t.
This evening Bonnie Raitt makes us both cry. We see some hills light up golden behind a double rainbow. ‘I can’t not take a picture of this” you say. You take a black and white of the rainbow, alone behind a wall. It’s the Noir filter. ‘It looks more interesting this way,’ you say. I feel my cells splitting, refracting against themselves. We enter a bookstore that contains books about cooking. I get lost in the minutiae of dolphin wind bells, coin purses of women with parasols , and a book of puppies, swimming.
When we leave the store I am an accidental thief. The rainbow has stepped back into the sky. It’s like- I was looking for something no one has ever found.
It might be enough. To get lost later in the scent of your beard, the rhythm of your hands in an order of touch I crave. Sex is like a symphony, I sometimes say. Like a photograph of the stars. But really it is a falling. There is no other word.
Pinch the corners. Cut the tubes. Blunt cut. Angle cut. Micrometer the ends. Squint. Say. Record. Run the glue gun. Run the saw. Sweep your hand over the glass. Pinch the corners. Blow don’t huff. Move the fan. Prime the edges. Tape the ends. Open a box. Let it de-gas. Tape the blow-out straps. Move. Circle the window. Listen to classical music. See your boss. He’s talking about you. Wipe the window. Stack it. Fall into the notes of a song. You can hear all the way across the warehouse. Your boss, he’s talking about you? Finish the stack. See the girls. The pretty girls laughing. You can’t see the window for all the notes of the song. Go outside, smoke a short cigarette. Find your phone. Do not. Lock yourself out. Call your boyfriend. He’s doing a floor. He does floors. Sawdust van, cigarette butts in a cup. He keeps fireworks in the jockey box. ‘Come get me. Come get me.’ He’s doing a floor. ‘I’m doing a floor, babe. Take the bus.’ Go back in. ‘Sean, I’ve got to the take the bus home. I’m having a panic attack or something. I don’t know.’ Cigarettes. Winter breathing. A ditch filled with trash. Bus goes by, shit. 15 minutes ’til another, shit. ‘Let’s talk.’ We are talking. ‘Have a beer,’ Sean says, he can see inside me. ‘Go across the street and have a beer. Do what you need to do.’ ‘No.’ I need to get to bed. Across the street I stride rubbery, giant Christmas trees dancing. The boys on the bus are talking about me. Where am I going? My lets know so it’s OK. His bed. His horrible walls slashed with mistakes. What rubs like that? Posters of dead friends. Live fast, die hard?
Later he comes in, touches my face. I wake up. ‘How you doin’, babe? Feelin’ better, babe? Listen, babe, did you use that real little pan this morning? Did you fry your eggs in that real tiny little frying pan?’ Nodding. His face breaks open into a glorious smile, ‘You are so high! Man, you got really high on that stuff! I made butter in that pan, pot butter, for the past two days. Lemme see your eyes.’ I show him my eyes. He laughs. ‘Man! I wish I was that high.’ So it turns out I am not crazy. I am not crazy after all, in his horrible bed where I follow myself in dreams, still high, high anywhere I go.