By, Ashley Ellen
I’ve always thought I would eventually get hit by a bus. While thinking about that, I’ve almost gotten hit by a bus at least three times. I know how it will happen. I can see the scene well. I’m walking, book in hand, intently reading, laughing aloud, cajoling with the author. I step off the curb, smiling in this esoteric moment we’re sharing, the author and me. I turn to my left. I see the bus. I see the bus smash into me. The bus slams its brakes. I’m flying through the air. My book is flying. My purse—flying. The contents of my purse—flying. We’ve always wanted to fly, to be noticed, to have purpose, and we do, we all do, we’re all fated. And a hummingbird is flying next to me. It had just departed from a nearby delphinium at the exact moment I was hit by the bus. I watch its wings beat, real slow. For reference: a humming birds wings flap nearly 50 times per second. Incredible. And in those last three seconds before the end, I have a profound realization that this it. I’m about to die. I have one second to live. I have 50 flaps to contemplate what’s beyond inertia, to come to terms with inexistence, with the entirety of everything and nothing, the absolute, the whole bit. I smile. I feel the wind. I smell laundry. I smell exhaust. I smell coffee. I give the bus driver a look that everything will be all right. I don’t even blink. I don’t have time. My eyes are wider than they’ve ever been. I notice the concave sky, blue, the clouds, bursting, the pages of my book, flipping, the straps of my purse, flapping. The hummingbird is next to me. It winks. I take my last breath. It explodes from my chest as my body collides with the pavement, shattering my skull instantly. Fin. The book is next—flying towards an unsuspecting pedestrian. He grasps it midair. The book is a sign. He devours it. This book changes his life. He quits his job. He sells his furniture for modest prices. He moves to Chicago with the only things that matter to him: his sketchbook, his paints, his Canon, his bike, and his bank account. He opens an art studio in the projects. He inspires broken youth. He saves lives. The contents of my purse are the last to make impact. They spray on the sidewalk, attracting the attention of a gang of homeless people. The homeless people collect everything, finding comfort in the multitude of commodities: an umbrella, mittens, a bus pass, multiple sweaters in differing thicknesses and colors, a stick of deodorant, face wash, a journal, a laptop, two books: Things Fall Apart and The Norton Anthology of American Literature, a bottle opener, matches, a miniature Swiss army knife, a half-full flask of whisky, a drivers license and passport, a cell phone, its charger, chocolate covered change, two pairs of sunglasses, a pair of socks, flats, breakfast and dinner. The homeless people will live because of these items; these items were meant for them. Before the driver or anyone of authority is able to reach me, the homeless people lift me and carry my body away, parading it through the streets. Pedestrians think the homeless people are taking me to the hospital. They don’t think. They judge. They stare. They point. They take pictures. They look away. They are horrified. They do nothing. The homeless people carry me beneath the bridge to where they sleep. They de-clothe me, distributing my apparel appropriately. Then they burn me for warmth. They regale and carouse, they are sated by my flesh. It feeds them for days. They survive simply because of the mere possessions I had carried with me. They learn. They start over. They finish my life. And in the end, it’s more uplifting then it is sad.
But that’s what happens when you live in the present. You get hit by buses. It’s not like I’m waiting for it to happen or anything. I’m just fully aware that it probably will. The chances are high.
The chances are also high that we’re going to get hit by a great recession. Riddled by one. The weird thing is, I’m excited about it. Great tragedy makes life seem more real. And it does. It really does.
And even though most of society is struggling, college students continue on, aided by student loans or well-off parents. Look at all those students, buying their four-dollar coffee. I guess I do it too, but I try my hardest to buy it from non-corporate coffee shops, unless, of course, I’m getting a vanilla latte at Starbucks with my professor who is very concerned with my inability to absorb the precious rules of grammar.
I was actually at my non-corporate coffee shop just two days ago. Well it’s not my coffee shop exactly, but I’m a loyal customer. Well I’ve been there more than a few times. But I will be a loyal patron, I’ve decided. It’s only a very short jaunt from my place. It’s on 36th and Bryant, which is two streets south and seven streets west of my house. I’m amazed I didn’t discover it sooner.
Oddly, that day, one of my neighbors walked by, passing the window I’ve claimed as mine. He had on a yellow sweatshirt. He doesn’t look good in yellow; he’d look better in red. For some reason he was lugging a gas can with him. He’s so strange. What was he doing at my coffee shop? He was at least six blocks from his house next to the bus stop and I’ve taken notice that he rarely leaves, it’s as if he’s guarding something. In fact, most days I see him sitting in a chair on his front porch, smoking, hacking away, rattling around rusty equipment, kicking things, you know, real weird. Neighbors.
In front of me there’s a 2009 wall calendar of Bunny Suicides. There’s a 2009 wall calendar of Stuff on my cat. There’s a 2009 wall calendar about planet Earth, entitled, Our Dumb World. There’s The Crack Calendar of 2009 and another, called, The Wheel of Time. This store sells the future to walls, three months before it happens. Maybe they’re just preparing ahead for the rush. What I really want to know is – why the hell Calendars start in January. The dead of Winter. Is that really the beginning of the year? It’s so inconvenient when trying to purchase a calendar in September.
So here I am, in my bookstore, a typical Monday. There is no other place to sit down in this damn cube and I have some very time-sensitive things to get done. Outside the store, it is seriously spewing with people. It is genuinely disgusting. But now, I am tucked in my secret happy place, like a storefront display of studiousness, surrounded by all the knowledge in the world. That’s actually kind of scary. Well it isn’t exactly imposing itself on me or anything. It’s similar to nature—there for a succinct purpose—for when I chose to notice. Beauty, science, love, destruction, it would exist, and continue growing and evolving with or without me. Oh, it’s all that fantastical.
Last night I had to shift my focus from an extremely important paper that is due tomorrow and alternatively prepare a page on my understanding of passive voice, as well as a paragraph on the proper use of effect and affect. My professor thought this would be a good exercise for me and hoped it would improve my grammar for the next paper. I’m reviewing my finished products, which I’m very much pleased with, before I rush to the printing services to affix them to the page.
A Passive Approach to Passive Voice
By, Kathryn Gaul
Well, Sir, I must have been sick the week we learned passive voice in seventh-or-whatever-grade-it-was, because I have found that my writing is ill with it. I’ve also found that there is quite a damn ridiculous amount of complex uses of the thing. Though Diana Hacker is our heroine, even she could not help me. What then did I do but turn to Wikipedia, which further defined a multitude of complex uses, such as: canonical, object promoting, content clause promoting, stative, adjectival, double passive, past participle alone, reflexive, and not to mention the gerunds and the nominalization passives. This made my head hurt something awful. So I went to the praised Strunk & White. And blast! Nothing has confused me more. My next stop, Spunk & Bite, but this modern take on the previous book on style did not even mention the passive. So I scoured the internet and alas! The writing center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s online guide to passive voice sprayed a little Pledge on the mat of dust. After reading their guidelines, I decided that the passive voice was just too complex for me to understand in one sitting. And though I want to learn these rules for you, I will also say this: even if I successfully come to an understanding of the proper rules of voice, I will not give up my own. This remains to be the structure of my thoughts. And on my journey into creative writing, may it be fruitful or not, I stand by my belief that the most telling voice is a character who expresses ones thoughts truly. And, I expect and accept the fact that I, myself, my writing, and every character that I give life to—will have problems—grammatically, mentally, and I suppose physically. And though they will not always be beautiful, and not always graceful—it makes them, and myself, more human. And to me—that’s much more honest and much, much closer to the truth. But don’t worry, I am not refusing to learn the rules of passive voice, I’ve merely decided to passively address the fact that I cannot grasp it, and in turn use this one page you have assigned me as a premise for us to analyze and explain which of these sentences is passive, what type of passive, and why? So maybe, for you to help me, you could note, here, the rules that I’m breaking. And I can re-write them, all proper and stripped of life. And it will be a happy, happy, world. Because then, people will be able to understand me. Maybe. Or in the least, grammatically.
However, do not be disappointed, what follows is my paragraph on the difference between effect and affect, which, I believe, I have actually grasped.
For hope, flip page. For relief of anger, tear to shards. For vengeance, burn. For the ironic passive aggressive approach, put in drawer, or bury in yard. For spite, mail to parents. Mine, not yours. Unless, maybe your parents need some spiting.
My cat just vomited on my bed. I think she’s on your side. You know what, just turn the page, and this will all be over.
Explaining the difference between effect vs. affect:
The effects of sleep loss affect her mood. The effect of the medicine will affect her alertness. If she doesn’t get any sleep, her grades will see the effect. A good tool to remember the difference is that, something causes an effect, whereas an effect can have a emotional affect, such as affection. The professor’s will for the girl to understand passive voice affected her writing substantially. The girl will put the knowledge into affect immediately.
It took eight hours for her to learn two remedial rules of grammar. But her effort pleased the professor. Though, she actually seemed quite unsure if she grasped the previous concept at all. We will likely find out soon enough.
Perfect. I think he’ll be very pleased and pleasantly amused. I’m growing. I’m taking that leap to finally learn grammar. My parents would be proud. My other professors will notice the improvement in my work. Future job opportunities seem brighter. I think I see the clouds parting. The rain appears to be subsiding.
“Is anyone sitting here?”
“No.” She sat down. I guess the attractive, intellectual male that I caught a glance of earlier had left, though we sat for about an hour together in my book store without speaking, or even acknowledging each others presence, but we noticed, we knew, we were falling in love out of the comfort of our periphery, we will meet again, I’m sure of it.
The girl that sat down is Asian. I’ve seen her before. I recognize her red purse from somewhere, it’s unusual, somewhat boxy, with wooden clasps and intricately crafted handles; maybe it was once her grandmother’s. It looks antique. I like antiques.
I’m opening an energy drink. There’s a sign in front of me that says, “EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY.” In a book store—is that really necessary? The Asian girl has four-dollar coffee from the Starbucks across from me. She turned to look when I cracked the can open. Not judging, she doesn’t seem like the judging type. Just surprised. It’s a very quiet book store. And you know how people feel about liquids and books.
Shit. It’s 1:07. I have three minutes to print this and only five minutes to traverse a seven minute distance, I’ll have to speed-walk. God I’m sure I look awkward when I do that, or unprepared, shameful. But this happens often. You’d think I’d learn. Even though I keep track of the average amount of time it takes to get between anywhere and everywhere, I always seem to be late. Sometimes it’s due to an impassable slow-walker, sometimes you get on the wrong bus and have to take two more to get back to take the right one, sometimes you run into someone from class that has to small talk about the next assignment. Well I don’t give a shit. I can’t help you. I don’t have time. Can’t you see I’m speed-walking? You’re taking away valuable seconds of my life right now. How inconsiderate of you. Today I was just inattentive. I was distracted.
Today I got to my appointment exactly five minutes and twenty two seconds too late. There’s already another girl talking with my professor. But he sees in the doorway. He’s motioning for her to sit down. He’s walking towards me. Oh good. He’s smiling.
“I was worried you’d be late.”
“I know. Sorry. I have so much going on right now.”
“It’s fine. You’re here.”
I handed him the paper. “Can you look it over now or should I come back later?” I look over at the girl who now appears to be talking something out with herself, in her head.
“No, I’ll look at it now.”
I’m waiting in a cold desk as he’s reading it. He’s sitting on the table in front of me. He has the paper in one hand and a pen in the other. He’s biting the pen. He’s lowering the paper. He’s about to speak. But he’s just staring at me. He exhales. He looks concerned. He lifts the paper again to his face, blocking my view of his eyes. He sniffs. He’s almost reading the words aloud. I hear him chuckling. He lowers the paper. Catches my eyes. Shakes his head and flips the page. He’s reading quicker. He must be liking this part. He clears his throat and sits down beside me.
“Now, you still aren’t quite understanding the concept of this. See, here…” he points with his pen, “where you say you will put the knowledge into affect?”
“You would use effect in this case because you need a verb, you are doing something, employing the knowledge, putting it to use. Putting something into effect. The law was put into effect yesterday. Verb. Do you understand?”
“Oh. Okay. Yea, that makes sense.”
“As for the first page.” He paused. He didn’t seem to find it as amusing as I did. “I think we really need to sit down and go over the concepts carefully. But I don’t have time to review this with you now. I was hoping you’d understand by studying it on your own. I have to admit, I’m a little worried about your paper.” He had trusted that Diana Hacker would be able to spell out the passive voice to me like a Mozart concerto. But he was wrong. Or I was stubborn. Maybe both. Probably both.
“Yes, I’m worried. You are aware that your grade goes down for every instance of passive voice, yes?”
“I know. I’m worried too.”
“You only start with twenty-five points. I subtract from there. You must fill three pages. You need to form each sentence very carefully. You have started, yes?”
“Of course. I’m almost done actually. I’m just, well, obviously having some issues with the passive voice. But I’m done with class at three and I’ll be working on it all night.”
“Okay. Well I have to run off. Once I’ve graded your paper, we can sit down and go through each error, okay?”
“Okay. Well I have an appointment with Sarah now and she was here early. She’s been waiting. I have to be fair. Sarah are you ready?”
Sarah looked over at us and nodded from the other side of the room.
“Kathryn, please email me, text me, if you have any questions tonight. I don’t care what time it is, but do get some sleep.”
“I will. Thank you.”
“See you tomorrow.”
He led Sarah out the door.
I was surrounded by noise. I think there was a fire truck. I didn’t know she ever took the bus. Or maybe she was contemplating Colorado. Who knew the blanket was drying because it was covered in gasoline. No one could have known that.
It’s about 10:00 p.m. and I’m getting tired.
I’ve decided to embark on a dark, slightly stupid four-block walk to Super America. The walk typically takes about six minutes. Nine if you consider the time it takes to put on ones shoes, adjust ones hat in a stylish manner, decide which coat one will wear, search the apartment for ones purse, squint at the zombie in the mirror, rummage through ones purse for ones keys and manhandle the lock on the door that never works as easily as it should.
I’ve arrived, unscathed from the danger in the night. There are random gas station patrons admiring a drunk kid that is passed out in a pile of rocks. He apparently stumbled from a parked taxi. None of these people have the intention of helping him. They don’t want to put themselves in any uncertain situation. They don’t want to get involved. But I know they’ll go home and tell their friends and spouses about this. I’m sure of it. Unfortunately they don’t have the time for this right now. But they’re still watching. Making assumptions.
Inside, a police officer is joking with the gas station attendant. “I’ll take two of whatever he had.” The attendant pounded the officer’s fist.
I followed two of the drunk kid’s friends outside with my cold cans of concentration.
“Is he with you?” The officer asked the drunk kid’s friends.
“Yea, I guess he upgraded from the cab!”
The drunk kid’s chest was now 1/2 exposed beneath his pink and black striped button-up.
“Can we take a picture with you?” One of the drunk kid’s friends shoved her purple camera into the officers hand. Her makeup was smeared all over her goddamn face.
I cracked open an energy drink and bent to put the other one in my backpack, I would need it tomorrow. I looked ahead and saw the driver who was parked in front of the drunk kid, laughing. He turned his lights on, blinding the boy, who didn’t even stir. The smudgy faced girl stumbled around the station, getting pictures with every type of minority she could find. It was a goddamn Monday night. Drunk kids.
But the gas station is happy. These patron’s have forgotten their intentions. $10 of gas. Now they’ve inadvertently filled their tanks. $28.00. Oh well, that will save them time next week. In fact, this drunk kid has actually impacted their lives. Or their curiosity has. I wonder what that five minutes will mean to all of them in the future. I’m going to wonder that my whole walk home. A nice young man just commented on my hat. But I’m not surprised. It’s an awesome hat.
I wonder back onto the sidewalk. Strangely, I’ve never been afraid of getting mugged or raped at night. For some reason, I’m very trusting. I just don’t think I’ll go like that. My detachment from reality is bound to bite me sooner.
I walk up to the front door. I struggle with the lock. I kick the door. I smack my shoulder against it as if I can just break in. I take the key out. Put it back in. Jiggle it. Curse at it. I shake the handle and it finally works. Back to grammar. Grammar is imperative. I’m going to need all night to rid mine of its poorness. That’s why this energy drink is necessary.
It’s only been an hour now and madness has broken out. My roommates are screaming at each other in the dining room. There are two closed doors between us and I can hear them clearly. My landlord who lives above us is trying to sleep. The bitches on the third floor can probably hear too. Maybe Brit will come down and call us all “Son of a cocks.” Maybe she feels bad about that. I turn up my music and take a long sip of my energy drink.It gives me hope. It gives me life. I am making use of those wasted hours of productivity that people sleep through. At night, when the rest of the world is enveloped in darkness, dreaming, I finally have peace. I can concentrate. I own this time. It’s mine. I accidentally glance at a line in my Norton Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. “It was not strange to see, that good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints.” This paper is on a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer of The Scarlet Letter. For this assignment we were to analyze the nature of good and evil in Young Goodman Brown. I’m staring into hell, unblinking.
They’re still fighting in the dining room and I’m not getting into it. I refuse. I’m playing dumb. I don’t hear a thing. My music’s too loud. I’m really busy. Must I take care of everything? No. I’m leaving it to fate. Fate has already chosen Laurel. I had nothing to do with that. I’m letting Mattie go. Setting her free. She’s on her own. In the wild. In the woods. She’ll find her way. And we’ll find a new roommate. She’ll open us up to new people, new music, new food, new emotions. It’ll be perfect. It’s what we need. But I should probably feel bad about it. The whole ordeal is probably my fault. Two months ago I let Mattie get Matilda—that’s our little cat—and it was me that didn’t stop her from getting Hansel last week—he’s the fat one. I was actually really opposed to that. But I said, “Oh, sure, if the vet says it’s a good idea, then sure.” I let that happen. I chose my destiny. For Mattie, there was no forewarning, no asking if she was okay with it all, I mean, they’re just cats. Everybody should like cats. But she doesn’t. I guess she’s allergic to cats. And I knew that, but I sort of didn’t think she’d be that allergic. The first one was so tiny it couldn’t have been too bad. But the fat one’s, well, he’s pretty fat. I guess it’s been bad. I guess she’s had to start taking Allegra. Though she didn’t mention it until just now. She just screamed that fact at Laurel. Shit. This is all turning into a big mess. People are getting hurt. And all because of two damn cats. Two damn cats are going to ruin our fourteen-year friendship. And I’m worried about her. She’s not exactly, you know, emotionally stable right now. Actually, I know this is going to be a really big blow for her. But you know what, that’s how life goes. Some things just need to happen. This will be good for her. She’ll see.
And the cats, well, I can deal with the cats. They make Laurel happy. See, Laurel is basically obsessed with animals. She really likes them. A lot. I think, more than people. She’s an accountant converted mammalogist–in training. She’s getting really into it since she had a late start and all. She used to be really into numbers. Now it’s animals. In fact, the main reason that their whole fight erupted was because of a squirrel. I didn’t even know until just now. Apparently, under no circumstance does Mattie believe it is not unreasonable for Laurel to keep a squirrel in the house. Even if that squirrel were in a cage. Or injured. Or about to be released back into the wild. No circumstance. She really wants Laurel to know that. Mattie is aware that Laurel only thinks of herself, the wellbeing of wildlife, and others that appreciate the wellbeing of wildlife. But to Laurel, a person that can be this inconsiderate to animals is undoubtedly out of her mind, and probably the coldest person alive. You know, I don’t think they’re talking about the squirrel at all. But I can’t be sure, because I have my door closed, my head phones on, and I’m deeply engrossed in deciphering the nature of the human heart in Young Goodman Brown.
Though I’m completely aware that Mattie is moving out. I have yet to acknowledge it verbally or electronically. She still hasn’t told me specifically. And I’m avoiding it altogether. Outright. Especially after tonight’s incident. I happen to like squirrels. I do. You know, if they weren’t so timid, and if it weren’t 2:37 a.m., I would hug one right now. But apparently, according to Laurel, aside from being timid, they are actually quite vicious. Her arms are covered with terrible scratches from working at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, she showed me. They’re pretty brutal. But she would rather tend to harmed rodents than people, hands down. I believe Mattie just told Laurel she had to choose between her or the squirrel. Laurel has chosen the squirrel.
I’m not surprised. But I’m going to miss her, Mattie. She regularly bought 24 packs of toilet paper and always had a stock of quarters on hand, among other things – earlier tonight before she came home, I wandered into her room, stole (borrowed) two quarters for tomorrow, a handful of candy corns and three sheets of printer paper. Mine ran out. And it was important. I have to print this paper on good and evil and I was being considerate enough to not want to wake her at 7:00 a.m. This paper is one fourth of my grade. It has to be three pages long, 12 pt., Times New Roman, double-spaced, with one inch margins. There can be no weak verbs. No is, no are, no was, no were, no be, no been, and no being. No past. I’m sorry Shakespeare. To exist or not to exist, that remained the question. “I ran out of paper” is not a good enough excuse. There are high expectations in this class. And that was not something I wanted to let drop over three sheets of paper. Had I not stolen (borrowed) a few sheets, I wouldn’t have been able to print it at all. Being that Mattie had about ten thousand sheets. I was to be for at least one more day.
It’s 6:45 in the morning and I have been up all night. The world feels like it’s a step away. Time feels like it is lagging. My head is crowded. On my hand are three different inks. The first says, “Paper,” the second says, “Umbrella,” and the third says “Read.” I was determined not to forget. It was very important that I not forget. I made sure that every ounce of my effort was consumed in remembering those things.
You would be such a bitch to scratch on my door. These damn cats. They’re all about me. They have to be wherever I am. It’s a growing problem. No, an increasing problem. A problem on the rise. Well, whatever it is, my sleep loss is intensifying and has been since the appearance of those cats. Coincidence? No. Cats.
Five minutes ago I got up to take a shower. That is, my alarm rang for me to get up, even though I had never actually gone to sleep. I walked down the hall to the bathroom. My left eye twitched. When I looked into the mirror and realized I had showered less than 14 hours ago, I reconsidered. I did, however, proceed to urinate. In the toilet. Of course in the toilet. Which then, accounted for my realization that I had forgotten to replace the toilet paper, as I had earlier noticed, when I considered which would be worse, the guilt of leaving only two squares, or the physical effort to reach across the hallway for a new roll. To my luck – I was the fated victim of my neglect. As I carefully stood to retrieve a new roll (you can understand the carefulness that would be necessary in such a task), I noticed the tiniest of our cats eying the toilet bowl from above. It is often that she does this. I’ve frequently wondered what would happen if she fell in, but, being that I hadn’t slept at all and being that I wouldn’t have any more time to sleep today, I decided that I didn’t feel like cleaning up a piss covered cat, as humorous as it would, indeed, be.
So I brushed my teeth and looked in the mirror and realized something. It is the present. Well now that was the past, but at that moment it was very pivotally the present. And when you think about it, we are all fictional characters. We decide our destiny every goddamn day. Someone ought to give us a Nobel Prize when real life actually seems as realistic as it does in books. And from that point on I was alive and everything around me was part of the story.
I will never look in a mirror again. Strangely, that made me happy.
I don’t know if other people do this, or if I just read too much, but I have this habit of narrating everything I do in my head, as it happens, as I walk down the street, as I study, as I eat, everything. I can’t help but narrate them. It’s a distracting part of my psyche that I cannot turn off. So I’ve begun putting it to use and writing the moments down as they happen. I actually store them in a modest-sized trunk next to my bed. It makes me feel better to know exactly what I was thinking and doing on a particular day. Because some day I’ll forget. I’ve already forgotten most of my life before the age of 16. And I’m only 22. All I have to reference those years are pictures. And one day those pictures will fade. They’ll burn. They’ll be lost. They’ll have no meaning, no context. All I can hope for is that my life is being recorded in some other place, in some other dimension, storing my experiences, my thoughts, my dreams, everything, and adding them to the whole of universal existence.
There was just a really loud noise outside my door. The medium sized cat leapt from my bed to inspect the situation. By the look of the décor which had plunged to death on the floor, the front door must have slammed. Mattie is not in her room. Her door was open and her bed was bare. She must have packed up her necessities overnight. I looked out the window to see her blue mercury speed away. We had officially lost a member of our family. It was time to find another.
Unfortunately, I had a very important class to attend at 8:15. I couldn’t deal with this now. To get there in time, I would need to leave at 7:15. It’s now 7:00. I looked at my hand. “Paper,” “Umbrella,” “Read.” Check, check, and to be completed en route to class. I’m also supposed to remember my pills, which I forgot to take yesterday. And my computer. And the cord. And those four books. And don’t forget to feed the cats! Oh, but I forgot that last night I noticed that their food bowl had gone missing, and I never did find it. Well. Wherever it’s gone it must have been for a good reason. I was hungry too. If I don’t leave right now, I’d miss the bus.
I have seven minutes. And it was still dark out. Was I dreaming? No I was not.
It began. The last day. The most pivotal day of my life. The weird thing was, I knew it. But it was okay. You know what? I’ve always wanted to learn brail. I’m very tactile.
Umbrella! Don’t forget your umbrella!
Though I had only seven minutes, I found it still very important to consider my food choices for the morning. Nutrition is very important for one’s mental stability. Two days ago, I spent $102 on food. I am one person. I grabbed the only ready-made things I could find–an organic blueberry cereal bar and a pack of dried mangoes. Dried mangoes are delicious.
In my left hand was a warm energy drink that was half full, the one that had kept me up all night while I wrote my paper. I reached into the fridge to grab the other and threw it in my bag. My hands were shaking. It was 7:16. Shit. I hurried for the door and slammed it behind me, damn near decapitating those beasts as they tried to escape out the door, but I was not successful.
Was it raining? No. It was not. I suddenly remembered that last night I had cut out this article for Laurel. It was about a little boy who was fighting City Hall to keep his pet chickens. City Hall told him, “If we let you have a pet chicken, everybody’s going to want a pet chicken.” The boy remarked, that in all seriousness “he knew of no one else that wanted a pet chicken.” He was a smart little boy. And in my vitamin enhanced, sleep-deprived state, I was so moved by his passion that I post-it-noted the article to the fridge with little arrows pointing to the funny parts. Laurel said she missed me lately. I left it for her as a sign that I noticed.
The school is so close to that bus stop. The school is round. Do round buildings require curved windows? They must. The engineers must have been pissed. Architects.
It was hazy and orange outside. And I was making all of this happen. I controlled everything. All I had to do was believe it.
I was running late, but I felt like skipping down the street. So I did, noticing the sticky fog that covered everything. It covered the round school. It covered the fences. It even covered the dog that was jetting ahead of its owner, chasing two squirrels across the road divider. One of them was white. It’s the albino squirrel that lives on our street. It makes me happy when I see him.
I live in a neighborhood where my street and the street the Spanish people live on is divided by a sidewalk. They call it a traffic barrier. Its purpose is to force the flow of traffic away from the school, but fortunately for us it meant that our street was quiet, and for my neighbors it upped the value of their homes because it deterred most of the violent crime and theft in the area.
As I neared the last street before the bus stop, I felt relieved to see that people were waiting. The bus was running late too. But it was an illusion. There were no people. It was a mailbox. And today I noticed that the mailbox is shaped like a barn.
Next to the barn was a blanket on a fence, it was old and pale blue and from a distance it looked like a Scare Crow. Next to the tree was that gas can. That guy just confused me.
As I got to the bus stop I saw the neighbor of mine that always talked to me crossing the street. I forget his name. Please don’t let him see me. A car honked in his direction. I pretended not to hear. I resisted to look. I succeeded.
“Did you have a good weekend?”
Damnit. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk to him. He was a nice guy. I just wanted my privacy. Although after a minute or two, I was usually glad that they we had talked.
The bus! Thank God. I hadn’t missed it.
After paying my $2.25 bus fare, I walked down the aisle to my seat. A woman raised her eyes at me without moving her head. She looked dead. It was the lighting.
Please don’t sit by me.
I’ve always been terrified about the possibility of going blind. To not be able to see the sky ever again, to never see the seasons change, or see the vast array of the color green. But maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe it would actually be better.
A tree clawed the roof of the bus. The florescent light inside the bus was glaring compared with the contrast of the dark cloud we floated through outside. As we bumped along over potholes I knew my energy drink was going to spill in my lap like a pee stain, but I left it there, wedged between my legs. I furiously wrote, trying to forget nothing.
Please don’t sit by me. Thank God.
My phone is ringing. Fuck. It’s seven twenty-fucking-four. Who the hell calls at 7:24 in the morning? I couldn’t find it. It was set to the loudest setting so I wouldn’t sleep through any of my three alarms. Everyone was staring at me. It’s Laurel. I’m on a bus. I can’t talk now. She’s probably calling about the article. They were really cute chickens.
I had a message.
But we were here. I gathered my belongings and became part of the crowd, exiting the bus. We all took the bus every day, but no one talked. It’s too early to talk. There’s a code. No cell phones. No talking. No music so loud that others can hear it. Especially not rap. And no food. They were commonly accepted rules. It was all a respect thing. A bubble thing. Commuters.
I had about twenty minutes to kill before class. Twenty minutes was hopefully enough time to finish the three poems that were assigned for today. I walked into the bowels of my glass cube study lounge that faced the promise of the city. My table was open. There’s a great plant behind my table. It’s so big it’s almost intrusive. I sat. A bus stopped outside. A man wearing a top hat stepped out. His top hat was black and had a green ribbon wrapped around it. There was some sort of pattern on the ribbon. I looked closer. It was a pattern of Marvin the fucking Martian. Good God. What was it, 1993? No. It definitely was not. People are weird.
Another bus passed. It had an advertisement for chocolate. It said ‘Bite Me.’
I’m sitting under my tree. My energy drink did not spill on my lap. My phone vibrated for the third time to remind me I had a message.
My gland is throbbing.
I remembered I had emailed my professor last night, around 3:36 in the morning. He told us on the first day of class that we can email or text him at any time, for any reason. I took this seriously. Though he taught classic literature from the Norton Anthology, he admitted that all he reads these days are airplane novels, as he calls them, as he commutes across the country every week, because he does not want to give up his cushy job, he says. And he flies back each weekend to see his wife. That’s nice. His wife, who if I can recall correctly, is never moving back to this hell hole because it is too, goddamn, fucking cold here, I’m paraphrasing.
I awoke to a bell ringing. I think the street was crowded. I heard all sorts of people. They were screaming in different languages. Then I felt rain. Then I saw the sky sparkle. Then the sky blew up and everything went black.
I emailed him just now after reading one of the three poems we were assigned. It was by… what was her name? Just check the damn book- Helen C- okay. Relax. I think it was page 239? No – but strangely– that page is near the end of Young Goodman Brown.
Class—ten minutes. It’ll take you five to get there. I hadn’t read the other two poems yet. I was still thinking about the poem on page 738 – which I wrote – but said in my head – 378 – nope. Wrong. It was on page 789. Note: assess number correlation later.
Helen Chasin – Joy Sonnet in a Random Universe. I emailed my professor, who’s grading me on more than grammar, that this was my favorite poem I had ever read. “Sometimes I’m happy… lalalalala… Whack a doo … dum di dum.”
This made me realize, I wasn’t crazy. I’ve thought that exact sonnet so many times before. Not in a square, per-say–like Helen–but in that moment–in the eternal present of the written word–we were eternal–Helen and I–we were eternally present–tense. We were one. As one becomes one with another in reading.
8:09. I hope he appreciated that. Must go. Very important! That I turn in the paper! On the devil! Remember your umbrella!
It’s funny how we associate memories with colors and images.
Outside, it wasn’t even raining. The sky was just spitting from every direction. The Umbrella was useless. But with it, I didn’t have to look at people’s faces.
<<insert hand written part of story>>
I’m sitting under a tree.
I’m half awake
but I’m mostly asleep.
I’m sitting in a different chair.
Three nights, two sleepless
and I’m neither here nor there.
I’m sitting under a tree.
The sky looks at me and it
might as well see.
I’m sleeping under
this goddamn tree.
I’m awake now. I fell asleep for I don’t know how long. I like this tree. I really do.
Two women just sat down at the table to the left of me. I’m amazed this cube isn’t full—but I suppose it’s not yet lunchtime. One of the women looked familiar, but couldn’t think of why. Then I saw her red purse. She didn’t seem to notice me. I guess to her I probably look like everyone else. It seems like they are meeting for the first time. They both have sympathetic eyes, but seem not to know what to say. Now they’re taking a picture. To share. I hope I’m not in it. The tree is definitely in the picture, it’s much too big not to be. The girl with the red purse also had a red coat and matching red shoes. The other woman was old enough to be her mother, but I don’t think she was. They’re lucky. I always wanted to be Asian.
10:14, shit, bus, bus, there isn’t another 16 until 11:47 and 11:47 is not worth the 25 minutes there and back, my next class starts at 12:15 and I needn’t waste the $102 I spent on food by buying a plastic-wrapped sandwich.
The two women left, each their separate ways. I couldn’t help wondering what was up with them. Why were they meeting? Why were they taking a picture? Had they found the girl’s biological mother? Had they not met since she was a child? Was she signing a modeling contract? I had no idea, but at this point, I needed to run. Just as I stood, I noticed the red purse beneath the table. The girl—shit, she’s gone. Had she gone to the bookstore or down the hall? I don’t know. I don’t have time for this. What do I do? I can’t leave it for someone to steal, and I know I’m not going to steal it. So I picked it up and zipped it in my backpack. I’ll deal with this later.
I usually take the bus home for lunch and back for my afternoon class. Unless I miss it. My afternoon class was on Shakespeare and I hadn’t had time to read Macbeth for class today. But I’ve read it before. I’ll skim it while I eat lunch. We’ve been watching the Food Network lately. I’ve become an expert at dressing up pasta. It inspires me to add unexpected ingredients to my creations. Today it’s pappardelle noodles with a splash of olive oil, melted brie, sliced pears and chopped basil. It’s delicious. I’m an amazing cook. It’s like art to me—sometimes the ingredients just feel right—the flavors mix together like colors—you wonder, has anyone else ever combined these ingredients before, or am I on to something completely original. Textures are really important. So are cheeses and olive oil. Last week I was watching an Italian gourmand, explaining the simple style of Tuscan cuisine. He liked to gesture. It’s a quintessential Italian thing. It’s fantastic. He was articulating the fact that Americans do not understand the value of fine cheese; the delicate nuances of each variety is paramount in Italian culture. He also explained the importance of cooking with the highest quality of olive oil. Instead of gold, he said, we should form a system of trade dependent on fine fare and masterfully crafted goods. This idea intrigued me. I flipped through Hamlet while savoring my precious pasta. I love brie. Though I don’t tend to buy the most expensive of brie’s, I do truly appreciate it. Brie is fine in itself. Matilda was perched behind me on the couch, trying to bat at a hanging noodle. I lifted her by the belly with one hand and tossed her lightly on the other. She landed with grace. Hansel on the other hand had climbed on to the couch and was sitting patiently next to me. Waiting for the pasta to accidentally slide off the plate. This has happened more than once. I used him as a book rest. He didn’t seem to mind. I came upon the scene with the witches. What is it with this dark literature I’m reading? Apparently everyone is struggling with evil temptation and madness. I guess it’s part of life.
I finished the last bite of my pasta, scraping every bit of brie that was left, hardened to the plate. What time was it? Oh shit. I’ve already missed my bus. In fact, class starts in eighteen minutes. How did the time pass so quickly? It’s never constant. I’m going to be late. I have no choice but to drive. Unfortunately for the world, I am not a safe driver when I’m late.
I gathered my books. My journal. My laptop. I tossed a pair of sunglasses in my purse because I knew I wouldn’t find the other pair in there. I grabbed my keys which I consciously left on the table so I wouldn’t have to hunt for them. I put my plate, the pot, the strainer, the knife, the cutting board, fork and glass in the sink. So many dishes for one meal, one person. I’ll clean them later. I manhandled the front door and slipped out of the driveway in my car. On the way back to campus I heard two songs that I need to remember. Nik Freitas. Sun down. Peter Yarrow. Weave me the sunshine. Mark Wheat on The Current appeared to be swaying the sun to stay for the afternoon, or at least for tea, it could at least have the decency to stay for tea.
At that moment, likely because of the musical coaxing, the clouds gave in and decided to part. The sun reared its mighty rays from the chasm of the sky and blinded me. Its extrinsic celestial uncertainty mystified me. That sun was the cause of centuries of hope and rumination, it was the dawn of death and blitzkrieg, the inevitable eater of all that has been and all that may be. The cars on the road were sardine cans on fire, fitted with mirrored laser beams and buckets of broken glass that they threw in my eyes. Maybe the sun felt the need to spite me for my tardiness. Maybe it was someone’s time to go. Maybe it was mine.
In the span of this short highway jaunt, I imagined at least seventeen times, smashing into the car beside me, a horrific crash, sending me vertical into the air, then plummeting and side swiping a 1972 Oldsmobile, green of course, which would set me spinning and thrusting into a semi filled with flammable liquids, causing the sides of the container to burst and then, not only would the semi crush my meager car into a sharp ‘v’, it would instigate a bursting into immediate flames of horrible, unthinkable dismay and human destruction. This kind of cataclysm, of course, would not end instantly. This sort of annihilation would be painful. It would be public. It would be talked about. News crews would come. Traffic would be backed up for miles. Business meetings would be missed. People’s afternoons would be ruined. Lives ended. Children orphaned. Let’s not do this today. I know that grief is inevitable, but not today. Let’s play nice, okay? Nice.
I squinted to make out the cars ahead of me, but there were so many lanes I couldn’t tell them apart. All I needed was to get in the right one but everyone was speeding around me so fast I could barely get through. How could they see? Was my windshield that dirty? Should I be wearing my sunglasses or would that make visibility worse? I reached for my purse and rummaged through it, feeling aimlessly. This was probably not the best idea right now. Sunglasses.
Shit! A paper bag just fucking flipped up from the underbelly of the Jeep Wrangler in front of me. It’s stuck to my windshield! What the fuck? It’s coming. Fate is coming. This is my time! I hit my brakes, wincing in preparation for the tailing red Mercury behind me to collide into my rear; but the bag flew on its way and that red bitch weaved into the next lane, punching her damn horn. Jesus woman, I almost died. It was a freak bag incident. I am completely void of any fault. Have some decency. Women.
I slipped into the exit lane and pulled onto Huron. A girl with brown pleather boots shot me a look as I nearly flew through a red light. Fuck you girl. Your boots are hideous. They look like a goddamn Halloween costume. If you’re going to wear boots, at least get real ones. Plastic is not at all the same as leather. It’s okay to kill animals, sometimes. Depending. Laurel says road kill is modern phylogeny. She also says that abortion should be illegal, that way, human evolution would continue.
Nothing ever happens at 4:00, usually. Except for today.
At around three I returned home because I had forgotten my power cord. As I prepared to manhandle the lock on the way to my coffee shop, I noticed the door was cracked open. Brit was outside. She’s one of the bitches that lives upstairs. Well she wasn’t a bitch until the day she tweaked. We haven’t spoken since. That day I was walking into my apartment with my boyfriend. Brit and her mother were on the bench having wine and cigarettes. He joked that they must have some tolerance to be starting so early. Apparently that offended her. Two minutes later she was pounding on our door. I opened it and she stormed into the apartment. Shouted some obscenities and called my ex-boyfriend a fucking son of a cock. He became my ex boyfriend a few days later because I realized I agreed with her. I’m not sure if that puts us on level ground yet.
As I walked by I saw she was having a cigarette and what seemed to be a very private phone conversation. She’s the only one in our triplex who smokes regularly, be it snowing, raining, even sleeting. I nodded hello.
“Can I ask you something?” She stopped me, covering the receiver. Why was she talking to me?
“Sure. What is it?”
“I just got an offer to move to Colorado for a few months. Should I do it?” She looked a little tipsy.
“What would you do out there?”
“I don’t know, snow board or something.” It seemed strange that she was asking me advice with what had happened and all. But I guess she wasn’t upset with me. Just the ex.
“Sure. I guess I’d do it. You’ll probably regret it if you don’t.” She was 32. Single. And, secretly, I admired her.
“Thanks. I think I might.” She smiled. It was authentic. We had tied one loose end. I have many hanging around, waiting for closure.
I walked off toward the coffee shop on 36th street in the shady afternoon. I could smell cut grass, the last remnant of summer, and the faint light made the leaves appear a bright shade of ale. I purposely kicked them. It’s probably my favorite thing to do. Half a block down, a bald man, mowing his lawn, was being interrupted by a drunk old chap in a black jersey that was much too small for his protruding white gut.
“Look at that little lady!” The two men eyed me up and down.
“That is the purdiest smile I’ve ever seen.”
“If I had more than one tooth, I’d smile just as big.”
Look at that. He only had one tooth, right in the middle, on his top row of gums. Maybe it was good for opening cans.
I smiled, unable to ignore his shouts from behind me, when I realized I almost stepped in front of a school bus. It grunted past me. The smell of gas reminded me of my childhood.
The bus. Watch out. Breathe.
I ran over a rabbit six months ago. We were on a road trip, Laurel and I and our friend Paul. I shouldn’t have been driving. I was only running on liquid energy. I hadn’t slept in 26 hours. Hopefully it died instantly. I’d want it to be instant.
I sat at my coffee shop contemplating the dim light outside. Everything sparkled as if underwater. The air picked up leaves and seeds and insects and twirled them in its weightlessness. Two weeks ago I went for a run down thirty sixth street to Peace Park and came across a willow tree. I don’t work out too much, but I decided to take up running, at least for a couple weeks. I sat underneath the trees canopy. I was dying; I’ve been told more than twice that I have an acute case of asthma.
The biggest weeping willow I have ever seen was in the backyard of my first house. It was probably because the oldest I ever was when I was under that tree was not yet five. It was a pale sea green, not aqua in any way. But a faint yellow, not an extravagant ivy or anything, but sea green. And the memory is faint with shade. But not darkness. It was just faint. Maybe because it was a memory, but maybe because it was. Faint. I oddly had no memory of light streaming through the tree, as trees do, typically.
And at that moment, two weeks ago, I knew why. Sitting under that tree, the light and the wind played with the curling leaves like a seaweed wind chime. There was the faint shade. And I was under water.
I’m studying. I’m reading. A name. More poetry. Great poetry. We’ll discuss soon. This chai is ambrosial. That dog looks grumpy. No one had ever noticed the double meaning of falsehood; though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie. Gerard sprang and fell. One hundred and twenty eight years ago. And it’s still the blight of man. My hands are often cold. If the ninety fifth floor could meet you at ground level, all would weep, and still, none would know why the leaves fall. Thou, paw, paw, paw; thou, izbizby; thou, sail ships that pass our bodies in the grass under this tree. The same tree as two days ago. But I am no longer the same person. I’m surrounded by china dolls. I really am. Deficits. Lets bless. Everything is perfect. Look at her, her hair is red. But not kinked so tightly it’s crisp. Her name is not Kate. The blue sky is shelled in by thinly stretched cotton. I can easily imagine looking in from space. Sometimes it’s not so much my imagination. I really can look in. I can. Sweet, grasshopper eyes. Calm. Reflexive. Take someone’s hand. Everything has changed. There comes the sun. It’s gone. That quickly. The shadows followed me this morning. They were so tall. Some streamed past me on bikes and mopeds. I swallowed and wondered why the girl with the red purse was looking at the ground. Was she shy? And then I was looking at the ground, to keep the wind out of my eyes. The sky is really convex today.
Oops, how did I do that? Silly alignment. Oh well. It’s art.
In this coffee shop. Everything is straightforward and I didn’t do anything. It was fate.
I was running to the bus stop from the wrong direction. I had one more class today, at 4:30. The bus came at 4:02. It was 3:59. I slowed to a speed walk when I saw people waiting at the stop. But the bus hadn’t come yet. It was an illusion. There were no people. And then I saw Brit fumbling with a cigarette and some flimsy matches by the tree. I remembered the color red. Red. Red. Red. What was red? I saw her light the cigarette with a match, from across the street. The last thing I remember is the mail box that looked like a barn. I stepped off the curb. I saw the sleeve of a yellow sweatshirt. Red. Red. Red. Red. The blanket exploded. I was hit by a bus.
“Are you in pain? Can you feel—”
“Yes I’m in pain! I can feel everything! Who are you? Where am I? Am I okay? Is she okay? Is she okay?”
“Is who okay? You’re going to be alright, mostly.”
Mostly. Mostly. What the fuck does mostly mean? My lungs clenched. I started sucking in air. There was nothing. I gasped and gasped and gasped.
“Stop that! Stop! You’re okay. Calm down! Nurse, she’s hyperventilating! Nurse!”
Someone tore the curtain open to my left, sending stale hospital air across my bandaged arms.
“Wait—what are you doing? Sir? Hello? Where—where—wh—where are you going?” I heaved and flailed, my entire face was bandaged, blocking out the light, the air was condensing and pressing in on me from every direction.
“Emily. Emily. You’re going to be okay. Breathe. I’m going to need you to breathe. I’m the nurse. My name is Mary. You’re panicking because—just breathe for me. I need you to breathe into—good job.”
“How—how—did I get here?”
“Do you remember what happened? There’s a man here that needs to ask you some questions. But I assured him that he would wait until you were stable—”
“Stable? What’s—wh—wh—what’s wrong with me? Where—”
The nurse grasped my left arm, pricking it and releasing something cold into my veins.
“Please just rest. There’s a button here, on the left side of the bed, it’s this red—well it’s right here and you just page me in a little while. Just breathe okay, Emily? Can you do that for me?”?I clenched the bed and painfully tried to curl into the fetal position. I wanted to cry but no tears would come. The sky had darkened and pushed itself into the room. Its weight blanketed everything.
“Emily? Can you try to rest for me?”
I couldn’t speak. My fists went limp.
“Just press the button—the red—the button—on the left—right here. Just relax.”
I felt like I was drifting into the bleak, dark nothingness of the universe. Or maybe just a coma. Wherever that place was, I did not want to leave it.