Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Thursday, May 8, 2008
I Would Go Out of my Way to Step on That Crunchy-Looking Leaf
By Yael Wiesenfeld, 15
When I first heard the question I thought it was rather ridiculous. “Would you go out of your way to step on a crunchy-looking leaf?” It seemed so… strange. Really, who but a child would? Of course I replied in the negative and received a look from the man in return that was somewhere midway between pity and disappointment. I don’t see what made me deserve that response; how does he know that I’m just not a leaf-crunching kind of person? Maybe the sound of leaf-crunching is my pet peeve. It isn’t, but that’s not the point. Apparently I can’t possibly enjoy life without stepping on crunchy leaves. I suppose I wouldn’t know, but that man doesn’t seem too experienced in life-enjoyment either, as he always acts as though he’s got a stick up his a*#.
I was probably destined to be miserable and non-leaf-crunching since birth. To start, my name is Epiné, which means “thorn” in French. Of course, my mom didn’t mean to name me thorn; she just heard the word somewhere or another and thought it sounded pretty. It was fine until high school, but then everyone started to learn French and they thought my name was quite comical. Immature if you ask me, but then I was the one they were picking on. My mother’s name is Vivian, but she likes to spell it Vivienne, like Vivienne Westwood. She thinks it’s wonderfully mysterious. My dad is nonexistent, as far as I know. They’ve been divorced since the beginning of time, and he is even less interested in me than I am in him. Vivienne is not fond of talking about it and I am not fond of talking about anything with her, so I know very little about my father.
So it’s not like he would care that I’m here, penned in at New York City Hospital. When my stay here is done, I expect Vivienne and I will have even less to talk about. She does not like confronting issues or, in fact, anything more complicated than why I left my boots next to the couch instead of putting them in the closet. So there was little chance that we’d be discussing things like my little “accident”. I don’t have a problem with this- I’m sick and tired of discussing it anyway.
My accident was “accidentally” swallowing a bunch of pills when I was home alone a week or so ago. Unfortunately, my suicide attempt (if you haven’t figured out what it was by now) didn’t work; I just got sick and ended up here. So now I’m stuck here seeing five psychiatrists a day until they decide I’m normal enough to go home.
Anyway, so after the stupid shrink appointment, I dropped a heavy book in the room next to mine and slipped out of the mental patients’ ward while the lady at the front desk ran to make sure nothing had happened. I will have to think up a new way to do that because they are bound to figure it out soon. Technically, I’m not allowed to leave without an escort. I think they don’t want me to be in close proximity to any sharp objects. It’s pointless though- I wouldn’t try again, especially not in here. I’d rather not prolong my stay.
I was walking down the hall towards the grimy old neon exit sign when some guy about my age whistled at me. I’m pretty used to that; last time I punched the guy in the face, but I decided that was not the best idea in my present situation. I often appeal to the less Ivy-League kind of boys, if you know what I mean. I’m attractive, but not in a blond-hair-pink-miniskirt way like the “popular” girls. I have really weird grey eyes, which I consider to be my best feature, and short, pin-straight, jet black hair. There was probably someone Asian on my dad’s side of the family or something. My chosen wardrobe is rather attention-getting as well. It usually consists of jeans, a white tank top that Vivienne deems provocative, and black combat boots. I’m also a fan of the grungy eyeliner look, but I prefer silver or blue over black.
I pretended to ignore the boy as I walked past him but I knew he’d be checking me out as I walked away, so I put my hand behind my back and gave him the finger. I was expecting him to jeer at me, but he was silent. I almost turned around but made a conscious decision not to. No use encouraging him.
When I got out of the hospital, I just walked around the city for a while. The warm summer breeze enveloped me as I breathed in the antiseptic-free air. I bought a necklace with a long chain and a miniature silver dagger on it from a pawn shop. They’d probably explode if I wore that in the psycho ward. I stayed out until eleven so I would be tired enough not to stay awake for hours doing nothing when I got back.
They were kind of angry at me when I returned. “Why, Epiné? We were so worried about you!” The nurse said. Yeah right. Worried about legal prosecution if I had killed myself while I was gone, more like. “We’re going to have to lock you in your room from now on, I’m afraid…”
“What if nobody knows that I left? I mean, I didn’t hurt anyone, did I?” I said tentatively. “It can be our little secret.” I smiled when I saw the look in the old nurse’s eyes.
“You mean… you won’t tell your mother?”
“If you don’t, I won’t.”
“Okay. But you have to keep your end of the bargain.”
“Absolutely.” I grinned. Obviously, I got the better half of that deal (especially since I wouldn’t have told Vivienne anyway), but my escape trick wouldn’t work anymore.
My friend Thomas is only a year older than I am but he looks about twenty-four, so I asked him to bail me out for a few hours the next day. We had coffee and talked about my issues and his new boyfriend. Then he went to hang out somewhere nearby and I was out on my own.
I went to a local music store and bought a new copy of Abbey Road (the old one cracked in my suitcase on the way to psychoville) and a Nine Inch Nails CD. The Beatles is my favorite band. People automatically assume that I like “emo music” because of my appearance. It is ironic what “emo” has come to mean in slang, apart from the music genre, but I guess I basically fit the current “emo” description: black nail polish, cynical disposition, suicide attempt. But honestly, I’m not as abnormal as people think I am. I’m just a teenager who likes clothes and jewelry (albeit not what other teenagers may wear) and music and hanging out with friends. Maybe I’m not “happy,” but I don’t think any teenager is.
Anyway, after I paid the Mohawk-and-eyebrow-piercing-clad guy at the counter, I left the music store and sat down in Starbucks to listen to my walkman and read a random French novel while sipping an iced black coffee. It was awhile before I realized that someone had sat down across from me. I looked up quizzically to meet the eyes of the guy who whistled at me in the hallway.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked.
“Nothing. I saw you in the record store.”
“So you followed me? Stalker. I’m not going to start making out with you, so fuck off.”
He didn’t move. “Sorry for whistling at you. My name’s Caleb James, by the way.”
At least he didn’t attempt to put over the whistling as a compliment. I’ve heard that one before.
“Epiné.” I noticed a smirk as he recognized my name. “Apology not accepted… but we’ll see.”
“Good enough for me. So…” There was a long pause. It seemed like he hadn’t yet thought through what he wanted to say to me after introducing himself. I wondered what he was doing at the hospital; it isn’t exactly the hottest place to hang out. However, that was certainly a touchy subject for me and I wasn’t going to be the one to bring it up. Finally he broke the silence. “What’d you buy?” he asked, gesturing toward the CD store bag on my left. I pulled out the albums and pushed them in his direction, looking back down at my book. He smiled.
“I love the Beatles,” he said, tracing the outline of the yellow VW bug on the cover with his index finger. “Did you know that this album has some of the most obvious Paul-is-dead clues?”
I raised my eyebrows. “You believe that sh*#?” I asked, testing him.
“No,” he replied, “but I do believe that they were planted there as jokes and they’re fun to search for.” I let my gaze soften a bit.
“I’ve got to go,” I said, gazing at my watch.
“Same time tomorrow?”
I met Thomas at the hospital entrance and he escorted me in as if he’d been with me all day.
I took a day off from the whole escape artist act to up my image as a good mental patient, but the following day I slipped out the back door (after taking the keys off Mrs. Front Desk’s tabletop while she was dealing with another patient) and left a note reminding them of our agreement.
There was Caleb at the same table at Starbucks, waiting. I sat down. “You know this makes you look really desperate.”
“Hey- you came back, didn’t you?” He had a point. He looked down at my stubborn plastic hospital bracelet (you know- the kind you need scissors to get off) and then back up at me . “Why—” he began. I tugged down the sleeve of my leather jacket and looked at him. He seemed to get the message.
“Want to see a movie?” he said.
“I hate movies. They all suck nowadays.”
“I know just the place.”
He showed me to an ornate but decrepit movie theater that showed old movies and we saw Casablanca twice. The theater was empty except for an old woman in the back row who looked as though she might have been sitting there and watching for years without moving. We sat in the middle and basked in the feeling of our own little theater. I would never have admitted it, but I laid my head on Caleb’s shoulder and felt happier than I had in a long time.
I kept sneaking out to see Caleb. After I was presented with about a dozen opportunities to kill myself and didn’t, the nurses realized that I was okay and started letting me out without excuses. They seemed to pretend not to notice my absence.
Caleb and I returned to the little theater very often after that. We listened to the Beatles in Starbucks and shared our other CDs and we went to the little bookstore on Prince Street and read the same books. I also saw him in the hospital sometimes, as he paid frequent visits to his grandfather in the cancer ward. That was one of the few topics he never discussed, probably for my sake as much as his own. But after a while, he seemed to get tired of waiting.
“So, why were you in the hospital?” he asked me one day, “also visiting?”
I decided to be honest. After all, he’d already seen the bracelet.
“No. I’m a patient- in the psychiatric ward. I attempted suicide.” His reaction to this news was rather unexpected.
“Oh,” he said calmly, “Why?” His unfazed response gave me courage. I told him about my lack of a father, the financial trouble that my family (if you can call it that) was going through… everything. Finally, when I was finished, he spoke.
“Would you try it again?”
“I- I guess I don’t know.”
“Don’t. I know this is clichéd, but life is precious. And the way you live your life is up to you. You can be your own person and choose to live the life you want even if the people around you or-” he hesitated, “even a part of yourself isn’t cooperating”. I wondered what that last bit meant, but decided to leave it. It wasn’t important enough to press, and he looked unsure of himself while saying it.
From then on, we took little random trips every day. We tried the lottery for Broadway tickets and ended up seeing Beauty and the Beast. We went to the park and fed pigeons and sparrows. We ate cotton candy and snow cones at a street fair. But mostly we just talked. We had fun, but we also had serious conversations. That’s what made Caleb really different from my other friends.
Caleb: “It’s the little things in life that count. That way, if the big things aren’t so great, it’s still worth it.”
Caleb: “Let me be your guardian angel. You are my gem in the rough- a gift that some people don’t understand because it’s not polished and cut.”
I got a pair of tiny wings tattooed inside my wrist. “This is you,” I said. Caleb got a circle: my gem, uncut and unpolished.
I left the hospital. I think Caleb made me normal enough to leave.
We held hands in the street and hugged our goodbyes. We spent nights together in a motel room. But we were never more than friends. Neither of us needed a lover. Our relationship was not that complicated.
Sometimes we didn’t meet for a long time. We didn’t mention these periods; we just saw each other later and our lives flowed together as though we had never been apart.
We rode the subway for an entire day and swung around the poles, changing trains whenever it got too crowded. We went to a carnival. I won a giant stuffed dog for Caleb and he won a giant stuffed snake for me.
Our lives were blurs of excitement and, well… life. For the first time, I had a best friend- more than that. Almost a brother, but with no sibling rivalry. For the first time, I felt like I was living.
My mom took me to shrink appointments twice a week until they decided I was “not a danger to myself or regular acquaintances”. I didn’t have to go anymore. I wanted to tell Caleb.
I hadn’t seen him for a few days and I wondered if he could be visiting his grandfather. I went to the counter at the cancer ward, hoping that his grandfather’s last name was the same as his.
“Is 206 Mr. James’s room?” I ventured, naming the room I had so often seen Caleb outside.
“Yes, my dear,” said the kind-looking middle-aged nurse in a pitying way, “may I ask your connection with the patient?”
“Distant cousin,” I lied.
She led me to the room and knocked. An unfamiliar voice answered softly and she opened the door. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Caleb lay on the white hospital bed, tubes leading from his body into various machines. A dark-haired man and woman- his parents- stood by the bed. They stared at me, confused. Caleb turned his head from his parents to the doorway in which I stood.
“Epiné…” he said weakly. I stood in shock while he began to explain. “I’m the cancer patient, not my grandfather,” he began, “my grandfather died of the rare stomach cancer I have, but he passed away years ago.
“I’ve been in the hospital for my own treatment, not to visit anyone. But it’s getting worse. Epiné… I’m dying. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you…” he trailed off. I dropped into an armchair next to the door, shocked. Nobody said anything. Caleb’s parents looked from me to their son. They seemed to recognize my name as one they had heard before, as opposed to the meaning that people usually recognize.
“I didn’t want to tell you the truth because I hate the way people treat me like a delicate piece of glass when they know. Besides, it’s not what matters. I wanted to find you, though. I didn’t want you to look for me and discover that I was… gone.” He closed his eyes, looking so different from the Caleb I knew; so lifeless. I knelt by the bed and held both his hands in mine, watching his labored breathing. After a few minutes it struck me that I should leave him with his parents and I began to get up.
“No,” his father said suddenly, “he told us about you- you can stay if you want to.”
I knelt again and laid my head on the bed until I could no longer feel his hot breath in my face.
I didn’t cry, not even during the funeral. Afterwards, I hid on the other side of the cemetery until I saw Mr. and Mrs. James drive away. I walked to the fresh mound of earth and stood in front of it and the tears finally came. I dropped down and cried, sitting alone in the dirt. Finally, I picked up a handful of white pebbles from the path and began to place them carefully over the grave. In stones, bright against the chocolate colored earth, I wrote a simple message:
YOU SAVED MY LIFE
I understood what Caleb said in the hospital. It wasn’t his illness or his death that mattered. It was his life.
The cool fall wind blew my hair off my face as I left the cemetery. Across the street, I spotted a golden-red pile of freshly raked leaves. Staring at the pile, I stepped across the road and started walking towards it. Read more!
Saturday, May 3, 2008
Bertha Mason of West 84th Street
By Nadya Kronis, 7th Grade
It was around the time of day when the employees made up a majority of the people in the supermarket. Everyone was working, studying, or enjoying the sudden snowfall that had struck New York late that February. At mid-day, the supermarket was a quiet and secluded area. The cashiers fumbled with their starch aprons and chatted amongst themselves. The fluorescent lighting and bright cardboard advertisements served as unpleasant reminders of their minimum wage pay.
Soon, a pale woman sails in. Her age is difficult to determine, but she’s not young. Still, her slow, large thighs don’t resist her brisk gait. She does not use the bright red supermarket shopping basket, but uses the large straw one in her hands instead. Her lips are outlined in red pencil, so that they won’t fadgee into her face entirely, and carefully painted to appear as if real; most of her features only seem to be brushed on to the face of a China doll.
The aisle five cashier watches as the trail of billowing white garments disappear into aisle six. She returns, her with meager contents in her basket: brown sugar, milk, and English Breakfast Tea. Her ancient looking wide brimmed hat is covered in dead roses, and it almost falls as she reaches for the last item. She heads for the checkout. The cashier starts back. The woman’s hair is as white as her powdered neck. Her eyelashes seem like flakes that melted upon contact with her face. She watches the cashier as he looks away. You’re not supposed to make eye contact in elevators nor at supermarket checkout counters.
“$7.98,” the cashier says in a droll tone, his thoughts on her. How is an anachronism born again? Or is it a mammoth albino ghost? And then: Are ghosts always without pigmentation?
“Oh, yes,” Ms. Mason says.
She fumbles in her bag for money and briskly leaves the supermarket to head home. The cashier follows her several feet with his eyes, then snaps his gum and fumbles with the register. They get the strange type every so often.
Dusty light pours into the dark living room, oppressed by heavy velvet curtains. The top layer of dust resting atop swells and rises from a gust, then settles back down on the wooden furniture languorously. She lays down.
“The dust queen,” murmurs the breeze.
To which the houseplant that is held beneath the starch wind’s elongated fingers replied, “She sees no dust on the velvet folds, as if it hasn’t had time to gather. As if it didn’t gather at all.” Her eyes, with the faint and washed out quality, the unnatural pigment they possessed, seemed like glazed over moons, with their darkening rims encircling her iris.
Staring off into the sugar bowl set before her on the table, she avoided her own eyes in the tarnished silver, and a different image appeared to her in the state of dream:
The sound of horse hooves on the cobblestones permeated through the avenue. The formation of sparrows around a pile of spilled feed was broken and rearranged once more as the horse-drawn carriage neared, the way that the beads and trinkets of a kaleidoscope are rearranged with a slight start of the hand. The exterior was black and lacquered, and as the door was opened by the coachman, three silhouetted figures were visible for a moment within the carriage. Assisted by the coachman, they climbed out. With graceful stature, Ms. Mason emerged, her face shrouded by the gauzy white material of her veiled hat. The intertwining lace flowers of the veil seemed to be carefully stitched on her oblong and pallid face, and it radiated lucid warmth. She stared off into the distance. Her blood ebbing and flowing, coursing through her, rushed. The three of them walk close to one another, other people appeared from all corners of the bleak street, and into the manor before them. The Bertha that had never existed in her youth. People filed in, and sounds of merry-making and clinking wine glasses could be heard from within. Banquet tables overflowed with grapes and delicacies from far corners of the earth. The sweep of silk trains created a small breeze as they coursed through the room. They come to dance, and the musicians start up immediately. They may as well have crossed rivers by tug-boats, or forever autumnal forests of silver and gold on foot. Here was the nectar of gods they had come for. They danced and laughed and drank wine, and not a single glass had shattered, not a drop of poison was spilled.
The moon of that evening has her domain in night’s quiet sky, her scepter encrusted with the lustrous stars. Forever stumbling through the heavens, she is secured in her eternal orbit. Blinded by dawn’s thirsty rays, she sails from us, like the moon-faced woman sprawled on the bed.
Morn has descended now. Light wrests its way through the thickly forested embroidery of the curtains opposite her, and Ms. Mason is brought to her senses almost immediately. She stands up, shivering slightly and gathering her skirts, and moves towards the boudoir and begins her preparations for the day. Once the carefully applied cosmetics of the previous day have been washed off, her face is bare. It is the color of moth wings, and her eyes glow with the delicate red light as if belonging to that same night-dweller.
Picking up a brush, she begins to darken her long, invisible eyelashes. They now come into full focus against the white backdrop of her face. She begins on her lids and the corners of her eyes, meticulously filling in the blank space, painting on the slightest nuances of color that is not there. She begins a rough outline of her lips, and then smites their pale lavender with dark red. Powdering her cheeks with bright hues, she mimics those of an imported doll.
Ms. Mason does not know where she will spend today; down there, or up here. She takes one last pleading glance at the sugar bowl before she locks the door from outside.
Today, the park is near empty. The warmth has fled to make way for February’s lingering inmate. A thick layer of ice coats each separate tree limb and nips at the early buds; left dreaming their sweet, frozen thoughts as their heads nod off. Ms. Mason wraps her antique shawl tighter around her, and descends into the color-blind world that winter has fashioned for her. Treading softly, she is aware of her velvet slippers snapping the tiny spines of individual snowflakes. She sighs her apology. Ms. Mason tilts her face gently upwards, and she sees nothing but the flakes, hesitating on the chill breeze. She spots a green park bench, and gathering her skirts, she sits down.
The snowfall has weakened, and New York’s Upper West Side has come to life again. Pedestrians flit by on the sidewalk, wrapped in their bright winter garments they move quickly. Many are crowded into the 84th Street Starbucks, all hoping to retain the warmth coming from the hot saccharine beverages. The newly fallen snow is discolored by car exhaust or has been pounded into slush. Ms. Mason gazes askance at a group of university students, wincing as their boots leave deep tracks in the snow. She averts her eyes, concealing the smallest feeling of superiority as people rush by at the speed of sound on both sides of her. She scolds herself good-naturedly for it.
For a moment, everything is blanketed by this notion. Brainwashed flies on the bus, at school, in sky-greedy high-rise buildings. Ms. Mason’s own heels begin to make a clicking sound on the sidewalk. She listens to the sound of herself walking listlessly for a while. She hears only her shoes until she meanders into an unfamiliar place. Car horns and taxi walkie-talkies obscure the heartbeat rhythm; her assurance that she still exists. Someone yells in a foreign tongue, leaning from a window. Ms. Mason hails a cab.
It is a good time of the year for cab drivers. The subway is a most unpleasant place to be in winter. Trains are delayed, people are many, and the homeless retreat underground for shelter. Mr. Deflores, one of the myriad cab-drivers waiting for the light to turn on the corner of 84th street, gazes contentedly out of the grimy window. Putting out the stub that is left of his cigarette butt, he opens the window to dispose of it. He sees the motion of a hand on the opposite crosswalk, and heads the yellow car in that direction. Ms. Mason swings the door open and sails into the cab. Her face is draped over with a black veil and her white hair is arranged elaborately. Mr. Deflores chuckles to himself quietly. Just the kind of people you get around here. That’s a New Yorker for you. Before long, the cab speeds off into the distance.
Mr. Deflores was himself a born New Yorker, despite attending elementary school in New Jersey. Truth is, he thinks to himself, the city always draws her lovers back. For the past ten years that he has been driving cabs part time around the avenues and winding streets and heavy traffic and hullabaloo, he has always made a point of talking to his passengers until explicitly warned not to. This lady would be no exception.
“You a local?” he asks while casually stretching out of the window to light another cigarette. He steps on the gas pedal.
“Yes indeed,” says Ms. Mason, surprised at her own embittered tone.
“Could have known,” he says amiably, taking a long drag on the cigarette, one hand expertly supporting the wheel.
“Mmhmm”, echoes Ms. Mason, eager for quiet in the car.
“Right here. I went to school a mere block away.”
“That building down the street?” he inquires, proud of his knowledge of every nook and cranny of the city.
“Yes.” Ms. Mason stares blankly at the prim establishment as they pass, the gilt lettering and the ivy creeping up the walls.
Makes enough sense, thinks Mr. Deflores with a little smile.
The cab halts at a street corner. Paying the driver, Ms. Mason steps out. The air all around seems frozen solid, and it pervades her lungs with its own chill breath. Ms. Mason knows that she has not long to walk to her daily 6:00pm destination. She knows this place by heart, even under it’s white mantle, nothing is hidden from her here. Tonight, like all other nights of the year, she will dine alone. Stepping into the small, tucked away building at the end of the block, she descends down a small flight of stairs, and is received by waiters. They know her by appearance, and one quietly greets her as he leads her to the usual table positioned by the window where the flurry of snowflakes outside is still visible. Ms. Mason sits down to take the day’s last meal.
Gazing around the room, she sees them. They don’t look at her, for they are absorbed in themselves, or in one another’s company. The dull gleam of the candles on each separate table illuminates the faces above them in vivid detail, although the room is hardly visible. Waiting for her check, Ms. Mason’s pensive eye chances to land on a young couple sitting at the table in the corner. They are murmuring softly, too old to be the boisterous children she sees on the streets. She quickly averts her eye to another part of the room. Everything is so quiet, save for the indistinct half-whispers of the diners. If she closes her eyes, nothing will remain but the sound of these isolated worlds. The percussion of waves as they beat against the silent shore. They don’t see her, she thinks to herself. She is invisible, free to her wanderings. “I am different,” she tells herself. Free from the bondage of human ties, or maybe just too defunct to make those ties to begin with. It’s useless to tread along this ancient path all over again. “I am different,” she says to herself, and drops the train of thought to avoid further aggravation.
“Your check, miss.” It is a waiter standing over her table.
“Thank you.” She smiles.
Picking up the ball point pen, she scrawls on the piece of paper laid before her, and leaves the due pay and a generous tip.
Ms. Mason decides to walk home for the first time in years; she walked to think. The flurry continues, and the twilit sky is smothered by white clouds. They appear to be strangely suspended, resembling sea-foam lightly adrift on a quiet tide. The moon and stars are hidden behind a lofty veil. It is late, but the flow of people has barely diminished. They run through the dim streets as snowflakes crunch braggingly beneath them.
It is long past time Ms. Mason usually was home, but who is to say at what time she should come home when there is no one to receive her there. She fumbles with her keys as she unlocks the door, and walks past the useless and cluttered dining room table, brimming with unread mail. The curtains were thrown open probably by the housekeeper of forgotten decades. Ms. Mason’s eyes linger desperately on the quiet night scene. She climbs straight into the bed, ducking under the gauze of the canopy, yellow and eaten at by insects; she thinks of years submerged. An image is conjured, by means of memory and magic.
The desks in the hot, near windowless room are gradually becoming too small for the students twitching and re-crossing their legs under them. Spring and hay fever finally come around the declining bend of the school year. After several threats of detention and extra homework, the chatter subsides to a low drone coming from the back of the classroom. A boy stands up abruptly, mid-lesson to crush a humongous black fly in his hand. The chair jolts forward, then uncertainly clangs back down again. Heat seeps through the window like water. Beads of perspiration break out on the neck of the girl in front of Bertha. The girl pushes her chair forward on the linoleum, producing a sound similar to that of fingernails on chalk-board. Bertha shrinks back and contemplates whether the instant gratification brought by sleep is worth missing the lesson. Before she can decide, she is called on. Scrambling for her notebook, she glances up at the fifteen smirking faces, waiting to be humored by her stutter and small slips.
“Well?” asks the tall teacher sardonically with a flip of the marker cap. Obviously, this is some sort of reference to the unknowable question, and Bertha is baffled.
“Yes, Ms…” Bertha trails off uncertainly, and sees the futility of rummaging in her folder right then. The teacher looks amused.
“Well? The answer?” There it was again. The unknowable, indiscernible question. Bertha bites her lip and feels her feet growing hot in the black loafers.
“No. No answer…” Bertha is sheepish and trails off again.
Yes Ms… The teacher reiterates to herself silently with only the trace of a smirk, and calls on another student. Laughter crackles up across the room as easily as radio static.
“If only you felt lonely…” whistles the kettle wistfully from the kitchen.
“Little alien,” say the Edwardian cabinets in a chorus.
Ms. Mason is sprawled on the old canopy bed, thinking about forgetfulness and suddenly hoping to hear the rap of knuckles on her door. It is then that she realizes, no one knows that she’s here. Not the mailman, who stopped calling long ago, not the ancient man who walks to the bus stop every single day, his blue pants failing to cover his purple freckled ankles. Not the cashier at the supermarket. Not the woman in the business suit who walked by on 96th street yesterday. She closes her eyes, knowing that she won’t have to stay up for long expecting late night visitors. She hasn’t left her brand upon other minds, which is somewhat comforting, she thinks. Her mark, impressed somewhere under the receding hair-line. That’s all that anyone needs, she thinks and lets her laughter ring through the room. She stares at the rusting doorknob until she convinces herself that it is turning slightly to the right and that the footsteps of her neighbors upstairs are coming from the carpeted hall. Unable to restrain her mirth now, she allows another laugh to escape her dry throat and meander through the many rooms and parlors. Nobody knows she’s here, except for the old mattress which is groaning under the weight of her body. You’re growing old, Ms. Mason.
The following morning, Ms. Mason dreams with a new fervor. She is sprawled across the divan, fully dressed. A candle is lit, and the bookshelves seem to curve into the center of the room under the mesmeric lighting. The draperies are drawn the way she left them the previous night, and in the house, it’s still evening by all accounts. It’s evening too, where Ms. Mason comes to dance. She descends carefully, the light footed gait of dream seems to have a greater, more tiring mass to carry. She speeds up her walk, suddenly wanting to slow down again, and sleep underneath the looming oaks and listen to the jeweled cicadas. She’s not naïve, and knows that a dream within a dream means not ever waking. She hurries on, following the customary trail to a clearance from the forest where goblins sleep in tree hollows. A leaf falls to her feet, but it isn’t. It’s a cicada with sleepy red beads for eyes. It impersonates the motion of a leaf on the still air.
Ms. Mason lifts her dove colored skirt from the ground, and steps unto a sparse, and somewhat overgrown road. Everyone must be in the manor by now, popping the corks of champagne bottles, fervently dancing, and making merry. Do they know she’s gone? Ms. Mason pulls the white, gauzy shawl closer to her as she begins to run and breathe hard.
She starts up off the couch, gasping for air. She has become entangled in her skirts, but she feels lithe sea-weed on her legs and struggles harder. She is tangled in her skin. She pulls her feet to the ground, feeling more exhausted than ever. She hardly glances at the dining table overflowing with papers. A stamp-less envelope drifts to the ground, and she mindlessly lifts it, putting it back on top of the pile.
After her usual evening’s routine, Ms. Mason wore a stoic expression as she walked into her apartment. But as she came in, her hungry eyes turned straight to the sugar bowl, staring greedily at the tarnished surface. She did not take note of the invisible table, though she should have. The pile of papers had grown colossal, looming overhead like an origami giant, entirely obscuring its wooden surface. She began to take off her jacket, trailing it on the floor behind her until she let it drop. Kicking off her shoes as she neared the divan, the burgundy velvet slipper skidded across the floor, brushing the toes of the giant. All at once, the envelopes lurched forward, and the giant was not Vesuvius when it erupted, but an effortlessly swooping paper crane. Each piece of forgotten correspondence, each bill unpaid fluttered down in a moment, filling the apartment up to its high ceiling with a steady trickling of envelopes. Ms. Mason hardly had the time to let out a gasp as she sank.
She was found much later, of course, by a delivery man who on his way to deliver pizza, noticed envelopes pooling on the doormat and blowing across the expanse of hall. It was 11:30 pm, but news got out fast from behind the series of locked doors. Soon, a crowd had gathered in front of her door. Women in plastic hair curlers, men in bathrobes, and children rubbing their eyes partially out of exhaustion, partially to confirm the sight. The flabbergasted superintendent finally made up his mind to dial the fire department to clean out the papers. After that, it would probably become one of the rare vacancies in the old Upper West Side apartment building. Read more!