by Mitchell Grabois
Back on the ward, I watched Cruces Pla remove Tiffany’s nametag from the door of the room in which she had stayed. Guess you gonna have to get yours somewhere else, Cruces said. The fact that Tiffany and I, schizophrenic and psychologist, had been lovers, had apparently not been the secret I’d hoped for.
I moved closer when I should have moved away. Cruces Pla smelled of mashed bananas. What do you mean by that?
She tore the little white nametag into pieces and sprinkled it on my shoulders. You got dandruff, boy.They sell shampoo take care of that. She walked away, down the hall toward the chart room. In one minute she’d be telling whoever was in there about her daring little victory. Her co-workers, hard black women, loved stories like that, the white man getting his due.
I felt like going after her, shoving her into a cinder block wall, but she could have torn me to pieces as easily as she had Tiffany’s nametag.
My next job was technically less complex.
I took kids’ orders, and struggled against my urges to overfill. The cones I created looked doll-like, very wrong. My signature had been excess. Now my work had been standardized. Under Eppa’s supervision, I bowed down to the profit motive. Eppa was the boss’s daughter, and my girlfriend and, with her hovering over me, watching my every move, enforcing her father’s will, I cringed. With every miniature cone I made, I fought the impulse to tear off my apron, throw it to the floor and stomp out, never to see Eppa again, but she had conquered me sexually. I could not imagine my nights without her.
With each tiny scoop I held out to the disappointed children, who had grown used to my generosity, my depression engine whirred, reminding me that I was worthless, that my life was unfolding badly.
I kept working. Sweat broke out on my forehead. Eppa examined me as if I were an insect. The children wondered if they could use me in their next science project. The sun streamed through the window. I felt an ocular migraine coming on. It was like watching a sinister stranger approach from a distance. I reached into my shirt pocket for my Ray-Bans. I’d forgotten them. I cursed myself. I kept scooping ice cream. Strawberry. Black Walnut. I trembled on the edge of the migraine, but it didn’t come.
To make a prairie it takes a clover
and one bee,–
One clover, and a bee,
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
Woody Guthrie passed his second whyhood. Now he’s in Heaven. Still, everyday, he carries his daughter to school on his shoulders. He does crazy imitations of old car horns, and the girl laughs so hard, she almost falls off.
I think I’m alone with my musings when my grandson toddles up and asks: Where are the bees? He’s got a colorful book, and the horse in the field looks like the horse in hand. The cows pasturing, the chickens in the yard, even his grandfather (who copied his grandfather in the wearing of overalls), all look like the pictures in the book. Art dutifully reproduces reality. But Grandpa, where are the bees?
They were pretty creatures, I say, and dutiful partners. Their work ethic was without equal. I used to count dozens in one squash flower, drunk with pollen. They’d crawl indiscriminately on my fingers, as if they were parts of the bloom…
But where, Grandpa, where? The kid is as persistent as his dad, as me, a family trait, sometimes useful, sometimes troublesome. The kid wants to know.
But I sink back into my reverie, sleepy yet busy, creating prairies.
Fishing Lure Box
Cheryl opens the fishing lure box in which she keeps her make-up, reaches in and pulls out three tubes of red lipstick, different shades, which she never uses. She applies one to her upper lip, another to her lower lip. With one, she puts a dot on the end of her nose, which she thinks of as a potato nose, too fleshy, not well shaped. She types into Facebook: I am undateable, unfuckable, unlovable, uncompanionable.
I read her posts. Why should I care? My legs are gone. I also spend a lot of time on Facebook. Why are my legs gone? A simple auto accident. So I’m not even an American Hero, like the guys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan who are in my lack-of-support group.
I don’t reveal my condition to Cheryl, or anyone. On Facebook, I have legs. No one knows any different. I write posts about playing volleyball. I used to play, though I wasn’t good. Still, it was fun.
I don’t complain. I let Cheryl do my complaining for me, and other people who portray themselves as pathetic and hopeless. Maybe they’re not, but they get something out of pretending they are.
Cheryl stares at herself in the mirror. She spends a lot of time there, in front of the mirror, when she’s not on Facebook. One of her eyes is larger than the other and a little lower. One of her ancestors was an Indian, and one was a Cyclops. She would wear her hair over one eye, but she’s tried it and it destroys her depth perception. She stumbles, falls out of city buses, hits her head, walks around disoriented.
Her friends (her “real friends”) are all graduates of Match, OK Cupid, and Christian Singles dot com. They wear extravagant clothes when they go out with their new boyfriends or husbands or sport their new babies on their arms, even the one who’s got a strawberry stain across his face. For them, everything is new.
Cheryl feels old, even though she is only thirty, half my age. She is alone and celibate, not by her own choice. She is not unattractive, but she puts out a vibe that repels men. It is two in the morning. She is laboring over a memoir of a bad year. All her years have been bad, she feels. It’s only a matter of choosing one. She wants to go out jogging and never return, but she doesn’t own any jogging shoes.