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Authors: Lucy Corin

Tags: #Fiction, #Short Stories (Single Author)

The Entire Predicament (17 page)

BOOK: The Entire Predicament
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Outside another window a soldier is examining my barbecue.
Outside another a soldier is tying his boot.
Outside another a soldier continues to look at me each time I pass, because I am still turning, and turning as if the opening and closing of my eyes propels the turn, as if time itself is what turns me, as if my turning makes time move. He continues
to look at me and I know everything he might do; I can see everything he might do move across his eyes in scenarios I remember from news and movies. Then he walks around the house. I can see him pass by window after window. I am following him as I turn, or my turning is pushing him along in a dance of magnets. He collects the giraffe as he passes. He hands the giraffe to the soldier who is standing with my barbecue. He’ s rounding the porch and I’m turning to meet him as he approaches the threshold, removing his flak helmet. His face is at my crotch. He is wiping his boots on my welcome mat.
Then I do, I cry. I try to control my breath enough so that I can do it with the duct tape gag. It’s all I can do.
My house is like the world. The furniture is islands and continents now, in sun and shadow, its inhabitants the bugs, the mice, the dust, and the knickknacks we collected on our travels. Air is water, and sky hangs, as always, above the roof, though here the roof is ozone, leaks intact. How did I get here? Sleepwalking? Sleephanging? Sleepbinding and sleep-gagging ? Sleepransacking of my home? Or did soldiers do this in the night?
He stops my spinning. He turns me and turns with me as if I’m a bookcase to a secret room and I can feel a shaft of sunlight settle onto my ass. He takes a poker from my fireplace and pokes me carefully so that I swing a little. Who do you think you are? Poke. What do you think you’re doing? Poke. He tucks it under his arm like an umbrella and goes into the kitchen and starts opening and closing drawers.Why don’t you have any pancake mix in this kitchen? (I do, but it’s in the
cabinet and he’s still looking in drawers.) Don’t you have any decent snacks?
Outside, the soldiers are directing the children to do something, to ready something, and they’re scurrying about with their accessories. I am suddenly unsure if the soldiers are directing the children, or if the children are directing the soldiers, as if it’s simply their toys that have grown life-size. I spot the giraffe standing near the barbecue. It’s large for a toy, but it is not nearly life-size. And the soldier in my kitchen has opened his fly and let his penis flop out. This, I recognize, is nothing a grown doll could do.
Then my husband comes home. There’s no sign of the car, but he comes in the back gate, stands at the patio doors, kicks his boots off, and then, as if remembering my instructions, he retrieves and sets them tidily next to the geranium pot. I have no idea why he’s home so early, but the soldier has scooted back around me, taking the porch steps in one stride, setting me spinning again. He’s somewhere in the yard with the rest of them, and he must have zipped up because now I cannot tell him apart from the rest of the soldiers, some of whom have found fold-out lawn chairs and are setting them up around the grill. Others are primping the coals.
My husband comes inside and makes a peanut butter sandwich. Behind my gag I am trying to regulate my breath enough to make a noise, but then he pulls a stool from the breakfast bar over to where I’m hanging and stops my spinning so we can both look the same way, out the window to the grassy side yard where they have dragged the barbecue. It’s good to be still. It is so good to be still that I hardly wonder why my husband remains unalarmed. We watch as first they barbecue
the giraffe and then they barbecue each other. A soldier, sitting lotus on the grill, salutes, and next it’s the boy with the backpack, grinning like wax, and like wax, his face moves from comedy to tragedy mask. One and then another disappears into smoke and flames, another soldier and then the child with lollies, everyone nodding appreciatively at everyone’s sacrifice.
I know there is blood, but I cannot see blood.There is a way that I want to see the blood because I feel it’s my responsibility to see the blood, and it must be there, given the circumstances, but I cannot see it. I sniff but all I can smell is my own salty fluids. I focus my mind on my ears and I hear bubbles, and I hear myself swallow saliva, and beyond that I hear only what could be the ambient liquid tune of a washer or of a toilet awry.
I hear my husband chewing.Then he rests the sandwich in his lap for a moment and unties one of the ropes around my wrists and I realize that I can feel his fingers on the rope as if it is a part of my body. I think about it, and I am not making this up.The rope is part of my body. It occurs to me that when I dream I almost never have a body, let alone a face, and then it occurs to me that this phenomenon is not one exclusively of sleep. If I am as I dream, as they say, then I am a blur to myself. Unless I am looking at my reflection I never look like anything.
In this suspense, what of myself can I see? The hand my husband released has fallen out of my vision, but the bound one has shifted such that I can see my wrist as if I am checking the time, but it’s ropes that I see there. They say you can tell a person’s age on her hands more clearly than on her face.You can see a person’s history in her hands. I’m facing the back of my hand. I know it like the back of my hand, I think, but it
turns out I don’t know the back of my hand at all.There’s not much to my hand, now that I’m finally looking.This is not, for example, a farmer’s hand. And this is a hand that has been kept clean, that has washed itself of almost everything. Skin’s a little looser than it has been, the map or lake top made up by lines more pronounced than I might have guessed. On the other side of my hand, hidden on my palm, is my future.
Now I feel the rope dangling like a phantom limb. Now I remember how I came to this. I remember in slow motion that by midmorning—in the open space after “Bye-bye sweetums,” “Have a lovely, sugar,” and that final wag from my dog’s behind—in that open space the world had slipped two degrees farther in a direction it must have been shifting for a long time, like water from an eyedropper that heaps above the rim of a glass and then one more drop and it just spills. In such a way the substance of the air had suddenly thickened, becoming almost gelatinous, I remember now. I was elbow-deep in dishes and the water in the sink began to feel the same as the air, and soap bubbles felt like rubber pellets, and then I was moving through it like a deep-sea diver in all that gear, or not moving through it so much as moving with it, it guiding me as much as anything, no leading or following, just me shifting with the breath of the earth, and then these ropes growing from inside my body like extensions of my tendons as my clothes fell away, the gag rising like a scar across my face. I was moving toward the door because I wanted to get out—
I wanted to do something—
I wanted to change, and I wanted to change the world—
I opened the front door, but I couldn’t move through; the planks of the porch and the wide lawn yawned before me and
gravity seemed to tip and I walked on up the space where the door had been as my furniture tumbled about the room, the chandelier catching on a sofa cushion and stuffing bulging from where it tore, coffee table cracking its back over the arm of a wingback armchair. I just walked on along where the door no longer hung and my ropes coiled around me and fastened to the door frame, merged there with house; I remember the crumbling feeling of the popcorn texture of the ceiling; and I could feel the guts of the house, the pipes, the ducts, the wires, the stretching and sagging two-by-fours clinging to the drywall, and then I could feel myself stretch into warm roads coursing across town and then the country, and then I could feel myself as the jet stream and the gulf stream, planetary currents of air and water. I felt it hard, and fully. It wore me out and perhaps I slept because when I woke the world seemed as loose as ever and there I hung as if I’d been abducted by my own home.
There is simply no end to the suspense when one becomes one’s own psychic landscape. Here, my unbound hand flops in the sunshine. My husband holds the dangling end of my rope in one hand, and I can feel the warmth of his hand, which is so familiar, as he resumes eating his sandwich with the other. I remember, and now I know. I am my home, and I am the world I live in. I am the ropes that bind me and the silver tape that stops my voice, hanging here, in this predicament. It did it to me, I did it to myself, I did it to it, all the same. My husband and I look out the window, head to head, although mine remains upside down, and outside, children are running about with soldiers. Some are helping each other onto the barbecue. They’re all squirting one another with sauce.
Incognito
When a guy microwaved his baby and they wanted me to stand on his front stoop with my microphone and my fuchsia suit and report it, and point to a microwave at my feet and say, “A microwave, like this one”—especially since I’d just turned in a report where I’m halfway across the state, standing knee-deep at the edge of floodwaters, pointing to bloated hogs floating by (“Here’s one now, it’s a horrible sight,” I say with my eyebrows crunched together, enunciating over the rain, cinching my green poncho at my waist with one hand to keep it from flying over my head or clear away in the wind and continuing rain) and pointing to trucks full of cats, dogs, sheep, cows, horses, goats, saying, “That one’s for live ones, and they’ll be taken to shelters and to the homes of volunteers, and that truck will take carcasses to special incinerators that have been running day and night for days and nights, it’s a terrible sight, and there’s a horrible stench,” as if they will always know the difference between live and dead, I think, and when I turn it back to the anchors they tell each other first how
horrible and next how they each are animal lovers, but Darcy likes cats because they’re independent and Mark’s a dog guy because he likes to roughhouse, and how it’s already been such a tough year for farmers, and back where I am, in the rain, hours before the piece will air and Mark and Darcy will say this to each other, I am thinking, Where are the chickens and the snakes and the bunnies, and how many fish are drowning in homes that have filled with water that’s overtaken their tanks, especially since the flood’s not over; the flood’s not even crested yet? So when they handed me the microwave and said, “Wear the fuchsia suit,” well, I don’t know, it’s not that a baby in a microwave was especially bad, given the news in general, and as I’m not much of a fan of babies, it wasn’t, I don’t think, the baby, or the microwave, or even the flood per se, but I did, I threw down my wig: I threw it to the studio floor, and the sound guys, the camera guys, the director, the writers, Mark and Darcy and the whole weather center team saw my very-close-to-bald haircut that I’ve had under there since the eighties, and the scar on the back of my neck from when I clipped it myself, years ago, when I first started going to work incognito, dressed as myself, in the expensive chocolate-colored wig with auburn highlights that I’d had made to match the hair I used to have and which, I suspect, got me hired. I left my shoes there, too—walked across the set and walked right out of them, let them stay there like the poignant remnants of a disaster, one heel caught on the molding that holds the linoleum to the soundstage. I rubbed my head as I walked out, because the wig annoys me all day. I walked out in my stocking feet with my bag slung over my shoulder, and after a block on the sidewalk the nylons were shredded, so I stopped and took my socks and sneakers out of the bag and put them on.
I went home and sat on the front steps until my girlfriend arrived.We sat there and talked about what I could do for a job now.Twisty iron rails lined the stoop on every little house on the street, including ours, something I hadn’t noticed before.
“I wonder who’ll do the microwave story,” she said.
“I don’t care,” I said. “Let’s not watch it.”
I was feeling angry that somehow what I’d done was less meaningful because of her, that I couldn’t make a point unless it was that one single point: “Look what this reporter has under her hat!” I thought about that point, and I thought about the point I was trying to make about
news
. I could see how the points were different, but I could also see how there was no real difference at all. The points, and also the connections between the points: all of them sucked.
BOOK: The Entire Predicament
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