Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Racquetball in a Microwave

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A Racquetball in a Microwave

by Joshua Blampied

Her hair was bright fake red, a wedge in front of her right eye. She dressed like a thief, all black t-shirts and pants with a hundred pockets. Camouflage; love and rockets.

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When she was little, she napped beneath the microwave. Every day. The sun shone a spot on the couch, and her mother slept in it the sunlight shape of the window moved from her feet up her legs to her chest and then, when it slipped up to her eyes, roused her. Sylvia spent this time sleeping too, but on top of the stove, under the humming microwave.

She set it so it would beep her awake before her mother woke. Her mother did not like for her to sleep under the microwave.

Sylvia, she said, there are cancer beams and heart disrupticators and medical anomifiiers that emit from that thing. Do you want to die?

Sylvia didnt want to die, but she did want to sleep. Some people listen to tapes of the ocean to relax she had the whir of the fan and the wiggle of the water molecules above her.

He had hair like moss. He dyed it every week, so black that it looked blue.

Shed grown up in the sort of house where you hang the towels on the rack symmetrically, after you use them. Where it was more important for the lines the vacuum left on the rug to be regular than it was for the floor to be clean.

Her house had been that way because of her her parents were old hippies who cared less about housekeeping than they did about bitching. Bitching about public schools, bitching about how theyd home-school little Sylvia if it werent so much effort. Bitching about the government, bitching about friends who were going up the river on weed charges.

Her parents would have liked him if theyd met him.

Hed been raised by his father (and therefore the television) without much friction at all. Theyd lived in four rooms and a hallway upstairs from a woman from Mexico who cooked every night. In the fall when it was dark early, her kitchen glowed through Venetian blinds while she cooked. Hed always assumed she was using a big black cauldron, eyes of newt and babies tongues.

He never spoke to her and then she died when he was fifteen. He sat in a thicket across the way smoking cigarettes, while they moved her things out. There was no cauldron.

Still, hed remember the smell of cilantro in this context for the rest of his life, and associate it with fall, cauldrons, childhood and home.

Acne followed him into adulthood. It never really cleared up, but it wasnt the sort of acne that kids dread or that makes mates cringe. He learned early on that picking at it, popping at it and messing with it only made things worse. He was diligent in cleaning his face twice a day and that was it. He kept away from mirrors.

She could look at herself all night. After his father killed hers and they became lovers, he spent a half-hour in bed watching her watch herself modeling his shirt in the eight-foot wide mirror across from her bed.

He was enchanted but weirdly disgusted.

I always think that mens shirts- and nothing else- are one of the most flattering things a woman can wear, she told him, dropping a shoulder to see her own thin collarbone through the open shirtneck.

You do look a lot better than I do in it, he said, leaning forward. Her cotton bedsheet dropped to his waist. He wrapped his arms around her chest, just above the breasts, and pulled her back onto the bed. She laughed.

How did I wind up with you, she asked.

Shed gone to a private high school. There was no uniform and there were no boys so she lived a lot of her adolescence in sweatpants. She hadnt been popular in school and had spent most of the time drunk. (No one knew.) She didnt sleep well.

The only other girl she knew in high school was from Argentina and didnt speak English as well as maybe she should have, but she couldnt be bothered to get any better. She could scowl, though. And smoke. Sylvia scowled a lot, too, and so they became friends. Their friendship wasnt based on anything that they had in common except for a shared hatred toward everything. Fuck em, theyd say, dragging dramatically on cigarettes. Fuck their jobs, fuck their lives, fuck insurance. Fuck the way boys only want one thing. They cant have it.

At sixteen Sylvia decided to get a tattoo. The idea scratched at her mind until she couldnt resist it this is a bad idea. I know, but I want it. But its so lame, but I know, but whatever. She dragged her friend the Argentinean with her to the tattoo place.

Are you girls eighteen, asked the creepy skinny guy who did the tattoos. He knew they were not.

Of course, they said in unison.

Sylvia got a rose on her left hip. The stem curved down around her ass.

Hold it, she said, right before he started.

Whats up, babydoll, he said.

I want the petals this color. She held her breath, gritted her teeth, and strained her neck muscles as hard as she could. She did this until she had to breathe, then she let everything go slack. She pointed to her flushed lips. The Argentinean laughed like a little bird and smoked.

He didnt have any tattoos.

She graduated from high school and didnt get a job. Her parents had money, so she ate cereal and swam in their pond and read books about girls and boys until Marks father killed hers.

She was nineteen and she was in their backyard pond, which had started to grow algae.

Honey, her mother called from inside the house.

The tone of her mothers voice made Sylvia rush out of the pool so quickly that her left breast fell out of the cup of her bikini. There was no one around to see it but she was embarassed enough that her face was red when she stumbled into the kitchen where her mother was at the table trying not to cry.

Mom? she said.

There had been a car accident, and she would forever associate her fathers body twisted in the metal frame of his wrecked car with her the feeling of her own body falling out of her small swimsuit her fathers death, her own embarrassment.

His father had driven a tow truck. He was the sort of honest, hard-working American that makes this country go. He was overalls and Yankees cap. On the morning he caused a nine-car pileup on route 7, he had been drinking Old Grandad. He drank in the morning, every morning, since he had lost Marks mother to cancer, and it had never been a problem. You get used to it as long as nothing unexpected happens, you can maintain a certain level of drunkenness and still get around fine.

The wrench in the system, the butterflys wings in China, was a slice of pork roll. Every morning he got a coffee and a pork roll and cheese sandwich on a bagel from the deli next-door to his garage. The size of the coffee depended on the size of his hangover, and this morning it was a medium.

Mr. Eckhard from the deli had seen the bags under Marks fathers eyes and done the neighborly thing, putting two extra slices of pork roll on his sandwich. He didnt tell Marks father what hed done, just watched him walk out to his truck, pour out an inch of coffee and refill it with bourbon. Marks father did this in plain view in that parking lot. He had done it for twelve years and never been stopped.

There was an early tow that morning in the spring- some asshole kids had tried to cross a muddy median and gotten stuck- and so he ate his sandwich en route. The coffee and booze were gone in five minutes; the sandwich, lubricated by extra pig, slipped apart and he found a slice of pork roll and ketchup in his lap. Snatching it up and stuffing it into his mouth whole, steering with his leg, his knee glanced the lower-tow switch. By the time the noise of the chain on the asphalt reached his brain, so had his bourbon, and when he applied his brakes- in sixty-mile-an-hour traffic- the car behind him stumbled on his hook. And slid into his truck. This caused a chain reaction of cars hitting other cars, the sixth of which was Sylvias fathers.

He was late to a board meeting.

Mark and Sylvia met at her fathers funeral. He was attending out of guilt his father had survived.

Both distraught, they ended up in the bedroom of her youth, all stuffed animals and posters of ponies. After-funeral sex is different from normal sex theres an intensity brought on by the reminder of mortality. The fa├žade of civilization can come down and something real can come out and it can hurt, and it did. They fucked until they were both sore. Afterward there was blood on the sheet, but she couldnt tell whether it was fresh.

Her mother didnt get home until they were in the kitchen, drinking tea and oddly unbroken by the funeral experience. They werent smiling as her mother entered and Sylvia felt bad again. She felt like she should be stronger.

There were pounds and pounds of marijuana in her fathers trunk when he crashed. The police questioned her and she acted like she had no idea, like she was too distraught to be able to help. In truth shed had only a vague idea- asking your parents about their drugs is like asking them about their sex. Its something that only people of your own generation do. She had a picture in her head that didnt make sense her mom and dad passing a bong back and forth, watching TV, like the most boring college party ever. It didnt make sense because they were old.

She had wondered how they could afford a pool and a maid.

After that they were just a couple. They were inseparable. Neither of them was particularly comfortable with how quickly it had happened, but it had. They did make each other happy her father was dead, his in jail. She could sleep in his arms. She couldnt sleep anywhere else. She hadnt fit under the microwave in sixteen years, since the aching-bone growth spurts of puberty.

He had a metaphor for himself. In a physics class in high school he had learned about potential energy and kinetic energy, these concepts that were not exactly literal and not exactly opposed, but which added together to form an objects total energy. The object he felt like was a racquetball on top of a bookcase, one hundred percent potential energy and zero percent kinetic. The only things he could do were things which pointed toward him doing more things fifteen hundred on SATs, typing a hundred words a minute. Numbers that implied there would be more numbers.

His main fear was that hed never fall off the ledge, that hed never bounce off the floor, around the room, doing things left and right. He was afraid hed die having spent his life on the verge of accomplishing something.

She seemed to him to be pure movement kissing people, tattooing herself. Her inherent kineticism did not seem, to him, to imply a complimentary lack of potential, but he didnt realize this about his perception of her. We attribute more to our lovers than we do to ourselves.

What are you thinking, she said.

Nothing, he said. They were at a restaurant and drinks had yet to arrive.

Television told him that everything could be okay, so he quashed worries. He again was unaware that this was going on. He had seen so many relationships with laugh-tracks that he thought he knew what they looked like. The only real relationship hed ever been even moderately privy to was his parents, and that had mostly taken place behind a cracked and closed bedroom door. They didnt yell but sometimes the air between them felt like cotton.

These situations came up every six or eight months, but in his memory they characterized his childhood. Before his mother had died they had lived in a house with two stories, theyd had a dog and a cat and a gerbil. The gerbil had escaped one night and the cat had killed it. Then his mothers skin went pale and she stopped walking. Her eyes faded. So goes childhood.

He hadnt seen her die, couldnt remember visiting her in the hospital, and wondered if this was what repressed memories felt like, and whether it would be worth it to try and recover with a psychologist.

They had been together for three months when he told her about his mother. It made her cry because her fathers death was still fresh. It was like stretching out a gashed arm.

She cried a lot. He saw her cry a lot, but she cried more often than he knew. She hadnt been close to her father, but that might have contributed to her state. She wasnt really crying about her father. That situation gave her room to cry about everything in the world hungry children, regretted tattoos, war, famine, the lean time leading up to death. Time Mark had had in buckets and which she had had in thimbles.

She missed her father and she was beginning to miss her mother, who had taken to her bed. Her mother was an older woman who didnt like being older, who thought that rouge made her look like she wasnt grieving. Her mother wore too much make-up. She took to her bed, took to wearing bedclothes all the time, but did not take to a natural look. Her pillowcases smeared red and black with makeup.

Thrice a week Sylvia cooked lunch for her mother and Mark washed her pillowcases without acknowledging the mess. They wallowed. Eventually they made dinner for her, too, ate, and drove home in silence. Mark drove. Sylvia watched the crystaline stars ripple above the cars and fell asleep, every time. Her mother had given up and would die. The car ride took twenty minutes.

Sylvia was lost because her mother and father had not been close. They had been cordial. Why her mother would be so murdered by his loss was not apparent to her because all she knew of love was the burning flareup at the beginning shed never made it to the comfortable point. Shed never survived the initial excitement and in fact was stretching herself stupid to keep her love new bath salts, anal sex, vegetarianism. Her mother knew things she did not.

Her mother died in December.

No one was sleeping around, no one was particularly dissatisfied, and nothing at all was going on when he found he needed to leave her. He wasnt going to fall off that bookshelf- there would be no earthquake. One had to push oneself and it seemed like a start. On a Tuesday night he had her meet him in a restaurant where theyd eaten one hundred times.

He ordered a stringbean salad. She had water and potatoes and chicken and pasta and red wine.

Her heart stopped when he told her he was not happy. She was still crying at the drop of a pin and he couldnt be leaving her. She still needed someone.

He told her that he had been thinking and that he needed space and he wasnt happy and hed be crossing the country in his car and she could not come along. He said that he wasnt breaking up with her, exactly, but that he needed time to figure things out and she knew that he was exactly breaking up with her.

Food arrived. She wanted to empty her glass on his shirt like a heroine and storm out of the restaurant, never to see him again, but she continued eating. Shed made it out of an American adolescence without an eating disorder, but still she was surprised that she could still eat. She nearly finished her pasta. She wasnt sure what she should say Okay? Please reconsider? Somewhere under her lungs she knew that this was right.

She didnt say anything. Her heart was already pounding when she touched the napkin to her lips like Audrey Hepburn, stood and walked out. She drove for three hours and when she got home all of his clothes were gone. His toothbrush and his smell and everything about him was gone. As insomnia set back in, she wondered, if I made you up? Why didnt I wait until I was over this, to let you go?

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