overhaul / undertow

Friday, September 26, 2003

feelings you can't quite describe

Parts of the following are fiction. But they almost happened. And some did happen. I've begun taking little steps in my writing to not simply re-tell stories but to follow little threads of possibility, to see where they would go, and see if I can keep it honest and real at the same time.

So, here's something that's almost real. It might as well have happened; my state of mind would be no different.


After I get back to the office from lunch Trish, my boss’s assistant, walks in to tell me I did not get the promotion to instruct adult classes. “It has nothing to do with your ability,” she says, shrugging over her shoulder in the direction of the portrait I painted of her, hanging on my office wall. “Or with your ability to teach. They just think you…” and she paused-- “you don’t have a consistent enough record yet. They don’t know if they can count on you with the training.”

I sit there and think. They’re probably right. I would hate the training. But I would have done it if they’d let me. Anything to get out of the fucking office.

“Are you ok?” she asked, and I smiled and nodded. “Do you have any questions?” “No,” I said.

I get up after she leaves my office and walk into the staff kitchenette. I buy a packet of M&M’s from the dispenser. Inside the bag, a sweepstakes game piece announces in bold letters, YOU ARE NOT A WINNER.

I snort. It’s funny.

At four-thirty I ask Trish if I can go for a walk. She says yes and catches my eye to ask if I am alright; I tell her I am fine. I put my socks and boots on, becuse the sandals I'm wearing in the office corridors threaten to slip off my feet and cause me to have to shuffle down the sidewalk. I walk down the long residential blocks to the Korean market. There is no breeze. The air feels like tepid water, and bland. In the market I notice the sweet pickled ginger I buy at Ralphs for six dollars on sale for two dollars. I’ll buy it here from now on, and I make a mental note that now I have an excuse to return.

I buy paper towels and napkins. I have been out of paper products in the kitchen for three days. It wasn’t bothering me that much but when Cheney was over Monday night and I made us eggs I realized I had no napkins and I felt vaguely embarrassed, even though he said he did not care. The man behind me at the checkout line hustles me out of the way, shouldering his purchases right next to mine as I pick up my bags and thank the cashier. She does not notice me.

I am walking down the sidewalk back to the office when the toe of my right boot catches against the asphalt for no particular reason, and I stumble, and then I surprise myself by actually falling down right there, crashing down onto my chest and left shoulder like a tree. I feel enormously stupid but it all feels scripted, par for the course, and far too easy. There are no cars or people around. Only mute houses and beige apartment buildings, and the sound of the freeway a block away, moving past the vacant homes like a river. I look out over my chin to see leaves on the sidewalk. It’s too early in the year yet for them to have changed to golden or red colors. They are a dull dusty green. I roll onto my back and stare at the sky. There is an odd silence, a suspension of sound and the light hangs in the air like haze. I do not want to work at getting back up. The sky is a distant brittle blue, as though it could crumble into powder and blow away, dry and parched. I feel a delicate heat on my left shoulder where it came down on the concrete, and I look at it to see a small skein of red rising up from the abraded skin; but there isn’t really much blood at all, and mostly the area just looks abused. I do not care very much.

I lie there a while, and when my head starts to ache from the hard concrete I put my arms up behind my neck to hold it away from the sidewalk. Newly-planted sycamores frame my vision; the bland shingled wall of a condo complex next to me casts shade over the whole sidewalk. When I do stand up the world feels unnaturally tilted on its side. I untie my long-sleeved shirt from my waist and put it on to cover the scrape on my shoulder. The rest of the walk back, the clouds I was observing from my vantage point on the ground still do not move or change; they lie so distant in the fragile gray-blue of the sky they seem immovable, like permanent scratches on the lens.

I feel some strange emotion balling up in my chest, against my sternum, and I swallow against it, and keep walking. I think I want to scream. I do not.


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