Will

Today I will get off of the couch. Yesterday I watched TV from twelve noon til ten thirty and then I went back to sleep. Tomorrow I will not watch any television at all. Today I will watch only a little. Yesterday I had to watch so much especially because they were doing a marathon of that show from the nineties, that silly one with the laugh track and the bad hair, the bouncy theme song and the wacky family dynamics. Tomorrow I will answer my email, finish the job application, wash my hair, check the messages. Today I will go grocery shopping because that is a big enough goal for one day if it’s anything like the days that have been blurring recently, nothing happening and no reason to do very much at all. My living room is starting to have that smell of stale human and unwashed clothes, even though I don’t leave any dirty clothes in the living room, and of the crumbs and oil that cling to the creases in the blanket on the couch. Yesterday I wanted to clean but I couldn’t, it just seemed overwhelming, so I let it go for one more day, just one day. When you’ve got it waiting one day, it’s easy to decide it can wait another. When you wake up at ten in the morning when you know you used to get up at seven, it’s easy to decide you can sleep one more hour, and then when you wake up again you make the same decision. When you stay on the couch, it’s hard to get up.

Tomorrow I think my sister is coming to visit. She’s a psychologist, but one of the hippie kinds who wants to hold your hand and refer you to a psychiatrist to give you happy drugs. She comes once a week or so to tell me that I’m clinically depressed and should get on something right away, by which she means I should take prescription medications to alleviate the symptoms of my mental illness, which she sometimes says in her professional voice when she notices me ignoring her. She clucks at me like a suburban bespectacled cardigan-wearing chicken, and attempts to straighten up around the house before she lets her fluttering hands fall and just leaves me alone again already. Today I will try to clean up a little bit so that I won’t feel that embarrassed shame in my stomach, the burn that lazily starts in my gut when she looks like she’s hopeless in the wreck of my living room. Yesterday I wanted to pick up but I only lasted as long as one commercial break. Sometimes I get back up again, and sometimes I don’t. Today I will make sure there are no food cartons or wrappers or anything on the floor. I can at least make that concession to basic hygiene so that my sister won’t be completely disgusted by my squalor. Though it’s not like she would show disgust, she would consider that psychologically damaging to betray her professional tact like that. With me my sister needs a lot of professional tact.

Yesterday another bill came from the electric company. It was marked urgent and I didn’t open it. I know I need to pay my electric bill, even though I’m scraping the bottom of my savings account. I don’t know how I’m going to pay it next month. I guess it’s a good thing I’m trying to watch less TV. Tomorrow I will write a check and put it in the mail. Actually, that’s probably the sort of thing I could just do online, even though I always associate bills with a stack of envelopes. The idea of ripping out the letters, with the amount due printed in the front so it’s easy to see, automatically makes my pulse flit harder in my throat. Today I will check to see if there are any other unpaid bills in the kitchen, which is usually where I keep them. If I can find them I will make them into a stack that will be easy to find and I will leave a sticky note on top to remind me. Yesterday at least I checked the mail and found that one. There wasn’t anything else interesting, though it did remind me that I have a letter for my aunt that I meant to send her ages ago. Tomorrow I should buy stamps when I do everything else. Lately I haven’t been doing most of the things that I need to do, or even any of the things. I haven’t been doing what I need to do. Today I will.

Mute Fear

He has too many words to say and write and think and they’re pressing and building – and he’s so afraid that he’ll forget how to unstopper them and let them spill out and fall, slip sinuous and puddle in a pool that sinks into the soft weave beneath what holds something together, himself or something else. He’s afraid they’ll stay there, and he won’t be able to let them out. He’s afraid to live quietly. He’s afraid of being alone, and he’s afraid that people are alone, and thinking of it makes him slide apart. He’s afraid he’ll forget the words he needs to say before they slip out, before he slides apart or together or holds himself fast with forgotten threads of memory laced with tears and grief and still bound tight. He’s afraid to speak.

Being Surprised by Grief

Anna was hurrying home, because she thought she was going to cry. Probably nobody would notice anyway, since in this dark she could barely see her feet moving over the sidewalk. Even so, she felt she’d be much more comfortable dissolving in tears on her own bed, rather than sniffling awkwardly as she walked down the street.

Her phone buzzed against her side, and with a wriggle she pulled it from her pocket. A message scrolled across the top: PATRICK hi sweetie you ok? how about you come have dinner with us tomorrow at 7 let me know. She shoved the phone back, clicking it off, and tucked her head to her chest. When she got to the stairway at the end of the block, she clamped a hand on the railing as if it were all that was holding her upright.

She felt she was sliding down the stairs and if she leaned a little too far she would just fold forward and crumple, bend, her knees collapsing until she sunk into a heap gently slipping downwards. To keep that from happening, Anna narrowed her eyes and concentrated on getting down the stairs. A moment later she was surprised to find herself at the bottom, no stairs left, and her knees still locked and straight.

When Anna arrived at the door to her apartment she was surprised again, fumbling for the key and then realizing what she was doing. It was lucky, she observed to herself, that her body knew what to do without her having to think about it at all. She was done unlocking the door by the time she finished thinking this, and floated into the room wondering at herself.

Before she even formed the thought Anna was in her bedroom, the lights flicked on and her bag draped over the chair. She sat heavily on her bed and leaned her head into her arms. She sat like that for a long time, thinking about crying, waiting for the tears to come. She was surprised again when they didn’t, and she was doing nothing more than sitting on her bed, eyes dry and burning, with her arms wrapped around her head and her heart aching.

Because of Emily Dickinson

A man is sitting at a barstool, leaning forward and staring dully at the glass clasped between his hands. He is thinking, vaguely and hopelessly, that there is very little in his life. This is a good reason to straighten and gulp down a swig of scotch.

After a while, and another glass filled and emptied, the door to the bar swings and slams. Somebody settles into place on the stool beside him, but he barely notices. His glance hardly flickers to the side. He concentrates only on the shards of light piercing the glass before him.

Another long while passes, and eventually it occurs to him to look at his companion, drinking quietly next to him. He turns and scans and sees nothing remarkable, and returns to his comfortable slump. In a minute, though, as he raises the glass to his lips, it occurs he can’t remember what the person next to him looks like. The thought tickles at his mind, drawing his attention to – something. Something that did not hold his attention at all, and it bothers him. He saw only a face, and it left no imprint on his mind. He doesn’t think he’s quite that drunk yet.

After a sip he turns again, sliding a glance from half-lidded eyes, and nods. A normal face, nothing outstanding. But when he turns forward again, the face slips from his mind. He has no recollection of the person two feet from him, no sense of what he – or she? – looks like. He shrugs, and his hands settle before him once more. He sits and chats with the bartender, empty small words, and after a few minutes he has mostly forgotten that anyone is there at all. The barstool is a familiar sort of uncomfortable under him, and his head swims pleasantly.

Time passes until a flicker of movement at his side catches his attention, and he realizes that the barstool next to him is still occupied. He peeks over, another sidelong glance at someone wholly unremarkable. The plain stranger is watching him steadily. So he sits up straight, and turns completely, and looks back. The man and the stranger stare at each other, the stranger unperturbed and the man bewildered. He waits for a long moment of peering at the stranger’s vacant eyes, blank but for something – searching. Something that prods him with a question, but he cannot hear it and does not know the answer.

He shifts, fidgets, and a shiver brushes his spine. His hand finds the glass on the bar and he looks at it, keeping his gaze there. He speaks, his voice rasping and thin, and says to the stranger, “Who are you?”

The stranger’s voice is flat. “I’m nobody. Who are you? Are you nobody too?”

The man is confounded. Surprised, too, that he is less confused than he should be. He nods at the question as if it makes sense, and then wonders at his own quick acceptance. And a voice comes from his lips as he realizes too late what he is saying, “I don’t know. Nobody. I guess I could be.”

The stranger smiles and nods, but he cannot see. He sinks back into himself, crumpling onto the barstool and forward toward the glass and the drop of scotch left traced around its edge. In a bit he notices that he is the only one sitting there, that the bar is empty. And when he shakes his heavy head he feels the wisp of something drifting from his mind, like a dream hidden in the shroud of sleep. He leaves the bar very late that night, alone, and watches his own shoes step forward on the pavement until he can rest.

***

That man wanders now. He goes to many places and talks to people who don’t understand what’s happening, but he stops that quickly because he cannot bear their confusion. They hold so much of substance in their minds that he cannot fit. So he goes from place to place and watches people, hoping someday to find a person with nothing on his mind and little to live for. In the meantime he sits on trains, stands in line for coffee, steps through sidewalks with a crowd of people who cannot remember his face.

Today

How entirely lovely it was, to be caught up in the small things again. She had made oatmeal that morning, and luxuriated in waiting for the steam to touch her face and the heat to creep up the spoon into her hand. Watching the brown sugar melt and feeling the sweet and the rough on her tongue – oatmeal had never been quite so transcendent before. She thought that, very possibly, breakfast would always be this bright. Even the sun blazing through the windows seemed to agree, stroking the room with pallid warmth and gilding the snow to almost-gold.

After what felt like so much darkness, after shivering and knowing that light would not come, the gleam of her oatmeal under the sun’s rays felt like absolution. Scrubbing the bowl in the sink made her skin tingle and her nose itch with the strength of the detergent, and the sponge rasping against her dry skin crinkled her eyes with delight. It was so perfect, to feel a moment so simple as that. She stood in her small kitchen, the dingy walls huddling over checked linoleum and blue counters, and she wanted to sing as she dried the bowl. Had she ever enjoyed washing a dish, before? She couldn’t remember. It seemed very long ago already.

She was so filled with the hope the sun pushed through the windows that she took a walk. She dragged the lazy dog with her, fixing the leash to his collar as he whined and ruffling his short grey fur. It prickled against her fingers, and as she smiled the poor dog looked up at her, puzzled. He didn’t want to go out in the cold. She took him anyway, and smiled as the air stung her cheeks and hurt the inside of her throat. It was cold and delicious, that winter air, and she tromped through the snow with her clunky boots as if she were remembering how. The dog trundled after her, sniffing pointedly. It was so beautiful, the buildings crusted with white and the sidewalk patched with stubborn snow. The ice where a puddle had frozen was gleaming in the light, and she stopped to look at it as the dog sniffed at a fenced-in tree.

When she got back to the apartment, the warmth rushed into her like soft pain, making her fingers ache as the feeling soaked back into them and her nose drip. She watched the dog curl into his little bed, giving her a reproachful look and burying his nose in his paws. The clock only read 1:33, so it was still early in the afternoon.

The whole day passed like that – reheating lunch and watching mesmerized as the microwave hummed, reading with her back against the smoothness of the wall. When the phone rang it made her jump, breaking the concentration she was focusing on the small things with something big and loud. When she’d thanked the telemarketer politely and hung up, it took her minutes to settle back to that level of attention, where the crack in the ceiling could busy her eyes for a while. It felt so wonderfully familiar and new to be so completely in herself, in the moment, in the place where she was. She had missed it, even though she’d never really noticed it before, like the absence of a clock or picture that becomes part of the background until its absence is suddenly glaring.

When it was nearly 5:00, the room began to dim and the light through the windows edged away. The sun was hiding behind some building she couldn’t see, and once she turned on the lamps the apartment glowed with its own light. It would get dark again, she knew. Eventually her own lights would flicker off as well. For now, she gazed at the cheery bulbs blurred through lampshades with curiosity. She settled a blanket around her shoulders and picked up her book again. The light poured onto the pages and wrapped around her, and she closed her eyes to feel the weak false heat from the lightbulb. Probably eventually the light wouldn’t be there – or she wouldn’t notice it. Probably eventually she would flick on the lamps without seeing them, and barely notice when the sun slipped away. Eventually making breakfast would be a chore again and she would wish for something bigger, something to save her, something to pull her out of her darkness. For the moment, though, she lost herself in the small things instead, so she bent her head over her book and shivered in the yellow light.