He woke up to a bird knocking its broken beak against the window. He sat up in bed and pulled the curtain to the side. The sky was layered in purple and yellow like an old bruise. The sun was setting, and he pulled on jeans and a sweater over his limp long underwear.
(describe appearance and gait)
Leaves tore like paper under his shoes. He walked with a crosscut saw propped on his shoulder. The wind whistled a little song through the saw’s row of teeth. The song kept him company while he walked, and his mood was good. He stopped in the center of a parking lot. Headlights spilled long puddles of light around the corners of parked cars. He stood in the parking lot with the saw over his left shoulder and his right hand on his hip. He squatted down and balanced on the balls of his feet. He bounced a little and rocked back and forth. He thoughtfully pulled down on the bill of his baseball cap. He stood up, bent at the waist, and extended his arms. He lowered the saw and began to slide it back and forth through the air. He manipulated the saw exactly as though he were standing over a pair of sawhorses in a woodshop, cutting one by fours into planks to build a deck or a shed. It was the most unusual thing, to watch an average looking man cut the cooling night air into what looked like neat cubes. It was a perfect pantomime, as though he had gone to school to learn the craft. Each cube was the size of a box meant to hold a small TV or a microwave. He turned at the waist and stacked the cubes in low piles behind him while he worked. The air was crisp and appeared to break easily, like a sheet of saltines or matzo already scored and ready to be snapped. He worked at the seams with the saw, and sometimes he tapped the cubes out with the saw’s point.
A line of sweat broke across his forehead. He smiled to himself and wiped his forehead with the back of his wrist. He never looked up at the people who stopped to stare. The people looked at one another, wonder and worry drawing lines across their faces. In a park on a summer’s day, people would have dropped warm coins into a hat for him. But in a parking lot? On a fall evening? He was a skilled mime, bending his knees and screwing his eyes and mouth in a tight knot around his nose. His face twisted with concentration like a balled up dishcloth. He stopped to rub his back with the fat of his hand every few minutes. He curled in one shoulder and drew in the next, and then dropped them both back and twisted at the waist. He looked behind him at the low wall of cool air cubes. He bent over and curled his hand around a water bottle that didn’t rest on the ground, and he twisted the air and raised the open bottle and poured a stream of air into his mouth. His lips were pursed and his Adam’s apple shook against the thin skin at his throat.
A crowd had gathered on the sidewalk in front of the pharmacy and the liquor store. A low hum ran the length of the sidewalk, like a fluorescent ceiling light buzzing intermittently. Mothers pulled children to their thighs, hooking their fingers under the children’s chins and turning their faces. Strangers lowered their brows and turned to one another. Should someone call 911? Should someone try to talk to him? Should they leave him there?
Bitterness tastes like whiskey when you haven’t had it in a good long while. It brings on the shivers. A stippled painting runs the length of your arms. Whiskey is warm and heavy. It is crisp like papery leaves tearing under your shoes on a cool fall morning. You will smell it before it hits you. Bitterness does not taste bad. You’ll wince for a moment, but sit down with the round bottom of a heavy glass sweating across your palm. Your wince will ease. Your eyelids will flutter and your breathing will even. Bitterness is a cord of warmth glowing from your throat to your belly. Released from any responsibility, bitterness will have you swaying on a tabletop before the night’s over.
On a fall evening he walked outside with a crosscut saw propped on his shoulder. The saw hummed a cool song along its row of broken teeth. The humming kept him company while he walked, and his mood was good. He made it to the center of a parking lot and began to cut the cool air into neat squares. He stacked them in low piles while he worked. The air was crisp and broke easily. The saw was only needed to score the seams. Passerby stared at him. Their top lips were flat lines, holding up drooping bottom lips. Lightning bugs flew into the back holes gaping under their noses. The people’s bellies lit up in buzzing oranges and blues. The men and women blinked like lanterns, the children like handheld flashlights. The people thought him strange as they stood in a row like a string of blinking lights, but he kept working and singing along with the saw sliding through the air.
The feeling of gratitude and hope is like a deck built from rain softened wood that springs under your plush naked feet on a summer morning. It is a dry sponge that swells and darkens under running water. It is standing in front of a fireplace with damp heat knitting tall socks around your legs.
Hope and gratitude defy words. Sadness easily funnels itself into the shape of words. It curls into the swirls of cursive and cracks its arthritc knuckles. It knows it’s here to stay. It knows I can talk about it for hours. I don’t have language for hope and gratitude. I only pull them out on the second Tuesday of each week. They are like the lollipops we had as children. Flat disks of pressed sugar pivoting on white paper sticks and wrapped in square slips of plastic. The lollipops were like hot molasses poured into molds and left to harden into sticky candy. We licked lollipops and stuck them to our dry lips, left them to hang like jewelry. The whits sticks tapped our chins. We danced in circles with our hands thrown over our heads, playing the air like cymbals and castanets. The fire decorated our calves with yellow and red paint, and we sprung around like we were part amphibian or flowers who remembered we were meant to bloom. The fire was our sun and we held hands and leaned into it, letting go of one another to flip the trays of the hardening candy that was lit from the fire and glowing like jewels.
Dryer sheets are are grainy, strung through with miniscule, knotted fibers. They are folded into heavy creases, letters to your laundry. They smell heady and oily, a funeral spray in a hot cemetery. A sheen covers them and catches the light. They are small oil slicks. They leave behind the wet light of grease on your fingertips. They go into the dryer coarse and come out limp and softened. They are maybe a sham and don’t really soften clothes at all.
Disappointment clogs her throat like a bowl of hardened limes. She can’t breathe past their pebbled, waxy skin. The shiny limes are wrapped in leathery peels. They are tight fists knotted in her throat. Their green coats are not cheerful. They are garish and they mock her. Limes look like they’ve shown up for a party with a bunch of bee bopping balloons to celebrate. They have not. Those balloons will punch the shit out of the air for a minute or two before they start popping, cracking the air and dropping ribbons to the floor. The doors of her lungs blow shut and her heart blinks. The broken balloons are dusty slips of rubber piled on the floor.
A clock hung in a box over the kitchen table. The pendulum nudged and dinner was at 4:30. Mary, Rosie, and Sandy sat in a curl around the table’s round corner. A bowl of salad. White chicken breasts with heavy dots of black pepper and paprika. Potato boats. Swirls of white potatoes in charred, papery skins. Piles of bright yellow corn, shining under pats of butter. Eating was like brushing your teeth or dusting heater vents. It was to be done.
Windows were open in the summer, and the house pulled at the air straining through the screens. The sisters sat at the table like three small wooden spools, and the air circled loosely around them like soft yellow thread. Six legs kicked under the table.
Sandy washed, Rosie dried, and Mary cleaned the floor. When Sandy and Rosie were done, they threw open the front door and poured out of it like a tipped pitcher heavy with water. Children cheered from down the lane, and Sandy and Rosie took off. They were small and fast and looked like they were flying inches above the path.
Mary sat on the porch with envelopes of paper dolls, one envelope for each doll and her wardrobe. She put the envelopes in different orders and labeled them with their contents. She scored the tabs on the paper gowns with her fingernail. She shuffled the envelopes in a shoebox.
She swang in the backyard. Her mom waved from the kitchen window. Mary’s cheeks went slack under her cheekbones, and the cooling night air wiped damp palms in the hollows on her face. Her legs broke the air into blocks. She kicked off her shoes when she was high in the air. They landed in the green grass. The swingset lifted each time she rose in the air. When she dropped down, the swingset slammed into the ground and her bottom smacked against the rubber seat. She breathed in short, clean lines. Her hands cut the metal chains, and her arms were loose like water.