She gave a curt little nod when she woke up that morning. She always gave a curt little nod upon awakening, the triumphant conclusion of a fierce debate which nightly raged within her slumbering mind- Resolved: It Is Better To Live Than Die. The pros had once again prevailed, hence the nod. The morning light crept across her wall like spilled paint. Creamsicle orange and coral pink filled her tiny apartment, ans she lay in bed and drank its beauty.
Nothing, she felt, could make her get up from this bed. Not the echoes of her
mother’s pleadings or the image of her father’s perpetually raised eyebrow.
Certainly not the nuns from grade school who even now patrolled her mind
brandishing their rulers. Not even the hunger nipping and growling ever more
fiercely at her abdomen could make her get up. She had found the center of the universe and here she would stay.
But they would not let her stay. They would come for her. She remembered the
steely black hairs on the sheriff’s wrists as he’d clutched her own. She recalled his glimmering badge and his toothsome smirk. As happy as she would have been to die there, they hadn’t let her die there and they wouldn’t let her die here. The rent must be paid.
She got up. Pushing the coral from her mind, storing it in an easy to
reach synapse, she gathered the lotions and potions she’d need for her
transformation to productive citizen. She avoided the beauty of the sparkling water. She could not afford to be enthralled right now. She might lose everything. There was a scratching sound in the wall. She turned off the shower and listened to it closely, trying to make sense of it.
Wacka wacka scree scrawnka jiwicka jiwicka shisoo
With a little effort, she was able to break the code.
DON’T – GO – TO – WORK
She repeated her calculations just to be sure she wasn’t making anything up.
wacka wacka scree
jiwicka jiwicka shisooo
The instructions were quite clear. She toweled off and dove back in to bed.
The sheets had cooled in her absence and the colors were all gone. She wasted no time in focusing her gaze on the many dimples in the wall, which shone in semi-glossy splendor. The shadows which had begun to steal across this tiny moonscape drew her attention. The familiar sensation of falling overcame her and at last her cheek and pillow melded. Passing through the plush cotton portal, she heard swirling melodies of distant chattering . Lilting just a little, she stepped into a waiting gondola. “This’ll be a good one.” The gondolier assured her. “You always say that, Steve.”
“Yes. Yes I do.”
She made herself comfortable as the gondola moved forward. On the horizon she spied a massive gelatinous Parcheesi token. She was only mildly surprised when it spoke to her. “Don’t be ridiculous” it said. Nothing more.
Then again. “Don’t be ridiculous.” “Easy for you to say.” Gloria thought as she watched a troupe of howler monkeys dressed in evening gowns synchronously swimming Busby Berkeley style around the Parcheesi token. “My god but they’re talented! Do you think they have to train
long for this sort of thing?”
“You were told not to be ridiculous.” Steve said. At this two of the monkeys looked back at her and began swimming toward the gondola. “Now you’ve done it.” He began rowing furiously backwards.
“Done what? Think impure thoughts?”
“Pretty much” said Steve as he began swatting at the monkeys with one of his oars. He crowned the smaller of the two with three especially deft strokes: CRACK CRACK CRACK!!! As the first monkey slid beneath the waves, the other got a hold of the gondola and began to pull himself in. Steve dispatched this one with four shots to the head and three to his hairy little belly. CRACKCRACKCRACKCRACK THUMP THUMP THUMP!!!!
She opened her eyes just as his knobby toes sank out of sight and realized that the noise was not oar on monkey belly but knuckle on front door. She clutched her no longer cool sheets and slid beneath them, closing her eyes so tightly that she began to see swirling blue-green patterns beneath her eyelids. They were of course breathtakingly beautiful and she would have gladly gazed at them the rest of the day, but the knocking on her door persisted.
Her front door was a mighty protector now. She wanted to curl up against it and fondle its manly panels. To open it now would be just plain reckless. Aw, what the hell. “Just a minute!”
The woman behind the chain had lovely shiny hoops dangling from her ears.
Amazing hoops, really. “Gloria Meerschaum?”
“Yes. Am I in some kind of trouble?”
“That’s what I’ve come to ask you.”
“I’m sorry. My name is Naomi Descanso and your family asked me to come and
check on you.”
“You mean they’ve paid you.”
“Yes. They’ve paid me to come and check on you.”
“I’m not at liberty to say.”
“I’ll double it if you’ll tell them I’m dead.”
“They know you’re not dead, they gave me your address. And you can’t double my fee you haven’t got any money. As a matter of fact I have a check here from your mother.”
“I don’t want it.”
“Yes you do.”
“No I don’t.”
“Yes you do. Now get dressed and I’ll run you down to the bank and we’ll cash it and maybe get some groceries or something.”
“You’re right. Now chop chop missy.”
“I don’t think anyone has ever said chop chop to me. Ever.”
“Better late than never.”
Here Naomi (Ms. Descanso, really) launched into a mildly abusive
tirade about permissiveness and ingratitude and a whole bunch of other
stuff, none of which Gloria could really make out. She was watching Naomi’s lips dance like two caterpillars swathed in red silk. All she could hear was the music of distant leaves. Walking across the parking lot, Gloria rather enjoyed the pain of the sun on her face and wondered why she didn’t feel it more often.
The frosty aisles of frozen food echoed with Naomi’s bossiness. Gloria needed
more protein, apparently, and more fiber as well. She learned more about the
relative nutritive value of various foods than she ever wanted to know and she
found herself wondering how long it was going to take to forget all of this. She had given up trying to make small talk somewhere between cold cereal and canned meat. She simply followed along and let Naomi’s words crawl through her brain like angry earwigs and scurry down the side of her head. Then she discovered the pyramid of oranges.
Pyramid of oranges. As the phrase bounced around in her head she skipped a
little. Gloria could see the energy lines run up the sides of the pyramid and
converge at its apex. She knew all at once the wisdom of the ancients and
understood at a glance what they had been trying to achieve. She remembered the first orange she had ever peeled, the tiny spray of oil as she bent back the rind, the rind itself with all of its lovely depressions. Lovely depressions. Lovely moonscapey pigskinnish light catching soul stirring-
Naomi groaned and snorted at the same time, making a sound that was as
unpleasant as it was shocking. “You didn’t even want to come here and now you’re fondling the oranges. Unbelievable. Let’s get going. You may not have anything else to do today but I certainly do. Come on.”
“Whaddaya mean, no?”
“No means no. Haven’t you heard that before?”
“I don’t need this. I really don’t. I took this job because I like your parents but
enough is enough. Now we’ve done your shopping and it’s time to go home. Now let’s go.”
Gloria had planted her feet firmly on the linoleum in a stance she had perfected many years before in the halls of Immaculate Heart School for Girls and she knew damned well that no amount of cajoling or even brute force that Naomi was prepared to exert would move her from that spot. Naomi knew it too.
“Fine. Here’s the money. I hope you make it home OK. Goodbye.”
Gloria tightened her calves to the sound of Naomi’s fading footsteps. She heard them close in on the Cheese Nips before she broke down.
“Wait. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry. Wait.”
The ride back to her house was quiet but not strained. Gloria heard the singing of the tires below and the buzzing of the helicopters above. She relaxed into the upholstery, snuggling. Naomi parked the car and shut the motor off and relaxed into her seat, too.
She sat there for a long while just watching Gloria sleep. She meant to shake her but she found herself gently stroking her cheek. “What a beautiful girl.” she thought. “She doesn’t have those weird eyes some blind people have. Well, she does, but they’re so pretty.” She thought about the unfairness of it all. A girl with those looks who can’t look at herself in the mirror. She adjusted her rear view mirror and looked at herself, tracing the newest lines around her eyes, staring down the little blotches on her neck. “Time to face reality, Naomi. A girl like that…” She reached down and stroked her cheek again. Gloria gave a tender little grunt.
“This will be a good one” the gondolier assured her.
“You always say that, Steve.”
“Yes. Yes I do.”
Gently scrolling waves of warmth arose from purple sand dunes rolling to a distant horizon beneath a fluorescent green sky. Camels were approaching, hundreds of them, dressed in silver spangles and Moroccan finery. Gloria squealed. “Do you think they mean well?” Steve chuckled. “I certainly hope so. This cliff behind us looks rather steep.” Turning around and looking down, Gloria could just make out a winding silver river at the bottom of a canyon. It sparkled and winked at her, while brightly colored birds flew towards her bearing little satchels of herbs and flowers.