-Letter From A Stranger (fiction)

I used to look forward to going there every day. It used to make me feel…important. Like I was a recognizable and necessary player in this vital game we call “business”. I thought, maybe, if I worked hard and smiled at the right people, kept my handshake good and firm, I could steadily climb hand over hand up the corporate ladder. I used to volunteer myself for projects in meetings, not realizing this defined me not as a leader, but as a pencil pusher, a drone.

I try to make it comprehensible. Call my career the girl I wanted to go on to marry; somehow I showed myself to be fit only for friendship, a steadfast acquaintance resolved to their will. I equated work with my love life and forgot completely about pursuing a real one. Weren’t all things meant to work out if I worked with the system?

Sometimes I wake up at 3:00 a.m. feeling more alive in the darkness than I do between cubes and beneath fluorescents. I turn my bathroom light on, put on my pants and jacket and the scarf my father left me, and go on a walk outside beneath the oak trees. I like the way the cold air infects my lungs and stings the tips of my ears and nose.

Three weeks ago I heard meowing. I turned around and saw the grey cat that I sometimes have to chase away from my car in mornings. It came up to me and began to brush itself against my leg. For some reason I decided it must be cold so I picked it up and carried it back to my empty apartment. I fed it water and shared the bland chicken I cook for myself, it scurried off to test its nails on my bed-frame.

Now three weeks have passed and she’s thrice bathed. I let her sleep against my arm every night. I put my face in her fur and realize abruptly that the feeling traveling through my chest all this time, all these nights and days, has actually been loneliness. It washes away against her like the grime leaving her fur in the tub.

At last, I wonder; how can I run away from life while staying right here? I skipped work two days ago to build her a step and a window sill and no one seemed to notice I was gone. If you’re already invisible, is there any need to disappear?

Loved and Lost (fiction)

I coughed. It’s hard to think when coughing. The only thing worse than the coughing fits was when the fat nurse would come in and close my blinds, then I couldn’t not think. It’s better to look out the window at the traffic and see cars reflecting the overcast sky as they’re stuck in traffic. If there aren’t any semi-trucks then I have a clear view of the tree across the road. The tree and the window are my weather service, my connection to the outside world. The television gives me headaches, so I just look out to see if the branches are swaying with a breeze or bouncing with raindrops. I miss the days when Selma and I would sit cross-legged across from each other, under the big oak which was even then older than I am now. The summer rain would come but fail to bother us; the air was warm and so was her smile, and you knew it never rained for long and all the flowers cropping the path home would open up, shake off and face the sunlight. Now when the rain comes no one smiles at me, I have nothing but achy joints and fear that the fat nurse would come in and close my blinds, make me eat some pasty sandwich.

When you’re young, you can run and escape things, you have freedom with your health and your legs and a whole world full of things to hate and things to fall in love with, after the war, at least. Now I’m stuck in the same damn room with the same damn memories of the same dead woman who will never seem to fully leave me, the same damn aches in a body that doesn’t look the same as it did in the memories. That’s why I like to see the tree, growing old peacefully, shedding its leaves every year and growing them back. I like to imagine it sheds all its memories of the year and gets to start again every spring. My leaves just fall off of me to reveal a barren stump, only a few swirling memories off in the wind and the rest, left.

The nurse comes back in-I yell at her, throw my sandwich, accuse her of eating all the decent food. The same old song and dance.

Now I survived a real war and I survived a colder one and those I’m fine with, but why I had to survive a death, why my Selma couldn’t survive her personal war, well that plagues me, has plagued me for 20 years, and damn it if cruelty hasn’t made me a bit cruel. No wonder my children don’t visit. No wonder that fat cow of a nurse stares at me with fire in her eyes. Even death seems to shun me, when I’m calling out to the bastard with open arms. I’m tired. At least when I sleep I don’t dream.

And the old bastard fell asleep, and the cow of a nurse came in and put a pillow on his face and pressed down, one tear in her eye falling like a warm raindrop.