Totoro’s Sad

By Mara Cohen

Essay

 

I jump at the sound of my husband’s voice, am doubly startled when I turn to encounter the unblinking eyes of our daughter’s puppet peeking around the kitchen doorway. “Totoro’s sad,” Puppet says.
My heart, bruised and swollen shut, relaxes slightly at what I assume is my husband’s gesture of reconciliation after a weekend when the prospect of divorce had been broached by each of us, more than once. I cross the kitchen and step into the hallway where I find him, his eyes moist with tears.

Hybridity

By Ariel Gore

Essay

 

For Beachcombers

Who Are Tired of Performing Normal

 

Surrealism runs through the streets.

—Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

I stood in front of the bank teller this morning, trying to perform normal.

Wishing I could just go home, get back to work.

See, I’m building a dream library under the house. I’m modeling it after that book hostel in Tokyo. We’ll climb ladders to sleep in shelves. We’ll metamorphose into books. We’ll wake with bent spines.

But here now instead I’m wasting my time standing under these harsh florescent lights, tying to perform sign-here like I’m not re-living the shame of so many years of bounced checks and closed accounts and begging forgiveness for the overdraft fees that mean the difference between rent and no rent and I’m breathing hard even though I have enough money now and all these blackbirds under my skin start pushing to break themselves out, beaks pressing out from the thin peel of my sun-burned chest, and I keep shifting my position, hoping the teller won’t notice the sharp protrusions.

I just want to go home. Get back to work on my dream library. Burrow and write.

Jimmy Wallet Is Buried Alive

Here is a photograph, undated. Jimmy Wallet is seated, his face turned, the sharp lines of his chin and jaw like an alligator that doesn’t bite. He’s terrifically handsome, with a boyish nose and cheeks, a sly smile, a little patch of beard below his lip, long black dreadlocks past his shoulders. His oldest daughter, Jasmine, sits next to him. People say she should be a model. Hannah is sprawled across Jimmy’s lap, looking at the camera, laughing, Jimmy’s hand covering her stomach. Behind him are his two younger girls, Raven and Paloma, and his wife, Mechelle. Raven looks up to her mother, who is turned and kissing the baby, her lips against Paloma’s mouth and nose. It’s a perfect picture, and soon it will be all over the news.

Jimmy Wallet is in motion now. He’s walking to the store. He has a loping, lazy, long-legged walk, arms bouncing near his waist. He’s wearing baggy jeans, a red sweatshirt, and a sleeve- less leather vest. The day is serene. Jimmy breathes deep, smells the Pacific, the sage from the hillside, the jasmine from the yard. When he left Mechelle, she was cleaning up the house, packing boxes, organizing the children’s things. There’ve been tornado warnings, and Mechelle is worried they’ll have to evacuate.

 

I am watching a dance segment on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, three black males in their late teens or early 20s, performing physical feats that leave me breathless with amazement. They explain that they began street dancing to earn money to help their mother make ends meet. Per usual, Ellen hands them a wad of bills, $10,000, and per usual, I tear up. But then I hear my uncle sneer, “Now don’t go spending it on dope.” My uncle has been dead for years, so I hear this in some dark unquiet corner of my mind, and I immediately scold myself. What? I don’t think that way!

I’m watching a rerun of last year’s BET awards, and in my head I hear, or I should say I remember hearing, “Those blacks, they sure do sing nice.” I am appalled, again. In a drawer, I have tickets for Bruno Mars; we saw Hamilton and are saving up to buy tickets again. I know that these last two things mean nothing, even though I want them to mean something.

To An Ex-Lover, after A Natural History of the Senses

When I was sixteen, I saw an alien. True story. My mama and I were watching television in our narrow low-rent Baltimore rowhouse when we heard our dog, barking with a particular urgency. Mama asks me to go investigate.

I can be a difficult guy to dine out with. Just ask my long-suffering wife. I’ve run restaurants my entire adult life so I know how the sausage is made. Literally. I’ve held every position in the front of house and have been in management for over a decade. And a five-year stint as a food writer had me visiting an average of a hundred restaurants a year. I can walk into a restaurant and notice immediately if it’s in trouble. The stink of death from a formerly cutesy but now failing ‘pan-Asian soul food’ concept? I’ve smelled it. Insouciant management, disinterested waitrons, off-season ingredients – I can root it out like a pig during truffle season. A quick perusal of a menu will tell me whether or not the chef is having an identity crisis. It’s a talent that means I’ll always have a job; unless that job is to be an enjoyable dinner companion.

And I can’t switch it off. Lighting too high, music too low, a table sitting unbussed for too long or guests milling at an unattended host stand all bother me more than say, the Syrian refugee crisis. I’ll hold up a wine glass and note not only spots but also a light effluvium of lint speckling the rim. They need to change the rinse-to-sanitizer ratio in their dishwashers, I’ll say. If the servers were polishing with microfiber cloths then lint wouldn’t cling to the stemware like the last Cheerios in the bowl. It’s pithy observations like these that explain why my wife would rather relive the 2016 presidential race – what felt like all 137 months of it – than go out to a restaurant with me.

The Blogger’s Wife

1) I have an idea.
2) It’s called The Blogger’s Wife.
3) I’m not sure if it’s a story or an essay.
4) It’s about a woman who’s married to a blogger and if someone leaves a shitty comment on one of his posts she tracks down their IP address and shows up at their house and duct-tapes them to a chair

 

“I have a secret,” David said. Then, silence. No secret spilled. Not for another three months.

Next, his outbursts, explosions of anger. Throwing glass on the floor, acting up at home, punches thrown, and goes to preschool with the same attitude—rage snapping at random. But he still couldn’t say what he had to say, and even if he did, would anyone listen? Children are to be seen, not heard. Though actions, of course, speak louder than words. When a four-year-old throws his puppy across the backyard, it’s hard not to hear how he needs to speak.

Though there’s the fact of that antiquated thought, a belief born and raised in the Victorian era, one that has sustained centuries of adherence: Children should be seen, not heard.

In other words, this ageist slogan is saying that children are inherently unruly. Disruptive. Each one of them. And rude. Absolutely. They run around restaurants and twirl around stores, cartwheel down aisles breaking every social more, every code of conduct we’ve put in place to police our interactions. Kids are inconsiderate and cause breakables to crash to the floor, because they insist on seeing with their hands, not with their eyes.

 

Last night I had a dream that my mother and I went shopping. We were at an outdoor mall and it seemed to be wintry; I sensed the glow of holiday lights. We were having a nice time together and I said to her, “Mom, it’s really important that you remember tonight, okay?”

I don’t remember anything else about the dream. I don’t remember if she promised to remember, or if she smiled as if to promise, but I knew–even while dreaming–that she could not keep that promise. As I recalled the dream to my husband, I found myself lying–already re-shaping the dream. I told my husband that my mother said “Why would I forget tonight? I won’t forget anything anymore.” I am certain that in the dream she didn’t say anything, nothing at all. When I re-told it, I made it come out the way I wanted; I made my mother remember something, and promise to keep remembering it.

 

***

 

Lately I’ve been like a kitten pawing at a moving light. My friend Allison has a tiny spotlight that she used to whirl around the shiny floors of her apartment, so that her cat Piggy could chase it. She said it was fun for cats to chase things that are always just out of reach. How can humans know that the cat is having fun, that it isn’t driving the cat insane to be forever in pursuit of something illusory, a moving target?

My mother is my moving target. It has been a decade since her brain bleed, a decade since I charged down the halls of the ICU to confront the specter lying in the bed, comatose for two full days, a decade since the new Mom was born from the ashes of the hemorrhage –the Mom of fitful despair and half-recollection, who is plundered by dementia.

It all began with a visit from a woman. She rang our doorbell. Diiiiiiiiing Dooooong. My widowed Bengali immigrant mother opened our large wooden door. It let out a small creak. Maybe a warning, like in a scary movie, the first mistake, never open your door to a stranger. A skinny white woman was standing at our doorway—blonde hair and blue eyes. She was carrying a petite Louis Vuitton purse which she held onto tightly.

“Hi, I’m part of a city committee that is raising awareness about safety precautions. You are aware that there is a serial killer at large?”

My mother looked at the woman, her expression blank.

 

In journalism, we’re taught to ask the Five Ws and the Sixth H:

 

1. What happened?

2. Who was involved?

3. Where did it take place?

4. When did it take place?

5. Why did that happen?

6. How did it happen?

 

It’s always the Fifth W that is the hardest to answer.

 

***

April 17, 1985 (When)

You wake up earlier than usual that morning because you want to impress a boy at your junior high school. You walk past your parents’ bedroom and notice that your mother (Who) isn’t there, that her side of the bed is empty, an abandoned shell—crumpled-up sheets and a feathery impression of her torso, the salmon pink comforter still tucked in tight. Those army corners. Your father is snoring heavily, and you watch him through the crack in the door, the steady rise and fall of his chest. You wonder where your mother is. Your parents don’t get up until 7:30am. It’s 6.

Oklahoma, he said in his mind, two long os, two short as, and wanted to know if there would be anyone to whom he could disclose, ever, the tenderness of his feelings, in all their callowness, when he said this word.

Salvatore Scibona, The End

 

O

O is for Oktaha, Okemah, and Okmulgee, small yellow towns with tall water towers and low-lit diners where the cheerleaders still gather after the game.

O is for Oolagah, a name like a spell, where Will Rogers once said he’d never met a man he didn’t like. “When you meet people,” he said, “why, after you meet them, and see their angle, why, you can see a lot of good in all of them.” He died when his plane crashed in an Alaskan lagoon at the apex of August. The pilot was Wiley Post, a famed barnstormer with one good eye, but he wasn’t ours, he was a Texan. Amber Valetta went to my high school; Gap Band Avenue is just down the street. You can sing Mmmbop and I can sing mmmbop, and the Hanson boys still live in Tulsa, where they lived, too, in 2001. Were they homeschooling that fall, or were they on tour when the towers fell? Did they think, like I did, how lucky we were to live nowhere, how no one could ever want to hurt us, not aliens, not invaders, of course not terrorists. I’d forgotten already how Timothy McVeigh parked a truck on a Wednesday afternoon two hours west of Tulsa, a truck meant to go nowhere but everywhere, its cargo nitromethane.

 

She researches genealogy. Collects. Organizes. Obsesses. Discovers distant relatives all along the Adriatic Coast. Roots stretching across continents and seas.

But don’t ask her about cells or strands of DNA. About heredity or the odds of what might be passed down.

Don’t ask her for the truth.

There is a story the family tells. Well-rehearsed. Plausible. By now, she may even believe it herself:

It is a hunting accident that killed her brother fifty years ago. A father, his two grown sons in the woods of Big Pocono State Park.

What they don’t say: These are seasoned hunters, antlers and disembodied heads displayed like trophies in their living room and den.

 Someone careless, the story goes, cleaning a gun.

Sing

By Naomi Kimbell

Essay

 

Sing of despair, of days, this song the abyss in you. The ocean is deep but Lake Vostok is deeper still. A person can’t float in it, can’t taste it. A person can’t even see it but only imagine with sonar and drills how cold and dark and still it must be. Although sometimes, somehow, you slip through a borehole into that fossiline water and sink through its radiance, a brightness not seen but felt in the freezing, a place where fathom pulls you to a depth you could never plumb yourself, a true straight line with no handholds to stop your fall. Days pass, and nights come, and mornings—and streetlights flash at dusk and dim at dawn and the garbage men bang the dumpster and the snowplow scrapes the street—and you have to hit the snooze and swim, and find the shore, and heave to land like a first live thing with legs deep beneath the southern pole and lay upon the rocks and just breathe, just for a second, and drink coffee or maybe tea, with cream or maybe milk.

A man you don’t know makes a joke online of which you are the brunt, you know the one—woman, kitchen, sandwich—that old droopy-eyed dog of a joke still rattling around under the stoop, its bark long faded to a hoarse cough. It’s ironic, someone comments, because he’s sooo progressive, a real champion for women, haha! and you wonder what it means when the champions use the same language as the oppressors, their lines interchangeable except that one of them, at the end, elbows you hard in the ribs and says, Just kidding. Tells you, Lighten up, take a joke, like they’re doing you a favor.

And aren’t they? Could be worse—at least they don’t mean it, right? At least someone’s having fun?

***

Not long after college, you meet your friend Tony* at the bar one evening for happy hour and find him waiting with your favorite drink—gin and ginger, tall, extra ice. He’s the kind of guy who will do that, who knows your drink and buys the first round while you’re stuck in traffic on your way over from work, the kind of guy who does it without expectation—no unanswered debt filling the space between you, crowding one of you out. But tonight he has an eye on the girl you’re with, the way she’s braided her hair and pinned it across the top of her head like a crown and has borrowed your turquoise earrings and listens with her whole body when someone else is speaking. Tony buys the second round too, because, you know, he’s nice like that, and then he stands close enough that his whisper in your ear trails a shiver across your neck, an arrow drawn back in the bowstring, unquivering: She’s deliciously rape-able in those jeans, yeah? And when you don’t respond because you’ve forgotten how to direct words out of your mouth he holds up his hands as if to fend off what he knows is coming, his smile unassuming, even genuine when he tells you, I kid, I kid. His betrayal is such a surprise that you know if you allow yourself a moment to linger beneath its weight it could snap each one of your ribs in half. Instead, you let your drink sit untouched on the table, the ice melting in your glass like a slow goodbye, and then politely refuse—and refuse again—when Tony offers to walk the two of you home. You sure? he asks, it can be scary out there, as if for even a moment you could have forgotten.