N is for Nexus

Paloma Palumbo made John some eggs while she prepared to tell the story of how her right leg became an anchor. She had an uncanny ability to get what she needed in the kitchen while hardly moving, as if somehow she curved the space around her, so that the skillet in the cupboard under the counter came to her hand without stooping.

“Practice,” she said, since John was staring a little. He returned to perusing the mail she had brought. There was a lot of it. Many catalogs offered many sales and many bills asked for many monies.

“One day, when it was raining very heavily, I took shelter under the Gateway Arch. I still got rained on, as the top of the arch was too far above me to do me much good, but at least I had the comfort of knowing I was being rained on under the world’s tallest arch, which isn’t nothing. While I was under there, a priest and a woodcutter came along.”

“A woodcutter?”

“They looked a little grim, even more than a priest and a woodcutter normally do, so I asked what was wrong. When you’re under an arch with someone, you can’t help but want the best for them. Well, they told me a terrible story:

“One morning Diane woke up and it was time to go home. They’d had a nice time at the campground but one of her nieces had rehearsal to get to and there were in general a lot of those little Sunday errands to tackle. So she and her son and her baby girl and her one two three nieces climbed into the SUV and headed for home. Her husband followed in the truck with the dog. Well, the clock struck twelve and hubby was home and doggy was home but there was no sign of Diane. And there wasn’t a sign of her until her SUV exploded in flames on the highway and sent up thick smoke like an offer to Zeus. She had driven the wrong way on the parkway at 70 miles an hour for 1.7 miles, you see, and crashed into a right-way-driving car filled with three men on their way to family funday. Everyone died, everyone died, except the little boy.”

She served him the eggs, without really moving.

“Her blood alcohol level, it turned out, was .18, ten drinks at least, and there was cannabis all up and down her airways. On a Sunday morning.”

Now Paloma sat down.

“When asked to testify, her husband told of a supermom, who rarely had a drink, who made six figures and volunteered and scrapbooked and had years’ worth of Christmas presents pre-wrapped in the attic in ascending sizes for the kids as they grew. He showed medical records of a tooth abscess, never properly treated, which must have caused a medical event, perhaps a stroke, to distort the levels in the blood.

“When asked to testify, her ex-BFF told of a supermom, damaged by the abandonment of her own mother at the age of eight, who struggled with weight and the need to be boss, who could carry a grudge and correct GPS – ‘that’s wrong, it’s a right turn’ – who could miss your first born’s christening and be out of your life forever.

“When asked to testify, her empty vodka bottle told of a supermom, who held her, and nuzzled her, and made her feel loved. Who whispered her dreams to her during commercial breaks. Who occasionally neglected her, cursed her, hated her cried over her. Who always came back. Who was so hard on herself. Who had such hope. Who could make you feel, just with her eyes, that you’re the only bottle in the world.

“When asked to testify, Diane’s spirit, channeled through Miss Cleo the estranged TV psychic, told of Superman, of a dream she had had the night before, where Johnny Manziel, her crush through all of tenth grade, held her hand under the blanket while they watched Christopher Reeve turn back time to save Lois Lane. Of the world spinning back and her head leaning back and Johnny’s tongue making the first penetration of her mouth that wasn’t food or a toothbrush or a dentist’s thumb. Of how nice it was until the ratmaggots started pouring out of the hole in her tooth. Of how they ran up Johnny’s tongue and into his mouth and his eyes went wide and she knew he was asking, ‘How did I get here?’ Of waking up and packing the car and seeing the sun and is that a bird or a plane and how did I get here the children in the back making their children song and Johnny Manziel, if he only knew she hadn’t meant to maggot him like that and the idea, the idea came to her clean and smooth like a little girl’s ponytail ribbon: if going West (like the pioneers my arch was made for) means you get back an hour, then two, then three (you can’t call Mimi and Pawpaw yet honey they live in Disneyland and it’s too early there), if Superman can spin the world back to yesterday then I can go fast enough into the past and tell Johnny the truth and close up this hole in my mouth that never fills up no matter what I pour in.”

She took John’s plate. She ran the water.

“The rain stopped and I saw the sun come out, only the steel of the arch reflected so that it burned but I couldn’t stop looking. The sun has all four testimonies inside it all the time, good evil sappy and strange, busting and combusting in and out of each other, and we can’t see them all at once, our eyes aren’t made for that. We have to pick and choose.”

She sat down.

“I had a hard time after hearing that story. I thought if I couldn’t see the sun, really see it, all four parts of it, that there wasn’t any point. Everything else is just a flashlight, or a lightbulb, or a firefly, by comparison. And let’s face it: you can’t really do shit with a firefly except pull off its thing and stick it on your nose until it fades or else catch and release it over and over and over. Both options lose their thrill over time.

“I entered a second infancy. I had to call grown-upsitters to come over and make sure I didn’t stick a penny in a socket to become part of the sun. Grown-upsitters are a strange crowd. I went through them pretty fast, until I met Ruth. Ruth was fat. Ruth was really fat. Ruth ate all the time. At first I was disgusted. Her chomping away, rustling candy wrappers. Then one day, while feeding her a banana and daydreaming about self-immolation, it suddenly dawned on me: Ruth isn’t dead. Ruth is alive, and Ruth doesn’t need anyone to watch her not kill herself.”

Paloma shrugged.

“So the eating – who cares? And all the foibles of all my grown-upsitters past – the little vanities, the bad jokes, the catchphrases and cliches, the fishing for compliments, the repeated stories, the maudlin social media posts, the Angry Birds, the Michael Bay movies, the hardened arteries of everyone’s constantly calcifying personality, all those things, disgusting as they may be, well, I couldn’t be disgusted anymore, not about any of them, because I realized they were all…”

She swung her anchor up on the table. It knocked the table over.

“Oh, shit.”

John reset the table and she gingerly rested her anchor on it this time. She pointed to it. For illustration purposes.

“They keep us here, so we don’t go to the sun or the past. And keeping us here is better than the alternative, because if we weren’t here, we couldn’t grown-upsit for each other and keep us here. Could we?”

“Okay, but…this still does not explain how your leg actually became an anchor.”

She shrugged. “I’ve always been a more literal person than my peers.”

She stood up. Clang. “By the way,” she said, “it’s better to choose one of these that can’t possibly put you in a state where you get so fucked up you accidentally kill your children. So you know, like whittling or something.”

Paloma went back upstairs. John went back to his catalogs and bills. It took a long time to figure out which polos he wanted to order, and what to write on all the different checks, and while you’re reading the catalogs more catalogs come, you know, same with bills, and before he knew it (and he didn’t really know it because he wasn’t paying attention) eighteen days had gone by. In fact the only thing that brought the passage of his time to his attention was one day when he was making the short trip to the kitchen to recycle a catalog he noticed a limp in his step. He tried to think back to any time he might have kicked a piece of furniture in the recent past and couldn’t remember any. So he looked down at his right leg and it looked in good order. So he took of his shoe and his foot seemed alright. So he took off his sock and nothing unusual there except for the fact that the tips of his toes had turned into iron.

And the iron was spreading.

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M is for Mission

This is what Gladys thought as she waited to do her act. (Her thoughts have been translated into standard sentence form in order to make them more comprehensible to non-Gladys entities.)

Life is so strange and I don’t know why we don’t say this more often instead of comments about the weather. Not that we have to be emotional about it; it can be casual. “Hey how are ya? Boy life is some weird shit.” “Weird enough for ya?” “It might get weirder tomorrow.” “Okay well I’ll be sure to bring an umbrella.” And then we’ll both make that laugh you make when you are speaking out of your own asshole through a smile.

I do a good job at it – living I mean, sometimes. Sometimes when I succeed at basic human interactions I feel the need to reward myself. I let myself eat two soft-baked oatmeal squares instead of one, compulsively, then maybe three: I can’t stop because I need something in my mouth to plug the awesome rush of pleasure I feel at having fooled the outside world once again. They think I’m normal. They think I’m – 

When I hand the DMV employee my license that proves I exist; when I say, “Thank you” when someone holds the door open for me; when I say “How much does a haircut cost at this establishment?” and weigh the number against what I know of the world and nod and accept the coming transaction and later press the right buttons on the card machine to take my invisible money. When I do these things without pulling my lips over my gums or asking strangers for reactions to the latest natural disaster or hopping up and down with this excess of passion I feel at unusual moments I’ve done it; I’m safe; I’ve kept up the ruse for just another day another dollar.

Some days I feel less tied to this body then others. Sometimes I feel like I might fly off, fly right into someone else or a window or a plastic chair. But they don’t know that. And they don’t know how long I stared at my shit this morning, with a kind of pride in its odor, before flushing it down the hole in the ground with a cup full of water. Ubania is different. But I guess I could get used to it because you can get used to anything – why do we even have running shoes, for example? In Apocalypto the Mayan people (were they Mayan?) did all the running without shoes on. I think.

But that was what they were used to because there wasn’t any asphalt back then, or it was still tucked under the ground somewhere, waiting to be invented by a man from Kansas. Waiting to be discovered. As if asphalt were under the earth all along; as if asphalt were the natural state of things and nowadays with the sprawl it is finally conquering the grass and soil and water that once ran rampant over it like whoever killed all the Mayans ran rampant on them. Or were the Mayans the ones who just left? They just left. They just got up and quit the game. Well, somebody did, anyway. People quit the game all the time. Just this second someone is.

Sometimes I catch myself making a face, a face that says, I am having a thought; I am having a feeling; I am utterly confused by how unlikely language is, or how impossibly plastic it is that there are people who know just how to start and operate a community college, for example, because it is a tradition that has been handed down. If you tried to start a community college from scratch it would be a disaster.

It might also be a miracle, going ahead without the instructions, but miracles are disasters; they disturb the order, like children do. And the fact that there is a handbook, that there are people who devote their lives to being specialists in starting community colleges is a testament, ultimately, to the great bee hive we have made of humanity, and a sign no less impressive than the great cathedrals, really.

Sometimes I catch myself making that face, is my point, and I have to snap out of it and put on one of the normal faces before someone asks me What’s going on in there partner?

We know how to start a community college much better than we know how to raise children, I mean universally, or on average, I’d say. 

Sometimes God gets into my throat and tries to come out through my eyes. Sometimes the baby inside me eats everything and wants more as it divides, doubles 1  2  4  8, dividing me and my self (now that I’ve reconciled with my self after the shadow Waldorf incident), and now I am 2 – not equal parts, not halves like with John, but 2 all the same, and she-he in the belly has and will always have more of my self than I will ever again, the self in me dwindles as the belly grows, and the child will carrying that part of my self, skin my self’s knees, lose my self’s teeth, drag my self in the dirt saying relax Mom only dorks wear helmets.

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I see motherhood in an instant. I mean that I will have to be prepared for all of it at once, and I cannot imagine how I will have the energy and strength and wisdom to be all things to a toddler and a teenager and a post-millennial twentysome who lives in my basement all NOW, at the same time. But that is the calling; that is all the apples in the seed. Because after all it only took a second to begin, it only took a touch, his hit mine and pow shazam off to the great babyrace.

In that second that is my impending maternity is all of my son’s life; yes, he will be a son, even I can feel that, I don’t need Jude to interpret my dream after all.

Oh I want a pickle.

Please God stay in my throat and let me hear you when I speak to my son. Please give me the right things to say when the tubes come out of his sickly little arms like they did in the dream when he asks me the hard questions about life like “Mommy, did you remember to close the garage door?”

The trouble is I’ve closed the garage door so many times, God, that when I drive away, in that moment of quotidian self-doubt two blocks from home, I try to remember if I closed it, try to visualize, but that day’s memory is crowded in on by so many other identical days’ memories – the garage door closing in snow in rain in sun in dark winter months when I go to the store before the light comes out that I don’t know. The door might be wide open and I personally don’t mind but John doesn’t want to have to buy a new TV, I know, if it happens again, not that he gets a vote anymore on whether I put the door up or down.

So the chemicals will be dripping into Albert’s blood to kill him, because his name is Albert and he will die, and all I will be able to say is “I don’t know honey. Memory’s not a real thing. Memory is just a thing Mommy made up one day when she was trying to explain to you what it means to think you must be the same person every time you wake up or breathe.”

There’s a bird in my throat now.

Or there will be, a bird, a hummingbird, without your stillness, God, without your patience of silence, who else could be wise enough to give us no answers never answers not a shred of a clue of an answer, and I will say instead these things to my child, to my poor motherless child who will grow up idealizing his in absentia father, bastard, this weirdness will flutter out of my mouth at 60 beats a second – no, it must be more than that – sweet sugar water my heart beats and so much for wisdom.

One time I went walking and the sky was two blues and there were trees with leaves but rain had made the summer cool for a stolen evening and I saw a cop car with its blues flashing. It came up behind a car far down the block where I was walking and the two cars stayed there, both partially eclipsing each other’s radical lights, and the blue with a white sticker center, the blue I thought I would die when I got there, I thought that was it. It had been a good day, a day to point up to the sky and wag your finger like a football player and this seemed the end, I was ready. But I passed the cars and saw the blue dancing seizure from behind me now sprayed onto the trunk of a tree and a metal street sign a riot and I heard in my head

Stay alive.

Stay alive.

Stay alive.

The children eat tin but their stomachs will be iron.

Here you can’t walk at night because someone might blow up too close to you before you can spot them and run in the other direction.

“Ladies and gentleman, may I present the woman who loves and hates at the same time!”

Gladys stepped onto the stage. A picture of John descended, dangled on some fishing line. The crowd hushed.

Gladys looked at John’s image. And she loved him.

Gladys looked at John’s image. And she hated him.

She didn’t chicken out; she didn’t alternate these two things. She performed them both deeply and with commitment, and she performed them at exactly the same time, at all times, because to her marriage too was only one instant, all of it at once, and she was in it, she was in it.

It was a big hit, the act.