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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.