- Lisa’s bed is made out of clouds. It was expensive, and she had to agree to mow the lawn every weekend before her parents bought it for her. But it’s worth it. She’s never slept better. Her grades have improved. Her skin has cleared up. People talk to her in the halls at school. She’s writing a letter to the company that makes the bed. She hopes they will excerpt it in their ads. If she can help one other girl get this bed, she’ll be that much happier.
- The location of the cloud farm is a secret. Roxy had to sign an NDA before she was even allowed to the site. She knows that she’d violate the NDA if she ever received an offer. It’s hard work, and the pay is just barely enough to live off of. Clouds are sticky, and wearing gloves dries out her hands. The catwalks wobble constantly, and between that and the smell (like sugar mixed with lightning), she always has a mild sense of vertigo. But unlike the factory she used to work at, it’s quiet, and she’s allowed to listen to podcasts while she works. She hates to admit that it’s probably the best job she ever had. But that doesn’t make it a good job.
- The purpose of Project Cumulous is to remove the need for naturally produced clouds. Not only will we be able to cut back on the number of harvesters and other associates, but it will allow for greater diversity in product. Currently, we have to maintain separate facilities for different types of clouds. Pink fluffy clouds, like we use for the CloudSleeper, must be kept separated from the dark storm clouds we use for our weapons division. Using the Project Cumulous process, we create what is essentially a blank cloud. Only in the final stages do we add the necessary ingredients for cloud diversification. We expect the process to be completed within 5 years, though we strong believe that the work could reach a prompter conclusion with the additional budget we’ve requested. Please see attached pages.
- It’s not hard. I mean, you gotta be careful. You fuck it up, and things go boom, so don’t fuck it up. But you’ve met Lem, and if that guy can handle it, well, you really want to be the guy who makes Lem look good? So, the first step is removing the clouds from the bed. Other guys have that handled, they’ll put it into one of these cannisters. They’ll bring the cannisters to you. The cannisters go write on the stove. You gotta get it up to a boil. Once it’s there, add this stuff. No, I don’t know what it is. You don’t need to know either. It’s just the stuff. You tell anybody ‘I need more stuff’ they’ll know what you need. The stuff lowers the temperature, so you need to bring it to a boil again. Let it boil for 10 minutes. Set up the cold-water bath during those 10 minutes. Then use the tongs to drop the cannister into the cold-water bath. Simple.
- A new street drug called Cl0ud has been invading our city. Are your children on Cl0ud? Here are some signs to look out for. Cl0ud gives the user a euphoric sensation. Anything that suggests that your teenager is not in the midst of emotional turmoil, could be a sign. Are they smiling? Do they seem happy to see you? When you ask about their day, do they tell you? Have they started wearing colors? Do they whistle while doing homework or chores? These are all warning signs. If your child or teen is exhibiting any of these signs, please call the number provided.
- Greta has been placing notes around the house. We find them in the medicine cabinet, taped to the coffee maker, slipped among the mail in envelopes addressed to us. The notes include “fun facts” about Cloudsleeper beds. One included terms for a loan, she calculates interest on how much she’ll pay us back if we buy her the bed. It’s cute, and annoying. One includes a testimonial from a girl named Lisa who lists all the benefits since she got one. My wife tells Greta we’ll look into it, and Greta is so excited, I know it’s already a done deal.
We stopped going to the beach. We boarded up the windows facing the ocean. It was continuing to get more distant, but that was not enough for us. Motels were renamed, no more Wavecrest or Oceanside. We purged mention of the water from official signs and our town’s website. There was some disagreement about lobsters and other seafood, but we decided it was allowed because the taking of the ocean’s children was fair play after all it had taken from us.
It all culminated in the trial. Kensiport v. the Ocean. The main crime was of course the murder of the body. We still had not identified who she was, but it no longer mattered, her identity, like her life, had been taken from her by a heinous criminal. There were additional crimes added on. Everybody had a grievance. The Ocean had stolen somebody’s keys when he’d accidentally dropped them on the beach. It couldn’t just give them back? A girl had been stung by a jellyfish. If my dog bit somebody, I’d be responsible. An insomniac who was sure that the ocean had been responsible for his sleeplessness.
It took weeks to hear all the testimony. The town had essentially shut down. We’d awake early and rush to the courthouse hoping to get a seat. There were two remote rooms to watch it streamed, and sometimes we’d sit there, but there was a 30 second delay, and we could hear the courtroom’s “oohhs” and “ahhhs” and general commotion before we knew the cause. The Side Diner (formerly Seaside) also had a contract to show the trial, and we’d sometimes grab seats at the counter to watch. The waitress would keep our mugs filled with hot coffee, and we’d always drink more than we intended. Leaving the diner at the end of the trial day, we’d feel uncomfortably energetic, and needing to pee.
Nobody had seen Dr. Carson for weeks. She, alone, had continued going to the beach. She’d set up her work at the point where the waves ended. It was now so far away from the town that it no longer made sense for her to return to her home at night. She’d set up a tent, and even that had to be moved every few days. Her garden was getting overrun with weeds and bees. She had kept it so precisely ordered that now untended, it was returning to wildness with a passion. The book club she had attended had disbanded. At first, they’d been delighted she was gone, spending a few sessions discussing the book less than Dr. Carson’s idiosyncrasies. But without her there to help guide the discussion or to provide new fodder for gossip, it soon folded. Killed the book club was added to the Ocean’s list of crimes.
We were so excited for the day of the verdict. The jury had deliberated overnight. An insider said that they had actually made the decision in less than an hour, but after such a long trial, they felt that the public deserved the drama of a wait. It gave us the chance to go home, get some rest. We showered, shaved, dressed up nice. There would be cameras, and while we knew we weren’t the focus, there was a chance we’d be in the background of a photo, and we wanted to look nice.
“Has the jury come to a decision?” Judge Willis asked.
“We have, your honor. We the jury find the defendant, the Ocean, guilty.”
There was applause and cheering in the court room, and 30 seconds later, echoed in the run-off rooms, and then the diner. Judge Willis let it proceed for a few minutes before banging his gavel for quiet.
“During the proceedings, I have overlooked certain irregularities. The inclusion of largely unrelated charges, many of which are not actually crimes. The fact that the defendant has not been present for the trial, nor could it be, the defendant being as much an idea as a physical presence. But, I understood the catharsis involved. At best, the Ocean has always been inconsistent. Coming and going as if its actions were controlled by the moon. Damn you, moon. Yet, as much as I would like to put the moon on trial, it is not within my jurisdiction. So too with the ocean. I’m declaring this a mistrial.”
The courtroom was cleared quickly and peaceably, but most of us had nowhere to go immediately. We milled around the square, complaining, igniting each other’s anger. Finally, we were marching. More people joined, and then it was as if the whole town was on the move. We knew where we had to go. We stormed the beach like it was Normandy. But the ocean was gone. It was so far off, we could no longer even see it. We chanted for a while. Told the ocean it better not show its waves around here again. Then content in knowing it would never return, we went home.
Dr. Carson’s presentation was exacting and thorough. She was a woman who was accustomed to being correct, and also to being doubted. She would not tell you the current weather without five pieces of evidence to back herself up. Still, she had to observe friends and acquaintances walk out into the rain without an umbrella. So, at the end of her presentation, that included photos, graphs, expert testimony, and satellite imagery, she was unsurprised when the city council said they would look into it. She knew that immediate action would be too much to expect, but at least they hadn’t completely dismissed her. But, to those of us familiar with Dr. Carson, who had seen her perfect and mathematically arranged garden, who had heard her confidently but not conceitedly speak at our book club, who had smelt the ocean on her after a long day of research. To those of us who knew her, there was no doubt that she was correct. The ocean was receding. Not that there was less overall water, but that the ocean was slowly departing from our town.
We were already wondering. It had felt like it took us longer to reach the water. We’d park in the lot, carrying blankets, and kites, frisbees and coolers. It used to be fine, manageable, but now we got tired. Setting up our place with still a distance to the tides. We worried we were getting older. We should have exercised more over the winter. We were used to the subjectivity of time and space. Now, dear, perfect, wise Dr. Carson had the proof. We were as fit and vigorous as ever. Our senses were keen. There was nothing wrong with us, it was the ocean that was letting us down. The sea was gaslighting us, and she had photos, graphs and expert testimony to prove it.
It was unclear what the city council could do about it. They were an affable group of people, but they all had other careers. Mostly, their job was to decide parking restrictions. Each year, just prior to summer, they’d tweak the no parking zones before tourists started to arrive. Have you been visiting for years, and this is where you always park? Well, not this year. That’s a red zone now. The fines were an important part of our economy. Now, the ocean was rezoning, and they were thoroughly out of their depth. They considered asking the state for help, but the state just wanted to send more scientists, and council was convinced that Dr. Carson’s hands were the safest ones to place their trust in.
We got used to seeing the doctor on the ever-expanding beach. We didn’t know what she was doing, but she was there, looking serious, measuring things with increasingly sophisticated gadgets. But the beach was drawing in more people. Yes, there were families, and sunbathers. People who wanted to swim in the ocean before it was too far away and we were just another inland town. But the biggest influx were the treasure hunters.
We were learning that the ocean was filled with junk and where there is junk, there is the slim possibility of there being something valuable. There was the usual small trash, bottles and cans, plastic bags. But we were also finding history lessons for our kids. This is an 8-track cassette. It was for music. These are a dozen empty film cannisters. Film would come in it, and then we’d fill them with quarters for no real reason except they were the right size. We found plastic jewelry, and hundreds of cd jewel cases. We found our past mistakes, buried beneath the ocean, but now returned. Some of us didn’t want our kids wandering among the trash. We remembered needle scares, and the more prosaic broken glass and jagged rocks. But we also knew it was only a matter of time before a body was found. We didn’t have an unusual number of missing person cases, but over the years there had been enough that it felt like a given that we’d find somebody.
When a body was found, it felt like a relief. The ocean was still moving away from us, and no amount of police tape was helping. Now, there was a case. Something the police understood. City councilors made speeches. Dr. Carson was asked to comment, and she pointed out that while any death was sad, we shouldn’t get distracted from the graver ecological problems at hand. Even that pleased us. We were so tired of Dr. Carson being correct, and the voice of reason. Finally, we could dismiss her as a cold fish. We remembered how smug she always seemed in book club. Were we paying for those devices? What’s the matter with a tape measurer? We no longer cared about the ocean. At best, it had been a fickle friend, at worst, it was a murderer. (How else could the body have gotten there in the first place?)
We held a vigil for the body. We demanded justice. We’d wake up from nightmares, imagining we had experienced the body’s last moments. Seen what they had seen, felt hands on our neck, or the ocean filling our lungs.
My friend Gillian wrote a poem out of stolen lines from my pieces and posted it over on her blog. https://yourlittleday.blog/2020/04/15/theft-influence-april-13-14/ There is nobody I’d rather have remix my work. Also, if she hadn’t nudged me in the first place, I probably wouldn’t be writing these in the first place. I still might find a way to mine her poems for at least a prompt idea.
On that same blog post, she also posted a map of her poetry influences which is pretty neat, and furthers my reading list. As it stands, over half the poetry I’ve read in recent years have been direct recommendations from her, and most of the rest have been follow ups to those original recs. It made me think of my own influences.
Aimee Bender and Charles Yu are two big ones for me. Bender’s stories are a bit more fantastical, while Yu is science fiction based, but both are less concerned with the how than the emotional effect of these circumstances. But probably the single biggest influence on these particular stories is Steven Millhauser. He has a couple of different stories where he documents events as a vague “We.” Here’s one of the best examples. https://harpers.org/archive/2009/12/mermaid-fever/ (Another big one for this style is Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Virgin Suicides.” It’s a shame he just wrote that one novel.)
Josh Ritter has written some of my favorite short stories which just happen to be songs. In particular “The Curse,” “The Temptation of Adam,” and “Another New World.”
And two comics that have permanent space in my brain. “Did You See Me?” by Sophia Foster Dimino https://www.shortbox.co.uk/product/did-you-see-me-by-sophia-foster-dimino about two people who inhabit the same dreams, and start communicating with each other over social media, and “What is Left” by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (One 3 stories in https://www.shortbox.co.uk/product/don-t-go-without-me-by-rosemary-valero-o-connell) about a spaceship that is powered by a girl’s memories.
The library was 17 stories tall. (“The library has a far more stories than that, get it?” the library director would say). Not skyscraper height by any means, but in our city’s modest skyline, it towered over its neighbors. We were used to navigating by it, and even when one was just out for an aimless walk, one would eventually arrive at its door, simply pulled there by the gravity of the building. Latin phrases were carved into the edifice, most likely about knowledge and learning, though I was pretty sure that the word sanguis was used more than a few times.
A friend of a friend was a children’s librarian there. Sometimes, I’d see her there, and we’d talk, but most of the time she was in the children’s room, and I had no viable excuse for entering that sanctuary. So, I usually just wave to her on my way to the elevator.
The elevators are the quietest I’ve ever experienced. When you reach your floor, they both do and don’t “ding.” There is no audible sound, but somehow you feel it in your feet and your brain fills in the sound. I didn’t even realize they were silent until somebody else pointed it out to me. Now, I can’t help but wait for that strange moment to arrive.
I like the 11th floor, the shelves arranged in a spiral. There’s usually a slight breeze and it smells of real pine, not air fresheners. At the very center is a book by Borges. Ley lines radiate from there into associated topics.
But today, the 17th floor is my destination. I’ve never been up there before. Once, I’d ridden the elevator up, but the doors refused to open, and then it decided I belonged on 13 instead. I found a fascinating history of the fig, but I was still disappointed that the library believed it knew what was best for me. Today, there will be no stopping me. I have an invitation.
The doors open with their silent ding. A woman in a suit is there to greet me. She is rather short, and the suit is too big, but she carries herself with a certain gravitas.
“Welcome. Excuse the formality, but may I see your invitation.”
We both know the doors wouldn’t have even opened if I didn’t have it, but no system is perfect, and the library does not leave things to chance. She puts on her glasses to examine it closer.
“Lisa recommended you. Quite a surprise that. I don’t think she’s recommended anybody before. I mean, not surprising, considering most of her patrons are covered in chocolate,” she wipes her hands on a handkerchief at the thought, “Anyway, follow me.”
She leads me to a study room. It contains a desk set on which a typewriter and a stack of blank paper are sitting. The outer wall is a window looking down on the city, and the view is spectacular.
“Hopefully, this window will do. Based on your past activity, we calculated it as optimum, but these predictions are an art not a science, so let me know, and we can find you a different view.”
No, this is the one. I can see the museum, and Founder’s Park. I can vaguely make out my favorite bar, and the rock club where I first saw the band Missing Parrot play.
“You know what’s expected?” she asked.
I hadn’t known before, but now I did.
“How long do I have?”
“As long as it takes. A day, a year. Forever. Come and go as you wish. But the library will know when you’re done, and when that happens, your access will cease. Do you understand?”
“I do,” I say.
I stare out the window for an hour. At first everybody below seems so small, but eventually, I realize they’re all huge. Bigger than life.
Finally, I start to type.
Zilla liked when Ramon DJed. The crowds were in a better mood, which made her job easier. But also, he seemed to know the overall rhythms of the club. When her bar would get busy, when she’d need an extra bit of adrenaline with one of her favorite songs. When it was time to slow things down. She considered herself a low-frills bartender, but when he was working, she found herself almost dancing.
Club Earth was the only dance club on Sigma Station 11. Each station had limited space set aside for commercial development, and most of that was more utilitarian. So with Galaxy Burger, Ken’s Coffee, and The Officer’s Club (not actually an Officer’s Club, but a chain of bars that learned that catering to the Space Corps, and people who idolized the Space Corps was a decent business plan), Club Earth was a central part of the social life of the station.
Sampson, the club’s owner, had noted how many clubs of his youth were obsessed with space. Club Venus, Starlight, the Blue Moon. He felt it only appropriate that a club floating in the void of space should pay homage to Earth. Since many of the patrons have not even been to Earth, the name does feel exotic.
“But what kind of name is Zilla?” the guy asked.
The night was beginning to wind down, and Zilla was starting to breakdown the bar, handing things to Fletch to wash in back.
“It’s like Godzilla. You know, King of Monsters? My mom was kind of weird, but totally into that stuff. I’m lucky she didn’t call me Mothra.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Yeah. I’ve got a lot I need to get done.”
The music changed to a new hit song that everybody seemed to love. Ramon rarely played something like that this late at night, but the guy leaning on the bar hurried back to dance. Zilla glanced at the booth, and Ramon gave her a slight nod.
An hour later, the last song had played, the lights were on, and the last patrons were reluctantly leaving. Ramon was sipping a whiskey while Zilla finished closing up the bar.
“Good night?” he asked.
“What was with that guy?”
“He didn’t know his kaiju from his Kajagoogoo,” she said.
“Eye to eye.”
Ramon had been working there a couple of weeks, and Zilla was starting to suspect he was flirting. Or possibly, she was hoping he was. The bad things about DJs was that most of them were conceited assholes. The good thing was that they never stayed on the station long. Space bartenders and waitresses tended to be like Zilla, people who felt they’d exhausted their possibilities planet-side. Their lives in space much like they were on earth, but with smaller quarters, and less gravity. DJs, even the crappy ones, always seemed to be on an adventure.
Ramon smiled at her. Maybe she could have a little adventure?
I was on my way home from the supermarket when I realized what was wrong. There hadn’t been any birds. There were always pigeons underneath the bridge. Most avoiding human contact, but one or two stubborn and immovable that you had to dodge. Do not trust a bird that feels no fear. But today, there were no birds under the bridge. Had I seen any on my way to the store? Heard any calls or chirps or tweets? It seemed like no but it’s not like I generally paid close attention. I’d been checking my phone, and angry because, well, people are dumb, and awful. So, I couldn’t remember if I’d seen any birds or not, but I was beginning to wonder.
But I was carrying bags, so I didn’t check just yet. Not until I was home, and everything was put away. And then I almost forgot because I guess I’m like that. So, I spent a bit of time trying to remember what I wanted to look up.
“Are birds missing Somerville MA,” I typed.
There were a few posts about specific missing birds. A parrot that had been lost earlier in the spring. There’d been flyers posted to telephone poles around the area. But people had taken to the internet to help spread the word. I don’t know if it was found, and for a moment, I delved into the postings to see what had happened. Maybe, some tween detectives were still on the case. But there was no ending, happy or otherwise.
But I found a post on a Cambridge community website written one hour before, “Where are the birds?”
Sometimes, I’m unsure which side of the border I’m on. So, it’s safe to say that if birds were disappearing from one city, they were gone from both. By evening, local news stations were carrying the story, interviewing conservationists from the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and in the interest of balance, various people with no credentials who just didn’t like birds.
“They think their better than us just because they can fly. I’m glad they’re gone. More birdseed for me. Right?”
The mystery was that it wasn’t just free birds. Domesticated birds. The birds at the zoo. Big Bird. Well, probably not Big Bird. Point being, all the birds were gone. They weren’t spotted flying south or north. They were just gone.
A lot of people were distressed, though clearly not everybody. In a single week, there were three opinion articles in the New York Times about if birds were even necessary. “Birds kill insects sure, but so do pesticides, and people constantly complain about pesticides, so maybe they should stop being hypocrites” was the crux of the argument.
It took longer to realize that our dreams were also gone. We forget most of them anyway, so it takes a while to realize that you haven’t been drinking. That your crankiness isn’t based on the weather or just a vague feeling of dread. But when a pair of sleep scientists suggested that our dreams had left at the same time as the birds, we all found ourselves nodding our heads.
It was a conspiracy. Maybe the birds were behind it. Maybe they were victims. A task force was appointed. Law enforcement, scientists, a tween detective. Suspects have been questioned, there was even a big bust, but the birds haven’t returned.
One lab, has tried to attach synthetic dreams to butterflies, but they’ve only resulted in daydreams, unable to penetrate the sleeping mind. Churches have begun include a prayer to birds for intercession. Seed is spread everywhere to lure the birds back. We are trying to be better, but everybody is so tired. We snap at each other constantly. Some people are moving away, mostly families, afraid of the long-term effects of dreamlessness on their children.
Last night, as I was walking back from the supermarket again, I saw it. That parrot from the fliers. I can only hope that the first one gone is the first one to return.
We only steal what we can’t afford.
We can’t afford anything.
One of those statements is a lie, and it doesn’t matter which one. We steal bread like a swarm of angry Jean Valjeans. We slip cell phones down our pants. Brandy fills a travel mug with rolled up pairs of underwear. Ken once walked out of a bar with two bottles of vodka. We take from the rich. We take from the beautiful. We take, and take and take.
We want to give. We talk about it at night, drinking vodka, eating bread. We want to be heroes. It’s our great failing. We’ve snuck into too many movies. Pirated too many television shows. It’s easy to be good when you have great hair. We don’t have great hair.
“One big score,” says Li. They had worked at Macy’s for two weeks. Long enough to figure out how to steal the machine that removes security tags. Li is already a hero to the rest of us, but it’s not enough for them. “Rob a vault, and then we like drop the money into a crowd.”
“And start a riot?”
“The people should riot.”
“Yeah, over systemic inequality. Not to grab $20 from somebody else who needs it just as bad.”
“They’d all get arrested, and the cops would confiscate it anyway.”
We all pretended to spit, when Brandy said “cops.”
We argue about direct action and ethical spending. But Prue is a sloppy drunk, and when Candy helps her to bed, we all give up for the night.
Ken and I take a walk. The reservoir isn’t far. He’s describing an anime he watched. I can’t tell if it’s a movie or a series. A lot seems to happen, but for all I know, that could just be the prologue. I never really know what Ken is talking about. It’s my favorite thing about him. He stops talking when we get to the reservoir, when the sound of frogs is briefly overwhelming. I realize that I don’t understand how drinking water works. Do they have to strain out the tadpoles? Shouldn’t they build a dome to protect the water so nothing awful falls in?
“I got a job,” Ken says.
“Don’t get me wrong. Life of crime, it’s a great resume line, but I’m tired. I don’t feel bad about stealing, I just don’t feel great about it anymore.”
I understand but I never did feel great. I never expected to be a hero. I’m not Robin Hood. Or the Godfather. I’m just hungry. Forever hungry, and I want it to stop. Not to feel full, but for a moment sated. Maybe this stolen bag of chips will do it. Or that Precious Moments figurine.
“Good for you, man. I’m not being sarcastic. That just makes it sound more sarcastic, doesn’t it?”
“I’m not a traitor?”
“We’re not a cause. But if it’ll make you feel better. We’ll steal from you too.”
I want to steal something right now. Take something from the frogs, from this park, from the city or maybe even from God itself. I pick up a small rock. It’s a start.
The dead love cellphones. They love burritos, and pot dispensaries and condoms. Show them a light for the first time, and they clap. They don’t think there are tiny people in the television. They marvel less at skyscrapers than they do at grocery stores.
“So many different types of soup! People must really love soup in this time,” Clara exclaims.
She’s my foster resurrected. Seventeen years old when she died of an ailment. Undiagnosed at the time, and she doesn’t like to talk about it.
“Sick is sick. Dead is dead. Alive is alive,” she says when I ask.
I buy her Twinkies, and Oreos, and some sort of energy drink that she was entranced by. I buy us chicken, and vegetables. She finds the choices amazing and ridiculous.
She’s never had a room of her own before. Not that it’s entirely her own room. It is already decorated, filled with another teenager’s memories, though I’ve done my best to clear out the most personal items. Lizzie was younger, but Clara is so slight, that the clothes fit fine. Clara likes the hoodies best.
“Is she coming back?” she asks, “I came back.”
I don’t know. Nobody knows how any of it works. Are the resurrected good people, or bad people? Are they dangerous? Are they still citizens? I’m hoping that by the time she’s 18, Clara will fit in well enough, that we can lose her paperwork, and let her just be a normal person. I’ve been trying to keep her from other resurrected to prevent her from living in the past. The present is very present. It is frankly a lot, and I passed through time the normal way. So, I understand the desire to reject modernity, but I want Clara to find her own balance.
“You keep changing the subject. Is she coming back?”
What if she already has? What if she’s in a camp? What if somebody else is fostering her like I foster Clara?
“Do I have to leave if she does? Please, let me stay. I can sleep on the couch. Or the floor. It’s a fine floor. Don’t make me go back to my husband. Don’t find me a new husband. Let me stay, let me be her sister.”
I hold her as she starts to cry. This poor child from out of time. A girl discovering sugar, and pop songs, and softness. Our world will fail her. The resurrected will be deemed a threat when somebody realizes they are less conservative than we imagined. I can’t keep her safe, just like I couldn’t keep Lizzie safe. But I’ll try. I’ll die trying. Then I’ll come back again, and keep trying. The road is long, but now I know that we have time.
“End of the World Helpline, this is Mary, how can I be of service?”
Marisol tensed. That moment before you know the problem is the hardest. Will she have to instruct somebody on delivering a baby into a doomed world, be a grief counselor, or teach somebody how to set a snare trap (hopefully for animals)?
“Hi Mary, I need to prepare a turkey.”
Marisol keyed open the file on turkeys.
“Is the turkey still alive?”
“Sorry, store bought or are you slaughtering and defeathering yourself?”
“Whoah. It must be getting crazy some places, huh? Store bought. Butterball? Is that good? I’ve never done this before. I mean obviously, cause I’m calling you for help. But I saw Butterball, and I’ve heard of that. But maybe, that’s not good?”
“Butterball is fine.” Marisol knew it was best to neither praise nor defame any brand. People were touchy about their brands. None of it mattered to her. She’d been buying store brand everything forever, splurging only on spices, and fresh produce.
She walked the caller through the process of preparing a turkey. At one point, she had to look up what type of oven the caller had so she could instruct her on how to turn it on.
“Alfredo, I’m taking a break,” she called to her supervisor who gave a thumbs-up.
Prisha was in the breakroom frowning at a cup of coffee. The selection of K cups had been getting steadily worse. First, they’d run out of the darker roasts, then the normal coffees. Cinnamon, which was at least relatively benign, next. Now, everything was strongly flavored.
“Hey, Mari, you were on that call forever, what did they need?”
“A turkey dinner. Can you believe? I mean, I don’t have running water at home, and this girl is throwing Thanksgiving.”
“Bet you, she calls back to make cranberry sauce.”
“Please, let my next caller have to cauterize an amputation.”
Marisol brewed a cup of raspberry vanilla coffee. Neither of them spoke while the machine whirred and sputtered.
When she was a girl, Marisol had wanted to be a vet. She’d sneak food out to the neighborhood cats. One black cat used to follow her. Waiting outside the school. One boy at school had noticed, and he sang, “Mary had a little cat, little cat, little cat, that fur was black as night.” She hated being called Mary, but loved the idea that she was special to animals. During lulls in calls, she liked to read computer manual’s entries on animal husbandry.
“How is your mother?” she asked.
“Crazy. She wants us to move back to India. Not like it’s back to India for me. I’ve been there twice. Like I’m making enough to buy tickets. But she keeps talking about home. But, I don’t want her to be disappointed in me.”
“My mom used to say to me, ‘You are a perpetual disappointment to me. So, don’t worry about pleasing me.’”
“How’d that work out?”
“I continued to disappoint her, but I felt extra shit about it. So, mission accomplished, Mama.”
“I should get back to work. But thanks,” Prisha grasped Marisol’s hand before you got up and left the breakroom.
Marisol sipped her awful coffee, closed her eyes, and said a prayer for her mother. A prayer for Prisha. A prayer for the world.