Fiction


Tuesday, November 30th, 2010


Right on Schedule

by Kathryn Jackson


I have been staring through this screen all day. I have been swinging this old door on its new hinges like a breeze wags the red flag in front of the bull-shit by which my life is fed up to here, by now you know. Sometimes, there’s nothing but the expectations.
         Every day at three o’clock, Corky slides like an ice block down three flights of stairs from her rented room to sit in her own sweat, on a street corner. She smiles sourly at --and sings with unwavering passion to-- the change in the open-faced guitar case she employs to butter her bread on both sides with the steak knife she keeps in her left sock.
         “I stole it from a crime scene. This black lab with short legs and shorter temper got shackled, and gagged, and carted away. For esperiments. To participate in ssperiments. These socks was a gift from a…called hisself a…a…humanitarian. As if there ain’t no minimum height requirement to operate an opinion. Ha!  He wore the nicest leather pants.”
         Every night at three o’clock, I sit very still and try to concentrate. I ride in Corky’s hip pocket and we glide --like an ice block-- down three flights of stairs to the doors that revolve, sucking and spitting pedestrians back and forth between porch swings and automatic tellers. If I sit very still, I can hear the neighbors’ motion detecting lights casting strobe shadows across corduroy lawns. Shadows testify to light, and to the same cowardly point of view from this porch over the last nine years.
         I have to listen very hard because my eyesight’s not so good. I have poor vision. My visions are cloudy. Corky calls it a “stigma” something. Says what I’ve got is a condition. Like in a contract: a penalty for focus. But! If I can sit very still --and I can concentrate-- I can hear the webbing of the trees from which musical phrases hang themselves. Phrases pausing, pendulant, pregnant, swaying, creaking gently like a porch swing are aware only of the evaporation of intent.
         I have wasted little more than time, but we are given little else.
         I wrote a letter. I wrote a lot of them. Strung some together like so many lights on an already-been-burned, wished-it-was-a Louisville-Slugger. Instead it ended up worn down under red edits across vulgar poetry. I lost a letter. I lost a lot of them. In one place. At one time. I lived on that loss and fast food for a few years. Having since soberly scoured my  soul and proudly poured out my yellow heart between the lines; having penciled in margins of a life I could have only read about, I was waiting for the weights to dry around my ankles.
         It was over me like a sword, and then I was over it like a cold.
         If I can sit quietly, I can think about the girl on the coat rack in the corner of the living room. I can think about the throaty murmurings she insists on slashing into her calves, carving into her thighs. She never goes out. I can smell weeks worth’s of dust coating the books Corky borrows about other people’s mountains and moorings; about other people’s mountings and mournings. I can smell the fly-strips speckled with small type. My mouth twitches to conceal its capacity for aridity.
         Got to repaint that fence before Fall. Got to put up those pickles I always get into.
         “A mouth should always be wet: full of fresh fish heads and goosenecks, poised to discuss the grotesque fashion after which children are primed to star in self-adhesive bandage commercials.”
         Thought I’d like to own one just like her.
         Can’t remember what made it mean so much. What made me so mean. So average. I clung to coffee, and tried to stay on the side of the road less graveled by the brains of the stoned and sudden speed bump I had become.
         Corky has been doing some redecorating lately, and sometimes it’s hard to hear anything over the chain saw. The neighbors complain. The neighbors are always complaining. We can hear them through the wall. We have resorted to using peanut butter to get them out of our hair.
         The flickering ribbon leashing the girl to the ground puckers the lips of its bow and respires, securing her next step. Stones stand up on end to meet her prayers and the Earth itself is moved. Icicles come down from the North, as the molten challenges a cubic mass. From her belfry clang the peals of skin she has not dusted faithlessly. For weeks. For weeks, for years.
         For years stacked like stones, stacked end on end, for free, the skeletons of crates and the spines of encyclopedias have clog-clogged her arteries, and she speaks --only ever-- to persuade her heart to beat. Happily, he agrees.
         Traces of telephones, celled-up as sound bytes, gnash her teeth for her relentlessly beneath the hollow of her head. Relentless, she responds: to bells and bourbon; to marriage proposal after marriage proposal; to sexual innuendo on top of sexual innuendo. In the end, though, she will remember only the leash.
         Recalling the fabric cutting her resistance in the habit of her footfalls, she kneels in a puddle of blood and glows. Thigh-high in her own excretions, she suspends Death’s student, commutes the sentence, punctuates the common man. Happily, he has achieved.
         Gurgling down her own good humor, she burbles like an out-of-tune instrument. Like a canker-riddled organist stabbing at her lucky stars, she bet the Devil and bought the farm. And on this farm, there’s a fence she likes to sit on when it comes to naming children: either after a relative or after they’re born. Beyond that, “what’s in a name?”
         Shaming herself to speak, she speaks of shame and she speaks of shamelessness. She speaks to no one in particular and, thankfully, no one in particular hears. Snapping her neck to indicate approval, she notices the difference between up and down, and when she’s done hobbling herself and nodding, she’ll rise to the middle of the music playing through her unopened credits.
         Walking out of the way of the slow boat or runaway train that the next forty years of her life promise to present, she walks right into the middle of the street on a green light, just not between the lines she frequently comes skittishly close to coloring between with her insides.
         Staining and stinging the asphalt, she darts first to the left and then to the leftover direction, dodging the wings and halos of an un-foretell-able fortune, finally sputtering to a stop back at the curb, resting her back on a beer truck, trusting her focus to the postal pick-up schedule posted plastic in her gaze. I’m as old as the debts I write off, and as hard as the wood I would knock and then craft into a raft to run off down a river in which I wouldn’t be willing to wade. I am stuck in the banks of financial institutions that know my name well enough to not give me the time of day.
         We dig her fingers into the point-fingerless gloves at the bottom of this pocket of gravity in memory. She’s trying again to scrape warmth out of such things to weight her in her own favor. These things and I have been waiting for the right moment to make a small movement, a simple sashay-step, to the right way of thinking. Having lost, on occasions not worth their own holidays, her sense of direction, humor and smell, she waits for each to be restored like furniture. Corky makes up her mind, like she makes up her bed, for company. Eagerly, I follow.

 

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