Arielle: Part 1

A story

Take a mental picture of this moment, Arielle told herself. She tried. Thinking of the heat and the stage, backlit by the sun, beaming in their faces.

Whoever had organized the graduation ceremony must have been trolling, she decided. Why else schedule it for 5:30 pm on a Saturday and arrange for the stage to be on the west end zone, and not even flush with the end zone but angled so that the sun stared them straight down as it set? Who the hell tracked the trajectory of the sun like that? How big of a compass and/or protractor would you need for that?

Whatever. She would never need those again. She would miss proofs, though. She didn’t know it now, but a month into her freshman year, she and her dormmates would begin writing proofs of “Law & Order: SVU” episodes. They would even create an Instagram account to post them to, and that account would become the subject of a BuzzFeed article that would alter the trajectory of her life.

But at the moment, she was concerned with the trajectory of the sun, which was bowing to flash its light straight in her face, like an asshole. The moon would never do this.

She reminded herself that it wasn’t the sun’s fault. The sun didn’t know it’d be pitted into a staring contest with the North South High class of 20something. Even if the sun had known, it couldn’t do anything about it. Couldn’t angle itself to look at something just beyond and to the side, like someone trying to be polite while the Subway worker makes them a sandwich. The sun couldn’t pull up a book to bury its head in. Nope, the sun was here, and so was the sweat.

Oh fuck, the sweat. What if it pooled under her boobs? It’d be like that time she stood outside for hours get a selfie with Demi Lovato and felt Demi’s hand squish against her soggy shoulder and instantly peel off, sounding like a wet fart. A sound that Arielle may have imagined but that made her face bulge in an all too real way. Like she had accidentally swallowed a bug and was being told it would lay eggs inside her.

Obviously this would be worse, though. With Demi, no one there knew her, and no one who knew her needed to know about the picture. But if she got up on that stage with two dark stains on her maroon robe looking like oversized, oblong nipples — wait, they didn’t have to be nipples. They could be eyes! Yes, and she could tuck her robe into her belly and bend over, pressing her sweat into it, into a smile, a happy face. It’d be weird, sure, but at least it’d be on purpose then. And it’d make for a good picture, a picture she’d remember. All their faces. Then she could forget the rest of this, this…culmination? Coronation? Culmination.

Why do life’s milestones always have to involve walks down aisles? What was momentous about grocery shopping? Oh oh, getting to pick whatever cereal you want when you’re an adult on your own, that’ll be momentous. She’ll remember that for sure.

Screw top

The towels didn’t fit on the usual shelf of the linen closet. Usually, usually they did. Not today. For whatever reason, not today.

So today Todd took a sledgehammer to — actually, he didn’t take a sledgehammer to anything. He doesn’t own a sledgehammer. He lives in an apartment, that he rents, has his whole life. The fuck would he need with a sledgehammer?

Sorry. But no, no sledgehammer. Screwdriver. He took a screwdriver to the shelves, cranking them away from the wood boards they clung to, clawing some onto them as he wrenched them away.

He didn’t know why he felt sorry for them. Well, he did. He knew he’d be throwing them away, never to be used again. Not that they were of much use now, having warped with the wood.

Poor bastards. They lived out that medieval torture rack. That was literally what they were made for.

They were also like parasites though, embedding themselves in something else. Not that it was up to them. They might have thought themselves some type of exotic top, meant to befuddle parents to the delight of their kids, who couldn’t get them to spin either but were in it for the trying.

Then some asshole pulls them out of the box. Away from the others, who are cheering for the top that got its day and die down at the crushing whir. They don’t know the sound, whether it’s laughter. So they listen until it stops and imagine how great to be used after so much waiting.

Poor, poor bastards. He threw them away anyway. Unscrewing then, he had stripped their tops.

Cereal idle

a sketch

She could spend hours in the cereal aisle. She would come up with games to play. Standard ones, like if you could just have one for the rest of your life, which? What about if that was the only thing you could eat for the rest of your life? Or what cereal makes the best milk? Which has the best mascot? Or box in general?

One time she pulled a notebook from her backpack and sat down in the aisle. Back against the peanut butter, she drew a bracket. A cereal tournament.

First seeding. She ranked the cereals by the company that produced them. Then she ranked the divisions. The store-bought brands were relegated to a play-in game determined by which was less of a knock-off than the others.

The second round was still underway when one of the store’s employees walked up and asked what she was doing. She told him and he smiled and walked away. But before he exited the aisle, he spun back and asked if he could make a copy of her bracket.

She would draw him one once she finished this round, she said. Would he mind getting a sandwich for her from the deli? She was hungry.

Yeah okay, he said. By the time he returned, Frosted Chex had been eliminated in an unbelievable upset.

Sow

a sketch

The woman stared at her garden. My garden, she thought. She had never had a garden before. Not really.

As a kid, she would water her mom’s plants. Until one time her parents went away for a few days, she forgot about the prayer plants in the bedroom that otherwise remained empty.

“You killed the prayer plants,” her mother accused her. Her mother small but powerful with her hands holding together the brown leaves that, when green, would fold toward one another in solemn conspiracy.

Her mother’s words rang ridiculous at the time, but she roiled in recall.

“You weren’t here. You let them die,” she burst.

Years later, her mother — sitting in a circle of family and friends at the point late at a party when the ice has melted — would offhandedly say that this was the worst thing her daughter had ever said. Then, she smiled at her firstborn, for a time her only, as if the memory bound them.

Two days after her mother passed, she remembered the plants. She drowned them. Accidentally but still. It wasn’t for a few more days that someone told her what she’d done, was in fact doing at that moment she learned that plants can drown, that they drown at the root.

Colada morada

a sketch

The water was a purple kind of brown, as if it knew the word gloom. Still it looked inviting under the dust-burnt clouds. The water’s color belied its warmth. But not to him. He saw colada morada. He saw his grandma, stirring her royal blue pot of berries cooked past a pudding, standing in an oversized shirt and pajama pants, avocado mashed into her hair. She explained to him once why she did it, but he couldn’t remember what she said. He didn’t remember much of what she said other than the things she would always say. Those sounds would never leave him. They were too of their own, like a faraway star so close in the sky.

The way home

a mood story

He decided to draw a map. If he mapped out his mind, he’d find a way out. Eventually, he figured, he would need to redraw it, on a large canvas, tracing across the continents of papers beneath. For now he started with what he felt to be the center. That room inside himself with no windows but a cot.

The room was walled by darkness. It surrounded him like water. He could see himself staring at it from the cot. He was sitting on its edge, bent, elbows on knees, hands clasped.

He stood and walked forward. It seemed like the only way.

Once he crossed into the darkness, he heard himself step in puddles. He could feel it too. Each step as if tapping into and through to another side, and immediately falling onto a shallow bottom. But he had the sense it wasn’t all puddles below. Only where he stepped.

He kept on. He liked the patter of it. He began to decide where to step — or leap or lunge — based on the sound he had made and now wanted to hear and next and on.

Dop dop-dop dop dop dop-dop dop dop dop-dop dop dop…

Dop-dop dop-dop dop-dop-dop dop dop-dop dop dop-dop dop…

In time he forgot the map and stepped on, as if he had never known anything else.