She forgot about the boiling noodles. But it wasn’t even that she had forgotten about them. She hadn’t. But she hadn’t forgotten about the sausages either, which needed turning, or the cookie tray that needed to be lined with aluminum for the bread that needed to be put in the oven that needed to be set. The bread. The bread needed a light buttering and some seasoning that she needed to take out from the cabinet above. Oh above, where the fan needed turning on so the oil from the skillet didn’t smoke out the apartment and set off the fire alarms and make her get out the fan instead of, shit, the noodles.
It can’t wait, though. It’s work, she wanted to yell to the billboard. Work doesn’t wait. It doesn’t fucking work like that, she found herself now shouting.
Her hands choking the steering wheel, her eyes staring at the red light like the asshole that it is, “you smug bastard,” she exhaled. “You don’t know. Or do you?
“What do you do when you turn off? Do you know when you’ll turn back on? If you do“ — a car honks — “I have a follow-up question about sitting alone at red lights, but we can come back to it.”
The third noodle stuck, high above two lying limp on the tile. She threw a fourth. It also stuck. A fifth fell. The sixth stuck.
So she kept throwing them. Some stuck, some fell. She didn’t yet know what to do with the fallen ones or the ones that stuck. She still had a whole pot to go.
She began to aim, adjusting her throw and her grip. Some she grabbed near the middle and flicked at the wall like she was trying to ring a milk bottle to win an overstuffed penguin. Others she flung for the fuck of it. For some, she wound up, stepping to set her weight to one leg, her arm twisted behind her, and then she whipped forward to frisbee the noodle, which often splatted against the fridge.
She thought about cleaning. Then about cheating. She could move them, she told herself. Who would know? Who would care? Who the hell would she tell? Maybe later, she decided.
But now she struggled. She saw where she wanted the noodles to land. She even had an idea of how. But she lost sight before she let go. They knocked against other noodles and fell, more collecting on the floor.
That became the game. With the few noodles she had left, her last lives. She flung, some fell, some swung into new places and opened new spaces. She finished and took it in. It looked like nothing except spaghetti. She framed it anyhow.
Those days it was like the sun rose to find them. Like it needed to get as high as possible to peek at where they were, to wake them. But they would stay hidden. Blankets pulled over heads and legs dangling across the bed.
The house that had been loud was now silent except for the birds and the lawnmower out back. It smelled like warm wet. Like a good day for bees and flowers to be together.
Once up the day had begun, but not yet. Now was still sometime between yesterday and today, which was really tomorrow. And tomorrow was closer to the first day of school, which wasn’t today but sometime not far away.
Too bad it rarely rained. The days always felt like they’d never end when it rained.
A nothing that may become something
He opened his Notes app to the entry titled “Reasons” and ran through his options. He kept the list organized and regularly updated. He would reorder them based on how recently he used them, the time of year, etc. He also color-coded them with asterisks, emojis and the like. For a time, there was a reference note listing the meanings of each. But he had them memorized now, minus the newer ones.
Talk to me.
Okay. I almost broke my tooth.
I was eating a hard-boiled egg, and I guess I didn’t get all the shell off.
You almost broke your tooth on an egg shell?
Ha, yeah. I mean, I thought I did. I didn’t.
Well that’s good.
I know. Can you imagine if I did break it? Then, for the rest of my life, if someone asked if I’d ever broken a tooth, I’d have to say yes. And if they asked how, I’d have to say from an egg shell.
That’d be quite a story.
I know. I almost wish I had broken it.
I miss you.
I know that too. And know what?
I miss you too.
Tell me something else.
Yo, the census doesn’t have a box for Hispanic or Latino.
What do you mean?
There’s no box for it. You can only be white, black, American Indian or Alaska Native — which isn’t it Native American what even is Alaska Native — Asian Indian, and then five kinds of other Asian, three kinds of Pacific Islander and boxes to fill in some other Asian or Pacific Islander. Like, how are they gonna have Filipinos with their Spanish-ass last names be their own race but act like Hispanics aren’t their own other?
There’s no fill-in box?
There is. But you know they must be checking for people to write in Hispanic or Latino and switch’em to white.
What is it, though? Hispanic or Latino?
It’s both. What are you, black or African-American?
Black’s a color.
Yeah, and brown’s a color too.
But Hispanic’s not a color.
But brown should be.
You’re not even all that brown. There are old white dudes at the beach browner than you. Why can’t you just be white?
Because I’m not white. Do I look white?
You look like you could be a couple kinds of white. Like Italian.
Plus there are Hispanics that look white. Like half the Spanish soccer team. And does Gisele Bundchen count as Hispanic?
I don’t know.
Besides if you can be white, why wouldn’t you want to be?
What do you mean?
Like, then you get white privilege. And then anyone who throws you shade for being brown or whatever, you can be all “well actually, I am a white person.”
Nah, I’m serious. People like you can change shit up. You can make it a problem for them to be white.
“It’s the new slim fit shirts,” the store manager said over the phone to the store manager. “He can’t fold them.”
The regional manager didn’t understand. They were shirts, made out of cotton, with a crew neck and two short sleeves. She asked for Rodney.
“These shirts aren’t made to be folded,” Rodney intoned. “I’m sorry. I’m trying. I’m trying to learn how they want to be folded. But I’m, I’m sorry.”
The regional manager tried to say something but heard the rattle of the landline being passed.
“What about all the returns?” the regional manager asked the store manager.
“Oh that. The customers say that when they return to their homes or hotels, they realize they didn’t like the shirts, or they don’t fit right, or the material is too starchy. Or they’re from here and feel ridiculous walking around in an “I ❤️ NY” shirt. We’ve even had customers from other countries email us, asking if they could return the shirts and saying they’d be willing to pay the shipping. We tell them that’d be almost as much as the shirts.
“They like the slim fits, though,” the store manager continued. “Even the people who shouldn’t be wearing slim-fit anything. But they look awful folded. So we’ve had to hang them.”
The box on Rodney’s folding station had been opened. Still, it bulged. Rodney pulled it apart. More shirts. But these were different. They had rumpled into piles, whereas the others had slid into each other. They were soft like a memory.
He picked at the shirt where it clung to itself, releasing only to ripple into more magnetic folds. He slid his arms into it and exalted them outward. Then, with a snap, he flapped it against itself, as if to fan the others.
He moved the box and laid the shirt in its place. He smoothed it some more, then grabbed his board. He pinched the right shoulder at the stitch, then the bottom seam with his other hand, and folded. He mirrored his movement on the other side. At the bottom corners of the board, where the other shirts had halted as if called to heel, this shirt had trespassed further before lying down. Rodney nudged it back, and the shirt’s top shrugged at the folding board. He slid shirt and board, bringing the shirt’s bottom onto the table. He tried again. This time the shirt limped into place, and he finished the fold and slid out the folding board.
He peeled the shirt from the tabletop, one hand holding the shirt’s edge while the other’s fingers tunneled under it until the forearm forced a backbone atop which Rodney pressed his other forearm. With this vice grip, he turned the shirt over and laid it down. Also like a memory, it had wrinkled. He tried to smooth it, ironing his fingers along its folds. Back it bulged, in an inhale. He pressed it by hand, with the board. Relentless. He laid the board atop it and left.
In the break room, Sandra and Marty were watching cartoons. The microwave dinged, and Sandra retrieved her Hot Pockets. Rodney took his Gatorade from the fridge and sat down. No one laughed at the cartoon, so no one asked him why he didn’t. He had already seen this episode.
Rodney didn’t even need a folding board anymore, at least that’s what the others thought. Rodney thought otherwise.
He clutched a clear plastic rectangle around like everyone else. For a time, he decorated his like everyone else too, in his own way. They adorned theirs with stickers and funny sayings and pages ripped from books like Where’s Waldo? or I, Spy. Rodney’s had motivational sayings. Clichés like “A stitch in nine saves time,” “Slow and steady, it’s not a race,” etc. He had come up with a few on his own.
But one day he decided they needed to go. That day Rodney ran his fingers down a slim fit shirt he had folded. The tapered cut could compromise the inside of the fold, bunching it up and bloating the front crease when seen sideways. As he tried to smooth it out, his fingers kept hitting the folding board’s stuck-on sayings, like a speed bump. He stopped. He unfurled the shirt, removed the stickers, went to the break room to wash off the leftover adhesive. Eventually he would ask for an all-new folding board, which the store manager granted him unquestioned.
One day the regional manager had stopped by to inspect the store before it opened. She almost didn’t make it past the first table. The tourist tees were stacked like china. She couldn’t help but to pick one up, to see what a sight its unfurling could be and was, like dye pouring into water. She picked up another, another color, until she had held all the colors. Having undone a half-dozen, she carried them to the store manager to apologize and to ask how the store had achieved such a fold.
The store manager walked the regional manager downstairs to the stock room, past aisles of back-stocked shirts folded identically to those on the front table, and finally to Rodney. Dressed in cargo pants the same sickly tan as his shirt, offsetting his black Reebok classics, Rodney stood in the corner at a folding station that was little more a standing table with hanging rods for sizing stickers. Bent over a folding board, Rodney’s long bangs swayed above a shirt as if to wipe an energy from it.
The store manager introduced Rodney to the regional manager. Then she took a balled-up tee from the regional manager and asked if Rodney would show her how folds it. He did. The regional manager was awed that she didn’t even feel her phone vibrate in her back pocket.
Soon after the store opened, the regional manager stood at the front to greet the customers and see how they received the shirts. A family with young children at first dented the perfection, then a busload of tourists rammed through the rest. The regional manager was horrified and delighted. These were not good shirts. And they were ashamedly overpriced. Yet the people went rabid at them. Many scooped up multiple shirts in varying colors and sizes and proceeded to the cash register, having won. Within seconds of the table’s desertion, an employee rolled up with a cart of replacement shirts and a cart for the remains to take to Rodney.
The regional manager thought back on this moment, this epiphany, months later when looking over the store’s latest numbers. They had fallen precipitously while the number of returns had rocketed. She saw Rodney was still an employee, though his hours had gone down. She called the store manager.