NEUTRAL SPACES

NEUTRAL

SPACES

Stream #07

17th Feb - 1st Mar 2019


- Paris, Texas



At the beach girls arouse me less than in the library. I have trouble forbidding. I am not mature. When I look at a strawberry, I think of a tongue, when I lick one, of a kiss.

― Édouard Levé




* * *


A woman’s face hovering over mine as I open my eyes. The stranger’s gaze flits from eye to eye, her gaze one of assessment. I feel as if I’ve slept in, missed an appointment, disappeared in some dreadful dream. Confused, I sit up slowly.

The woman's face is my face and as I open her mouth I can feel her teeth at strange angles against my tongue

Iron blood fills the spaces where breath should be and I sputter and spit bitterly.

“Easy,” she says, as if calming a spooked horse. “You’ve taken a knock.” She presses what appears to be a package of frozen strawberries against my temple.

I know what the strawberries symbolize, and I want no part in it. But who am I to deny free food?

I sit up, take hold of the strawberries. My head feels too small and wrung out. I feel like the living embodiment of some horrible accident at a taxidermist’s.

Cold encircles my ankles like manacles. I take in my surroundings. A freezer door stands open in front of me—-frost billows out obscuring rows of frozen fruit, novelties. Big yellow price tags. I seem to be lying in the frozen foods aisle.

I sit up. Everything feels stiff and the space behind my eyes is throbbing. I robotically throw my legs out onto the floor and get to my feet.

I go to walk away but stop. I turn around a pick the strawberries back up. Never know when I might need them back against my face

When I stand back up from bending over it feels like a big black piano has shifted to collide against the rear of my skull, the impact sounding a leaden, Soviet stab of tone clusters. I notice now there are people watching us at the other end of the aisle--a woman with a loaded cart talking to another woman, an employee in a red apron with his arms crossed, a couple of kids hopping excitedly. A few other people kind of drifting by in slow, casually taking in the disturbance.

I feel like a desert.

I pull the strawberry bag to my forehead. The smell of polymer. The autopsy buzz of fluorescents.

One trickle of moisture runs down my nose.

“Don’t Speak” plays on the PA system. Gwen Stefani la-la-Laing from the phantom zone.

I turn and walk toward the exit. "Hey wait," the woman yells, but I'm done. I chuck the strawberries into an old lady's cart. I'm so angry suddenly. I picture people who've died. I picture my hand pressed to a hole in my chest and the anger burbles out like blood, irresistible, mounting, not to be denied by any paltry force of regret. What do I regret? Why do I need to classify it? Why am I in this store? Why do I live in this town? Why do we just die and disappear and none of us roam the countryside on moonless nights, blighted in inexplicable magic? I can't explain it. I'm possessed. The possessor is who I am. We are inextricable. Gwen Stefani coos at me, hush, hush darlin'. I want my head to crack open. I want to kick my dog. He isn't alive anymore--he died years ago, and all I can think of are ways to wound myself, to barb my soul, punish myself for living, chastise the blood that refuses not to flow, the heart that beats on and on unbidden. I pass a pyramid of Nabisco crackers on sale on my way out. I want to kneel at this altar and summon my dog back from his eternal rest, the place where my sins could not follow, and look into his crooked innocent smile and weep at my own malice, drink it like wine, only to curse him and banish him again, ruin us both again with my petty sin of cruelty. As he might fade from view I'd call, "If you were alive I'd kick you! I'd kick you and after that I'd put myself in a garbage can and roll into the street."

Then, regret. An avalanche. "I miss you so much," I'd mutter at the floor. I'd mutter after his shadow, which I know is not there, that barest whisper of him already gone again. Nothing is more painful than second chances squandered.

I picture a heart-shaped wound blooming over my t-shirt. It becomes the shape of a strawberry. I tie my heart to a leash and take it for a walk. Carry a plastic bag for its shit.

My heart dallies at every lamp post along the main drag. I know it’s just doing what it’s wired to do but it pisses me off. It’s cold. It weaves left and right along the sidewalk. It finds something disgusting next to a fence and rolls in it.

It starts digging. What are you looking for, huh? You think what we’re missing might be just beneath the surface here. I don’t think so friend. But dig away. Keep digging. Bark if you find something.

As it digs quietly I can’t bear the futility, the dumb optimism, and look backward up the street.

My heart looks up at me with dumb puppy eyes.

A little girl walks up to me. She looks at me.

“You look like a sad ghost,” she says. “Here.”

She hands me an ice cream cone.

I lick it.

It’s strawberry.

I want to thank her but my tongue is numb. I open my mouth.

“Don’t speak,” she says. “I know just what you’re saying.”

My strawberry heart harmonizes the next line.

“Don’t tell me cuz it hurts.”

My tears fall on my ice cream. The world is a number one hit for three minutes and thirty-three seconds.

Then we both turn to the scream of an ambulance.

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