Storiesby Robert Lopez
IN ALABAMA THE TUSCALOOSA
Someone approached me on the street. It was broad daylight, appalling.
Questions were put to me as if I might know something. The first had to do with my birthplace. I told them I couldn’t remember, that I’ve been told different things by different people.
Then they asked me if I was interested in making some extra money. I told them stories need to be verified. I told them I would look into it and get back to them. I said I needed more time.
Then they asked if I had any extra time on my hands. I told them I have carpal-tunnel syndrome. I said it hurts to even shake hands with someone; that I can’t even drink a glass of water. I said I have to use plastic cups and straws like a little girl.
By this time their expressions had changed. I think they wanted to go home now.
This is when they asked about my future. They said, are you ready for it? I told them even the wayside has fallen by the wayside here. I said take a look around you. I said I can’t see three feet in front of me. I said I was near-sighted or far-sighted, whichever one means you can’t see three feet in front of you. I said I shot an elephant in my pajamas once and then I said how he got in my pajamas I have no idea.
This is when they thanked me very much for the time and courtesy and told me to have a great day. I should’ve told them to go do the same, but I asked them to look into my eyes instead. I said which is it; please, tell me, am I near-sighted or far-sighted?
They didn’t even bother looking.
The sky looks best over South Dakota, she says.
I say, fuck South Dakota will you please.
She says, you go fuck South Dakota. Then she says, you fucking child.
We go on like this for a few minutes until she removes her clothes. Naked she looks like a real woman with the skin and bumps. Otherwise, I don’t know what’s happened to her.
She wants me to say she is pretty, beautiful, call her a filthy whore. She wants me to touch her places.
She doesn’t have children but wants me to call her mother. She wants me to spend the night so she can nurse me in the morning. She always wants, this woman.
Me, I can’t say there’s anything I want for outside of sleeping the night straight through. I’ve been told I should visit a doctor, that I should consider medication. The people who told me this, I’ve seen them naked, too. The same skin and bumps and awful wants as this woman here.
The one thing I know is this – Mother did not give birth to me.
The other thing I know is it is no real calamity.
My real calamity is I can drink myself drunk or dead and still not sleep through the night.
After we’re finally done we both say we’re hungry but there’s nothing to eat. We listen to our naked stomachs grumble instead of talking or finding food somewhere.
If I had to guess I’d say I met this woman in a bar, over something nasty straight up with beer chasers. This was probably three or four years ago now. I think her name is Alice or Gretchen. She won’t confirm or deny anything but I went through her purse once and found drivers licenses for both names. One had her as a blonde in Georgia, the other a brunette in New Mexico.
Me she calls her baby boy. She’s never said why.
She says things like, Come on over to Mother now baby boy.
I tried to shake her once in the Pacific Northwest, but it didn’t work. She says she wants to fuck me in all fifty states; that she won’t give up until we hit them all.
I don’t know how many are left.
Tomorrow I’ll leave her in this hotel room and break north. I’ll hide out and try to get some sleep in Sioux Falls until she catches up.
But what I’ll tell her is I’m going out for breakfast and will bring Mother back something good.
For years I went to bed every night. This is when I was like everyone else in the world. I had a job, I knew people. I ate meals, bought gadgets, kept up with current events. I owned a sedan. Now my life is dry toast for breakfast and the allergies. That’s the entirety of it, all I can muster. Some think I have a disorder, a syndrome, something along those lines, but I know it’s allergies. I’ve been tested. The doctor confirmed it. I went to the doctor and said help. The doctor examined me. Then the doctor took me into his office and explained what was wrong. I couldn’t understand him, what he was saying. But it doesn’t matter, in the end, it doesn’t. I keep the windows shut but the allergies get inside anyway. They get in between the cracks in the walls or up from the basement or down from the chimney. The doctor said there’s no stopping the allergies. I think the only thing in the world I’m not allergic to is a down comforter, which is what I sleep on now. The bed I’m allergic to, even the dry toast I’m allergic to. I can never sleep in bed and never feel right after eating dry toast is how I know this. But now it’s all gone; the meals, the people, the gadgets, the job, the sedan. Now come evening I lay a down comforter on the floor and sleep on it. This is after suffering all day with the allergies. Sometimes, yes, my eyes work long enough to read a magazine or watch a little television. Sometimes I can listen to music for a few minutes before the ringing in my ears becomes unbearable. Yes, I am grateful for those days, it’s true. But I know it’s hopeless. I know I’m getting worse. Even the doctor said so. It was the only thing I understood from our conversation. What the doctor said was sometimes this sort of thing happens to people, these kinds of allergies, and in this particular case, out of millions of other cases, I happen to be the worst kind of people.
ONE OF MY DAUGHTERS IS CALLED RESNICK
The bruised parts of a banana are poison. I’ve gone up to people on street corners – I’ve said, the bruised parts of a banana are poison. I’ve said you mustn’t eat them. I never use the word mustn’t unless I’m talking about the bruised parts of bananas. Only young actresses say the word mustn’t out loud. They are allowed to because they have long curly hair and pretty polished toes. They say I mustn’t eat this whole box of cookies right now. Or they say I mustn’t allow complacency and ennui within a city block of my long curly hair and pretty polished toes. I’ve seen them on street corners and I’ve said to them the bruised parts of a banana are poison. I’ve said you mustn’t eat them. Some of the young actresses thank me for saving their lives and others don’t thank me at all. These thankless ones walk away quickly in some other direction. I like the way the thankless ones walk so it’s always fine with me when this happens. The ones who do thank me are my favorites, though. They have the longest curliest hair and the prettiest polished toes. I tell them all about what is poisonous in the world. Envelopes you have to lick with your tongue, green bell peppers, vitamin C with rose hips and so on. To make myself clear I ask them what the hell is a rose hip. Not one of them ever knows the answer. What they say is I mustn’t allow Mr. Resnick to push me around anymore. I tell them they are absolutely right about this. Then I ask them who is Mr. Resnick and they answer he is the director, silly. This is another word young actresses say out loud and there’s nothing wrong it. I like it when the young girls call me silly. I always ask them how they know my name is silly and they giggle. Eventually I tell them I understand what they are saying and then I say one of my daughters is called Resnick as a way of relating to them. This is when that gut love connection explodes all over everyone. It fills the entire universe. At this moment they know they have to trust that gut love connection because this is what it means to be alive and on the planet. This is what they have waited their entire lives for. Now I invite them home so we can eat unbruised bananas and make long polished gut love all night. On the way I tell them the world is full of all kinds of poison and we have to be careful. I tell them we have to live inside our gut love and not let anyone else in. I tell them I will save their lives every day forever if only they let me.
YET ANOTHER REASON
All of the other tables were unattended, as was the front desk. There was no one to ask for help.
Once on the street I turned right and saw a policeman on horseback and a woman dressed as a hooker. Otherwise, she was a hooker dressed as a woman. There was no telling.
Turns out there were people everywhere, like it was a parade. Some were drinking, others laughing and singing. I think it may’ve been a holiday of some sort. People didn’t look like themselves. They were convivial.
I kept going but Sixth Avenue was too congested to roll across. I was slowed.
Everything in the world slows me.
What makes this a story is I was getting married at the time. My bride’s name was Constantly, the reverend’s John. I told them I had to go check on something, that I’d be right back. Then I told them to wait here.
She said thank you but I’m ambulatory now.
She was right. A year ago, when I met her, she was bed-ridden. She’d been in bed her whole life. The sores were the worst part, she said.
Now she walks everywhere, to the stores, to the markets, up hills, down aisles.
It’s something like a miracle and everyone knows it.
I told her if such was the case to head west to the Hudson, perhaps swim to New Jersey and maybe walk to Pennsylvania after that.
She said this country is wider than Sixth Avenue but not by much.
I told her it would be good therapy. I told her to look out for punks and wild animals.
She said yet another reason to keep the doors locked and windows shut.
This is when I asked her to marry me again, but another time, when it’s more convenient for everyone. I told her I wanted to have her children and raise them to be long distance runners, politicians, geniuses. What I wanted more than anything was to be domesticated.
She asked me to come with her to the Irish pub across the street so she could make a counter-offer.
I considered going, but got waylaid by transvestites, clergymen, riff-raff.
She couldn’t be stopped, though. She kept on walking like it was nothing, like she’d been doing it forever. She never once turned around, looked back. I think she knew better. I watched her go and was proud.
Everyone in the parade cheered her on.
I had an idea once but it’s gone now. The idea concerned a new use for electric fans. This is what happens to me sometimes. I forget ideas like how I forgot my name. I think my name rhymes with a kind of bird, but I don’t know what kind of bird. I don’t know anything about birds. Part of the trouble is I’m color blind but what’s even bigger trouble is I’m not color blind like other people are color blind. The way other people are color blind is they will see a blue bird flying in the wind but this blue bird looks green to them. The difference is they know the bird isn’t actually green because they know what they see as green is blue. For these people green is blue and in most cases blue is green. If you are going to be color blind this is the way to do it. I can’t see blue or green so all birds look the same to me is my problem. They are all colorless. I’ve been to the eye doctors but they can’t fix me. They say that something is wrong with my corneas and they have to cut them out and put in new ones. I ask them why this has happened to me but they never know how to answer. What I think happened is one night I went to bed and everything was alright and then I had a bad dream and by the time I woke up the next morning I was color blind like this. I can’t remember what the bad dream was about but I don’t think it’s important and I don’t think it had anything to do with color. What I do remember is looking around the room that morning and wondering what the hell happened to the walls and carpet. But even this is not important. It’s always difficult separating what’s important from what isn’t when you’re color blind. What is important is my idea about electric fans. This idea I had occurred to me in bed right before I was about to fall asleep and have a bad dream. Even my bad dreams are colorless but this is just as unimportant as everything else so let’s please forget it. Let’s forget everything except for my idea which I’ve already forgotten once. I think maybe if I were color blind like other people are color blind I might’ve woken up the next morning and remembered my idea about electric fans but the sad truth is I’m not color blind like other people are so this idea is gone forever like the wind. I think maybe I might remember my name someday but I don’t care too much about it. If I had to choose between remembering my name and the idea about electric fans it wouldn’t even be a contest. Now before I go to bed each night I try to remember my idea but I always wind up falling asleep before I can and when I wake up I can’t think of any other use for electric fans other than to plug it into a wall and let it blow all over every colorless thing in the room.
ROBERT LOPEZ is the author of two novels, Part of the World and Kamby Bolongo Mean River and a collection of short fiction, Asunder.