“Do you ever feel so uncomfortable that you want to crawl out of your own self? But then you know that once you get out and leave your shell on the side you’d start itching and hurting and breaking again and again so you’d crawl out again. But it wouldn’t stop. I’m left an infinite cicada until I disappear?”
“Did you take mushrooms?”
“No, mom.” Click.
I paused in the dirt driveway. Looking at the rest stop off of I-40 the pollen fell yellow on the yellow ground. An armadillo crossed, rustling bursts of pollen from the ground. That blanket of yellow hissed with each step and the snowglobe sky held its breath for my face off with the snack shop. There were no birds here, save the roadrunners from cartoons. As my phone returned to the frayed pocket, even steps took me to the counter seat at “Freedom Gas & Goodies.” I looked up at the billboard of the state border. Oklahoma. “Native America.”
I’m afraid of telling stories. My grandfather was a storyteller, the way every Indian grandfather has to be. He told me the essentials as a kid, the vulture’s too small costume, how the rabbit lost his tail, the Little People. The things you need to know if you put “American Indian or Alaskan Native” on job applications. Which I don’t, cause people ask you. You say “Abenaki.” They say, “Like Teepees or Wigwams?” I love a good third grade social studies project.
“We’re short staffed this summer; you good to work alone these next couple of days?” the manager said. His eyes theatrically raised, “I can trust you right?”
“I’m not gonna take anything, I just needed a few hours a day where I’m not spending money.” Money jokes always get the laughs, fake laughs, but there. “Do we sell highlighters?”
Outside the dust moved up and down. I got to play the music from my chair and I’m playing Pink Floyd. Studies have shown that “Comfortably Numb” is the only song you can play with eyes half mast with the innate zzzzz of a fan keeping time. I throw a pack of matches at the automatic door. It opens. It sticks, sweating. And closes.
I’m amongst the tampons in now-torn wrappers, the pens left open with ink stains, the general soot. Does music really sound better on vinyl? Am I more special for being different or less special for pretending to be different? A friend called me a “Special Snowflake” last week and I wanted to die. I don’t even know if he was sarcastic. There isn’t a clock in here and I’m not sure if that’s legal actually.
“Do you ever miss the people you’re around while you’re around them?” I said as she placed her items on the counter.
“What?” She looks up from the slam poetry on her phone.
“Like does your body yearn for the people that surround you even though they’re right there?”
“I mean, when I get off the phone with someone, I miss them more than I did before?” Ring me up for my damn beef jerky, she means. She takes her bag, and I’m about to pat myself on the back for doing the whole transaction without taking my elbows off the counter.
“Have a nice day,” I say. She turns back and stares at me. She hopes I’m in college, which I am, by the way.
Slam poetry is so self important. You emphatically declare yourself an individual in the most generic template of templates. Am I a slam poet? I worry that I think too highly about myself. My mom has to drag me out of bed on Christmas morning and doesn’t believe I’m depressed.
“Mania is better cause it’s doing something,” mom says over morning coffee and cigarettes. Well she doesn’t really say that. Just something sarcastic about people who get in their own way. People that mope and feel sorry for themselves. I think she thinks I’m too fat to be depressed.
“Did Bryan drop me?” My second stepfather thinks I’m ungrateful and don’t deserve health insurance anymore.
“Yea but I’m taking care of it.” Her fingernails are so yellow now but they smell better than anything in the world. Like if workers hands could be soft and holding you all at once. Her foot shook on her crossed legs and she looked at me. I’m noticing now that her skin sags when she looks down and I can’t tell if she’s too young or too old for this to be happening.
Behind the counter the time passes slowly now that gas is pumped by people who pay with their own cards. I’m dusting the pollen inside and touching lighters and laffy taffys and gum chewed and unchewed. Reading notes and letting my shoes slide off. They stick sometimes cause the sweat’s so bad.
The girls bathroom in the Psychology department at school is full of “Sorry’s.” I bet you can hear about 18 ‘sorry’s’ on any given mid class pee. You see, the bathroom stall door opens into the entrance door, and the sinks basically back into the stalls. You can’t be in there without being in someone else’s way, and this leads to every single girl in there saying ‘sorry,’ looking down, and peeing in shame. Yeah, it’s totally your fault that some dumbass doesn’t know how to design a bathroom, I think. But I still say sorry to everyone and look down.
I can’t go to the bathroom here, I’m the only one working remember? Not that’d I’d want to. One time I saw someone throw up hushpuppies in that bathroom. The pollen crusts the walls in there anyway. And it’s even hotter.
I think I should’ve been born a boy so I could have an Oedipus complex. I think I’m definitely a girl when I spend sixty percent of my brainpower in class being aware of where my stomach rests and how close my thighs are together. To be Freud. To know that humankind would never be the same after you. To have your name attached to “pre” and “post” as markers of time. Even though people don’t even believe him anymore.
My face slides down my hand, hand wet, cheek round. “The Wall” is still playing. The sliding door opens. It’s an armadillo walking by. The door closes. He comes back. Right in front of the door today. I blink at the gum on the counter and my hand slips. I look down at the notebook and my backpack under my chair. I have a test tomorrow.
“Write about the story you haven’t been able to tell, yet,” I’m told the other day. “One you’ve struggled with for some reason, maybe it’s the craft?”
Maybe the issue is that I don’t know who I am; I vomit these words in my own head. Is being cheesy actually just accurate? Are common things common because they are common? I hear the snap of a net outside, met with a sort of gun shot. I make my face sour and sourer. It’s even hotter out there.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the truth lately. Write the truth. Write it down.
I tell myself I hate myself because it’s something to say. But I say it like it’s to someone else. It always is.
“I hate myself,” am I talking to an imaginary shrink?
“I hate you,” who the hell is you?
“I hate me,” who the hell is I?
I hear another snap and the pulling of cars on gravel. The chair slides out from under me and I’m slinking to the door. They open before my reflection is registered in the glass. I wait for them to close but they won’t with me standing there cause I’m breathing and all.
“Hey man fuck you!” I didn’t say that but I would’ve. He had trapped the little guy. The armadillo wrestled in his new capture, a net with spurs. He wasn’t curling into a ball. I reached down to get him out. Armadillos are actually furry not spiny. The first time I was in the desert, I wanted to pet one, but when I looked up petting zoos, they only had exterminator numbers listed. I got him right out of there and the piece of shit who sniped him must’ve just driven off. I think people just want to catch them, not kill them.
“I’m the kind of person whose life you want to read about; you’re the kind of person whose life anyone would want to live,” my mom says to me on the porch. Older now, I have a hard time knowing why this is the most painful thing I’ve ever heard.
“Well I know I keep writing about you,” She’s elated, I can tell. She flicks her cigarette into the ashtray I made for her and flinches when I look up at her. When I don’t wear makeup, I look just like my dad.
“For a writer you never tell stories.”
“I don’t have any.”
The music echoes on linoleum and fans. I try to make my face disapproving like parents do. Their gum was smacking right at me now.
“Can you get me that?” The front girl asked, her bikini top resting on her skin, not a single red line of digging into flesh. She motioned toward the electronic cigarettes that just came in. What a time to be alive. My eyes explicitly darted to the “No shoes, No shirt…” sign. Smiled my best smile.
“What flavor sweetie?” She was probably three years younger than me at most. Young enough to card though.
“Cherry,” she glanced behind at the two other girls, thumbing through the chip isles eyes on their painted toenails. Her lips were cherry chap-stick and her hair was boxed pollon.
“I.D?” The sweat burned my eyes as I tried to stare her down. The two back girls shuffled out the the door and it slapped closed behind them.
“Whatever.” The third girl stepped out slower, trailing now.
Shrieks came from their car, and escalating stomping brought the girls back, up to my face, into my face.
“You should really clean up your trash better.” Glance outside. “It’s gross.” As she left, I noticed that she was wearing a shirt now. We went to school together. As my eyes followed her outside, gum and sandals smacking, I saw the soft grey lump that caused the exclamation.
The pollen billowed behind their car, sputters of rocks trailed. I ran outside. On my knees now, I reached out to the gentile hairs on his ears, his rounded back. The flies were already there, and eyes were already clotted by pollen. My brown knees dug into dirt, leaning over, my lips grazed his ear. I’m whispering a story. A sleeping story.