Empty Days

There were days when she simply wasn’t there. Entire days during which she worked on autopilot, keeping her head down and moving from one place to the next: from bed to the breakfast table and from there to the bus which took her to work and on and on until she was back in bed. She knew what was happening during those days – she was in there, somewhere, behind the dead eyes that looked out at the world – but she was stuck in some sort of conscious torpor, unable to speak a sincere word or process a complex thought.
She could never predict when this sort of day might occur. It could be a bright, sunny day in early June – then she’d miss the beauty of the hummingbirds surrounding the trees in the garden and the sweet smell of night-blooming flowers that wafted in through the windows during dinner. Sometimes it would be a blustery, rainy day in November, and she’d be immune to the blue mood that engulfed everyone else.
Whenever these days happened, she’d mark them down in her calendar when she woke up the next morning. She monitored the empty days, hoping and praying that they wouldn’t increase, but trying to find a pattern in them. Were they part of her menstrual cycle? Did they have something to do with her diet or the amount of exercise she took? She kept meticulous notes on all of her activities
She refused to believe that the empty days were absolutely random. If there were no triggers, she had no way to prevent them. If she couldn’t prevent them, then it was only a matter of time before she would walk off a bridge or in front of a speeding truck. She didn’t want to die, but the emptiness didn’t care about living.

Prisonville

Whoosh

A car drives by, so close to me that I feel the wind it makes buffet me as it blows past. I pull my jacket tighter around me and keep walking. The road’s deserted now that the headlights of the car are gone and its noise is fading away. I miss it a little. I’d tracked that solitary car’s progress from three streets away when it started up in its driveway. There isn’t a whole lot of town here, and you learn pretty quickly to tell where the cars are coming from. I don’t know why, but sound has always traveled particularly far in this place; maybe it’s all the clean mountain air.

Nobody moves here for any reason except the stupid air. I can’t tell you how many times I heard my parents, or my friends’ parents, gush about how clean the dratted air up here is. I’ve heard my husband’s family go on about it, and my friends and my coworkers as well. Everyone loves the air, the air, the air. The clean, mountain air.

Me? I hate this air. I find it oppressive. I feel like it’s closing in on me. Once every couple of months I get a panic attack, and Dr. Greene has to come and inject something in my arm until I calm down. My husband doesn’t get it, but maybe that’s because I’ve never explained it to him. Why should I? He’d laugh, tell me I’m crazy, ruffle my hair in that way I hate and then forget all about me again.

I pass my house again. I’ve been around the block five times already and I don’t feel any warmer than I did when I started. It’s past midnight, and I can’t sleep. As usual. My husband’s still out at the bowling alley with his buddies – well, that’s what he tells me, anyway. I think he’s elsewhere, but I haven’t ever bothered to check. I honestly don’t care about him enough. It’s not like I’ve ever had a relationship with him. We were married two years ago. I’ve known him all my life, of course, just like I know everyone else in this town. If you think your town is small, try to go house by house throughout all of it and see if you know everyone’s names. Can you do that? I can.

I read a book once – or maybe it was a movie, I’m not sure – whatever it was, I remember this place called Stepford, where all the women were exactly the same, programmed to be perfect. That’s what my town is like – everyone’s exactly the same: perfectly nice, perfectly decent, perfectly fair, perfectly dull. Both the women and the men. The only ones who are different are the kids, and they all grow out of it. I don’t know why I’m different, but I just know that I am.

I think I’m the only one in living memory who ever tried to leave this place. But I couldn’t.

Stories

We’re all made of stories.

We’re all living stories.

We’re all making stories.

Everything in our lives can be seen as a story. There’s the story about how you were born, the story of whose braid you pulled in first grade, and when you got braces, and why you chose to take physics in high-school and where you had your first kiss.

We all tell stories every day. There’s the story you tell your best friend about how your date went last night, the story you tell your aunt about whose car you dented last week, and the one you tell your coworker about when the boss got drunk at the office party, and the one you tell your cat about why you’re giving him canned food instead of dry today, and the one you tell yourself about where you wish you were right now.

We all make up stories all the time, too. There’s the story of how you wish your father was alive, the story of whose life you’d want to try out for a day, and the story of when you’ll really feel like a grown-up for sure, and why you’re going to win the lottery next time and where you can picture yourself living in ten years.

But then, there are the missing stories.

The stories of horrible events that need to be suppressed.

The stories that you’ll never know, because there’s no one who can tell them to you.

The stories that will never be, because they’re too frightening to really accept.

Even then, though – there are stories. Every minute of every day of your life. They are stories.

Night Birds

Our apartment has huge windows in the adjoining kitchen and living room. It’s almost a balcony. Only it’s not. We have blinds that we lower and raise, depending on the hour, on how brightly the sun is shining, on how much privacy we want.

Big windows can be horrible if all you’ve got to look at is the inside of someone else’s house. If that’s the view you get, you have a sort of forced intimacy with whoever lives across – you know they see you, and you know that they know that you can see them. It can become very awkward, trying to time things right so as not to spy on each other. Maybe then you both become recluses and never catch a ray of sunlight.

We don’t have those kind of big windows. Ours overlook a relatively large oval-shaped park, surrounded by trees and lined by paths going around and through it. There are benches there where the Filipinos hang out and talk while their elderly charges sit, awkwardly, either unable or unwilling to talk with their peers. There are mothers and fathers walking strollers along the paths, trying to lull to sleep screaming babies, or maybe just sitting by empty strollers while their toddlers delight in the sandbox and the wooden pirate ship that dominates it. There are elementary-school kids and high-school teenagers walking to and from school every day, backpacks weighing them down, some in groups and some alone and some even more alone than the others. These are the things we see during the day.

At night, it’s harder to see. The lamps in the park are yellow and dim and sometimes blown out or simply not turned on. So we use our ears instead of our eyes. On some nights, we can hear teenagers sitting on the benches, whistling and yelling, the glowing red of their cigarettes the only light in the park. On other nights, it’s so silent out there that we long for a storm to come along, to thunder in the sky, to pour down rain so we can hear the tip-tap-drip on our windows.

The best nights, though, are when the night birds sing. We’ve never yet seen them, only heard them. Their cry is shrill, like a whistle, but it’s melodic as well. They seem to be yearning for something, missing something or someone so deeply that it hurts them. Their sound makes our hearts melt a little bit, and even as we smile and pause to listen to their lonely, beautiful cries, our hearts seem to tug at us, feeling a little sore and swollen all of a sudden. Our night birds let us share their desperate want for something unnameable, they nurture our longings, even if we don’t realize it’s happening.

I sometimes wonder if our night birds are like emotions – unseen, only heard somewhere deep, sometimes shrilly enough that it’s impossible to ignore them.