You don’t know what satin feels like. You never have. It’s a word you’ve always loved, since you were too young to know what it was, whether it was a Disney princess or a kind of washing-up liquid. It could have been either. You heard your babysitter talking about it, when she was using your grandmother’s phone to call her friends. It was long before cellphones.
When you were old enough to babysit the little boys down the block, you learned why your own babysitter had spent her time on the phone. Watching little kids was a pain. You didn’t like it. But you needed the money, your grandmother’s purse strings being as tight as her small mouth. When she went out to her fancy meetings, dressed to the nines, strung up with pearls and too much lipstick, you thought she was a rich lady. You learned when you got older that she was a penny-pincher, stingy with every coin, and that all those fancy meetings she went to were for your own sake. So she could keep you. Not for herself, but from others.
Your babysitter talked about satin. You weren’t listening very hard, so you only caught the word because of the way she said it, and you didn’t get any of the context around it. She was a fast talker usually, but she snaked the word “satin” through her tongue like it was three times that length. You try to replicate it with your own mouth but you catch the person next to you in your cubicle looking at you and you put your head down and get back to work.
It’s dull work. You’re dialling numbers and waiting for people to pick up the phone. You’re not selling them things. You’re trying to get them to answer questions. It’s two pm and no one is picking up. Everyone is at work, just like you, or out doing errands. Or napping. You wish you could put your head right down and nap. You don’t know why your babysitter’s face is so strong in your head until you realize that her name is the last one on the page you’ve been crossing names and numbers off from. You must have seen it right at the beginning, but your brain didn’t take it in. You read an article about that once. How people think something is a coincidence when it actually isn’t.
You skip down and call her number first, before the rest of the list. You wait. No one picks up. No answering machine. You don’t cross her off. You’ll try again later.

PHOTO / jovike

Heave ho

“Ladies and gentlemen, family and friends, we are gathered here today to say our farewell to the dearly departed-“

You hold your jaw closed tightly in order to stifle a yawn and the rushing sound in your ears makes the priest’s voice sound like a badly-tuned radio. You let your mind wander and stop listening to him. You’ve never been to a church before. You never thought that a funeral would be your first time attending.

You watch the ladies in the front row, dressed in black, like evil witches in their lace and wraps and drapes, their fancy shoes scraping against the stone floor whenever they move. You wonder whether they will miss him. He never complained much about them, his ladies, but whenever he talked about them he looked at their pictures with regret and his lips would lose their perpetual upturned points.

You remember him the way you first met him. He seemed so much younger than you then. Hard to believe that he was only a few years your junior. You were both taking flying lessons at the airport. Zippy little planes, they were. You had to learn how to turn the engine off, to let the plane begin to swirl down-down-down-down-down, as if it was going to crash. It is a common misconception that planes just fall from the sky, like they do in cartoons. They don’t – the way the wings are built, the wings catch the air, the thermals or something, and so planes always go in spiraling loops on the way down. It was the scariest thing you’d ever done, turning off that engine. You both met at the edge of the vandalized playground later that week, and you talked about that. About how scary it was. That was the first time you realized he wasn’t a pukey little high school kid. You thought he may have some brains on him and you deigned to speak to him. You were such a putz when you were in college.

It’s such a laugh, thinking of those flying lessons now, when you haven’t navigated a plane for forty years and your old friend is lying dead in a coffin in front of you. It’s ridiculous on another level, too – as if anyone could get flying lessons so easily now. You bet that just to get to the airstrip, now, if anyone could even afford to get flying lessons, you’d need to take your damn shoes off and scan your bag. You think of how you used to pay for airfare on the plane itself. No passports or IDs or anything. How the world changes.

One of the ladies is talking about how her uncle was such a good man, a noble man, and you wish you could get up and shout “Objection, your honor!” But this isn’t court, it’s church. The dead man in the coffin would have loved the joke, though. He wasn’t noble, and while sure, he was good in his own fashion, he would have been horrified to have been described that way.

The service is a blur. You wonder at one point whether you’ve fallen asleep. Your joints hurt on the wooden benches, and you wish you hadn’t agreed to be one of the pallbearers. You want to curse at him, but you know that people will look at you strangely if you do. It isn’t fair. When you die, you think, you’ll stipulate in your will that your funeral is to be strictly casual dress and that people aren’t allowed to be all fake-sad like this. If they’re sad, that’s fine, but if they want to shout at you and curse you out, that’s fine too. You’d prefer that, really. Heck, there are coffins that come with sound-systems today, people could have a party at your expense. They could choose the playlist you’ll listen to for all eternity. You wish he were around to laugh about that with you. You could have told him that you think your kids will choose to make you listen to their awful youtube teen stars for all eternity, just to get back at you for making fun of them.

The coffin is heavy, heavier than you expect. You tell him, silently, telepathically maybe, that he needed to go on a diet, and that death will probably help him lose weight real quickly. You wonder if you can feel him laughing somewhere but then you realize that it’s your own shoulders, heaving.

You are not so good

You begin to realize you’re not as good a person as you wish were. You’re not sure whether this is because of who you are, who you’re comparing yourself to on a daily basis, who you’re aspiring to be, or what you’re keeping in your belly and is emerging, in fits and bursts, and shocking people. You think it’s the last of these. Because, after all, if you would raise things that worried you at the right time, they wouldn’t bubble up like boiling water. As it is, you end up burning people, and they resent you for it. They begin to think you’re not as good a person as they thought you were before. They think you are hiding malice in your throat and in your lungs.
You wonder if they’re right. Everyone hides evil inside them, but there is evil and there is malice and there is innocent selfishness. You know your evil, your malice, is not original. You know that it is a product of your fear and your embarrassment. But you know that others don’t know this. It bothers you that the innocent selfish are seen as better people, because they, after all, are innocent. Selfish, yes, but innocent. Selfishness is being appreciated in your current surroundings, more and more so. You don’t understand this. It puzzles you. You’ve never experienced people who admire it so much. It makes you wonder, and it is one of the poisons leaking into your veins.
Your skin is peppered with invisible needles, the syringes of these poisons, most of which are connected to your own head. Others, just a few, come from other people. But really, even they, are probably linked to your own head in a way you don’t quite understand. You wish you could get it. You wish you understood better how to pluck these needles out, simply cut them out of your flesh.

You sit and listen to people talk everywhere and you wonder what happens in their heads. You love listening to them so much. They distract you from everything else you should be doing. Their heads – you know – must be just as loud as yours, but you wonder how different or similar they are. You know that each of you, each and every one, must be wrapped up to some extent or other in their own private world, and that is fascinating. You want their stories. You want to know their stories.

Fifty Words

Watching your father shave reminds you of the lion in the MGM logo. The movements are predictable, identical every time, but no less impressive for that. There is a grandiosity you wish you had, a majesty of spirit and body you have not yet attained. Manhood, you think, is incredible.