In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"


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Zero-sum waiting game


 
They say a watched pot never boils. And pasta doesn’t cook in the 8 minutes they say it does on the box. Forget about my oven. Add a half hour or more to every cooking time mentioned in a recipe, any recipe.
 
My oven is old as is the rest of my house and the inhabitants in it. My children are now 21 and 18 (in a matter of days)–older children, not grade schoolers any more. And their parents’ late fifties make them older parents. And my parents, who had me when they were in their early twenties, are old. My father will turn 83 in a month, and my mother won’t live out the month. Though younger than my father by four years, she’s older than us all. Her demented body attacked her and made her old.
 
I’m awaiting her death. She breathes laboriously, with her whole body. Her lungs can’t do it alone any more. She needs to breathe with her belly, once ballooned with sweets now shrunken down into her spine. The hospice nurse says this belly barely breathing is yet another sign of her “transitioning.” I tell the caretaker to give her morphine. She doesn’t look like she suffers but just in case. She’s tired of living.
 
I wait. I watch her chest rise and fall. She doesn’t open her eyes any more. Her hands have begun to swell, turning her fingertips purple. Weak kidney function. Soon, maybe tomorrow, she’ll forego all food and water, her body turning on itself for a little peace, just a last bit of peace, for fuck’s sake, mercy, mercy, please peace. She’s waiting–and we too wait, watching her wait.

 

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I told you I don’t want to know.


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Can they not understand? I said I wanted to bury myself in work. I meant it. What do they mean, leaking toxic waste into my air-tight, sealed cave? I thought they couldn’t see me, didn’t know I existed, like hiding under the blanket when you’re scared in bed as a child. If they can’t see me, I’m safe.

But no, they found an opening. And all those words, words upon words, upon which I built my impenetrable wall, well they were just too airy thin, too porous. The poison seeped in. The words I didn’t want to read, they were all there. I thought they had left me in peace for a while. Yes, they did. I remember the relief. Maybe I got too used to not seeing those oozing, infectious, pus-filled pockets of venomous ink.

And no wind, seagulls, rain, wave, or chimes will wash them away clear now. My fingers curl under their weight, and my arthritic knuckles ache. You’d think I’d be grateful that I have any words at all. But today’s not the day for patience, compassion, tolerance, or ease. Today’s the day they sullied my ocean’s ark along the curb, street side of nowhere else to go. 


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Stinky Fries: Ten for Today


 
Saturday night, stool-side at my usual digs, the corner wine bar. I come here to write in the evening, when it’s time to switch from coffee to beer.
 
“I have Stone on tap. Interested?” The bar tender knows me. I’m past the initial flinching at that recognition.
 
“Looks like you have two.”
 
“Yep, this one has pineapple and tangerine with a…” Jason, I think I call him (I hope that’s his name).
 
“Whoa, no fruit in my beer,” interrupting his pitch.
 
“Agree.”
 
That first sip…not sure which bliss compares aptly, not quite orgasm, but not far below. Not three steps, anyhow.
 
Uh oh, the guy next to me peers over at my screen and squints.
 
“How do you see that tiny print? I mean it’s so…”
 
“I manage.” Yeah, I’m a bitch. Pick a different intro.
 
My stinky fries arrive just then, anyhow. The sirracha-ketchup is the bomb.
 
Long day nerding over AI and healthcare. Auditioning a piece for a real journal. I’ve claimed expertise in the area, but it’s really just gushing sci-fi enthusiasm. Yes, I’ve written a few thousand words on it for my weekly health tech start-up gig, but this is big-time. My head’s a bit spinny.
 
“Ready for another?”
 
Shit, I washed down half the fries with an entire tall one already?
 
“Okay.”
 
I still have a half plate of stinkies. It’s the melted cheese over them that lends them their title. Ah, I’m going to hell anyhow. As my father reminds me daily, “I’m going where it’s warm.”


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The Alarm


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The alarm goes off yet again, screaming. It’s not a bell or a song. It’s not even electronic. It’s in my head, under my skin. It yells anger, fear, irritation, and doom in fire red sirens. Every day the alarm sounds, no matter how many times I shut it off, slam it down, throw it across the room, mat, or freeway. I try covering my ears with my palms vice pressed against them, try squinting my eyes skin-swallowed inside shut, and try tensing my body blind from the sound, skin, and shaking–to no avail.
 
And then it’s gone. Quiet follows. Later, I can hear the soft gongs, smell the incense, feel the rubber under my toes, and breathe. But sometimes, too many times, my left foot won’t lift off the ground, my toes won’t dig themselves snug into my right thigh, and I can’t stand tall on one foot, balls of the feet gripping the axis of the earth. No balance. Off kilter.
 
Other days, I can kick up both feet off the ground, jettisoned by balls and big toes–left and right–and half-pipe myself slowly, silently cannoned through vast, airy nothingness before grounding earth in thud landing, shock-waved cement-gravity from toe to head.


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Laryngitis: Ten for Today


I’ve got laryngitis. You know, when you lose your voice. I’ve lost my voice. Not my speaking voice but my writing voice. You see, after droning on all day in the land of copywriting, pounding keys to the sounds of an empty drum, plucking at mind-numbing formulas, headings, subheading, bullets, numbers, and (watch my Oxford comma there) italicized catchphrases til my brain seeps out of my left ear when I pause to blink, sigh, and rest my left cheek on my left hand knuckles, I can’t write a word. I haven’t. There’s nothing but echoes of a dry, raspy, husked wheeze when I try. Maybe I’m sick. A writing virus, but not the computer kind. The kind when you’re dry, wheezy, and bereft of words. No sentences form like the flu–with no appetite for food. Only it’s words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. No paragraphs either. I’ve no hunger or drive for text. A malaise. Burn-out. Fizzled out.
 
So this is what I have. Shredded sound. Squeaked out verbs in a tin can, clanking thin. Strange that a dream can disperse like dandelion seed in the wind. A longing turned to fright when the object of desire obtained. I always wanted to be a writer. 


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cacophony and rum


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Naked fries with Sriracha ketchup, where have you been all my life?
 
I’m not one to sit down to a plate of fries, unless of course, they’re those thin-strip bistro fries, crisp and deep golden. Limp fries never tempt me. I can do without the whole deep-fried potato thing altogether, but when the week has been exceptionally long…Fries and Sriracha. Yes.
 
Why do crowded happy hour bars feature at least one loud cackler and one deep-throated shouter? Modulate your voice, please. I used to request my children do that. Indoor voice. What hilarity drives that savage slicing squawking? I guess I’m more the philosophical buzz type. And so.
 
A big grinning bearded fellow with a bandito hat and a zip-up black windbreaker high fives the bartender and my happy hour is complete. Suddenly, venturing out of the cave with trepidation (No, not peopling!) seems worth it. The bartender shakes not stirs in icy loud agreement.
 
As the beer and wine flow, the last fry dipped, and a dribble of Stone left in the glass, it may be time to open up some bar space for those making a night of this cacophony and rum. Especially since I can’t take my eyes off the red-plaid sports jacket complemented by the solid red tie across the bar. Shouldn’t there be a warning sign attached to him? Don’t stare into the red. It’ll change your DNA irreparably. Too late for me.
 
And I make the Nike air check sign to the bartender.