by Tara Isabel Zambrano
You dress up as my ex-lover: curly, blond hair and Scottish accent coated tongue. We collect treats and I steal a glance or two, stuff it between the candies. When we reach home, I sense a presence inside me, a light wobble, a tremor.
Two children are dressed as fairies. Their parents wait on the other side of the lawn. One girl looks at me, grabs three truffles and walks away. The other says, Thank you.
Tomorrow I’ll call the abortion clinic. But I need to talk to you first.
A woman walks up our driveway with a toddler. She looks like someone in a grocery line with a cart full of Campbell’s chunky soups and Hormel chili. Someone who drinks a lot of Coke and uses a lot of Bounty. After she leaves, I want to say something about her tangled hair, the delicate smile of her boy, but a series of elementary school kids appear: a bumblebee, two skeletons and a ninja. Twins dressed up as Snow White and Jasmine.
A pregnant woman is pushing a stroller on the sidewalk. Her shoulders are narrow, her gait unsteady. For a moment, I place my hand on my belly as if receiving a message from her fetus. I wonder if it is warm inside my belly.
We talk about what might be a cool Halloween costume: a talking gravestone, a time capsule, a laughing Buddha. Then we argue about right and wrong. More so about difficult and easy. The beginning and the end. How the wind knows its way even in darkness, how life always wins even if it seems otherwise.
There is a birthday party going on two houses down the road: the ruckus is on, teenagers in bandannas and ripped denim shorts, yelling, laughing and swearing all at once like a bad-flavored candy. A man dressed as a hobo shows up and says a mysterious word. You nod your head as if you know the meaning. He leaves without candy.
The sky looks like a translucent shell and an evening chill settles on our shoulders. You watch the falling leaves, the evaporating light. I sense the descending spirits, my child unfolding. Growing in the dark, knowing its way. We hold hands and I see your fingertips are all yellow from smoking. For a moment I forget, this is where I live. I could be a ghost already. A shiver slips through and lets me believe we still have time to be young and breathless. To treat ourselves with something new. To trick ourselves with love.
Along the edge of the fading light
I pick up stuff. Things others left behind. Scarves, mittens, dollar bills, pens, rings. And I cannot tell you, what it feels like to carry these things around. A month ago, in a crowded bus, I was standing behind a guy with a gym bag and I noticed his boxers, almost falling out. I slowly pulled out the last corner. I smelled it every morning and slept with it for a fortnight until it lost its odor.
A few days later, a woman left her lipstick next to the sink in a restroom. It was a beautiful shade of orange. Before, when I saw her smacking her lips and placing the makeup in her blind spot, I knew she’d forget. That’s the amazing thing. I know it will happen. Restrooms are the best places, there are no cameras. Usually, people go back to look for their things. I watch them from a distance. It’s disappointing they give up so quickly.
I work at a Walmart next to my apartment, greet people and bag groceries. Customers leave their things in the bagging area, next to the cash register, in the carts, sometimes on the floor. Especially the moms with little babies, old people, teenagers with plugged ears. I often brush past their fingers while taking cash, checks or giving out receipts. It feels like I have touched their being if only for a moment. After my shift is over I take a bus to a public library or a mall or a park.
I am a fan of Dostoevsky because his books are long and hard to put down. I read them in the library next to the tall, elegant windows. It feels good to keep coming back to something.
On days I don’t want to draw attention to myself I go home, head to my bedroom and place all the stuff on my bed. A strange feeling takes over – a rush mixed with tightness like you know something others don’t. And what keeps me awake at night is this: when something goes missing, no one cares after a while. The world goes on. Nothing changes.
A week ago when I was roaming in a park, I saw a well-dressed woman sitting with a package in her lap, her hands on top of it. After a few minutes, she placed the package by her side, pulled out a phone from her purse and started dialing. She was still talking when she got up and left. And it didn’t look like she was moving away from the package but as if space was created between them. I walked toward the green and blue box. There was no rush or tightening. No sweaty palms. It bothered me.
At home I pulled out a silk shawl and placed the box on it. It was full of sheer cream-colored envelopes. I could see the handwriting underneath, but not enough to read it, like light footsteps on snow. I opened the letters carefully, one by one, and ran my lips over the edge. Sharp, gummy taste. I even cut my lip and a drop of blood settled on one envelope. For a long time, I sat with folded A3 paper all around me: the promise of love, the security of dreams wrapped in an unhurried happiness. I thought about my father who left me and my mom when I was thirteen, my mom who worked three jobs and died on her fortieth birthday, boyfriends who liked me because I was different but left because of the same reason. I felt the scar on my wrist, under a bracelet I picked up outside a bar. Then I kissed each letter, placed it back and glued the envelope as if that was the plan right from the start. And just for a moment, I felt I wasn’t beyond saving.
The next day I took the package and placed it on the bench where I found it. I stood behind an oak not far from the bench. The air was salty, and I felt my pulse rocking against the warmth of it. As the evening progressed and darkness unraveled beyond the trees and the sky, I waited. No one came. On the way back, I waded through a light mist to get to the bus stop. The wind swept my hair from my face and I watched the deserted sky between rows of dense clouds with jagged lines of light as if joining the past and the future. It started to rain when I got on the bus. Everyone was complaining about the traffic and the unexpected weather, but I was seeing something else entirely: the people I haven’t touched, the pages I haven’t flipped, the stuff I haven’t picked up: all dancing along the edge of the fading light calling out to me.
Third time in the day
What he doesn’t know is that he is kissing his mom goodbye; his pre-teen arms are circled around her slight paunch for the last time because he is too young to understand the world you and I live in, that it will always upset him why she didn’t leave a note and if it was because he asked too many questions that morning when the smoke alarm, low on battery, started shrieking and she got the ladder but realized that the ceiling was too high and there was no one to take care of the oil changes or fix the leaking pipes or the damn alarm because his dad was traveling again, and yeah, it made her mad—his constant traveling, his late night business calls and his whispering voice made her miss him even more: so much that she’d wear his shirts, roll up their sleeves and stand in front of the mirror talking to herself, and later wipe the dust off the family pictures with a tight-mouthed condescension knowing that something is lost in this distant togetherness, and years later, when he’d be changing the battery of the same alarm while his pregnant wife leans against the ladder, he’d look down and catch the light slipping through the floorboards that’d make him say, I love you— yeah, for the third time in the day because he is afraid that he won’t be enough for her as well.