Some people shiver the whole time. Some have perspiration pouring off of them, their bodies glistening, leaving pools in their wake. One guy, the whole time you’re talking to him there’s this tiny trickle of blood seeping out from his left eye.
Me, I’m always about to start sweating.
You show up like waking up from a falling dream, all of a sudden you’re looking around wildly at this huge, old building, one of those old east coast train stations but infinitely bigger than a real one ever could be. For the first little while it’s just you and a half dozen others, wandering around this building, squinting like you’re going to find clues in the stained old bricks and cracking murals. You rub your forehead, rub your eyes, over and over, but you can never quite seem to come to, remember how you got here. The veins in your temples bulge after a while, and then you’re not in the train station anymore.
The cafeteria, sticky with the sweat and spittle of the thousands of people who moved through it every day, was mostly empty in the midst of its early-afternoon lull, and Lillian sat without intrusion. Her face was impassive. Her eyes did not blink. Her chest neither rose nor fell.
She became aware that the time appointed for her meeting was approaching and rose from her seat with a feeling resembling reluctance. That night, when she came home, Oscar would ask her how her day was, and when she said that it was fine his eyes would narrow and he would ask her what she had eaten for lunch, and so she scanned the menu to see the special for the day. Synth steak and mashed potatoes. The potatoes were runny, she decided she would tell him, but the steak was good.
I walked home knowing I was in for it. It was 4:47 AM.
“Hey buddy!” my dad called as I came into the kitchen. “How was the night?”
“Oh, you know…” I stalled.
A look of concern flashed across my father’s face. He licked his lips and leaned in closely.
“You okay? Is your grandmother-”
But it was too late.
“Jeff-REY!” The cry came from upstairs.
I’m convinced that my grandmother picked my name by screaming all of the candidates at the top of her lungs, and seeing which seemed most natural. Try it- scream “Jeffrey.” You can really slam that second syllable.
Gary Pelton hadn’t seen his son in 6 years and hadn’t thought of him in several hours when he went to check the mail and have a smoke. His eyes were hard and his jaw was always clenched. He stepped out the door slowly and stood on the front step, fumbling in his breast pocket for his pack of cigarettes. Pulling one out, he found the Bic lighter in his jeans and carefully lit the slightly stale cigarette, cupping it against the wind. He inhaled deeply, then rummaged for the mailbox key and opened the small door, mail spilling out onto the steps. Cursing softly, he gathered up all the mail, briefly noticing a small, yellow envelope amongst the catalogs and spam. He trudged back inside.
Placing the mail on the dining room table, Gary fished out the yellow envelope and quickly opened it with his thumb. Unfolding it, he began to sit, but froze when he saw the salutation:
“Hi, Mom and Dad.”
The sun glinted off of the green X728 riding mower as it slowly emerged from the back of the semi-trailer. Rob Smith peered at the hard metal machine from down the block, and licked his lips. Turning, he regarded his own riding mower, an X534 with a fading paint job.
“Mike!” he yelled. His 17-year-old son jogged out of his garage.
“Do you know that kid who lives down the street, Jason Strong? Frank’s son?”
“Nah, he’s younger. He’s, like, 14, I think.”
“You ever think about hanging out with him? I think you guys would get along.”
Mike looked at him suspiciously.
“Is this one of your weird dick-measuring contests about landscaping? Jesus, Dad, he got a new lawnmower, give it a rest.”
He went back into the garage, shaking his head. Rob took one more longing gaze at the brand new John Deere down the street, then turned back to his hedging.
Gyasi had fought bravely for his people, and believed that it was now a time for rest. When he was small, he had labored in the fields for his father, and when he grew old enough he had labored in the jungles against the enemy. The battle had lasted for many years and would never end. Gyasi went to the home of his wife.
“Adowa, I have returned.”
“Is the fighting done?”
“The fighting will never be done. Let us make a child, and live a peaceful life.”
Gyasi returned to working in the fields, pouring out an offering to his father and the earth in the morning as the sun rose over the vast jungle. He heard stories through the trees of the victories and losses of the war. He kept working.
The man had been traveling for a long time, and the dirt that covered his skin had long since caked his open sores. The dull pain had been numbed by fatigue. The only indication that still remained of the 6-inch wound in his left leg was a curiously persistent itch. The man idly scratched, and his fingers came back bloody. He continued to walk.
The road he walked down bordered a small creek that had run dry in May and would not hold water until October. The fences on the side of the road seemed mismatched, and the grass that grew at the bases of the posts was brown and limp. The trees looked thirsty.
The man saw a farmhand pushing a loaded wheelbarrow up the road, and fell into a steady limp about 40 feet behind him. After about 20 more minutes of walking, the laborer turned off of the road towards a small, shabby farm. The man walked past the gap in the fence, then doubled back and squinted at the farmhand, now laboriously unloading his wheelbarrow into the yard. Pausing to pick a bug out of his teeth, the man slumped against the fence. He took a pipe out of his pocket and shoved it, empty, into his mouth.
“I’ve always hated the phrase ‘meteoric rise.’ What the hell kind of meteor rises? Only meteors I’ve ever heard of come crashing to the ground. I wouldn’t want that kind of rise.” She exhaled slowly. I watched the wisps of smoke trail from her pale lips until they caught in her long eyelashes.
“You ever gonna pass me that?”
“I’m just saying.” She took one more long drag on the joint and moved her arm about a half of a foot towards me, which is as close as she ever got to actually giving anyone anything. I scooted towards her on the couch, taking the opportunity to lazily wrap a stray lock of her hair around my finger, and took the joint.
“The phrase I always hated.” I took a short pause for a drag. “The phrase I always hated was, ‘it is what it is.’ I mean, what else would it be? Of course it is what it is. Sportscasters and idiots always say that when they have nothing else to say.” I blew some abortive rings and took another hit.
“When I used to work with recovering addicts, they always used to say ‘it is what it is’ about their past, or booze, or whatever was the problem. Which makes sense, in a way, since they meant that they couldn’t do anything about it, but why not just say ‘I guess I can’t do anything about it?’”
She grabbed the joint out of my hand, stood up, twirled, and headed into the kitchen.
That morning he’d woken up and regretted it. A haze immune to Advil and sunlight had settled on his mind. Just like every morning, he told himself he should go for a jog. But most days he at least got out of bed, put on shorts and sneakers, went through the motions until he paused at his front door and said fuck it. Today he couldn’t even get up. Every time he tried he was seized by an overwhelming and inexplicable feeling that once he had his feet on the ground, it was all over. That was the ballgame. He made several abortive attempts, but the closer his feet got to the carpet the more urgent the feeling became, until he leapt back into bed wondering just what the hell was going on.
He contented himself with television, although getting the remote had been rather dicey since he’d carelessly thrown it on his desk the night before. Standing on the foot of his bed, he steadied himself on a chair with one hand as the other hand inched its way towards the remote. Twice he lost his balance and nearly fell, and both times the horror of touching the ground closed in on him, black and cold, forcing him into absurd acrobatic postures. Finally he caught the edge of the remote with his thumb and began the long, achingly slow journey back to the safety of his bed, nursing his fragile balance. Only when he was back on top of his covers did he realize he was drenched with sweat.
“God,” the old woman said, and the word echoed in the high-ceilinged sanctuary.
“God,” the others joined, and then there was a collective breath.
“Grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage, to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Keri’s small, tight mouth was immobile, the only person in the whole room who didn’t know the words.
“I will now read the definition of Alcoholics Anonymous.”