Traffic Trolling

time

Cruising home as the last light leaves the sky, I fiddle with the radio punching through the five preset stations.  The number on each button is starting to fade from frequent use.  I am searching for a song with feeling and words that I know in hopes of singing along.  As a musical simpleton, new songs are a little frightening unless sandwiched between tried and true billboard hits, lending credibility to a newcomer’s radio worthiness.  Nothing catches my attention and I continue in my possibly fruitless search for a suitable jam.  I roll to a stop at a traffic light and take my turn waiting for green.

It is completely dark now.  The street in front of me is illuminated by the headlights from my car and a dim light inside of a covered bus station.  I am alone with my thoughts and a whining voice coming through the radio.  Next.  I hit another preset button not tried in the last thirty seconds.  A commercial comes on with two sisters trying to sell used cars for “just pennies down.”  Next.  A radio dj reads the news, it’s all bad.  Next.  

I used to be so good at waiting, I waited for letters to come in the mail, I waited for the internet to dial up, I waited for my turn in our single bathroom, I waited to get older.  Now, I can’t even wait the minute at a traffic light without feeling impatient or the ability to remain present. 

I remember a pack of gum in the center console, unwrap a piece of hard Juicy Fruit and peek at the light.  Its still red.  Red as Dorothy’s slippers and I am uncomfortably bored, alone and back to changing the radio station.  Boredom is a killer.  It drives a need for distraction from reality and in between that wasted space, the minutes turn into days into months and years and suddenly there is a lifetime of waste and perhaps an awareness of how life could have been different. 

Then I am not alone or bored. Someone is tapping at my window and I shriek. 

A short, squat woman is tapping at my window.  The dim light from the bus stop is enough to outline her face, covered in sweat, with a broad nose and wideset eyes that are so dark they look black.  She is intensely focused inside of the vehicle which was previously no more exciting than an empty cardboard box.    

“Roll down the window,” she yells and makes a rolling motion with her arm.  

I shake my head.

“What do you want?”

She points at her wrist, “Time.”

“Me too,” I smile and give her a thumbs-up. 

Or maybe not, I sure have wasted enough of it to make a person wonder. 

She throws her hands up and yells something encouraging as I drive off.  I don’t look back, green means gun it and go.  There’s no time to waste.

Disobey

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Party in the Park or Time is Relative

party

Hotdogs and hamburgers sizzled on the grill over a pile of red hot charcoal. Bags of chips lined up on the picnic table like soldiers in a parade.  They fell in order with the potato salad and deviled eggs, between a glass container of sweet relish, ketchup and jar of spicy mustard.  Bottles of soda huddled together on the next table, keeping the patriotic cupcakes and a mountain of cookies in good company.

Red, white, and blue balloons bounced in the wind, tied to the corners of the covered pavilion.

A handful of people in matching red shirts milled around the food, nervously glancing between the dark sky and their watches or phones for the time. Few people wear watches anymore, and even fewer do it for the sake of keeping time any more.  Now watches are used to track steps, count calories and deliver messages; telling time is an afterthought with all of the new more interesting functions and features of other technology today.

In any case, I still wear an old fashioned watch that can only tell the time and date, and occasionally still glows in the dark but will never flash a text message or take an incoming call.  Although, the crystal face is scratched to the point that my mother saw it and gasped that I should be ashamed of wearing that old thing, I still faithfully wear the watch on a daily basis.

I looked at this tried and true keeper of time on my wrist and back at the empty picnic tables with a sinking feeling. The party was five minutes underway and not a single guest had yet to arrive.  Two already texted their lame excuses as to why they would be unable to attend, which left 32 RSVP’d and unaccounted for bodies that should be filling the space under the shelter and starting to eat all of this food.

Clouds gathered overhead and drew closely together, like sheep in a corral chased by a nipping dog. They blocked the bits of blue sky that previously peeked through their fat, fluffy cloud bodies and a light drizzle started to fall against my protests.

I paced and continued to avoid eye contact (chalk it up to social anxiety mixed with preference to avoid conflict/disappointment) with the volunteers who so graciously gave up a Saturday afternoon for this event. It was either going to pour rain or no one was going to come or both.  There were no other options, I catastrophized in my head that which clearly was not a catastrophe.

Then, the sky broke and the sun shone over the first of the party guests who suddenly appeared from around the edge of the park. Party goers began to emerge from every direction carrying umbrellas, babies and one soccer ball.  Someone brought a bag of chips to join with the others on the table and another person produced a bag of grapes from their backpack to share with the others.

Soon everyone was there and I stopped looking at my watch.

Time is relative, especially for a group that doesn’t care much for appointments or punctuality. What matters is the quality of experience, not what time something starts or how long it lasts.  After all, a late start is better than never beginning.

I left the park with a bag of cubed watermelon, a handful of cookies, exhausted and with a full heart.

My party guests showed up.

Stay up

ash
Frail
“Hang on, I’m coming.”

Five minutes later, the door opened a crack and an eyeball peered out.

“Oh, it’s just you.”

Disappointment seeped out like smoke from a burning house when Old Tom opened the door the rest of the way. He tottered back inside, taking each step with care.

“I thought my daughter was coming,” he croaked.

I stepped inside behind Old Tom leaving behind the hallway of peeling paint and dingy black carpet. The equally dingy carpet in his apartment captured the imprint of many shoes and showed a well-worn path leading from the solitary bedroom to the door where I stood.  It was as if Hansel and Gretel left a trail of crumbs and muddy footprints to remember how to return but decided against it once they reached fresh air and green grass.

Of course, there wasn’t much to which Hansel and Gretel might return to between the cigarette burns in the sofa, the legion of bedbugs hiding in the corners and cracks, the peeling laminate flooring or the empty cupboards. Hansel and Gretel got away, even the roaches moved on in search of better pickin’s, only old Tom wasn’t so lucky.

Old Tom worked his way directly towards a raggedy recliner chair next to folding card table with a pack of cigarettes and an overflowing ashtray on top. An inhaler, pack of matches and two batteries were also haphazardly situated on the table.

He gradually lowered himself down, one brittle and creaky bone at a time, until he finally rested his weight squarely on the hemorrhoid cushion on the chair with a sigh.

We shared a mutual relief that he had managed not to fall, picking him up off of the floor would be close to impossible. Summoning emergency responders would almost definitely result in an arrest of his neighbors for whatever illegal activity was taking place in the parking lot, front waiting area or around the side of the building. It would not help to build warm feelings between Old Tom and the residents of units 1,2, 4, and 6.  There was no 3.

Almost reading my mind, he said, “You know, I just can’t seem to get myself up once I hit the floor.”

He laughed; the thought of being trapped on the ground without help like a baby bird that had fallen from its mother’s nest was somehow funny to him. The same man who was once a straight-up gangster with gold chains, girls, and endless dope was now a shriveled and sad little man in a grey sweat suit.  Incontinent and overly trusting, he was getting played by the one thing he never counted on, time.

 

Be Here Now

Countless

clock

“Sorry I’m late,” the woman said with a wheeze as she set multiple plastic bags on the ground.

A loaf of white bread tried to escape from one bag and a suspiciously trumpet shaped form bulged from another. The bags overflowed with goodies and random trash she had acquired from her daily travels.

The bags surrounded the woman like a hoop skirt forming a wide base from which the rest of her slender, emaciated body emerged.

I looked at the clock on the wall, faithfully ticking forward, minute by minute; it kept track of the time that no one else minded.

The clock’s plain face and black hands represented order and social responsibility that belonged to another world, another place and definitely a different time.

“Want to reschedule?” the woman generously offered as she watch my eyes travel from the clock to my appointment book and back to the clock.

A quick mental calculation left me with approximately 12 minutes before the next person was expected to be 20 minutes late.

Sweat beaded from the edge of the woman’s scalp. Her eyes darted nervously back and forth.

She wore a purse strapped across her chest which she deftly opened with one hand and checked on the contents with a quick glance. Satisfied, she looked back at me.  I assumed from the gentle and loving look in her eyes, she was caring for a baby bird and ensuring its little feathers remained unruffled.

“No,” I said, summoning the strength to be present.

“Let’s meet now.”

Taking Flight

taking flight

“Do you have time?”

My supervisor always starts the same way. This is her lead-in to asking me for a quick chat which inevitably is neither quick nor a chat. It is more of a one-way conversation that usually builds to something disciplinary or a request for work on a new project.

Let’s cut the small talk and get to business, I mentally plead with her. I watch the long black hands of the clock over her shoulder. They continue to move forward while I am motionless other than the nodding of my head.

“Yes, I’m listening. Please continue.”

She has spotted my eyes dropping, just ever so briefly, more like an extended blink than anything. She does not appear happy by this observation. She has been talking for seven minutes now. I am still waiting for the main course of this meal to be delivered.

The main course never arrives which cannot be good. I am Gretel in the witch’s trap, she has just reached through the bars and squeezed my arm. Not fat enough yet. She will wait another few days, continue to feed me sweets and check again.

She has the time to wait. She does not know, however, that we do not share this in common. I am at the edge of wrinkle in time, straddling two worlds, and picking sides.

My hourglass is running out of sand and ready to be flipped, so let’s get moving.

Before I leave, I stop at the door with my bags over my shoulder, filled with anxiety so uncontrolled it forms it forms a feathered shape and prepares to take flight.

“Wasn’t there something you needed to discuss?”

“Oh right,” she says, “It can wait.”

Perhaps it can, but can I?

 

image: krugerparkgamereserves.com

Believers: Fiction

vo

It was early in the still-black morning when I awoke with a shriek. The numbers on my wrist watch floated like a glowing orb above my face as I held my arm up and tried to determine the time. Time was a part of the living world and knowing my place in it meant I belonged. As I made out the numbers, the dream image began to slip from my mind and like smoke, it was gone.

Yet, I still felt it. Long after a fire burns out, the smoke lingers. Likewise, I had a chill and felt a sickness in my stomach, something was wrong. I grabbed for my sleeping husband out of instinct as my lifeline to the living; he would surely ground me. I found his hand and did not feel calm, instead, a slow panic started. It felt strangely cold and stiff.

Then I opened my eyes and screamed for the second time of the morning.

I held the skeleton hand of my husband. His smooth, cool wedding ring slipped off into my hand. The cat, startled from my cry, leapt from the foot of the bed and scrambled to hide behind the curtain. A ray of bright moonlight streamed into the room, illuminating the bones resting on the pillow next to me.

When I stopped screaming, I didn’t wonder long at what happened.

This was vodou.

Earlier the day before, he balked at the cost of admission to the Field Museum which included a pass to a special exhibit. This special exhibit had come straight from Haiti and was an immersion into vodou (also known as voodoo, but not to be confused with Louisiana voodoo).

There was no way for him to have known that the cashier not only practiced vodou but had also mastered the darker side of it.

The cashier looked back and forth between us as we discussed the cost, listening big with her small ears. Large hoop earring swung with each turn of her head, tugging at her brown earlobes, lower and lower. I sensed an ally in her. Female intuition.

“Think of the cultural experience,” I reasoned.

“You will take more away from it than you know,” the cashier added with a nod.

She looked at the line behind us and gave an impatient grunt. She began to drum her long, natural nails on the keyboard of the cash register, clicking against each key. Our connection was wearing thin, quickly.

When we finally decided to check it out and bought the tickets, the cashier gave me a wide smile of forgiveness. We had clearly made the right choice and it didn’t take so long. On handing the tickets over the counter, her face fell into a scowl when my husband reached for them. Silently, she watched us walk away and muttered something when she thought we were out of earshot. Apparently, he was not included in the alliance.

“Next,” she yelled out behind us for the couple behind us to come forward.

I looked back to give farewell wave of appreciation and she was gone. The ticket line remained but the cashier was nowhere in sight. She must have gone on break, I thought. Good for her.

We walked off to explore the museum, forgetting about the cashier and her words, in our shared tourist joy.

It took a few hours, but the cashier delivered on her promise. She conjured up the help of a mischievous skin and organs snatching spirit and sent it over state lines to punish, perhaps, and to send a message.

Point proven, it was worth the admission fee, but I didn’t need to be convinced.

We are all believers, now.

Image:http://theculturetrip.com/caribbean/haiti/articles/vodou-flags-between-the-terrestrial-and-the-spiritual-/

Additional sites about vodou:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitian_Vodou

Just one minute

A warm breeze blew around my face as I walked into work today.  It pushed a heavy strand of dark hair out of place from behind my unusually small ear.  The air carried the smell of a grassy field of wildflowers.  It must have gusted and rolled along for many miles through the dirty city to reach my finely attuned nostrils.   As I pushed through the silver doors, I imagined I was barefoot and swinging on the front porch.  Higher and higher, the wooden bench creaked and the springs squeaked.  Only briefly did I worry about going to high when it felt like the sky was the limit.

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