Monday, March 24, 2014

The Harms and the Goods

The Malaysian plane is not found floating in the Indian Ocean; there is no Gilligan’s Island.  A landslide in Washington State takes another hundred.  A super-athlete in South Africa is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend.  Mick Jagger’s girlfriend: also gone. 

A student in your morning class notices fresh red droplets on his paper and spontaneously calls out, “Is somebody bleeding!?”  You all look at him, hysterical in the moment. 

“Am bleeding!?” he cries.

We determine that the student is not bleeding, that the rest of us are okay, and then group-glance up at the ceiling in hopes of finding the source of what we think is blood.  There is no one bleeding from the ceiling, so we group-glance down and start trying to determine where the red drops came from. 

“I bet somebody shook a red pen and the ink came out,” somebody says. 

 “Yeah,” somebody agrees, “but for that you’d have to break it and shake it directly at the person.”

You in particular are interested in the spray pattern.  You remember the girl who sneezed earlier.  But time is up and class ends.  You all trudge out, looking back, wondering where the substance came from.

You go home and field an e-mail from your mom.  Your parents are downsizing from the family house to a handicapped apartment, a little early in the equation of life, but a job that needs to be done.  Mom is letting you know that she’s packed another special box for you, bubble-wrapping the delicates.  This box along with others, plus furniture, will be transported by you from Minnesota to Arizona sometime during the month of May in a U-Haul. 

The rule has always been that whatever gifts you gave to Mom and Dad, you get them back when they die.  You always lived away, so the presents you’ve bought have been small: a tiny leather saddle exquisitely made for a six-inch horse, sea fossil impressions without the sea.  Now, the rules are changed: your parents are not dying together.

You had forgotten about the wooden fruit until reading your mother’s note: “It will be hard for us to part with the wooden fruit in the wooden bowl, but we simply won’t have enough room in the new place for everything.”

You think back on your life with your parents.  You try to remember every gift-giving situation.  From you, there have been puppets and magnets, shirts and blankets, the occasional bit of art.  From them there have been guitar cases and a science kit, and always a room to call your own.

You can’t remember giving the wooden bowl of fruit.  You stick yourself with pretend needles and roll around in the basement of your heart: When did I purchase this gift?  Was it when I saw rotting fruit at their house in a Corelle bowl?  Was it that I wanted fresh fruit and they didn’t have any? 


You don’t often answer the door, and you think twice about it on Friday morning when the front bell rings.  You glance outside the windows from where you are pirouetted in the shadows to see your neighbor’s daughter waiting with her arms crossed.  You need to get out there.

“Hey, what’s goin’ on?” you say as you slip from the inside of your house to the outside. 

Neighbor Daughter points to a two-ton pillar in her front yard that has been tilted 45 degrees by a car smashing into it.  All you are thankful for is that you didn’t do it.  You walk over with Neighbor Daughter to inspect the scene of the crime.  She quickly points out the skid marks and the point of impact.  You were never a crime scene investigator yourself. 

You wish.

Not long after, you're leaning over the back cinder block wall because you hear two other neighbors visiting in the alley.  They’re talking about a truckload full of junk that was dumped in the alley behind the other guy’s house.  You lilt, “My neighbor’s pillar got hit too!”  Talk turns to crime in the area.  You go back inside.

You check in one last time with yourself, ticking off the harms and goods that were done throughout the day. 

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