I pace the floors at two and three, a ghost in my own home. If I step here, the boards will creak – and there, someone has placed a chair where there should be nothing. But if I kneel, if I press my tongue to the dark wood and lay inside the dust, I can pour through the cracks and find myself again.
The second sleep is thick, full of repeated words and winding places. I wake in pieces, a dull heaviness behind my knees. When I kick at the blankets, my hand settles inside a round spot the temperature of baked bread. It’s back.
I fill the pot with enough coffee for four and make the motions of breakfast. “Cup,” I whisper. “Saucer. Bowl.” Behind the blinds at the door, the paper is thrown below the front steps in a fresh layer of snow. I tie an old peacoat around my flannels, pull a wool hat over my eyes, and retrieve the news.
For more than an hour, I perform surgery on the headlines. I slice and rearrange them, making them say what they don’t say, giving them second lives. Last month it was the prelude, but after the leak tore a hole in the ceiling, I can’t face the piano, not yet. Sometime before lunch, my thoughts settle, and I focus on my correspondence.
To: TV Guide Magazine <email@example.com>
Subject: ARTICLE I: OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE
Re: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Sun. Dec. 24 at Midnight ET (TNT), “the Dr. Seuss tale about the Whos and the despicable Grinch, the villain with a heart two sizes too small and a plan to steal the holiday. Boris Karloff narrates this 1966 classic.”
Suggested revision: When caught in the act of stuffing the family tree up the chimney, when the Grinch is confronted by Cindy Lou Hoo:
“Santy Claus, why?”
“Why, my sweet little tot,” the fake Santy Claus lied.
There's a light on this tree that won't light on one side.
It’s just like I felt when I fired the head of the FBI
He was crazy, a real nut job, just a terrible guy.”
Then he went up the chimney, himself, the old liar.
On their walls he left nothing but hooks and some wire.
For a week or more, I kept the wrench where the plumber left it. Then I moved it downstairs to the coffee table. I could just call her, like she offered: “Call anytime.” Did she mean anytime, anytime? Or just anytime your pipes are clogged?
At this point, what would I even say? “Oh, hey – it’s me, the shut-in with the leak. Now that my pipes are clean, how about dinner?” It’s the worst kind of cliché.
A cat lived here once. Her name was Rosella. She and Aunt Linda are both long gone, but in the far recesses of the basement, her scratching post remains. I see her sometimes, just a flickering motion by the back door, or a sort of undulation along the edges of the hallway. I leave my hairbands on the nightstand, and in the morning, they’re clear across the floor. Once I left an open can of tuna at the bottom of the basement steps, but she never eats.
PAT TOOMEY: U.S. SENATOR FOR PENNSYLVANIA
Message Subject: ARTICLE II: VIOLATION OF ARTICLE I, SECTION 9 OF THE US CONSTITUTION—FOREIGN EMOLUMENTS
Dear Senator Toomey,
Given that my last twenty-seven emails to your office have gone unanswered, I am sending a request for your donation to the ACLU in the following amounts:
$270,000: payments from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for rooms, catering, and parking during a lobbying effort at the Trump International Hotel.
$30,000: payments from groups promoting Turkish American relations during a convention at the Trump International Hotel.
$10,000: a private tour of Trump International Hotel offered by an anti-Sharia law group.
$40,000–$60,000: event held by the Embassy of Kuwait at Trump International Hotel.
$xx,xxx,xxx,xxx: rents from tenants at Trump Tower owned by foreign states (e.g. the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority).
I Am Paying Your Salary
On New Year’s Day, Valerie texts:
“Heeeeeyyyy, where are youuuu?
Or wait! maybe it’s me!
lol . I’m a terrible person.”
Everytime her name pops up, it’s a lightning bolt through my throat. Wasn’t Athena born when Zeus swallowed her mother and she stabbed her way out of his skull? That’s Val. She won’t let go until she’s rammed a hole through my life.
I wait an hour and text back:
“You know who's a terrible person?
my father's ex-girlfriend's neo-nazi
boyfriend, who had the word REMORSE
tattooed across his forehead after
he got out of prison – the first time.”
Valerie sends back a string of unrelated emojis and we text for awhile, her drooling over some new Vietnamese restaurant on 4th and Arch, me pretending I didn’t walk in on her kissing the DJ at my cousin’s wedding. For that alone, not to mention all the credit cards she took out in my name, I should never speak to her again. Texting her makes me believe I’ve forgiven myself for not paying attention.
Subject: ARTICLE V: UNDERMINING FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
Regarding your January 13, 2018 reporting:
“A new report from The Wall Street Journal alleges that President Trump’s personal lawyer arranged a $130,000 payment to an adult film star one month before the election. In other headlines, another winter storm is expected to bring snow and ice to millions from the Midwest to the Northeast.”
In other headlines, shocker about Matt Lauer.
How you holding up?
There are any number of distractions these days, plenty of ways to move through the hours. I can control the papers, for example, I can make the headlines say what I want, but the other diversions come with a price. Likes. Tweets. Counts. The cat winds around my ankles and settles, and I click.
Newsfeed is a trough. For every #metoo there is a ghost self, a “cut here” diagram of every violation.
There is a wave coming, it carries SEVEN a stranger, exposed (canned goods aisle) EIGHT a neighbor’s hands (yellow flowered shorts) NINE you know, you’re still hot for a mom, you up for some fun? (to my mother outside the Tastee-Freez) TEN pretty and smart? that’s gonna be trouble (to my father, at a barbeque) ELEVEN oh look how cute – she’s getting her titties (my uncle) TWELVE dress like that and you’re gonna need a girlfriend (a voice in the cafeteria) THIRTEEN want me to show you my dick? (paperboy) FOURTEEN looking too low, too long (math teacher) FIFTEEN whoa, don’t let that one out after dark (a neighbor) SIXTEEN you want fries with that shake? (mowing the lawn) c’mon, smile (out for a run) what are you, too good for me? (running faster) hey bitch! SEVENTEEN what are you, an idiot? not the teeth! (thrown behind a dumpster after school) whiskey EIGHTEEN adult.
For every hashtag, there is That Voice:
“I’ve said if she weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media writes as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.”
“Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?”
@TeamTrump Re: ARTICLE III, VIOLATION OF ARTICLE II, SECTION 1 OF THE US CONSTITUTION—DOMESTIC EMOLUMENTS
Q: How many cheeseburgers would members of the Trump-Pence re-election committee need to buy at Trump-owned properties in 2017 to reach $700,000?
A: Order the steak.
Hi Tala, Happy New Yea Hey Tala, it’s me – Hey, it’s me, the one with the leak.
“Hi Tala, I’m not sure if you remember me – you fixed a leak in my bathroom a couple months ago?”
1/14/18, 11:37 AM
“I remember you.
I was wondering where that wrench went.”
(This is the part that thrills me.)
1/14/18, 11:53 AM
“How’s the piano? Still dry?”
“So far so good…”
“Maybe you’ll play for me sometime.”
(This is the part that terrifies me.)
1/15/18, 11:54 AM
“So do you want to come by
and pick up your wrench or?”
1/15/18, 3:17 PM
(This is the part I never get right.)
I discover last night’s dinner dishes, licked clean, on the kitchen counter. I ordered eggplant parmesan from the place down the street and lost my appetite when the delivery guy insisted that I open the door. I ate half and left the rest. Thin, even lines of tomato sauce streak across the plate.
I decide Tala wouldn’t mind about the cat. She’ll see it as a quirk, an interesting bonus of living in an old house.
“Sorry, frozen pipes in Fairmount.
1/15/18, 6:39 PM
You know, what do I even know what Tala minds? I always do this to people, create whole other versions of them in my head. Consistent. Intuitive. Loyal. I revise them so thoroughly they wouldn’t recognize themselves on the street.
Dr. Ronny L. Jackson
White House Medical Unit
250 Murry Lane SW
Washington, DC 20502
January 16, 2018
Dear Dr. Jackson,
Regarding your assessment, “I’ve found no reason whatsoever to think the president has any issues whatsoever with his thought processes,” can you please provide additional details about how the ability to identify a rhinoceros indicates the mental fitness to run a country?
“So how did the pipes go?”
1/17/18, 9:03 AM
“It worked out OK, just a big mess.
called 2 of my brothers for backup.”
1/17/18, 9:14 AM
how many brothers ARE there?”
(This is the part I love.)
“I’ll go big. 4?”
“Off by one.”
“So your parents held out for a girl?”
1/17/18, 9:18 AM
“Sorry, not my business.”
1/17/18, 11:47 AM
(This is the part I hate.)
I have two hours between jobs.
Want to get out of the house
and get some lunch?”
1/18/18, 12:58 PM
FIRST AMENDMENT: FREEDOM OF SPEECH
"We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter."
"Anything you can do I can do bleeding. I can do anything better than you."
“Why do people say "grow some balls"? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.” – Sheng Wang
“I’m not just nasty, I’m REVOLTING.”
"Nevertheless we're persisting, but we're going to need more coffee."
“Don’t fashion me into a maiden that needs saving from a dragon. I AM THE DRAGON, and I will eat you whole.”
“You will be found guilty eventually.”
– 2nd Annual Women’s March, January 20, 2018
“Sorry for disappearing –
been super busy. Any chance
you could swing by for the wrench
and a snack later tonight?”
Today, 12:49 PM
Today, 12:56 PM
By the time Tala parks her truck in the street, the house is clean(ish), I have made a small effort on my hair, and when the doorbell rings, the missing wrench waits on the table next to an unopened bottle of wine and two glasses, a plate of apples, and some pretty good cheese. Tala’s cheeks are flushed with cold, and when I open the door, she smiles and walks through it.
Leigh Hopkins is the Curator of Corporeal Clamor. The latest installment of her column, "Secret Circus," is a 6-month hybrid series of serial fiction and music. In 2010, Leigh left a career in public education reform to move to Brazil, where she founded Viva Institute by rigging a satellite dish to a boulder in a banana field. Her writing can be found in Elephant Journal, ENTROPY Magazine, The Manifest-Station, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Viva Institute, and on her website. Leigh lives in Philadelphia with her wife, a painter, and their jittery terrier. She has written a memoir and is completing a novel.