Love Story from Scatterbrain's Journal
by John Woodington
I fell in love with her, and she understands this. I ride the bus home and push my hands together in the leather mittens she gave me as a gag gift last year. She said I was a fumbler, that I dropped things, and that the large yellow mittens were indicative of that. The diesel engine of the city bus billows exhaust like a cloud creation contraption, overwhelming my mittened hands after dropping me into the slushy cold, hunched and shivering like a frightened dog. It's only a block home, but it takes years to get there.
Across from my kitchen hangs a picture of a small stone next to a pair of very dirty workmen's boots. It is supposed to signify the lower class. To me, it signifies relief, because that stone is not inside the boot anymore, and whoever owns those clunkers can now walk comfortably. When I see that picture, I see her, and I fear it means that she is a smooth stone, waiting to tumble out of my footwear.
We race around the cubicle maze like caffeinated lab rats, chasing each other's plastic tails. I could stalk her just by the aromatics of her perfume. She hides behind printers and faxes and even the refrigerator in the quad, blending in with the appliances of our office. When caught, she squeals, and prairie dog heads peak up over the tops of the cubicle walls to see what has caused the commotion, and could we please keep it down out there, please?
Sometimes she sends me an email of gibberish, and I think it is a coded love letter, and for hours I neglect my duties to decipher her indecipherable messages. Her language for me is that of an adult to an infant. Cooing. No matter how unrecognizable the consonants and vowels, those words give me comfort, a sense that she has invented this form of communication all for me.
"Goo gish gally wally," she says.
"Thank you," I say.
Our department excursion takes us to a large tent by a lake shore for team building and recreation. She wears a sun dress of yellow and pink. I wear pleated khakis and a short-sleeved button-down Stafford of light beige. We eat hotdogs and brats from a charcoal grill, the air wavering above the grate. We drink root beer. I could not be happier. She darts down to the lake like a hummingbird and splashes in up to her ankles. I wait by the shore in my loafers. Others wade in. She slaps the arms of other men and laughs with a wide smile, and I can feel the grilled meats simmering in my stomach.
Remembering this scene wakes me at 2:37 am and forces me to walk into the kitchen to stare at the painting of the boots and the stone. It is a gray stone, misted with rain. It looks ready to leap back into those tossed boots, like it has just poked out to inspect the skies for precipitation, and is now ready to roll back into the lining, behind the laces, down the sole.
"I landed a new job," she says.
"Where will you go?"
"Anywhere's better, right?"
She has joked of this since the beginning. I chuckle with her, and then hunker in my cubicle and gulp down mugs of water until the stone in my throat has been pushed deep inside of me, waiting to rise up again when I sit down alone on a side bench in the city bus, my mittened hands mashed together, as if in prayer.
The reason for her departure is clear: I am scatterbrained and have frightened her. She sees me like electrons in furious flux, and this does not meld well with her, because she is exactly the same. We are two yins. And so she is gone.
Which leaves me alone in my Petri dish to wallow. I am unborn, quietly, sucked back into the womb of solitude. There are more familiar faces on my bus than at work. She accounted for all familiarity. And she has already been replaced with a man from Kansas who says the word "y'all" far too often. He has not yet spoken to me, nor has anyone else, and I pass my days filing reports and running reports and doctoring reports and storing reports. I am a reporter, of sorts. You could say that, though my news is no news for anyone who would like news.
There are times when I hear a premonition of her laughter, still echoing through the overhead vents, trapped in a continuous loop, looking for an escape duct. Or maybe it is a small gift she has left me so that I might remember her.
In the evenings, I attempt to paint the painting of the boots and the stone. Quite difficult to make a wet brush move in the exact movements of the artist who moved them the way he did to create that portrait in the first place. I grip the brush stem with tight fists, but the harder I push, the harder it pushes back, like similarly charged magnets repelling contact.
My apartment is littered with failed canvasses, strewn about like the leaves of an enormous albino tree. When my mother stops by to leave me a dish of leftover casserole, she moans at the state of cleanliness.
"You live like a pig in its sty," she says.
I make an oinking sound, though she finds it humorless.
"No one can live like this," she says.
"I'm still living," I say.
"This is not living," she says. "This is a terrible mockery of what your life could be."
I could not agree with her more. She has had the same golden hair since I can remember, and it glows in the light from the window across the top of my front door. Her face is shadowed, and she does not leave until I stack all of the canvasses into a single tower. They lean drunkenly to the side, and when she slams the door on her way out, the tower tumbles, gashing me across the cheek. I barely notice, and find the small drops of blood add a beautiful hue to the paintings I had considered failures.
"Are you in need of first aid?" my supervisor asks me. It occurs to me that I have not washed my face, and that red streaks have coagulated over my chin.
"I'll clean up," I say.
In the bathroom mirror, I dab at the dry blood with a wet paper towel from the dispenser. Another man comes in, sees my face, and leaves without making use of the facilities. The only indicator of his presence is his clopping footsteps on the tiled floor.
If I had a camera, I would take a picture of myself in this state. It would be a good reminder for me in the future, when everything is solved and all problems are corrected, of what I was when things were at their worst.
She comes back into my life by a great surprise-she has rented the apartment directly above mine. I catch her scurrying up the stairs, and she hugs her elbows when she tells me she was laid off from her new position. This is wonderful, I think. "That is terrible," I say.
"Stop by and talk to me sometime."
She lets me in like I've been coming into her rooms for the entirety of my life. Her apartment is in boxes. We sit on boxes and eat boxed meals on a box that acts as a table. Her television sits on a box and her bed is a box spring and no mattress.
"My life is unpacking," she says. "I'll be unpacking forever."
"You could leave it like this," I say.
"No one can live like this," she says.
"I do," I say, and take her down to see my room and the tumbled tower of failed portraits and the blood stains on the carpet from weeks earlier.
"We shouldn't be like this," she says. "Take me to dinner. Get us out of here."
"I'd like that very much," I say.
We escape into downtown Minneapolis, and for a few hours it feels like it was, us playing hide and seek behind the brick edges of buildings, laughing as the gusts of wind down Nicolette Mall whip her hair and wrap it around her face like a dark, suffocating turban. I could dance along these sidewalks until the moon explodes.
And yet I make some grave mistake. We eat at a real table in real chairs, a real meal laid out before us with grace and pomp. There is a cluster of men nearby who're boisterous and thunderous, and they catch me scowling at them and drag me out onto the street. She follows, cursing them, shrieking at them to let me go.
"Leave him alone!" she shouts. I'm more embarrassed than anything.
They finish their attack, and I feel something further than pain. It is a wavering loftiness, like the clouds are taking huge inhalations in an attempt to suck me into the atmosphere.
She leads me home. We stumble back to our apartment and up our stairs and into my room, where the couch catches us. She cradles my head in her lap and dabs my wounds with the torn canvas from the nearby frames. She tells me I am fine, and her fingers are so gentle that I continue to lay there and let her touch me long after the injuries need attention.
"Are you okay now?" she asks. The room is dark. The streetlights outside glow in through the windows like small dying suns. Her hands and arms are like flows of warm milk.
"Yes. Thank you."
"Do you want me to leave?" she asks.
"No thank you," I say.