Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Problem of the Tortoise and Me

The Problem of the Tortoise and Me (Pubbed in Girls Without Insurance, 2009)

You've been carrying this little girl on your shoulders for what seems forever. Miles and miles, past old signposts. Here, numbers don't matter. You let her down. You're short winded. You have a stabbing pain in your side. You've had it forever or maybe from the end of the footbridge where you were jumped by a shadow, the same one that lurked in school hallways, stood at the head of class. It once had a face. You can't seem to recall it. Or. You don't really want to. Not a need. All shadows have the same face.

"Do you know where your house is?" says the little girl.

"Yes, I think so," you say. You point straight ahead.

But really there are no houses in this area. Only fields and parks and little sidestreets that are either dead ends or detours. But you have a vague sense of the direction your house might lie in. No, not vague. Straight. Straight ahead. There is no other direction.

"Do you want me to go with you?" says the little girl.

Her gaze is steadfast. There is something defiant about her stillness. It's thick and three-dimensional. And even though, she's only standing a few feet from you, it could be miles. But again, here, numbers don't matter. In fact, you might be her own shadow.

Before you can answer because it's probably taking you forever, the little girl turns and walks away. In the background, there are a thousand colors and their values, mixing. Now, you can't see anything. You can't distinguish shapes. So you turn around. You're going to take a slightly jagged line. You might have to cross backyards and empty built-in pools. The pools were always fun when you played Follow the Leader.

But to get to your house, you'll have to cross three fields, twenty or thirty houses in the shapes of octagons or squares that keep growing bigger if you enter them. You think area, area, area. Circumference was a problem in the pre-calculus days. And there's more. Women with crazy hats and men who have forsaken their wheelchairs. And the farms. You'll have to pass the farms. At least one of seven pigs, five cows that moo the moon, and sheep. The baby was your favorite. You remember calling her by some Scottish name, but really, back then, Scotland was only a forethought.

You've walked forever. Occasionally, you check yourself for signs of blood. Then, you think: When did Scotland ever bleed?

You're there. You step inside the house. The little girl you carried on your shoulders is sitting at the living room table playing Chinese checkers with your father, whose trousers were always baggy. Your mother is making stir-fry chicken in the kitchen. You think of all those tiny animals, dead or otherwise, jumping about in the pans, the wok.

"I'm home," you call out.

Your father and the little girl act as if they can't hear you. Your mother comes out of the kitchen, walks past you, and closes the blinds. She turns on the lights. It could be evening, late, twin-twilight, Arctic, or Scotland.

I'm home, you say again. You begin to tell everyone about the farms you passed. You keep repeating it because by doing so you believe you can make those animals stand at attention even if their bodies are stuffed and their eyes China glass and cloned. Those incredible cows that keep getting fat and never burst. What patience! The sexy primal pigs. Jumping without sunscreen into daylight! And the sheep, you say. Yes, the sheep. Only the sheep. Only the sheep won't rise.

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