— Little Birds, Simon Van Booy
“They flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water.” Kenneth Arnold had witnessed something blinding in the sky while searching for survivors of a C-46 Marine Transport crash in the Cascade Mountains. A peripheral distraction he couldn’t explain. Little green men were spotted in France. It had grown global! Kenneth determined that extraterrestrials had been visiting the earth, shuttling back and forth, producing outstanding monuments along the way, signposts they would recognize. “How else could the Giza pyramids be explained?” he asked his wife. After dinner, as Barbara washed the dishes, listening to the radio, humming, Kenneth frequently stared into the strange sky, searching for a welkin signpost.
One summer night, he dreamed up the premonition for curing human loneliness. Machines resembling sweet, anodyne sea lions would listen to the forgotten elderly, watching them tell stories they were sure no one else cared to hear. Electric eyes, dark and thickly lashed, would follow the aged and infirm as if they were sensate, communicating a safe and kind consciousness beneath slow blinks. Over Barbara’s scrambled eggs, Kenneth explained that the extraterrestrials will build these machines, the panacea to human frailty. He shouted, “They’ll eradicate our loneliness! We will all feel loved!”
By the time I’d been married twice and Jim, my second husband, had left me, though he was the bankrupt one without a job, I’d decided to stop coloring my hair. It was a task that had, over years, accumulated hundreds of plastic bottles of permanent hair dye and map-like folded instructions in English, Spanish, and French, discarded in the bathroom trash bin. Stained with the mahogany dye, droplets splattered, gloves smeared, the bloodied packaging seemed to represent a murderous success. I considered it a testament to my inevitable aging, losing my menstrual cycle only to continue on living with a ritualistic and silly version of bloodletting.
Alone in my apartment, watching the pigeons gather at my downstairs neighbor’s offering of strewn birdseed in the driveway, feeling as though I’m surrounded by occupied strollers and ponytailed women and very shiny cars, I yearn for a home elsewhere with a 1/4 or a 1/2 in the address. I wished for an apartment with a name like Terrace Garden or Citrus Grove. But even in the fantasy of living there, I realize the smallness of the imaginary space, only a quarter of a structure. It’s just a percentage of a home.
— Lorrie Moore, Anagrams
The night he climbed onto the roof there was a full moon. She would not have known this had she not been staring at his backlit silhouette like a paper cutout perched upon the pitched shingles of their rental home. The landscape was brighter than she’d expected at such an hour. How could there be shadows in the middle of the night, she wondered.
He was the problem and he was the reason she stood on the lawn, hissing at him to come down while simultaneously wondering how he got up there. Was this the first time he’d done this or were there other occasions, yielding such soundless dexterity? The roof was only twenty or twenty five feet from the ground. He didn’t appear shaky or unstable, but if he fell, surely he would break something. Surely, at least, he would scream in pain should something break. The neighbors would be roused by screaming, undoubtedly. In the chiaroscuro of 2 a.m., nothing but her produced any noise, so she fell silent, too.
He sat on the peak now, perhaps tired from upright balancing. Leaning backwards, his face was beatific, eyes wide. And within moments, the spring peepers began to sing.
Each memory becomes increasingly imperfect. At times, she is fanatically selfish, displaying bold impudence and specious definitions of parity; in other memories, an aggrandized poetaster of the most tiresome sort, the kind that kills the joyful banter volleyed at dinner parties; in still others, she is a gorgeous, glowing, charming woman that hopeful, young academics adore. He envies the safety of their youth and capriciousness. That wonderful ability to feel virtually no regrets has been lost, replaced by a hairline creeping backwards and chronic pain in the heels of his feet, an affliction attached, mystically speaking, to misunderstanding the lives of others.
Through a former co-worker’s sister who worked as a Registered Nurse in Long Beach, Nancy heard the story. A corpse found behind the wheel of a parked car in the hospital lot. The nurse had heartlessly guffawed at the irony - this old woman finally arriving at the hospital, having driven herself from “God knows where” and then managing to die in the car, just yards from the sliding doors that may have led her to extended life or, at the very least, provided her with an option less ignominious than taking one’s last breath in a cluttered Pontiac. She was discovered two days later, stiff and malodorous. Nancy, without husband and children, lacking the social circles she witnessed others engaging in, feared such a fate awaited her. She didn’t want yellow tape occupying her death site.
“No,” she declared. “I won’t die alone in a tenement walk-up, seventeen neglected cats eating my face. I won’t!” Rather, a new version taunted her - the possibility of expiring in her green Honda with a dented front bumper, so close to a miracle, so close to people who could help her. “Great. I’ll be mocked even into the afterlife,” she snorted.
I’d met a man at some point in the later years of what could still be considered my youth, someone who wrote deliciously sinful love letters that made me nervous, wondering precisely what he’d accomplished to be so descriptive in his desires. I found myself doing what most women would do, insecure and otherwise, and imagined his previous lovers: the weight of their breasts, the cadence of a laugh, the curvature of an ankle, the smell of skin, sweet or heavy with perfumes and oils. Each woman would have known, with expediency and immediacy, how to please him and their skills would have led him joyously to this place of knowledge, relinquishing control to bring it elsewhere, somewhere unusual and throbbing. “Carnal knowledge”, I uttered aloud, to hear its starkness in the quiet of my three-room apartment. To consider my ineptitude by comparison sometimes invited thoughts of madness. There were times I buried myself in the bedroom closet, pulling down all of the plastic hangers and flaccid fabric onto my bowed head. Muffled in makeshift asylum, I would compose version after version of the letter I would never send. “My love, my heart, my raison d’etre.”