As she had devoted the larger part of her life to that piece of furniture, they had grown accustomed to her there: not dead but eyes closed and wishing fervently that she might be. It was no longer necessary to toe it around her; you could laugh, whistle, fart, rip a sheet of paper from a spiral notebook. In the midst of this activity she would lie, eyes closed as if she were sleeping, a musty odor of melon surrounding her body like a moat.
“Have you grown accustomed to the look of me?” she would ask the child and his father. “Have you tired of me? Donât you think I know what a burden I am to you? Donât you think I have tired of myself?” She might go on like this for days until the desire to provoke them dissipated.
The child didnât go near her unless asked to bring a blanket or a tray. On occasion, he peeled an orange for her and had perfected a technique whereby he rolled the orange between his palms to loosen the peel so that it came off in one large piece. After he handed over the fruit, he studied the empty peel in his hand, thinking how the pores of the peel were not unlike the pores of a personâs nose.
Sometimes when she got up to go the bathroom, the father and the child did a quick search and found the oranges uneaten under the cushions of the couch.
“Your poor mother,” the father would say. “She just gets so tired, doing for you and me all the time. She has been on the fainting couch for fifteen years. Perhaps if she ate more citrus ”
On hearing this, the mother would open her eyes and grab the roots of her hair. With a gust of wind her scream would raise the couch into the air, where it wheeled around the room, grazing the ceiling and rattling the glass beads on the chandelier, and all the while she rode, her body stayed rigid and her eyes stayed open and her scream was so relentless and terrible she speckled the walls with her saliva. She always landed a few minutes later and was calmer.
The boy grew up to be a very nice person.
When I am dead, lay me down on a fainting couch. Pretend, briefly, that I have bent like a branch in the breath of bad news. Fetch smelling salts. (I will have them.) Fan my brow.
Sweetheart, I wouldnât dare pronounce judgment on you, and I hope you wonât judge me. It frightens me that I might die in an unseemly position—with a grimace, on the toilet, in a posture that would embarrass us all. Promise to lay me down on the fainting couch, and I know I shall look dignified and peaceful. I shall look as I do when you come home from work and Iâm down for a nap. What do you always say? Like your kitten!
When you have grown accustomed to the look of me there (dead on the fainting couch) call my mother. There will be a delay, even if she tells you she is dressed and will be right over. My death will creep into your heart and you will wait as she sweeps out the garage or removes the slick from the drain board. If you are out of your mind, just stand in the pod of the curtain and breathe. When at last she comes, open the door and take her arm. She loves that. Remove her coat and lead her to the fainting couch. Draw the shades, but do not leave her alone with me. Sheâll see the amethyst ring from Brazil and take it back.
If I am not wearing shoes, would you please put them on? Thank you.
I have a strong presentiment that I will die in the morning. I have a strong presentiment I will die and smell of lemons. It will be a weekday, I feel sure. Pick up the mail and deliver my last letters to the fainting couch, and please see to it that I am not arrayed with any flyers from the electronics store. They keep sending them and sending them, because we bought a battery once. If you loved me, darling—do you love me, darling?—you will remember what for.
Outside the theatre a woman fell and turned her ankle. Her ankle turned like a key. In haste, in search of aid, her companion, a tall, bushy-bearded man, pushed his way through the crowd and knocked me over. My ankle turned like a key. As I fell I thought of the hand that had laid itself on my elbow, causing me to lose my equilibrium. It had been a long time since I had been touched. His hand, which gripped my elbow, had felt hot and therefore good. Not a caress, but a tactile experience. Then I found myself on the pavement, the ankle twisted below me in pain.
I have wanted to lie down in the middle of a crowd before, but there were no excuses. A stretcher came for the woman who had fallen. Naturally, it came for her; she had fallen first. She talked the whole time they put her on the stretcher. “This is an indignity,” she said. “Iâm sure I can walk. Heâs over-reacting,” she said of her companion. “I could hump along if I had someone against whom I could lean.”
She said it like that: “against whom I could lean.” Just the kind of person who goes to the theatre, I thought.
As I waited for the stretcher to return, I entertained myself with other thoughts. But the stretcher did not return. The street grew empty, the sky grew dark. I had lost the feeling of the hand on my elbow, the hand that had been hot and good. At last, I got up.
I limped through the parking lot, which was empty, through the streets, which were dirty, and I came to a park where a man sat on a bench. Was he a strong man, I didnât know, a good man, I couldnât tell; a fat man, a sharp man, a blind man, a young man; judgments I did not make. I waited until I got right in front of him and then I swooned. I came down with a thundering noise because thatâs how people faint, not like a feather, like a sack of potatoes tumbling off the larder shelf. When I came to the man was leaning over my face and taking my pulse or my wristwatch, it didnât matter to me which.
Caketrain is a literary journal and press based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Our interest is in bringing you, reader, the very best in contemporary creative writing, full stop. Our goals are for each issue of our journal to submerge you in a birthing tank for gelatinous language monsters, young masses of tentacular foci undulating as directed (in all, at once) by our eclectic stable of contributors; for each new book we publish to seduce and ensnare you, sometimes intangibly, always undeniably; and for you, reader, to be able to draw at least one passage from our banks that prods your mind with such precision and power that it feels as if it was written for your eyes alone. To wit and to whet, here is a snippet, a slight nip of our delicious lit mix: