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"Carlyle," short story excerpt

Wednesday 9/14/22

Her right ear was at it again, twitching with a ferocity of life foreign to the rest of her being, like Cynthia needed someone else to do her scratching for her, as if her own hands couldn’t reach were she to throw them across the room. Maybe they’d been lost in her body’s nocturnal transformation.

She’d awoken in one of her middle-of-the-night confusion-fogs. As usual, her first hope was that she had died and, hey now, this wasn’t too bad. Her second hope, which followed fast from the first, was that with a little time and effort, she’d find her bearings in this new world, learn how hard it was—or ideally wasn’t—to make friends, and whether there was a job she'd both enjoy and bring in enough money for her to live in some comfort. Nothing fancy. An occasional splurge. A comfortable hoodie. No, two. One for working out—she’d work out, definitely—and one for being comfy but low-key fashionable at a café on a day in October where someone might approach her. Even friends for life didn’t always know each other she used to say. She’d start saying it again. She’d say it even after she had her friends for life because certain roots are ripe for remembrance. Harvest them. But most importantly: new start, new place. Didn't even matter how it had happened. That was academic, as they say.

In the event that someone had murdered her, she was prepared to let bygones be bygones, but Cynthia was pretty sure she couldn't compel someone enough to actually kill her. She didn’t rouse sufficient feeling. Some people are that way and some aren’t, and she wasn't. Cynthia was more the apathy type. She figured, in a way, it was a compliment to be murdered. You had to be memorable for someone else to not be able to stop themselves. They’d be unlikely to forget you, moving forward. You might even haunt their thoughts and rule their memories.

Were someone to say, “Do you remember Cynthia Wextrell?” the name wouldn’t be enough, but if they had a picture the other person might vaguely recall her. She termed it the yearbook effect.

“Oh, right,” they’d probably say, and that would be it—they wouldn’t even ask why they’d been asked. Or that’s what Cynthia believed with as much faith as she accepted that there is oxygen in the air and it is that oxygen that is pulled into human lungs and as a result humans go on.

And if someone had put her head under her pillow and made it so her breathing stopped after they had had a high time raping her until her body just gave in and she lay there and took it, there was also a strong chance that person had been abused themselves. What do they say about sex? You're having it with every person with whom that person has ever had it. So a lot of people were involved in that particular broth. She'd want to hug their latest representative before she died, because that was no way to go through life.

But she wasn't dead. Her right ear had just come off of her head again. She could hear it make these whistling mouse noises as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. The ear was on a spree. It had to go off and vent, she reasoned, to try and cope with everything that happened to it and went inside of it. Cynthia’s left ear didn't work so well, so it just stayed put. It all but said, "I'm not going out tonight. I'll stay in and have fro-yo in my pajamas and binge watch something. Maybe hop on Facebook and see what some people from high school are up to and where they are in life.”

Cynthia touched the hollow at the side of her head where her right ear usually was. The skin felt as smooth as a polished piece of onyx her father had once given her.

"Mysterious stone for my mystery of a girl," he said.

She was eight at the time and unsure how much mystery an eight-year-old can get under her belt in their eighty percent of a decade, but her father was an astute man in the bigger ways.

"It's a mineral, dad," she corrected him.

Cynthia loved minerals. They had finesse but were no pushovers. Cynthia didn't tell her father but she believed minerals had souls whereas rocks had hearts. That's why rocks were better for throwing if you had enemies. They were hot-blooded for battle, waiting for their chance or for you to need them, leading with their emotions and stiff shoulders. No one whipped quartz at an enemy. When a fox crept up on the henhouse, there wasn't any farmer who scared it away with a hail of garnet before he could get inside and retrieve his gun.

A mineral was like an eye. You could look into it, whereas a rock wouldn’t let you in. A rock was all door, but a mineral was a room from which you could see the next room and the the next. The better you got at looking into minerals, the more you could see the layers inside. That’s how it resembled a soul. It came down to the looking.

Her father had been hurt by the grandparents Cynthia never saw. He broke apart, her mother said. She made him sound like a makeshift raft. He was crushed and turned into powder, but was such a strong man that he sorted through every last particle of the powder that he had become, and he applied a little spit and a lot of elbow grease Cynthia's mom said, in making himself go back together again.

When Cynthia was older and struggling because she had no friends in college, and no friends after college, she put on weight and hoped she had no friends because of the weight, but she knew she could be as thin as the tall part of the letter L, and she still wouldn't have had the friends. And strong, too. L for leonine. But strong in order to endure and not die, not strong and able to advance and earn appeal and favor. She wanted to blame the places she worked, the states where she had lived, the country she'd been in the whole time. And to cede some blame to white people and their expectations. No, wait, it was because of Black people. And Asians. And people with babies who resented people without babies. Or that she wasn't a dog person, but that hadn’t been entirely up to Cynthia.

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