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"Part of the Service," short story excerpt

Monday 1/24/22

The first day I was buried under leaves in the forest, I didn’t want to rise at all. I figured I could. The option was mine. Like how you take another day to let yourself get right. What’s one more day, you say to no one but you. “So long as there comes a time when I start again.”


I stretched under the leaves. Felt worms in the hollows behind my knees. Thought about how I always believed those concavities should have a name as a body part, even if they did represent negative space, and also what it said about me that just because I didn’t know the name I figured there wasn’t one.


At first I could see through the leaves and look at the sun. Really study it. But I remembered this blues singer I had read about who was blind and no one knew how he went blind. One legend was that a woman threw lye in his eyes. I imagined him saying, ‘You lyed me, girl,” like that was a thing people did.


They used to gut shot each other in those times. Then you left someone to die like when you left someone to be blind with lye. Preferably by the side of the road. Part of the gut shot package. I had a boss once, and he’d get everything wrong. Your check would be off, and you’d have to get it fixed. I’d thank him when the amount was finally correct.


“All part of the service,” he’d say.


One of those men who managed to speak like you owed them. Which is different than owing someone. “I owe you one.” When I was younger I worked with a black guy at a hardware store and when it was my turn to make the coffee run, I’d get him what he wanted, because that was how it worked. He’d take my money, though, whenever it was his turn, but when I handed him his coffee, he always said the same thing: “Good looking out.” At the time I thought about how the blues singer who’d been lyed would have taken those words even though they didn’t refer to what anyone actually saw.


Another way I read that the blues singer might have gone blind was by staring at a solar eclipse, which was hard to believe because he couldn’t have been the only person who did this, and there wasn’t an outbreak of blindness in wherever this was—Texas, I think. He was the lone dissenter who took on the sky with his eyes that day? But now I can only see the leaves, on account of the propensity of leaves to layer, which is lye-ing of a different sort, and I can even see how the leaves have been chewed at the edges. The bugs and the worms and the bacteria must only care for the outer portions of leaves. What makes the centers so distasteful? Maybe leaves are like people that way. Or have they had enough before they get there? I was like myself that way.


The worms, and creatures—maybe moles—are also in those hollows under my knees. False caves of flesh. There was this cave that was in so many movies and TV shows. I liked spotting it. Always shot from the same side, same angle. But then I realized why later on, when I saw a picture some tourist had taken. It wasn’t a real cave at all. Just this short tunnel. An overpass of rock. I was disappointed. It’s strange when you have a need for something to be a cave and not just something you go under for a few seconds. I wanted that cave to go somewhere.


The spaces behind my knees are perhaps that way for the moles, a let down, who know a thing or two about caves, or enough to know that a tunnel is a different can of worms, so to speak. I should rest. I hate when I’m quip-y without desiring to be so. When I have to cover up my brain with artifice because otherwise I will hurt and not care which will make me hurt more. I should take another day. What’s one more day? The wind blows a greater number of branches across my body than I would have expected. I hear them rattling and scratching above the layers. They clack but also make noises like detached violin strings being pulled across each other or twisting around a stick of chalk to start a fire that will never come, but there may be white smoke anyway.


You usually only picture leaves blowing in a forest. Did I shoot me or did someone else shoot me? Shouldn’t I know? Someone said to me that the more we’re certain of something the more we’re likely to speak in hypotheticals, be that kind of person who also asks questions of “if” and “why not.” I wanted to tell him, “Can’t help you, bub.” I never was certain what bub was short for. It sounded to me like a pet name for a creature who lived in hell. If I had asked my sister hard enough, long enough, been persuasive enough in my reasoning, would she have shot me? She has kids. But if she wouldn’t have been implicated. If she knew it was best for me. Was that convinced. And that it was what I really wanted. There’s always a chance you asked somebody else, no matter who it was, if it was something you had to have. Thought you had to have. Do you ever know the difference?


I’ve felt this way in bed, minus the vegetation. A blanket in the right light, or the proper amount of darkness, as seen from the bottom, can be a lot of things. A layer of grass like you see at the edges of barren football fields in late summer, waiting to be unrolled, one strip after another, so that the local high school team has all of that giddy greensward underfoot. Giddy because they’re raring to go and the giddiness goes into the earth itself. This is the big year. All of the people who tell themselves that.


The skin comes off of me with an ease I don’t anticipate, like I was born with perforated parts, and I’ve just realized it. I can be generous with who I am. My flesh. Used to go to a restaurant alone whose name I forget, but I do remember the flashing sign out front that said, “Everyone eats.” I think of the sign now, with the worms, the moles, a fox, I’m guessing, who pulls at my left big toe. The coarseness of its tongue. Not like a dog’s tongue. Everyone eats. I’ll take another day. Let me come back to me. What’s one more day, you tell yourself? We diet tomorrow. Begin the jogging regimen. I’ll be sober for all of January. Clean out the system to start another year. I get bored at night when I’m unable to study the leaves and their edges because though I can’t see the sun on its own, eyeball to orb, I do need it for the leaves. Something always gets through until it doesn’t. Is the sun hope? Is that its pet name? A girl in school when I was five or six made lots of drawings and she named everything in them with a caption below. Every tree, every cloud. She was good at drawing suns with faces, and now that I remember her it would have been so weird if she named one of them Bub. She always named her suns Sally, but that was also her name.