Joanna Rafael Goldberg [ii]
JOANNA RAFAEL GOLDBERG
WITHOUT A FISHER KING
apartment has started to give me the heebie-jeebies....
All my things are the same and the address has not changed, but I can’t sleep in my bed anymore and the shower gives me the creeps. How peculiar I look in my vanity, and in the convex chrome of the teapot, and in the concave silver of a spoon. This home must be haunting me. I have to get out. This is not where I am supposed to be.
I start off. I have no car, no map, and a poor sense of direction, but I figure I’ll find my way on foot and if I don’t get there, I’ll just end up somewhere else.
A few miles into my journey vaguely toward elsewhere, I come to a fork in the road. Engraved in a sundial, directions read “go thatta way.” A lumberjack with the tiniest blue eyes and wearing a plaid overcoat sees me spin as the shadows spin, the sun spinning in hyper-speed. He drops his axe and puts his hands on my shoulders, stopping me mid-twirl.
“Honey, are you lost?” His voice is gentle. I couldn’t answer because I didn’t know. “Honey, are you alright?” He implores further.
I do not assure him that I am alright, but he responds to my blankness with “It’s fine to not be okay sometimes.”
I speak words aloud, my first in days, pleased my voice is still mine. I cock my head to the side to give him a chance to ramble about his notions. While he stammers, I get distracted by a buzzy humming bird, but my face reacts to the man like I’m listening. The hovering bird has the right idea and ditches the scene.
“Is it getting late?” I interrupt the lumberjack’s babble and tap my bracelet.
“Three past half past an hour. Are you making good time?”
“Say, can you tell me where I am supposed to go?”
“That depends on where you are going.”
“Wherever I’m supposed to be.”
The man crouches down and comes up with a clump of wormy red soil. He crushes it into dust and slowly lets the bits sift out of his fist and into the wind. He points to the right direction with his index and middle finger. As a gesture of gratitude, I let him slide those digits into me and kiss him hard through the beard. Our interaction starts off warm and comfortable, particularly for a first encounter, as if we had touched tongues before. Once he offers me his ex wife’s binoculars, I decide he is gross and run away so I can pretend he never touched me.
I might be sprinting on the right path, but I might not be. Either way, I jump over berry bushes and dodge spiny branches until I come to a tiny woodland hamlet. The village looks like a blown up version of a stop on a model train set. There’s a big fountain in the town square that doubles as a clock. I can see myself in the shallow mirrored bottom. My lips are blue. I look dead. Perhaps I am dead or perhaps just dying. I cannot tell, so stop in at the puny hospital next to the courthouse and ask if the doctor is in. An orderly in scrubs ushers me into a room and I wait with my legs crossed on a chrome examination table for more than a second but less than a day before the orderly returns.
“The doctor will see you now.” He switches places with a tall man whose limbs are too long for his lab coat’s sleeves.
As the doctor approaches, I notice he reeks like latex and vaseline. I have never seen someone so appealingly not-handsome before. I uncross my legs, ask, “what’s up doc?” and put my feet in the stirrups. The man in a white coat takes a peek at my chart, then uses the content of his doctor’s bag on me, saving the speculum for last. Throughout the examination, he keeps clearing his throat like he is about to make an annoucement.
Looking at me through an X-ray of my ribcage he breaks the news, “Miss, your condition could be in your head, or it could be real. You might as well be fine.” Neither relieved nor tremendously worried, more bored than anything elseI kick the celluloid pictures of my bones out of his hands. I hop off the table and straddle onto his lap. Using the gleaming reflector on his headpiece as a mirror, I paint my blue lips red.
“Is my condition chronic? Is it terminal? Degenerative? Inherited?” I take his glasses off his ugly face and ask one more questions. “Doctor, is it contagious?” I don’t give him a chance to answer. By the time I take note of how grotesque the doctor’s not handsomeness truly is, his white skin so covered in kisses looks ridden with some kind of pox. Ashamed that I did not notice the aggressiveness of the MD’s repellence, I remember I have somewhere to go. Still, I don’t make him leave the room when I swap the paper gown for my own clothes and make no attempt to hide the disgust on my face and groan a polite thank you for the non-diagnosis. The orderly in the waiting room gestures out the door saying, “Take a turn to get where you’re going.” I set off on the road, exiting the hamlet with neither bad news nor a clean bill of health.
As I pad down a windy mountain road, the sugar free cherry lollipop from the waiting room has melted and the paper stick is turning soggy in my mouth. I toss it indiscriminately to my left and it hits a cyclist I never saw coming right in the face. He stops and smirks, raising a dark eyebrow.
“Sorry for throwing trash at you” I pout. Out of the side of his mouth, he says, “You’re too pretty to be a litterbug.” I bat my eyelashes and reply, “Shucks, mister. Sorry about pollution.” A truck whizzes by and coughs a cloud of exhaust at us. We exchange smiles and he offers me a ride on his handle bars “so long as we’re going in the same direction.” I don’t know if I’m going in the right direction, but he’s sort of cute, so I take him up on the favor. On the twists and turns of the road, gusts of wind whip our faces. Whenever my dress blows up, he rings his bell and we laugh .
The cyclist starts to tire from pedaling against the wind. My butt is getting sore, so I don’t mind taking a break at a creepy little diner in the middle of nowhere, the only open business we’ve seen in a while. Some of the neon letters are busted; the sign outside reads “O 4 Hours.” Without washing the dirt out from under his filthy nails, my bipedal chauffeur orders a monte cristo and I ask the waitress for a wet napkin and a child-size portion of silver dollar pancakes. The way she calls us diminutive pet names, I figure she has been wearing that uniform and Orange Julius colored pompadour for at least forever.... When was the last time someone let her ride their handlebars? I put Bobby Vinton on the jukebox and pretend he’s singing to her, then I wipe my hands.
The cyclist and I decide to split a chocolate malt while the remains of our breakfast are still on the table and getting colder. Tetchy, I wonder where the waitress is and tap on the part of my wrist where a watch would be, if I had one. My companion points out the foggy window where the waitress is smoking a long cigarette with the graveyard shift cook. I decide to not be impatient and hope the two of them are in love. As we wait, alone in the greasy spoon, the cyclist lays me down horizontally on the torn leather booth. He keeps his short brimmed cap on the whole time.
I go to the bathroom to prevent a urinary tract infection. I look at myself in the mirror. The image reflected is particularly haunting since the motion censor light keeps turning itself off as if the room is vacant. I have to flail around to let it know I’m there. When the light turns on, I can see my lipstick has smeared revealing my blue lips underneath the red. “Tell him I had to go,” I say to the sad old waitress who is putting two straws in the milkshake we ordered. “Tell him I went the other way.” I push myself through the double doors marked “employees only” to the parking lot.
From the front of the bicycle, I did not see the view of the place where I had to be, but there it is. I’m close enough that I skip there, swinging my arms like I did as a child through the sprinklers in the summertime. The faces of the lumberjack, the doctor, and the cyclist all smudge together and fade. Between the diner and where I am going, I forget about them completely. Thinking of him, I forget all the other hims.
The place I am supposed to be is this little house outside which I am standing in the cold. The door is ajar. The smell of mulling spices waft out in smoky curls. He must be inside. I tuck my hair behind my ears, turn the knob, and shove the door open with my rump. He is there standing in his grandfather’s fisherman sweater. My lips get hot at the sight of him––perhaps they’re pink again. I run up and kiss him with an open mouth.
“I missed you so much,” he says squinting at me, nearsighted as ever. “I came as fast as I could,” I hum, not realizing I was telling a lie. He loves me standing up. When he’s done, a look comes over his face. “Are you okay?” I ask. He nods, but he is certainly not okay. I ask again and he nods, again and he nods, again and he nods. I ask again and again. He nods and nods, chin pointing up then down, up then down, up then down. The sun goes up and down outside the window over and over as I ask and he nods. The leaves fall off the trees. I keep asking, he keeps nodding. Snow falls. I keep asking, he keeps nodding. Snow melts. I keep asking, he keeps nodding. The branches grow leaves again. I keep asking and he keeps nodding.
More time passes, until the light sneaks away and I can’t see whether or not he stopped nodding.
Joanna Rafael Goldberg lives and writes in New York City.