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MARY RINEBOLD COPELAND

A SHORT STORY CALLED

ATLANTIS










Landscapes, objects, people can be distorted if viewed through the windshield of a car. This could be because of the curve in a windshield; like how if you’re looking at a mountain, or another car on the same street, or at a person through the curved part of the windshield – maybe from the edge of the driver’s side of the vehicle – the figures you are looking at will change with the camber of the glass. Legs crossing the street in front of this curved windshield might look longer. Might look more elastic. Might look distorted.

There was such a pair of elastic legs stretched across the windshield. Tina had to lower her head as the legs spanned the crosswalk in front of the driver’s side of her car so that they could remain rubbery in her vision.

Raising her head again, rotating it to the left, she followed the legs as they trailed behind a group of other legs covered by tights and pants. It was December. Why would these legs be bare? And why would a girl this young wear a black, leather mini-skirt? The rest of her was dressed up like a kid. A red backpack, so big behind her shoulders and head, it started to resemble a giant thing balanced on two bare legs. Tina’s head turned further, following the legs while they ascended the curb of the sidewalk on the edge of the street. It looked not as if a person were walking away, along the cement between patches of dead, brown grass; with that backpack on her shoulders, it looked more like a life-sized, red thing was about to swallow these pre-adolescent-stick-like-legs. The black leather holding it all together. The traffic light turned green, Tina knew this because she could see the color of the reflection in the windshield change from the side of her right eye. Later that month, in the evening, the kitchen table Tina sat at was also green. Above it, her mouth chewed cornflakes and milk. Tina was still wondering why the girl’s legs had been bare in the winter.

*

Fuck off.

*

Tina had been saying things like that to herself for some time. These were mostly fragments of mental notes that a lot of people say to themselves. If Tina forgot something, she would tap the steering wheel of her car and say, “Fuck off.” If she noticed that she hadn’t thrown out the now-molding milk from November, the rotting evidence wafting toward her face whenever she opened the refrigerator door, she said, “Nice one Tina.” Telling that buzzing noise that had just started in the kitchen to “fuck off,” seemed normal enough. After following the sound around the kitchen, she walked toward the refrigerator and opened the door. The buzzing stopped, her face was lit up by the internal light coming from an automatic bulb at the back. She closed the door again, the light disappeared and the sound came back. Opening and closing the door, the buzzing stopped when open, started when closed.

*

Fuck off.



Tina was a technical writer for a record company. She’s started the job at the offices on 39th and Lexington in the late Seventies. She was hired to write the directions on the back of dust jackets, telling people how to operate the record they’d just bought. While her job was merely instructive, it was an important aspect of the record company as she limited its liability. If someone broke the record they’d just bought, well, it was because they didn’t read the directions. The directions Tina had written for them on the back of the dust jacket.

During the Eighties, the record company traded the forests of midtown for flatter terrain, moving their offices to a corporate campus in New Rochelle. Tina bought a car and began writing instructions on the boxes around Beta consoles. She worked with a team of five technical copy-writers, each copying and fact-checking the regulations for operating instructions, barely legible in small type face, positioned at the bottom of the last page of the CD liner notes. Using two complete sentences, Tina and her colleagues instructed listeners across the world how to play the CD inside the plastic box.

Tina qualified for retirement in five years.  Until then, she split her time between her job, driving the one-hour commute on the Southern State Parkway between her house in Bay Shore and the record company administrative offices in New Rochelle, and watching TV on her home entertainment system. She spent a lot of time talking to her sister. They would discuss her sister’s sons. Tina also had a few friends. ‘I should call the repair guy,’ she said, with face aimed at the closed door of the refrigerator as it continued buzzing.

*

‘You mean his body will be in an open casket, right there?’

‘Apparently. 
Right there onstage,’ came the answer of the morning radio announcer.

The cartoonish tone of the hosts’ conversation came out of Tina’s car speakers as she crossed the slushy puddles on the empty parking lot in New Rochelle. Tina had written operating instructions for several reissues of James Brown’s records, betas, and CDs. Maybe this background would have entitled her to advanced placement in line at the Apollo Theatre, where his corpse lay in a casket on its stage before burial that week. As she parked her Honda between two yellow lines among a field of other yellow lines, she considered it, but decided against taking part in the historic moment. Why wait in line for three hours? She had never seen James Brown on stage before. There was no reason to start now. Besides, this was the week between Christmas and New Year’s; she liked working through the holiday, no one was in the office.

*

Why are you doing this to me? Tina had said to the refrigerator the night before.

The refrigerator had continued buzzing throughout the night. The kitchen door shut, her bedroom door shut with a rolled-up towel between it and the floor, the buzzing had persisted.

She buried her head beneath her pillow, she pulled both sides over her ears.

*

In her car the next morning, over the sound of the talk radio announcers, she could hear it. The buzzing sound followed her car down the Southern State Parkway. From her kitchen to the parking lot of her office.

‘What is that?’

She is talking to the refrigerator door again.

*

“Call the repair number,” shot back the flat voice of her sister Tanya, sitting on the other side of the green kitchen table, head aimed down and at an open copy of the New York Post.

‘Have to wait until next week.’

‘Next week is New Year’s,’ Tanya continued, still looking at the open Post, shifting in her seat.

‘See the cover? Kind of macabre.’

‘Actually, I wish I’d gone.’

‘You can’t be serious,’ Tanya said while turning the front page of the Post, angled so that Tina could see the blurry picture of James Brown’s body inside the casket, printed across the cover. It looked like the ink in the photograph had stained her green kitchen table.

Tanya rubbed at these ink spots with her thumb and continued, ‘I didn’t realize you and Carla were speaking again.’

The buzzing sound stopped momentarily as Tina reached inside for milk and said, with voice muffled by the sides of the refrigerator, ‘We’re not.’

‘That’s what I thought.
‘

        ‘She’s been conspiring.


‘Don’t start with that.’

The buzzing restarted, Tina walked toward the green table and poured milk into two bowls of cornflakes,

‘She’s been doing it.’


There was a moment with no talking, save the sound of Tanya moving the open Post to the edge of the table in order to make room for the cornflakes in front of her. Tina continued, ‘Turning people against me.’


‘How do you know.’


        ‘The others stopped calling. They don’t call me back when I call them.’ 

‘They’re probably busy.’

        ‘No. It’s Carla.’


More silence followed, the two started chewing the cornflakes.


Now Tanya spoke slowly, ‘You’ve been driving in front of their house again at night.’


        ‘I don’t drive the only brown Honda.’

‘It’s you. Mike took down your license plate number. He was going to call the police, he called me first. I talked him out of it.’


        ‘Her husband is such a maniac.’


‘He said you’re driving by almost every night.’


        ‘Right.’


‘They will call the police if this goes on.’


Both chewed cornflakes in silence. Through the chewing, Tina looked at Tanya and continued, ‘Is this what she’s telling everyone?’


        ‘I doubt it. Embarrassing for them too.’ 

‘Won’t deal with this right now. I need to maintain my focus. The repairman comes tomorrow. Can’t think with that buzzing.’


Tanya nodded and used her left hand to lift another spoonful of cornflakes to her mouth, while using her right hand to turn the pages of the Post.
 The repairman came the next day.

Tina would need a new refrigerator, it would arrive the following Friday, after the New Year. In the mean-time, she would keep the one she had through the week. The repairman suggested Tina keep its internal light off, that this might help with the buzzing. After watching a few game shows on her entertainment system, Tina was in bed, both sides of the pillows again pulled over both of her ears. She followed the crease in the bed sheet. The crease seemed to begin beneath the pillow her head was on. She used her fingers to flatten the crease all the way to the edge of the bed.

*

Tanya kicked her knee. They were sitting in the grass in the back yard of the house they had grown up in. ‘Tina stop chewing hairballs;’ Tanya had always told her, she was not a cat. Tina hadn’t stopped. She would find strands of her own hair falling on the side of her cheek. She would use her tongue to pull it close to her mouth, take loose strands from each bunch, and pull the strands inside her mouth. She would chew and curl the hair strands over one another using her tongue. In this way, she would twist them into a ball. She wondered if she could, over time, pull all her hair on her head to the inside of her mouth. And if she could swallow the hair, maybe her head would follow, and her neck, and shoulders, her arms, her legs. That maybe she could swallow herself. Fold like an envelope.

*

With her pillow still covering her ears, tonight she used her tongue to pull strands of hair inside her mouth. Maybe this familiar action would ease the sound of that buzzing. The next night she sat at the green table, spooning cornflakes into her mouth. The buzzing continued, even though the internal light had been switched off.

‘Is this because of Carla?’

The refrigerator continued buzzing. Tina kept looking at its door from where she sat at the green table.

This is because of Carla.’


The door remained closed, the buzzing continued.

‘I want to swallow Carla.’


The buzzing kept going, now mixed with the sound of crunching cornflakes.

*

‘I’m in the car, I’ll call you right back when I park.
Tina threw the phone onto the passenger seat. It was the following week. She heard her tires move over the ice on the parking lot pavement of the record company administrative offices. Once parked, Tina picked up her phone with her right hand and pulled her sister’s speed dial up on the screen.

‘Mike’s calling the police.’

Tina looked through the windshield in front of her. One of the other technical writers walked in front of her car. It was the first day most employees came back to work after the holidays. He waved in the direction of Tina’s windshield. Tina nodded back.

Tanya’s high-pitched voice came through the receiver, ‘You’re still going there.’


        ‘I think the buzzing is because of Carla.’

The refrigerator purr would have seemed docile compared to the aggressive silence traveling through the phone from Tanya’s end. Tina continued, ‘Come on, I’m not that crazy. I’ll be over for dinner tonight. Too cold for cornflakes, I’ll bring Chinese.’ Despite the refrigerator buzzing, Tina listened to Tanya’s voice. Among the things she heard her sister say from the other side of the green table, was that she had again reassured Mike and Carla, promising that Tina’s car would not be seen driving by their house again, and that with this promise, there would be no need to call the police.

*

In the Post, sitting cover-up on the green table to the right of Tanya’s chop suey, the headline said that a man had been caught after three days of driving the loop of Saw Mill River Parkway between central Connecticut and New York City. The man had apparently been found by the police after his family reported him missing. He couldn’t remember why, when, or at what juncture he had merged onto the Sawmill River Parkway and continued driving in a loop between Danbury and Yonkers. The story in the Post said that if he hadn’t been pulled over by the police, he might have kept driving.

*

Later, Tina sat in her bed with orange earplugs in her ears, balancing the Post on the tops of her bent knees. Lying on her bed, the left side of her face resting directly on the sheet, no pillow between her head and the mattress, Tina pulled strands of hair into her mouth using her tongue. She also used her tongue to twist the strands once inside her mouth.

She stood up, walked to the kitchen and stared at the refrigerator.


Where’s Carla?’


        The buzzing continued.


She used to let me put pieces of her hair in my mouth. Her hair went to her shoulders. She let me put the ends in my mouth. The part that fell between the bottom of her neck and her shoulders, she let me put those pieces in my mouth.

        The buzzing continued.

The next night a new refrigerator sat next to Tina’s green kitchen table. The buzzing had stopped. Even if it had not stopped, Tina wouldn’t have noticed.

There were the beginnings of what she thought could become a really-well-formed mass of hair inside her mouth.

The circular orchestral chords combined with James Brown’s husky voice in “My Thang” drowned out any noise the refrigerator could’ve made. The sounds of “My Thang” were practically vibrating from the speakers on either side of Tina’s television. To honor Brown’s death, the local TV station was playing his songs alongside the credits for their evening news each night over the previous two weeks.

Tina would listen at a medium volume.




Mary Rinebold Copeland is a writer and art critic based in London and France.
Mary’s short story ‘Beige’ appeared in Hotel #2 (under the name Mary Margaret Rinebold).
See here for her essay ‘Doing Coke With You,’ our first entry into the Hotel archive.





2017.