Collect a long, smooth stone from the tea garden where your first dog is buried. Skip the stone over the artificial pond, break up the scummy film that’s settled since you were last here. The koi are long gone, but there are still some wished upon pennies the homeless man missed. Find the one you threw asking for another best friend. You can’t take it back, but remember her ancient hips clicking as she tried to keep up. Like the famous, suckling sound we are somehow born knowing to make.
Take a trinket from the bottom shelf. Something that leaves an absence of dust when you fail to replace it. It’s not the prayer box full of curses, not the key to lost diary, but a miniature globe your father brought home from a business trip to Bombay, which everyone now calls Mumbai. There was a time you thought it more sacred than Sunday morning, but that was before izakaya and microaggressions had been discovered, and now nothing is. Spin the globe until the room is spinning like the night someone else was named homecoming queen, but this didn’t stop you from pretending you were wearing a crown.
Step on the scale your mother left in your bathroom. Laugh at the name of the game you used to play with it. Limbo, you called it, because how low can you go? And later, this game in a linen closet, a hand-me-down Volvo, afterparties, after bong rips at some prefurnished condo, with some body you didn’t even like, all for a moment’s notice. All those nights you climbed down your own hair, but this isn’t why you cut it short, or so you tell the ones you left on the Eastern Seaboard to brew their own beer or whatever the fuck. To them and everyone like them, you are a number, so kneel down and remove the scale’s needle. The implement by which you are measured.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year so you’re more than a little buzzed, driving at sewer grate steam like it’s an arrogant ghost. You’re steering clear through neighborhoods you never grew up in when you realize the streets are named for flowers that can’t grow here. Palmetto. Plumeria. Mimosa. Is there a particular word for this feeling like stale cinnamon caking on the surface of your coffee? Were he here now, your tenth grade chemistry teacher would have something to say about this. And he is, that knowing baritone in the back of your head, reminding you you’ll never finish your nursing degree. It is the sound of my own voice, telling you I know better, that I have just the thing.
So when you crash land into the nativity scene bearing your gifts—penny, globe, and needle—don’t let me tell you to be graceful, grateful as you place them where the White Baby Jesus is supposed to rest his gentle, little head. Keep them for yourself, or don’t. What does a wise man know? He’ll invent all sorts of magic just so no one will know how lost he was in that desert of fiction. Following a dying light so far away it’s in the past.
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