Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Here's one that I can't seem to place anywhere.

The Day That Erin Left Us

The pile of shopping carts was just outside in the alley. I still don’t know where they came from, but I know that Frank brought them. Last I checked there were nine of the carts altogether, stacked up solidly into a shaky-looking steel pyramid.

Frank was the one from across the street. He’d been around the neighborhood since before I moved there. You got used to him quickly. You really did. His eyes seemed to be shoved too far into his head, so that his eyelids were sucked in. In an odd way the look was a comfort.

For the most part he wandered the streets, old and happy, seeking small talk with the local residents. The managers of the building across the street let him sleep and clean himself in a room in their basement, as long as he cleaned the laundry room down there when he wasn’t busy. Frank would tell you about it after you saw him a couple of times.

I had more time to see him after Erin left. She left a month before the carts showed up. She had been living with me. We told each other that we were in love. It was just us and my cat Squirrel, a fat young cat with a creamy belly. The three of us lasted two months, then it was over. The two months were good. Erin and I worked from home doing transcription work for a company called SoundIt. Next to each other we would type on our computers, smoke on the couch during our break, and then curl up and sleep for what seemed like forever. I loved it.

Eventually Erin got tired of something. Of what, exactly, I didn’t know at the time. You don’t know immediately when you’re the problem. Or maybe you do and just don’t want to admit it.

So Erin started to take long walks alone at night. Sometimes she would get in after I was asleep. These were nights of only fitful sleep for me. I would ask her again and again what was wrong, and she would just say something meant to be soothing.

“I’m just adjusting to living together,” she would say.

“Okay,” I would say.

“I’m just taking time to think about my career,” she would say.


I secretly hoped that she was pregnant.

“I’m just stressed.”

“Okay,” I would say again.

After all, she was not pregnant. She was just tired. The last thing that she said to me was “You’re infringing. You’re wrecked. It’s all wrecked.” That was the real one. That was the one she meant.

That was also the day that Erin left Squirrel and me. I don’t know. These things happen. I remember that she was going out to walk around. She put on her shoes and found that Squirrel had vomited in them.

“It’s just a hairball,” I’d said.

“Infringing,” she started. “Wrecked.”

I followed her down the block when she left, but she was too fast. On my way back home I pulled an advertisement for a clerk-job working at a clinic down the street. I decided I should take it. Just get out of the house.

After taking that job I was out during the day, able to see more of Frank, who would tell me about the neighbors or about when he worked as a beekeeper. This was great for me, seeing someone on a regular basis. I enjoyed it.

Then Frank started bringing in shopping carts. Bringing them into that alley. When I saw his growing pyramid I eventually went down to him to find out what was going on.

“Frank,” I said.

“Nick,” he said. “Nick, good to see you again.”

“What’s with the carts, Frank?” I said. “I’ve been curious.”

Frank looked at the carts without changing his expression all that much. His eyes looked like cheap stones. Then he began to smile.

“It’s nothing, really,” he said. “Remember when I worked for the forest service?”

“No,” I said. “You never told me about that.”

“I worked for a forest service. I met a guy there who liked to hunt. Once he brought me to his house. He had this basement halfway underground. In the basement he kept the skeletons of the stuff that he killed. He didn’t keep the other parts of the animals. The moose, the rabbits, the deer, the birds, everything. He piled them up together. I only saw it once, but it was amazing.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“That time I saw it,” he said, “a bird flew through the window and landed on top of the pile. It just stood there for a second, and then it was gone. I was feeling bad around that time, but the bird did something to me.”

“Wow,” I said.

“It was nothing,” he said. “I was searching for something like that. It could’ve been a piece of cotton that landed on the pile, it wouldn’t have mattered. But I liked that pile of skeletons. I found this first cart in the alley here already. I got some more to make the skeleton thing again. I guess the cart reminded me of it.”

It made sense for me in my own little way. I looked again at the pile and then went home.

I don’t care now if Frank was lying about all of it, the jobs or the bones or the bird. He lived in a basement. I don’t know why. I don’t care. It’s just, there is a moment from time to time when everything gets to be too much, and you just kind of burst from the inside. It’s the feeling you get when you run too hard for too long. It’s rough, but it isn’t all bad. It’s a release. Frank was a part of all that. He really was. Whatever it was, he held it like water, and from time to time, when we needed it, he gave it to us.

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