To Live in Key by Nathan Goldman
Sing joyfully at the stoplight, windows down, until you hear a squawk from the tan Suburban framed, glaring, in your rearview mirror. Choke on that final note. Look up, find the light turned green. Your triumph, that light carelessness of private sing-alongs, curdles into shame. Hear the song on the radio go on without you. Feel your fingers stiffen like rigor mortis as you lurch into the intersection, wanting to cry but not crying, because if you do, the Suburban wins. Swerve to the right three turns early, onto a residential street. There is no easy path to the interstate from here, so forge one, reluctant trailblazer. At least the Suburban is gone, and there’s no one left to mock you but the goddamn radio, which you cannot bring yourself to silence, because in the empty air, what would there be to keep the inner you at bay?
When the secretary asks, “Howzit ‘smorning, Liz?” consider telling the truth – not the statistics (145 lbs., middle-class, one sibling in rehab), but the truth. Want to wallow. But think: orphans in Africa, their malnourished ballooning bellies. Say: “Can’t complain.” Eyebrows arched, smiling plasticly, walk past, to your desk. Wish desperately that you had not just eyelids, but also earlids, so you wouldn’t have to hear her nasal refrain, “Goodta hear, Liz, goodta hear.”
Every ten minutes, get distracted from the service calls you are paid not unwell to field by emails from your father with subject lines like “dishwasher repairman says hell be here between eight and noon do i have to be there the whole time? thanks sweetie” and “teevo didnt record jeopardy i have to see how the puerto rican man did help? thankyou.” When you open each, find the same body text in red, Point 24 Times New Roman: “love dad.”
Swallow your resentment, or pity, whatever that lump is. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Reply: “Yes, Dad, you’d better stay put for the repairman. Why don’t you refurnish the cabinet while you wait? Love, Elizabeth.” And: “I have the episode recorded. I can transfer it when I get off work. But check for reruns. Use the directions I wrote out for you. Love, Elizabeth.” Make your font match his to spare him the shame. Remember how at the dinner table, when you were a kid, he’d say the feminists had the right idea. Maybe someday Ma’d be working and he’d tend to the house: fine by him. Know now he did not mean it. You always knew he didn’t mean it.
Right before bed, eye yourself in the bathroom mirror. As always, ask yourself the tough, enduring, unanswered questions of human thought, e.g., Why do people kiss with tongues? Inspect tongue. Do tongues taste good? With your teeth bend it back upon itself, tongue tasting tongue. Brush your teeth.
At ten, when the boyfriend calls, let it ring…ring…ring. Fall asleep to it, like a lullaby.
Nathan Goldman’s work appears or is forthcoming in the Journal of Microliterature, Full-Stop, The Lit Pub, and elsewhere. He is a student at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, where he is co-editor of the Gadfly, the student newspaper, and Energeia, the student literary magazine.
© 2012 – 2013, Metazen.