Levity by Jen Knox

Friday, July 23, 2010

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I recounted missed appointments, work shifts and cat feedings along with a series of forgotten door codes, keys, vitamins, and days in which I had forgotten to apply deodorant or moisturizer. Dr. Randall listened patiently as I went down my list. When I was finished, he said, “Maybe you’re depressed.” He asked me if I had any traumatic experiences in my past. I said no. He offered me anti-depressants. I said no. He recommended other avenues to pursue, and gave me the number of a neurologist, in case things got worse.

“Whatever it is in your head, blocking your recall,” a hypnotherapist told me, “it must be addressed in order for you to be cured.” The underlying meaning of this, I thought, was that if I did not respond to her services it would be my fault. I tried. I sat on a light blue couch and tried to imagine my eyelids were heavy and the cushions beneath me were clouds. She said, “Ten. You are sinking into relaxation… feel your muscles relaxing. Nine. Your thoughts are slowing, your breath is slow. Eight. Feel your body sink…” And all I could think about was my car, a standard, and whether or not I’d remembered to pull the emergency break—this was one of the many examples I can give you of my minor glitches of memory; minor glitches that could lead to major upset. I ran out of the room and across the street to my car, forgetting to look both ways and almost got creamed by a white SUV. I found my car still parked, but the emergency break had not been lifted.

“You are fiery, I can tell. Fire signs are the signs of life and action, but also the signs of danger.”

The neurologist that Dr. Randall recommended ran a series of tests that showed no signs of Alzheimer’s or brain tumors, but some couldn’t be done because the insurance money ran out. In fact, it didn’t take long before my entire savings was depleted due to this diagnostic quest. I ended up having to return my car to the dealership, which also turned out badly because it meant I now had bus schedules to memorize. What I was prescribed were “tools” to help me cope with memory loss, like mnemonic games to play and crossword puzzles. I was diligent: I kept lists of things to do on the fridge, and worked my crossword puzzles during my lunch break at the bank. I don’t mean a financial institution. I worked at a blood bank; or, more specifically, a plasma donation center.

I never forgot how to do my job, how to tie a piece of tan rubber at the base of a bicep and instruct the donor to pump his fist until the vein rises like a small blue wave. I had the best record at the bank for clean sticks. I only missed a vein once, which, for my years of service, was rather outstanding, if I do say so myself. For this reason alone, my boss forgave the few times I came in on my day off or for the wrong shift because I remembered the bus or work schedule wrong. A missed shift here and there, he told me, was better than a blown vein (which causes the donor excessive bruising and a generally pissy mood). At the same time, he warned, if this continued I’d lose my job.

###

fireHis card came to me serendipitously. I was smoking a cigarette, and as I dropped it and went to grind it out with my heel, I saw a white and gold business card was wind-pushed beneath the lit butt.

“Fire,” a customer said, offering me her arm after I told her I was a Leo, an August baby. “You are fiery, I can tell. Fire signs are the signs of life and action, but also the signs of danger.” The woman’s veins were generous and the needle slid in easily as she continued: “I’m Desiree, a Pisces; we’re prone to laziness—if only I had the opportunity!” She laughed at herself and explained that she was no hack. Desiree had been studying astrology for two years, and she assured me it was a science that would make my head spin if I only knew its complexity.

I nodded. “I might get a reading one day, but can’t right now. Maybe you’ll be doing readings yourself by the time I can afford it?”

“I would love to read you,” she said. “But yeah, it’ll be a while.”

I smiled. “Enjoy the movie,” I said, offering her headphones and directing her gaze to the small flat screen TV that was perched above a row of chairs at the end of the room. I saw Will Smith’s face flash across the screen, then a shot of people running. I took my seat at the end of the row. Waiting, watching people watch half an action movie as their blood was pumped into an IV bag, drained of plasma and pumped right back in, was the part of the job I truly despised. We always had the same action movies playing, and no one ever looked interested. They all looked impatient and calculating, as though they were already mentally spending the eighty or thirty-five dollar check we’d cut them after the Baind-Aid.

I pulled the business card from the back pocket of my jeans. My cigarette butt had scorched its edge. The card read only “Healer” above an address not far from my apartment complex. I watched the astrologer, a small, intense woman with frizzy dark hair, roll her eyes at something on the TV screen, and I tried desperately to remember whether or not she’d told me her name.

“The Healer looked me over the way men used to when I used to pay attention to such things.”

I felt a lightness the rest of the work day, and as I sat at my post between clean sticks, I continuously fingered the card as though it were some sort of talisman; it was the four leaf clover I kept in my grade school notebook until I accidentally left it on the bus; the silver medallion my mother had given me when she was sick, a symbol of good luck, she’d said, I’d believed—before she had her last stroke. Now, I had a business card, a possibility, and I worried that if I went to the address printed on its front my fantasy would be weighed down by reality again and the magic would be lost.

I took the bus to High Street, and got off near a small, light brick building that was ominously plain against the deep blue and orange hues of the late afternoon sky. There were two doors: one said Suite A Dr. Slack, DDS. The other door said nothing more than Suite B. I walked in.

The office was small. There were only a few chairs, a table and a wooden broom—the sort marketed as “country decor” at craft stores around the start of autumn. I called out, asking if anyone was here. There was no response, but I could hear the rustling of papers in another room. The lightness was still here, the hope.

As I looked around for a sign-in sheet or some such thing, a round, bald head, shiny in the dim light, stuck out from the back doorway. When I said hello, the head retreated and more papers rustled.

“I’m closed. I forgot to lock the door,” the man said in a sing-song voice.

“Oh. Can I make an appointment, then?”

“No appointments for a first meeting. People never show for first appointments. Walk-ins only.”

“OK. What are your hours?” I asked.

“That depends,” he sang. “My wife is waiting, please come back another day.”

The bus home wasn’t due for ten minutes, and it was beginning to get cold outside. I looked around again, expecting maybe to notice something I had missed. “What’s the broom for?” I asked.

He stepped out. His body was as round and buoyant as his voice, and he didn’t seem irritated by my move to stall him. In fact, the question seemed to intrigue him. He walked up to me, and I noticed that he was almost my same height, 5’2”, and this made me feel comfortable with him.

“This,” he said, picking up the broom, “is for bad energies. For sweeping them away and starting again.”

“Sir, I promise, you let me make an appointment, I’ll show.”

“Pushy, pushy,” he said, nodding at my incorrigibility. “One minute, OK? I’ll give you that much. Now, sit. Tell me why you’re here.” I squatted slowly into a narrow wooden chair and eyed the broom, wondering if I would be swept.

“I’ve lost my memory. I forget everything.”

He walked around me, then crouched down and examined my pupils. His were milky, like marbled blue taffy. He took his time. “Perhaps your memory is best not found?” he suggested.

“Perhaps,” I said quickly, “but I need to find it if I’m going to keep my job.”

He lifted my arm, told me to relax, and then released it. I held it there a moment before allowing the arm to fall. Next, he cradled my head in his warm, thick hands and rolled it to the side. “Have you been to a psychologist?”

“Yes. And a hypnotherapist, a neurologist… they found nothing.”

The Healer looked me over the way men used to when I used to pay attention to such things. He stared for an uncomfortably long time; it was as though he were stunned by something he saw, and I knew I wasn’t looking too attractive after nine hours at the blood bank, so I figured he was probably a freak, this was all an act. Just as I was about to stand up, walk out, he pulled back slightly. I waited for him to speak, but before I knew it, he hauled back and smacked me hard, across the face.

Now I was frozen. “What the fuck are you doing?” I yelled, too stunned to move. The man didn’t frighten me, but something (perhaps a desire to believe) kept me from moving or retaliating. Men had swung at me before, men and women, and I wasn’t one to cry over it—I swung back. But this was different; I felt no rage, only confusion. Just as the sting began to settle across my check, the back of his hand caught my other cheek. This time I stood. When I spoke next, I sounded like a child: “Why did you smack me?”

“Levity. You are dying, ready to join God.” He backed a few more steps from me, as though he might catch something if I got too close now.

“OK, so you smack people then tell them they’re dying. No wonder people don’t show up to your appointments, you crazy fucker.” I still sounded like a child. I attempted to compose myself, and asked, calmly, “Why would you smack a dying woman?”

“I smacked you to help you feel. You feel, right? The adrenaline. It’s the most you’ve felt in weeks, right? I smacked you to remind you what life feels like, so there: diagnosis, cure. Enjoy your day.” He reached for a small black backpack and flipped a light switch.

I hurried out, saying he was truly insane if he thought I’d pay him for that. And he called after me, amused: “It’s OK, on the house.” I turned, glared. His puffy face became thinner, as if he was sucking in his breath and holding it.

“You’re a disturbed man,” I yelled.

A bus had just stopped across the street; and as I ran to catch it, I realized how right the healer had been. I felt a jolt of adrenaline once more as the horn of a car honked and a heavy, wide sedan, light-blue and moving too quickly to stop in time, caught my foot and pushed me to the ground. Tires swelled above my unfeeling body and I honestly couldn’t remember how to be afraid. I was thankful, as my life became something else.

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Jen Knox is the author of Musical Chairs, a memoir (ATTM Press). She earned her MFA from Bennington’s Writing Seminars and works as a fiction editor at Our Stories Literary Journal. Her work has been published in Flashquake, Foundling Review, The Houston Literary Journal, Slow Trains, SLAB, Superstition Review, and Quiz & Quill. Jen grew up in Ohio and lives in Texas, where she is working on a novel entitled Absurd Hunger.

© 2010, Metazen.

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