Concentric Circles in the Street
My bones have decided to stick out every now and then. When I twist to crack them they try to escape through my skin. I do not mind so much, and sometimes I even think the loud pop of a joint is a sign that I am torturing myself just enough. Maybe my shell began its getaway many winters ago, when I was lost briefly on Mt. Osseous, stopping to examine a dead tree stump. My mother usually likes to look at such things but when I lifted my head everyone had continued up the slope and out of sight. It was cold, and my jacket was in a bag slung over my father’s shoulder. Each bone in my body positively screamed for shelter that day. My skeleton is like this many days, really. I have discovered that eating frozen mango with a very small fork makes my entire body go numb. I sit by the window after every meal and bask in whatever sunshine is left to coax heat back into my bloodstream. It feels so good to be warm after freezing, but lately, winter seeps through our moldy window frames, and the thin layer of cushion on my chair does little to resist turning to ice. I am so close to falling apart, it tells me forlornly. I don’t remember when we inherited it, the same way I can’t remember how it felt to be terrified of climbing the ladder in my preschool’s jungle gym or which friends were closest to me then. So many leftover milestones which mean so little now.The house creaks more frequently, every piece of wooden furniture I touch seems to split its fibers a little more, just at the center, making space for the season.
My neighbor sweeps the sidewalk often, when the wind has wreaked havoc with her willow tree, which is nearly always. The willow is as old as my time in this house, and much older. It is frail and fraught and familiar, standing on the sidewalk like a serenely insistent woman who will not die. She is waiting, I think, fora reason to go, skimming the top of the street cleaning truck in the middle of every week with a gentle branching arm to find new nicks in the paint, any sign that the weather is changing. I could tell her that it is, that the furnace in my house smells the same every November when it expels all the dust that has settled inside it through summer. I could tell her that the sky hasn’t let loose rain yet, but not for lack of trying. Each morning I have the feeling that the clouds are angry with themselves for being so transparent. Call me back to you! The raindrops shout for gravity to show itself. I have always hated the word wisp and so has my mother, but nowI think I am becoming just that. A wisp. Something there, but not there. Only my thin and freckled skin is tangible. Wearing thick clothing is painful, it hangs too heavily on my limbs. My bones are traitors to the body. I have stopped drinking milk just to spite them.
I can watch my neighbor brush the pavement from one window in particular. It has become companion to my desk, and to the same rickety chair which seems not to care that the bottom of my left shoulder is assaulted every day by its inconvenient shape. Not my problem, it creaks defiantly. I can’t argue with that, it’s impossible to look my chair in the eye. I hate the lone threads which float around the dilapidated cushion. They speak to me like they want compensation for the triumph of merely surviving. Penny for your thoughts? Acting like an orphan won’t earn my respect. We have endured, we have endured. Like hell.
One o’clock pm, Wednesday, the street cleaners have driven by and collected the sticks of the past week. There are remnants of the willow still sleeping on the street, and I feel the urge to go out and pluck them from the putrid asphalt. Pity the buds and bits of bark. Will another being clean the sorry strays of the willow, after the truck’s roaring quiets further down the road? I place hope in the idea that there is another creature to save these leftovers from languishing. It must be a very small species, below the truck and my neighbor in the great street sweeping food chain. For instance, my feet didn’t grow much until recently. They used to be a size 13 in children’s, at the corner of the shops where the sparkly mary janes are kept. I used to get blisters happily just for my feet to look nice. They were so tiny, I could pick up cat whiskers between my toes and give them back to her, the cat, the stupid furbasket. I have not paid much attention to my feet until now, prefer to draw things on my ankles in ballpoint pen while I wait to turn 18 and get a real tattoo. Only three years more. I’ll cut my hair then, too. It’s too straight to be long, too obedient to deserve continuity. I’ll chop it off and then it can stay out of the way of my plans for the future. Like figuring out whether freckles really can be bleached off with lemon juice. Fat chance. Maybe the creature is a mouse? Three mice, even, could make up the other steps of the system. My neighbor is so small, she may be shrinking at this point in her life. Her pants often have large patches over the knees as though she is protecting them from being weathered any further. She wears oversized gardening gloves which bend at the tips of her fingers and slide down her hands when holding the rake becomes very strenuous, or the air is warm. I can’t imagine so well how they sound when they talk, but I try. Hold on, the job is nearly done. The broom is taller than her, a good thing that they seem good friends and the broom does not seek to become unwieldy and flail to knock her in her miniature head. Ha. The priest I met at one of my friends’ mother’s luncheons said that if I ever had a cruel thought about someone else, I should confess and repent. In my head? I asked. He said, no, you had to go to a special booth and tell somebody like him about it. Seems unlikely, I said through a tea sandwich, that I’d have the time to go through the paces for every single thought. But thank you for the advice. He looked a little put out.
It really must be something very small which assists my neighbor in her process. In that vein, I do entirely believe a mouse is the answer. And I hope that mouse—if it is a mouse—has two partners, living with the first under the pillow or in the wall of my neighbor. Two of them are in love and in partnership; one whispers in her left ear and the other in her right, compelling her to caress the dropped leaves from the sidewalk every Wednesday before one o’clock. The third mouse? Well he is loyal to the leftovers in the street, to clearing away what the street cleaning vehicle leaves behind, loses between the bristles of its massive spinning brushes. But he has become very old during my time here in this house.He does not work the way he used to, and misses seeds that I see from my window. His children are Frederich and Marta, the two mice by my neighbor’s ears. And his name must be Father Cedric, he must be wizened in the most noble of senses.
Frederich wears a gold pocket watch in his waistcoat, I am sure. He checks the time to ensure that my neighbor’s cat will not wake and give chase before his job and Marta’s job is done. Marta is dressed in pink that is only a little darker than the soft inside of her ears. If her grandmother bought her that dress, I could tell her that my grandmother bought me shoes the same color, and I loved them so much that I wore them even when they gave me hideous blisters. To weddings, funerals, pancake breakfasts. It meant that much to be beautiful. I picture two of the same mice who came to the tailor’s aid in a Beatrix Potter tale. Their clothes are made of silk and organza and they know right from wrong. Some mice live to produce offspring, but some live to produce high fashion garments. Like some people live to produce salaries, and some people just want to ride trains through tunnels and take pictures of it happening. It was my only wish once that my mother would let me watch DVDs of Beatrix Potter stories in the living room. Now the living room is dustier, and sitting on the floor hurts my thighs. Too many parts of me are malleable. A woman on the sidewalk told me yesterday that I would grow up to be very beautiful but what if this is all I get? A dusty living room carpet and no desire to watch Peter Rabbit frolic on screen? I would tell myself to shut up ten times a day if I didn’t know that the walls could hear it. They can tell I’m nervous just like everybody else. I should be so lucky as to meet the mice, I should be so blessed to see the pure gold of Frederich’s pocket watch. I wish, I wish, I wish. Dry up, you sodden mind machine. My should drops ever so slightly to accommodate the way the friction between my pant leg and the chair’s cushion has given up on keeping me stable.
“You’ve gotten thinner.” My father pokes his head around the doorframe, and glances at me, still sitting on the same chair.
“There’s leftover pasta for lunch. If you want it.”
“I had mango.”
My mother joins him in the doorway and tosses me a microwaveable heating pad. It hasn’t been warmed, but I appreciate the sentiment.
“You looked cold.”
My neighbor has two brooms, one little and one large.The little one is bound in the regular shape of a flattened bullet, with red twine around the sticks of straw. The other broom is along, thin, green rectangle. Multiple shades of green, actually, like an attempt to liven the piles of brush it overpowers. Bend under my will! Well not it, per se, but electricity of rodent whispers which flow through every bristle. Now my thoughts turn to the thing that is swept, the idle wood chips. Or are they idle, do they know they are part of the grinding gear? Do I patronize a force which only pretends to lie dead? Heaven help me in my little bed at night, I have started using homeopathic treatments to close my eyes when my body doesn’t want to. Coffee doesn’t seem to be the culprit. In fact, it puts me to sleep. People say cotton pillowcases screw up your skin but silk sheets make you slide right out of bed. I’m growing bored with life but it won’t let me loose before one in the morning. When I do drift into slumber…
Say I become friends with the household, say I buy premium tobacco for Father Cedric’s pipe and carrot-yellow butter for their dining table. Say it’s the same butter my mother read tome from Little House In The Big Woods, using one hand to keep the book open and the other to press me closely to her side, like sleep paralysis while awake. And I feel a little ashamed of being so small, small enough to fit beside someone else, but then again, who would let me, a newly minted individual, be any larger than life? Say I am a surrogate for Marta’s children, and I bear a mouse child, and then I am truly at home. Say the secrets the child whispers to me are precious. And in this lifetime, I am the middle man in the sweeping scheme of things, brushing rotten things into the road and going back inside. I wish, I wish, I wish that everything was a cycle and so things would always come back to where they were before. I also wish that hadn’t even existed but only how I’d like it to, in a way where I could tell people once I’d died and entered the pearly gates that there was nothing to worry about, Don’t Worry, Don’t Worry. Because there would be open lines of communication, like in every good relationship. I don’t have a good relationship with the world and it can’t be only my fault. Cecilia Anderson says she’s so ready for college, for the grand road ahead, but she’s just my age and I’d like to knock that confidence out of her head. She’s got smoother hair too. But say the rotten things in the road still stay there and I am also still sitting at the window watching myself. Then tell me what I should do. Say these things so that I do not have to. I am so tired, I wish for hibernation in a very small hole. When the court asks for witnesses, mention my name but do not wake me.
I begin to question my feet when they collide with discarded dirt on the ground. Are you part of it too? I ask. I am not angry. I would hate to live outside of a circle, it is only the upset of not knowing what happens inside a soap sphere when it leaves the bubble wand. Frozen mango is beginning to lose its charm, and I eat with small silverware only to make meals last longer.Cracking my bones is grossly unsatisfying. Who am I to torture myself? Inhumane treatment on the most avoidable level. From my window I make note of the fact that half a bumblebee is the color of the lemons it lands on, and the other half is only black.
Jessica Schott-Rosenfield is a writer from San Francisco, currently a senior studying at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in the creative writing department. Her work has been published in magazines such as The Ellipses and The Racket, and has been recognized by the Scholastic Writing Awards for poetry and San Francisco Art and Film for essays on film.