The View From 90 Degrees

She has the intoxicating candor of a woman deeply in love with someone who notices her as scarcely as she notices you. You see her in profile, because she never quite looks at you. And so you see the face she shows him for what it is, an imitation, her idea of perfect as he might see it, paper thin and glued to a popsicle stick. Behind this market-tested smile, she smirks, she frowns, her lip trembles, and now and then her index finger embarks on a quest for buried treasure deep within her right nostril.

And you fall for her, of course, this woman who puts up no mask for you because she does not realize one is needed for you. It’s a sort of intimacy you have, stolen, not given. Unreciprocated, since reciprocation was never asked for. It would be stalking if you were not friends.

‘Just friends,’ you tell other people, but she would never say the two of you are ‘just friends,’ for the thought is too self-evident to her to require saying. You would not tell a bottle of ketchup that it is ‘just a bottle of ketchup’ until it opened a ketchuppy mouth and told you that it thinks of an aspiring screenwriter, and could you look over this treatment of Stranger in a Strange Land it’s been working on? You would not tell it this even then, but simply replace it with a bottle of ketchup with fewer artistic aspirations.

When she does remember to talk to you, not turning, only speaking out of the side of her mouth, she describes him to you in terms of the deepest longing. You don’t really see what all the fuss is about. After all, you see him from the same side angle she does, watch him scowl and brood, stutter his sibilants, and every so often use a too-long fingernail to excavate poppy seeds from the crevices between his incisors. Honestly, what could anybody see in him?

You could tell her how you feel, but would you really want to? If she turned to face you, it would be to show you a mask. Perhaps the one she wears for him, or another one, meant to frighten you away. Either way, you’re content to remain where you are, appreciating a window into a reality that wasn’t meant for you.

There is a sound to your side, a subtle unconfident thing that seems to both invite and discourage attention. Like someone clearing their throat with nothing to say. You imagine someone standing there, waiting for you to turn around…but no, surely you would have noticed if that were the case. And the man who is loved by the woman you love is always staring in that direction. If there was someone there, he surely would have said something to her by now.

All the same, such notions make you self-conscious. You check your shoulder, feeling for the profile portrait that rests there. You make sure it hasn’t fallen off-balance, making you look like a fool or a drunkard from that angle. With it settled in place, you return your attention to the view through the eyeholes in your mask. They are narrow, and it might be easier to see if you let it drop, but you keep it raised. You never know when she might turn to face you, and you wouldn’t want her to see anything but your best. Until that day, if it ever comes, you are happy just to watch her perfect imperfection in silhouette, content with the view from 90 degrees.

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Sometimes A Peacock Just Falls In Your Lap

I quit my job on Friday and life is already getting more interesting.

Technically I only put my two-weeks notice in, but already I feel my mindset shifting. I feel able to start thinking about writing again, and to take long walks on nice spring days.Yesterday, Sunday, I was on my second two-mile walk of the day. On the way back to my apartment, I considered which wells I might draw creative inspiration from. It was a beautiful day. A pleasant breeze was blowing, a peacock was crossing the road, the sun was shining–

Hang on…a peacock?

Traffic had stopped to let the bird pass, and remained stopped as the drivers went through a mental recalibration to accept this animal into their worldview. The peacock, unburdened by biosphere cilture shock, made its way through an apartment complex, inquisitively pecking at flowers set out in plastic planters.

I ran through my plans for the afternoon, threw out the whole list and replaced it with a single item: “FOLLOW PEACOCK”.

I followed the bird at a distance of several yards. Peacocks are entitled to social distancing too, after all. Residents poked heads out from back doors and balconies, responding to the sight with noises of bewilderment and vocal equivalents of a double-take. “Is it yours?” someone asked me. I shook my head. “No. Or anyone else’s, as far as I can tell. I guess we’ve reached the ‘zoo animals running wild’ period of the apocalypse.”

The Indianapolis Zoo was ten miles away, and it seemed unlikely that the peacock could have strutted all the way through downtown without being waylaid. Peacocks are not generally known for their stealth capabilities. It seemed more likely that it came from a local owner or breeder. I searched “Beech Grove peacock” to see if anyone had posted a report for a missing specimen. The top result was an ad for NBC’s upcoming streaming service. I narrowed my eyes at the screen as I weighed the possibility that this was all an elaborate viral marketing scheme.

I was unsure who you’re supposed to call to deal with a misplaced peacock. Animal Care had nobody working the phones, and no way of leaving a message that I could find. Besides, I guessed they were more equipped to handle stray dogs and cats than they were peafowl.

The peacock eventually disappeared up someone’s driveway and behind their house. I felt uncomfortable following the peacock any further, 1.) because the owner of the driveway had just driven up, and 2.) a sign on his fence warned “Clothing Optional Beyond This Point” and I was having a clothing-mandatory sort of week.

Someone had called the police, and it was a slow enough day for crime that three patrol cars showed up in response to the avian anomaly. The first officer on the scene told us that she called Animal Control, who informed her that they know about this peacock, and that it has just been roaming wild in the area for the last two years.

So if life’s getting you down these days, remember that somewhere in Central Indiana, there’s a free-range peacock just wandering around, making the world a little prettier.

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My Adventures In The Drug Business

Last night I joined the drug trade.

…in my dreams. I’ve been watching Better Call Saul, and I guess it’s dripping into my subconscious.

As the dream starts, I’m sitting in a movie theater, watching Movie (title, stars, and plot are not filled in, because this is just a setting). I’m sitting in the front row for some reason, probably to allow for the dramatic staging of the coming confrontation. The Drug Man steps in front of me, obscuring the screen.

I am a stupid newbie who thought he was doing one job, and then getting out. But no, says Drug Man, once you’re in the business, there’s no getting out. He tosses a packet of “drug seeds” into my lap, and tells me I owe him $10,000 for them. He expects the money right now, or else something terrible will happen to me, and possibly everyone else in the theater. The threat is clear in its severity, but not in its details.

I talk Drug Man down from theatricide, and promise I’ll get him the money by the end of the day. I hurry over to the bank and say I want to withdraw $10,000. The teller (who is sitting behind bulletproof glass, unlike any bank I’ve ever seen in real life) asks me what I’m offering her to make this very suspicious transfer go through.

At this point, I waver between a few options:

1. Maybe this is all a bluff, to see if I act suspicious. Instead, act outraged and demand to speak to the manager. My money is my own and I can do what I want!

2. It’s no big deal, I’m just buying a used car from someone. (This seems like a bad idea, like it will be correlated with car registration somewhere down the line and I’ll be found out.)

3. Become visibly embarrassed and tell her in confidence that I’m buying a customized robotic sex doll, and don’t want it to show up in my history.

I wake up before I settle on an approach. Curious, I start searching for information on this. It’s weird that the bank teller would immediately jump to blackmail (what kind of dire straits is she in, I wonder), but could the bank stop me from withdrawing that money?

It turns out, $10,000 is exactly the cutoff point at which a bank has to report withdrawals to the IRS, and would require an explanation for the withdrawal. So now I’m wondering how my dreaming mind knew this fact, while my awake mind did not.

Also, $10,000 could apparently be a feasible amount for a robot sex doll, with enough upgrades and customizing. I’m really concerned about how I knew that.

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Love Like A Virus

Oh your love
Has me in quarantine
The only thing
The situation’s warranting
I feel you in my body, in my blood and in my bones
So please shut me up and lock the door and just leave me alone

I still taste
The flavor of your hate
And there’s no cure
No simple way to vaccinate
You went away in search of someone different to infect
Though you’re dead to me, each night I find you newly resurrect

I recall
Your litany of lies
With all this time
You’d think that I’d be immunized
My friends all think I’m over it, they think I’m through the worst
I may seem asymptomatic, but I’m carrying your curse

Can’t you see
That I’m in quarantine?
So leave me be
Until there’s nothing more of me
Your cruelty’s inside me like a plague inside my head
I can’t save the world from you but I at least can slow the spread

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Shopping Among the Virus

It’s 9:30 at night, and I’m grocery shopping.

It’s my first real shopping trip since the coronavirus panic started to flare up here in the midwestern US. I’m not sure what to expect, other than a dearth of toilet paper.

The Meijer parking lot is fairly thinned out by this point, so at least the store shouldn’t be too crowded. On the ground by my car is a magnetic bumper sticker, which advising “Honk if you need to POOP!” If America ever really goes post-apocalyptic, we’re going to have some weird detritus littering the scene.

I soon find there will not be much selection when it comes to meat. Lunch meat is almost completely cleared out, as are the fresh beef, pork, and chicken sections. My options appear to be boneless pork shoulder ribs, a large stack of cow femurs, and an $8 sirloin. I decide to take my chances with the pork ribs, and hope that I can figure out how to prepare them.

My work friend has taught me that you can drink a two-dollar bottle of Naked juice and pretend it is a fully nourishing meal. I grab a few of these, and some Lean Cuisines for good measure. There are also plenty of bananas, still. Only green ones, but I prefer them that way anyhow.

It’s interesting to see what people are panic buying, but it is also interesting to see what nobody is panic buying. Nobody, for instance, appears to be buying Trolls-themed (or possibly flavored) Oreos. Nor is Mountain Dew in immediate danger of running out. All the flavors of regular Yoplait are gone, except for red raspberry, of which a dozen tubs remain. I wonder if anyone is doing market research right now. I also wonder if the world knows something about red raspberry that I don’t.

Sugary cereals, chips, cookies…all of these are safely stocked on the shelves. It’s as if the country has known all along which foods are necessary and which are not, but forgot until reaching the point of having to make a choice. Maybe there’s hope for us yet.

Checking out, I notice that one of the Naked juices is covered in sticky goo. Rationally, I realize this is just juice from some other bottle that got ruptured in transit. Irrationally, I am suddenly convinced the goo is somehow full of coronavirus. I consider leaving it at the checkout aisle, for someone to put back later. But with the store so understaffed, it could sit there at room temperature for hours, maybe days, and is bound to go bad. Also, I see no reason why I should make someone else touch this bottle that is definitely definitely contaminated with coronavirus. I buy the juice, but keep it in a separate bag. Killing a sea turtle tomorrow to save a grocery store employee today. This is just one example of the sorts of moral quandaries we face in these dark days.

On the way out, I pass a couple wearing breath masks and a young woman wearing latex gloves. I nod, and they nod back in return. A silent acknowledgement that we’re all in this together. And that, for the most part, we’re going to be okay. I consider my shopping purchases. I didn’t find everything I was looking for, but I found enough. Sometimes all we need is enough.

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You Think You Love Me, But You Just Don’t Know Me Very Well

The first time you met me
You told me I was the most beautiful girl in the world
And I smiled, but thought little of it
Because you didn’t know me yet
You would know better in time

I tried to warn you
I told you I was ugly
Petty and mean and nasty and selfish
Monstrous, in a word
I couldn’t understand how you could ever love someone like me

I thought you would leave me the first time I came home from work
Covered in sweat, blood, and tears
Some of them mine
But you ran your fingers through my hair
And told me I looked good in red

I thought you would hate me
When I called out God’s name during sex
But you only laughed
Even though you should have known better than to laugh
At Yauchthracii, The Untongued

I thought you would curse me
The first time I snapped at you
But you told me it was okay
You reassured me that you understood
And that they could reattach the finger if we put it on ice

I thought you would see my ugly side
When that time of the month came around
The time when skin turns to scale
And all the extra limbs come out of hiding
But you told me I was beautiful
Laying a feather-light kiss on each eyelid
All nine of them

I thought you would find my hobbies repulsive
When the metatarsals blossomed in the bone garden
Or when those thin, mousy screams
Began to emanate from the wine-bottles in the cellar
But you wanted to join in
You helped assemble my wriggling jigsaw puzzles
We jarred yellowing milk by the light of a fingernail-moon
And you kept my sewing needles sharp
Sharp enough to puncture my crafting material of choice

All this time, I’ve been waiting for you to see me for what I am
But you don’t
You don’t know me
And it’s killing me
Well
It’s killing somebody, anyway
And I’ve come to the conclusion
That you are not a well man, to love me so
You’re sick, somewhere deep inside
And all sick men must take their medicine
I slipped it into your coffee this morning
Didn’t you wonder why it’s growing so hard to stir?
But don’t worry
Don’t fret
You just don’t know me yet

But you will.

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Five-Day Forecast Over The Amygdaloid Nuclear Complex

Depression is a drizzle
Anxiety is sleet
And anger is a hurricane
That whips you off your feet

A cyclone speaks of silence
The rain relays regret
I can’t predict the weather
But I know I’m getting wet.

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