Oh geez, I’m so sorry I’m late. I was in the middle of sixty-nining my newest lover and I completely lost track of time. Candidly, I’m usually late but you’ll learn all about that. I was thrilled to get your call! You’re my first bi mentee and, I have to say, it’s a complete honor. I still remember my days of being a bi woman mentee. What a joyful time. I’ll try and be as succinct as possible, but there’re a million things to talk about. We’ll get there over the course of our meetings, I’m sure. Before we go any further, I have to say, you are distractingly beautiful. Truly, you’re stunning. It’s almost difficult to look at you. Oh, wow, thank you so much for saying so. This is one of my favorite outfits. Okay, we can’t get carried away. There’s plenty of time for us to swoon for each other after I’ve told you all the bi women truths. I’m going to be totally transparent with you – those bi women stereotypes you’ve been dealing with since coming out, they’re true. All of them.
At 9 AM each Saturday I come here, to the laundry. It’s a ritual. After getting any coins I need from the change machine I empty my clothes into a washing machine, pour in some powder, push in five dollars’ worth of coins and hit start. At the vending machine I pick up an energy drink. By the entrance there are some tables you can work at. I take a seat at one, setting down my drink and emptying my pockets beside it. A small pile of dollar coins. My keys. It is the last time I will come here before I leave for a new city on Thursday. My mind begins to wander, and I find myself sifting through all that I have seen at this laundry, looking for something meaningful among the empty episodes that have taken place beneath these bright lights.
The castle was the most magnificent building Helias knew. He was a cook boy and he lived in the strongest and the safest castle in the world. It was so strong that people even claimed it was alive, protecting its inhabitants. Helias believed that. He had whispered to the walls.
“Are you alive?”
“Can you feel my touch?”
I turned into the entrance of the Charlotte Metro Nature Preserve and followed the twisting gravel road toward Copperhead Cove. The wedding I would conduct on the banks of Lake Wylie was two hours off, so I had plenty of time to prepare. Maybe take a quick nap. Maybe even forget my anger.
At a sharp bend in the road, I passed a man and woman nestled in cheap folding chairs, both illuminated in a shaft of silver-white sunlight that pierced the oak canopy. Homeless, judging by the looks of them, with their possessions piled nearby in black plastic bags. The man lay twisted on his side, his head in the woman’s lap. Ragged flannel hung from the woman’s thin arms, which were wrapped around the man. Despite the warmth of early September, both wore long-sleeved shirts and blue jeans.
They will let you out through a dark corner,
after putting you in spaces you do not inhabit,
spaces you would never occupy.
They will let you out Mansir;
into a virtual space far from home.
The cuckoo clock on the wall sounds its hourly alarm, despite being three-quarters past the given time. No one knows whether the lifeless plastic bird with startled eyes is fifteen minutes early or if the clock is behind. Sometimes it is silent for days on end, though the residents swear they still hear it singing.
‘Good morning, sister,’ calls Agnes, descending the stairs and humming as she goes; her hand gliding gracefully down the old banister, pale alabaster skin against the dark wood. She is burgeoning on seventy, but the lithe figure beneath her knee-length floral dress is that of a younger woman.
To say I’d become adrift in my thirties was an understatement. Imagine a small peddle-boat in the middle of a dirty pond in an abandoned theme park: that was me.
My friends and acquaintances had all acquired things like spouses, careers, and mortgages, while I remained in an arrested adolescence. I lived in a small, one-bedroom flat just around the corner from where I grew up and continued to work in the kind of minimum-wage retail jobs that I’d been working in since dropping out of university over a decade ago.
The virus invades dreams.
I’m in a labyrinth. She’s laughing, attired in mucus green, chasing me through sterile halls.
I turn off the news. Try to hit the sack earlier.
I even walk at sunset. Soothe myself in tangerine, pale blue, and lavender shadows.
—for AM Mariam
Your thick thighs. Your full waist.
Your bright eyes. Your round face.—
That you walk around the streets,
Unashamed of the penetrating eyes,
Unafraid of words that hit hard as punch