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You Know How That Disorients Me by Sofie Harsha

Sofie Harsha, an amateur writer, musician, artist, comedienne, and screenwriter lives in Duluth, Minnesota. For work, she teaches and sometimes designs T-shirts for her family, pro bono. Her fiction is found at Paper Darts magazine and The Adirondack Review. Her art and music can be found at theworstmoose.tumblr.com and on her YouTube channel. Sofie is joining University of North Carolina at Wilmington's MFA program in fall 2016.

I.

I wish I could get out of here. The toilets don’t flush. Well, the truth is, when one is fixed another is broken. I mean that literally. We can’t figure it out. Two weeks ago we fixed a toilet and were ecstatic. This week the one next to it sits mute. Someone is fixing it — I can hear them right now jiggling the handle — but we all know what will happen. The one upstairs will crap out when this week’s broken one is fixed.

I think maybe if we stop trying to fix them, they will all break one by one. Then maybe if we fix each of them at exactly the same time, they will work in harmony forever.

I wrote that basic theory in one of my all-company emails.

Dear All,

I’ve been thinking about the toilet situation. Maybe we should just stop trying to fix them until it works itself out. Nothing we’re doing is fixing the real problem, which is that the toilets are cursed and angry and do not get along. Please let me know what you think but don’t hit “reply all.” You know how that disorients me.

Thank You and Sincerely,

–Hart

Nobody replied.

Three hours to go, but only if you don’t include the executive lunch, which I do since I have to set out the carrot and cauliflower tray and “keep an eye on it,” as my boss Henderson always says. I always reply “which eye?” and he never laughs. Sometimes I follow up with “which eye should I use to keep an eye on it?” in case he didn’t understand, but he still doesn’t laugh. Doesn’t even smile.

A tarp covers half our roof because something is leaking. Every morning water pools on the floor of the east wing of the building as if it’s trying to drown us but doesn’t see how tall we are, as if it doesn’t know it’ll need to become a much deeper pool for an endeavor of drowning magnitude.

The tarp over half the roof is working for now. People don’t notice it from up close, walking by, because no one ever looks up. But from a bar on the hill, they can see us clearly as they drink and eat and talk about each other. They see the blue tarp sagging and billowing on top of us like unfastened skin. They also see that only the street-facing portion of our building is deep red brick. The rest of our brick is dull and salmon, nearly grey.

It used to be deep red, we think. Who knows though. All the old photos are black and white. We have nothing but 1908 to compare to. We painted the front what we thought it used to be. Why? I don’t know. We might as well paint it yellow.

I told them that everyone thinks the Roman Empire was only white — all the delicate pillars, white like princess skin. It wasn’t. Rome wasn’t white. I told them Rome was pastel. Pinks and blues and pale greens like taffy. I told them everybody should know, they should tell their wives. Rome was not all white.

II.

Nathan was a drummer. Is a drummer. His contributions to his band Megathereal have been described as “soul-searching and sometimes wise.” He writes for Slipspoon Magazine as an unpaid intern. I don’t read that publication, so I never know what he’s talking about. A lot of his articles get three-to-four spoons though, so I think he’s a pretty good music journalist. Very well-liked.

I took notes for him at concerts sometimes. He’d jab his elbow into my ribs and I’d get excited thinking he may ask me if I wanted a drink, which I always did, but instead, he’d say things like, “It’s so … I dunno. It’s just so … it’s as if they’re writing this music for ALL of time, not just THIS time, you know? It’s like they have all genres and years and ages and eras on speed dial, yet the final product isn’t jumbled or chaotic or overdone. It’s enhanced. It’s lovely. It’s charged. It’s completely under our skins right now. Can you feel it?”

I’d nod and say yes, of course. Of course I feel it. A few minutes later, he’d elbow me again to affirm I wrote it all down.

I still have the notebook. I originally started writing down everything wonderful he said beginning on our second date. When he saw that I’d chosen to spend our time that way, he considered me his genius’ notetaker. I didn’t mind.

Five weeks after our second date, he found the other notebook I keep. It’s secret and green and labeled “Surveillance.” It’s the one in which I described the best features of his physical appearance from day to day.

“What is this?” he asked, paging through my notebook as if looking for a lost phone number.

“What do you mean?”

“Hart. This is fucking weird.”

“Which part?”

“All of it.”

“Can you give an example of what is so weird?”

“‘Today he’s wearing the blue glasses. He looks like an intelligent porcelain sex toy. I think I love him already. I want to take his glasses and put them…’ What the fuck, Hart? Is this a joke?” he asked, gathering his keys.

I realize now I should have told him it was a joke. Instead, I said, “I might have cancer.”

“What?” he said.

“Yeah ... bone.”

“I’m really sorry, Hart.”

He still managed to find all his things and leave, didn’t even hug me or put me in touch with his aunt who runs a cancer support group. For a while he couldn’t find his bag and walked around my apartment with an armful of the previous night’s clothes. When I moved away from the door, he spotted it next to his shoes.

“Let’s take a few days off from this, okay?” he said.

Now all his friends think I have bone cancer and he’s dating the girl I always thought he liked. Cynthia. They call her Synth. She doesn’t have bone cancer or any other form of cancer. In fact she’s all bone, and when she smiles, she looks down, as if remembering something beautiful that only she ever noticed.

He forgot a dark-colored sock in my apartment. I wrote to him about it, offering to take the train to deliver it to him. He didn’t reply. This did not faze me because one of the boyfriends I had before Nathan was a member of The Dark Triad. I actually don’t think that’s the correct way to put it, but I’m only two weeks along in Abnormal Psych online.

My best friend/sometimes roommate Susan calls him the World’s Biggest Asshole. I tell her that it’s only that he’s deeply afflicted with the triad: narcissistic personality disorder, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Susan doesn’t care about his diagnoses. She says that it’s great they have specific categories for assholes but could you please shut up and go grab the salt from your room why do you even bring it in there in the first place.

 Susan’s boyfriend makes her dinner every night and lets her have a key to his place. The last time she stayed at my/our place, I told her that Nathan thinks I have cancer.

“What the hell. Why?” she asked.

“I have no idea,” I said and handed her the salt.

III.

Paul the Crow is sitting outside the window on my roof again pecking at invisibles.

“Paul,” I say as I open the window. “Paul, I had a really terrible day at work. What’s good with you?”

“Nothing happens in this town anymore,” he says, “Do you remember when we got drunk with those hobos by the river?”

It’s true that Paul is only able to speak to me in the things he overhears in the park across the street, but I still feel as if he always knows what to say.

“Yes, Paul, I remember,” I say. “I remember. That was the absolute best. Thank you for reminding me.”

Paul looks at me devastatingly. “It actually does freak me out how fast Jimmy John’s delivers,” he says.

I laugh and the sound of my laughter moves fast out my window as if the silent late-evening park had been greedy for it. So quick. Like I had never laughed at all. I think about trying to laugh again, recreating it. Instead I go to the kitchen to grab the salt for my bedtime hard-boiled egg.

When I return to Paul, I want to tell him how funny he is, but before I can, he flies away as if he has an appointment with another woman at another windowsill. But I know I’m the only one.

IV.

This morning I told Susan I had a sex dream about my boss but it was really about her boyfriend.

Actually, I didn’t have a sex dream at all. I simply woke up, dreamless, thinking that if I’d had a sex dream it probably would have been about Susan’s boyfriend. I thought people perked up a little when you told them you’d had a sex dream. I guess that’s why I did it. To be a bit scandalous, to make a dent in something.

But Susan just said, “Oh?” and grabbed the bag of day-old bagels she forgot a day ago and left without saying goodbye. And without asking me to describe the dream.

I looked for Paul to tell him but he wasn’t there.

The bagels are two days old today.

When I was four, my father set me atop the moosehead that used to hang along the far wall of everyone’s favorite bar, Charlie’s Tavern. He told me not to let go of the antlers and left me there for a very unsafe amount of time.

Most people warn against boiling the trajectory of an entire lifetime down to one single moment, but most people are ridiculous and would not stand a chance atop a moosehead for even half as long as he left me there. I am a veteran of all kinds of emotional pain.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with my fists clenched underneath my pillow. Almost as though I’m still up there, hanging on, white-knuckling so I don’t fall. The other day I saw a moosehead in an antique store and shuddered thinking it didn’t look like a half-bad place to put a child.

The bus stop is empty. Strange for lunch hours around here. The man who usually sits with his hands across his belly as if about to give birth is not waiting for bus 17 with me. We usually take bus 17 eight stops down and go to the same pizza-by-the-slice place, Paulo Abdul’s, over our lunch hours. We never talk or sit by each other but I know what kind of pizza he likes. Today he’s nowhere. I hope this doesn’t become a pattern.

Everything seems empty. The sidewalk too, except for a litter of fliers for that still-missing black lab Narco and the local theatre/comedy troupe The Hard Knocks. The fliers always somehow wind up on the ground, as if someone who hates both dogs and comedy wakes up early just to tear them down and scatter them around.

The graffiti wall along the bus station has some new stuff since I got to work this morning. This is hopeful. At the very least it’s clear all of human life didn’t end in the last few hours.

The universe tells all of us that we are insignificant by infinitely hurtling away from us. The universe tells me specifically that I am insignificant by putting me near still-drying bright green graffiti that says “You are nuthing You came from nuthing You will be nuthing” while I’m feeling low and looking around for the man with the big belly who usually eats pizza in the booth next to mine on my lunch break.

I really need him today.

My boss Henderson thinks he is an Eskimo. In the winter, he wears a bright red parka with fur along every one of its edges. He also has strange furry shoes in the warmer months. I noticed them this morning. They look like tiny dirty polar bears and they make it hard to take him seriously while he condescends to me about playing spider solitaire when the VIP guests arrive to wait for their meetings with the VIP bosses. He says I should consider taking a course in public relations or at least learning a few chitchatty questions to ask the VIPs. Yesterday he said I’m the face of the company and I should start acting like it.

This morning he introduced me to one of the clients as the “junior receptionist.” Before I punched out for lunch, I asked him if he got my last all-company email. He did not respond.

Dear All,

Because I am the face of the company, I need your help. What does my face look like to you? Attach a representative picture, either drawn by hand or found online. Please do not hit “reply all.”

Thank you.

–Hart

Only Allen responded, with a link to a Google image search for old gray socks.

There is no senior receptionist.

V.

Nathan and Cynthia go to the park furthest from his house because Cynthia has a favorite tree. She has a favorite tree in every city she’s lived in. They sit together by the tree and pick at grass. Nathan’s legs hurt cross-legged beneath him, but he’s afraid if he lies down Synth will try to lay her head on his chest. That she’ll try to make him look at the sky with her, make him feel something about the sky.

Cynthia attempts to braid the grass but fails, blames the dryness of one of the strands, blames the drought. “Grass,” she says heavily, and waits for Nathan to ask her to continue.

“What about it?” he says.

“It’s just, it’s everywhere. Grass is everywhere. How did that happen? I mean, it’s been found in fossilized dinosaur poop. It’s everywhere and it’s been everywhere forever.”

Nathan has stopped actively listening and Cynthia grows sad. He’s admitted before that he isn’t a very good listener. She feels bad for expecting him to hear her.

“Yeah, grass is cool,” Nathan says.

A crow keeps peeking around the backside of the tree they are leaning against, Cynthia’s favorite tree. A spindly thing with a surprisingly complicated root system. Nathan wonders how deep the roots go down, how low he’d have to ax the tree in order to kill it, if the crow is interested in them or in something else.

The crow pecks the ground near Nathan’s foot and moves back behind the tree.

“What do you want, little crow?” Nathan asks.

“Huh?” Cynthia says. “What do I want?” She thinks of everything she wants.

“No, I’m talking to the crow,” he says, pointing.

“What? Oh.”

The crow comes into full view in front of them, stares for five seconds, maybe ten, and walks away, without looking back.

“What do you think he said?” Cynthia asks.

“Either crows can’t talk or he doesn’t know what he wants,” Nathan says and moves to stand up, brushing nothing off his jeans.

Cynthia laughs and then quiets, wishing she had never told Nathan how much she loves him.

VI.

I know it seems like my attitude toward my own existential loneliness is generous and unorthodox, especially considering all the scarves I own. My friends think, Oh, Hart, she has fun. She’s a little odd, but she’ll be all right.

Allen has actually just said almost exactly that to me, after he emailed me the pictures of old gray socks to represent my face and after I emailed him back pretending I was dramatically enraged cover up the fact that I spent twenty minutes at the bathroom mirror, watching myself expertly to keep myself from crying.

He wrote: Oh, Hart. We love your weirdness. Without you this place would be boring. You’re such a quirkball. As far as the party the other night, it was just a few of the guys and their boring l/wives. You wouldn’t have enjoyed yourself. I’ll invite you next time though!

Just because I am okay enough with the fact that everyone dies alone to wear many out-of-the-box scarves does not mean I don’t have emotional needs.

Above me on the roof, part of the blue tarp, suddenly free of its brick, has fallen down the side of the building. It hangs halfway across the window. My view of the building next-door is now skewed, unfamiliar. The tarp makes eerie blue shadows in the room, almost electric, almost neon.

Henderson says he will go up to the roof soon to remedy the situation. He has just all-company emailed about it.

Have no fear, the subject of Henderson’s email reads. I’m fixing the tarp tonight, the body of his email says.

Good. It’s supposed to thunderstorm, Gregg from software development replies all, with a screenshot of the weather report.

I write back but decide against hitting send: The tarp is only a temporary solution, therefore not a solution at all, with a screenshot of the email chain itself. Nobody ever replies anyway.

VII.

The man with the big belly goes to the park because he likes to eat outside on his days off. There is something about this park. The sparseness of the trees. The single bench, once green, now chipped and peeling. He sits on the bench and worries again that it will break beneath him. He only imagines it happening when he is alone in the park. If it breaks under his weight with no one around to witness, he’ll have to be humiliated in front of only God and nobody else. It would be the loneliest thing to break a bench in a park alone in front of only trees and crows just by sitting down to rest.

The bench creaks but does not break. A rain cloud moves over the small baseball diamond in the far corner of the park.

The rain cloud is not ominous. It only means possible rain.

A crow jumps up to the bench next to the man and pecks at his paper lunch bag.

“I don’t know, crow,” the man with the big belly says. “I don’t know what you like, but it’s probably not sauerkraut or Swiss cheese or rye. Most humans don’t even really like those things.”

The crow stops pecking at the bag and moves closer to the man.

“What do you want, crow?” the man says.

When the crow doesn’t answer, the man begins to eat his sandwich. The crow watches.

“World peace?” the man asks and takes a bite.

“A wife?”

“A mistress?” The man chews.

“A friend?”

“Everyone needs a confidante.” The man swallows. The crow stares.

“I know you don’t want this sandwich. No one wants just a sandwich.”

The crow looks up to the trees.

“Ah, I get it now. You must be bored with life. You’ve seen all there is to see and now there’s nowhere at all to fly to.”

The crow looks back to the man.

“Okay then,” the man says and sets his sandwich down, lonely on the bench beside them like an offering for someone not present.

“I will improvise a monologue. There will be no revisions, redacts, excuses, or bad jokes. Listen.

“Way over across the city is another park. You’ve probably been there. It’s smaller than this one and named after a recently dead politician who stuffed, somewhere inside his old oak desk, blueprints for condominiums planned for the park’s tract of land. When the politician died, the desk with the hidden blueprints was given to his grandson Billy. Two weeks ago, Billy used his new set of markers to transform the condominiums into large blueish-green monsters with noses that look like carrots but are not actually carrots.

“The park way over across the city remains a park. In the park is a tree, much like that tree right there, except the tree way over across the city has a tiny rose-colored door at its base. In some lights the tiny door is golden. People love the little rose-colored golden door.

“Some people sit near to the door and wonder what is inside. Some poke the tiny doorknob and marvel at how something so small can exist and still look like something tangible. How it’s so itty-bitty but still looks exactly like a doorknob.

“One girl carved her initials with her boyfriend’s into the little door so she could see the letters of their names next to each other for all time. When her boyfriend saw it, he laughed at her sentimental fragility and bent down to tie his already-tied shoes so he that he wouldn’t have to watch her leave or cry or both.

“Others take pictures of the little door. One man uses his pictures as postcards. A woman who grew up in the city and now lives far beyond the city has an 8x10 photo of the tiny rose-colored door tucked carefully behind a frame hanging on the wall above the pristine toilet that sits mostly unused in the guest bathroom on the fourth floor of her mansion.

“Some people sprawl out in the grass near the door and don’t think about it at all.

“Some wonder what it symbolizes. They ask themselves, ‘if I were a tiny door in a frail and spindly tree, what would I mean?’

“Some wonder who put it there.

“A lot of people wonder a lot of things about the little door.

“But no one ever opens the door. That’s the goddamn of it, crow. Nobody ever opens the goddamn door. I’m not sure what you think of that, but I’m almost certain it’s because they don’t want to believe it leads anywhere.”

The man tires and the crow jumps off the bench. “I’m just saying,” the man says.

VIII.

A boy with a scratchy, changing voice streams through the morning airwaves of my alarm clock radio. He’s going on about the sale his father’s furniture store is having. “Come and get everything we have,” he keeps saying. “Come and get everything we have. Come and get everything we have.”

The world must be ending. I turn my face into the pillow and imagine the boy beside my bed carefully putting more and more pillows on top of me, one by one, like piling bricks. I imagine him climbing atop of me when I’m completely buried and sitting there whispering, “Come and get everything we have.”

If narrating the rest of my day before it unfolds would help any of my situation, here’s the story I would tell: Hart gets up. Hart puts on her clothes. Hart eats breakfast lovingly, in the sun, near the window in her kitchen. After all the dishes are washed and put away she writes a note to herself and pastes it on her fridge with a piece of half-chewed gum. It says: Hello. After all of everything, I still love you. Love, You. Hart doesn’t worry that the note will be on the floor later, when the gum dries up. While she’s reading the note aloud to herself, someone honks twice from outside. She doesn’t even look to see who it is before grabbing her coat and heading out the door toward the car. She can tell from the honks — two little beeps like familiar laughter — that it is an old friend. Hart and her old friend go to the fair. They go to the shops in the center of town. They go to the bar with the moosehead and tear it down and drink together. Drunk, Hart and her old friend find a locksmith and make two gold keys for a door they both believe exists and have yet to find.

Narration never works. In my kitchen, the hard-boiled eggs are gone, the orange juice is all pulp at the bottom, and Paul is sitting at my nook table with a fork in his beak. He looks at me and I look at him. He’s so black he’s almost blue. His eyes are wide, alert, and tragic, as if he has been running solely on a hypothesis, on only the idea of fuel for years.

“I’m quitting,” I say to Paul. “My job and everything. I’m quitting everything.”

Paul stares.

“What do you want, little crow?” he asks.

“I dunno,” I say.

Paul waits.

“Someone to believe?” I say. “Someone to believe like I do.”

“Nobody ever opens the goddamn door,” Paul says.

“I know.”

Paul waves his fork around and clicks it on the table.

“I’m tired,” he says. “But I’m hungry. I’m still so hungry.”