CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
One Hundred Characters
Your brother, the first boy you ever kissed. Your sister, the first person your brother ever kissed. Your mother, who has never kissed anyone, to your knowledge, since the age of thirty-seven.
Your mother, a rebel in search of a cause. Your mother, a hurricane in search of an eye. Your mother, a crossword puzzle in search of one final long down solution that ends in X.
Your father, a miner, a prisoner of the system. Your father, a lawyer, a prisoner of the system. Your father, a governor, a prisoner of the system.
Your father, the captain of the HMS St. Lucien of the Inner Isle, married to the sea. The ship, his favorite child. The sea, forever retracing its doom-laden portents. The sharks, and their romantic hunger.
Your grandmother, born just before the war, the first female bail bondsman in New Canaan, Ohio, who, on her deathbed, refused to grieve, saying, what are you all so sad about? Your grandmother, born just after the war, first female butcher in the town of New Jerusalem, Missouri, who, on her deathbed, was filled with inscrutable rage, saying, I put my money in the mattress and left it for the junkman.
Your grandfather trying to sleep. Your grandfather almost asleep. Your grandfather, sleeping.
Your grandfather’s dog, asleep. Your grandfather’s dog, awake. Your grandfather’s dog, talking when your grandfather would prefer silence.
Your aunt, insane, living in great comfort in the Lauderdale Assisted Living Facility. Your aunt, insane, happily married with three children. Your aunt, insane, coming to knock at your door every three months, calling you by your brother’s name, Jim. Your brother, Jim, the favorite, dead in a car accident. Your brother’s name, Jim, as if he were still alive, each time it leaves the mouth of your aunt, insane.
Your uncle, eccentric, hiding the sugar after sunset in one of the seventy-nine rooms of his West Chester mansion, creating a purposefully inscrutable map leading to its hiding place and then drinking himself into a blackout so that in the morning he will have a purpose to distract himself from the succession of empty hours.
Your uncle, normal, born with the moon in Cancer, unavailable in times of emergency.
Your family, scattered to the seven continents by fear and economic necessity. Your family, tethered like a button to the small logging town of Mulberry Hill, Saskatchewan.
Your family, a band of traveling minstrels. Your family, a band of traveling accountants. Your family, a mathematical equation with you as a remainder.
The mailman, dissatisfied with his route. The plumber, dissatisfied with your pipes. The landlord, dissatisfied with your financial situation.
The bus driver, concerned with the minutes. The passengers, concerned with the minutes. The people, passed by the bus, watching their minutes passing in the form of a bus, a corporeal version of the time that is always passing them, on the way to somebody else’s life.
The one-armed man on the bus with the sky blue eyes. The long-legged child on the bus who no one can control. The fair-haired woman on the bus whose face has been remade after a disfiguring accident, so that she is one person up close and another far away.
The friend who is waiting for you at the end of the line with a package of condoms and a letter from a former lover.
Your friend, a shell-shocked success. Your friend, an outgoing failure. Your friend, a one-woman Rube Goldberg machine of unmitigated chaos in the form of a Northeast Philly Italian girl with a masters in Fine Arts and a certification in small-business management.
The friend you lost to learning. The friend you lost to romance. The friend you lost to the bright white nights of the Alaskan summer.
Your friend, a whiskey bottle. Your friend, a Brazilian python. Your friend, a math equation that no one will ever be able to solve. Your friend, imaginary.
Your childhood friend from South Philadelphia who made good. Your childhood friend from South Philadelphia who almost made good but was exposed as a criminal. Your childhood friend from South Philadelphia who made good, was exposed as a criminal, redeemed himself in the eyes of the people, and on the day of his death was carried in lamentation down Broad Street in a dark oak coffin for the thousand mourners to gnash their teeth and tear their hair in the presence of past glory.
Your childhood friend from South Philadelphia who slipped away from all these expectations and lived only for himself, only to be seized, late in life, by a feeling of foreboding, as if a heavy hammer were hanging over him and everything he cared about. Your childhood friend from South Philadelphia who goes to every length to pretend she is from Northern California. Your childhood friend from South Philadelphia who hates you with a passion and is working every day to discover your whereabouts in the hopes of exacting revenge.
A boy in China with whom you once corresponded in an International Peace Pen Pal exchange, to whom you opened your heart with disturbing ease. A girl in Senegal who you adopted through an International Children’s Foundation, only to abandon a few months later because of personal financial distress. The cat in Japan, considered the very cutest of all the cats in the entire world—according to his owner—whom you have become a fan of, on the Internet.
April, like the winner of a national talent search contest. August, like the inevitable failures of the government. December, like a life spent in Catholic educational institutions, so that you can hardly believe it when the first spring leaves hang down like bright skirts in the breeze.
The mayor, asleep. The police commissioner, drinking chamomile tea in his basement kitchen at four a.m. The district attorney, rubbing her husband’s shoulders. The city controller, chewing his nails down to tiny, barbed nubs as he watches the smiling girls with rosy cheeks circling Riverside Rink in the last icy atmosphere of early spring. The transit union president, chewing his cigar under the green hanging light that swings above a poker table.
The man who lives in the underground tunnels near City Hall who calls himself the mayor, who, if you believe him, has been mayor for thirty years, and who will tell you, if you ask, exactly how many homeless people there are in the city, and how, as mayor, he weeps for the fact that he has no power to feed and clothe them, due to the shortsighted policies of the City Council, and their backbiting ways.
The president, patting your back. The vice president, flashing his insincere smile. The secretary of the treasury, seducing you at the hotel bar, despite your better instincts.
Your lover, asleep and dreaming of Mexico. Your lover, asleep and dreaming of Berlin. Your lover, asleep and dreaming of his former lover. Your lover, asleep and dreaming of the person she worries you used to be. Your lover, asleep and dreaming of the version of you of which you are jealous.
The cowboy that reminds you of your lover. The Indian that reminds you of your lover. The damsel caught in the hand of the giant gorilla that reminds you of your lover. The lover that reminds you of the first four notes in Shostakovich’s Opus 110, the string quartet in C minor, which he wrote while living under the constant threat of imprisonment by the Soviet secret police.
Your ex-lover, listening for the hundredth time to the ending of the third movement of Charles Ives’s Three Places in New England, and she tells you, listen, here is the part where the chorus rises up and everything is explained, and you say, I’m sorry, but I’ve never been all that into classical music.
Your grandmother, living in another woman’s body under the great blank sky of Billings, Montana.
Your grandfather, that jowl-faced dog of a man, who discovered the cure for aging and lurks in the muck by the Four Creeks Central Reservoir.
Your uncle, stricken with amnesia. Your aunt, stricken with pleurisy.
Your cousin, who fell asleep at the wheel and woke up in a green valley, trapped in the crumpled frame of his wrecked jalopy while the birds played throaty calls and the smell of cut grass slipped through the cracks in his windshield. Your cousin, the one with the theory about the transmutation of souls.
Your father, asleep. Your lover, asleep. You, awake, wondering if sleep will ever come.
Your street, rolling. Your car, diffident. The plane you are riding, heedless of your fear. Your stewardess, fluent in several languages.
The sky above your house, laid flat, as if asking to be touched. Your house, painted blue, as if it could melt into the sky.
Your life, so full of people you can hardly believe it will ever end.
Sam Allingham’s fiction has appeared in One Story and Epoch. He is an MFA candidate at Temple University, and lives in West Philadelphia, that green and pleasant land.