Susan L. Lin
The night starts like all others seem to—someone says something about me that I don’t like and I throw it back at them.
Stop making generalizations, I want to
say but don’t. I try to laugh instead but come up short. My trachea
tightens, makes a sound like someone being strangled. Someone, not me.
Nights like this I feel myself flatten
to the floor, like construction paper glued to Bristol board, a bookend
being pulled away from either side of me. Am I just everyone else’s
collection of body part cutouts, mismatched and held together with brass
brads, I’ll move when you want me to?
At Mallory’s place, my mom leaves messages on the machine: Baby, I miss you.
I haven’t even spoken to her since I left home after high school
graduation to move in with Mallory. “It’s only an hour away. I’ll come
visit,” I’d said, knowing what I couldn’t leave behind would fit in a
recycled chocolate tin and a pillowcase with a train running across it.
On the recording, her voice sounds like an unfinished jigsaw. Her words
are incomplete, almost like they’re missing their vowels, almost like
I’m standing on one side of the railroad tracks, only able to catch
glimpses of the world on the other side as they appear, filtered through
those brief spaces of light between moving train cars.
I m—ss y—. C—ll m— b—kkk.
When I see a blue Chevy Impala speeding
down the freeway, it turns into a bed rolling down the hospital hall. My
father is lying down on it, connected to half a dozen feeding
tubes—he’s smaller somehow, younger, thinner than I remember. I can see
his bones sticking out in strange places.
I wake up not knowing where I am, lying
next to a head, connected to a body, the taste in my mouth like I don’t
know what, pretending I don’t remember anything. I roll away, untangle
myself from habit just so I can fall into it again some other night.
On my way home, I stumble over the
word—H-O-M-E—wondering where it is. Lift my foot to look under my
shoe—no, not there—for some reason I think this is hilarious and laugh
so hard I start to cry.
Everyone I pass on the street starts looking like a stranger with familiar eyes. I see them all pale blue, something
recognizable on their faces: concern maybe, disgust more likely.
There’s a bum standing next to an intersection a few blocks away from
Mallory’s apartment, wearing a red knit sweater with a huge likeness of
Santa’s jolly face emblazoned on the front. It’s the middle of April.
The glow from street lamps, blue reflectors on the road, the
red-yellow-green pattern of traffic signals, all become oversized
strings of Christmas lights decorating the city.
“Please, can you spare change?” the man on the corner says. He’s carrying a cardboard sign with the word HUNGRY scrawled on it in all caps. I shake my head, no, Santa glaring at me through his woven eyes.
I have to swallow as it gets later, earlier—what time is it?—to keep myself from hurling, losing more.
Susan L. Lin hails from southeast Texas
and holds an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts in San
Francisco, CA. Her novella Goodbye to the Ocean, which
these pieces are excerpted from, was a semifinalist in the 2012 Gold
Line Press chapbook competition. Her short prose has recently appeared
in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ghost Town, Hypertext Magazine, Gravel Magazine, Portland Review, and elsewhere. She blogs intermittently at susanllin.wordpress.com.