CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
My Life as a Full-Timer
The easiest job in America wouldn’t be easy enough for me.
My credit card debt & long sexy legs & thin frizzy hair & everything else I’m stuck with & I commuted from Northern Virginia to Northern Virginia, an hour each way.
The part-time assistant they put in my office imported data without judging me or the data. I told him never to look at me and he complied. I cried, at base minimum, 40 percent of the day. I slid off my bra through the arm of my shirt, tried to fit my entire body under my desk, beat my head really hard against my computer to see if I could give myself a migraine.
By the time they finally fired me, I had been there a good clump of years. The paved summer days in my windshield were hot-flat & heavy enough to smooth out the wrinkles in a shirt. My dad was dying. The only thing that was coming next in terms of him was that he would be dead. Driving,
I could hear my car from the outside, the air around it hemmed in by the nervous Beltway. My credit card debt was pulsing, extra so at night as I lay in the twin bed in the room I rented. I wanted to stop addressing it, swat it out of my consciousness and discontinue the monthly statements with their insulting info boxes about don’t just pay the minimum.
They called me in. Both of them were there, looking out at me from their eyes. They were like, you have to stop being this way and you know what we’re talking about. “Like what?” I said politely.
There was one square block of cute small-town stuff before it collapsed into hardcore suburbs. There was a single Stairmaster in a musty corner at the gym, an Irish pub with scalloped paper placemats. Nobody touched me. Somebody told me,
you’ll feel completely different this time next year. I need to become a Buddhist. I need to date a middle-aged man who refers to me as his “girl.” I need to get one of those jobs where you don’t have to do anything all day, then you just check in on the computer at night.
I can’t think of an example but I heard something about it once.
Why I Am So Wise
Everybody who’s alive,
Keep breathing, altogether, Go.
And the dead, your orders will come later.
For now, continue in your stone boats.
But his will to live persists.
It gathers in my wrists. It reprises
The carpeted stairs I descended at midnight,
The indoor light new to last century.
It was winter all childhood long.
He never like Nietzsche stormed ice-alone
To the mountaintop or played
Piano naked, his wild beard shining.
But he reached out and grabbed me
As I tried to pass through. I remember. He said
Don’t go down that hallway.
I’m telling you for the last time.
I was young once.
I haven’t been the same since.
I stood on the sidewalk
the sky for constellations
(as in, the interpretation of
togetherness in precisely
the open spaces that make
the stars alone). There was
Kool-Aid in every kitchen
on the block. When I get home
from all this work I do,
I will lay my head down
and will be bored no more.
LITTLE NOVEL: LOVE IN A TIME OF STEEL, CAST IRON, AND LEAD
It wasn’t necessary, was the way she saw it. She never put her arms around him. She noticed that he, for his part, seemed to love her only sometimes, to and fro like a tall stalk of wheat. She never mentioned it, didn’t consider it her business. She didn’t think of herself as powerful, but she held the funnel into which he dropped the oil that brought their lives to life.
He was a man, with America and The Way Things Work on his side. Dawn to dusk, he would have swung his hammer with the same amount of force without her, but he wanted the work he did to be for her. He wanted to take her in his arms, protect her and provide for her. He saw that she never for an instant had considered letting it be that way.
She said something in the hallway. He knew better than to respond. She didn’t say much, but sometimes her words were as rough and ugly as certain early encounters he struggled to bury. He, too, rarely spoke. What passed between them wasn’t silence. It was a marriage.
A decade later, she said it again. Might have said it a few times in between, he didn’t remember. She had borne no children, had no brothers or sisters, no cousins or uncles or aunts. More often nowadays, the terrible past would surge up in him like heartburn. She only made it worse.
She was always turning knobs. In the garden, at the pump, in the kitchen. She could step out of her conditions and, on her own, turn the knob that not even a man was meant to turn. Not even God. It was directly above her head. She felt the shadow it cast whenever she stood still. When she died in the night she went right toward it. She knew it had happened to her before.
Rarely had she ventured to the edge of their land, hemmed in by aboveground piping as if to mark the limits of the known world. Curved horns pointed skyward, pure animal faces, property of propane country. Her whole life had happened within the boundaries of a single state. During the Holocene, holy recent: wilder than any wild imagination, when the very air would tear itself apart for a show.
He stood around exhausted. Still he kept remembering, so he took another wife. He seemed different around this one, but he wasn’t sure how. Like the first Americans, gnarly and fierce, he believed the future was foretold. Out on his tractor, in the long light of a late afternoon, he searched the sky for auguries of his death, but the messages were illegible from that innocent distance. He turned around and drove home.
Lucy Biederman is completing her doctorate in English at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. Her writing in various genres has been published or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, West Branch, Denver Quarterly, the Henry James Review, and online in Kenyon Review.