No Charities

by | Aug 8, 2023 | CNF, Issue Thirty-Four

I got some old silver rings I wear. I buy them tarnished and keep them on my hands until they rub themselves clean and shining. I feel too familiar with them, once they’re only my own, but I don’t take them off.

I got a sewing needle that I dropped on my living room floor and I keep leaving it there and just walking all careful around it and not ever picking it up, even though I’m always aware of it.

I got an old lady living in the apartment above me, on the top floor of this house, and I can hear myself starting to talk the way she does, how her voice comes down through my ceiling. She gums up her words and leaves out the things that connect them. That’s why come, even though I went to college and all, I’ve started saying things like I got some old silver rings.

I got this voice up the stairs who talks on the phone a lot but nobody comes to see her and I wonder where they are. She’s from some old country, and most the time she uses a language I don’t understand. I left a note on her door once offering to buy groceries and she thumped my ceiling with her cane when she heard me come home that night and shouted, No charities!

I was using that sewing needle to move the buttons around on a skirt from the Goodwill. I moved them wrong and the skirt’s too big now. I wanted it to fit me for a job interview at an office, so I could stop working in the greenhouse backrooms, but they called me after I put the skirt on to say they’d already found somebody else. Next week we’ll start Christmas wreath work in the greenhouse, six months early, punching red-gold ribbons into bows with a hand crank.

I was watching the rain tonight, that close dark sky, and remembered it like the roof of the gym at my high school. Seven years ago now I went to a basketball game there and a player bounced the ball so hard it broke the protective cage on one of the lights and shattered the fluorescent tube with a boom. He stood with his eyes closed as the glass sprinkled on him, acting on an instinct he had which could anticipate any danger and respond to it, his mind itself unnecessary because he was driven by all-knowing preservation, which is what I suspect of many other people, that they are easily propelled through their lives, no matter what they might say otherwise, but he stood there and the glass rained, and somebody’s uncle working the microphone in the center bleachers took his breath in and feedback crackled as their mothers shrieked their names, and lightning was striking someplace, and the bulb was gone there in the corner above the tennis championship banner which nobody had added a year to since the Vietnam war.

I was sweeping her side of our shared porch this morning when the woman who lives above me rattled her windowpanes with dry knuckles and shouted down to me again, No charity! No charities!

I was thinking, while I worked today punching holes into ribbons and wiring them into bows, that worrying about charity from others is really a big act of belief in yourself, feeling convinced people mind enough who you are, and how you feel, enough that they want to fix you. It wouldn’t bother me if someone did this but now I am at the age when a person is expected to help themselves.

I waited to hear from her tonight, to hear her voice while I ate my dinner. I need something to keep in my mind in the dark, and in the mornings when I wake up to toast bread on the stove burner, and all these such-like things I do with all the living people, to wear the days into clarity and adjust them around me. I kept waiting to hear her so I could say something back.

I waited to hear and tried to think what I’d say, anyways, because it surprised me that I wanted to say anything at all. Most of the time I have not wanted to talk, and felt glad when given a way out of doing so. Maybe with somebody saying no to me now, with something in this world made impossible to me by somebody else’s decision, I got something to look for.

I waited at my kitchen table and picked at the breadcrumbs on my tablecloth and turned those silver rings around on my hands til the sun went down. I got two hands, one heart, all that. I got plenty to say now and no reason to do it. In the morning I’ll have a few things to do.

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