A is for Annabelle

Annabelle stretched out on the park bench, hiking up her dress a little to try and tan her legs. “Sweet Jesus, I’m white as cake flour.” She tilted her head, sunflower-style, hoping that her tiny freckles would soon turn to Jennifer Aniston bronzed skin. She kept a tight grip on her purse. Her parents had warned Annabelle about New Yorkers – “they’re savages!” her father had hissed when she’d told him about her plans to visit the city. “Don’t let go of your purse for one second!” her mother had cried. Her mother had also secretly packed Annabelle’s bag with bandages, power bars and a “rape whistle.”

Ever since watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s as a child, Annabelle had dreamt of visiting New York City. Of course as an eight year-old she had not been aware of the dark undercurrent of the movie, she had simply been in love with Audrey’s style, her milk-filled champagne glasses and the glamour of Manhattan. So after earning a degree – and top marks – in Paralegal Studies from Emmerson Community College, Annabelle had decided to reward herself with her dream trip.

She was starting to get a little hungry, so she decided to take herself out for a chic lunch. Annabelle had made a list of all the fashionable restaurants that celebrities and style-makers frequented and she made her way to one of them, “Saint Martine” in Soho. On the subway downtown, Annabelle chatted with a young woman named Crystal who told her all about her cheating, no-good boyfriend. Annabelle advised her to leave him immediately: “Life is short and precious! Don’t waste one more minute on him!” Crystal had been moved by Annabelle’s warm demeanour and had giver her her phone number scrolled on the back of an old prescription. “If you get in a jam and need any help, call me!” she said as she hopped off the train.

Once on the cobblestone streets of Soho, Annabelle took a moment to fix her face and smooth out her Kate Spade floral dress. She’d bought the dress for fifteen dollars at The Salvation Army. Annabelle shopped thrift stores on a regular basis, but she only frequented the ones near rich neighborhoods. She also had a brand new Coach purse, a graduation gift from her Aunt Helen who understood the importance of dressing well. “Annabelle is going to be surrounded by high-end lawyers, she needs to look the part,” Aunt Helen had said when her mother protested that the purse was too expensive.

Though the restaurant was full, the hostess took a liking to Annabelle, there was just something about her face, it was like a friendly, round moon pie and most people couldn’t resist spending a few minutes with her. Before long Annabelle was seated at a corner table with perfect people-watching views and the hostess – Jaimee – was telling her all about her latest audition which had gone extremely well. “I think I nailed it, I really do. I think I’m finally going to get my shot and I’m sooo ready! Know what I mean about being sooo ready for something?” she asked Annabelle. “I totally know what you mean. I was sooo ready to get out of Chilton Missouri and now here I am! And you know what? You ARE going to get the part, I just know it. You have that star quality, that ‘je ne sais quoi!'” Jaimee put her hands in an emoji-style prayer position and then quickly walked off to seat two boho-chic model types. Suddenly a glass of champagne appeared in front of Annabelle, “it’s on the house,” said a beautiful waiter as he swept by her. Annabelle took her very first sip of champagne, delighting in how the bubbles danced on her tongue. New Yorkers are not Savages, she thought. And I’m not going home.

Stanley

Stanley awoke from a long luxurious sleep, stretched and then set out walking.  He turned down the alleyway behind Greenwood Avenue and headed to the grey duplex with the blue trim, number 105.  The back gate was open, so he strolled in.  He was hungry and was looking forward to having lunch with Mrs. Blackwell.  He sat on her deck for about five minutes, enjoying the mid-day sun while waiting for her to appear.  Then he decided to take a stroll through her backyard since she was obviously running late.

Mrs. Blackwell had recently added new planters which were filled with pink flowers that smelled like delicious candies.  He also noticed a new herb garden, each herb had its own little sign: “basil,” “oregano,” “mint.”  He took a little taste of the mint, it was lovely and made his mouth tingle.  In the back corner of the yard Mrs. Blackwell had moved her porch swing, which had received an update with bright new yellow cushions.  Stanley decided to wait there since it was out of the sun and under the shade of a big leafy tree.  He settled in for a mini-nap while Mrs. Blackwell finished up with whatever was making her late for their lunch date.  He dozed happily, enjoying the swaying of the tree’s leaves above him – it was as if he had his own “garçon” fanning him. The sweet garden smells made his stomach gurgle, he could hardly wait to eat.

“Stanley!” called out Mrs. Blackwell.  Her voice was soft, with a hint of a Southern twang.  Mrs Blackwell had grown up in Texas and though she had lived in Toronto for twenty-five years she still considered herself a die-hard Texan, she even had a “Don’t Mess with Texas” plaque on her front porch.  Stanley headed over to the deck and joined Mrs. Blackwell at the patio table under a huge umbrella which she had opened to shield them from the sun.  She had set out two plates of food, iced tea (she was Texan after all) and water.  She smiled at Stanley, thankful for his company.  Ever since her husband Earl had passed away last year she had been terribly lonely.  Having a daily lunch companion who lived right in her neighborhood had lifted her spirits and put a little spark back in her step.

She sprinkled salt on her fresh avocado and tomato sandwich and took a small dainty bite.  “A little slice of heaven!” she said.  Stanley was focused on opening the shell of his giant peanut and extricating the nut.  He tried his best to eat as little of the shell as possible.  He chirped away happily as he finished his peanut and moved on to his walnut.  Mrs. Blackwell loved to watch Stanley eat.  It was like watching an artist at work, he ate so speedily, yet with such grace.  She told Stanley about her busy morning.  She had baked a cake for a friend’s birthday, cleared out her husband’s bedroom closet – which she had been procrastinating about – and called her doctor about the arthritis in her left knee which seemed to be getting worse.  Stanley chirped and swung his tail around in sympathy.

As per usual, Stanley took the last few nuts and stuffed them in his mouth.  Mrs. Blackwell knew his habits well. Now he would be off to hide the nuts for later and hopefully, if his memory served him, he would remember where he had hidden them.  “Good-bye Stanley!  See you tomorrow!” called out Mrs. Blackwell.  Stanley chirped and scurried away quickly.  It was crucial that he bury his nuts before other squirrels noticed that his mouth was full.  Otherwise he ran the risk of having them secretly follow him and then steal his delicious, organic, Trader Joe’s nuts.  It was a tough world out there, but at least he had his good friend Mrs. Blackwell, she was a gem.

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Sally

Sally folded her socks into perfect little balls then lined them up in soldier straight lines. Next she tackled her underwear drawer, folding them in half and placing them in piles according to style: hipster, bikini, briefs.  She used plastic dividers that she had bought at the dollar store to separate them.  After adding lavender sachets to both drawers, she sat down on the edge of her bed and took a long sip of Chardonnay.

Sally had just finished reading “De-Clutter & Manifest your Dreams!” by Dr. Bryanne Goodwyn.  Dr. Goodwyn – a Lifestyle Psychiatrist – wrote that a disorganized home reflected a chaotic psyche, a psyche unfit to receive the universe’s abundance. Therefore, in order to manifest one’s dreams, a person had to first get their home in order.  “De-Clutter & Manifest your Dreams!” had come into Sally’s life at the perfect moment.  She had been struggling with how to talk with her boyfriend, Derek, about the fact that he had not yet asked her to marry him.  But since reading Dr. Goodwyn’s book, Sally realized that she was partly to blame for the fact that she still didn’t have an engagement ring. Sally’s closets, drawers and cupboards were completely disorganized, there wasn’t any room for Derek’s belongings.  The message that Sally was sending him was: “You’re not important enough to me for me to make space for you.”  Thank God for Dr. Goodwyn, it it were not for her book Sally would’t have realized that she could manifest her dreams, which included marrying Derek.

After organizing all nine dresser drawers and emptying out three of them for Derek, Sally decided to take a break and work on her visualization board.  Dr. Goodwyn recommended creating a visualization board for all the things that one wanted to manifest in one’s life. Every morning she advised focusing on the board while repeating these words:  “I have de-cluttered my life to make room for my dreams.  I am deserving.  Thank you universe for your eternal love & please help me on my journey of manifestation.”

Sally’s visualization board was massive, she had a long Manifestation List.  The top left corner was dedicated to her wedding, with photos torn out of bridal magazines.  It was going to be a summer wedding, the theme – Rustic-Chic, with flowers in mason jars and long, country farm tables.  Her dress, designed by Jessica McClintock, was strapless with a sweetheart neckline and was ivory – not white – lace.

The top right corner of Sally’s visualization board was dedicated to her obsession with Corgis – the breed of low-rider dogs that the of Queen of England was famous for owning.  She wanted two of them and she had already located a breeder in a nearby state.  Their names would be Petal and Charlie. Unfortunately Derek didn’t like dogs, he preferred cats.  In fact he took care of his neighborhood’s feral cats, about fifteen of them, leaving food and water out every night and building elaborate cat hang-outs on his front porch.  During the winter months he even had specially heated covered cat beds.  Sally had some serious visualization work to do on this issue – there was no way in hell that she was going to be known as The Crazy Cat Lady and she didn’t want Petal and Charlie getting fleas or worse, from the wretched creatures.  Sally drained her glass of wine and walked over to the fridge to pour herself another one.  For a brief moment she worried that perhaps Derek was mentally unstable. The feral cat caretaker thing was a bit much – I mean what kind of person does that?

At eight o’clock sharp the phone rang.  It was Derek, he always called her at 8:00 PM on nights when he had to work late.  “Guess what?!” he asked happily. “What?!” cried Sally, trying to contain her excitement.  “Remember how you told me about that de-cluttering book you were reading and about how in order to manifest our dreams we had to first get our house in order?”  Sally was pleasantly surprised that Derek remembered her telling him about Dr. Goodwyn’s book.  She always figured that he kind of tuned her out when she started talking about her newest self-help book.  “Yes, it’s such a great book, really empowering,” Sally said.  “I know, it’s amazing!  I read the whole thing in one sitting. Then I took the day off work today and re-organized my entire condo.  I gave away eleven bags of stuff to The Salvation Army.”  Sally felt a little irritated at the idea that Derek had co-opted her book and one-upped her by de-cluttering his entire place, Sally had only finished her bedroom.  “Wow. Congrats to you,” she said, “How do you feel?” she asked.  “I feel SO good!  Organizing and purging was somehow like the jolt that I needed to move forward with my life.  I see things more clearly now.”  Sally held her breath, this was the moment she had been waiting for.  Although a marriage proposal over the phone was not ideal, the important things was that it was happening.  She took a sip of wine as Derek continued.  “I’ve realized that my dream is to open a cat sanctuary.  I’m taking a six week intensive training course on Animal Rescue, it starts next week in Denver.  My neighbor, Mrs. Jubas, is going to take care of my feral cats while I’m away.”  Sally exhaled.  You have got to be kidding me, she thought.  “Sally, I have you to thank for this incredible turn of events in my life.  If you hadn’t told me about Dr. Goodwyn’s book, I never would have de-cluttered and manifested my dream.  I hope that you manifest all your dreams too.  Sally, are you still there?” Not only was her Rustic-Chic wedding not happening, but Derek was a better Manifestor than her.  Sally turned off her phone and walked over to her visualization board.  She tore off all the wedding pictures, but left up the sections entitled “Dream Home,” “Health & Beauty,” and “Career.”  She also kept her Corgi pictures up.  Tomorrow she would call the Corgi Breeder.  Fuck Derek and his stupid cats anyways.

 

February

The air smelled clean, like Ivory soap. But then you felt the wind, a cold hard slap on your soft skin. Like a strike in the face from your lover that you didn’t see coming.

Dirty snow crunching. Discarded cans, bottles and garbage seemingly everywhere. Who still litters? It’s 2016, not the 1970’s. The snow is angry. It should be pristine and wedding-dress white. Instead it is brown and mucky, like an old forgotten river.

Crunch. A mitten propped up doll-like on a tree branch. One boot, laces un-done, lying in a bush like a body about to be discovered by the special victim’s unit. A hoodie left lonely and abandoned on a bench. Maybe this was an urban art exhibit by one of those media savvy types, soon to be featured in The New York Times.

The snow actually does make a crunching sound, it’s true. Crunch. Crunch. “Is your dog a lover or a fighter?” asks the man. His eyes are both watery and wild, his energy a mixture of deep sadness and frantic rage. “He’s a Lover” you say, trying to act casual, even though you want to take your elderly one eyed dog and run away across the street. “Good boy, good boy,” the man says as he lovingly strokes your dog. His watery eyes no longer wild, but soft, like pillows. He walks off and you and your elderly one eyed dog watch him go, both suddenly missing him. Why didn’t he stay longer?

Mister Lover stealthily slithers up to a large pizza crust and starts eating. You consider wrestling with him to try and retrieve the dirty pizza, but change your mind. He is old. Let him enjoy his garbage picking, it makes him feel like the King of the streets he once was.

Crunch, crunch. A couple walks by, two women holding hands. They look content. They look like they know that if one of them gets sick, the other will take care of her. A guy wearing grey skinny jeans and a low ponytail ambles along. He is carrying a granny style purse with giant knitting needles sticking out of it.

We finally arrive home. “Slowly baby, slowly” I say to Mister Lover. The front porch steps are slippery and his once powerful legs are now just little twigs. We make it up to the door and he lets out a soulful howl. A “damn that was a good walk girl!” kind of howl. February is really not so bad.

 

 

Manhattan

“Manhattan is over.  No one wants to live there anymore.  It’s all about Brooklyn now,” Stan declared.  What a pretentious prick, thought Mark.  He put his earbuds in, trying to zone out with music while kicking salt off his boots.  Damn weather, he mumbled to himself.  He thought about his day and the Epic Fail it had been. His boss had reamed him in front of the whole team.  Then at lunch his usual sandwich guy had been out of pastrami, so he’d had to get a chicken wrap.  A freakin chicken wrap.  He hated wraps.  Only pussies ate wraps.

“Brooklyn is where all the artists live, the techies, the movers and shakers. Manhattan is just the old guard now.  It’s over,” Stan droned on.  Shut. The. Fuck. Up.  Mark thought.  What had he ever done in his life to deserve sitting next to Stan Kolonsky every night on the subway?  God had a twisted sense of humor.  He closed his eyes and thought about his mom’s meatloaf that he’d be eating soon.  She served it with a spicy red sauce.  It was a Saracino secret family recipe.  He loved his mom.  His mom rocked.  He saw Stan’s mouth moving but he couldn’t hear him.  The Guess Who flooded his eardrums. Searching his left pocket he found a PAM and popped it in his mouth like a tic-tac.  He thought about texting Sally to see if she wanted to hook up this weekend.  She was kind of dim, but she was hot.  His mom was on his case about asking out Carla Rota, the young widow down the street.  Carla was good-looking, but there was no way he was dating a widow.  With a widow you’re never their #1 man.  Their #1 man is always their dead husband.  Of that Mark was sure.  He started to PAM-out and it felt good.  He felt the sharp edges starting to melt away like he was a piece of plywood that had just been sanded down.  He smiled at Stan.  Three more stops and he’d be home.

Beauty Prep

It was six thirty AM, time for Sharon to start getting ready.  She liked to look good for her surgical oncologist’s morning visits.  She asked her nurse for a bowl of water and washcloth.  Later in the day she would get a proper bath, well, as proper as you could get while lying in bed.  But for now she just wanted to wash away last night’s grime.  She washed her face, neck and armpits.  She followed up with a moisturizing wipe, the kind used to take makeup off, it left her face with an attractive glow she thought.  Then she brushed her teeth, using a styrofoam cup as her sink.  As soon as she finished, a strong wave of nausea overcame her. Fuckety fuck fuck she muttered.  She rode the wave for a few minutes – “nausea surfing” she called it – then thankfully it passed.

She propped up her travel mirror on the table next to her hospital bed.  Looking in the mirror her first instinct was always to burst into tears.  Her face was pale and scarily thin, she looked like a refugee from some godforsaken country.  She had lost twenty-five pounds and her hair was falling out, shedding like a dog all over her pillow.  But her daily beauty ritual of “putting on her face” as her grandmother used to say, (may she rest in peace), was essential to Sharon’s emotional survival. It gave her a sense of normalcy and the tiniest feeling of still having some control over her life and body.  She applied blush to the deflated apples of her cheeks, plucked a few stray hairs, then added a tinted lip balm. Obviously she didn’t do a full red carpet look, if for no other reason than she didn’t have the energy.  She finished primping by putting on scentless hand lotion and wrapping her bright pink Pashmina over her bony chest.

Feeling completely exhausted from the effort she lay back down, but then noticed that her overnight drainage bag was full of urine.  Worried that it might overflow, she buzzed her nurse.  A different nurse appeared this time.  “You’re going to have to start urinating on your own, you’ve had this catheter in for too long, ” the nurse said with a bossy edge to her voice.  “My bladder nerves were damaged during surgery, they’re taking awhile to bounce back.” Sharon said, trying not to reveal any emotion.  The nurse gave her a chastising look, her expression suggesting that it was somehow Sharon’s fault that she wasn’t able to urinate.  Dear God, where was her sweet nurse?

Ten minutes later her surgeon and his team of oncology residents were staring down at her.  They always seemed very tall to her.  It felt like being surrounded by tall, large headed aliens who were staring down at their human specimen restrained on a metal table.  A very handsome resident, Dr. Josh Doukas, pulled her gown aside and inspected her ten inch long abdominal scar.  “Looking good, looking good,” he said.  She felt humiliated.  Her sad little tummy, all mangled and grotesque.  Why did Josh have to be so good-looking?  “Now let’s take a look at your stoma, how has your output been?”  If there is one thing a girl does not want to be asked by a handsome medical resident, it’s “how is the fecal waste matter that is flowing out of the red intestinal stump on your stomach?” Sharon wanted to disappear.  Instead she smiled and patted the hideous bag affixed to her belly, the one that was collecting her waste.  “It’s working well, though I’m still only eating soft foods.”  The surgeon and his team continued to ask her questions and discuss her case amongst themselves.  Sharon was a bit of a Cancer Celebrity, in that she had a very rare type of terminal cancer.  The doctors, though they made a decent effort to hide it, were actually quite excited to have her as a patient – she was a fascinating case.

After lunch the physiotherapist and her assistant came by to help bring Sharon on a walk.  They were both plain looking, lovely young women.  Makeup free, hair pulled back in ponytails.  The types who wore Patagonia jackets and comfortable European made shoes.  Along with Sharon’s bladder, there had also been damage done to the nerves in her left leg.  Apparently it had something to do with being splayed out on the operating table for twelve hours.  So much to Sharon’s surprise, when she had awoken from surgery she’d found that she couldn’t walk, one leg was fucked up.  The three of them walked slowly, Sharon’s urine bag attached to the walker, her giant splinted leg awkwardly inching forward and brutal pain shooting out from her incision area.  She had once read about doctors who performed “vaginal tightening surgery” and for a moment Sharon wondered if her surgeon had tightened her tummy while stitching her up. The pain was enough to bring on another wave of nausea.  She bent her head into the little plastic barf bowl that the assistant always brought on their walks and threw up a little clear liquid.

Sharon succeeded in making it across her room and halfway down the long corridor.  This was considered a victory and for her prize she was offered a pain killer drip and some frozen yogurt.  Sharon passed on the yogurt, but was excited about the painkiller drip.  Maybe this is what it felt like to be a heroin addict – you looked forward to it, it was the highlight of your day.  What if she became a drug addict?  Then again she thought, who cares?  I’m already dying, so why the hell not?  She laughed to herself as the drug hit her body. She felt warm and cozy and happy.  The sweet nurse – Louise was her name – stopped in and put a couple of pillows under Sharon’s legs so that they were angled upwards.  “Sleep well Darlin,” she whispered to her.

 

Balls

“Do you have an extra ball at home?” he asked, his voice tinged with harshness.  “Excuse me?” I answered, confused and annoyed.  I’d been enjoying my daily shot of bliss – hanging out at the dog park – and I didn’t want to chat with a random peacoat wearing hipster boy with facial hair and faux broken-in chinos.  I looked at him sideways, hoping that if I just ignored him he would disappear.  But he crept towards me, one fake workboot at a time.  “Your dog stole my dog’s ball.  I recognize his sweater.”  I stared at him and was about to start laughing when I realized he was dead serious.  His eyes were full of well-seasoned anger, anger that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with balls.

A swoosh of fur went flying by, as a bossy Corgi herded a crew of six dogs, including mine. Surely I possessed enough feminine charms to get Random Hipster Boy to calm the fuck down.  I smiled, flashing what I hoped was a Julia Roberts style warm grin.  “That’s too bad about your dog’s ball, but Leroy didn’t take it, he’s not into balls and never has been.”  I kept my tone light and airy, imagining pink spun sugar swirling out of my mouth.  The spun sugar seemed to work against me, as Random Hipster Boy seethed with a newly enhanced level of anger.  “I saw YOUR dog, in that red sweater, leave the dog park with my dog’s ball in his mouth.”  My smile froze, pink spun sugar stuck to my lips. He was probably the type who would toss poisoned chunks of hot dog into his neighbor’s backyard, killing their pooch in retaliation for a perceived act of aggression, like their Maple Tree’s leaves falling on his deck.  “Well, I’m not sure who stole your dog’s ball and again, I’m very sorry for your loss, but I assure you it wasn’t Leroy.  But, you know, I have a 20% off coupon for PetLand and I’d be happy to buy a few new balls for the park.”  As if on cue his dog ran up to him.  Sweet Jesus it was ugly.  It looked like a caramel dipped ferret.  “Good boy Hashtag, good boy,” he said.  “His name is Hashtag?!!” I cried.  I couldn’t help myself, the words just flew past my lips, I tried grabbing them out of the air but it was too late.  Random Hipster Boy eyeballed me hard, while Hashtag barfed up some kind of pebble-grass mix.  “Next time you come to the park bring Hashtag’s ball with you!”  He was fuming like a cartoon character from a 1940’s comic book drawn with its head exploding.  He turned to leave.  A ragtag pack of two Beagles, a Pitbull, three Chihuahuas and Leroy flew by, the same bossy Corgi herding them from behind.  Sand and dirt filled the air and the Beagles howled.