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good morning.

She sees herself walking, talking, observing. She thinks about purpose as she inches, then bounds across the seemingly stable tightrope of her mind. It’s an ordinary day doused in both monotony and fear. Promise is somewhere.

“Good morning,” she says.

“Good morning,” he says.

Her eyes smile and her ears frown. This stranger means nothing and everything.

“I’ll have a small latte with skim milk,” she says. She pays in cash, saves her quarters for laundry, and discards a dollar bill into the tip jar. He says thank you.

She hides the espresso milk leaf underneath a biodegradable lid, thinking about how someone else would turn this routine into a picture, make it seem like a trendy fall moment. She keeps it to herself and denies the jealousy tingling in her stomach.

“Have a great day,” she says.

“Have a good one,” he says. “See you tomorrow.”

Anonymity and kindness compete. She can’t control her thoughts but steers her own reality. “See you then,” she says. And she never goes back.

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so it seems.

Today I had lunch with someone who told me I looked tan, which was a nice optical illusion. On my way home this afternoon, I passed hundreds of people drinking beer and being loud; baseball season has started, and I wonder if these sports fans took the day off work to celebrate, or if they don’t work, or if they all have alternative schedules. I wondered if anyone questioned me walking around in my red raincoat when I should have been at work. I don’t think anyone actually looked at me.

The man next to me on the train rolled his own cigarette right before my stop. He said, “See, this is how it’s done,” to the guy across the aisle, “it doesn’t have to be perfect.” Perfection is almost always on my mind these days, and I wanted to ask more questions. I guess I should say I wanted to ask questions because the only questions I actually asked were in my own head. His friend seemed disinterested and not too thankful for the imperfect homemade smoke. If it had been perfect, maybe he would have said something else.

These smokers were talking about going to the zoo, but first they had to visit Mike. The cigarette recipient had to talk to Mike, make some apologies. Mike isn’t expecting them. I said, “excuse me,” and walked off the train.

Right now, there are people taking screaming group photos outside of my apartment. None of them live here, but maybe one time they did. They are all on vacation, reliving their glory days. I feel closer to Mike right now than I thought I would. I rarely hate hearing other people having fun, even if I’m trying to sleep before something important. I’ve always liked that about myself. Right now, though, I feel their screams scratching through my body, and I don’t even want to look at their smiling faces. They make me sad because later they’ll put these photos on the Internet and someone who wasn’t invited will look at them and be sad, too.

The photo session is over, and the silence feels like I left the house not knowing if I’d turned off the oven or not.

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twelve times two is twenty-four.

Mary was twelve. For as  long as she could remember, she wanted to be twelve. It seemed like the perfect age:  Harriet the Spy,  Amy March, and that motherly Boxcar Child all seemed to be magical during that year. Mary felt powerful and magical.

Three weeks into the sixth grade, Mary’s world was rocked. She’d been twelve for two-and-a-half months. Waffles died. Waffles was the family dog that her parents bought to test out whether or not they wanted children before she was born. They wanted children. He was named after a dog in a movie, which is why she named her stuffed rabbit Velvet, after the Velveteen Rabbit. It was the only rabbit she knew, though she hoped she’d be healthier than the owner in that book. She knew a lot about references and how things like that worked. After Waffles died, she held onto Velvet so tightly it was embarrassing, but now that she knew tragedy, she could relate any story of hers to any story belonging to someone else. It would make her a good friend.

When asked by grownups, her favorite subject in school was math. She was excited about Algebra and the number of checks she could put on her page before turning it in. Check, check, check; I’m twelve, she thought.

Five months into being twelve, she broke her first bone. Her wrist snapped in two while she was doing something embarrassing, so she made up a different story. She’d never lied before and wondered if somehow the reflection of her face in people’s eyes told the story differently: “I didn’t fall off the trampoline doing a double back flip; I fell off my desk while playing a solo make believe game I invented for myself when I was sent to my room.” She couldn’t sing, but she felt like someone else could probably write a song about her life. It was meaningful.

Seven months into being twelve, Mary cried for what felt like an entire night. She couldn’t stop crying, and it wasn’t even about her. See, she wasn’t selfish. There was a new girl at school, and she was ugly. She had actually been there for a few months, but she still acted new, which is what was so sad to Mary. Nobody would sit with her, and she got her period all over her pants. Mary wouldn’t have the opportunity for that to happen to her for three more years, but she felt so deeply for this girl that her head hurt for the next three days. Why won’t people be nice to her? is what she wailed to her mother. The next day at lunch, Mary sat in the same chair at the same table she’d sat in for the entire year. She walked from class to class with the same girls. She waved at the new girl and almost thought about extending some sort of invitation her way. She laughed instead, and her friends never knew about the crying.

Twelve times two is twenty-four, Mary said twelve years later. She hated her first-rung-on-a-ladder-to-who-knows-where job and still had to babysit on nights and weekends to afford the life to which her friends were accustomed. She didn’t have time to dry her hair, and she never learned how to paint her own nails. Her friends had always been the same, and she was lucky. She stared at the child getting into her car and back at the one in the car seat. Off we go, she thought to them. “Homeward bound,” she said out loud.

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it hurts, she smiles.

Somewhere, a lady dressed in bright colors with a monotone voice is lying on the floor of her living room. She’s been vacuuming the same corner for twenty minutes, trying to feel both pathetic and productive. The corner is obstructed by nothing and is next to a chair covered in cat hair; she’s always been good at completing her goals.

Seventeen years ago, she celebrated her forty-fifth birthday and weighed thirty-eight pounds less than she does now, but her clothes were just as bright and billowy. She never learned to ride a bike or swim, has never played catch. She spent her childhood on a piano bench, singing what she called wedding songs to crayon-drawn pictures of hypothetical pet cats.

Her husband sits in the kitchen of their one bedroom house. There’s nothing on the table in front of him, not even his hands. When they were forty, his body traumatized itself while scuba diving. She sat in a boat with a life preserver fastened tightly to her body; he must have been surrounded by color when it happened, but all she really knows is that the doctors told her he would never hear again. Oh, the irony of being a deaf man married to an elementary music teacher. Oh, the sadness. Blah, blah, and all that, she says to anyone listening. He stares at the hummingbird outside the kitchen window, whispers he can hear its wings.

Her bones are strong, but she sings about her aching body. She makes a mental note to share this moment with someone, anyone who will listen. It will make for a good anecdote, she thinks. She hates to answer obligatory questions with standard and expected answers. She hurts less when others are uncomfortable, but her soft body and calm eyes suggest otherwise.

Tomorrow, she’ll sit at the kitchen table and write a paragraph about each of her seventy-two elementary school students. Tonight, she’ll use her eyes to ask her husband to bring the box down from the attic. It used to expand twice a year, but now it stays the same. She doesn’t believe in filing information on the computer. Yes, she knows how, but life is more romantic with yellowed papers and typewriters, and is life not more exciting and meaningful when it’s romantic? She’ll connect a student from this morning to a student from thirty years ago and find the old comment in the box. The art teacher talks to her students about recycling, and somewhere around that age they learn about synonyms and analogies.

She pulls the cord out of the wall with the vacuum still running and will pretend tomorrow that she slept on the floor tonight. It’s three in the afternoon. Seven days ago, she really did spend the entire night on the floor. It was an uncomfortable choice that made for an uncomfortable story. When she told the pimple-faced boy bagging her groceries that she had hurt so much the night before she had to sleep on the floor after vacuuming, she was sure he handled her processed cheese differently. She smiled.

The cat jumps onto the kitchen table, paws over to her husband’s lap, gives a sandpapery lick to his left hand. He purrs to the rhythm of the hummingbird’s wings, the old man thinks.

“Goodnight,” she sings, “Goodnight!”

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no rhythm, no time.

There is this irregular tapping noise in my apartment. I’ve been sitting on my couch, reading cookbooks and wondering why a ukulele is sitting next to a harmonica on the ottoman. I’ve been telling myself I’ll get up soon, replace the stack of old Sunday New York Times sections with this week’s, and then clean the bathroom. But, I just keep sitting here, listening to – and against my will, waiting for – the tapping noise.

It’s raining outside, which is totally fine. If I look at the weather before I leave my house, I never comprehend it, so I was surprised earlier when I tried to go for a walk and it started raining. I called my mom and sat under the overhang at the grocery store. I bought cereal, milk and bananas. Milk is expensive, and I’m upset I could only eat one bowl of cereal and banana. I wanted to eat at least half the box. Had it been warmer, I might have skipped the grocery and had some sort of enlightening tour of my neighborhood while getting rained on and not even caring about the fate of my phone (I have rice at home). That didn’t happen.

The tapping could be rain-related, and I feel vibrations from its echo underneath my skin. Even without drama, I have options: I could leave the room and forget about it; I could put my headphones in and not hear it; but, I just keep listening. I’m not entirely sure I want it to go away and am positive the girl with the green jacket in the coffee shop yesterday wouldn’t be bothered by it at all if she was also sitting on my couch. I wasn’t judging her; I just know. (She’s dramatic, too.)

Her father didn’t work in the town where she grew up. Had he, he would have been a factory worker and she wouldn’t have gotten out of there. (She could have been in retail, but that was absolutely not an option. She was made for her job, this city, her fiancé.) She laughs now about her overall wearing high school boyfriend who drove himself to eleventh grade in a tractor. She’s twenty-nine now and remembers that he didn’t live on a farm. He lived in a trailer, and she joked about his ride being “green”. (She’s buying her fiancé an indoor composter for Valentine’s Day.) She’s friends with every single person from high school on Facebook, so she should figure out where he is now, but it would be breaking the rules if she invited him to the wedding. “I can’t believe you’re thirty-two,” she said to the man to her right. I stared at the sad woman reading the paper on a floral print chair, hating myself for wasting so many words talking about things like age and time. (Waste-not, want-not, or something like that.)

The ukulele is sitting on top of a notebook, and I wonder if one of my roommates decided to start writing songs. There’s a vase of flowers on our table: the flowers at the bottom are dead, but the branches creeping through the death have green buds on them. She has a lot to write about, I think. I’m not sure which one she is, but I can’t wait to hear her sing.

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here the whole time.

My office is under construction. The windowless beige room in which I’ve spent the last year of my life, doing downward dog at 11am and mostly seeing and speaking to nobody in person, is being demolished. I’m sharing a room with a coworker while my new office is being constructed, and this morning, I realized I’m living my childhood dream.

As someone who spends a considerable amount of time analyzing her life choices, this realization caught me completely off guard. I think this message from my past self was probably a product of watching Looper last night, though I can’t be sure. I can be sure of something I’ve said before, though: I believe in Fate with a capital F.  

During a moment I had to myself between taking part in an extremely important conference call and teaching my boss how to copy a slide from one PowerPoint document and paste it into a new one, I stretched my legs, tried to understand the unexplained and unforgiving dull ache in my chest, thought about smoothies and stared at my new space. “The ability to multitask” is on every job description; also, in case you were wondering, my temporary cube looks like it was accidentally inspired by a dog-eared Pottery Barn Teen catalog from 2000. Photograph my workspace, send it back in time, and make my middle-school-self want to jump straight into her idea of the real-world in the fashion of a romantic comedy (or A Kid in King Arthur’s Court).

I interrupted my own moment and remembered the part of my life plan that came after college and before “live on a farm with six children and pigs”: Live in Chicago, be a “businesswoman”, save money so you can live on a farm with pigs and six children and not have to worry if your career writing and illustrating beautiful and meaningful children’s books isn’t internationally recognized until after you’re dead.

Oh my goodness, I think I’m living according to the plan.

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a “businesswoman who makes a lot of money”, but if a seven-year-old said, “Are you a businesswoman?” I would most definitely reply with a confident, “That is exactly what I am.” I work for a major corporation in a “stepping stone” position that seems to fit the same purpose my childhood-self prescribed. (I was seven when I made the plan.) The dull ache started to burn, and I haven’t stopped thinking about the opening line to the speech I gave to the entire school in October of my senior year. The word “labyrinthine” was in it, and it was about unexpected turns leading to self-discovery.

Two days ago, I watched a stranger with eye makeup too perfect for 7:53am listen to Taylor Swift so loudly that I felt like this girl was cheer captain, and I was on the bleachers. Three years ago, I was chaperone to three ninth grade girls at a Taylor Swift concert because I was cooler than anyone’s mom. Tonight, I’m getting my hair cut for free, and yesterday, I watched a girl cry while pretending she was laughing. She had a stud in her nose and a book in her hand. Her headphones were in, but she wasn’t listening to anything, just scratching her knee and believing she was believable.

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