A Minor Incident
by Marisa Crane
There is a monitor around my right ankle. I’m a woman who hasn’t spoken to another human being in months. I can’t go further than 25 yards from my house, which is okay with me. I have my rocks.
The rock I’m holding is smooth and cool against my palm. I want to throw it through my nudist neighbor’s window. She knows that I can see directly into her bedroom from my stoop. She stands at the edge of her bed, tits small and static like a little boy’s, with her hands on her hips and eyes scanning her mad scientist room. Her hair is pulled back tightly which is not good for her scalp; it’s healthier to let the roots breathe. I wish I could tell her this but my vocal cords no longer stretch and vibrate. They may as well be pieces of beef jerky. I could slather them in Worcestershire sauce and honey, bake them until they’re leathery. If I could rip out my beef jerky vocal cords I’d strap the strips to a rock, and toss them through the nudist’s window. I know she would be able to decode what I want to say to her. I feel like I know more about her than anyone else in the world.
There are books and green vitamin bottles scattered all over her rumpled, gray comforter. After a few moments of deliberation, she pours various vitamins into her hand and tosses them into her mouth. Instead of tipping her head back to swallow them, she chews them, then takes a large gulp of Red Bull. Her face looks like someone has stuck a screwdriver in her cheeks and turned it a few times. She’s been playing the same song on repeat for an hour. One particular line bounces around in my brain: “I might not want you back, but I want to kill him.”
A plane flies overhead. It’s so close I am certain that if I stretched my tongue I could lick its belly. Planes pass often enough that people in the neighborhood have begun referring to the deafening sound as the “Pan Shore Pause.” I make a tally mark on the sidewalk with a purple piece of chalk, then pick up the Mermaid Blue paint can, shake it, and spray the rock in my hand. It is good to paint the rocks, to provide them with a mask. It’s a ritual. It’s love. It’s better than sex.
The other rocks are laid out on my lawn drying under the scorching sun. I’ve arranged them into the shape of a baby gator. The nudist’s beautiful white and gray cat with its Marilyn Monroe mole slinks toward the drying rocks, undoubtedly wondering if I have any olives for him. I shoo him away. Not now, Marilyn. I am always feeding my nudist neighbor’s cat. I know she knows this, and yet she never leans her naked torso out of the kitchen window to thank me. Our relationship is like the Pan Shore Pause: it exists only under the conditions that we choose to acknowledge it.
The same probably could have been said for my marriage.
Saleem wore knee-high stockings everywhere he went for the last ten years of his life because of some stupid DNA test that said he had an increased risk of thrombosis, also known as throwing a clot. Additionally, the test reported that he had an increased risk of psoriasis and restless legs syndrome, among other things. Our morning ritual involved him stripping off his pajamas for me to perform a full-body scan in search of the vaguest indication of skin irritation. I’d straddle him while he lay on his stomach watching the morning news. My hands running down his back, my mind preoccupied by how good my first cigarette would taste and how bad my last one would.
His legs started jiggling shortly after reading the stupid DNA test results. I’d been watching a rerun of Friends with a jar of olives in my lap. That’s how I’d learned that cats go wild for olives. I’d opened the jar and our cat Sunny came sprinting into the living room. He’d roll around on the ground in front of me, only stopping when I popped an olive in his little pink mouth.
Saleem had entered the living room from the kitchen with powdered sugar from a doughnut on his dark lips. He’d knelt on the puke-green carpet, dangling one of my dolphin earrings over Sunny’s head. Saleem’s favorite pastime was pestering the cat, and maybe Sunny liked it too, because she didn’t stick around after it was just me in the house. Even when his paranoia reached intolerable heights, Saleem would continue to risk cat scratches and bites for the sake of entertainment. After all, the DNA test didn’t say anything about an increased susceptibility to death by feline.
I hated watching him bother Sunny, but my anger rose when he sunk into the seat of our decrepit armchair. It was enough to drive me mad, watching his right leg bounce up and down, the heel of his boot alternately touching the floor then lifting then landing again.
“We need to start making some lifestyle changes based on my test results. After all, we are a team,” Saleem proclaimed.
“We,” I repeated.
“We’ve got to quit smoking.”
“We,” I repeated again.
“We’ve also got to decrease fat and cholesterol in our diets.”
“You were just eating a doughnut.”
“Yes. We need to start right now,” Saleem said. He smiled weakly as if he were a child caught eating the marshmallows out of the Lucky Charms box well past bedtime.
Saleem wound up dying from choking on a large bite of steamed organic golden beet he’d pulled from our garden that morning. The second anniversary of his death is coming up, and yet it feels as if I’ve lived several lifetimes since I shared a bed with him. The details of him aren’t so much fading as they are disappearing in huge chunks. I forget his scent, the exact color of his eyes, the feel of his hand in mine. But with unflinching clarity I can hear the swishing sound his pants made rubbing against each other as his nervous legs twitched, his restless heels descending and ascending.
He would scold me for the situation I’ve gotten myself into.
Shortly after my sentencing I’d received a postcard from my brother. The image on the postcard was a black and white photo of two men in wife beater tank tops lifting a sign that read “DAMAGED” onto the back of a truck. His handwriting had been loose and haphazard, as opposed to its typically compact and tidy style, but I could make out something about how we should go on a trip, maybe explore New York City together one day. I considered the possibility that he’d accidentally sent the postcard to the wrong person. When I realized the postcard had, in fact, been intended for me, I’d wanted to shed my skin like a snake and discard the old me somewhere no one would find it.
You’re a lot stronger than I thought, Bev. And more fucked up. You’re lucky you didn’t kill that woman, his postcard read. He’d signed it with his name, followed by “your brother” enclosed in parentheses, a valediction I found creepy and off-putting.
Nearly kill the woman? How was I to know the damage a nail file could do, how it would pierce someone’s skin like a steak knife through plastic wrap?
The day of the incident the air smelled like sunscreen and cough syrup. Parents wheeled strollers, pushing fetus-sized bags of popcorn strapped to the seats of strollers while their kids shrieked above on roller coasters. I was tasked with watching the red plastic rental stroller so that no one would steal it while my brother bought my niece an ice cream cone. The theme park was a battlefield. I had no other choice but to defend our territory. I stood beside the stroller and growled—a customary warning—any time someone walked too close to it. Not everyone understands warnings.
I didn’t know what to do with the damn postcard from my brother, so I cut it up and made it into a puzzle which I complete whenever I don’t have any rocks to paint, which is almost never.
I crouch next to the gator rock formation, my arthritic knees crackling, and adjust my rocks to fit the one with its new Mermaid Blue face. I check my watch. 10:37 a.m. It’s not too early.
I grab two longtime favorites, Gandalf and Pirate, and bang them together to the tune of a Dylan song I can't remember the name of. I bang the rocks together a few more times until it feels right, then set them down. A plane flies overhead, and I draw another tally mark on the sidewalk. I wonder where all of the passengers are going, what they’re running from or toward. Where they keep their secrets. With whom they’re in love. How they get through each day and night and whether it matters if they do.
I try to scratch my ankle beneath my cuff, but the itchy spot is difficult to reach. The damn thing is so irritating to clean around. It’s like flossing. I haven’t bothered to floss since my days of sneaking off to the dive bar up the street. At Lacy’s Bar I’d drink beer and eat free buttered popcorn, and after Lacy’s I’d floss to avoid being caught by Saleem’s unhealthy food detection system. There were only so many lectures I could endure before wanting to knock myself out with one of the rocks I was collecting for when I had time to xeriscape our front lawn.
I hear the men who live on my street before I see them pass by on the sidewalk, each carrying a bag from the liquor store.
Okay, be normal, Bev. Say something. Speak up, for fuck’s sake. How about... hi? Yes, say hi to them as they pass by. Smile too, if you can.
I don’t even have to tune in to their conversation to know what they’re discussing; they talk almost exclusively about the dentist’s office. They talk about it like it’s a resort, as if they get bottle service when they go. I could ask the men what flavor of fluoride they prefer or if laughing gas really makes them laugh. A plane flies overhead. I could tell them that it’s the eighth one I’ve heard today. I could point to the tally marks next to my feet. I go barefoot now, and my feet are disgusting. I desperately need someone to talk shit about my hygiene in a language I don’t understand while trimming and painting my toenails, but there aren’t any nail salons within 25 yards. I open my mouth a few times like a fish swallowing water, but nothing comes out. The men have passed by anyway. I’ve missed my chance. I return my attention to the nudist. If nothing else, I’ll always have the nudist.
Full of vitamins and Red Bull, she goes into her kitchen and pops a bottle of champagne over the sink. Someone in her house yells.
“Mimosas,” she says without emotion. “Hey, where do you think the neighbor puts all the rocks? Like, what does she do with them?”
“I have no idea, dude,” says a young woman I can’t see.
They think I can't hear them talk about me, but there is only a screen and about seven feet between us. It’s none of their business where I put my rocks. The smell of Serrano peppers wafts from their kitchen and tickles my nose. I sneeze sixteen times in a row. The unseen woman in the house says “bless you” for the first three sneezes, then gives up.
“Like, there’s no rock garden, and yet she’s always painting new rocks. I want to know where they go,” the nudist says, bouncing on her toes a bit. I can see her from the waist up. This is the first time I’ve noticed that her areolas are far too big for her petite boobs.
“Why don’t you go and ask her?” the other woman asks.
The nudist sips her mimosa out of a water-spotted glass in front of the window. She lives in the house with several other girls, none of whom seem to mind her naked body and none of whom I can tell apart. They’re like Russian nesting dolls who spend most of their time talking about how to properly clean their vaginas.
The smoke detector goes off in the nudist’s house and she pulls a baking dish out of the oven, her only article of clothing being oven mitts. With those oven mitts she is officially disqualified from The Nudist Olympics. I imagine her slouching back to the locker room, head dangling in dejection, cursing under her breath about her amateur mistake. In reality, she runs to the front door and opens it, then picks up a broom and fans the smoke detector in the kitchen ceiling. When the smoke detector has stopped complaining, she exhales sharply and moves to return the glass baking dish to the oven sans mitts. I want to warn her but my dehydrated vocal cords fail me again.
The nudist wraps her fingers around the side handles of the dish and for a few moments she doesn’t notice the heat. When her neurons do fire off like the 4th of July, she doesn’t drop the pan, as I expected. Instead she straightens her legs from a half-crouched position and returns the dish to the stovetop, moving at funeral pace. The nudist opens her mouth, but no sound comes out. Her silence is more terrifying than the howling I’d anticipated. She runs her fingers under a stream of water from the faucet, but it’s too late. Her fingerprints have been seared off. She can now go commit a crime. Maybe have a minor incident of her own. We can have matching ankle monitors and maybe even matching rocks. I’ll let her in on where all of my rocks go, how they disappear when I no longer need them.
The nudist looks up from the sink and looks directly at me, but I can tell she doesn’t see me, just as the stroller thief didn’t, until I dug the nail file into her arm. I don’t feel compelled to stab the nudist. The nudist is now bawling. Her face screws up worse than when she’s chewing those horse pills of hers. It looks as if it’s her first time crying, the saltwater stores endless. This is the most naked I’ve ever seen her, a part of her I didn’t know I didn’t know about until this moment. I feel so guilty for not seeing how much pain the nudist is capable of feeling. I consider smashing my foot with a rock in solidarity, but my rocks are pacifists.
Marilyn approaches me, rubs against my leg, and purrs, closing his eyes in delight. I want to shake him. I want to tell him that his mother is suffering an agony far more penetrating than her second degree burns. When I look back up, the nudist is no longer in the kitchen. For a few seconds it sounds like she’s calmed down, and then she yells “FUCK” so loudly I can feel the vibrations bouncing through the earth beneath my feet. The air transforms from standstill humidity into a cyclone.
One by one, my rocks begin to shudder, rattling against one another, shifting out of their gator formation, and then rising into the air in synchrony. I nearly choke on my own spit as I jump to my feet, the quickest movement I’ve made in months, and attempt to grab Gandalf, Pirate, and the new Mermaid Blue one I haven’t named yet, but I am too out of shape. I should have listened to Saleem and quit smoking when he urged me to. The rocks rise until they are about ten feet above me, rotating like little planets. I dig into my pocket for my phone and dial 9-1-1, my hands trembling. Hurry up, hurry up.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” a friendly female voice asks.
“My rocks are flying,” I croak.
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
I clear my throat then try again.
“My rocks, my beautiful babies. They’re floating in the air.”
“I’m sorry, ma'am. Did you say a baby was floating in the air?”
I hang up the phone. My rocks dance across the yard like marionettes controlled by a master puppeteer, gliding into the street in a V formation, it’s as if they’ve finally had enough of me and decided to migrate. My feet pull me toward the gyrating rocks and I don’t resist. Step by step, I follow them, even when my ankle monitor begins wailing, even when the cop car comes skidding around the corner and a bewildered, young police officer climbs out of the car. He tugs on his shirt collar with a calloused forefinger and clearing his throat before yelling, “Beverly Adams, I’m going to have to ask you to return to your home.” His voice travels slowly, obscured by forces neither of us can detect.
As if the conductor has finally dropped his hands following the performance of his lifetime, the rocks fall simultaneously and scatter all over the street. I run to the nearest one—painted crimson and gold—and bend over to pick it up but it vanishes as soon my hand closes around it. I dash to the next rock, the Mermaid Blue one, and it dissolves as soon as my hand closes around its smooth face. This continues until all of my rocks are gone. I can hear the nudist crying softly in the distance. I sit down in the middle of the street and join her, hoping that she hears me too.
Published April 1st, 2018
Marisa Crane is a San-Diego based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Dissonance Magazine, Apeiron Review, Better Than Starbucks, The Radvocate, Blue Bonnet Review, among others. She is the author of the poetry chapbook The Devil is a Skilled Ventriloquist (Promenade Press, 2017). You can follow her on Instagram at @marisa_crane.
Daniel Herr (born 1982 in Kentfield, CA) received his MFA from Boston University and has exhibited his work in various galleries including Safe Gallery, New York; Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, New York; Last Projects, Hollywood; Airplane, Bushwick; Inside/Out Art Museum, Beijing; and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago, Chile. He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.