Janice was growing tired of losing her friends and lovers to bigger and better things than herself. But by the time she recognized the pattern, she had grown accustomed to being the prelude to a happy life and the situation seemed irreversible. Shortly after making this connection while buying a single serving of cottage cheese and a tube of Chapstick at a convenient store, which was actually less convenient for her to get to but closer to where she might run into someone she knew, Janice was hit by an empty city bus. Being empty made it no less deadly, but gave the accident a more potent sense of tragedy—no one had gotten anywhere passing through Janice this final time. Many of her old friends and lovers remembered her fondly. She’d been a good friend, they agreed; none of them would have gotten where they were today without her.
She imagines the worst case scenario, and it’s pretty bad.
Sometimes it ends with her lover putting her parceled body in a thick black trash bag and leaving her to rot in a dumpster. Other times it’s being pulled over and shot by a cop for no reason, or a neighbor coming over to borrow a shovel and burying her under her own house. Almost always her dying words are, “Are you fucking kidding me?”
So far, everything has turned out better than that.
When she is done being relieved, she becomes nervous. Suspicious and distrustful. So when the neighbor offers to mow the lawn and the cop says “You didn’t signal your turn back there,” and the lover comes to visit, she’s waiting for the other shoe to drop, as they say.
The lover says, “I have a gift for you, let me get it,” and she prepares to die. Already resentful of his murdering her as he reaches into his overnight bag.
This creates a confused tension between them.
He gives her the book he’s carried across the country to share with her and she gives him a smile, but it’s strange and reluctant. He wonders if she hates the gift, if he should have brought something else, or nothing, and she wonders when he will wrap his long fingers around her pale neck and squeeze.
At the end of the weekend she says, “It’s not you,” and fears that this will make him snap, that she should have waited for his plane to depart, sent a letter, changed her phone number and address.
I had a waking dream in which my ex-boyfriend was that stretch-arm-man toy popular among children in the ’90s. Which is to say myself. But my ex-boyfriend looks nothing like that toy. He is tall and has thick, dark, curly hair and a million freckles. He has a disorientingly strong squint that suggests a nearsightedness many do not find as endearing as I do.
But no matter—this dream is an advertisement for my ex-boyfriend as a stretch-arm man doll, and in the dream I’m lying on my back in the grass and he’s suspended above me in a magical trick of television until it is revealed by the dozens of tiny fists gripping his limbs that he is being held there by a swarm of children. The camera pulls back until the viewer can see all the children and then the shitty suburb they live in and then the whole earth, with me lying on it, the ratios clearly skewed, because you can’t see the rest of humanity popping off the earth like a rash, but you can still see me, and my ex, hovering just above me, you can see that we’re not touching. You can see his arms stretched around the entire globe; he wants to hug the world he loves it so much. It seems he can’t wait to get close to that earth, and he could do it if I would just get out of the way.
© Tatiana Ryckman
[This piece was selected by Sommer Schafer]