Mental Contagion

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Rūs Mental Contagion
Notes from Open Land
by Wendy Lewis

This Time, This Year

I woke to a gentle rain falling in the darkness around my house. B went to the bathroom and returned, spooning into me. I lay in bed for a while watching dawn struggle to lighten the room. There was no anger or anticipation, just an impotent, grey arousal.

I got up, let the dogs out and walked through the dim dining room to the kitchen, grabbing a clean glass from the dish drainer. I shuffled to the refrigerator and reached for the carton, shaking it hard. I poured foamy orange juice to the top of the glass and stood there drinking in the light of the open door. It tasted cold and sweet. The rain pattered in the gutters. It's late December and it shouldn't be raining in the Midwest. I let the dogs back in and followed them down to the basement, methodically scooping brown nuggets into their bowls. They are always so excited for the next thing that happens, especially the thing they expect.

Ascending the stairs, I was amazed and disgusted by the amount of dog hair and sand that had collected there in a matter of days. I wished I could sweep the stairs one last time and be done sweeping them forever. The dogs scrambled up the dirty steps guilt free and piled into the kitchen, surrounding me, staring, wagging their tails, eyes bright and eager. It's raining, I said. They listened, cocked their heads and wagged their tails harder. I told them to go lie down.

Embers were still glowing in the grate from last night's fire. I lay some kindling there and squatted in front of the open screen, waiting. Smoke rose from the sticks and soon, flames. I pushed them around with the poker and added a small, split log, stuffing some newspaper under the grate. Outside, the rain intensified slightly. The dogs were already sleeping again. The log caught fire and began to crackle with dry intention.


I guided the embarrassingly over-sized cart past piles of navy, grey, hunter green and cranberry hooded sweatshirts, mountains of Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren Polo over-stock jeans, stacks of books, towering shelves of electronics and hurriedly past the life-sized, automated Santa stuck on HoHoHo like an autistic child. Fluorescent lighting further insulted the sallow skin and furrowed brows of exasperated shoppers who passed by me, appearing lost, confused and emptied of holiday cheer, assuming they had any to begin with. Sanctimonious Christmas music echoed in the high ceilings feigning inspiration.

Fortunately, I had one specific reason for being here—the procurement of the Christmas Eve Beast. Draping my entire being over the enormous meat case, I examined the six to eight pound slabs of beef tenderloin, marveling at the size of them. I gazed up through the large window behind which myriad butchers were busying about tables and refrigeration units dressed in white coats, aprons and paper hats, dodging enormous hunks of cow hanging from meat hooks suspended from a tall ceiling.

For obvious reasons, I wondered how it ever came about that butchers should wear white. I had been redressing all the meat handlers behind the glass in black Samurai outfits with long, shiny swords, slashing deftly through briskets and ribs as they danced about the slippery industrial flooring when the man standing next to me grew impatient, clearing his throat, reached across me.. Oh, sorry, I said, stepping aside. My Kill Bill 3: Meat Locker Fantasies movie ended abruptly.

I wandered between the remaining lengths of coolers after selecting my tenderloin, which lay inert at the bottom of my cart like a shrink-wrapped moray eel. Gallon tubs of salsa and hummos and faux crab dip gave way to giant packages of hormone infused chicken thighs, and trays of sushi as big as semi-trailer truck tires. America. Land of the Free and Home of the Depraved. But everything here is so inexpensive and there is organic food too and Costco is on my blue team, politically speaking, and why not get two gallons of Tropicana fresh squeezed orange juice for $9.97 instead of paying $3.99 per half gallon at the local grocery store? Even better, why pay $6.50 for 4 oz. of French chevre when you can get 11oz. for $5. True. True. True enough.

I lost an extra hour of my life swimming like an open-mouthed whale through the Big Box Sea, swallowing contact solution and tampons, Airborne and ibuprofen, XXL bags of M&Ms and laundry detergent and deciding against the gi-normous flat of paper towels I would have nowhere to store in my house, until I finally made my way to the check out lanes, where more confusion ensued. Cart to the right, me to the left, Costco card to the cashier, debit card through the machine and no boxes in which to pack my purchases. Then, the old guy at the door had to peruse my larder against my receipt to be sure I'd not stolen anything. I stood staring at him because I knew him and felt myself being sucked backwards through space and time, poured into hip-hugger jeans and a midriff madras shirt when my nineteen year old belly was firm and lovely.

The old man was the father of a guy I knew a million years ago back in college and because I just had to get out of there, I didn't say "Hey... aren't you Tim's dad?", which would have begun a conversation that probably wasn't worth having. I couldn't speak anyway. My communication skills had been left in aisle 47 where that wizened woman was cooking up sausage patty samples and hailing customers like a junkie barker from the Goodhue County Fair. She was too small and far too old to own a voice like that.

By the time I located my car and loaded all the groceries in through the hatch back, I was in a woozy trance that had rendered me unable to drive. I sat behind the wheel for a long time gazing above the trees lining the distant boulevard. The rain had stopped and the sun was winking coquettishly through silky, pink clouds. Flocks of geese were flying in all directions, appearing as navigationally befuddled as the shoppers in Costco. I rolled down the window. It smelled like spring. I felt like crying.

 
       
 
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