Mental Contagion

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Rūs Mental Contagion
Notes from Open Land
by Wendy Lewis

In Front of Me at the End of Winter

The Japanese girl is delicately explaining tennis shoes. There is a purposeful design difference between the right and left shoe. I know I am missing something cultural, something bordering on the philosophical, as I watch her lovely, slender finger indicate the rubbery curve of the left shoe and listen to her gentle, bell-toned voice. She is speaking in Japanese and I understand every word she is saying even though, clearly, i don’t know how to speak Japanese, but there is no time to marvel over this because I am not grasping the underlying concept of her point, which she assumes I understand. It matters more to me that I get the bigger picture. I roll over, surface, open my eyes and stare at the blurry box elder bug making its way down the edge of my pillowcase. I have the same dull headache I had when I went to bed late last night.

I go to the bathroom, swallow four ibuprofen, and return to bed. I can hear B moving around downstairs. I close my eyes against the headache. Eventually, I turn on satellite TV and flip back and forth between a 1940’s movie with Lana Turner, a dance hall girl grappling with issues of class at an Ivy League college where she has been mis-invited for the weekend, and an Italian cop & mobster film with yellow subtitles. An attractive, middle-aged woman is being “taken to heaven” by her much younger suitor on a thin, green blanket flung into the dirt on the outskirts of some Italian town when I interrupt them. They had leapt from the car when their lust finally got the better of them. She is gripping the earth and moaning. I am craving pot roast.

I think this God of yours has a pretty cruel sense of humor – a deity that designs so many insects who die on their backs simply because they can’t right themselves. I extend my finger into the sink as rescue for the earnest box elder bug that has likely been churning the air with its tireless legs all night long. He grabs on easily and saunters up my finger nonchalantly, as if nothing has happened for the last ten hours, and then stumbles along my hand to the edge of the sink. I make a cheddar dog for breakfast and eat it with sweet relish and no bun. It’s Friday. I have no work today. My dogs are all sleeping quietly. Dogs spend so much of their time sleeping. I’m tempted to open a bottle of wine at 11:30 AM. I watch movies and read from a few books for the entire day in bed.

Today, I get into my car at the break of dawn. I drive through dense fog downtown and struggle deciding on this or that expensive parking ramp. I spend eight hours far from windows or a clock, and then lose my way through the Skyway system after 5PM, giving up on finding my way back through the maze to that bank of elevators that is supposed to deliver me to the garage. The desk guards in their crisp white shirts with large button down pocket flaps watch me walk back and forth, eyeing me with deadpan suspicion, especially when I reach into my bag and rummage.I descend an escalator, revolve through the heavy glass doors and onto the street in order to get my bearings. A misty rain appears suspended in the air and color has been sucked out of the picture. People are waiting for buses under shelters and umbrellas, crossing intersections, running to cars paused at curbs, keeping their heads down. The traffic lights embarrassingly over do it in the gloom, like a cheerful mom busting into a junior high make-out party with refreshments. Buses and bicycles float by, engines hum and water sluices through dark iron grates. Thirty minutes later I’m finally underground. There in an impressive echo in the garage and while there are many cars, there are not many people walking to or from them. I look up and think about all the weight girded above me. My car naps on row D like a good dog.

I drive. I listen to the news, which is not news, but instead, a gurgling regurgitation of what someone decides we get to hear. Even bad news feels soothing if repeated often enough. The reporters continue posing the same obvious questions, making the same boring postulations made yesterday. The Dow Jones. The NASDAQ. The rise and fall of things. Forecasts. The pitter-patter of radio voices mixed with rain, wipers, tires rotating, pistons pumping. I glance at the car in the left lane, the car in the right lane, the headlights behind me, the brightly painted eastbound train slowing to a stop at 42nd. I’m treading water, understanding there may be no real explanation before tiring, foundering and slipping under. It feels like surrender. I smile, wave my little white flag and depress the accelerator towards home.

Mental Contagion
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