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The Farm

   A picture postcard

We're on our way out. I'm fumbling in my purse for the car keys in the vestibule of my building. There's a sliver of something white in the mailbox. My gut reaction: dread. Probably another bill. Extract other key ring from purse, insert; jiggle; jiggle the other way, take out key, reinsert right side up, success.

It turns out to be a postcard.

I slowly read the front, exaggerating each syllable and dragging my finger along the words first-grade-style. "Greetings from The Aloha State."

"Hey," I say, looking up from the card, "It's from Sean. He must be in Hawaii."

Outside it's steady drizzle.

He is nonplussed. Adjusts his glasses.

"Lucky him," he pronounces. "That's someplace I have no interest in going, Hawaii."

"Why not?" I counter. " For one thing, it's sunny; there's beaches, I bet it's nice."

"Chicago is nice and it has a beach too."

"Yeah, but it's not sunny."

"I love Chicago. I don't want to live anywhere else."

I drop the postcard into one of the pockets of my purse and zip it closed.

"You're so that guy¼the one you told me about¼who had a French lover and wouldn't follow her back to France 'cause he wanted to stay in his crappy apartment on Wabansia. Ted Hughes?"

"I guess," he says, opening the umbrella and ushering me through the door and into the rain. I can tell he isn't paying attention, because later I remember that it was actually Nelson Algren I was thinking of, and Ted Hughes was married to that chick who wrote The Bell Jar.

****

His mattress looks like it was hauled back big kill from alley hunting. Normally it grosses me out. Today I don't care. I'm still coming down from the night before, or rather, this morning. I can't sleep, I'm too nervous. So I leave him still passed out in bed, get up, put on the TV in the front room. And that's fine for a while, until I have myself convinced that somehow they know that fucked-up people watch TV at 8 o'clock on Sunday mornings and are inserting in-jokes and mocking my misery.

I can barely stand up my head hurts so bad. I don't even want to know how many brain cells I've killed. Which makes me remember something I read once in a supermarket magazine, that playing mah-jongg and bridge and doing crosswords helps old people regenerate their neurons. I seize on this. It's a veritable stroke of genius. All will be right in the world if I can go out and return with the Sunday paper and its cure-all crossword.

The plan involves me staggering to the corner store in my stiletto heels and his oversized T-shirt. I count out six quarters before I leave, congratulating myself on my remarkable foresight. The sun is already blazing when I throw open the front door. I squint ahead of me and set my jaw, determined on my course.

When I reach the store it's dark inside, the lights dimmed to stave off the heat. Coolers full of milk and Mexican soda-pop hum soothingly. I find the stack of Sunday Chicago Tribunes and awkwardly heave one onto the counter. My mascara-smudged eyes and bedraggled hair stare back at me from the mirror behind the shopkeeper. Startled by my own appearance, I quickly avert my eyes. Mercifully, the leathery old man doesn't even bother to look up as he drops my quarters into the register. Outside are four little Black girls in hand-me-down Sunday dresses and white patent-leather dress shoes eating huge wet pickles. They don't take notice of me either.

I try to focus on the clues "sea eagle" and "type of lathe" but my mind keeps wandering. I'm fidgety, nervous. It's harder and harder to keep a grip. I feel like I am on the brink of losing control. I'm going crazy. I can't believe I actually left the house only a half-hour ago. Now the prospect fills me with holy terror. I wish for my mother, surprise myself that I wish she were cradling me and I were suckling at her teat. Clearly I'm losing my mind. 47 down. Six-letter word that means ¼

I don't know, I don't know. I can't concentrate. This is proof positive that I am no longer okay, I can't think. Ohmygod. I'm hysterical, convinced I will never feel normal again. I wish for Zanax, Ativan, Klonopin, anything. I try telling myself everything is okay, but the voice in my head and I both know this isn't true. Panic starts in the base of my spine, rising up, ready to engulf me. I jump up with a start and beeline for the bedroom, as if I could outrun it I'd be safe. I throw open the door, waking him up.

"I don't feel right, I think I'm crazy, I can't stop this, I can't do the crossword puzzle," I babble. My voice catches in my throat and I start to cry.

It has taken him a few seconds to awaken and he's only heard the last part of my incoherent outburst.

"Babe, don't worry about it," he groggily advises. "Just give up."

****

The drink it stirs the blarney in both our veins and the bullshit flows and flows till we are slobbering all over each other reveling in our mess majestic that he believes in and I less so. I can't help thinking of Smiths' lyrics as we lean in closer to each other: "¼No this's not like any other love, this one is different because it's ours."

We are kissing, kissing, and I am spiraling away and when I'm like this I don't care I could float away or fly or run and run to the edge of the horizon and jump into nothingness and fly downward for eternity which I guess would just be falling, actually, and it sounds so appealing that, in an attempt to summon my courage, I start to buy six packs on the way home from work although I've always professed an intense dislike for beer.

"If you were going to kill yourself, would you do it drunk or sober?" I ask, eyes wide, nearly serious.

"Drunk, of course."

"Me too."

We swig back hard on our bottles in unison.

****

People that die young have an advantage. While everyone else marries, divorces, bloats, grays, they are still fresh faced and alive, poised for a future of brilliant uncertainty-coveted, immortal, ingenues.

We each had our reasons. I lived hard. I left my house and defected to the Prozactm nation. I was one of those "one in three women" you read about. I created then I killed. I've been beat, boiled-down, distilled into market-researched custom-designed mailings addressed to dear Mr. XXXX.

I was tired of the mood swings, the pills, of the rapid-succession up and downs, increasingly higher highs and lower lows like the staccato graph of an earthquake tremor, every time more and more erratic¼

We'll always be young. We'll always be beautiful. Stopped in time, our potential unrealized. That's what appealed to him. He and I couldn't live down being failures. He always said don't try.

The Polaroid we took right after we downed the bottles of Percodan is a lie. I'm smiling, eyes closed, the lights were already beckoning me, dancing in that strange place between consciousnes and un- that I had only briefly flirted with the time I passed out after doing whippits of nitrous. It's the photo they ran in the obit back in my hometown. I don't know who found it. It had been lying next to that postcard. Postmarked Duluth.


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