#34: Exit Lotto
“Number 26,” called the MC from the stage, holding aloft the ball he’d plucked from the wire cage. A woman squealed. “Yes! I’m number 26!,” she shouted. “You’ve won,” said the MC brightly, “Off you go!” An usher escorted her up the aisle, unlocked the chain from the exit door, and waved her out into the dazzling sunshine. We craned our necks to catch a glimpse of what was left of the outside world. Then, too quickly, the door slammed closed, plunging the theater back into darkness and quiet. “OK, who’s next? How about… number 40,” asked the MC.
33. Nelsonia, October 20, 1976
I walked into the cornfield until all I could see were lifeless brown husks of forgotten harvest. When I got too close for comfort, a huge flock of birds leapt into the sky, putting on a show for me, swooping and screaming madly at my interruptions of their meal of stale corn. When the wind blew, the field gave out a loud rustle and was set in crazy swirling motion. I found an apple tree that had one perfect yellow apple to give me. I thanked the tree – “I’ll be back” – and walked on. The apple was delicious.
32. Photo Booth
The photo booth smelled like burnt matches. We’d just barely managed to wedge my wheelchair in and pull the curtain closed. She dropped her quarters into the slot and we put on our camera faces before the flash fixed us onto the paper. I had to hurry to my train, leaving only enough time for a quick kiss and a hug that wasn’t enough for goodbye. I’ve often wondered what happened to our forgotten pictures, wondered who found them and if they took them home and stuck them on their fridge, and what stories they tell their friends about us.
31. Gaining Heaven
When the time came, she offered to be my spirit guide and help me find my way. The hem of my garment had gotten tangled in the machinery of the escalator and almost didn’t make the final part of the journey with me. She blushed furiously when I expressed my frustration in colorful language.
“Oh, my,” she said, covering her ears in mock horror, “we don’t often use those words around here.” I offered a soothing hand gesture as we waited, but was rebuffed.
“You don’t know me that well,” she said. The gates opened, and the rest is eternity.
Adolescent Dot knew more than she was letting on. She’d fooled every psychiatrist they’d sent to draw her out and pin her down. She was a little mixed up, her inner child’s identical twin having been kidnapped by newlyweds who just wanted a baby of their own. Years later she escaped by shapeshifting through an air conditioning vent and hid as a model in a disco art studio. “You’ll never take me alive, ya dirty screw,” she hollered as the Authorities closed in. Her invitation to the family reunion somehow fell between the sofa cushions, which was just as well.
We were at the reservoir, tossing flat stones against the smooth water, or visiting with a friend up north. We sat quietly together in the cold evening, watching the sun go down with the coals burning on the grate. There was nothing to match, not even then, but the barest smile on her lips. She had her table of paints set up, I had a tiny desk tucked under the stairs for my writing, which never came. I lay on the sofa and read, or watched a spider days when she worked, and we made dinner and ate in silence.
“My life’s kinda gone astray,” she said.
I didn’t say anything, didn’t know what to say.
“After my daughter died, I just…sort of…wandered off.” She looked up at me, asking a question. “You ever lose track?”
I was at a loss.
“What was her name,” I asked, wanting to hear her say it.
“Bella,” she whispered, “Her name was Bella.” A change came over her face, a clarity to her eyes, as if she was suddenly seeing me, as if I had just snapped into focus. She smiled. “You have stars in your eyes, you know.”