The awning over the table has a hole in it; a tear that is the precise shape of nothing. Absolutely nothing the woman can think of would fit into that space. It is mid-morning, but the moon is out, a shadow-skull in the hot and brittle day. She has never seen a sky less blue.
Across from the woman sits another woman, the friend of the first woman. The friend is talking; words are climbing out of her mouth like ugly little men. The woman nods along. Ugly creatures climb out of her own mouth in response. The ugly things sit on the table. They kick off their ugly shoes. Wiggle their ugly toes. The woman looks away. She wishes there were something she wanted. Expensive sunglasses, social justice, a cheeseburger, a child… anything really. Anything that would hold her in her days.
Goodbye! The friend says, standing to go. Good to see you looking so well!
The woman, alone now, fingers the condensation on the side of her glass. A question buzzes in a dim side-pocket of her mind. From that too, she looks away.
Palm trees line the sidewalk in front of the car wash at broken intervals. A string of Christmas lights dangles in the high white day like a picked carcass.
The woman is somewhat surprised to find she has crossed the street. She remembers, but somewhere else. There are so many pockets. She can never seem to find what she is looking for. She studies the concrete under her feet. It is arid and littered with cigarette butts and a torn lottery ticket. Something pulls.
The feet of the woman carry her to the mouth of the car wash. Its throat is full of bristles. Its teeth foam. In front of her is a blue Volvo. She waits her turn.
Senora! The car wash workers call, nervously. Hey! Lady! The woman steps forward. She does not know if this is the thing she wants, only that her feet keep moving. She steps again. The spray is sharp; long needles against her body. The woman’s arms extend. The sound is like a thousand tiny windows, breaking.
Once, the woman was young and full of fierce, hot pain. Rising from sleep, seared and restless, she would slip her feet into shoes and fill her pockets with objects made of glass. Shot glasses she’d bought on the cheap, a blue ashtray no one ever used, the cracked pane of a picture frame. Behind her apartment complex she would duck through a sagging hole in the chain link fence lining the storm sewer. Standing there, alone as any night, she would call the feeling to her. The strangeness.
It screamed to her, mouthed strange words, over and over, trying to explain itself, but she could never quite hear. The strangeness lived in a sealed pocket, a pocket made of glass. Many things were shoved into that pocket. Things and not-things. That which had been pulled away. Torn and shredded and hidden from her, that which was out of reach.
At the lip of the concrete ditch, the strangeness would slide its strange hands into the pockets of her hoodie and pull out the glass objects. It would curl her fists around the sharp edges until they sang with heat and blood. Raising her arm, and with all its silent strength, the strangeness would hurl the fragile things into the dark. She leaned in, held her breath; the expectation, the small explosion, the feeling of shattered-ness.
The brushes now. They crush against the woman, they swing and slam. Her feet continue. The metal arm connects in sharp, jerky precision with her temple. Her mouth is run with bubbles. She puts a hand out to steady herself. She stumbles.
The sound roars. The woman is lifted by it, pulled into its cold mouth. She is reaching; there is no end of reaching. Something at the back of her head is thrown, exploded, let with jagged space. The woman is open now; she does not feel the crack of her skull against the bolted metal, the way the hot wax burns red welts into her skin, the crunch and rip of her arm caught in the mechanism, the pop of joints, the buffer bar connecting with her head, hanging limp and upturned. She doesn’t notice the clumps of hair and scalp between the gears, her shoes left behind, her feet dragging through the grey river laced with foam.
There is shouting. Machines are turned off. People rush in. They stop. They turn away. Someone call 911, they say. She was sitting over there, they say. I served her coffee, I worked just down the hall, I cut her hair, they say. She had a nice smile, they say. She liked Korean food, she voted, she had a dog, they say. She was such a happy kid, they say. I knew her, they say. She was doing so well, they say. I don’t understand, they say. They say. These are the things they say.