I wrote a story about shoelaces and city skylines where the protagonist loved a boy and the boy died. None of that was important or rightly belonged in my heart but I titled it Oblivion and asked my sister to read. There was a fear in my heart as she took the book to read. I was afraid, as most writers would, of how she would perceive the story. Would she understand the gravity of the story or the dilemma which I'd created for my characters?
I stood behind her as she read. My little fox was by the fridge, his oversized ears at ease. There was something about the way it sat there, silent, that made me want to travel around the world. I was a dreamer, of course, but there was a longing in my heart as I watched my little pet and my sister.
When I first got the fox, my mother had been a little weary. She'd dragged me into the kitchen, whispering like she was afraid the fox would hear.
"Why would you buy that?" she had asked, her hands shaking so much I feared she would break. "You want a pet? Go buy a dog."
And when Madeline from the other house screamed when she saw Rul, I said to them, "He is a pretty good companion." Nothing else was said but I could sense her fear like a burnt-out skyline.
I loved the ears of my new friend so I named it Rul and learned how to laugh into my palms. Normally, I was aware of their wild instincts but I knew Rul and it knew me. It sat by my feet as I wrote Oblivion and it knew why I stood up in the middle of the night to weep.
Rul knew most of my secrets because I talked to it sometimes. When I banged my head against my writing table, Rul got up. It knew there would be a mark on the table and I would pop three pills in my mouth and drink cheap wine.
Then, when my sister asked about the petite animal, I shrugged but I told her what it was:
"It's a fennec fox." I was combing my hair when I told her. Through the bathroom mirror, I'd studied her frantic expression and I knew she would start to visit less. I was not afraid of being alone or having the family ties cut off. I had my friend, Rul, and I had a story that made no sense.
My sister was halfway through the first page when she looked up and said, "You still have sloppy handwriting."
I didn't know what to say so I nodded and chewed on the tip of my braids. It was a habit, one I'd practiced in the cold silence of my apartment. Instinctively, my hands came to my face and I touched my nose and thought about Ohio and the rocks and maps of old houses.
My sister was still talking. "There's a laptop, Aviva. Why stress yourself with such mundane things?"
"I just don't feel powerful with a laptop," I said looking down and shuffling my tiny feet.
She returned to reading.
Rul followed me into the kitchen and watched as I filled its bowl with clean water. It curled up to sip. I touched his body and felt it stiffen. I let go quickly and straightened. I met my sister still reading. She was quiet. The fear came again, strong and great and it took hold of my feet. I pressed my body against the couch and waited. When she looked up, I knew she was done.
"It doesn't make any sense," she said standing up, "One minute they are in love, and the next they aren't. No meaning there."
Two scenarios came to mind as I sat there next to her. I could explain to her or say nothing. Would I be a bad writer if I didn't? I contemplated getting up and smoking weed or taking a walk to the end of the road but I wanted to be strong.
"I think that it's good," I whispered, uncertain. "Because life is unpredictable and so are people."
She didn't get that part. She rolled her eyes and laughed. It wasn't the kind of laugher of an excited parent or a friendly dinner. It was a laughter void of humor and filled with dirty silence.
"Why do you write then?" she asked. "I don't read a lot of books Aviva but I know that books don't strive to be real. It's an escape from everything real."
"That's not true," I said to her. I couldn't defend myself or offer a concrete opinion. It was hard to.
"I have to go," she said.
And then I watched her go. My handwritten copy of Oblivion sat on the couch, naked and exhausted. Rul sat on the couch next to it and I felt dizzy. It was all too much —this simple rejection— that it broke my heart in half and made me want to cry.
I let Rul sit on the couch even when I knew the house would become a small smelly cell. I sat with him for hours, dreaming and waking and crying and laughing. It was not the first time I was being rejected but it hurt most now. I took Rul and we sat in my old car.
The journey was a short one. I drove the car for an hour and stopped for gas at about eight. When my sister would hear about my tragic death in the morning, she would strip herself bare and lash out against the yellow sun. But for the evening, I was aware of the darkness. The sky was unusually gray as I climbed out of my car. It was a creamy color and one side of it was dented but I loved it. I liked how petite teenagers gave me awkward looks when I drove past because, in that, I was as strong and powerful as unnamed secrets.
I filled the tank and went into the shop to get a cup of coffee. The door made a creaking sound as I opened it but the female cashier did not look up. She was chewing gum and was seated behind the counter reading a book. I stood by the door, watching her. Because she reminded me of my college years and the girls I had loved and hated and denied.
Instinctively, I pressed my hands together and shuffled my feet. I was tired but fascinated by the silence of the half-empty shelves and the cashier.
"You gonna buy something or what?"
I stepped closer and offered up a greasy smile. She looked up at me for not more than a second and waved her hands clumsily. I nodded and picked up a packet of biscuits from a shelf.
"Two twenty," she called without looking up.
I checked my pockets and sighed. It was as though she knew me so well. She didn't need to look up to know what I would take. When my hands finally touched the thick magazine, I waited for her gentle remark.
"So...are you a porn woman?"
I knew the question did not need an answer but when I stepped forward and kept the items on the counter, I had to say something.
"Do you ask everyone who comes in?"
"Just the people who fascinate me," she said. "You look pale. You having trouble with family?"
"How much does this cost?"
"Secretive, I see," she laughed at this.
I parked my car by the side of the road and closed my eyes. Thunder rumbled in the sky and when I opened my eyes, it divided into two. There were colors around and the more intense they were, the angrier I became. Rul looked at me and then dropped his gaze. We were both tired.
When the cashier closed for the night, Rul and I watched her. She saw the car and hurried along.
"I should write about her," I turned to Rul and touched his body. "Like write about how her pink hair reminds me of rushed summers and people who kiss with their eyes open."
Rul was quiet.
I brought out a paper and a pen. There was a two-line poem at the top of the paper.
Normally, we are not normal people
So let's write like madmen in the snow.
I scratched out those words and began to write about the giddy way I'd felt watching the cashier and how much her fake smile had ignited a feeling of defeat in my heart. I thought about my sister as I wrote and wondered what she would be doing at home.
In the morning, as crazy as it sounded, they would find me in the back seat of my car, holding a one-page story about a cashier who'd watched me dissolve porn like it was happiness. They would find me cold, as cold as a stone with Rul beside me. He would be taken care of by old people but my sister would read about the cashier and reject it again.
I took out a small pocket knife and twisted it in my hands. It was firm and beautiful in the glow of the flashlight. I closed my eyes again and wondered who would cry. I wasn't doing this to garner pity. I wanted to write about the indecision I was faced with in life and poetry and disappointments.
"Oh, Rul." My hands were shaking.
Rul was quiet.
"Don't look at me," I said.
He looked at me.