Week #23 – Long lines

FeelingBlast by Aljoscha Lahner

The Lottery Line by Susan Gibb

Every Saturday morning they come around and have us draw numbers from a small wooden box. Then we wait. They’ll come back and call twenty numbers as we crowd in the main yard, its dust oddly red and muddy as nothing I remember from the outside to be.

Some women whisper nervously about being freed. We hold our numbers close to our breasts, afraid to let anyone see, to be holding someone else’s lucky number. But luck is dependably random.

Some of us are silent, having gone through months of Saturday mornings. We see hope as a wisp of breeze that blows through the camp on its way somewhere else. Eyes shine through the lack of expressions, expectation nearer oblivion, some flickering a final spark. It’s mostly the new ones, the latest arrivals, who are excited, believing that this week their number will be called, that they are already on their way home.

She had just arrived three weeks ago, a young woman, her belly bursting with child. We found an extra blanket, shoes for her feet. She stands anxiously, her face innocent and naive. She had become my friend and that frightened me.

The guards return. My number is called. She silently begs me. I wipe her eyes off my face, turn and join the line. Her hope brands my back like a hot iron. I’ve never told her what I suspect, in case I am wrong. But for this week, at least, I think she is safe.

Where the ocean ends by Doug Bond

On the way to the Colonoscopy he says,
“They’re not going to find anything
I can’t outrun before I’m dead
of old age anyway.”

He has started the counting in earnest:
My last car, my last driver’s license photo,
my last census, the last probe up my ass.

He could outlive all of it. Or not.
For now, we are going to the place
where they will scan his walls.
Threats and lesions, cracks and gaps,
places where the devil breaks in.

My father was once a state champ swimmer.
I remember those shoulders from when
I was a very young boy. I would ride on
the saddle space of his back in the community
pool down by the beach in our small coastal town.
The long lane lines seemed to stretch out forever.

I ease his car into empty parking stripes
alongside the low-slung clinic building
listen to him talk of the future
the tentative certainties that have
at heart nothing certain about them.

I’m reminded of the things I’d thought
as a kid about Columbus, and the other
famous sea explorers. How amazing to be
the first to find out, to see
where the ocean ends, where it is
that can’t be seen, to finally know
for sure what is there.

I can still see the illustration in the school
book from years ago, the earth a large,
flat-edged box and the water
breaking, hard, in a ninety
degree angle and falling.
Falling into nothing.

Outbound by Michael Webb

“Oh, I don’t drive,” she announced, folding one impossibly long leg over the other. She had a short, frilly skirt on, with expensive looking shoes. She could fold one leg over the other so she could slide one foot around her other ankle.

I found that hard to imagine. “Really?”

“Oh, yeah. Never got my license.”

“So how do you go… anywhere? How do you get to work? ” I was fighting my way through the airport traffic- nothing dramatic, just long lines of cars, and decisions- change lanes or don’t, accelerate here or wait.

“I find someone to drive me.”

Someone male, I mused. Someone like me. Someone who can’t resist a warm smile. She had approached me, at the end of an unusually easy afternoon, while I was making sure all my loose ends were tied up. She came around the corner of the cubicle I was in, towering over the top in a virginally clean white blouse. The toe of one shoe, with a gold bauble on it, showed around the green felted wall.

“Can you do me a favor? I need a ride to the airport tonight.” Her voice was sparkly, flirty, and rich- like a wine commercial come to life.

“Of course,” I had said. Out of nothing but a misplaced sense of duty to a very pretty woman I barely knew, I found myself driving to the airport, having said “yes” to another woman when I meant “no”.

Free by Len Kuntz

They were giving away babies. The war had ended decades ago, but its wicked curse still shone in the glazed faces of limbless beggars and bone-thin children.

We were tourists on our last afternoon. Phnom Penh hyperventilated like a slain animal. A million mopeds jammed the streets, sputtering black exhaust. Here, inside the market, hawkers shouted urgent orders in their native Khmer. We were ambushed by a troupe of ragged salespeople, some no older than seven or eight, and now, to get out, we were forced into a line that slogged past booths filled with all kinds of wares: jewelry and counterfeit handbags, shoes and hats.

We’d been warned to avoid their eyes, but a girl caught me staring. She grabbed my hand and pulled me from the crowd, beyond her makeshift tent, through a sheet serving as a door.

There must have been a dozen of them, all swaddled and stuffed inside wicker baskets. At first I thought they were dolls. But one squalled, and then another.

“I’m out of money,” I said.

“Free, Mistah. Free child for you!”

When I protested some more, the girl’s grandmother came forth and thrust a baby at me, the woman’s eyes wet, pulsing and pleading.

I fought my way back outside. I was happy to see the line. I got lost inside it. I pressed forward, but kept my head down, staring at my shoes, seeing the image that would haunt me my whole life, hearing their wail.

Gift Wrap by Susan Tepper

The girl hears moaning from behind the glass partition. She has come to get her package wrapped, something pretty for the new mother-to-be, a girl they say, though this girl has her doubts. I think it’s going to be a boy she tells her own mother and her mother says you’re crazy, you’ve always been a handful. The girl stares up at the various choices of gift wrap. So many cute pinky papers for girl babies. But it is a boy, she thinks. It’s a boy nesting there. She wonders when someone will come around the glass partition and help her? The department store is crowded today with pre-school shoppers. All the little boys and girls getting themselves outfitted for the new school year. The girl remembers her mother giving her a perm one year just before school started. It turned out looking like a poodle and the girl cried and didn’t want to go to school. So many smelly chemicals and the perm solution burned her scalp. Her mother had laughed at the result. The girl taps the counter and thinks about calling out for help. Behind her a line has been forming and now it’s long. People are complaining. The girl hears moaning again from behind the glass partition. She doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t know if she should follow her instincts and get the boy gift wrap. She can’t remember the last time a boy kissed her.


Back to Wk #22 – The brutality of friends

Forward to Wk #24 – Tombstones

One Response to “Week #23 – Long lines

  1. Susan,
    I love all the implications in this, and the woman’s heroism by implied selfishness at the end.

    The angles and falling into nothing. Awesome.

    Excellent portrayal of sexual politics.

    So sad…

    Overbearing mothers are so unconsciously cruel to their children. I wish this girl a better motherhood.

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