February 19, 2019
I slipped a book from the shelf at the foot of the bed and sat holding Lucia Berlin’s Escape from Paradise unopened in my lap, my knees drawn up. I listened for passing cars on the street out front. I looked from the book and through the window of my room, out across the backyard, at a rusty corrugated-steel shed. A neighbor carried a blue-plastic recycling tub. A burly yam-colored cat walked in to visit me. I walked out. I needed cigarettes.
I headed to Liberty Mart, on the corner of Main Street and Railroad Avenue, five minutes away. I passed law and real-estate offices, and beauty parlors and a stock brokerage. I saw a shop that sells musical instruments and one where you can buy a vape and one where you can buy and smoke a cigar. And there was one you can visit if you like the Bible. The town library sits back from Main, and a paved space spreads from the sidewalk to the doors.
A single railroad track crosses Main Street near the Mart. Inside I waited behind two teen-age girls who talked with the woman behind the counter.
“If I had meds, I’d be O.K.,” one girl said.
“Give your body a rest, hon,” the woman said.
I asked the woman for a pack of American Spirit menthol.
“I wanted to be a psychiatrist,” she told me.
I slid my Venmo Debit card into the machine by the cash register, entered my PIN, and when the small screen read “APPROVED” I removed it. I said thanks and have a good evening and, moving around a short young woman with a knitted cap pulled over her dark hair, stepped out to the street.
A skinny man in his thirties stood near the entrance, stomping his feet. I opened the pack, took out a cigarette, and lighted it. Half a block ahead, in the doorway of a vacant store, an old man slumped.
“Do you have a match?” he asked as I passed. “My name is Mr. Larry.”
I offered my Bic to him.
“You can hang onto it,” I said when he handed it back.
I heard voices behind me. I turned around and saw the stomping man and the woman in the knit hat. I couldn’t make out what the stomping man was saying but I could sense its urgency.
The woman interrupted him.“Hi, Mr. Larry. You good?”
She wore a Mötley Crüe hoodie and pushed a wire cart holding plastic Coca-Cola bottles and a bundle of Huggies.
“I’m good, Lorraine. You?”
“I’m good, Mr. Larry.”
“Can I have one of those?”
She handed him a diaper.
The man with Lorraine said nothing to Mr. Larry and continued telling her the urgent story. He shoved his hands into his jacket pockets.
“I should get that DNA test,” he said to Lorraine. “I told the bitch that baby’s not mine.”
I turned toward him.
“What’re you looking at?” he said.
I cut left, off of Main.
A stone church nestled in the near distance, an Episcopal church about the size you could carry, if you were strong, under your arm and take home. When I got to the door, I tried it but it was locked. Around back, headstones rested in the grass below an aged tree with a thick trunk and a wide canopy.
About a mile east of Main, I came to the Antiques Mall. The Mall was vast, divided into sections that dealers rented to display and sell. I spotted snow globes through a glass-front case. One, from Baltimore, held a miniature Memorial Stadium. I asked the man behind the case if I could see it. I turned it upside-down, then right-side-up, and white flecks fell through the water. I tilted the globe to make the storm land in the place where I thought Frank Robinson had launched a baseball that cleared the left-field portion of the grandstand.
I placed it on the case and told the man I appreciated that he had found such a thing. Then I walked to another dealer’s stall. I saw a wind-up metal toy car. It was yellow and red, and the maker had fabricated a driver behind the wheel. The driver’s head was missing.
“When is this from?” I asked the dealer.
I left and kept walking. At the crest of a gently sloping hill, a Walmart sign rose into view. Cars and pick-up trucks and a few SUVs filled the spaces of the parking lot. Inside, there was a McDonald’s in a grotto to the right. Four men in their sixties sat at a table. None spoke. Three fiddled with French fries and cheeseburgers from the $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu. The fourth man reached for a soda cup, but the wheels of his Jazzy powered wheelchair bumped against the legs of the table and the drink remained just beyond his grasp. I nudged it to him as I slipped by.
In the bedding section, I asked a sales associate for a wool blanket.
“Only fleece,” she said. “It’s not scratchy.” I didn’t buy one.
I moved to the aisle with toilet paper and picked up a 12-roll load of Charmin Ultra Soft.
After I paid, a woman in a blue vest near the exit said, “Thank you for shopping with us.” She held a strip of stickers. She peeled one away and pressed a happy face to my jacket, just above my heart.
I carried the Charmin Ultra Soft back to Main Street. I wanted something to eat. There was a bakery and cafe a couple of blocks north. I knew what I craved: a homemade version of Cinnabon. I went to get one at the bakery.
As I reached for my debit card, I spotted another item on the menu hanging on the wall: biscuits with sausage gravy.
“Do you think I can get three eggs on top of the sausage and biscuits?
She said, of course, and I asked for over medium. She boxed the muffin to go and tied it with red-and-white string.
I moved to a stool at a counter along the front window that looked out on Main Street. The young woman came out carrying the platter of biscuits and gravy, and I knew, given the right circumstances, that I could tuck myself in beneath this thick blanket of artery-clogging lusciousness, as I could at home with a sack of goose feathers on top of me.