Maharishi doesn’t speak to me anymore. Neither does God. But sometimes, the bald guy behind the counter at the Video Den listens to me. His name is Kelvin. He wears his sunglasses indoors.
I keep a journal. In it, I say that I’m happiest alone. I write that sometimes I lick roll-on deodorant for the way it puckers my tongue. I paste a photo shopped image of a black rhino holding a parasol into the margin next to my description of the ways in which I’ve learned to scale any number of fish-bream, bass, shell cracker, gar.
I write about rooftops, about rooftop patios where young professionals go to unwind after work with drinks and conversations about how lucky they are to have a rooftop patio where they can go to unwind after work and have drinks.
Sometimes, I walk past the Video Den on my way to work and I see my reflection in the storefront. I remember that I need to write about how thin I look in this very pane of glass with its warped tinted sheen. But then later I write only about that moment, when dreaming, that objects swell and shrink to phantasmagoric proportions, when no amount of opening and shutting my eyes will set the image right. An Elmer’s glue bottle squeezed at its center like an hourglass and then pinched on each end like a piece of wrapped bubble gum, the label of the bottle stretched and illegible.
Sometimes I imagine Kelvin calling my name. I imagine him patting the back fat beneath my bra strap. He will ask me about wind-pollination and about what the Eighth Amendment means when it says cruel and unusual. I will tell him it’s about punishment. He will try to sell me a snow cone.
I say I love you: to objects, to mason jars full of may haw jelly, to tooth fairy pillows and piggy banks, to matchbox cars and wildflowers and my mom’s collection of cameos. I say I’m annoyed by red wasps and cow ants and by the clicking sound my Accord makes when I turn the steering wheel too sharply to the left. I write the words “the moon is the only light we see” over and over again so I don’t forget the ease of my grandfather’s singing voice. Then I remember that I’ve forgotten my singing voice, or that I like to sing in the first place.
The Video Den opens late on Tuesdays. Kelvin walks through the store flipping on lights. I prop myself up on my elbows at the counter. I wait. I eat Nerds by the handful. I stand on my toes and then my heels and then my toes and then my heels again. Kelvin tells me to take a chill pill. He tells me that he ran out of gas on his way to work and had to call a cab to get here. When I ask him why he wears his sunglasses indoors, he tells me a story about his childhood, about his brother who never followed the rules until he joined the Army. Now all he does is follow rules. Kelvin doesn’t want to be like his brother.
Kelvin asks me a lot of questions.
“Why you keep comin’ in here if you ain’t gonna rent nothin’?”
“You think that was a skink on the doormat when you came in?”
“How we supposed to know what computer viruses are attackin’ us?”
“What will be the next big thing?”
“You think anyone really cares about Burt Lancaster anymore?”
I catalogue these questions, place them in columns alongside questions Kelvin never asked me but that I wish he would have. My favorite color is chartreuse and I could never own a gun. I want children and at least one chance at greatness. I write that things matter, but I don’t write what those things are.
Kelvin tells me that kerosene doesn’t burn as quickly as gasoline, that he learned in the Boy Scouts all of the ways to not start a fire. I open my journal to the last page and draw flames bursting from the uneven arms of a cactus. When I show it to Kelvin, he says “exactly” and later I write, “bald men get me.”
I buy a pair of sunglasses. I wear them when I walk from my apartment to the bus station. This time, when I pass the Video Den, I don’t check for my reflection. I’m wearing flip flops and my purse is heavy. Kelvin steps onto the sidewalk, calls out my name. When I turn around, he is holding the door open for me.
That afternoon, in my journal, I write that we have so many things in common: our love of pickled eggs and Backgammon and stained glass lamp shades, our mutual disgust with how words that end in “rt” sound. Wart. Flirt. Dirt. Hurt. We make a list of exactly 37 words and I write those down in alphabetical order.
We have so much in common. I write it again. So much times two to the fifth power, that’s how much. If he is as good at math as I am, it’s a done deal. I flip to the section of my journal where I write equations as I see them in the world. I calculate the odds.
Kelvin calls me and invites me to join him for dinner after he clocks out. Join him for dinner. Those are the actual words he uses. When I accept his invitation, he says it’s not a date. He says it twice and then I assure him I don’t go on dates either. Only dinners, I say.
We meet at the Video Den and then we walk three blocks to a diner that serves fried everything, okra, squash, shrimp, scallops, onion rings, French fries, tater logs, gizzards, all cooked in the same vat of grease. Kelvin knows this because he worked there last summer. At our table, he slides his hand across to me and flips it over, shows me burn marks on the pads of his fingers.
“What should we talk about?” he says.
“College?” I say.
“You going?” he says.
“Probably,” I say.
The waitress takes our orders and Kelvin excuses himself to use the restroom. I grab my purse and remove my journal. I open it quickly and jot down “he flinched” and then I put the journal away. When Kelvin returns to the table, I tell him about my trip last summer to South Dakota, how its landscape looked like overturned molars and canines, gaps large enough for a school bus to fall through. I tell him how my mom took up with a roadside produce salesman for a couple of days and how we skipped Yellowstone so the two of them could hunt for mushrooms.
Kelvin tells me he hasn’t seen his mom since he was a kid, that his dad has been in prison for the last three years for stealing a car from a parking lot some place in Alabama. He’s not real sure about love, he says, any kind of love. I tell him I write about love a lot in my journal but that mostly I love things. I reach for my fork and he puts his hand on mine. He says he knows exactly what I mean.
- The Story Behind the Story: “What We Don’t Say Out Loud” - November 2, 2018
- “What We Don’t Say Out Loud” - October 19, 2018