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the elevator ride by mpeonies

18 Apr

“Did you hear that?” a little girl questioned me, beginning to put her arms out, as if trying to get a hold of both elevator walls. Her arms were far too short.

I heard it. This elevator was thirty-years-old, or as old as the building was. I’ve only been working in the math department for two months, so the sharp creaking of the elevator was still startling. But it had never occurred to me that something like this could happen. I had always glared at the emergency phone and wondered if I would ever use it and what sort of voice would answer when I did.

The elevator made a loud thump, and then a long screech, fading out eventually. The floor number stopped at “4”. I leaned back—or fell back, I’m not sure—onto the railings to support myself and the baby. I was seven-months pregnant and already sweating.

When it hit me that the weird feeling in my head (it happens whenever I’m going down in an elevator) stopped, I desperately searched the elevator for a sign of help. Marble floors, smudged steel walls, closed doors, paper scraps, railings, an emergency phone, a short brunette girl in a bright green coat.

“Sorry. Yes. I heard….”

Her eyes traced my belly before my face, and then quickly looked away. She stared at her feet. She was wearing the tiniest watermelon sneakers I had ever seen.

“Oh… don’t worry. Are you here to see someone?” I asked, lowering my neck.

“My dad teaches here! He tells me he’s Mr. Perton when he’s at work… Do you know Mr. Perton?”

Honestly, I had never heard the name.

“Oh yeah, Mr. Perton! He’s wonderful!” I giggled. I wondered why I had lied. The girl gave an eager nod.

“So what’s going to happen? Are we going to be stuck here for a long time? Maybe we can call someone…” she gathered her lips thoughtfully.

I scoffed at myself silently for my foolishness, and then regained my composure. “Oh! Yeah, don’t worry. I can use this phone.”

I picked up the phone and pressed the red button. It rang, the ringing was faint and almost impossible to hear. Suddenly, I heard a voice.

“Yes… um… hello? We’re stuck in an elevator in the math department. We’re on the 4th floor currently. We need some help, now!” I screamed into the phone.

The voice on the other line was a man, a very throaty voice, emotionless. But he told me “Yes, maam. We’ll get you out very soon. Please do not panic.”

So the little girl and I waited. I grew impatient quickly, letting out puffs of anger and exhaustion. I shook the railings. The girl stared and smiled sadly. She walked closely to me after a few minutes.

“Where’s your favorite place to be!” she asked, jumping toward me, bending her legs.

I entertained the silly question of the girl. “Favorite place… Favorite place… um… my grandmother’s house, on her front porch, in my chair. A table with delicious cookies that shes made riiight in front of me!”

“It works for other people too!”

“What does?”

“The favorite place question. It helps me all the time whenever I’m angry. Counting to twenty or whatever just makes me madder. But when I think about the little clubhouse I have with my friends, I always feel calm! And now you’re not all red anymore!”

It was true. I had found a sense of calm, and my mind felt clear. For the next couple of minutes, we continued to share stories—mostly I explained to her as coolly as I could about my job, and she told me all the different jobs that she wants to have when she grows up.

Soon enough, the doors stiffly opened and two men asked us if we were okay. We answered “yes”. I said goodbye to the girl, and we hugged.

“Wait, what’s your name?!” I asked her.

“Elisa! I’ll see you around!” She waved, running off in her watermelon shoes.

My husband called within a minutes, after having tried five times. I could recognize the worry in his voice within a second. I explained, trying to tell the story in as relaxed of a tone as I could.

“So we got out… me and the little girl! We’re fine. I’m fine!” I rubbed my belly. “Oh and I was wondering – what do you think of the name Elisa?

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wedding song by mpeonies

21 Mar

Amy could not help but wonder if she was making a mistake. Her dress was beautifully laced and ornate, painted the delicate shade of white that she had always dreamt of. A few doors away, there was a room filled with violet and white freesias awaiting. It was a near embodiment of her perfect wedding.

And yet, the tune of Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do would not leave her mind. It would be playing at the ceremony. It was her husband’s choice, and he had declared that he would make that decision, as Amy had already gone as far as to make the rest. But Amy had always hoped it would be Celine Dion’s Because You Loved Me, the melodious and profound voice soothing the crowd of people.

She shuffled back and forth across the lush red carpet, being careful not to drag the bottoms of her dress. Occasionally, she stomped her feet and shook her head dramatically, as if trying to knock the song out of her mind.

“No no no. Because you loved me! It has to be that!” she exclaimed. “What is he thinking? How can he make such an important decision and fail so badly? It’s simple! Celine Dion!”She rammed her white heel into the carpet, only to have it slide and slip. Falling on her behind, she pulled on the ends of her hair and began to let out quiet cries.

Amy turned to glare into a tall mirror behind her, when the sudden sight of a little girl in a pink dress startled her. A bouquet of flowers was plopped within the girl’s tiny, plump hands. She was giggling, slowly tilting her head to the side, as if in deep thought.

“And my mommy calls me spoiled.”

three oranges by mpeonies

28 Feb

“Dad, pass me three oranges!” my daughter shouted with a look of fury. She returned to glaring at a worksheet—it had to be math. With English and history, she always wore a calm face, a conqueror’s face.

I tossed three oranges at her, one by one, which she seated slowly on the table. “One… two… three…” she began whispering to herself. I dropped my pen from grading exams now. “Two… two-thirds…hm.” She grabbed one orange and hid it behind her back. I watched it slip out of her hand and wobble on the floor. “Hurray! TWO-THIRDS! OF AN ORANGE! OH, FRACTIONS. IN YOUR FACE!” She began dancing, clumsily juggling two oranges.

I looked at her, dumbfounded. I wasn’t sure, then, whether to watch her bask in her false glory, or to ruin it all with the truth.

“H…honey… Elisa…” I purposely lowered my voice, muting it almost because I never knew how to translate my teaching mannerisms into interactions with my daughter when she needed help with math. I was afraid I’d call her stupid, reducing her to tears, and then she’d hate math more than she already did. And that was a lot. It took up more than two-thirds of her hating capacity, maybe.

A week ago, when I had tried to explain the commutative property, she grew frustrated, dribbling her fingers against the table, a bad habit of hers. “Why do people change the order of these numbers?! So they’re more fun? FUN?! MATH?! FUN?!” You can’t add those two together!” she grabbed the paper and dashed for the phone. Within a minute, her mother’s voice would sound through the phone.

Elisa winded down now, the exhilaration slightly left in her walk as she left the kitchen, until she popped her head back in. “Oh, dad, did you say something before?”

“Oh, no no.” I cringed.

I returned soon to grading the exams for the Analysis course. Red marks, slashes, and failing grades. I picked up the orange on the floor, the voice coming loudly through the phone again.

be well by mpeonies

21 Feb

Alfred brushed over his hair with his palm, feeling the lightness, the near baldness, his age. He was sixty-five now, and felt as if the first half of his life sped by, while the latter moved as slow as water. He threw on his black corduroy blazer now, pinching out the few specks of dust. He made sure that every button of his dress shirt was done, and threw himself a serious grin in the mirror, as a parent would do to a troublesome child.

It was his birthday today, and family would be there. Loud aunts with big mouths and smiles would be there. Shy, tiresome cousins would be there. Sara would be there.

Most of everything at the party was as he imagined. The platters of butter croissants and cheese finger sandwiches, his favorites, sat in the light of an otherwise dimly lit room with gloomy floral wallpaper—the kind that made you feel you were in a rundown motel. But Alfred wore a smile, making noises of content as he munched on the food. He never paused in his eating, of course, so as to avoid actual conversation with relatives. It was easier for him to laugh, mouth closed, occasionally spurting out crumbs, giving hugs and handshakes all at once. Alfred always felt there was something fake about relatives, about himself in relation to them especially. He could not tell them he was a lonely man, spending half of his days wandering and sleeping, doing annoying puzzles, wondering where his life had gone, that he was a divorcee and his wife had left him because she had become bored and tired. Instead, he gave the semblance of a freethinking, clumsily brash man. He laughed a lot, and never cared to be sincere about it, but it got him pats on the back and things were better that way, he thought.

But one of his aunts, the one that planned the party, had invited his wife. She entered the room an hour before the party’s end. Alfred took a few minutes to make meaning of her appearance. It had been a year, but she seemed more fragile. Her walk was faster, but the lightness of it suggested that she had lost weight, energy. The long strands of her grayish hair still highlighted the glow of her face. Her eyes were as young and brown and big as they always were. They never changed. Alfred dropped his sandwich onto a platter, pushing aside an aunt who had been chattering to him for maybe an hour now, and raised both a hand and a smile at his wife.

“Sara!” he screamed.

She fixed her hair and looked down, timid and overwhelmed. Alfred smiled and laughed aloud, “Oh! Too old and wrinkly to look at now, am I?!”

Sara raised her head, and glared at him, as if she was opening her eyes for the first time. Alfred felt her glare. It was something between pity and guilt. Alfred returned a sad smile, something between pleading and confessing.

“Happy birthday, Fred,” she said loudly. Alfred took Sara’s hand lightly into his, and began to walk around the room. His Aunt Sandra was standing near the table of food. Alfred headed there first, and immediately reached over for another sandwich. He smiled, mouth closed.

Sara stood on his side, holding a worried look. Aunt Sandra posed questions, giving no time for response, returning to her own reflections, thoughts, and the rumors she had heard. Looking over at Alfred, Sara recognized the look of anxiety that sat on his face. And she, too, reached over for a sandwich and placed it in her mouth. And the two went on the rest of the night, clearing the platters of food and staying silent, occasionally giggling at their own folly.

At the end of the night, Sara was ready to leave. Alfred walked her out of the house, and the two said nothing as she stepped into her car. Before closing the car door, Sara looked straight ahead and then looked down with a sudden burst of laughter. “I think I might explode from all the food…” she said. Alfred joined her in laughter.

“Be well, Alfred,” she said with a sad drop in tone.

“I’ll try,” he shrugged.

Then, Sara left. Alfred walked back into the house. There was the sound of trash bags ruffling and glasses clinking together. There was chattering.

An aunt remarked to another. “Aren’t Freddie and Sara so adorable? They even eat the same, did you see?”

that big smile by mpeonies

7 Feb

The first time I met Karen Nichols, she struck me as the kind of woman who ironed her socks. She would take out stain removers in the middle of meetings and mist her shirt, which was otherwise clean. She never took a seat without checking at least five times that the chair was spotless. I only know so much about Karen because I found myself attracted at my first sight of her. Sure, she seemed crazy, but she never acknowledged it, and certainly didn’t apologize for every paranoid move like Alice did. Alice always fumbled with her shirt, making sure it was straight. “Don’t mind me. Sorry. This shirt just crinkles up like paper in the laundry. I can’t figure out how to get it right!” she would laugh tautly. It was better to not explain your idiosyncrasies. It gave you an air of cool nonchalance and poise, the kind that Karen had.

The first time that I ever spoke to Karen is an embarrassing story to tell. But I’ll have to, since the second time would make little sense without it. The first time, I was coming out of the conference room with a few co-workers and was fixing my belt—I had been gaining weight and the belt was horribly tight. I saw Karen out of the corner of my eye, but proceeded to look halfway down, as if I was simply pulling my pants up.

“Hey. What’s your name?” I heard. I looked up quickly.

“Me? Patrick. Pat,” I said without thought. But she chuckled, pointing at Dave, the guy behind me. She smiled big at me, as if I was a kid that had just said something childish but adorable, and said “Hi Pat,” and then stopped looking at me. She began talking to Dave about faxing papers. I said sorry softly and walked away.

But a week later, walking into the main conference room together, she looked at me. And I couldn’t resist making sure that it was her looking at me. It was. She smiled big, again, just like the first time, and said “Hey Patrick. Pat.” I greeted her back, but I don’t remember exactly what I said. I just recall giving a look as if I was going to say more afterward, but then said nothing. We sat together at every meeting since then. She would go through her routine of shuffling around her clothes, doublechecking them, patting the dust out of them. I never commented on it because she seemed to be in a world of her own, just her nervy-obsession-with-cleanliness and herself.

One week, though, I leaned back in my chair, my face feeling the cool air from her swinging around her jacket. I chuckled and asked “Do you have fun doing that?”.

I remember the sudden loss of peace in the expression of her face, and the way she responded: “It’s not fun. It’s necessary.” That was the first time I saw Karen, without the light of her easy, soft face. She looked grim and sad, her cheeks longer and drooping downward. At the end of the meeting, she gathered her things slowly, leaving it ambiguous if she wanted me to wait for her or not. I did. I stood by the door, only to watch her go past me, a lukewarm smile on her face.

We didn’t speak for weeks after that. But one day, she came over to my cubicle, and in a flat, tired voice, said “Come with me after work. I’ll show you my place.” She tapped the side of my cubicle wall, as if we had just signed off a huge contract or arrived at a grand agreement, before I could reply. I spent the rest of that afternoon wondering if she felt sorry for not speaking to me for so long, if she wanted to cook me dinner to make it up for me, chat over a glass of Rhone wine, play me her favorite songs, maybe bring me to bed.

I followed her out of work later that night. We said nothing to each other, which was awkward considering that I made so many noises by trying to sit comfortably in her car covered in plastic wrappings. It was a 16-minute ride, and when she got out, I sat there for a couple of seconds, gazing at her house. It was white, quaint, the shutters were red, and there was one flower-pot by each window. I followed her to the front door, as she opened it. Inside, I was pleased with the smell of lime and peonies, and maybe there was some mint in there. But soon, I noticed the vast spaces between the furniture pieces, of which there were very little—just a couch, a small television set, and a rustic coffee table. They were wrapped in a plastic covering. I must have had a bewildered look on my face, because she turned and laughed.

“What’s going on?” I asked. She grabbed my hand and led me down a hallway, the walls and ceiling all perfectly clean. There was a room at the end, on the left, and the door was slightly open. She told me to stay quiet and I nodded. In the room, an elderly woman was squatting on the floor, swooshing a towel back and forth in the same motion, in the same spot on the floor, her eyes big, empty, but frantically focused. She would move to another spot, and then quickly return to the one from before.

“Hi, Mom,” Karen said. Her mom, not looking up, quietly said, “Hello, sweetheart”.

Karen smiled big at me, and for that moment, I felt like I knew everything—about her, about love.

subscription by mpeonies

24 Jan

Margaret narrowed her eyes and stared a spider on the ceiling. She thought of getting up from bed, but the warm folds of her sheets were too comfortable, too loving. After all, this was the only spot in her house that provided her comfort. She had emptied out her house ever since her husband Jack passed. Now there were only a few pieces of furniture—a floral-printed couch, a small television set, and a rustic coffee table that Jack had proudly carried back from the flee market years ago. Margaret fumbled around in bed for an hour more, and finally got up. She tiptoed to the kitchen, her back roundly bent. Red mugs and white bowls of sugar sat on the table. Stacks of outdated newspapers stood on the side. Margaret had ended her subscription to the daily newspaper after Jack had lost the energy to read. She made coffee and grabbed the newspaper on top, squinting at the pain of bending her fingers. She took the left side of the couch—Jack always took the right.

Lightly turning the pages, Margaret sighed at the familiar events. She knew them all. The protest at the nearby community college. The marathon run. The shut down of the community movie theatre. She knew it all.

Then, a sudden thump sounded at her door. Margaret shook the paper out of surprise, pausing for a moment. She began to move towards the door. “Who is it?” she said. But there was no reply.

Margaret opened the door. A rolled newspaper sat on her doormat. “He…llo?” she whispered, sticking her head out of the door, looking left and right. Margaret was bewildered, but for some reason, compelled to pick it up, open it, and read it. And that was what she did. Margaret flipped through the pages, indifferent to the pain in her fingers. She read of people out there, crying, suffering, and living as she was.

After an afternoon of reading, Margaret opened the window and laid out her body on the couch. She went to sleep.

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