Nine-One-One

Lasantha Rodrigo


At twenty three my body is falling apart. At twenty three I’m hurting, inside and out.
I walk to Walgreens in a dark haze. In a nightmare; a distorted spell.  My legs are weak. I stumble. I count pebbles in potholes. I frown at the yellow-shedding elms. I feel the sky is going to eat me up. “Eat me whole,” I say. “Gobble me up. There’s flavor in me. Hurry, my flavor is running out.” The dolls in the curio shop admonish me. They look hideous and gray. I want to run past the shop window, but my legs don’t obey my brain. I slow down. The sky advances. Clouds float. Gray gray clouds. My heart is about to come out of my eyes. My deep brown eyes. I can’t hurry. Why hurry, anyway? Maybe I should eat a muffin from The Bagel Shoppe.  A poppydamnseed muffin.  My heart is coming out of my eyes. My eyes burn. I emit a whimper. I sigh loudly. No one listens. No one looks. The roads are empty. It’s almost six in the evening in Tacoma. Back home in Sri Lanka, Amma must be waking up to cook breakfast. I miss milk rice. I miss the smell of dew on immaculate gardenia petals of an exotic ivory. I miss the little red fish in the pond at the entrance of my suburban Mulberry Street home. It was home. Sometimes, bleak. Sometimes, painful. Sometimes, unbearable. A heavy home.

 

I shake off gardenia petals and milk rice from my mind. I feel the scent, though. My eyes burn. The little white man lights up, and I cross the road. I walk to Walgreens. I open the door with all my might. It closes before I can squeeze myself in. I try again. I succeed. I walk in. My heart is in my eyes. My brown brown eyes.

 

“Are you okay, hun?”

 

The solitary cashier sees my face.

 

“Yeah, it’s chilly out.”

 

I hurry my steps to the medicine aisle. The white lights blind me. I count unsteady steps to “sleeping aids.” Seventeen steps.  I pick a blue card with twelve pills. I read the back: “Don’t take more than two pills at a time.” I pick up five cards. I like even numbers. Sixty. The edges of the cards are silver. I like silver. I like blue and silver. I’m blue. Blue drops fall on the silver edges.

 

I hurry back. I forget to count my footsteps. I pass the dilapidated high school that looks deserted in the dead of fall. The leaves have changed to shades of burnt hideousness. All’s burnt: the yellows, the oranges, the reds. Hideous hideous world. My heart squeezes out of my heavens. My brown brown heavens. At ten, Amma fed us rice from her own hands. One mouthful to Sha and one to me. It tasted better when she fed us. We were so poor. Dirt poor. I just didn’t know. Maybe Sha did. She knew better; she was older. We grew up together, Sha and I. Oh, my heart. My eyes burn.

 

Campus looks dormant and deserted. I float towards Kreidler Hall. Even with the cane, I feel like the wind is out to get me. It tries to abduct me. My hair flies. My scalp feels the cold air through the pores. The grocery bag in my left hand is light; susceptible to wind. It tries to fly. I don’t let the wind steal my repose in blue and silver packaging. I tighten my grip. A scraggy sparrow flies away from a leafless branch after seeing my firm eyes. My heart pours out of my eyes. My stomach hurts. My fingertips are frozen. My eyes blink. Hair on the small of my back stands up. I feel it. I feel uncomfortable in this body. I need a new one. Walgreens doesn’t sell those. But they sell beautiful pills in blue and silver packaging for the sleep-deprived; life deprived. The world blurs and meshes into one indistinguishable, shapeless mess.

 

Through green green leaves, I enter Kreidler Hall. The girl at the front desk is doing her nails. A peachy pink. She sticks out her manicured nails.

 

“Pretty?”

 

“Yeah. Very.” I smile with unwarranted compassion. I’m insincere about the nails. Traces of my heart are still in my eyes.

 

“Are you OK? Your eyes are very red.”

 

“It’s cold out. I went to Walgreens to get some stuff.”

 

“What did you bring me?”

 

"An icy smile.”

 

“You suck.”

 

“I know.”

 

There’s no one in the hallway. I take my keys out. They dangle noisily from a purple key string. I open the door. I enter the mess of orange peel, Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, pop cans, dirty socks, and a pastel blue comforter. “I’m fire and air. My other elements I give to baser life.” I’m a queen; I’m Cleopatra. Angels in America is on the floor. Kyle drove me to that audition. He helped me learn lines when I was cast as Belize.

 

The room spins. The light dims. Angels fly off the script on the floor. Kyle’s framed picture stares at me from a tan bookshelf. My scarf is a blood red. It attempts to throttle me as I move through hurdles on the floor. It’s a noose. It’s potential salvation. I like blue and silver better. I miss Benji. He would have sensed the emptiness in my eyes. He was a good dog. He was my boy when growing up in suffocating suburbia.

 

Then there’s the phone, my nemesis. I want to ignore its presence. I won’t pick it up. I won’t. I won’t. I won’t. I dial 538-0919. I slam the phone down. I pick it up again. I press redial. I hang up. I dial again. I wait with my heart in my mouth. It begins to come out of my eyes again. I feel the silence. It wakes up the little hairs on my body. I feel cold. I adjust the blood red scarf. I’m cold. I’m so cold. I miss Benji. The room spins. My hideous hideous room. It’s a mess. Hideous world.


The brute answers. Rough, gruff voice. I visualize chapped lips.


 “Hello”

 

“Hi, it’s me”

 

“What’s the story?”

 

“No story. Just wanted to say hello.”

 

“Oh, OK. I was getting ready for my workout, so I have to get going.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“What’s going on, though?”

 

“As you say, same shit, different day. I’m tired of it.”

 

“I hear ya. How’s the MS?”

 

“It’s pretty.”

 

“You might want to go to bed or something.”

 

“Yeah. I will do just that. Thanks for the memories.”

 

“Huh?”


I slam the phone down. I slam it good. His picture stares. It’s titled “My world.”


Blue drops. Blue drops. After The Night of Musical Theater, he carried me on his shoulders. He’s a war tank. I need a war tank for my battle. For now, I have blue and silver. Five of those. Oval shaped deep blue drops to save me. Sixty. It’s seven twenty nine. Phone blares. Phone shakes the room. I shake inside. I know who it is. It’s going to be my victory. Dog’s day. Phone shakes the room again. It rests a while and rings again. No messages. I know who it is. The man has a huge issue with guilt. He said I was good with guilt trips.

 

Look what I can do, mister. I have all the power in the world, now. I can look away from you like a pharaoh. Like Cleopatra. You have no power over me, muscleman. The phone rings. I let it scream all it wants. All he wants. I’m the victor for one small moment. A miniscule, insignificant moment. So I veto the objection in blaring rings.

 

The room spins. “Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.” The RENT CD sings on a sticky, beige floor. Carpetless, orderless. “How do you measure a year?” In orange peel, in blue drops, in phone rings, in angels, in heart pulls, in Walgreens, in blue and silver, in oval shaped deep blue drops. My heart squeezes out of my eyes. Blue blue drops sting my eyes. Room spins. Light dims. Hidden shadows dance on dry wall. Bed post is covered in blue jeans and ethnic shirts. Blinds are closed. I’m hidden from eyes outside. I hear frisbee-playing in the hallway outside my lifeless tan door. I hear gleeful screams. “Ah, you missed it,” someone screams. Partially angry. Partially joking. Partially thrilled that he can accuse. Jovial, joyful, innocent accusations.

 

I’m barred, barred, barred from such innocence. Such carefreeness. Such youth. Such lightness. Blue blue drops. Amma applied herbal oil on my legs when I was six. A sticky and noisome concoction from the sap of trees. I used crutches at six. I mastered dancing on crutches. Scraggy little me dancing on crutches. When the jambu tree was covered in bright red fruit, I used a crutch to bring a ripe cluster closer to me, so I could taste one before the squirrels that played outside all year round. Once I spotted seven squirrels racing, one after the other, on the thick cable that ran from the end of the house to the gravel lane. Light dims. Memory fades. I want memories to dissolve like powder blue.

 

Inviting blue and silver, still in the Walgreens bag. Eyes blink. Blink. Blink. Rapidly. My heart squeezes out of my eyes between blinks. Eyelashes are sticky with salty mush. I go in front of the mirror. Nose drips. I can only see my bust. My brown brown bust. Red eyes. Ah, heartless baboon. I want to be poor. Dirt poor like so long ago, when Amma fed us, her babies. Grandma hated us. But she let Amma live in her mansion with the brood. Those were the exact words. Sha and I were part of the brood.

 

One early morning when I was very little, we traveled to Mulberry Street, to our half-completed, suburban home. It was dark outside. In the early morning blackness, Amma made milk rice. The smell lingers in my dorm room. It attaches itself to my skin. It’s a protective membrane. Ah, Mulberry Street fragrance. Our new home. And we grew up. And here I am in cold cold Tacoma. The suburban front porch on Mulberry Street was covered by an unknown vine that bore purple blossoms twice a year. They smelled like garlic. Pretty pretty suburbia. Soothingly purple, garlic scented blossoms on my Mulberry Street home.

 

Nose drips. Eyes burn. Phone blares. Light dims. Guys outside play frisbee. A morbid Friday evening. A thunderous knock on the door. I stop where I am. I stare at the tan door. Who could it be? I breathe softly. I don’t stir. The ceiling seems to close in on me. Thunder on the door again.

 

“Anyone there? This is 911. Open the door or we’ll break in.”

 

“I’m in here. Give me a second.”

 

Did they know? What did they know? How much? Did someone call them? It could only be one person. I go to the door. I hesitate. I open the door slowly, shy and embarrassed. Two cops charge in. They search the room. My eyes burn. The room spins. No frisbee game outside, now. I hear whispers. I hear guesses. He stole my repose. My rest. I was almost ready. One officer finds the blue and silver in the Walgreens bag. Sixty sleeping pills.

 

“Did you take any?”

 

“No.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“You can check the receipt.”

 

“Are you ok?”

 

“I will be.”

 

“A friend of yours called us.”

 

“I thought so.”

 

Behind the cops, my Collegium Director pans the camera of his eyes. Old Spice deodorant, Hemingway, Asian Ramen, dirty white socks, spilled detergent of a sticky blue. His eyes halt at “My World.” He comes over and puts his arm around me. He ruffles my hair.

 

“I’m here for you, buddy.”

 

“I know. I’m sorry, Keith.”

 

He gives me a hug. It’s his job. My eyes burn. I feel my heart attempting to beat out of my chest. I’m warm inside. I’m so warm, I want Amma. Keith puts his hands on my shoulders. He looks me in the eye. I look down. He lifts my face from the chin. I tremble. I swallow cold spit. I’m embarrassed. I can’t look at him.

 

“Can we do coffee, tonight? Just you and me.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Denny’s? Your call. I’ll come get you at nine?”

 

“Ok.”

 

Keith smiles the milk of human kindness. Cops leave with him. Room has stopped spinning. I shut the tan door. I hum my favorite lullaby Amma used to sing to me when I was a baby. Crickets scream outside. I’m alone.

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