Our Bodies Kept Moving
It was like our brains had died, but our bodies kept moving. Kept right on moving, like a tire bouncing down some endless hill. If we were bored or disappointed, we didn’t know it. We did what Maurice had told us to do: We waited.
But we’d been waiting a long time, and after so much waiting, one day we woke up and our minds were empty. Like a glass jar. That’s what waiting does to you. We made lists just to help us mark the days:
Every day, then, we’d get up, we’d make the bed, we’d go to the store. We’d get items that looked familiar to us: apples, and eggs, and cans of soup. Sometimes our arms would stretch out over our heads and reach for the cereal box on the top shelf. We didn’t know why. We obeyed our bodies.
We’d carry our baskets to the check-out lady. “This it?” she’d say every day in her slow, low drawl. Her eyes did not shine, did not glimmer, did not blink.
“Yes, Ma’am,” we’d say. We no longer cringed at her clubby hand that palmed each item, then slid it across the scanner as quickly as a melting glacier. “Thank you, Ma’am,” we’d say because our voices seemed to want to say it, then we’d hurry to car because our legs were moving quickly.
On the way home, we’d stop at the gas station to top off the tank because Maurice always told us to be ready at a moment’s notice. We’d unload the groceries when we got back to our place; we’d eat what we’d gotten, do the dishes, then pick up our kitchen phone to call him. One of us would hold the receiver while the other would dial. We took turns listening.
One, two, three rings. Nothing. We knew he wouldn’t answer past three, so we hung up, watched TV, made a list for tomorrow, and went to bed.
In the morning, we checked our list.
We wanted to call Maurice right away. It made us nervous not hearing from him. It’d been a couple weeks, maybe three. We’d lost track when we ran out of fingers to count on. The day promised us nothing so far, so we made the bed, listened for the phone, patched the screen door that we accidentally punched a hole through, then we got in the car and went to the store. We weren’t very hungry, but our arms wouldn’t listen, reaching for ripe pears and crackers and sardines. The check-out lady said, “This it?” and we said, “Yes, ma’am,” and she scanned our items without even blinking.
The machine was also not blinking when we got home, but this wouldn’t have surprised us, had we thought of it. Maurice was cautious, never liked to leave a trail. He told us to never bring attention to ourselves, which meant to take care of things, even the lawn. You don’t want the cops called due to high grass, he told us. Or worse, he said, The Big Guy. So we ate some sardines and crackers and put the pears in the fridge for later, then we went outside. The mower was self-propelled, so we didn’t even have to push. It pulled us forward and we allowed ourselves to glide, and then turn, and then glide, and then turn, then glide some more.
We splashed water on our faces when we came back inside. Our faces were still wet when we picked up the phone to call Maurice. One ring, two rings, then the third ring stretched out for an eternity. Nothing. We hung up, and we gave each other looks, then we watched TV, made a list, and went to bed.
Maurice had once told us about this man who got tied up with the wrong folks. One night while he was rolling out his trash to the curb, The Big Guy pressed a gun into his back, told him to keep walking. They walked down the street, then around a corner, then down another block where a car was waiting. It was foggy, like a movie. Maurice said they shoved the man into a car, then drove him around the freeway, not sure what they’d do to him. They were messing with man, forcing him to hang his head out the window, like a dog. They were barking and laughing and calling him Fido. The man kicked and kicked as they pressed his shoulders up against the window frame, but this only made The Big Guy howl. Easy, Fido. Easy, he was saying. The driver began barking like some terrier, and that’s when it happened, the car careened to the right, up against a retaining wall. Fido’s head was severed clean off.
But it was like his body didn’t know his head was gone, and it kept right on kicking, kept moving and flailing in the back seat of the car. The Big Guy and the driver, they both started screaming, this headless body just wiggling around in the back seat of some borrowed sedan. Maurice said that’s why you never want to get messed up with the wrong people. That’s why it was we had to wait, he said. He’d let us know what to do next.
But we’d been waiting for a while.
In the morning, we read our list:
Making the bed never took much time; we just threw the cover over the sheets. We liked adding this item to our list, though, because we liked crossing it off quickly. Before 8 a.m. we rolled the trash out, then headed out to the store. We didn’t know what we wanted, but our hands grabbed at comfort foods—instant mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, pimiento sandwiches. The lady at the checkout said her thing and we said ours, and before we knew it, we were at the car wash, long strips of soapy cloth dancing hula on our windshield. It was only noon when we called Maurice. Our days were getting shorter.
One ring, two rings. On the third ring someone picked up.
“Hello?” we said. “Maurice, where you been?”
We waited for a response, heard only heavy breathing, some swallowing, some sniffing.
“Maurice? Hello?” we said again. And again we listened to respiratory sounds, some coughing, some phlegm.
“Hello?” we said once more, and when nobody answered we hung up, our hearts thumping around like some boxers were throwing it punches at it.
We spun around the kitchen with our hands in our hair. Was Maurice fucking with us? Was it someone else? We made a mess of the mashed potatoes and mac and cheese—didn’t even use forks. We ate our pears and finished the crackers. We pulled out our Bourbon from its hiding place. Maurice always said to never get too drunk, because we never knew when we’d have to leave at a moment’s notice, but we were sick of listening. We were sick of waiting.
“Fuck it,” we said. And we drank, long, slow slugs that burned going down. We felt a lightness rise up in our limbs. We felt our worries release. We’d been here for an eternity, it seemed, and we’d done what we were told: We’d waited and we waited. Nobody could be expected to wait this long. We couldn’t take one more morning of making the bed. We couldn’t take one more day of the dead-eyed check-out lady, her fat hands groping our stuff.
And we were drinking and we were crying, and we were lamenting our lives and all the wrong turns we had made when the phone rang, jarring us into sobriety again.
We picked up after the first ring. “Hello?” we whispered.
First we heard silence, and then breathing, and then nothing. The quiet felt a million miles away, a million times quieter than an empty room.
We quickly hung up, but a few minutes later the phone rang again. We didn’t say hello. We didn’t have to. It was Maurice this time. His voice was shaking. We could tell he was sweating. Maybe The Big Guy had gotten him.
“I told you to wait,” he said. His words were rushed, pained like he had a gun against his back.
“We’ve been waiting,” we said. “We’ve been doing just that.”
Maurice said nothing, like we were supposed to talk next.
“Where you been, Maurice?”
Again, silence filled our ears, pressed down into our eardrums until it almost hurt.
“Don’t leave us here,” we said.
The dial tone sounded like a tunnel, like something very far away.
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