Originally published in Roberts Wesleyan College Journal for the Arts, Vol. 1, “Like Orange Juice for Toothpaste” (1997). It won the “Best Prose” award, earning me a place on the journal’s editorial advisory board the following year.
There I am. My furnishings surround me, extensions of my life. They are my arms and legs resting on the coffee table, leaning against the wall. I recline, a book in my hand. My feet search for someplace to sit. They keep searching.
Light is dim, a resource not readily available; it costs money. The shades stay open, even at night. The neon sign advertising the bar in the building next to me illuminates my living room with a soft blue light, for free. I do not fear that someone will look in on my life; I welcome the thought. Solitary I live. Though I am a closed door, I do not lock myself in from the world, and all are free to come in and walk through my abode. Look at me with sly glances or stare at me openly; I have nothing to hide. I live on the third floor.
The book I read captivates me. Above me water runs through an exposed pipe to warm a radiator somewhere on the next floor. The warmth of the water causes the pipe to expand, making a popping noise. I do not notice it. My own faucet might be running and the sink causing water to flood my home. Care escapes me.
My head rests against the back of my recliner. I bought it at a lawn sale a year ago. The cushions, made of fine cloth and stuffed with the softest material, make a good bed. I sleep here often.
Other books sit on the shelf. Unread, they have sat for a long time. Many more books rest in boxes next to the shelf, unread for an even longer time. I enjoyed them when I read them, and will enjoy them when I read them again. I have no time to read them now. I read another book.
Down the hall lives someone else. Music emanates from her apartment. It has emanated for several hours and will emanate for several hours more. It haunts me through thin walls, not a ghost that scares, but a ghost that tries to break my concentration. Nothing distracts me; childish superstitions left me long before I finished being a child.
I read an old book. Some call it a classic. Maybe it is. I’ve never read it before. It is a land undiscovered by me. Others have traversed it, but they made no maps and left no markings. Their trails overgrow with the undergrowth of abandon. I read alone.
The loneliness does not scare me; it does not crush me as it does others. Solitude doesn’t oppress those who understand him. He loves us and wishes more of us loved him. In this I am of Thoreau’s mind: He is the most companionable of companions. I sit with my favorite companion and read.
On the floor lies the dust of days, months, years, filth never swept from my rooms. I usually ignore it because there is little to notice. Sometimes I feel it when I walk in my bare feet. It chafes the skin of my sole. At times I decide to begin sweeping it up, but then I cannot find a broom. I resolve to borrow one from a neighbor later. Then I put on my socks and forget about the dust on the floor. My socks cover my feet now so that no dust interrupts my reading.
A clock perches on a shelf above the books I have not read in a while. It reads twelve minutes before twelve. So many times throughout the day I look at the clock. It runs fast by three minutes according to my friend. That way I’m on time for my appointments. But sometimes I remember that my clock is three minutes fast, so I wait three minutes longer. I don’t have that many appointments anyway.
I hold a book in my hand. The paper is coarse. It makes minute scratches on the surface of my skin. I hold the book in such a way as to keep the binding from bending in the middle. Nothing irritates me more. Such disrespect shows ignorance. This mechanism of learning and thought must be treated with affection, not indifference.
The company disconnected my phone last month, but a phone still sits on the coffee table. It sits next to another book. Someday I’ll pay the bill. When I do, my phone will be ready to use again. Then I can call my friends in different cities and run up another high phone bill. They are worth it. I think.
A thought flies through my mind, a tiny ant scurrying on some errand that only she knows. Other thoughts have passed through my mind’s hallways, migrating between northern unconsciousness and southern consciousness, but there is only room enough for one to travel right now. What I read consumes too much of my mind. The messages my eyes send overwhelm my mind’s switchboard, overlooking anything else.
The thought dies before it reaches the warmth of the tropics. It slowly falls into the sea of oblivion that separates the bitter continent from the temperate islands. Someday it may wash up on shore, but someone else will decide which way the current takes it.
I read a book. So far it interests me. I am on the second word.