In a Sentimental Mood
By Vanessa Stone
There is a need to be of use. To be of service. To be of help. Otherwise, how would anything get fixed? This is what I told Maev. And while we are on the topic of fixing things, could you give me a hand here? Maev slid her chair next to me and organized my pills. Calcium, riluzole, vitamins A, B, C––I’ve been taking so many pills lately that I’ve begun to wonder if I will ever, ever properly shit again. Maev said she sees why not. I’m not particularly fond of Maev, but I find it much more manageable to say her name than the others. A year ago Care for Life assigned her to my case and so for a couple of hours, several days a week, she is of help to me.
Maev is of greater use to me particularly in the mornings when I spend an hour or two searching on the internet. Last month I thought I could learn to knit. After several hours of watching YouTube videos I attempted to make a yellow knitted blanket. It wasn’t long though before my fingers started feeling aggravated and so I settled for a knitted coaster instead. Maev pointed out I should try MasterClass instead, but I’m a socialist at heart and really enjoy public goods like clean air, literacy, lighthouses and free YouTube courses.
Despite her poor advice, Maev is a good listener. No one listens to anybody these days. We all just talk at each other. I suppose though listening skills come in handy if you are mothering six children. How Maev does it remains a mystery to me, of course. I have no children myself. Never had time. I posed this to Maev––why any woman in her right mind would allow a man to control her like that is beyond me. I do not think Maev understands the import of this statement because a) English is not her first language, and b) she never had a father nor a husband. Men, for all she’s concerned, are of no use to her.
“I understand,” Maev said.
“Of course I do.”
“I don’t think you do.”
Maev gave me the eye. The type of eye I imagined she must have used on her children perhaps when they were misbehaving. But I recognized it immediately as the type of eye I gave to my sister when she would call me about her divorce. An exhausted eye.
“You don’t need a man. Like me! Men, tsk, useless,” she unlocked the breaks on my wheelchair.
She wheeled me to the door where a full-length mirror rested against a wall. We both glanced at ourselves. In a month or two Maev would need to take me to the salon to get my hair colored back to brown. She took out two hats from her tote bag that she had placed rather sloppily near a glass vase earlier that morning. I wondered if she knew how much I hated that. She could have easily broken the vase by accident. At noon, as usual, the sun cast its sharp light against my home. On the south side, English Ivy was spreading its tendrils on the walls.
“Could you help me take this down please?” I asked Maev.
“But why? They’re very charming,” she said.
I do not think Maev has ever owned a home.
“Behind the beauty lies insidious problems,” I explained.
She did not answer.
“Do you see these tendrils? They might look harmless but they can do serious damage to the wrong type of structure. Listen, Maev. My home was built in the 1930s so it has significantly weaker mortar.” Maev remained circumspect so I stopped explaining it further at which point we resumed our daily walk.
With newly renovated homes cropping up in my area, I wanted to get acquainted with some of the new faces in my neighborhood. A young couple lived on one end and from what I gathered they are the kind of people socially engaged. According to Maev, whom I might have sent over to get details for me, Frank and Rachel just received their Gold Creator Award for the one-millionth person interested in watching them whisper while they cook. If you ask me there’s nothing impressive about whispering while cooking at all; most people don’t talk while they cook. And if you are screaming while cooking, then you are Gordon Ramsay––in which case, could you please not?
On the other end of my block lived a middle-aged man named Robert. I met him on one of my morning walks with Maev when I tried shoo-ing his fat white cat lying on the sidewalk. Out came Robert apologizing with his hands swishing in the air like one of those giant inflatable blow-up tubes you see at a car dealership except wearing a mask.
“Oh, you don’t need to do that,” I told him. He had only known the cat for a week. He adopted the poor thing shortly after he left his partner of fifteen years. Apparently it makes him feel selfless. And he was just starting to bond with Toby (the cat) when it decided it preferred to be an outsider rather than an insider.
“I’m afraid he might be harboring some sort of resentment towards me,” he explained.
“Why would you think that?” I asked.
“I started dating again,” Robert said as he winked at the cat.
“How do you feel about dating during a pandemic?”
“It can be scary, yes, I suppose. But you know, I’m really trying to be careful and only date those with potential antibodies.”
“In my opinion, it’s much better than waiting for a vaccine that may or may not come and may or may not do what it was supposed to do. It’s difficult to trust public health officials these days now that everything has become so politicized, you know what I mean?”
I can tell he wanted a visual agreement from me but after swallowing twenty-odd pills with my orange juice this morning to manage my amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, I physically could not. After a mouse captured Toby’s interest, the sidewalk was free for human use again. Maev wheeled me back home.
Maev was visiting her family in Cambodia for the first time in twenty years. She planned to rekindle what had been lost, she declared. Can you really do that in fourteen days? I asked her. She never got around to answering my questions before she left the spare keys on the table. I am still wondering. Personally, I think it is a blessing to have such a considerable distance from your family. Too much of anything is dreadful for you. Too much water intake can lead to low blood sodium, too much socializing can lead to social fatigue, too much talking is a symptom of logorrhoea, and so on. Take it from me, I have found plenty of freedom and solitude since my mother and sister passed away in a car accident nine years ago. I specifically told them to take a cab instead, but as I mentioned, nobody listens to anybody these days. Anyhow, since Maev was on a vacation, I once again found myself with plenty of freedom and solitude. As a result, I have begun a new routine––watching my neighbors across from me. Stuck on my second floor, I found that my guest bedroom afforded me a better viewpoint. From here, I discovered a few interesting facts about my neighbors:
- The wife worked remotely, usually engaged in a video conference call, and always dressed professionally from the waist up.
- The husband was a health worker, based, of course, on the scrubs he wore every day to go to work.
- They had a child (children, maybe) who might be off to college judging from the multiple collegiate signages splattered on a bedroom window.
- They were a bit delusional. They turned TWO whole walls on their third-floor bedroom into an eclectic collection of mementos. At a certain point, keepsakes no longer stood for anything other than a representation of junk.
- A strange man appeared at their door on a Tuesday afternoon.
- They ate dinner separately. Usually the husband in the living room watching TV and the wife in the kitchen on her phone. I couldn’t help but think of Jean Baudrillard, the French philosopher, when he said, “It is the saddest sight in the world,” upon seeing the vision of New Yorkers eating meals all by themselves. He continued to describe it as, “sadder than destitution.” He further went on to assert––and I love this––“He who eats alone is dead.” The French, as the old cliché suggests, approached the dining experience as something akin to the act of lovemaking. Baudrillard failed to realize two things: First, no one ever ate alone and thought, well this is the end of me. They just sat down, ate, and went on with their lives. Second, according to Robert, Americans do not love make, they fuck make. By this reasoning, my neighbors were certainly not French.
- I confirmed that they have not made fuck for the past week and that the only intimacy that had occurred between them was on Sunday when they brushed against each other in the staircase.
Maev left my medication organized which I was grateful for because today my symptoms included twitchy legs and stiff arms. More importantly, my tongue felt like a dying seal. I knew this because I called to make a socially distanced date with Robert and he kept asking me why I was moaning. He hung up and followed up with a text:
If I were into women, that
would turn me on,
winky emoji, enjoy your day, love!
My doctor explained it to me. It is sporadic, he said. This means that while I am slowly deteriorating there will be days I can move without a problem. He advised that on those problematic days I should keep myself intellectually engaged. I took his advice and finally signed up for the MasterClass courses, which the Gold Creator Award winners swore by. Apparently, anyone can become an insider these days. And since I can’t be an outsider, I might as well be an insider. I scrolled through the different courses, all documenting the artistry of the world’s biggest and brightest celebrities. For ninety US dollars I, too, can have a perfect backhand like Serena Williams, the ability to scout a film location like Werner Herzog, or possibly win an Oscar like Natalie Portman. I clicked on Natalie’s impeccable cheekbones, which launched me into the “Lesson Plan.”
It was a series of twenty videos of varying lengths. In her burgundy dress and beachy-wave hairstyle, Natalie looked directly at the camera. In an equally laid back and pleasant tone she outlined her expectations, namely what I should take from her class and the basic principles of acting. After two hours and thirty-seven minutes I completed the course. Like a great actress, Natalie gave a great performance as an instructor. Each lesson provided various modes of Natalie. There was a reminiscent Natalie, who tells you a story about her past. There was a reverent Natalie, who talks about the fine actors and performances she admired. Finally there was a spiritual Natalie, who claims empathy is the root of her artistry. This was important because we all know that empathy is free but acting lessons are not. I am wounded at this realization. I was made to feel like I gained something. Oh yes, Natalie. I, too, can act. But the moment I tried it, I realized I was completely inferior and that yes I can see that you can do it, but I know that I cannot. I spent the rest of the evening feeling betrayed.
The next morning, despite trying positivity, a key scene in Natalie’s course lingered in my mind. It was when she staged a room and pointed at a spot and said, “Here I find out I am being cheated on.” The strange man appeared at my neighbor’s house again. The door opened. He entered. I pinched my phone screen, zooming in on the house. In the kitchen was where they spoke. The man’s arm around the wife’s waist. In the living room, he looked at her from under his lashes and there she laughed, throwing her head back as if riding a rollercoaster. In the dining room was where they kissed. Up they went into the master bedroom where she glared through the blinds, abruptly, before closing them. That was where she would cheat. I closed my eyes.
She was in her red slip with her bare feet, hair tied back so as not to disturb the vision of him now in front of her. And there he was–––as beautiful as ever, as strong as ever. She ran to him, jumped on his thighs, and stuck on him like glue. Her hands grasped his.
“Oh but you are in my blood you’re my holy wine,” Joni Mitchell sang.
She climbed down his lengthy pole of a body, twisted, and pushed him to the ground. She stared at him until he sprung up like spring flowers. She lifted her leg, pointed her feet, and twirled like a dress.
“Oh and you taste so bitter, bitter and so sweet,” Joni sang again.
She leaped into his arms, folded her legs around him. There was nothing to do but for him to carry her in circles until he was exhausted. Until she was exhausted. Until there was nothing left of them. Only breath.
“Oh I could drink a case of you darling,” Joni sang for final time.
I felt it all. There I was, once upon a time, on that stage, where my body moved and lived. My numbness returned. I knew I was in the wheelchair again, bound to it like a genie to its lamp. The room was hotter too. I tried opening my eyes but could not. I could not open my eyes. I could not open my eyes. I tried to yell but my tongue was as dry as a riverbed. If I were a genie now, I would make a wish to be able to open my eyes or scream or throw that damn vase by the door. If I could just move, or perhaps if Maev was here, or anyone at all, my mother, my father, my sister, or even Robert, I could tell them there was a very, very serious problem that needs to be fixed.
Vanessa Stone is a creative freelancer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her stories have appeared in The Coil Magazine and Lumina Journal. She holds a BA from the University of Washington and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She is at work on a forthcoming novel, The Things We Did to God.