Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCu CC
It has been three months since I took any pills, and two weeks since I returned home. Now I am back in a place with unlocked doors and metal knives just resting in their wooden block on the counter. Ava comes in and wanders around the house, touching the walls and tables as if something about them is new.
“You look like you again,” she says, glancing at me, then turning her attention to a framed postcard of Yellowstone National Park. But Ava never knew me before I was prescribed anything, and so her seemingly throwaway compliment has the opposite effect on me, barreling back with the force of every question I ever asked myself about who I was.
One thing I used to do, at home before rehab, and then during those weeks there, was create backstories for my symptoms. My internal tremors, those unnatural strums of pain in my chest, became the effect of motion on a train. I was Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, in a long nightgown in a sleeping car, feeling the patient midcentury country bump along under me, every mile a minute closer to meeting Cary Grant. And the ringing in my ears was my communicative tether to a small race of aliens, and as long as the sound churned through my canals, one side of my head to another, I knew the aliens were alive and well, and they knew the same about me.
Ava says, “Are you about ready?”
Ava says. “I mean, we don’t have to go if you don’t want to. We can stay here and have a – watch a movie or something.”
“No, no,” I tell her. “I’d like to see everyone.”
The problem is that I still have the ringing but it doesn’t feel like a tether anymore. It feels like the aliens hit End Call without saying goodbye. And now I am at this party, where I am pretty sure I’m saying all the right things, but I am inexplicably lonely. Maybe it’s just that the right things aren’t the true things, that everyone wants to hear how you are “healed” and back at work and still able to eat cheese sandwiches and cake (I am gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free until who knows when). No one wants to know about all the days that were little more than twelve hours preparing to go to bed.
Or maybe it’s that I miss the aliens.
I place my glass of water and lime on the kitchen island and duck into the hallway. Hanna’s girls aren’t at the house tonight, and Hanna clearly had them clean their room before they left. An intricate, nearly finished world of horses, cars, roads, and stables sits on their Lego table. I pick up one of the cars and dismantle it piece by piece, letting the blocks pile up in the gray plastic road. I snatch a recycling truck and do it again, dumping the blocks into a horse’s stable, burying him.
Then I fall into one of the girls’ beds – they used to have names above them; it’s a relief they are gone – and press a stuffed toy against each of my ringing ears. The sound is louder when the voices from the living room are muffled out. It is never a soft ring or a harsh one, just a steady reminder that I exist.
One of the stuffed toys is a rabbit. The other a formless blue blob with crossed eyes and a bright grin. I would like to think that the aliens have found me, that they are satisfied by what I’ve done. “I’m listening,” I tell them.
Lauren Karcz is the author of a novel, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls (Harper, 2017), as well as short fiction and essays in TINGE Magazine, Skirt Magazine, and the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. She graduated from the University of Georgia, taught English in Tokyo, and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her family.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.