Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stress, fractures

*another intended scene for Falcons on the Floor


Responsible for endless nights of worry, generating dreadful scenarios – though all imaginary, though all irrational – Yasir agonized more about the missing paper towels than Salim’s farewell letter. The letter was bad enough. It took him days to even read it.

And now Salim was off with Khalil, reckless, big-eared Khalil with his big-shot ideals and big-shot rifles. There was nothing he could do. Yasir snickered at the shadowed living room, useless lamps, and snuffed outlets.

The electricity had shut off. It was almost as if the moment Salim and Khalil left the house, a minute after they closed the door behind them, the electricity snapped dead, smudging the house with silence. This made him feel even more alone. No refrigerator hum or radio static. The ceiling fan unwound to a pathetic halt.

Confined to the sofa, he’d passed out soon after, upright, pillow over his round stomach, but the outside traffic – honking and backfiring and constant banging – racked him awake.

Yasir cranked his head, rubbing his neck as if it might refocus the room.

He coughed into his hand, hernia stabbing with every hack. The wild hairs on his knuckles tickled his nostrils. An itching just above his shoulder blade. Leaning forward, slow, he sucked shallow breathes and stared at his feet, trying not to cough again, trying not to spasm. He looked around the room, the coffee table, rugs. No way to reach the itch.

His water glass rattled from the grumbling of a passing truck. Water rippled around its base. He wished he had the energy to vacuum – almost grateful for the blackout.

Leftover food hardened around him. The kahi that Khalil brought sat for hours on the coffee table, crusting hard to their tray in the dry heat. As delicious as they looked, Yasir refused to indulge and, sick of looking at them, he lifted the tray to the kitchen where he finally banished them to the trash. One of the sugary pastries bounced onto the floor. He couldn’t bend to pick it up.

Bribing me with doughnuts, he thought, disrespectful boy. Arrogant. Big-shot Fedayeen wanna-be.

He remember the first time he’d seen the newspaper photo of the Mercenaries hanging from the bridge and Khalil’s big face in the middle of everything like it was some wild street party.

Disrespectful. Arrogant. Dangerous. Salim should have nothing to do with him. Bringing me kahi. Trying to sweeten me up. Bringing nothing, but trouble. And they left the house in such a hurry.

Why had Salim taken the paper towels?

Yasir hadn’t noticed until he stood from the couch, hand on his abdomen, hernia needling. And he stumbled to the kitchen, his sweating hand holding onto whatever support it could find, the other balancing the tray. Sweat pimpled above his eyebrows.

Yasir knew it was a bad habit, wasting paper towels to blot his sweaty forehead, the sweat that crept down like spider legs, but what else to use? He wasn’t going to climb the stairs all the way to the bathroom just to wipe his forehead. Whatever rag lying around the kitchen had been used to mop mysterious puddles, their funk steamed rancid on countertops before they made it to wash. Climbing the stairs would create more sweat, anyway. It made no sense.

Sometimes he used his shirt sleeve. Once, a sock that sat on the back of the sofa. He decided to never do that again.

But why not take a cloth towel?
There was half a roll left.

It was noon. His head was a hot air balloon.
Yasir turned off the coffee machine and recycled the remaining coffee from his mug back into the pot for later. No need to refrigerate. He shuffled, braced against the stove.

Protruding painfully, his hernia pulsed in the fatty deposits of this abdomen and a lump, now palpable, transmitted lightening to every receptive nerve in its network. Limping, he inched to the sink where the paper towel rack hung under the cabinet. Droplets covered his face like flecked paint; the bravest drop rocked like a ball bearing at the tip of his nose.
Yasir soaked them up with his sleeve.

And there it was. He might’ve missed the letter entirely if he hadn’t been searching for something to wipe his head and he gave the letter a skeptical expression before lifting it with jellied hands. Salim’s, no doubt. A crisp business envelope. Not a crinkle or blemish or crease. Why the formality? Why the envelope? Lifting it to the light, the type bled through, Salim’s signature too.

Yasir let his eyelids stutter shut and he tilted his head back, resisting a tremble. Without looking, he slid his thumb under the paper lip, peeled apart glue and fiber and unfolded the letter, but kept his eyes on the ceiling where he could stay ignorant for just a few seconds longer.
Cracks webbed the plaster, stress fractures.

And he let the letter creep, still folded, back to the cool laminate countertop.
Was Salim hurt? Bleeding?

Another truck passed by the house, scaring the windows. Echoes moved the room. Worms in his irises, starry shocks of light. My love, Yasir thought, battling his own breath, my boy, and then he forced himself not to think at all.

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