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QRD #29, January 2006
about this issue
If Thousands interview
Kobi interview
Plumerai interview
Timothy Renner interview
Torch Marauder interview
Bill Horist interview
Erin O’Brien interview
Nadav Carmel interview
Memories of Piggy
Plumerai Tour Diary
The Day She Carried Me
Four Pieces by Patricia Russo
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Four Pieces
by Patricia Russo

This Time

     He threatened to disappear me, in a voice so sweet it sounded like the offer of a small, loving gift.  Cotton candy, a stroke on the cheek, a velvet flower.  No one will ever know you existed at all, he said, smiling his lovely smile.  It wouldn’t take much; hardly anyone notices you now.  Has anyone, ever?  You’ve been invisible since you were born.  To disappear you would be a very simple step.  He snapped his fingers.  Easy as that.
     Born to disappear.
     This was so completely true that I was hit by terror, struck down; I sank to my knees right there on the sidewalk.  He always made his threats in public; this time, we were on our way to a party at the home of a couple he knew from work, both of whom, naturally, always ignored me.  I knelt on the pavement and bowed my head, and whispered, “No.”
     What a mistake.  So stupid.  I had exposed my fear.  Now he wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to do it, to finish with me, completely and forever.  I kept my body as still as I could, but inside the panic roared and crashed like storm-roiled waves.
     The world is sad, and to be alive is a cruel fate, one that can be endured only through self-beguilement, but still.  I knew I was invisible, but the thought of being disappeared filled me with anguish.  To cling; it is the only thing I have ever been good at.
     He said nothing for quite a long time, and this surprised me so much that at last I looked up. 
     There were people about, which was only natural.  It was early evening in late spring, the last of the sun not yet died out of the sky.  People existed on foot and people existed in automobiles; those in cars glanced and drove on, but those on foot slowed, some of them, and stopped, some of them, and looked.
     At me.
     At me?  At me, yes.  Not at him.  Stunned, I gazed from one face to another, and the people gazed back, their eyes concerned, or mocking, or amused, or indifferent, but all of their pairs of eyes pinned on me.  None of them paid any attention to him.
     I glanced up, directly at him this time, and saw that he had noticed it, too.  The expression on his face was most peculiar.
     Slowly, I stood up, and brushed off my knees.
     Some of the people on the street moved on, some stayed.
     He stood, not moving.
     I stood, not moving.
     We looked at each other for a long, long time.


     So Tony wanted a pink plastic shopping bag with string handles.  It had to be pink.  It had to be plastic.  It had to have string handles.  There was no reason for this, of course; absolutely no reason for any of it.  But I can understand desire, and how pointless it is ninety-nine times out of a hundred, and in order to keep Tony out of trouble I offered to accompany him on his search.
     “Thanks a lot,” he said, all fawning and grateful and everything, but almost immediately he started making problems.
     I understand desire.  There is desire in the mind, and desire in the gut, and desire in the marrow of our smallest bones.  But stupidity I cannot understand and cannot tolerate.  It makes me crazy. 
     “Not that way,” I said, when Tony began to head toward Blue Street.
     “Why not?” he said, and kept walking.  Now this was deliberate imbecility.  I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and shook him hard.
     “Because there are people that way.”
     He dodged out of the way before I could hit him, and I was seriously going to hit him for that, and not some wimpy open-handed slap, either.
     “Because you stay away from people.  What are you, retarded?  You get close to people, they grab you, latch on to you.  Cling like leeches.  Once you let them near you, you’re finished.  They never let go.  How the fuck old are you, anyway?”
     Tony just sort of looked confused and shook his head, then started back toward Blue Street again.  Hopelessly dumb.  So I grabbed him again and took him to the corner of Denby and Third, and showed him.  Had to almost shove his face into it, to make him see.
     The guy, or it might have been a woman, who knows.  Who cares.  Made no difference either way.  She or he was bound up tight, in strings and ropes and vines, still alive of course, no point to it if the person dies. Tied down by all the strands and coils and connections, twitching more than wriggling.  Some of those responsible were standing there, quite close to him or her; others were ringing her cell phone; others were writing him letters; others were way across the world, thinking about her. 
     “See?” I said to Tony.  “You see what happens when you get involved with people?”
     The individual bound and twitching on the corner of Denby and Third rolled his or her eyes at us.  Nothing I could do, of course.  There were others like her or him all around us, on every street, in every apartment, in every house.  I used to cry for them.  I would not cry any more.  The person I brought Tony to see shivered and jerked and gasped, and kept being squeezed tighter and tighter by the tendrils and threads and arms and the fingers and the strands of the others.  All the others.  It was twisting and crying and dying
     “That’s what happens,” I yelled.  “Do you see?  That’s what happens when you get close to people.”
     He looked, and then he looked at me.  His face was gray.  “Always?”
     Oh my fuck, how many times had I told him the same damn thing?  “Yes, you fucking moron, always.”
     He stuck his tongue out, licked his lips.  “Then why do you hang out with me?”
     That sort of shook me.  I gaped at him for a second.  “What, do you think you’re a person?”
     “I thought I was,” he said, in a small voice, and I just had to laugh.  Taking his arm, I pulled him away from the intersection of Denby and Third, and walked him far away from it, and even farther away from Blue Street, in search of the pink plastic bag with string handles that he wanted so much.


     He walked down the street, cutting off his hair, that first, strand by strand and clump by clump, letting the locks drop wherever they cared to, feeling lighter, more liberated, with every snap of the blades.  After the hair, the clothes.  That was simple; he didn’t need the scissors, but he used them, for the parallelism of it:  snips of hair, snips of cloth, marking the path he left behind him, Hansel with his pebbles, though he was a Hansel who was never going home.
     What next, after clothes?  Skin, naturally, and the less difficult bones, the joints that could be cut through cleanly, and the easily discarded dangly bits; the blood left him of itself, no need to cut blood, to snip or slice or shear it.  Lighter, freer, less perceptible with each step, he walked down the street, removing piece after piece, part after part, of himself, wondering, with no fear, with merely a mild impatience, when it would be enough, how much of himself he would be required to eliminate before he could finally disappear.

Dirty Feet

     I’m always the last to find out.  Nobody ever tells me anything, no one ever bothers to clue me in.  It’s like I’m invisible or something, a shadow barely brushing across other people’s lives.  Even the fuckers I see every damn day.  Same exact shit as high school, like when they did red t-shirt Friday.  Everyone knew except me.  So that Friday at John Adams High I was the one button-down plaid in an ocean of red.  Even the teachers laughed. 
     People tell you high school ends, but that’s a lie.  It’s all high school, all the time, all your life.  And I’m sick of it.
     So the new thing, the foremost fashion of the moment, seems to be to go barefoot.  Not that anyone let me know.  Not the old lady across the hall, whose light bulbs I change whenever she asks me, not the customers at the dry cleaner’s where I work, certainly not my coworkers, or the smiley guy at the kiosk where I buy the paper every day.  No.  I had to figure it out myself, like always.  All of them were going barefoot, and so was everyone else I saw.
     So I did, too.  Took off my $19.99 brown Outland boat shoes, took off my six-pairs-for-five-dollar socks, and went out barefoot, like everyone else.  Everybody else in the city, everybody else in the damn world, it looked like.  People on the TV were doing it, folks on the news, presidents and prime ministers and models and football players and rock stars I’d never heard of.  Everyone.  So of course I did it, too.  You think it’s fun being the only button-down plaid in a sea of red?
     Yeah.  You don’t know.  You’ve always been invisible in the red.
     So I go barefoot, even though it’s March and the pavement is cold.  I don’t mind that so much.  I don’t mind cutting my feet on broken glass, I don’t mind stepping on frozen spit and warm dog diarrhea.  I just want to fit in, to do what everyone else does.  I want to be invisible.  Like the rest of you.
     There’s one thing I don’t get, though.
     I can’t ask anyone about it.  They’d all laugh because I don’t know.  Besides, nobody would tell me, anyway.
     But here’s the thing.  My feet are filthy.  Everybody else’s feet are clean.  On the street, in the dry cleaner’s, in the store, in the lobby of my building.  People look at my feet and smirk, and my face gets hot and I start to shake.
     It’s not my fault.  I don’t know how to do the right thing.
     I wish someone would explain it to me.