As weeks go it has been the last week of August out of elementary school. You wait along with everyone else while adults scurry in their determined ignorance of the weight all around you, an end of all things creeping in. You can feel it in the cartoons sounding distant and tinny, the glazed looks as the ice cream van warbles by, a listlessness as everyone shuffles in their cool indifferent listlessness that now seems like a grey grief. The smell of tried on in the store new clothes can’t be washed off, and hands have held pens and papers destined for desks in rows.
As a grownup the world is bigger with startling plains of choices stretching out beneath a fading sun, but I can still feel that distant, unreal reflection from a time of three TV channels and worry about nuclear war. There are no expectations and no one is watching but I feel I should be doing something else. I should be in the machine turning my cog. I should be productive. Then for some reason I look at the MasterCard statement and I feel the thin pricking insect legs of doubt everywhere, on everything.
The house is stalled, wrapped up in paperwork and the need to prove my family isn’t a no-account in the conventional fashion. The job, meant to start this past Thursday, is now starting in a week. Four months to get paperwork through is insufficient. All three are related, all three tiny specs in the whirling constellation of ostensibly intelligent grownups chasing little tokens of worth immediately given over to someone else. I am still free but I am not free because I know some freedom must end. I am free only because I was tied down before.
Who do you think you are, with your pleasurable holiday, your interesting friends, your people to talk to and your reliance on charity? The clock will run out, or the money you need to buy a clock to keep track of the Man’s time. The bank will find out about the job, or the job knows about the bank. They will put together you got that big blue Escape hung up in dust, or that pole you thought you hit was a car. They are all watching and they all already know.
He has been flitting around here and there, like the B-movie shadow in the corner of vision. I have seen him from a distance as if through a telescope, a strange perspective: he is shifting and unreal and a far smaller blot than I would have guessed. But now he is back stalking the air and pointing out that everything around you, still solid and colored and warm from the sun, is all different and will never be the same.
Who are you and why are you back?
If I am back you know who I am. Why the long face? You should be glad. I am the oldest, most constant thing you know.
Your truth discomfits me. There is something wrong with how familiar you are, how you stick around. You are the bug outside the window whose noise might as well be inside my head.
The resilience of our relationship shows the rightness of it all. Where did all those good grades and all those savings come from if not from me? Be grateful. Not everybody has such a friend as me.
They sell a couple dozen billion in antidepressants a year. Might as well be everybody.
See? You aren’t alone even without me. I am always with someone. Your depressive nature dupes you into thinking you are my only friend. You types never figure out the all-or-nothing only works one way.
You just contradicted yourself. Why are you here on a holiday from labor?
Work expands to fill the time allotted. Holidays don’t save you anything, which you’ve forgotten; they’re when you do the extra work you’ve neglected. Why would I know why you gave yourself a reprieve? You know the MasterCard statement shows up every month. You want to rail against someone that never forgets? I’m a midget compared to them.
There is no point in this conversation but I am having it. I am fretting over money not spent unwisely: the cat needed the vet, I needed gas. I’ve been buying bread from the day-old rack, been riding the bus more. Why does it go so fast?
Radio Shack was too much a fascination when I was a kid, but the falling out happened early. I was in middle school, or the sixth grade. Summer, bugs and the drone of air conditioning, shades drawn, the light bright and green outside, dirty incandescent inside. The Radio Shack goods lay on my blue bedspread tumbled from the bag, idiot things like a foam turntable pad and color-coordinated patch cords. Under the fat 1980s light it struck me solid: this was garbage. Money cobbled together from birthday card cash and recycled cans I had willingly given up for junk.
The truth was solid as an insult. I remember being dizzy. I had been cheap before, but then I became cheap.
Of course you will need to populate your new space with toilet paper, spatulas, salt and pepper, all those little things you always had and never realized how much they’d be when wrested from the store. Every little thing you will have to buy, and even Goodwill is expensive now. How fortunate you will be in rescuing the economy all by yourself. If you go back to work, that is. Which, if you get the house, will likely not happen, as that’s how these things go.
The weekend has been long with hiking and sun, a cold wind off the ocean at the beach. I had expected to have been at work since Thursday with the weekend a fast breath up out of vaguely familiar, lukewarm water, and Monday a paid holiday. Friday the wisdom of buying a house ate at me. Today I saw the credit card.
Sun shines brightly through leaves that are already falling. Upstairs it is almost too warm from the shaded heat. The cat is sleeping. I am tired, writing this. I am not quite sure where I am. Monkey has wandered, happy with the sun.
I try to remember if my parents fought about money. I remember some long-ago August at someone’s house, raised adult voices in front of us at the kitchen table. One of us is getting a glass of water, the rest in front of the wood console TV, and we all exchange silent glances and go. Outside we sit in the setting sun, the bricks warm, a power transformer humming. Nobody says anything because you can’t talk about the adults having fights, and you can’t talk about school for the bad luck. Somebody says something funny and somebody half-laughs, but you’re just milling around, and when dusk comes everyone separates for whatever private desperation is at that kitchen table, in front of that TV. But I stayed after everyone had gone because this house, this kitchen table and TV, were still too hot to touch, and there’s no loneliness like outwaiting that heat to cool off, a heat far hotter than the bricks ever got.