You Are Hurting My Feelings
I hire a man to build me a house. His name is King. “G is silent,” he says. “King,” he says. “Kin?” I ask. “King,” he says. “I can still hear the G,” I say. “No you can’t,” he says. “Kin?” I ask. “King,” he answers. “G is silent,” he says.
How much?” I ask. “Hundreds of thousands,” he says. “Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands and thousands and thousands.” I agree. It is more than fair. I show him my acres. He stands on my acres. We stand on my acres. His pants are rainbow. He seems like the only man for the job. I look around. The sun is setting. There are no other men. He is the only man. His skin glows white. He smells like gauze.
“I can build you a house. Windows?” I nod yes. “Doors?” I nod yes again. “Water?” “I’m sorry.” “Electricity?” “Please.” “Roof?” he asks. “Seems necessary, no?” “To what?” asks King. “To a house,” I say. King looks up. “To a house,” he repeats. “Is that okay?” I ask. “I’m sorry,” I say. “People like you…” says King. Says Kin. People like me? I want to ask, but instead I wonder accidentally out loud, “a porch?” “Scented?” asks King. “Possibly like roses?” He does a little hop. My face gives my happiness away. King pulls a Crybaby Sugar packet out from his pocket. He smiles. His teeth are grey suds. He reaches for my collarbone and unclips a pen from my blouse. On the packet he carefully writes: “Porch. Scented. Possibly like roses.” He rips open the packet. “Want some?” “No, thank you,” I say. “No Crybaby, just house.” King opens his mouth wide, tilts his head back, and empties the packet like it’s the last one on earth. Like he’s already triumphant. When he thinks I’m not looking he crumples the packet and drops it to the ground.
Something on my acres is a terrible person.
King tells me to stand still. He measures the space between us. “Less than I thought,” he mutters. He looks at me funny. He will order materials.
He will begin on Thursday. It will take him one hundred days. “Pinky promise,” he says. He runs his hand through his stiff, white hair, and I notice he has an extra pinky on his left hand. With his right hand he takes my bones. Half now and half when the house is built. “This feels good,” he says. King’s eyes seem far away and I imagine the ones opening and closing on his face belong to his father or my father or your father. “This feels right,” he says.
I have always wanted to live in a house. I curl up on my acres and wait for King. Like a hospital, the hope in my heart stays open.
On Thursday King does not arrive. On Friday King does not arrive. I stand on my acres. On Saturday I am cold. On Sunday, I call for King. No answer. On Monday, there goes King exactly as I remember him. “Stop!” I say. “Where have you been?” I ask. He gently weeps. “I have been floral.” Silence. He looks at me for a long time. His eyes soften like sawdust. “I have been forest. I have been feast. I have been fighting frostbite on my face. Where have I been? I have been forever. Plus it’s only the fifth of February, isn’t it?” He wraps his terrible arms around me. “I have been frightened.”
My bones spill from his pockets. King sags. I hold him up.
It is clear what is happening. He has been where the F’s are. Right before the G’s. The G is silent. His name is Kin or King. He will begin on Tuesday. He presses a Crybaby Sugar packet into my palm. Everything is understandable.
On Tuesday, King arrives with a crew of Kings. I count seven. I cannot tell one King from another. They sit on my acres in a large circle. They are very sad. “I do not think a sea will appear today,” says King. “Nor do I,” says King. “Nor do I,” says King. After several hours, one King stands up, looks around, and slowly walks away. The other Kings follow, one by one, until they’re all clocked out. Until all the Kings are gone.
On Wednesday, King returns alone. He clocks in. He gives me the hammer to hold. A spray of dull nails blooms from his mouth. He takes back the hammer and for hours he softly taps a single nail into my acres.
My neighbor comes by. He wants to know what’s all the racket. I show him my acres, which he truly admires. He has fewer acres, for I am far richer. I introduce him to King. “G,” says King, “is silent.” King, my neighbor, and I stand around the nail. The nail still has some time before it disappears into the soft, great earth.
Something is finally happening.
“The percentage of fiction we live with,” says my neighbor, “is much higher than we realize.” “For example,” he says, “Kin.” “King?” I ask. “Yes,” says my neighbor. “Kin.”
King clocks out. “It will either one day be okay or it will never be okay.” This seems more than fair.
On Thursday, bright and early, King arrives with an assistant. Her name is Punch and she is the size of a small sheep. She gives me a thick hug. “I was the middle child. Often I was bleeding. Often I am still bleeding,” she says. She shows me her hands. Her hands are bleeding. Her accent is dank and watery.
Her feet move fast, but she never goes farther than a few inches.
Together, they appear to have no tools. I stand on my acres and wait. Punch and King read out loud to each other from The Lives of Saints and Martyrs. When they are done with the book they play jacks. Punch loses every time. The orange ball bounces towards me and I grab it. They show no signs of work or remorse. They clock out.
They disappear. Months go by. My neighbor drapes some kind of fur over me. I fear it is sheep.
During the day, I stand on my acres. At night I lie down. Sometimes I bounce the orange ball.
I begin to hate King thinly. Where is my house? Nowhere. I can faintly smell a livingroom, but it’s a dead one.
“Maybe you should pray,” says no one.
I wish to “feel great.” I wish to “feel safe.”
In a minute I will remember where I lived before never living here.
In a minute, but first I am becoming mean. I sleep with my fists up. My neighbor, who has fewer acres, watches me from inside his house. It is possible he is falling in love with me. I see Punch and King floating above. I jump up and try to pull them down. They hover like balloons. I catch them by their string. They are not Punch and King. They are balloons. They are balloons celebrating something human. I stomp on their heads and they pop.
My neighbor arrives with a gift. “Housewarming,” he whispers. It is clear he wants to touch me. I unwrap the package. Bedsheets with black clouds.
1,160 days go by. Something motherish and still grows on my acres. When I approach the thing it growls.
I wish to “feel great.” I wish to “feel safe.”
I cannot remember which is silent. The K or the G? Kin? Ing? In? But there is no in, there is only out. Punch crawls towards me. “Kindling,” she says. I try to catch her, but she is surprisingly fast on her knees. “There was a gust!” shouts Punch. “A gust blew us away.” And then Punch is gone.
Daisies bloom on my acres. “Are you stupid?” I ask them.
I dream my neighbor is an apple. I slice him in half. Instead of seeds I find ten tiny brown mules. I explain to the mules I wish to “feel great.” I wish to “feel safe.” “Shut up, Nancy,” they bray. Shut up.” How do they know my name is Nancy? My own mother doesn’t even know this much.
When I wake up, my acres are strewn with empty Crybaby Sugar packets.
Punch returns, Kingless. “What if there is no King?” asks Punch. “What if there are no acres?” It is winter. I draw a house on a Crybaby Sugar Packet. Two windows, a door, a roof, a little chimney with a scribble of smoke. I give it to Punch. A mule from my dream wanders by. I wish to “feel great.” I wish to “feel safe.” I can hear my neighbor opening and closing his front door. I collect all the Crybaby Sugar Packets and build a great mountain. The mule from my dream kneels down. I climb up on his back.
Together we begin the long journey up the mountain. I wave goodbye to Punch, but she doesn’t see me. Or she pretends not to see me. “What if none of this ever really happened?” asks the mule. The mule’s ears are so long and soft and beautiful. Into them, I wish to whisper something true. “Once upon a time,” I begin, “a very rich old woman gave half her bones away to a King…” But the mule never hears the story. The crunch of the Crybaby Sugar packets under its hooves is too loud. It sounds, I imagine, like rain must sound against a windowpane.
“The larger of two carts for moving things,” read the message, “is missing from room 255. If you have it please return asap. It is needed.” Had the message never appeared in our inboxes, we would’ve gone on believing father. But the message appeared, as did father with the cart.
We wished we had no inboxes. We were mad.
Mad at father?
Yes, we were mad at father. But we were mad mostly at ourselves. And at Mary Helen for sending the message. And we were mad at our inboxes.
We were mad as beets.
The conundrum as we saw it was that father loved us. The larger of two carts for moving things did not love us, nor did Mary Helen, nor did our inboxes. It was in our best interest to take father’s side, to believe there was a flood of carts, a deluge of carts, and the cart now being pulled around our living room like some heartbroken farm animal was not the same cart that had mysteriously gone missing. “But all the evidence,” piped up Mendel, “points to father’s malfeasance.” Mendel was the smallest of us, and the most committed to truth. I sniffed Mendel’s head. He smelled like cucumbers.
It was the last thing we wanted to do, but on Mendel’s behest we tromped to our inboxes to further examine the message.
A significant amount of moss had grown over Annette’s inbox, which concerned us, but today was not about Annette or her inbox. Today was about father.
Over father we were agog. We were gaga. If he told us to hold our horses, with all our might we’d hold our horses until they all stopped breathing, if necessary. If he urged us to flee, we fled. We glowed like a mob that came night after night only for him. And now just a mouse-click away from possible ruin, our child-sized hearts were disheveled with worry.
“This is not the same cart,” father assured us. “This is a different cart.”
Which is not to say we hadn’t worried before. We had. But the jig that had stayed down for years, was now ascending like a tired balloon. “Why,” asked Annette, “does there even need to be a jig?” She was pulling on her skirt, as if pulling on her skirt would pull the jig down. She asked this, but she knew. There always has to be a little bit of jig so as to keep our brains from softening. Even so, the very last thing we ever wanted to say to father was “gotcha!”
The stories father made up, in the beginning, barely grazed us. He would tell us about all the years he spent with mother battening down the hatches when we knew very well there was no mother or hatch for miles. We knew if given the chance father would have no idea how to batten anything. But we listened, and we forgave.
This was before we had inboxes.
The old ladies would be showing up soon to help us, but in the meantime it was up to us, father’s sons and daughters, his “henchman” as he called us in the summer, his “poppets” as he called us in the winter, to get to the bottom of father. “The larger,” read Mendel, “of two carts…” We looked from our inboxes to father. We looked from father to the cart. The cart was large. Some might even say, obese. But how could we be certain the missing cart was not more obese? Father was curled up on top of it like a housecat. He had one gray eye open. We wished the old ladies would hurry up.
We were still huddled over our inboxes when we caught father sneaking up on us. “Hi,” he said. “Hi,” said Annette, a little too loudly. “Did you know I was the sine qua non of the avant garde?” asked father. We shook our heads. “The president called me. Soldiers are shooting at me.” “Right now?” asked Mendel, steadily. “Earlier,” said father. The cart looked incredibly sad.
Father wandered out of earshot.
“There is something wrong with it,” I whispered to Mendel. “Who?” asked Mendel. “Father?” Well, yes, father. Often father. But what I meant was the cart. It looked like it might be sick. There were flies.
The situation was delicate. What we couldn’t allow was father’s enthusiasm over us to diminish. “I would absolutely die,” said Annette, picking at the moss.
Neither Mendel, nor I, nor Annette, nor father wanted Annette to die. “If we broke the lines,” Mendel suggested, “maybe we could free father from our suspicions.” This was a very good idea.
The larger of two
for moving things is missing
from room 255
if you have it
It is needed.
We were pleased. That the message was now a poem made it no less a beast, but this beast might one day grow to love us. “All it needs is a title,” said Annette. “Where Is the Cart?” suggested Mendel. “Or ‘The Cart Is Missing.’ Or ‘What Is Wrong with Father?’ Or, simply, ‘The Cart.”’ I liked the last best. Father said if it was his poem he’d call it “L’etat C’est Moi,” which meant, “I am the Cart.” But we knew very well it did not mean that.
The old ladies arrived at approximately 5PM, which was too late to change the course of our childhoods. We were, as Annette put it, “poem or no poem: fucked.” “Annette!” we cried. “That is such a curse!” There were so many times Mendel, Annette, and I wanted to just look out the window of a moving car and regard the terrain, but with the old ladies showing up as late as they did, and the cold fact of our inboxes, and our motherlessness, and the cart possibly dying in our living room, and god knows what always wrong with father, we knew that wish was a long way off. We were not the kind of children who would ever one day be passengers. We showed the old ladies the poem. “C’est magnifique,” said the old ladies, kissing the tips of their fingers.
By dinner father was still going at it. “Among the Lebanese poets, said father, “I’m considered a real muckamuck. Among the French, I’m practically Pulitzer.” Annette was cutting a piece of steak so hard her knife slipped on the plate and flew across the room, landing on the cart. From where I was sitting it looked like the knife had cut the cart. It looked like there was a little blood.
At first, we thought Mendel got up from the table to nurse the wounded cart, but his brow was furrowed in another direction. Our appetites were gone. The soup the old ladies had brought us was cold enough to taste ruined. I looked over at Annette. Something very unsunlike shone on her face. It was our inboxes again. Our inboxes were blinking. That was where Mendel was going. To our inboxes.
The recipients were us. The sender, as always, was Mary Helen. Our inboxes held the message, freshly opened, like a bag of fake bread.
“We are children, for christsake,” cried Annette. “Why do we even have inboxes, when we barely have money? Even father has no inbox.” This was true. Father’s inbox, he claimed, had been taken away. “One day,” father whispered, “a man I’d never seen before just yoinked my inbox out from under me. You’re lucky you still have yours.” And when father told us this we felt lucky. Luckier than ever. Now we were not so sure.
Dutifully, Annette and I tromped back to our inboxes and joined Mendel. “The larger of two fathers for moving things,” read the message, “is missing from room 255. If you have him please return asap. He is needed.” We looked over at father. He wasn’t where we left him. We looked over at the cart. A small pool of blood had settled under its left hind wheel. Outside, it was raining. Had we ever really been children, we were definitely no longer. We were old. Older than father. Older than the old ladies. Older than the dying cart. Our inboxes were receiving messages we really could no longer accept. Mendel wheeled the cart outside. We knew by morning it would be dead in our yard. From what father had taught us, we understood there was no way to stop the dying from dying. If this, in fact, was true. We had no way of knowing anything. There was nothing we could do to save it.