By Moriel Rothman
It’s something about their eyes.
The glass door opens. The crisp, conditioned air is momentarily diluted with the thick, heavy air
from the other side. Right before they step inside, their eyes somehow narrow and get bigger at
the same time. They never look at me directly. They look around me. Up at the space behind my
head, or down at my fingers on the keyboard. Sometimes, they find their way to my neckline,
and begin down the front of my shirt, and then, quickly, they dart back to the space around me.
I don’t mean to, but every time they walk in, I find myself thinking, “What if…” I know that the
ones who have done it have usually been from the other side of the line, but they say themselves
that they are the same on both sides of the line.
This building is the most difficult for me to bear.
With the others, I can force myself to forget, but with this one, I cannot. I can force myself to
forget that the bustling mall was built atop my cousin’s father’s land, and I can force myself to
forget that the row of brightly lit restaurants has replaced what was once many rows of olive
trees that danced in the wind. But I cannot force myself to forget my mother’s field, where her
hands, now spotted with age and the lethargy of grief, turned the soil until it produced life. The
smooth, polished tiles are like miniature replicas of the stones they thrust into the ground above
I didn’t love him, and that made it harder.
If I had loved him, my sadness could have been pure, and righteous, and my anger could have
been directed at the ones who took my love from me. But I didn’t, and I ended up hating myself.
I hated myself when I looked at the picture of it, the one his sister told me I did not want to look
at. I hated myself as I watched his mother sobbing, and I hated myself even more when I found
myself wishing, at the funeral, that I had never met him, that God or someone could take out a
giant eraser and scratch the past three weeks into non-being. I hated myself for not wishing away
only the past day, only “it.”
Speaking their language is like talking with a mouth full of stones.
Sharp. Heavy. Jumbled. Foreign. I feel like a child. I have five children. My oldest daughter is
older than the girl who sits behind the glass, constantly twisting her hair between fingers tipped
with bright colors. And yet when I talk to her, in their language, I feel like a child, timid,
mumbling. Ashamed. “Sorry,” I say, over and over. Sorry I don’t understand. Sorry could you
say that one more time? Sorry I am inconveniencing you. Sorry my family didn’t leave with the
others. Sorry I’m Sorry I am Sorry.
Once I’ve saved enough, I am going to Colombia. I want new words and new plants and
anonymity. I want hot weather and strong coffee and violent conflict of a different brand, a brand
that doesn’t have anything to do with me. Last week, the manager hung up inflated pool toys.
Every morning I find myself starting at them, my gaze turning upwards again and again. I can’t
look away. Their dangling luminescence makes my stomach turn. Manufactured fun. Look how
happy and calm we are: we hang pool toys from our ceilings. How much can really be wrong in a
place where they hang pool toys from the ceiling?
I am tired.
My legs ache, and I have stopped drinking coffee. High blood pressure, they tell me. The
pressure of my blood is high. Oh doctor, little boy, doctor, with patches in your beard and
bounces in your step, you tell me that my blood pressure is high. Slowly, you tell me it, slowly
and in small words, tinted with the faintest of smile-sighs. Slowly so as not to contribute to the
pressure’s height, yes? My eyelids feel like led, and the shouts of the little ones as they get ready
for school throb in my temples. Only after I have sat down to write, as the ink begins to flow
from my pen, the letters begin to guide themselves around the page, as a brook through open
fields and through time, only then do my eyes begin to open.
The bell clings, and I look up.
This one is tall and heavy and his eyes flit from the tiled floor up to the pool toys and then back
down to the floor, where the reflections of the toys spin and bounce under shuffling pairs of feet.
I bite the inside of my cheek, hard. I bite as punishment for the thoughts of “What if” that I know
I should not have, and I bite to pull myself from that world, the world of “What if,” spinning
behind my eyelids. Back into the world where tooth enters cheek and body feels pain, not the
abstract pain of sorrow, but the tangible pain of momentarily twisted nerve endings.
I see it on her face.
She is hoping, wishing, praying even -although she does not look like one who prays, with her
eyelashes painted charcoal and her lips colored rose- that I choose a line that is not hers. For a
moment her face contorts, as if she is hurt, and my heart contorts along with her face. I do not
intend to be affected by their scorn, it is never my intent, but I feel it, on certain occasions,
despite my efforts to remind myself to scorn their scorn. I practiced the words I will say, in my
head, again and again in the car ride. I repeated them so many times, in my head, that they have
melded together like bits of ice floating in a glass of water Shalomhowareyou, I will say,
“How can I help you?” I say to him, smiling. He does not smile back.
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