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Jacobs cursed under his breath. He told himself he should’ve walked home the other way, but he had been walking for nearly an hour, maybe more, with groceries in hand. He wasn’t really sure, but either way, he wasn’t interested in adding another twenty minutes to his journey by going the other more roundabout way, nor trying to cut through the trees and tearing one of his bags. So he went this way, the street most people traveled on when they needed to get to a larger plaza containing more than a few fast food restaurants, a dollar store, a barbershop, and parking spaces, which was the extent of what you’d find at the plaza nearest the retirement home his grandfather lived in. Much to Jacobs’ horror, there were a couple police cars sitting in the parking lots near the street, facing toward it. Outside of one of the cars, leaning against its hood, were two officers who took part in his father’s recent arrest. He worried they would recognize him and he would disappear like his father did. He worried even if they didn’t, he might still vanish. He felt like he already was.
At least his future had. He looked toward the occasional passing car, sweat sticking his shirt to his back in the heavy heat of the Georgia summer, as he lumbered by the cops. He wished they were not here, and instead that his father was helping him carry the heavy bags as he had always done before on the days like this one, where they needed to restock his grandpa’s fridge. He wished his mom did not work so far away she had to take the car, anything that might afford him something other than the current dread that dried his mouth out. If only it were the sun pressing down on him. Somehow he was there in his body, but he could not shake the idea of his absence. His heart raced as all he looked upon was blankness. He thought to himself that that would be him. Yet he also felt a strange acceptance when he saw into this absence; at times it made more sense to him than his life did.
Yet when he breathed in and felt the air as it touched his nostrils and the back of his throat and it expanded his lungs and he felt the pain in his shoulders and the effort it took to move his legs and he saw how the trees caught the sun in their arms, his thoughts paused. He wondered if he really didn’t prefer to disappear from the present, though he might prefer that over the future, which waved at him from the reflections of cars sitting in line at the McDonald’s he worked at, the McDonald’s he could see himself continuing to work at in the far future, feeling lucky that he was and unlucky, too. Trading brief pleasantries, he would give the same orders to the same people as he was now for breakfast and for lunch, the only difference being how his face and theirs would age with weariness and time.
It was not violent by any means. The pain of this trek was about the closest it got to any regular violence. And the only violence he had ever really seen was when his father was tackled to the ground and his head was cracked open against the concrete before he had even seen the cops, who then shoved his hands into cuffs and tore him from the ground and dragged him back into their car. And sitting there on the sidewalk, Jacobs wanted to do something in that moment, where he had been waiting for his dad as he had walked ever closer. But he merely stared at his dad, who looked in his direction from the cop car. He could not tell if his dad could see him with the blood on his face. Jacobs couldn’t see his face clearly with all the blood. Jacobs often wondered about whether or not he looked different when he was waiting for his dad to reach him versus when he was watching him go.
When he recalled the moment, it was as if the whole event transpired without him being there. It did not seem to acknowledge that he was. And he wasn’t sure whether it would be better for his dad to have last seen his face stricken with confusion or sadness or resignation or support. He was not sure how felt then or how he looked, but he hoped his dad had been able to see his face when he was walking up and when he was leaving. He wished had seen his dad’s more clearly then. He wished they had been able to at least share in that much. Instead, he was left with a striking memory, the details of which he’d never know: the image of his father leaving in the cop car often filtering through his head, though the attack rarely did.
He was not sure what to do with such a memory, and it always made him travel into places of wonder, projecting its form onto the deaths of his more distant family, young or old. He always felt the force at which they must’ve fallen, no matter how they died. He always saw that brief moment in which their body was completely unsuspended by the world around it. He did not know what they all looked like exactly, but he felt their weight, which did not vanish when their perception did and they stuck to the ground, and it let them rest against its chest.
He did not live a life consumed with violence. It mostly contained tedium and the awareness that the tedium may be nearly the whole of life in the future. It was mostly the inability to imagine—to imagine a way out of the routines of little agency and little thought without that violence, that violence which typically changed very little within the box of the neighborhood he found himself stuck in as it had been designed with exactly that kind of internal damage in mind. Jacobs watched the line of the McDonald’s as he made his way ever closer to his grandpa’s house. At least the space maintained a picturesque beauty, purple streaking across the sky with tinges of orange pulling it back behind the buildings and the trees stabbing at the gelatinous heavy air, waves of heat caught around the end of their branches as if they were stretching out the air in an attempt to burst out into wider world. The cars made the same attempt, trickling their way through the line and onto their way to the portrait's edges—onto their way home.
Arriving at the retirement home, he used the key fob he picked up earlier to let himself in. He went up the elevator without running into anyone else and let himself into the small home with the key. He immediately placed the groceries on the ground and plopped onto the couch in the living room
and watched the way the shadows of the shades danced in streaks and speckles across his body. He raised his right hand up and was enraptured by the way it disappeared in segments, was only there in part and was always there on some level, even as he felt like he was losing a sense of where he was, time folding in on itself, his past and future collapsing into one another and crushing the present so he could not discern any of it, could not discern memory from projection from the life he was living. He knew his body was there, yet he felt he had fallen out of it as he listened to the silence.
“Grandpa, are you awake?” Jacobs asked, though he couldn’t seem to place his own words.
“Maybe, I woulda been, but you were shaking on the whole building with all your stomping and huffin and puffin,” his grandpa replied. “It was a long day at the hotel today.”
Jacobs chuckled to himself a little. “Anything in particular happen?”
“Oh, not really, though those kids be squabblin amongst themselves like always. One of them wrote out this whole report bitchin about everybody else who worked there when she quit. She went and told the manager which room everyone would slack off in too. That was a nice spot.” Grandpa clicked his tongue as finished saying that.
Jacobs whistled, “Quite the way to quit. Do you have anything in particular you want for dinner? I picked up groceries.”
“Oh as long as it won’t kill me.”
“Alright, I know a few meals that meet that requirement. You asking for a lot though.”
“Boy, get yo ass in the kitchen.”
Jacobs blew air out his nose in lieu of a laugh and he lurched forward, rising from the couch.
“You tryna break through the floor?” Grandpa said.
“Oookay,” Jacobs said as he went into the kitchen. After putting away all the groceries, he began making pasta for the both of them.
“Why have you stayed working at that hotel so long? No one from when you first started working there still does, right?”
“No, they don’t. Haven’t for a very long time. Most people only stayed there a few years at most unlike who’s been there for a good almost 20 years. I just don’t have anywhere else I’d go at this point in my life. I could, what, quit and start working in the cafeteria of the elementary school or something? I ain’t got anywhere better to go, and I can do the work. You get to chat up the people who be coming through, too. I wouldn’t have many people to talk to if I went and worked behind some desk or something.”
“But. Weren’t you bored?”
“Haha, being bored has always been very low in my list of worries. I’ve got a home to keep and family to check up on and family to check up on me. You bored of me, boy? The rest of these fuckers always making excuses for why they can’t visit their dad. My brother, too--lazy ass. Tell yo mom to swing by too. Where she been? Never even visited me until recently. Tell her to get her ass over here for dinner. I bet you was making more than enough for the both of us anyway. You should cut yourself some slack. But they’re just waiting on me to die. One less annoyance for them I bet. Well, Imma make sure to outlive all my lousy kids. They won’t hear the end of me till they walk their way into their graves. Ha! They ain’t about to push me into the past and forget about me.”
Jacobs didn’t react to his grandpa as he continued to air his grievances with the rest of the family but just listened after he briefly called his mom to see if she would stop by the retirement home, his grandpa ranting over their conversation and interjecting with a “love ya, dear” as Jacobs began to give his farewells. Jacobs had a sense she was probably screwing her eyes up to heaven on the other side of the phone, but she said she loved him too and agreed to drop by for dinner, saying it would save her the trouble of cooking, though not her patience. After Jacobs hung up the phone, his grandpa was giving one of those rare things called a compliment to his mom, so he decided not to egg him on by communicating that last bit of information and instead simply told him that she said she loved him too, enjoying the tenderness of having been the middleman to two overlapping private conversations.
Once the food was ready, Grandpa placed a record on his record player and started to shimmy.
“Move them hips,” Grandpa said, pointing to Jacobs. Jacobs just looked at his grandpa. “What are you doing? You don’t see music. Now bounce your shoulders like this. Come on,” he said while bouncing his shoulders up and down and leaning over to bump Jacobs. Jacobs looked up to the sky with his eyes as he started to bounce his shoulders.
“Okay, Okay. I see you. Show me what you got. You can’t get you no girl like that. Move them hips.”
“You have to show me more moves,” Jacobs said as he imitated his grandpa's movements, impressed and forgetting about the day and tomorrow as he focused on the grace his grandpa still had and attempted to cure himself of any clumsiness.
“Oh, I got plenty more. Come out the kitchen, over here so I can show you how it’s done.”
Jacobs felt all of his body as he began locking with his grandpa. And while he knew this was something that would come to an end for the both of them soon enough, he didn’t mind being here for a while longer. This was not such a bad routine to repeat until it broke under their weight. Though in this moment, despite knowing he and his body were there, he felt far more weightless in these passing minutes than in any other time of the day. It was not such a bad routine despite knowing that at some point he would leave the McDonald’s, even if it meant leaving this little bubble stuck in time, even if it meant he had to leave some of himself or his grandpa behind. In the meantime, he would stay in this family portrait which only implied the existence of many members through the reflection of the painted members’ eyes. He knew he could leave and come back into the canvas if he found there was no better landscape to step into.
Kalidas Shanti (@kalidas_shanti) is a junior at Amherst College, who has lived most of his life in Georgia and Texas. He is currently Co-head Editor of the Amherst college literary magazine, The Indicator, and a Humanities Research Assistant. He often performs at the various Spoken word events at his campus and at home. He also recently began the preliminary stages of his Creative writing thesis in poetry.
Camilla Wildman (@gutrtrash) is an artist in-between her second and third year at the School of Visual Arts. While majoring in animation, she can also be found painting, writing, and sewing. Camilla has animated multiple short films, and illustrated Jailbird by the lovely Caroline Seitz. When not creating, she is working her day job or walking around in the woods.