Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 61
Bare-knuckle Magic
by Michael Ezell
Tomorrow Is Monday
by Jacob A. Boyd
Money in the Tortoise
by J.D. Moyer
Real Estate Listing
by Ari B. Goelman
IGMS Audio
Real Estate Listing
Read by Dave Thompson
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Bonus Material

Tomorrow Is Monday
    by Jacob A. Boyd

Tomorrow Is Monday
Artwork by Anna Repp

Gladys says it's Monday. She always says it's Monday, and she has to go to the bank. There's a bus that goes there that picks up at the corner. The schedule shows the times, outlines the routes. She grips the folded paper of the schedule in the same shaky hands that once perfectly julienned onions for television and insists she'll be back before lunch.

We print the bus schedule for our residents. We draw the bus route. The route map goes far beyond the enclosed boundaries of Hawthorne Heights and sustains a sense that a world full of consequences and deadlines and wonders is still at our residents' fingertips, which for their own safety is no longer within their reach. The ten-acre open air campus of Hawthorne Heights is their world.

The bus never arrives.

Gladys stands at the bus stop until it's lunchtime, when I usher her to Sol Sisters Bistro, the de facto cafeteria.

"Tomorrow, then," she says. "There's something wrong with the bus today. The driver probably hit someone, and the accident put the kibosh on the whole route until the gore can be power washed off the grill and the dent can be hammered out of the fender. Tomorrow, though, it'll be running without a trace. It's terrible, what they let people get away with."

Gladys uses Jergens hand moisturizer. Only the kind that comes in a jar. The tube kind has too many chemicals. She makes a conspiratorial face whenever she says "chemicals." We're in on it together. We know that a secret master race of lizard people puts chemicals in practically everything to pacify us and make us susceptible to suggestion. Her hands are smooth and camera-ready. It's amazing, really, how young-looking she has kept her hands.

Gladys is seventy-nine. She never had kids. She never speaks of family.

Gladys is my resident. My first. If I do well with her, I'll get others. At three, I get a raise.

I keep her in Jergens. And Johnson's shampoo. Mint Colgate, too, not wintergreen. Wintergreen is chemicals. Gladys likes all the old brands. We have a storehouse full of the stuff that we buy in bulk. I siphon off a little here and there with special syringe-like things, and squirt it into her jars whenever I notice she has used some. I'm like a reverse burglar. She invites me in, I secretly resupply her with things she doesn't know she'll need, and I let myself out when she asks me to stay.

She'll never experience a time when she has to scrape a finger under the fluted lip of the Jergens jar to get at the last bit of lotion, thinking something is amiss; last she remembered, the jar had quite enough for a week.

It's always Monday for Gladys, and she has to go to the bank.

Gladys went to Hawthorne Heights City Hall and filed a complaint. City Hall is a white three-room building on the quad. The three rooms: City Hall office, Waiting Room, and Restroom. All non-residential buildings in HH are scaled down this way, a corral of utilitarian edifice. Cooper Vogelgasong works the office desk. He either hates me or he hates his job. The effect is the same. He's on call 24/7 like the rest of us, but he started off at top tier pay. He doesn't live in the grimy shared apartment block us caretakers call The Tank, where the old boiler is busted so it's always sweltering and we practically crawl over one another day in and day out. Cooper can afford his own place full of windows packed with exotic hothouse flowers down at the fancy end of town, on Sun Vale.

Cooper says, "Gladys thinks someone's trying to keep her from getting out."

He asks, "Had you caught wind of thith before it reached my desk?" He's lisping, a sign he's upset.

I say, "No, I hadn't."

He gives me a long-suffering look that mixes disappointment with pity. He blinks like his contacts are bothering him.

"Residents aren't supposed to be agitated like that," he says. "You're supposed to be a confidant, a kind of releath valve for suspicions like Gladys's."

"Do you know what I mean?" he asks, like maybe I'm too young and sheltered to get what he's talking about. He knows I've had a hard time making friends with the other caretakers and forming connections.

"Yeah," I say, "she confides in me, and things can blow over until she forgets again because of her condition. Maybe then she loses that train of thought altogether."

"Don't bring it up with her," Cooper says. "Agitated residents don't keep to themselves for long. And we can't have that kind of agitation spreading. Not every resident is on such a consistent one-day reset as Gladys. Support her thenth of autonomy without allowing it free reign. You're in control."

"Okay," I say.

"Listen," he says, clearly responding to my timidity, "Gladys requested one of you. She thinks you have a lot of empathy."

I'm stunned. I don't know whether Gladys thinks I'm queer, has identified me as part of a particular religious group, or if she has bad eyesight and weird racial hang-ups.

Cooper looks at me for a long time in silence like maybe this is my chance to speak up, then I get what he's doing. He's giving me a second chance. I'm new. In HH, it doesn't matter what I think about myself, only what Gladys thinks about me. I'm still in the kiddie pool, and if I ever want to make it to the deep end with better money and bennies and vacation time, I have to show I can keep Gladys afloat.

Gladys says, "Cooper at City Hall is a lizard person."

She says it in an off-hand kind of way while drying her dishes, like she's testing me. She's still wearing her yellow rubber dishwashing gloves. She always has trouble taking them off, but never wants help with them.

I feel caught out. I can't ignore her without my silence in some way insinuating that yes, Cooper is a lizard person, or that I, too, am a lizard person and we're in cahoots against her. Either way: agitation.

"What do you mean?" I ask.

It's a harmless enough response, I think.

I smell the warm antiseptic baby powder of wet adult diapers, which indicates Gladys has urinated herself and I'll be wiping her clean soon. She always shits when she pees. It's never fully solid.

"What do you say I make chicken piccata tomorrow?" she asks, and I feel a great wave of relief wash over me.

Gladys likes to cook dinner for herself, and I have to be in-residence for it. Flames and knives and food processors are causes for alarm at Hawthorne Heights, but concessions have been made for Gladys; she was a famous TV chef. Her hands don't shake when she's cooking. She specialized in traditional foods, none of that cross-over mishmash stuff making the rounds today. "Food with staying power," she calls it. She still has a head for recipes. I stock her fridge with whatever she mentions she'd be interested in making, so when she forgets what she had said the day before, she can look in her fridge, and it's obvious what she should make.

"That'd be nice," I say.

She pens a list: brined capers, parsley, lemon juice, chicken breasts, olive oil, unsalted butter, flour.

Tomorrow is chicken piccata.

Gladys insists on watching her old cooking shows.

Halfway through a segment about easy yet stellar vodka sauce, she gives me a look like she's impressed and says, "That young lady really knows her stuff."

There's a sparkle in her eye like she's joking and she knows she's slipping a little here and there, but the lights are still on and she's still steering the ship.

"Za zdorovje," she says.

"Prost," I say.

"No," she says. "Vodka. It's Russian, not German. Za zdorovje."

Gladys gets drunk on vodka and shits herself and gets it everywhere. I have to clean it up, then go through her apartment like a fecal forensic agent looking for shit fingerprints. They're on the walls. Some complete handprints are on the ceiling like she was being vindictive and wanted to make me work.

"What did I do to deserve you?" she asks while I stifle a gag and wipe shit off her cheek with sterilizing baby wipes. I can tell she's embarrassed and thankful, and I feel bad for thinking ill of her.

"None of the lizard people are as nice as you," she says.

Her place smells like bleach and lemon, an improvement from the fetid cat box stench of old-person shit, which the other caretakers have a way of bringing back to The Tank.

"I am a good one," I tell her.

Hawthorne Heights has been bought out by a conglomerate looking to franchise the palliative dementia town model we have set up here. Palliative means relieving pain or alleviating a problem without dealing with the underlying causes. The conglomerate sees it as a growth industry. There's talk of scaling out the scaled-down town, so there could be lots of little HHs scattered all over. Rumor has it they plan on buying up old warehouses and hangars and hiring high-wire crews to paint the ceilings and domes to appear like a fine summer's day. The detail wouldn't even have to be that good, considering the eyesight of the residents and the distance at which it would be viewed. Projected images of passing airplanes would keep things lively and convincing while heaters would keep the place stoked, so the residents would stay toasty and tractable.

Some bigwig men from the conglomerate stroll through the quad wearing black three-piece suits. They walk up and down the short streets smoking long cigarettes.

Gladys doesn't want to go to the bank. She peers out from behind her parted blinds and glares at the bigwigs. When the bigwigs ring her doorbell, she opens her door a crack and says, "I don't want anything you're selling."

The bigwigs, a pair of button-down MBA grads with shiny black shoes and stylish haircuts, smile big perfect white teeth. It's like they've practiced before a mirror. They say, "We're not here to sell anything."

They have no wrinkles, like they've never worried a day in their lives.

They say, "We'd just like to talk with you, Gladys, and hear what your experience has been like at Hawthorne Heights, and if there's anything you'd like that you're not currently getting."

She lets them in and pours them some vodkas, which they decline. The bigwigs give me a tsking glance for the vodka.

"Everything's great," Gladys says. "Super. Better than I could expect." She points at me. "First rate," she says. "I couldn't ask for better help."

The bigwigs smile and thank her and leave after some disarming yet unmemorable pleasantries.

"They didn't drink the vodka," Gladys says.

She narrows her eyes at me and pushes the untouched vodkas toward me. I drink one.

"It'll hurt you later," she says, "but you do it for me. You put on a good act, but I know you're a lizard person like everyone else here. They'd never give me what I asked for."

"Why did you tell those two all that?" I ask. "Don't you want anything more? That was your chance."

"Sure, I do," she says. "But I'm a woman, an old woman. And they were "men." We all have our roles to play, and the longer they think I'm sticking to mine, the longer they can stick to theirs, and the longer the two of us can be together."

I'm frightened and a little flattered and I feel a small swell of pride. I don't know what to say.

"Keep it under wraps, kiddo," I say, confident tomorrow is Monday.

Gladys draws the blinds and has me sit and watch her prepare eggplant parmesan like she's on television again and I'm her audience. She's a wonder at it.

"Brains create shortcuts," she says. "Do something like peel and thinly slice an eggplant often enough, and you're not peeling and slicing anymore. It's all one thing. Prepare eggplant parmesan often enough, and there aren't steps, one, two, three, there's just the doing of it without thinking. Thoughtlessness is the important part. That's why the old standards are best, culinary traditions developed because of limited resources until the tradition became as much a standard as the limitations that brought them about. All this new-fangled culinary experimentation misses the point. You have to make them enjoy their limitations and embody them as their heritage. It civilizes people so there's no need for drugs. Taste this."

From the end of a fork, she hands me a golden-brown pan fried slice of breaded eggplant. It burns my fingertips. I gobble it down.

"See," she says when my eyes light up at the taste.

"I hope there's more," I say.

"Oh, you're good," she says, and prepares the best plate of eggplant parmesan I've ever tasted. She watches like a proud mom while I finish my plate.

I catch Gladys eating cockroaches. I don't know what they're doing in her apartment. It's spotless.

I clean her place from top to bottom, bleach everything that can be bleached.

Gladys watches me grunt and sweat and get soap suds in my eye. She turns up the heat until I'm baking. She dozes on her couch while I vacuum around her.

"You can't be doing that, Gladys," I say once I've finished and she has woken up.

"Doing what?" she asks.

I turn down her thermostat, and say, "This time is between you and me. Got it?"

Likely, other caretakers have fallen down on their jobs and their little legged mistakes are making reconnaissance runs to see what else is out there in the big wide world. But I'm still low man on the totem pole. I can't throw accusations around without knowing for sure it wasn't just me, and harbor hopes of moving up.

"I have to go to the bank," Gladys says.

Cooper calls me into City Hall and asks, "Is Gladys settling down? She hasn't been into my office in over a week."

"We've had some talks," I say. "I seem to have gotten through to her, worked out a routine, and created a rapport. She likes cooking for me."

"Routine is best," Cooper says. "Short-term routines and long-term routines. You'll learn. Holidays," he says, "they are effective for making people docile, though they're locked to the seasons. It's hard to say it's Christmas during summer without causing disorientation of a higher order. Religious rituals have their place, too. Is Gladys religious?"

"Not from what I can tell," I say. "For her, it's just Monday and the bank and cooking."

"Any signs she's declining?" Cooper asks.

"She's like clockwork," I say. "Her condition doesn't seem precipitous."

"Good," he says. "Payday is coming. Keep it up and you can be expecting a raise."

"More residents?" I ask.

"Gladys is a special case," Cooper says. "She did her bit for a long time. She really got into it, and kind of went native. She was influential for her time. She comes with a lot of money, endowed in specific allotments. Keep her happy, and she keeps us happy."

Gladys isn't at the bus stop. She isn't in her apartment.

I check the quad and Sol Sisters Bistro, trying not to look hurried. I look at the feet under the stall doors of the restrooms in each non-residential building, avoiding City Hall. I recheck her apartment, like maybe, peek-a-boo, surprise, she was there all along asleep in a closet.

No trace.

I stop in at City Hall. Cooper catches me leaving the restroom in a rush, and knows something is up.

"She's gone, isn't she?" he asks.

"I don't know," I say.

"You had one job," he says. He goes into his office and comes out a moment later and looks so frustrated to find me still standing there I'm afraid he might bite me.

"Well, go find her," he says.

When I enter the quad, the low streetlights that double as heat lamps are at full illumination, even though it's daytime and the sun is shining and the sky is so still and clear that contrails from passing jetliners stretch from east to west in big puffy white lines. Other caretakers are ushering their residents back to their apartments. They eye me without anyone to usher, and flick their tongues out at me when their residents aren't looking.

I check Sol Sisters again, in the hopes that Gladys went there on her own when she saw the lunch rush suddenly vanish. In the back of my mind, I fight the suspicion that perhaps a bus arrived at the bus stop.

It's quiet on the quad and there's a noise from behind Sol Sisters Bistro. I go around back and see plastic apple crates set before the dumpster like stair steps.

I don't want to look inside and see Gladys stuffing cockroaches into her mouth. I can all but hear them squeak as she bites into them, when I lift the lid and peer down inside. Gladys cowers from me amid bundled trash bags.

"I saw you," she says. "You put chemicals into my toothpaste."

"I wasn't putting chemicals into your toothpaste," I say. "I'd never do that."

"That's what you would say," Gladys says. "I saw your syringe."

"Gladys," I say, my voice flat with pleading. "Here."

I pull the syringe-like thing from my pocket. It still has some toothpaste in it. I extend it to her.

"I'm not touching that," she says. "After all my years of service promoting a better way, and you're treating me like one of them. Medicating me."

"No, Gladys," I say. "Look."

I plunger some toothpaste into my mouth and make a show of foaming it up by brushing with my finger. I swallow it, thinking it'd improve my point that the contents are harmless. She gives me a disgusted look for not spitting.

"Colgate," I say. "I refill your toiletries and dry goods and stock your fridge. It's part of my job as caretaker, but apparently I'm not good at it. You forget things. I take care of you. I try to keep continuity errors out of your daily life, so you don't get jarred and worry about your condition and go on to formulate wild conspiracies about why one day you had lots of Jergens and today you only have a dab. I'm new, and I messed up. I'm sorry. I let you see me do it. I'm supposed to blend into the background, but I got too relaxed around you."

Skepticism slowly fades from her face.

"You're good," she says, "but I knew all along you were really a lizard person."

"Yes, Gladys, I'm a lizard person," I say. "Now give me your hand. Let's get you out of that dumpster and showered before anyone sees and I get fired."

"No need to keep up appearances anymore, I guess," she says, sounding sad and wistful. "These have been so itchy. I've got to go to the organ bank and buy replacements."

With one perfect hand, Gladys pulls at the fingertips of the other hand until the skin slowly slips free like she's peeling off a skin-colored dishwashing glove. Her fingertips lengthen and flatten. At her wrist, a band of green scales widens, and she pulls the human-skin glove from her reptilian paw. Each green-scaled finger ends in a black claw covered with a clear gelatin cap.

She extends her lizard hand to me.

From behind me, steps hurriedly approach as though someone had been watching from hiding, and a powerful hand grips my shoulder.

I feel claws dig into my shoulder through their protective caps.

Cooper hisses into my ear, "You humanth always have a way of upthetting things. We're going to have a talk about your future here."

Tomorrow is Monday. It's always Monday, but Gladys doesn't need to go to the bank anymore. I got her new hands for her human suit. They don't itch.

Gladys gets what she wants. Cooper and I have reached an arrangement. He's not going to eat me. I'm staying on as the only human in Hawthorne Heights, and keeping mum. It's our little secret.

I live alone on Sun Vale now. It's the nice part of town.

Sometimes when I adjust my thermostat and wave to Cooper while he watches me from his big windows across the street, I miss the The Tank and the wet-burlap-smell of all us caretakers packed together. I miss thinking we were all in on it together. Sometimes.

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