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Dérive : Regina Gillis
After Jenna and I broke up, I spent most nights vacuuming and dusting, although I no longer quite knew why.

I thought about sitting alone in the park and waiting for someone to ask me for complicated directions. The war statues were all encased in bird droppings, except for one side. An ice cream truck would roll by wheezing an insipid nursery chime and no one, not even children, would approach. Who's the Humpty Dumpty now, I wondered, and when will his true purpose be revealed?

For the first three weeks, I went to sleep holding a large body pillow, making it be Jenna. I devised a game of calling her phone number -- dialing all of the digits, but then hanging up before her end would ring. Later I weaned myself down to the first ten digits and not dialing the last, and finally, to picking up the phone and cradling it, like her hand, between my ear and shoulder, gently returning the handset to its base, no numbers having been dialed.

I told myself I was an insulin-injecting crack addict. The phone had become symbolic for methadone, or insulin -- the difference had become unclear -- yet total withdrawal from either would force my entire body to seize up and spasm. Because weekends were the worst.

I had difficulty getting up in the morning. I would intentionally set the alarm clock one hour early to give myself enough time to remember and forget everything about her. I made a complex math of ethereal simultaneous equations, substituting the different variables -- her child, my credit history, our car problems -- into it and solving for X. Jenna Jenna Jenna, I would say, and still not be too late or depressed for work.

Did you know that someone told me once at a party that Indianapolis had a lot of crematoriums (sic), which is why it smells like burnt hair. If I ever go to Indianapolis, I will try to remember this, as parties there seem more likely.

I made myself walk a different way every morning, sometimes only varying the route by a block or two, but always taking a different one. I told myself I was a Situationist, and this fate had become my twisted, tortured derivé. I've heard of people who have met this way -- an unintentional bump in the produce aisle, a wrong turn coming off the train, or the methodical Seder seating plan that would change everything forever. Each day's pedestrianic permutation would invariably increase the likelihood of such a similar impossibility happening again to me.

Schedules became key. On Thursdays I would go to the café immediately after work and order a cup of coffee even though I usually didn't want one. I would bring books with strange, inflammatory titles -- Steal This Urine Test!, Rats Lice and History, or Jesus: CEO, and pretend to read them intently. I reassured myself that it would only be a matter of time before someone other that the counter clerk would come over and comment.

Once I feigned a birth defect by shuffling my right foot, bent forty-five degrees inward, for eight or nine blocks until I became too cramped to continue. I was tired of being marginalized, and sighed.

At some point, Jenna called and left a message on the machine. Could she please have her coffee table back and could I please get it to her by Thanksgiving that should be plenty of time for me to get it back to her.

She called me at home, even though she had the work number.

It was July, and I began to take excruciatingly hot long baths. I would sip Johnny Walker Red and proclaim to the cats that despite the loss of my matte finish, the world's best method actor was still winning. I am one with the glaggy water, I theorized, and submerged my average breasts, like reversing volcanoes, as our temperatures neared an aysmptotic equilibrium. This watery experiment had become a weak tea, I deduced, one that sugar could not fix. The tub would slowly drain I would eventually become translucent. For forensic purposes, a fine silt would cake and remain at the bottom. The mailman or his substitute would never need to know any of this information.

In the shower, the phone would sometimes ring. I would hurry out all wet and freezing, only to answer a call that had never been placed. It was either the neighbors or the teary, penitent whistle of my own breath.

I did meet another woman in line once at the Angelika. She was there for a French film. I was there for a Chinese movie. Afterward, I leaned slow through the turnstile, lit up, and caught her looking at me from across the platform. Everything became still and heavy. Then our long hair formed opposing wind socks in the pneumatic breeze. My train came and I could hear nothing. I got on. No one followed.

I walked from the subway back to the apartment -- sixteen blocks exactly -- pushing the sharp sleet with my forehead past the triangled shadows of midnight dumpsters. Here I would repeat mindless phrases in my head and ponder their meanings -- my country 'tis of thee. Holy Mary, mother of God. Eyes without a face.

I thought about how the people who drink the most are the ones who have the least money, how those in middle management never get to call in sick as much as those who work above or below them. That shimmering remora are a shark's parasitic must, or that someone who makes a point of saying I don't play games tends to play them far more often than someone who will flip the radio knob in the car and say nothing the length of Connecticut.

OK so I am not reasonable in my daily observations. In fact, many have said I notice each piece of art pottery's unforgivable crack. But there is always the crisp, Massachusetts pine alongside the tuberculosity of a Brooklyn elm. Somewhere, Egypt is crumbling, and somewhere else there is forever stamped the blackened chewing gum of a buniony pavement. And who among us has not committed some small act of vandalism? There were girlfriends, and then there was Jenna, and for once, key in door and orphaned umbrella inside, I wished this world an unmarked car.


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