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Listen

It’s 1997. I am in a bassinet, fresh red and squirmy from the hospital. My dad inserts The Hobbit into a tape player. It’s the first night of my life, and I fall asleep listening to the adventures of Bilbo Baggins.  

It’s 2003. My sister is in the room across the hall, so both our doors are open with the tape player between us. The tape is on side A, playing a dramatized adaptation of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The White Witch is speaking with the captain of her guard, the wolf Maugrim. My eyes trace around my purple room, fingers gripped in the covers pulled up to my eyes. Finally, I get too spooked, race out of my room, and hit the stop button on the tape player. Shuddering, I creep back to bed.

It’s 2006. Now my sister and I have adjoining rooms, separated by a sliding door. The door is cracked open with the tape player, now prone to skipping and stuttering, wedged between the door and the wall. It’s playing Treasure Island. I had begun the tape to be background noise while cleaning my room, but now I sit cross-legged, mesmerized by the story. My bed is half made and my laundry only partially sorted. I don’t start cleaning again until the tape stops.

It’s 2008. The tape player is broken, so now a CD player is wedged between the door and the wall separating our rooms. It’s terrible, skips if you so much as breathe in its direction. I miss the tape player– though by the end of its life, the cassette slot wouldn’t close on its own and had to be propped shut. Through the CD player warbles Arthur Dent, complaining of Thursdays. I understand how he feels.

It’s 2009. I have a brand new Sansa MP3 player, and it’s loaded with all my favorite audiobooks (it’s been a struggle to remember to call them audiobooks, rather than books on tape). Playing now is The Hunger Games. My mom had forbidden me from reading it, so of course it was the first thing I downloaded.

It’s 2016. I have my first full time job, and though it pays well, it’s dreadfully boring. I queue up Audible, my newest addiction responsible for eating away at most of my paycheck. I’m listening to the Fablehaven series, and it’s all that keeps me from quitting as the next few orders come in for me to fill.

It’s 2019. I have totalled my car and so now rely on the bus system again. The walk to bus 39 is hot and dusty. On my phone is playing Escape to Witch Mountain, an old favorite of mine. As I squint down the road waiting for the bus to come, I hear the, “Audible hopes you have enjoyed this program.” I sigh, and look at my library. I smile when I see The Hobbit, and click play.

Snapdragon

“I guess we should buy these now, and then go to the next nursery,” my mom said. We were looking at cartons of snapdragons, rows and rows of flowers blushing pink and orange. The air smelled like soil and my nose itched constantly.
“I thought you said we should buy all our plants at the same nursery, so they wouldn’t wilt in the car,” I said.
“That’s right,” said mom.
“Well, there are a lot of snapdragons,” I observed. “It seems unlikely that if we come back tomorrow they will all be gone.”
“True,” agreed my mother.
“Then again,” I mused. “They could be all gone. They could all be bought by someone in a single day, all hauled off in a van. ‘How many snapdragons would you like?’ the gardeners would ask. ‘All,’ the stranger would reply. The gardeners would have to load every last snapdragon into the van. Then we would come back tomorrow and say, ‘where are all the snapdragons? There were so many, where did they go?’ And the gardeners would answer, ‘We do not know, we dared not ask!’”
“Your imagination,” my mother chuckled, “is one of a kind.”

Eye Doctor

“Nobody likes to start their day with somebody sticking their fingers in your eye,” he says, while sticking his blunt fingers into my eyes. He peels back the lids, as my eyes furiously blink outside of my control. I am old enough now not to scream when uncomfortable doctors procedures are happening, but I cannot stop the small grunt of pain when the dye from the eyedropper hits the surface of my eyeball.

He had greeted me at the start of my appointment by saying, “So, you decided to get up early!” It was 11am. It sounded so much like something a condescending uncle would say I was momentarily flat-footed, trying to remember if perhaps we were related. I determined we were not, and so said, “Say again?”

“So, you decided to get up early!” The same inflection and impersonal exuberance. I could glean no more from this reiteration than I could from the initial greeting. So I said, apologetically, “One more time?”

“So, you decided to get up early!” It occurred to me that this was a reference to the opening of the eyeglass shop’s doors, not two minutes prior. I was their first customer, his first optical client, and was therefore ‘up early.’ I thought it a poor how-do-you-do, and discarded him as a possible conversationalist. It warranted no reciprocating response, so I took his hand and said, “Good morning,” to discourage any further conversation. His skin crinkled a little in the pouches under his eyes in social discomfort, then gestured to the back room.

A front desk attendant, not the one who turned me away last Thursday when I showed up for my scheduled appointment (“We just don’t have all our equipment set up,” she had simpered. “Could you come back on Saturday? Would that be convenient?” No it would not, I wanted to say, but instead smiled and said that was no trouble at all), watched the two of us enter the room, in what I can only suppose was disappointment. Within the two minutes since I entered the eyeglass shop, I had been approached by three people with name tags. Each’s deep concern with my emotional well-being and disproportional interest in my style of glasses frame made me think that they were paid on commission. I had never met such self-deprecating salespeople, their shoulders curved in like an apology as they asked: ‘Can I help you?’ Saying ‘no, thank you’ felt less like the truth and more like kicking a puppy. “I have an appointment for an eye exam,” I said three times, to three salespeople. It was almost a relief to get off the sales floor as I was led into the eye examining room.

The eye doctor made small talk as he flipped through several different lens options, while I stared through a periscope-looking mask at a screen with letters on it.

“So, do you go to school? Which is better, lens one,” a click and the furry edges of the letter chart ahead of me cleared marginally, “Or two?” Another click and the letters were lost entirely to a smudge.

“One,” I said. “The community college.”

“Okay. Lens three, or four?” Two clicks as I evaluated. “Have any favorite activities?”

“Writing,” I said. “Three.”

“Oh that’s nice,” he said. “Alright, one… or two? What do you like to write?”

“Creative nonfiction,” I replied. Then remembered: “Two.”

“Three? Or four? That’s cool. Are you taking any writing classes?”

“Four. Yes, I have.”

“So, your prescription is very light. Do you wear your glasses often?”

“No, just when I’m driving.”

“Really? Because your prescription is low enough that you shouldn’t have to wear them.”

“Yes, I’m required by law to wear them when I drive.”

“Hmm. You only have to be able to see this,” on the screen appeared a row of letters I could read with little difficulty. “To drive without glasses. Can you read that?”

I rattled off the letters.

“Well, then!” he said. “You shouldn’t have to wear them while driving.”

My license says otherwise, I thought. Acceptable vision or not, it was best to follow what was on my license in case I ever got pulled over. Instead, I said, “Wow, that’ll be nice.”

“Yeah,” he said, sounding pleased. “Now, I’ve just got these eye drops to give you,” he held a small bottle that sloshed as he rattled it. “It’s full of yellow dye, and it contains a mild anesthetic,” he told me while unscrewing the cap. “So your eyes might feel a little numb.”

I had taken quick inventory of the sensitivity of my eyeballs. There was no sensation. Now, blinking rapidly after he withdraws his hands (and how large fingers suddenly become, when they are close to your eyes. At first handshake I had determined his hands to be of normal proportion. Now I know them to be tree trunks), my eyes feel the same. There is no numbness. I wonder if he lied about the anesthetic, to keep me calm. I do not ask.

“The dye will let me tell the pressure of your eyes,” he says, while rolling towards an unfamiliar contraption. For the next several minutes, he tries to keep up friendly conversation, while I try not to leap out of the examining chair as bright lights peer into my eyes.

Finally, that finished, he rolls back over to a clipboard he has been marking. With a perforated thwpp! he tears a sheet an hands it to me.

“Your prescription isn’t much changed,” he says. “You probably don’t have to wear your glasses at all, if you don’t want to. Though they might be useful if you were driving around at night, in an unfamiliar place, and had to see street signs,” he concedes. “Or, if you needed to see the chalkboard in your classroom. They don’t have chalkboards now, do they?” I do not answer, but it seems he didn’t need a response anyway. “Or you could wear them when you wanted to look at things better.”

Indeed, I think, those are the usual times I need to see. His thorough analysis of probable optical opportunities at least leaves no room for chances. Should I not need my glasses, it seems, I will have to be outside of the realm of possibility entirely. I will keep this in mind in case I find myself inside a fourth-dimension wormhole or something.

That We’d Never Close Again

My fingers are dingy with industrial grime, the settling of neglected concrete and steel beams. I imagine the color on my fingers would taste like electricity if I licked them. I don’t.

Plastic tubs hold the records for easy shuffling under eager fingers. From above, the thin slices of cardboard look like a barcode. There are several of us, each stationed at a tub, rummaging through eight million ‘Best of Elvis’ and a thousand Stevie Wonder albums to find what we’re here for. I am here for Bowie.

There is a territorialism, a proprietary mood that settles over the hunched shoulders of the searchers– elbows are planted as careful boundaries.

There is a gentle shuffling rhythm to this searching. Both hands are poised over the crate like a pianist at a keyboard, curled. The middle and ring finger push back the record you are looking at, while the pointer finger tugs forward the next, dull transparent plastic whispering and catching at the grooves in your fingerprints.

There he is. I feel a physical release in my chest, a tension suddenly snapped, as I pull the album from the bin. “Here you are,” I say, “I found you.” Bowie looks up at me succinctly from Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). One of my favorite albums, with several of my favorite songs. 

I take it home, set it reverently on top of my record player. I feel as though I have to ask it permission to keep it here.

I ask it to stay, and it stole my room.

I ask for its love, and it gave me a dangerous mind.