Lauren Foss Goodman
I Might Say That I Wish I Did Not Know
We sit and eat dried meat and mangoes. The house is a shed, is a box, is four falling-down walls and a blue plastic roof. We sit and eat the food with our hands and they talk and I listen. I try to listen. I listen to the up and the down of the sounds. The roof curves in, down. I wait for collapse. I wait for someone to translate. But I do not ask for it. I do not open my mouth except to breathe, except to take and taste.
Here there are two windows. One glassed-over, one broken open. Here the broken window is a hole, a place for the air to get in. Animals walk the streets outside in search of something. A monkey walks crooked through the streets and the cats are just skin and spines. The animals could get in, I think.
They give me food. They are always giving me food. The dried meat comes in strings that come apart slowly in my mouth. I chew and chew and nothing. I get nowhere. I listen to as much as I can and I look into the hole of the window.
I would like to say that at the end of this story I go to Web.
Web. Not his real name but the name I have given him.
Maybe you can see how names here do not matter much.
I would like to say that at the end of this story I go to Web and that I wear a thin dress and that I hold his thin body and kiss the white place beneath his ears that the sun has not yet found.
But this is not what happens. I am sitting here surrounded and I am chewing and chewing and the dress I am wearing is of the right weight to hide everything worth hiding. What little there is of it. What little of me is here in the room where we eat and they talk and I lean in as if listening.
And there is Web. Out there, in the sun, in the street. I see him through the broken-open hole of the window. Walking. I have seen him before, many times, walking. Web walks slow and without purpose. As if he is nowhere. As if there is nowhere to go. He floats down the street with the empty rice cracker packages and the dried discarded banana leaves. An always leaving. Web hangs his head down below his heart so that if he were to look here in this hole of a window he would see me upside-down and staring.
Of course they see me stare. Of course they have been watching. My white legs slick with mango juice. My mouth dry and making the long thin shape of the meat they have given me to eat. All the eyes are on me and so I speak.
You must understand that this story happened in a language that I know only in pieces. That I am translating. That I am taking liberties with everything.
“Who is he?” I ask. I point out the window to where he has already gone.
“Be careful with the mango,” someone says. “Too hot. Bad for your skin. Burning. Your bones and your breath and your body.”
“I’m eating the meat, see,” I say. I open my mouth. I show them. They look. They seem pleased. They feel ownership over this part of me.
“Why does he walk like that?” I ask.
“He’s a walker,” someone says.
“Nothing left to do but walk,” someone says.
“But so young,” someone says.
“And too thin,” someone says.
“He is Web,” someone says. “Spider’s brother.”
They look at me as if all has been explained. I look at them and I try to swallow this mouth of dried meat I’ve made for myself.
“I need more,” I say. “I don’t understand. Why is he the way he is?”
“Because,” someone says, “he hit someone with his motorbike. He ran right over someone. A woman. A girl, even. Web on his motorbike didn’t see. Ran right into her. Over her, even.”
“Because she died,” someone says. “And Web did it.”
The blue plastic roof curves low over our heads and in the heat of the sun, in the light of the sun, the room is stained just the slightest shade of blue. I should not have asked. I worry about these things. About death. How to go on living when there has been a dying. The impossible task of taking this food inside my body.
“That’s bad,” I say.
Terrible, is what I would have said. The worst. Unimaginable. The suffering. What it must have felt like. What the sound was. All the things I would have said had I had the words to say them.
“Very bad,” I say.
I have always felt more like other people than myself. For example, when I was a child there was a cashier at the supermarket who had no fingers. Just fists, horrible hands ending red and chapped at the knuckle. Handless hands she used to push cans past the scanner. I could not look. I could not stand at the height of a child beside those hands. I begged my father to wait in another line. It was not disgust. I was not afraid of the woman without the fingers. It was that next to her my own fingers were lost. My hands were not hands and I, too. I, like her, had to be there in the world swinging my fists. It was because I entered the woman and I felt all that she had lost and all that she had never had.
Now I realize that I was a selfish child. That I am a tedious adult. I see and hear awful things and I am greedy for them. I want to feel them. I want to feel the terrible relief of not having to feel them.
I swallow. At last.
There is talk again in this room. The hot air blows in through the broken window. The hot air blows on my skin and through my mouth and in and out of the mouths of all of them who have resumed the talk that I cannot understand. I put a piece of mango in my mouth and chew slowly. I try not to think of the smooth red ripples that were the end of the woman’s hands. I try not to think of the burning this mango might do.
I said that this story does not end with me going to Web. It does not. Web just walked by. Head hanging low, the up side of the world turned down. I think about leaving this room. I think about following Web. Seeing where he goes and to what end. Putting my hands in his hair and my body beside his body and saying something awful, like, I understand. A terrible thing, like, How did she feel as she fell?
I sit and chew. I understand nothing. I see everything there is to see. How the glass of the one window still here does nothing to stop the sunlight. How this roof is slowly melting in on us. How even through this hole of a window it is clear that the dogs in this village are all small and that the cats have no tails.
Lauren Foss Goodman is a fiction writer originally from Massachusetts, now living in Southern California. She has an MFA from UMass Amherst and in addition to writing she loves bitter melon, riding her bike, Craigslist, and the ocean. Her first novel will be published soon, so keep an eye out for it!