Winter nights in New York harbor the kind of cold that skips your skin and goes straight to your bones, as if its eternal purpose is to numb your soul. Standing by the darkened road retrieving the mail conveniently forgotten about for three days, it’s unusually quiet. There is nothing and yet… something. Always something.
The hinges of the mailbox squeak as I close it. Holding the envelopes in my hand, I think about my “to do” list and its length. It’s strange how things can seem exceedingly overwhelming until you’ve written them down in a list. “Check Mail.” After crossing something off the list, sometimes I feel stupid for even writing it down in the first place… “Assemble Desk.” As if it were an easy task to forget that I’m typing on the floor. Another day… another list, I’ll assemble the desk tomorrow.
I sit on the porch. The cold doesn’t bother me. A man walks by alone. I notice he’s wearing army fatigues and carrying a tattered backpack. Home for the holidays? Maybe. When he sees me, he slows his pace and takes a moment to smile. We make eye contact for a moment and I return his smile. I say, “How are you.” He says what he’s supposed to, “Good, and you?” I wonder if he’s really good. I respond the way I’m supposed to, “Good, thanks.” No one wants to hear the real answers to those types of questions. They don’t want to hear about your torn cartilage, or how you watched the nurse call the police on a suicidal client. Politeness is an acceptable form of hypocrisy. I’m a hypocrite. So is he.
Later, I’m sitting on the floor because my desk is still in a box, and I remember the man I saw earlier. I remember first his clothes. I wonder why they’re called fatigues. I think they’re named appropriately. Fatigue. Weary. Exhausted. I can’t envision fighting a war that I’m supposed to win, when my clothes are already telling me how tired I am. I remember his eyes. They were brown. Our gazes locked only for a moment, but it was enough. In his eyes, I saw his clothes.
My desk is still in the box. I get dressed for work. My clothes are supposed to say stable, or functioning, something like that. I still think of the soldier. I remember his tattered backpack. I wonder what was in his backpack as I grab mine. Maybe we have something similar in them. My bag isn’t tattered. His bag says the same thing as his clothes. Worn out.
“I take the desk parts out of the box. All twenty-five pieces are lying on the floor. I’ll do the rest later. Back on the list… “Assemble Desk.”
“How’s the desk coming?” Stephanie asks me.
“In pieces. How’s your cold?” I ask.
“A little better.” She says.
“That’s good.” I respond.
She doesn’t really care about my desk. She’ll get over her cold. These are the things people say when they want to reassure the other person that they’re paying attention to their lives. It’s polite. Stephanie is a hypocrite. So am I.
Thanksgiving was yesterday. My Mom is outside stringing up Christmas decorations. The desk is still on the floor.
“Why aren’t you helping me?” She asks.
“You didn’t ask me to.” I say.
“Why is your desk still on the floor?” Why does everyone keep asking me that?
“Why rush? I don’t have anything to put on it anyway,” I tell her.
“You’re computer is on the floor.” She reminds me.
“I know. It doesn’t mind.” I say.
“Jackass,” My Mom says with a smile. I like her sense of humor.
“Joey is coming over later. He’ll want to see your room.” She tells me.
I go upstairs and stare at the pieces of desk on my floor. The box tells me it weighs two-hundred and nineteen pounds. This is going to be a blast.
“Sissa, book? Pen?” Joey asks me. I smile. The smartest two-year old I’ve ever met. I notice his pants. Army fatigues. I remember the soldier’s brown eyes. Joey looks up at me. His eyes are brown, too. They’re different. I don’t see his clothes in his eyes. Joey is never tired.
We sit at the new desk, Joey’s warm little body perched on my knee, and we draw together.
“Sissa, Daddy!” He exclaims proudly as he points at a big circle he just made on the paper.
“Great job, buddy! How about we draw Mommy?” I grin at him. Joey continues to draw circles, and small shapes. He’s focused. His pen slips off the paper and makes a mark on my new desk. I smile. I reach over to the list lying on the shelf and cross off, “Assemble Desk.”
Melissa Marino grew up just outside of New York City, spending most of her formative years outdoors creating wild ghost hunts with neighborhood kids, setting booby-traps to capture unwitting family members, and building clubhouses on top of ten-foot walls. Melissa wrote her first story at the age of twelve and titled it “Circles of Friendship.” Through the years, Melissa has written several short stories and poems, all of which met the wrath of the “Not Good Enough” monster and ended in fiery demise.
Melissa regained her confidence when she began writing scholarly articles and research theses on her first trip through graduate school. It took several years for her to break the habit of the formal writing that marred her creativity. An additional Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing was Melissa’s biggest support in this. Melissa writes primarily sci-fi/fantasy, paranormal romance, and young adult stories.
What motivates her to create:
“My dreams. I’ve had vivid dreams since I was a kid. Of characters, adventures, and wild scenarios that, when I wake up in the morning I say, ‘Someone might find entertainment in this!’ Or ‘wouldn’t that be nice to share?’ Once I start a project though, the motivation falls in its completion, especially with writing. It’s haunting. I bleed when I write, I bleed when I don’t write. I’m in a constant state of hemorrhage until a project is complete. There’s nothing more fulfilling than writing, ‘the end.’”