We’ve taken a little summer break but we’re very excited about the return of The Hinge Story! This month our featured writer is Susan Jackson Rodgers, whose second story collection, Ex-Boyfriend on Aisle Six, will be coming October 1 from our friends at Press 53 in Winston-Salem.
We’re happy to present her story “I’ve Looked Everywhere,” which originally appeared in Story Quarterly. Susan will be checking in through the afternoon of Sunday, September 30 to respond to your questions and comments. We look forward to what you have to say!
I’ve Looked Everywhere
I lost my cell phone yesterday. This afternoon I heard it ringing faintly from deep inside its hiding place: a totebag, purse, kitchen drawer, pocket? I tried tracking the sound—first it seemed to be coming from the bedroom, then the study—but just as I thought I was getting close, the battery must have lost power, or else the person hung up. I went through the possibilities. Not very many people have the cell phone number. You, my sister, my ex-husband, my massage therapist, my housepainter who is also, maybe, my boyfriend, though maybe not. I called them all, all except you and the ex-husband because he’d only call in case of an emergency and he’d try the land line first for that; and the housepainter, because I’ve called twice this week, and I don’t want to appear desperate.
I decided to go to the library, to return the overdue books, but remembered that they are lost too. Three of them, checked out two months ago, and the fines have almost exceeded the value of the books. One was a book of poetry that I used to keep by my bed, because after you left I discovered that reading poetry before I went to sleep produced interesting, poetic dreams. The other was a biography of a child actor; I love stories about people doing drugs. And the third I can’t remember.
I’m losing confidence, but not weight. I’m losing my glasses, my mind, my sense of balance. In yoga class I used to be able to do the Stork and now I can’t, I topple over like a badly constructed block tower. Everyone pretends not to notice because they’re practicing their serene yoga faces. I’m losing estrogen, instant recall, the ability to spell words I have always known how to spell. The stocks I own are losing money, have lost money, are worthless. The country I live in is losing wars—against drugs, fat, violence, stupidity, invisible forces we can’t name, enemies we’ve only imagined who now rightly despise us. I’m losing faith. Altitude. Ground. I’ve lost two husbands—one to heart failure, and one to a twenty-year-old—and children—one to her dreaded Peer Group, and the other to a cultish mentality about a particular heavy metal band that shall go unnamed. I lost my name, twice, and now I can’t get it back again. I’m losing elasticity, skin and otherwise. Losing perspective. Losing my appetite, but not for food. I’ve lost the receipt to the beige dress I bought for my daughter’s high school graduation that she said made me look like a matronly cow so I decided to wear the purple rayon pantsuit instead. Without the receipt, I’m stuck with the cowsuit, which hangs in my closet with many other articles of clothing my daughter has forbidden me to wear. I’ve lost my taste for older men because really, how much older can I go? I’ve lost my yen. For transatlantic travel, for driving a stick-shift, for falling snow, loud dinner parties, loud noise of any kind except certain rock bands from an entirely different era, late-night phone calls. I’ve lost the lyrics to that song that is nevertheless stuck in my head: baby please don’t go, something something something . . . . I’ve lost the left shoe from my favorite pair, the black sandals for whom I get regular pedicures in the summer, the sandals that I bought three years ago in Italy—you were with me. Do you remember the sandals? Where in God’s name does a single black leather Milanese sandal go? Is it at your house? Under the bed, perhaps, or in your closet, with your shoes?
Old friends. The desire to be first in line. The desire to go at all. The need to fit in, to do what I’m told, to accept second best, to fight the good fight, to be quiet. I’ve lost the remote control—forever this time, my car keys, a pair of $200 sunglasses I promised myself I would never lose, three skin cancers off my back, the directions to your sister’s summer house, the children’s baby teeth, many important documents that I’m certain I had signed by a notary public but did not, apparently, store in a safe place, a charcoal sketch of my childhood home, and the Maxime Le Forestier album I bought in Quebec in 1975. On the list of lost things also is the list of things I keep meaning to do, and the list of things I’m sorry I did, though when I wake up at four in the morning, there they all are, crowded around my bedside like eager dogs, pawing my hand, begging me to scratch their ears.
I’ve lost my place in the book I’m reading, the negative for the picture of us I wanted to enlarge (standing on the stone steps, Lake Michigan behind us), the phone number for the acupuncturist my neighbor recommended. Both parents and a brother, six dogs, eight cats, four hamsters, three birds, and, I’m not kidding, a pear tree, which died of blight. The instructions to the Cuisinart, the breadmaker I got for my second wedding—and you tell me where a breadmaker could possibly be hiding. The extension cord I swear I bought last week, this week’s TV Guide, my favorite pen.
I’ve looked everywhere.
Every day there’s something else, things dropping away like the careless removal of clothing or make-up after a party, like the diamond earring that slips from my fingers into the bathroom sink and down the drain, disappearing so quickly it seems to have planned its daring escape. We both watch it fall, incredulous, as if this kind of thing never happens. You kindly take apart the pipes underneath the sink (still wearing your handsome evening clothes, crisp white sleeves rolled up to your elbows) but the earring is gone. You straighten, unroll your sleeves, pluck the remaining earring from my palm and drop it into the drain just like that, without looking at me. And I can’t read the gesture, or the expression on your face; can’t decide if what you mean is, See, it doesn’t matter, it’s just a thing; or, Now the two earrings will be together forever; or, Through your terrible carelessness, your inability to watch what you’re doing, your consistently wretched sense of timing, you’ve sealed your fate, and mine.
There! Did you hear that? The phone—it’s ringing again. Three rings, four. Now is the moment when I realize I could have just dialed the cell number myself, and tracked down the phone. “Dur,” my oldest daughter would say. I stand in the middle of the room, six, seven, the afternoon light fading now, the shadows lengthening across the woven rugs. The rings stop. It must be later than I think, the way the light falls across the floors. The day must have gotten away from me, as it does sometimes. Does that ever happen to you? The day slipping by? Who knows where it goes. But it’s late, in any case, it’s starting to get dark, it’s getting dark a lot earlier now, and in the mornings when I go for my walk, there’s a chill, a dampness. Sometimes I wear a sweatshirt, my favorite one, faded blue, extra large, soft from many washings. The one you must assume, by now, that you’ve lost.
Susan Jackson Rodgers is the author of two story collections: The Trouble With You Is and Ex-Boyfriend on Aisle 6. Her fiction has appeared in journals such as New England Review, North American Review, Glimmer Train, Beloit Fiction Journal, Midwestern Gothic, Quick Fiction and Prairie Schooner. She grew up in Connecticut and New York City, taught for many years at Kansas State University, and currently teaches creative writing and literature at Oregon State University.