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Sandra Novack

Things I Did After 9-11

I tried to find myself and nirvana. I decided on the following: eat more fish, exercise regularly, have an affair, get a dog.

I didnít go out for days. When I was down to a chocolate bar and an empty chardonnay, I finally drove to the supermarket. The supermarket is only three miles away. It was the damnest thing, though. I felt like Kurtz.

During this time, my husband, who was a traveling man, tended to say the wrong things. He said, Why do you shudder when you hear loud noises? He said, Fight against your primal condition. He told me, Dogs are expensive. He asked if medication would help.

I decided also to use the word tenebrious more.

When I drove around town, I looked up at the sky a lot. Once, I almost hit an Accord. The Buddha says: Thatíll teach you.

When I went to get the dog, my husband refused to come. Fine, I said. I told him: dogs are expensive, but marriage, on the whole, costs more. The woman at the pound showed me puppies and asked if I was single. Yes, I said. Mostly. I asked her for something more savage, preferably a bitch that growled.

At the gym where my lover works, I burn 400 calories. There are 100 calories in a glass of chardonnay, though I fill higher than the AMA recommends.

The man who sold me the salmon had a bald head and a round, fat stomach. He handed me my order; we shared, I think, a woeful exchange. Donít look up, I said. Itís not good for you. He said, Either way you look is bad.

The dog, it turns out, suffers from epilepsy. Itís the damnest thing to see. She convulses violently, flopping around like a fish.

I donít know what happened to my marriage.

My man at the gym reminded me of the man at the fish counter. All disaster. After we made love he said, Donít think this is going anywhere.

Itís true that if she talked, Iíd probably love my dog less.

T-e-n-e-b-r-i-o-u-s. I have yet to use it in a sentence because Iíve always been shaky on meaning.

I went to see the man at the fish counter religiously. I kept asking him for answers. He said, What do you want from me, Lady? Canít you see Iím busy with these fish?

Eventually, he stopped looking at me altogether. I think heíd forgotten.

The dog, when she is not having seizures, offers a great source of companionship, better than a lover or a husband. She stays close, which generally makes the world better. When she convulses, I hold her and stroke her head. I figure, One good turn deserves another.

I worked out, in the end, strictly to offset my consumption of chardonnay.

In general, I think I wanted to be healthier. I wanted what I love to stay strong. This included: my dog, my marriage, my country.

Yesterday, I packed my things and took off to the mountains. A haze hung on the trees. Heart of Darkness, I said. My dog looked up at me then convulsed from excitement. When she came out of it, she was blind as a dead fish. She didnít recognize me for hours.

Itís true in life that nothing is perfect.


 

Ribbons

My daughter wants me to take her to local Firehouse 217ís first annual carnival. At eleven, Samanthaís an expert in marketing. She stands in front of me, her hand resting on her hip like a cowgirl. She tells me itís for a good cause. The news station announced that half of the proceeds will be used to make care packages for troops overseas. She says, Do it for your country, Mom.

If given a map of the US, Samantha cannot point out any state in the Midwest except her own, nor does she know any state capitals. She earned a C in history, but now suddenly she is a patriot. Since when have you cared about your country? I ask.

She rolls her eyes. Hello, she says, where have you been?

I tell her, Hey, Kiddo, Iíve been around. My father fought in Vietnam. My mother marched in front of the capitol. She sang peace songs and held signs; she carried me on her shoulders, as my father carried his brothers when they fell.

Samantha looks at me as though I am a traitor to the cause. Itís all about marketing, I know, but it works anyway.

Before we go, she puts on a pair of overalls and braids her hair with ribbons, strands of red, white, and blue laced through her shiny brown hair. She smiles proudlyóboth dimples showing. If I gave her a bottle of Coca-Cola and took a photograph, she could be a billboard.

At the gate, we pay the man an exorbitant fee. He waves us through and tells us to have a good time.

Samantha, though, is all disappointment. The carnival is makeshift, erected with clamps, bolts, and machinery held together with duct tape and loose wires. Itís exactly the kind of carnival you find in small towns, not unlike the ones my parents took me to in the 70s. In the field next to Firehouse 217 stands a rickety old whip, a Ferris wheel, and carousel; ring tosses, dunking booths, and whack-a-moles. Samantha finishes most of the rides in under thirty minutes.

I say, Well, what did you expect, Disneyworld?

Donít even start, she says, her eyes narrowing. Then, in the way that only an eleven-year-old can, she says, The least we can do is try.

Hey, I say, flashing my biggest smile, how about the whip?

The man who took our money also works the whip. He nods and cranks the machine which picks up speed, and soon, at every turn, Samantha slams into me. Our legs grow sore. In five minutes, the machine has not slowed. My daughter, the last great patriot, holds her stomach, yells to make it stop. The man only smiles, waves. In ten minutes the whip propels to full speed. Samantha cries, her face turns pale. The motion makes me giddy, sick to the point of laughter and tears. I yell, Wheeeeeee! I say, Hold onto your ribbons, Dear. I tell her, God Bless America.


Sandra Novack's fiction has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Passages North, Baltimore Review, and South Carolina Review, among others.  She has an MFA from Vermont College and lives in Durham, NC.

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