Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

How to Survive

Written by Laura Schadler
Illustration by Hannah Hooper
Isabella walks home in the storm. She closes her umbrella and lets the rain hit her. Her sequined shoes get darker green, her hair and shoulders wet. Hail grows from pearl-sized to fist-sized. She goes inside. Her apartment, second story up, glows. The lights turn on. Outside, cars crash, the ocean rests beside the bay. The sky is oil-spill dark with smudges of city-orange in it. In her bedroom she feels the earthquake, a 4.2, soft and sudden. This makes her happy. She is always disappointed when things aren’t earthquakes. Surely the earth should want to swallow everything whole. She does.

She dreams she has a baby, but she keeps forgetting it places. Shit, my baby, she says in her dream and looks around, only the baby is nowhere. There are giant white flowers, and a glossy black night, mansion parties she wanders through while looking. She wakes up. Even when she’s sad, she isn’t really sad. She would like to get married in a fashionable white dress with a giant black belt. On the other hand, getting married seems terribly embarrassing, getting up in front of all those people and talking about love. It seems unbearable. Marriage would be a big party in the backyard, an electrical fence. She’d smash the guitar, light the porch on fire, drown in the ocean, have babies, and be famous. There would be toasts and ice sculptures. She’d say, “Now what?”

Love is something you make up out of invisible things, and if you tell people about it, they just think you’re crazy and should really know better. They can’t see it. Love isn’t an object. It isn’t like shoes, limes, ice cubes, the sidewalk, the bougainvillea. It is a fucking made-up thing, a vapor. You can’t get rid of it, because you don’t know where it is. So it’s everywhere. It’s at the bus stop even when you thought you were happy.

Lately, she’s been talking in lists. It seems simpler this way, both fragmented and organized. She lists her clothes piled on the floor: stockings, jeans, cowboy boots. Or what is in the kitchen: tomato, tarragon, rum. She moves around her kitchen and touches things. She lists their names: wine opener, coffeemaker, stove, knife. In the morning, making coffee seems so daunting. She takes it from the freezer. Coffee, she whispers. That sounds strange. Spoon, she says. So much time is spent cleaning, most of her life it seems like, cleaning one thing or another, her hair or the floor or the perfect white bathtub. Her teeth.

She sleeps in her fancy dress, bra, and jewelry. Then, in the morning, she walks around in the fancy dress. The rain has stopped, but she doesn’t go outside right away. She opens the window and puts her feet out. She cleans up. She rubs her hand along the floors and walls of the corner to pick up dust and dirt that has gathered there. She wonders where all the dirt comes from; does it just fall from her body? She tapes books open with packing tape so that they are permanently open to page 103. She writes down words that she likes. Doom. Weather. Tour de force. Unmoored. She reads them back to herself out loud. Things are starting to make more sense.

In the afternoon she walks in the park. City trees are gigantic, and she wishes that they had faces, giant gnarled arms, such dark, dark green. She is madly in love with her city. The Spanish names of the streets. The palm trees in fog. The expensive thrift stores. The ratty bars. One bar is her favorite, and she often sits at its counter on Mondays. She likes drinking on Mondays because that’s when the real drinkers are out, and all the boys in their button-down shirts are at home. She plays the jukebox; she taps her fingers on its plastic face.   Her favorite bartender is a patron at the bar tonight. He sits beside her, dark jacket, dark hair, eyes, neck. His name is Luke. Whenever she touches a man, she thinks about getting old, dying. She imagines him dying too. She touches Luke’s arm and the future unfurls, ribbon and string in impossible tangles. She thinks about when she will be an old lady in a hot pink dress. It doesn’t seem so bad. She will look like a rosebush. She will tell stories about her suitors, how they snuck in the windows, how they didn’t want weddings, how they played in bands, how they had girlfriends. She will have granddaughters. The world will be melting. No one will be able to find food. It will all be over soon enough. Like, the world will explode. 
“Cheers,” she says to Luke. Giant pearls of sugar rest in the bottom of her glass. Later, she will stick the glass in her purse and rinse it out in her sink at home. She will pour rum in it and take a bath.

“Cheers, Isabella,” he replies.

“Someday we will both be really old, and we’ll die,” she says.

“Is that what we’re toasting to?” he asks and laughs.

“I like bars and bartenders,” she says, “I like you.”

He says, “Yeah, I still have your love note,” and pats his pocket. One day, maybe in a week or in a year, he will bite her so hard that her chest will bruise, in purple circles the shape of his mouth. She will look at them in the mirror each morning as they fade to yellow and be disappointed when they’re gone. For now, whatever. She is patient. She trusts it will turn out as it should, unless it doesn’t. Either way. Whenever she gets bored, she falls down, and then she isn’t bored anymore. She walks into things like birds that see their reflection in windows and fly into the glass. Or her heel breaks off her shoe. Or the night is warm in February, like an East Coast spring. Or she gets her blood taken at the doctor. Looks away, but then looks back. It sits in tubes, velvety and dark. Hers.

Luke laughs. They cheers again. Their glasses clink.

“You’re a girl,” he says.

“True,” she agrees.

“It’s not always about me and you,” he says. He has a girlfriend with sad, watery eyes, and long model hair. Some nights, his girlfriend is at the bar.
“Of course, it’s not always about me and you” Isabella answers. But then she says, “Of course it is, though.” When he looks at her dress, it changes color. When she touches him, her hands leave fluorescent traces.

She is cold, cold, cold. She is oozing warmth and full of love. She cries when she looks at buildings and thinks that someone actually built them. She loves her big, empty bed. Sleeping inside it is like sleeping inside a cupcake, and she wakes up with her pillow in her mouth. She tastes the silk and the giant hot pink flowers on the fabric. The flowers taste sweet, like when she licks the sugared rim of her glass. She wants to tell Luke all this, tell him every weird, fucked-up thing about her life and have him say, “Of course. You don’t need to explain.”

It’s not just Luke. She has terrible crushes on all sorts of men. The equivalent of a house landing on her, flattening her, and her fashionable shoes sticking out from underneath, like the witchy girl that she is. These men are Southern. Tall. Mean. Men who dance, or skateboard, or walk by. Strangers and friends. Actors in movies. Boys in bands. Boys who paint pictures. Boys who DJ. Drug dealers. The one drug dealer is a nice man. When she sees him at the bar, he speaks to her in Spanish, even though she doesn’t understand. They argue about passion in English. She feels that this is a subject she is an expert on.

“Urgency,” she says to the drug dealer. He has the shining beautiful hair of a bad guy in a movie.

“Lay low, Isabella,” he advises. You should always take advice from drug dealers. They know what they’re talking about. Lay low. But she doesn’t take his advice; she doesn’t lay low. And then, there’s Luke. She likes him most of all. She likes his sticky green eyes, and when she sits next to him and their faces are close, it is only her hand on her cheek, her fingernails, which separate them. Look, she wants to whisper in his ear, look how close we are. The words are in the center of her mouth, like candy. Once, maybe a day ago or a year ago, he put his face between her legs with her jeans still on. He sighed into the thick fabric of them. He stayed there forever. Once you do that. Once you touch the buttons on someone’s shirt, and it electrocutes you. Well, that’s that. The sky is full of birds over the cement buildings. They mistake the green for their home. Once you’ve done that, you can’t take it back.

“What are you doing tonight?” she asks him.

“My friend’s band is playing,” he says.

She wants to say that somewhere every single person has a friend who is playing in a band tonight. That’s one of the charming things about being alive. Everyone plays the drums or guitar. Everyone looks at themselves in the mirror, opens the door, and goes out, risking death. Everyone gets crushes and makes bad decisions. Everyone sees when it isn’t working, wants to kiss someone they shouldn’t or can’t, believes in their own desire with ridiculous hope; everyone needs all the help and luck they can get.

“Everyone is very brave,” she says instead.

“Yeah, of course they are,” Luke answers. He is drinking a tall beer. He probably has a fine life without her. He’s probably dodging a bullet, really. She thinks to commend him on this. She imagines herself small and silver, puncturing his skin and landing in the soft juiciness of his lung. He should be so lucky.

How has she herself been clever enough to navigate through all the traps that men have set, traps in the shapes of their bodies, their arms coming out of their t-shirts? They might be soft, but that shit is treacherous. She frowns.

She goes home without Luke. Outside there is a blood moon, with longer light rays of red. She sleeps in her dress again. Her dress smells like French perfume and the whiskey someone spilled on it. She dreams of joy. She wakes up knowing she should be filled with joy and she is. Here, Out West, it is hot, almost tropical. But then the hail hits, and even thunder. Then the morning is quiet and warm. She opens the window beside her bed and feels it on her face. Everything is an electric blue, the rest invisible.

In the morning by the window, she thinks of Luke. There is nothing more sad and ridiculous than trying to explain how you feel, especially to someone who knows you. What would she say to him? Take your hands off her. Put them on me. Be brave. You won’t be sorry. Don’t you see the other way your life might go? Look.

She unwraps red, purple, and silver foil from chocolate for breakfast. She is twenty-eight-years old. She says this out loud. Twenty-eight. Twenty-eight. Each fact of her life is strange, revelatory. She pulls the curtains across the window to see the street. It’s beautiful outside, pink and cement and rosemary growing down the wall. The colors are silver, turquoise. And that’s just for starters.

What happens? Well, things go like this. There is no real-life resolution. Right? Cause the very next day is the very next day and it all just opens up again. And that day is fat and swelled with the rainclouds. That day is first the morning where she swings her feet out of bed and onto the floor and then onto the land. The land is criss-crossed with fault lines she walks across. The mornings clunk and slink into afternoons, that pale time of 3 p.m., and then nighttime. She wants to go out. High heels in puddles, rain on the trees.

“I want to go out!” she screams into the phone. She wants to go out every single night until she dies.

Later, she and Luke run out of the bar, their beers in their pockets. It’s pouring rain and the beer cans are shiny red in their hands in the dark. They get soaked and they laugh. In her room he kisses her and says, “I have thought about doing this every night for so long.” She makes him say it again. I have thought about doing this every night for so long. There is blood in her heart. Her heart isn’t metallic and tar after all. He licks the rainwater off her ankle.

She should be somewhere. The movies play on the walls. The art hangs on the walls. The chandeliers hang on the ceilings of restaurants and the granite floors are underneath. People buy clothes and put necklaces around their necks. They clean their homes and make their beds. They put on records and order drinks. They put their mouths on each other’s mouths. Look how soft it is. Feel this. You must. No one really regrets life. They can’t.
Illustration by Hannah Hooper

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