The sound of the scanner beeping each item is still ringing in her ears as she leans on the closed window. The rush of the fan pushes the echo further into her brain. It hurts. Her feet hurt. Her lower back hurts. The scent of soap on her hands reaches her nose and the reminder of washing them vigorously under the kitchen tap, wakes her the fact that she’s still in her work clothes. She passes the rooms as she makes her way to hers, and they swivel in and out like human turnstiles; her mom getting ready to leave for the late shift cleaning bank offices, her sisters, one coming home from school the other leaving for a late class. Her father pacing about trying to find the remote he just set down, wanting to change the channel before his soap opera starts.
She takes a shower and changes into her pajamas, a pair of checkered shorts and a white cotton tee. She serves herself dinner as her mom exits leaving a, “Mari, don’t forget to mop the kitchen tonight” behind her. Mari only forgot once and that was because standing another minute after a long shift became too much to bare.
She has become too accustomed to sitting in front of a screen watching a show or a movie while eating. Headphones on and she walls herself in for a moment of tranquility. No matter the content of the show, be it drama, action, comedy- it walls her in those little worlds away from her own. A temporary safe-haven where she can’t be reached to pay the rest of the bills, to clean up after everyone, to be a filler in someone else’s void.
She ends the evening with tea by the window, sitting on the radiator watching the last light of the day melt into a pink sorbet of clouds, foaming into a blueberry pie being cooked slowly. The sun is tucked under the horizon and the moon will soon make her appearance. Venus or that bright star has opened the show. The deep blueness intensifies, and the wind blows away the shadowy grey clouds. The tea is not scalding hot anymore but she takes careful sips anyway savoring the taste of the green tea leaves, no sugar just the punch of green that is so soothing and welcoming after a long day. She could hear her dad snoring already from his room and she decides to call it a night even though it’s only nine o’clock.
Rolling herself in her covers like a burrito, she’s able to snuff out the tractor like air conditioner. In these few moments before closing her eyes, she always tries to make a note to buy a new one but come morning, light smears the note away until the next night. She hasn’t cried herself to sleep lately due to the exhaustion of putting her body to work again. Her mind swivels like a huge eye, wildly in all directions from the repetitive work; scan, scan, scan, swipe card, take bills, pack it all, give receipt, scan, scan, scan, swipe card, take bills, pack it all, give receipt and on, and on. Unable to find the threshold, her baseline, she just passes out from the lack of commands.
A field has opened into view. Long green stems, peppered with little white flowers bounce on the tall, swaying grass. She can see her arms moving it all aside as she walks through. She cannot feel the grass scratch her sides, but she can feel the softness of the tips of flowers kissing her elbows as she makes her way through. The sky is a big blue tent free of clouds. The sun is far on the other side and a soft shade looms happily over everything, keeping it all cool and light. There’s a woman up ahead and she spots her with her face against the swaying grass, smiling as it grazes her cheeks gently. The woman looks up and sees her, she waves, and Mari waves back. The woman beckons her to come closer but Mari awakens to the sound of the air conditioner trucking in place as the light of the morning trickles through the curtains.
Under the shower head, she vigorously spreads
the foamy soap with a wash cloth over her body. The sweet scent of the rose
scented soap reminds her of her dream; the woman’s face plastered like
wallpaper on the inside of her lids. With each blink, she can see her clearly
and with each blink her foolish little heart melts for this woman. Ready to go,
she leaves her goodbyes behind her, and heads to her shift at work.
Repetitive work is work and even among her circle, honorable work. She’s seen people respect her a little more for it. When you’re down and jobless no matter what caused it, people will blame you for being lazy. It’s their solace, Mari concluded. They are buoys in the middle of the ocean trying to convince you to stay afloat as another marker in this mere existence. No cruise ship will lower itself to you, so you got to work, even if it just means to float on the vastness of this seemingly perpetual blue. It’s not that she didn’t want to work, she was just having a hard time getting her mind to realize it had a body to attend to here on earth. Some days felt like she was running after a balloon, and wondering why she should catch it in the first place, why not let it go and let it finally get popped by the heat of the sun? Those were the hardest days to get through but on the outside, she just looked as if she was sitting down by choice, rather than being weighed down by this need to catch her mind before it burned.
The smell of the floor cleaner greets her as the automatic door opens, the pulsing beeping sounds smack her ears and she waves to her co-workers already into their shift. She clocks in, ties her apron on, and receives her assigned register for the day. During lunch break, she could see the woman mouthing something between her slow, tired blinks. Mari chews her food appreciatively as she tries to decipher what the woman is saying but reading lips is something she could never figure out. Her break is over and she uses the bathroom before heading back into the fray. After lunch, it becomes a little hectic but nothing compared to the four o’clock rush, good thing she’s on her way home by then.
On the bus, she decides to close her eyes for a bit. But the woman is no longer smiling or trying to tell her something instead she’s peering at her curiously making Mari’s cheeks burn in embarrassment. It’s that special kind, the kind of embarrassment you feel when someone you like gazes into you as if they’ve seen you completely and already something has awakened in them too. Most people feel happy for the reciprocation, not Mari. It feels terrifying, especially since she still feels raw from digging her way up from the depths of her sadness.
She arrives home, showers, and then settles down to eat dinner. Everyone around her is too busy in their own orbits. She doesn’t watch any shows or movies. It’s silly, she reasons, but it’s a change from her usual dreary landscape of her mind. Her mind is now fully preoccupied with the mysterious woman, nothing else will do. The woman is beautiful; her eyes are the color of licorice and she bets they must give out a sweetness so sharp they can trip up anyone’s gait, her hair is dark and tightly coiled, the tips barely grazing her lower back. She cleans up, washing the dishes with her mind panning over the landscape of the mysterious woman, zooming in on her smile and her inviting eyes.
She rolls herself into her covers and closes her eyes as the air conditioner’s roaring motor fades and a field opens once again and this time the woman pops up into frame laughing softly, “there you are again, I thought I dreamed you up!”. Mari furrows her brows, “isn’t this a dream?”. The woman shakes her head slowly as she smiles, “how silly” and takes her by the crook of her arm to a group of tall trees.
The trees are thick, creating a half circle, with the roots combing over each other. Grass is interspersed within each nook and the woman clears a space for them to sit down. “I’m Leomi, what’s your name?” tucking her legs underneath her, she responds, “Mari”. Leomi clasps her hands to her chest, and repeats, “Mari” as if she’s savoring each letter in her mouth. “Well Mari, nice to meet you” and extends her hand to her. Mari shakes it as Leomi places her other hand over it and holds them there. She gets closer and she can see the texture of her skin, the deep line in the middle of her plush, grape tinted lips, and the short thick eyelashes curtaining her eyes. Mari was right, sweet dark licorice and she can feel herself stumble. “Wow, you’re so pretty Mari”, Leomi says but Mari insists she’s not. Leomi sucks her teeth, “but you are. Look at those crescent moon eyes, bright like a deep summer day and your rounded nose, like mine but mine is bigger but that’s okay” and she pauses to laugh as Mari presses her lips together suppressing hers. “I can also see something in them. I think it matches a bit of my own something. But I can’t explain it, you know? It’s like something deep within me is pointing at you and saying, ‘there’s home’. So here I am”.
The wind rustles the leaves, knocking a few as it rains green for a moment. Mari feels so peaceful, ‘so here I am’ doesn’t sound strange to her but a little doubt creeps in. Even if it is her doing, so what? Elixirs of any kind can finish the job, this task her mind has set upon soothes the last bit of roughness in her. This is so soothing, nothing wrong about it. Mari leans closer and moves a long curl from Leomi’s face and in a blink, morning opens as it closes a door.
Work, home, eat, she can’t wait to dream again and again. Mari is excited to learn about Leomi each time; how she likes to suck on a slice of lemon because she believes it keeps her teeth white, or she removes the pie crust first so she can use it to scoop up the filling bit by bit, or how she likes laying on the grass, letting her body curve into the ground watching the sky change colors. Each time is bittersweet, she eventually needs to wake up and when did her mind become so punctual? Always waking up before she can get a chance to kiss her and right when the sun breaks through the horizon. She looks out the window and orange juice has spilled its way over the blue mantle of the sky. She turns off the a/c and a few tears spring from her eyes.
Eventually she realized she would cry again. It doesn’t matter how dry she felt after the last episode, there’s an ocean inside her constantly renewing itself, the deep goes deeper than her body can show. She wipes the tears away and focuses on the last dream she just experienced. Leomi brought a basket of raspberries. They ate them one by one; feeding each other the small, soft fruit, an offering to each of their lips from the other. Then suddenly, Leomi takes a fistful squeezes them letting the juices run out from between her fingers staining her knuckles. She reached for Mari’s hands and coated them with the crushed berries. Gently she massaged them on Mari’s open palms, “this is my heart in your hands, Mari. I want you to take it and nestle it into yours”. She guided Mari’s hands to her lips, offering the crushed berries to her mouth. Mari ate them slowly, kissing the tips of Leomi’s fingers, one by one. And just when she leaned in for a kiss she awoke. How cruel. But as the morning brightens to the lightest blue, she needs to remind herself, it’s just a dream, right?
The following night she has a nightmare. The scene opens to an empty corridor. It’s long and she makes her way through, uncertain to where it leads. Up ahead she sees a door with a glass window. Mari peers in and watches what appears to be Leomi in a hospital gown. Her long, coarse hair tied back into a pony tail, her face etched with concern as she watches someone move in front of her. Mari tries to open the door, but it won’t budge. She feels suffocated, the sadness is creeping into her lungs, long fingers obstructing her nose, wrapping around her tongue stiff. She can’t scream and she awakens as her pounding fists break the glass. Daylight has not broken through, the clock reads 2:00 am and she’s drenched in sweat. She heads to the bathroom to take a shower and changes into a fresh pair of pajamas. She removes her sheets and lays the covers out so they can dry. It’s as if she alighted from a pool straight onto her bed. She sits on the floor, holding her knees, crying and frustrated with her foolishness. She’s holding herself, trying to keep the lump in her throat from choking her back into the deep sadness again.
The days pass onto each other like a newspaper folding and unfolding by a man’s wrinkled hands; uncaring, calculating, and the inevitable smell of ink- the contract to the daily life of the world. She saves enough to leave her parents. She comes to the realization that she can no longer stay. The repetitiveness of everything is driving her mad. Just like Leomi told her about something within her pointing to Mari as her home, something inside her was begging her to leave pointing elsewhere so she can find her home. Her mother becomes concerned and calls her relatives on the west coast to let them know that Mari will visit, so she can at least have a place to stay as she figures out everything. Her father argues that if it wasn’t for his pension everything wouldn’t fall apart without her and says sternly, “But that doesn’t mean you should go running away like a scared little girl. You’re a woman! Own up to life and live it! Work hard, that’s why you’re here, that’s why I came to this country, to work!”.
The guilt clips at her heels but it doesn’t weigh her down. She takes a greyhound across the country, to the west coast. She watches the city disappear, long highways open a crack within her and the last remaining pieces of her old, broken self fly out like paper cranes. She smiles at each passing exit and she no longer grieves about anything anymore and even as she reaches her destination, not even uncertainty can cut a new wound over the healing scars. She sits at a diner and orders a piece of blueberry pie. She dips the crust into the soft blueberries, scooping each morsel into her mouth. After paying the cashier, she leaves and walks out of the diner and walks towards the park. Up ahead a trail catches her eyes. She follows it and an excitement she has never felt before simmers within her slowly, building its way up to her lips and spreading into a smile.
Mari crosses her way through a few trees and there she is sitting, watching a bubbling stream crawl by. She recognizes the coily hair shining under the real, bright sun. She makes sure she isn’t dreaming, pinching her arm until her skin turns into a dangerous red, she tugs at her hair and she can’t believe it. She gets closer and Leomi turns around, “Mari!” she stands and hugs her so tightly, she can feel the curve of her body fit into hers, “you found me! I can’t believe it!”. Leomi peels away at the hips to look into Mari’s stunned, happy face, “you actually came to find me” and she kisses her forehead, her nose, her cheeks and finally her lips. They stay connected for a long while. Mari breaks the soft silence of reunion, “but how? How? I thought I was dreaming” Leomi spreads her arms wide, “I have so much to tell you Mari, so much”. They link arms and Mari leads her back to the diner, “I think I saw your favorite pie on the menu”.