A Dictionary for All Your Money

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Marianne Webster was sitting cross-legged on a low-back armchair, anxiously, if not eagerly, awaiting her first MDMA dose of the day. She had on a periwinkle-and-maroon polka-dot cotton-twill face mask with string-tie ear straps. It was a tight fit, and smooshed her nose, making it feel as if she were breathing through dried blood at times, but she rather relished such simple acts of suffering, so much so that she often purposefully partook in things that would make her life more difficult. It hampered her guilt and resuscitated her passion. Her glasses fogged with each breath.

She had a healthy fear of fire alarms and believed all things that happened to her, no matter how promising, would eventually turn to shit. Her favorite color was drab.

A train blasted by right outside the bathroom window, tussling the fronds of those Royal Palms that lined the tracks and always made her feel like she were on a tropical vacation when they happened across her line of sight. Marianne Webster wasn’t bothered in the least by the train’s rushing thrum. She was too accustom to distractions and abominations to her consciousness and concentration to even notice something so large and ordinary. She craved uniqueness. Rarity. The fixed festivities of abstaining from life’s big-shot nonsense. She breathed through her mouth, downward with pressed lips, as if she were playing the flute, hoping this would diminish the glasses fog that was really putting a damper on her eyesight. Everything was close and far away. Iffy. Just enough space to properly exist inside of, without vandalizing the pure, warm world of her surest thoughts.

Her father had told her — once, back when time was still slow and sweet and chock-full of meaning — that they had to evacuate the horses twice a year when the river flooded. When he was just a kid. When he was growing up near Chinatown in Los Angeles. He talked about Bunker Hill before they razed it for high rises and event centers. When you could take the funicular railway to the slums. This was before the movies had really taken hold. The moving pictures. Film. There were charts to measure these things. The barreling forward of the years had taken her mind into the trap of fake nostalgia: a territory soaked in massive quantities of golden hours and ecstatic droll — all moments heightened in that pristine black-and-white bogus artisanal joy of being free in the space of time forever gone by. She wanted to gladly travel someplace back and never beyond before she’d ever been. Perhaps back in 1951, in New York, in a moody brownstone, jogging distance to Central Park. Dressed in the styles of the time. Some plum-and-teal striped tea-length swing dress with a petticoat. Saddle shoes. An aquamarine Peter Pan collared blouse. Hair all coiffed. A whimsy steady on top. Sleek black gloves. Maybe a box coat to go with the occasion. Done-up and dining out four nights a week. Enough money to buy books and silverware. Plodding along, as it were, in the slight indentations in space-time’s continuity’s lost streakiness. Never wondering for even a moment where all the cloth napkins went.

She unhooked her mask and let it dangle from one ear. She took the MDMA capsule, making her mouth water by thinking about steak with butter and garlic melting on top of it, and she swallowed the capsule with the spit. A grand success. And it wasn’t even lunchtime yet.

After strapping the mask back on (it gave her great comfort to wear the mask, the safety of it, the assurance), she let her mind slide counterclockwise to her intuition, and then drew it back into shape. She turned on her voice recorder and started saying things into it, things that seemed to come from deep wells of her most misunderstood vacancies.

“Humans are just like other animals: wild or domesticated or just plain doped-up to it all. We don’t necessarily have to spend our time hunting to satisfy our eternal hunger pangs or staying safe from predators. Well, then again, we do, too. Our set of circumstances, self-created or not, are uniquely human; and we’ve got to wait in line at the grocery store, and get along with each other, and negotiate the sometimes-strained social terrain of interactions; and we’ve got to buy things and make money to stay alive. It’s all the same, really. We’re the most inchoate of all species, even a mystery to ourselves, an oblivious mess of dance moves and debit cards and hair products and foam contoured pillows and sectional couches and condo towers and saunas and household cleaning products and rental cars and earrings that dangle and sparkle effervescent from our collagen-filled lobes. Dolled-up feral things, we take chances and mope around and sometimes give in to our urges too. Plus we have conversations that go nowhere all the time. Moody motherfuckers that we are, dependent on each other, lost in meanings of try, found in our made-up religions, comforted in being entertained and idol worship. It’s never about me; it’s about everyone else. The world is other people. Just trying to get by. Just…trying.”

She stopped trying and clicked the voice recorder off. There was always more to express, and so few ways to express it.

Her toes were cold. She cracked them a few times. Her mind was a plastic toaster oven set to bake without a timer. Perhaps her eyebrows were melting. It was difficult to ascertain any information about her body.

Her mouth made this sound: “At the current time, I am somewhere less…tangible.”

Then she was singing this: “Jesus maybe never died for anything, but maybe I can, for me. Die for me, please. Die.”

After a time she said, “Secluded secondary characteristics bound in bedspreads, layered in unrepentant sheets. A duvet cover for your thoughts. A comforter for your most ulterior motives. Maximum splendor at minimum cost. Yes, as we lob grenades of beaux-arts dementia when loneliness has become the strangest drug around. Me? I want to go swimming in a heated pool in the rain. Proteus will never be cut! Sleep is for saps.”

So, she sat around for a bit. She wished there were a spider close by for her to kill.

She had a notebook. And she got the notebook out. And she opened it. And she grabbed a pen that was shaped like a cigar, she got a cigar pen, yes, and she wrote with it, she wrote this in her notebook:

“to catch those airfoil curves and chrome speed lines
cabriole legs to stand up on
to the tips of flip-flop days
tousled on end over false starts
through warming coolers and cooling coffee
a warm beer for your needling thoughts
cobwebs in your hair
sunburn on your feet
lusher meadows to grovel in
slower food
tar spots on sandal bottoms

the cat’s asleep on my pajamas again”

Her handwriting started out very sloppy, full of cratered loops and smashed vowels, but got neater as she went, thinning and straightening and spacing out. Everything was suddenly very pleasing. Her hand flowed over the page as if she were casting a spell on a box of lab-made diamonds.

“My hand-over-heart truth is not just a finicky sidestep or a meaner way to clarify my internal grumblings. I wish I’d get the guts to change my name to Luella, finally do something more than just sit around and mope and brood and ponder and get all upset.

“Remember me, so I don’t have to.

“Hot cars. Cooler lips. Betrayal in the cereal, this afternoon. We’ll get a pinch of pepper to toss over drives on the shoulder. We’ll get rid of all the cops. We’ll be the electoral map of your nightmares. We are the hinged and roughly delicate. We hitch rides on the factory machine and make nobler metals into refined gasses. Byproducts of insecurity, we harbor the damage that’s been dealt to us. Don’t fret. I’m aloof. I’m mismanaged. I am inappropriate. I am not the one you will always love.

“Under the same circumstances, I see only evil. I hear the good in others, though. I listen. I will not be silenced. I nod my head and sway.

“Let’s tear-gas the mayor. Make some hands for these gloves. Well, even Charles Dickens was mean to his dog sometimes. Let the likes accrue. Blah to the highest power of blah.

“Lithely yours,

…”

Everything was okay.

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