Tori Malcangio

Ever Seen Sedona?

I’m kneeled on the old woman’s green shag carpet, bubble-wrapping forty-three Tiffany- crystal miniature presidential busts from her china cabinet. Lance is across the living room packing up her entertainment center, rifling through CDs and calling out musicians he loves.

“Don’t ever let me collect anything I can’t give away,” I tell Lance and he looks at me like I’ve just asked him to whittle the Seven Wonders of the World.

“Relax. I’m not asking you to marry me,” I say. Lance owns Prescott, Arizona’s largest moving company and because he takes as much time with sex as he does explaining String Theory, I tag along on my days off.  “All I’m saying is that if we’re still together when I start stockpiling matchbooks, kill me.”

“How do you want to die?” He mimes holding a pen to imaginary paper. “I’m taking notes. Not a bloody death, please. Not for my Goldilocks.” In the adjacent bedroom, his three-man crew is making a racquet taking apart a canopy.

“Cyanide, then,” I say. Lincoln, with his especially fragile stovetop hat, requires an extra layer of bubble wrap. “Enough to down a horse. I don’t want to feel a thing.” His face instantly disfigures. “Man, Leah. Why are you rushing?” He grabs Lincoln from me and demonstrates a chaste packing technique. “Slow down, sweetheart, pack it like it’s yours.”

Mid-morning sun slants through the condo’s vertical blinds, adding more angles to his already Modigliani-chiseled face. If Grandmother met him today she’d say: He’s too good-looking for a good life. She’d call him a lady-killer and not mean it as a compliment, but as prophecy.

“Don’t forget,” he says, “everyone’s shit is my bread and butter.” “That’s what you should have had painted on your trucks.” “What’s wrong with Let Us Move You?”

“Sort of schmaltzy,” I say. “ And slutty.”

He moons me and goes back to fawning over the CDs.  As I look up to agree with his appraisal of Elton John, I see him sneaking Whitney Houston’s Greatest Hits into his Carhartt jacket.

Last week was the first time I caught him stealing—a set of diamond cufflinks— and he said not to worry because he sells most stuff on eBay and donates 40% of proceeds to Prescott’s no-kill animal shelter. He said it’s actually charity work because he’s helping people cull down their crap and appreciate what they didn’t lose.

“Are you coming with me tomorrow to visit Mom?” I’m fuming mad about having to ask him a second time. After dating a month I asked, even buffering the question with “my mom.” But now we’re going on three months and it’s hardly any skin off his back anyway to meet Mom when he won’t have to say a word, not even Hello.

“By the way,” I told him about a month ago, “she’s in a coma and has been for almost twenty-one years, since a stroke.” And he said, “Wow. That’s how you’re going to tell me? How frighteningly sociopathic.” And I said, “Sorry. I don’t tell people ever. I’m short on practice.” Right then he took me in his arms and we sat on his brick fireplace hearth while the heat from the fire pulled my face tight. “I thought the Hope House only took dying people?” he finally said. And before I could tame my completely reflexive and hostile expression, he was already buttering me with apologies, practically mewing into my neck. “Please, stop,” I said. “I get it: she’s dead to everyone but me and Grandma. Trust me, I get it.”

“Tomorrow won’t work,” he says and I can see that the bulge in his pocket is bigger than just a Whitney track. “I want to, but I can’t. Next week. Promise. Tomorrow, we’ve got a ‘three by three’ on the schedule.” That’s his industry lingo for moving folks out of a place with three flights of stairs and into a place with three flights of stairs.

While he’s loving on a Kenny Rogers CD, telling me how he used “She Believes in Me” for his Harmonic Frequencies paper in college physics, I pull off my sweater and quickly nestle Bill Clinton inside. I’m careful not to let Lance see, more careful not to snap off the itsy cigar some smart-aleck designer at Tiffany’s carved into the corner of Bill’s smirk.

I clock out at noon the next day, shed my apron in the break room, and squeeze through the service hallway past stacked boxes of our signature Ho-Ho-Ho Honduran Blend. We’re only one day in to November and already grinding through seventy pounds a day of the nutmeg-undertoned bunk. By New Year’s Day, The Beanery will have sold fifty five thousand cups, enough to stain the enamel of every Prescott resident, twice.

I run the five blocks to Hope House to visit Mom. The sidewalk is slick with freezing snow; I feel my foot muscles orchestrating my balance. Grandmother’s daily passage is written on a Post-It and stuffed deep in my jacket pocket. A righteous man hateth lying. -Proverbs 13:5.

I visit every day at noon; Grandmother visits only on Wednesdays, after 2 o’clock confession. She says she must be pure in the face of a miracle. Mom will wake one day, she says. It’s only a matter of time, as much as Mom’s survival was only a matter of timing. If, when she snapped her spinal cord at C1, the apartment’s night security guy hadn’t found her three minutes later to administer CPR and get her heart beating, she’d be dead rather than—Vegetative? Comatose? I’ve tried understanding the differences, stayed up late following trails on the Internet, but have decided that whatever she is, it’s not what she wants.

At Mom’s closed door, I rehearse like the village idiot, what to say. Grandmother tells me that we don’t know what Mom does and doesn’t hear. It’s the closest we will come to intimating a conversation with God.

Finally, I barge in and yell, “Congratulations, you’ve both won the Nobel Peace Prize for perseverance.” Mom is rolled on her side for a view of the sink, and Nancy, mom’s roommate of five years, is turned toward the wall heater. The nurses say she went in for breast enhancement surgery five years ago, but came out with a ventilator.

I roll mom on her back and sit at her socked feet. After reading the Bible passage, I stick it to the metal bed rail next to the others.  Grandmother allows them to be thrown out on the first of every month.

A menagerie of clips secures Mom’s long graying hair atop her head. Her arm is a flute, her fist a root-ball of fingers that I pry open about once a week to slip in a Tootsie Roll, or a weather update, or six years ago, my wisdom teeth. I imagine her waking one day to these gifts, then rising and screaming like a kid on Christmas morning.

“This is president Clinton,” I say and force her stiff fingers around the crystal bust. “I was in grade school when he got his presidential blow job under his desk, under a stack of Classified CIA documents.” I imagine her laugh sounding like mine, which Lance says fills him with happiness and more cum than he knows what to do with.

I coat her cracked lips with the Cherry Chapstick kept at her bedside. Mom’s the color of cold Earl Grey tea and I hate how I judge her against the higher standards of the living. But every visit, every day, there’s a moment when I feel like I’m back in her womb, her body preoccupied with assembling my green eyes, my disappointing lips, while I’m listening to the muffled ticking and beeping keeping alive this woman who I’ve never met except through Grandmother’s stories. Her name is Jill Thompson. And if this were a merciful day, I’d say was. I’d say: Her name was Jill Thompson.

The next night, Grandma is still up waiting for me at the glass kitchen dinette. The old bronze fixture casts anemic shadows on the beef patty, the canned peaches and rice pilaf, each claiming space on her partitioned plastic plate. I untie my coffee-stained apron and sit beside her. Midnight, I’ll bet my left tit, doesn’t look like this for any other twenty-one year old.

“Did you hear me, Grandma?”

She sips from a ceramic Farmer’s Insurance mug. “Yes, out with Lance again. I heard you. How long you two been seeing each other? And why haven’t I met him?”

She licks her finger and rubs at something on the bubbled glass. Sometimes I think she’s mad at me for reminding her too much of Mom.

“Three months,” I say. She hasn’t met him because, as I said, she’ll either proclaim him lethal or want me to marry him immediately. Either way, I lose.

“That necklace is from this Lance boy?”

I nod and steal a peach slice from her plate. “He’s really busy during the day. But, I swear, you’ll meet him.”

Her warm dough hands touch the yellow topaz pendant resting on my neck. “You know, that’s your mother’s birthstone?”

“I told Lance the other day that Mom’s birthday was next week and he shows up tonight with this.” There’s that love squall again rising up in my thighs and tumbling through my heart and up into my head where I try to reconcile what I’ve heard about men with what I feel for Lance. I think back to the day we met, not knowing then how quickly a nobody stranger can become everybody, everything. The story goes: Lance walks in to The Beanery just before noon, all armpit stains and Popeye biceps, like he’s the blue- collar Messiah come to shake-up the sedentary world. When he orders a steel cut oatmeal and a vanilla latte, I almost kid him about the paradox of “steel” and “vanilla”, something like: “Wow, the first well-rounded man since Jesus.”  But he leaves without us exchanging anything more than flighty eye contact and a thank you. An hour later, he shows up again, and asks if I doubled his shots. Yes, I tell him, of course I did. Laughing, he holds up his shaky hands, saying that he’d ordered one shot of decaf and for my near lethal oversight would I please accompany him to detox tonight at a nearby restaurant?

“Your father was sweet like that with your mother, at first,” she says. Her pain is so deep if she were cracked open it’d be its own organ with its own pulsing vein. She leans in, hugs my shoulders. Her pink nightie has lost all its elasticity and I get a glimpse straight down the gaping neck and find two miserable, shapeless breasts that—I decide right now—hang like half-empty IV bags. “I must take something back.”

“Buyers remorse?” I say. We’d gone shopping for clothes earlier today, before my shift. She bought me two pairs of pants without fighting me on them being too tight. She bought herself a pink cardigan, and on the way home, stopped for milkshakes at Arby’s.

“No. About your mother. I said something untrue today in Sears.” She breaks off a piece of the patty and crumbles it between her fingers. “She never said anything rotten about your father. She should have, but she didn’t. Your mother was too kind. Not once did she hint at what he was capable of.”

She walks her plate to the sink and dumps all the food down the disposal.

“I would have eaten that,” I say. Lance and I didn’t eat. After work, I’d walked straight to his condo. We talked about how his PhD in physics, how his expertise in black holes and transmutable universes translates seamlessly to moving people’s shit. He told me there is something called the God particle that holds the formula for when the cosmos will destabilize and the world will end. He told me I was stupid for dropping out of the University three-credits shy of graduating. It’s good to have that piece of paper, he said. Nobody can own you, he said. Then we had sex.

“Let me make you something. Grilled cheese and tomato?” Grandmother’s umpteenth failed attempt at making Mom’s favorite sandwich mine.

“Cereal is fine,” I say.  “I can get it.”

Grandmother hus