9/23/14

Fun Facts When Drawing Blood
By Travis Roberts


A workday. The stained canvas draped along the overpass rail features Think in mottled lines of black spray paint.
I consider it. My brain behind a classroom desk.
A woman once told me she preferred fiction in violent weather. I associate her memory with barroom lights, dim and red, suspended above pictures of smoking dogs playing cards, framed in plastic. Truth is, she slept in my house for a time but I never saw her naked. I think because we loved each other.
Nobody stands next to the stained canvas. It simply hangs, limp and rain worn. A distraction. Like kids playing basketball, or a woman jogging. You look, as long as you can, and then you look elsewhere.
After the exit my drive consists of a shopping mall, a Burger King, and a nail salon tucked behind a low hill.
Three lights, one turn.The margins of a universe.
Live in your own time, a man told me once. This is a truly exciting era.
My customers recite stories about how the theater in the mall used to run Ingmar Bergman films. Back before you were born, they say. I explain that I know all about the God trilogy, that I've even seen Wild Strawberries. There's hope, they say.
Occasionally I impress someone. These moments weave around corners and often require alcohol. One took shape in the early hours of a college Sunday. We were at a birthday party and I mentioned Bergman's God trilogy.
This is why college is so much better than high school.
There was only High Life. I rubbed my hand between her thighs until she fell asleep.
In high school I chose cello. Fourth chair. My stand partner, a senior, was three years older. She looked the part. Showed up late to class like a pioneer. Like it was her idea. Jeans torn at the knees, t-shirts tight around the chest. I listened when she spoke.
These next three years are the ones you want. Trust me, cutie.
The God trilogy. Jesus. Too serious. Too quiet. And where's the color? Our kids don't need lectures, just bullets and sequels. And for Christ's sake, English.
Park and catch the bumper sticker in front of me. Tell the truth, there's less to remember.
Called in sick yesterday. Spent my shift on a pleather stool with red lights and popcorn. Happy hour and a full memory.
A coworker once mentioned a man on the Greyhound. A cook from northern California who wouldn't shut up about servitude. Said he'd just quit a gig in the San Juan Islands because the host made him feel like a lackey. Said he couldn't wait to get home. See his girls. Go a round with the wife.
I make a lousy indentured servant.
I greet a woman with fake red hair at the entrance to the store. Pearl's name tag reveals a commitment of twenty-four years. One more and the badge turns silver. Pearl smiles like I'm trying to sell her something.
Good morning, how are you?
Good, thanks, how are you?
Good.
Good.
My tag is different. Far from silver. I prefer to consider myself unique. Uncommitted. A stopgap.
From behind the counter I scan your groceries. I smile and so do you.
Good morning, how are you?
Good, thanks, how are you?
Good.
Good.
Drift among endless rows of fluorescent bulbs dangling from the warehouse ceiling.
Frozen meatballs. Meatless grind. Chicken nuggets shaped like Mickey Mouse.
Good, thanks, how are you?
Good.
Good.
I overhear a customer two registers over waiting for her husband, adrift in search of forgotten butter. A baby in her shopping cart waiting to sleep. Two small boys at her feet, arguing. They can't wait to blow this place, huff one of our discount take and bakes and forget it happened. I'm waiting, too. First break. Lunch break. Last break.
She looks at her watch.
Where is your father?
The baby adjusts, unnoticed. Grabs the rubber handle.
Will you two please leave each other alone?
On her heels. A shift in weight. Forward, headfirst.
A poster I saw once in a doctor's office: Fun facts when drawing blood.
The silence in bone and concrete.
A cat's ear has thirty-two muscles.
The hush. The howl.
Chewing gum while peeling an onion prevents you from crying.
Breathe. Move. Impress.
The time we went shopping and the baby flew away.
More dogs playing cards. Another woman jogging.


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Travis Roberts holds a bachelor's in creative writing from Western Washington University, where he studied under Jack Duluoz and the Glass family. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Albion Review, the Eunoia Review, Black Heart Magazine, and the Molotov Cocktail.


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