The Rusty Toque | Issue 4 | Fiction | February 15, 2014
That’s his map of the world. Above the fireplace.
I don’t see the wonders. I just don’t see them. Mind you, I don’t lie on the living room floor like he did, staring at the thing, imagining the adventures we’d have. There’s no carpet anymore, so where would I even lie? Not that I would’ve—God, dust mites are one of the worst allergens. I feel itchy just thinking about it.
He wanted the rug when he left, but I put my foot down, since I’m the one who chose it to match the couch. I guess I could’ve had him make me an offer, instead of the crazy girl from Craigslist who came on a scooter. She strapped that thing right onto her seat, and then just rode away on it, broomstick-style, waving. I nearly died from worrying I’d caused an accident.
No, what I see when I look at that map is clutter. I want to tidy it up, join the gaudy chunks of land, put them back where they belong. My eyes can’t seem to help it. Humans have to fit things together: hand and hand, tongue and tooth, man-parts into female, or otherwise. It’s natural.
My living room is a mess because of the world.
I wonder about the why of it, sometimes, all that distance between the land masses. And despite its faux-antique look—the oceans are actually brown up there, some kind of fake parchment, his idea of posh—it reminds me of Grade Six homework, the endless shading of provinces or the patchy countries of Africa. The teacher probably told us why the earth looks the way it does, too, but why would I remember that? I’m no geographer, if that’s even a word. Ugh. I hate ugly words.
The thing is, no matter how hard I squint to keep the pieces together, they float apart again. I’d stitch them together if I could. Of course I’d have to use the strongest thing in the world. Hemp? It’s not just for smoking, ha ha. But no. It’d have to be on an epic scale. Dinosaur skin, that kind of thing. As if that’s going to be easy to find. All we have left are their bones made into oil, and they’re all nearly burnt up.
But what if I could manage, by some miracle lasso, to keep the continents together?
It’d ease transportation costs to Europe. I wouldn’t mind the Italian shoes being closer—my calves really do feel better in soft, dreamy boots from the Boot. My muscles can actually contract more easily. It’s natural, since we’ve been wearing animal skins forever, and God, that fake stuff? It cracks after about three days.
I guess it might bring people closer too, you know, like one big party. Unity, oneness, what they rave about at church and such.
Oh, yeah, oneness. I’ve tried it. I lived with other people, way before he moved in, and the idea seemed noble enough. But I know what it feels like to have someone eat your whole pint of Haagen-Dazs or drink your last beer. I know what it’s like to have a roommate yelling for more, and getting it, for two more hours.
All things being equal, well, nothing ever is. If Africa huddled up against the Atlantic States, would peace prevail? Would the reptiles of Madagascar play nicely with Australian kangaroos? Would Newfoundlanders start taking two-hour lunches and wearing matching panties and bras once they were spooning with France? And what would happen to our good highways, our farms and fruit trees, our empty shopping malls? Would the party be worth the hangover?
I should take the stupid map down. I happen to know, however, that it’s covering the hole he put in the wall from trying to hang that heavy mirror of his. I didn’t want it there, but oh no, he had to try, said it was meant to hang over the fireplace as a centrepiece. I don’t want to look at myself like that all the time. I’m not ugly—I’ve gone to therapy, I’ve worked that stuff out—but isn’t art a better choice for a focal point? Doesn’t a mirror as the centre of attention make you seem kind of vain? I told him about the time I lived in Germany on an exchange programme, in a home with no mirrors. How I only had my compact, and how it made me feel the best I’ve ever felt about myself, not being able to see the whole picture at once. He tilted his head, all thoughtful and considerate, and then just said, help me hold this mirror up, will you?
I didn’t tell him that I went to a friend’s house every chance I had to make sure I wasn’t sprouting bulges or wings, that after a few days I started to feel like my body was made up of bits and pieces, like I might break apart into islands of limbs and torso and head. I didn’t feel whole.
Feelings. Now there’s something strong. If I could harness those and pull the continents together, then I’d have a chance. Like the first time I fell in love. That’s powerful. Best drug ever. And no, it wasn’t with him, although I never brought that up. He wanted to be a pioneer, touching new ground. Ha.
Then there’s sensation: if I stroke my inner thigh, right now, well, that’s bigger than any thought. Or rub the end of my nose, or pull on my hair five times like I do before a conversation. Those are gigantic-powerful.
But not to him—he never supported my diagnosis. Thought it was a weakness, taking meds, like I could overcome my anxiety disorder if I just did the homework. Like if he lined up the shoes in height order for me, everything would go back into place, and I’d be someone he could love more completely. It doesn’t work that way, I kept telling him. I have to line things up myself.
Even if I line up the shoes just right, on my own, it only helps for a minute.
Anxiety dis-order. Ha, that’s a good one. Even the name is messy.
I bet, though, if I could truly make those continents join up, I might feel better. And wouldn’t my name go down in history! The woman who stitched the world back together. It’d be a comfort, knowing my name would live on after I’m dead. What a lovely thought.
Of course, if I could solve that little inconvenience—dying—well, then, I’d never be forgotten. Everyone living, everyone not even born yet, they’d all worship me. Forget reuniting the continents, how about eternal life?
Just one problem, that I can see.
That’s going to be too many people, making more babies, more garbage, more gadgets, more bad music, more lineups. More clutter.
Back to the map.
I have to do something to make it work. I might have to get my old Laurentien pencil crayons out again and sharpen them all to dangerous points; just pick a colour and start at one end, make a tidal wave of such intensity that it would swallow the whole world.
I wish I had something else to hang on the wall. Something to pick up the orange and blue flecks of the upholstery. I like things to coordinate. He didn’t match me, that was all. When I threw him out—he’ll tell you different, but it was me, telling him to go—he was wearing unmatched socks when he put on his shoes. And, one of them was mine! If I’d had any misgivings, they vanished the moment he took his slippers off. My God.
But still, the place is pretty dismal now. That rug did lend a certain coziness to the room, even with its microscopic organisms. And I do miss the way he used to come up from behind and hug me, without turning me around. I don’t think it was because he didn’t want to see my face.
We were South America and Africa, though, places you couldn’t imagine being together. In my perfect world, they’d go back to being attached to—well, you already know.
Yes. I’ll start with the ocean. Brown won’t do. When I’m done colouring it tonight, it’ll match the couch. If he doesn’t call, wanting to see a movie. If he doesn’t want to talk about his day, or say he’s sorry for yelling at me when I couldn’t stop checking to see if the door was locked. He needed his sleep, I get it. I just can’t help myself.
Or better yet, I’ll cut the continents out, nestle them together into one big island. If I paint the whole wall blue, I could float my new world on it, wherever I want.
Now that would be a beautiful thing.
JULIE PAUL'S first book of short stories, The Jealousy Bone, was published in 2008. Stories, poems and essays have appeared in many literary journals, including The Dalhousie Review, The Fiddlehead, and Event. She has recently completed a novel and is working on a second collection of short fiction. Recent publications include poetry in PRISM International and a story in Qwerty. She is also a member of the fiction board at The Malahat Review.