Whitney Curry Wimbish
Connie practiced her gratitude meditation as she drove home. If she listed everything to be grateful for, she would see how rich she really was, and she would get happier and happier. She tried to think of every single thing, right down to the fact of her existence. To life itself! She was iffy on God, so she mentally shouted her gratitude to whatever was out there.
The drive through Anchorage was long and hazy. There were wildfires again this summer, and the endless August daylight had taken on a new character. She drove past West High, where some guys were skateboarding in the parking lot. The diffused sun made the scene look like a soft-focus Penthouse photo. Connie was grateful she could see the beauty and the humor, even though she wasn’t feeling well. Even though the world was on fire. Thank you! She turned left on Forest Park Drive, and left again into her driveway.
Because of the haze, because of her mental recitations, it took Connie a moment to understand that her home was gone. She stared at the empty space while her brain caught up with reality.
Jean was on her porch next door. She waved and called out. “Hey girl. You’re home early today.” Jean’s daughter peered around her mother’s legs. She regarded Connie for a moment and offered a solemn wave.
“Want one of these?” Jean opened a cooler and withdrew a beer. She held it out and waggled it. “I’m having one.”
“Or three,” Connie replied. They had gone through this routine for years, except when Jean was pregnant with her daughter. The second kid, though, different story. “The French drink while they’re pregnant,” Jean had said. “Sue me.”
Sitting there on the porch, Connie gazed at the space where her house once stood. She could imagine its orange door and the pot of begonias on the front step. Now there was a straight shot from Jean’s to the trailer park at the end of the road. Connie forced a grateful thought forward. Thank you for my 20/20 vision.
“Maternity leave ended last week, right?” Connie said.
Jean took a sip of her beer. “It’s so much easier than everybody says. They said I would cry the first time.” She scoffed. “Liars. It was even easier with number two.” She gestured to the baby asleep in a bassinette.
“Six weeks seems like nothing,” Connie said.
“You don’t really need it.” Jean had finished her beer and was getting another. “Plus, didn’t Sarah Palin go right back to work after she had that one baby? She went back the next day or something.”
Without the house, the pothole in the driveway was the only thing to see at [address redacted], Anchorage, AK, [ZIP redacted]. Connie noticed for the first time how deep it was. “Damn,” she said. “That really is a pothole.”
“I’ve been telling you,” Jean said.
“I’m grateful it’s not a lot bigger.”
Jean made a finger-gun gesture.
Connie left the porch an hour later and considered her options. She could sleep in the car. She could go to a motel. And then what? Complain that her house was gone? And to who? The cops? She pantomimed opening and closing the front door, then walked through to the imaginary kitchen, where she sat on the ground cross-legged. She rummaged in her backpack and found the remainder of her lunch, half a ham sandwich. It was a thin dinner, and her stomach still hurt, and the wildfire smoke was burning her eyes. She watched her neighbors coming home from work, responded to their disaffected greetings. An evening like any other. I’m grateful for my community.
She arranged her backpack behind her and read You Fail: Why Women Fall Short and How to Fix It. So far she’d learned that when a woman fidgets, she appears seven times more nervous than when a man does. Also: Don’t touch your hair, don’t chew gum, don’t smile too often or too seldom, can you please stop ending all your sentences like a question? Look the part, but also like yourself, demand respect and act like you belong. In other words, big yourself up. But not too much. Find the balance! She was working on it. I’m grateful I’m a life-long learner.
When it was time for bed, Connie walked through the imaginary hallway to her imaginary bedroom. She added to her gratitude journal, which she carried wherever she went. It was a good way to end the day. I’m grateful I don’t feel worse. The list went on and on.
The smoke moved in soft, swift patterns. Debris and plastic bags danced here and there. Connie dreamed of a round shape, bigger than herself, bigger than the whole universe, and the ragged fracture that broke it in two. She dreamed of pills spilling from a medicine jar as tall as a skyscraper. They rolled away, just out of reach.
Morning. New day, new beginning! Connie went into her imaginary bathroom and, improvising, scrabbled in the ground to make a little hole, into which she shat. Leaves for toilet paper, not great. But she found hand sanitizer in her backpack. Nice.
Work was a little weird, seeing as she was wearing the same clothes as the day before and had bits of who knows what stuck in her hair. But Rob didn’t say anything, so maybe he didn’t notice. They went to the worksite, which was closer to the wildfire. It was hard to breathe. “You know?” Connie said. “I don’t need these.”
“You don’t need what?” Rob was arranging the tripods.
Connie reached inside her body and pulled out both lungs. She tossed them aside.
“Oh.” A note of doubt entered Rob’s voice. “You sure?” He examined the lungs. “The blood vessels look like little tree branches,” he said. “Interesting.”
“That reminds me,” Connie said. “See those trees? I’m thinking remediation.”
Rob looked stricken. “Really?”
Usually it saved a lot of time when she said “remediation” instead of “cut down all the trees” or “right size” instead of “fire everybody.” But sometimes it didn’t work and then she just had to pull rank.
“They’re not really part of the subdivision,” Connie said. “If you think about it.”
Connie found the smoke a lot easier to deal with now that she had dumped her lungs. At noon she drove to Carrs Grocers, where she bought a tuna sandwich and string cheese. Her stomach started to roil after a few bites. Sometimes that happened when she skipped breakfast, which her gastroenterologist had warned her to stop doing years ago. Chronic ulcers don’t like a starvation diet, he said, but Connie was often in a rush. Here she was again, for example, sitting in her car, working during her lunch break, getting things in order for the landscape solution. Connie found her pain meds in the glove compartment and swallowed a few. They didn’t so much kill the pain as make her care less about it. How wonderful that you can forget your own body. She drove back to the work site.
“Remediation’s all scheduled!” she told Rob. His shoulders slumped.
Connie was back on Jean’s porch that evening. This time she brought the beer, a microbrew made by some local guys who’d started a brewery nearby.
“Enjoy it while you can,” Jean said, “before they go bankrupt.”
“How do you know they’ll go bankrupt?”
“It’s just two guys against Miller Time,” Jean said. “You can’t compete with that.”
“Even if we all buy their stuff?” Connie said.
“Girl, you might be able to build a whole city. But you don’t know dick about economics.”
Jean was a financial planner. There was a hole where her nose used to be. It was weeping mucus.
“Well shit,” Connie said. “That’s depressing.”
Jean blew her nose hole into her hand and wiped snot on her pants. “Maybe they can get an investor or something.”
They ordered a pizza for dinner at the request of Jean’s daughter, who took two slices and sat on the porch steps guarding them but not eating. After a few bites, Connie felt the rebellion of her angry stomach and took a pain pill. Thirty minutes later, it still had no effect. Connie shook her head. “Man, I should have done this years ago.” She reached into her body and pulled out her stomach, then went in again for her digestive tract. It came out slowly, so slowly; the small intestine is five feet long. The large intestine came last, thick and red. She looked around for a place to put the mess.
“Anywhere’s good,” Jean said. Connie underhanded it onto the lawn.
“Hey, where’s the baby?” Connie said.
“No idea.” Jean’s feet were up on the railing. “So how’s the subdivision shaping up?”
Two tracts of ten three-story homes. Arranged in a semicircle. Roads named after places nothing like this one. Manhattan Street. Pennsylvania Avenue. Connie had tried to find who was behind the development but got lost in a maze of private companies and subsidiaries and names like “The Service Providers,” which pulled up an endless stream of inaccurate hits online.
“We’re going to remediate the trees,” Connie said. “To save them from the fire.”
“Seems like the fire would do the remediating for you.”
“Hey, you might know about economics. But you don’t know dick about civil engineering.”
Jean laughed and held up her hands. “Okay, okay.”
Jean’s daughter was staring at the guts lying in the desiccated grass. The girl had chewed her fingernails to the quick and the ragged edges were bloody. She spoke to no one in particular, still guarding the pizza. “Will I have to do that?”
“Dunno, sugar,” Jean said, and shrugged. “Maybe.”
Another night in the invisible house. Another dream of smoke and medicine. In the morning Connie found more things to be grateful for and more things to get rid of. Her appendix, that was an obvious one. Such a liability. Her heart, also obvious; she wasn’t even using it. These she flung into the pothole, to keep things tidy. She texted her sister and got no response—typical. She’d been quiet for months. Same with mom and dad. Everyone was so busy these days! I’m grateful for the time we had together.
The week continued and the trees came down as planned. One night, Connie couldn’t sleep and found that masturbating away the time didn’t work anymore. She tried picturing Rob with his massive pecs, pulling her hair and fucking her from behind. But he was being weird about the trees, and, really, he was probably more of a soft kisses kind of guy. She stretched her fingers a little further upwards and pulled out her pointless uterus and fallopian tubes and immediately felt relieved.
The next morning loggers stacked the dead trees into a flatbed truck and drove them away.
The homes were perfect: beige and empty and exactly alike. Connie stood on a stump and looked at her work. A wave of discomfort passed over her, so she went inward again, found the last few parts of herself she had no use for. Liver, kidneys one and two, some other crap. She threw them into the brush.
“Hey, Rob, come stand on this stump with me!”
Rob did as he was told. They stood very close but didn’t touch. The houses were so big they seemed to rise into the clouds. The wildfire in the distance sent up grey smoke. Connie put her hands on her hollow body and held herself. She was so grateful.♦
Whitney Curry Wimbish is an American writer in Scotland. Her fiction has been published in Barren Magazine, MIR Online, Great River Review, Nottingham Review, and r.kv.r.y. quarterly literary journal, and has received honorable mention in two Glimmer Train competitions. Her journalism and essays have been published in The Baffler, The Financial Times, The New York Times, North American Review, and elsewhere.