“New Improvements”
by Rachel Gray

When I stopped by last week after a dentist appointment my parents wanted to show off all the new improvements.  They were like, “Great to see you, let’s check out the new improvements!”

This was my chance to find my birth certificate so I could figure out my moon sign. Mom led me into her room where I sat in front of a filing cabinet, watching her dig through years of collected funeral papers and documents. Dad went downstairs to watch TV.

I touched Momʼs bookshelf. I used to sit in front of that bookshelf wondering what kinds of places there were in the world.

“How did you find all these books, Mom?” I asked.

“I usually just go to Borders,” she said, flipping through a folder. “I know there is something I’m searching for, so I keep going, to see if I can find it. But if the book goes in another direction than what I was looking for in the first place, I stop reading it.”

Downstairs Mom asked if we wanted avocado in our sandwiches or on the side and we talked about people who owned Great Danes. “It’s like, well, I can’t have a pony!” Dad said.

“I hope I donʼt have to get surgery,” Dad said. He was wearing a khaki hat and looking out the glass door, standing, with the sandwich in his hands. “When you’re young, Rachel, have fun and take care of yourself, but mostly take care of yourself.” He nodded and talked about how it sucks getting old.

After we finished our sandwiches Mom wanted me to look at the bathroom one more time. I followed her upstairs.

“I really like these sinks,” I said, walking in behind her. They were that deep kind and I put my hands all the way into them.

“Oh yeah, I love the sinks,” Mom said. “But I don’t like this brown. It’s too dark.”

We talked about different colors that would make the walls look better. Mom pointed out tones of red in the floor tile and in the new marble counter.

“I like red,” I said, “but it could look tacky.”

“You mean you don’t like it?” she asked, almost crying.

I turned to the sinks quickly, “No, I really like this!”

She smiled, “I really like it too.”

My room was empty except for a Stanley Steam Cleaner plugged into a wall socket. It looked smaller.

“I’ve been in here getting rid of all the coffee stains on your floor,” Mom said, walking in behind me. “Jesus, Rachel, what was that about?”

“I’m just now learning that I have to dust,” I said.

“Jesus, Rachel,” she said.

“The view out the window looks different,” I said.

“Huh, yeah, maybe it does,” Mom said, looking out the window. “It’s probably because we cut down the bushes.”

She walked out of the room to go do something.

“Oh yeah,” I said, but I didn’t really think that was why.

I drove to Borders because I was realizing that I didn’t even know where horoscopes came from and my boyfriend was getting angry that I cared. “I just don’t buy that Zodiac stuff,” he said. “It’s such an easy answer. Things are more complex than that.”

I was feeling very fucked up like that time I tried to take philosophy and started questioning if my cup was even a cup.

Seattleʼs Best had replaced whatever company sold coffee in Borders since I last visited and there were all of these electronic stands by the music. A whole section was reserved for memoirs. I was seeing new improvements wherever I went!

None of the astrology books explained the origin of astrology. I got distracted and started reading Jane Goodall and bought a peppermint mocha and read “Howl” and then a bunch of Dr. Seuss books and started to laugh and smile at them and say, oh my god.

It took forty-five minutes to drive home. I called my boyfriend. We talked about our parents and graduation, how we were doing with trying to find a job. He was tired. The lights were off all around me if I looked away from the road.

When I pulled into the alley behind my house I had to drive slowly in case I ran over a college student. Our neighbors were throwing a party with a bunch of guys in T-shirts and girls in little black dresses and heels. I parked behind my apartment. A girl next to a table full of Jell-O shots was freaking out by the back door. “Letʼs take them!” she said. I liked her eyes.

We took three Jell-O shots each and held hands. Then she led me upstairs to a circle of Asian girls playing Jenga upstairs, laughing as she sat down.

“Loser gives Aaron a lap dance!” the girls in the circle screamed.

My friend looked at me with wide eyes.

I whispered, “We cannot lose.”

Someone knocked the tower over by accident after the third round and I left the circle thinking at least I didn’t have to do that. I crawled down the staircase that led to the alley, then passed my car and my apartment, headed toward the orange streetlight. It buzzed and ticked with insects. I felt bored and returned to the party to walk between all of the drunk people to be in the center of something going on.

There was a moth inside my apartment. It was big and loud and I yelled something like, “Get out of here!”

It flew to the wall and stayed there.

I grabbed a glass from a cabinet behind me and tore out a page of a magazine to trap it. It wasn’t hard to trap, and up close it didn’t look beautiful, but its little moth hands held on to the magazine paper by a string and its wings vibrated in place, and I liked that.

I attempted to open the front door, but the screen door was broken and our porch light was out and I really had a hard time with the moth in my hands.

I set the glass on the porch railing. The moth hit against it in little bursts. I felt angry at the stupid party for being there, and for my lack of anywhere that I could stand to live in, or that I didn’t have to stand, but that I just liked, and had, and could always have. I put my hand on the glass so I could feel the moth hit against it with no change in momentum, or hope, or desperation.

 

Rachel Gray taught English in Spain and is currently a teacher of small children. Her work appears in Bearcreekfeed and she has a tumblr account: beasister2everygirl.tumblr.com