by Tsipi Keller


1. Nocturnal Pyrotechnics

She had gone to bed at 11pm and woke up at 2am., five hours too early. Unable to slink under, Cookie rose, rinsed the dinner dishes in the sink, and made breakfast: coffee and half a scone she found in the fridge. While eating, she read a novel about a young British couple, living in Rome. She didn't believe a word she read, and instantly dubbed the author - British, Male, White - a BMW. Somewhere in the back of her mind, the thought lurked that she might call friends and alert them to the fact that she was awake. Instead, breakfast over, she went to her desk.

Dear World, she wrote. You're so peaceful and still at this hour, so quiet. What if your End were to arrive, and I'd be the only one to witness it?

Cookie - she doodled on a pad in calligraphic loops and curves. It wasn't her real name, it was a nickname her friend Deidre had lobbed at her, and it stuck. Deidre of the many tongues and the small nose. At this late hour, Cookie imagined Deidre at her altar of plastic pleasures, frowning, rearranging her dildos.

Observing the dark sky, Cookie pondered: A Jetlag Without the Actual Travel? Or, conversely, maybe she did travel. Twenty-four-seven she floated on her impressions, which took her places. She was a space cadet – some people, those who had jobs, thought this of her, not realizing she saw it in their eyes; discreet, they sought to hide it from her. In this, at least, she had the upper hand, even though she stayed behind while they raced ahead, super-slim cellphones in hand, slow radiation frying their brains.

A fried egg, perhaps? Over-easy? It was 3am, and she was hungry again. Into the kitchen she went to think it over. No eggs. A toast, then. And avocado. As an afterthought, a slice of tomato on top of the toast and avocado, and a sprinkle of kosher salt. All kosher things considered, being hungry was a good thing, it meant she was hungry for the things of life. Her mother - Cookie remembered - loved avocado; when her mother was alive, Cookie hated avocado.

We're all emotional orphans, she thought, while chewing the toast. Even Deidre, so tough and so very toasty herself; flinty, people said. Lithe and flinty and cruel, people said approvingly. Cookie longed to be like Deidre, but it wasn't meant to be. Some people were born weaklings and that was that.

At 4am, she went back to bed, still reading BMW. Soon she tired, turned off the light and lay in the dark. She had a vision of herself, spread wide on the white bed, floating over the city, over the skyscrapers, waving a stylish arm at invisible wriggling worms down below.

2. Deidre on Speakerphone

Deidre rearranged the collection of dildos and sex toys on her desk. One of her current lovers, Jon, was on his way, and, deliberate as ever, she was planning their evening. Someone had to take charge, and invariably she did. As she contemplated her altar of plastic treasures, the phone rang. Deidre hit the Speakerphone button, and soon Cookie's ever-cheerful voice filled the room. Deidre listened distractedly, remembering she must turn down the volume of the answering machine so that she and Jon would not be interrupted by callers, possibly other lovers who suddenly felt a pressing urge to see her, or someone like Cookie, a friend, yes, but, at the moment, a nuisance. She was tiresome, Cookie was, but often useful. Sometimes, even amusing -

"Got to go," Deidre said, hitting the Off button and turning down the volume. She allowed a small, twisted smile—Good! She felt nasty now, ready for Jon.

3. A void Full of Confusement

And so, as one day turned into another, Cookie thought of ways to checkmark each day and make it special. Today, walking home after her morning jog, she marked the tall blonde in the red windbreaker whose three white poodles suddenly began to bark at Cookie, effectively blocking her passage on the narrow sidewalk. The woman pulled on the leashes to make room for Cookie, who had slowed down, a hesitant, benevolent smile on her face as she observed the excited dogs, trying to decide if their barks communicated friendship or hostility; hostility, she concluded and looked up. The blonde, Cookie realized, was smiling at her, so Cookie, relieved, broadened her smile, tempted and willing to stop and exchange a few neighborly words, but the blonde, pulled by her dogs, continued on her way, and Cookie did, too.

How important were they, these small, seemingly insignificant encounters between strangers? She would probably never see the blonde again, and yet, for a short spell, a connection was established, the kind of connection Cookie sought.

She made another connection later in the afternoon when she was out on the street again and a man stopped his car and urgently called out to her: Was there a store nearby where he could buy a large plant? Obviously, getting a plant was very important to him, and Cookie imagined that a friend, or perhaps a daughter, had just moved into a new apartment in the area, and the man, on his way there, didn't want to arrive empty-handed. She directed him to a store a few blocks down Second Avenue, and the man thanked her heartily.

When she couldn't mark and day and make it special, she became despondent. Winter had arrived, and her friends, it seemed, were cracking under the pressure of living, relinquishing the struggle and giving in to chaotic impulses. Jean was allowing herself to be evicted from her Chelsea studio. Kathy became afflicted with mysterious stomach spasms, yet refused to consult a doctor. Sheila was wallowing in depression and suicidal thoughts; her husband, Bruce, had just walked out, deserting her after thirteen years of marriage. Lois complained she hadn't had sex in eighteen months.

Cookie, to thwart off her demons, and following Lois's example and advice, sometimes went to meetings in a local church's basement where people, mostly women, confessed to terrible deeds and thoughts. Cookie wanted to confess, too, but came up short, unable to find something real and painful enough she could put into words. Whatever painful memory she held onto for a moment as a possible offering, she immediately dismissed as too trivial and banal and possibly boring.

Was something burning, she wondered. Was something burning within her, ready to explode? How else explain the nervous energy, the restless hours spent on her back, trying to fall asleep? In desperation, Cookie, never a great believer in the self-help industry, and a silent cynical mocker of the new crop of Eastern/well-being gurus, now found herself grasping at different systems and techniques. She gave herself completely to self-hypnosis, fervently, even beseechingly, shutting her eyes in great and deep concentration, willing herself to float on the soothing, seductive taped words of the various leaders and guides, and, once or twice, actually felt herself entering, however briefly, new levels of consciousness. She learned to lie on her right side and breathe through the left nostril to better connect with her female energy. She surrendered herself to Jin Shin Jyutisu practitioners and willed herself to believe that by pressing certain points she'd synchronize the pulse in her body and achieve harmony. . For a while, she allowed herself to be seduced by Qi Gong, and its promise to activate the body's own internal flow. She especially liked the injunction to "clear anything you no longer need," and the realization that by simply swinging her arms, she was actually "knocking on the door of life," namely the base of the spine. One day she even ventured into a Psychic Reader's den on 10th Street, and after a brief glance at Cookie's palms, the psychic said, with not even a shimmer of a doubt, that she sensed in Cookie "a void full of confusement."

What now? She thought, with alarm, early one morning as she jogged and, inadvertently, let one of her sharp, precise spitballs land on the shiny shoe of a man with a briefcase. For a tense moment they stared at each other, Cookie trying to penetrate through the dark lenses of his glasses to determine the man's reaction. He reeked of what she liked to term, Good Housekeeping, namely order and soap, probably Dove or Ivory, which he and the wife probably bought wholesale at Costco's, an odor she associated with the vivid image of foamy, scrubbed genitalia. Still, she was willing to make contact, and, since he moved not one muscle, she gathered from his stance that he expected her to wipe the white dot off his shoe. So, she bent down and moved the sleeve of her shirt across the shiny leather and, before she had a chance to rise and create a small moment, a connection of some sort, he walked off, leaving her kneeling on the sidewalk. Passersby glanced at her, and she blushed as she imagined them wondering what she was doing on her knees in the middle of the street, and worse, wondering what she'd offered to do for the gentleman who continued on, ignoring her.

The next morning, she jogged back to the same spot, at the same exact hour, hoping to see the man again and this time spit in his face. She arrived a couple of minutes early, and proceeded to jog in place, waiting for him. She felt an unwelcome, but unavoidable, malevolence brewing in her. And fear. Every so often she hit a period when everything seemed to conspire against her, and she, the spellbound co-conspirator, was unable to walk away from the path carved open before her. Now, determined to recognize him, and, if not him, then his shoes, or sunglasses, she stared hard at the men who busily marched past her, clad in suits, swinging their briefcases. A few of the men, discomfited by her stare, stared back with what she thought was near-hatred; she was a blot on their morning routine, disturbing their preoccupation with the day ahead.

He didn't show - Cookie felt cheated. He didn't show, or perhaps he did and, glimpsing her, his avenger, managed to slip by undetected. She waited a while longer, then continued down the street, feeling like a discarded joker in a game of poker. She tried not to think about the man, and yet she knew that this desire to spit in his face would become an obsession until fulfilled. Waiting for the light, she noticed an empty Snapple bottle at the edge of the curb, and a series of images flashed in her mind in quick succession, whereby a pedestrian, inadvertently, kicks the bottle onto the road, a passing car crashes the bottle, shards of glass puncture its tires, the driver loses control, jumps the curb and slams into a crowd of pedestrians. Looming above these images, as a kind of headline, was Cookie's presumed duty as a good and orderly citizen. Also present were the people on the street who would witness and appreciate her good deed, which would inspire them to act similarly when confronted with the opportunity, and so a spirit of goodwill would spread across the city, across the country, across the entire continent. Cookie picked up the bottle and threw it in the trash.



Copyright 2007 by Tsipi Keller