Temp by Rob Roensch

The van had no side windows, the driver’s-side mirror dangled like a hand from a broken wrist, the passenger-side mirror and half the windshield were blurry and blue with ice from the storm, and the view out the back windows was blocked by boxes. I wasn’t concerned that I couldn’t see. That isn’t to say I intended to crash.

In the moments near death, the most important parts of your life are supposed to pass before your eyes. I expected: My parents alive. The green-black of the river on a summer night. Brianne with her fingers in the cake batter. Not the sound of my own gasping breath, ordinary traffic, cold and blood, ice and glass, the man with his silver hands in my chest.

At least I finally understood what I truly wanted.

The week I got back to work, Jenny from way up North like me, in a break room: “You seem happy.”

Jenny is thin and dry as paper. In the break rooms she will slip off her sneakers and her feet are thin and dry. I can see her skull in her face. She showed me a photograph of her daughter, who she gave away as an infant. In the photograph her daughter, now a toddler, is dressed up as a mouse, and she holds her own long gray tail, and seems a little afraid of whoever is taking the photograph.

Big T thinks everyone should carry a gun. He shows his guns to me in the break rooms. He holds them out in his open hands carefully, because they are fragile.

Handling cardboard boxes all day makes my fingertips crack and bleed.

I stole one of Big T’s handguns from his truck and took it back to my room and sat in the bathtub to not cause much mess but I accidentally fired the one bullet into the wall. Two nights after that I got drunk and swallowed a million Tylenol with milk and almost right away barfed them all back up, these million white dots in the milk on the white linoleum, snow on snow on snow.

I understand also that I have been cursed to remain alive.

Jenny fills out work forms with one of those 16-colors-in-one pens everyone had in junior high. She uses the ordinary colors for the forms and the bright colors for Sudoku.

In big hotels, behind the doors that say “Staff Only” or “Private,” are white windowless scuffed cinderblock hallways lit by cheap fluorescence. There, the uniformed bellhops move with crisp mysterious purpose; the maids in their stiff gray aprons walk in pairs, talking, leaning into their aches. I follow the full and empty and full one good blue hand truck along the right side of the hall from loading dock to freight elevator to conference room to freight elevator to loading dock and at least for these moments of motion I can no more feel despair than the blood in the vein, the wind in the air.

Rob Roensch’s story collection The Wildflowers of Baltimore was published in the US and UK by Salt. He teaches at Oklahoma City University. 

Woman looking at a statue head
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