An opaque, burgundy fluid pools beneath the refrigerator door. Its viscosity obscured by the cheap fluorescents lighting the kitchen tiles. At Joan’s first look, it’s blood—presumably from her boyfriend since he is the only other thing in the room suffering from vitality. Had her frustration spontaneously fashioned a spear to smite him with the fury of 1,000 left-up toilet seats? No. He sits on the couch alive as can be. A few seconds pass and she traces the solution to a leaky wine bottle resting on the bottom shelf. To think she believed there was a dead body decaying atop her hardwood floors now seems ridiculous. Nothing that exciting ever happens in
No, all the exciting things happened outside in the sun-soaked city of LA, and Maya had knew it. It was 1974, and the only way to be down was to be out: with the people, in the streets, of fucks to give. Forgoing the constraints of walls, basking in the open air while appeasing its tendency to open you up to other things like socialism and psychedelics. A sweet 20-something who finally grew into her size 10 shoes and five-star afro, she lived for the age of ephemera.
Joan also existed in the ‘70s, albeit as yet-to-be-split genetic code in the egg of her grandmother, scrounging whatever culture permeated cellular membranes. Joan had been in, and wouldn’t be out until Joan-2—a woman who’d shun her hippie ways after marriage—could meet a banker finding himself on the wrong, alluring side of Wilshire. Some years of strained marriage later, Joan-1 would be born, not knowing Joan-2’s pre-religion herbal habits had epigenetically programmed her to choose a suitor most undesirable to mommy and daddy. A man who not only pledged to fight the power in his 20s, but was actually determined to do so well into his 30s, food on the table be damned.
This took its course a while until Joan0 (or Joan, for short) was born in the midst of her parents’ starving sentimentality, something she grew tired of by age 20 when she decided to leave her family home. The mac & cheese and rent-free living were no longer worth the “my house, my rules.” Joan, like most young women do, fled to her boyfriend’s, only to find herself trapped in another stagnant household for innumerable days to come.
Her boyfriend, fleeing from nothing but the middle-class and ill-seasoned casseroles, reminded her to focus on the possibilities that so far eluded them in this 400-sq ft. bachelor pad. She flinched internally, because possibility was dangerously close to potential—something she’d been running from as of late. Potential this, talent that, God-given whatever. It all led to one road via endless linguistic routes: expectations. And if anything was true about Joan, she hated being expected to do much of anything for the fear of amounting to nothing.
She too—Maya—wished to outrun expectations. She was an artist, in the “this is what I love to do” sense, not the “this is what they pay me to do” sense. What they paid her to do was stock shelves between 11 and 7 at a neighborhood market whose slogan, “No shoes, no blouse? Shit, as long as the check don’t bounce,” routinely scared off the Hollywood Hill-ers who wanted some snacks on their drive back from Vegas. Maya hated the stiletto-toed click-clacks of the west side, routinely peeved by their insistence that their desired items could be found if she merely “checked the back.” No, Maya preferred the “cut to the chase; we have no time or money to waste” locals, the ones who merely cursed when the store was out of Ding Dongs before getting on with (or into) their (or someone else’s) business.
Once she clocked out from her far-past-dead-end job, however, that’s when Maya’s days really started. That’s when she could hit the smog-settled streets at night and peel off her apron drenched in working-class miasma, keeping warm only with the determination of making it big either tomorrow or definitely the day after that. What lay ahead was as expansive as the four-lane boulevards she crossed on the way home. She had always wanted a professional studio, something spacious and paid off, but she couldn’t afford more than a tiny flat scattered with prose, poems, plays, and not much else besides the lingering stench of impatience.
And some nights in that cramped apartment—after a long shift with the manager who is more handsy than he looks, after she scraped the bottom of her Folgers jug just as inspiration struck, after the super slipped her another curt notice demanding overdue rent—she’d succumb to claustrophobia. She would see and feel nothing but the walls. The borders of her apartment reminding her that she too had boundaries. Whether she wasn’t allowed to or simply couldn’t be, she wasn’t limitless like the others.
It was at times like these she’d fall into a depressive state, creating anything she could for survival instead of the usual ambition. She’d scribble lines of languishment on scraps, slipping them into a coffee can under a loose bathroom floorboard before sweating out her toxic thoughts in the bath. This is where she kept the things that felt real—more real than her wishful musings that lived above ground. This is where she kept the things she could never forget.
The tub, although replaced, was re-stained by the time Joan and her boyfriend moved into the same studio where Maya laid her grandiose plans of escape five decades earlier. This didn’t matter much to Joan though, who preferred to stand while bathing, her anxieties hitting the shower pan with a smack she swore she could hear. Night after night, Joan would: wake, eat, read, argue, shower, and sleep.
In the early days, it was: wake, shower, eat, read, argue, sleep. Though as weeks went by, and she had learned every inch of the place, she had begun to keep a running list of things she didn’t have the space to do. There was no space to exercise or assemble a puzzle or cook a meal with more than six ingredients; and as she and her boyfriend argued more consistently, as her friends called less and less, as she ran out of answers for her mother when asked, “What are you doing with your life?” she realized that the most important space she needed, but would never get until this was all over, was the space to cry. A proper space that was currently substituted by the muffling pour of a post-argument shower, hence the change in schedule. She’d massage her scalp, slathering 4C coils with conditioner while stepping onto the cold floor, making sure to avoid the spot that always creaked before heading back out to the inside world.
One day, however—on a day particularly worse than those around it—she forgot this last step, and the full grunt of her weight was greeted by a debilitating “ee-urr.” For someone well-minded, this would be nothing more than a slight annoyance. But for Joan, who’d yet to adjust to the fact that she loathed her life and saw no way out of it, this sent her reeling into a fit of vexation. Still naked, with hibiscus-scented cream dripping onto her back, Joan yanked a hammer from the bathroom cabinet and began tearing up the floor.
Minutes of curse-laced protests and strong-arming later, she snapped away the board, finding an old coffee container tucked beneath. In tears from her tirade, Joan removed the lid, perplexed by the collection of vintage notes aging at the corners. Now startled into calmness, she fished out a page, and before she got the chance to reach for more, she collapsed into herself, sobbing from somewhere deeper than she had ever felt before.
“Sometimes people are born into a role and have no choice but to stay on script. There is no plot, no rolling credits naming the part each party played. The story ends, and nothing remains except the unfulfilled hopes each person held when they first took their marks.”
Kennedy Hill is an author from Moreno Valley, CA, a city in which residents learn to readily identify themselves as living two hours out of LA. With plans to become a grossly rich plastic surgeon, she began undergraduate study at UCLA, leaving four years later with a degree in biology and an unexpected career in writing. With a focus on cultural criticism and women’s lifestyle, Kennedy has published journalistic pieces in Los Angeles Magazine and PopSugar. She is an emerging creative writer that often draws on themes of race and relationships in her works, and encourages a healthy dose of anime-inspired storytelling whenever given the chance.