Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, she passes a gate one block from the museum where she works. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, there is a man standing, leaning against the gate. He keeps the outside out, or the inside in. Behind the gate? Road, rubble, big box made of bricks, door, man.
She notices he wears a uniform and this, at least on these days, is what he is paid to do. The man is not always the same man. It is the uniform leaning against the gate. She doesn't care. Gate is gate and man is man.
One version of the man has a moustache and reminds her of another. One she hasn't seen since they used to drink coffee from the same pot, take turns buying toilet paper, take turns using it, and she made his supper. That man was a bit like her father, taller than the other two, less alive. The man who was her lover is even more gone than her father. The man at the gate hasn't made her smile, hasn't yet made her. Someone else uses toilet paper from his rolls. But they are all one, him -- a little of some and less of others. Neither father or lover are the men at the gate, but as he moves in her direction, they all might as well be.
The feeling -- rape -- after, eventually, like long days spent acting in a Christmas movie to be released in November, filmed in April. An April scorched to the tip with an early rage of heat. The piles of snow humping the edges of parking lots shrivel down and go missing. Uncovered bones of a rabbit mauled by dogs. The ground is raw and weary. It will take awhile for any grass to want to grow again.
Unsolicited, it humps up next to the fingernail and stops above the skin, rounded, like a newborn head refusing release. It settles in and takes hold while other, larger things are happening, creating context. It is of the variety of common.
Those who are busy or patient or dowdy may let the wart be, perhaps rub it with a loose thumb infrequently. The anxious or lonely, they scratch its edges, mangle its pocked surface and catch the etched blood with squares of toilet paper. Those who sign letters with "Regards," follow recipes and sift flour, shower after sex, like punctuation, make plans and have general concern -- they employ strategies. Appointments to burn, freeze, melt, hack, zap. Success.
Others peer at their viral companion in private, recognize its origin, its movement from one flesh to an unwilling other. They see the shame riding on the back of the bump. They see the subway coming. They crack the wart's seal and drag the disgrace across the handrail, the seats, doorknobs, salt shakers, pens and books and stamps and lips and let it linger, for the blood contains the juice.
She is not asleep, as in, her eyes are open, so the dream is in fact a vision.
She sees herself living, average life, for one day. She sees herself sleep. Then it is tomorrow and she keeps living, but there is herself blinking again, alongside with her, too. The current self wakes, moves, makes choices, but her past is at the table, pouring milk and missing the glass, wiping the mess that was already made, wearing the yellow sweater with armpits of yesterday's lingering sweat. That prior self is re-doing what was yesterday done. Her and she eat cereal across the table, chewing slowly.
More days and copied selves, each locked in her own predestined path. The bed is crowded and there is rarely hot water. She rushes to the bus stop earlier and earlier, to avoid waiting in line behind a long string of herself. She notices her slump and corrects her posture. She sneaks in to observe her sessions of coupling, to see how she performs. She is pleased. She sees her own triumphs, her own plights daily. She learns from her mistakes, is no longer lonely.
Months of her sleep on the floor, in the tub, tumble off the side of the couch. She tries to warn a few of them of what is to come. She yells and shakes, but they knock her aside and march into puddles and monsters, over and over. She moves into a new house.
More selves appear, ones she does not recognize. One wears a new red dress; another has forehead wrinkles; one is missing the tip of her finger. They tell her to break up with that person, to buy this lottery number, to avoid the shellfish. She says, no way; he makes her laugh, she doesn't gamble, and she's in the mood for crab. They are mysterious. She follows herself one morning, gets distracted by a mannequin behind a window in the mall. She enters and buys a red dress.
They begin to confuse her. She is mixed up in a series of her own decisions, unsure if she's leading or following, living or lost in a pile of identical limbs.
She takes a heavy frying pan, hard, to the back of her head. She pushes another in front of a truck, another off the side of a boat. She crushes pills into drinks, weeds out the youngest of her selves, feels only a light sting with each act, the twinge of little bits of what is lost.
She wakes from her vision, comforted by the sense in her own small deaths. To be killed to make more room for yourself. She looks forward to the future -- she's tired, anyway -- and knows what mothers know, that it's those closest to you who will hurt you the most.