There were apple fritters at safeway
Loren Yelluas | Art by Elizabeth Cheng
Today was a good day because there were apple fritters at Safeway. So I got my coffee and shoved the apple fritter in the left pocket of my jacket and pulled my book out of the right when I got outside the automatic sliding doors.
I’m reading Stardust right now and it’s good. The purple cover looks good against the forestry felt of my pocket, and the spine is already so crinkled and bent, as if I’ve read it dozens of times. As if I’m the sort of person who reads and rereads Neil Gaiman—the sort who opens their book all the way, folding it in half and squeezing the covers together against the predisposed bend of their fibers with just one hand because they are too big and busy to bother using both.
The book is about a young man and his epic quest to earn a young woman’s hand in marriage. She tells him to bring her a fallen star, so he goes and tries to do that. Clear objectives—that’s what it’s all about. And technical skills. He fights, hunts, builds little fires, tricks zany characters into helping him along his path, etc. These are the skills that count in his world. Never once does he write an application essay to anything, or go on an interview, or make a friend in any situation in which he doesn’t need a friend. No embarrassment, no
remorse. There’s no coping in adventure stories. It's all life or death and none of the rest of it matters.
They never take the time to plan in these books. They just go and do and have all the skills they need to meet whatever challenges they face, and their characters develop and it all works out in the end because if you try your best, again and again, eventually you will succeed. Call to adventure, rising action, climax, resolution. Clear objectives—that’s what it’s all about.
So I’m walking down Miller, hunched over Stardust and blind to the world, and I start making these random turns. I walk a block, and without looking up, I let some invisible, cosmic force pull me left or right or forward across the street onto the next block, and just keep walking. I’m reading the book all this time, and wherever I would usually pause to check for cars and choose a direction of travel, some kind of energy, like Neil Gaiman’s soul or something, would pulse through my body, moving my feet faster and locking my head down. And I’m shooting through the air and the trees in my periphery are blurring together and the sidewalk under me is getting further and further away. My legs wind and stretch upwards like fabulous charging beanstalks, pushing me straight into the sky. I pass roofs and birds and planes, but still my head stays down.
I’m at the part where the main guy narrowly escapes the evil witch-queen’s wrath and
gets on the flying pirate ship and the wind is rushing past my ears and I just know that my hair looks amazing flying out behind me. Silly tiny people back on the sidewalk could be dodging my glorious feet, but I am up here, extending ever upward and onward. The sun nearly singeing the shoulders of my jacket, my feet begin to tangle. The left steps over the right and the right forgets to step back over the left. My tibias and fibulas all coiling together like abused slinkies, I march on. I don’t dare unlock my gaze from the font on the page, as Neil Gaiman’s cosmic energy is all that’s keeping me upright. Every stumble, my shoulders chase my hips, chase my knees, chase my shins toward the pavement in relentless swings of gravitational violence. Every dive, my precious cerulean skies pull away at the edges of my eyes as I grab onto word after word, willing them to send me back.
That was supposed to be it; my final character development: angry little girl dreams big and touches the sky and gets better. I almost got it this time. My hat is gone.
My hat is gone. I turn around and there it is, lying flat on the sidewalk under a loquat tree. I stoop down and grab it, and when I stand back up, the lowest branches are gently scraping at the top of my head. My hat must have gotten caught and pulled off my head when I passed under the tree, I think. Ducking out from under the tree, I look up.
It rained the day before, so the clouds are shaped like the ones in dramatic paintings of men at sea, all shadows and unearthly proportions. Except as I look into these, I swear I can see every tiny droplet, millions upon trillions stacking against each other, each smaller than the tip of a needle, but all together bulging in an unutterable mass that threatens to flatten me against my square of dirty cement. I strain my neck and lean back to try and find the edges and lock this body into a determinable shape, but I can’t. I look to the horizon, and still it stretches on. Into that dimensionless line between the sky and the ground, the deeper I peer, the further it unfurls. I remember Mama once telling me, “We call God both great and terrible not because he is either, but because he is big.” I didn’t understand it then, but I think of it now as I bear witness to this sky that is streaming through my lungs and pushing at the edges of the earth somewhere. It is everywhere and I am nowhere.
But that apple fritter is still in my pocket, so I pull it out and take a bite. It was still kind of warm at this point. I took a sip of my coffee and another bite of the fritter. And then I went home