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June 21, 2017 Fiction

Exceptional Air

Jason Teal

Exceptional Air photo

MAYBE THIS NEW YORK IS A SCALE MODEL of that New York, cut from steel sheets to 3D museum quality when fully assembled, no glue or solder needed, so Marjorie buys the $49.99 starter kit from a craft store she never frequents, an unremarkable store except for her nephew worked summers here during college, and now he lives in real New York, and although she has never visited, Marjorie has seen enough movies to know she won’t.

Of course, Simon never bothered to fly her out, either. 

Maybe Marjorie lives a solitary life bookended by Family Feud reruns, spending painstaking hours in front of the set trying to put the city together, but small parts keep breaking off or falling under the couch through her indelicate hands, and while the model keeps getting bigger and more expensive each return trip to the craft store, each addition costing more than half as much as the starter kit, Marjorie sometimes has to ask the nice kid, whose ears remind her of Simon, which of the kits she doesn’t have.

Soon she has to move her favorite chair from the living room into the dining room, pushing the dinner table up against the wall just for somewhere to sit. She has arthritis. The leaf makes this hard going.

Maybe the box says ages fourteen and up, but Marjorie feels small and insignificant, head shrunken because of onset dementia, spending days and nights lost inside the city, building boroughs and power lines, encircled inside of heaps of small parts labeled carefully by number and letter—she considers buying a dresser online to sort these, but reconsiders because she has no actual space to keep another dresser, so she removes her clothes from her clothes dresser and sleeps on her clothes, which are on top of her bed. She loses her socks. Instead wears slippers soggy from overuse. 

Glue is in her hair but she hasn’t used glue, it must be something else. She doesn’t take time to smell it, hasn’t showered in weeks, and she can’t smell anything herself, olfactory senses numbed to the conditions of living within the fake city.

Marjorie opens the bag of food for the cat, so if the cat wants food, then it can eat food, because she can never seem to find the bowl in this mess of urban sprawl. She loses the cat. One day, Marjorie sees the bulk of the food pile hasn’t shifted in weeks, looking intently at it from behind the model airport, all flights delayed because of snow. She scours New York, trudging through snow and traffic to find her cat, a goner for sure on these mean streets, but a lifelong friend all same, as many years as the cat breathed anyway. She puts him at one hundred twenty-five in cat years. Marjorie figures she owes him this much—if not a clean litterbox, then at least a safe home.

Maybe no one in the city will talk to Marjorie and so she can’t find her cat, forgetting to eat for herself. She lives nights and days inside of the walls inside of the fake model city. She can’t feel her legs, numbed from walking miles around calling her cat’s name, hanging up flyers with photos of the cat, a phone number for the phone Marjorie isn’t standing nearby and doesn’t have an answering machine for. She hasn’t been eating or taking prescriptions the doctors write instructions for, thinking these doctors mucked up the story of her body, but she is too far away for the pills upon pills to make any difference now. Above her in the rain, the waxy American soap opera shimmers, neon signs casting piss colors across slush running into street gutters.

image: Aaron Burch