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Storage photo

Carnie lives among piles of porcelain and Tupperware in a storage locker near Conneaut. She lost her job at the prison and then her house was foreclosed upon. Most of the practical things she owned — her bedroom set, her couches, her TV — are gone, so the bulk of the things crammed into the unit with her now are novelties. There, beside her now — the stuffed toucan she cuddled with as a child, a taped-shut box full of Hummel figurines and a photo of her grandmother and grandfather from when they were alive, his oxygen tank obscured by a basket of flowers she’s holding. She has her foam dorm chair unfolded bedlike between a wrought-iron floor lamp with a blue-green shade and a stack of boxes crowned with a dusty computer tower. The storage unit is climate-controlled and kept at a constant 70˚F. When she returns in the evening to wash herself in the cold sinkwater of the bathroom in the company’s office, tiptoeing past the security guard, Rahman, who has taken pity on her by turning a blind eye, she has to dry quickly and wear two pairs of sweatsuits to keep from shivering. Last night, she dreamt that Rahman was with her in a helicopter and they were flying out over Lake Erie where she could see schools of fish of many different colors swimming in giant rings. From up there, Rahman pointed down to the harbor with its heaps of coal and gravel and smiled, but Carnie tumbled off after leaning to look closer and awoke just before she smashed into the green-grey sheet of water. The locker has the perpetual smell of cardboard and tape adhesive, a clean smell that makes her blush with shame in the dark, where she can smell the bouillon odor of her armpits when she extends a chilly hand under her head to serve as a pillow. Carnie is very organized. If you asked her to, she would tell you where every single thing she owns is. The mini-fridge where she kept a constant supply of Diet Dr. Thunder in better days? There it is, in the corner beneath the box of paperbacks and the garden hose. The sweater she received from her grandmother after her first communion? It’s in a trash bag near corrugated closed door with her other winter clothes. She could list it all for you. She could also list where the things she’s sold have gone. Her stereo went to a man named Geoffrey, a diabetic guy with a ponytail and a dog that smells when his blood sugar is off. Her old engagement ring went to a pawnbroker in Mentor who gave her eight dollars for it, money she immediately spent at Taco Bell. She hadn’t been wearing it anyway. The crib, though, she couldn’t sell — no one on Craigslist wanted it. It was as if they could feel through the internet that it was somehow blighted. It’s there with her in the storage unit, too, though you can’t see it. Carnie is thinking right now — as she holds in her urine, afraid to leave the unit again lest merciful Rahman’s shift be over — about that crib. It currently holds a computer monitor, a trashbag full of clothes she seldom needs, like bathing suits and yoga pants, and a stack of Reader’s Digest she’s never read. Her grandfather paid for a five-year subscription the month before he died. She’s put these things into the crib — which is buried behind a wall of cardboard and brown tape — because she knows she won’t need them. Even if they kick her out, the crib is walled off so she won’t have to look at it. It was a crib that held her once, when she was small, and it was the crib that held her daughter Myla for the two and a half years that she was there, Myla, whose almond eyes and round head looked out at a world she didn’t understand, Myla whose father left before she arrived, Myla who had made Carnie cry before a roomful of the imprisoned; the crib had cradled her as her not-quite-right sobs rang out in a house where the rented sofa had been returned to some shop in Ashtabula, the town where the girl had been born at 12:46 AM, nearly seven weeks early and tiny enough to fit in a teacup, as her great-grandmother had quipped at the time, and oh, if only your mother had been there to see this, she’d said, too, as if Carnie needed to be reminded of murdered parents while she felt like she’d just been murdered herself there, sitting in a pool of her own sweat on the bed with the wrinkled pink piglet she’d just named held safe in her arms, a piglet who died like Jimi Hendrix did, having never spoken a word of American English, and that was when Carnie began renting the storage unit — into it went the crib, the bibs, the onesies, the mobile, the Tickle-Me-Elmo, the tiny white lamb, and Carnie destroyed most of the photos, because by then her grandfather had just died, too, so there was no one to show them to besides her grandmother who couldn’t see worth a goddamn anyway, so they went into the trash, and Carnie bought wine for the first time in her life and found out she liked it, and she liked the name of it, “Zinfandel,” which brought to her a feeling of giddy warmth so powerful she crawled into its embrace without hesitation and was in that very embrace when they called her into the warden’s office at work and she was let go, and she felt like Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption passing through those chainlink gates — the thought of hanging herself with her name etched into the wall was fairly appealing — and then she was moved by circumstance into that windowless garage, where you can see her now on the unfolded dorm chair, her eyes only now closing. Carnie dreams of Myla nearly every night. Tonight, though, she’s hoping to dream again of Rahman, and, falling asleep, she thinks of the vortex of fish out there in the lake, wondering if Rahman can get her back, and if you listen closely, beyond the abrupt snores and the sticky breathing, you can hear her asking him to take her there.

image: Jensen Beach