Leslie Cairns | 2 Stories
The Sphinx Withdrawal
I watch a Sphynx cat at my pet sitting job: unapologetically without fur, gentleness; wise in the way she stares at me as though she sees the morbid side of me, and is curious about it. Or, perhaps, she just wants treats.
I slurp my coffee and my stomach lurches. The beginnings of a stomach bug. Suds swirling the drain, the last remnants of a bath before your body, once more, turns acrid–
My headache will form if I withdraw from my addiction now; my caffeine addled coffee cups that
Tilt towards me when I take another job, when I don’t sleep, when I need to people please. Caffeine dependency is a thing, the way to wind you up, so that you can keep not seeing clearly. Just one more coffee, I say to myself, a deadly torn secret, a letter sealed just for me. Just fuel me up, even when I need to rest. One more time I’ll walk too far and for too, too long–
The fever strikes, the sphinx flicks her tail, calling me in body language. I realize that as my stomach churns, my belly now
A sphinx itself. Pacing, restless and waiting, to see what I’ll give to it. I need to offer up something, give up my addictions as a sacrifice. I always think I have control over my body: the breathing in and out, the flexing of my fingers on the piano, the way my hands jitter when I shiver near the braying winter. But now, with a fever hiking over 102 degrees– the preheating of fever, itching steadily – I realize I had no control, not once, not ever.
The sphinx takes the coffee, rejects. Keeps my pace with thumping, keeps me alive for safekeeping.
Watches me offer up tea, and toast with the crusts
Crumbled off. Accepting or deleting, depleting or carving me up for stone.
What lesson did you learn? The sphinx asks, as she hands me back a plate.
To rest, I say, with eyes half closed.
To rest. To watch the rest scatter, the blankets of snow-cracked moss we crumple underfoot, destroying their breaths with our touch, the way each step ends up
The Bagel Chain
I didn’t start this way. I slowly churned myself like butter from nothing, until I ate bagels everyday, by compulsion. As if I could order the day in breakfasts, in napkins unfolded. Every day there’s a little bit different of a taste, a different way my tongue numbers the days.
On Mondays, I flail and fling my arms and wring the day like bells, but it’s in my own eardrums, palpable and thrumming– cannot make it through, so
I toast. I make the bagel, heated precisely on Mondays at 350 degrees. I’m as simple as the rest of the world in indigo smeared with white clouds. Simple whipped cream cheese, as if the clouds can come for me.
Days are made in loops, cascading around us like scarves. Frayed and warming you up, buttery. Spread open, the haunting of refrains we do not wish to own, but are ours–
Tuesday & my palms are clammy; I wish to be a scuba diver, checking the health of corals and manatee fins and other waving things. Instead I sit and pretend I love to work for pennies. The oven dings, 350 degrees, the same, the same, the same. When the bread comes out, the bagels toasted and arms spread wide. On Tuesdays, I add a bit of chives.
I have to, have to, eat a bagel everyday.
So, on Wednesday, I wash and repeat and my hair gets stringy and greasy. Or, perhaps (worse), I have to go in to work. I leave my puppies as I cry, the social anxiety hitting my ribcage as if it can break it open. A Whack a Mole to the insides, in order to appear like you are present, you are growing, you are professional–
If I’m home, I add the cream cheese, then I drizzle the oily, dank balsamic. The way the bitter melts in my mouth and makes me feel healthier somehow, as if it understands me, as if I’m called to it.
Thursday’s bagels are toasted darker, a smidgeon of burning like my fears and the cinders near a campfire, but not too much.
I am campfire; I am chewing; I am gnarly.
Cream cheese, with some wilted spinach, parsley, and tomatoes. It becomes a salad, and a bagel, and it’s a meal made with love– just for me. I’ve almost made it to the end; I’ve almost looped around the social expectations bend: where I can sleep, and cry, and weep & devour my dogs whole as we go to the mountains and become one. A pack of animals, no time for data entry, remote meetings–
If only, if only I were someone else. I could switch to eggs, eat strips of bacon. Budget out for brie and flanks of sausage. Take the time for myself, despite the groveling, to make omelets. Fluffy and interesting.
Instead, on Friday, I tilt towards a bagel. Popping it in again at 350. Preheating the oven and staring at the buttons, wondering if I’m made up of different heat settings too: do I broil, and combust, and need cleaning?
On Fridays, I add Feta and Dill. No cares about the world, along with the cream cheese. I toast the cheese for a moment – remember how I once danced the Charleston, but I couldn’t get the elbows right – there was dancing, there was twirling, there was a dress that curved tight and I had the energy to keep trying, keep going after work–
And I make these small bagels, five times a week, to remind myself that I am human. That there is consistency to my days, even as they spill out from under me, even as they want to turn me into fried eggs, and green tomatoes, and all the bacon drippings that I do not want to be.
Turn me on in words of bagel. Teach me how to smear – make myself delicate– refuse to be changed, to part tides, to find oceans that will let me dive under them, and be the same for days and miles–
Grabbing white cloud shadows that descend on rivers as reflections, as ways to count the days in passing.
& always the same,
And animal balloon shapes and wisps and cumulus–
And drifting the way they’ve always wanted to.
Leslie Cairns (She/her): Leslie Cairns holds an MA degree in English Rhetoric. She lives in Denver, Colorado. She is a Pushcart Prize Nomination for 2022 in the Short Story category (‘Owl, Lunar, Twig’). She was an honorable mention in Flash 405’s call in Exposition Review (2022). Leslie has upcoming flash, short stories, and poetry in various magazines (Tropico Line, Poetry as Promised, and others). Twitter: @starbucksgirly