Loyal May

Kristen Gleason


Count her loyal to this street, a straight shooter. Down it: grocery, mail, drugstore. Each box containing the packets she needs to live. Each building, a box – each block, a frame. She'll never learn what it looks like from above. She doesn't want to know, and so she won't. She moves up and down the street, the same, may she always.

Go slowly, someone tells her. Don't get in the car and certainly don't get on the plane. Walk in the opposite direction of traffic so that you can see what might kill you. That's the way you want it – to see death bearing down if – but she shouldn't worry about that. Death won't come tomorrow. Someone says she has, impossibly, years and years to live.

Life is a long song and draws all the air she has. This street takes a length of lung over and over. She goes slowly and kneads breath through her throat – is a rope, pink, and she an acrobat around her own pipe – but not without help. Never alone. There are certain other planets, the men of 517, rotating around different axes. They laugh and call to her as she passes. They say: "Read to us from your book!"


Soft sidewalk, it glitters. Someone mixed the night down and laid it flat. She moves in slippers, comfortable on her path, and polishes night, polishes rough weather. Her errands circle her neck and pulse – there are ten of them. The first is to visit the grocery. She goes slowly up and down the aisles, waiting for the music to start. There it goes. The screaming strains and the walls of ice. She moves through the tunnel and makes her choices.

Someone tells her, Be moderate. Don't buy sauces or spices. Select the round fruits. Moderation is an honorable way to exercise control. Of course she is less concerned with honor than with a good night's sleep under a mountain of whole food. Her book on the nightstand – closed. A scratch along the golden pages. Some eager talon she couldn't avoid.

About the men of 518 she feels concern. She is stirred when she walks by – moved to turn her face. This is not embarrassment, but a flush of mothering. It slaps a red state on her chest. Together she and the men inhabit the same stretch, nurturing habit. They sit, and she walks. They want to stand, she can tell. They lean toward her but cannot rise, bowing from their café seats. "Please," they say, "Read to us from your book. Sit down awhile. You never stop to talk to us."


Along the street are stores she has never entered. She can't start now. Early on, she selected her baubles. Someone tells her, Saddle yourself with just enough. Pick one of each type of destination. Wear one necklace, one ring, one bracelet. Devotion starts with a firm choice, and she is firm. She sleeps under tight blankets and dreams of transparent chalkboards, the city gleaming behind. Someone's child writing a sentence across ladders of window. Taking instruction. Someone tells her, You are facing the facts.

You do good work, someone tells her. Your routine is pure because it sustains you. Nothing good would come of visiting new stores. She lifts her hands to someone before she crosses a threshold. She asks for new information. She thinks, Is this how? Wait – a bolt starts in her palm and grows down to her elbow. Pools there. But, this is pain, she thinks. This isn't direction. This is the cry of muscle, meaning weakness, meaning I don't know how to rightly ask.

The men reach toward her from their funny moorings. Palms down, fingers straight. "You're so much younger than you act," they say, "You're so young, but you never look at us. Aren't you curious?" She looks away. Across the street are teenagers wearing shorts. The tallest of them has skin that hangs from her shoulders in sheets. She sways on the line and giggles at things the boys say, balanced on the two points of wood that are her feet. Mean, pricking stems. These men would squirm beneath her, the yawning team of 519.


A screen door, the sky guarded, wires. Pole to pole, and she swims below. In the air is a buzz, but she hears someone humming, not a man or woman, not metal either. Not a city saying. It's to the hum she raises – she can't receive. She goes on under the buzz, back and forth to the post office and her box. Her box is most often lightly full. Someone says, Correspondence is a trick. She tries to transmit nothing, but she is not as loyal as she wishes she were. She speaks in bed.

Your routine will pay off, someone tells her. You're gleaming the track. Think of the street as practice for the real walk. She varies her speed. Fast feels better because she doesn't notice the men, but slow – slow is a mobile. An invention like art, but named for science. Not one full revolution. A woozy shift. A this-then-that, her carving column. I am thinking of fish, she thinks, the common roadside attraction. The glass tube – we ducked inside. I am still there. Someone tells her, The flash is just magic, no good, only wet.

The men of 520 are wearing her clothes. "We love your room," they say, "The low snuggle. Can we come inside?" She shakes her head. Her book is open in the hands of the men. Palms like slabs are the pages, held apart to show zipping lines. "May we read aloud?" they say. Next door is a dance and the slapping of fins, a marriage rhythm. A celebration she should attend. It's over, she thinks, after the wedding. They read aloud: "May and May forever. May and May forever. May and May forever."

Kristen Gleason lives in Tromsø, Norway. Her work appears or will appear in Caketrain, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, and elimae.