Backhand Stories: The Creative Writing Blog

What I always forget about long naps is that when I wake up, I feel disoriented, heavy, impatient, groggy, mean, and sick. I yawn, stretch my arms into a Village People “Y,” and I feel tired, except I just slept three hours. When I’m like that, the photo of me on the T.V. stand, the one where I’m wearing the oversized Florida sweatshirt, makes me look like an elephant. Or I hang up the phone on Jay because he’s singing into the receiver. I am impatient and heavy and groggy, mean, sick.

Today, I hate that I napped at all like I hate having taken that photograph of me swallowed up in faded blue and orange cotton. I should have been wide awake and energized because then I could have more quickly reached for the injured arm my next-door neighbor thrust forward when I answered the door. I could have been more gracious when he asked for peroxide and a band-aid. Instead, I cut my eyes, glaring at him before going into the bathroom to get the supplies.

“Can you do it for me?” he asks, and steps forward, holds the door open with his good arm. “I’m not crazy or nothing. I swear it.”

“Come on,” I sigh, wave him through the front door and to the bathroom, to the sink. “Put it here.”

I’m just too clumsy,” he apologizes and scratches his forehead at the same time that lukewarm water (I assume because I don’t reach my fingers in to feel) hits his bloody arm, running off in a pink stream down the drain. It’s an icky sideways cut with puss around the edges almost the same color as the bubbling peroxide, and coarse black hairs on the unaffected skin surround the wound like soldiers, except now his arm is wet. So the hairs look more like sleeping soldiers.

Either because I stare too much or he feels ashamed, he says “I hit it against the wall.” The bruise looks at least a couple days old, sticky and red, now oozing puss and peroxide. I turn the water off and cover the bruise in gauze and an ace bandage, but he doesn’t turn to leave.

He wants more? A band-aid? More peroxide? …Neosporin? I am impatient, mean, groggy, and sick.

“You a real nice lady,” he says and twists his bandaged arm, sort of like a wet dog does its fur. “I knew you would help me.”

I say to myself Just Go. Just Go. Just Go.

He stands there slowly turning his head to take stock of the bathroom in all its lavender and sage decorations. I feel like a watery pot of grits ready to splatter my annoyance full force onto this neighbor. I clamp my hands down on the sink and breathe real hard out loud and blame even this degree of rudeness on the nap. It’s the nap.

I leave the bathroom and look behind me in the hallway; there he is grabbing that black-haired arm as if it were broken, not merely bruised. I stop at the front door. He stops in the living room, past the front door. I wrap my hand around the knob.

Go. Go. Go.

What else does he want, what in the living room has caught his attention, and if I give it to him, will he finally leave, or see it as an invitation to stay longer or an extension of friendship and come back. But he doesn’t want anything in the living room I discover when he turns to me and says real gentle-like, “Black fella live here just before you,” because he wants to prolong his stay, and he lets go of his arm and turns his head upward, so I can only see the whites of his eyes because he’s so much taller than me. Then he looks back down so that now I can see the blue irises and his eyes are wet, like he’s about to cry. I take my hand off the door knob.

‘Yep,” he continues and draws out the word, preparing to say more, which he does. “Nicest man you ever want to meet. We was good friends. Lost touch, though. Last time I seen him was at the Food Lion two, three years ago.”

“Quite compelling, but –“

“Think you can give me one more round of that Peroxide?” He wipes his eyes and takes a step toward the bathroom.

At that moment is when I feel most the effect of the nap. All the bad stuff – disoriented, slightly heavy, impatient, groggy, mean and sick – tears straight through my chest and down my arms into a hand that yanks the front door open so fast it bends the slinky doorstopper and rams into the wall with a force that makes my neighbor stop and stare, all wet-eyed and trembling.

I let it all out in a steady stream of harsh air. I wish he would go. I’m not myself and I slept too long today and now I’m leaning against the door as if I’m too heavy for my legs. I put my hands on my knees and bend over and mumble between deep breaths “Just go. Just go. Just go.” He does but first puts his hand on the small of my back, leaning over my hunched body to whisper his apologies. I close the door and lie down on the couch, but my body won’t relax. My ears pulse in the same angry beat as my heart, and my back burns.

I should go and apologize. I know this, except the part of me that feels heavy won’t let me up off the couch and the mean part doesn’t care. Today, I napped too long. I’m disoriented, slightly heavy, impatient, groggy, mean, and sick. I wish I were wide awake – so I could feel refreshed and light like a dust ball or dandelion seeds that float on the air like summer snow.

Cassander L. Smith is a native of South Carolina, but moved to Indiana five years ago to begin Purdue University’s MFA program. Since graduating in 2005, she has been pursuing a doctorate in early American literature.