Literary Orphans

Sheetrock and Insulation by Bud Smith

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A spaceship lands in my back yard. It must happen when I’m asleep. First I see it as I lug my mattress to the garbage cans, corner of my eye. I don’t believe it.

I drive away in my car.

When I come home from work, the spaceship is still there. Silver. More square then round.

I swallow my gum.

The sun is at that perfect point in the sky where everything looks finalized in purple. First cool of evening hushing songbirds, whuffing dogs, all of mankind.

At my kitchen table, I stare out, and try to think of what to do. Who I should tell, if anyone. If I should attack it first. If I should get in my car and drive away.

There’s no movement I can detect.

The following morning I’m still at the table.

The yard gate opens. A man on a riding lawnmower comes into my backyard.

I open the window, “STOP!”

Two other workers are coming through the gate with weed whackers.

I scream but no one can hear me.

I run down the back steps and make a big X out of my body to stop the crew from crashing into the spaceship.

Their machines go quiet.

“What’s the problem?”

“You need to leave,” I say.

“Today’s not a good day for the lawn?”

“No, it’s not a good day for the lawn.”

I pay them, I ask that they never come back.

No one mentions the spaceship.

I rip out the toilet. I take it to the curb. I don’t replace it.

Sometime that fall, my neighbors who I share a fence with, cut down two trees. Then they can see clearly into my yard.

But if I’m out there in the high grass, lightly tapping on the shell of the ship, or pressing a stethoscope against it, just listening—the kids laugh, point through the fence.

“I’m a mime!” I yell.

They run.

I used to talk to a girl sometimes at the copy machine. She was always photocopying maps for places that she drew on her lunch break. The places did not exist.

I asked her about the places.

“Are they better than here?”

“No one knows,” she says, “that’s the appeal of going. If you can.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her out for a drink, or at least a walk around the parking lot.

But she disappeared.

Her mother had died. Her cat run off. She goes way. A hospital, and it isn’t officially announced or anything, but some of us in the doomed office think it was attempted suicide.

“I don’t care. We all try that eventually.”

 

Meanwhile, I rip the top layer of singles of my roof. Rain comes into the hallway and sometimes I sit there like a frog, rejuvenating in shadow.

Meanwhile, I manage to get the refrigerator out the front door and strap it to the roof of my car with the help of a skeptical neighborhood kid who can’t believe my motives. No matter, who are we to decipher anyone else’s motives. Who are we to even decipher our own motives?

The guy at the scrapyard gives me sixty dollars for the refrigerator and let’s me watch it get crushed by a huge hydraulic vice.

I ask him, “How much are you getting per pound for spaceship metal?”

He says, “You’d have to bring me a sample to get a quote.”

I buy wine with my winnings.

The girl with the maps is back at work. I pester her to see any new maps she’s drawn. She sits there shell shocked at first. I pester on.

“I’m not drawing maps anymore.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

She doesn’t speak to me that day. Or the next.

 

That night, I’m woken up by a mechanical hum. I stick my head out the window and stare at the spaceship. It’s dark, but the moon is hitting it just right.

After half an hour, I realize where the hum is coming from.

A person up the block has turned on their air conditioning unit.

This person is afraid of fresh air.

I am not afraid of fresh air. I have removed all the windows and all the sills from my house.

Still, the birds do not enter.

Map girl smiles. Map girl begins to pester me about coming over and cooking us dinner.

I can’t tell her no. I say, “I removed my stove.”

She falls over, soda coming out her nose.

“I’m serious.”

Our ground seems equal. I’ve told her about some troubles in my past, too. She hasn’t flinched.

It’s possible that we are both so kind we cannot see terror, only live it.

So she brings me flowers.

I set them on the table and we sit at the table, I face her. She looks around.

“What happened to your walls?”

“I ripped them all down,” I say. “Sheetrock and insulation.”

“Why did you do that?”

“I just wanted to live a simpler life.”

“Oh, is it working?”

“I was so cold last winter and so far, so hot this summer. So no. Not working.”

“I had an aquarium for fifteen years and one day I drove two hundred miles and dumped the fish in a beautiful lake. I get it.”

She stands.

“I didn’t know you were an artist,” she says. She is at the window now, looking down at the spaceship. “That’s some sculpture,” she says.

“It’s real,” I say.

“You’re funnier than I thought you were. At work you’re quiet. You look like you’re going to gun everyone down.”

“I might,” I say.

“You should quit.”

“And do what?”

“Just leave … point to a place on a map.”

“Problems follow you wherever.”

She never cooks for me. Instead we open a bottle of scrap metal wine and after a glass, she kisses me. Then she wants to see the spaceship up close.

So we go.

We walk around it and she says, “It’s so realistic. I’ve seen a lot of metal works and you can always see the crummy welds. This one is so detailed. So smooth. Otherworldly.”

“It’s real.”

She nods. “Sure, then show me what’s inside.”

“I can’t get in. I’ve been trying for months.”

She laughs again. “You’re good. Did you ever think about doing stand up comedy?” She points, “What happens when I touch this button?”

“What button?”

Her palm slaps the side and a door opens. Inside the ship, there is a faint rosy glow.

She steps inside.

The door closes.

I suck my breath in.

But then a window I couldn’t see on the ship opens. She walks by in a flash.

I am terrified she has found her dead mother, or her long lost cat, or that she is about to blast off without me to someplace on one of her maps.

“It’s cool in here,” she calls and there is a vast echo.

She sticks her head out, smiles.

“Let me in.”

She taps something and the door opens again. I step inside.

She is staring at a control panel.

A big red button.

“What happens if I push it?” she says.

“I don’t know.”

She slaps it.

We wait.

There is nothing.

We climb the stairs back into my house and open another bottle of wine. Eventually we make it down the hallway to where I still sleep, but we have to be careful, I’ve ripped out the floor in places and we are on the second story.

You have to be careful to be alive.

 

That night the spaceship explodes.

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Bud Smith works heavy construction in New Jersey, building power plants and refineries. He is the author of the novels, F 250, and Tollbooth, the short story collection, or Something Like That and the poetry collection, Everything Neon. His writing has recently been at Volume 1 Brooklyn, Spork, decomP, Smokelong and the Rumpus. He lives in NYC with his wife, a textile artist. www.budsmithwrites.com

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–Art by Joanna Jankowska