In Earth's Diurnal Course, Rolling Round
The wheel, the cornerstone of human invention, was first invented in 3500 BC. In the following 5,519 years it was perfected through both the reduction of friction and the addition of axles, all of this leading up to its ultimate function—transporting a sleeve of plastic cups, a pack of Marlboro lights, and a family-sized bag of tortilla chips through the dusty aisles of Big Ale’s Stop n Shop. Karina gripped her shopping cart lazily, pushing it forward. The mighty wheels turned, leaving squeaky scuff marks every few feet to mark their legacy.
She was looking for salsa, the last item needed to complete the world’s most boring scavenger hunt. Originally, Remi had assigned her a list of party snacks and supplies that would have required three different locations, an Excel spreadsheet, and the strategic planning of an NFL coach to complete. Through hostage-style negotiation, Karina was able to reduce her responsibilities to three manageable items; four if you count the Malabros, her consolation prize.
A part of Karina resented this compromise, knowing she could have haggled the list to zero. But she needed a stake in this party, a sense of responsibility. Because without the acute awareness that her absence would leave the good people of Remi’s girlfriend’s apartment without a pot to piss in—or rather, a cup to drink in, Karina knew that she would not show up.
The truth is, Karina was sad. She had been for a long time. As of right now, she was the only one who knew this fact. She avoided updating her friends on her emotional state because she knew the images that would come to mind—smudged mascara and staccato sobs, wilted roses scattered among the shards of a broken vase, Ophelia just before the plunge. Or perhaps it would be unwashed dishes, missed calls, wrinkled sweats and sitting with the lights off. But no, Karina’s sadness wasn’t cinematic. Her cheekbones weren’t sharp enough for that zoom shot of a single, rolling tear, and she thought of suicide the way everyone does, in passing, with the morbid curiosity of a toddler whispering naughty words into the mirror and waiting to see if the floor will drop out from under him.
It wasn’t cinematic. It was all gloom, no doom, slow and constant. It snuck up her like the bag of kale she bought on a whim, rotting in the back of the fridge behind a tub of premade potato salad and some miracle whip. She didn’t notice the gradual decay until one day the stench smacked her in the face, embedded itself into the threads of her couch and the cracks of her plaster walls, demanding consideration for what had been ignored. She could throw the bag away, but what a waste that would be.
Karina did not tell her friends she was sad because everyone else had beaten her to it. Sad had been done to death. It had sequels and prequels and spinoffs, you could even get tickets to Sad: On Ice. Karina didn’t want to be caught with stale material. And how, exactly, was she supposed to let people she loved know that she was sad. She had considered dropping it in conversation, a fun little tidbit to consider before moving on to favorite bands, weekend plans.
Doling it out in digestible bits, hors d’oeuvres, a cheese plate of sad. Would it be better to formally sit them down in some kind of reverse intervention? I’ve brought you all here because I’m concerned about my well-being… Perhaps it would be best not to tell them at all, to let her sad fester and bubble until it seeped out of her ears into slippery puddles. She might consider investing in a yellow “wet floor” sign. She could write them a letter, and accidentally get the address wrong (the ZIP code was one digit off; anyone could have made that mistake). Whisper it to them while they were sleeping, hoping it reached their dreams. Hire a skywriter on a windy day, watch the chunks of smoke disperse and remember how that one used to be an “A.”
Karina’s sad was background noise, an ugly 70s wallpaper plastered onto the walls of her psyche that she no longer noticed when she walked past. It was inconspicuous. But a party would disrupt her adaptations. Each “how are you” felt like a challenge. If Karina wasn’t careful, the sad would start to leak—a rogue eye would start to twitch, lips would press together. The smart move might be to stay home, avoid a pipe burst in her brain. But Karina had a mission; she was a public servant armed with a bag of Tostitos.
In the apathetic search for the final item on her list Karina traveled the length of the store twice, aimlessly weaving in and out of aisles, forcing Big Ale’s more focused customers to reroute and evade collision. On the third trip down aisle three Karina’s eyes landed on a shelf filled with jars of salsa, stacked like soldiers at attention. If only she had kept her eyes straight ahead, had not allowed them to wander to the colorful logos and promises of “more this” and “less that,” perhaps she could feign ignorance and continue her trek, maintaining her unfinished errand as an excuse for her prolonged absence at the party. But the army of salsa jars was a sight she could not unsee. They stood at the ready in their red dress and branded insignias, demanding her attention. Karina sighed, conceding to the salsa battalion. Instead of grabbing the jar in front of her she reached for one three rows back, a small rebellion against the shelf’s uniformity.
Karina, the wheels, and the three (plus one) items on Remi’s list arrived at the counter, a merry band of misfits. The cashier was cheery, the scanner beeping in tempo with her friendly chatter. Karina nodded along stiffly, imagining herself unzipping her sadness and stepping out of it, handing it to the cashier to try on. She wondered if it would fit over all that cheer, if it was one-size-fits all, if it could be passed around like some sort of sisterhood of the traveling pants, everyone gets a turn. Probably not. Karina had a feeling it was tailor-made just for her, sewn with the utmost care, keeping in mind her body’s curves, divots, dimples. A staple piece, made to last.
Karina pushed her shopping cart to the car return, lifting her bag of purchases by its plastic straps. The sun beat down on the parking lot of Big Ale’s. Its rays had turned her car door hostile, and Karina pulled her fingers back from an attempt to grab the handle, cursing under her breath. The words felt good rolling over her tongue. She let out a few more, swishing them around like mouthwash before releasing them into the air. Just as she was beginning to get creative, she noticed a subtle gleam to the left of her car’s front tire. A penny. Face up, 2005, Lincoln staring forward at the asphalt horizon. A sign! From God, or the universe, her dead grandmother, the grocery store clerk, who knows. But it was unmistakable, someone was trying to tell her…what? Karina wracked her brain. That…that she didn’t have to live like this. That she didn’t have to sit in her sad, bathing every day in a tub of self-indulgent Nihilism, that things could change. That Remi and his party could go without chips, because adversity builds character, the lack of snacks will make them stronger. That she has a car, with giant wheels, pumped with air and history, that she can go anywhere.
Karina felt herself zoom out, her perspective shifting to a bird’s eye view of the parking
lot. She saw her body reach down to pick up the magical coin. This penny, with its miraculous copper, its spectacular circular shape, an enchanted rust dotting its edges; this was the turning point, the catalyst, the inciting event in the film of her life. The actress playing Karina, her eyes sparkling and her dress a vibrant hue, lifts the coin to the light, displaying her trophy, her sign, to the audience. Their hearts surge. The actress playing Katrina hops into her car, possibility shrouding her body like an aura.
INT. KARINA’S CAR—DAY
(The car pulls out of the Big Ale’s Stop n Shop parking lot, heading north.)
Karina zips through the side streets, eyes locked on the road ahead. The penny, her confidant, bounces in the cupholder with every speed bump. The next right is the on-ramp to I-85, her one-way ticket to freedom. She doesn’t know where she is going, but she knows it is going to be extraordinary.
(The car turns left.)
Karina cruises down Hawthorne Street, windows down, wind in her hair. The breeze on her skin feels refreshing, like when you splash water on your face to wake yourself up. At the light she will turn left into the roundabout, and then her apartment will be a straight shot. It won’t take long to pack up her things, and she will call the landlord first thing in the morning. He will understand; this was bigger than him, bigger than her, bigger than all of us.
(The car continues straight.)
Karina slows the car to a halt behind the stop sign. She counts to herself out-loud before pressing the gas, one… two… three. She has always been one for the rolling stop, has never waited the full three seconds since driving school at sixteen, but what was three seconds compared to the rest of her life? She has all the time in the world. All she has to do is keep straight, and she will end up right at her bank. She can’t believe she is minutes from withdrawing her savings, closing her account, starting over. She watches the horizon, feeling the beauty of a fresh slate.
(The car turns left. It keeps in the left lane, drifting over and clipping the rearview mirror of a parked Toyota before swerving back inside the white traffic line.)
Karina lets out a shaky laugh. She can’t believe she is doing this. Never had she been so bold, so unafraid. It was an out of body experience, as if someone else had taken over. There is a foreign sense of daring pumping through her veins. She lets go of the steering wheel, hovers her hands above it, just to see if it is really her driving. She brings her hands back down, grabbing the wheel and quickly centering it before the car drifts into oncoming traffic. So it is her driving, this is really happening!
(The car pulls in front of a beige apartment with rows of terraces down each side. Music, heavy with bass, drifts from one of the upper levels, although it is unclear which one. There is an attempt at parking along the street, but the nose of the car sticks out, forcing other vehicles to shift lanes to avoid it. A man, late 20s, shaved head, exits from the building’s lobby and greets the woman emerging from the car. She hands him a plastic bag, and they head inside, the building’s revolving door still slowly spinning long after they are gone).