Orbit

by Brandi Wells Read author interview December 20, 2009

Grandma swears she is a planet. She says she swallows up rooms. Tells me her dog crawled under the sofa to get away, but he got swallowed up anyway. Sometimes people kill themselves to avoid being sucked into her orbit. She takes pride in it. Says she eats them if she’s hungry.

Every morning she stands at the bottom of the hall staircase and I spray her with Static Cling while she spins in circles. She says Static Cling will save lives. She calls it preventative.

We take walks around the neighborhood and she asks me to run in circles around her. We get home; I go inside, get a trash bag and come back out to gather all the dead squirrels. I don’t want my parents to see. They already call her eccentric. They say eccentric like they mean dangerous or bad.

Grandma and I sit on the floor in my bedroom, though my mother says grandma ought to sit in a chair or on the bed. She says grandmother is too old to sit on the floor. We press our palms together and hold them there until they are sweaty. Then we lean forward and rest our foreheads against each other until they are sweaty too. Grandma says it makes her feel less tired. The same way she feels when I run in circles around her.

One evening, Dad finds a bag of squirrels in the trashcan. He brings them inside, throws them on the kitchen floor and yells, “What is this?” One of the squirrels falls out of the bag and he points to it. Dead creature, no blood, no wound. With glossy eyes, it stares at everything.

Grandma is asleep, but she wakes up and comes to the kitchen. She stands there in an oversized t-shirt, kind of like the ones I sleep in.

“What is this?” Dad asks again, looking at Grandmother and pointing at the squirrel.

She doesn’t answer. Just goes back to bed. Dad sends me to bed too. He shuts my bedroom door and tells me not to leave my room until it is light outside.

I wake up and Grandma is gone. Everyone is gone. I make myself a sandwich and sit on the front porch, watching for them.

They don’t come home until that evening and they don’t bring Grandma. No one explains where Grandma is and I don’t understand until years later when they take me to visit her. After that first visit, they take me to see her once a year, on her birthday. When I turn eighteen and move out of the house, I began visiting her more often.

Before I go to visit her, I soak in a vinegar bath. Then I smear mustard and hot sauce over my skin and hair. She tells me this will remind her not to eat me.

She asks me to run in circles around her. Says it’s distracting if I sit in one place. While I’m running around her, I dislodge a kid from her orbit. The kid sits crying in the corner, probably because I kicked him too hard. He reaches out, grabs a sheet that’s swirling around grandma, and wraps it around himself, partially covering his face.

I tell grandma I’m getting tired and she nods at the door. On my way out, I scoop up the kid, balancing him on one hip so I can open the door with the other hand. Walking down the hallway I ask him, “Where are you parents?”

He nods back toward the room and I get it. Stuck in orbit.

“You want a snack?” I ask him.

He says yeah and I dig in my pocket for change. All I have is some pocket lint and a dry piece of macaroni. I give him the pocket lint and go outside. People run in circles around the building. Some of them aren’t really running. They’re walking, but swinging their arms hard and sweating like they’re running.

I visit grandma once a week, mostly on Sundays, but I don’t stay long. The circles make me dizzy.

* * *

It’s different the week that I break my leg. I fall down two flights of stairs at work. It’s not just my leg. I break a couple ribs, bust my nose and black one of my eyes. Work tells me to take a few weeks off and then their lawyer calls me, saying he wants to settle. I say yes and sign some papers and decide I don’t have to work for a year or two.

I go to the facility a few days late that week. I’m worried. With the broken leg, I’m not sure how things will work.

I walk into her room and sit on the bed next to her. She looks at me, looks at my leg and closes her eyes for a moment.

She leans toward me and I lean toward her until our temples touch. We sit that way, getting sweaty, until visiting hours are over. A nurse tells me to leave and I do. In the hall, people stare at me. My face feels swollen and I worry that I have internal bleeding. I touch my face, but my fingers are swollen too. Plump like sausages.

About the Author:

Brandi Wells has a BA in Creative Writing and her fiction appears in or is forthcoming in Pear Noir, Monkey Bicycle, Decomp, and Vulcan. She has a chapbook forthcoming as part the chapbook collective Fox Force 5, which is being released by Paper Hero Press. She blogs at http://brandiwells.blogspot.com/.

About the Artist:

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.