I feel. The movers fill your body with empty boxes.
The girl on my block, the Volunteer with the Christian organization, that works at the orphanage, also on my block, she’s dead
Yesterday that kitten that keeps getting stuck in places got stuck near the transmission of a running car. I was on my stomach, after seeing the horrible, awful pictures all over the newspapers, I was on my stomach on the hot pavement yelling, “Turn off engine, it’s stuck. The kitten’s stuck.”
“Can see? Can see?” the grandmothers slapped with baby powder kept asking, more and more grandmothers coming out of different houses in their flowered sarongs and rolling skin.
It was afternoon. I was late. I was supposed to be evacuating my site. Meeting people at a big hotel five hours away. It was pretend. The evacuation. A test.
“I don’t care,” my friend who is getting a divorce tells me in that cement box with red plastic chairs. The back of her dingy restaurant. Now that she doesn’t have a house anymore we eat there, she sleeps there on a mat. We eat rice with an egg. On a card table. One hole in the ground to clean the dishes and a black cauldron to slow boil the pigs for the market.
I don’t care.
“Can’t see. Can’t see,” I kept telling the grandmothers. I thought: You cannot cry now. You can’t have them see you cry. And that kitten I couldn’t see, but could hear the awful cries, the same kitten who got stuck under my laundry washing bin, the bin was against the wall and the kitten must have bumped into it in the middle of the night, getting trapped under, I found her the next afternoon and screamed because she startled me so. The same kitten now stuck under that hot big car just crying and crying and crying. You could almost imagine her saying, “Just get me out and I’ll never do this again. I swear, I swear.”
And I kept saying, “I can’t see. I can’t see.”
Anna’s dead. They were the ones who gave me all my clothes. The clothes that I wear are their old clothes. What can I do? Do I get rid of them? What do I do?
It was a boating accident in Phuket. Details are sketchy. On the broadcast news they said a Peace Corps Volunteer from Phang Nga died. So everyone was so worried, that it was me, who died. But I didn’t die. I told my friends that, when they called. Dressed in their clothes.
In their clothes, I said, “I didn’t die. That wasn’t me. It was a mistake.”
They worked at the orphanage on my block. A little one with six kids. Including Gobert, he has fetal alcohol poisoning and he’s six. His mother made him dance like a monkey on the streets and the tourists would laugh and give him money. And then one day his mother just left him there. He will still dance like that if you ask. It’s a horrible, ugly sight. Long bone arms flailing. Toothless, stupid grin. Giant head bobbing back and forth.
Anna was twenty. The other volunteer was also twenty. They were young. And that’s how I saw them. The other volunteer sitting at her house, I’d be walking up the hill, I’d pass her every day coming home from work, we’d smile. I’d think, What are you doing here?
Caitlyn said grimly, calling from the north, a twenty-four hour bus ride from here. She said, “It’s in the newspapers.” Then she said, “I’m sorry.”
And I knew what she meant—why she told me she was sorry.
And I grabbed my umbrella. And I left my door open and walked briskly through spits of rain. I was supposed to have left, I was supposed to be evacuating.
I didn’t care.
There she was. Anna. Why Caitlyn was sorry. I knew why she was sorry. The photographs, on the front page, everywhere. On every paper. Loud heavy bold Thai script and those pictures.
“Can’t see. Can’t see,” I kept saying. Squinting up at the bottom of that hot truck. That’s when the kitten stopped meowing. And it was silent.
Ten minutes before I had been standing at the newsstand. With that newspaper in my hand just staring at it. Her bangs matted against her face. The blood coming out of her mouth, a small stream, her mouth open in a dumb way, like she had just fallen asleep and the line of blood was drool. Her white bloated big thighs wide open. All crooked. Giant, grainy close up photos of her dead white face. Her dark t-shirt wet and hugging her round belly, her dead, full breasts. And those white, white grey bloated thighs. Anna.
Her friend, the other volunteer, the one I thought seemed so young. There she was, on the giant main picture, Anna on her back on the sand all bloated and wet and dead and crooked with that one line of blood, and the other volunteer, standing there, breaking, breaking, breaking. Like she just got it, she just understood, what had happened, right that second.
“What does it say? I can’t read Thai, what does it say?” The newsstand guy stuttered, I had just shoved the paper at him, I didn’t even smile.
“Girl, name Anna, 20, American, Volunteer, Phuket, boat, dead.”
“Okay, okay,” I said and left. I never bought the paper.
The kitten popped out suddenly and sprinted up the street, made a quick turn, and jumped over my gate and into my front yard. The grandmothers all smiled relieved. We all care for the dumpster cats, the grandmothers and I. It’s a thing we share. I followed the kitten. I don’t know why she went there. When I got to my house she was pawing at my front window meowing. Then she saw me. And ran away—back to the street, then up towards the mountain.
The day before any of this happened. I was washing my laundry. A bird fell from the sky suddenly. The bird gripped onto my gate, but spun upside down, and fell there. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what had just happened. A bird falling from the sky like that. It was light and flying and then it became heavy and fell. Just like that. Suddenly.
The volunteer who I thought looked so young, who I passed by everyday, who’s clothes I wear, she was photographed breaking, breaking over her newly dead friend on the front page of every newspaper in Thailand yesterday.
Long time making it home today, from the evacuation. I was dropped off from one bus on the side of the road, they said the next bus will come. It never came. I walked miles and miles in that rain forest. Across bridges stilted over the thick brown rivers. Getting rides in the back of pick up trucks, getting dropped off, and walking again.
I didn’t care.
Up the hill, to my house, walking towards that mountain I live next to. It’s dark now. There is a dim square of light on the rock face of the mountain from the moon. I am dirty and I am tired. I pass their house. All the lights are on, sharp fluorescent lights shooting out of every window. A Thai person I don’t know is packing all of their things into boxes.