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CLOTHING & GOODS EXCHANGE. WE CARRY EVERYTHING. Come have a look! Boys’ and girls’ clothing, baby things, toys. Dresses, shoes. Vintage pornographic gentlemen’s magazines. Housewares and furniture: cabinets, cupboards, credenzas, curios, chiffoniers, chesterfields, coffers. Wooden toys, sweatshirts, censers, copes. Amulets, periapts, hamsas, lightly loved apotropaics of all kinds. Tiny tabernacles; very small shrines; dolls representing abstract concepts and/or divine powers who will speak to you in your dreams; at-home plug-in philosopher’s gardens. Tupperware. Everything as-is! No warranties. Absolutely no returns.
QUEEN SHEBA TAVERN. Come in & relax. Cold beer, hot food. Zilzil tibs, doro wot, asa kitfo. Thursday nights karaoke: you can be a star! Channel voices from the heavens; from the deep; from the immanent divinity within. Delphic, other predictions welcome (sorry, no smoking). Last week, 23 chapters of Kebra Nagast spontaneously given voice. Occasional keramat. $2 PBR! We have Beyoncé and Queen.
HAIR BRAIDING ALL KINDS. 100% HUMAN HAIR. Weaves, falls, cornrows, twists; Asian, European, virgin, raw; Remy, Yaki, feather, deep. Spanish, Indian, Senegalese. Coil. Curl. Wave. Bonded, netted, fused. Lace-front, warp, weft. Tracked. All forms of tree-braiding: maple, gingko, sycamore, plane; acacia, baobab, Zegba, mahogany. Yellow-wood, rubber tree, locust bean, néré. Mango, ironwood, kapok, rônier. We carry a full line of products. Everything you need for natural, beautiful home care of healthy, glossy strands; locks; rolls; roots; leaves.
BRAND NEW! VANILLA CREAM CAFÉ! Everything we sell is locally sourced. Local cheeses, local apples. Delicious local milk, eggs laid by local hens. Local baked goods, baked locally. We are committed to local farming, local buying, and local eating. We are your new favorite neighborhood spot. Come see how we reflect your culture and our commitment. Try our delicious latté, espresso and coffee drinks. Sample our wide variety of teas. Taste a scrumptious ginger cookie. Try our locally made chocolate fudge. We do not sell bananas.
illustration by Ethan Reid
“This came for you, Martin,” said Sue at reception as he was sneaking out of work early one Tuesday. Martin sheepishly took the envelope and retreated to the break room. The fluorescent lights hummed tirelessly, and Martin, who was 39, felt old and useless. He opened the envelope. It burst into flame.
Martin shrieked and threw the envelope down on the table, where it continued to burn brightly without burning up.
“MARTIN, THIS IS GOD,” said a voice from the burning envelope. “I’D LIKE TO GET TOGETHER WITH YOU UP HERE THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW AT THREE. SEE YOU THEN.”
The flames guttered, and Martin reached tentatively for the envelope. It flared again.
“AND MARTIN,” said God. “LET’S KEEP THIS BETWEEN US.”
The envelope suddenly burned away to fine ash that drifted off the table and settled invisibly over the dun-colored, industrial carpeting.
Martin didn’t sleep well that night. He began by worrying about what God could possibly want with him, but by 2:00 AM he had shifted his fretful attention to logistics. How was he supposed to get to the meeting? Would he just be lifted up bodily? If so, what if he was indoors? And so on.
The next day he would have called in sick, but God was probably watching. At work, he managed to utterly bork the financial projections he’d been working on for two weeks.
Martin was wigging out: he had to talk to someone, even though God had said not to. There seemed a real possibility he was going insane. He went down to see Sue at reception.
“You look awful,” she said. “Are you OK?”
“Actually,” Martin said in a rough voice. “I’ve been a little stressed out. I have this appointment with–”
The next thing Martin knew, he was waking up naked and badly hung over in an empty warehouse that smelled like beer and piss. Something sharp was jabbing his back. When he got up, he discovered he’d been sleeping on a Barbie bed.
“God is not screwing around,” Martin said.
Work that next day passed in disoriented tedium. At 2:52 he wandered into the hallway and out the back door. In a store window across the street the sun gleamed like gold. Martin squinted. Could that be–? He stepped off the curb toward the light, right into the path of a speeding Ford F-150.
Martin actually ended up being a couple of minutes early.
Of everything I’ve seen, every place I’ve traveled, nothing has quite prepared me for the Earth’s glow as I approach home. It’s a bittersweet thing to return to one’s place of origin, so long after having left, with little knowledge of what to expect. Of what happens next.
I scan my notes, make a few more. I reflect.
602,223. Things That I’m Lucky to Have Experienced
Memories of a happy childhood. Clean mountain air. Running naked through the path of sprinklers on freshly mown grass. Images of family, parental love, school and accomplishment.
Vast fields of stars, stretching as far as the eye can see. A comet blazing across a backdrop of asteroids the size of cities. Cracks and bangs from all around, as sunlight expands the hull, at once identifiable and frightening in the constant reminder that only a thin layer of metal separates me from the dark and cold of space.
First contact with a sentient alien race. Being the first to learn a language no one on Earth can yet speak. An understanding of self that can only come from living in a culture that is not your own. Validation of a significant place in the universe.
656,767. Augmented Things That Should Have Remained As Nature Intended
765,005. Things That Cannot be Cloned
A puppy who wags his entire body while his tail seems to stay in one place. The one marigold in a field that leans away no matter what you do to turn it toward the sun.
The sharp tongue of a woman born with money and never weaned off its sense of entitlement.
821,211. Things That Are Irrecoverable
A body if life support systems and hull integrity have completely failed. Communications if the antennas have burned out. A planet if some unknown disaster has befallen it.
900,989. This is How We Remember
Backup the brain and the experiences, and hope that most of what was still is.
Write things down. Memories and observations. Hopes and dreams. Thoughts both good and bad.
A life is these things, and more. Sometimes less.
1,001,455. Things We Must Never Give Up
A child’s questions when her eyes are full of wonder and the future lays before her, still unbroken. The understanding that she may follow her dreams. Encouragement that she should do so.
Perhaps it should, therefore, not bother me that these notes will likely burn up on re-entry. All the images, the videos, the logs such as this. Probably no one will know my thoughts. No one will know who I once was, what I experienced, what I became.
Descending does not necessarily mean the end. A soft landing is always possible.