Their Days Are Numbered is a new year-long project authored by the collective Entropy community. It is a collaborative online novel written by the Entropy community on a weekly basis. A different author will write the next “chapter” each week, to be posted every Tuesday, following the previous post from the previous week, and following a very limited set of guidelines (that each author has one week to write the next piece after the previous week’s installment goes up, that installments should range between 150-1500 words, and that pieces should somehow incorporate a real-life occurrence, current event, news item, or other happening from that week).
Follow the entire “novel” here: Their Days Are Numbered.
The seventeenth installment is presented this week by Amanda Goldblatt.
Saying pinguecula, pin-GWEK-cue-lah, makes a sound in the mouth like, what, like you’ve started to shout and then thought better of it. Or like a swing or wave that punches and then recedes, hushing itself.
Pinguecula. The condition is “popular,” she means, “coincident,” she means, “most common” in the citizens of sunny equatorial nations, and the aged. The word itself is not popular at all, except among ophthalmologists and optometrists, even ones who work at the mall in a place between a store that sells ball caps and another that sells, what, customizable bear toys. The optometrist will, if asked, write the word down on a piece of paper, so that you can take it home with you.
It is a small, raised, yellowed continent on the cornea: sun damage, related in a minor way to vision and focus. “A mostly cosmetic issue,” the mall optometrist had said.
While on this trail she’s trying to remember: words left out of a notebook or thought or letter or obit are quickly forgotten. The heat sours. The saved words cling. They’re, what, she thinks: hieroglyphs that hafta stand in for some old, full-volume language long passed.
When she’d come home from the mall her roommate had been spreading butter on toast and he had gestured with that buttery knife to the word “pinguecula,” as if he wanted to slice it from the air. “Don’t threaten with your mouth full,” she’d said. To which he’d responded: [loud chewing sounds.] The knife was smeared yellowy and so was her eyeball.
In remembering this, she’s playing a game, trying to figure out which things are like other things. The activity is a time bider, a pleasant distracter. Por ejemplo: ears, ball caps, butter.
This desert trail is a “cosmetic problem” inasmuch as she could die, and it would no longer be a problem. Ha! An air burst of a laugh. An intraocular pressure test of a laugh. Ha! The water in her canteen sloshes in a friendly way.
Lots of things can make you laugh when you’ve been alone this long. “Pin-GWEK-cue-lah, pin-GWEK-cue-lah,” she whispers to herself, watching the trail incline before her. There had been grasses once, then brush and boulders, then leggy trees. Now there is this sand giving way to firmer soil and more significant rocks.
“I don’t like sand,” her mother had once said. “Too beige.”
She knows she must move forward and does so. Lots of things had happened and then more things happened; now, what, she waits for the things that will happen.
What is left to accomplish now. She imagines she can feel her little yellow continent, by the inner corner of her eye, inexactly shaped as a butter smear on a white kitchen table. All lushness has left her.
Her armpits and limb folds are envelope-tacky. Where did she lose her sunglasses. Where did her notebook drop. Where did the rifle’s bullets go. To whom may she address these losses. A wave of wind seems to come from nowhere to punch her back a step or two.
Of course the wind comes from “somewhere.” The interconnectedness of anything-she-experiences to anything-else-she-experiences means nothing, but is yet exhausting.
Here comes the wind again, and with its punch she’s nearly knocked off her feet. Everything is exhausting in the desert, she thinks. Is that true or just something very pretty to say.
There was a house, a mouse, a bath, some ash, and other things. She can’t tell anymore what was a dream and what was in waking life and what was in a book her roommate had read and insisted on telling her about.
(Eventually all cosmetic issues will be resolved. She does not feel depressed about this.)
Amanda Goldblatt is a writer who lives in Chicago. Recent and forthcoming publications include The Southern Review, Hobart, and Tammy. Currently, she is at work on a novel. A little more information can be found at amandagoldblatt.com.