by Gee Henry
Gee Henry, a sometime singer-songwriter, was born in Antigua and lives in Manhattan. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in OUT, BookForum, Huffington Post, the Brooklyn Rail, vol.1 Brooklyn, Paste, and various journals and anthologies. Gee’s musings can be found at http://geehenry.blogspot.com.
Lately, Jacob felt something was missing and had always been missing. He didn’t know what it was, or what to call it, this missing thing. It was just a feeling, like when you find yourself imagining what your one true love might look like, and you realize that no one could possibly look like that, and, moreover, that you will always be alone. The feeling presented itself when he was in the subway, on his way to work, or it called to him while he was lifting weights at the gym. It wasn’t sadness, nothing so obvious as that. Actually, he was pretty happy in his life! At ease. He wasn’t getting fired at work. No one was dying. He was a pretty serious guy, mostly, so he felt like a lunatic for this impossible wanting.
He found himself trying to get people’s attention in different ways. In the subway, he made a point of trying to purchase his MetroCard from the agent, rather than just using the machine whose purpose it was to eliminate such conversations. The agent just looked at him, surprised, perhaps at this breach of etiquette. “I am just a functionary,” the agent began, “a surrogate who is –“ Jacob turned away sharply, done.
At the gym, he confronted a man who was reading a magazine at the triceps machine. “Are you using this machine?” Jacob asked.
“Yes,” the man replied, not even looking up from his reading material.
“Um, are you using this machine right now?”
The man stopped reading and finished his set in a put-upon fashion. It was hard for Jacob to get people’s attention in general and, he supposed, the way life was, it would be harder now that he was feeling especially needy. It made him angry, though his anger embarrassed him.
One day, determined to discover the cause of the missing feeling, he called down to Florida and asked his aunt if she remembered him as a baby. “Oh, you were a fussy one,” she said. He wondered about her choice of words, and immediately pictured himself as an infant in a crib, frowning at everything in the incomplete way that babies do, because they don’t actually know how to frown yet. But was there any such thing as a baby who wasn’t fussy? “Your grandmother used to hold you in her arms all day long. She never put you down. If she walked in the room without you in her arms, we were startled, as if she had walked in without her blouse. But then she died, and all of that was over. None of us were holders. You cried all the time, and what could we say but ‘there, there’? Your mother would tell us not to pick you up. You have to understand, she thought of the world as a dark place, and she wanted you to survive whatever horrors it had in store for you.”
Well, that was easy, Jacob thought as he put down the phone perhaps a little more roughly than he intended. Perhaps all he had been missing was his grandmother, whom he had no memories of?
Later in the conversation, his aunt told him about a boy who had been murdered near her home. She was following the case on TV. The boy had been shot after being followed by a member of the local neighborhood watch who deemed him suspicious-looking. The boy looked like Jacob, his aunt said. Jacob sighed. He felt even angrier, and the nameless feeling seemed even more distinct. The word to describe it was almost in his mouth, like if he cleared his throat he would be saying it.
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Categories: First Issue