carte blanche is a monthly column by storyteller and artist bahia watson. this is a free space.
an old woman in a thick wool sweater sits next to a second floor window of an old apartment. beside her is a plaid couch from the past and in front of that, a used brown trunk is standing in as a coffee table. there are green plants everywhere, growing wildly out of silver pots and woven baskets and bins. she is seated on a cushion in a wooden rocking chair. if she were to stand up, you’d see the cushion is sweetly embroidered with one word: asshole. on the side table next to her is a tape recorder. pulling it into her lap, she clears her throat roughly and then, with two gnarled and experienced fingers, pressed the play and record buttons at the same time. a small red light illuminates and the wheels of the tape start to turn. her voice has the sound of the well worn bottom of a shoe. spittle gathers on the edges of her lips when she raises her voice. her eyes used to be brown and are now a blue-ish grey.
i hope this thing- hello? hello? test, test. umm, if you’re hearing this, i guess… i guess it wasn’t just allergies!
gee. a little sore throat and a person’s gotta start picking out caskets these days, am i right? picking out caskets, what an errand. decompose – but make it fashion! the pressures we’re under in this life, give me a break. i even have to be pretty when i’m dead, i have to wear makeup when i no longer exist, who’s watching the show here? who are we entertaining at that point? dead bodies don’t have feelings, that’s what makes them dead, at least that’s what i think. i don’t give a damn what i’m buried in, i mean, it’s all worm food anyway. throw me in a river and take your quarters to the casino, you know, have a nice time. maybe my grand departure will bring you some luck. what the hell am i gonna do with silk lining?
the tombstone… now, that might be a place to splurge. i went to argentina once. buenos aires, yep. they got this graveyard, it’s like a whole city, got little streets and everything, each tombstone looks like a storefront. it’s really something to see, i’m glad i saw it. i wondered if they’d ever caught anyone living in someone else’s gravehouse, you know? i wouldn’t blame them, i mean, people need homes and they’re spacious, they have roofs. some even have windows and small winding stairs that go down to, i guess, the bones. that might be something, you know, an apartment as a monument. long as it’s been since i’ve left the house, i feel like i am the drywall and the linoleum is me and when i die, this whole place’ll be dead.
i’m glad i took that trip. i couldn’t barely afford it but i took it anyway. they can’t repossess good times! that’s what i always say. hey! put that on my tombstone: they can’t repossess good times. what’s done is done, throw me in jail, these eyes saw the ocean, this skin felt the upside down sun, and no one can take that away from me. thanks for the borrows, visa! i’ll get you next time.
a park bench, with a little plaque with my name and what i was like, i’ve always wanted one of those, that seems nice. a place to sit, for people to relax, maybe bend their neck and look at the little gold square in the centre and read my name and think, hmm, thanks for the bench ms. d. they won’t be naming any park benches after me though, that’s for sure. i’m not rich and didn’t make any great impact, all i did was be here.
i’m not all that scared to die. honestly, i’m more scared of living too long. living long enough to see the world go ugly, that’s what keeps me up at night. no bees, no flowers, man, i don’t want to see all that. the ocean just one big garbage dump. they got floating landfills already, huge ones, and half of it’s fishing nets! fishing nets! that pisses me off. i mean there’s a garbage pile in the ocean the size of texas all made of fishing nets? i mean come on! humans are gross.
this last year was a big eye opener for some people, but not me, i always knew. i always knew, i always told my classes – this place is going to shit because your parents don’t give a damn. got a few talking tos but fuck it, they deserve to know the truth. what am i supposed to stand up there and fill them with hope that got no where to seed? that’s doing the right thing? in what world? kids aren’t dumb, they’re smart and selfish and savvy. they pick up on lies whether they tell you or not and if they don’t tell you it’s because they’ve started lying themselves and they understand the power of deceit. it doesn’t take long for them to become exactly like us, that’s the problem. they start off better and descend down to our level and we can’t see far enough to teach them otherwise, and that’s how we evolve: one step forward, seven billion steps back.
for so long, i dreamed of aliens. i just wanted them to come down. i thought, this species of ours is a dud, i mean we have missed the point royally and ruined the whole world, we need aliens, that was the only way, i thought, we need an outside force to unify us. and maybe this is it, this pandemic, this thing that, because of technology and the speed of communication, it’s something that we experience at the same time and know it. maybe this was it, this was our chance to understand our interdependence and what do we do? let the old people die, who gives a shit. you’ve got grey hair, you’re basically dead already. you’re in jail, or a shelter, we’d be better off without you. we’re all in this together, what a slogan. no, we’re not, not now more than ever. we’re in this alone.
oh yeah, so this is my last will and testament, i should’ve said that at the start. this, my favourite chair, can go to the convenience store owner downstairs. his name is ken and the day i moved in he gave me a free banana as a welcome gift and from there, the rest is, as they say, history. the convenience store owner is an important pillar in the community and if you don’t know them and they don’t know you, you aren’t a part of the neighbourhood. ken is a quiet, steady man, that’s why i like him. minds his business and doesn’t add to the traffic, just – here, banana, bon journée and that’s it. that’s what i call decency and for that, he can have the chair i’ll probably die in. it’s a good one. solid wood, not like the cheap stuff that passes for furniture these days. this chair will probably outlive him, too.
the rest of my trash can go to whoever, it doesn’t matter. i don’t have anything to pass on and i don’t have anyone to pass it on to. i didn’t save, i don’t have anything to leave behind. i don’t even know who will listen to this, maybe a government official.
god, that’s sad. i should’ve made more friends.
i have this bottle of pills so i’m thinking, if it turns out it’s more than allergies i’ll just… i mean, they’re not going to give me a ventilator. when they see this face they’re gonna say, she’s better off, and pull the plug and that’ll be that. there’s no point in going all the way there, and what if i get someone else sick?
i mean, if i do have it, there are definitely a couple people whose faces to which i would like to deliver a few blows. patricia! achoo – that’s for fucking my boyfriend ya bitch! ruined me for years. and greg… i could never prove it but i know you stole lunches from the staff fridge and anyone who does that shit does not deserve to live. i also suspect it was you who ratted on me about calling in sick that time. it’s my right to call in sick whether i’m sick or not – what business is it of anyone’s? surprisingly those are my only enemies and i don’t even know if they’re alive anymore so, since i can’t direct it where i want, i’ll just stay home and keep it to myself, just in case. see? i’m like a samaritan, the way i’m thinking of others – i deserve that bench.
you know, i’d rather die than hear the word “unprecedented” ever again. honestly, it makes my ears bleed. who started it, someone said it once and the sheeple hit repeat: unprecedented, unprecedented, the diamond word of the season. okay, what about cholera, ebola, smallpox, the spanish flu, the plague – are these not precedents? you know why they call things with precedents unprecedented? to avoid responsibility; because all these scientists and everybody have been warning everybody about this forever, telling the powers that be: there’s something coming down the line, it’s called a pandemic, and these elected officials chose to ignore it and the word unprecedented gives them room to act surprised.
and what about war? what about syria? what about yemen? famine, genocide, death by the hundreds, the thousands, where does that rank of the scale of precedents?
i look out this window like it’s my eyeballs, i know every inch of this frame, it’s like my television. across the street, there’s a bakery, a french one. casual, not one of those pretentious types. the owner is a guy name jacques and he refuses to wear a mask so i stopped going in there, but i miss it. he was one of those guys, you can tell that shop was his whole life. never saw any kids or kisses or anything, i can watch that place from my window, so i think i’d see. it was always just him, with this big smile on his face. he was one of those guys who would strike up a conversation, always making a joke. normally i hate that stuff, but it was different with him for some reason. for some reason it wasn’t annoying, it felt honest and i honestly felt like, i was a part of something bigger than myself when i went in there. and i know, i know, it’s just a patisserie. but they had really great croissants for a buck forty five so i’d get one almost every day and sometimes a little cappuccino too. all with normal prices, like he wasn’t tryna get rich off it, wasn’t trying to earn some designer bags, was just there to make his living serving us baked goods and sweet treats and coffee. and it seemed like he really liked his job, like the whole thing brought him joy. he was pretending to wear a mask for a bit, under his nose, then on his chin, then he took it off altogether. not in a righteous way but like, it was like the mask, it was like he was, like he was losing his will to live. there was the plexiglass up, and he was behind it. he’d gesture mischievously to people to pull down their masks, he wanted to see their faces, a smile. he’d say, “i like it better that way” and i wanted to be like no shit sherlock, don’t we all, but i didn’t because he just seemed to be on the verge of an existential crisis and i mean, i get it. you create this life for yourself, and maybe you don’t have a family, or that many friends, but you have your work, and that provides the things you need and it’s fine. good, even. but then the world changes and it’s like you start to wonder about the choices you made.
i can relate to that. i didn’t have kids, i was a teacher instead and now look at me, i’m telling my life story to a device that has long gone extinct. i didn’t get married because i never met a guy who loved me well enough and now my skin hasn’t been touched in so long i’m like a butterfly, a caress would destroy me completely.
getting older is embarrassing. you go from doing it all for yourself, making it happen, one two three getting shit done and then the greys turn to white and people are patting you on the head like, “yes, dear.” once you’re past a certain age the word “dear” is condescending and fucking rude, i didn’t survive all these generations just to be patronized. i stopped talking to people as much when they started talking to me like i’m disintegrating right in front of them, like poor me, like all my faculties aren’t there. let me tell you something my mind is still sharp as a knife and i’ll stab you with it, so watch out.
i was watching a movie last night and there were these women at a bar and one was crying her eyes out, in a full panic, because, get this, she hasn’t had sex in like six months. six months??? i’ll tell you all a secret: i’m a seventy-year old virgin. just kidding. feel like one though. what about thirty years? am i supposed to feel ashamed of myself? i should be embarrassed? maybe i was preparing for this exact moment. while you’re all feeling skin starvation, my urges have long fossilized and i burn them now to keep myself warm. i hate my tv, i wish i kept my old one. this flat zinger makes life look realer than i ever want it to look. if i wanted my movies to look like real life, i’d just go ride a bus for a couple hours.
the last tear i shed was like six years ago. i cried so hard i think i destroyed my ducts now when i get sad i dry heave. nothing even happened really, that’s the funny part. it was a memory. i thought of something from when i was young, like in my twenties, and cried even more than when it actually happened. i hadn’t thought of it in years and i was listening to the radio and this woman came on and started talking about her best friend, and, you know, people don’t talk about friendships all that much. everything is about romance and lovers and marriage but friendships sometimes are all you have in the world. it’s like your family, you keep each other alive and when one falls apart its like someone tore the side off your house and then the roof caves in and the other wall falls and you’re there in the rubble with rocks in your hair and no one thinks it’s a big deal because you didn’t have sex with each other. she held me together and… i don’t even want to talk about it now. it hurts because… well it hurt and then hurt again because i didn’t forgive her. i could have, you know, i think i had enough in me to do that, but i was… it was my ego maybe or my conditioning, i thought only idiots forgive, you know? i felt like i wasn’t supposed to let her off easy, but i wonder if we might have had a few good times left. i’ll never know now. it’s too late. it ain’t over til the old lady coughs up a lung and so yeah, it’s over. it’s probably over. so, in this message i’ll say… ack, she’ll never hear it.
some sage advice from the old bag in the chair: don’t ever stress about anything. honestly, i can tell you, it’s never worth it, it doesn’t do anything, nothing matters. if being embarrassed is a guiding force in your life, you’ve given up your power. let go of that. oooh that speck of dust thinks something about me. who cares? just be honest: i didn’t do it because i didn’t feel like it; i did it because i wanted to. that’s it. honesty over everything. stress is for the squirrels. you do it now, you do it later, it never happens – who cares? it’s all smaller than you think, that’s what i’m trying to say, it’s miniscule, you are miniscule. everyone is on this train, talking about being kings and queens and i’m like, hey, wrong direction, go the other way, you’re tiny, you’re microscopic, nothing is that serious, take a day off, fuck a deadline, it really won’t matter either way. we’re dust. steal a pizza, piss outside, have a little fun, you specks.
you see what i’m saying? embrace the smallness, then it’s never a big deal, you can do whatever and not care so much. i don’t care about the world anymore, i don’t know when it left me, all that passion meant nothing, what’s the difference. all i did was work, try, work, try and look at me now, i’m crumbling and completely alone. i remember what that felt like, to feel that surge of energy, to be heart broken by cruelties that didn’t happen to you, to be outraged. i haven’t felt outraged in years, i’m the colour grey, i’ve grown dull, that’s what life does to you. go to work, come home, watch tv. scream til you’re hoarse, nothing changes, and then you’re bored of yourself, you’re a fucking broken record, journalling the same shit over and over, dear diary, oppression, blah blah blah, i’m over it, somebody else can carry the flag or burn it, i don’t even feel like standing up anymore, like literally, i only sit.
her head turns from the window, downward, onto herself.
i have this scar on my arm from this time i climbed a tree as a kid. couldn’t make it to the top, slid down like a fucking firefighter and the bark scraped off all the skin on my forearm. now it’s faded and looks like leopard spots. but i don’t like cats, i’m no cat lady and i never will be, i have asthma, and cats are rude and selfish and just want to be catered too. i used to have fish, but then i felt bad for the poor sons of bitches. they looked bored. when i saw one belly up this one morning i was sure it was suicide. then the other fishes wouldn’t even look at me anymore and i thought, fuck it and flushed them all down the toilet. i think i put them out of their misery but maybe they stayed alive and had to swim through all the shit in the sewers. maybe one day, if i ever get to an ocean, all the fish woulda heard about me and what i did and i’ll be attacked and eaten alive. i’ve seen that kinda thing on my fucking high definition portal and i tell you – wow. being eaten alive. must be crazy. that’s why i’m a vegetarian.
honestly, my favourite thing in all of life is salad. that’s a little more info about me. i love salad, i like how it’s cold and fresh and not cooked. it’s not soft, it’s hard and full of water. i like things that crunch. i only eat salad, almost. good for breakfast, easy for lunch, good for dinner. when i lived in my last place i had a garden and i grew my own arugula. maaan, what a nice green that is. little bit bitter, a little spicy and when you chew it you know you’re chewing on a plant. when i was working, i only ate organic, i don’t know what that stuff that passes for vegetables is anymore. no wonder these kids are crazy, they don’t even know how a tomato grows. never seen it, never thought about it. never occurred to them. bread is just bread, it manifests sliced in a bag. lettuce manifests in a plastic box. they don’t know anything. i saw this guy littering yesterday, just tossed his can right outside the bus and i’m thinking: are you an extraterrestrial or are you suicidal because how is that human nature? i’ll never forget when one of my kids asked me if i thought we were going extinct, and said we ought to. i had to keep it real with him, i mean, imagine if all the other species on earth could communicate – can you imagine what they’d say about us?
did you know, mushrooms are like the internet of the forest? they’re how trees communicate with each other and, well, in the end we’ll all turn into mushrooms won’t we, silk lining and all. the best part of being dead will be the mushroom part. and maybe some of my guts will end up in the roots of a maple tree, maybe i’ll become maple syrup and join you for breakfast – ha! an ol’ gal can dream, right? meet me at the pancakes, we’ll have a good time. ha. yeah. bury me in a wild forest, somewhere illegal, like crown land. what the hell is that anyway, crown land, who gave her the right? throw me on some crown land and i’ll haunt the palace for you, every colonizer gets a visit, it would be my honour, aha-
the tape clicks to a stop. she pushes the eject button and goes to pull out the cassette and all the tape, crunched up and half eaten, unspools.