map Fortune Cookies

by Michael Schwartz

Published in Issue No. 11 ~ April, 1998

She picks quietly at her cold Szechwan. The thin noodles bend softly around the fragile, plastic fork. Faint traces of MSG are forced down the esophagus. Numbly accepted.


She shakes her head. The television blares on, muted and unnoticed.

He swallows a mouthful of mushroom fried rice, little pieces of brown sauce-stained Uncle Ben’s sticking to the back of his throat. “I’ll get rid of this.” Joshua gets up and throws away their Styrofoam plates, pressing them neatly into the bottom of the garbage bag. On top goes the Chinese food.

She fumbles with a package of soy sauce. It wasn’t completely filled, she notices, delicately squeezing the plastic; no matter how she tries to make it whole throughout, a tiny bubble of emptiness remains. She reasons they don’t consciously understand the deeper meaning behind it. Nobody understands emptiness.

“Still feeling hung up?”

Naomi blinks. “Yeah.”

Joshua takes his seat opposite her. She stares at him softly. “Maybe its jet lag,” Joshua offers.

“Maybe.” Her brown eyes lower to the table and her lips purse in a tender, gentle manner. The room around her is silent, spare the faint electrical hum of the television.

“Is it something else?”

Naomi passively holds a corner of the tablecloth, captured by the indigo cloth pattern. “I don’t feel well.”

“Are you sick?”

Her eyes close. She traces her forefinger over the contours of the table, polished hazelwood reflecting her carefully slow, dependent manner, drifting away from consciousness. Floating, Naomi passes thousands of distant, whispery clouds that belie all sense in the cluttered reality outside. Relaxation, she captures relaxation and calm and cannot help herself, the lulling chromas that trap her precious escape. Diluvial purples immerse the mind, the body in pools of liberation, refreshed spirit to emerge thorough, whole.

A smile.

“No. Not sick. I don’t know what I feel. Isn’t that crazy?” She looks up at Joshua.

He leans over and gives her a kiss. “You’re alright. Just a little stressed.”

She smiles, calmly, “Thanks.”

They lie down on the couch, resting against each other. On the television there is a commercial, a tall woman wearing Versacé designer clothes, surrounded by swarms of men, she tosses her hair, smiling, indiscreetly, camera pans down and to the right sweeping around the full of her body as she reveals finely toned legs sliding her hand silky-smooth, sexual pulsing, stimulation, vibrating Obsession. The lights in the apartment are lowered, making it easier to see.

Naomi curls her hand around Joshua’s. She relaxes into him, to allow her breathing and his to slowly acquiesce, peloriance, and her heart whispers, a faint, fitful groan, release. She watches with dim sadness a stark destructiveness unfold upon the fashion runway before her, the flashing visage bleeds through, searing hurt. It shines, weakly.

“Do you like her?”

“I can’t. She doesn’t exist.”

British industrial-tech rhythm, GNC advertises ginkgo-extract vitamins guaranteed to augment your carnal prowess or your money back, bovine adrenal glands primed to reduce the onset of genital herpes in white teens aged fourteen to nineteen, and fenfluramine-phentermine over-the-counter tee-shirts for the criminally obese.

“Everyone loves women like that. I don’t understand the attraction of it all.”

Joshua tickles her hand. “People look up at these women for the instantaneous, fleeting moment of belonging, as though by watching we can hope to capture some of their essence, be given access to something better, and perhaps a better life.” His eyes flutter quickly. “It’s almost tragic.”

“I suppose.” She looks ahead, thoughts pouring backwards into memory. Dimpled frustration, Naomi’s own fragile ego resting on the impossible motions of replicating Lagoon-esque sexuality, a Lolita-like fixation on fulfilling the hopes and dreams of those surrounding her. Evasive, illustrious past, mocking the precarious foundation of her present, she cannot escape herself.

Joshua’s voice awakens her. “From four years old you’re taught to attain perfection and nothing less.” He frowns. “For guys, we simply went along. ”

Naomi shifts her position slightly, curling up closer to Joshua.

“Anyone could play soccer if they felt like it. Some guys didn’t want to. We ignored them, didn’t need them, didn’t think about them.”

Urkel trips over a couch and falls onto Carl’s birthday cake which Eddie had secretly purchased after Waldo accidentally ate the original cake that Harriet had made and Eddie warned Urkel to stay away from that cake but, gosh darned, that Urkel just had to taste it (Steve!) so Urkel and Eddie drive to the store to buy another cake but it turns out Carl’s birthday is tomorrow.

“Sometimes I would swing. I usually just sat on the grass.” She looks up at Joshua. “The swings were usually crowded.”

“Did you sit by yourself?”

“Sometimes…sometimes it just felt better.” A pause. “Sometimes I might sit under a willow tree.”

Joshua holds her. “A tall weeping willow.”

A long, sleepy sadness curls about Naomi’s fading vision and she feels red and green, merging broadcasts of Hollywood and Grosse Pointe crystallizing into a single, defined image, and blue, super-saturated illustrations of forgetfulness, repression, a dull pale sheen that transcends between reality and television. A high-gloss finish suffocates her desperate thoughts, overwhelming pressure: she peels away her shine and finds a single, low-watt bulb, swinging aimlessly amidst tremendous darkness, finally breaking away and falling into emptiness, spiraling into black vortices, spinning, twisting, ripped to pieces by the complacent dejection at the heart of her nothingness.

His eyes touch momentarily upon the grey Toshiba, long enough to see his own translucent, vacuous image echo off the curved glass. He reflects, swimming farther and farther towards swirling undertows, amorphous sensation emanates, warm, pillowing deeper into blank confusion. Dwindling twinkles, the fast precision of a telescope focusing on some silvery star against ebony silence, he slips, dreaming with her of murkily orange curtails scraped from fiery sunsets. In the twilight their damp silhouettes trail away, quietly resolved to live beneath a diseased sun.