Monday, December 30, 2019

What Happened on 12/21/19: Sarah Ruth Bates, Nicole Walker, Hea-Ream Lee, Margarita Cruz, Rukmini Girish

On 12/21/19, we invited writers and readers to write about "What Happened" that day, however they interpreted it, as an exercise in mass attention, and promised to publish as many of the resulting essays as possible. So here we go! For more details and a full list of the contributors, click the What Happened page.


I slept in until 9. I’ve been waking up at 7:30 (more like 8) every morning for the past week, but my brother and his girlfriend got into town last night at about 2:30 AM. Our parents had flown into Phoenix the night before, and they’d drive their rental to Tucson, and meet us at a house they’d rented for the family for the holiday week.

My brother and his girlfriend were still asleep, so I walked to Starbucks for my morning coffee. I sat down as if I’d have a regular writing morning—I’d just write until they woke up—but my brother had already texted.

I live alone, and I almost always come home to an empty apartment, unless the Rumba my brother got me for my birthday is making her rounds. Instead, I had a box full of two people. The small space filled up quick.

The day blurred from there: quick Walmart run (guest towel—my bad), back to the apartment, my brother changed my showerhead (the new one was a Christmas gift from him), calls to parents and grandparents to coordinate, packing quickly, filled the car, locked the apartment and checked the heat and stove and oven, met parents and grandparents, lunch, outdoor museum (Tohono Chul), moved into rental house, grocery shopping, grilling for dinner, lingering around the table to talk plans for the next day.

Tetris-like conversation: if we do this Tuesday, then when will we do that, but we’re supposed to hike that day, it’s going to rain, when, exactly? We decided we’d go rock climbing the next day. I’d forgotten my helmet at my apartment. Didn’t want to wake up an extra hour early to get it the next morning, so I’d go now. My brother came. Drove back into town.

I opened the door to the apartment and saw motion. Fur. The neighborhood cat.

I met her when I moved in. She used to patrol the sidewalk, and I always stopped to pet her. I invited her into my apartment one day, and from then on she’d come in fairly often, spend a few hours allowing me to pet her or rubbing her face on my cardboard boxes-to-be-recycled or, one time, napping in a little fur swirl on my kitchen table. I’d leave the door a little open, and kick her out when I had to go to bed or run an errand or go to class. In the past few months, she’d showed up much less often, but she looked better—sleeker and fluffier. She used to be thin and rangy.

She ran past me, out the door. I searched the apartment for evidence of her stay, but found nothing. Usually, letting her in, I shut the door to my bedroom. I limited her range so I could make sure she didn’t claw or bite or pee in anything.

She’d had dominion over my apartment for twelve hours. I couldn’t believe I’d almost waited to get the helmet in the morning. If I’d remembered to pack it, we could’ve been away for days.

How had she gotten in? I’d left the door open while packing the car, but it wasn’t like her to avoid people. She usually asked for head scratches.

She meowed outside my door, trying to get back in. I’d have thought she wouldn’t want to come into my apartment ever again. Hopefully that meant she hadn’t assimilated the day as traumatic. What kind of day did she think she’d had? Was it like she’d scored a hotel room? Was she waiting for me to come home? Who was I to her? (The comedian Sarah Silverman says you tell your pet the things you want to hear. She always said to her dog, “Everybody likes you.” What about the conclusions you rush to about a pet who’s not yours?)

We tried to give her a goodbye scratch, but she only likes to be petted on her own timing. It was getting late. We locked the apartment and drove back out to the house.

Sarah Ruth Bates is a first-year MFA candidate in nonfiction at the University of Arizona. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Boston Globe Magazine, Off Assignment, Outside, WBUR Cognoscenti, and Appalachia Journal. Catch her at @sarahrbates and


Woke up. Got out of bed. Put my contacts in my head. Worked my way downstairs, drank a cup, looking up, I noticed it was 8. Grabbed my oats and grabbed my Mac. Turned on the news in seconds flat. Scrolled through the shares, ate my oats, Facebook spoke and I began to scream. 

Musical interlude with some yodeling.

I did read the news today, old friends. It was as bad as ever and yet nothing as specific someone from the House of Lords shooting himself in the head. More corruption from the white house. More news about Russia controlling the white house. White house white white. The news is general. It’s ubiquitous. White noise. Static. Unspecific and untouchable. The long road of news is interrupted by potholes of regular life. 

Hole #1

Erik made pumpkin cookies. He asks me, “Where is the cinnamon.” Where is the sugar?” “Why is the mixture so liquid?” 
     I held up a measuring cup. “Did you use this one?”
     “In a manner of speaking. I used the one that was half of that.”
     He added two more cups of flour. The next batch was better. 

Hole #2

“Hey, Max, turn off the TV! No more screens!”
     “But there’s only 2 minutes to go.”
     “I know how long 2 minutes is in football. What’s going to happen?”
     “They could get a first down!”
     This time of year, we like to predict the future. 

Hole #3

“Who wants to play Trivial Pursuit?”
     “I do,” Max says.
     “I definitely do not,” Zoe says. 
     “We’ll play the fast way, where you get a wedge in your pie for every correct answer.”
     “I’ll go first.” Max rolls. 
     “Who was the first Republican president?”
     “Abraham Lincoln.”
     “What desert has an area larger than the continental United States.”
     “The Sahara.”
     He missed the next one. Zoe’s turn. 
     “What leather-conditioning oil comes from the feet and shinbones of cattle?”
     “I’m out,” Zoe says. 
     Sometimes, short games are the best games. 

Hole #4

“The grill is on fire.”
     “I can’t make beurre blanc and grill the fish.”
     “But it’s on fire. Come help.”
     My friend who has joined us for dinner promises to stir the beurre blanc. 
     Erik and I stare at the fire. “Did you turn the grill off?”
     “Yes. Of course.” 
     “Then why are there flames?”
     “That’s what I’m saying.” 
     “Well, let’s move the fish to the side. Maybe I shouldn’t have oiled them.”
     “You really can’t turn on all three burners at once.”
     What’s the point of a grill with three burners.
     The fish. It turned out OK. So did the beurre blanc. But I burned the hell out of the potatoes. 

Hole #5

Our friends, the same ones over for dinner, are splitting up. 
     We played Cards Against Humanity
     “Blank gives me fiery gas,” my beurre-blanc stirring friend asks from her black card.
     I give the white card that reads “Former President George W. Bush.”
     Erik gives a card that reads, “Ten thousand flying monkeys.”
     Her husband gives a card that reads, “Breakfast burritos.”
     “You’re not supposed to tell the truth,” she teases. 
     Whether they go through with the break up or not, I hope they never lose that easy familiarity. 

Hole #6

“Fourteen years really is a long time,” I tell Zoe. “I’ve been thinking about you as a baby. You liked me to cut all your food into squares.”
     “I wish we’d move to Canada.”
     “Just you and me?”
     “Yeah. Just us.”
     “We could move to England. They’ve banned age 14 there.”
     “That sounds good.”
     “When I was 14. I was so different than you. I had boyfriends who drove me places. At 14.”
     “Yes. I was a mess. You’re so not a mess. You are a freshman on Varsity Cross-Country. You came into a new high school with only one friend. Now you have tons of friends. One of whom is named Unique. You have the highest grade in Physics. You’re a freshman. Taking physics!”
     “It’s not the highest grade.”
     “Well, it’s close. And you’re only 14. So impressive.”
     “I do not think 14 is impressive at all,” she says. 
     I do not tell her 15 is also hard. As were and will be “Five, six, seven, eight, nine
     Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen
     Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen
     Twenty” all the way to 72,

Hole #7

I do hear 73 is pretty easy. My mom is coming to town for Christmas. She has a new boyfriend but he’s not joining her. She’s pretty happy. She is 73. 

She still sings Beatles songs to me. 
     “Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
     And though the holes were rather small
     They had to count them all
     Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.”

Holes fill up halls, if you’re talking about counting potholes. Holes may seem empty and dark but the minute you start counting them, they become the tiny things that make up your day. 4,000  pot holes is a lot of pot holes. I’m so grateful for the bumps.   

NICOLE WALKER is the author of the collections The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet from Rose Metal Press and Sustainability: A Love Story from Mad Creek Books. Her previous nonfiction work includes Where the Tiny Things Are, Egg, Micrograms, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, and a book of poems This Noisy Egg. She wishes she'd gone with the original title for her collection of poems, "Comeuppance," so she only had one book with Egg in the title, but like eggs or chickens, the poetry collection came first.


What Happened on December 21, 2019

12:00 am. I start the shortest day of the year in line to board a red-eye from Tucson to Baltimore, where my parents live. We’re moving fast. I board, stuff my carry-on duffel bag in the overhead compartment and shed a few layers before settling into my aisle seat. I pull out a dogeared New Yorker and start reading an essay by Peter Schjeldahl on his life, and think about failing upwards. There’s no tvs embedded in the seat backs, instead a pocket that holds the in-flight magazine, Hemispheres. The top quarter of the magazine is visible and a line of text that summarizes some of the content within reads: “Gift Guide | Ray Romano | Chinese Fairy Tale”. I spend a little time considering whether those three entities have ever before, in the history of humanity, collided.

Baltimore is not home to me, but the place where my parents moved as they grew more and more upwardly mobile. Home to me is still the little apartment in the grubby grad student housing complex in Princeton where my dad was doing a postdoc. It’s where we first landed when we moved to the States in 1997. I went back there several years ago while driving through New Jersey, followed the familiar tree-lined paths, hoping to walk around and see the cement hallways I’d played in, the hills we’d sledded down, the run down laundry room with the smell I can conjure even now. In my imagination, our old apartment stood empty and the door was miraculously unlocked. I’d spend hours running my fingers along the walls where I’d scrawled pictures with crayons, stand in the kitchen with the counter my mom leaned against countless times, look out the window to the old oaks, the lake beyond.

I pulled into the complex and realized that they’d torn down the entire thing and replaced it with shiny new townhouses. The landscape was unrecognizable, like they’d wiped it clean and started again anew. I drove around slowly and waited for something familiar to catch my eye, a semblance of the place I grew up. Instead: neat hedgerows, SUVs in the driveways, a young family walking a dog down a cul de sac. Later, online, I read: “the eight-story apartments were built in the 1960s and “were not meeting today’s goals,” said John Ziegler, the University’s Director of Real Estate Development, during a recent tour. “So it was not so difficult a decision to take the buildings down.”” Everything old destroyed and made new again. Not so difficult a decision. I’m in graduate school now, too. The little house I live in was also built on someone else’s home. Anyways.

I assess my seat neighbors for evidence of chattiness, and am happy to find that both seem to be solo travelers like me--a middle aged Latina woman and a young white dude, both of whom immediately take out and don headphones. I take notes in my notebook. I know it’s technically a new day but it very much feels like an extension of the prior one, the latter half of which I spent explaining who I am and what I do to two separate strangers. First to a man I was on a first date with, and second to my Uber driver to the airport. These experiences have sapped me of what little desire I carry to summarize myself, to ingratiate myself with people I don’t know. It feels like a small mercy to be here among strangers, silent and anonymous.

I’m so tired already. I want to sleep as much as possible on this flight, which will only carry me as far as Chicago. Then from O’Hare I’ll go to Baltimore. My friends are texting about crying. I write back “love you guys, stay teary” and put my phone away.

I feel like this mandate to observe is keeping me from doing the things I’d normally do, maybe. If I wasn’t trying to drink in everything around me I’d be trying to sleep right now. The yawns are coming fast, and the plane’s started to vibrate in that body hum way. I feel held. The cabin lights are down so I reach up to flip on my light to write this. It is a spotlight, and of course I feel like everyone is staring at me, like this is writing as performance, as stunt. Which maybe it is.

I recall a conversation I had with a man who told me loves flying. He said he loves the experience of it, of staring out the window, like it’s something that’s rare and amazing. I think that’s lovely. I often dread flying, instinctively girding myself for the awfulness and discomfort of air travel, but then there are small moments of wonder and beauty too, as long as I look hard enough.

Hm let’s see. There’s a strong peppermint smell in the air suddenly. I wonder what the source is--maybe someone put on some peppermint lotion. Or an exploded bottle of mouthwash at the bottom of someone’s bag. We’re accelerating. I almost wrote exhilarating there. It feels good, going fast. I love the moment when gravity pushes us down as we go up, when we leave the bounds of earth. I put my notebook away and sleep for a bit.

When I wake the plane is dark and quiet. My nose and mouth feel like they’ve been stuffed full of wadded up newspaper. I get up and walk to the bathroom, passing rows and rows of limp sleeping forms as I go. It’s remarkable, this big metal tube full of unconscious people in various forms of disarray. The closest thing I’ve experienced in my adult life to being in a nursery, or an incubator. In the bathroom, I look at my wan face in the mirror. Before I left my house for the airport I took off all my date makeup, did my usual nighttime skincare routine, brushed my teeth, and took out my contacts. I put on my comfiest sweats and softest sweater. And then I went out into the world and slept in a big metal plane alongside a hundred of my fellow human beings as we hurtled through the void. What a world.

I love waking up when everyone is still sleeping. Isn’t that such a lovely feeling? Like you’ve somehow gamed the system. It’s a feeling that takes me back to childhood, of waking before everyone in the house has. Or like being the first one up at a sleepover. As opposed to waking up and realizing everyone else has been awake for a while, which is a horrible feeling.

I put on my headphones and listen to Weyes Blood’s album Titanic Rising, one of the two I’ve downloaded onto my beleaguered iPhone 6 in advance of this flight (the other was Elliott Smith’s Either/Or). Her voice builds and builds in waves in my head as we deplane and I walk into O’Hare. I wind my way around and through throngs of people. I feel myself settling into the stride I take when I’m in cities--long, purposeful, almost irritated. There’s a bagel kiosk which makes me miss actual bagels. Goddamn I miss bagels.

I find my gate and sit and think about doing some reading. I’ve brought four books with me on this trip--three for pleasure and one for research/work. I briefly consider the research/work one. But instead I pull out A Little Life, which I have in paperback form and which I really like as an object, very chunky but with thin thin pages. The boys are young and poor in New York and trying to be artists. Being in an airport makes me seek long, complicated stories of worlds set slightly apart from mine. Pleasure, I think, because there’s so little of it here.

Lots of people around me sitting at the gate are eating. I realize it’s 5:30 am here, while for me it’s 3:30. The thought of eating sacks of greasy airport breakfast food makes me want to vom. I look around for a bit. There’s a guy sitting across from me, a youngish looking dude with dark hair and a hoodie. He inexplicably has a voluminous blonde mustache at odds with his dark hair and coloring. I wonder if he’s going to visit his family in Baltimore. I wonder if he’s working a dumb job he hates here in Chicago, or maybe he’s only connecting through, from a more distant place.

The shortest day of the year is made even shorter because I’m traveling East, losing three hours in the process. But also it seems neverending--pushed from my cozy bed and into the world, the hours of sleep interrupted by flurries of activity and attention. Traveling during the holidays makes me feel blue, even when I’m headed towards people I love.

Normally during the layover I’d go to the Hudson News or whatever and get myself a snack, something pseudo-healthy like nuts slathered in dark chocolate or deep fried vegetable chips, or something texturally pleasing like mentos (the crunch, then the chew) or tangy like citrus candy or both, like watermelon sour patch gummies. But it’s the middle of the goddamn night--sunrise be damned--and so I just drink water.

We board. The United worker who checks us onto the flight looks like Chris Morocco from the Bon Appetit test kitchen. The boarding process is a bit of a clusterfuck--lots of the overhead compartments are full by the time I get to my seat in the nosebleed section. I manage to squeeze my duffel into a spot between two suitcases, but many are not so lucky. One woman gets to her seat all the way in the back of the plane and realizes there’s no space for her bag so she makes everyone back up until she can make her way back to the front of the plane. I sense my neighbor in the middle seat perk up and start to offer advice to her, get herself involved. I’m the most antisocial and self-protective version of myself right now. I immediately slip on my headphones and settle back in my seat and close my eyes, signal to everyone around me that I am one hundred percent trying to stay out of everyone’s business but my very own. Somewhere in pretending grumpily to be asleep so as to opt out of social interactions I actually do fall asleep.

I land. It’s 9:30 here, but 6:30 in Tucson where my brain is still. 8:30 in Chicago. I’ve slept four hours total. Baltimore is cold and grey. I can see my breath in the jetbridge. My dad picks me up. I try very hard to be pleasant and solicitous, instead of grouchy and uncomfortable.

We pull up to the house and my mom opens the door and my little white dog Carly comes running up to me, and she’s jumping and so excited so can barely breathe. She wants me to scratch her stomach--no pet her head--no lick my face! All at the same time. I drop my bags on the sidewalk outside my parents’ house and let her jump all over me, her tiny little curly white body flying everywhere. Finally I scoop her up as best I can and we bring everything into the house, and I say hi to my mom as Carly continues to jump on me and hyperventilates with excitement and pure joy. This goes on for another 10 minutes as my mom fixes me breakfast and pours me coffee. My sister comes downstairs and we all eat.

Other things that happen between periods of napping and slipping fitfully in and out of consciousness on this day, the latter part of which I mostly spend in repose on the couch:

  • We passively watch a documentary about sea urchins in the Pacific Northwest
  • My mom and I have a frank, hilarious, sad chat about marriage. “So what, you want to marry another writer or something?” cue uproarious laughter. “I lost myself when I got married so young.”
  • My dad takes my sister to her flute lesson, then departs to play golf
  • We have 된장찌개 and 열무 김치 and 김 for lunch
  • My sister comes home and we watch an old Korean drama starring the beautiful Hyun Bin, resplendent in an early 2000s haircut
  • I read more of A Little Life
  • My dad gets home from playing golf and we talk about getting Shake Shack for dinner, since it’s one of the things I’ve missed eating since leaving the East Coast. He keeps calling it Shack Shack, to our amusement
  • Wait for this man to text me, whilst I resolutely refuse to text him first
  • Carly jumps up onto the couch with me and curls up next to me, something she almost never does. She’s doing it because she knows I’m back for the first time in half a year and so she’s making a special allowance for me
  • Dad watches 3 Days of the Condor while my sister teaches me Tik Tok dances, we talk about working out together tomorrow
  • Change Carly’s sweater from her pink one with the hearts to the jaunty Christmas number with bells and reindeer. She loves it, and prances around as we exclaim and give her lots of praise
  • Halfheartedly edit an essay, moving some paragraphs around, quit
  • K texts me, “Quick let’s have a deep conversation about love so I can write about it for my What Happened on the 21st Essay,” we lament the everydayness of our day, which is of course the point of this exercise. 
  • I get an alarming email, dissect it with friends. 

And then the long short day is over, it’s dark, I’m disoriented, and off to bed. I’ve written so much. The more I pay attention the more narratives present themselves to me. I could zoom in forever. I’m reminded of that article about people getting lost in Joshua Tree, how the park seems to be bound by geographical limits like every other park, but is so quickly changing, the landscape so varied, that there are literally countless places a lost person could be. When examined carefully, a small shadow in a rock reveals itself to be a huge cave which leads to a tunnel which leads to a different trail, etc. I could keep looking closer forever, clambering into countless caves, but I’ll stop here.

Hea-Ream Lee's writing has appeared in Popula, Hobart, the Hairpin, and others. She has received a fellowship from the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers' Conference and is working towards an MFA at the University of Arizona, where she has edited fiction for Sonora Review.


Eye’m Alone Here

     Like most Saturdays since beginning my early twenties, I woke up slightly hungover. I rolled over, eyes closed, pajamas on and felt my  phone began to buzz for the alarm under my pillow. Without opening my eyes, I pressed the screen in the exact needed pattern. This is the shape of my phone. These are memorized hand movements. This is a normal Saturday morning.
     It was a normal Saturday morning until I was unable to open my eyes. At first I blamed exhaustion, knowing that my tired eyes refused to open even for the most urgent of moments. Sometimes this happens. But my right eye wouldn’t open. I pulled my eyelids apart and revealed fuzzy vision.
     I panicked, ran out of my bed and into the shower down the hall. I didn’t take off my clothes and instead ran the hot water over my face, soaking my shorts. I rubbed my eyes. Maybe I’d sealed the eye shut with last night’s mascara. Maybe this was the end and I’d become a cyclops. But also, maybe I was still drunk.
     Only a few minutes later in the shower did I realize that my eyelids were swollen and as some strange side effect, my vision blurry.  I wrapped myself in a towel, sat down on the toilet seat and did the only thing that seemed reasonable to people my age who have no one to turn to. I Googled it:
Shut eye. Swollen eye. Right eye pain. Will I lose my eye? Symptoms of eye cancer. Symptoms related to swollen eye. What is a stye? How do I know I have a stye? Very bad pain in eye. Can’t open eye. How do you lose an eye?
The internet told me I needed to see a doctor - it couldn’t cure me, however it did offer me the ability to book an appointment at the urgent care a few blocks away. Lucky me the only appointment was hours from now. I stood up from the toilet and vommited.
     In the urgent care, I felt very alone. I still wasn’t used to going to the doctor’s by myself and wished I’d had someone there with me. Even on the walk over, I’d felt as if a ghost walked with me and I yearned to have it there. The waiting room chair was broken, and next to me I placed my backpack to feel the weight of something.
     When I was really little, my mom was a nurse so she had great health insurance. My sister and I often joke that the best thing someone can do for their kids is get a job where you can get the best health service options. My body was always full of problems with it’s various allergies and easy inclinations for  getting sick. I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms with my mom next to me. Even if we sat in silence, a book in my hand, at least I wasn’t alone. In college when I lived away from home, my ex-boyfriends often accompanied me and then after them my best friend until she moved away.
     For how urgent and on time I was for my appointment, it took an hour of fiddling with my phone and watching Planet Earth playing on the corner television waiting to have some woman call my name out from a swing door that led to a hallway with another set of desks and a scale.
     We played out the usual game of taking my vitals, blood pressure is still a little too high just like all my doctor’s appointments, and then waiting on the exam table on a crinkly sheet of paper that made me just a little concious of my body’s movements.
     Another half hour, my eye now scrunched I resisted from pressing on it to feel better. The door opened with a creaking sound. In stepped a man who spoke so fast I almost missed it.
     The short doctor confirmed that I would be okay, and then proceeded to test my eye. He flashed a light in the eye, turned off the lights in the room and turned them back on, placed glowing dye in my eye and laid me under a UV light, conducted an eye exam and did everything but take my eye out and put it under a microscrope.
     The doctor prescribed me four different eye drops that I couldn’t pronounce. I had blepharitis - most likely a reaction to my sometimes three day mascara and eyeliner look. Just because makeup can last more than twenty-four hours doesn’t mean it should stay on for more than a day.
     Before the doctor let me go, he assured that I would get better and then began to pray. He gestured towards the big man in the sky, told me he’d pray for me, and left the room. Thrown off at the mix of medicine and religion, I slowly moved off of the table, the exam paper crinkling under me. As I walked back to the waiting room where no one was waiting for me, a few flyers taped to the door and asked that patients leave reviews online.

Margarita Cruz is currently pursuing her MFA at Northern Arizona University. Her works have appeared in Chapter House Journal, Miracle Monocle, and the Susquehanna Review. 


What Happened on December 21

I push the alarm I set for 7:45 to 8, then wake up with a jolt at 8:20. No alarm. I pushed it to 9 by mistake. The thought of many people paying attention to their Saturday leisure makes going to work feel deeply unappealing. I check in for tomorrow’s flight to San Francisco, make a cup of peppermint tea, read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and eat the last of the ginger cake for breakfast. I will shower tonight. But reading feels fraught in the wake of JK Rowling’s latest transphobic missives, and I close the book earlier than I might normally. At least this means I am on time.
     It is cold and sunny—a beautiful day, really—but I am still tired and still unenthusiastic. Most things that could go wrong at the box office did last night, and after finishing work close to 10, I will be working close to ten hours today. But paying attention has its uses. For the first time in months, I look up at the ARGMORE plaque above the defunct watch repair shop at the corner of Argyle and Kenmore. I’ve always wondered whether it exists to name the intersection, the building or both. Winthrop is the next street, and I wonder what portmanteau could go above the jewelry store on the corner; Argthrop sounds like something an orc would say, and Winyle reminds of mopping floors. I started making my own list of brilliant things after watching Every Brilliant Thing last week; maybe I should add ARGMORE to it. Or portmanteaus. As I reach the station, I am reminded of number 23: sunshine on red brick.
     A man on the train is wearing a Christmas suit—blue, patterned with white reindeer, snowflakes and Christmas trees, with red lines marching across it. He is drinking from a bright pink cup patterned with snowflakes. This amount of Christmas spirit is a little unsettling. Or perhaps I am simply unprepared for the fact that Christmas is four days away.
     I will have to count the cash and go to the bank for change as soon as I open up the box office. I’m actually looking forward to the task. C once told me it’s important to her to stay in touch with the patrons, because it reminds her that, meetings and numbers and technology aside, we are in the business of helping people to see plays. Touching the things we exchange reminds me that each interaction can be as simple as giving and receiving.

The woman at the bank inquires about my holiday plans. I am glad to be able to wish her a good holiday. And to see the sun for the last time on the walk back to work. My office has no windows.
     I split the change between the three cash envelopes and then check my email. The man who asked for a refund ten minutes into the show last night, but still wanted to watch the rest of it, has not sent a nasty email to the customer service inbox about the fact that I refused. This lifts my spirits further. When J comes in, he volunteers to try and fix the computer at the kiosk (yet another thing that malfunctioned last night), and I am grateful. Cables and networks are not my forte, and I’m happier prepping for the matinees. R wants to stay downstairs at the bigger box office, so I end up working the upstairs show. The first patron to pick up tickets says her parents can’t make it and wants a refund. She bought her tickets through a third-party vendor and, as I try to explain that she will have to contact them for a refund because she paid them, not us, she becomes indignant and tells me she’s been a subscriber for thirty years. This makes no difference to the fact that she did not pay us for the tickets she wants refunded, but I volunteer to call the third-party vendor for her because I don’t have the energy to argue. J makes the call so I can keep handing out tickets, and, ten minutes later, I go into the lobby to tell her she’ll get her refund. She reaches for my hand in gratitude.
     H leaves to catch an Amtrak home after the matinees have started. At four o’clock, I finally make myself the cup of tea I was going to five hours ago. I have done all the things on my list except the ones which require some focused time and space. Hard to come by that on a five-show day. But I can slowly start to wind down now, as J is managing the evening shows and refuses my offers of assistance in prep work. I work the upstairs show again, sell several tickets to excited young people and enjoy chatting with P and L. It feels like the old days, before I became responsible for things that go wrong.
     When I leave at 7:45, I can’t help but feel a school’s-out jolt of adrenalin. Vacation has begun. I start it by eating shawarma and watching the Try Guys make ice cream without a recipe. A gold star winks at me from the left of my laptop, a gift from the box office holiday party. It reminds me that, though I need this vacation, I will enjoy going back to work on the 26th.

Rukmini Girish is a writer and performer from Chennai, India. She holds an MFA in nonfiction from Columbia College Chicago and was named a Luminarts Creative Writing Fellow for 2018.

Check back tomorrow to read more about What Happened on December 21, 2019. —Ander and Will

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