Yellow cabs whizzed by as I stepped onto Sixth Avenue for lunch. Maybe Chinese from the corner would be tasty, if the line was short. I'd been working on a huge dub job for HPO, one of our biggest clients, as well as uploading dozens of digital Nissan ads. Therefore, lunch needed to be easy and quick.
Shrimp fried rice in hand, I was feeling faint. Walking back, the grey concrete blurred and the pedestrians on the street became a swarm of flies buzzing ceaselessly. As I returned to CRB Productions, my heart was in a vice grip. Staggering to the revolving door, my co-worker Bobby Sereno almost bumped right into me.
Hey Indi, the last 50 dubs are in decks numbered—Hey are you alright? You look flushed.
Um no. I think I should grab a cab to the emergency room. My chest feels tight and I'm struggling to breathe.
Bobby parted the sea of swarming insects and flagged down a taxi screaming, Here, jump in!
He grabbed my plastic bag of fragrant food. Dazed, I silently slunk into the cab.
Thursday 7:02 am
Back home, after a restless night in that remote-controlled bed, I needed to check my email and roll out. But instead of logging into AOL, I eyed the folder labeled “if all else fails.” I briefly chuckled, but the folder’s contents were anything but funny.
Secretly, I wanted to rob the liquor store across the street from Allie’s, the club my homegirls and I spent weekends scooting around in. My bestie, Shelia, occasionally bartended there and I waited tables part-time. Alternative black hippie types like us loved this house-music-haven. We both had real jobs (and aspirations) but Bob’s neon green sign was always inviting.
After 9/11 business slowed down to a trickle city-wide. Allie’s was no different. The first subway stop into Brooklyn, it used to be filled with carefree daily drinkers. In 2006, my side job closed some weekdays to save on electric bills. Our bosses were ordering less and less Johnnie Walker Blue, but Bob’s stayed packed. Maybe it was all the vagrants buying Lotto tickets. Everyone knew that Mr. Ming, the owner, kept tens of thousands in that tiny back vault.
As the folder glared at me, something snapped. I glanced at the time--7:15am. If I showered and hit the subway quick, I could be in the control room by 8:30. I shut down my desktop and grabbed a towel.
A light rain slicked the streets as I exited the A train. When I arrived at work, Magda, the front desk girl who loved the salsa blaring on her radio more than she did the office phones said, Mister Charlie said call when ju get in.
Great, thanks Magda. He say why?
She shook her long chestnut tresses no while bobbing to La India.
At my cubicle, Charlie was there.
Oh good. You’re in. Listen Indi, you’ve seemed a bit off for a while. I’m thinking you should take a little time off. Maybe a week? Just to get your head together-
He didn’t stop for a response.
We can’t pay you for the time off, but maybe when you return we can schedule you some doubles to make up, ok? The guys just want you in tip-top condition if you’re gonna be in the studio with them.
I sensed this wasn’t a conversation. Someone in the studio probably blabbed about my panic attacks and ER visit. My head was swimming. My stomach flip-flopped.
Holding back tears I said, sure I’ll start tomorrow with the time off.
I sunk into my charcoal chair and visualized the vanilla folder at home dazzling like a shiny new penny.
Poet and journalist celeste doaks is the author of Cornrows and Cornfields, (Wrecking Ball Press, UK). Cornrows was listed as one of the “Ten Best Books of 2015” by Beltway Quarterly Poetry. Doaks garnered a 2015 Pushcart Prize nomination; her most recent poetry project is as editor of Not Without Us, forthcoming from Mason Jar Press in February 2017. Doaks received her MFA from North Carolina State University and teaches creative writing at Morgan State University. You can find her on Twitter @thedoaksgirl
Celeste urges you to check out Bailey House, an organization that helps transform the lives of people with, or at risk of, HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses by providing housing, health services and community support. Visit baileyhouse.org.