The crazy woman was out in the street again last night, ranting and demanding cigarettes.
“They took my stuff! Why do they have to come into your house and take your stuff?!?”
It was the warm muggy days at the tail end of summer, and sleep was impossible without the breeze that also carried her voice into my defenseless ears.
“Coming over here, my house, no reason for it.”
There was a pause. Then she bellowed “Albany, New York!”
Well, that was different.
“Nobody listens anyhow, even — Austin, Texas!”
A moment of blessed silence dripped by, before “Santa Fe, New Mexico!”
I listened as she ticked them off:
I waited for her to make a mistake. It was one of the drawbacks of being a teacher; you tended to take your job home with you. She worked her way through all fifty, then moved further afield:
“London, England! I told them, leave me alone!”
A window closed somewhere, and an air conditioner went on.
Finally I abandoned sleep and went outside to smoke a cigarette.
Her voice took on a veneer of sanity.
“Excuse me, can I bum a cigarette?”
“No,” I said, flicking a match and breathing deep.
“ — you” she said, and I’ll not repeat it in polite company.
She wandered further down the block.
Eventually she exhausted my knowledge with “Kinshasa, Zaire!”
I followed her down the block, and she turned to me.
“Can I buy one off you?”
“No,” tossing the butt into the street. Then, “What are you doing?”
“They took my stuff!”
“Geography.” She hiccupped. “Beijing, People’s Republic of China!”
I should have known better.
“Geography took your stuff?”
“It’s in my head! Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, Sri Lanka!”
“That’s a good one. Got the accent just right.”
“Please, just one cigarette.”
I was curious enough to keep playing. “Sure.”
She lit and inhaled with ravenous drags. It was a quarter gone before she spoke, in a calmer voice. “Thanks. Smoking helps keep them away.”
“What, the voices?”
“Don’t look at me like I’m stupid,” she said between puffs. “The capitals. They’re all in here.” She tapped her head. “And they want to come out.” She finished her cigarette and ground it under her heel. “Nothing but maps, now. I didn’t even know these places. Which ones were true. Where I was. But they told me.” She coughed as she laughed. “Oh God, they told me. Almost through now…”
Her eyes widened. “Oh no. No, no. It’s starting again!”
Her mouth twisted with hate. “Why can’t they leave me alo – Los Angeles, California!”
“Hey,” I said. “You got that one wrong.”
She turned to look at me, and her eyes were a stranger’s. “No I didn’t.”
Despite the heat, I suddenly felt cold. I turned and began walking home; she trailed along behind me, begging for another cigarette. I ran inside, slammed the door and rushed into my office.
I opened the atlas, turned to California, and slid my finger along the coastline, until I found a star over the City of Angels. “No, no, no…” I muttered, my hands shaking. “It’s Sacramento. It’s always been Sacramento.” I pulled out a map from the bookcase. Triple-A, at least, agreed with me. I looked at the atlas again, and the star was back in the Central Valley, on the edge of the delta. Maybe I had just misread it…
I heard her outside: “Miami, Florida!”
I ran back outside, shouting, “No, you’re wrong! It’s Tallahasee — ” but she was nowhere to be found. A murmur filled my head, a sussurating whisper like dried leaves. Names, names, names… some were right; others…
“It’s Tallahasee,” I said to no one. “Tallahasee, Florida!”
Don Raymond lives in the tiny hamlet of Alturas, CA, where he works as an accountant at the local casino, which is not a career path his counselors had ever mentioned to him. He spends his free time mediating the Machiavellian feline politics of his household. You can read more of his work at Bourbon Penn, The Molotov Cocktail, and Architrave Press. He also once didn’t make a left turn at Albuquerque.
This story is sponsored by
Nine Romantic Stories — Carla Sarett’s “well-crafted” and “witty” stories offer romance deconstructed, tinged with metaphysics and Hollywood-style charm. EDF Readers: use coupon BB76W for .99 price.