Preston by Sam Sutlive
Inattentive and preoccupied with repeatedly rubbing her index finger on her neck she sat automatically curling her hand away every few minutes. Passiveness came with the occasion. She shifted yet again thinking that her chair really was uncomfortable. The hard wood seat commanded a person to sit up straight but gave (one) an urge to slide down into a slouch. Her face had been serene for the whole event and yet she continued to rub her neck softly and then harder as if the only way of expressing her exasperation was in the pressure pulsing through her hand.
That was four hours ago. She was now trying to get some rest on the couch in what used to be the dining room. They had taken the past year to convert the dining room into a second living room. Preston wanted sleep to come but her eyes would not stay closed. They felt heavy, it had been worse that morning. A dull pounding below the eyes. It usually was worse in the morning after the long restless nights.
Preston had actually slept well the night before. No nightmares, no tossing and turning. Her sister, Jasmine the rocker, from her extended family next door called it REM. That just made Preston think of the band, R.E.M. Preston had actually seen them play a few times. She remembered one of their performances was in April or may of 85 at the Meredith College Amphitheater in Raleigh. It was a warm day and by the end of the performance the musicians were worn out. The singer, Michal Stipe had been walking around in a little circle on the stage and kept talking to the drummer in between lyrics. Preston had always wandered what went through musician’s heads when they were performing but never had the nerve to go up to one and ask.
Preston’s thoughts lingered on the performance as she finished getting dressed and started the coffee. She enjoyed walking barefoot in the mornings before she started the day. She always put her scarf, hat, and shoes on after she made the coffee. She used one brand of coffee called 1000 faces. She liked it because it reminder her of the book The Boy of a Thousand Faces by Brian Selznick. Every morning Preston self-consciously counted the coffee beans she put into the grinder. She always had a row of three small spoons for mixing condiments.
She never talked about her interest in organizing her nick knacks, magazines, and coffee mugs in her house because she presumed everyone did the same. It sounded weird to Preston the few times she tried imagining talking to someone about organizing everything into categories. (But that was how it was for her). Preston hung her cooking pots, baking pans, and double burner grills on their own row of hooks. She made a point of never hanging a cooking pot or pan in the wrong place. (Even though Jasmine mixed all her pots and pans on her kitchen wall Preston still thought that no one would be interested in actually talking about organizing kitchen equipment and household items.) Preston liked cleaning the house, it was a methodical task for her. She would clean the counters or wash the stovetop while she was getting ready for the day. Preston especially liked cleaning the counter. She had two toaster ovens, a set of knives, and a steam table pan she used as a compost container. Preston had gotten a Cuisinart toaster oven that was stainless steel, durable, and easy to clean. It had small numbers next to the dials and no timer but had always worked great. Now that one of the burner rods was failing Preston had bought a Waring toaster oven, which had a timer and was easy to use. The counter collected a lot of crumbs around the toaster ovens, which gave Preston something to always clean. Preston knew that her methodical task of cleaning was an intense internal habit that had gone beyond “just being neat”. It was automatic and it happened every day. In the evening she would slowly transition into a trance, where she would clean for three or four hours. A zone between being supper neat and feeling forced by a voice to clean up. Forced by the voice to clean up again and again. The tapping voice, she called it.
Preston felt the tapping in her head every time she left any thing in the house disorganized or messy. The last time she tried to leave the magazines and newspapers haphazardly laying around she almost passed out from the constant pinching feeling she felt, (which came from the tapping voice). It would only leave her alone after she pestered over the house, organizing and reorganizing and double-checking the different magazine stacks on the coffee table and the dressers. Moving the mugs around by size and then by color and then finding all the ones with cracks and organizing them into their own places on the shelf. When she felt like everything was perfectly arranged and everything looked like it would sit in its place without falling over Preston would go to the wall of the red and white squares. The fixation with the wall of squares was usually in the morning but she still stared at it for a few hours in the afternoon at a couple of times a week.
Originally written in Word on Dec. 15, 17, and the 27th, 2013 Reviewed on February 27, 2015.