Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from May, 2020.
This is the fifth and final entry in Cottonwood Seeds en Route. It is a continuation of Part IV: Isabella Dudosa.
I. Dulciloquent, adj. It’s not only because old books are cheaper— though that certainly helps. The language flows like rivers with centuries-old glacial water— crisp, refreshing. The pages age, change shape and tone like a person’s face and voice. They’re the only ancestors I have— roots for the rootless. II. Arte Povera, n. I know it doesn’t seem like much, Elinor, but our home has all we need. I realize you may find the stacks of books annoying, but I haven’t found a good bookshelf at Goodwill yet. So, instead our apartment has some free-range novels— no oppressive, corporate cages here. You, as a wildflower, can probably appreciate that. I know I could get something cheap at work, but it’s all soulless squares— an erasure of home and culture. We’ll MacGyver something, Elinor. III. Microfinance, n. After my shift, I usually drive home, cuddle with Falstaff as I eat dinner and watch Dragon Ball Super. Lately, every commercial break is an ad from Target thanking me for my service, lauding themselves for donating masks to hospitals. They say they care about me. Not enough to increase hazard pay. Not enough to ensure safer working conditions. Not enough to provide guaranteed COVID-19 leave. Not enough to cut a CEO’s salary to cover the loss of hours of their employees. IV. Padawan, n. You called my name from the backyard to show me the tomatoes you were growing. You held this bulb in your hand that was as black as your hair, and I didn’t believe you. You held it up to me, told me to bite it. “They’re delicious, honey. Try it.” I squirmed as I held it, imagined black ooze gushing from phantom bite marks. I closed my eyes. My trembling hand raised it to my mouth, and I bit it like a wolf on deer meat. I smiled as seeds and juice dripped down my chin. Delicious— just as you said. V. Sinistrorse, adj. feels like no matter what i do i always wind up back here. the same patterns recurring perpetually. i still water your tomatoes when I think of you, so they’ll be ripe if you come home. VI. Mural, adj. I wake up surrounded by four walls covered in specks of memories lingering in the paint. I drive to work enclosed in four walls made of glass so I can see the world, but not touch it. I work in a store with four walls full of food and clothes, enough to nourish multiple impoverished villages. I don’t know what to do when these four walls inch inward like a long exhale— air seeping through a seam on a spaceship. VII. Femina, n. When I learned my grade couldn’t go down over the closure, I stopped turning in anything. Most days, I have work— had to pick up extra shifts cleaning to keep my hours up. Today, I have off; the sun’s out. I watch the leaves on the birch across the complex wave in the breeze. Lying on the couch, draped over the edge, I can’t bring myself to move. VIII. Simony, n. I didn’t trust you when your will said you wanted to be cremated. It’s hard to separate your mom from the body she inhabited. We did it, though— well, you know that, since you’re sitting on the side table by the window overlooking your tomatoes. I hated that guy at the funeral home who kept trying to upsell us on gaudy urns covered in emerald crosses fully aware we couldn’t afford them. I also hated that pastor who did your service. I’m sorry; he did a fine job. He just kept going about praying and donating to save all of our souls. IX. Time-Ridden, adj. “Hey Nadine! How are you and Elinor?” “Oh, we’re great! Elinor’s started teething, so I gotta massage her dirt sometimes after I water her. How about you and Lupine?” “We’re good here too. Lupe started dancing to They Might Be Giants yesterday, and she’s so good, I’m thinking about enrolling her in Auburn Dance Academy.” “Yesss! She would out-dance all of them! I’d enroll Elinor too, but I don’t know if Cory would get us there.” She pauses. “What do you mean?” “Well, when I was leaving for work, they screamed like Goku going Super Saiyan when I turned the ignition—“ “They?” “Cars don’t have genders; keep up. Anyway, after achieving their new form, I was able to drive to work. They had to power up again to get me home, but it took less time that time, so I think they’re getting stronger.” “Hasn’t Cory been struggling for a while now?” “Yeah, sure, but they’re on the up-and-up. Got ‘em a new battery just before the closure.” “And it— they’re already struggling to start again?” “It only happens sometimes. Cory’s doing fine.” “Have you thought about maybe replacing Cory? It’s kinda unsafe to keep driving them.” I pause. “I can’t get rid of Cory, Isabella. I’m not going to lose them.” “Isn’t your safety important enough to warrant a consideration, at least?” “I’m perfectly safe.” “But someti—“ “It was hers! Okay?! I can’t.” X. Monody, n. They asked me to speak at your memorial, but I couldn’t find the words. There are no words for the gaping tear your death made, the shrapnel haphazardly embedded in my limbs. When someone dies suddenly, people say they wish they had known it was coming; they’re wrong. Knowing, watching you wither, hoping for another day made the period at the end of your sentence much worse. Your medical bills were so much, we had to sell the house, leave the garden you spent years curating. Before we moved into this apartment, I repotted your black tomatoes, so they could live on our porch. I still water your tomatoes, drive your car, read your books, because it makes me feel like you’re still here or you’ll soon come back from wherever you’ve gone. XI. Adespota, n. Do you ever think about who makes the wind blow? Why they want to rattle the dogwood’s branches so much? Or, maybe: who spends the hours setting up endcaps to show off brand-name labels at just the right angle when you walk through a store? What about the people— long shadows now— who cleared the forest, flattened the hills, paved and painted the roads you drive on as you lament the hours you’ll spend sanitizing the pharmacy? XII. Begrudgery, n. I know it’s bad, but on Sunday, when Instagram was full of people with their living moms, captions saying they looked forward to seeing them again after quarantine, I wanted to scream. XIII. Awfulize, v. it’s been two years, nadine. you keep dragging her around with you in that old car. you know the risks. don’t you remember that time it stalled in the middle of the intersection on meridian in front of fred meyer? you don’t want to end up in a bodybag. you’ve stalled— life on pause. each day like the one before. drag yourself out of bed. drag your feet at work. are you even alive? is there a will that lingers in your heart? is there a pulse there? steps echoing down a long hallway? or, have you stopped walking? standing in place staring at one picture in the gallery though hundreds await you. you can see the edges of their frames in your periphery. move your foot. move your foot. why can’t you take step? XIV. Peck’s Bad Boy, n. (and adj.) “Ms. Sauer, can I see you for a minute before the end of your break?” Charles insists on referring to minor employees in such formality for reasons lost on me. He butchers Suri’s last name every time. I leave the disinfectant and rag on the table where I took my break reading For Whom the Bell Tolls. I place the book in my locker on the way to Charles’s office. His office is small, loose papers scattered across his desk. “Thank you for coming to see me, Ms. Sauer. I greatly appreciate your work here.” Sounds like one of those commercials. “It’s really great that you volunteered to help us keep up with sanitizing the store. Are you sure you’re not overworking yourself?” “Yeah. I’m sure.” Not where I thought this was going. “Why?” “We’ve just gotten some recent survey results saying some employees have had negative interactions with customers and morale seemed down—“ “So you’re asking this to everyone?” “Not exactly, no. The results correspond with times you were here, departments you were assigned to. We just need to make sure customers are having a positive experience from the moment they enter our store to the moment they leave.” “But I’m just wiping down the floors, shelves, and counters. I’m not really interacting with anyone.” “It’s a— vibe thing. “Maybe you could try smiling more.” Ugh. “I’m wearing a mask. They can’t see whether I’m smiling or not.” “It’s about the vibe you give the customer— your aura. Does that make sense, Ms. Sauer?” I sigh. “Yes, sir. I’ll smize all day.” XV. Quint, n. There’s no way I could have gotten this far without my friends. I know I’m not great to be around when I get lost in the fog. So, I bought five books after my shift to thank them (and show them I know modern books). First, I grab Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan for Crys, because I thought she’d appreciate the splintered narrative structure and the narration of gay ghosts. Second, I buy The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson for Suri, because it’s a graphic novel (which they love) by the showrunner of She-Ra (which she loves) about figuring out who she is. Third, I put The Martian by Andy Weir in my basket for Isabella, because it’s a story on her favorite planet which tackles its science and psychology thoroughly. Fourth, I get I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou for Violet, because she finds metaphors everywhere and she helped me appreciate poetry, especially poems by Angelou. Last, after hesitating at the end of the aisle, The Divine Comedy by Dante ends up in my basket for me. My mom had always said she meant to read it, the way everyone says they mean to watch The Sopranos, but Goodwill never had a legible version. I bag them individually (I hope Isabelle, Crys, and the planet forgive me), leave them on their porches on my way home. XVI. Simkin, n. In the back of the pantry is a bottle, half full, older than me. A faded label, faint swirly writing. Its cork sneaking a glimpse of the kitchen when the door opens. My dad takes it out sometimes to look at it— never drink nor open— late at night, when he gets home from Applebee’s covered in dishwasher stains. Lately, after my late sanitation shifts, I’ve seen the white of Seth Meyer’s attic reflect off the curve of the bottle and the streams on his cheeks. XVII. Bukateria, n. Near the end, days before the doctors shrugged and we lost the house, the realization came that things were worse than I thought. I had walked out of the hospital after spending the night in your room. We spent that night splitting the penne you liked from Applebee’s. Dad brought it for you after his shift, as he did every night he worked. As you fell asleep, I read a chapter from Sense & Sensibility to you, because it was your favorite. But, when I left the hospital that morning, I walked up to the coffee stand on the edge of the parking lot before getting a ride to school from Crys’s mom. The realization came when Kelsey, the barista, said, “Morning, Nads!” I had been to this coffee stand outside the hospital so much, not only was I on a first-name basis with the barista, I had earned a nickname. You had been in the hospital so long, it felt normal, routine— no end in sight. XVIII. Pickthank, n. and adj. Calling it “hero pay” is not enough to justify poor working conditions. XIX. Simplex Munditiis, adj. and n. On my way to work, I drove by TJ Maxx, its planter covered with cottonwood seeds, scattered like melting snow. Some cottonwoods, when felled, don’t make good nurse logs, lacking the width and girth to last long— fell too early, too soon, too young. They try their best— stretched like shadows at dusk, spread thin to help whoever is still sitting there longing for shade. XX. Antelucan, adj. it happens a lot— i get home late, my clothes covered in patches of lemony disinfectant. i eat some leftovers of what dad brought home from work that night or the one before while watching an anime i don’t need to think hard about. i shower then read before falling asleep at some witching hour or other. then terror; never the same, but never that different. sometimes, you’re swallowed by a void pulsing from shadows in your hospital room’s corners, slowly capturing finer details until everything becomes two-dimensional, matte like a cartoon— outlines bolden until all is black, all is void. sometimes, you and i are in cory driving to the discount movie theater in the mall when we get t-boned in the parking lot, shards of glass falling like hard rain in a thunderstorm— sounds like one too— sticking out of your skin like darts in the dartboards movies use when they want to establish conflict or character. sometimes, you’re in a pit of quicksand, waist deep, and I’m standing on the edge reaching on my tiptoes toward you, and you keep saying “no, don’t. it’s okay,” and I argue with you as you slip deeper and deeper, the thixotropic sand climbing over your blouse, your shoulders, devouring your hair, your neck. your eyes wide, cracks in the dam evident, before becoming dark, empty. i startle awake at the end as the night sky’s blue-black begins its transition to orange peel. i watch the line march across the sky out my window until my alarm tells me it’s time to get up. XXI. Angrez, n. and adj. This morning, Falstaff digs his claws into my thigh when I ignore my alarm. This afternoon, rain pounds on Cory’s windshield when I drive to work. When KZOK plays “Blackbird,” I see my mom swaying and humming in her garden. When I pull into a parking spot, I count between inhales and exhales in my hands. XXII. Muscose, adj. I latch onto you to get as much as I can before you’re completely gone. Always have. I worry in hindsight that maybe I drained you of energy you needed. I’ve been told that’s not true, none of it is my fault. You can never know how immense the impact of both your presence and your absence can be. I carry you now like you carried me then. XXIII. Oblique, adj., n., and adv. “Hey, are you alright?” “Yeah, I’m fine,” I say as I get in Crys’s car. She squints. “Then why did you call me at midnight to ask for a ride home?” “Well, Cory was tired from flirting with all the mall cars— you know how they are— so they kinda fell asleep, and they’re so cute when they’re sleeping, I just let them be.” Crys rolls her fingers along the rim of her steering wheel. “Cory didn’t start again?” “Yeah. I tried a couple times to get ‘em up, because sleeping at home is def safer than sleeping in a parking lot— true for both cars and humans— but they shut me out after the third time.” “Shut you out?” “The anti-theft system kicked in. It happens sometimes. It’s not a big deal.” “Nadine, I think it is a big deal. Cory’s been falling apart for a while, and—“ “I just put in—“ “— a new battery in March that’s not solving the whole not-starting thing. Are you sure you shouldn’t look at getting a newer car?” “I have to hear this from you too? Isabella already lectured me about this.” “Is that why you called me? Because she would lecture you again?” I open my mouth; no words come out. “It’s alright,” she sighs, places her hand on top of mine. “I know Cory is important to you.” I look at Cory sleeping in the spot beyond Crys’s left headlight. I shake my head. “It was her car, Crys.” “I know,” she nods. “And it must be hard with her anniversary coming up, right?” “Yeah.” I clear my throat. “It’s not like we can afford another car anyway.” “You could always trade Cory in to pay for it.” My cheeks burn. “Would you have traded your sister in when she was sick?” The engine’s hum fills the silence. “I know you’re hurting, but that was a truly awful thing to say.” She shifts the car into drive. XXIV. Plutodemocracy, n. Puyallup changes when you get a few blocks off Meridian, especially at night when strip malls become neighborhoods, street lights become sparse. I stare at trees consumed by shadows as Crys drives, silent, chewing the inside of her lip, angry tears welling up in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Crys. There’s so much going on, and it just kinda… I took it out on you. I’m sorry.” Her eyes don’t leave the road. “I know I upset you. You came to help me and I was a dick… I’m scared, Crys. I— The anniversary of her death is coming up, so I’m seeing her everywhere. Cory is dying, and I need them. They connect me to her and allow me to get to school and work, which we need to pay off all those stupid bills... “And work is a constant reminder of how close death is. My job is literally going aisle to aisle disinfecting everything to eliminate the threat of a deadly virus, and my only protection is this old shirt I fashioned into a mask.” My throat feels like my knuckles after washing my hands a tenth time in one day. “I know you’re going through a lot. I don’t hate you. I’m still mad though. You can’t just walk away from the thing you said.” “I know.” There’s a long silence as she turns into my apartment complex. She parks in the middle of the lot outside my building. “Your mom is not her stuff. Her soul is not in them, and she still lives in your memories.” “I think that’s easier to believe when you have a lot of stuff and the money to get more stuff when you need it.” She sighs, nods. “I know she’s in my memories. Sometimes, it even feels like she’s my shadow. And I worry about losing even a millimeter of her.” “I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry. I appreciate you and your friendship so much.” “I appreciate you too, you dick.” She chuckles as she shoves my shoulder. “Now go to bed. It’s past your bedtime.” “Thanks for the ride,” I say as I close the car door. I wave as I walk up the stairs to our door. XXV. Hendecad, n. We never ate at restaurants much, but on the last day of the school year, my mom would take a half day at her office, pick me up from school to take me to the Original Pancake House for lunch. She died on a Saturday— the 26th of May— Memorial Day weekend. 9th grade, my last year at Ferucci. Neither my dad or I were capable to being around other people for months. I don’t remember the last month of that year, but I do remember the bus ride on the last day to an empty apartment— walls of unpacked cardboard boxes. Last year, it still didn’t feel right. I drove myself home in silence. They may not be open this year— doesn’t look like the closure will open up by then— but I should get something from there to commemorate surviving my junior year while working full-time amid a pandemic. She would want me to. XXVI. Simili-, comb. form Me crouching on the patio, humming a Phoebe Bridgers song as I water two pots of struggling tomatoes is not the same as you walking by planters in the backyard humming the Beatles as you hose lush beds of vegetables I wasn’t able to save. XXVII. Alkahest, n. I wake up Tuesday morning, the 26th, to a bright sun outside my window— no dreams nor dew drops— and a text from Isabella about Skyping. I sit up in my bed, start my laptop while taking a drink of water from an old pickle jar on my nightstand. “Nadine! Lupe said her first word! Look!” She holds up Lupe’s pot, tiny purple highlights on her tips. “Did you hear her? She said, ‘shhh!’ I think she’s going to be a librarian!” “Oh my god! Yesss!” I reach over, pick up Elinor. “Look at your sister! Aren’t you so proud?” Elinor nods. “That’s not all,” Isabella adds. “Hold on.” She looks down, starts typing. I set Elinor down, look outside, see white fluff float between the trees. I hear several bloops from my computer, turn to see four faces smiling, three hands waving. All of their voices meld together as they say hello. “We didn’t want you to be alone today,” Crys says. “And—“ “And,” Violet cuts in, “I actually have internet now! Did you know there’s a deadly virus spreading all over the world? Google told me. You’re welcome.” “Dude,” Suri chuckles, “don’t even get me started. I’ve had to explain it to Yusef and Amina like every day.” “Ugh Same!” Isabella yells. “It’s like Alejandro has amnesia, I swear!” It’s the first time I’ve seen all of them at the same time since lunch on the last day before the closure. XXVIII. Vehemence, n. “Anyway,” Crys emphasizes each syllable to get our attention, “we wanted to show you we’re here for you. We know how important the anniversary of your mom dying is, and we want to support you.” They all nod. So many half-sentences stuck in my throat. “Your mom was the best,” Isabella says. “Remember my quinces? She volunteered to bring salsa for the snack table using tomatoes from her garden, and she placed both bowls in the center of the table with labels she made herself. “And she made a point to fake-revise the mild salsa label to make it say ‘White Salsa!’ I was dying!” My computer erupts with laughter. Crys wipes a tear from her eye, a hand on her heart. “Oh my gosh, my mom’s face when she saw it!” She inhales, exhales through her nose, goes wide-eyed, juts her chin out. “That was the face!” Isabella yells, laughing into her hands. “She purposely sat us at our table so she could see people’s reactions to it,” I reminisce, see her snickering into her napkin. “She was so proud.” “I wish I could have met her,” Violet says. “She sounds like a great mom.” “Me too,” Suri agrees. “If only I could have gone to Ferucci too.” I often forget they went to Glacier View. It feels like they’ve always been in my life. “Yeah,” I say. “She would have loved you nerds.” XXIX. Sidereal, adj. It’s a small action, but it reverberates. Before the call, I felt cold, like I was laying in a puddle during a storm. After the call, though, which bounced from stories about my mom to stories about quarantine, I felt less alone. Warmth spread from my chest to my limbs then out. That afternoon, the clouds opened up to blue sky, birds started singing. The sun came out, stayed out the rest of the week. XXX. Dataveillance, n. One of the line cooks from Applebee’s follows my dad to Target in his pickup several nights after I left Cory there. I meet them by Cory’s spot, my dad having to drive me to work the last couple days. Charles had commented on a car being in the lot too long. He plans on calling a tow company tomorrow morning. Luis opens his tailgate, climbs into the cargo bed. The truck’s creaking and staining fills the empty lot. He uncoils a long rope, hops off the truck, lays under it to get a better vantage of the frame as he ties one end of the rope around it. “I really appreciate your help,” my dad says, getting under Cory with the other end of rope. “No problem,” Luis groans as he gets back up to his feet. He bends over, stretching his back. “How old is the car?” “Uh,” I stammer, “about 20 years old.” I wring the strap of my messenger bag. My dad tugs on the rope a couple times, gets to his feet, brushes off his jeans. “It gets the job done for the most part, though.” They walk me through how we get Cory home safely— how I will put them in neutral, get pulled by Luis’s truck, only braking and turning when he does until we’re in our complex. Luis’s eyes bounce between my dad and Cory. “You need a car?” “What?” My dad asks. “We have a pickup we don’t use much since Isaac went to college. You could use it.” “It’s alright,” my dad shakes his head. "We don’t need your charity.” Luis focuses on Cory. “You can pay for it, then.” My dad looks at me. I shrug. “How much?” “How much you got?” Luis insists on finding a compromise, while my dad reluctantly drags his feet. They work out an agreement that doesn’t hurt my dad’s pride and figure out a day for me to pick up the truck. XXXI. Gas Giant, n. A thunderclap. Rain patter. Wind howl. Saturday morning, I drink coffee sitting in the living room floor next to my mom’s ashes and Elinor. We watch the sky flash, gutters spill over with rainwater, young sprouts struggle in the wind. I focus on a cottonwood seed snagged on the rim of one of the tomato pots. They shiver, inch like they’re afraid to fly on their own. I put down my mug, place a hand on my mom’s urn, boop Elinor’s nose. The sliding glass door opens; cool air roars in as I step onto the porch. My face is wet with rain as I clip the seed’s fluff between two fingers, whisper in their ear. I let go, and a gust of wind sweeps them up. I watch them sail across the parking lot. I lose them in the clouds, but I’m not worried— I know they’ll be okay.