The first novel by Matthew McIntosh
[ Maybe not always, but a lot of the time. It doesn’t matter where I actually am, it’s all the same. For instance, I could be walking to the mailbox or driving in to work and I will get this thing—not a picture but a sort of perception, this sort of sense, in the same way you imagine the shapes of the walls and the furniture when you’re walking through a familiar dark room, that’s how it is—and I am always struck with the perception that I’m there, at the bottom of a well. And I’ve never even seen a well that I can remember, except for on TV and in movies, but I’ve always felt this way. Meaning, I’ve felt this way about the well since childhood. Or maybe it didn’t happen until adolescence, but there I am. I feel that way right now, I really do. I mean, I’m looking into your face right now, but somewhere deeper, somewhere behind it all, I could swear that I’m at the bottom of the well. That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? My husband tells me I have a constant look of near-absolute abandonment on my face. He says I wear that expression all the time.
So I was at the grocery store the other day—this is what I was supposed to be getting at—I’m sorry, I’ve never been good at getting to the point—I was in line at the grocery store and for some reason I was feeling particularly at ease with myself, and with my situation, the world on this particular day was feeling very adequate, you know, everything was good. For some reason I was looking up at the beams and through the skylight—it was one of those enormous warehouse grocery stores that are springing up all over the place—actually, I think this was the reason: I was contemplating all the ways in which the world changes; or not all the ways it changes, but more specifically, I was contemplating this one particular way that it was changing. I was focusing on the skylight and I was thinking of a time where it was an unheard of thing to have a skylight in a grocery store, not unheard of in a bad sense, just in an unheard of sense; it’s just that nobody’d thought to do it at the time. Why are grocery stores so goddamn big today? Do you know? Are we eating more? Are we all getting fatter? I mean some of these places . . .
Anyway, I guess I was staring up at the skylight—I must have been doing it for a long time—and remember, I’m happy, I really am, I’m having a good day up to this point—and the little thing ringing me up, she all of a sudden stops what she’s doing, and she takes hold of my arm, and she says, “Ma’am, are you all right? Do you need me to call someone?”
Do I need her to call someone? I didn’t know what to say. What would you say? Is there a proper way to answer a question like that? It wasn’t the question she asked that was so shocking, of course, but that I’d been so damn happy when she’d asked the question. I’d been really happy. I hadn’t been that happy in a long time. Jesus, I don’t even know what I was so damn happy about, but I was happy. I said I was fine, a little rudely, probably, and I wrote the check and left the store. I drove home and sat out front in the car for probably twenty minutes, until my daughter came out and asked me what I was doing, and how long I was going to stay in there. ]
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