I’m assiduous. That’s the first thing I write down. Sometimes I make notes like that to start my day in hopes I become the adjective I claim. I’m really wasting years of my life passing the same trash barrels daily. I read graffiti: BET. It’s everywhere. I cannot tell you what intersection I am standing on at any given moment and sometimes I pretend I don’t live here to get out of giving directions when I’m caught, staring, confused. Assiduity. The ability to persevere even in hostile climates. That’s not the definition. That’s how I remember the word. Acid. Harsh. Hard to swim. But I can do it. God’s favorite mermaid.
Today was a normal day. As in I was myself, not an alias and dressed like it: hoodie, sneakers, jeans and beanie. I wore no makeup. I wore my reading glasses. I really needed them to be honest but I hate having obstructions. They always get smudged and I fear that my predilection for constant cleaning is scratching them. There’s always glitter around the rim. Nothing stays clean. I could clean for days if the world just stopped. On these days, it’s easier to just exist without defense so I am perpetually softer as the walk goes on. Not that I don’t stand tall, but I don’t feel it necessary to walk on tiptoes as i do on days when I wear dresses, my wigs, my lips painted and my red nails out. Today, I crouch. I am wearing a surgical mask over my mouth and nose and purple latex gloves. There is a gray cat with green eyes mirroring me.
“Hey,” I say and can feel my hot breath stick to the mask and bounce back to me. It’s not acrid but unpleasant, unusual. Not an odor but a temperature. This is how I know. “I’ve seen you before.”
The cat makes no move and looks a bit quilled. I had seen her before. Yesterday, sniffing around old bean cans in the recycling. I don’t make any moves and miss the way strange fur feels in my bare hands. I miss the way cat’s whiskers feel on my cheeks. I miss the way they rush your lap if you sit long enough. It is trash day, or trash day(s) now that we don’t know when the trash is being picked up. It can be Thursday. It can be Friday. It can be Saturday. Today is Saturday. She was picking crust out of a pizza box before I came along, but she dropped it when she saw me. Now, she is crouched under a chair someone tossed out and I am on my knees, hands on my thighs, three feet away and squaring her.
“If I come back this way later, will you let me pet you?”
I can’t pet dogs anymore. I am not allowed near their owners. The cat makes no move. My back hurts. I shouldn’t have gotten on the ground. It’s hard to get up. I open the purple gloves to see little bits of gravel and wipe them on my jeans. I shouldn’t have touched the ground. The cat makes no move as I ponder my hands. I can feel them sweating through the gloves. I want to take them off. This is a protection for me and my tactility; my assiduity that forces me to case the town in wonder. To trace the tips of my fingers along the lines.
“I’ll be back.”
My right knee pops and a knot tightens in my lower right hip. Assiduity. The ability to age during a mass contagion. I continue walking east, feel droplets of moisture build on my wrists and a ray of sun hit my cheek. I turn around at the corner and the cat is still staring at me. I wonder who pets her. I wonder if she’s been pet.
There are several cats on my walk, nothing else. The only people out have dogs and I avoid them. I cross the street. The dogs nearly choke on their collars trying to get close to me and sometimes I look their way but it hurts. I do sneak my finger out sometimes to feel the wetness of their snouts and they lick my fingers quickly. Their neck strained, almost in gallop. I count twelve dogs and five cats. I would normally touch them but it’s not for me, it’s for them. Their owners. I’m immune. Assiduous: ability to adapt quickly to hostile environments by giving close care to detail about what is now and what is required to continue. That’s not what the definition means; that’s just how I remember I am immune to the wreckage but carry it daily. Like a deluge, I’m constantly respirating.
I am in front of a bodega that is still operating and I see a man in a mask like mine carrying a crate of oranges inside and I don’t put distance between us but I don’t cough either. BET. It’s everywhere. I am looking at the brick wall in front of the bodega so I don’t make eye contact. In bright white spray paint it says BET$. I used to spend my days making eye contact and small talk and saying please and petting dogs and being the most innocuous thing in the world. Today, I am a stinging particle of breath. Immune but trapped in it. The contagion herself and I can’t stop walking.
“The woman who walked for miles”