FICTION: The Horizon Condos Experiment. Excerpt from untitled novella.

Maranda Elizabeth
Mar 18, 2017 · 30 min read
[Photo description #1. Credit below story. Photo of a modern condo taken at dusk. Shades of grey and dusty violet with a few trees planted along the sidewalk. Rapidly moving car headlights are glowing. Five floors are visible in the photo, but the tall building extends out of the frame. The windows are large and lit up.]

The moment the final yuppie left the building, Melody dragged our dumpstered chaise lounge into the elevator, and I sat on its worn out emerald green velvet and rested my cane in the crook of the arch of the curled arm rest. Melody pressed 33, the number of the top floor, and the door sealed shut.

I hadn’t showered for a week because my roommates used up all the hot water, because my roommates filled the bathroom with soaps and sprays I was allergic to, because my roommates left damp towels on the floor until they grew mould and I was sick of wasting my Advil, my Tylenol 3, and then my Teva-Sumatriptan, on their carelessness and insensitivity.

Before dragging the chaise lounge into the elevator, Melody carried everything else. A suitcase-on-wheels that I no longer used for traveling, stuffed with clothes I barely had the energy to change into. Milkcrates filled with my favourite books. Kitchen supplies, snacks, our laptops, and our zine collections. We were careful and sensitive. We wanted to be careful and sensitive.

She saw our new home before I did. A luxury condo with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of the lake. A hot tub, memory foam mattresses, two bedrooms with walk-in (wide enough to wheel-in) closets, and a chandelier that created rainbow prism strobes shattering through the light from noon until almost-dusk, almost-rush-hour. Melody had the strength to carry everything for me. She took six caffeine pills a day, to stay awake and avoid bathrooms at the same time, and she was giddy almost constantly, darting back and forth like a chipmunk in the middle of Spring, developing tough muscles despite her scrawniness.

***

Two years ago, a nurse dared me to cast the most powerful spell I could dream of.

“If you think you know what you’re capable of,” she said, cleaning the charcoal from the edge of my lips with a damp Kleenex.

We’d met three times before, but I was always unconscious when she entered the room. I knew the trips and jumps of the stretcher wheels beneath me, the pale brown edges of old leaking spots on the ceiling, the butterfly needle pinched to the back of my left hand.

She was sick of me.

I was sick.

“You’re too good to be here,” she told me. “I don’t want to see you here anymore.”

I was still dazed, numb, and couldn’t quite form words.

“I will,” I mumbled. “It’s real. You’ll see.”

But it sounded more like, “Llll. I llll. Sss’rrrllll. Uuuhhhlllll sssssseee.”

***

The walls in the new condo were the same white as the walls in the hospital, but I knew where we could get cheap paint. Daphne was apprenticing with a lesbian contractor and working at Home Depot to get the bills paid, to get discounts on building supplies, to intimidate men who didn’t know how to talk to her. Or how to listen.

She could bring us cans of mistake-paint, swipe them at the end of her shift. She knew what colours we liked. Aquamarine and mermaids for Melody, peacock feathers and royal jewels for me.

Nothing black. It all looked like charcoal to me. Smelled like it, tasted like it. Nothing black. I can use black candles, I can even light their wicks and let them burn down, but that’s all. That’s because it’s magic. Nothing else black.

Melody is the only girl I’ve known who’s cleaned up my puke. Melody and the nurse, Jane. Jane wears taupe turtlenecks, a thin gold chain with a rose-shaped charm, and a nametag on a white necklace-strap with the Eli Lilly red-scroll logo repeating like a chorus, a pen hooked upon the top of her laminated name. I wonder how she doesn’t get blood and vomit on her clothes. I wonder how she ended up here.

And I wonder if she knows my spell is coming true.

[Photo description #2. Credit below story. Photo of an empty room lit up in shades of violet and pink with white helium balloons rising to the ceiling. There are colourful spotlights on the floor, glowing upward.]

A year after I got out of the hospital, the city elected its first woman mayor. She’d run for office seven times and become a joke among nearly everyone, labeled too radical or not radical enough, too idealistic or not idealistic enough, too socialist or not socialist enough.

Nobody expected her to win.

Except for me.

I knew I’d see her on the cover of the newspaper, all over my social media feeds, the morning after the election, because that’s what I dreamed while I was in a coma.

And my dreams don’t lie.

In the photos, she was crying. She didn’t have an acceptance speech prepared. She had the lowest rating except for the nazi who’d been running even longer than she had, but somehow, there she was. And she got to work immediately.

First, the cost of transit went down to $1, with a receipt given to cover a round-trip. Then, every landlord was warned to make their buildings physically accessible within three months or else. And then, the next poverty consultation was canceled.

“We don’t need anymore consultations,” Mayor Evermore announced echoing what other local activists had been saying for years. “They are a waste of money. We know what poverty is, we know what it does, and we know how to change it. For those of you on social assistance, write a void cheque in the name of the city. You can expect to meet me directly on your doorstep within the next three weeks, where I’ll pick up your cheque, give it to my staff, and they’ll arrange a monthly deposit, on top of your regular income. There’ll be no forms to fill out, no consultations, no questions asked.”

***

Every month, on the morning of the 1st, my landlord showed up at my door for his cheque. I wondered who I’d see first. Him or her.

The mayor gave a long speech the day after the election, aired live on all the local news stations, streamed online.

“As for you yuppies, watch out,” she said. “We’re coming for you.”

The landlord arrived first. My roommates and I gave him our usual cheques. We knew they’d be cashed within the hour. After that, I’d have about $150 left for the month. I went back to bed.

Melody wasn’t on social assistance. She worked in an independent bookstore and lived in a basement bachelor nearby. Her boss gave her a small raise after the new mayor was elected, hoping the city would leave him alone. He knew his wages weren’t enough to survive on, but he loved books and he loved his bookstore and he just wanted everybody to be happy, well-fed, and well-read. Sometimes he let Melody take home a free book or two, something she had to keep secret from the other employees, Bex and Star.

I hoped the mayor’s cheque would get me out of where I was, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough. Not in this city.

My dreams don’t lie, but they don’t come true on their own either. I work to make them come true, no matter how sick I get. Actually, I work harder the sicker I get.

First, I protested my house.

Whenever I had a migraine, I refused to flush my vomit down the toilet. I knew my roommates didn’t believe me when I told them how much it hurt, how much I wanted to die. I wanted to leave evidence. I wanted them to see my puke, to feel sick, to feel something, and flush it for me.

The toilet was just on the other side of my headboard, where I’d lay with my cheek pressed to the pillow, an icy eyemask strapped to my face, and bottles of pills uncapped on my nightstand, circling a tall glass of water like a coven chanting around a bonfire.

I knew it was passive-aggressive bullshit, not flushing the toilet, but I chose to do it anyway. Rachel, the girl with the bedroom on the other side of the bathroom, was a twenty-one year old hippie, naïve as fuck, and rarely flushed the toilet anyway. James, the trans boy with the bedroom at the end of the hall, was too self-absorbed to notice, I thought.

They both knew what it was like to be different, but neither knew what it was like to be sick. And I didn’t know how sick I was when I moved in. I found them on Facebook, of course, in the Camp Queerdo Group, where thousands of queers in the city were desperately searching for new homes, perfect roommates, a cozy utopic corner in a city that was falling apart, kicking us out, towering over our exhausted bodies and laughing as its shadows killed our plants and sent us to the drugstore looking for Vitamin D on the clearance shelf. Chewable preferred because I swallow enough pills a day as is.

Rachel and James had an empty room.

I had a broken heart and an ex-boyfriend threatening to call the cops if he found me on his street again.

I forgot to ask why their previous roommate left.

I’d just gotten out of the hospital again. An overdose, an ambulance, a night in the ICU, three nights on the psych ward, sent home. “Home.”

They seemed nice enough from their listing. We all listened to Peaches, drank too much coffee, and thought about gender a lot. There was a porch. I could pretend I was vegan. I could pretend I didn’t desperately want to live in a sober house. I could pretend I could afford $815 for a bedroom when I could barely afford $650 at the last place. I could. I could.

***

Then I started leaving leftover pizza in the fridge. I’d order a large pizza, eat two slices, give myself a headache, go to bed, wake up, eat nothing and chug coffee and water, one more slice before bed, headache, sleep, coffee, nothing nothing nothing, one more slice, make the pizza last a whole week. Occasionally I’d steal a banana or two from a fruit stand if I went out. But I didn’t go out much.

“Cane, huh?” the pizza delivery guy asked. “That’s new.”

“Oh, um, yeah,” I shrugged, looking down at my feet, then up to the box of pizza. The door was wedged open, his elbow pressed against the glass, car sputtering exhaust at the curb. In this moment, we both realized I couldn’t balance a box of pizza in one hand while holding my crooked body up with a cane in the other.

“May I?” he asked.

So he brought the pizza into the kitchen for me, and I doubled his tip with the change I’d planned on using to take the streetcar to a poetry reading the next day.

Rachel would whine. Not to my face. But I’d hear her putter around the kitchen, fill a pot with water to soak beans, open the fridge. Groan.

“Ew, it smells like pizza,” she’d whine.

“Ew, it is pizza,” James would add.

I was vegetarian when I was a teenager. I wasn’t anymore but I didn’t have meat on my pizza because I knew I’d gross them out too much if they opened the box. I was prepared to do so, but not yet. And I knew it was immature. But still.

After living with them for six months, it was too much.

Rachel told me to quit my meds. She thought I was poisoning myself. She thought I’d been brainwashed by Big Pharma. She thought I was complicit in the oppression of Everybody, including myself, and that I was colluding with Capitalism for a so-called “quick fix” that was actually taking years to metabolize through my body. She thought I could walk through the pain, stretch through the pain. I’d been walking and stretching through the pain during my entire last relationship, only taking meds when my ex-boyfriend wasn’t looking at me because I didn’t want him to tell me — again — how he was having trouble respecting me now that I needed so many pills, now that I needed so much rest. We used to stay up all night dancing, drinking, fucking. I couldn’t do that anymore. I wanted to, but my body said no. My body said, not with him.

***

James thought I should drink more and dance with him, drink more and go to parties with him, drink more and blot it all out and act tough. Sometimes I wasn’t sure whether or not he was joking. He rode a used mountain bike to the gym every morning, no matter how hungover he was, but I could tell by his bedraggled scruffiness and the way he always forgot the date, despite his full-time job, that he was slowly losing it, too.

I liked them at first. I tried to. We laughed a lot. We gathered in the living room and watched movies together. When they were good, we cried and screamed, when they were bad, we played along, guessing the next line out loud and ranting about compulsory heterosexuality, ranting about gender binaries.

[Photo description #3. Credit below story. Photo of modern condos stretching up into the cloudy grey sky. The camera points upward so the ground is not visible. There’s an art installation between the condos, of rusty metal shaped like pylon cones, perforated with star-shapes where light might glow through on a brighter day.]

It was Rachel who told me about Mayor Evermore, before she was the mayor. When she was just another hippie protestor activist petition-signer and crafter of natural soaps. She’d met Laura Evermore at a how-to-eat-vegan-when-you’re-broke-and-busy workshop, though I later found out Rachel wasn’t broke, she just pretended to be because it was fun. Once a month, her parents would mail her care packages of vegan organic snacks, grains and seeds, banana chips, tea, beet and kale chips, sugared ginger candies, things like that. And a decorative envelope with cash folded inside, though I never saw how much. She’d go to the food bank, but if they didn’t have anything she really wanted, she’d just go to the grocery store on the way home and buy whatever she felt like. She chastised me for not being vegan when she found out, but she rarely offered me her food.

I met Melody at the bookstore, which is almost too cute to be true, but that’s what happened. I had a library card and I spent a lot of time in libraries, especially when I needed to take some time away from Rachel and James, but the Cracked Spine was like a personally curated library where I couldn’t encounter a book I wasn’t interested in. There was a beat-up tweed couch in the corner by the front window, and I’d sit on the edge closest to the glass even though the draft was too chilly on my neck and fingers, so I could read and watch passersby at the same time. Sometimes I’d buy a book if it felt very special, but usually I’d read a couple chapters in the store, come back and read pieces whenever I was in the neighbourhood. I’d take notes and write GoodReads reviews under a pseudonym.

Melody, Bex, and Star would make small talk with me. It was extra uncomfortable to make small talk with queers. I wanted to say, Let’s just be friends, Come over, Let’s hang out, What’s your favourite book, but I was shy and terribly frightened of crossing anybody’s boundaries so I didn’t say much. I remembered when men would hit on me, or harass me, when I worked at a convenience store, and I didn’t want to do that to them. So I talked about the weather and I didn’t make jokes. I took a Xanax after choosing a book to read on the hopefully empty couch.

Melody looked like Bettie Page but much messier, with tattoos, muscles, faded jeans, and a flat chest. She wore the same shade of stop-sign red lipstick everyday, and I wondered if she collected dozens of tubes, just in case the brand stopped making it. She had blemishes and freckles that she didn’t hide, sharp cheekbones, chewed-up short nails, and a loud, deep, dorky laugh. I used to hope she’d sit beside me on the couch, but I knew I wouldn’t know what to say to her if she did.

So I read.

We met at the bookstore, but didn’t talk beyond small talk until after my third or fourth overdose. The day I left the hospital.

I felt slimy. I hadn’t showered while I was at the hospital, or changed my clothes. I was wearing deep violet tights with a brown corduroy skirt, a black t-shirt and a black hoodie with holes ripped on the cuffs for my cold, arthritic thumbs. My hands dug deep into the pockets like scuba divers searching for treasure, and my backpack was light on my shoulders, everything inside contained within a series of Ziploc bags with my birth name scribbled on the labels in somebody else’s lazy Sharpie scrawl.

I saw her as I was leaving the building.

It always felt so strange to leave on my own like that. I thought somebody should drive me home, make me a warm drink, tuck me into bed. Maybe distract my roommates for me so I wouldn’t have to answer their questions about where I’d been — if they’d noticed I was gone.

It looked like she’d seen me, but I pretended not to see her. She was across the street, walking toward the lights. I was walking toward the same lights. As we waited at the red light, I looked at my feet, looked to my right, watched a streetcar drive by, and when it passed, Melody was still waiting at the corner, still looking near me but not at me.

When the little golden human silhouette lit up, I stepped into the street with dozens of others. And right in the middle, Melody and I finally made eye contact. But I didn’t know her name. And she didn’t know mine.

“You’re…”

“You’re the girl from the Cracked Spine,” I said.

“You’re the one who sits in the window and takes notes,” she said.

“Jinx. My names is Jinx. My pronoun is they.”

“Jinx. I’m Melody. She.”

The silhouette flickered away, replaced with a fifteen-second digital countdown.

“Cool. Um…”

“Um, are you going anywhere important?”

“Not at all.”

“Follow me, Jinx.”

I followed her.

[Photo description #4: Credit below story. Photo of pink and purple flower petals detached from their stems, resting on the dry dirt ground. There is a shadow creeping into the photo.]

The last yuppie was wearing a suit and had a compact suitcase on wheels rolling efficiently behind him. He’d left the building the day before, and returned in the morning to leave his keys. At the front desk, an attendant scrolled through their cell phone screen, clicked like on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter as cripples and our friends shuffled into the building.

A friend of mine, Mouse, was moving onto the first floor. They used a wheelchair more often than not and didn’t want to waste time in the elevator. Anna lived on the main floor, too, and Jenny, and Nancy, and River, too.

Horizon Condos was an experiment. It was the mayor’s experiment, and my spell come true.

All the Glade plug-ins, Febreze sprays, and chemical cleaning products had been removed from the building, excised — exorcised — from the carpets, the curtains, and the beds. The laundry room required no coins, every bathroom was accessible, and everything was cheap.

Rent cost $479/month, the maximum rent allowance on ODSP, and $376/month, the maximum rent allowance on OW, and free for anyone who was homeless and not on social assistance prior to moving into the building. And we still had our monthly deposits from the mayor’s office. Everybody else was charged 30% of their income, and they were allowed to do whatever: keep their jobs at bookstores, hardware stores, and cafés, do freelance writing gigs, sell junk or art or both on Etsy; they could do sex work, they could panhandle, they could take their bands on tour. Whatever. It’s an experiment.

The day she came to my doorstep, I was sick, as usual. And I was the only one home. I was slow getting down the stairs and almost missed her. Usually I wouldn’t answer the door at all unless I knew it was pizza, but when she rang the bell a second time, I remembered the mayor’s promise. Two and a half weeks had passed and I was afraid she’d forgotten our house. I was already planning a petition and a protest. I’d written the Facebook event, time date location, but hadn’t posted it yet. Just in case.

And here she was.

I recognized her the moment I opened the door.

“Hi, Laura Evermore. I’m Jinx. They.”

“Jinx, hi, I’m so glad to meet you, so glad you’re home. She. Do you have time to chat?”

“Yeah. C’mon in. I have two roommates, but they’re not home. But I’m the only one here on disability. So.”

I led her into the livingroom, and she sat with me on the couch. We both looked out the window for a moment, where a neighbourhood calico cat was creeping across the porch railing, following a chickadee.

“So you know the deal, huh?”

“Of course I know the deal. I was just about to organize a protest if you didn’t show up.”

Laura laughed.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get to you ’til the end. I grew up in this neighbourhood, you know. It’s different now. Really different.”

“I know. My grandparents and great aunts grew up here.”

“You have your void cheque then?”

“Yes, I do.” I pulled it out from where it was folded under a planter on the coffee table. It was an old aloe plant, limbs like an alien-octopus reaching toward us, with fallen acorns and transit tokens scattered on top of the soil like lucky sand dollars. I unfolded the void cheque and passed it to Laura.

“We’re assigning you to the Horizon Condos Experiment,” she said, folding the cheque neatly into a file folder. “You seem well-informed, I’m sure you’ve heard of it.”

“Of course I have. Oh, you don’t know how badly I’ve dreamed of living on the top floor.”

I’d walked, or hobbled, by the building so many times, my glares and eye-rolls at the men in suits shuffling in and out ineffective — what was I trying to effect anyway? — against their smug confidence and poisonous clouds of cologne. I knew the North side of the tower would have a view of the entire glittering but smoggy city, the South side would have a view of the lake with dots of neighbouring states black at the edge of the water like blackheads on an otherwise flawless surface.

“Well, no need to dream anymore. It’s yours. But look, I lied. There’s gonna be some paperwork. I didn’t want to stress anybody out, but there’s gonna be some paperwork. If it’s too complicated, I have skilled and trustworthy workers who can help you out, but I’m sure it won’t be too much. We’re just gonna have you folks in Horizon Condos fill out some forms on things like daily tasks, how your disabilities affect your physical and mental health, where you spend your money, what your diet is like, your mood, that kind of thing. I’m sure you’re familiar. But we’re not like your caseworkers down at the ODSP office, we’re not out to get you, we’re not going to take anything away from you.”

“I can fill out forms. I don’t like it but I’m used to it. I don’t think I’ll need any help.”

“Okay, delightful. We’ve just been clearing out and cleaning out the building for a couple weeks, and there’s just a few more tenants on their way out. It’s hard not to go down there and throw rotten tomatoes at them myself, you know, they’ve really tried their best to destroy this city and make it their own personal playground, but you know, they’ll get theirs. It’s coming.”

“I’d like to go down there and watch them clear out myself! Those arrogant assholes. But I guess it’s enough to know I’ve got a safe and accessible home to go to soon. When’s Moving Day?”

“The first of next month. Tell your roommates. Their rent won’t go up when you leave, I promise. They can find another roommate, or they can make an art studio with your room or something. The landlord will be here to install a ramp on your porch, change the heights of the light switches, give you wider bathroom doors, little things like that. We can’t make every single room in the city fully accessible, unfortunately, but since I’ve come into office, we’ve already got thousands more accessible homes, places like yours, and the condos, too, but old places like yours, and all the low-rise apartments, places like that. They’re being fixed. We’re making such a difference already.”

***

For a while, our new home looked empty. I wasn’t used to open concept apartments and minimalist aesthetics. It was hard not to glare at the shiny kitchen appliances like they’d said something mean to me, hard not to feel like I was in the waiting room of a place I’d never belong. But now Melody and I could live together as a couple without worrying about my income being cut in half, and we could have sex as loud as we wanted without worrying about pissing off roommates or neighbours. Not only that, but we could make giant pots of strong coffee and not have to share our bathroom with strangers or shitty roommates, not have to be told the washroom is for customers only. Melody wouldn’t have to hold it in until she worried about her bladder rupturing, worried about being attacked, or even just looked at kinda funny. We didn’t have to search for pure cranberry juice, didn’t have to mistake the almost-pink caffeine pills for almost-coral Gravol when we were desperate or foggy anymore, then pass out when we had shit to do.

We bought furniture from junk stores. When the owners found out we were part of the Horizon Condos Experiment, they offered to deliver the furniture for free. They even offered not to charge us tax on our purchases. I remembered reading so many interviews with famous people where they talked about having been too broke to eat, being paid in drinks for their shows, and when they started getting paid for real, getting well-known, suddenly people wanted to give them free stuff, and they were like, No, Where were you when I needed you, I can afford you now, Give this stuff to somebody else. That’s how I felt. I could afford used furniture now, I could afford to have it delivered, I could afford tax, but now they wanted to give us these gifts.

Our chairs faced the windows with the South-view, nothing but rooftops, the island airport, and blue blue blue to observe. I never learned how to swim and I regretted it.

***

We didn’t know everybody in the building yet but we were lucky to finally be close to our cripple friends. Like River, like Mouse. Sometimes I would only see them once every few months, because we were too sick to be together. We’d send texts, or we’d talk online, but it wasn’t the same. When we were too sick for words, we’d send emojis.

I thought of emojis as spells, mini-spells. They were untranslateable except between me and the friend I was sending them to. They were secret communiqués, like putting a piece of paper in the freezer to reveal the message, or sprinkling lemon juice on it.

After our first few months in the building, Mayor Evermore came over to visit.

“We want this experiment to become more publicized,” she said. “More public. More experiential.”

A bunch of us were gathered in the main floor lobby, with Mayor Evermore sitting on the grey faux-leather couch holding onto a clipboard and a pen. An unzipped Mountain Equipment Co-Op backpack rested at her feet, stacks of file folders and paperwork peeking out of the edges.

“It’s already well-publicized,” I said. “And we’re experiencing it this very moment.” I’d been shoving quarters into the newspaper boxes out on the sidewalk by the door, collecting every story about the Horizon Condos Experiment into a scrapbook.

“Yes, but it’s not enough for the public to read stories about the Horizon Condos Experiment,” she said. “We need to make this an immersive experience for everyone,” she said. “And that includes the rest of the city, not just inhabitants of this building. The public is curious about what’s going on here.”

“What the fuck?” somebody shouted from the back. “Are you gonna, like, hold tours of the cripples’ homes or something?”

“Um, no, not exactly.”

“And speak the fuck up!” they shouted back. “Where do you think you are?”

Mayor Evermore rested her clipboard on her lap and unclipped the microphone by her side from its bent-over stand. The ASL interpreter standing a few feet away motioned to let the crowd know what she was doing.

“I’m sorry,” the mayor said. “I forgot. You know, I’ve spoken into so many megaphones and microphones over the years, I don’t know why I forgot the mic today. I guess I just assumed my voice was loud enough. I’m used to yelling.”

A few people nearby giggled, but most were silent, curious, irritated.

“Tell us more about The Cripple Tour!” somebody else shouted.

“It’s not a cripple tour,” the mayor responded. “Nobody is going to enter your apartments, your homes, without your express consent. I wouldn’t do that to you. I just have a few ideas that I wanted to bring forward, and I’m hoping for your cooperation. Now, I noticed you’ve been turning the communal area beyond the lobby into some sort of gallery. I think that’s fantastic. I’m wondering what you’d think of expanding the reach of the project.”

“You promised us full autonomy when we moved in,” somebody else shouted. “Why are you trying to drop these new plans on us like we don’t know how to organize ourselves?”

“Hands up if you’d like the mayor to leave right now,” another resident shouted, raising their own hand. Most of the hands went up, including the interpreter’s. The mayor glared at her.

“My hand’s not up against you,” she whispered. “I’m translating.”

“Well, would it be up if you were counted in the vote?”

“We have our own interpreters in the building,” came another voice. “Couldn’t you have hired them for the meeting?”

The voices grew louder and louder until the mayor blushed thirteen shades of raspberry scarlet beet, shoved her belongings back into her backpack, zipped it shut, and left the building.

***

Whenever I saw Mouse when they were using their wheelchair, they kept a tray clipped to the front so they could draw. There was a small cup holder embedded in the plastic tray, which they used to stash pens, pencils, and pencil crayons.

“I know exactly what I’m gonna do at the next gallery show,” they said.

I’d taken the elevator down to their apartment, resting on the chaise lounge and taking selfies on the way, before knocking on their door.

“Come on in!” I heard from the other side.

I pressed the access button with my knuckles. The apartment entrances on the main and top floors had access buttons, but the floors in between didn’t yet. The mayor had told us they’d be installed soon, but we didn’t know when. All the doors were wide enough for various wheelchairs, but those who used them the most had to live on the top floor or main floor, or with somebody who could hold the door whenever they needed to, which was an annoying hassle when we were told the Horizon Condos Experiment was built to keep us as autonomous as possible.

Mouse was burning incense. Neither of us were allergic, and they knew not to burn scents that reminded me of my ex-roommates. The new ventilation system was effective enough to ensure that scents never leaked into other apartments or into the hallways.

On the 13th of every month, we held a gallery show, performance art party, and all ‘round cripple art mess, with pay-you-what-you-can admission, nobody turned away. We didn’t advertise anywhere. It was word of mouth. I preferred when the 13th fell on weekdays. After being on disability for a few years, it annoyed me when all my weekdays were free, but everybody would organize a thousand different events on weekends, so I couldn’t make it to everywhere I wanted to go, and then I’d feel lonely and abandoned whether or not anything was going on at all.

At first, only residents of the building were allowed to attend. Then we opened it up to people we knew around the city, and anybody else who was disabled, or who was on social assistance. We hadn’t invited the rest of the city yet, but we knew that was the direction the mayor was trying to push us. She’d seem so cool before I met her, but now I imagined her being like those strangers who grabbed my arm when they saw my cane and thought they were being helpful, grabbed the handles of my friends’ wheelchairs, strolling and twisting, because they thought they knew the way.

“What exactly are you gonna do?” I asked.

“I’m gonna be a coin-operated portrait artist. I’ve saved up some cardboard from grocery deliveries. I’m gonna use it to build something like a booth around me and my wheelchair…”

“Like the-doctor-is-in kinda thing?”

“Yeah,” Mouse laughed. “Kinda like that. You step up to the booth, drop some coins in a jar, and I draw your portrait.”

“What if they only give you nickels?”

“That’s the thing,” Mouse said. “I’ve got it figured out. I wanted to do this before but I was afraid of just that, all the nickels. And being outside. And street photographers taking pictures of me like a sad circus act. But then we got this space. And then it finally dawned on me. If they haven’t given me enough money, I’ll just stop. I’ll be like a wind-up doll who stops in the middle of the song. When you put more money in the jar, I’ll start drawing again.”

“That’s brilliant.”

“I know. And the thing is, this way I can keep it cheap for my friends, but I can ‘run outta time’ so-to-speak for folks who I know have more money, or who just aren’t that fun to draw, and I’ll test them. I’m a good artist. I know what I’m doing. I’ll see how much they’re willing to pay me for a portrait of themselves. And yes, the lid of the jar will be wide enough for bills.”

“Do you want help building the booth?” I asked. “Like folding it together, or decorating, or…?”

“Yeah, that’d be amazing,” Mouse said. “I’ve been using my wheelchair a lot more since moving here. And like, it makes some things so much easier, and some things so much harder. Like, I was so stressed before, and I thought my stress was giving me pain, and I was trying to be tough through it, just use my cane, or even sometimes daring myself to walk on my own. And honestly, I thought the Horizon Condos Experiment would, like, lessen my stress and I’d be in less pain. And less pain sounds cool, but you know what? I was afraid it’d take away my crip status. And that everybody’d hate me. Or be resentful or something. Or even kick me out.”

“I worried about the same thing,” I confessed.

“Really?”

“Yeah. I didn’t wanna say anything.”

“Well, it turned out kinda the opposite,” Mouse said. “I mean, I feel less stressed, but I also feel less self-conscious about using my wheelchair when I really, really need it, which is a lot. And it’s partly from being here, being surrounded by crips, and getting to see you and everybody else just about whenever I feel like it and not, like, twice a year. You know? Some of my agoraphobic tendencies are coming back, I guess, because going out into busy streets, it’s not the same vibe as here, even though everything’s slowly becoming a bit more accessible. I have panic attacks when I go out there. But I still feel so much better.”

“It’s totally the same with me. I haven’t gone out for a week. Well, except for out on the balcony. I’ve been taking these weird pictures, like making art about agoraphobia, where the only place I can go outside is thirty-three-storeys up in the air, and I would die if I tripped.”

“I haven’t gone out on the patio much,” Mouse said, gesturing toward the glass door behind them. “I feel like people are staring at me when I’m out there. I don’t even know if they actually are, but it just makes me feel uncomfortable.”

“Yeah, I think I’d feel that way, too,” I said. “I love being on the top floor. I’m basically invisible.”

“Are you gonna do anything with the pictures? Like show them?”

“Maybe. I don’t wanna bring them to the gallery, though. I just don’t think they’ll look as cool printed. Well, maybe I could project them or something. I don’t know. I think I wanna make, like, an online project of them, but I’m not sure how yet. Where are your boxes? Have you broken them down?”

The boxes were broken down and stacked between the fridge and the counter. I pulled them out and brought them back to the living room, holding them between my elbow and my hip, gripping my cane on the other side. I sat across from Mouse so I could take a look at their wheelchair and figure out how to shape the cardboard around them.

“Do you want the booth to be, like, attached to your wheelchair, or more like standing in front? Do you want it to move around with you, or do you want to be able to roll away from it?”

“I was picturing it being attached somehow, but it’ll probably be easier to place it in front. I wanna write instructions on the front so folks get how the performance works without me having to talk too much. I’ve got my drawing stuff, and I’ve got some cheap supplies like glue and glitter, too. Do you think glitter would be too dorky?”

“Nah, it’ll look good. Let’s set up the cardboard first and see what kind of size and shape we have before writing anything on it. I don’t wanna ruin anything.”

“You won’t ruin anything.”

[Photo description #5. Credit below story. Photo of succulent plant on concrete with a kaleidoscope of pink and purple flower petals arranged in a circular form around the plant. There are dozens of petals. Forget-me-knots, violets, and tulips.]

“Did you know you can massage kale?” Rachel asked.

“I never thought about it,” I said. I’d just come downstairs to boil water and make peppermint tea. When I saw Rachel at the kitchen table gently rubbing kale leaves between her fingers, and her best friend, Stacy, peeling garlic cloves and slicing each individual piece with such concentration and care, I remembered my plan to look for a used kettle at the closest thrift store and hide it in my bedroom. I already had a coffeemaker by my bedside.

“Massaging kale softens it,” Rachel continued. “You do it one leaf at a time, like this. It tastes so much better this way. And it raises its vibration, too.”

I felt like a bad witch for not giving a shit about Rachel’s massaged kale, and I resented her for being more considerate about leaves than about her friends who were in pain. After I moved in, we had a brief period of becoming closer as friends, but I began distancing myself after her Big Pharma rants, and she got mad at me for eating meat. Before that, she would give me a short massage once or twice a week, when we were home alone together. I didn’t usually get physically close to anyone anymore, until I met Melody, but during those massages, I felt so vulnerable and almost-loved.

But as it became more and more clear that Rachel and I had different ideas about what was good for us, what was good for the environment, for the city, her massages faded away. I began to dislike her, and she began to see me as poisoned. It was like she thought the meds I took and the meat I ate would seep through my flesh and enter her own body through her fingertips or something. Like my body was toxic and contagious. I missed being massaged, but I wanted somebody else to do it. I was sick of being discarded for vegetables.

“Same with garlic,” Stacy said. “The more mindful I am as I chop, the higher its vibration level. It’s like the garlic and I are having a conversation with one another.”

“It’s like you’re murdering the garlic cloves,” I countered. “You’re cutting them to pieces and then simmering them in oil on a stovetop.”

“You don’t have to be dramatic, Jinx,” Rachel said.

“I’m not being dramatic. I’m being honest.”

“Are you gonna eat dinner with us?”

“Um, I have a headache,” I said. “I’m just making tea. Will you let me know when dinner’s ready, and I’ll come down if I’m feeling better?”

The electric kettle whistled and the plastic button on the handle flicked up, steam rising from the spout. I poured the hot water over the teabag in my favourite mug, an oversize ceramic thing shaped like an elephant, its trunk serving as a handle.

“You know, there’s loose leaf tea here. My parents sent it to me. If you used a strainer instead of a teabag, there’d be less trash.”

“These teabags are compostable,” I said, dripping a bit of hot tea on my toes as I walked back upstairs and shut my bedroom door.

As I let my tea cool down on my nightstand, I considered doing some yoga exercises. I didn’t have a mat anymore, but the floor was good enough. I barely knew where to start, though. I hadn’t stretched my body much since before I moved in. I was so sick of my body, of my fatigue and my pain, that I stopped moving it altogether unless I really had to. I went through a brief phase of finding relief through yoga, but then my body felt too sore for even the gentlest poses, I hated being the only person in class with a mobility aid, and I felt like a culturally-appropriative asshole anyway. For a while, yoga even made me feel too calm, and even though I didn’t know what to do with it without hurting others, without hurting myself, I didn’t want to have my rage taken away.

I stood up on my toes and reached my hands toward the ceiling, stretching as tall as I could. My shoulders were tight. I’d been hunched down all day, maybe all week, maybe all month. I rolled my shoulders a few times, tracing circles the size of hula hoops with my outstretched hands, feeling the muscles in my thighs swell. I’d been wearing the same t-shirt and pajama pants for a few days and I smelled pretty gross. I told myself I’d change before dinner.

***

When I woke up, my tea was cold and all the lights were out. I should have known they’d forget to call me down for dinner. Or pretend to forget. The frozen ice pack by my pillow had thawed, and I hadn’t even pulled up my covers before I fell asleep. Layers of thrift store sheets were folded messily upon themselves, and a patchwork quilt stitched over with images I’d cut from t-shirts that no longer fit was wrinkled over them. I could hear raccoons digging through the trash bins below my bedroom window again, and I just knew they were eating the leftovers I wished had been set aside for me.

[Photo Description #6: Photo of dozens and dozens of bright purple pills. Shiny capsules that continue beyond the frame of the photo.]

PHOTO CREDITS

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[Photo #6. Unknown.]

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Maranda Elizabeth

Written by

Writer, zinester, high school dropout, cripple-goth, amethyst-femme, weirdo, capital-C Crazy. BPD, c-(p)TSD, fibro. Reclaiming borderline. My pronoun is THEY.