The church basement was cold. Not in terms of temperature—with the blizzard outside, the church’s 72 degrees was quite toasty. Rather it was the atmosphere of the place that was cold. There was something about the harsh fluorescent bulbs reflecting off the white-washed cinder blocks on the drab Astroturf-colored carpet. It made Iris feel like she was standing in the middle of the 18th hole at Gargantua’s Mini Golf and Go-Cart Extravaganza.
Iris sat on one of the cold fold-out chairs reserved for special functions in churches, schools, or prisons (in her mind, these were all the same thing). She couldn’t quite tell what color it was. Was it gray? A brownish green? Maybe it was mauve. No one had a clue what color mauve was so she felt comfortable with that label.
Iris tapped her teeth with the Bic she had been given and looked at the cold white paper in front of her. At the top she had written “My addictions.” Beneath that was a number 1. And then a bunch of nothing.
She glanced across the room at the five other inmates—or attendees, depending on your point of view. Each had been there for two and a half hours now. Why? She didn’t know all the reasons for the others, but she had been walking down the sidewalk when a gust of wind blew a piece of paper off the lamp post and stuck it to her face. She couldn’t see so she did the logical thing: she screamed and clutched at her face. The man behind her walked right through her as if she hadn’t been there at all. She fell to the ground in a heap as he sauntered on without even a glance back at her.
She prepared to scream at him to vent her frustration, her hidden tiger rage. Then she looked at the paper in her hand.
ADDICTED? WE CAN HELP! VISIT STONEYBROOK CHURCH AT 7:00 PM TONIGHT!
Maybe it was a sign.
Iris had been looking for signs her entire life. Well, at least since her mother had told her that she was a sign. Mommy and Daddy had been Fooling Around when (uh oh) something didn’t happen when it was supposed to happen. It was a sign that Daddy had to marry Mommy so Mommy’s Daddy wouldn’t shoot him with his 12 gauge.
“You were that sign, Iris.” Mother never tired of explaining this. “That’s why we named you Iris.”
“Whatever, Mom. That isn’t even logical.”
““You’re a seer.”
“The iris is important for the eye to function right.”
Iris sighed. “It’s just the part that gives it color and controls light levels.”
“It’s also a mythical Egyptian god if I remember right.”
“That would be Isis, Mom.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I watch the History Channel, you know.”
It was Mom’s turn: “Whatever.”
Iris brought herself back to the present: the cold atmosphere of the basement. She sighed, stared at her paper. It was still blank. Well what did you expect, Gnomes to write it for me?
She looked back up to where Cosmo stood smiling down at his wards. He wasn’t really named Cosmo, but he seemed like a Cosmo so Iris had dubbed him that. He caught her gaze and her eyes darted away. The last thing she wanted was to get caught in Cosmo’s clutches.
She tapped her Bic on the blank paper. Maybe this whole day was pointless. And that illustrated her life in a way nothing else could. Despite being a seer, as far as she could tell nothing she had ever done held purpose. It was just random events that followed other random events.
Beside her to the left, Kyle exhaled. Iris could smell the Folgers wafting from his mouth, mingling with the smoker’s lung from Bobbi, the small petite girl on her right side who worked in Cowboys and Cowgirls Bar and Dance Hall. She crinkled her nose at the bad combination of odor, and imagined a pug doing the same. Iris wondered why she thought of things like that. She blamed it on the frigid atmosphere.
Iris cleared her thoughts, glanced to the left. Kyle’s page was almost used up. His addictions included Coors, Bud Light, Miller, Newcastle, Sam Adams, and beer. Beer? Who woulda seen that one coming?
Iris glanced to her right at Bobbi’s paper. Bobbi had bent down in deep concentration, her pen almost slashing through the paper. But Iris could see the top of it: Bondage, leather, hand cuffs, whips.
Iris tapped her tooth some more as Kyle coughed. More Folgers in the air. No, not Folgers. Burnt Folgers. Like the coffee pot had been left on all day and he drank it anyway to make up for the seven beers he’d had for breakfast.
Now she was judging people. Iris sighed. Still, that was better than nothing for her paper. She wrote down “Judgmentalism.” There, that was finished.
She glanced up from her paper and caught Osiris’s eyes. Osiris wasn’t a real name any more than Cosmo was, but that’s what came to mind. Iris smiled at Osiris: real name, Tristan. She noted that Tristan had a blank piece of paper too. Maybe it was a sign.
And maybe she was Queen of Arcadia.
Iris coughed and stood. Cosmo looked at her and she nodded her head toward the restroom in the back of the church. He shrugged his shoulders as if she had told him the blizzard outside was cold. Iris shrugged back and walked to the Important Room.
She locked the door and sat on the Porcelain Throne. She didn’t need to vacate her bowels, she just needed out of that drab room. At least here the light came from a naked yellow bulb rather than another cold, harsh florescent white. One of these days, she thought, they’re going to find florescent bulbs give you skin cancer. Then where will the cubicle industry be?
Iris pulled a square of toilet paper off the roll and blew her nose. She tossed the used paper into the trashcan by the door and pondered how she could escape this meeting. Then she wondered why she needed to “escape” in the first place. She had come here of her own volition. She didn’t have a court order like Burnt-Folgers-Breath.
“I’m going to get up, march outside, and exit stage right,” Iris said, as if vocalizing the words would make it so. But she was a seer, not an enchantress, and had never had command of nature through declaration. She flushed the toilet as if she had actually been using the Porcelain Throne, washed her hands, killed another six seconds, opened the door.
Osiris stood there. “H-hi!” she stammered, surprised.
“Hey Iris,” he whispered, glancing back over at the group. “You want to take off?”
“Do I ever…”
“Come on,” Tristan responded as he started toward the back door. “I know a great place for coffee.”
She thought of Kyle’s breath. “Can we do, I don’t know, dinner instead?”
Osiris/Tristan smiled. “In that case, I know a great place for steak.” He opened the back door. Cosmo gave them a dirty look, but they were far enough away to escape the clutch of his gaze. Iris stepped into the blizzard and the door swung shut behind her.
“So, why were you in there anyway?” Tristan asked. "There" meant the church, not the Important Room, Iris realized.
“I don’t know,” she responded. She supposed that was true. She could have said she had found a sign and had followed it, but that would have made about as much sense as saying that she was constipated and really liked the church’s bathroom.
“I know what you mean, Isis.”
Tristan flushed red. “I’m sorry. For some reason, when I see you I think Isis instead of Iris. Isis was an Egyp—”
“Goddess, actually. She was the wife of Osiris.”
Iris’s heart skipped a beat. Before she could say anything he continued: “I only came here because I slipped on some ice and smacked my forehead on a light post. There was this bulletin there.”
Isis laughed. “ADDICTED? WE CAN HELP!”
“VISIT STONEYBROOK CHURCH AT 7:00 PM TONIGHT!” Osiris finished.
“I know. I just figured it was a sign or something,” he responded.
She said nothing. She didn’t have to.
Labels: Short Stories