Excerpt from “Manifestations”
By Miska Lewis
Sometimes home reminded me of a classroom. It wasn’t that I got sleepy the moment I entered, or that there were rows and rows of chairs with a creaky table at the front. There were no pseudo-encouraging posters adorning the walls, and nothing that smelled slightly of sour milk or cheap disinfectant. Still, I couldn’t shake the idea that slightly yellowing walls and window frames covered in peeling paint were only meant for classrooms in the Midwest. No amount of fresh flowers or colorful furniture could change that. Not that I had flowers or colorful furniture. A brown couch and a rug I’d picked up from a roadside garage sale had to do. A couple months ago, I’d bought some really fancy succulents for forty dollars to try and bring my apartment to life a little. I’d read somewhere that the happiest people have homes that look like gardens. Apparently, there’s something in the leaves that helps with your serotonin levels. Who knew that succulents couldn’t be watered as much as regular plants or else they would turn brown and literally rot before your eyes? All that was left were three empty plant pots and dirt on the windowsill that I had yet to properly wipe up.
Dumping everything in my hands on the already cluttered table by the kitchen, I pulled off my shoes, kicking them into a corner. I could hear rain hitting the windows, rattling them in their frames. Filling the kettle and setting it to boil, I cleared a spot on the floor and spread out the magazines in front of me. Flipping through and carefully snipping out the Aries horoscopes, I made sure to leave enough of a border so I could even it out later. I was that kid in third grade who was chastised for using scissors improperly—some things hadn’t changed. Halfway through the stack, I got cold and turned the dial of the radiator. It sputtered to life and began its nightly clanking. Making my way to the kitchen, I added two Earl Grey tea bags and three sugar cubes to a mug before filling it with scalding water, burning my fingers when it splashed. Returning to my spot on the floor and sitting back on my heels, I held the warm mug between my palms. I picked up up one of the cutouts:
Your focus now is on growing and improving. It’s an excellent time to discover or rekindle an old love, be it for a person or a hobby you once had. Let yourself explore today.
I let the piece of paper fall, landing on top of identical rectangle cut-outs. I blew on my tea. The steam smelled bright and minty. The day I wrote that horoscope, I met my college best friend for lunch. It was warm out, and we sat outside my favorite taco place on metal chairs that shocked our legs. It was just fine. Afterwards, I went to the office and tried desperately to make myself feel better. Maybe this was the beginning of a rekindled friendship. Nevermind that she was expecting her first child and lived in a cookie-cutter house on the outskirts of town. Nevermind that I called the lower level of a two-story duplex home, and listened to my upstairs neighbors scream at each other every Thursday through Saturday. Sometimes, I would put a pillow over my head and join them. Sighing, I picked up another cut-out, beginning to lay each horoscope on a piece of construction paper.
There are things that are impossible to control and that’s okay. Lay low for a while, there is nothing you need to do but be with yourself and show your soul kindness.
The evening after I wrote that one, I made my own vodka sweet tea and carried it through the mall in a bright pink tumbler with a chewy, rubber straw. The lady at the checkout in H&M didn’t notice that I held onto the edge of the counter to steady myself. She gave me the 10% student discount even though smoking too much was already making me look old. I smiled shakily and took another sip, chewing on the straw intently. The sweater I bought, obnoxiously pink and fuzzy, still lay untouched on my couch.
You are not as stable on your own two feet as you’d like to be. Lean on those around you; things will look up.
I held the lid of my glue stick in between my lips, lathering purple goo onto the back of each paper rectangle. They stuck to each other and to my fingers. Sometimes I wondered if other people read the horoscopes I wrote and if they trusted them. They had no idea that behind every word was a twenty-seven-year-old sitting at a computer that was ancient enough to have a moving screensaver. I tried to imagine the kinds of people that bought Spike Life. We had all the actual statistics; 73% women, mostly in their thirties. We got letters all the time from people wanting horoscopes to be longer, or shorter, or telling us that they bought the magazine just for them. We got letters about all kinds of things and, really, what kind of person had the time to write letters to a magazine? Nobody whose opinion I valued, at least. But I still thought about it sometimes. I pictured young moms buying their kids Starbursts at gas stations and picking up the magazine from the obscenely large selection those establishments usually carried. What made them pick Spike Life over Cosmopolitan? Most of our writers had swung the other way.
Before I went to bed that night, I hung my vision board of sorts on the wall across from my bed. I hadn’t bothered to actually decorate, and the red piece of paper stood out. I couldn’t tell if it made my bedroom look more or less like a prison. It didn’t make it feel less like one. I cracked open the window and smoked one last cigarette out of it, blowing smoke into the night air. I couldn’t distinguish between smoke and my own warm breath in the cold. I flicked ash onto the wet grass below my window. Turning off the overhead light and slipping into bed, I texted Mac my usual good night text, reminding him to take his meds, and reached my hand out to find my desk lamp’s switch. I hoped Mac wouldn’t tell our parents I was texting him; they didn’t need to think I was purposefully ignoring them. Even if I was. Darkness lay heavy on me. I rolled over, angling my head so I was facing the streetlamp’s light. It was still sprinkling, and I could see misty rain in the yellow glow. I placed my hands on my stomach, feeling it rise and fall with each breath I took. When I was younger, my godmother had taught me to make my breathing slow, as if I were already sleeping, and I’d used that trick to fall asleep every night since then. My stomach rumbled and I frowned, realizing all I’d had was tea since I got home. I’d go shopping tomorrow—actually this time. My breathing softened. In the morning, I would sit on the edge of my bed and read every single horoscope out loud to myself. I tried not to think about a whole new day of watching my editor’s frown lines deepen by the minute. Upstairs, I could hear the screaming begin. My hands traced constellations into the spot where my shirt had ridden up over my stomach in an effort to soothe myself.
Slowly, I began to feel the three melatonin gummies I had chewed on earlier work their magic. In less than twenty minutes I was unspeakably groggy. My eyes felt heavy. That night, I dreamt my house was a garden. Vines crawled on the ceiling and red flowers bloomed above my bedspread. Ferns came up from cracks in the floors and, tacked up on the bark of a giant oak tree growing in the middle of my room, was a piece of red construction paper.