by Alexander Noel Miller
Cornell University—autumn spawned the day before and just starting to feel cold to a Floridian like me. I just moved in and hadn’t bought a coat yet—stuck inside while other students roamed around from class-to-class, stressed with the semester propelling itself into test after test. The last thing I remembered was walking past one of the gorges earlier in the week when it was still warm. They talked about the sporadic weather, ‘odd’ was the word they used in The Cornell Daily Sun.
I was cold—too cold to go out. There I was—confined to my campus apartment walking back and forth, thinking of how I was going to get food being so far away from places I could get anything worth eating. The cafeteria—terrible food—coffee—didn’t want it. I think I wanted sushi for some reason and I couldn’t make it across campus. No one was going to check their email to make a food run for me. I needed to send a text message, which was trouble because I didn’t know where I had good phone service yet. The phone couldn’t decide whether it wanted to allow me to get in contact with the world, or shut me out to suffer. My stomach shrunk and I felt like my back was touching.
I walked throughout the apartment—the kitchen, tried sending a message there. I got nothing. Forget trying to make a phone call. I would get voicemails, or no ringing at all. The bedroom—where I could rest and try to send the message at the same time…got nothing. I folded my legs kindergarten style in the corner to get a better position. I had no luck. Food from yesterday must’ve been making its way down the large intestine by now and I felt my stomach gurgling, charging my legs in a locomotive chugging to the bathroom and I threw myself on the toilet. It all came down. For a while I was elbows-on-thighs, just pushing and sighing out all relief, resurfacing of pain and queasiness, and more pushing. I couldn’t take that kind of wavering—teasing between respite and sickness. I couldn’t remember what I ate the day before but it didn’t matter. I was hungrier now.
When you’re on the toilet that long you get bored. You look at your hands, notice that callus you forgot to peel off with the others, or maybe it came back after one session in the gym. You look at things around the bathroom—I need new soap. You check the toilet paper. You need more of that too—gee, I hope I can make it with that little bit left there. You look down at your junk and see if it grew even though you’re way past puberty and that ‘growing’ phase. The towels never looked frillier. Shower curtains looked dirty. Your armpit stinks. Do I have enough laundry for the rest of the week? Sitting there long enough everything seems to pile up on you. I needed to get the service I need.
I took out my phone. There were no bars—still domestic roaming. Wi-Fi worked. Internet is special, can never go wrong. Phones are better-equipped for internet than being a damn phone.
“What are you doing?” I sent it to Frida—good friend and study partner
A shot in the dark, now I waited. She would understand. We brought one another coffee when we were meeting in the library—took turns doing it too. She would understand.
“Nothing,” she said. “Heading your way actually.”
Zeus himself must’ve thrown a lightning bolt to my phone to get it working. It still said I had no service. How was it possible? I had to get her to get me some food. I was still there on the toilet though and incapacitated. I was also tired.
“Bring me something from the caf?” I said.
“What do you want?”
Shit! What did I want? I didn’t anticipate that question.
“Chicken and rice.”
“I’ll be there in five to seven minutes,” she said.
Messages were coming in promptly. I couldn’t feel my feet. I looked at my watch. 30 minutes I’d been there. It was time to get it together and wrap this up. Maybe I was just lazy to go through all this. I could have put on more clothes to get across campus to find something to eat. This was easier though. I stomped my feet on the floor trying to get the blood flowing back into my feet. There was a knock at the door.
“One minute!” I yelled.
There was a bang the second time. Was it Frida? I think she ran. I finished and pulled up my sweats and ran for the door not feeling a thing, pulled the door open. Maybe it was the stop that did it, but my calf muscle gave out and I crashed to the right into the wall. Frida put her hand over her face.
“What’s that smell?” she asked.
I was on the carpet moaning.
“Is that it?” looking at the brown paper bag the cafeteria issued for the to-go food.
She handed it to me, still on the floor.
“You don’t know what I’ve been through,” I said.
She walked in and the door shut behind her and I crawled a bit before getting to my feet in pain to sit down with her at the table. Her face was twisted and I didn’t bother getting up for a match to light to kill the smell, or to find air freshener.