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Roads Under Repair

by Sean Finucane Toner

Robin leads me to the night’s festivity over buckled

sidewalk, through winter chill and into chimney scent.

If she slips away, all that will remain is her cherry

Chapstick on my lips, the white cane in my right hand,

and those lottery balls – of diabetes and kidney transplant

pills – tumbling in my stomach.

 

Writer-editor Robin’s direction is concise, essential.

“Branch.” She ducks. my hand tags along, then the rest

of me follows. “We’re clear,” she says.

 

My left palm on her Anne Taylored shoulder, strands

of her hair on my knuckles, she navigates me through

the Philadelphia suburb of toppled trashcans and

jutting hedges. She’s not seeing the Poltergeist sky or

the Dali-esque trees playing behind my blanked

screens. Instead, she directs me across a street and

cautions “snausages” when we are back on the

sidewalk. dog shit, foreclosed eyes, never an easy

traverse.

 

Soon, we are at the house where the writers’ salon

will take place. inside are wordsmiths with mis-

functioning limbs, with shorted-out eyes, others with

damaged processors. I’m all grouse and grumble

and, “I don’t want to join the defective doll party.”

 

Robin says her, “You are my hero, Seansy.”

 

And I say my, “I’m stuck in the burning house.

You are the one who ran in.”

 

Tonight’s disability salon should be one of shared

stories: loss, longing, jigging away in our leg braces.

But I’m more in the mood to have quads throw

Molotovs, blind guys slug tinted Limo windows,

spokesmen with Tourette’s voice our lives of relentless

oxymoron.

 

“Ready, Sport?” robin says as we head for the door.

 

* * *

 

Inside, there’s the handshake dance with a blind

essayist, a team-greet from an autistic poet and his

bedraggled but devoted stepmother. Robin and

I duck into a bedroom, ditch our coats and play endocrinologist.

She shows me hers – the talking blood

glucose meter in her purse. I show her mine – the

insulin vial and syringe in my pocket. There’s a

swabbing of fingers, a pricking of blood, and then

a jab of needle to my abdomen. We emerge, just

another Saturday night couple at a party.

 

We catch up with memoirist Rachel and dig right

into archeology, paleontology, autobiography – all the

cracked pots and T-rex fibulas from which we

reconstruct our lives.

 

A “Hi, I’m Ona,” emerges from the party’s white

noise and I’m soon holding a poet’s hand in mine.

I try to remember her disability. Are her fingers bent?

What would that mean? But her hand lies so delicately,

so femme fatale, that I have a growly Sinatra kind

of feeling. I want to say “Well, aren’t you the little

heartbreaker?” Is this wrong?

 

I say, “Nice to finally meet you,” and she says “I’ve

heard so much about you,” or maybe it’s the other

way around.

 

Beside me, the bespectacled harem-of-my-heart

hands back my Diet Pepsi, as if to say, “Well, go get

em, tiger.”

 

***

 

We gather in the living room and take turns reading,

clockwise. Headphones on, a blind essayist cursors

through his boyhood remembrance swinging for

this thing called “Moon.” Ona recollects her girlhood

classmates mocking, mimicking limp. The autistic

poet points at a keyboard, and his stepmother inter-

prets poems about her long-deceased husband. The

man lives on between them.

 

Our stories pad through the room, shelter cats

scratching at doors to roam the hood.

 

Next up, Robin reads my summer-of-the-lovelorn

essay. it’s the early nineties, I’m the sighted boardwalk

clown and my legumey object of desire is a confection

store Mrs. Peanut. I honk my horn, madam peanut

taps her cane. the writers’ salon chuckles at the

courtship of the Abled.

 

Robin returns the evening to its upright position,

reads her account of one of my emergencies. The

blood streaming from one of my useless eyes. My

resisting a call to the paramedics. The ER doc re-

moving the offending shard. Through her words, I

care for this character Sean in ways I refuse to when

I’m loose, off the page. And I’m surprised how

frail her Sean is in her words, even as the evening’s

strawberries disquiet my stomach.

 

* * *

 

Afterward, we drive poet Dave and his leashed eyes

Rudder home. robin is pre-GPS, the dog is harumph-

ing on the floor, and it’s starting to spritz rain.

 

“Let’s take Route 1,” I say. “I know the area. I’ve

driven the area.”

 

Dave pines, “You’ve driven?” He boots his Braille

palm device and connects it to a modified navigator.

I hear muffled mutterings from tiny speakers, then,

“My GPS says take Route 30.”

 

We take route 30.

 

Dave announces landmarks. “There’s an IHOP on

the left,” he says. “Burger king on the right.”

 

The rain worsens.

 

“Coming up on a Dunkin Donuts,” Dave says.

Soon, we are on the highway under heavy rain and

then a stretch that is under repair. Robin says, “I hope

Rudder can take over.” Her tone is wheel-grip tight.

She brakes more than she accelerates.

 

By the time we reach Dave’s place, the weather

settles and Robin sees the poet safely up to his door,

leaving me in the passenger seat, my fears at the

wheel. I am alone, worldless if it weren’t for the water

torture drip-drip. I am a child in a carseat waiting

for mom. I’m seated on a gurney in an underfunded

morgue. I’m in a cut scene from the movie Alien.

 

Maybe Robin and Dave are at his threshold,

whispering words of arousal to each other: arugula,

jalapeno, Pacific shucked oysters.

 

Where is she?

 

The car door opens. Robin climbs in, breathless,

says, “We were at the wrong house.”

 

“The dog didn’t know?”

 

I feel the warm breath of her stare. She gives a

“How do we get back home from here?” Her sincerity

is the gift wrap. So what if i pocket all her ribbons?

 

“Make three rights, go up two blocks, then a left.”

My inadequacies diminish to fleas as we guide each

other home along roads that will always be bedrizzled,

poorly illuminated, and under repair.

 

 
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