Magdalena sits alone on her porch looking melancholy. While she usually wears an outfit bordering on naked, tonight she is attired in a burgundy pleated skirt and a chaste white blouse buttoned at the collar. Her customary paisley scarf covers her dreadlocks. She crosses one knee over the other and waves as I come across the lawn to the porch.
The night is damp, the grass high, and the sound of cicadas is deafening.
“Do you have anything to drink?” she asks expectantly, hopefully.
One of us usually does have a bottle of something or other, and tonight it’s me so I go to my apartment and fetch a chilled bottle of vodka that I had bought because of its label: a picture of a turkey. I often choose my liquor or wine that way—because of how it looks, not its quality or price.
Cigarette butts litter the floor of the porch, for Magdalena is charming, charismatic, and kind, and everyone wants to be around her; she exudes a kind of mystery, along with the sense that one has known her forever and intimately.
Inside her odd, poorly maintained apartment, the floor is unfinished. There is mold in the corners and alongside the walls. Dishes are unwashed and a box of empty liquor bottles sits in the middle of the room. Christmas lights blink on and off inside a large, outdated microwave. Magdalena’s drawings are on the wall beside the stove,
Magdalena, whose laughter usually rings throughout the neighborhood, looks increasingly sad tonight. It is some kind of anniversary with someone beloved and seemingly lost to her. The night marks a year since a great love ended and a joyless emptiness followed in its place. Going through a similar loss in my present life, I greatly identify with her melancholy and we sit smoking in silence, cigarette after cigarette, pouring drink after drink into our not entirely clean glasses. We toast one another, but our hearts are not in it. We are hardly in a celebratory mood tonight.
A moth whirs around the yellow flame of the candle. Frat boys call out drunkenly to one another at Sassy Anne’s, a bar off 4th and Gill. Drinking has lost its thrill for me, and I am thinking about quitting for awhile so I can see life’s great beauty clearly, instead of poisoned by a substance that more and more often seems to have lost its point. I throw down another shot and Magdalena does the same.
“I’m tired of being alone,” Magdalena says, and I know well how alone one can be in a crowd—the meaninglessness of the chatter, the emptiness behind the hilarity.
Magdalena goes inside and puts on a song by Odesza, “It’s Only,” and continues with a string of sad songs. We both shed a tear, thinking about our own recent wounds of people removing themselves from our lives when we thought they would be there forever. The halls that echo, the phones that do not ring, the lack of someone to share the news of the day with are all reminders of one’s aloneness. Magdalena and I are both old enough to know that the space left by the departure of one person can soon be filled by the arrival of another person, but the wait can seem interminable.
I look through the pink, gold, and lavender gauze we have strung in front of Magdalena’s porch, over the Christmas lights on her porch. She begins to speak, head down, voice soft, so that I must lean forward to hear her.
“I’m so tired,” she says. “I want to go home.”
She looks at me with a resigned expression.
“But I can’t. I have to complete the mission I came for,” she says. Magdalena often talks like this. She claims she is not from this planet, and I believe her. In her real home, she says, she has a husband—and that although she communicates with him every day, it is not enough. “It’s not the same,” she says regretfully.
I have never asked her what her mission is, but I suspect it has to do with bringing together misfits like those of us who gather on her porch each night. She gives us sustenance, wisdom, and comfort with her bright gypsy smile and joyous laughter. She virtually lifts the consciousness of everyone who comes in contact with her.
A song from a Disney movie begins to play and Magdalena brightens, singing along and even getting up to dance. Her voice is beautiful and clear, her dance playful. I get up and dance with her, under the porch with the Christmas lights shimmering through the rain.
Finally, in exhaustion, I leave to make my way along the short path towards home. Across the street, in an abandoned lot where weeds grow tall, angry, and fierce, a bunch of tall, enormous sunflowers have taken root. They stand and sway back and forth, regal and not a little defiant, as if to say: “We belong here, we are magnificent, and we cannot be kept down.”
I salute the sunflowers for their majesty and walk inside my door, smiling within and without. Tomorrow there will be a new sun again.
Donna Johnson describes herself as a person who thrives on breaking the rules other people have made while also creating rules for herself that do make sense. “My rules do not necessarily follow the law set out by the government and law-abiding citizens,” she says. “They follow an inner law, one unto myself, and when I attempt to go outside this, to conform, disaster follows.” Her stories are often about people who are not recognized by others, who may even seem invisible, but “they often have a great truth to share if one but listens.”
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