All Stories, General Fiction

Roxxi by Susan Jean DeFelice

All day long is about Roxxi’s wants and needs.  Mrs. Lombard watches the sun stream through translucent curtains in her kitchen, feels a pliable breeze.  She reflects the day:  Roxxi believes there’s a syringe lodged in her cervix.  Mrs. Lombard and all the staff had laughed.  It’s crazy Roxxi’d say such a thing.  But here, comforted by early evening light enveloping her home, while Roxxi shoots heroin “made from tar and apple cider vinegar” (Roxxi reports) into her fifty-something veins, Mrs. Lombard’s thoughts on her reflective pedestal stream in like the light traveling through the kitchen: Well Roxxi is a product of the system. Yes she is an intravenous drug user.  But she is a product of The System that got her addicted in the first place.

Reflect today’s trip to the social security office: Roxxi smells of urine.  Mrs. Lombard has been around her so much lately she hardly notices anymore (it’s dried in her sweats).  But every time they go to the cramped social security office Roxxi says: “I smell. I need to change my pants.”  Mrs. Lombard doesn’t know if Roxxi is fake-caring about her hygiene or if she really is ashamed.    “With addicts you don’t know,” Mrs. Lombard recalls a distant class about addiction wherein the gaunt, pock-marked instructor had said, “they’re about 17 strategic steps ahead of most people and the last step is always getting to the place of using and feeling better. Whatever crap needs to happen on that journey is for survival or bullshitting.”

Roxxi’s motel room crawls with white plastic bags spilling out pink frosted cakelets, pringles, ritz tubes half eaten, swiveled up and twisted down.  In the styro cooler half-full of ice water anchor cans of dinty moore, float packages of ham.  From the bed Roxxi hollers: “My friend’s gonna buy me a microwave and a mini fridge!” sitting up straight and stiff on the firm queen motel mattress with a dishtowel-thin topsheet stretched so tight you could bounce a dime on it.  Roxxi dangles her swollen feet dotted with scabbed yellow abscesses off the edge, smoking in the room.  She notices Mrs. Lombard glimpse her feet (only for a millisecond though!)  With eyes languid, pupils constricted tight, says: “My feet are swollen because I’ve been walking all day and night.”

She looks out the window toward the small oval pool: “I want to go swimming. That’ll help my feet.”  Mrs. Lombard embraces the opportunity of an uplifting conversation: “Swimming is one of the best exercises – no friction or weight on your limbs!  Do you have a swimsuit?” Roxxi responds: “I bought shorts. I’m going to wear my shorts.”  Mrs. Lombard musters: “Shorts are the new swimsuit. Rock your shorts.”

Later, there it is, the sun pushing light into Mrs. Lombard’s house.  In the darker spots by a vase of dried hydrangeas light spills from behind, popping periwinkle blue and sharp dry lines out, like a staging, like someone came in during the day when she was at work, made sure when she got home that lighting on the hydrangeas would be luminous and crisp.  (also, it seems like someone came over and sprayed them with a very light blue, just in little sections, so they popped more than what the waning natural light could do.)

Next morning Mrs. Lombard wakes at 4.  She flings the window open and lay there until around 6, falling into a thick brief sleep, dreaming her husband throws a party wherein she is invisible to most.  She tries to sweep the floor of mounds of dirt and can’t. When she looks in the mirror one of her eyebrows is glued on crooked all the way to mid-forehead. She has bangs.  Mrs. Lombard wants to leave the scattering unorganized party but can’t find her car.  She searches oily beaches, dank construction sites, all over the damn place, but can’t find her car.

At work a couple hours later life is middle-aged haze and static.  Mrs. Lombard meets with slumped, worn Roxxi, matching the gray day:  they couldn’t get anywhere. No advancement or backsliding, yellow light trying but unable to push through.  Mrs. Lombard shuttles Roxxi around, more personal assistant than provider, catering to her impulses (cigs, Kfc, clothes from Value village, supplies at Hobby lobby).  A few hours after dropping her off, Roxxi’s fulfilled impulses are replaced with desperation. She calls Mrs. Lombard crying about how she misses her sister.  Mrs. Lombard fills her fleeting need for comfort, says: Sorry you miss her.  Well, be Safe. Well, don’t let anyone get your money.  We’ll meet again in a few days.

The next morning Roxxi calls (12 messages already left throughout the night):  “I miss my sister.  All I need is my sister,” crying into the speaker phone, heroin wobbling her tongue.  (on the way in to work the chicken truck is close to Mrs. Lombard’s little car.  She thinks about Roxxi and her sister while light white feathers graze her windshield.  Mrs. Lombard mistakes them for dandelion wisps, then looks over to the steel truck in the fast lane, stacked with regular rows of white and tan soft poultry bodies pushing through thin metal cages, hearkening lounging cats, curving backbones pushing out and through any surface to burrow.  You can’t see their heads for anything, their whitish bodies bending in the wind, sprinting north on I5, joyriding in cages.  Our entrapment isn’t physical like theirs but psychic, electric, algorithmic.  Worst of all beyond our control.  Do they feel love, disappointment, triumph, boredom, satiation, all things in layers, filtered, concealing the horror of their destination?)

Barreling up I5 through shedding feathers, memories resurface of 25..30 years ago when Mrs. Lombard was in a parallel position, in a similar vehicle.  That vehicle then in better shape than her current one. She shuttled her sister to the grocery, pharmacy, doctor appointments, first responder witness of the aftermath of one counselor and doctor and another being fired, her sister flooring out of appointments and into the car, fists pounding on the dashboard, pounding her legs, crying, screaming:  these doctors are ruining my life.

Before she became Mrs. Lombard, she sits like a boulder glancing over to her enraged, despondent sister every few minutes, blank-faced, insouciant, so as not to be bunched in with harsh provider-types and turned against.  Mrs. Lombard, silent partner to her gifted, though ill, sister; without each other they surely could crumple up and float away like spring dander, without direction and identity. Whereas her sister had recovered, moved on, Mrs. Lombard filled her blankness with other vulnerable people, strangers, in unending flight pattern, circling away from her sister, now landing into today with Roxxi, here in this shabby car, occasionally uttering a professional type of sentence. Like a boulder, glancing over to Roxxi every few minutes to reassure, to not be turned against.

The two arrive at a remembered address of Roxxi’s sister, knock on the door.  No answer.  While Roxxi shakes-precursor to tears-Mrs. Lombard encourages her to write her sister a note, attach her business card to it (Roxxi’s knitting business, all the supplies intact through years on the streets.  No one professional knew for sure how many years.  Roxxi always says just a couple weeks.) Mrs. Lombard folds the card into the note and places it in the sister’s mailbox.  Roxxi shouts from the car:  “You are so smart, so clever, Mrs. Lombard, to find that mailbox and put my note in it!”

Sometimes Roxxi can be condescending like all us.

Mrs. Lombard is a near-crushed chicken stepping outside her metal pen.  The truck shooting up I5 had broken down, the jolt rattling her cage open.  Mrs. Lombard flops out, distanced from all familiar and small.  She gazes the regular cages stacked on the truck maybe 20 long by 12 high (she had no idea there were so many like her), realizing her life wound up a silentish, nodding provider bathed in a false notion of purpose:  Roxxi missing her sister carried no grand meaning that linked to Mrs. Lombard’s life.  This distant parallel meant nothing (there are so many like her, so many like her!)  Mrs. Lombard scrambles back into the cage, clamoring and clinging to story-her only anchor- just as the truck starts back up, hurling itself all up I5.  Oh, Canada!  Is this their destination?  Inside the cage destinations mean nothing.  Life returns to circular stories protected by spindly cages.

Back in the scratched up car, Roxxi brightens.  An emotional facelift had occurred with the dropping of a note in her sister’s mailbox.  Roxxi sighs: “Now I’ll be able to sleep again.”


Susan Jean DeFelice

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4 thoughts on “Roxxi by Susan Jean DeFelice”

  1. For me, a tale of sisters..and co dependency….First, she cared for her own sister, and now “Mrs. Lombard… landing in today with Roxy”…. There’s the entrapment idea expressed in the truck full of poultry……surreal flow from the language and cadence used. Interesting story. I like the bit about the hydrangeas.


  2. Hi Susan,
    It takes a lot of skill to have a backstory as relevant as the main plot.
    You have developed this with your characters also.
    Both are as interesting as each other.
    This is a beautifully well balanced piece of writing.


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