The Exact Change

He slaughtered a six of Miller in thanks
when his supposed schizophrenia turned
out to be mere panic, fewer than half
the syllables and “easily managed with
the new medications.” Chanted that mantra
when his piano teacher’s voice droned on
like an undertow beneath Chopin hours
after she herself had gone home to Queens
and when stop signs seemed to say slightly more
than stop, seemed in fact to convey highly
specific messages to him and him alone
suggesting he assume certain key
responsibilities including twenty-four-hour
telephone contact with his finacée
“to make sure nothing bad happens to her”
and the immediate emergency
closure of the Holland Tunnel…Oh, come
on, Doc! If this isn’t schizo what is?
And after all it took so long to nose
the rental car’s savage servility
through New Jersey for Thanksgiving at her
mother’s that by the time he arrived he
can’t possibly have been the same person
he had been when he left Brooklyn and is
that not a kind of multiple person-
ality? It took hours. And then it was
awkward. Which could describe so many things.
The gangly half-dismantled turkey splayed
on its platter. Her stepfather's lecture
on property taxes and tougher sentences.
The seven-dollar jug of Chablis which
would come up later while he held back her hair.
Every good boy deserves fudge and he tried
to be one and earn huge loamy slabs of it.
He practiced his scales on the steering wheel
as he breezed by stop sign after stop sign
toward the tunnel, stopped to search for the
exact change, then resumed rehearsal as
she, deeply soused, snored wetly beside him
smelling like something spilled on a rug. He
keyed each étude over and over as though
there would not be many more chances or
changes which I typed first by accident
but had the chance to change for which I am
thankful. But what am I doing in here.

Joel Brouwer, "The Exact Change" from And So. Copyright © 2009 by Joel Brouwer.  Reprinted by permission of Four Way Books.
Source: And So (Four Way Books, 2009)
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