081. World as Hall of Mirrors. Morgan Bennett

Before, I saw myself reflected in mirrors and thought that was bad enough, to see the unfortunate shape of my left ear in every bathroom. Nowadays, I see myself miming emotions on every TV. I see myself on every billboard, loving juice or my new watch or my new dentist. I look at corporations and I see them trying to be me. I tell my friends I think the world has stolen my image, but I wonder privately how likely it really is that I’m not the reflection. Sometimes I see a me on a billboard who has just purchased her first half-a-million-dollar home and, despite myself, I feel happy for her. Wow! All new stainless-steel appliances.

080. Prickly in Bloom. Foster Trecost

I counted telephone poles and the seconds between them. The highway cut through the desert and offered little else. No curves. No hills. Just poles.

I’m not sure when she changed. Smiles that used to appear without reason failed to form, jokes she used to tell were no longer told. I watched while she drove. Not even a blink, just an arid stare. She hid behind the wheel and focused on the road, her excuse to pretend I wasn’t there. Maybe I’d changed, too. I went back to the poles.

She once asked me to keep her young and I said there wasn’t much I could do about aging. So she rephrased and asked me to keep her youthful. This I could try. And so came the days when everyone we saw became someone else. We spent hours inventing stories about people, who they were, what their lives were like. I got the idea from a Simon and Garfunkel song. In a grocery store, she said, “See that woman over there? She’s having an affair with her tango teacher. Her husband knows it, too. But he’s sleeping with his secretary.” She looked at me and waited for what I would say.

“Do you think they’re aware?” I asked.

“Aware of what?”

“That her tango teacher is married to his secretary?”

And she kissed me right there in the grocery store. For a long time.

I tired of the poles and wanted to turn on the radio, but figured no stations were in reach. I also figured she’d turn it off if I found one. I wanted to talk or break something. I dozed off instead.

I don’t remember pulling over. When I woke she wasn’t in the car, but it was still running. I jumped out and found her standing in the sand some ways away. I walked to where she was, but let her speak first. She stood in front of a cactus, prickly in bloom.

“They’re spies,” she said.

I wanted to say something, but it wasn’t my turn. So I waited.

“They’re spies from another planet sent here to watch us. See those flowers?” She pointed. “They’re not really flowers.”

I was up. “No, they’re not,” I said. “They’re communication devices used to send information back home. Information they gather throughout the year.”

“Yes,” she said. “That’s exactly what they are. Communication devices.”

I wanted to ask where she’d gone, but instead I kissed her right there in the desert. For a long time.

079. How to Be Happy Again. Leah Mueller

Forget everything you know. The sum of your resentments. Your sour, arms-crossed intransigence. The way your fangs gleam in the dark when you frighten yourself.

Go somewhere different. Stay in the nicest hotel. Order hot fudge sundaes from room service and swim naked in the pool.

Re-arrange your emotional furniture. Throw away that roll of film you’ve kept in the bottom drawer of your unconscious for two decades. You will never get around to developing it.

Don’t look at your Blocked List on Facebook. Chances are good that you can’t even remember those people, let alone the reasons for your resentment. Their once-familiar names are stacked in a row like downed trees after a storm. Beyond the clouds, a flash of sun.

Watch Gene Kelly in a deluge, kicking water at the camera. A cop arrives, and Kelly apologizes, wanders sheepishly in the direction of home. Seconds later, he’s dancing again.

Cook your favorite meal. Light several candles. Wear your fanciest outfit. Sit beside yourself and profess undying devotion. Don’t forget dessert.

When Misery shows up (and he will), be polite. Give him a comfortable chair and a cup of coffee. Listen to his sob story and nod. Then, slip out your back door and walk as fast as you can in the opposite direction. He’ll catch up with you later, but at least you can enjoy the trees in the meantime.