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Roll. Stuff. Layer.

By Áine Greaney

PROMPT — Who am I today?

This morning I am crisscrossing from the motel room dresser to my motel bed. Dresser to bed. Bed to dresser.

The dresser is painted blue. The bedspread is patterned with blue seashells. Outside, beyond the second-floor windows, sits the sparkly blue ocean. On the bed, my duffel bag is unzipped and splayed open, waiting for the next thing from those dresser drawers.

Socks. T-shirts. Shorts. Trousers.

Roll. Stuff. Layer.

I'm really good at this—at rolling up an entire week or an entire fortnight or an entire month's worth of things. I am also good at holding my breath, at shushing the fairy tale playing inside my head—the one that says that I am leaving here forever, that I will never be back.

You will. You will. In this room, the words beat a rhythm with my creaky, crisscrossing steps.

You’d think she was going to America.

Years ago, in my native Ireland, we used to say this about some friend who always over-packed. Or about someone who spent too much time dithering over what must get packed and what gets left behind.

Recently, someone I know told me that I live in the past. The wellness articles and the podcasts tell us not to do this: Don’t cling to your old stories—your own and the generations before you.

Oh! But tell me, please: Who the heck are we without our stories? Who the heck are we if we pack and depart so lightly that we are just a walk-on passenger, just another passerby on the street?

One morning, I actually was packing to go to America. It was December. It was long before cell phones. It was long before we had a credit card to just plunk down for a motel room by the sea.

That morning I was in my childhood bedroom. That morning, I packed a hiker’s rucksack. That morning, I was already good at rolling and packing: Socks. T-shirts. Sweatshirt. Pajamas for the New York deep freeze.

Roll. Stuff. Layer.

That morning, I was already good at holding my breath. When it was full, I hoisted that khaki green rucksack onto the bedroom floor. It stood there, all by itself.

Now, my seaside duffel bag is packed up. So I zip it up to go down to the car. In the car trunk, this soft bag fits between my book bag, my laptop, next to last winter's snow shovel and boots. It squishes right in there, with the bits and pieces of an American life.


Áine Greaney is an Irish-born author living in the Boston area, where she has published four books and a chapbook of short fiction. Also, her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, The Boston Globe Magazine, Litro, The New York Times, The Literary Review, Salon, Image Magazine, and other publications. She teaches expressive and creative writing at various community and college venues.


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