Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Late for lunch Rev 1

I was running late for my workshop and decided to try pulling in the QUALCOMM driveway because the building where the meeting is held shared the parking lot; at least I think it does. I sometimes shoot right past the left turn, even with the signal, because I miss the sign and don’t know the name of the street. As I reach the crest of the hill I knew that the strategy had worked.

I stepped out of the van at 11:58 and ran across the lot towards the entrance. Our vans always smell funny. It must be something EVS uses to try to clean the upholstery or carpet. It’s like all the drivers have been working at Jiffy Lube and forgot to wash their hands.

I asked the ladies at reception where to go this month and I see the group admin coming out to close the door at the end of a hallway. She sees me coming and hands me a name tag with a smile, as we both go into the room. They are just getting started with the program and everyone already has their lunch.

In the past, when the meetings have been held at this location , the back counter is usually full of sandwiches salad and cookies but it's nowhere in sight so I catch her eye again and she nods towards an open doorway on the opposite side of the room. In order to get there, people have to stand up and move their chairs so I can squeeze past. If I wasn’t so hungry I’d let it go.

As I finally complete my arduous journey across the room, I see a table along the south wall, two aluminum chafing dishes in the center, the rank fuel smell of sterno lingering from the greasy residue coating the metal above the can, clouds of steam from a bubbly liquid in one, and the smell of burned pasta in the other

Two lonely paper plates, several mismatched sets of plastic ware, and a couple of napkins that looked suspiciously like they had already been used and discarded, surrounded the pitiful remains of the meal. That looks disgusting, the thought momentarily distracting my attention from the speaker in the next room warming up.

I held my plate in front of the tray with the bubbly liquid and sighed. The only hot food remaining featured a watery looking cream sauce with peas and carrots and, in retrospect, chicken, and submerged in the muck was a gummy piece of dough at least 12 inches long, which had begun its journey that day as a flaky crust, but was now reduced to an indigestible lump of flour and water and butter.

©2010 sharon j corrigan

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cashing Out- Tales from the Retail Floor Rev 1

Let me introduce myself. I’m a single mom with a kid who is just about to enter high school. My ex is pretty consistent with the child support but it’s not really enough to cover everything I need. I’ve been working at this warehouse store for a year now. I have a bachelor’s degree but I got married right out of college and pregnant within six months.

He’s long gone now and the store is within walking distance of my house and my hours are perfect match for John’s school schedule. I put on a few pounds before I went back to work, and have a tendency to wear pants with elastic waists, running shoes, oversize tops and little makeup or jewelry. Right now I’ve also got on a Chargers jacket that my ex left behind in the hall closet.

Everyone I work with is very nice. In Australia they’d call them battlers, people who know that they have to work hard to survive. That they can’t forget for a second, or get sick, or take a two week vacation and still have the money to pay the rent.

I just got to my register. Its only ½ hour after opening and there is a long line of shoppers ready to check out, some with flat bed carts loaded six to seven feet high, local restaurateurs or the buyers for local buffets. The bar guys with carts full of generic booze to fill up the name brand bottles, so they can charge more. It’s still Vodka after all, and most customers can’t tell the difference.

There’s the mom with the 12 foster kids, but since it’s a weekday only 6 are with her; The ones too young for school. Multi bag loaves of white bread, giant boxes of frozen fried shrimp, hot dogs on a stick, frozen burritos, frozen pizza. Even at this store the bill was astronomical. And you always had to keep an eye on the kids, who despite the bulk packaging, still managed to put things in their jackets or in their mouths. They were always holding sample plates heaped to the brim, even in the checkout line. I’m sure she cuts her grocery bill by bringing them in for tastings a few times a week.

There’s Elmer and Shirley, the senior couple from the corner house The lawn has died and they are either too sick or too broke to take care of the exterior and the yard. Elmer is munching on a cheese ball as Shirley looks on disapprovingly, while unloading the cart full of women’s clothing. He eats, she shops, they’re in a rut and bored.

Now we’ve got Gianni, that gorgeous 30 something man who owns the upscale Italian restaurant in the village. Too bad he’s so short and small framed. He’d never look at me twice. If he’s not married, I bet his restaurant is packed every night with women decorated to attract his attention.

My next customer is a very small older woman who doesn’t meet my eyes. She hands me her membership card and moves towards the end of the counter holding a roll of bills almost as big as her head. Across the aisle towards the exit I see a very large man watching her who looks young enough to be her son. He looks very irritated and very threatening and impatient. I see her raise her eyes towards him and quickly lower her head again. When I tell her how much she’s spent, she bursts into tears and starts screaming.

To be continued


Saturday, June 26, 2010

In and Out Rev 2

The smell of polish surrounded the chair where she sat awaiting the top coat on her pedicure. Shiny blue toes rested on the cushioned sliding stool that Tommy used to place himself in the proper position for the job. Today the conversation revolved around iphone apps. Marissa, Tommy’s wife, had the new iphone and she wanted Sandy to help hedr locate the webcam.

There were three ladies sitting side by side in various stages of the beautifying process, all with iphones. The sweet feminine smell of the heavy moisturizing cream used for the massage part of the process helped to balance the chemical smell of the polish remover. The salon was dimly lit with traces of gold in the landscape mural on the wall, in the decorative silk orchids and on Marissa’s hands and reading glasses.

Oh shit its 5:57. Sandy looked at the clock, checked her phone, and realized she had to get to the car, make it through traffic, 3 stop signs, and a signal, find a parking spot, and run all the way to the far end of the library to make it to her meeting, and all within the next 3 minutes.

I’m glad I ate those sliders at Alphy’s tavern she thought. Only $10 bucks and way too much food, but it did help to sop up the glass of malbec I ordered to wash it down. Pulled pork with BBQ sauce, the smoky tomatoey spicy sauce running over the edge of her palm, as she maneuvered her arm in an attempt to control it. The second a burger, probably Angus, Ok but not extraordinary. I prefer the flavor and texture of veggie burgers these days. The 3rd some sort of roast beef with mushrooms. The shrooms and small chunks of the meat scattering over the tabletop as she finished it off.

There were only a few customers at this time of day. There was some sort of sporting event on the video screens but the sound was turned down, and music filled the air with the magical lyrics and melodies of Landslide, but not the Stevie Nicks version. I needed some veggies and happily finished off the lettuce garnish that adorned the center of the plate.

As the barmaid brought the bill and Sandy watched the plate head towards the kitchen, she thought how obvious it was that the chef had been watching too many food network shows. The outer rim of the plate had dribbles of some sort of orange sauce with bits of parsley evenly placed around the entire rim. Technician, not artist. Not bad, but not a bite to crave the next day.

She had bought a 4 new pairs of sandals last week and had been wearing a different pair every day. As a result both feet showcased ugly red blisters. Tommy had put medicine on the wounds while he was finishing up with another customer and she was waiting for the polish to dry enough to leave.

So 3 minutes to go, Sandy thought as she watched Marissa help Tommy as he slid the funny disposable slippers on her feet, leaving the foam toe holders in place. She signed the debit receipt and dashed out of the salon. It was the day before the full moon. The sky was heavy with June gloom, a coastal weather condition that is similar to fog but normally above the ground, blocking direct sunlight and lending a taste of moisture to the air. Don’t put your shoes on yet, he shouted as she ran out the door, into the chill of the evening.

Backing out during a lull in traffic, Sandy made a right and headed for the library. It was still daylight and the air was fragrant with the smell of the ocean, and onion rings from the drive through on the next corner. She waited, third in line at the signal. The light changed and she made the turn, hearing the crunchy sound of the car rolling over the tracks as her bottom bounced upward, and back into the upholstered seat, she slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the motorcyclist who appeared out of nowhere at 4 way stop.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bag Lady Rev 1


What’s in the bagzzzz he said, laughing at his own corny line. He pointed in the direction of the rolling metal shopping cart and tilted his head slightly towards this mysterious woman named Pat with a goofy sort of grin.

These? She said loudly in a deep dusky voice that caused everyone around them to stop in the middle of their conversations, glance at Pat and each other a bit nervously.

These bloody bags are how I carry my burdens from place to place. These bloody bags are heavy and fragile and easily pierced by angry words.

Tim began to feel a little edgy at the force of her response and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He met the eyes of a woman in the next row of seats who shook her head slowly and then grabbed a large cross hanging from a thick golden chain around her neck. Lifting it slightly, she moved it quickly upward, touched it to her forehead, her heart, then tapped both her shoulders, and brought it towards her face, pressing it firmly against the lushness of her lips for a small moment, then closed her eyes and braced herself as if she anticipated some sort of violent impact.

The woman called Pat leapt out of the seat at the next stop and pushed through the line of people waiting to get off the trolley, bumping a young boy on the stairway, who went sprawling onto the platform face first.

Tim looked around frantically trying to recall, and then to understand what had just happened,

The woman with the cross was gone. Everyone was gone. He was left alone in the car with that shopping basket full of God knows what.

Perfect, he said aloud. The perfect end to a horrible stressful day. I’m beginning to think it’s my karma. Things just keep on getting fucked up, and I’m not doing a darned thing! He pulled himself out of his seat, and pushed the emergency button, just as the trolley began moving towards the next station.

Chapter One “And then she touched me”

She rolled up alongside the wood framed trash bin and reached into her shopping basket, pulling a hard candy from its wrapper and popping it in her mouth.

Tim had just arrived and taken his normal seat in the shade, between a 30 something guy with a dew rag, and an Asian man who smelled like egg foo young.

She was dressed head to toe in white linen with red stiletto pumps. It was obvious that she had a pedicure within the last two weeks, but she was overdue.

Under her long country-style dress she wore old fashioned pantaloons, also white with seaming every three inches or so horizontally. Around her neck was a straw bonnet, the kind you see in documentaries about the Amish in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Her grocery basket was filled with plastic bags. He had seen her several times before. It was never clear if she was homeless has dementia or was just eccentric. Her hair was that shocking unnatural shade of red favored by type A women of a certain age, but instead of a choppy short cut it was obvious she had been growing out her hair for years, maybe even decades.

He got up from the bench when the blue line approached the station, blocking his view of her journey for a moment. He pushed the button to open the doors and as they slid apart he saw her climbing the stairs of the doorway opposite him, her back arched downward to give her additional strength to pull the cart into the car. He took a few steps towards her and reaching down said politely “allow me”. She stumbled slightly as he invaded her space for a moment but their eyes met briefly and they both smiled realizing it was OK. She wasn’t crazy and he wasn’t going to rob her.

He pulled the cart over to the nearest bench and motioned for her to take a seat. She lowered her head and said “thank you” modestly glancing up just long enough for him to see the laughter in her eyes.

My name is Tim he said holding out his right hand. Pleased to meet you.

She looked up slowly taking stock of the man in front of her and said in a deep voice “Hi my name is Pat. Thanks for the help it’s been a long day.”

Taking a seat opposite her during a lapse in their conversation, he decided to ask about the hundreds of shopping bags stuffed in her basket. Was she an environmentalist, did she clean up public pathways, or was she just going to reuse them or recycle them. Did she use them to clean out her kitty box or?

To be continued


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Old Loves Rev 2

Oh my god
They are all here. All the men I’ve loved or cared for. Dead and alive. The men who have inspired me, motivated me, made me cry, made me laugh, every single one of them.
Can I send some of them back and keep the ones I choose. Or do I have to take all or nothing? If I have to choose I’ll take them all
The ones who loved me, the ones who didn’t the ones with gentle spirits the ones who drove me insane, the musicians and the cops, the Artists and the bankers, the sailors and the engineers they are all a part of who is standing on the threshold today , the person I am today.
Do I have to invite them all in at once or can I pass out numbers and let some of them stand outside for a day or a month or I don’t know. I’ll have to come up with some sort of a rating system for most of them but some require no thought at all.
How exhilarating to see them all in one place at one time. The most important and compelling almost seem to glow from within. The assholes fade into the cement of the walkway and become almost unrecognizable.
Do I get a wish? Can I keep a couple in the spare room and let them out when I need their special kind of magic?>
Ugh a wet tongue licks my face and as I open my eyes I see 2 dogs one on either side of me so close I am trapped under the covers. I don’t want to wake up yet. Go away.
The older one lies down and stretches out as Far as he can to try to eject me from the bed. The other one steps up on the pillow and collapses on my head. I shrug them away and I pull the covers over my head.
I miss you, I say to Keith, I play the cd all the time and I can hear the trumpet on every cut. I can see your small Buddhist bow and hear the whispered Namaste as you prepare to leave the stage.

©2010 sharonjcorrigan

Gifts of the Father Rev 1

I am bloody 40 years old, please not another stuffed animal. My father, so smart in many ways, such a smart ass in others, has once again given me a stuffed animal, a bear. There is nothing about me, my home, my lifestyle, that would suggest that a stuffed animal would be a gift I would enjoy, ask for , or know what to do with, other than give it away. I won’t even take the price tag off; I’ll just pass it on to the first child I see, with their parents of course, so they don’t think I’m up to no good. Put it on the foyer table so I’ll see it as I leave in the morning, and not have it haunting my house for weeks out of guilt for ditching yet another useless gift from my dad.

Is it a joke? I wondered? As always when these odd presents appear, I spend hours obsessing on the intention or the hidden secret behind the gift. It is soft, like a kitty’s ears, but much too small to use as a pillow, and I’d hate to see it decapitated by the dogs, so I’ve got to start it on its journey to a new home as quickly as possible.

I picked it up with one hand and tossed it in the air, easily catching it behind my back as gravity swept it on a direct path for the kitchen floor which was not very clean.

I let the dogs out, and then followed then into the yard, land gripping it with both hands, tossed it through the basketball hoop in the backyard, running to catch it before it hit the cement of the driveway. The dogs came running over as Mr. Bear flew once again, above my head and made its way through the knotted rope basket, plummeting towards earth.

I heard a scream behind me and my heart stopped, as I ran towards the hoop and caught it by the left paw, just inches shy of a wet patch of grass

As I reached out, I felt the cold chill of something metallic brushing against my palm.


The Machine Rev 1

May I help you? He said, striding towards her like panther intent on its prey. The shop was long, narrow and dark, the shelves jammed with electronics of all makes and models. There were no other customers right now, and from the hungry look, in his eyes there hadn’t been for some time.

He told her this combo machine could handle faxes, copies, phone calls and voicemail. He spent an hour with her explaining every possible solution to the issue that brought her into the store in the first place.

She had been feeling increasingly uncomfortable at his single minded attention, particularly since he had been slowly maneuvering her towards the back of the shop where she could see a door, slightly ajar, a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. He was between her and the front door and there was no way to get past him without their bodies touching.

He leered at her, growing wet rings of sweat forming under both his arms and down the middle of his chest. Then a phone rang. It was a familiar ring, but not like an American phone, two tones and a pause, two tones and a pause, over and over. He talked louder and louder until it became apparent that the caller was not going to give up, and there was no voicemail. He let out a fragrant belch that screamed “curry for lunch” and waddled around her towards the room in the back, calling to her, I’ll be right back, just let me get this.

She took a quick look at the office door, grabbed the machine, its plug ricocheting off the opposite fixtures and walked rapidly towards the front door. Reaching out to grab the safety bar she heard a loud click as he engaged the dead bolt with a wireless remote.

She turned to face him, her back against the glass of the door, her jaw tensed and her muscles locked, tears running down her cheeks as fear took control of her senses.

©sharonjcorrigan 2010

Harris Park Lebonese Rev 1

I was searching for a job before the “migration” dept knew that my employer had laid me off. I was given 2 months grace period to find a new job where the company would agree to sponsor me for an extension of my work visa.

When you’re in another country on a visa, at least in my experience, the minute your job ends, and your visa is invalid- no breaks. I was an illegal as of 12/31/92 I was living in an English speaking country on the other side of the world. I had given up the apartment I had rented for the last few years, sold all my furniture and was living in a small room behind a friend’s art gallery /coffee house. She and her boyfriend lived upstairs.

I placed a display ad in the Australian Financial Times with the headline “HELP, born on the wrong continent”, which the publication loved, and put on the inside left page right after the editorial. Unfortunately, the only response was from network marketing types and a couple of guys looking for a green card, willing to marry for the opportunity.

I don’t really remember how I found this organization, but know that I had my interview over wine at a hotel in the city with the CEO of a camping trade association, an older gent who was supposedly a former diplomat and well connected in government circles. They agreed to sponsor me, and I agreed to go work as a volunteer until such time as I was legal with the government, and my visa had been extended, or a new one approved. My former position came with a company car, and the new one, once my visa was approved, would also provide me with a car. In the mean time I was living in an arty section of the city just off Oxford Street, and it was an easy commute via bus to the train station, although I did have to change trains in a scary area in both directions from work.

The first day I worked, I thought I had gotten off the train at the wrong stop since I was in the middle of a residential area with a few shops on the opposite side of the tracks, and a milk bar (neighborhood market) on the corner. Stepping off the train, I looked again at the address, since it was supposed to be on the street where the station was, and walked back and forth looking for anything that looked remotely like a street sign to be sure.

I walked around the entire block, no street sign at either end or on the adjoining street. I learned later that sometimes there is only one sign on a street, and it could be at either end, so when you were going somewhere new, you counted the number of turns on the street map rather than look for names and hoped like hell that no alterations had been made since the street guide was printed. Nothing.

Finally I saw someone pull up in a white station wagon and wave to me, and it turned out that it was the CEO's assistant, and my new job was in an old house with a very small sign on the exterior. We walked up the weed strewn garden sidewalk to a door with a heavy duty security screen. She explained that we were in a borderline neighborhood and we always kept the door locked since it was hard to hear someone walking in from the back of the house, a rabbit warren of tiny enclosed spaces.

My office was a small room off the main hallway shared with another person, and appeared to have been a closet at one time. When I sat down in the chair in front of the computer, the doorway to the adjoining room was blocked. Interesting. In my last job I had an office about 10x12 with a glass front and no door, but this was a very intimate setting with no privacy. Fortunately I worked with 3 or 4 really nice women of varying ages, and a guy who was OK most of the time, although a little full of himself. Turns out the CEO was out a lot, so he didn’t normally figure into the day to day equation. We had a wonderful board of directors and I was considered a part of the team.

At lunch the first day I walked down to the corner on my side of the tracks, and got a hamburger and some “chips”- or French fries. I’d been living here long enough to know that the burgers would have beetroot, or beets on it, and the chips would be in a proportion more appropriate for a family of 6 than 1 person. If you can picture a paper lunch bag from my youth- in the 50s and 60s- stuffed to the brim with fried potato slices- that is what you could get for a song. That was the standard serving. They even sold “chip sandwiches” like a burger, but just French fries on a bun with mayo, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and maybe cheese and beetroot. The proprietor was very chatty and helpful, and I sat outside on a cement wall with the ants on their voyage to the water spigot and ate as much as I could in the time I had left of my meal break.

It was very hot and humid. January is the middle of summer down under and we were far away from the ocean or the harbor. Another new thing I learned when I moved here was that wearing “sunnies” were not optional; they were a necessary accessory because the sun was so intense. Talk about hole in the ozone layer. Sitting outside or even walking around at lunch was a challenge, because it was so hot, and there were no trees or shade on this street.

After a week or so, getting a better handle on my location, I walked the few blocks to the corner, and over the train overpass, making another left to the shopping area of Harris Park. I was still a smoker at this point, and this was long before the restrictive smoking laws appeared on the books in this country, so I found a local liquor store, bought some cigarettes and a few scratchies.

Each day at lunch I visited another shop, learning about all the things, and available services for sale I could find during my lunch hour within walking distance. After a week of exploring, I walked into a shop that sold wonderful sandwich rolls. They had meat of every sort- fresh roasted- lamb, beef, pork, chicken and they would slice it off the bone right in front of you, and you could add normal sandwich fixings if you liked, or ask them to add tabule and hummus in the flat bread wrapper. The owners were from Lebanon originally. My first roll from this shop was an experience I will never forget. The taste of the juicy freshly roasted lamb, and tabule and hummus – the minty, creamy, garlicky, earthy tastes perfectly complimenting each other. It makes me hungry just thinking about it. This became my latest food addiction in Sydney, and I probably went to that shop at least twice a week for my remaining year in Sydney before my visa contract expired.


The Four Seasons Rev 1

Waking suddenly to the sound of classical music from an idling car, I felt safe and warm recognizing the phrasing more than the melody. This wasn’t the familiar throbbing punk bass vibrations that signaled the return of my neighbor’s teen but someone new. It was 3am and the queen palm was slapping against the skylight; a violent crackling that had caused me great concern. The percussive beat of rain and wind on my little house had become its’ normal wintry accompaniment, but now and then some new sound would startle me causing a disruption in whatever I was doing.

The four seasons.

Yes that was the music blasting through the night on this windy rainy eve. Like the discordant sounds of a small dogs incessant barking or a big dog’s throaty growl, the beautiful notes seemed amplified in the darkness and bounced off the fencing around my neighborhood.

The four seasons.

That was my winter Sunday morning music, as I curled up with an oversized mug of strong coffee and the dogs and read a good book or watched my favorite movie. I can smell that coffee right now and, wait, my mother’s sticky pull apart cinnamon bread. I think these days they call it monkey bread, and every couple of years I regress into my childhood and make a batch although I cheat and use frozen bread dough, because I don’t have the patience to wait for the yeast to ripen, and I’m not that crazy about kneading either.

The four seasons.

I remember cozy nights with an old love tucked into bed with jagermeister and pistachios and maybe a bit of a smoke earlier.

The four seasons.

I remember the young French army boys at the disco in New Caledonia and all the kissing in the darkness

The four seasons.

I remember my first Christmas as an orphan,; parents both gone, estranged from siblings, but waking up in a magnificent casita near the mystical Mt. Kuchima at Rancho La Puerta and finding the power was out during the storm, but I was warm and comfortable and safe.

The four seasons.

The smell of suntan lotion, baby oil, strips and bread from Huntington Beach, the smell of campfires at the campgrounds and the heavy wet fragrant air of the dawn mist on a canvas tent.

I heard the gears engage, and the music began its journey home leaving only the sound of raindrops on the windowpanes, and the occasional crunchy sound of tires on the blacktop creating ribbons of water in their wake. My eyelids grew heavy, and I drifted back to sleep, lost in the soft, colorful fantasies that were unlocked when I released control.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Dancing in the Moonlight Rev 1

He got up slowly, looked both ways and crossed the street. Gravel was imbedded in his scalp, his cheek and along the right side of his body. Where am I he thought? How did I get here?

A car with tinted windows raced around the corner and screamed past him, narrowly missing a car approaching from the opposite direction. Jesus, he said softly and bit down on his tongue, jerking up his head as the pain radiated to his sinuses.

It was getting dark as he stumbled up onto the sidewalk on the other side of the highway. He saw a campfire on the side of the hill and heard the strings of an acoustic guitar playing a familiar melody from his youth. He paused for a moment at the edge of the bridge, looking up at the lights that illuminated the railings and spilled out into the night.

And then he began to dance. It was an odd sort of dance starting slowly and gracefully and then building to a funny little jig – something a child would do imitating the characters in a cartoon, or an old man with a raucous personality who was tired of being ignored.

©2010 SharonJCorrigan

Traveling with Dogs Rev 1

Jesus was guarding over the souls of the car in front of me and beside me a blonde woman was chatting on the phone and applying mascara while she steered with her knees. My legs are already beginning to lock up and my hips felt heavy on the itchy wool upholstery.

Two cars to the fight a guy was smoking a cigarette and the tobacco smoke was headed straight for my passenger window, which was broken, shattered by AAA when I locked my keys in the car and the tow guy forgot his "jimmy".

My dog started whining, a sign of either boredom or he had to pee. Great. I had only been on the road for 15 minutes and it was already starting. He’d be barking soon,  I’d better pull over when I can.

Of course, the traffic around me was at a standstill and no one was making eye contact. I knew it would be difficult to move to the right through three lanes of cars without using some creativity, so I decided to bark like a dog and begin swerving from side to side so the other cars would clear a path for me.

It worked! In the past I have used variations of this same technique to exit crowded theaters, jump the line at take away restaurants, clear some space around me at a concert venue, and make people nervous in the checkout line.

I was just about to the first rest stop and I decided to risk driving on the shoulder as the dog began a frenzy of barking, banking wildly off the side of his crate, the sound shattering my eardrums as it tried to escape the enclosed space.

I pulled about midway into the stop and parked along a red curb near the restroom and a picnic table which was right outside the men’s room

A family was sitting at the table with a checkered vinyl tablecloth, balloons and half a dozen subway bags. The two younger kids were screaming as I let the dog out of the crate and he went barreling towards the trees at the back.

©2010 SharonJCorrigan