Saturday, June 02, 2007

Gypsies, Witches, And Vampires

Part Two!

I wake up in the morning, just hung over as I’d imagined. Since it’s Saturday, we’re allowed to wear jeans to work, and I pick out a pair that I imagine looks all right and put on my Satan’s School for Girl’s t-shirt, since it’s the closest to a Halloween costume as I’m going to get. Some of my more energetic colleagues will no doubt make a serious effort to be something other than what they are, alas no one as politically incorrect as our darling Coley, asleep on the couch, wrapped in my brother’s arms. I see the scene as soon as I stumble out of the bathroom, prepared to choke down some codeine aspirin and Coke and hurry out the door. If nothing else, I am not usually late to work, no matter how frayed things get around the edges.

I watch my brother holding Coley in her pink suit, stripped of pillbox hat and fake brain, enabling her to get closer to Josh. I stare at them for a minute, trying to remember how they got together and why they broke up. I recall that Coley had the misfortune of having dinner with my parents on one of their Detroit visits, something she took as a prelude to Josh popping the proverbial question, but in fact was a prelude to a big old nothing, another Christmas come and gone and only a vintage London Fog trench coat to show for it. Coley, I wanted to say at the time, I feel your pain, as if to channel good old Bill Clinton, but I don’t feel anyone’s pain, not even my own.

"I’m awake, Josette," Coley says, not moving from Josh’s clutch. "Stop staring at us."

I gather a few glasses from the coffee table, set them in the sin, and look at Coley despite her wish, face smeared with make-up and eyes unintentionally smoky from the worn mascara, looking vaguely post-connubial, although I would be surprised if they had sex, especially given that they did not retire to Josh’s bedroom for reasons that are all about the way things look, which is sometimes exactly the way things are.

Driving to work, a stray hair falls into one of my contacts, and I struggle to drive and get it out at the same time. My mother’s lover’s wife taught me the perfect technique for removing something caught in your eye -- you pull the lid down slowly and move the object to the side where it will gradually fall out with your tears. You have to do this with a great deal of patience and like all things that work, it’s not what you want to do. I want to rub as hard as I can, to make it worse because my tolerance for pain was so low I saw no way of understanding that I can bear it for a minute instead of performing frantic movements that can only make things worse, possibly cause real damage. And because of my long eyelashes, no small amount of shit gets caught in my eyes. At a certain length, a lash stops being protective and starts bringing more stuff in itself. Kevin once said I had eyelashes that reminded him of tarantulas.

This memory seems to evaporate, leaving me with a strange sense of wonder for the debris of my life, like looking through an old jewelry box and being amazed that all of this once meant something to you, most of which was picked out by other people for special occasions, hoping you would like it, that you would wear a chain around your neck with something beautiful weighting it down, making it worth something. And because I drive past so many pawnshops in the city, one with an African-American version of Betty Boop, promising to pay top dollar cash money for gold or diamonds, I think about how many half-lives a piece of jewelry might have, how something so small that you paid so dearly for could be worth so little in the end. A swastika has been spray painted next to the black Betty, graffiti that has been there for almost as long as I’ve been driving this route.

At work, I have the office no one else wanted. Because I didn’t want to share, it was the only way, to take what no one else would fight for. Hence my office, a feng-shui nightmare, a rapist’s dream. I can hear almost nothing from the other parts of the building, and no one can hear anything happening in mine. What I can hear are the sounds of the street, but with no windows, so I can only imagine what is going on, as if I am blind.

I finger the yellowed leaves of my ivy plant, dying in a delicate blue-flowered antique teacup. One of my clients (part of the push for more respectful, if not accurate, language -- patient used to be the word, royally fucked might be the most accurate) brought it to me to cheer things up around the room (it's a dreary place, this I know, having done nothing to make it my own because it isn), a thank you present for the free samples that I gave her so she wouldn’t have to make her boyfriend come in and take a test for the same sexually transmitted infection that she had since she knew he didn’t have the twenty-three dollars for the test. She’d been using his ex-girlfriend’s vibrator and had started to feel a burning "down there." Almost none of the clients ever use clinical words for their bodies, something I understand, that being how painful it is to tell someone what’s wrong with you and how it happened. Precision is nobody’s friend, no matter how many memos we get at work about being careful about our language, that it matters whether we say something was not a live birth as opposed to an abortion. We ask woman how many times they’ve been pregnant, how many deliveries. The difference between the two numbers can be staggering.

Even so, we are instructed to never judge, although many in the office have faces that betray them. Today I see my co-workers, dressed up as gypsies, witches, and vampires, outfits thrown together from things they already had. It doesn’t take much to change how people see you. I say hello to everyone, I act like I have an ordinary life, I share nothing about myself with anyone. Years of pretending has put me in good stead. When a woman and her friend come in and tell me a sad tale of birth control gone wrong, she tells me that she likes the way her breasts look in the first month of pregnancy before she has the abortion, that they stay that way about two weeks after the abortion, and that she had a nice white man who would pay her five hundred dollars to suck on them in that condition. These sessions usually lasted about an hour. What’s an hour, she says. It’s nothing. Five hundred dollars is a month’s rent.

Her friend looks at her with bewilderment. "Why’d you let that good deal get away?"

Such rationalizations aren’t lost on me.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"It involves an almost fatalistic sense of loss. Nothing will ever stay the same." Pete Hamill, on living in New York City

Cocktail Hour

Drinking memoir suggestion: A Piece Of Cake Cupcake Brown

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Saturday! Go Pistons!


JR's Thumbprints said...

I've only been to one work related party in fifteen years. When asked if I'd go to the next one, I replied: "The next work related party I'm attending will be my retirement." My coworkers see me as uncaring, and perhaps they're right. Nicely written, Michelle.

Archbishop Adam Midol said...

The sign in the photo looks familiar. Five hundred for an hour seems a little steep.

Nelson Algren said...

I once pawned my typewriter so that I could keep buying drinks at a strip club.

Chandler Park said...

I got my first set of golf clubs at a pawn shop. The shoes in the bag's side pocket were still warm.

Sheila said...

I hate work parties.... very very ackward moments.

Charles Gramlich said...

She got pregnant to make her breasts develop so the guy would suck on them and pay her five hundred. That's some kind of sad tale.

the walking man said...

The writing is much tighter, more illustrative without hindering the intent of the tale. The functioning dysfunction seems so natural in these peoples lives, even the co-workers briefly mentioned in their get-ups just thrown together with shit tey already had at home.

Bring on part three.

eric said...

you're right on, m. Everything about the story is really good. Once again you have Coley seeing a glimpse through the darkness but not budging from her position literally and physically. Your lines are wicked, especially closing lines; and they've always been there and that way with little alteration. This one has cuts but not many. I'm not keeping track anymore--well, maybe.

But Josette begins to feel something. In her eye, which hurts but she's a trooper so it's just a dull scrape. She keeps driving. That speaks volumes.

Will she ever know what real danger and fear are when presented? I'd say, no. But it might be interesting to test her more. Just a silly thought. I know it's hard to get anything like that from her--narrative wise, any way, as bullets and knives are just confetti and party favors to Josette. Will anything melt the ice queen?

eric said...

but tomorrow may hold many new wonders, and no matter what, it will be nice to read these three together. She's tough, like you and your bullet amulet.

The picture is warm and haunting It's poetry all by itself

four! said...

both of you drunk
hands interlocked
chaining your pulse
by this connection
by the feel and must
by midnight's song
sweat sticking skins
together that will
never quite meet
except close enough

up high up there
at she being the
only one to break you
in a season or so
the only one to look
like she belongs
in the shadows
of your home
you take the poetry
to heart with each
damp breath

you still don't have a clue
that all too freaking soon
all will grind down and
you'll be trying to write
as your front door shuts behind her
and the poetry of a moment
breaks everything but the chain
of fingers and pulse
and soon that is broken as well

Susan Miller said...

This voice is so familiar and my inclination as a consistent reader of your blog makes me think that maybe it is because of you being so vested in this story. Its an old friend with an honest take. And once again I read more not only for the conflict but for the character. I think that is important. She is original and pure.