Here's part two! Thanks for reading!
Dead Girl, Live Boy
"Fuck, I forgot," Josh says, slamming his book bag on the kitchen table.
"The headmaster’s dinner party."
I sit down at the table, a blue and white retro piece that looks like it came out of someone’s sweet grandmother’s kitchen. The tiny orange gourds I bought for Halloween have started to rot and cave in on themselves so I toss them in our trash. Josh pours a beer into a tiny juice glass and slugs it like a shot. I get a Sprite in an attempt to sober up from this afternoon.
"I don’t want to go," Josh says.
"I have to. That little prick demands attendance."
"Say you’re sick," I say. "You look sick." Considering Josh took a razorblade and mutilated his face this summer, I’m guessing his absence might be one people would welcome.
"I don’t want to get lose my job. Why don’t you want to come with me?" Josh has finished his first beer and is onto the next, a local concoction called Third Coast.
"You can’t get fired," I say, seeing an entire night of polite social chitchat stretched before me. I think of the old joke -- what are the only two reasons you can get fired from a teaching job -- a dead girl or a live boy.
"Come on, Josette. I never ask you to do anything."
That’s not exactly true. I have to attend a therapy session once a month with Josh, that once being tomorrow. Josh goes to therapy every week, but the woman he sees after he ended up in the hospital for carving a smile underneath his mouth insists that I attend with him part of the time to address family dynamic issues. I cannot express how long fifty minutes can be under these circumstances.
Except in comparison to the headmaster’s party where time appears to have stopped altogether. Despite my afternoon reprieve from work at Planned Parenthood (the last girl I saw was pregnant despite her prescription for the pill which she thought you took each time you had sex), the drinking and fucking that replaced it, I feel entirely too exhausted for this affair, everyone dressed in what we used to refer to as Sunday best. They all seem to be discussing food allergies and nannies, the places they wished they could afford to send their children to school. I think about Mark the bartender, also a law student at University of Detroit Mercy (a third string program which almost lets me forgive the law thing) saying that ignorance of the law does not lessen the consequences for breaking it, meaning I knew this party would be a pain in the ass and even if I didn‘t, I’m stuck. At least nobody corners me and asks me about Josh’s face -- that’s one good thing about the constraints of politeness. Two months into teaching, he is like everyone else who has suffered in a visible way -- the badly burned, the scarred, those born with a port wine mark. People can adjust to anything.
I drink as much as I can without looking like an asshole, saying little, yes, I’m Josh’s sister, isn’t it cold for this early in the season, the food is just terrific. After a while, I’m left alone to sit and stare outside the big living room window, a floor to ceiling design when it starts to snow, big flakes so beautiful that they look fake. A bunny hops into the snowscape as if placed by central casting. People notice what’s happening and make their excuses to leave before the roads start getting bad, relieved as anything to be freed by the weather, and I try to remember whether seeing a lone rabbit is good luck or bad, if I am supposed to make a wish and blew it again by not thinking fast enough.
Settling into the passenger’s seat, riding through the snowstorm, I think how beautiful and peaceful everything is, even with the sirens from the city howling in the distance. Josh drives without expression, and I look at his face that is sporadically illuminated by streetlights and feel like I did when we were children, traveling in the back seat of my dad’s blue Cadillac after he’d made his money, like we were special and protected from the squalor and sadness of the world. We’d ride with him to pick Mother up from the hospital where she worked second shift on the oncology floor and sometimes we’d get to run around the lobby, buying Whachamacallit bars from the vending machine. There is nothing like a hospital at night to convince you that morning might be a terrible thing. The radio plays Miles Davis, something from his early days that sounds like it has always existed.
"Thanks for not making me suffer alone," Josh says as we pull into the driveway.
"Wouldn’t dream of it," I say. For me, there has never been a time when I haven’t been around Josh in some way except when I was married. It surprises people that I was anyone’s wife and even when I speak of it, I never feel it was quite real myself. I was deeply in love when I got married, just not, unfortunately, to my husband. We married at the courthouse, nobody we knew around, just a blank empty space where everyone we knew might have been had if circumstances were different. I told Josh, over the phone, like the coward I am. Josh hung up on me and sent me an e-mail the next day that had an attachment about a man who’d stabbed his girlfriend to death and buried her alive. She’d crawled out of her grave and arranged to break into a house and call 911 before passing out. She lived. This, Josh wrote, could be you. It was the most optimistic thing anyone had said to me in months.
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