Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sick In My Own House

Here's the last part of the story. Thanks for reading!

I don’t have to be at work until ten so I let myself sleep past Josh’s early rise, hearing the muffled sounds of him doing his morning rituals. I do not hear Coley, but when I do wake up feeling odd from the lack of hangover, I spot her car. Josh has chosen to let her sleep, probably so he didn’t have to talk to her. I can’t bear the thought of letting her stay without us, locking the button behind her after she’s pillaged the place looking for whatever she can find that’s private so I make as much noise as I can to make sure she gets the hint.

"Could you be any fucking louder?" Coley asks as I drink my Dr. Pepper. She’s dressed in Josh’s t-shirt and looks a bit worse for the wear, generally my role.

"Need anything?" I ask. "Hey, thanks for taking my spot last night."

Coley’s face drains of color. "What do you mean by that?"

"My parking spot. I had to park on the street right in a big pile of snow."

Coley gets a bottle of water and sets it down. "Josh told me I could park wherever I wanted."

She looks relieved -- what does she suspect happens here when she’s away?

"Touching. Are you planning on joining us for another Christmas of fun with the folks?" Truth is, as much as I don’t like Coley, I wouldn’t mind the distraction her presence would inevitably provide.

"I think I’m going to be sick," Coley says and takes off for the bathroom. She and Josh must have had quite a night. She returns, dressed and looking paler than before, keys in hand.

"Off so soon? Why not stay for a little chat," I say.

"I’d prefer to be sick in my own house," she says. She looks like I feel most of the time so I let her off the hook and watch as she brushes just enough snow off her car to be able to see her way home, a place I’m thankful to already be.

Things don’t change at work very often, which is much of the reason I like it. This could be 1976, or 86, or 96. Women’s troubles by and large don’t change, only the methods of dealing with them do. Today, I have a small break before my first appointment so I check my e-mail which yields nothing from Kevin, but a short one from Mark asking how I am. He does not mention the ecstasy or going out, says all the dull things about being tied up with schoolwork, busy beyond belief. I choose not to reply, deciding his busy ass can wait and I look at what’s before me today. It’s going to be a long one and I think of the weekend looming ahead and how much harder still it will be to have all the time slots in the world not decided by someone else.

I get home, and Josh is sitting by the television, drinking a beer. No sound is on, but he’s not reading anything, either.

"Mom and Dad called," he said. "They are coming for four days -- one day before Christmas Eve, leaving the day after Christmas."

"The day after Christmas cannot come a minute too soon. That’s the real holiday."

Josh sips and looks glum while I feel glad that I’m home and can have a drink since I abstained last night. And the four-day visit isn’t awful. I had expected five or six. But then I remember Josh’s face and begin to understand how long and strained those four days will be, that it might stretch to more because they’ll be so worried and pissed off. Near Halloween when the stores had started to put up the holiday decorations, a woman turned to me and said, There will be no fucking Christmas this year, do you understand me? At the time I nodded, making the assumption that she had cracked under whatever pressures her life had dealt her. Now I think she was a prophet or at least I wish she was.

I empty my bags from last night, trying to figure out who will get what in the final Christmas tally. As for presents, I haven’t had all that much luck, although for years I wore a ring I received for Christmas on my right fourth finger, long before the advertisements about how empowering it was to buy jewelry for yourself, the perfect answer or complement to a traditional wedding ring. My ring was from a man, one I didn’t marry, a fire opal, something that sparkled in the sun like a superhero’s secret power source. Only recently did I learn that fire opals are reputed to be fatal to love. The man that gave me this gift died in his studio amidst all the things he had created. He drank turpentine and waited. He didn’t leave a note, only a chart detailing his daily weight fluctuations. Despite his physical beauty, he had once been fat and had destroyed all pictures of that phase except his driver’s license. I believe he could still feel all that weight that had been shed, like a coat he could never lose, like I still feel the ring, a phantom circle that refuses to be broken.

"Is Coley coming tonight?" I ask. I’m too tired to leave if she is. I’ll just retire to my room and try to read myself to sleep, and failing that, Valium. I will not go out, the temperatures having plummeted today, so cold now that even the snow refuses to fall. I can hear the wind moan against the sides of our duplex and it seems so delicate, like everything could come crashing down at any second.

"No," Josh says. His no conveys more than he thinks -- he sounds resigned and sad, as if he can’t control anything, as if she’s calling the shots which I suppose she is if only because of his refusal to take any action, the most passive form of sabotage there is.

I walk to the kitchen to look for a snack that will serve as my dinner. "Do you want anything?" I know Josh wants another beer, but is loathe to fall into the cliché of a man asking a woman for a beer, even me his sister, to bring him one.

And true to my prediction, he gets up and grabs a beer from the fridge. I try to decide what I want to eat, but nothing seems right. I can hear my mother’s voice saying, Do you think things will change if you keep looking at them? I don’t, but I still look. Across the alley, our neighbors have strung a tiny strand of white Christmas lights in their window.

"Look, Josh," I say, pointing to the lights. "We should put some lights in our window." He doesn’t say anything, just moves into the living room. I stay where I am for a moment longer, enjoying the lights that shine for my pleasure through no effort of my own.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Is there no way out of the mind?" Sylvia Plath

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Cherry Mary Karr

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!


Charles Gramlich said...

I like the simple pleasure indicated by her watching the lights. This character is quite a contradiction in some ways, but certainly interesting. Close to real life, I suppose. :)

the walking man said...

Michelle, this read all along kept me wanting more a it still does but like Charles says Josette's pleasure from watching lights that she had to make no effort to get that pleasure is an ending of sorts.

To me she is being presented with a fork in the road and as an extrapolation on my part she will have to decide soon whether it is time for her to move beyond all of the bullshit that is her life and make herself into someone new or leave things stay as they are. It seems as if she is coming to a new awareness of self, like the still being able to feel the Opal on her finger, she may be beginning to think it is time to take her life off and put it in a drawer, move on let Josh live with his life, such as it is.

I especially liked Coly turning pale when that little piece of dialog came about, just what had Josh told her and maybe he told her a bit, she seems freak enough not to be anything but a bit jealous about Josette and Josh. But Josh sounds like he also desperately wants some thing new as well.

Just all in all a wonderful story that made me think of so many ways their lives could go. Writers contract fulfilled.



eric313 said...

It's a great statement about her growth. She would not have thought about the lights being for her pleasure before. Not unless she was putting effort into it. She had to try and be happy before, as a show, she couldn't be that way on her own. But the lights, the tiny lights twinkling behind glass, they're kind of like her lights, inside, begining to shine for the first time since her childhood.

Cheri said...

I love the Plath quote.

Ahh... those damned rings!