Friday, November 09, 2007

Ruin The Whole Night

Here's the second part of the story!

Elana tries to imagine a conversation with Greg, the one she'll have when he gets here, if he gets here. Elana is profoundly disappointed. Grown-ups are on time. He's been on time for all their other dates: the day trip to the Little Rock Aquarium where sharks and jellyfish swam over their heads in an arched tank shaped like a bridge under the ceiling, dinners, mostly formal, mostly exotic foods, and a particularly bizarre little movie about sex and death that Elana had a hard time following. Elana thought she knew Greg, maybe not a lot of personal stories, but that she had an understanding with him, and now he's violated it. We're still not sure if this an appropriate reaction. He could just be late. That might be okay, depending on how late he is.

The last word on Kenneth. People tell you things all the time, important things, Elana thinks, but you can't hear because there's always some asshole crooning heartbreak lyrics that leave you despondent and worried about being alone on Saturday night. You don't listen, her mother always said when Elana forgot something important, and at last she knew what her mother meant.

Let's backtrack. A very young Elana works the car lot. It's hot, so hot outside that the sky blazes a white color, painful, searing. She's hot, hotter than she ever imagined she could be and it occurs to her that she doesn't have to sell cars, that she could do anything. Her uncle offered her this job not because he thought she would be good at it, but because his sister asked him to. Elana's dad, dead for seven years at this point, didn't leave behind any money for college. Now, in her sensible low heels and the back of her good white shirt sticking to her skin, she lets her mind wander to imagine a life at college, people with beautiful clothes walking on stone, ivy and green surrounding them, shafts of light glinting through that perfect world. But even with money, we know she can't leave because of her mother. Elana thought about limits, walls, the things that she wouldn't ever be able to change, the way time stretches out and you lose yourself in it, give up and accept the endless sea of days that define and shape, just the way an aquarium holds water, keeps it contained, lets you see the edges. Then she looks at the car lot in the middle of Arkansas, the smell of paper mills, hot air. But finally she sees a couple that looks like they might buy. She asks them "What can I do to get you into a something today?" Hours later she stands looking out of the showroom, drinking out of a paper cup as they drive away in a new car; she sees her life stretch out before her. It's simply a matter of finding out what people want and how much they are willing to part with to get it.

Elana can't wait any longer and decides to do something. It's like the first time she realizes that she doesn't have to finish a bad book, she can just stop and place it back on the shelf. She puts down her magazine, gets her keys, and leaves. She drives to the water gardens in the middle of town without knowing why. Across the street from the dealership, the water gardens seems like an extension of work, something comforting. It's dark, and there are soft white lights that refract off the fountains, the water pouring over rocks. It's all open and quiet, the quiet of a baseball field in a park late at night, the lights glowing overhead and the crickets and katydids in the distance. She sits down on the steps and hugs her knees to her chest. A man approaches her, and she tenses up until she realizes it's Roger. He looks like he just got off work, tie unknotted and shirt undone a few buttons. He's carrying two bottles, one glass, one plastic.

"So what's going on?" he asks.

"Your friend Greg stood me up. What are you doing here?"

"I was drinking and Stephanie kicked me out of the car. I showed up late to some damn party." Stephanie is the third wife. Elana knows all the wives. She's not close to any of them; it doesn't pay to be. Eventually, there's another one to remember, another one making a tearful scene at work, someone who packs up and leaves Roger with his new girlfriend, the next wife.

"Want some?" he says and offers her a drink out of his bottle of Scotch.

"No, but I'll take some of the water. What exactly happened?" she says and drinks off the bottle for a long time.

"Well, I figured it would be cheaper to go to a liquor store than a bar. Stephanie took my checkbook and all my credit, so I was stuck with a twenty. Went to work to pick up a cup and decided to come over here to get some air."

Elana drinks some more water, leans back on her arms, and stretches out her legs. She doesn't see any stars, just the lights from the garden.

"Elana, why is it that we've never gotten together?" Roger asks.

Elana imagines that Roger will be really sorry tomorrow, that this drunk conversation will make things awkward, but she can't find the energy to redirect. "Could it be your perpetual married state?"

"Never to the same person for very long, though. Surely that should work in my favor."

"Not really. The wives just keep getting younger and younger, Roger. I just keep getting older.
I've never even been married." Her voice shakes when she says this and try as she might, she can't help it. She drinks more water.

"Oh come on. There was Kenneth. He adored you," Roger said. Kenneth was the only boyfriend of Elana's that Roger could name.

"He adored smothering me to death. Now I'm old and tired and can't deal with people at all," she says.

"You still look good," Roger says and she can see that he is already very sorry that he opened up this topic.

"That's why I'm hanging out at the water garden on a Friday night," she says, picking up her keys and brushing off her skirt. She puts down the bottle.

"Hey, I'm doing the same thing," he says. He leans his head onto her shoulder and looks up into her eyes. Elana feels him shake and can't believe how nervous he seems. He reaches out to wrap his arms around her, and she pulls away.

"I can't be what you want. You know I can't," she says. She starts to walk to her car, but not before she turns and sees him watching her through the haze of fountains, clutching his bottle.

When Elana pulls into the driveway, she looks through her big bay window and sees Greg sitting in the dark, drinking. He's tall and his legs stretch out underneath her coffee table. Greg has none of the dark intensity that Roger carries. He's tanned, a college athlete, someone contained, self-possessed. She walks in and turns on the light.

"Elana, finally," he says and pats the couch next to him, signalling for her to sit down.

"How the hell did you get in here?"

"With my key."

"That key was in case I locked myself out," Elana says, setting down her keys. She realizes that her hair is slightly wet from the air at the water gardens, and she pulls it back behind her.

"I thought we were supposed to have dinner."

"I waited as long as I was going to wait." She looks down at her polished nails and fights the urge to scratch off all the paint.

"Fair enough. We don't have to ruin the whole night over food, do we?"

"I guess not. I'm not hungry, anyway. What was the hold up?" She wants to throw a fit, make noise, but she can't. She's going to be calm.

"I had to fire someone. It wasn't any big deal, but it took longer than I thought it would."

Okay, Elana thinks, maybe he does have a legitimate excuse. Maybe she should say something nice, change the subject. He's had a bad day. Be pleasant. "It's a beautiful night," Elana says, pointing out the window. She sits down next to him.

"It won't last for long. Pretty soon it'll be hotter than hell and nobody will be able to stand it," Greg says.

He sets down his drink and motions for the bedroom. It's abrupt, but she follows him. She walks into the dim room and watches the shadows play on the wall from the candles she lit earlier. She doesn't look at Greg.

"Take your clothes off," he says, leaning up against a fluffy brown pillow with his arms above his head. He hasn't touched her yet.

Elana starts to unbutton her shirt, her head down and her hair falling from the sides of her face, covering any expression. She thinks that she wants to be sexy, but instead the only emotion she can convey feels like fear. She drops her shirt, sits down on the side of the bed and takes off her shoes. She inches down her hose and stops.

"Finish," he says, reminding her of friends trying to get her to clean her plate.

She takes off everything else and places it all on the floor. She lifts up the comforter to cover herself, but he reaches out and grabs her wrist. He starts to kiss her, his lips chapped and rough, like her own without gloss. He jerks her arms above her head, holds her wrist in one hand, and feels her ribs with the other. Everything feels fast and jagged, her body jerky and foreign. He takes off his shirt and pants.

"Do you have anything?" he asks.

"No. I've been tested. I haven't been with anyone in a long time," she says.

"No. Are you on anything? If not, I brought something."

"That sounds fine," Elana says. She watches him retrieve his pants, pull out his wallet. She turns away and can hear the sound of the wrapper. He pulls her to him.

"Come here you," he says and buries his face in her shoulder. He pulls away and looks at her.

"Are you scared?" he asks. She doesn't say anything. She feels like she's about to jump off a high dive. It doesn't matter that she's in her own bed. She can see the water.

He kisses her over and over. She can't relax. "Maybe you need a hug," he says and holds her close. She can smell the alcohol on his breath.

"Let me," he says and she feels his arms, concentrates on his arms.

She looks up and kisses him on the mouth. "I want you so much," she says. For a moment, she believes it. When he is inside her, she thinks of herself as someone else, someone beautiful and precious. She imagines dancers underwater, synchronized swimmers that can hold their breath forever.

After Greg finishes, Elana realizes she has bled everywhere. The blood is more unexpected than anything that has happened before it. She can't even remember her last period. She waits for Greg to say something, but he doesn't. They both look at each other for what seems like a long moment, and he gets up and leaves the room. Through the wall, she hears him turning on the faucet. Elana starts to cry, wipes the tears off her face with the back of her hand. She gets up and takes the sheets off the mattress, setting them by the bed. She walks to the closet and gets fresh sheets, focuses all her concentration on getting the corners completely tucked in. When her hair spills over her face, the dark roots are visible in the dim light.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before." Mae West

Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story suggestion: "The First Men" Stacey Richter

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!


Paul Mitchell said...

Very dark roots.

Mitch Ryder said...

Aren't you cold out there, baby?

Johnnie Cochran said...

If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.

Peter Finch said...

Sunday, bloody Sunday.

Juliet Binoche said...

I don't have to be happy to be happy.

The Beatles said...

All you need is love.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm from Arkansas. Been to Little Rock quite a bit. It's a beautiful state, but it does get pretty hot there in the summer.

I liked the story.

whitenoise said...

Interesting. I leaves me feeling kind of empty...

Nicely written.

Cheri said...

Ahhhhh Michelle, you've got me hooked on yet another story!

the walking man said...

She is drowning in her self, not self pity but that part of her that has certain regrets.

Like it, it is coming through very loud and clear.

eric1313 said...

I love the title of this one.

This is a pretty good way to try new ones, I guess.