Here's the next installment of the novella. Thanks for the reading!
Josh comes home, his arms full of gifts from his students, most of them an upgrade from the traditional teacher presents I remember from my youth -- the soap and candies bought at Rite-Aid by my mother in a last minute haste to make a good impression on the nuns and teachers that taught us for a woefully inadequate salary at Regina. Those gifts must have seemed like another indignity, suffering that they could offer up to Jesus if they had the presence of mind to do so. Our parents did not put much stock into God, but my dad was not about to pay the tuition for a school like Josh teaches at now and so Josh and I ended up at single sex Catholic schools -- Notre Dame and Regina, both still in operation with much of the same staff.
I dig through Josh’s goods, happy to find all sorts of exotic desserts -- cashews dipped in white chocolate, a tray of baklava, Godiva chocolates. There are also gift certificates to Starbucks, Barnes and Nobles, a few local restaurants -- a good haul to be sure.
I still receive the Regina newsletter, notes about who has died or married, the birth announcements, the calls for reunions. While I enjoyed Regina, I have no desire to return to the tired school cafeteria to sip pop out of paper cups and see what forms of hideousness have visited former beauties, powerless against time, gravity, and the inevitable toll having babies takes on the body. I try and keep in touch with my girlfriends from those days, but their presence becomes most pronounced at Christmas when cards with the Blessed Mother holding the Savior of the World litter our coffee table. The cards fill me with a weird longing and I would say a Hail Mary if I could remember the words without my father’s inevitable joke crowding them out -- Hail Mary, full of grace, let us win this stock car race. As if we were going anywhere.
Our parents will be here in a few days. They will not be staying with us, but have chosen much grander accommodations in a bed and breakfast in Grosse Pointe, a thing that has always struck me as the worst of both worlds -- the crappy parts about having to make conversation and observe social niceties and their having to pay for it. But my parents enjoy what I would find irritating and I for once am glad for Josh’s snobbish ways, his refusal to unpack the trash bags in his room. I used to nag him about the bags, insisting that it must make things hard to find whereas he always claimed he could get at anything he needed. And I cannot help but think that our relative downward mobility cannot help but depress our parents who came from little and ended up with a big house and stock options, new cars every few years. In this way, we will never be them, a small comfort I cling to when one of my mother’s expressions appears on my face and terrifies me.
At Regina, the nuns often referred to Friday as the day of sorrowful mysteries even though we could tell there was nothing sorrowful in their demeanor as they rushed out of the teacher’s lounge, as eager as we were to get away from school. Even now with a mildly erratic work schedule, I still love the feel of a Friday afternoon, and I’m feeling happy having popped a Vicodan from my recently replenished supply -- a trip in which Roman had his associates around so it was a purely monetary transaction, all manner of bullshit with his boys taking precedence over blow-jobs, and I pour myself a glass of champagne to keep the good vibe going as long as I can before the game face/good behavior part of the holiday begins. On the stereo, Stevie Ray Vaughn sings about the sky crying. I think about calling Mark to have someone to hang out with tonight, although Josh does not appear to be going anywhere. Coley has not been here in over a week, making me believe she may have decided not to return to her own vomit, the proverbial fool in her folly.
The phone rings and sure enough, it’s Coley as if I’d conjured her up with my thoughts. I hand it to Josh even though he’s making an I’m not here motion with his hands. Let him clean up his own mess. I know they’re at the very least on the verge of a break-up because I feel a way of kindness toward her and pity.
I sip my champagne, trying to listen to Josh’s conversation which is mostly a Morse code of grunts and one clear word laced with a warning, Don’t.
"Don’t what?" I ask as soon as Josh gets off the phone.
"Do you listen to everything I say?" he asks. It’s early evening, but already dark so I light some voodoo candles for ambiance.
"Yeah, all two words. So what don’t you want Coley to do?" I’m having a lot of trouble getting the Road Opener lit so I drop the match inside the glass and hope it makes contact with the wick long enough for it to catch fire.
"Come over tonight." He picks up a book, signaling the end of conversation.
But it is not the end. Within minutes Coley is at our door, clearly having called on her cell phone in transit. She looks awful -- no make-up, unkempt hair, and a huge pimple has forced her to leave her nose ring off. I can see her waiting for someone to let her inside, but Josh isn’t moving.
"Let me in, asshole," Coley yells. "I know where you are."
I set my glass down and get up for the door, saying nothing as she pushes past me.
"I need to talk to you in private," Coley says, motioning me away with her hand.
"Can’t you guys go somewhere? Why do I always have to move? There’s Johnny’s Ham King II restaurant down the street if you’re looking for somewhere really romantic," I say.
"Fuck it, you’ll know soon enough. I’m pregnant."
Never have I been so relieved to have a tiny mountain of Vicodan at my disposal. When this one wears off, I will most certainly allow myself another one tonight although the second never packs the punch of the first one. Now Coley’s pale complexion, the vomiting, the pimples, all make sense. My last appointment of the day was with a pregnant high school junior who had taken three pregnancy tests at a Coney Island by her house so she would not be caught with the tests or leave any traces behind. We only confirmed what she knew in her bones.
"Josette, I think we’re going to leave for a little while," Josh says, putting on a pair of old running shoes. I look at Coley and try to will her away, but just because I can conjure her up doesn’t mean I can make her disappear.
"It is true that we cannot be free from sin, but at least let our sins not be always the same.” St. Teresa of Avila
Drinking reading suggestion: The Art of War Sun-tzu
Benedictions and Maledictions