Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Other Twenty Percent

Hi readers! For the next few days I'm going to post my story, "The Other Twenty Percent." It first appeared in Baltimore Review.

The Other Twenty Percent

"You know what dating feels like?" Jeff asks. He's going to tell me, and there's nothing I can do about it. We're on our way to a rehearsal dinner for an old college friend. Jeff's in the wedding; he's reading Paul's famous verses on love. I'm just along for the ride.

"It feels," he says, "like I'm a foreigner who understands the language well enough to get by, but not enough to get any of the jokes. I mean, I've got this polite smile plastered on my face the entire time, and I can't wait to get home where I don't have to fake it anymore. You know?"

I know.

It's been three months since Joy left him, and he's still talking about it. No one has made him stop, least of all me. It's like drinking; you have to want to quit. From all I can see, Jeff is nowhere near wanting.

"Things," I say, "will have to get worse before they get really bad."

He settles back into his seat, his fingers clutching the steering wheel in an attempt to avert disaster on the icy Detroit streets while navigating from a hand-drawn map, inconveniently shrunk to fit on the back of the rehearsal dinner invitation. I'm no help. I've lived here since I started college nine years ago and still get lost all the time.

"You're a real ray of sunshine," he says. "Remind me why I called."

"Because you didn't want to come alone. Because I'm the only single woman you know. Because you hate weddings. Is that enough?" I shift in my seat, trying to get comfortable, kicking a Coke can beneath my feet.

As we drive downtown, steam rises from grates on the street, giving the city a foggy, dream-like feeling. I read graffiti on the underpasses of bridges and attempt to categorize: political - - "No Justice. No Peace. New BPP," "Silence = Death," the personal - - "Richard Owens eats it," and the du rigueur - - "You Suck," and silently wonder what happened to drawing hearts with arrows through them.
"All right, already. Will you look at the map? Make sure we're going in the right direction." Jeff says.

I take the invitation off his lap and turn on the overhead light. "Okay, I've realized something."

"Yes?" Jeff asks, waiting, drumming his fingers.

"Looks like we're right where we're supposed to be," I lie, letting the map drop, hoping he doesn't ask me anything else I can't figure out.

When we walk in the side entrance of the church, I don't recognize anyone. Decorated with leftover Christmas bulbs spray-painted gold and little green bows, the room appears to be victim to an arts and crafts project gone awry, the work of a maniac with a glue gun. We stand awkwardly, like girls waiting for someone to ask them to dance, a pose that suggests a need for rescuing, a hand on the back leading you to the floor.

"Do you think we could have found someone else's rehearsal?" I ask.

"This has to be it," Jeff says, looking around.

After some whispered deliberation, we choose a back table, and I spot Krista. We haven't seen her much since she moved three years ago to attend graduate school at the University of North Texas to study music. That part of the plan didn't work out so well because, while being really good by most standards, she wasn't at all prepared for the rigors of a school that competes with Juilliard for students. Now she's marrying a music education major named Leland that she met there. I lived in Texas for three years when I was a teenager and don't remember meeting one Leland. What I do remember is this: my mother went through a phase where she froze rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and scorpions and used them to make paperweights. Every time I would get something out of the freezer, it would be lined with jars of these creatures. The small ones died quickly, but the larger snakes were put in the deep freeze and could hibernate indefinitely. You never knew what might still be moving around in there.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Sometimes God has to break your heart to open it." Jay Bakker

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: I Put A Spell On You Nina Simone

Benedictions and Maledictions
Detroit schools closed today. All except MINE! Snow days everywhere. Hope you guys had a happy Wednesday!


Anonymous said...

School days, school days, dear old golden rule days!--Cardinal Spellman

the walking man said...

You could have called in and said "I can't find snowflake anywhere!!!"



Brian in Mpls said...

I want to start doing this too. You are my inspiration to start submitting more stories and articles:)

Charles Gramlich said...

Love the thought, "you never know what might still be moving around in there."

My mom used to have one of these paperweights, with a scorpion in it. I loved it for some reason.