crouch

He crouched to look at the guinea pig. “So that’s Baxter, huh?” I tried to conceal the quick look of shock, but he saw it anyway. “Yes, Lola, some dads can actually still squat,” he smiled. “No, not that, I’m just surprised you know his name,” I said, feeling the colour creeping into my face, starting at my cheekbones. He noticed the blush, motioned towards the cage. “You have a tiny wooden sign with ‘Baxter’ written on it right next to the cage, Lola. I’d have to be much more tired, stressed and old than I actually am to not see it.” I nodded, in the usual way, where more of my head than my face is visual.

Sometimes I think it’s almost like a bow.

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drunk man vs. light bulb

“Just because you can reach the light bulbs with ease doesn’t make you into some sort of superior human,” I told him. He cocked an eyebrow at me. “Just leave them alone, Paco,” I wondered which tone of petulance was the right one to use, which one would remind him of his mother –

Right, I reminded myself. He never had one. Mostly.

“Your light,” he started, looking up at the ceiling fixture, “it wants to smash me in the head, and also I think it is dying.” I sighed. He thought everything was after him once he started drinking. My cheap light fixture? Murderous. His wife? Homicidal. The cows on the side of the road? Obviously plotting his doom.

“Come here!” he yelled suddenly, grasping the light bulb, then recoiling and sitting on the ground immediately. “Did you – did you burn yourself?” I asked, my mind jumping between Serves you right – I hope he’s okay! – What are the repercussions to a burned dad? quickly and repetitively. He wiggled his fingers. “Good thing I have this ice-cold beer!” he was cheerful again. I could relax. Mostly.

“Like I told you, Lola,” his grandiloquence – or imitation of it – was returning, “cold beer cures a multitude of sivels.”

“Are you trying to say ‘sins’ or ‘evils’?

“Yes.”

Paco

The first time I saw him I thought only that he was very tall. I didn’t feel like meeting new parents – I had the most epically skinned knees from some good idea turned bad, had just returned from the doctor who had stopped just short of pronouncing me the most unmarriageable girl possible, and I don’t like it when only one parent shows up to the interview, especially sans children. They can tell you all they want about their kids as a description, but at the end of the day it can range anywhere from accurate to bullshit to complete delusion.

Anyway, he was tall, and he smiled at me as if we knew each other, so much so that I said “Do I know you?” just as the director asked him “Do you know our Lola?” and he shook his head. No, he didn’t know me, hadn’t met me, mouthed my name like I was a rare fruit. I sighed. I wanted no part of this. He came towards me with his brilliant smile – and neglected to see the plastic ‘gym’ at his feet. He fell head first, completely unprepared, and some little voice began yelling “Splat! Splat!”

I slipped out, still limping slightly. Like I said – I wanted no part of any of it, whatever it was.

drunken tiger racer

I don’t know what peculiar synthesis of fate brought Chubby Hump and his wife together; all I know is that she is altogether too much for him. She is beautiful, and he is not good looking, not any type or sort of good looking, not even sexy ugly. She is funny and witty, and he is not, his jokes being of the either completely confusing or knock-knock level variety. She is sexy, statuesque I think is the word – and he is round, like a dinner roll. In fact the man is entirely too much like a dinner roll, round and soft and white and equally bland.

This assessment is harsh. I refrained from making such assessments of him earlier, kept the thought of him suspended in a sort of opinion-less ether, never revisited. Then one day I saw her looking on the verge of tears, and I felt that familiar chest tinge that meant my empathy was acting up again, and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that it was nothing, but she had a job interview, and in bits and pieces it came out that she couldn’t afford a new business suit for the interview, but it didn’t matter of course, she was just on a budget, after all it was fair. I consoled her without verbal opinion – what good could it possibly do – but you must know the man is rich. Whether or not she was bringing in ‘her share of the bacon’ there would be no shortage of money. If our state was plunged into fiscal drought, there would still be no shortage of money. If their child grew up to become a drunken tiger racer, there would still be no shortage of money. If the western part of the continent fell into the ocean – still, no shortage of money.

drunk dad

I used to want to hear it – the familiar knock knock on my door, the familiar fist. But that was a long time ago, in time and in feeling, and that was another door.

Last night I heard a knock and my heart felt nothing. My mind might have done a little apprehensive dance – they can’t cut off your water at night, can they? – but my insides felt the same. When I opened the door I gasped a little, involuntarily, even though my nerves are usually pretty good.

There was a drunk man outside, drinking from a bottle of Jack, eyes bleary and face a little, maybe, tear-stained?

And he’s one of the dads.

the christmas party

In retrospect I can use or at least approximate the right words for the feelings; I can say I felt all the air go out of me but at the same time I felt just like an overblown balloon, about to pop. I can say all these things but at that exact moment I knew nothing except a sort of wild-animal blank panic, and I stood in the shadows which was the most I could muster for propriety, and I didn’t know if I were happy or sad or if I loved him, still, or ever.

Neil walked in and saw me, giggled and began a story. “So I was saying to the director that ‘no, really’ because I had no idea she . . .” he stopped and looked at me. “Are you feeling well?” I shook my head, trying to keep from crying, thinking it would be the very worst thing, to cry while someone giggled at you, but my eyes were already smarting. I opened them wider to hold the tears in. “You’re not breathing Lola,” he said softly. “I can’t – he didn’t – it was – too long, I mean – ” I gasped, an epic story lost in the dashes. Neil stood closer, pushing aside the champagne bucket on the table in front of us. He almost took my hand, then stopped. “Look at me, Lola,” and I did, although he seemed kind of shiny. “In, out, in . . . ” and then I was breathing again, and the tears were re-absorbed or at any rate gone, and I began to feel the need to explain.

“I just saw . . . someone. I hadn’t seen in a very long while.” I said, breathing carefully. He cocked his head at me. “And then you forgot to breathe of course.” The comment annoyed me and I snapped back “It’s easy for you, you’re old, you’ve had time to live through this a dozen . . .” and the air caught in my throat, because I remembered he’s a client, and they all want to feel so young. He laughed. “I am old, aren’t I? Especially compared to you, Lola, then I’m extra old.” He crinkles his nose slightly when he’s amused, I thought. And he’s stopped giggling. And he’s taller than I thought, and he must be wider too, because the light from the other room is blocked with him standing in front of it. And I looked up suddenly into his eyes, wondering where the giggles were and the deep, spoiled sighs, and the whiny – because there is no other word for it – tone of voice that grates like a beginning violin student’s ‘music’ on my nerves. His voice was soft and deep, and he sounded like a person.

crises

“I can always talk to you, Lola,” he slurred, but not too badly. I am inclined to view him as more of a sloppy drunk than he is/was. “Yes, you can talk, Paco” I said flatly, hoping he would pick up on the faint note of hostility. He didn’t.

I know that the 30’s are generally regarded as too early for a midlife crisis but there must be some word for what I see morning after morning. There’s quarter-life crises so perhaps those just sort of extend for some people into sagas of crises.

He’s an orphan too, I thought. At least he has more substantial claims to the whole ‘I’m sad and alone bit’ than most. Than the rest.

antlers/portland

I pointed to the new dad’s tattoo. “L, for Lola,” I said with a smile. “What?” he snatched at the hem of his t-shirt. “What the hell are you talking about?” he demanded. I exhaled. “There is a letter ‘L’ framed with . . . script, on your arm,” I didn’t know how much further to elaborate. “I know! The ‘L’ is for Lorenza which is my daughter’s name! It has nothing to do with you and I just recently met you so why would I have gotten your name tattooed on me when I still lived in Portland?! And that isn’t ‘script’ it’s antlers.” I nodded. Ah, Portland, I thought.

“It was a joke, dude,” the dude coming out before I could help myself, before I bit my tongue to keep the no self-respecting animal in all of nature would sprout horns like that.

Sometimes I wonder if my tongue will develop a hole.

shane wishes

I buried my face in the pillows on my bed. I remembered the old church lady who told me “Do you want to know how to live alone through the holidays, to spend Christmas without any family?” and I had nodded, or maybe not, maybe I was just frightened and looked at her wide-eyed. “You pretend it’s just another day,” she said. “Do you know what I mean? Just another day, and don’t think about it at all, and it passes. It always passes. So don’t feel sorry for yourself.” I didn’t want to remember her, and lay there, face down on my bed. I sighed. I just need something to roll me out of this like a boulder. I mean I’m the boulder. Inertia. That’s the word.

My phone beeped. I haven’t paid my phone bill, I know. You bastards and minions of hell could have left me alone on Thanksgiving, I thought, but reached for it anyway, well-trained. There was a message from Shane, wishing me a happy Thanksgiving. I laughed at first, quickly, because I imagined him scrolling through the names in his phone, thinking Now who’s American here? I need to wish my American friends a Happy Thanksgiving. And the image of him being so assiduously polite and correct was amusing, and sweet, and – how did he get my number? I rolled over, onto my back, and the rest of the old lady’s words returned, only I wasn’t so afraid so I examined them a little: “And if you feel sorry for yourself remember there’s always someone who has got it worse than you, and if you can’t remember that then go volunteer at a soup kitchen you lazy bones.” And I smiled a little, and began shaking my limbs out, one by one.

And now I have his number, too.

fancy dad

“Why do you download music illegally, Lola?” he asked me in his unbearably posh accent. It’s the sort of accent that comes with people who use seasons as verbs. “Well of course I used to summer there but have you heard . . . ”

I snatched my Ipod back from him. “It’s there. What do you suggest?” He smiled, checked the side of his hand to see if I’d scratched him. “Buy it, of course. What do you have against spending money?” I sighed. I could either make it long and less painful or short and quite painful: “I don’t have money to spend. If I had it I’d spend it.” His eyes widened in horror. One of the great unwashed is standing before me! And I had no idea! “I – ahem, I, am, well – ”

“Are you going to say ‘sorry’? You’re sorry?”

“I was going to, yes.”

“Don’t. Please. Unless you feel like giving me a bonus.”

The more money they have, the less inclined they are to share it. The only people who actually ever try to help me out are self-described ‘poor fucks’ – now them, they’d give you their last Cheeto.