tall drink of water

“That’s one tall drink of water,” she said under her breath. I looked up from the toothbrushes I was labeling. The director’s accountant looked as she always had; sort of school marm-y, eyes always on the page. I’d heard her voice but she gave no indication of having spoken. “Excuse me?” I whispered, assuring myself if she doesn’t seem to know what you’re referring to you can just say did you hear something? and then that will be it.

“You must not know the expression,” she answered, adding figures in some dark corner of her brain, pen moving continuously, eyes still down. “I’m saying that’s a damn good-looking man, Lola.” Her eyes met mine, narrowed slightly. “Haven’t you noticed?”

I shrugged a little. “He’s a dad, Darla, a dad . . . ”

“A hot dad,” she muttered, resuming her additions.

whore

I was always told that women who had indiscriminate sex would get labeled and spoken of with malicious winks. Labeled ‘whore’ and – you know all the epithets. As for the women I’ve heard about mentioned that way, I never felt one way or another towards them: I didn’t know them.

I don’t think about people or things I don’t know.

(Do you know where this drift is headed? Maybe you do.) I always assumed that as a preschool teacher who doesn’t wear makeup and doesn’t even know how to flirt I would be firmly relegated to the land of ‘women who are never talked about one way or another’. Sometimes I’d watch a movie with a really sexy woman in it and think Wow! It must be kind of amazing to be sexy. She looks as different from me as a pheasant does from, I don’t know – a mailbox. But that was it. I wish I could say I don’t think about my looks because I am awesome, but really it’s just that I’m surviving. I feel like some sort of arctic explorer jumping from one ill-advised melting floe to another and trying not to count the cost.

I think every time I don’t sleep with a guy he calls me a whore.

I felt the wall move against my back, and I realized that whatever I’ve ever felt, I’d never felt the peculiar stab of finding out that people are literally talking about me, like some kind of nightmare of whispers and dismissive glances. I hugged my knees and felt myself folding up inwardly and outwardly, like human origami.

recent universe

The funny thing about violence – violence isn’t funny, I think, but somehow the sentence just started that way – the funny thing is how quickly everything changes. One minute I am walking down the street in the sun and air among other human beings and the next I am in a sewer fathoms below, in the dark, and all I can remember doing was walking.

The funny thing is that you’re suddenly in an alternate universe or the sewer analogy but wherever the hell you are it isn’t quite right, it isn’t reality, and somehow no one seems to understand the urgency, the terror, the chokey weird feeling of not being physically safe anymore. The police have these sad, understanding and exhausted eyes that make them look just like bloodhounds, and nice normal people have a tendency to exclaim “That’s crazy!” and follow it quickly with “Tell me more!”

I kept having this fantasy the whole time that someone, anyone, would put a hand on my shoulder and ask me if I were okay, and I could take a long, deep breath and feel a little better, because someone was – oh, I don’t know, reaching to me from the universe I had just inhabited. It wasn’t a fleshed-out fantasy because I knew it wouldn’t happen.

It didn’t.

A lot of people asked, of course. They wanted details, they were surprised it wasn’t at all related to men or romance, as if that’s the only kind of ugly that ever reaches out to touch women; slap-happy boyfriends, jilted stalkers, abusive husbands. But the hand on the shoulder, the kind tone of voice – I’ve seen it before, a long time ago, and it hurts like the memory of a bruise.

“That sounds horrible!” She exclaimed, leaning an elbow on the counter as if it were second nature. “Yes, it is. That’s why I try to keep my mind off it.” She nodded. “No wonder! The strain you’re under must be incredible!” I nodded, pressed my lips together. “Hey – ” she shifted forward. “Your eyes look so sad. Since when are your eyes so sad?”

“Oh, I don’t know, since it all started I suppose. Yes, everyone has commented.”

“So it’s not just me that has noticed. Oh, what will you do?”

I glared at her, said very slowly, “I’m trying not to talk about it, at all. I came here to relax. And let my mind feed on other things.” She nodded, and I turned back to what was in front of me. In a minute she will go away, I told myself. I am going to browse the fuck out of these friendship bracelets and I will forget all else.

“Are you going to get one for a friend?” She asked, lifting herself off the counter. “I might,” I answered, beginning to feel the absorption in the incredible shininess in front of me take hold. “You’re going to give it to her tonight?” She asked softly. “Maybe tomorrow,” I murmured. Purple is a colour very easily done wrong, I thought. There’s good purple and then there’re the purple dolphins at Walmart and that’s another thing entirely.

“So you’re still going out with friends?” I made a noise of assent. “Where are you going to go?” I shrugged. “We usually just eat and talk or coffee and talk. No big deal.”

“What are the names of the restaurants you go to? Like the names and the neighborhood.” Suddenly I felt a little cold, and turned to look her full in the face. “Why do you ask that?” I asked her quietly. She jumped back. “Well fine, I mean if you’re embarrassed to let me know how you spend your time then well whatever.”

The next day, over coffee I told Vicki what had happened. “What a weirdo. Don’t go back there,” she told me, removing two unground coffee beans from her drink with a shrug. “I don’t know dude,” I said, leaning back in my chair. “Maybe like, when she’s not there?” She set the beans down gently on a napkin, as if they were set aside for later use. Then she looked up at me and shook her head. “This is the same woman who wanted to know if your hair was naturally that colour and what brand of mascara you used and where you lived and if you had seen that boy you mentioned was hot one day and she’s never forgotten a single detail of your life, has she?”

“No. She remembers as if she were keeping notes.”

“So no, I don’t care what the prices are like, she’s the owner, never go back.”

“Do you ever wonder how many people we know are just, like, drifters? Not completely sane and with all sorts of horrible back stories but you can hide it in a big city, and they do, and we never know, unless our lives intersect too deeply and then very suddenly we’re in what feels like a parallel world?”

She pursed her lips to answer, but we simulataneously caught sight of a little girl running seemingly towards us in a frilly little dress, with a perfect little bob, running and dancing and twirling. She couldn’t have been over four. I began to smile until I saw her face.

It was red and crumpled in tears, even as her tiny body kept moving cheerfully.

rug

He came in and directly lay down on the floor. I didn’t see it – I was making pancakes in the cafeteria, when Amelia came running to get me, mouth open but no sound coming out, and I immediately turned off the stove. “He’s on – lying on the ground,” she stammered, eyes wild. And then I was running, because I didn’t know who ‘he’ was and I assumed that ‘ground’ meant outside the school, and that someone had fallen ill.

Then I saw him, Paco, lying on the floor, arms folded behind his head. “That’s a new rug,” I said, eyes narrowing and feeling a wave of nausea, and relief. “Amish,” he said, eyes closed behind his sunglasses.Why are you such a douchebag? I thought. Why the hell does this fall to me? Why are you on the ground? What will anyone say if anyone were to walk in the door right now, you stupid long-legged spider? What will the director do – “

Suddenly I noticed the rest of the staff behind me, watching. “He’s hungover,” said Amelia, impressed. “Get back to work,” I snapped, realizing with horror that the children were unattended. “The kids are alone if you’re all here! What the hell is wrong with you?!” I heard my voice sound harsh and hollow. That’s better than showing the panic I feel.

molly/break

I saw his hand slide towards his seat belt buckle and I squeezed his arm, said goodbye and thanked him in quick succession. I’d opened the car door and gotten out and had my apartment door closed behind me before I’d exhaled fully. I looked down. “What the hell are you doing here, Molly?” I hissed at the dog. She wagged her stump and looked at me with significance. Maybe it wasn’t significance – maybe it was just the size of her eyes.

I’d had enough champagne to feel cheerful, sufficiently cheerful not to care that a French Bulldog had suddenly taken up residence in my house. I’d known there was a chance the director needed me to watch Molly but I’d assumed it meant I would stay in her house. How can I describe her house? Well-apportioned, I suppose.

“I couldn’t invite him in,” I told Molly as she whined and looked at the door. She loves John, she remembers when he used to bring his daughter to school. I slid down the door and sat on the ground while she sniffed my shoes. “Do you have any idea what people in this town say about me?” Her stump wagged. “Actually, is isn’t good at all. Stop wagging your stump. Ac-tually, it . . . ” I don’t know what he thought would come next, I thought. What if he thought – I mean – what if he just shrugged to himself and said ‘my turn’, you know? I hugged my knees. Molly snuffed at the hand that had touched his shoulder persistently, as if there were something still there.

at it, 2

The formula for being ‘at it’ is more or less as follows:

(Name) is (verb) because he/she wants/feels/needs (noun) or he/she will (verb).

As in, “Isabella is calling because she feels her child should be allowed to hit the other children as a form of self-expression or she will quit.”

at it

Sometimes I wonder if any of the parents will find this blog. They gossip incessantly about each other, scheme to get each other into bed, conduct intrigues with the teachers, get drunk at the director’s house with her family if given the chance, and generally behave like, like hobos on acid. They are always ‘at it’. It’s almost formulaic – the director rushing in from her other school across town, about to lose another pair of Chanel sunglasses, to tell me that they are “at it” and I ask her to clarify and to lower her voice so that the teachers don’t come stampeding to hear whatever it is like water buffaloes.