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.
I sighed, looked at and in my change purse again. How much change can I use before I look poor? I wondered. Who cares? It’s not like I’ll return to this or any other Starbuck’s for the remainder of the summer. Maybe I have more money in the fall or maybe the falling leaves just kick my brain into some heightened level of excitement –
And suddenly my thoughts stopped, because I felt hot breath on the back of my neck. “Guess who?” a voice was asking, and I was pulling in my shoulders and jumping forward before I actually understood someone had been hugging me from behind. “Lola!” laughed Aviva, behind me, all teeth on display again, “Why are you so uptight?” I rubbed my shoulders, shivered a little. “Oh, hi, Aviva, hi,” I said, not knowing what to say – whatever the right thing to say was, it probably wasn’t ‘hi’.
“She’s my child’s teacher,” she waved at the barista, who was looking at both of us with extreme apprehension.
This was supposed to be the highlight of my day, I thought, and now all I want is to run screaming from this place.
I wish I could tell John the stories I want to tell him. I guess I never say what I set out to say but most of the time I don’t really care, or else the rhetoric of work is basic and easy to follow.
I wonder how it is for people who get to know friends and then see their children, smaller fragmented reflections. I’m only used to getting to know the children until one day I see a smile – a walk, a casual mannerism – in the adult that I immediately recognize from the child.
It isn’t the sort of thing to talk about, but I feel my lips curving into a smile nonetheless.
“I just love bunnies,” Trixie cooed, squinting at the cage from across the room. She’d mistaken the guinea pig for a rabbit. “It’s, ah, mm,” I didn’t really know how to inform her it was a guinea pig. “I love them when they’re little, so little, so soft, so sweet . . . and then they grow up,” she said with a frown. Running her fingers through her long straight hair, she sighed and continued. “It’s so saaaad . . . they become these useless lumps of furry flesh, you know? Might as well just kill them then you know.” She laughed. I pressed my lips together. This was a joke, right? Or – a test?
“Oh Lola you’re right, I’m being too practical, aren’t I?” She laughed again (it’s a deep laugh, enough so to engender idle talk of perhaps-Trixie-is-a-transvestite).
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.
“You have to do something about Clary,” Skeletor told me, brows furrowed. She’d just walked in, neglected to shut the door behind her, and was slapping her hair frantically into a ponytail. “You – just – have – to do something about him!” she continued between tugs on the rubber band. Once her hair was up she took several deep breaths to calm herself. I noticed her hands were shaking, and I looked down at Clary. He was watching her, biting his nails and looking worried.
“What’s wrong,” I said, drawing out the words and choosing the tone of voice I keep filed under “soothing.” She looked at me. “There will be no more naps for Clary at school.” I considered. He’s too little for no naps, you know, so I countered with “What makes you say that?” She shot him a stern look, he stopped fidgeting. “When we get home, he’s awake for several more hours. And not only is he awake, he expects to eat and play. I can’t stand it. If you don’t give him a nap then he’ll go home and fall asleep immediately. That is what I need: we go home, he goes to sleep. So no more naps at school, ok?”
“What are you talking about?” I countered before I could stop myself. “He can’t come from school so exhausted that he immediately falls asleep! He gets sleepy in the middle of the day and he needs a nap – all the children do. All children his age do, too.”
“Well that’s not what I need!” she was beginning to get flushed. “I’m going to have to talk to the director herself about this because it is simply unacceptable that I, a parent, make a request of you, a teacher, and you refuse to comply. That is just – I mean, it is just unacceptable.” She turned around, and strode out angrily though the still open door – this time slamming it shut behind her.
Clary was still chewing his nails. I dropped down quickly and hugged him. I felt his head resting on my shoulder, his little fingers pressing into my back with a worrisome amount of pressure. Gradually his breathing slowed. Someday, I thought, your parents will wonder why you have gone out into the world needing so much affection and approval, why, when you were raised with everything.
I love my bed. It isn’t a big deal and can’t bear the weight of description but it is a bed and quite useful, chiefly for sleep but also for hiding. When I am in bed I inhabit a different state, like a principality inside a country – like the Vatican. My phone and laptop are turned off and there is quiet inside my own house even if the neighbors make an ungodly amount of noise.
But mostly it comes back to hiding, to the meaning of Easter break always including a parent who will show up at my doorstep with a frightened and confused child because the school, amazingly, was closed for the holidays that were announced a year in advance so obviously the next quite logical step was to hunt down any and all teachers at their private residences and assume one of them will care of a kid or two.
I can’t speak as to the exact circumstances of Havana’s youth, but she hides excellently. As if the entire species of cat were being hunted.
“Can you think of a better name for this trenchcoat?” Lizzy’s mom asked me. I don’t know if she is a good person or not, but she has a charming manner. Enough so not to feel degraded by providing words on demand. “A better word than coat?”
“No, I mean I think it’s tacky but my mom wants me to wear large florals so, well,” she belted it over her tiny waist, “here we are.” I looked at it carefully. “I honestly don’t think that it’s tacky,” I told her “I think it’s vibrant.” She smiled, widely, and looked down at herself. “It is vibrant, isn’t it?”
The degree to which I am sick with a stomach virus is directly inverse to the amount of generosity I can summon. For the children? Oh come on they’re children, I didn’t say I became an ogre. For their parents?
I feel like a southerner of the bad dental hygiene variety when someone approaches his porch.