seals

It’s always the same; one parent starts to look a little tired, while the other appears normal. Fast forward a certain amount of time, and one of them looks like his or her best friend died, and the other looks like a beautifully well-trained circus seal: plump and sleek and shiny, all over.

Sometimes the seal is a woman and sometimes it’s a man. I haven’t seen any great differential gap between who does the hurting and who gets hurt – between the jellyfish and the seal.

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youth

The director rubbed her temples, looked off into the distance. The middle distance? I don’t know. She stopped rubbing her temples and looked at her hands. “You’re only young for a moment, Lola,” she said quietly. “You should make the most of your life.”

I nodded. It isn’t anything anyone doesn’t tell me all the time.

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.

envelop

All the feelings I have about him are protective. From there you already know where I’m going: warm, tender, emotions that envelop like arms.

Sometimes, very late nights, I worry about him. I do not want him to disappear one day and come back, three days later, a changed man. So I put it out of my mind very quickly and think about something else.

legs

“Do you remember when you were successful?” she asked me, turning her face to look at my hair separately out of each eye. I looked at the ceiling. Sometimes it’s easier to disappear with my eyes open, I thought. “Of course I do,” I whispered back, eternally obligated to answer even when I felt like turning over, wrapping myself in my fluffy cotton blanket and kicking her off the bed with my legs.

They’re strong enough to do it, too, even if I never could make them.

leak

Sometimes when I think of him I want to spontaneously burst into tears. I didn’t say ‘cry’ because it’s different: one cries out of sadness, frustration, joy. It isn’t like that. It’s different.

I just think of his face and I feel like there’s a river behind my eyes, matter-of-fact body of water that’s about to leak out. So I immediately banish the thought of him to the back of my mind (wherever that is) and the next time it floats to the surface of my consciousness, this idea of him, is months later.

And perhaps that day I feel something entirely different. I usually do.

practical bunnies

“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).

Someday I’ll be in . . . I started to think.

Oh hell, nevermind. 

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.

“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.