Sunday, October 28, 2012

She Is Where, Part 18

The alarm clock rang right at 6:00 a.m., as she'd asked it to do.  She further requested that it give her 9 minutes more of sleep.  She made this request four times and then admitting that the cranberry relish wouldn't make itself -- year after year it had refused to do so -- she staggered to the bathroom and turned the shower on to warm up the water.

She lived in an older building with an older landlady with a total denial method of setting things like thermostats properly, or even fixing things, as in "That window is broken!  There is jagged glass and rain and snow can get in!  Here is a board that fits in the hole!  There is jagged glass but rain and snow can't get in as well!  Is it really broken?  Oh, look!  A leaf has landed on the grass and I must pick it up!"  Ten minutes usually did it for warming up the water and a year was about the right time for external repairs.

Her landlady only hired people she knew and trusted but it was even better if she could wait for her cousin to visit from Europe.  He was very clever with his mind and his hands but sometimes he was delayed by surgery or visiting his daughter in California instead or not wanting to come to America during an election year.  There was a plumber the landlady liked but he was always in the most desperate of straits and had to be tracked down via friends of friends of ex-girlfriends.  The preferred electrician was very talented, not licensed, and weighed in excess of 400 pounds.  He, too, fell on hard times when his roommate decided to get married and move and he was forced to give up his apartment and, at the age of 45, move in with his parents.  He promptly fell ill and then seemed to disappear.  The parents weren't known to friends of friends and he had no ex-girlfriends.

The water heater had been installed by an old boyfriend with whom she didn't get on at all but he always cut her a deal on parts and labor and then gave her a warranty for both.  He was mostly responsive but as with most repairs in the building, things were not quite right.

People asked why should put up with it but it was for the same reason the other three tenants did:  the rent was price 33% under the market price including heat.  It was the bargain of the century and it was amazing what people would do for a bargain.

The shower was ready to go.  She did her normal routine and was ready to go including makeup within 15 minutes of leaving the shower.  She put a shower cap on her head, put on sweatpants and a t-shirt, slipper on her feet, and went into the kitchen to create the relish.  After thirty minutes, the relish was ready in her late mother's favorite crystal serving bowl, plastic wrap pulled tight across the top.  It was not even 8 o'clock.

The weatherperson had said partly cloudly but she peeked around the closed blinds to see what was going on in the world.  The was a high cloud cover, the sky a pale gray.  The street was predictably empty due to the early hour on a holiday.  Not even the dog owners were trotting their pets.  Lawns were a shade of frosted green.  The trees had lost all their foliage.  There was a flesh-toned Fiat 500 parked about half a block down.

All her nerves were in her stomach and she raced to the bathroom and released them.  She cleaned herself off, washing her hands especially vigorously, and then went and looked out the window anew.

There was no flesh-toned Fiat 500.  The was a small spot where it had been and a young woman she knew lived about halfway up the block who owned a black standard poodle -- named Fifi -- was walking toward her building.  She grabbed her keys and raced outside.

"Good morning!" she said to the woman.  "Hello, Fifi," she said looking into the dog's eyes and spoke as if the dog were a baby.

"Hi," said the woman.  "Happy Thanksgiving!"

"Woof!" said Fifi, who sat right down as if trying to listen to what she had to say.  Fifi always did this when she spoke to them.  She'd never considered getting a dog but might make an exception for Fifi.

"I saw you came from over there," gesturing in the direction of where the car had been parked.  "Did you see a giant get into a Fiat 500?"

"Fiat 500?  What's that look like?" asked the woman.

"It was small and flesh-toned.  It was parked where that space is."  She pointed back to the spot.  "See?"

The young woman turned and looked squinting.  Fifi stood and looked as well.

"Oh, yeah, but it wasn't a giant.  It was probably the handsomest man I've ever seen who wasn't a male model," the young woman advised.  "He smiled at me and nodded his head.  Fifi didn't seem to like him very much but he doesn't care for most strange men."

She stood still and looked at the young woman.

"Are you okay?" the young woman asked.  "You just turned all white."

Fifi licked her hand.

"Do you know that man?" the young woman asked.  Fifi sat down and waited for her answer.

"I used to know that man," she lied.  "I didn't think I'd ever see him in this neighborhood."

"This neighborhood has gotten very trendy and very chic," said the young woman.  "Don't be surprised at all who shows up.  We kind of got in on the ground floor."

"Oh, I rent," she said.  Fifi whined as if to say she was throwing away good money.

"Never mind, Fifi," she said to the dog.  "It's not your business."

"Woof," said Fifi and he jumped and pranced around then stepped to the grass and did a massive amount of dog business.

"Woof," he said to his owner when he was done.

"Good boy," she said, picking it all up with a plastic bag.  "Have a good holiday," the young woman said to her.

"You, too," she said, the handsome man at the back of her mind.

"By the way," said the young woman quietly, "I didn't see where he came from otherwise I'd tell you."

She grinned back at the young woman.

"Thanks.  I appreciate that," said told her.  "Bye, Fifi."

Fifi was already wanting to have at the squirrel that was prancing near the alley and was standing at attention.

"Let's go, Fifi," said the woman and they walked away.

She ran back into the apartment and released more nerves, scrubbing her hands and face afterward.  She also realized she'd gotten quite cold standing outside for her investigatory work.  Her teeth were chattering.  Thinking a hot shower would warm her up, she turned it on and was waiting another three minutes for it to get hot again.  She'd been standing outside wearing the shower cap she'd worn to make the relish making her blush.

She admitted to herself that she was probably as close as she'd ever been to going a little crazy.  She took off all her clothing but not the shower cap and had a quick shower.  She felt warmer but knew that without concerted effort, her teeth would again start chattering.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

She Is Where, Part 17

She started spinning around in the parking lot, trying to spot the Giant, but the Giant was just not there.  She walked over to where she'd seen his car and it was still there.   This realization made her stomach do flips.

What if he'd seen her and was following her?  How could he do that and not be seen?  He's a giant.

What if he had a camera set up and was watching her that way?  Except where would the camera be?

What if the camera were the store camera and he had hacked into the store's computer so he could spy on her that way?  Really?  Just to watch her?  On a grocery store camera?  The giant wouldn't do that, she decided, but Handsome would.  Even if she didn't really know him, she thought that much about him was true.

She spun around the opposite way, now looking for Handsome.  She spun around the other way and spotted a taxi dropping someone off to get their groceries.  They went out the right door and she she went in the left.

"I hope you're free," she said, trying to be breezy.

"Yes, sure, why not," said the driver.   "Where are you going?"

"Well," she said, making the word into two syllables, "I'd would like to see a bit of this neighborhood.  Can you make some rights and lefts?"

The driver looked at her in the rear view mirror.

"Are you stalking someone, Missus?  If you are stalking someone then I am not to be interested," the driver advised.

Bingo! she thought.

"Someone is stalking me," she said.  "And I want to throw him off the scent."

He looked at her some more and she met his gaze as he looked at her in the mirror.

"Okay.  Where are we to go?" he asked.

They left the parking lot and she asked the driver to just please make lefts and rights and get away from this store and maybe they wouldn't be followed.

"Not to worry.  I have training to know when being followed," he said.

She didn't know if it was just a guy trying her impress her or a guy wishing this fact were so or a guy who was telling her the truth.

"Great!" she exclaimed, not wishing to offend any of those guys.  "I leave it to you."

A ten-minute cab ride stretched to 25 minutes including a jog through an alley and onto and then off of the freeway.  She still had the driver drop her off two blocks from her residence and tipped him lavishly.  He handed her a business card.

"If you are seeking to get a ride, you are please to call me," he said.  "I am glad to drive you."

"Thanks and have a happy Thanksgiving," she said, tucking the card into her bag.

"My wife is making the turkey.  She makes every year for family and it is good," he told her.  "My wife is American from Dearborn.  In Michigan.  Near Detroit."

A zillion questions came to mind, which was very usual for her -- where did they meet, how long had they been married, did they have kids, how often did they visit Dearborn, had he lived in Detroit  -- but she just wanted to get home and think.

"Enjoy yourself, sir."  She smiled and exited the cab and he drove off.

She walked briskly to her apartment building, a woman who looked like she might be slightly unbalanced.  The put her keys on the table near the door and hung up her coat in the closet by the door, putting the hat on the shelf.  She washed her hands and dried them on the old kitchen towel.  She took the entire shopping bag of groceries and put it in the top shelf of the refrigerator without bothering to empty it.  She took off her shoes and looked to see if anyone had left a telephone message but it said "0."

Going into her handbag, she found the card the cab driver had given her and attached it to her fridge with a magnet in the shape of a horse head.  She picked up a pen and put the date on it, so she'd remember when she got it, just in case she wanted to go somewhere and didn't want to be followed.  The card said:

Mr. M's Expert Driving.
Going There?
I'll Get You There!
Mr. M, Professional Driver.

The way Mr. M drove made her believe he really did have training in that area.

In the bathroom, she scrubbed off her eye makeup with baby shampoo and then washed her face with a beauty bar.  She brushed her teeth for two minutes with an electric toothbrush, then flossed.  She always took off all her eye makeup at night and brushed and flossed.  Her world could go as crazy as can be but she was confident that if it all did, her gums would not bleed.

The next day she'd see her cousin's husband.  She'd also see their children, her aunt and uncle, her other aunt and uncle and their children -- her other cousins -- whom, truth be told, she got on with better than the cousin whose husband she needed to chat with but none of them worked for the Secretary of State's office.  Her cousin, the hostess of the dinner, seemed to generally disapprove of anything she'd ever done in her life, but she got on fine with the husband and their kids.  All she needed was 15 minutes to share the story she'd been practicing for days, honing the finer points of the tale, that now culminated in a drive just a little while ago through an alley to make certain of a clean getaway.

She went to bed early, exhausted from the evening's events, setting her alarm clock for an early hour to make the cranberry relish.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

She Is Where, Part 16

The time up until Thanksgiving went a lot faster than she thought it would.  She managed to find a handbag online that was just what she'd been thinking about that offered free returns in case it wasn't what she really wanted.  It complemented the coat and cost less than what she'd budgeted.

Everyone at work made a big fuss over her new coat.

"Wow," said her manager.  "You look like you have a serious job instead of here, ha ha."

"Ha ha," said her coworkers as seriously as they were able because they all knew they were some of the scruffiest dresser in the world.  They saw their clients every few years and dressed as best they were able then, spending any clothing budget for groceries, rent, and the occasional trip somewhere.

"I'm going to San Francisco," said a guy who wore pants so old they had a shine to them who liked to spend on two things -- trips and whores.

"Did I tell you?" asked the middle-aged account supervisor.  "I'm spending Thanksgiving in Phoenix?  Got a package deal with my son including turkey dinner, breakfast every morning, and car rental."

"I can hardly wait!" exclaimed the woman with whom she shared a pod.  "I'm going to London, then taking Eurostar to Paris, then having a week at the Pullman Hotel by the Eiffel Tower."

They rarely bought new things and wondered how she could buy a new coat and bag.  They didn't notice that she rarely took trips and looked much more pulled together than everyone else.

Mostly, in the days leading up to the holiday, she stayed away from the part of downtown where she'd seen Handsome and the Giant, following the usual routes to lunch and home until the holiday came, taking cabs to meet friends for dinner.  She took a cab when she went back to the dermatologist to have the stitches from the biopsy removed, even though it was a favorite walk of hers.

"Safety first," she said out loud as she gave a cabbie the fare and a generous tip.

"Sanjit," said the cabbie.  "It's pronounced "san" like San Francisco and "jeet" like a Jeep car.  Sanjit," said the cabbie.

"Okay, Sanjit," she said.  "Thanks."

Sanjit didn't need to know the extent of her paranoia.

"All clear," said the dermatologist and had one of her many residents remove the stitches.  "Come back in a year unless you see something questionable."

"Happy Thanksgiving," she said to the dermatologist and the residents.

They all mumbled back some greeting or other.  She left their offices and took a taxi to the subway, overtipping per usual.

Instead of going home, she went to the supermarket and got the ingredients for her cranberry relish.  She got the recipe from the NPR website years before and made it on the outside chance people would enjoy it.  It was a big success.  Family members requested she made it every year since.  She was a decent cook for herself but struggled with what to bring for family dinners.  Everyone knew it and kindly let her do the one thing she was able to do.  It was easily assembled the morning of the holiday.

As she entered the parking lot of the supermarket -- not the closest to her home but the most convenient as far as public transportation went -- she spotted a small flesh-toned Fiat 500 in on of the spots.  She'd looked at the license number on her phone so many times that she'd memorized the number.  She walked right up to the car and looked at the plates.

"My life so sucks," she said aloud and quickly turned around to make sure no one had heard her.  People were heading into the store but no one heard her speak.

She considered just walking back and forth on the sidewalk by the store, pretending to be waiting for someone, until she saw him leave but decided to just go in and look for him.  He was a giant.  He was easy to spot.

Except she never spotted him.  She went through the store grabbing the items for cranberry relish and dropping them in her basket.  The lines were long with last-minute shoppers and he wasn't in one of the lines.  She tried to be nonchalant in line but was sweating profusely from the top of her head and her stomach was releasing butterflies.  She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, moved forward in line, eventually paid for her items.  He wasn't in the store that she could see.

She hoped like hell he hadn't spotted her.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

She Is Where, Part 15

The dermatologist surprised her by doing a biopsy on one questionable tag, freezing off three mole-like things, and taking sterile scissors to several actual skintags.

"Your insurance won't cover the cost of the ones I can snip off.  Are you sure you wish me to proceed?" asked her dermatologist.  She was originally from England and very proper.  The doctor was quite fond of being very proper and very English.  She'd been in the States for 30 years and had not lost a bit of her accent.

"That's fine," she said.  "I'm feeling flush."

"That's $17.50 each," the doctor advised.

"Fine.  Still feeling flush," she said.

The doctor applied the local anesthesia and proceed to snip, cut, and sew.

"I didn't think there'd be stitches," she told the doctor.

"I wanted to make sure I had plenty for the biopsy," informed the physician.  "Keep it covered with an adhesive bandage and try to not get it wet.  Come back in two weeks and we'll remove the stitches."

She didn't ask if she would have a scar because the doctor would say, "Do as you're told and you'll have a good result."  She'd asked this doctor questions like this before.

She needed to acquire some waterproof bandages before going home.  Some cartoon bandage or other, she thought.  Keeping the wound dry meant no makeup for two weeks which gave her the pleasure of sleeping ten minutes later in the morning.  It was almost Thanksgiving, a time for celebrations with family and her family didn't care what she looked like as long as she was clean.  Cartoon bandages and no makeup?  The little cousins, nieces, and nephews loved those and got excited when an adult sported them.  The notion made her smile as she entered the store.

She headed for the back of the store where they kept the vast selection of bandages.  Her preference, of course, was to have something made in the USA.  Of course, the best cartoon bandages were made in Brazil, Canada, Egypt, or China.  She could have solid colors that were made in Minnesota.  A coworker had bacon strip bandages once but the coworker was sketchy about where those were purchased.  She sucked it up and decided Sponge Bob would delight kids and make adults question her sanity, both things resulting in more smiles.

At home that night, she carefully cleaned off the area of the wounds and as she stared at herself in the bathroom mirror, thought back to her weird day.  The giant driving the tiny Fiat 500.  Handsome finding her in the restaurant and then trying to buy her a coat.  The picture of the license plate.

Handsome didn't know she had the photo of the license plate.  The giant and Handsome didn't know she'd taken a picture; they'd seen her but not her with her phone, taking the shot.

She walked over to the couch and sat down.  She stared at the floor for at least ten minutes as visions of "What the fuck?" ran through her head.

She finally got up and went to her purse and saw she'd missed a text from Lee asking where they were going to meet and another two asking where she was.  There was a text from her cousin advising the time for Thanksgiving the next week and to let her know if she was going to bring a guest.  Her cousin knew she never brought a guest even when there was a significant other in her life but always asked because it was nice to ask.   She texted back the info to Lee and her thanks to her cousin and looked at the picture of the license plate.

It was a clear picture of the plate, the stickers, the license plate frame that proclaimed "Water for my horses and whiskey for my men."  It was not a vanity plate and the number was not one to be easily remembered.  And here it was. 

Her cousin's husband worked for the Secretary of State's office and he might tell her how to get the name of the person associated with the plate.  She looked up their number on the phone and hit send but disconnected before it completed.  Requesting information like this would take some thought because there would be questions from the husband  -- "Why do you want to know?  Were you in an accident with this person?  How do you know this person?  HOW do you know this person?  What are you doing to do with the information?" -- and she had to think how she would answer before she asked.

She walked over to the shopping back with the new coat, took it out of the bag, gave it a shake, admired it at arms' length, unbuttoned it, and put it on.  She stood in front of the full-length mirror in her hall and admired herself.  She looked like 50%-off of a million bucks which was really damn fine.  She twirled this way and that and decided that her own parents might not recognize her in this coat.  She pulled out box containing a hat she'd bought on sale at the end of the previous winter and put it on.  Even she was impressed with how good she looked, stitches on her face and all. 

Still wearing the coat and hat, she sat down on the couch and turned on the TV.  What the hell was she going to tell her cousin's husband?  She felt like a light went on inside her head.  She sat bolt upright.  The idea was so crazy that he probably wouldn't want her to give more information or even hear the story again.  She was going to tell him the truth.

She stood up, took off the coat and hat and put them in the closet.  She really looked forward to Thanksgiving and was humming around her apartment all the way until she got into bed for the night.