Sunday, January 27, 2013

She Is Where, Part 29

New Year's Eve was quiet.  She stayed in, cracked open a split of nonvintage French champagne at 11:58 p.m., toasted the local newscasters at midnight, and was asleep at 12:45 a.m.  Before she drifted off she thought about her aunt, now made softer and kinder by a ravaging brain illness, about her cousin who would no doubt go a little crazy, about Kevin and his wife, in the kitchen threatening lobsters with axes, and about Handsome -- no, Conrad, because that's his name -- and how maybe, just maybe he wasn't trying to kill her.

Her dear friends thought he was trying to do her harm.  The waitress at the department store, the security guard in her old building, the saleslady with the coat, security at the hardware megastore all thought he was cold.  Kevin seemed capable of hurting maybe a button on his shirt by gripping it too hard and twisting it off but that was the extent of it.  Kevin didn't seem scared of Conrad and Kevin seemed like a genuine person.

Who was reading the situation correctly?

Her dear friends, especially the husband, sometimes misread situations.  The security guard in her old building -- he was a very keen observer but just because someone observes well doesn't mean they can interpret their observations into the reality they are; he could report the facts but making sense of the facts was for others to do.  Everyone else could simply be reading her fear and telling her just what she needed to hear at that moment.

She really needed to not drink champagne before bed.

January 1st was a bright, cold day with a light covering of salt.  She went out for a stroll and a probably-drunk someone had taken out a tree  -- about six inches in diameter -- and a street sign, sheered off at their bases where they met concrete, right at the end of her street, the ride stopped by a large concrete planter.  There was broken glass and pieces of the front bumper, there were engine parts that couldn't hold on when he hit the tree.  There was no blood and the big piece of the car had already been taken away by a tow truck.

She wondered how long the driver would be without his license.  She wondered if he survived.  It was, after all, not a big tree but it was at least twenty feet high and now lay on its side on the sidewalk.  The impact had moved it thirty feet up the street along with the street sign which advised there was no parking.  It looked like a guy with muscles and a saw could turn it into firewood pretty quickly.  Maybe the city would just bring over a wood chipper.

She hoped his family wasn't suffering over his stupid choice.

When she got home, the telephone was ringing, her nice cousin inviting her to dinner that night.

"My resolution is to introduce my single friends and family to people I think they might like and I want to start tonight," her cousin said.

"Okay, fine," she replied.  "My resolution is to eat more fiber so nice greens would be helpful."

"My beloved hubby is cooking so if he doesn't serve you enough roughage, I'll send you home with some Milk of Magnesia," replied her cousin.  "Everyone has to work tomorrow so don't worry, it'll be an early evening.

She knew most of her cousin's friends and they were lovely people but very quiet and avid sports fans and they looked down on women who didn't have encyclopedic knowledge of statistics for all the local sports teams.  Her cousin and her husband were also gourmet cooks so she knew it would be a calm evening with a great meal served.

The friends they had over were identical twins, two middle-aged men who were recent transplants from Georgia.  They were polite to her but they were both mostly interested in telling stories about their annual trips to do what they called heaven's work in Paris, which involved cooking classes, wine tours, and dining in the best restaurants every night.  They were pretty hilarious, their French accents were with Southern twangs, they knew a lot about wine, and neither of them was interested in her.  Had she been twins, maybe, but they were so fond of each other it was impossible for them to consider anything that involved an evening away from the other.  They hardly looked at her.  She was pleasant and listened and ate turkey white bean chili, salad, corn bread, and beer.

As she was leaving her cousin embraced her and whispered, "So which one do you like better?"

She looked at her cousin like she was crazy.

"They're the same man, twice over," she said and embraced her back.  "They like each other too much to let some woman intrude."

"Yeah, you're probably right.  But if you had to choose..."

"I would choose them for each other and I would personally stay out of it," she advised her cousin.  "Don't get me wrong, they're very funny and I could learn a lot from one.  Or the other.   But they want things to be as there are.  Now if you knew some identical twin women, that might be a great match."

Her cousin cocked her head and smiled.

"Wow, you're right.  That's so smart," said the cousin.

"Too bad you don't know anyone like that, huh?"

"No," said her cousin, "I do.  The personnel manager where I work has an identical twin who's the personnel manager at her company.  They're roommates.  I would rather fix up you, but you're right,  those guys need corresponding women."

Her cousin hugged her again.

"You're so smart!" exclaimed her cousin and then went into the house.

As she drove home she thought about how all that smart and five dollars would get her five lottery tickets.

On January 2nd, her job started and things went amazingly well.  Her staff did the job as they had when she worked with them, the client gave her respect, and everyone left pretty much on time.  She had to stay late and work on the reports but it was a good job that let her use her brain and she was content.

Time moved forward, her cousin had her over for five more fix-up dinners, and she found herself surprised at how many people her cousin and her spouse knew.  They'd expanded their circle  -- she needed to ask her how to do that -- and there were men of differing backgrounds that she'd never met before.  She had a couple of dates with two of the fix-ups, but they went nowhere.  The chemistry wasn't right, she didn't know everything there was to know about carpentry, they didn't appreciate her liberal politics.  It was nice to have options and she didn't discourage her cousin.

Naturally, because she wanted to see Kevin and/or Conrad, she saw neither one.  Groundhog Day brought President's Day which brought Easter and spring, each day bringing more green to her street and the promise of warm weather.  It was a good thing there was the promise of something because these days weren't bringing forth Kevin and Conrad; they'd seemingly fallen off the face of the earth.

This is what seemed to happen whenever she thought she might like someone -- as soon as she thought her feelings might be romantic, the man was found to be gay, have a significant other, be dying, or moving to another part of the world.  Or, in the case of Kevin and Conrad, simply missing in action.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

She Is Where, Part 28

From that day, work became a pleasure.  If the clients were cranky, she didn't notice.  If her coworkers were cross, she didn't think badly of them because everyone is entitled to a bad day, even her.  The weekends she spent with her boss, learning the reporting system, was spent learning how to disassemble and reassemble a giant puzzle and she liked this sort of puzzle.  Her boss always took her out to lunch on the weekend, and if they stayed late, her boss gave her cab fare home.

A week before Christmas, their local vice president came to the office, assembled the staff and made the announcement.  Her boss would separate from the company on December 31st and she would start on January 2nd.  There was meager applause for her and some tears shed for their manager but these were shed by the hormonal women who cried at card tricks or the office actors whose office performances could earn them awards if it was something more than office acting.  Some of her coworkers gave her the stink eye; some of them gave her a thumbs up; some didn't look her in the eye at all, thinking that she knew what anti-company activities they'd been up to.  She did know what they were up to and she knew she didn't have to do a thing -- not take them for "the serious chat," not write them up, not make even the vaguest suggestion of a threat -- because just by knowing, they would stop right away.

Her manager paid her overtime for the weekends and evenings which allowed her to be very generous and to get a professional manicure -- not overly expensive but a treat she'd never been able to justify -- right before Christmas.  She and her lovely hands bearing many gifts on December 25th.

Her family was shocked at her news but surprisingly pleased.  Her aunt was still wearing the pointy witch hat and acting very happy.  Her less nice cousin's brow was furrowed above her smiles.

After dinner, her aunt took her aside and told her she'd been diagnosed with Alzheimer's which made her burst immediately into tears.

"Oh, please, cut it out," said her aunt.  "I'm telling you because you've been through losing parents and you need to help your cousin with this.   She has to learn to be strong and you're the only one who can teach her.  She likes to seem tough but she is just overly sensitive.  You have to show her how to get on with life, how to let me go.  And how to swear.  My increased usage of the F-bomb is making her cringe.  I really should have sworn more at home."

She tried to hug her aunt, but her aunt brushed her off.

"Now stop it.  And don't let them take this hat.  It reminds me that I should have spent more time laughing and being silly, instead of so judgmental and hard.  Promise me," demanded the aunt.

"Okay," she said.  "Why that hat?"

"It's the stupidest thing imaginable.  You look at this and you know I'm not quite right.  This hat," said her aunt, "is a cautionary tale."

"They've been warned, is that it?" she asked.

"They have.  So fuck the hell off," said the aunt, who smiled and tilted the hat to a jaunty angle and added, "You may hug me now."

They embraced harder than she'd ever remembered them doing in her whole life.

"So," said her aunt, "I would like to see you married before I can no longer remember who the freak you are.  Do you think that can happen?"

She burst out laughing.

"No, Auntie," she said.  "I can't see that happening unless the guy I thought was trying to kill me turns out to be the love of my life."

Her aunt smiled at her and readjusted the hat again.

"That would be an interesting story for your kids," said her aunt.  "You go work on it."

Her aunt turned from her and walked into the kitchen where she started cackling.

"Give me a cauldron to stir!  Eyes of newt and lips of salamander!" exclaimed the aunt.

"Grandma, you're the best!" she heard one of the kids say.

In fact, since her boss had told her that maybe Handsome liked her, she'd been looking around for Handsome and Kevin.  As went with most every possible romantic relationship, because she wanted to see if something would happen, nothing happened and the intended party disappeared.

Kevin's car seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth and Handsome along with it.

After Christmas, there were two significant snowfalls and getting to and from work was a chore.  Their clients had time off between the holidays and it was quiet there.  She spent time with her boss and the supervisor, going over what she'd been taught, taking advantage of the lack of busy phones.  They opened the personnel files for her and she found out that the people she'd always assumed were fuckups really were fuckups as were some of the people who'd alleged they did great work.

On December 31st more snow fell. At noon, their Vice President arrived with a cake and decent nonvintage champagne, closed the office, and led a celebration for the departure of her boss.  The VP said a few words, her manager said a few more, and she herself talked about what her boss had meant to her and how her life had changed from the moment she'd walked into this office.  There were real tears shed, even from her, and then they had one last sip and a round of hugs and high-fives and her boss was gone.  She was now in charge.

Happy new year.

She stayed a little after everyone to make sure things would be just right on January 2nd when she came in and when she got out to the street it was pretty empty on the sidewalk.  The half light of late winter afternoon pushed long shadows across the sidewalk and she decided to treat herself to a cab.

She stared up the street past the few cars and buses that drove through the accumulated slush of the snowfalls, hoping she didn't have to wait too long for a cab.  She didn't see the giant approaching.

"Hey, wow, hi, happy new year," said Kevin.

"Oh!" she gasped.  "You scared me!"

How she could manage to not see Kevin coming was a surprise.

"Sorry," said Kevin.  "I usually surprise no one."

"Ha," she said.  "Happy new year, Kevin."

"Thanks, thanks," he said.  "You looking for a cab?"

"Yes, I thought I'd treat myself today.  I got a promotion," she said.

"Wow, things are much improved for you," he said.  "That's great news, just great."

"Thanks, Kevin," she said.

"Listen, I'd offer you a ride but I'm meeting our friend.  He's got something for me to give to my wife as a New Year's surprise and then I'm giving him a ride home.  You've seen my car.  There is just no room for more than one other person.  Car's small, I'm big, Conrad's not tiny, you understand."

"Conrad?" she asked.

"Yeah, Conrad.  You never knew his name, did you?  Oh, darn, don't tell him I told you.  He likes being the man of mystery.  Why, I don't know, but he's a good friend and if that's what he wants and it doesn't hurt anyone, then I don't much care," said Kevin.

Man of mystery.  A good way to put it.

"You know he's gotten stalked.  His first name and his profession make him easy to find.  Women are crazy sometimes over how handsome he is.  I can't much see it but my wife tells me he really is good looking," Kevin said.

She just looked at him.  Kevin really was just a big nice guy.

"What's wrong?" asked Kevin.  "I can't tell what you're thinking."

"Nothing, Kevin.  I was just thinking what a nice guy you must be," she said.

"Do you see it?  Do you think he's that good looking?" he asked.

She exhaled and smiled.

"Yeah, Kevin, I think he's handsome.  Devastatingly handsome, in fact," she said.

Kevin frowned a little.

"But," she added, "his eyes seem very cold."

Kevin perked up a little.

"Yeah!  They do seem cold.  That pale blue.  Yeah, like the Arctic Circle," said Kevin.

She spotted a cab and waved.  It slid through the slush and stopped.

"I hope I see you in the new year," she said, opening the cab door.

"Maybe you can come over for dinner.  The wife takes lobsters and wrestles with them until they give up insane goodness.  If that makes sense," he said sheepishly.

"That sounds good, Kevin.  Happy new year," she said, getting in the cab.

"Happy new year," said Kevin and as it sped away, she heard him call out.  "But I don't have your phone number!"

She looked out the window in horror.  She got the cab driver to circle the block so she could give him her number but when they got back, Kevin was gone.

And Handsome's name was Conrad.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

She Is Where, Part 27

Work was especially weird that day:  the calls were long and trying, the clients were cranky and/or demanding, and her manager, one of the most even-tempered people she knew, was in a very crabby mood.

She returning from the restroom a little after lunch when her manager intercepted her and asked her to come to her office instead of going back to the phones.

"You know we're really busy," she told her manager.  "Shouldn't I just take calls?"

"I know, I know, but it won't take long, and it's something I want to tell you," said the manager.

They walked silently down the hall to the office and she seated herself while the manager closed the door and sat at her desk.

"I am so sorry I've been such a bitch today," said the manager.  "I know you've noticed.  Hell, everyone's noticed.  But you're the only one I can trust to tell things."

She'd no idea she'd created such an aura of trust but she hadn't engaged in gossip since coming to this location.  At the other location, she and Lee would talk up a storm, but thinking about it, they were swapping stories about the people in Lee's life.  His roommates, his partner, his roommates' partners, his roommates' partners' families and friends, his partner's family and friends, his family, and this guy on the bus he thought was dreamy were all topics of information.  Lee took the bus right before hers.

"It's at the stop after the supermarket," said Lee.

"By the resale shop that has furniture?" she asked.

"Yes.  There.  He gets on there.  Blond.  Trim.  Clear skin," said Lee.

"No, the guy who gets on there has the body of a potato.  He's like a cross between a spud and a troll but he's always looks rested and pleasant," she advised.

Once the blond bus man did get on her bus and trudged to the back and sat next to her.

"Guess who was on my bus today?" she quizzed.

Lee looked at her slack-jawed.

"What do you mean?" Lee asked.  "Who?"

"Your bus crush," she said.  The'd seen him on the street once and she remembered his face.  When they saw him, Lee blushed and twitched and giggled.  He waved at the crush and the crush waved back and Lee told her who he was.

"He was?  You think he was on your bus?" he asked with disbelief.

"Was he on your bus?" she asked.

"No, but I think Spudman was on mine.  Hairy?  Black glasses?  Kind of misshapen?" asked Lee.

"Yes, that sounds like him.  Average height," she said.

"Yeah, I think it was him.  So what did my guy do?" he asked.

"He came to the back and sat next to me," she said.

"NO!" he exclaimed.  "Next to you?  What happened next?"

"I resumed watching my movie," she said.  "Did you think we would make out?"

"Well, no, no, I didn't think that," he said.

"But he did look at me sideways but probably because I was looking at him sideways.  I finally just grinned and stopped looking sideways so if he was still looking sideways at me I don't know because I stopped looking sideways at him," she said as fast as she could get it out.

"And don't you think he's cute?" asked Lee.

"He's 28, Lee.  He looked like a kid to me," she said.

Because he did look like a kid to her, or someone's kid, and nothing like a love interest.  He looked like he might be a love interest for one of her younger co-workers.

"Hmmmph.  But for me.  Do you think he's cute for me?" he asked.

"Cute in a kid sort of way if you didn't have a partner," she said.

Lee blushed.

"I can look, can't I?  I'm not dead," he said.

"Fine, fine, whatever.  He is also straight," she said.

"I know," said Lee with resignation.  "He wears straight shoes."

She tilted her head to the left and smiled.

"I love you," she said.

He smiled back and similarly tilted.

"Shut the fuck up," he said.  "This conversation's not over."  And Lee proceeded to spend the rest of their time talking about how cute the blond man was.

Her manager that day looked concerned and a little upset.

"I am sorry that I've been snappish," said her manager.  "Things are getting crazy at my house and I've decided to take another job."

Her heart sunk.  Her manager was on her side like no one had been in years.

"I'm divorcing my husband and I need to be home more for my kids.  He's decided he doesn't have to work but I do.  I've decided he can go live in his mom's basement.  His mom thinks that's okay, apparently, because she told me she always knew it would be this way," continued the manager.

She cocked her head and expressed puzzlement.  Her face was way too expressive.  She really had to work on that.

"I asked her, 'You knew he'd decide he wasn't going to work for a living, that I'd have to do everything around the house plus provide for everything, and that I'd get frustrated after years of it and toss him out?'  And she said, 'You don't appreciate his gentle soul.'  I told her I appreciated his gentle soul but since he needed mothering, he should move back in with his mother.  I told her he didn't want to be around after school when the kids needed someone to drive them to classes and practices and make sure homework got done.  He didn't like to cook dinner and he hated cleaning the house.  She said, 'Someone loves him now.'  I told her I still loved him and the kids certainly loved him but no one could ever love him as much as he loved himself, not even her."

She paused and looked while she tried to keep her face neutral.

"So I am leaving and I want you to apply for my job," said the manager.

Her jaw went slack, her eyes got wide, and she said nothing.

"I am going to teach you how to do this job so when I get ready to resign, you'll know how to do what I do and you can apply and they'll give it to you," said the manager.

She couldn't believe it.  Her manager was sane and pleasant and she knew she'd never be as sane nor as pleasant.

"What about our supervisor?" she asked when she found her voice.

"She doesn't want it," said the manager.  "She can get out right on time the way things are now and that helps her with daycare and train schedules.  She suggested you take it.  Plus they hate giving management jobs to people who've not been to college and you have a degree.  Most people have some college but not many people here have a degree."

She suddenly didn't feel like she was going crazy.  She suddenly saw the life ahead of her as one of new things, exciting opportunities, challenges, and expanding vistas.  She saw herself in an office.  She saw Lee sitting across from her in the office, eating sandwiches they'd had delivered from the expensive sandwich place.  She saw Handsome and Kevin standing in the lobby, waiting to see her so they could give ask her to help them with their jobs.

"From the look on your face, I think the answer is yes," said her manager.

"Yes," she said.  "Yes, thank you.  The answer is yes," she said. "But what will you do?"

"It's pretty sweet.  This company needs managers who are willing to be creative and work from home but still have a strong presence in the businesses of their clients.  It so happens that my clients are all in that part of Indiana where I live.  I don't have to see them very much but the one farthest away is a 30-minute drive," said the manager.

They smiled at each other.

"You might have to come in a couple of weekends to learn reporting.  I might ask you to stay late with me.  And you can't tell anyone yet.  You have to promise," the manager said.

Of course she could say yes because she really had no strong urge to talk about every last detail of work with people.  First she had to think about moving to a much nicer place in a more convenient neighborhood with something other than a mega-sized hardware store two blocks away.  A library.  A grocery store.  A park.  Restaurants and businesses.  All nearby.  And maybe parking in the same building.  So many things to consider.

"Of course I promise," she said.  "Now let me tell you a weird little tale."

She spilled it all from beginning to end as fast as she could because clients were waiting to have their phone calls answered.

At the end, the manager screwed up her face for a couple of seconds and said, "Did you think he might just like you?"

No, she had not considered that at all because she was convinced he was trying to kill her.

"You really don't give yourself any credit," said the manager.  "To me it sounds like someone who likes you.  For pete's sake, he wanted to buy you a coat."

"To lure me into his trap," she said.

"His trap of generosity?" asked the manager.

"What about last night?  At the hardware store?" she shot back.

"Sounds like a couple of guys who were glad to see you," said the manager.  "You never considered they might just like you?  And one of them very much?"

No, no, no, she'd not considered that possibility at all.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

She Is Where, Part 26

As soon as she walked into her apartment, she locked the door, then peeked around the blinds to make sure she'd not been followed.  She took the Dremel tool kit and put it on the shelf in the front closet, then took off her coat and hung it up, her scarf stored in the coat's left sleeve.  There wasn't precipitation of any kind that night or for the previous days so her shoes were dry; she kicked them off and put them in front of the door.  Then she got into bed fully clothed, having set her alarm clock for the usual time.  She fell into the deep sleep of exhaustion right away.

She had dreams of Handsome and Kevin.  Kevin with a tall, female version of himself, lifting a small child so he could put their favorite star on top of the tree.   Mrs. Kevin stringing popcorn on strong white thread to make a garland.  Kevin singing Christmas songs along with their iPod, his voice loud and clear.  Handsome bursting through the door saying, "I brought the old ball and chain and she's made cookies," and she swept in after him, with giant cookies, each the size of an actual Santa or tree, decorated in great detail, the cookies loaded sideways on a dolly. 

"Can I bite off Santa's head?" asked the small child.

"That's too much Santa for anyone," she said.

"Here's a branch, my friend," said Handsome, and gave her a fast peck on her cheek as he broke off the giant tip of one of the tree cookies.  "If it's okay with your folks."

They all looked at Kevin and his missus, a stronger drag version of of Kevin the longer the dream went on.

"Oh, go ahead," said Mrs. Kevin, sounding like her husband speaking in falsetto.  "But no more, young man.  It'll spoil your appetite."

"What's for dinner?" she asked Mrs. Kevin.

"Just a simple turkey with roasted root veggies, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts the way Kevin likes them..."

"Overcooked and burned?" asked Handsome hopefully.

"Of course," said Mrs. Kevin.

"Yum!" she exclaimed and squeezed Handsome around the waist.

"We have tossed green salad, stuffing for the turkey, cranberry relish, and there's carrot cake, French Silk pie, and pumpkin pie for dessert," added Mrs. Kevin.

"My mouth's watering," said Kevin.  "It'll all be ready in about an hour."

"Cranberry relish is the specialty of my divine here," said Handsome, nodding his head her way.

"I'm really hopeless in the kitchen," she said.

"But she makes up for it with her cranberry relish and the very excellent reservations she makes," said Handsome with a smile.

"Oh, stop," she said teasingly.  "You're going to make me look like a lazybones."

"No, no, no," said Handsome, waving his hands and shaking his head.  "You pick the best restaurants and there's never a bad meal to be had."

He kissed her sweetly on her lips.

"Aw, you're too good to me," she said.

"Nothing you don't deserve," he said.

The Kevin offspring hugged her legs.

"I love Christmastime so, so, so, so much.  And I love you," he said as he squeezed her tightly around her knees.

Everyone was smiling and when her alarm clock went off, so was she.

She oddly felt better than she had the night before.  She was still frightened out of her mind but she thought about what the dream meant.

Nothing.  It meant nothing.

Her mind was trying to calm her down so she wouldn't cry in the hardware superstore and take a cab ride for a one-block walk.  It was trying to get her to do the one thing she hadn't.  She hadn't told Lee about any of this.  He was as sensible as anyone she knew and she knew he'd have an opinion that would be solid and smart. 

She stripped off all her clothes from the day before -- really? she thought.  Did I really go to bed in all my clothes -- and turned on the shower to get it warm and called Lee while she waited.

"Really?" he answered.  "Five thirty in the A and M and you're calling me?"

"Yep," she said.  "I need to talk.  Are you free tonight?"

"No," said Lee.  "I'm having my niece and nephew over for dinner.  But if you come then we can talk after.  Want to?  We're having turkey with root veggies and mashed potatoes, and my roommate's making Brussels sprouts the way I like them -- overcooked and burned.  There's stuffing for the turkey and salad and cranberries -- not your relish because I don't have time to do anything but open a can tonight.  And my niece is bringing a carrot cake and a French Silk pie.  And a pumpkin pie.  Want to come?"

She hesitated about a second.

"Yes," she said.  "I'll bring some wine."

"No," he said.  "There's a couple of bottles of champagne in the fridge.  Just bring yourself.  I'm excited!  Yay!  See you tonight!"

That dream meant nothing.  It meant nothing at all.