Thursday, January 27, 2005

It's a cooking class - for LOVERS

Tonight, I am going to a cooking class with the neighborhood Newcomer's Club, otherwise known as the "How Much Did YOU Pay For That..." club. Anyway, it's for LOVERS. Of course, husbands are not invited.

I was really hoping for a beer and a cigarette but I suppose this is better than nothing.

Anyway, since I need to go coif, I cannot post about yesterday's job interview, or my bold emails to local university deans begging them to let me teach, or the MULTIPLE responses I got from said universities using words like "delighted" and "when can we meet?". These things deserve much more attention than I can give when I need to apply makeup for the "My House Is Nicer Than Yours Club" outing.

So instead, at a friends' suggestion, I will eave you with my first (and last) creative writing attempt since the eighth grade. I will not reread it before posting, because if I do, I'll never post it. So here it is:
Switch with Me

Theresa knew she was there. The goddamned car was there, that was for sure; she would recognize the chop shop bodywork anywhere. Anyone could tell that the front of the car had been smashed to bits; the amazing thing was that they had been able to piece it back together at all. Earlier, she had squatted beside the car and peed. Twice. The second time, she let the air out of the front tire, and felt a quiet satisfaction to know that it would need to be towed away. There was no spare.

That was earlier; she had been here all day. Every day.

Theresa sat staring at the door of the bar, fixated by the sputtering neon. “Udweise.” Flicker. “Udweise.” Every third flicker resurrected the “B” and the “r” on opposing ends of the sign, making it clear who was responsible for bastardizing the three neon frogs beside it. An omen, she thought. And that throbbing again, just below her left elbow.

“Udweise, definitely udweise.”
“Honey, go blow your nose, for God’s sake! You sound like a three year old,” Theresa scolded as she packed the trunk with bags of extra diapers and wipes.
“Id’s udwise to pud thad stuff in last-ud.” BLLAAT! Theresa rolled her eyes at the wet sound of Michael blowing his nose. For Christ’s sake, she could hear the goddamn snot filling the tissue.
“Whatever! Just go back inside and wash your hands…pleeeeeeeease? We need to go!”
Theresa continued to bellow commands as Michael shuffled inside. She stopped only long enough to smile at Parker in his rear facing car seat as he watched her through the rear window. Back and forth, his eyes followed her. He yawned; she smiled. Theresa climbed into the driver’s seat and impatiently honked the horn.

Absently rubbing her arm, Theresa snubbed out her cigarette. Michael would kill her if he knew she was smoking again. She hesitated for a moment, then lit another and inhaled deeply. I’ll have to finish this pack before I got home, she thought with some remorse. These, she knew, would be her last cigarettes, once and for all.

Fixated on the peeling green steel door (how does a steel door peel??), she smoked and waited. Another SEPTA monstrosity rolled by, and Theresa strained to catch a glimpse of the people inside. She noted an old black woman with several small children at the back of the bus. Graying and hunched over, Theresa guessed she was their grandmother and wondered if she had gotten stuck with the chore of raising them.

“The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…” Theresa sang as she bicycled Parker’s legs. She loved this game almost as much as he.
“The people on the bus go up and down, up and down, up and down…” Parker squealed in delight. Michael came out with the last of the bags and she gathered Parker up to meet him at the back door. He planted a kiss on Parker’s forehead. Parker giggled and drooled his approval.
“All set?”
“Yup,” he said. “Cat’s fed, lights are out, and I’m hungry already!”
“Don’t forget that it’s Lent…no meat tonight. I think they’re having a pasta station, so lay off the prime rib. ”
Ignoring her last remark, Michael took Parker from Theresa’s arms and planted a deeper kiss on Theresa’s lips. “And dessert?” he asked, plopping Parker back into his car seat.
She smiled. “I don’t know what they’re serving, but I was hoping we could have dessert in bed…”

The grandmother smacked the little boy. She saw it just as they pulled out of sight, and she could see him screaming. He had dropped his candy bar and Theresa could barely make out smeared chocolate on his face (blue eyes staring). He was filthy, and would need a bath.

“Bubble bubble toil and trouble,” she mused. That’s what she had always sing-songed to Parker in the bathtub. The smell of baby shampoo drifted up in her memory…baby shampoo and Sebulex. Parker had fought a nasty case of cradle cap, and she had bought him Sebulex to try and get rid of it. It didn’t work.

Mustn’t think of the bath.

Theresa looked at her watch. Six o’clock. Still an hour until bath time. I’ll be home for bath time, she thought, gently caressing the bottle of Sebulex jammed into her coat pocket.

She avoided the other. For now.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a blonde woman exiting the bar. She felt the rush of adrenaline…but it wasn’t her. Not yet. Again, Theresa rubbed absently at her elbow. She brought her attention back to the task at hand.

Did she have kids? Did she ever struggle with that scaly, yellow mess…scrubbing, brushing? No. Theresa knew that she didn’t. Rachel Malone had no children, no husband, and no living parents. She appeared to have no friends either, not unless you counted Jack Daniels and José Cuervo. Rachel Malone was nothing but a no good fucking drunk…a lowlife alcoholic with nothing at all to do but dwindle away her goddamn unemployment checks on beer and cigarettes.

Theresa took another deep drag off of her Parliament. Another bus rolled by, honking at a group of teenagers carelessly strolling in the street.

“The horn on the bus goes beep, beep, beep. Beep, beep, beep…”

Watch out…someone could get hurt, she thought. Oh yes, someone could get very, very hurt.

Michael climbed into the back seat next to Parker. “And away we go!” he cried cheerfully.
Theresa put the car in reverse…and hesitated.
“Switch with me,” she said. “I might have to nurse him on the way, and it’ll be easier if I’m in the back.”

Theresa dozed lightly as they drove along, waking every so often to gaze at her son, and softly caress his cheek. Opening her eyes, she saw Michael smile lovingly at her through the rear view mirror.
“Love you,” he said simply.
“Love you too, hon.”

That thought was interrupted as the green door slammed open again. It was only six-fifteen, and yet the woman stumbling towards her car was obviously drunk.

It was her.

That fucking BITCH, she thought to herself, that cocksucking mother-fucking cunt is drunk, and she’s headed to her car, for Christ’s sake.

Theresa cradled her arm, rubbing absently, and slowly rose from her vigil.

She fumbled for a piece of Bubble Yum and popped it into her mouth while they waited for the light to change, sticking her purse back at her feet. Parker was still asleep, thank God, and she hoped they’d arrive at the party without having to pull over. That would be a first.
Theresa opened her mouth to say so as the light turned green and Michael maneuvered into the intersection.

What happened next replayed over and over in her mind in sick slow motion. She and Michael had rented The Matrix, a lifetime ago, it seemed, and when she recalled the events of that horrible afternoon, they recurred with that same stop motion, the same dizzying camera angles. Stop, spin. Burning rubber. Stop, spin. Twisted metal.

The white Bonneville barreled into the intersection, and she thought, “My God, he’s going fast.” SHE, she had to remind herself later, SHE…but still that thought, “God, he’s going fast,” always arrived stupidly before she could keep from thinking it. The car didn’t stop. It didn’t swerve. It did not slow down.

Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.

And then it was on them, IN them. She saw the glow of the woman’s cigarette and had time to wish that she still smoked. With her left arm, which had been slung carelessly over Parker’s sleeping feet, Theresa tried to shield her infant son, but it was no use.

She saw his tiny body ejected from the car seat, which of course they had forgotten to buckle in the chaos of leaving the house. He slammed into her arm, breaking it in two places. Theresa watched in horror (Stop, spin) as Parker flipped feet first over her arm and somersaulted through the back windshield.

Then darkness, but only for a moment. Not like the darkness that came later, slithering through bar parking lots, peering through apartment windows, phone calls to old employers, friends. The cigarettes. The Valium. Not like that. This was a blissfully ignorant darkness. Shock, wearing quickly. Confusion. Denial.

Rachel dropped her keys, apparently right into her puddle of piss, from the looks of it. Good then. Theresa moved closer, reveling in her memories, gaining strength from them. She picked up her pace.

She couldn’t pick up Parker’s sock, still lying in the car seat (how could it still be in the seat?) no matter how hard she tried. Couldn’t move her arm at all, in fact. Theresa looked up to see Michael, but Michael wasn’t there. Later, she found out that he was impaled by the steering wheel and killed instantly - she couldn’t see him now because he was no longer in the car. It wasn’t until she got to the hospital that they told her that the force of the accident had thrown the whole front steering column, her husband attached, into the engine compartment. In the weeks following the accident, she had felt enormous guilt for not running to him before the ambulances arrived, for not seeing him one final time. For leaving him to die alone.

But for now, she did not question where he had gone; she thought only of her son.

At first, she tried in vain to crawl out the back window, but she didn’t fit. In her mind’s eye, she looked like Jackie O in her bloodstained pink dress, reaching backward for nothing at all. (Stop, spin). Finally, retreating into the back seat (stop) and (spin) getting out of the car.

She went to him, lying in the middle of the street.

Blood soaked his tiny overalls, and filled the hood of his jacket, but he was STARING at her with those gorgeous blue eyes, and blood was trickling down his forehead but he wasn’t blinking and why was he staring and then finally (stop, spin) she understood that his head was turned the wrong way and why could she see the back of his jacket? How could she look at the back of his jacket while he kept staring (?) but deep down she knew. Of course, she knew.

The driver of the other car (she, “he” was a she named Rachel) had been drunk, had run the red light without a moment’s hesitation and had ruined Theresa Jacoby’s life in a single solitary moment. She had gotten eighteen months probation. A technicality, the DA said. “I’m terribly sorry,” she added. And that was all.

But that had been six months ago, and Theresa had lived that moment again and again in her memory. She had realized with horror that, had she not changed seats with Michael, he would be the one living this nightmare.

“Switch with me,” she had asked him.

Theresa had spared him the pain, she thought, but then, dammit, he should have let her drive for once. Maybe if she had driven, it wouldn’t have happened at all.

At the same time, Rachel seemed to show no remorse, and her routine, it seemed, didn’t so much as hiccup after the accident. Her days were always the same, as far as Theresa could tell. Up at eleven, at the bar by noon, home at six thirty, back out by nine.

But not tonight.

Theresa came upon Rachel still fumbling for her keys.

“You bitch”, she said.

Rachel, her hands wet with urine, wiped her bangs away from her face and looked at Theresa with blank eyes. Stupid, drunk eyes. She had no idea who Theresa was.

But that was alright. She would.

“You ruined my life. You killed them both.”

Yes. Now she got it. Recognition quickly turned to horror as Rachel registered the gleam in Theresa’s right hand. She frowned lightly. “Heyyyy now…isssh that a gun?”

Theresa raised the pistol and aimed it at Rachel. “You never got an ounce of blood on your hands,” she said. You never saw his stare…the blood…you passed out before you even hit us. You killed two people and you don’t have to live with the memory. You don’t even remember.”

Rachel turned to run, and tripped over her own feet. How easy, Theresa thought. She looked on in distaste as Rachel tried to crawl away, right through the puddle of Theresa’s own urine. Smiling, giddy with anticipation, Theresa stepped on Rachel’s back, grabbing her hair and spinning her onto her back. She pushed the barrel of the gun into Rachel’s face.

Theresa paused and let Rachel’s fear register. She reveled in it.

“Switch with me,” she said, turning the gun on herself.

Still smiling, she pulled the trigger.

She was going home. And it was bath time.


Blogger Sandy said...

This is amazing...riveting really. I couldn't stop reading it. Thank you for sharing it, and for not going back through and editing it!

5:31 PM  
Blogger Stolidoli said...

Sandy, thank you for actually reading it and *gasp* enjoying it as well. I wrote it right after Riley was born and it encompassed all of the new and unfamiliar fears of motherhood.

Anyway, I cannot bribng myself, even four years later, that utter the phrase "switch with me" to anyone under any circumstances, so I guess it left a mark on me too.

9:45 PM  

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