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Apathy Girl and Other Tales

Musings of the Overly Naive Cynic

 

Screw the cat. If curiosity killed her, then at least she was dead. The cat did not have to go into eternity searching for what began the day as a passing fancy. The cat did not have only thirty minutes to right an upturned home before her husband got home from work. The cat did not have to tell her children she was looking for a rat she saw scurry across the kitchen. The cat did not feel guilty for laughing inwardly as they screamed in terror and ran away. The cat did not have to deal with the disappointment of unsatisfied curiosity. Because she was dead. Lucky kitty. Meow.

The day had not started with me reveling in the death of non-existent household pets. It started pretty much the way it had every day for the last five years. Wake up, get Doug up, get the kids up, let the dog out, get the kids up again, make breakfast, kiss husband, drive to school, drive to the market, clean the house, watch some trash tv, pick up the kids, start dinner, help with homework, finish dinner, kiss husband, serve dinner, clean up again, put kids to bed, watch more trash tv, go to sleep, repeat. In our first six months of marriage, before the first kid was born (I know the math doesn’t add up, different kitty, still too curious) I would have added ‘get naked’ in between ‘wake up’ and ‘get Doug up.’ That was three kids ago, it is hard to think of ditching your panties when you’re holding your fourth newborn, trying to stop a fight between your middle two kids, answer questions from your oldest, and all the while attempting not to rip your newly in place stitches. But today whilst cleaning the house I tripped on my sons Tonka truck, nearly going headlong into the entertainment center. My life didn’t flash before my eyes, they were too busy being caught by a picture of me and Nina hiking through the woods with our dogs. Not the same white, fluffy, ratdog that passed for a family pet now, my daughters thought she was ‘precious’. A pitt bull and a mastiff. We were wearing hiking boots and no make-up. I remember the day this picture was taken. The sun had baked my bare shoulders, the weed had baked my mind. I was wearing a silver lily on a long chain around my neck. It was three weeks before Nina left for Oregon and we became “Hey, I’m going to be in town…” friends. It was just five months before I stopped wearing that necklace. For a second I willed my head to hit the corner of the wooden alter.

I let myself lay on the floor, retracing five years worth of steps. Where had I left that necklace? I hadn’t thrown it away, I knew that much. There were boxes in the attic filled with my kindergarten drawings and videos of my high school speeches, bound copies of graduate research papers. My book. Useless memorabilia that was just there to collect dust, and occasional accompany a very large glass of wine and a little intellectual sadism. That had to be where the necklace was. I jumped up, energized, aware, at the very least. I walked up the stairs, kicking toys aside, determined that they not exist for now. I had to jump to grab the little knob-ended string connected to the attic access panel. It was stifling hot, the humidity oppressive. I let it crush my lungs as I went through box after box, it had already killed the people I used to be. I pushed aside the ill-fitting skins, looking for the one I wanted. A lifetime, an eternity, an hour went by and I found nothing but a growing fanaticism. Maybe it was in the chest at the foot of the bed, under baby blankets and binkies and booties and blah blah blah. The somehow unnatural smell of cedar accosted me as I threw open the lid.

“Come on, come on, come on, c’mon, c’mon…” Madly speaking to myself, trying to summon…something. No, I was narrating, there was nothing to be summoned. I just needed to find the damned necklace. I needed to conquer something today. Other than getting Jordan to pee in his potty.

“Mama?” little voices spoke and sticky little faces peered in through the bedroom door. Damn, nap time is over. Maybe if I don’t answer they’ll go away.

“Mama? I’m hungry.”

The snacks were made, on the small table in the corner of the breakfast nook, like they had been every day for their entire lives. But they needed Mama.

Oh God. Sacrine, sweet, motherly: “Yes baby, I know, Mama will be there in just a second.”

I took a deep breath, let my head hang, watching them toddle off through the curtain of my hair. There was nothing in the damn chest anyway. I resisted the urge to slam the lid down, rose, pasted a smile on my face, and went to administer snacks and tickle and play with my children. When would I have time to wear it anyways? It’s silver filigree would only get bent, tarnished, tugged on, and broken. Lilies don’t grow in this area anyways. Not since I can recall.

But my mind was fixated. Retrace your steps. I had gone hiking with Nina, we drove home in my green rag top Cabriolet, one hundred and eighty pounds worth of dog crammed in the front seat with us. Laughing as their joyous salivation hit Nina’s Josh and him in the face. The four of us worked together to make dinner. When Nina and Josh were doing the dishes we slipped away, throwing our passionate reflection onto the yellowing, cracked mirror in the bathroom. He went back to work on Monday, surprisingly suited up as an intern for an environmental law firm. I stayed home to write and drink coffee and crunch about the house like a little granola pseudo-wife (if I felt like it, quite often I didn’t). I didn’t take it off when we cooked dinner together, took the dog for walks, (I had it on.) went hiking on the weekends, shared showers in the morning. I wore my cotton nighty, my broomstick skirts, my hair down, my hair in braids. (I always had it on.) I ran to the market to get food and wine for a dinner party we were having to celebrate his hiring by a firm in Washington state. I don’t quite know why I grabbed the umbrella, I loved the feel of summer rain against my skin. But I was just wearing the necklace (I had it on.) and a white linen peasant blouse, and jeans. Plus I wasn’t going to the bodega that was a twenty minute walk from the cottage, where I could wear whatever I wanted and no one would care, because I was short just a couple of last minute items, and the wine, and only had time to make one stop. So I drove to the supermarket, and was acutely aware that I didn’t look like the people moving in like moths to the flame, and that the droplets of rain I had attempted to dodge from the cottage to my car had turned my blouse from white to opaque. So I grabbed an umbrella from the floor of the car, and walked up to the store. I stood before the confused automatic doorway, opening and closing, shaking my umbrella. I gave it a final diagonal swoop but instead of finding only air I found the thigh of a passing man. His face was fixed into a frown, but then he started laughing.

“Look at you! You’re kind of a mess, huh?” He continued to chuckle, trying to wipe his trouser leg off.

“Yeah, perhaps I am,” I said nervously, bending slightly to knock the water off his pant leg, I didn’t see him look down the front of my blouse, “but at least I am not trying to dry myself off before I go out into the rain. Sorry for the trouble.” I righted myself, smiled apologetically, and started to make my way into the store. (I had it on, I touched it for reassurance) He grabbed me by the arm.

“I’m Doug. What’s your name?” He was smiling. His eyes were very blue.

I looked around (I had it on, I clutched it tightly). “Ayelet. I’m Ayelet. And I am really in quite a hurry.” I attempted to move into the store, but he detained me again.

“Ayelet? That’s odd. Well, Ayelet, if you ever want to reimburse me for dry cleaning, or buy me a cup of coffee in apology, here’s my card.”

I took it, went into the store. I glanced behind me. Doug was watching me walk away. (I had it on?) I quickly finished my shopping. I got in my car and drove back home. He had come home and started cooking dinner, we shared a long kiss. (I had it on!) I then uncorked a bottle of wine, stole the joint from his mouth, found my skin again. And we had dinner. We celebrated his, our, good fortune. We talked about the job, about the impact he would make. We talked about the futility of current environmental policies. We made fun of ourselves for being neo-hippies. We drank. We laughed. We talked about the move. We went outside, built a bonfire, passed around a drum and a joint. We talked about my writing, a fictional narrative on post-colonial diasporas. We talked about the wedding that was coming up, after the book was published. (I had it on.) He left for Washington two weeks later. I was ripped in two as he walked away from me to board his flight. (I had it on…)

The first week without him crawled by. I planted new flowers, I played with the dog. (I had it on.) I stared at blank pages, I called Nina.(I had it on.) I scrubbed the house from top to bottom. I cleaned out my purse. At the bottom was a slightly soggy business card, a cell phone number on the back. I called the number, was answered with a laugh. (I had it on?) Doug and I went for coffee, our talking was not really talking. He laughed at my lifestyle, I laughed at his obvious ignorances, and short comings. We went for drinks. I choked when he boldly told me his yearly income, Doug giggled when I told him about my book. (I had it on?) The world started to tip a little. We went back to his apartment for coffee. There was no coffee. (I had it on, God forgive me.)

I woke up the next morning wishing my head were detachable, and left the leather-bound apartment as soon as possible. The next month I was a good girl. I called him every day. (I never took it off.) I was counting the days until my book was officially picked up, and I could run away to Washington, forget what I had done. How I had risked my paradise. How I closed my eyes and saw Doug just as often as I saw him. How I couldn’t tell which one I wanted to touch more. And then I missed something. Stress? Ok. I calmed down. (I had it on. I prayed with it in my hands.) Cancer? Oh Please God. (I had it on. I wished that maybe I was allergic to the metal.) The stick turned blue. (I had it on. I thought about selling it for the necessary procedures.)

I got rip roaring drunk. I got high. I looked long and hard at a clothes hanger. I called him. (I had it on. I prayed to it, find us some sort of salvation.) He was silent. He started to speak. He was silent. He hung up. I waited. (I had it on.) One day. I waited. (I had it on.) One week. I waited. (I had it on.) Two weeks. I waited. Nina told me he was flying into town to get the rest of his things. I waited. (I took it off. Allowed it to stare at me from the dresser.) I watched him from down the street, saw him take the dog, take a few boxes of stuff to his car, take an envelop out to my car. (I stopped glancing over at the dresser for it.) I told Doug. He insisted we marry quickly. We did. I moved in with him. (I don’t remember what I did with it.)

Retrace your steps. It was on the dresser. He went inside, got his things, went out to the Cabriolet. I didn’t see it anymore. He went out to the Cabriolet. Then I didn’t see it anymore. The car! I pushed my son off my lap, ignored the smoke alarm over the kitchen, and ran out to the shed, where my Cabriolet rested after its long life, except for the one day a year it went out to pass inspection. I tore the cover off, struggled with the door. Please, please, please, it had to be there. Please. I needed to find it, to know where it was. Inside, the smell of dust, oil, drying leather. Not between the seats. Nothing under them but roaches. Not the trunk. The inaptly named glove box? I reached for it. I wish I could say that time slowed down, or I thought the better of dredging up my past, or in a split second I decided I was in love with my children and my husband and my life. But I can’t. I can say that I had to know, had to satisfy my curiosity. I had to find that necklace! So I reached, and I compressed the latch, and I held my breath. The little bulb still worked, casting its yellow light onto a yellowing white envelop. It was not flat. I grabbed at it greedily, tearing it open as soon as my fingers touched the paper. The tarnished silver chain pooled as water in my hand, the splashing rock was a silver filigree tiger lily, shining the same way it did when he gave it to me. My life flashed before my eyes. My real life. The one I was supposed to have, before one mistake that led to another mistake that ended up in four mistakes. And I was happy. I almost didn’t notice the note left in the envelop. A folded piece of paper, I recalled the pad we kept by the ancient avocado refrigerator, and his impossible to read handwriting. Not impossible to me.

“Put it back on.”

My hands shaking, I unknotted the chain, looked at it in the dim light of the shed. I shivered as the surprisingly cool metal slid against my neck, startled at my muscle memory as I easily fixed the clasp. I had it on, holding it tightly against my chest. And then I knew. I knew that as I had found the necklace I had lost, I could find the life that I had lost. I slipped into the front seat of the Cabriolet, ran my hand over the visor for the keys. It would run, it had to run. I turned the keys, listened to the engine sputter and then gain confidence as a worked the gas. I pulled it around front, my three young children watching me, confused, scared. Mama had gone crazy. I put them in the car, not bothering with their toys or booster seats or juice boxes, and drove them three blocks to the babysitter, telling her Doug would pick them up on his way home. Back at the house I grabbed toothpaste. Toothbrush. The picture of me and Nina. My book. I called Doug.

“Doug? I have a class-party planning committee meeting at Sheryl’s, pick Kelly up from school, and the others at Janine’s. Yes, dinner is cooked, I’ll be home later.”

I looked around the house I had kept for the last five years, the life I had lead. I was looking not for memories, but for something to write with, and some paper.

“I am sorry I hit you with my umbrella. It was a mistake.”

I drove west, towards Washington, holding the now warm silver to my chest. I had the necklace on, and this time it was not coming off.

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