Saturday, March 14, 2009

Five (sorry!)

Wyatt stared at the text in the book, unable to read anymore. The conversation in the booth behind him had made it impossible to continue.

"So I was all like.."

"And he was all.."

"So I go, dude get a grip."

"And he’s all like.."

"So I was so like, outta there, dude. Like I don’t need the hassle."

Wyatt resisted the strong urge to turn around and whack the guy upside the head with the book. Maybe some sentence structure would find its way in. Instead he closed the book and dipped the last of his nachos into the lime green tomatillo sauce. The four obviously freshmen crammed in the booth behind him were still asserting their collective manhoods with head bobs and grunts of "damn straight". The story seemed to be that one of them had nailed someone else’s ex-girlfriend at a frat party the previous weekend. The alleged ex had taken umbrage to this as the alleged girlfriend had been about four drinks over the line.

Sweet Jesus. Wyatt started packing his books. It was useless. He found himself pissed off. Seriously pissed off. He wanted to turn around and tell these idiots to stop being such drama queens. That if their lives were so mundane and boring that they had to hype up every stupid thing that happened, then they should start appreciating it. Because life was going to hand them all the drama they ever wanted and some they never even dreamed possible and there wasn’t a damned thing they could do about it.

"So shut the fuck up already," he muttered under his breath.

As he stood, he noticed that Marlene had come in at some point. She was sitting with a gaggle of her friends, all serious college women, all focused on their bright futures with wonderful six-figure-to-start jobs in big cities. He almost laughed when her eyes passed over him as if she couldn’t even bother to register the presence of someone who was no longer part of her plan.

Oh, she’d noticed him plenty two years ago, when he was on the social worker’s college plan of business school followed by an MBA from the Citadel. Yes, good old Marlene was roll over and spread her legs happy with that plan. But when Wyatt decided that he hated business school, that what he really wanted to do was study earthquakes, some of his golden boy shine began to wear off. When he actually committed the sin of switching his major to Geology, she broke up with him. Flat out told him that he would never make enough money to "partner" with her in the manner in which she intended to live.

"And fuck you too," he said, and not under his breath this time. As he left Moe’s and made a left back up Calhoun Street toward campus, he wondered why he was being such a bitch today. It seemed like everything was annoying him. And he couldn’t even go home because then he’d be annoyed at Maddie and he really didn’t want to do that.

With a rush of anger, he wished he’d laughed at Marlene. Then he smiled. Being angry was much better than being bitchy. The smile turned into a small snicker before he could stop it. Laughing to yourself among the throngs of ever-so-cool college students wasn’t a thing to do. But he couldn’t help it. Hadn’t he just been yelling at Maddie about this same thing last week? Rolling through moods as fast as flicking through the channels looking for something to watch? Maybe he was being the drama queen today, not those monosyllabic cretins back at Moe’s.

He had managed to get himself back to his normal even keel just as he arrived at his next class.

Shit. Sitting on the steps, her books clutched to her chest, stray bits of paper flapping out of them in the breeze, was Carrie Anne. Not Mary Anne, Carrie Anne, like the song. The ditty ran automatically through Wyatt’s mind. She said it to everyone she met, with the same cadence and tone each and every time. It was now permanently fixed in his memory.

Carrie Anne had transferred this semester from a community college and they had been paired up by a teacher as lab partners. She wanted to be a vulcanologist. ("And I don’t mean Mr. Spock!")

She stood as he approached the steps.

"Hi Wyatt."

He brushed by her, nodding as he went, mumbling something that might have been hello. She bounded along at his heels, talking so fast that he really couldn’t understand what she was saying. It all blurred in to one long stream of sound. Just as he reached the door to the classroom, the sound stopped with an expectant air. He had a feeling she’d asked him a question.

"What?" he asked, knowing it was rude, but not really caring. Enunciation, he thought, is your friend.

"Did you want to study together for the test on Monday?"

No, he did not. Being forced to listen to her jabber during lab was torture enough. He did not want to spend any more time with her. But telling her that would be like kicking a puppy. She stared up at him, waiting, her books clenched against her chest so hard he didn’t know how she was even breathing. Maybe she wasn’t.
He stalled.

"Uh, I don’t know. I usually study alone."

He turned to go in the class, but she squirmed around him to block the door. "I know, I mean, yeah, me too. But I just thought it might be helpful because everyone is good at different things and what I may know, you might not and vice versa. Or visa verse, however it goes."

She giggled and then turned red.

Wyatt’s irritation melted away some as he realized how nervous she was. He sincerely hoped she wasn’t leading up to asking him out on a date or something. Shit. He did not need this. Not from her. He tried to think of someway to put her off without embarrassing her.

"Yeah, well. Let me check my schedule and I’ll let you know," was the best he could do.

"Great! I’ll see you later."

Wyatt watched as she walked away and then realized she was supposed to be in that same class. She hesitated a second before making an awkward turn toward the bathrooms. He ducked in to the class quickly and sat, staring straight ahead at the podium so she could see that he didn’t see her slink back in.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Tilly opened the door to her side of the duplex and went straight back to her bedroom. Now that she was away from Maddie, she felt her breath hitching in and out like her lungs would forget what to do unless she thought about the process. Breathe, she told her lungs in a sing-song voice inside her own mind. In and out. Slow and steady. Just like the doctor and the nurses taught her. She sat down on the edge of the bed, concentrating on her breathing. If she could just get that going like it was supposed to, then her heart wouldn’t start rattling around with all those weird, hard beats that would scare her half to death.

Distraction. That was it. That’s what the nurse, that nice one who would share cigarettes with her, used to tell her. Get your mind on something else. Tilly glanced around. There was nothing in the room but a king sized mattress on a metal frame and a small wardrobe standing in a corner.

She got up and went to the bathroom, her face in the mirror looked like a stranger’s. Round and red. She gathered up the fabric of the muumuu she wore and slowly lifted it over her head. The fat on her body didn’t disgust her. She didn’t even see it, not really. She reached down and lifted the flab of her belly. The white scars that crossed it were deeper than the ones on her arms. Long straight lines. Her hands trembled and she forced herself to take a long deep breath until the urge to punch herself in the belly passed.

Gritting her teeth, she dug the nails of her right hand deep into the flesh. Slowly and deeply, feeling the immediate sting of pain then the steady rise of it, almost like a scream. Holding her breath as she waited for it, that shift where the pain seems to disappear, but it really is just shifting to another level, sending the distress signal along deeper nerve paths.

She could have held it longer, hours if she wanted to, riding the waves of the pain. But she’d promised her doctor and the nurses that she wouldn’t cut herself anymore. This wasn’t technically cutting, but close enough. But she knew exactly how long she could dig before the marks wouldn’t fade away in a few hours’ time.

Tilly let go with a sigh. She kept her hands pressed against the flesh of her lower belly, just above the triangle of pubic hair. She let her nails dig for just one quick stab. Punishment for the womb that had allowed three babies to slip through too soon.

She looked at herself in the mirror again, this time with a flush of shame coloring her cheeks. She slipped her dress back over her head, pulling it down over the various bulges, turning away from the mirror as she did so, unable to face herself again.

Jealous. Of a scared young girl. She would get on her computer tonight and look up stuff on adoptions for her. That’d be the best thing. Find some nice couple who wanted a baby, who could provide for it. That would be the best.

Tilly nodded to herself, agreeing with her thoughts. She left the bathroom and went to the tiny kitchen and began setting up for a haircut. She did them for five dollars, cash only, under the table to supplement her disability income. She only cut men’s hair. They weren’t all fussy like women who would break into tears if one lock of hair wasn’t just perfect. Nope, Tilly liked cutting men’s hair. Over the ears, straight in back, light over the forehead in front. No muss, no fuss. No stress.