Thursday, June 26, 2003

Finally, my fiction crap

Trying soooo hard to abandon reality...So here's the first installment of one of the stories I wrote last month: Safety[for lack of a better title]

Augustina worried that her charm was somehow false, that her charm might be wrong somehow.

This was just many of her worries. The problem was she couldn’t sleep. Lying awake at night certain thought plague her, too much time to think in the dark.

She could only take so many sleeping pills. Sleeping pills can be addictive. She knows that if she took them every night she will soon be unable to sleep at all. Ordinarily, her husband would make love to her at bedtime. This burden of thinking solved by the business and pleasure of sex which pulled her mind apart allowing her thoughts to fragment enough long enough to allow fatigue to take hold, putting waking consciousness on hold temporarily.

He had been out of town too much lately for him to help out and she lay awake in the dark for hours. Her dreams were of being awake so then she could never tell when the morning came how many hours she had slept. It never felt like enough, though.

She had heard that some women rejected their husbands or of couples that lost interest in sex but because she so needed that brief respite from thinking this had never happened to her. Her husband perhaps needed it for other reasons. The regularity she had come to expect made it more dangerous than he thought to leave her alone.

Over the phone she would say things like “But don’t you cheat on me?” “But don’t you want to cheat on me?” He would laugh, incredulous. Part of her charm was the surprising things she would say. “What about when you have a cocktail in the hotel bar? Aren’t there lonely divorcees hoping for a traveling businessman like you to keep them company for the night?” When he said he never noticed lonely divorcees and almost never had a cocktail before bed she asked “Well, what about prostitutes? Doesn’t the concierge or bellhop hint about prostitutes they might bring you?”

He carries his own bag, he never speaks to the concierge. He says he’s pretty sure that hotels like the ones he stays in don’t have concierges. He laughs. He is used to her flights of imagination.

She knows that she asks because if she were a businessman, traveling anonymously through towns, she would sleep with lonely divorcees, prostitutes, maybe even the bellhop or concierge themselves.

She doesn’t like being alone. She can’t do celibacy for much longer.

There aren’t as many prospects for her, Augustina, as for a traveling businessman. Yes, another teacher flirts with her, even looks at her longingly. But he has red hair and Augustina has an aversion to red hair. Even with the children, as much as she tries to stop herself from thinking it, she dislikes the very fair children. The redheads are the worst but even the towheads, even the dishwater blondes. They look weak, they look soft and ill formed. She cannot help but imagine their bones as glass tubes similar to those of florescent lights. Breakable, filled with some sort of milky substance. Sickly, not strong. Even the thinnest black child seems more sturdy than a robust red head. The boys disturb her more than the girls, though. The size and shape are not the problem. The problem is the color.

Then there is her innocent appearance. That tends to get in the way. It is not her body—which she knows is ripe and sexy. It’s more her face—angelic, sweet. She cannot overcome this handicap. She doesn’t know how to be a temptress.

Her seeming detachment from reality, the fragility caused by her terrible imagination makes her perfect to teach young children. Her uncertainty in the world is why her husband loves her. It is why everyone loves her. It is why so many men loved her. While she is strong and robust outside, inside she is weak and afraid. That has always been the secret of her success.

Her husband loved her ever since she cried over the old man who ran the typewriter store right when computers started to dominate the market. Just a few tears, a few tears for the doomed man in his doomed store.

She has a similar problem now. Danger surrounds her, she believes. And of course this may be the reason that her husband is gone so much. To make the money to beat the danger off. They have enough money for this, but because he has started on the path of making money he cannot step off now. And the path of making money takes him further away from her. Although it seems his heart is still with her.

Augustina believed, when they first graduated from college, that if they had a house with a tree in the backyard, they would be safe. This was what she wanted—a house with a tree in the backyard. If she had such a thing, what bad thing could happen?

Later, before the baby, when she was still running she came to realize that it was more than a tree and a house she needed. What she needed was a certain kind of tree in a certain kind of house in a certain kind of neighborhood. And only then would they be safe. That it wasn’t the tree or the house at all, really. It was money. It was a certain amount of money. Bad things were less likely to happen to you if you lived in a certain kind of house, surrounded by polished wood. A house that was cool in the summer, with oriental rugs on the floor. A house with more space than you need.

This, she thought, is the reason we all buy things. Not for the things themselves. But as a guard against the loss that threatens us daily.

When they first started out they had only an apartment, but she knew that wouldn’t be enough. Running farther and farther through her neighborhood she saw that there were many houses with many trees but some of those houses were not the kind where trouble stayed away. The neighborhoods with houses too close together, with houses where the front yard was cemented over to use for parking. One tree might be left. It might even flower in the springtime. Yet it wouldn’t afford enough protection.

There were already things in these neighborhoods that made her want to cry. Not the things you expect—the crippled, the maimed, the starving. Instead it was the usual sort of thing—the man who ran the joint ice-cream and fried chicken shop. Some kind of imitation Kentucky Fried Chicken. No one was ever in there. The cartons and buckets sat unused on the glass partition, the chicken uneaten. A hopeful immigrant, doomed to failure. Even before they had much money she would buy chicken, throw it away. She ate the ice cream.

She safety pinned money to her shorts simply to buy things from him.

Kind. He was always so kind. His good customer service in the hope of making her a regular customer would break her heart. It tortured her when he said ‘enjoy your ice cream’ or offered her an extra napkin. She wanted him to hope also. If only for a little longer. She wondered if he knew his dream wouldn’t last long.

Yet, when she went through the better neighborhood, when she went to places without doomed fried chicken selling immigrants she would become cranky. She would hate those people who lived behind their safe walls with their cool green grass and immaculately manicured gardens. ‘Why do they have all this when I don’t?’

At least, in the neighborhood she hoped she would never live in, the houses made you believe that the people here had some kind of gratitude. They would adorn their lawns with decorations, the cracked plaster virgins, the fading plastic Santas, the flags which hung from the porches that said ‘Welcome,’ and matched the yellow trim. Aesthetically, the people here didn’t necessarily know when to stop. They were so happy to have their houses.

For her though, things like plastic siding, a tiny napkin of lawn, a plaster virgin, anything broken like a rusty swing set was like a sign, a neon sign to fate saying: “I’m here. I’m vulnerable and unprotected. Come get me.”

She knew she had to live without those things. To live in a safer way.

To be continued next week (yeah, I have to do something to the ending so it makes sense...)


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