I don’t know about you guys – but I sometimes say things like, “You are making me crazy!” or “I’m losing my grip!” Really, though – what is the process of losing your grip? Stephen King (in one of his stories, can’t recall which one) said that being crazy was often messy. It slopped over into your everyday life, touching everything. Which is, I believe, mostly correct. However, I also think that sometimes those signals can be subtle and easily missed.
This i a piece that I wrote about a year ago. I hope you like it.
Staccato and Fugue
“You sure you don’t mind? You know I don’t mind staying. It’s just that it’s opening day for the Yanks. We can snuggle….”
“No, of course not. Go, go. I know how important this is to you.” Cynthia spoke to his back. From down the hallway there was a flare of bluish light and a loud voice started speaking. She listened. The announcers’ voices were all brash, loud. They spoke in clipped sentences about arcane subjects: pinch hits and RBIs and who knew what-all. It was just bewildering. After a moment, she tuned them out.
She’d rather listen to the rain anyway. She twisted her body in their bed and let her head hang off the edge. From her perspective, the rain now made rivers that ran up the window. She watched as they puddled and pressed faces against the glass. Slowly the sweat dried from her face, her belly. After a while, she got up and took a shower.
Once outside in the hot summer sunshine, Cynthia felt better. Her chest loosened its anxious grip as the door swung shut behind her. The doctor’s office had been aggressively calm. The waiting room was full of rattan furniture huddled against walls painted sandy beige. Behind sickly looking bamboos, desperate beach scenes promised tranquility.
She wondered what Dr. Cassidy had been thinking when he decorated the place. Maybe some of his patients enjoy that sort of thing. Likely, that fucking quack felt that it kept them serene or some other psychobabble bullshit.
Cynthia stared at the little slip of paper in her hand for a second. The words swam a bit although she could see “chlorpromazine” well enough. She crumpled it into the bottom of her purse. “What does he know, anyway?”
What. Does. He know? She tries to hold onto the thought but it slips away. Her head hurts.
She worked for a local janitorial company, cleaning churches. She had once joked that she had a covenant with the business – a holy compact to clean. Jack had replied she was letting her Liberal Arts degree show. Asshole.
Her contract incorporated five sizeable churches. All of them had to be finished before the weekend so people could be pious on their time off. Growing up, she’d heard that cleanliness was next to godliness, but it was her experience that churches were filthy places. All those people, sweating through a guilty sermon and smothering farts into pew cushions? It made for a smelly nave once the righteous had cleared out. At least the big Catholic Church used incense to cover up the stink; although whatever they used made her eyes water if she did them on Mondays. She told Jack that she could swear there was a beer smell in the Baptist’s kitchen, although she had never found any cans. The Universal Unitarians were just odd. She’d once found a giant circle of salt in the foyer. She had no idea what that nonsense was about.
Her thoughts were more egalitarian when scrubbing out the restrooms. People are nasty no matter what denomination they are.
She always made sure to lock every door behind her when she was alone. You couldn’t be too careful, these days. Bad things happened, even in churches. She read about folks getting abducted and murdered. It happened all over the place, all the time.
On a bright spring afternoon, she stood barefoot in the kitchen, eating soup. Her tennies were piled on the deck outside, drying. A ragged pair of cut-offs flapped loosely around her thighs. She knew that they looked awful but habit made her hold onto them. Mama said that you didn’t toss still-usable things. They were absolutely fine for housework and gardening.
Jack walked in and smiled cheerily at her. She turned away to look back out the window. She was sure she had seen his lip curl up in disgust. Why would he…Oh, the shorts. He was probably looking at her thighs. So fat. Shame suffused her. She knew better than to wear revealing clothes. She was huge, her thighs were monstrous. Cynthia felt her heart contract painfully. How dare he be ugly to her like that?
“Hey, babe. You want a sandwich?” He said it in that Yankee way of his: “sandwidge.” She used to think it was cute. Nowadays, it just got on her nerves. Sometimes, she felt he did it on purpose. Just to annoy her. He piled up butter, cheese and bread on the sideboard.
She glared at his back for a second. “No. I have soup.” He knew that she was on a diet. Butter, cheese? Those were definite no-nos. “I am trying to lose weight, Jack. “ She emphasized the word “am” so that he would know that she had seen his earlier moue of revulsion. Jack crowded past her. He was frowning, although he buried his face in the pots-n-pans cabinet to hide it. She saw it anyway. It creased his tanned forehead into white ravines. A hot pulse of anger spiked through her head. “What? What? I’m getting out of your way. See?” She snatched up her soup and left. In her office, she put a relaxation CD into the player. The rich smell of grilled cheese oozed up the stairs. She slammed the office door shut.
Her head is spinning, spinning. She can’t focus her eyes; they keep closing on their own.
What I wouldn’t give for a cigarette, she thought. It had been months since she quit. Jack sat with his feet propped on the ottoman. A baseball game was on, although they were in the middle of a commercial break. She said, “Surely the cravings should have stopped?”
“The cravings, Jack. For a cigarette. Shouldn’t they have gone away by now?” She tried for patience. Her fingers clenched in livid rings around the yarn and crochet hook.
“Oh. Yeah, mostly. Except for the psychological ones. Those are the most persistent.”
She knew better but wasn’t able to stop herself in time. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” he said in his much louder explaining things voice. “There have been a couple of landmark studies done….” He continued to expound even though she started to glaze over fifteen minutes into the lecture.
Cynthia stared aghast, into the bathroom. The lid on the toilet. Up, again. Again. Jack said he always put them down. So why was it up again? Because he lied, of course. He always lied. He couldn’t be trusted, really. She pulled a digital camera from the pocket of her robe and snapped a couple of pictures of the offending toilet. Maybe she’d show it to him tonight, as proof. He would probably lie about it though. He always lied. She had started to keep track of them – his lies and meanness – in her diary. Writing things down helped. It got some of the anger and distress out of her head.
Her mouth is so dry. She wishes that she knew how to speak. She wants to ask for a glass of water.
She finished the fourth row of flowers around the far patio, where the chiminea stood. Sweat rolled down her sides. The early autumn sun slanted over the oaks, making pretty patterns of light and shadow on the flowers. She’d planted masses of pansies, in two alternating bands of color. She thought that the purple and yellow flowers looked especially lovely. They made a nice contrast from each other.
Cynthia glanced over at the trash bag where she’d put the dozens of cigarette butts she’d found while gardening. They were her brand. But she’d quit smoking months ago.
“I guess that is alright, Daddy. I can reschedule my weekend to come out. No, don’t worry about it.” Jack frowned at her from across the room and shook his head. She covered the receiver with her hand. “It’s my Dad, Jack. We only need to be there for a few…” From the phone, a tinny voice squawked. “What? Oh, sure Daddy. No problem. I can bring the coconut cake you like so much. No, it’s no trouble at all.” Jack rolled his eyes at her and mouthed the word “diabetic” at her before going back to watching the ball game. Under the throw pillow in her lap, Cynthia gripped the edge of her housedress until her fingernails broke through to stab her palm. She didn’t notice.
The party had been boring. She had grown quickly tired of smiling and talking to strangers. Mostly she had just wanted to get away from their awful beer and cigarette mouths. She was sure the odor would take eight washings to get out of her hair. On the seat beside her, the cell phone buzzed. She touched a button on it and a light glowed blue behind her ear. “Yes?”
“Cynthia? Where are you?”
“I told you that I was leaving. You ignored me, as usual. You walked away when I was trying to tell you that I couldn’t stand it anymore. That all those people were too much. You always walk away when I am trying to have a serious talk with you.” She could hear conversation and music coming over his phone.
“Look, I told you I was still listening.” His voice sounded exasperated. “I was just getting my drink from the other room. I could still hear you.” He sighed heavily into her ear. She rolled her eyes. Of course. It was all her fault. Just like always.
“I can come back for you if you don’t want to stay or get a ride. I won’t come in though.” She already signaled the U-turn to go back. Tears welled in her eyes. She was so tired. Tired of being wrong all the time. Tired of arguing.
Her head lolls forward so that her forehead is resting on the glass. The cool feels so nice against her skin. She opens her eyes. Her vision is swimmy and wet.
The bathroom scale was disreputable.
Taped to the wall above the scale was a chart she’d put together on Excel. It had columns where she could write in her weight and another where she had written her goal weight. There was even a third column where she could put in how she felt that day. That column was generally empty. The numbers wandered up and down. Some days, the number was good. Other days, she would stare at the blinking green numbers and feel like crying. For example, the number said “135.” That was simply unacceptable. It was three pounds above the goal she had set for herself for the week.
She weighed at the same time, every morning after peeing. She always exhaled and held her breath while the damn thing calculated. Still, the numbers seemed to creep. She had tried everything. Eating nothing but carbs. Sweating to the Oldies. Eating nothing but protein. Tae Bo with Billy. South Beach diet. The Cabbage Soup diet. Nothing worked. Nothing. She had liked the soup, though. The always knowing what you were going to eat had taken the edge off dinner preparation. Jack had complained, though. He didn’t like cabbage.
She sniffled. She would just have to try harder. She rapped her forehead hard against the wall where the list hung three times. Three raps for the extra three pounds. There, now she would do better. A trickle of blood ran unnoticed from her scraped forehead.
What are those things called, she wonders. She thinks she can see something green moving past the window through the fog her breath makes on the glass. She wishes that she knew where her hands are. She is certain they were just here, a moment ago.
Out in the country where they lived, there were no streetlights. Neighbors were acres away. It was beautiful during the day; fields and trees and birds and flowers. At night however, the dark pressed against the windows, an impossible black. Who looked in? Who watched? Someone did, she was sure. She could feel their stares if she didn’t cross the living room quickly enough.
Some nights, she couldn’t stand the stygian depths of her bedroom. She waited, wide-eyed in the dark for Jack to go to sleep. Then she crept out of bed with her big heavy flashlight in hand. Normally, it lived in the niche between her nightstand and the bed. Through the house, she skulked and shined the light into every nook and cranny. Just in case. In case of what? Just. In. Case.
She would go to the back of the property and build a fire in their chiminea. The flames soothed her. They pushed back all that black. Sometimes, she reached in with her bare hands – always making sure her sleeve stayed well back from the flames – and quickly arranged a partially burning log. The pain made her feel brave. If she did it quick enough, it didn’t even leave much of a mark.
“What are you doing to those plants, Cynthia?” A bulky shadow fell across her vision.
She looked up to see Jack standing on the deck above her. “Well, I am weeding. This is my veggie patch and I am weeding.” She felt she could be forgiven the tone – the same one she used when speaking to her friend’s particularly stupid four-year-old boy. After all, he had asked a particularly stupid question. Garden gloves, hoe, wheelbarrow and trowel; any fool could see she was pulling weeds.
“But you are taking up the peas along with the weeds, babe. See? Those are peas, not pigweed.” He laughed. “They do look a bit alike, don’t they though?”
Her lip quivered but she covered it by looking down. Indeed, among the piles of weeds eight fragile green strands glowed. She didn’t know what had happened. She well knew the difference between pigweed and pea vines. “Thank you, Jack. I guess I just got overenthusiastic with my weeding.”
“Well, that happens. Especially when you pull weeds while listening to your iPod.” He mimed pulling up plants to a funky beat, ass shaking and grinning. She managed a giggle. He was expecting it, she knew. “See you inside, babe.” He left.
She waited until she heard the garden gate close before she slapped her bare thigh. She did it eight times.
There are whispers next to her. She is touched on the face, on the wrist. Little bird touches. Brown birds flutter near her face in worried circles.
Cynthia rushed around the house, looking for it. Her heart beat against her breastbone, rapid thunkings that she felt all the way into her eyeballs. Her mind chittered nonstop. Ohgodohgodohgod. Where was it? What had happened to it? She had to find it. Her diary! Missing since last night. Where had it gone?
She stopped next to a window. From there, she could see the UPS truck turning down their lane. The big, brown truck jounced around in the ruts of the road. She could hear the gears grinding and slipping.
Her eyes went wide. Of course. They stole it! That makes sense. But, why were they coming back? Her fingernails made a skittering noise as they tightened against the windowsill. She didn’t feel the wood coming up under her fingernails. Her thoughts skittered and skipped. I will ask politely, first. I was brought up right.
When the doorbell chimed, she was against the door, waiting. Her small chef’s knife was clasped in her fist. She had shimmied out of her too-large shorts and blouse. Blood from numerous cuts eddied down her torso, mixing with her sweat. Everything felt right, calm. Serene. She opened the door.
The soft birds land, cupping her cheeks. She realizes that the motion has stopped. There is a green place beyond the glass. Green and white. She can see it right between the (hands!) hands on her face. She thinks she hears something, a murmuring over and over. It sounds so far away. Miles from her someone is saying something.
“Cynthia? Sweetie? We’re here. The hospital. C’mon, sweetie. Get up. They’ll help you here. Please, please.”