Fun-Size Pieces. Less Calories, More Content!
- Married People I Call On
- Going Up, Going Down, Going Under
- Mixed Messages
- Key To My Heart
Married People I Call On!
I call married people I know late at night and then don’t say anything when they answer the phone. Sometimes I hear snatches of conversation they have with one another before they replace the receiver on its cradle.
“Who’s on the phone?”
“No one there.”
“Is that guy at the office still flirting with …” The dial tone is loud and angry. Those were our friends Scott and Stacey. She’s seven months pregnant and they’re using the initials of a dead person to name their baby. I wonder if Stacey wears a negligee or just a long tee shirt to sleep in. And how do they decide who gets to sleep on the side with the phone? I wonder how it is with other people. The part they never let you see.
There is a reason I’m up this late but it’s not as simple as being an insomniac so I won’t go into it. I sleep late in the morning after Nathan goes to the office, but he doesn’t know this. I get my best hours between ten and about one thirty pm. I’ve got the routine down pretty good. I wake up with the alarm, then coffee and eggs for Nathan and move on to pick out my clothes for the day. In the bathroom, the shower runs but I’m not in it. I either count the linoleum tile on the floor or sit on the toilet lid and read the back of a tampon box. For a realistic effect, I turn on the blow dryer and while it huffs away on the counter, I put on a little lipstick.
During this entire time, I can hear Nathan chattering away to the parakeet in the kitchen. He only does this when he thinks I’m in the shower because he’s embarrassed for anyone to hear him.
“Pretty bird,” he croons. “Come on, say it. Say it.”
I dress without a bra and come into the kitchen looking like I’m ready to start my day. By the time Norm’s car rolls down the driveway, I have the blouse over my head and the nightgown under my pillow ready to slip back on. This has been going on for three weeks.
I sleep until about two, then either go to the market or bank depending on whether we need food or cash. I keep my ears open for interesting conversation I can incorporate in my dialogue with Nathan later at dinner.
Once in the bank, I listened to an obnoxious elderly woman whine about a flat tire on the freeway and how nobody stopped to offer her assistance. That evening I was proud of myself.
“So, what’s new?” Nathan lifted a forkful of mashed potatoes.
“I pulled over on the freeway to offer assistance to a kindly, old woman,” I said. “She reminded me of your mother.”
Nathan looked at me and swallowed a hunk of potatoes. “I love you,” he said. A little butter puddled on his collar.
When I sleep during the day, I sometimes startle awake for no good reason. Because of the bird. It’s not that the bird squawks or anything, he’s actually pretty quiet. But I get these thoughts about his water and seed dish. Like they might be empty. Once a thought like this climbs into my head, there’s no going back to sleep until I check the cage. Today I have one of those seedless thoughts and so I pad barefoot into the kitchen. The bird is tinkling his bell and pecking his mirror. His dishes brim full. He looks at me with a cocked head as if he knows I should not be in my nightgown this time of day.
“Come on, say it,” I whisper. He perches on his trapeze defiantly.
I think about calling a married couple but most people we know are at work this time of day. I’m a little afraid to call a place of business and then hang up. People have things to do. Instead I call Nathan’s office and when his secretary answers, I almost ask to speak with him.
“Hello?” she says after identifying the company name. Then she says in a business-like voice, “I can’t hear you. Would you please phone back?” Before I hang up, I think I hear Nathan’s chuckle close by her phone. I call three more times to make sure. Nathan’s office is about 200 yards down the hall.
I look around the room and see the photo albums in the bookcase. Our wedding album is on top. Thick and white with a picture of our hands on the cover. Nothing else, just our hands. My hands look particularly veiny in the photo but when I check them in real life, they seem just fine.
I take off my wedding band and try it on my small toe. It fits. I look at my watch and realize the mail will be here soon. Maybe there will be a sweepstakes I can enter.
This is when I get my idea. The idea seems a little risky and strange at first, but the more I consider it, the more it seems alright. On a piece of paper, I write with my left hand in all capital letters.
“YOU LOOK LIKE A WOMAN WHO SHOULD BE IN MY LIFE. I’VE SEEN YOU A COUPLE OF TIMES IN LINE AND THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT THE WAY YOU FILL OUT DEPOSIT SLIPS THAT MAKES ME CRAZY.”
I set down the pen and reread what I have written. I giggle. The bird swings evenly, back and forth and whistles a little. I have never received a note like this, but now I think I deserve one. Once in the fourth grade, Mrs. Jerome had us make little mailboxes out of pink construction paper and paint red hearts on the sides. When we passed out Valentines, everyone needed plastic bags to carry theirs home in. I tucked my three neatly into my lunch pail and when my mother rinsed out my thermos, she found them.
“How nice,” she said, “to be well liked.” One of them was from Mrs. Jerome.
It is dark and I have loaded all the dishes in the dishwasher. Nathan is coaxing me to play Yahtzee with him. He has laughed off the note as a teen-age prank and told me there’s a lot of that stuff going around lately. He, himself has gotten a batch of phone calls at work this afternoon that drove his poor secretary crazy, he confides.
“Kids,” he says in disgust, then rolls five twos and shrieks, “YAHTZEE!” like they do in the commercial. That night I fall asleep composing another note in my head. A new note. A better note.
In the morning, I can hear Nathan from where I am sitting in the bathroom talking to the bird. He has given up on “pretty bird” and now has a new phrase.
“Call me a cab,” he says over and over.
There are 192 tiles in the bathroom if you don’t count where the sink meets the wall because those are cut in half. You can’t really count those.
After Nathan is gone, I dress and a button snaps off my blouse. I will sew it on later. For now, it’s okay to come undone. I am too excited about the note to fall back asleep so I sit on the couch with a pad of paper and a red felt tip pen.
“I REALLY CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF YOU. I FOLLOWED YOU HOME THE OTHER DAY. YOU HAVE A NICE HOUSE. DON’T YOU THINK IT’S TIME I SEE THE INSIDE?”
I take care in planting the note in the house. I pick a spot near the front door where Nathan puts down his briefcase. I forget what I do the rest of the afternoon, but the television is on and the clock moves. I get the mail. I only call Nathan’s office twice. Once I get his secretary and once I get Nathan himself, sounding annoyed.
“Hello?” he says, “Now, look here. You kids better knock this off.”
I think of something to make for dinner that I haven’t made in a while. I put some eye shadow on and when Nathan comes through the door, I have spread checks all over the table next to a calculator so it looks like I’ve been busy balancing things. I am ready.
It turns out Nathan doesn’t see the note right away because he is carrying a dove. It’s gray and has a broken wing. Nathan found it on the side of the street. Not in the gutter, but almost.
The dinner grows hard because Nathan goes to the store for some kind of special tape and an eyedropper. And of course a cage. You can’t put a dove in with a parakeet.
Later in bed, he leans over and says, “I see you got another one.”
“Mmmm,” I say and wait.
“Where do you find these things?”
I think for a moment before I answer. “On my windshield when I’m parked at the bank.”
“Oh,” he says softly and flips his pillow looking for a cooler side.
I think he will tell me to switch branches or something. He tells me to feed the dove with the eyedropper. Twice a day. He will leave the mixture in the refrigerator. I sneak out of bed and dial Scott and Stacey’s number.
The next day, I try my wedding band on a chain around my neck. It’s a little unpleasant to have something hit my chest when I make a sharp move. I wash my hair in the kitchen sink and afterwards reach in and pull out a tangled red clump. Actually, I could have just turned on the garbage disposal.
I feed the parakeet and let him flap around the living room. He lands on the curtain rod. The dove stays on the bottom of his cage and tries to spread his wings. He gets the taped one half way out and then opens his beak but no sound transmits.
I call Nathan’s secretary and listen to her chirp, “Hello? Hello? I think you better grow up,” she says. I call right back again because now I have the urge to speak to Nathan.
“Did you just call a moment ago?” she asks.
“No,” I say and think she has a lot of nerve accusing Nathan’s own wife.
Nathan gets on the line and he sounds like I’ve interrupted him from something important.
“What is it Nancy?” he asks.
“I’m having trouble feeding the dove,” I say.
“Just use the eyedropper.” I hear a pencil tap.
“I’m afraid to touch it,” I say. “It’s wild. It could have something.”
“Honey, do I have to come home from work to feed a bird?” Tap, tap, tap.
“I’ll figure it out,” I mumble.
“Use the gloves in the garage,” he says and I know he’s right.
“Yeah, I say. “I got another note today.”
“Okay,” he says, “I’ve got Stein on the other line. Just save it.”
“It was on the front door this time,” I say and make my voice rise. “He really does know where I live.”
There is a space before Nathan talks when I think I know what he will say, but I am wrong.
“Alright, see you at dinner. Make your famous roast chicken, okay?” He hangs up.
The parakeet lands on the dove’s cage and both birds look at each other. I get out my sewing basket and sew my wedding band on the blouse with the missing button. I try it on and it buttons up fine now. The dove looks kind of funny and small at the bottom of the cage and I think the parakeet may be frightening it so I whisk him off and watch him fly, a green blur, back to the curtain rod. I go out to the garage to find the gardening gloves. I have to move bags of Halloween costumes to get to them. Nathan likes to dress up and thrill neighborhood children.
When I come back inside, the dove is not alive. I don’t know what to do so I take a dishtowel and drape it respectfully over the cage. I can’t call and inform Nathan because Stein is on the other line. I call his secretary but hang up before she can complete the “O” in “Hello.” I do this a few times.
There’s nothing to do but write out the note that I have mentioned to Nathan.
I KNOW YOUR HUSBAND PLAYS GOLF ON SATURDAYS. HOW ABOUT IF WE PLAY SOME HOLES OF OUR OWN? JUST LET THINGS TAKE THEIR COURSE AND MAYBE TEE HIM OFF A LITTLE.”
I laugh because this new note is really pretty clever. I peek under the towel but the dove is still lying there motionless. I tear the note in what I hope looks like a gesture of disgust and leave the two pieces on the counter where they can easily be fit back together. I am buttoning and unbuttoning the wedding ring where there is a knock at the door.
Through the peephole I can see a teenage boy with exceptionally clear skin. He holds a paint bucket and looks straight into the peephole like it would be a camera lens and smiles. He is without braces. I ask what he wants and he tells me he is painting addresses on curbs for five dollars. I open the door and glance at his skin and into a bucket of clear red paint. I tell him six numbers that I want on the curb and he smiles showing teeth without fillings. From the window I watch him paint, his muscles flexing as he concentrates. During the entire time, he sticks his index finger in his left ear and pulls out something waxy.
When he finishes, I ask how much extra to paint a few red hearts on the side or our mailbox. He does it at no charge probably expecting a nice tip. He’s an enterprising kid and doesn’t stare at my buttons so I give him two dollars extra.
Nathan comes home later looking tired and out of focus. He instantly asks about the dove.
“Nathe,” I say, “It didn’t make it.”
“Oh hell,” he says and I think of his secretary answering her phone. “Well, what can you do?” He rubs his temples. “You try to help Mother Nature but she has her own plans. Let me get the thing out of here.” He lifts it gingerly out of the cage with the gloves. Nathan really cares about things like small animals and stuff. I knew that was a good sign when I married him. A gentle sign.
I am jittery and anxious because I have two things to show Nathan. Two things he can’t possibly stay calm over. But Nathan comes in already knowing the first thing.
“Nancy, why did you paint those hearts on our mailbox?”
“Hearts?” I ask and I am genuinely bewildered. I have truly forgotten about the clear-faced kid.
After Yahtzee, Nathan takes a shower. I dial Stacey’s number and say nothing. I hear the phone being shuffled and suddenly Scott is on the phone yelling at me.
“Look, you sonofabitch! You call my wife one more time and I’ll break your fucking face.” I hang up feeling tingly and excited. I think it’s because I have never heard Scott swear before, but I can’t be sure this is the reason.
Nathan has decided the best thing to do about my mystery person is to ignore him. Show no reaction, he says. Kids get bored with that after a while.
“But do you think it’s a guy who might try to rape me?” I ask seductively the next morning.
Nathan chuckles lightly and pats me on the behind. “You’re safe and sound, Nancy,” he says. “I’m a very careful person.” He leaves without bolting the front door. I remember last week when he told me to always lock his car up now that he has a built-in cellular phone.
I bring out the yellow page telephone book and look under entertainers. I have decided to have a singing telegram come to our door. I choose this idea over sending flowers because that seems so ordinary.
The first time the woman answers the phone, I hang up. But I call back in five minutes because the idea is worth doing. I describe to her exactly what I want and when.
“Who will be the recipient of Mr. Hunk’s strong vocals?” she asks.
“Nancy Spect.” I spell the last name. I give her my credit card number. “Can I request someone a little older looking,” I say, “Someone who couldn’t possibly look like a teenage boy.”
She asks me if Ms. Spect is a senior citizen? I hang up.
I can hardly get to sleep the rest of the day, I am so eager for Nathan to see this. I smile as I fill the bird’s seed dish until it overflows and mixes with the gravel on the bottom of the cage.
At the bank, I try to catch the teller’s eye but he is all business. I hand him a dollar and ask for four quarters. “Is there anything else?” he asks when I linger at his window.
“I would like a receipt for that,” I say. He snatches a scrap of paper and scrawls
“4 quarters given to N. Spect for a dollar bill.”
I am pleased because I know I will stay on his mind. He might even tell his wife about me over tacos tonight.
Back at home, I dress carefully. This will be my night. High heels are appropriate. I pull a red pair from under the bed.
When Nathan walks in, he notices.
“You look nice,” he says and I cringe a little. Maybe I should call this off. But I look at the moving clock and see that the telegram office has already closed. Soon a Mr. Hunk will be here singing “Love Me Tender.”
Nathan moves to the bird and whistles at it like a man who drives by a woman wearing a short skirt. I check my hem length.
The knock comes during the roast chicken. It is more of a musical rapping and I pull back the printed curtains near the table.
“Nathan,” I say, “That’s the car that always parks next to me at the bank.” I make my voice real shrill and staccato as I point to blue Mercury.
“Is that right?” Nathan sets down a spoon full of applesauce. I watch his arm stiffen as he throws open the door.
A man in tight black jeans and a blond mustache says my name like he’s been saying it for years. Then he sings, slowly at first but with projection. The napkin flutters from my hand as I look at Nathan who seems shy and embarrassed. Tight Jeans is using his arms now to emphasize certain parts of the song. I try to catch Nathan’s eyes to convey my fear over this total stranger bursting in on us, but he is politely giving Tight Jeans his undivided attention.
For a second there is blood trickling down Tight Jean’s chin and his hand grabs for the wound as he reels back, stunned. “You come near my wife again,” Nathan says, “and I’ll break your fucking face.” But when I look up, Tight Jeans is finishing up with a flourish and his face grins flawless. He has hit all the right notes for a magnificent ending. Nathan nods and gently closes the door.
“Nancy,” he says, “I’d like to talk to you.”
“In a second, Nathan,” I say rasping my throat. “I think we should call 911 and report these incidents.” I want my concern to be contagious. “Get his license plate,” I say as I run to the phone. On my way, I notice the seed dish in the parakeet’s cage is empty. When the police answer after three rings, I wait for a second and listen to our connection. There is a little static. I hang up.
Nathan has come into the room looking a little funny and small. He stretches out one arm as it if is sore.
“I’ve been thinking, Nancy. You have a lot of time these days, how about coming into the office with me.” This doesn’t sound like a question. “You used to type my term papers in college and you have a great phone voice. Suzanne is really bogged down and she could use the help. My office is only down the hall and I could keep an eye on you.” He stops now because his eye has landed on something. “What is that? Is that your wedding ring?” He points to my shirt and wrinkles up his brow.
I feel slightly tingly and excited and I don’t know why. I want to go and bake Nathan’s favorite apple streusel. But I don’t. Instead I imagine myself sitting at a desk down the hall from Nathan’s office. I will type transcripts perfectly at 95 words per minute and Suzanne will notice the wedding glint on my ring finger. People will call me on the phone and when I see the switchboard light up, it will be with my most business-like voice that I will say, “Hello.”
“Going Up, Going Down, Going Under”
I’m going under tonight. I’ve seen this hypnotist’s show before and figure I can trust him just fine to put me under. The only embarrassing part of the act was when he made the women on stage believe they were doing a striptease for their husbands. But even that I can handle, I reassure myself. Besides it might actually help Dennis see me in a new light. Lately he’s been restless, telling me I hold him back, I’m too safe, don’t take enough risks, and I’m not living life boldly enough. “Carpe Diem,” he’ll say as if mocking Robin William’s character in the movie, only I know he really means it. So in less than one hour, I will seize the day, and the night, and my husband’s respect back. All by announcing I am pregnant when it’s my turn in the spotlight.
“The rabbit died,” said that nasally nurse with the goofy sense of humor on the phone yesterday, and it had taken me a few seconds to reconcile her morbid, archaic expression with the fact that I finally had a wondrous life growing inside of me after three years of fertility futility. No more temperature taking, ovulation kits, semen analysis, uterine biopsies, and standing on my head after lovemaking.
But right now Dennis pays for our two tickets with a credit card that I strongly suspect will be declined. It’s the third one we’ve exceeded our limit on since he lost his job at the architectural firm. But I’m right behind him, expediently holding two twenty dollar bills so his red-face embarrassment will be short lived. That’s what a good wife does after all. But it’s dark by the box office and so I miss his grateful expression as we’re unexpectedly ushered into an elevator behind two perfectly proportioned blondes. The more platinum of the two drawls, “Going up,” while pushing a button with her fuchsia fingernail. Both young women follow us in and meld their lithe bodies into chairs directly next to us. I notice the taller one lets her high-heeled encased ankle graze my husband’s pant leg as she deeply crosses her exposed thighs. But I turn my attention to the overhead banner that proclaims, “The Hip Hypnotist. Is it your turn to surrender?” And another sign to the right that advertises, “Enjoy yourself and Enjoy the show…Because you ARE the show!” I squeeze my husband’s hand with affectionate anticipation knowing how pleased he’ll be to see me up on stage as a vivacious volunteer. And the grand finale when the hypnotist asks each participant to tell the audience something they would never guess, something shocking…well, I can’t think of a more fun and bold way to break the news of the baby. I only hope I won’t be too mesmerized to appreciate Denny’s pride.
I’m immediately reassured when a slide show flashes on a big screen monitor explaining that being hypnotized is relaxing, enjoyable and further elaborating that we will be alert at all times to what is going on around us. And how it only serves to bring us into a deeper state of reflection where our inhibitions will be tempered. This sounds like exactly what I need. Denny is always complaining I’m too uptight, too in control and far too anxious to have any fun.
I’m not expecting such a frenzied rush to the stage when the MC invites people up and I’m nearly trampled trying to grab a chair in the line-up. I’m relieved to see that I’m seated between two conservative, stuffy looking gentlemen so I feel very at home even though the lights are painfully bright. I glance back into the second row, my hand shielding my eyes as they strain to seek out my husband from the crowd. I am rewarded to see him nod appreciatively. “Just wait,” I say silently, “if you think this is good, just wait.”
I gently flutter my eyelids closed as instructed and feel a certain warmth radiating from my toes on upward. I speculate if this is the heat the Hip Hypnotist suggests I’ll be feeling, or if I’m just flushing with embarrassment wondering if people think my hairstyle is dated. “Don’t analyze,” I chide myself, “Just go with the flow.” But what is that soft background music? It almost sounds like the instrumental part of The Doors, Light My Fire. I love playing Name that Tune.
All at once, Hip’s voice seems to come to me from everywhere and nowhere, soaking through my ears, dripping into my mind’s eye where it paints delicate pictures out of watercolored words. “A river of thought,” he murmurs. “A stream of consciousness,” the voice drones, “a trickle of trivia…” Did we pay our water bill this month I wonder and visualize the online automatic withdrawal system that I recently set up. But Hip’s gentle touch on my shoulder distracts me from this mundane image as he calmly states that each time he taps me, I will be filled with a deeper and deeper sense of tranquility. I crack one eyelid partway open, then quickly admonish myself in my former preschool teacher’s voice, “no peeking.” But now Hip is counting backwards from ten to one and when he’s done, we’re supposed to open our eyes and find that we’re in a fantasy field of flowers.
Someone lowers the lights and fades the music and I’m horrified to realize I feel no different at all. I am exactly the same. Three, two, one. A panicky sensation grips my throat and I begin to sneeze in succession, four, five times, something I always do when I’m edgy. But nobody says “bless you” and I realize everyone around me is probably too busy frolicking in their lovely imaginary meadows. And here I am, stuck — trapped inside the same old self-conscious, timid, awkward wallflower on this stage while Hip heads toward me with efficient strides, probably to test my level of hypnotization, if that’s even a word. To add to my mortification, the prim looking man seated on my left lowers his face with drowsy oblivion deeply into my lap. Obviously looking to graze in greener pastures.
Hip the Hypnotist seems entirely satisfied to raise my arm up and watch it droop down again, apparently checking the “floppy factor,” a true litmus test for hypnotists. He then nods approvingly, gesturing toward me and egging the audience into rapturous applause.
“One more thing,” Hip adds when the clapping dies down, “If at any time during our show, someone next to you in the first few rows appears to have gone under, please raise your hand and one of our lovely assistants will escort them on stage to join our act.”
Still alarmed that I’m not under some spell or feeling any different at all, I think back to when I saw this show before. What’s next? What the hell is next? Oh, we stink. That’s right. I can fake that. I quickly remember all the things I’ve pretended in my life. Pretended to be asleep when Dennis came to bed, pretended I liked his mother’s obnoxious perfume, and pretended I had my doctorate degree when I was around the snooty women at my husband’s X-mas party. I begin to hold my nose and fan the air, looking suspiciously at the man to my right as Hip insists our neighbor hasn’t showered in weeks. The audience barely chuckles and out of the corner of my eye I think I see Dennis yawn and glance sideways at Blondie next to him.
Next we’re jockeys and thoroughbreds in the Kentucky derby and I have to make a quick decision which one would be less embarrassing. I’m self-conscious about my weight so I decide to be a horse, but once again I’m humiliated beyond belief as Hip proposes that the horses have just done the unthinkable and yet again, half the participants (the jockey half) hold their noses at the disgusting stench. What is it with this guy and odors, I wonder? But the audience seems to really enjoy this and so I play along, all the while planning my seductive striptease where I can more than likely redeem myself in front of Dennis before I broadcast that I’m the expectant mother of his first child.
It dawns on me that everyone else on stage seems to be genuinely hypnotized as they prance freely around and I can’t believe I’m the only one held prisoner by my inhibitions and hang-ups.
“What’s your name and where ya from?” Hip closes in on me with his microphone and I try to make my eyes look dreamy and awestruck, the way I imagine they should look in a trance.
“Sharon Henderson from California,” I recite zombie-like.
“That’s a strange racehorse name,” Hip persists.
Shit, I think, I’m blowing it. I quickly add, “otherwise known as Lucky Lady from Laughlin,” I toss my hair like a Clydesdale mane but decide that actual neighing might be too much. And that’s when I notice Hip’s eyes narrow just a bit before he moves on.
Next we’re skiing in the Alps, only we’re doing it barefoot. Easy. Just shiver uncontrollably. After that, we’re at the beach and one of us, (thankfully not me) has a hole in a prominent spot in their bathing suit. Another cinch. I fake a shocked expression while the crowd bursts into bawdy howls. But now I feel my whole body tighten because it occurs to me that after this, all us females must become exotic dancers. I scope out my competition and that’s when true despair sets in. I didn’t realize there were so many graceful young girls up here. Is that one even legal, I wonder, knowing that alcohol has been served all night long. I can only hope that afterwards, Dennis will be so ecstatic over my baby announcement that he’ll make generous allowances for clumsy, horselike, foul-smelling stripper rejects. I let myself glance at him momentarily, but he seems to be staring down at his shoes.
Suddenly my shoulder is prodded, and I’m introduced to the audience as “Cherry Jubilee” direct from Paris. I recognize the bump and grind music from some old Broadway production. Great, he has to go and make me a French girl, I lament. I flounce around an elevated platform twirling my sweater, then sashay stage left because I know Dennis sits off to the right. Hips. Get your hips and butt into it, I encourage myself and now I’m swirling and swaying pretty good for someone five weeks along. But the audience starts to taunt, “Take it off Cherry,” and I know Dennis would want to see me loose and carefree so I fling the plaid sweater at some man in the front row and start to undo the top part of my silk blouse. I’m indebted to Hip for stopping me mid-button, but not at all grateful for what he spits out next.
“Why, you big ham! You’re not under at all, are you? But let’s give Sharon a hand for her participation thus far,” he says and gives me a good thrust toward my seat as people hesitatingly clap. As I stare in disbelief wondering what about my dancing could’ve given me away, I hear Hip continue enthusiastically, “But it looks like someone in our audience is highly suggestive and has gone completely under. Let’s bring him up here, shall we? Audience?” Everyone thunders away and I notice Buxomy Blondie next to Dennis wildly waving her hands and pointing fingers at my lethargic husband who appears drunk and perfectly content to be accompanied up by a stunning red-haired assistant.
It could be my imagination but it almost seems like both the blondes stick their feet out in the aisle to trip me as I try to squeeze by and return to my seat with some semblance of elegance.
All eyes are on the newcomer in the spotlight and I watch my husband, seated in the exact chair I previously sat in, gregariously introduce himself as Dennis the Menace. Hip snaps his fingers and in response, Denny instantly slumps forward in a genuine daze.
I look at my watch and realize the show is nearly at it’s conclusion except for the ending performance where everyone makes a single outrageous confession. I’m sad not to be able to blurt out my amazing news but I still feel a few eyes on me so I chortle along with the rest as one girl proclaims her bisexuality. Another man dressed in Walmart garb surprises people by declaring he’s a millionaire. One of the younger girls admits being hot for Hip the Hypnotist and everyone shouts, “go for it!” Dennis snatches the mic out of turn and leans closely in, characteristically clearing his throat before he talks. I almost think Blondie next to me blows him a coy little kiss but maybe she’s swatting at a gnat.
My husband hesitates one suspenseful moment before speaking.
“I don’t love my wife. I’m having an affair and I’m leaving her.” His burning voice seems to come to me from everywhere and nowhere all at once, singeing my ears as the words blaze into my mind’s eye; an inferno of divorce papers and abortions while blonde looks of pity smolder in my direction. I’m going under tonight.
The Key to My Heart
My husband stole my psychotherapist from me. It’s true, she was mine first except I stopped seeing her when my depression cured. But six months later, when the blues came back with a vengeance, I called to make my usual appointment and was told due to privacy laws; she could not see both spouses separately. It was some sort of conflict of interest, she stated professionally.
“Both spouses?” I inquired, taken aback.
“Yes, unless you need to work on your marriage,” she added.
I was silent then because I don’t need to work on my marriage. Just my personality. Besides who wants to be in a marriage when it’s just work? The only unresolved issue we have in our relationship is that I’m a pacifist and he keeps a gun in the house. That must be it. He obviously wants a second opinion on the weapon thing.
“But why is Raymond coming to see you?” I asked Dr. Darlington after I recovered from my surprise, in what I hoped sounded like an offhand, casual tone.
“Oh you know very well I cannot divulge that information, Nancy. Privacy laws,” she said even more professionally. I wondered if she’d keep that goody two shoes ethic in mind when they started discussing me. And my housekeeping skills and my cooking skills and my bedroom skills…and…
“But I can refer you to a reputable colleague of mine if your despair is back,” she continued. I hate how she tiptoed around the word ‘depression.’
“Oh, you knew very well it was just a matter of time until I was sick again. I guess you don’t believe in curing a patient. That’d be bad for business,” I said and hung up the phone. I thought I heard Raymond clearing his throat in the background before the loud, angry dial tone droned in my ear.
The gun. Raymond says I’ve thought up two fairly intelligent reasons why he shouldn’t keep a gun in the house and if I just come up with a third, he will acquiesce to my desires and sell it. Ray likes things to come in threes. He wants us to have three children. He points out “buy two, get the third for free” sales and he’s fond of saying, “Three is a charm.” I’m Jewish and he’s not, so I figure the three obsession must have something to do with the father, son and the Holy Ghost.
I’m very close to a valid third reason, I can just feel it. My first argument hinges upon newspaper articles I’ve methodically clipped, reporting all the unarmed prowlers who have broken into homes, wrestled away the owners’ guns (that were bought for protection) only to use them against the residents themselves.
The second is an obvious and important rationale. We have one precocious and inquisitive child. Katie. She’s seven. Enough said, right? But Raymond says it isn’t enough at all. Not nearly. He believes that first of all, girls aren’t fascinated by guns like boys are. Secondly, he maintains Katie isn’t tall enough to reach the empty Nike shoe box on the top shelf of his closet. And third, he keeps the ammo separate in a locked file cabinet and he’s the only one who knows where the key is. See, he even likes to refute me in threes. And I must admit I am perplexed with this particular logical rebuttal. I wonder if that’s the kind of stuff he’ll now be telling Dr. Darlington, “Yep, that’s my wife. Easily stumped.”
As I go about my daily errands, it occurs to me to ask Raymond why I don’t know where this key to the locked file cabinet is? Shouldn’t I be privy to that sort of thing? But I get distracted when the dry cleaner is rude to me, accusing me of not emptying suit pockets and ranting about small metal objects that could damage his machinery. I apologize profusely, assuring him it will never happen again and then my cell phone rings. It’s the psychic confirming our appointment later on. Before we hang up she tells me to drive safely and I wonder what that could mean? I’ve never gone to a clairvoyant before, but two friends have sworn by this woman. They say she’s legitimate and even helps police find missing children. I imagine her staring intently at the back of a little face on a milk carton, eyelashes fluttering. Or maybe you don’t blink during a trance, I don’t know. But I speculate as to what she will soon tell me. I’m not a firm believer in stuff like this. In fact, before I fall asleep at night, I read that day’s horoscope to see how wrong it was. But there’s something quite alluring about people who offer predictions about your life.
I meet my longtime friend Rita in a Chinese restaurant for lunch. She opens and reads my fortune in her nasally voice, “You will find the key to happiness today.” I snatch it from her hand to confirm she read it correctly. But it’s accurate to the word. I wonder if this is also something they’ll talk about—my husband and Dr. Darlington. My intense need to verify things. Certainly she’ll label that as a trust issue. And he might describe that one occasion when I pressed him for details about his first lover. Was she blonde? Was she thin? Busty? Was she…?
My thoughts are interrupted because Rita is excited about my visit with the psychic and chatters continuously over the won-tons, priming me on certain questions I should ask. “Remember,” she says, “these people are experts on body language and facial expressions. Don’t give anything away and don’t offer extraneous information.”
“Oh I won’t,” I reassure her. “And I certainly won’t mention that while I’m talking to her, I have a husband who will be sneaking around with my old shrink.
Rita’s eyebrows rise, her mauve lipstick crinkles, and I know she’s bitten. “Raymond is seeing Dr Darlington? Professionally?”
“Yes, but I’m sure it’s only to get a second opinion on something.”
“An entire sixty minute session just to get a second opinion?”
“It’s sort of a loaded issue,” I say, giggling at my own private gun pun. Next I smirk about rhyming ‘gun’ with ‘pun’ but Rita obviously surmises I’ve lost my marbles.
“A lot of talking can take place in an hour,” she taunts, crackling her own cellophane cookie wrapper. “Or at least you better hope it’s only talking.”
Shut up, I think, or do I say that aloud? I’m not worried about them doing anything physical, even though certain types of women seem to find Raymond enormously appealing. But Dr. Darlington wasn’t impulsive and certainly wouldn’t violate whatever ethical oaths they made her take. No, it’s the talking. The confiding, the intimate little things that couples are only supposed to tell one another that disturbs me. Like will he disclose how I’m scared to stay alone overnight so he can’t take business trips? That I incessantly worry I’ll get toxic shock from tampons. Or will he reveal to her where he’s hidden the key to the filing cabinet for those bullets? That kind of stuff is far worse than sleeping with someone else, if you ask me. The true definition of betrayal. In fact, from what Dr. Darlington already knows about me from my own sessions, and now that she’s met Raymond, she may wonder why he’s settling for this? A man like Ray can do far better, she’ll think. Are therapists allowed to offer advice like that? Isn’t there some law about slander?
“Did you hear what I just said, Nancy? My Nick wouldn’t be caught dead in a therapist’s office.” Rita’s muffled voice reiterates. Is it my mind, my hearing or is she talking with a full mouth again? “Caught dead,” she repeats for emphasis as I pay the check and leave.
The psychic looks nothing like the gypsy I envisioned, and so far she’s told me nothing accurate. She even pronounces me pregnant which is a joke since you need to have sex to accomplish that. I finally can’t stand it anymore and ask about my husband and myself. Our future together. What can she tell me? She makes a few vague proclamations about trust and love and then closes with a cryptic statement, “You will find the key lies in being well-suited.”
As I write her a check, I think about putting “Fraud” in the memo space. She advises me to name the new baby Rosemary as I stomp off.
When I leave, I know exactly where I’m headed—Dr. Darlington’s office. I feel jittery, edgy and all keyed up. Raymond’s appointment should be long finished by now but I want to verify that his car is not still in her parking lot. And if it is? I reach over the back seat to pull up the freshly cleaned suits that have fallen to the floor in their slippery plastic casings. Raymond hates it when his wardrobe gets wrinkled. “And if it is?” I repeat the question again aloud but let it linger there unanswered, a persistent itch that needs scratching.
And it is! Ray’s BMW is parked behind some bushes, like someone trying to conceal their weapon. I creep up to the back entry of Dr. Darlington’s office. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here and she’s had it painted purple. I press my ear to the door and hear quiet female murmurings, almost sounding like two different women. But that, now that is definitely Ray’s distinctive cough—he’s been sick lately. Is he in there with two women? Is this group therapy? Or a threesome? I think of Raymond’s fondness for that particular number. A soft giggle and then a female advises authoritatively, “that’s not really a good place to hide an important key.” The voice instantly lowers to a whispered hush. To keep everything private. And personal. And intimate. To keep everything from me.
My chest tightens a bit, but it all makes perfect sense now. I scurry to my car thinking of fortune cookies, psychics, and dry-cleaners. “The key lies in being well-suited,” I repeat over and over, frantically ripping through the plastic wrapping that covers Raymond’s gray tweed suit. Inside his left breast pocket, I firmly grasp the small metal object that will open the locked cabinet for the ammo and will surely release many other things as well.
Yes, the time has come for Raymond to bite the bullet, I chuckle uncontrollably with this final pun. Because I have just come up with the third, final and absolutely irrefutable reason that a husband shouldn’t keep a gun inside his own home. A jealous wife.
I am a fraud. But I’m a fraud with a soul. Kind of like a hooker with a heart. Someone who does the wrong things but for the right reasons, so you can’t really persecute me. Can you? Besides my psychic abilities used to be legit when I was younger. I think I chased them away with my fears. It’s terrifying to be 14 years old and suddenly know not only precisely when the telephone will ring, but that it will be your grandmother singing happy birthday off key. And then there was that time I insisted my college boyfriend pull off the freeway because I had an intense bad feeling about an accident involving an 18-wheeler. He thought it was an excuse to make-out. But as our hypnotic hazards flashed from the shoulder lane, the all-traffic radio station warned of the five car fatality collision a mile ahead of us, involving a jack-knifed semi. Had we not stopped five minutes ago, it would have been six cars! Richard just stared at me in awe and said, “So, when do we hit Vegas, baby?” Moments before any of these surreal incidents, my teeth would sort of buzz or vibrate. To this day, no dentist has ever been able to explain the origins of this sensation.
Today I am expecting a new client that a friend referred to me, a young mother Sally. Sally unnerves me because she mourns a young son and hopes I will make contact with the little boy on the other side. Even in the semi-psychic heyday of my youth, the most I ever did was help my best friend communicate with her pain-in-the-ass stepmother. And that witch was still very much alive.
I tried to explain this to my girlfriend – – that I don’t do that sort of thing. I’m not, nor do I ever pretend to be, what is termed a “channeler,” but she told me anything I might do would really help the situation. Sally hasn’t slept since her seven year old died. A fact that is quite apparent when Sally stumbles into the room, assisted by her chiseled cheeked young husband who limps behind her wearing a black medical boot. “Skiing?” I say and point to his bad leg.
“Stairs,” he says and offers no more. Off to a good start, I think chiding myself. Why would a grieving father be on the slopes having fun? I watch as he guides his wife firmly by the elbows to my gray velvet sofa. I’ve always decorated my office with soothing colors and fabrics (black and white would never do) because many of my clients are distraught when they first arrive. They want to know about cheating spouses, financial hardships or their unstable health. Even though I always cheer people up with my favorable predictions, it can’t hurt to also practice Feng Shui.
But Sally is different, I can tell. She scarcely notices me, let alone my calming environment. Her entire focus seems to be on the pea green stuffed frog she clutches to her chest. And that’s when I know. This is her trance object…something significant from her loved one that she expects me to touch or hold and is supposed to elicit vital communication. I have read up on this protocol prior to today so I can sincerely be of some help. See, that’s all I ever want to do – – help. Never has there been a charlatan with such good intentions. I even practiced all of this free of charge until my husband was laid off his job. I used to lift his spirits too, no pun intended, telling him I strongly sensed his next employment opportunity was just around the corner. Once he realized his wife was nothing more than a humane hoax, he turned his attentions to Monster.com. But now, looking at this well-worn stuffed animal gives me clear insight into a precocious little boy who obviously found reptiles cuddly, tracked in dirt on freshly swept floors, and probably played practical jokes involving spiders on his unsuspecting mother.
I have seven-year-old twin boys myself, so a convincing act will probably be far easier than I first thought, and besides, offering comfort to Sally will be meaningful for me as well. I cannot begin to imagine being in her position. As I watch her dab her eyes with tissues, I mentally rattle off a list of ingredients to pick-up on the way home tonight so I can prepare my two little guys their favorite meal of homemade macaroni while we play a rousing game of Uno. I’ve been relying far too much on Kraft lately and now I’m aware I haven’t spent enough time with them. Sally is a good wake-up call.
“Well?” the husband interrupts my thoughts. “I told my wife we should be spending our money on a good prescription for a sedative instead of this. But she insisted.” I observe his jaw tighten and a nervous tic in Sally’s sensible sandal begins to take hold.
“I see,” I say, and instantly regret that turn of a phrase because it makes it sound like amazing spirit visions have already popped into my head. “I’m sure our mutual friend Darcy told you that I don’t normally channel? My forte is in clairvoyancy, I can foretell your future.”
Without warning, Sally begins to bawl. Great, heaving guttural sobs that can only emanate from a mother who has just lost her beloved mischievous little frog collector. “No future. There is no future. I want our past,” she weeps her words.
Nearly uttering “I see” for the second time, I search for some other way to let her know that I do identify, that I relate and comprehend her tremendous heartache. Before I can restrain myself, out tumbles my feeble commiserating statement, “I had twins and one of them passed away also, right around the same age as yours,” I take a shallow breath and continue, “So I completely know what you are experiencing.” Whoa, why did I just say that? The only thing I can come up with is my tendency toward all or nothing. If I’m going to lie and say I’m a channeler, then why not go all the way and be a compassionate channeler who has total empathy as well as a dead son too!
Sally’s eyes immediately meet my own with newfound hope, her light irises look cloudy but her pupils are dilated as if she’s just come from the optometrist, attempting to see things more clearly. She has the type of face that would be enhanced by glasses and I toy with giving her a prediction about her failing vision but she speaks first.
“You’ve lost a son? Darcy didn’t mention that. How did he die?” she tightens her grip on the frog. “If you don’t mind my asking.”
Quick! Be quick with an answer, I command myself. Any hesitation will be a dead giveaway, no pun intended.
“Well, It was actually a very freak playground accident at his school,” I say and try to hide the shocked expression even from myself. What am I doing? Freak playground accident? How preposterous. Why didn’t I say something more plausible like a drowning or a car accident?
“Here,” she says, “Take Mr. Froggy please.” She passes him closer but doesn’t release her hand. We both cling to this homely stuffed toad, whom I recognize as a cheap knock-off from Sesame Street’s Muppets. As my fingers stroke the nubby material, I realize it’s now my turn to come up with some smooth material – – utterly believable material!
“He went very quickly,” I launch in.
“He lingered for weeks with cancer,” her husband breaks in gruffly.
“I mean at the moment of his crossing over, it was fast and painless,” I say, trying to salvage something here. Anything. Sally nods through streaming tears.
I close my eyes, partly to shut out the image of a young, anguished mother and partly because I remember the mystical image I’m supposed to be projecting.
“He wants you to know he’s no longer in pain. He says he’s light and free now. From all the wires and tubes.” I peek through one cracked eyelid. Sally’s tightly lined face seems to slowly release itself as if someone runs an invisible iron over her wrinkles. She voluntarily relinquishes the froggy completely now and it almost seems to leap into my lap. As Sally sighs long and deep, there is an awkward silence and I feel the husband’s eyes sear into me even though my own lids are tightly shut once more.
“Now Sal, honey” he says, “Anyone would know to say that.” Yes, be more specific, I admonish myself silently.
“Your son is directing me to tell you to remember all those times at the beach,” I say this with confidence. Hey, we live in Southern California. What mother hasn’t had fun times at the seashore with her child?
“How exactly is he “directing you?” Mr. Mistrust interrogates further, but I ignore him. Sally is crying again, but this time it’s different. The tears of a mother reunited.
“Aaron, oh Aaron,” she gasps. “It’s really you! Are you alone? Are you with Poppy or Nanna? Do you have someone to play with?”
“Stop giving her information!” the husband hisses.
I cock my head to one side as if listening intently before I speak.
“Oh, this is amazing,” I say and then pause to generate interest.
“What? What is it?” Aha. I’ve got the husband now too. I can tell his voice is closer to me, indicating his body is leaning forward with interest.
“Our boys are together. Your Aaron says he’s met up with my — with my Tommy,” I lightly sniffle for effect, but why didn’t I think up a made-up name, damn it. I hope I haven’t pushed it too far. I open my eyes and see a serene smile flicker Sally’s lips as she clasps her husband’s hand,
“Oh Herb,” she says, “Aaron’s made a friend.” It’s funny, I was about to guess the husband’s name to be Herb. Now I wish I would’ve vocalized my speculation earlier because it would’ve lent credibility to my act. But you can’t say after the fact, “Gosh, I just knew your name was Herb.” That just wouldn’t hold water. So now I look at Herb and what I see there delights me. His expression says, “I’m finally getting my wife back. Thank you,”
“You’re very welcome,” I say intently to Herb and he visibly startles.
Holding my breath, I decide to venture into more difficult territory.
“He’s with a family pet. A large yellow dog.” Golden retrievers are always a good bet for a family with young kids, I think as I cross my fingers. Please, please.
“Oh that’s wonderful. He had asthma and we could never have a pet. But that sounds like my mother’s dog, Scruff,” Sally fills in. I can tell that Herb has reached his tolerance level with this whole thing because he clenches his teeth and a vein in his forehead begins to pulsate.
“Look, this better be for real. Every word you utter better be 100 percent truth,” he says. “Or I swear to god, you’ll regret the day you ever laid eyes on us. Nobody plays with my wife’s emotions. Understand?” Sally pats his arm as if to say, settle down – – how could you alienate this woman now? After all she’s the only bridge to our little boy.
I glance at the clock and realize technically our session should be finishing up but I want to give this woman, who by the grace of god, could be me, one final gift. I shudder thinking how I would crumble if I were in her place. What would I want to hear?
“Okay, now your boy is telling me that he’s not angry for all those times you put him in time-out. He says he deserved it, and you are the very best mommy. Ever.” I watch the peace creep into the corners of Sally’s tired eyes as she slumps her body in relief. She will rest easy tonight, plunging into deep slumber, I can see it in my mind’s eye. You might say it’s a premonition of sorts.
After we make our next appointment, Sally hugs me tightly, the green frog smooshed between our bosoms. “The Kermit Connection,” I think with an amused smile as I gaze with satisfaction while they walk to the door, Herb glancing back several times. I can read his mind easily, “Remember my warning,” he transmits.
I sit at my gray granite desk with a sudden headache, but there’s something else too, a strange, specific sensation that conjures up memories for me. I realize that my entire jaw and my mouth, but mainly my teeth, are buzzing with a haunting, familiar vibration from long ago. Just then my intercom beeps and I press the button, transferring my outside receptionist onto my speaker phone.
“Forgive the interruption, but I’ve just had an emergency phone call from your twin’s elementary school. It’s Tommy. Oh, I’m so very sorry. There’s been a freak playground accident.”