1) I created a new blog for the comics I've been drawing. They're bad, I'll tell you right now. But you can find them by clicking on my blogger profile. The comics blog is called "Tree Talk."
2) Here is an imitation of an Amy Hempel story.
Pam looks like she is ready to let Henry die. Henry is just an infant. He has a look on his face that isn’t scared so much as bemused. A quarter or something is lodged in his throat.
The look on Pam’s face tells me she is ready to run away from it. But you can’t give me the go ahead like that. For months we have been dreaming about leaving for the coast. We can’t let ourselves get caught up at the wrong time with the wrong thing.
The look on Pam’s face is the look that I want to give to someone who knows what to do. When Henry sits down on the carpet and starts to sway, I go to him and close my eyes as my finger goes into his mouth. I try to imagine that I’m scooping out a fingerful of peanut butter. It’s enough until I can pull out the blockage.
Henry chokes. This might be the last time we come here.
“Where did he get a coin?” I say to no one in particular.
“You should’ve seen your face,” says Pam.
From time to time Pam tells me that I look like my name should be Rosie, even though that is not my name. I guess it’s because of my red hair and pale skin. Alcohol makes my face blush a little bit.
She and I babysit Henry, the only child of a young and burgeoning Mormon couple living in the lower level of a duplex on Ivinson. The woman is pregnant again. Pam and I used to live in the upper level of the house until our landlord told us that we had to move. We had to move because we couldn’t pay all of our rent every time. He said that he was sorry to make us leave, that there was a young man of business who had just moved into town with money.
“Sorry,” he said quickly. “You know I like you girls.”
Then he paused.
“You have till next Friday,” he said.
Now Pam and I live in a single trailer across the tracks on the other side of town. We have a shed on the side where we keep our bikes because we have nothing else to put in there. The first time that I came home to Pam and the trailer Pam was sitting on the wooden porch outside making a wind chime out of a stick of wood, some string, and a bunch of old keys that she said she had found on a walk around town.
“I can’t believe I found all of these keys!” she kept saying. “In one day, in one day.”
When the Mormons found out that we had been kicked out, they were nicer about it than you would even think a Mormon couple to be. They said we could still watch Henry for them, like that was some kind of consolation. On the last day the wife gave us a pie that was partly resting on her giant belly.
“What a picture,” Pam had said.
“It’s boysenberry,” said the wife.
Five days a week I go to the call center where I work. A lot of people can say that they have worked there. Most of them can’t say that they worked there long. We have a saying at the call center. It goes We’re Always Here.
This saying is truer for some than it is for others.
Me, I’ve been Here for close to fifteen months. Twelve of those months were in the duplex. The other three in the trailer.
Pam’s job is a little different from mine. My hours working are spent on the phone asking people I would never talk to otherwise if they are satisfied with their lives. Most of these people hang up. Some say yes and then hang up.
Some say no.
Then I say, “Maybe if you had the proper insurance plan, you would feel more inclined to live a life of chances.”
The suits at the call center tell me that this works. I’m just thankful that I don’t work entirely on commission.
But Pam’s job. Pam works at a butcher’s shop. She absolutely is in love with her job at the butcher’s shop. There is a spectacle there that makes her giddy. She’s so in love with the job that she is great at being a clerk and a record keeper. She doesn’t have to cut anything. That’s not what she signed up for, she says. All this makes her indispensable. They let her choose her hours so that I could carpool with her to work during the week. What this means is that she doesn’t have to buy herself a car because she can use mine and just help pay for gas.
The car is fifteen years old. It is a Subaru. It runs well enough. In the mornings when we drive to work and in the evenings when we drive home Pam likes to say clever things to get us in the mood. Usually she just says old things in a dumb way. We Are Once More On Top Of The Road. Put On Your Hat, Partner.
I’m Tuning My Kazoo In The Rain.
That last one is for rainy days.
I usually don’t contribute to these sayings.
Pam and I have jobs. When we can, we also babysit for extra cash.
For months we have been dreaming of driving to the coast.
The Mormons come home just as the sun is starting to go down under the horizon. They come home and come in like trolls running from the moon. I got that one from Pam. I used to tell her that I thought trolls were afraid of the sun and turning into stone.
“That’s stupid,” she used to say.
The couple asks how Henry is doing. I say that he was fine. More than that, really, I tell them, the kid was an angel. Henry doesn’t do anything to spoil the story. He just sits there like still water. He is a baby.
After they give us our money, twenty dollars each, and after the wife has taken Henry into the bedroom, Pam tells the husband about a deer that she saw strung up at work earlier in the week. She tells him how it hung there and dripped blood down the driveway and into the gutter.
As long as it’s not Henry choking, I suppose she can tell him anything she wants. But in the car after it’s over I tell her that she shouldn’t mess with the religious people like that.
“I wasn’t messing,” she says. “It really was amazing to watch. It was like watching a spider trying to crawl out of the toilet you’ve just flushed. All that life just flowing away.”
“Still,” I say. “The man’s a man of God.”
“There’s only man, just man.”
She’s right, somehow. I don’t know. I don’t know what she means exactly or why I’m afraid of losing the babysitting job. I don’t particularly like the Mormons, I mean not enough to fear losing them. I don’t dislike them by any means. I guess they’re just another thing to do. They are just.
I keep driving. When we pass a convenience store Pam perks up.
“I Yell To You For Ice Cream,” she grins.
The thing about the coast is it is there, it is big, and what else is there. There is nothing else. Here there is a small town with low lights, so you can see the stars easily and fully. The starlight comes down like rain. Still at the coast is water. Ocean water that covers more of the earth than land does. The starlight doesn’t come down there like it does in small towns in the mountains, but instead the water reflects the stars so calmly that you can believe the stars actually live in two places at once. Suddenly you’re caught between heaven and heaven. This is the beach life, the kind of place that makes you think only one thing. That being, What in the world are we waiting for?
I asked that of Pam once while we were stopped at an intersection.
I said, “What in the world are we waiting for, Pam?”
She looked at me and said, “A Chevrolet.”
“I’m So Excited,” said Pam, “And I Just Could Never, Ever Hide It!”
I tried to head to the coast one time, but I think I went for the wrong one. I never got there, anyway. In Kansas I was driving east. There was a tornado up ahead on the interstate, and highway patrolmen were there miles before herding everyone off onto the exits. They were trying to keep people safe.
In my car was everything that I cared about enough to take with me. Except Pam. Pam wasn’t there. This was during the time that we were in the duplex with the Mormon couple. She thought that she was in love with the Mormon husband. On some night he would stay up with her on the porch and talk about the planets they all would get in the afterlife. Pam thought that when he said they, he meant the two of them. That was not what he meant. I told Pam about it and she got defensive.
“You’re making it hard for me to believe,” she said.
“Do me a favor,” she said. “Stay away from my planet.”
“Pam,” I said. “This is the only planet you’ll ever see.”
I was even a little bummed out by this. So I took off. I had my clothes and my makeup. I brought my best dress so that I could wear it barefoot on the beach. But then I was stuck in a diner off some exit in Kansas, miles away from a tornado.
What happened is that I just kept ordering items off of the menu in the diner. I didn’t even realize it. I ate ice cream after ice cream, washing it down with coffee and a few beers. I was there for hours and hours. By the time the policemen came in to tell us all that we could slide on by the tornado, it was dark and I was low on gas money.
The tornado must have been dancing, I like to think. But I know that that is stupid. When I got back to town I told Pam that I was sorry.
“For what?” she said.
And then I took a job at the call center, always telling myself that a tornado, a sign that big, is not something that you can just forget about.
Pam’s love for the Mormon husband never really left. It just faded a little when we had to move out. That’s why she tries to sway him with stories of draining life and beautiful death. Sometimes I think that’s why she loves the job at the butcher’s so much. That being, because it allows her to pose as an expert for things that demand expertise.
She can describe a dead moose for hours. A dead duck for more, seeing that it once flew around the skies. Pam thinks this is similar to a religion. It looks to me like the Mormon husband is humoring her. This is something he is good at.
Pam just doesn’t really have an ex. I do. I have an ex. So I don’t feel desperate to know the feeling like Pam does. What it is about women, I don’t know, so hungry for the feeling of betrayal.
My ex was named Robert. I say was because I tell people that he is dead.
When they ask about my boyfriend, I say “He died.”
“Oh my god,” they say, “how?”
“He accidentally swallowed a tick,” I say.
Really Robert was a college student, and a little younger than me. He graduated and moved away to work at a business somewhere keeping their finances. The kid was just too scared to take me with him.
He had said, “We had a beautiful relationship. But if you come with me we might end on a bad note. Let’s just leave it at what we had.”
I wanted to suck him dry from the inside out. I settled for the next best thing.
The next time we are set to babysit for the Mormons is a Friday evening. We will go there after we are done at work, so around five or five-thirty.
I drive to the butcher’s to pick up Pam. I get there and she is standing outside, looking at a dog that is looking at the meat in the butcher’s shop. She sees me and comes to get into the car.
“What a boring day,” she says. “How was work?”
“Fine,” I say. “Same. Boring.”
“Yeah,” Pam says.
We drive a few blocks to the Mormons’ house. To that duplex.
“Rolling, Rolling, Rolling,” Pam sings.
I had said the day was boring to Pam, but it really wasn’t. Some of it was boring, but in the afternoon I made a call to a man who happened to live in Oregon. He was in Lincoln City, so close to the coast.
“Are you happy on the coast?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Does the water seem so beautiful that it’s scary?” I asked.
“What is this?” he said.
“I want to live there,” I told him.
“It’s kind of expensive,” he said.
We made big talk like that for twenty minutes. I swore that I could hear sand on his end of the phone. Why I didn’t tell Pam, I don’t know. I wasn’t sure that she could handle it.
We park in front of the duplex and I listen to Pam talk aloud to herself about the stories she will tell Henry. The ones about the buffalo that came in to the shop. The ones about the dogs that she sometimes feeds out behind the shop. She calls that one the Circle of Life. I’m not sure that that is the right title.
There is one other thing about the trip to Kansas that I haven’t told yet. It is really the only other thing that I remember about the trip. I try not to think about that failure too much, but like most failures there are one or two things that still and forever come through.
I was a little drunk at the diner, waiting for the tornado to move along somewhere else. Some sounds came through the open windows as I ate and drank. They sounded so beautiful and happy to me. I thought about the town that I had left, with the man on the downtown streets who played saxophone for free on summer nights.
“Is someone playing music out there?” I asked the man next to me.
“That’s a girl screaming,” the guy had said. “Probably Helen’s kids are running around.”
I remember that feeling while I am in the car with Pam, sitting out in front of the duplex. When a dog barks outside somewhere, I shush Pam.
“What was that?” I say.
“It was a girl screaming,” I say.
“What?” says Pam. “What? Who?”
There is a silence as Pam and I sit in the car listening. The dog barks again, but that is not what Pam is waiting for. Pam will not get what she is waiting for.
We are surrounded by a town.
And there is a girl screaming. But only I can hear her.