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Etta Get Higher
Short fiction by
Al R. (free)
ONE It began along the single crease beneath her toes, a pain like fire. She had begged not to go on this jaunt to the outlet mall. Every time she took off the shoe she was surprised not to see blood. What kind of woman are you? hey challenged her. hese were !eb"s friends from work who she did not like. !aggers of pain along the slender curve of her arch. he shoe store was the first stop, men#s shoes for her. $en"s shoes are best. In her heal a pulse of pain like dotting hard an e%clamation point. he burning under her toes began to throb. he other girls in their shit kickers marched and kicked up sand along the beach. She was hobbled. &I can"t walk anymore, please, I swear.' hey stood in a semicircle on the gray slats of the boardwalk, the wood shimmered silver with heat. & hen we"ll stop here for lunch.' (ne of !eb"s work friends said. &I know what I want, fried shrimp.' !eb said. he others were eager to eat. Etta had an ice tea and rolled up some of the ice in a napkin to soothe her foot. he hiking shoe !eb had bought her slid off her foot )*****+ ,o one at their table looked or said a word. )t that moment she felt like she did not know any of them.
ou"ll get used to her. the threat is seen in a hurt look and a thick lip pout. hey were sure everyone was trying to rip them off. &Why did you want to bring her along?' &She"s not so bad. She said nothing. yet she let the others title her as ine%perienced and weak. She let them prevail on her to wear a man"s walking shoes. I don"t want to get into her problems. Etta thought. he violence of a gift one is e%pected to wear.ou"ll get used to it.' he girls said together. & hese shoes are killing me. She needs help. 1ust ignore her.' &0eep the pain to yourself. he girls showered themselves and each other with gifts which had the effect of protecting.ears ago she confidently walked and biked the hills of /ermont.' &!on"t be so girly.' Etta had never known there were so many subjects not to be spoken of until !eb painted those broad 2s all over everything.-nder the toes of her left foot the blister formed and was about to rupture.' &. *ow many nails are in a . I can"t walk in them. 4egardless of color all plaid flannel shirts are the same. (n the way home there was a trip to the lumber yard and *ome !epot. . all of her life. hese girls and their gross materialism had plenty else to talk about. (ne girl turned to !eb. *er heel had a bone deep pain from a blister beneath her naturally tough walking callous. . he weight of their relationship is placed on her response. comforting and insulating. 0eeping thoughts private was not the same as attacks on certain in3uiries.
&. another private unutterable thought. religion. or anything abstract.o one suspected the many pointless things they knew. flannel shirts or thermals and an appropriate seasonal sport hat. Etta preferred calling a professional. she declined.' !eb scolded. !oing handyman jobs to prove their self worth. topics and people they did not speak of was for each an encyclopedia of grievances.ou can"t hack it because you spend too much time on that overstuffed chair of yours reading books. Subjects. Steel toes. philosophy. hey were known by what they wore. hey never spoke of their politics. 7etting out of the truck Etta was asked to carry a bo% of nails up to the house. he wrong hat in the wrong place has led to blood. 6eelings would inevitably be hurt. jeans or painters" pants.' (ne of the new girls added. 5y these girls" nature any constructive advice would be like falling into a field of landmines. Etta slept in the pickup truck. those always being Etta"s feelings. hey had no opinion of music and only danced if they were drunk enough not to remember. . he girls ranted about their hatreds and Etta was forced to be sympathetic. ) lot of it was a guessing game to the girls and Etta also stuck that observation on her personal pile of subjects not to broach. Etta and !eb had in common that they did not talk about their parents.' &8ucky for you I"m not your mother because I would have gotten you up. &I love my bean bag chair. ) lot of team hats.pound? .
I never thought I was getting any recognition until now. Etta had reduced everything to reluctant compliance and single word responses.' .' &I couldn"t keep a job in the beginning because you were working nights and I wanted to be home during the day when you were home. So be 3uiet. !eb continued while carrying paint cans into the yard and Etta fell into her beanbag to suck her thumb and cry.' Etta learned early on that the way to shut !eb up was by agreeing with her. We celebrate our anniversary.&!on"t you mention my mother. &$y company wants me to relocate.'.' !eb joined the argument. & hat girl has issues' and &I told you this would happen.' &)nd you know as much about mine as I do about yours. 4ight. !eb and her friends opted for the terse phrase.' )fter a deliberate pause. Etta added. . &It"s my foot.ou can"t keep a job any way.' 5y now Etta closed herself to what they said knowing the girls would be harping on her.' &*ow can you come in here now and say something like that? *ow long have you known this? I thought we were more than roommates. I cooked and cleaned the house for you and your friends. &.' &Why don"t you come with me. ) good roommate"s hard to find. &Who invited her?'. (nce finished unloading !eb stood near the beanbag and opened a beer.es. . I got to do what"s best for me.ou don"t know anything about my mother. &. I#m sorry.ot my problem. it hurts.
ou"re just a boring hypochondriac.ou mean that drunk hippie in college? Well. . I"m finished running in circles with other rats in the race.' &. hose were the party days but I got beyond that on the career track. I told him to leave and that"s all I had to do with it.ow I#m on the career ladder.& hat was my schedule back then. . too. I am moving up. *e wasn"t supposed to get through those doors. &. Etta told herself there would be another. here was also danger there.' . duh. 8ook at yourself. 9art of a secret.' & his is why you are nuts because you are now hallucinating things.ou told me if he was really interested he would come back. I"ve wondered about that but I want to make my own choice of who I see or don#t. ) head case.' (nce it was like a morning in )pril when a cold brook broke through its ice cover at the edge of meadow. . ime proved that glistening moment to be the only moment. We never see anyone e%cept your friends. oo much openness could have led to vulnerability but nothing happened.' & hen what is our relationship? 5ecause you talked me out of every man who ever showed any interest in me. you don"t have any friends.ou scared him away. . she could drown. It was a girls# dorm. !eb opened her eyes to who he was and what he wanted. I could never get him on the phone.ou sit around depressed all day.' &I know. -ne%pected water.
So. nurtured into a life of social service.' !O Etta was a woman by definition.ou want to come with me?' &I don"t even know why I am here.ou can be a real dead weight at times. She was always a little funny looking maybe because her parents were cousins. ) lot of women would have envied the regularity of her period. *airier than some men. without padding or curves.&(bviously. angular at best and who despite discomfort would have survived in a frontier home as a wife and ample mother. )t college other girls in the dorm 3uestioned what e%actly she was. 8ook at me now. wig thin but always healthy from the neck down. I"ve dropped out of college for no reason.our parents may not call on the holidays but someone is still sending you a check every month.' &It"s like you threw your life against the wall and this is what stuck. a basic woman. chest and facially. When the . I don"t really care. . ) $odel of a woman. hat"s funny. I was supposedly on track to be a trial lawyer and besting my mother. 4aised in a 3uiet estate home by elderly parents. music and contemplation. She could play all of the woodwinds by the end of middle school. . waddayawanna do? . I thought I was in a relationship when I was only marking time.ot much. .
It seemed life was marked with disappointment. Some nights she bit her blankets and clawed at the walls with the city noise screaming at her. hreatening suicide after the Senior Social was . She was not prepared for the change from poetry readings and /ivaldi to the 5oston night sounds which at first seamed stimulating but like sleep denial she eventually felt robbed of a part of herself. . $aybe for that reason she did not. She always seemed to know it was a beautiful place.high school music teacher saw her e%traordinary hands Etta was happy to e%tended her mastery to the strings. Some of the families had aboveground pools. he final days. her feelings were made bitter sweet by the knowledge that someday. )t the Sterling )cademy she was educated in each of its three buildings in turn. *er hands were disproportionately large. 8arge to the e%tent that strangers said she must play the piano. she would have to leave. 6rom the earliest age she described it to herself in her mind as the first sacrifice for her professional career. rich with significance. her town with the large private school at its heart. She biked up and down the road several times a day in the summer. -nless it was raining or snowing she bicycled there and back passing neat farmers" fields and town roads tree lined and swept.ear the school tennis court was a mowed tract called the municipal golf course. are always the most haunting. under the cool shade of the trees where teachers. from kindergarten to the )cademy. school workers and other townies lived. for college.
#*ow deprived she must have been to find herself at a prestigious university having never before sat in an educated circle. tweeds. she appeared like a strange anachronism representing the generation on whom everything was now blamed. *er mother helped her select professional attire although mother had not worked since before Etta"s birth. Etta comforted herself with a cynical thought. to show the parent how it should be done. 6or that she had to go to college.une%pected but not ine%plicable. all impenetrable. $other reminded her of the cold wind that came in off 5oston harbor. She had not danced with anyone and stood with her friends. hey had been to the hub many times for political functions. :oming down from the snowy north her suits and outfits.' 6reshmen were instructed to gather in the smoking room and although no one in living memory recalled when smoking was not banned the room was still a breath of acrid air and the name was retained. the novelty wore off." . She wanted to practice law in the way that a three year old wants to spank a parent. he woman speaking had too much surprise in her voice. She had not been the girl mistaken for a boy for several years. wool stockings and wool skirts. Etta"s herringbone suit stood out from blue jeans and tees. it did not sound sincere. &I never before sat in a circle of educated women. 5ut in a formal dress a feeling that something was wrong descended on her and the seniors at the dance.
Early on at college Etta became depressed. hose then were her dormitory house mates. -ntil dorm life if someone mistook her for a boy or man it was a genuine error. as she feared. she returned to university life revived by the routine and un3uestioning life with her family. easily impressed. a realistic .Etta circles although rural and smallish were invariably educated. Insincere. sales persons under the surface at school to learn more of the art of selling themselves. the dumbest one on campus. intentionally mismatching or not completing a look. )gainst the silent treatment Etta conceded defeat in an uninvited battle and sank away. She knew she stuck out but had not had the social e%perience or the ready wardrobe that would better fit. his was far worse. She was not. 4estored she was e3uipped with a new wardrobe. It was a short step for the girls in her dorm to make. )fter a summer break at home. Instead of dressing in her out of date notion of stylishness she half dressed. something she had never before been or considered. he semester became a struggle for her. he group moved Etta from being pointed out to being segregated from society. With the girls at school everyone seemed to have an agenda. /an3uished from the world where she had once wanted to live. She might have rallied in her own time but for the immodest 3uestions she had to endure about her body.
and wearing tufts of facial hair that spread across his cheeks and chin unconnected.either acknowledged the other. they carried on without speaking or meaningful eye contact. HREE he beginning of the fall semester as a sophomore Etta discovered a new sensation she was unable to define. other women who shared a bath and kitchenette. Sophomore year -niversity *ousing placed her in an old apartment house near campus. Etta kept both curiosity and judgment at bay with unsmiling silence. It was felt only in one lecture hall every uesday and hursday. She had a private bedroom in an apartment with . boyish. &*i. *e was asking to see her notes but clearly struggling with something else.' &I hope you can read my writing. 6or meals they received passes good at the refectory on campus. <=>? to @@=?? and it broke like the pop of a balloon as she entered the aisle to leave the lecture hall on a hursday in late (ctober. I always notice your elbow going. &$y bus was late. !eb was out spoken at floor meetings. he sound of mirthless laughter first made Etta aware of !eb. *e was overly eager and awkwardly smooth.' *e was thin. . often cruel and sarcastic. medium build.' Etta said for something to say. taking notes. *er penmanship being practiced .e%pectation and her defenses up.
I want us to get off the pheromone level as early as possible. *e copied as they walked.' he completed the thought with a smile. is shy but also curious and it wants to connect without getting hurt or losing itself. eyes shifting and hand scribbling.' *e paused and looked for reaction to which Etta revealed none. When we were kids we played on vast fields of concrete where steel mills used to stand. &I have been attracted to you from the moment I saw you on the bus after an )ugust rain.& he looked up then looked her up and down. I dress for Star rek conventions because it is great to know I can truly label myself with insignia and be surrounded by other people who do the same. adding. &I owe you a coffee or something. I"m from the underside of this world. I rush in with abandon so I have to know soon if this is just a one time thing or will it stand for something more. . $en are consumed and lose themselves to women.and vintage looking. &I"m into motorhead and trash music. I was no . I"m not just reacting to you. If I don"t tell you now then all I am doing is reacting to you. o see if the relationship of #you and I" is going to have a good character. letters with tall overhangs and long roots. )nd !ylan. I warn you I am not cautious.' )t the bottom of the steps to the lecture hall standing on line for coffee he began. &I learned about life growing up in rundown trailer parks. &I want you to know this stuff about me so that you know I have nothing to hide. &I always notice you. $y name is !ave. hat doesn"t help anyone. the I. & hanks.ou see me.
he university"s 5oard of 7overnors and the 5ook :oCop are my parents now.ou look more mature than some of these clones you see everyday here.' &)nd as a result no one has ever said . hey moved from the coffee cart and out of the mist and wind into the adjacent bus shelter.' &)ren"t you an underclassman too?' &I am a -niversity Scholar.o to you? What degree are you getting?' . When did it start. where did it come from? It was always there. I"m @B.different than the other mill rat children e%cept for my fascination with numbers. $aybe it was the dominos I played with in my crib. )t the age of @A I was abducted by the -niburger from my parent"s home outside )llentown and placed directly into graduate school.' here was still more for him to say after they got their coffee. I live with $a and 9a 0ent. I instinctively wanted it but I don"t know why. &)re you a sophomore? . hat only e%isted for me on / and in books. While I smashed beer bottles and jumped on rusted old cars with my friends in my mind I was wondering *ow big is the infinity of names in infinite phone books the 6lash could read and compared that with the number of stars in infinity of gala%ies and alternate dimensions Superman could visit? I"d be goofing off in class by creating e3uations for comparing their une3ual infinities. &It took me out of my world into one I never thought I could reach.
& hat"s my parents. she coughed. life is one big game. even Sesame Street as a kid.' &It"s all oneCupsCmanCship to you. 8ike the girls in my dorm.' &I"m the same way. &I never watched television growing up because it seemed unrealistic. It is what I"ve known since childhood and it is my decision. years ahead. What are your great plans for your education?' &In my family we have a tradition of practicing law then going on to some form of social service or politics. I could never stand television.' *er face and chest turned red. I was jealous for the attention.' &What kind of grades do you get?' . I think something is lacking in the university environment. $y narrow and succinct papers are not well received. I plan to follow the family tradition.' *er hand rested between her breasts. reading.&I don"t know I leave that up to the bureaucrats I just work on things and sit in on classes. I never want to be so old that all I can feel is my digestive system. It is so sickening. I could not identify with a household where parents did not spend most of the day fully dressed under the covers in bed.' &)re you living some one else"s life? hat"s like . each one trying to outdo the other. heir mediocre minds and the professors who show their obvious preference for fluff and gilding.' She e%ploded with laughter and he thought she would choke before she blurted out. tapped near the button of her shirt. I can not think about being that old. &Went down the wrong pipe.
ime is money.' *e grinned at her like a clown. 9rofessor said I could after I told him I was interested in you. is that what you want?' She felt uncomfortable in her own skin. right?' &*ere.' &What kind of first impression do you think you make?' &I"ll take any kind of impression.ou don"t even know what you are talking about. &. I"m only sitting in on this class.' he jostle in the bus shelter moved Etta and !ave together. She did not know if he was serious. )ctually all )"s.' Etta went from anger to finding him laughable as he kept provoking a constant stream of evaluation. &. I hope you don"t find that news too dismaying. &It is very competitive in grad school. &I"m not that kind of a learner. *er skin that tended toward olive turned dark green at the thought of a man observing her from a . it"s closer to home. I want people in my corner.' &.' *earing it again she knew what he said was true. &*ere"s your smiley face. If you be 3uiet you might hear someone else and learn something. If you"re from 9ennsylvania why didn"t you go to :arnegie $ellon. 9robably none were to be trusted.&$ostly )"s.ou look less mature. hese were mostly city people who she did not trust. have your notes back.' She said contemptuously.ou might be a math genius but you are pretty stupid about other things.
' *is face across the steamy surface of coffee changed to 3uestioning naivetD. &ever since the beginning of the semester one morning when our paths crossed. his is like a history class. he painting was bought at a tag sale. &Why else go to law school?' &8ike my mother did. (ne of our family names is on the $ayflower :ompact. 5ut I intend to practice the law. She was a daughter of the $ayflower.ew England !ame. &I don"t know. 8et me stand back here and look at you.' he continued after a perceptible shift as if now he was to be a witness for truth instead of hyperbole. $y mother is part of that 9atrician line. 6or twenty five cents. 5y a . (f you carrying a !owagers" *ump full of treasure. let me try. 5ut she would have anyway. $y parents are lawyers and I intend to become a lawyer. when there will be a dusty oil painting of you above the fireplace in a glass and steel condo conversion. o marry a lawyer. &.' &Wow. Some day you"ll be a .distance.' &Who? $e? here#s nothing special about me.' &0ennedy?' &7od forbid.es. hat"s nothing. )nd that"s why I came here because I knew only around 5oston would I meet someone proper and perfect like you. ) flattering thought and a feeling of revulsion.' &:ould you be any more insulting?' She said laughing. I can see it now.
one hundred years in the future. you are killing me. *e bared his teeth and looked around wolfishly at the others. When other students in the cramped bus shelter turned on him she realiEed how funny and out of the ordinary he was. She liked him immediately until he made that sound. people who generations ago had their potential drained and dignity worn off.' She was laughing and laughing with each descriptive twist. I can"t talk to most of the people around here. 6rom $ayflower $overs.' *e was rough hewn. she had already lost control of her facial e%pression C a practiced medium for silent communication. &I don"t want you to die. It was threatening as it almost overpowered her ability to stand. *er emotions became undecided in a sudden free fall then shifted like the smooth clutch of a 9orsche. she could visualiEe his parents.blind man whose wife threw it out as soon as he got it home. hey bark at me and I have to bark back at them.' She did not laugh easily. 8aughter had divided itself into pain. a child of characters in a gothic novel. Etta was not used to smiling. &9lease. hey"re idiots. &. Instead of putting the . hen he barked. hey let !ave free as their gift to him.our portrait in oil. breathlessness and an attack of nerves.' She ached and signaled for him to stop. 8aughter like this was a new e%perience.
' )fter the bus left they were alone. e%isting in a pure state as the Super 7raduate Student. Etta kept thinking how perfect !ave would be for !eb.' &.es but not now.o earthly connections was the image !ave projected. . &I"m not getting on. an odd couple they took seats in the nook and talked over coffee. &*ere"s the bus. wool and nylon to warm his gaunt frame.o? $e neither. *is jeans were worn to a thin burlap and because he refused to e%ploit animals he was layered in cotton. he too loved music making it seem like a sport. living on unalloyed mathematics and knowing many secrets of campus life. 5eyond that. she rescued him by joining in barking. :an I come up to your room? &. hey both took black coffee. &5eethoven is the 0ing' he shouted and it echoed along the street. hey did not live far from apart and they e%changed numbers and addresses. e%planations and stale set speeches about the political . *er apartment came in sight.' Etta observed. :all me first.' 6or the purpose of meeting !eb. &I know your last name from somewhere.brakes to this she gave it the gas. *e said he really got off on the 7oldberg /ariations he pronounced the name 5ach with a lusty spray and thought (de to 1oy was one of music"s greatest hits.' She was flustered with e%cuses. *e looked up at the sight of her last name. it was like a loud chorus preoccupying her thoughts as she spoke with him.
She pulled back. *e continued as though the moment had not happened &:an I call you later today?' &5e my guest.ou were a smart kid. -ntil we meet again and if it is only for the day of my e%ecution then may it come . not at all.' &*ey? If your father is from those days how long have your parents been married?' &$oses himself presided at their wedding. hat"s me.' &. &.ou look real.atmosphere when her father was serving in the administration. !ave mirrors her gesture then takes her hand.' &!on"t worry.' )s they came up to the steel door !ave turned chatty. hat"s a first. *e is not who I am.' &It was a long time ago. you knew there was no positive 3uality of life left for you in )llentown. . I came to 5oston just to meet you.ou said a joke. When mill rats breed they give birth to ghosts.' &)do !ear 8ady. !ave gallantly cut her off.o. It"s up to you. right? *e obviously didn"t steal your college fund. &*e was a good father. I feel like a ghost.ou can walk with me anytime. .' Etta put out her hand and with one finger touched his sleeve &)re you real? .' & hat"s not why you came to 5oston. $aybe I"m haunting you.' &)m I bothering you?' &.ou know everything about me now.' )n act of courage to hide her fear.' &I#ve got to go.
' !ave ran between cars. &Whoopee+ I"m Shakes 9ierre' &I guess I would have to characteriEe him as an e%trovert. while you were out F hursday noonish Etta C !ave wants to know if you are free? he pink post it stood off her door like a challenge. What was the meaning of the silence between them and why did it stick in her mind more than anything any of the girls on the floor had said? !eb was like a plague now whose only e%istence was to invade Etta"s thoughts. She corrected herself in her mind to think the number five. She pulled it down 3uickly wondering who had seen it and despairing not knowing who of the four other girls took the message. had never spoken with her and what impression she did have was a gross and overbearing presence. It was that !eb seemed to be gawking into everyone else"s life without much of her own life.tomorrow that being soonest I see your face. "O#R 6rom inside a door of steel and safety glass thoughts settled around her like a shroud. Etta did not know !eb. *er unannounced intention to #set up" !eb made her an . .' Etta said out loud to her own surprise while turning the key and opening the door.o more life than Etta had.
It gets too 3uiet around here.' She had also noticed the traffic pattern every weekend in the dorm. 6or no . &$aybe he"ll call back. !id you get your message?' Etta shrank under her gaEe. '*e just called.' Etta nodded and tried to shake off the threat she was feeling. (minous. -ntil now their eyes darted in an avoidance game over the hot plate and the half fridge. it began to empty around noon hursday.' &(h. *ow anomalous that this large and hulking woman would play the fear card. conflicted in her mind if she should and how fast to back into her room and shut the door. !on"t worry. &Where I"m from people don"t even lock their front doors but this is 5oston.' !eb said. !iagonal from her room !eb"s door swung open.' &I"ll be in all weekend. It was like being a schoolgirl. &)re you going to be here this weekend? It"s just a comfort to know if someone else is on the floor.e%emption in the head count as Etta felt her plan needed to remain a secret. (ften Etta and !eb were the only two left on the floor although not a word was said between them. !eb added &*e didn"t leave a phone number. )dding. Etta made a show of looking at both sides of the pink slip of paper. Etta lingered in the doorway not wanting to be rude.' Etta stretched out the single syllable. )t the same time Etta realiEed she was unnaturally fearful of !eb. heir first words.
no GA? Hthat truly disgusted herI and no e%planations. &$aybe ne%t weekend. .' &Why didn"t I know that? 7ot anything to eat in here?' &.anking off her headphones she opened her door to see one third of !ave"s face on the other side of the door chain. &If he likes you he will call three times.o.o.o poetry reading. ) knock on the door was une%pected. 5arely a meal.' &*ear any more from that boyfriend of yours?' !eb walked in but was 3uickly disappointed. .' Studying with headphones on Etta only vaguely became aware noise outside her room. !eb"s getting out was a relief. Etta studied herself into timelessness suddenly shattered by !eb shrieking. &(h . &. no movies.' ) sudden image of !eb eating !ave by inhalation through the phone wire.' !eb said leaving Etta"s room and closing the door. *e ended saying that he was sorry for bothering her and she said. &!o you like moon pies?' !eb was at the door offering an open half empty bo% and a smile with chocolate at the corners. &*ow did you get a single room?' &$y roommate returned to Ecuador. Etta needed to study. . no Sunday brunch.o thank you. When the phone rang again it was !ave. Etta begged off despite his persistence.reason she always felt !eb was a person she did not want to tell too much.
:an I visit you?' *e waited outside the door through a grinding silence where all the . :ome on.-. thick with crumbs stuck near the handle and flew in all directions as she slathered. come on 5aby+ his is life. &.' !eb returned buttering her bread with a large dull and crooked knife. *e pleaded &:ome with me. *e should not have been able to have gotten in. not you+ I"ve seen the things you#ve done on this campus. Etta entered the common room. holding her laptop like a shield over her heart. &*e"s the campus drunk. Stepping between the two !eb with a head turn and a single shoulder shove hurled the door closed propelling !ave.' &I"m glad you know my work.' *e knocked timidly. & hey said someone was urinating across the street last night. I"ve heard your voice before. &Etta. (r we could be. ) 5. !oes he even go to school?' he toaster popped and !eb returned to the kitchenette. We are )dam and Eve. *e replied with a thud and a groan in the hall. 8et#s go out. student.ou are one of those disgusting street people.' !ave turned to Etta who did not greet him or move.no. his is an all women"s residence.ou are breaking the law mister. *e moons passing cars.' !eb stepped inbetween. &I wish you had not come up before calling.' She addressed Etta. 5ut I think it was you. .' &(h.
' the closing phrase she would use many times to bring peace.ou"re not her type. &What do you think I should do?' &I want him to go. (f course. I will wait for you but the campus police already know me too well. . *ow did he find us. !o you hear me?' &.' the last word shot out seeds from the butter and strawberry jam. loser. ) time and place where every abortion is granted a long life and the smallest gesture.' !eb stood with her massive back pressed against the door.' )t that moment Etta felt more validated by !eb"s reaction than her own.' !eb"s condescending laugh cut short for a big bite of toast.' &It seems like he knows you. She left her door open but stealthily dressed. I don"t know him. &. &. &(ut now or I will call the 4esident.multiple universes are conceived and considered.ou are right. a word or a look can blink realities in and out of e%istence waiting for a decision to be made.ou are a loser. &8ike you said. &*e#s a campus punk. &I know what I would do if I thought he was waiting for me. Wait around so it will be easier for the cops to get you.' &Etta. 5ecause it"s not fair to me and the other girls.' Etta wondered how long he would wait. wenty minutes and they would have a laugh. &:an I let him wait for me in the stairwell while I get dressed?' aking command !eb raised her voice.' !eb yelled at the door.
)fter an hour she wondered what marvelous impersonation he would do of !eb. )n appalling and alien smell. Etta reasoned that her attraction to him was the unconscious response to her parents.ou really must be more careful who you talk to. She wanted to answer the door first this time hoping !ave might eventually return. dressed but shoeless again in her reading chair she looked up at the clock. Even bad taste.' "$%E She swung the sash of the maroon robe they shared. here Etta let it rest preferring least resistance to an uninvited discussion of her feelings or any repeat of freshman year. )nother twenty minutes passed. She felt she was being ground up inside with each passing minute. 6rightened and overbearing. It was midnight before Etta closed her bedroom door where !eb again caught her. &*e"s in one of my classes and we had coffee.&What did he want? Why was he up here?' !eb stared into the room and Etta put her shoes aside. . he robe was never washed properly and combined the musk of both. who always directed her to marry well. &!o you think he"s still out there? 5etter stay in just to be safe. here was little after the shock value a guy like !ave could offer. especially her mother.' &*e could be a predator for all we know. We know that men are only interested in one thing but that one went beyond the limits of taste. like . !eb.' Etta was afraid !eb was right.
She was lost and hidden in the clothes which !eb showered her and none of which Etta cared to call her own. . Etta shivered.' !eb said to calm Etta#s fear about moving to a southern state. !eb had grown in strength like a bodybuilder during the years they had been together. It was a gift was the e%planation she gave long ago. *ad she lost her identity in !eb#s eyes? *er nails splintered.the disorder of their apartment with men"s clothing scattered everywhere. here was no one to notice. cloth. 6ormerly smooth. She took it to be the culmination after so many childhood illnesses. conical mounds her breast were now creased and flat as an envelope flap. Etta disappeared in the robe and did not want to lose it#s warmth but unwrapped herself before the mirror. stripped back in layers and eaten were once hard and sharp. $en"s clothing was an unflattering look for Etta. month and finally year they were together. Etta"s nails then were part of a . . !eb s3ueeEed significance from every day. 6or the months she was sick !eb paid for both and grew in personal satisfaction lording over her. 8onger than any couple they knew.J years. . 9altry materials. -nloved envelope flaps.o one noticed. &We"ll be alright. Wanting to die for so long with each successive day of pretend security. *ow !eb took care of her. It had been years since anyone looked or she cared to comment. paper. E%ception being Etta"s parents.aming each annual anniversary. Etta"s most recent breakdown seemed interminable. wood.
&I hear you'. !eb would gloat and make fun of Etta#s yellow gloves. Washing dishes as an attempt to keep their place clean did not make her a housewife. In the beginning !eb summoned her to peel them an orange. )cceptance from people unlike herself had carried her from what had been her goal. &*mmm'. Every conversation had its attacks and retesting of old wounds. Who were we? Whenever they were together every situation had some moment over hung with meaning. hat day after the beach !eb . Something cute to do in company. 6rom college and the years with !eb that followed it had been as she fearedK ) constant downward spiral surrounded by pushy people with whom she had nothing in common. hose false assumptions became the foundation for lies and self deception. It made everyone happy and Etta did it to be in with !eb"s friends. and &I"ll have to work on that' cushioned the blows. *er captive girl. he happiest days were spent in high school. Etta had been mistaken about everything that was unspoken.private shtick. Etta. !eb insisted Etta snap out of it or else she was a hypochondriac. Etta"s moodiness was another thing !eb"s friends looked down on. peel an orange for me. ) year or two of that opened her natural depression into a gaping malignancy. ) pleasant change came when Etta discovered she could live without speaking to !eb.
as if the crowd !eb hung with needed any e%cuse to kick off their boots and pound down beers and shots.ou just want to spoil my party. &.let Etta know that it was obvious what she was up to. it. obsession. she tested the length of stainless steel shower track . Etta became paralyEed with the fear she labeled guilt. I never wanted to live . *er heart raced at the thought of putting !eb in a bad mood.' heir anniversary. I"m sick of hearing about )t B> lbs. $erely her arm"s pressure and there was a puff of dry plaster dust at the far end. Etta imagined she weighed as much as two sacks of laundry. Seeing in her minds eye the results. She held no one at fault but herself. Etta racked her mind for any other moment on which all of her fate hung. orment and torture. She did not want to know what !eb would say about that. !eb"s anger that could be seething or might be suppressed to spring on her when things were calm. a terrible mess of plaster dust and condensation streaking the tile. )n unseen nail head caused a pull in their bathrobe.' &0ill yourself already. What will I do now? She asked her self in fear of !eb"s immediate wrath or a sarcastic scolding with angry lectures to follow.
-ntil she heard the final sucking sound like a siren to call !eb and the other girls. She did not like that her feet made so much noise as she paced. as soon as her grip loosened she breathed greedily.' She thought with a voice in her head that sounded more like !eb"s than her own. minimally strong according to code.' . She inspected door knobs. E%cept for the need to cut air off Etta had no idea of the protocol for ending life. She shut the water and let it drain. If she were to do this then in the end her grip will loosen. . I"ll get you higher. Etta. he living miscarriage. 9unish !eb by making a mess. )ll she knew was that she wanted to end her dirty and mistaken e%istence. ) double loop worked better and so she made an attempt but as the room turned dark and began spinning she freed herself. ) typical new construction that had no trusses or ornaments. & hat"s why we hang ourselves. hinges. the windows. hat was self defeating.to live here with you I hate this house. &I am sick of hearing about it. *aving made the decision her emotions became again flat.ot wanting to make a mess she ran the tub deciding now to slit her wrists under warm water thus avoiding any mess for !eb. 8ooping the maroon sash around her neck she pulled with hands on either end.