Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Family: Chapter Eleven- Girl Trouble

I hold a cold wash cloth to the swelling just above her bruised eye. She winces.

“I wish it hadn’t come to this.”
“Well it has,” she spits. “I filed an assault charge.”
“Well yeah!”
“Okay, okay.” Gingerly I touch the welt on her brow.
“Ouch! What are you doing? Be careful!”
“It doesn’t look that bad.”
“I think my nose is broken.”
“I don’t think so.”
“What are you, a doctor?”
“I’m telling you, it’s not broken.”
“I broke it once before, you know. And it felt a lot like this. How would you know if it’s broken or not?”
“It would be more swollen, for one thing.”

She pushes me aside and stands up, fuming. “You don’t know a goddam thing.” She undresses furiously tossing her clothes in a heap in the corner of my bedroom. First her heavy woolen sweater, then her blue turtleneck, her gray slacks. She unfastens her brassiere and throws it with a frown. She drops her panties to the floor. I watch her, transfixed. She’s got a fantastic body.

“What are you looking at?” she wants to know.
“Aren’t you going to take off your socks?”

She pulls back the blankets and starts smoothing out a sleeping space. “They keep my feet warm.”

“Are you staying?” lately her parents have been on her case about spending the night at my place.
“No, but I can stay till pretty late. I’ve gotta get some sleep, though.” She climbs between the sheets.

I turn off the light and walk to the stereo in the dark. I select an album by moonlight, Boston’s first. “Something About You” crackles to life.

“What am I going to do about her?” she asks.
“I don’t know…. I really have given up on her. But I never thought she’d turn to violence.”
“This goes back much farther than you two – back to my first boyfriend john.” She sighs heavily. “We always fought over him, too.”
“Whatever happened to him, anyway?”
“Ah, after that accident with his father, he sort of changed…. Things just didn’t work out.”
“What accident?”
“You don’t know?”
“His father owned a body shop, they were always fooling with cars. Apparently one night, he was working late. Alone. I don’t know all of the story but something happened and a car slipped off of its jack and pinned his legs against a tow truck.”
“Yeah, no one even found him ‘til the next day. He’d bled to death by then of course. John always blamed himself and he never even really talked to me anymore after that.”
“Was it his fault?”
“No, of course not! He was with Carrie though, that night, so you can see why….”
“Boy this feud of yours goes back some way!”

She snuggles into her pillow and begins dozing. I reach over to the nightstand and grab a cigarette. As I light it I realize the album has stopped playing. My return arm is broken so the turntable is still turning, softly crackling and popping, in the darkness.

I think back, reflecting on the things that make females hate one another. To me they seem vague, tenuous. But what do I know.

I rise and go to the window to close the drapes. Outside it’s still snowing like crazy. I sit on the sill and watch the street fill up with snow. It’s almost too quiet. A Penn dot truck rumbles past spraying salt, I hear chains clinking softly.

I stub out my cigarette and head downstairs and outside to start clearing off her car. It’s cold but not too cold. I should buy a pair of gloves. I reach into the backseat of her Honda for a scraper. I brush off the five or six inches of accumulated snow before going back inside. She’ll be leaving soon.

She’s already awake when I get back.
“Where were you?” she says, yawning.
“I cleaned off your car.”
“Is it still snowing?”
She stretches and starts getting dressed. She doesn’t say much when she’s sleepy.

“Sue….” I say.
“Was that a true story? About John’s dad?”
“As far as I know. Why?”
“It’s just…. I don’t know, what of a hell of a way to go.”
“Oh yeah. I see.”
“You know what I mean?”
She blinks, “Sure.” She slides her turtleneck on.” But I guess everybody has to die sometime.”
I nod slowly. “That’s not the way I’m going.” I ponder the strange relationship between John’s father’s demise and Sue’s fight with Carrie. Are they somehow linked, I wonder? “I mean, how would you go; that is, if you could choose?”
Suddenly she’s wide awake. “Jesus, I don’t know! That’s a little morbid isn’t it?” She goes to the bathroom mirror and starts brushing her hair. “Why do you ask a question like that? How do you want to go?”
“Well I’m not sure. I used to think that I’d like to have a heart attack during sex.”
“Hah! That figures….”
“No, you know, die with a smile and all that. But in thinking about it, it seems like it would be too embarrassing.”
“To say the least. I guess if I had to choose, I’d want to go peacefully, in my sleep. That sounds nice.”
“Nah…. too mundane.” I think for a moment. “What if I crashed an eighteen wheeler propane truck into a big tank of pressurized nitrogen? With a bang, you know.” I smile at her horrified expression. “Now that’s the way I wanna go.” She just shakes her head.
“What’s wrong with you,” she says.

She finishes dressing in silence and bundles up under a heavy parka and gloves. She looks at the clock and nods.

“You’d better get going.” I concede.

As we descend the stairs my words feel clumsy and useless, but I know I should say something.

“Look,” I begin, “I’m really sorry about Carrie. I never realized the depth of your rivalry. I’m through with her….”
“Forget it,” she interrupts, “it’s not your fault.” She won’t look at me.
We go out into the street. She kisses me.
“Thanks for cleaning off my car.” She says, and climbs in. “See ya tomorrow.”
“Right,” I say, “Drive careful.” She eases the Civic into the street.

As she sits waiting at the light I watch her noticing every detail. The buoyant curl of her hair, the stitching of her gloves as she grips the wheel, the plume of her Honda’s exhaust curling up into the snow-filled sky. Then the traffic light changes and she is gone.
In the sudden silence I can only imagine John’s father.

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