Monday, June 06, 2005

La Vida Loca

Here's a story I wrote. It was published a couple of years ago and got nominated for a Pushcart Prize, but it didn't win. I like it anyway.

[Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincedental.]

Jupiter's Battered Moons

Jupiter's innermost moons, Thebe, Amalthea, and Metis, are oddly shaped worlds battered by meteorites and bathed in intense radiation. Amalthea reveals a 31 mile bright streak. The origin of the feature, called Ida, is not known, but scientists theorize it could be debris from a meteor impact......

Sshshs, I am busy not living up to my potential. I am here at a receptionist's desk watching the world go by. Sexetaries catapult by me all day like actors in a play, tilted forward with great purpose wearing various different musky and jasmine scents. Orange hued stockings are the rage and little pinched "professional" suits are the attire. Spun rubber (polyester) shells hide demurely beneath the gray synthetic jackets. I am rude on the phone but polite in person to all the managers so they won't believe it when someone complains. "Gladys was rude? No, that's not possible. Someone must have been sitting in for her! Gladys must have been at lunch." Sometimes they get indignant defending me. Those are the ones who clearly observe the otherworldly moons surrounding me, revealing my true aristocratic nature. I think about Princess Diana a lot.

I really admire Princess Diana because she did something very few women can do. She made herself perfect for absolutely any angle of a photographer's lens. She could be running toward the camera and still look fabulous. She could be photographed eating or wearing riot gear or bending over or flat on her back with her legs apart pushing weights together and she still looked good. Sometimes when I am feeling persecuted and chained to this desk I think of Diana having lunch at a Kensington restaurant with a chilled glass of white wine and a baked potato topped with black caviar and I feel a lot better.

I don't think Diana had a bright streak but she certainly had some tragic moons that all came together at once. I didn't know Diana died until a full three days after the fact. That was after a man in Pakistan had already killed himself over the news. I figure if a man in Pakistan had the time to kill himself and I didn't find out until the third day, I must have truly been the last person on earth. Even people climbing Mount Everest found out before I did. They read it on e-mail. I was on a different sort of journey.

Sitting at this desk with all the stupid people walking by, I can feel my battered moons radiating like little lighthouses begging someone not to crash into me. Our office manager is psychotic. I think that is a prerequisite for the job. I call her Cerberus. Her name is Cecilia but she is one of those people who defies her melodic name. They should have named her "Shrub" or "Fireplug" but names are not always onomatopoeic. My name (this month) is Gladys and it has always reminded me of cabbage. I have a recurring nightmare that Cerberus chases me around with a straight razor. A monster chasing you is supposed to represent a fear you have not confronted. I feel like I have confronted this fear head on. It is called: fear of failure.

I paint my nails a color called "Cosmic Corn," which is a pale yellow with glints of glitter. They told me to take it off and so I went in to the bathroom and took a razor blade out of my purse and cut my lip in two places as sort of a silent protest. Friday nights I like to get in the Oldsmobile Cutlass with my girlfriends Betty and Jane and go to Harley's Tavern and drink 2 for 1 draft Pabst Blue Ribbons in honor of ladies night. All the Goldfish you can eat. I smoke long brown More cigarettes and look ominously at the men. If they try and talk to me I have a patented glower down. One time I walked outside and sat on the sidewalk and threw up in the gutter. A man named Wild Bill followed me out and tapped my shoulder and said, "I just want you to know I still think you're beautiful." There's something to cling to when you think you can't sink any lower.

I have to share my printer here at the bank with a correct little guy with reddish hair named Paul. Paul is certainly a misogynist. I can tell by the curt little smile he has that just screams, "I hate women. (Especially women I have to share a printer with.)" He says, "Gooood morning Gladys," in a clipped fresh tone that belies none of his contempt. I smile at him and my cut lip cracks with the burden.

"My gosh! Gladys! How did you hurt your lip?"
"Bramble," I say, leaving a lot to the imagination. He scurries off in his crisp white shirt and over-pressed blue slacks.

The international loan manager is named Mike Nazareth and he is a devil prep. He wears school ties and talks about Scotch, Bloody Mary's and cigars an awful lot. His pants are highwaters and, if it is possible, he hates women more than Paul. I think Mike sees my aristocratic moons but gets a thrill out of kicking me when I am down at this temp job. He breezes by my desk and says, "Gladys, Senator Van Buren's office will be dropping by some tickets for Cosi Fan Tutte tonight. That is an o-p-e-r-a. Can you please call me when they get here? Thanks!" He winks and trots off with his smug leaping gait.

What no one here knows is that the weekend Diana died I was in the nuthouse. They don't like to tell you about royal tragedies when you're on a suicide watch, so I missed the whole thing. I am living in a halfway house now and I put the razor blade under a bush two blocks from the house every night when I walk home from the bus stop and pick it up every morning on my way in to work at the bank. It just makes me feel better to know that I am not completely cured. The doctor that I saw at the nutfarm said, "I just want you to get to a point where you can have your cake and eat it too." Whatever that means. I smiled earnestly and said that was my fondest hope.

One of the managers here called me in for a two week evaluation and said, "Gladys, you are one of the best receptionists we have ever had! I think the best part is, you're such a normal person." I thought of my concealed blade and about a thousand secret memories and smiled inwardly. "Thank you, sir," I said, "that means a lot to me." I wondered if all the crashes and collisions in my life had yielded a bright streak across me that deflected all the battered moons. I decided that in my next job I will call myself Ida, in honor of the puzzling radiant mass on one of Jupiter's moons.


Cynicism is another word for reality

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