How to Translate Into Fiction
It’s about 6:30 and I’m sitting in my favorite red chair. It’s an old rocking chair that I got from my neighbor when they moved out, and it’s so worn and perfect and I’m probably more protective of it than is reasonable. Erica had friends over last week and someone else (namely, someone who wasn’t me) was sitting in it, and when they got up to use the restroom I took it. When they came back they looked at me and everyone looked at me but I didn’t say anything and I didn’t move. It was an awkward few seconds. Which really irritated Erica, but it was my house and my chair first, so I didn’t care that much. Every day when I get home, I move it in front of the heater (my mom would get mad at me for this as a kid because she always used to tell me that if you sit right in front of the heater, it shuts off and then no one is warm. But I still do it anyways). So anyways, it’s about 6:30 and the cat is on my lap, a big black cat with a big guttural purr, and I’m stroking him mindlessly while staring a blank notebook in front of me as Erica comes home.
“Hey, how was your day?” she always asks without waiting for a response, “My day was horrible!” She plops down on the sofa across from me and frowns. I’m pretty sure she’s frowning because I’m sitting directly in front of the heater which, as a result, has just shut off, but she doesn’t say anything and I don’t move. “Agh,” she lets out a big sigh, “God, Jack drives me crazy, I swear. So he calls me yesterday to see if I wanted to come over to his apartment after work today. He’s saying he misses me and has a date planned and everything. So I get off work and drive over there—in rush hour traffic, by the way—and when I get there I knock on his door; no answer. I call his phone; no answer. So now I’m standing outside his apartment for like ten minutes wondering what to do and I get a call from him, and he goes, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ so I say, ‘What do you mean what’s up? I’m outside your apartment—remember you asked me to come over for a date tonight?’ and he goes, ‘oh shit! I totally forgot!’ Turns out that he’s at some bar somewhere with some friends from work and has completely forgotten that he had invited me over! So then he asks if I want him to leave his friends and meet me somewhere, but I said no, and hung up on him.”
Erin is wrapped in her oversized red sweater. It’s comfortable, she always says, when asked about the holes and the worn ribbing. Slowly rocking, back and forth. Legs tucked into herself, small and tight into a ball. So small, Jake thinks. He wishes she would lean into him, her head on his lap, so he could stroke all the lines off her face, one at a time, until everything was smooth and gone and back to normal. He tries to put his arm around her, but it feels awkward, so he tries talking to her instead, but Erin purses her lips and says, “I’d rather not talk about it.”
Jake doesn’t press it. But she wishes he had.
Sometimes she says no and doesn’t mean it. She really does want to talk about it, and she really does want him to pursue it, but she still says no. She’s not sure why, and thinks to herself what a bad habit it is. No means no. But already her thoughts are drifting elsewhere, and he’s gone from her mind as if no longer in the room. She stares down at her hands. They’re shaking, she thinks to herself. Removed. Detached. Why am I shaking?
The cat has stopped purring, I think he can tell that he doesn’t have my attention, and he’s started to knead his claws into my legs. I put him on the floor and glance back up at Erica who’s still chatting, but this time from the kitchen.
“But that’s not the worst of it! I know everyone has annoying coworkers—I’m sure I’m an annoying coworker, who isn’t when you’re in a cubicle? But seriously, he’s the loudest talker I have ever heard in my entire life! It’s like he yells into the phone! By the way,” she pauses, “Do you want any of the leftover Chinese food?”
“No, I ate already,” I shout from the living room.
“And it’s not just that,” Erica continues, “He yells into it and then laughs at what he’s saying! HAGH! HAGH! HAGH!” She makes a loud sort of wheezing laugh that sounds as if she’s being tickled while dry heaving. “I hate cubicles. I really really hate cubicles.”
Erin watches her hands and remembers why they’re shaking. She takes a deep breath, and finds it hurts to breathe too deeply. She closes her eyes and counts softly to herself in Russian. “A-deen, dva, tree…” It’s something her mom taught her to do, and for some reason it’s become a habit.
The wind is blowing the branches of the cherry tree against the window. Gray day, looks like rain. Jake, who’s been watching her the whole time, leaves the room as she pulls out a piece of paper. Rose-colored paper with blue daisies in the corners. And sets it on the desk. Tapping her fingers. Slowly. Tap tap tap. Drumming her fingers against the wooden surface, and now her pen is tapping, click click click- only she doesn’t realize she’s doing it. It’s a habit that she hates in others. Particularly she hates it in school, during tests, when you’re trying to remember the details of Reconstruction and that person two rows ahead of you; tap tap tap. With a pen. But school was a long time ago. She pauses, and then begins to write.
“Hey!” Erica is sitting on the floor beside me, trying to squeeze in next to the heater that has started again, “Do you remember Rebecca, Dana’s old roommate? We used to go out for drinks with them on Tuesdays when Dana worked at that one restaurant downtown? Anyways, Jeff was telling me today that her mom passed away last fall from a complication with some surgery she had. Isn’t that scary? I had no idea, and I think we should do something for her. I know that it was several months ago, and I know we didn’t know her that well, but we should send her a card or something? What do you think? I feel really horrible for her. I can’t imagine what that would be like.”
Erin’s hand is still shaking as she begins to write each letter carefully,
I’m sorry that I didn’t go to the beach house with you this summer. It’s not that I didn’t want to. I did. It’s what I looked forward to most each year, it’s just things got so busy all of a sudden, which isn’t such a good excuse, but I just wanted to let you know that I wanted to go. And that I love you.
She signs it. Folds it. Three times and then creases the fold with the back of her nail and puts it in a pink envelope.
She gets up slowly and puts on her jacket. Long blue pea coat with the collar turned down. Jake comes back in the room and stands in the doorway, watching her. “Want Chinese food?” She nods at his question, and puts the envelope in her pocket. She’s wishing he would walk with her. Bury her-self in his-self, large and alive. Her nose is scrunched and she’s frustrated that he can’t read her mind. “Read my mind read my mind” she hums to herself, looking at him for a second and then turns and walks to the door.
“You’re so quiet tonight!” Erica interrupts my thoughts, “What are you thinking about? And quit stealing all the heat!” She gives the red chair a playful shove and I begrudgingly scoot it over a bit and smile at her. Erica leans back to look out the window. “I was thinking of going for a run tonight, but it’s so miserable outside.” Huge rain drops are falling against the window and running down the panes in quiet little rivers. The sky has been gray all day, but it’s darker now, and the heater is feeling even nicer. “Hmm,” Erica is still surveying the sky. Maybe I’ll go for a walk or something. I’ve been inside, in a CUBICLE all day,” she emphasizes, getting up and stretching before getting her coat from the closet, “Want to go?”
“Sorry, not tonight,” I respond and Erica smiles and leaves me to my thoughts.
CLAP! The wind is strong and blows the door open and into the wall! It makes her jump and the shock feels good. Like it’s cleared the air. Jake is getting the phone book out, thumbing through it, “Chinese food, Chinese food” he’s saying without looking at her. Intent on task.
The wind feels good on her face. Brown bangs blown to the side. Scrunched face with glasses. For a second she gets lost in the wind, turned up and twisted in it, and forgets, for just a second. But then the pain is back welling up and choking her. And guilt. Guilt for feeling good for second. She won’t let it happen again. Head down and face into the wind.
She walks steadfast on. Blue coat on. The wind whips around her, jostles her, but her head stays down. Intent on task. There’s the mailbox. She pauses, running her fingers against the cold blue metal. This is it. What do you do? Should there be a ceremony? A ritual? She can’t think what to do, and that makes her want to apologize. She slips the letter from her pocket and pulls the tray down and puts it in. She pauses for a second, then opens the tray back up to make sure the letter has gone down. It has. “Goodbye Mom.” She whispers. The wind reaches into her mouth and takes the words out, carrying them away. Every which way.
CLAP! The door blows open and Erica is back. She’s talking on the phone, and I’m sure that it’s Jack. Erica looks at me and rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling, and she slips her jacket off and onto the floor and heads up the stairs to her room. I hear her door close upstairs and her muffled laughing. The cat has crept back onto my lap, which is nice.
A heater, rain falling, and a cat on my lap. Everything should end well.
Erin turns sharply around. Tired and speechless and hurried steps back home and he’s still at the desk with the phone book writing something in the margin. “Jake.” He turns around and she’s buried herself in him. He smiles and runs his hand over her forehead to smooth out the lines.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED