Looking for Mars
The right blinker on her Mercedes was out, her assistant told her two weeks ago, but she hadn’t gotten in fixed yet. She was reminded of this when she turned into her office parking lot Friday morning and the asshole behind her in the Toyota honked — a loud, prolonged honk that made her laugh as she waved her finger out the window. She sped up the drive and squealed into her parking space in front of the large glass double doors.
She was the first one there this morning, but she didn’t bother to take down the closed sign that hung from the doors as she entered. Some one else could do it, the secretary or receptionist or whatever she was called, that’s what she was getting paid to do. She took the elevator to the second floor, pressing the button with her elbow as her hands balanced her Starbucks order — a tall iced nonfat latte and a cinnamon-raisin scone — and her black leather attache. When the doors opened, she stepped out unlocked the door to her office, smiling, as usual, at the gold-plated block lettering that read “Dr. Linda Werner” with the D and the W and the L so big she could see her entire face in their wide, shiny surfaces. She picked a bit of raisin from between her front teeth and straightened her bangs before going in.
Linda loved being in surgery all day each Tuesday and Friday because she didn’t have time to think much, at least not about the things she usually thought about. She only had to concentrate on the procedure — the face-lift or the tummy tuck or the boob job — and make sure each incision was flawless. She usually stayed at the office past seven thirty on those days, which didn’t bother her either. Her kids were old enough to cook themselves a grilled cheese or whatever it was that they ate — she was never quite sure seeing as though she didn’t do the shopping and didn’t do much of the eating, either. The rest of the week she worked until around six or six thirty, which frequently gave her more time in the evenings than she knew what to do with. This was especially true during weeks like this one, when the kids were down the road at their dad’s house most of the time.
Being a Friday, though, Linda didn’t get out of the office until nearly eight o’clock that night. She had a voicemail from Darlene, her youngest daughter, letting her know that she’d be staying with Tim, her dad, again that night. Linda couldn’t decide whether she was disappointed or a bit relieved. Now that Dar was getting older — nearly thirteen now — Linda was beginning to feel the agonizing pains of an awkwardness blooming, and not the foreseeable awkwardness of a thirteen year-old girl who just started junior high but the clumsy awkwardness of a forty-four year-old mother realizing her daughter is almost a teenager and she doesn’t even know what her favorite color or song or food is. The same thing had happened with her older daughter, Melissa, but it didn’t bother Linda as much then as it did now. She still didn’t know what Melinda’s favorite food was, though, and she hated that she never really cared enough to ask.
The three bottles of Merlot she bought sat in their carrier next to her on the passenger seat. Linda glanced at them while she drove, could almost smell it in her crystal wine glass. She pulled into her driveway and parked the Mercedes in the garage, closing the garage door behind her. A note on the kitchen table told her that Melissa was staying at a friend's that night. She let out a sigh of relief and popped in a microwave dinner, poured herself a tall glass of wine, and sank into her brown leather couch in front of the oversized TV.
Three hours later Linda had eaten her dinner and drank one and a half bottles of wine, and counting. She was watching infomercials in the dark, petting the dog with one hand and nursing her wine with the other. Around eleven something fabulous came on the infomercial, something she just had to have. A water aerobics DVD set, complete with a thirty day Kick Start Your Success diet and nutrition handbook! It was a workout that targeted seventeen different muscle groups while building endurance and strengthening the core. She stopped petting the dog and reached for the phone, then proceeded to order the set, briefly throwing a temper tantrum when the representative informed her that the free pool bags that came if you called in the next ten minutes were on back order and wouldn't be available right away.
Linda was drunk, and it felt comfortable and familiar. There was one bottle left, which she couldn't decide whether to open. She walked upstairs into Melissa's room and rummaged through her sock drawer, retrieving a baggie of pot and some rolling papers that she had a feeling she'd find. She rolled a sloppy joint on the kitchen counter and went outside to sit on the deck. The dog followed her and sat at her feet as she reclined in the chair.
"Oh Julie, you're such a good doggie. Such a gooood little doggie woggie woo!" Linda knew how much Julie liked it when she talked like that.
"Look at the stars up there, Jules, look at them. So clear tonight." She lit the joint and took small hits as she stared at the sky. "I think I see Mars, babe. Or maybe Venus…or, Ur - Uranus!" She giggled and put the joint out, bathing in the heavy, tranquilizing sensation that made her eyelids droop and her head feel hazy. Linda stumbled inside and opened the last bottle of wine, just to have one more glass. She poured and resettled into the small impression she had made on the couch. The next infomercial was for a hair removal waxing kit that she already had, so she only half paid attention. The rest of her thought about the remaining wine.
Linda walked clumsily into the kitchen and before she knew it, she was pouring the wine right onto the counter, completely missing the wine glass. It bled into her white T-shirt and dribbled onto her pants.
"Shit!" She yelled. "Shit shit shit." Julie came running to see what all the fuss was about. Julie sniffed around the wine and looked up at Linda, who was near tears.
"God DAMN it! Get away from the mess, goddammit!" Linda smacked the dog on the butt and put her in the next room. She heedlessly cleaned up the mess, taking her shirt off to sop it up because she didn't know where the cleaning lady kept the rags. She threw the dirty shirt in the corner and resumed the position. Couch, wineglass in hand, informercials on the TV. It usually did the job.
Around three in the morning, Linda woke up on the couch. The TV was still on and her wineglass sat empty on the table in front of her. She didn't remember finishing it, and she certainly didn't remember pulling the blanket over herself and curling up to fall asleep.
The TV's brightness in the dark of the night blinded Linda and she put her hand visor-style over her eyes as though she were keeping out the sun. There was a man on the screen talking about a book that revealed the Secret to Life. It contained everything one needed to live a happier, more fulfilling life. The man on the screen asked the audience if they had a need for Happiness in their lives, and they enthusiastically replied "Yes!" He asked if they wanted to be Excited about their lives and it was met with another resounding "Yes!" He asked if they were Hurting and feeling Something lacking in their relationships, and the people began to tear up. The camera panned through the audience, catching women with plain haircuts and apple-shaped bodies with tears on their cheeks, black from poorly-applied mascara. It caught men with stern, simple faces sniffling and clearing their throats, wiping at tears dramatically pooling in the corner of their eyes. Linda watched these people and decided that she needed this book, this key to Happiness, this way to finally Get Excited! She had money and a successful business of her own and a mansion on a hill but she needed that Something lacking and she was sure the answer was in this book, available in both CD and hardcover.
When she got the representative on the phone, Linda started crying. She sat there half naked and sobbed drunkenly that she wanted to order the book but wondered, did it really work? The woman on the phone politely responded that yes, the book was extremely popular and had done very well in sales, how many copies would she be ordering tonight? Linda ordered one CD of the book, and it came with a free mini book lamp, batteries not included, so that was a nice bonus. All in all it was two easy payments of $9.99.
Still crying, Linda asked the woman what time it was were she was working, and why she had to be working so late in the night when one was supposed to be sleeping. The woman agreed that yes, it was very late, ma'am, that she worked the graveyard shift each evening so she could be with her children during the day. Linda cried harder and began to confide in this woman on the phone, who was either rather confused or mildly entertained.
Linda told her about her daughters, how she didn't even know them anymore, and she wasn't sure if she ever did know them at all. She told her about Melissa's pot smoking and that she suspected she had an eating disorder, but what could she do about it, you know? She made her sandwiches and set them in the refrigerator, turkey with swiss or ham and sharp cheddar, hoping she would eat, but she never would. Linda cried that her youngest daughter Darlene would rather spend nearly every night at her dad’s house, and she didn’t know how to win her back. She continued on about the middle daughter who was wearing far too much makeup and stuffing her bra and wearing clothes that made her look like she was about twenty-five. Linda told her to take off the makeup or she'd look like a whore. She bought her clothes, nice, age-appropriate clothes that filled up her closet, but Melinda just wouldn't wear them. Melinda instead spent her weekly allowance on the slutty clothes. Linda sighed and sniffled and said that she just didn’t know what to do about these things anymore, and the woman on the phone politely responded "mmhmm.”
Linda went on about the decline of her marriage and how she thought she might be gay but she wasn't sure. She had a really good girl friend that she worked with and spent a lot of time with, and others certainly had some suspicions about the two, but Linda admitted nothing to them. They had sex every once in a while but did that really make her a lesbian? She asked the woman on the phone.
"Umm, ma'am -"
"Wait! You don't need to answer that! It's not important. I'm not gay! I don't even support gay marriage!"
"Ma'am, is there anything else I can help you with today?" The woman asked.
Slightly embarrassed by what she had just done, she mumbled no thank you and hung up the phone. Before hanging up, the woman informed her that her book would arrive in four to six weeks.
Linda turned the TV off and returned to the deck. She tripped over a small stool near the door, bruising her shin. The alcohol was wearing off and she began crying again, thick sobs that choked her and left her short of breath. They echoed in the thin, chilly nighttime air. She was ashamed at what she told the woman on the phone, even though she'd never meet this woman, but more embarrassed that it was all true, and then some. She reclined her chair and dozed off, whimpering as she stared up at the sky looking for Mars.
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Portland Fiction Project
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