I walk past the Bush Man for the second time today. He still scares me. This homeless man that dresses like a scraggly bush and then jumps at you to make you scream, scares me. I still give him a dollar just like I do every time I see him. A routine.
I walk to the café my boyfriend, Jeremy, works at, order a coffee, and wait for him. He asked me to be here so I'm here.
He walks out of the kitchen drenched in sweat from his five-hour shift working over a fryer. I gave my last dollar to Bush Man and can't pay for my drink. Jeremy pays for me. He's annoyed. I will try and pay him back tomorrow. I know I will forget.
Jeremy walks me home. We walk with our hands in our pockets. Not like we use to. We do not huddle together or hold hands. We just walk next to each other with our hands securely nestled in our coat pockets.
He starts to speak. I do not hear a word. I only hear the whistle of the cold air, that is floating off the Bay, rush by my ears and into my cold, dreary hair.
He stops in front of our building. The building where we met as neighbors. The building where we both still reside in separate apartments. He opens the door, but not for me. I have to catch it before it hits the side of my face. We take the elevator. He asks me to hit the button to the third floor, to his apartment. I do. I always do. When the gears clank to a stop and the doors slip open, he ambles to the door.
I enter his one room apartment. Jeremy looks irritated: "I don't think you hear me anymore, Mona." I can hear him but I do not speak. I just unravel my scarf from my throat and set it on my purse.
"Mona, I think we should talk. I really think we should," He says as I look through the books on his coffee table. "Mona . . ." he goes on. I do not listen. I keep looking at the books: Faulkner, Capote, a book of sonnets, Grisham – His secret pleasure –, Austin.
"You read Pride and Prejudice?" I ask, holding up the book that he has obviously seen.
"No. I just got it. But we . . ."
"Are you going to read it?" I say looking down at the book, flipping it back and forth in my hands. He sits down, rubbing his temples.
"Mona, it doesn't matter."
"I just thought you hated 19th century women writers. That's all."
"Did She buy it for you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You know what I'm talking about. Did She buy it for you."
"Yes, she did. Can you please stop this, and listen to me?" he says, rising from his chair.
"Did she buy it for you because she loves it and she wants you to love it?" I ask, "Is that why she bought it for you?"
"I don't know, Mona, I don't know."
"You do. Can you please just answer the question?"
"Okay. Yes, she bought it for me so I would love it like she loves it."
"You don't love it do you?"
"I haven't read it yet, Mona."
"You're going to hate it."
"I'm not going to hate it."
"But your not going to love it."
I set the books back down in a different order then I found them with Pride and Prejudice on top. He stares at it. I know he hates it on top of the pile. I can tell.
I look out the window onto the fire escape, Jeremy's fire escape that held so many conversations over the past two years. We'd go sit out there in the middle of the night and I'd watch Jeremy smoke a cigarette. I'd breath in the smoke and cough. Jeremy would laugh.
"Mona. I need you to listen to . . ." He gets cut off by a phone ring: "Hello . . . What? . . . No, not now . . ." He muffles his voice so I can only hear little bits of words. I hear, "No Baby . . . I'll come there . . . No . . . Fine . . . Ten minutes . . . love . . . too." I know it's Her. It's the Her I've known about for some time and the Her I've tried to forget existed. She does exist and she's on the phone with my Jeremy.
"Who was that?" I ask knowing he won't answer me.
"Mona, we need to talk. Will you let me speak? Can we please talk?"
I sit there and wait for him to open his mouth.
"I don't think we can do this anymore."
I just sit there.
"I don't think we can see each other anymore."
I just sit.
"Are you listening Mona?"
I stand; "Yes, I hear you, Jeremy."
"Will you leave now?" He turns toward the door and opens it, never looking at me. I slip his copy of Pride and Prejudice into my purse and walk to him and kiss him on the cheek. He flinches at my kiss and hands me his key to my apartment. I start toward my door on the forth floor.
I should go out today. I should leave the house. I should walk in the foggy air on this Saturday. Yes, I will. I will do all these things. I will go get coffee and I will go get flowers to make my apartment happy.
I don't go out. I spend my day in front of my window that looks out over the entrance to the building. I keep my black hair in a ponytail. Almost all of it falls out of the little black band I placed it in. It isn't long enough. I sit in front of the window wrapped in every blanket I own. They come. Jeremy and Her walk together. They're holding hands, laughing, smiling. I can see him open the door for Her.
My apartment is not warm enough. It needs to be warmer. If today had been in last week I would be curled up with Jeremy, just like She probably is right now. I would not be alone.
I need to go to work. It's finally Monday. Monday will make everything better. I will go to work and forget about Jeremy. I find three dollars in a pair of pants. I leave one of them tucked into Jeremy's mailbox with a note that says, "Thanks - Mona", just thanks. I would have liked to make the note something like, "Thanks for the coffee, Jackass" or another message like that. I would have liked to sign the note with a little heart like a used to when I'd leave his apartment before he'd wake up. I would have liked that.
I walk past the café Jeremy works at, and decide not to go to work. I walk toward China Town. I say hello to a nice old Chinese lady. She says something in her native tongue. I do not understand. I walk around a shop and look at the Buddha's and other figurines while young girls follow me around, watching me, making sure I don't steal one of the Buddha's. I walk down to the bay. I see the Golden Gate Bridge. I watch the haze coming off the water. I watch Alcatraz and think about the people that have lived there. I think about the criminals and the wardens and the Indian protestors. I think about how they got there, what horrible act they had to do. I think about their pain. I think about how my pain is similar to theirs and nothing like it at all. It starts to rain. It's cold.
I walk home. I walk up hills and down hills. I hit businessmen in suits with my shoulders while they try to keep dry under briefcases or today's newspaper. I walk through a revolving door just to keep going and end up where I started. I get soaked.
I get home to find a message on my machine from my boss. She wants me to call her. She's worried. She thinks I'm sick. I delete the message and go to bed in my wet clothes, with my wet hair.
When I wake up its dark outside. I lay there waiting for a noise, any noise. Nothing comes. I look at my clock. It is 2:21. It early. Too early but I get up anyway. I take Pride and Prejudice out and start to read. It's slow and boring. But I read it. I hate it, but I read it.
I read till morning, when the sun illuminates my room enough to see. I get up to turn off the light and slide down the wall and sit on the floor. I wait until my alarm sounds. I don't shower. I just brush my hair, creating a frizzy mess, and change into yesterday's clothes.
I take the long way to work. I walk past things I don't normally see, like David's Delicatessen. I stop in and order toast to go. I use the last of the money I found in my pants to pay. I eat it on the way to work. When I arrive at the gallery my boss, Karen, asks me, "You were sick weren't you?"
"Why would you say that?" I ask as I slip off my coat and whip off my hat.
"You look like crap." I shrink to her criticism.
When I get settled into my desk I write myself a memo that states Mona, don't look like crap.
Karen comes over to me as I set my pen down to tell me that I need to call her next time I'm sick. I make a mental note. It's not deserving of a memo.
I take out Pride and Prejudice and wait until someone comes in looking for something.
She comes in. She comes in with her 5'9" stature and her perfectly constructed red hair that sparkles under the fluorescent lights above. She comes in with her fancy clothes that can't help but say I have money mockingly to anyone that sees her. She comes in with her clipping of high-heeled, red leather boots.
She wants to buy a painting. She wants something like Monet. I tell her we don't have anything like that. She stares at me blankly. She tells me to call her when I get something like him in while she hands me a card with a handwritten number on the back. The card reads
Elizabeth Katherine Carter
Lizzy. What kind of name is Lizzy? She has a name like Elizabeth that has a million and one nicknames and she's a Lizzy. She could have been a Beth, an Liz, or even an Eliza but, no, she's a Lizzy.
I take the card. I smile at her as she leaves. When she's gone I toss her card in the trash. I will never dial her number.
I eat an apple that Karen had and didn't want, for lunch. It's the first thing other that toast that I've eaten since Saturday. Today is Tuesday. My mother would be proud. She always wanted me to be healthier. She really just wants me to be skinny thin. As of this morning I have lost nine pounds since Jeremy dumped me. I should call my mom and tell her, leaving out the part about Jeremy. She would congratulate me. Then try to get me to tell her how I did it so she could try it herself. I don't know what I would tell her. When I figure out how I would respond, I'll call.
My brother Patrick called me. He could tell something was wrong. He wouldn't let me say goodbye until I told him what it was. I didn't want to hang up on my brother so I told him. I told him about Jeremy and Pride and Prejudice and the weight loss. He doesn't sound worried. He has plans. He says he has to let me go.
A hunger pain surges my stomach. I feel like Chinese. I walk the five blocks to China Town, walking under the beautifully elaborate arch that signals the strangely different part of the city. I find Henry's Hunan, my favorite. I order Hot and Sour Chicken and an order of dumplings. I pay with a credit card. I carry my plastic Thank You Thank You Thank You bag with the Styrofoam containers and little packets of soy sauce home with me, waving goodbye to the dragon that sits a top the arch as I go. The bag crinkles as I walk the five blocks home, the Styrofoam shifts making a shuddering noise.
When I arrive at my studio apartment with one brick wall, that I loved when I moved in, I eat. I eat fast and without caution. I dig into the chicken with my fingers and the dumplings are torn to shreds. I'm halfway done with my meal when the phone rings. I grab another handful of chicken and a piece of dumpling and jump toward the phone. I get the handset covered with hot and sour sauce. I say hello as best I can with a mouth full of Henry Hunan's. It comes out as, "Hah-o?"
"Mona, is that you?" the receiver say to me.
"Um," I say trying to swallow.
"Honey, it's mom," it says as I gulp down my bite. The swallow hurts but I try to listen to the receiver, "Mona, darling, How are you?"
"I'm fine, Mom."
"How's work at the . . ." she says, searching for the word.
"The gallery?" I say giving her what she's looking for
"Yes, the gallery. How is that?"
"Mom do you have a reason for calling? Did you need something?"
"Oh, Patrick told me about you-know-who," she says to me.
"You mean, Jeremy?"
"Yes, dear. Are you okay? Do you need me to come up? I could, you know. I could come this weekend. How does that sound?"
"Okay . . ." I say not wanting to hurt my mother, but not wanting her to come.
"All right I'll come. It's settled."
"Mom, you don't have to."
"Do you not want me to come?" she says, starting her guilt tripping.
"No mother it's just that . . ."
"Do you not want to see me? Is that it?" she says, getting into full swing.
"Mom I just don't need you to come.
"Oh, you don't need me."
"Mom . . ."I begin to feel tired. I want to eat my last dumpling. I can see it getting cold from where I stand. "It's not that. I just need some space right now."
"Space from your own mother? That's understandable," she says sarcastically.
"Mom, I've got to go. Goodbye," I say, not putting up with her bull. I hang up the phone. I can almost hear her say, "But, Darling . . . " as I throw the receiver down.
I quit my job. I can't sit in my desk and wait anymore. I can't wait for someone to come that never will. I can't and I won't. Karen's disappointed. I have two more weeks left.
Karen is making me go out to celebrate leaving. There's nothing to celebrate. I'm just not going to be working with her anymore. I try to tell her this. She won't listen. She takes me to a bar. I don't drink. I never drink. It's smoky and dim and I don't like it. She talks to some men and I'm introduced as the friend, Mona.
I face the bartender. He doesn't say a word. Smoke resonates around him in clouds. I like him. He just takes orders, fills them, and goes back to looking at his worn shoes. I look at my shoes. A pair I liked when I bought. A sparkly shoe with a little heal that I never wore. They're too flashy, too noticeable. I'm wearing them now, and still, no one is looking at me, not even at my feet.
I tell Karen that I'm going to the bathroom. I don't think she hears me. She's giggling at a joke that isn't funny.
The bathroom is bright. I squint as my eyes adjust to the new light. I stand in front of the mirror and look at the whites of my eyes. Not the dull green or the black of my pupil, just the white, which is now red from the cigarette smoke.
A woman comes in. She checks herself, and smiles weakly at me in the mirror. She turns around to check he back. She runs her hands over the butt of her jeans, smoothing them. She lifts her shirt to expose a bright butterfly positioned on her lower back. I want to tell her about her tattoo. I wish I could say, "Oh, darling, with your horrendous butterfly tattoo, you look like trash." But I can't and I won't. I would have to open my mouth.
I walk out of the bathroom, leaving the girl to keep spreading narcissism all over the mirror.
I tell Karen I'm leaving. And I walk home. I don't feel safe. I carry my cell phone in my pocket with 911 already dialed and my hand on the send button. It doesn't make me feel any better.
I get to the front of my building. It surprises me. I didn't think I was already here. I fumble with my keys.
They come in after me. He says, "Hold the door," before he realized it was me. She smiles at me while Jeremy holds the door, and says hello. He doesn't say any more to me. He just huddles closer to Her. He's creating body language to ward me off, to tell me to leave him alone. She is oblivious. She just smiles at me. When they've gotten to the elevator, right as Jeremy hits the button to send the elevator to them, She turns to me, "You're the girl from the gallery, aren't you?" she asks with her perfectly lined lips. "Have you gotten anything in yet?" I shake my head, telling her no. Jeremy whispers something in her ear. I can almost feel the air from his lips on my ear lobe. He's nervous, anxious to get upstairs, away from me. She probably doesn't know about me. They get on the elevator. She waves at me, smiles. I take the stairs.
It's my last day of work. It's my last day of sitting behind a desk waiting. I still don't have a job. I don't know what I'll do. I have some money. It'll last a while. I need to find a job.
Karen bought me a present. She told me it was something that I might never use but should have just for having. She says every girl should have one. It's wrapped in sheen green paper that doesn't ripe. I have to cut the tape along the edges. It's a little glass bowl. I don't know what I'll do with it. I thank her. I rewrap it in the box it came in and stash it away until the end of the day.
It's cold. I bundle my coat as much as I can. It isn't enough. I walk with the wind blowing in my hair. I look at the sidewalk. I hear a couple talking. They are snuggling into each other. They look happy and warm. The man says he loves her. She smiles. He turns to me and tells me that he loves this girl that's walking beside him. I try and smile at him, tell him that's great. I don't know if anything comes across my face.
He never said that to me. He never said I love you. I said it. I said it when we were together. I wrote it on his little notes. Jeremy never said he loved me.
I stop in the middle of the sidewalk. People bump into me from every direction. They tell me to move. I don't. I cry. I fall to the cement slab beneath me, and cry for being so very stupid.
A man helps me up. He's homeless. I recognize this man. He's the Bush Man. He asks for change. I don't have any. My routine is broken. I give him the bowl. I tell him to pawn it for a few dollars; maybe he can buy a nice cheap bottle of booze with it. He doesn't look happy
I finish Pride and Prejudice. I give it back. I set it on the fire escape, where he smokes, with a sticky note on the window. It reads, You'll Hate It. And he will. I know. Just like he knows he'll hate it. But he'll read it anyway, for Her. For Lizzy. Just like I read it for him.