by Beate Sigriddaughter
Must be 99 degrees in
the city. Outside, that is. Inside it’s 212. The telephone was somewhere in between before I dropped it like a hot potato.
Mashed. Sheila’s voice ice-cold, though. Let me not to the marriage of true temperatures admit impediment.
Now that the phone is
dead, I hear the neighbors’ air conditioners, buzzing a symphony of luring siren whispers. I should turn on mine. Can
one die from heat at the tender age of twenty-eight? Slave temperature. Sweat on my hands, in my armpits, in my crotch.
I hate her. I hate her.
I hate her. How can I do anything else? She says she won’t ever touch me again. She’s said so before. Touch. How
she bends away sometimes. How ugly she can make me feel.
One day, it’s this:
“You must be what you are. That’s why I admire you so." And the next day: “How come you can’t make
a decent living? With your brains?" So that I could take her to the best restaurants in town? Air conditioned? One time I
lived on popcorn and vitamins, so that I could leave a rose at her desk each day. “Oh, how romantic,” she said
and made me change my diet back to normal. No more roses for her, but compassion for me.
Or so I thought. I still
eat my daily spaghetti. So that she can pick at her lobster when I take her out. I still buy second hand clothes. So I can
send her flowers to the house each time we get into a fight. Skimp on the comfort. Positively no air-conditioning until it’s
over one hundred degrees. Crazy.
And then we walk in the
park with the collie, not touching, but anticipated touch already tingling in our hands. Minimal distance. And she turns her
head coyly. Says: “I do wish you could earn a decent living."
I do earn a decent living!
The lady doesn’t think so. Calls me up as I’m pouring over freshman papers, pouring sweat among other things.
Summer school. For extra income, plus the additional benefit of a crisp six hours of the week in an air-conditioned classroom,
out of one hundred and sixty-eight hours. Shakespeare. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
She calls me on the phone.
“Hi, honey. I went to this shop today. Just to look. They have a wonderful ring. Only seventy-five dollars. Coral and
mother-of-pearl. I’ve never seen one like it before!"
There is excitement in
her voice, and such yearning, and I know I have to avoid the neighborhood of that particular jewelry store for weeks, so as
not to be tempted to spend the grocery money for the rest of the month on buying her the coveted ring right away. Every time
I’m on 19th Street, I think of 21st Street, where the jewelry store is. And every time I’m on 23rd Street, I think
of how her eyes would light up if I pulled the ring out of my pocket and presented it to her. But I don’t have any seventy-five
dollars to spend on a ring. There’s not a single extra class I could take on. Work as a temporary? But doing what? I
barely typed my PhD dissertation with two fingers. A typist would have cost too much. Waitressing? Now there’s an idea.
One of my students coming to the restaurant. Behold, your brilliant teacher in the act of whisking along trays of pizza and
pitchers of beer. Or see her curtsy with a satin towel slung across the arm, taking down orders for French cuisine. Next week’s
freshmen paper. Theme: My teacher who also waits. Begin with the following quotation from Milton: Those also serve who only
stand and wait.
Then Sheila blunt again:
“How come with a brilliant mind like yours you can’t earn enough...."
Enough for what? So what
we could get married, girl? Even if it were possible, I wouldn’t marry you! I won’t buy into the system any more
than I already have to by virtue of being alive. I won’t. Even if it would mean being able to turn on my own air-conditioner
regularly, instead of having to listen to the buzz and hum of everybody else’s.
Parable of the bees: One
day a clever drone decides to stage a revolution. “Brothers,” says he, “Do
you want to have life or importance?" Then he tells them his scheme. Choose an arbitrary object, glittering if possible. Begin
to worship it. Be serious about it. Give it an impressive and mysterious name. Mana. Manna. Moni. Money. Something like that.
Start praying. Slowly at first, until it’s well established. Then pretty soon no working bee will be allowed to get
pollen from a flower unless she pays homage to Mani in the presence of the guardian drone of the particular blossom. Just
wait and see how soon we’ll be able to control the entire hive. No access to the honeycomb without first paying dues
to Mani. Shortly afterwards, no working bee will be able to do so much as carry the eggs outside into the sun or back inside
the hive without the escort of a drone, a guardian of the mysteries of Mani. It’s all very simple. “Brother drones,
we can but try. I, for one, am tired of flying around aimlessly, waiting for the off-chance of being allowed to inseminate
the queen-bee. Brother drones, it is yours to choose what you want: Life? Or importance?" And a sufficient number of inspired
drones buzzed back: “Importance!" “Hail to you, Mani." All hail, Money. Money if you want honey. Honey, if you
Sheila, if you want someone
with munificence to support you in whatever style you dream would suit you, then you’ll just have to see that you catch
yourself a human drone, some wealthy man. There are millionaires galore out in the world. Eager to stick their stingers into
a lovely flower like yours. In. Out. In. Out. Fat stomachs weighing you down.
Oh my God, I love her
so, I couldn’t bear it. I’ve been there. In. Out. In. Out. Then the slimy gush. Prick deflates and male rolls
over. Sheila, my Sheila, who has never been with a man in her life! No, God, not this! Don’t send me reason now. Don’t
send me these words. Don’t, oh please don’t. And here I go.
Maybe she ought to be
with a man. Maybe she should at least try it. And--God, I can’t bear this--if she likes it, then she should probably
stay. With a lawyer who could give her pearls for more beautiful than seventy-five dollar rings. With a politician who’d
cause her pretty face to appear as radiant background ornament in news reports.
To think that, with all
her savoir-vivre, she’s never once been with a man.
I couldn’t let her
go. Perhaps I must. I don’t want to. I don’t. I don’t want her to try sex with an affluent man. Sugar-daddy.
my flower. You like? Will you be my man? I’d like a mink stole and a swimming pool."
This is all rot. She’s
the one who doesn’t want to. She’s the one who knows she couldn’t bear it. Merchandise untested. Testes.
I am going crazy.
She is the sun that rises.
Pouring down gold. Her eyes, clear like water. Just to look at her face, the beautiful features. Mole at her right cheek.
Beauty spot below the ear. I love her. Woman. Sheila. Lovely one. The way she holds her head in thought. They way she laughs
when she runs after the collie in the park. The way she crosses her hands over her breasts when I first touch her. Wanting
to be touched. Not sure if she likes to want it. Sweet indecision. Shy one, my Sheila.
The tooth on her lower
lip when she looks in to see if I am “free” by chance. Darling, I am always free for you. Dearest, my Sheila,
I will never leave you. Never. Sunlight, pouring down pure gold. I will protect you. I will shelter you. With these two hands
that will be gentler, truer than the hands of any other woman, any man.
Then why does she want
me to do the male thing? Why does she want me to support her?
says she, “is on occasion called a house."
Preferably in the suburbs,
I know. Sheila in a fox-pelt matching her hair, the envy of all of the neighbors. Why does she not understand? She, a woman,
must know that I, a woman, cannot suddenly buy into all the craziness of money worship. Oh, I’d love to be a millionaire!
I can’t afford it! It would cost no less than my soul, my being. Three years on the bench in law school perhaps, or
some other such institution. Then another fifty years of shuffling papers, shifting, settling and condoning properties. Christ,
Sheila, don’t you see what you ask of me? The very thing that you, another woman, wouldn’t want to do.
I hate her. Oh my god,
I hate her. I hate her so badly I want to throw up.
That she knows for herself
she doesn’t want to get into the money-chasing rat race. As for me -- that’s when she calls me the strong one
-- perhaps I ought to. Be strong enough to do the dirty work. Seeing that I love her. So that she doesn’t have to. So
that we could still have our bundle of money. That nice amenity.
Money, like meaningless
dust in the air. Stealing the breath of life. Loading it with dust. Unhealthy. Pollution. Suffocating. The sun turned misty
yellow, throbbing, lost behind the exhaust fumes of affluence. Particles. Waste. But the throbbing is down here. Not with
the sun. The air is large, and the sun remains untouched in its beauty.
I haven’t slept
a wink all night. Not a chance in this heat. The sun is rising. Bitch. Cunt. To trap me into this. Awake all night with thoughts
and pain. Covered with the filth of anger that cannot be cleansed.
With words that can never
I will go and buy you
your ring. And feel guilty in all this pollution. And I won’t be able to find a way out quickly. But I will try.
And somewhere behind all
this, the sun remains unspoiled and pure with distance, radiating, through pollution, life.
And I love her. I love
her. I love. Sheila. Life.
is a US citizen currently living and writing in North Vancouver, Canada. Her work has received three Pushcart Prize nominations.
She has also established the Glass Woman Prize to honor passionate women’s voices. Currently she is working on a novel