A Girl I Used to Know
I am in her car and she is driving, and I’m not listening to what she’s saying. I’m trying to remember when I was here last. One of us was sick and driving the other. The car smelled then as it does now: like drive-through onion rings forgotten under the seat.
We stop at a light and Melissa asks if I get what she’s talking about. I nod and say yeah.
“I’m glad you’re interested,” she says. “Most people, the way they react, you’d think it’s like, um, what do you call those plates under the earth that shift?”
“Yeah, like a tectonic shift.”
We pass fast food chains and low-lying office buildings. So many eye doctors, one after the other, that I wonder how many optometrists can exist in one city. I thought there was a law.
“It’s my life now.” She sighs in a way that I have never heard her sigh before.
It was raining all night, and now every house on my street is waking up to this, to water escaping out of gutters and cars splashing puddles. In the driveways, there are plastic-wrapped newspapers like popped water balloons.
“What it’s all about,” she says, holding out a finger to make a point, “is the counter to belief. You can’t have one without the other.”
She pulls into the driveway and keeps the engine running, and rummages her purse for something she says she wants to give me. I look down at the white bracelet around my wrist that has my last name on it. It’s hard to yank off.
“So. Are we going to talk about—”
She smiles and dismisses the suggestion by shaking her head.
I think about this, nodding. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Don’t forget your bag,” she says, handing me the neon green bag the hospital gave me. It rattles with prescriptions and bandages and paperwork.
I look out the window and see my wife holding the front door open in her morning robe.
Before I step out of the car, Melissa hands me a leaflet called Belief and Repetition, and puts it in the green bag.
She points to my bedridden face. “And you should shave when you get in.”
Then I finally remember when I was there in the car with her last. But the memory comes too late and I’m left standing in the driveway like something that fell off a truck.
A Girl I Know
She leads me around the store in her blue and yellow uniform. Every movie is thirty percent off, and she makes a stack for me, telling me I’ll like this one and I’ll like that one.
“What if I hate these?” I ask.
She assures me that I won’t. She points to one and says, “This is Mark’s favorite movie.”
I don’t care about Mark and don’t want to know what his favorite movie is.
“He can quote it back to the screen, line for line.”
“What are you going to do?” I ask her. “Do you have another job already?”
I walk back with her to the checkout counter where she sets the movies next to her mobile scanning device. She shrugs her shoulders and says she’ll figure it out.
“What am I going to do?”
“There’s another place across the street.”
There are two questions I want to ask her, and as she tallies up what my total will be, cautioning me that they are only taking cash now, and that there are no refunds, I can only bring myself to ask one of the two questions. I have no substitutions for my words.
“Why are you such a fucking piece of shit?”
But it comes out differently, not how I had planned. She smiles when I hand her cash.
“Thank you,” she says. “All my customers have been so nice through all this.”
A Girl I Don’t Know
Circumstances have occurred so that at eleven-thirty at night, I find myself in a bus station in Tulsa with only a one-way ticket in my pocket.
A girl begins to approach people one by one and ask if they have spare change. She does not look like a beggar, not homeless, not destitute. She looks like a girl who spends Easter at a family lake house.
I know that she’ll ask me, that it will soon be my turn to say no. It moves me and makes me nervous in a way that I’m suddenly aware that I am as much a stranger to her as she is to me.
She asks a man sitting down and reading a book if he has a few dollars he can spare.
She asks a pregnant woman if she has a few quarters for her.
Then she stands on a chair and announces to everyone that she herself is pregnant and that she’s running away from her abusive boyfriend. She pulls down one of her shirt sleeves and shows a large bruise by her collarbone, and we all look because the bruise is near her left breast.
I overhear someone say she looks like that girl on that one TV show.
“You know, the one with the doctors at that one hospital.”
I feel myself getting nervous, preparing a speech, mounting a defense as to why I don’t have any money. I think about telling her about the fight I had with my brother or about the deadbeat restaurant managers in the Tulsa area who maliciously withhold wages.
But she doesn’t ask me. She passes over me, opting instead to ask almost everyone else for money. I’m both relieved and saddened, because I don’t get to tell her how I myself am a father, except I don’t know how to frame it, as in which one of us is running away from something and which one is going the other way.