Made It Way Up
part 9: Essa
by Ian Donnell Arbuckle
Part 8 appeared in issue 92.
The first real pay check I ever got was from a Starbucks in Renton. For two weeks, I burned my fingers, smelled like milk, and flirted with the addicts. Then, on a Friday that I had woken up on convinced that it would be a good day to quit and just lie in bed in someone else’s shirt, I found the envelope with my name on it in the file behind the counter. I ripped it open, stuffed the tax tags in the millimeter pocket of my black jeans, and saw numbers of my own. Five little numbers that I told everyone from then on were my lucky numbers. Six five one one nine. Even though they lost every time in Vegas on our honeymoon.
I spent most of that check on music and makeup. I remember that night, painting myself up like a whore and putting on the clothes that I had convinced my parents to buy for me for dress-up days at school and for Halloween. Filling up a playlist with Mineral MP3s and dancing in the proscenium arch of my mirror. The hairs on my bare arms and legs stood up and pulled away from me, tugging my skin in all directions, promising me that, if I let them escape, they would find whatever made me feel the closest to contentment, and there I would coalesce.
It was damn cold that night, after I crawled out of my window. A couple of my friends said I looked hot; a couple others kept their mouths shut. I wasn’t a new woman. They knew I’d still kick them in the teeth if they pissed me off or made me cry.
What made me so different at home, so different that I had to stay in my room, made me painted background at the party. I felt like an extra on a movie set, and took to asking some of the potheads when we were getting our ten bucks for the night, just to see their reaction. One guy pulled ten bucks out of a black leather wallet and started to lead me to a back room. That was pretty funny.
Now that I think about it, he looked a bit like Lane; people say right around the eyes but I think what they mean by that is the way a person’s face is focused through his eyes. It’s the way something extra shows through his pupils, some line of code that tells your brain to remember this.
He was a pseudo-geek. Thought he had a lot to say about computers, but it all came out of his brother’s old issues of 2600. He had a chin that sank inward when it moved, a mouth that must have forced its own birth, and skin the shade of mine under ultra violet. Years afterward, I kept imagining I saw him in movies. I’d ask my friends, Where have I seen that actor before? And they’d all say, Oh he starred in Such and Such, and I’d say, No that’s not it. Absolutely certain that, even though I didn’t know the answer, I knew that wasn’t it.
So, damn it, I can understand. I could understand. If he was a teenager, I could understand. But he’s not. He’s a former sailing captain who has abandoned his post to play with toy boats in the bathtub. He’s a lapsed Catholic putting on robes and asking me if I have any sins to confess, in bed. Fuck him, the bastard. Ha-- that’s funny.
He was born in Los Angeles. I was born in Issaquah, a little south of the good stuff in Washington state. He told me it’s because my first friend was a mountain that I miss the people. I told him that he didn’t understand me because he never had a daddy. It takes a little away from me to not be able to call him names in hate. I try, but my every shot is accidentally accurate.
I spent all of this first pay check on food that we could store for a while; enough for the winter, for when our crop of potatoes runs out. He was pretty quiet on the drive back up from town. A cow wandered out onto the road at one point and he didn’t even honk the horn. He just shifted his hand to six, brought the truck down a couple gears, and waited while the beast tried to turn us into food with her dumb forgettable eyes. She gave up and moseyed off the road in the same direction she had come from.
Then when we get home, he helped me with the bags, taking the frozen stuff first so it wouldn’t thaw any more. It was when we were on to the cans of soup and broth that he, arms round from all that pounding, finally said what he had been waiting to.
“I lost my job.”
I knew something. I could see that the truck was using twice as much fuel as it should have been. I thought he was going to ask for a divorce, though.
“How did it happen?”
He stared at me with the look that tried to say, You know the answer so say it yourself. Up against my stubbornness, he dropped his gaze to his legs.
“I don’t care,” I said and went back to moving bags across the room.
A few minutes later, I was standing at the kitchen window, holding the green curtain back with the fist I had pressed into my forehead. The day was turning deep and blue. He couldn’t just leave it. He was out there with Bernard, getting ready to burn the forest down. Make it all smoke and ash and bright orange and red. I could handle that.
Copyright © 2004 by Ian Donnell Arbuckle