By Attila Zønn
“And that lady told me you’re already who you are when you’re born. It has nothing to do with your upbringing, it’s about how you deal with your upbringing, and that goes back to who you are when you’re born.”
“How much did it cost to have your fortune told?”
“Thirty dollars, but it was so worth it. Even Freddie was amazed at how accurate she was about me, and he’s never amazed about anything.”
“You believe that stuff?”
“I don’t know. She was pretty right on. It is fun.”
Gin giggled, leaned close and whispered, “She said I was going to meet a man, and he was going to be my soulmate.” Her eyes sparkled.
“Right in front of Freddie,” she said. “Freddie was so pissed off that she said that. He was so pissed off. I think it made him jealous.”
“You like that?”
“I don’t think jealousy is a good condition to be in, but if you’re the jealoused upon, it sure feels good that your lover feels threatened. I mean, he cares enough about you to get jealous.”
“Or he feels his dominance over you is threatened.”
“I don’t feel dominated. I’m here because this suits me, I can leave whenever I want.”
“But you said you don’t have any money.”
“Money isn’t everything. I can leave if I want to, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to be out on the street, pushing my shit around in a shopping cart, smelling like cheese and dirty bum hole.”
“I don’t think that’ll ever happen to you.”
“Life is unpredictable. One minute you’re at the top of the mountain, next minute you’re trying to stay afloat in a sewer.”
She crossed her arms and sighed.
“Anyways, I asked about my mother—if she was anywhere in the room, watching us,” she said. “The lady said my mom’s in Heaven and she’s fine.”
Gin frowned. “You know, I always wonder about if all these people go to Heaven, what do they do up there? Are they floating around with smiles on their faces? I know in Hell they get burned, and tortured and get fucked up the bum a lot, but what’s there to do in Heaven? And it’s forever.”
“There probably isn’t a Heaven or a Hell.”
“That would be better, wouldn’t it? Instead of having nothing to do for eternity, or being abused for eternity. Lights out. Nothing.”
I took my third sip of an empty cup.
“Do you want another cup?” she said.
“It’s no problem to make another,” she said.
We went into the kitchen. She filled the kettle and plugged it in.
“I hope I have a good summer,” she said. “I’m going to be alone.”
“Freddie’s going to Italy for three weeks. Yeah, with the wife, the kids, all putting on the grand façade for the relatives. It’ll be depressing. I’ll have nothing to look forward to. Just me, myself and I. Shitty afternoons and shitty nights.”
“What about your family? You see them?”
“I do, but not every day. There’s some bad memories there—a person I want to stay away from.”
She fell silent and focused on the kettle, appeared to have gone into memory, then came out of it with a shudder.
“Are you okay?” I said.
She smiled and nodded.
“Just thinking,” she said. “My kid life was pretty good until my dad remarried. His wife was nice at first, but then she had a baby and became a bitch. Then she had another one and became bitchier. I’ll never forgive all that bitchiness. Sometimes she’d put me in the backyard, like a dog, and left me there all day. I guess me sitting on the couch watching cartoons was taking up her time looking after a baby. I wanted to help her—I could play with the baby while she did stuff, but she always shoved me away. I’ve never liked babies. They change people. I hope I never have one.”
The kettle whistled. Gin unplugged it, took two bags from a Red Rose tea box and dropped them into fresh cups. As she poured, she said, “I never felt part of that family. I’ve always wished I had a brother or sister, whole ones, like from the same mother and father. That way I wouldn’t have to be alone in this world when my father and Abuela died. I love my half-sisters. I see them, but when we’re all together, and they’re talking to each other, I feel left out and lonely.”
Gin took a teaspoon from the drawer and squeezed the teabags in the cups. She was very aggressive with the teabag in her cup—squeezing the life out of it.
“I hated living there,” she said. “That bitch would hit me all the time, but my father never knew because I never told him. She was so fucked up. Once, she was standing on a stool changing the bulb in the kitchen, got a shock and fell off the stool, and she blamed me! I ran into the basement and hid behind the furnace.
“Another time, Stephanie was crawling on the floor, and she must have put something in her mouth because she started gagging, and the bitch came running in and picked up the baby. She yelled at me, ‘What did you do?’ I didn’t do anything. I was sitting on the couch like I did all the time all day. She held the baby in one arm and slapped me over and over with her other hand, yelling, ‘What did you do? What did you do?’
“I cried. I told her, ‘I didn’t do anything.’ But she kept slapping me. Then she grabbed me by one arm and shoved me out the back door. It was a freezing cold day, and I was out there without a coat and in my socks, then the back door opened, and my coat came flying at me. My tears froze to my face, and my nose was runny, and snot froze on my upper lip. I never cried so hard as that day because—I didn’t do anything.
“I don’t know how long I was out there. I slapped on the door for her to let me in—I begged her, ‘Please! Please!’, but she wouldn’t open. Then I saw the lady next door come out of her house. She looked at me there all shivering outside, then she went into the house. I thought, that lady is going to call the police on the bitch, and they’ll take her to jail, and Dad and me and the babies will be so happy without her—but nothing happened. Finally, the bitch let me back in. She made me hot chocolate, and she cried, and she said she was sorry, and she became nice again. She did that all the time—treated me like shit, then cry about it. Strange, huh?”
I reached out and touched her shoulder. She shuddered.
“I hate thinking about those times. That fucking bitch—all smiles when my dad was around. Every time she touched me I felt the evil inside her. She’s never apologised. She acts like she was never bad to me. Do they forget? Do they block it out? Bad people. Do they forget they were ever bad?”
“Bad people don’t know they’re bad. Every action is justified.”
We took our cups back to the Persian rug and sat down.
“One day, I came home from school,” Gin said. “I was hanging up my jacket at the front door. The bitch came up behind me and slapped me on the back of the head. I turned around. She said, ‘ That’ll teach you.’ Teach me what? What did I do?
“When you’re a kid, all adults are big, but in reality, this evil woman was just a tiny thing. I was about eleven then, and now I was bigger than her. I grabbed her, and I yelled in her face, ‘Stop hitting me!’ and I slammed her against the wall. Then I grabbed her and threw her across the floor. I wanted to stomp on her so bad. She whimpered, like all bullies do when they get a taste of their own medicine, and ran and locked herself in the bathroom. I went out on the verandah and waited for my dad to get home. I was going to tell my dad I didn’t want to live there anymore. I wanted to live with my abuela. The more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself he would be okay with it. But he wasn’t—he cried. He kept asking me ‘why?’ So I told him about her.
“Oh, the look on his face. I thought he was angry with me but no. He flung open the screen door and went into the house. Then I heard him yelling, and then the bitch was yelling, and then the babies were crying—it was terrible. I covered my ears so I didn’t have to hear. I was happy though. I thought that for sure my dad was going to kick her out. That we would keep the babies and I could look after them. But when my dad came out, he looked defeated. He got on his knees and hugged me, and said, ‘I’m sorry.’ Then we went up to my room and packed my clothes, and he drove me to my abuela’s.”
“I’ve never thought of it that way. My thinking was: I was free from her. That’s like breathing for the first time. Relief.” She paused and thought. “What was he supposed to do? He was trapped. You can’t win against a crazy bitch. She would’ve taken the babies with her. What was he supposed to do? I was happy. I was free from her, and my abuela just lived one street over. He saw me every day.”
The phone rang.
Gin got up and answered it. “Okay,” she said and hung up. “They’re here.” She opened the door and stood in the corridor. After a few minutes, she waved an arm and said, “Down here.”
Two black guys in beige coveralls appeared at the door—one rolled a stainless steel refrigerator through the doorway and into the kitchen.
“It has an ice maker!” Gin said, laughed and clapped her hands.
The guys came back in a few minutes with a matching stove, then a matching dishwasher.
The couch followed—brown leather, then the matching loveseat as well as a recliner. A two-tier, glass top coffee table, end tables, lamps. Then a round oak pedestal table for the dining area. The chairs were oak as well, spindle legs and spindle-backed.
“I don’t like these chairs,” Gin said. “My dad had these. They get rickety after awhile.”
Finally, the bed. A king size.
“Oh, my,” Gin said after the bed was assembled and the delivery guys had left. “That’s the highest bed I’ve ever seen. I’m going to be like the princess and the pea.” She laughed, threw herself on it and stretched. “It’s so comfortable. Come.” She patted the space beside her. “Try it.”
I got on the bed.
“Don’t you think it’s so comfortable?” she said.
I laid on my back, clasped my hands across my chest and stared at the ceiling.
Something Freddie had said to me once, about Gin, popped into my head. He said, “A smart woman is no good in the sack. They think. This one lies there and takes it, and when you’re done, she doesn’t mind if she’s not fulfilled because all the men in her life have used her as a pin cushion and she’s probably never had an orgasm. In and out is what I do, then hand her a lollypop and she’s okay with that. A smart woman will lie there thinking: I need more than this. When they start thinking like that, you got a whole world of headache.”
“I think you should get a job,” I said. “Get a job, get some money, and free yourself.”
She rolled on her side to face me.
“Freddie won’t let me,” she said. “I have to be here in case he comes over.”
Fuck Freddie, I thought.
“I asked him for twenty dollars once,” she said, “and he got pissed off. ‘What do you want it for?’ he said. ‘What do you want? I have accounts in all kinds of stores. I’ll just phone them, and they’ll bring you whatever you want.’ So that’s how it is.”
She walked her fingers on my shirt buttons.
“I know having a man pay for everything is not the right way to live,” she said, “but work has never worked for me. Every place I ever worked at, the people didn’t like me. They called me names behind my back—mostly tramp or slut.”
“You heard them?”
“I don’t have to hear it to know they’re calling me that. I know how people are. But I’m not a slut. I’ve only ever had one boyfriend at a time. Even if I was, what’s the crime? Men fuck around more than women.
“At this one place, my boss called me into his office and told me that my ‘skimpy’ clothes were a distraction. I wasn’t wearing skimpy clothes. My clothes were tight, yes, but they weren’t skimpy. I told him if his workers would mind their own business and stopped judging me, and actually did some work, he would be better off. That was the only time I ever talked back at work. It felt good. I felt empowered. It was like the dawn of a new day. He fired me. I should have kept my mouth shut because that was a great job.
“I’m never trying to attract anyone. It just happens. I know that look though—that a guy wants to fuck me.”
“Do I have that look?”
She propped herself on her elbow and studied my face. She sighed. “No, you don’t.” She sounded disappointed.
“I like how I feel when I wear what I wear. I never did anything bad to anyone, but still, they didn’t like me. Then I found this one job, and I thought all the people liked me. They all helped me when I didn’t know something. Everyone was so kind. Finally, here was a place where I fit in. I was so happy.
“The place had a recreational room where we took our breaks and lunches and in the middle of it was a ping-pong table. I was feeling so good that day. I jumped up, picked up a paddle and said, ‘Who wants to play?’ They all smiled, but nobody was in the mood, so I went back to my cubicle, and you know what? A couple of minutes later I heard the ping-pong ball bouncing off the table. That really hurt me. That really, really hurt. It was the same old shit all over again. I knew I couldn’t work there anymore. I quit. I just got up and left.
“I was driving home, feeling so depressed, thinking about what I was going to do and I wasn’t paying attention when I changed lanes. Somebody blasted their horn at me. A guy pulled up beside me and yelled, ‘Who’d you blow to get your license, bitch!’, and drove off. That was Freddie. That’s how we met. At the next light, he looked at me. Then at the next light, he looked at me again. Then he kept driving beside me, looking over at me, then he smiled and yelled, ‘What’s your name?’ He scared me, ’cause usually when I cut somebody off, they just give me a look or give me the finger and drive away, and I never see them again, but this guy wasn’t letting me go. I got on the highway, and he followed me. Then he drove along beside me. I’d speed up. He’d speed up. I’d slow down. He’d slow down. He kept mouthing, ‘What’s your name?’
“I couldn’t go home now. I didn’t want this guy following me home. I kept looking over, then he gestured if I wanted to go for a drink and I thought, I better do something so I figured a bar would be a safe place—there’d be lots of people and if he tried anything I could scream. People always come running when a woman screams, right? So I nodded. He gestured for me to follow him and we got off at the next exit.
“He was a decent looking guy, and he had a nice car, and I guess he liked me if he wanted to take me out for a drink. That was September 15 at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. It’ll be four years now coming up. After a few months, he put me here. I felt we had something—something I’d never felt for any other man.
“One time I thought I’d surprise him with a home cooked dinner. I really worked hard on it—all day. I had the table all set, and everything was ready when he came in. He looked at it, then picked up the phone and ordered pizza. He said if he wanted a home-cooked meal he’d go to his mother’s. She’s the only woman who knows how to cook what he likes. I was really upset. I said, ‘Then go and find your mama when you have a hard-on.’ I shouldn’t have said that. He slapped me.”
“He slapped you?”
“Yeah, I deserved it.”
“No one deserves that.”
“Yeah, I did. You should never say stuff like that about a guy’s mom. I was just upset at all the work I did for his dinner, and he didn’t want it.”
A chill came over me, and I was dumbfounded. The more I heard about Freddie, the more he pissed me off. I really liked the guy but now—my temples throbbed. I regretted coming here.
I liked Gin’s simplicity and her uninhibited manner, but she was fucking up my perception of Freddie. He sounded like a needy little bully. I knew he was a control freak. I knew he could be a dick—I’d seen it—how he talked down to people, but I just thought that was part of being the boss. Now I questioned whether it was him or his wife that caused the friction in the marriage. Maybe he’d slapped her around a few times. My attention turned to Ginesta. Stupid Ginesta. That’s all I could think of. Stupid Ginesta. She deserves everything she gets. But strangely, my disdain for her predicament, and lying there beside her, smelling her freshness and green apples, her hand on my stomach was giving me an erection.
“I don’t want you to feel bad for me,” she said, rubbing my stomach. “That was a long time ago. He’s never hit me since.”
“I got to go,” I said, and got off the bed.
She followed me to the door.
“I shouldn’t have told you about this stuff.”
“Too late now,” I said and put on my shoes.
“It was only that one time. He’s never slapped me since. He was real sorry that he slapped me. He cried after. He kept saying it was a reflex.”
I grabbed the doorknob.
“You’re not going to tell him I told you? Please don’t.” She grabbed me and hugged me, pressing her body hard against me. “Don’t leave me. I like you.”
The erection came back, full-fledged. She let me go and looked down at the bulge. “Oh, my,” she said and cupped her hand on my crotch.
She put her mouth against my ear and whispered, “Do you want me to help you with that?”
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018