by AN Block
My Faith didn’t dig it in the least the way Sean Devine informed her she would have to drive four hundred thirty-two miles, all the way to Buffalo, on some wild goose chase.
“Party’s over, Ms. Gordon,” he’d said. “You all are going to have to get up off your keisters and travel on a regulation basis, if we’re going to make this sales number happen.”
I walked her over to see Tatiana at Hello Gorgeous! and she got her nails done that subdued shade between pale pink and eggshell she likes so much to mark the occasion, then we withdrew this novel she’d talked about wanting to read for years, A Confederacy of Dunces, on tape from the public library.
She’d been making a real effort to look more on the bright side before the higher ups at Reliable Fish brought this Devine character on to play hard ass.
“At least it’s a change in scenery,” Faith told her best girlfriend Lizzy Siskin, sitting propped up in bed, one pillow pushed behind her sore lower back, one under her laptop, searching motels on line. “That’s right, I said ‘drive.’ I guess I’ll just take an extra chill pill. No dear, nobody goes to Buffalo for the fun of it, not even in summer. They go for chicken wings, roast beef, greasy doughnuts and hot fudge sundaes. It’s a dietitian’s nightmare. And what am I peddling? Fish.” She laughed. “Healthful Reliable Fish.”
She and Lizzy had roomed together at Stonehill. They connected every Sunday night from 8 to 9, recapping the highlights of their week, each conversation following a familiar trajectory: what new is happening, what’s the dirt at work, heard from any of the old crowd, hope all’s well with the family. Until this one.
“It’s not actually even Buffalo,” Faith said, turning her hand until the nails sparkled, “it’s Cheektowaga. Why? Because the new honcho is dumb as a rock! Oh my God, he’s making me take two full days I can’t spare to drive out there and back. Dead serious. Yes, I showed Mr. Banana Brain how the expenses end up costing the department way more than if I flew, but he hates the airlines and apparently logic just makes this good old boy mad. Cripes, no, he could care less how complicated everything is since I’m home again, what a hell of an adjustment it’s been, he just keeps piling one unrealistic goal on top of another. Well, at least he’s stopped hitting on me. No. I never told you? HR is an absolute joke. Didn’t report it because nothing was really overt. He’d just pass inappropriate comments like, ‘I dig older chicks. Blondes, in particular. If they take care of themselves.’ Awkward innuendos like that, you know?”
Commiserating about Lizzy’s control freak DAR mother-in-law, offering strategic suggestions, helped bring Faith out of herself. “Better than therapy” is how she described it.
“Okay, take a deep breath,” Faith told her friend. “If you can’t find them before you have to leave for the club tomorrow, you’ll wear the hoops. Stop looking tonight and relax. Relax. They’re going to turn up, and if they don’t, the old witch is so into herself she probably won’t notice. Lizzy, listen to me: the cleaning lady did not take your earrings. No, it’s absurd, she’s been with you for three years, she did not take this one pair of earrings. They’re somewhere.”
She got up and started dragging a brush through her long knotted hair, counting in silence, gritting her teeth.
“Yeah, well, maybe I should have listened to Daddy after all, and pursued psychology, instead of business,” she told Lizzy. “He always said that someone with my sensitivities would find being a counselor more fulfilling. He knew me better than anyone. Except you. Oh, no, it’s too late. Easy for me to offer advice, guess it’s harder to accept it myself.”
Faith returned from Buffalo at three a.m. in tears, more ticked off at Sean Devine and The Reliable Fish Company than ever. First, she’d lost her way driving in circles around the industrial park, then saw she’d forgotten to charge her phone so that calling for directions was not an option, and in the end she arrived almost twenty minutes late. After apologizing, she discovered to her horror that she’d left the Power Point presentation in her suitcase and had to beg pardon again to retrieve it from the parking lot while the supermarket group’s executive team sat waiting for ten additional minutes. Hurrying back up the stairs left her too breathless and drained to give concrete answers to the questions that they started peppering her with about the shelf life of the frozen shrimp and the parts per million of ammonia in the disinfectant bath that Reliable used for their Cape scallops. She hadn’t done enough homework, she realized she was coming across as scattered and tentative, and they kept interrupting her presentation, so she began making up answers. Not cool, she admitted, but after the first few minutes it made no difference, her hair was a sweaty matted mess and her credibility had disintegrated anyway. Then she flashed her nails and started talking about her father, her moral compass as she called him, how he loved to fish and how badly she missed him.
On the drive back Faith gave up listening to the novel, it was so rambling it made her head swim. Instead she kept re-playing Sinatra, The Gold Collection, which usually transported her to the roaring fireplace in suburban Philadelphia where she’d so often sat arm in arm with Daddy growing up, but this time hearing his favorite song, That’s Life, just made her weepy. By the time she passed Albany, rain started pelting the windshield. She kept waiting, gripping the wheel, but the storm never stopped.
Faith was so undone by the time she arrived home, she didn’t even realize she had parked in a neighbor’s driveway until she stood with her suitcase, getting soaked, trying to jam her key into the front door lock.
“Always something lately,” she told Lizzy that weekend. “Guess it’s a total down spiral I’m in. Stress and diet, diet and stress. Devine’s still strutting his stuff like the new sheriff in town, but he’s let the Buffalo fiasco pass. Who knows, maybe he’s not out to get me. Who, my poet laureate?” She laughed. “What can I tell you, Gordo’s Gordo. He sits in the corner, staring in space, just humming to himself.”
I raised the forefinger of my right hand and wagged it.
“Exactly,” she said. “I appreciate that, honey. But the more you stress, the less you can diet, am I right? And since being home, I’ll admit, I’ve grown quite roly-poly. Exercise, with my clenched back? Right. Well, these miracle new pills I’ve been on, please, don’t ask!”
“You have pictures of me wearing what?” she asked, the following week. “Lavender tinted glasses? Purple lipstick? I never turned on all that much, one puff made me loopy. Oh, right, and cough my guts up.” She doubled over laughing. “Oh, that’s wild! Really? You’re saying I used to go around the dorm asking everyone what they believed in? Actually writing it down, like a cub reporter? Junior year I remember best. Wait, that’s when we thumbed to The Garden to see Neil Young and that long haired pervie old geezer picked us up and gave us a lecture all the way into the city warning us never to hitchhike again, right? And how the Kennedy’s were all a bunch of subversive Communists. I know, sweetie. That’s how fast it happens: one day you’re bouncing on your Daddy’s knee, the next you wake up middle aged practically, with crow’s feet and dark bags under your eyes, complaining how the young people nowadays have no respect. Speaking of which, wish me luck, we’re going to a little party at Sean Devine’s, if I can make Gordo look presentable. No, no, he and I didn’t even cross paths until two weeks before graduation. Sitting on the grass in the Quad, plunking away at his guitar, lost in one of his self-pitying ballads of unrequited love, remember? With a hilarious Boston accent. And, voila, here we are. Yes, it was quite the, I don’t know, whirlwind?”
“Oh, I dread entertaining. Well, last week they invited us, so.” She sighed. “Why? Why do you think? It’s depressing enough to live in this dusty dungeon, with all the heat pipes exposed,” she said, sticking her tongue out, “but he hoards everything, he’s grown so apathetic, and now my boss and his perfect little airhead girlfriend are coming over. Their place? Postage stamp too, but super cute. All shiny and lah-dee-dah. Oh, we’ve been all through this, trust me. Yes, Gordo knows how I feel. Well, I believe I already told you: he did fulfill his duty to come visit every day, but could not pull it together to even remember our anniversary.”
I slammed my notebook shut, stood up and crossed the room to where Faith lay curled in a fetal position on the love seat. I stomped my bare foot and crushed a water beetle scurrying across the linoleum.
“Wait,” Faith said to Lizzy, squinting up at me, “hold on.” She covered the mouthpiece. “What?”
“Now,” I whispered, “you’re crossing a line.”
She scrambled to her feet and took the phone to the kitchen. “Stop eavesdropping,” she mouthed. “Fatso!”
“I wish,” I told her, after she finished her conversation, “that for just one time___”
“You, shut up!” she said, cutting me off, pointing. “Stop whining in that nasal Dylan voice, you’re not from Oklahoma, okay? I mean, all you do is lounge around in your sunglasses and bathrobe, drinking coffee, making a complete mess all day. Oh, and thank you, in advance, for your deep concern about how delicate my condition is lately, but don’t you get it: you’re the nutty one too scared to drive, you’re the unemployable so-called poet, I’m not!”
AN Block’s fiction has appeared in many literary journals. AN has an MA in History, is a Master of Wine, teaches at Boston University and is Contributing Editor at the Improper Bostonian.