When Deirdre is ten she has a goldfish that dies. Actually she has about 12 goldfish and they all die except this one she calls Goldie. This one fish lives a long time and gets fat. He gets so fat he is too big for his tank. One day while she is at school, Deirdre’s mom, Sandra, thinks Goldie needs a new tank so she takes him out of his old tank and sticks him in a bowl of plain water for a while. He gets sick and dies.
As it turns out the whole goldfish in a bowl thing is a lie. Goldfish don’t live in bowls at all. That’s bettas that can live in bowls. Only one at a time of course because they kill each other if forced to live together (a marriage metaphor Sandra thinks.) However, goldfish in bowls, like the anxious one in The Cat in the Hat, are supreme bullshit. Goldfish need tanks and pumps and oxygen and all kinds of doodads to stay alive and healthy. Sandra does not know this. She comes home from the fish
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store with the new tank and finds Goldie floating at the top of the glass bowl in which she has left him, his whitish underbelly bloated to twice its normal size, his eyes all popped out gruesome looking. The death appears to have been unpleasant. Perhaps, she thinks, he was killed by something in the bowl besides the water. Bleach maybe. However, it doesn’t matter because Sandra looks it up on the Internet afterwards and that’s when she learns about the goldfish in a bowl being bullshit.
To be fair, it is manslaughter (or fishslaughter) not premeditated murder, but still, she is responsible for the death. Fishslaughter is not something a ten-year-old is about to forgive due to mitigating circumstances like being a moron mom. Therefore, Sandra does what any mother of good character would do in a similar situation: she lies. She lies through her teeth; lies like a rug; lies till the cows come the fuck home.
Sandra tells her daughter the fish died of old age. Yes, she says, thirteen months is old for a fish but her daughter gives her the squinty-eyed thing and asks how long fish are supposed to live anyway. Sandra creates an age conversion formula on the spot, something out of the air like one fish month is ten human years, realizing too late that would make Goldie 130 years old, an improbable number even for a Japanese super centenarian.
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She toys with the idea of revising her story. She can tell Deirdre the fish ran away but figures a ten-year-old could sort that one out. She sticks with natural causes and it works.
We lie to our children, Sandra thinks. Life is not pretty. No neat little lessons stitched together into meaningful phrases on couch cushions. The meek do not inherit and evil is not punished. The good do not prosper. At least not regularly. Sometimes shit happens. Sometimes your mom kills your goldfish.
Sandra sits in the Lexus passenger seat picking at her skirt. There is a slight rise to her underwear on the left and she wonders how severe the discomfort will get before the morning is finished. Her husband, Dean, strangles the steering wheel while his eyes float out of his face through the windshield over the hood and into oncoming traffic. Sandra watches him but only with the occasional furtive glance, cautious in case his eyes come back and catch her invading his private moment.
Their ten-year-old is blessedly silent in the back seat. From his ears hang long strands of plastic coated wire that pump a continuous stream of mind numbing street speak and gun fire into his vulnerable brain from the Sony game device he is
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holding. Sandra kneels and prays thanks daily to the maker of the device; not really but she thinks about it.
Sandra sticks a fingernail, polished pale blue, through the tiny hole she’s managed to work into the wool of her skirt. She wonders if she can hike the skirt up high enough to hide the hole under her jacket without exposing the cellulite on the back of her thighs. She sticks her finger deeper into the hole and gouges a layer of skin on her thigh. No blood appears. She feels frustrated. She pulls her finger out of the hole and reaches up to the sun visor, which she pulls down with a loud, snap.
Dean’s eyes pop back into his head and he swings his face toward hers. She thinks the motion makes him look like a funhouse cartoon character and she almost laughs. She stops herself because he wouldn’t like it if she laughed.
“What the hell Sandra?” he says.
“Sorry,” she says back at him. She opens her purse and tries not to look at him because when he’s like this it doesn’t help to look at him.
“Whatever,” he says. This is his word that means he’s really unhappy and nothing anyone says will help. She says something anyway.
“I just need to use the mirror for a second, gotta fix my lipstick.”
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“I can’t see with that thing down. You know that. I can’t see the traffic,” he reaches over and flips the visor back up. Snap. He smells like toothpaste. Sandra is holding the open lipstick midway between her mouth and the empty space where there had been a mirror. She supposes she now looks as if she is about to eat the tube of Channel Red. This time she laughs.
“Jesus, Sandra, what’s wrong with you?” There is a snarl in his voice. She thinks he is right. There is something wrong with her.
They are stopped at a red light for no reason. It’s a residential neighborhood with no cross traffic. Sandra thinks the light is dumb and someone is sitting behind a camera somewhere watching them wait for nothing, and laughing.
She risks a glance at Dean. She can see his eyes float away again, out of his face and through the windshield, over the hood of the car and out into the sunny day. Nothing out there to hold him down, she thinks. The light turns green and the car starts forward.
Sandra resumes picking her skirt. She should stop. She’s making it worse and soon it’ll be so obvious no amount of yanking on her suit jacket will help. She sticks her fingernail straight into her thigh. This time she draws blood and it makes her feel better. She dabs at the blood with her thumb and jams her thumb
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in her mouth. The coppery taste on her tongue makes her stop thinking about toothpaste.
“What the hell is taking so long?” comes a tinny voice from the back seat.
“Watch your mouth,” says Dean but she doesn’t see his lips move.
“But this is effing boring and why did I have to come anyway,” says the voice that sounds like it never eats vegetables and lives inside a body that hasn’t been outside a dark room in about a decade until today.
Sandra says, “you know why you are here,” and then she adds something incredibly boring and stupid that she can’t remember as soon as she says it like, “you are part of this family and we expect you to participate,” or, ‘‘you need to learn to do things as part of a family even when you don’t want to do them,’’ or ‘‘because it’s important.’’ She knows the boy who owns the tinny voice doesn’t listen.
Dean’s eyes skip further down the street and around the corner. He’s been gone a lot like this since the thing happened last fall. That was the second time and the doctors said it took
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a lot out of him. Sandra doesn’t know what that means. People are always saying things take a lot out of a person. Like people are made of some fixed amount of stuff and when a bad thing happens some of the stuff gets subtracted, forever. She thinks maybe it’s true. Certainly Dean looks like he is made of less stuff than he was before. She just doesn’t know what the stuff is that everyone is always talking about. She wished she knew because she would go and get more to put it back for both of them.
“Yeah, well the stupid, freakin’ batteries are out and this sucks.” says the boy.
“Be respectful Eric,” says Dean but his eyes are still out of town.
Sandra reaches up to flip down the visor and then withdraws her hand. She pulls a tiny compact mirror from her purse. “I believe, Eric, we will be there in less than two minutes.” The compact allows a view of her lips in small sections. She reapplies her lipstick piecemeal while turning her face at bizarre angles. She tries to blur any obvious seams by rolling and smacking her lips together. The action makes her feel ugly.
She lifts her purse off her lap and notices a blood droplet the size of a pea has leaked through her skirt at the level of mid thigh. Now she will need to hide both the hole and the blood by yanking her skirt up or jacket down. Unfortunately the blood
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lies at a latitude slightly lower than the hole. She thinks, well fuck, this is a holy mess and then thinks she’s pretty clever for the pun.
It’s a minute later and they are pulling into the parking lot. Sandra thinks there are more cars here than necessary. She looks out the side window and tries to focus on nothing. The SUV hits a speed bump too fast and Eric screams, “Shit, I hate speed bumps, Dad I messed up my game.” Sandra says nothing. Dean only snarls again but his lips don’t move.
They circle a while and find a place to park relatively quickly, which Sandra thinks, is a miracle since they got a late start. The Head of School recommended a 7:30AM arrival time. Deirdre was up and gone in her own car at 6:45. Eric wouldn’t get out of bed until eight and Dean said 7:30 was for fags. Therefore, they left at 8:30 and here they are at 9am.
She gets out of the car and feels like vomiting when she looks down at the front of her skirt. The hole isn’t so bad; the skirt has a medium sized print, which hides it and the edge of the jacket just covers. The, blood, however, is another fucking story. Not only is the dot bigger than the size of a pea, it’s
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more like a dime, but it sits two inches below the bottom of the jacket and center stage, looking curiously like menstrual flow. Yanking the skirt up to hide the blood under her jacket would result in a waistline up around her boobs and a hemline barely covering her crotch. Sandra thinks at 27 she would have looked like a mentally deficient hooker. At 47, it just won’t fly.
She picks up the purse she’d intended to leave in the car and straps it across her chest, book bag style. She’s holding the purse against the bloodied portion of the skirt, as the family makes its way over to the football field. The whole thing might have worked, the blood hiding mechanism might have passed by unnoticed and the day might not have been a disaster if only Deirdre had been an entirely different person.
The stadium gates are crowded. Sandra feels twinges of claustrophobic panic as they join the wriggling mass of people trying to squeeze through. To her right, several teens, laugh and cling-clang off each other like pinballs as they make their way forward with the stupid self-righteous confidence of youth. It irritates her and she wants to punch them in the face.
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She wants to tell them how dumb they are and how they don’t know. She wants to tell them they are horrid if they are not kind to their mothers because they really are just their mothers. We are all their mothers, she wants to say, all in this together, dying together. They are stupid with all their hormones and bumping and excitement. She wants to scream at their not knowing.
She says nothing. She only focuses her eyes deep inside a sheath of white blonde hair six inches in front of her face. It smells like soap and clean sheets.
When she bursts through the other side of the gate it is like coming up from deep water. At least it is like she imagines that would be. She could never drown, she thinks. She’s too claustrophobic.
The field is covered with flat grass forever like a green moon. There are hundreds of folding chairs lined up soldier style in front of the stage. The chairs make her sad. There’s not time to think about the lonely chairs because someone is pushing her forward and someone else is irritated when she violates the boundary clearly marked by a red velvet rope. She corrects course
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and follows Dean, already eight paces ahead, toward their seats. Her pump heels sink into the turf as she walks. The purse keeps shifting to her left hip exposing the blood dime over her pubis. She thinks it is probably a good thing Dean likes to walk ahead.
She’s so busy checking her purse position, pulling at her jacket, unsticking her shoe heels from the earth and keeping eyes out to avoid further entanglement with red velvet ropes, she forgets to check on Eric. She sees Dean, now 15 paces ahead, reach the back row and take a seat. It’s not until she stops moving forward (because she’s exhausted and her arms ache from swaddling the stupid purse she hadn’t wanted to carry and she desperately needs to pull underwear out of her ass) that she realizes she’s lost Eric. Fuck, she thinks. She would like to call over to her husband for help. However, she knows he has not yet returned from out of town. She’s on her own here.
Sandra thinks a minute and decides Eric will be ok. It’s a small campus, he’s not a baby, and he knows his way around. She tells herself these things and stops worrying about Eric. Dean, however, will be pissed off. She feels no better.
She decides the best thing to do is wander around until Eric shows up and that way avoid the inevitable questions, “where is Eric?” and “what do you mean you lost Eric?”
She clutches the purse to her body and marches in the direction opposite Dean, feeling his eyes most definitely not
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upon her. It will be some time, she thinks, before he notices, she has not arrived at the seats.
At first she has no particular goal in mind. Then she spots the graduates coming together in small clusters, just beyond the gates. She moves over to the fence where her view is better.
The day is crazy shatter bright. It sparkles like a disco ball in Sandra’s eyes and at first she is unable to make one kid from another. Then she recognizes a few from Deirdre’s grade school days. She hasn’t kept up well with the high school friends. Deirdre says that’s lame.
Sandra studies the kids she knows and puzzles out they are being arranged in roughly alphabetical order. Larson would be near the middle of the pack and there are maybe thirty kids who form this first portion of the line. She won’t see Deirdre until the line starts moving.
Sandra examines these line leaders. She thinks they have teeth white and sparkly as new snow. They have straight bones with strong bendy muscles and skin made of milk and flowers. Their hair, Sandra thinks, might be the best thing. It is saturated with color like oil paint, even the boys. It is Yellow
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Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Lamp Black, Burnt Umber, and Indian red. It’s touchable, tangible, flavorful color and today it turns the sea of graduation black into a glorious patchwork quilt of youth. She wonders where the color goes when they turn 25. She knows it goes because she’s witnessed the disappearance. No amount of salon treatment ever puts it back. She guesses it goes the way of the lost socks.
Sandra grips the wire fence too hard and nearly cuts through the skin of her palm before the pain draws her attention away from the kids. She snatches her hand toward her face and examines it in the disco light. No injury but it is covered with dirt and a few streaks of a black greasy material. A deep red crease runs horizontally across the middle of her palm but it does not break the skin. She shakes the hand and looks up at the graduates who are beginning to move forward. Music is playing on the football field. It is starting.
Sandra thinks about washing her hands. She looks around but sees no restroom; no drinking fountain. No time. A few more clots of gowned and grinning youth pass by. She decides she will wait here and wave at Deirdre as she passes and then move quickly in order to make it back to her seat before the welcome speeches begin.
The stinging in her hand is distracting and she peers at it wondering what to do. She tries patting her hands together but
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succeeds only in transferring filth from one palm to the other. She resists the urge to wipe them both on the already ruined skirt. She touches her hair, pushing it out of her face and wonders what color it is in the bright sunlight. She wishes she had chosen another lipstick color. Red makes her mouth gooey in the heat.
Two by two by two the youth walk past and Sandra thinks they are like the tulip buds she buys at the grocery store on Fridays. Sold six or ten at a time, they come wrapped in crisp brown paper and bow tied with hemp. They are straight, tight and strong. She pays $12 for them, always forgetting that by Tuesday they’ll open up wide and by Wednesday they’ll be looking a little pathetic in their bigness and around the weekend they’ll just fall over like everything else. Folie a Deux she thinks its called. A shared delusion. The tulip buds believe in their unique right to perpetual perfection and so, week after week, she falls under their spell and pays again and again to believe right along with them.
She corrects her posture a little as she watches the children walk.
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As they go, parents yelp, screech, hoot, jump, cry and have various other forms of parental orgasm. Sandra thinks they are obnoxious and she frequently wants to punch them in the face for acting like idiots and not keeping their shit to themselves. She doesn’t punch them. Instead, she smiles at them when they act ridiculous.
She spots Deirdre coming around the corner of the administration building. Deirdre is paired with another white toothed, thick haired, bendy-looking girl, several inches shorter, wearing the same black gown. They chat together and look crazily happy and relaxed as they walk.
Sandra impulsively raises her arms over her head and shrieks “Deirdre!” in a voice louder and much more shrill than she had intended. The act causes Deirdre, her marching partner, several parents and other graduates to gape in her direction and Sandra immediately regrets what she has done.
For an instant, she stands frozen before all of them, silent as a sacrifice. The bloody skirt with self inflicted damage fully exposed, her mouth hanging open, and her arms, still above her head, continuing to move in the slow, haunted way the limbs of a
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dead animal, run over on the highway might move even after it’s skull has been crushed. In desperation she tries to catches her daughter’s eye. Without words, she’s begs for mercy and Deirdre turns away.
Sandra shuts her mouth, drops her arms back to her sides, shifts the purse into position and attempts to adjust her suit without looking down to see if she’s got it right. Parents and graduates go back to doing whatever it was they were doing before the insane woman with menstrual blood on her torn skirt started screaming and Deirdre carries on with her life.
Sandra is on her way back to the seats, taking careful steps on the grass. She is holding the purse against her body like it’s a sick child. She makes certain not to let it move from the stain on her skirt.
Eric is there. She doesn’t ask where he’s been. It doesn’t really matter and asking means Dean finding out she lost him in the first place. Mother and son have an unspoken agreement. They will leave Dean out of this one. They do this a lot.
She sits down in the chair and realizes her feet hurt. Her thigh also stings. She wonders if there will be a scar. There are
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lots of scars on her thighs. The blades she takes from pencil sharpeners work best. A few burns.
Dean turns his head when she sits down but she is not sure if he says anything.
The graduates are filing into the rows of empty chairs in front of the stage. They have decorated their caps with letters and logos of the colleges they plan to attend. The high school has a 98% four-year college matriculation rate so Sandra supposes the tradition makes sense. She thinks it’s ridiculous every single kid thinks they will succeed. Gloriously. Truth is some of the kids graduating today will be unemployed, drug addled or dead in five years. The thought makes her strangely happy.
Sandra’s mind wanders as the rest of the graduates file in and the first speakers take the microphone and say all the things people always say at times like this. Nobody ever says anything really useful like, don’t skip your oral contraceptive pill; don’t hit a guy first if he’s bigger than you; don’t go to a hotel room with a man you don’t plan to fuck; use condoms; the world doesn’t owe you fuck all; and try really hard not to be an asshole.
Then she thinks about how nobody would listen anyway. She tries to remember anything anybody said at any of her graduations. She’s had several. She can’t remember a thing.
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She starts paying attention again when they get to roll call. They are only on the B’s. It’s going to be a while. She leans over to Dean, “I’m going to the bathroom.”
“Ok,” he says but he doesn’t look at her.
Eric is gone again. He must have taken off during one of the speeches. Evidently Dean is not worried. The PlayStation is gone too. She thinks Eric is likely safe. He would never put his PSP in danger.
Sandra runs into some Women She Knows on the way to the restroom. They are not Friends or Coworkers or Business Associates, or Casual Acquaintances. They are not Members of her Pilate’s Class or Book Club Ladies or HOA People or even the Wives Group at Dean’s Office. They are Mothers of Deirdre’s Classmates, as different and cliquish as their children and Sandra finds them every bit as confounding as she did the girls in her high school. They defy categorization. They drift aimlessly in that bizarre, exquisitely uncomfortable social quagmire called Women She Knows. She avoids them whenever possible but it would be social suicide to slight them directly.
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Suicide she would gladly commit except that she would be taking Deirdre with her. Social homicide she thinks.
“Hi, Sandra,” one of them squeaks, arms outstretched wide enough to hug a Live Oak. She is a small woman and reciprocating the hug requires Sandra to lean over at a peculiar angle, particularly with the purse thing going on.
“Hi, Lolly,” Sandra does not even like saying the name, “how are you? Congratulations. I saw Lindley. She looks beautiful.” A small amount of vomit enters Sandra’s mouth as she says the words. She sucks it back.
“Ahh that’s sweet. Thank you Sandra. Congratulations to you too.” Sandra thinks Lolly is a bitch with a stupid name who can never say anything nice about anyone else’s kid because she is so freaking competitive.
“Hi Meg, how are you?” Meg’s son Colby recently broke Deirdre’s heart and Sandra tells herself not to ask about the sonofabitch and no way is she congratulating the bitch that gave birth to him.
“I’m good, Deirdre looks so happy. We are all so glad she got over everything you know.”
“Yes, thanks, she’s doing great.”
“So, next year, what’s she doing next year?” Meg wears a weird grin that misses her eyes. Sandra is not sure if it’s the Botox or the insincerity.
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There it is Sandra thinks. She hates this question. “We are working on it, she has a few options.”
Actually Meg, Sandra wants to say, after your douchebag son fucked her up, all she wants to do is smoke weed every day and sit in her room so I dunno. Maybe she’ll just overdose on drugs next year. We are not really sure.
“I saw she had Washington on her cap?” Meg says, ‘‘she’s such a smart girl.’’
“Yeah she got in. She’s not sure though, I’d better get moving.” Sandra is feeling like her head might explode. She hears the roll call, “James Dawson, Magna Cum Laude…”
The women say their goodbyes and it’s so fucking sweet Sandra has visions of slicing their heads off with her best pencil sharpener blade. She thinks there is definitely something wrong with her.
Sandra is back in her seat by the time the Dean of Students calls “Lisa Jenson, Cum Laude…” Eric is still gone and she resists the urge to ask Dean about him. Dean is sucking on a coke. He must have gone to the snack bar. She thinks that’s good. He’s better when he is hydrated. She is feeling better, like
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maybe sitting in these seats in the back offers some protection from judgment, from exposure, from Deirdre’s wrath. Maybe some of it would be diluted down through distance and time.
She sits up straighter and focuses on making her body into a line toward the sky. She thinks about tulips and leans a little closer to Dean the way she sees some of the other moms do. He doesn’t respond.
“William Taylor Landon, Cum Laude,” the Dean calls and then, “Amy Alice Laud,” and then “Blake Jackson Lawford, Magna Cum Laude.” Sandra feels a little sick to her stomach but she doesn’t feel sad or any of the bitter sweetness other parents talk about. No longing for the baby that once was, no overwhelming sense of joy and accomplishment either.
“Deirdre Elizabeth Lawson, Magna Cum Laude.” Almost without realizing it, Sandra is on her feet, propelled by a force she had not expected. Dean remains seated. For a moment, an exceedingly short moment, she wants to shriek her child’s name again. This time as a sort of song of faith or birth yell. She sees herself pushing her child out of the nest; watching the infant body hurl itself straight down toward the ground as she, The Mother,
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provides one final mighty “YESSSS’’ from the treetop that sends Deirdre the power to avert disaster at the last moment and swoop upward into the disco diamond sky.
Sandra remains silent. The moment passes.
Deirdre takes the stage and her face bares nothing. Her form is long and makes an undeviating line toward the sky. Her hair falls in waves to her waist and Sandra wants badly to touch it. She wonders if it smells like soap and clean sheets. Deirdre does not look into the audience like the other kids.
Sandra thinks that maybe Deirdre knows about the tulips.
Deirdre crosses the stage in three strides and is shaking hands with Principal Hines who hands over the empty leather document container. Sandra knows the actual diploma will not be released until the completion of the grad night celebration. A precaution the school has taken ever since four kids were caught with ecstasy five years ago. It might not have been such a big deal except that the party took place on a boat in the harbor and two of the kids took a lovers leap off the starboard side. The coastguard fished their swollen bodies out of the bay three days later and the school responded with a moritorium on boat parties.
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The parents demanded more so the school enacted the diploma policy. Deirdre says the rule is gay and Mrs. Miller, the rule’s chief supporter is a douche for enforcing the rule even if her kid is one of the dead kids.
Sandra pulls at her skirt and stands to get a better view of Deirdre. She works at ignoring Deans eyes even though she can feel them tapping on her back. She spies Eric standing over by the snack bar with several boys who might be in their early teens. She thinks that’s fine.
Her eyes jerk back to the stage in time to see Deirdre flash a smile for the photographer and, for a second, Sandra is lost in the atmosphere. Attached to Deirdre’s smile is the goofy, worried, teenage face and the smooth, spare body of the child- woman who still calls her mommy in private and cries sometimes for her daddy and wants so badly for everyone to love her.
Then the camera fires, the smile fades and like wind through tall grass Sandra sees the child go too. Sandra crash lands. Hard. She thinks she felt something burn up on reentry.
She watches Deirdre stride off stage, all angles and thick skin, all grown up devil again. Sandra senses an organic ripping in her heart, like the peeling of epidermis from dermis. She absently pokes her finger through the hole in her skirt.
Sandra sits down and leans away from her husband. She wishes he would leave town again. It will be over soon. Her eyes
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drop to her lap. She’s picked at the skin and the blood splotch is worse. She would need an apron to hide it now. She has an overwhelming urge to yank off the skirt and go at the wound no holds bar. The thought is practically orgasmic. She does not do it.
After the reading of the names the graduates are invited to move their tassels from right to left on their caps. They do so and then throw their caps in the air with a cheer. Other parents are dabbing at tears and congratulating each other. Sandra feels nothing. She thinks maybe she will conjure something during the graduation procession. However, she does not.
After the graduation the family plans to meet in the school quad for photographs.
Sandra makes her way around the back of the science labs and art building. She’s avoiding the hordes of family members and guests pressing themselves onto the main walkways. She fells a
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bit foolish and hopes nobody notices. She’s left Dean behind with Eric, who finally managed to wander back over to the seats, likely not wanting to miss an opportunity for food.
Sandra does not see Deirdre.
She sees a boy, over six feet tall, peel off his gown revealing his button down shirt underneath. He quickly un-tucks the shirt and rolls up his sleeves. His hands are strong and quick. His forearms are muscled in that supple young man way; rippled with promise of something yet to come. He walks with an absurd self-confidence as if he has traveled other worlds, bedded a thousand women and led men to war. Yet, the Mr. Magoo of him, the blind, silly, ignorant, goodness of him, shines through. Sandra feels sad watching him.
He believes he can take on the world, and win.
She wants to whisper the secret into his ear. About the lie, the delusion. Like the store bought tulips. She wants to tell the beautiful boy now, right now before it’s too late.
Then what, she thinks. Then what will he do?
So what, he would say. Why did you tell me? So I can spend my life wishing to be something other than a boy? A dolphin or a sparrow or a lizard? Or maybe I could be a goldfish and somebody’s mom would put me in a bowl and kill me. How is that better? And he would be right.
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Sandra watches the boy as he folds long arms around his mom and dad and they pose for a picture. The boy smiles like an idiot and his parents smile like idiots too. She thinks the boy is doing it right after all. He paid his $12 and so did his parents. That’s what you do. You are 17 and you have absolute faith in your immortality, invincibility, superiority, and probably divinity for fucks sake.
Sandra says nothing to the boy. He will find out, she thinks. We all do.
She sees Deirdre. Maybe it will be ok. She moves to her with
cautious steps she measures in inches, resisting the urge to poke her finger into the hole in her skirt,
Deirdre looks up from her circle of friends and gives Sandra a weak smile. Sandra raises her free hand, and waves very small. Sandra trembles as she mouths the words, hi and I love you. Deirdre mouths nothing and does not wave. She drops her eyes back to the circle of friends. Sandra stops moving toward Deirdre, uncertain what she should do. She is standing in the middle of an asphalt pathway and people are crowding past her in both directions. She is uncomfortable in the press. She takes a deep breath but her heart rate speeds up anyway.
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Sandra turns around to look behind her. It seems a long way back to the science labs. She can feel sweat pooling under her arms and down her back. She’s feeling sick. She’s very near Deirdre now. She decides to keep moving toward her daughter and the friends. Suddenly, the crowd is so thick she can barely move through. She tries to keep her eye on Deirdre who is not looking at her.
She loses sight of Deirdre and the group of friends and becomes disoriented. Sandra is, for a moment, unsure which direction to head and the panic wells. She has difficulty breathing and thinks she might scream or go crazy without help. A man, about 60, notices her distress and asks if she needs assistance. He says it just like that, ‘‘Can I offer you assistance?’’ which she thinks is odd but she is grateful.
She tells him she is feeling nervous in the crowd. The man helps her to the edge and she is immediately better. She thanks him and insists she is fine. She is worried he will notice her skirt or the goo of her lipstick and is struggling to keep her skirt hidden and her face down until finally he leaves her alone. She is relieved when he goes.
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Sandra peers into the crowd and after a while spots Deirdre again. She is actually closer now, having moved somehow out of the crowd and downstream a bit. She catches Deirdre’s eye and waves as small as she can, even smaller than before. Deirdre smiles without raising the corners of her mouth or showing her teeth. Sandra makes a pantomime motion with one hand indicating taking a photograph. The other hand is busy clinging to the purse covering her bloodied skirt, so it is a half-assed pantomime. Deirdre gets it anyway and holds up one finger. Sandra wonders if she means one second, one minute, one hour? The underwear lodging in her ass is becoming intolerable.
A few minutes pass and Deirdre emerges from the crowd. Sandra feels hopeful. Perhaps this won’t be so bad. She is wrong.
“Mom, you are so embarrassing, can you just stop?” There is a familiar snarl.
Sandra stifles the urge to ask why she is so embarrassing. If she learned nothing else in parenting therapy she learned to not open the door and invite additional abuse. She guesses she learned nothing else.
“Uh huh,” she says rather dully, unable to think of what else to say.
“What do you want, I’m trying to talk to my friends.”
Sandra looks around the quad and confirms what she thought she had seen. “I thought we could take family pictures. Seems
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like other kids are doing it.” There is a feeling in her belly she has learned to identify as anger but she doesn’t see the point.
“Yeah, fine. Where are Dad and Eric?”
“On the way over. Can I get one with your friends,” Sandra makes an effort to sound causal.
“No way. What the fuck happened to your skirt anyway. You have a big blood stain on it Mom. It’s fucking pathetic.”
Sandra feels a poison bullet explode in her belly. It sends chemicals oozing all around the secret cavities inside her abdomen and chest. It makes her toxic and radioactive and glow- in-the-dark. It makes her a universal allergen and highly contagious. It makes her more dangerous than plutonium, Ebola and HIV all stuck together. It makes her powerful. She’s a killer. She is divine, like them.
She turns away from the little bitch that just said what she said and walks two strides in a random direction.
She hears Deirdre’s voice, “Fine, be like that. This is my day. My graduation day. You can act like a baby. I don’t care.”
Sandra turns in time to see Deirdre’s eyes flash wet with hate just before she whirls away and disappears back into the mass of people.
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Sandra’s power is gone in one long ugly whoosh. She feels like a deflated Mylar balloon left trampled on the street three days after Mardi Gras.
It’s two minutes later and Sandra is standing in the same spot when Eric tugs on her sleeve, “Mom, hey mom, what are you doing?”
“Huh?” Sandra answers him without looking around.
“What are you doing? Dad sent me to find you. He’s over there.”
Sandra looks at Eric who is pointing toward the gymnasium. She sees Dean leaning against a post poking buttons on his iPhone. “Uh huh, ok.”
“Mom!” Eric’s voice escalates an octave. He would be whining soon.
“Sorry,’’ she looks at the boy, ‘‘what’s up Eric? Are you guys ready?”
“I don’t know, he just told me to get you. Where is Deirdre?” Sandra thinks it’s sad because Eric is attached to his sister in a strange way. She is not sure if the feelings are reciprocated. She doubts it.
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“She’s over there, sweets, go look.’’ Sandra watches him push into the crowd. She walks back toward Dean, formulating a plan.
Sandra and Dean sit on a bench in front of the gym and wait for Eric. He is back in less than ten minutes looking alright. Sandra thinks this means his sister was probably reasonably nice to him.
Eric’s smile widens as he approaches and he holds out the flower lei he is wearing around his neck. Sandra thinks it is ugly. Deirdre’s friend Jake gave it to him, he says, and he thinks it is sick. He is proud of the lei. His face actually beams. Sandra sees it and thinks she’s clueless.
Eric says Deirdre will drive him over to the graduation lunch and can he go with her please. Sandra says ok but tell his sister they need to go straight over and she and Daddy will meet them there. Eric is excited and runs off to find Deirdre. Sandra thinks it is sad they will not have family photos at the school but she is too tired to fight about it and besides maybe they will get some pictures at the restaurant. Part of her thinks the photos (everyone smiling and hugging) make no sense anyway. Maybe Deirdre had it right. Maybe she makes these things difficult because they are bullshit anyway.
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Dean and Sandra make their way back to the Lexus together without the kids. They get in the car and are fastening their seatbelts when he surprises her by reaching over to touch her hand. She checks to see and is amazed that his eyeballs are fully secured in his head and he appears to be looking at her. “I love you, you know,” he says.
She hates when he does this. She dislikes the ambiguity of him. Sandra prefers things labeled and filed. Dean, like the Women She Knows, defies categorization and sometimes she takes it personally. She finds it impossible to respond in kind to his statement even though she knows he is waiting. She just stares out the window. She can hear him sigh heavily as he starts the engine.
They pull into the jam of cars, queuing up to leave the parking lot. In ten minutes they are out of the lot and heading down the road toward 580. Sandra has offered to host lunch for Deirdre and a few friends at a restaurant across the bay. Private schools draw from all over and Deirdre has insisted a lunch closer to home would have a suckish turn out due to
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inconvenience. The drive up the peninsula gives Sandra time to think.
She doesn’t think. Rather, she works at not thinking.
She spends the trip staring out the passenger side window. She counts cars in various subsets; red, not red, sedans, SUV’s, foreign, domestic, pre and post 2000 (as if she knows), those with and without vanity plates, those driven by Asians, women, girls, queens, guys who look like asshole finance douches etc. When she runs out of auto subsets she counts clouds but stops at two because that’s all there are. Next she looks for motorcycle cops- zero; then car cops- zero.
They are nearing the bridge and she is focusing so hard on not thinking that she fails to notice her husband is drifting away again. This time it’s a more serious vacation he’s taking.
There is a tollbooth for this bridge but it is located on the east side, so there will be no stopping as they leave the penninsula. Sandra is busy staring out her passenger window, thinking up her next mental non-activity when she notices the bridge railing coming into focus. She thinks how foolish the city has been in failing to provide the same suicide prevention structure (she thinks that’s what it’s called) all the way out to both ends of the bridge. She thinks, it would be so easy to pop over that two foot bit of steel she sees moving into view. She tilts her head, screws up her face and thinks with some alarm
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that the particular two foot bit of steel she is looking at, is moving into view more quickly than is safe.
That’s when she turns toward her husband. Dean appears to have slumped over the steering wheel in a too tired to go on, just let me rest a minute sort of pose. Only Sandra is pretty sure he is not resting since this would be a bad time to do that. Sandra is pretty sure, in fact, that he is not even just unconscious. She thinks he is dead. Yes, she is sure he is dead. She hardly has time to consider why she is sure. She just is.
Sandra’s body is rushing left and she uses the momentum to reach for the steering wheel. It’s hopeless. The width of the SUV, close to that of an 18 wheeler (she always thought it was too big for their small family) overwhelms her efforts and her fingers don’t come within eight inches of their mark. Instead, she hears herself scream.
Wake up she is telling him. Wake up you stupid motherfucker. Do you want to die. Wake up you stupid dead motherfucker. She’s begging now. Please please please wake up, please, please, no no no no.
He is not listening and she wonders where he’s gone this time.
They smash through the flimsy barrier that’s not even a suicide prevention structure, and the car shoots out into space and Sandra feels nothing because there is nothing. There is no up
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or down. Nothing is before or after. Only now and now and now. She’s floating and it doesn’t hurt really. The air spins mountains and ocean together like a washing machine. She tries to remember how many assholes she counted, how many red cars but there are no more numbers. The car straightens out and makes an undeviating line pointing down toward earth. Sandra thinks somebody should turn the buds around toward the sun. Otherwise they won’t open properly and then what is the point anyway. She stares wide eyed through the windshield at the surface of the water racing rocket fast towards her face. She no longer hears herself scream.
There isn’t time for a life to flash before her eyes. Just a few random bits is all she gets. As the car splits the earth Sandra is thinking about Goldie’s bloated white underbelly and the flash of hate in her daughter’s eyes. And a second later, just before she slips beneath the black forever, Sandra thinks that twelve dollars was not such a bad deal after all.
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