by Taylor Grieshober
I’ve been having a rough go of it. Most days I feel like the woman from The Red Shoes, like at any moment I might dance off a roof.
When it all began, my mom suggested I burn sage. “It’ll cleanse your spirit,” she said, and gave me a Ziplock bag of the stuff even though she knows I hate the smell. She’s excessive like that. Like when we went school shopping and I found a pair of jeans I liked, she insisted on buying two pairs, even when they were Levi’s and could take years of wear, even after she maxed out card after card, and had to liquidate her Jacuzzi bath, and start selling Miracle Soap door to door.
I lit the sage. The cat went nuts for it but it didn’t do shit for me.
When I lost my job at the dentist’s office, I’d been there for two years. I was an Appointment Setter. My boss said he was sick of me crying all the time—it was bad for business, but I was sure it was about my bottom teeth. How come a few fucked up teeth were a deal breaker? I wasn’t even a hygienist.
“The teeth could use work,” he said. “But it’s really about the crying.”
Unemployed, I had all this free time to think. I didn’t think about the big issues, all I thought about was improving myself. I made facemasks from yogurt and did my hair like Loretta Lynn. My skin looked better. I had a few dates. None of them were worth putting the energy into, but they supplemented my unemployment checks substantially. I was a regular Holly Golightly.
One of the guys I went out with gave me a hickey on my ass. He loved it that much. I felt pretty.
Then he demanded I give him a hickey. “I’ve never had one,” he said.
He was thirty-two.
His arms were freckled, absolutely covered. They reminded me of road kill on the Turnpike in spring; how it would look from a low-flying airplane. I followed the carnage up to his shoulder, and sucked at the knot of bone there. He grabbed a lighter off the nightstand and flicked it, looking for a pink ring.
“Anything?” I asked.
“Zilch,” he said.
He thought I was passionless, but I wasn’t. His skin was leather tight.
The last guy I went out with was a Hollywood locations scout who couldn’t spell beautiful. I ate off his dime for weeks until I couldn’t take it anymore. That’s when I applied to MINT. I got hired without an interview. The boss liked my tattoos.
Here at MINT, I serve juice at exorbitant prices. There’s a designated rack for yoga mats. The mineral water comes in antique milk bottles. I don’t pour the water for diners; they’re sensitive about that. They want to imagine what it was like in simpler times. They want to do simple things for themselves. The tables are made from repurposed barn wood and the chairs are all mismatched– some vinyl, some orange plastic, all oddly shaped. Rustic Mod. People think it’s quaint. It’s too dim to read the menus, so I recite them from memory. The hardest part is keeping eye contact while saying preposterous words like lambs quarters in a cool, even tone.
I’m taking yoga classes at Inner Peace because it’s across the street from MINT and they have a deal: 30 days for 30 bucks. The instructor, Christoph, says sitting at a desk all day is detrimental not only to our bodies but to our souls as well. I don’t sit at a desk all day. I don’t sit at all. But if I could locate my soul, I bet it would be hunched.
I’m waiting on The Lorax. She thinks maple syrup is cruel. She calls drilling for sap an ‘invasion’.
“What about paper?” I ask.
“We need paper. We don’t need maple syrup,” she says and holds the sticky carafe between her fingers like it’s a dead mouse.
I’m thinking, please not another boycott.
Last week a man walked out because we offer chicken on the menu.
“Are these chickens even local?”
“Yeah, they’re killed at the urban farm up the street,” I said.
He scowled. “I thought this place was vegan.”
“We’re trying to be inclusive.”
“I’m not even vegan,” he said, “but this is an outrage.”
“But chickens are stupid!” I yelled after him, but he was already gone.
Christoph says root down in the toes, become a tree. Grow.
My mom calls at 2 AM, excited about the afterlife again. Her spirituality tends to interfere with my sleep.
“Babydoll, what you need is a reading from Miss Anita Regal,” she says.
Mom is from Georgia. She moved here when she was ten, but still talks like a southern belle.
I click my tongue and wait for her to elaborate.
“Oh that woman’s damn fine,” she says. “She’ll set you straight. I talked to Memaw last night. She said she’s very proud of you!”
This is impossible. Memaw died when I was in high school and even if she could talk from beyond the grave, she wouldn’t be proud of me. She’d ask why I don’t know how to crochet. She’d think I’m a lesbian.
This guy looks like he owns a timeshare in Aspen. His hair is the color of heavily creamed coffee. He wears Oakleys indoors and downs kale shots and makes phone calls all afternoon. When I serve him his third shot, he lowers his voice. I swear he says, Now I’m touching your breast, but it could be Try and do your best. He’s either a discreet phone sex operator or a motivational speaker. Either is a good line of work. Women want to be desired. And listened to.
On the bus home, the tongue clicking gets out of control. I bite down hard, and let out a yelp. People look out the window, or at their feet. Anywhere but at me.
It reminds me of this time I was in New York on the subway, and a shirtless guy with scars all over his chest got on. He banged a burlap sack on the floor. It clattered like metal. When he untied it, it was full of glass shards. He laid on top of it and writhed, making fresh cuts all over his chest. At first I thought he was doing it for money, but he didn’t pass a hat or ask anyone. When the train stopped, he threw the sack over his shoulder and moved on to the next car.
There’s a bug zapper outside of Inner Peace. I count the zaps like they’re sheep and try to relax, let my body become heavy. Let my bones lay like stones. I want to become nothing, like Christoph says, but it’s impossible.
Friday nights I drive mom to AA. She got her license revoked over Labor Day weekend when she fell asleep at the wheel. It would have been worse if she hadn’t hit that turtle ambling across the street. She woke to a loud pop and crunch beneath her tires. Then she crashed into a ditch.
She lets me use the car while she’s at her meeting so I can grocery shop. I hit the liquor store and stash the bottle in with the cheese curls and 12- pack of Coke. Things she has no use for, things that would worry her. Last month, as she drank a bottle of Woodford before noon, she warned me the Cheetos would make a beeline for my ass.
I drive back to the meeting. The smokers are huddled out front, bitching. Mom parts the group. She quit smoking years ago and hasn’t made many friends. She gets in the car and slams the door harder than normal.
“I take it that didn’t go well,” I say.
“It’s just bologna, is what it is!” she says. “Bunch of fat housewives who drink wine all day ’cause their husbands are out plowing secretaries! I’ve got nothing in common with them.”
“Except for that one thing,” I say.
She flicks her wrist dismissively. “So I got a DUI. Who hasn’t?”
“I haven’t,” I say. But we both know it’s only a matter of time.
Christoph tells us to lie back. Cross your hand over your heart if you’d like me to bring you a lavender eye pillow. He puts one over my eyes. The weight of it’s like silver dollars on the lids of a corpse. Final and uncompromising.
I’m waiting on three shiny-haired girls wearing multi-colored headbands. They have that healthy, twenty-two-year-old glow. Nothing out of place.
Their yoga mats are in the aisle. I tell them it’s a safety hazard, could they please hang up their mats?
They order a salad to share and the thinnest one asks who’s on the radio. I tell her Wolf Eyes or Bird Beak or Sheep’s Wool. One of them has to be right. We only play bands with animal names. When they leave, I notice their thighs don’t touch. I used to feel bad about my thighs touching, but men seem to like them. This one guy I went to the movies with pressed his boner against me in the concession line and said, You look how a girl does just before she gets fat.
I went out with him a few more times. He was charming overall, but too short for me.
Christoph says I might benefit from transcendental meditation. All I have to do is pick a mantra, and repeat it for twenty minutes a day and I’ll feel enlightened. It’s hard to pick a mantra, something I can live with.
I fall asleep in shavasana and dream that I am a beast, stalking through the woods. I’m hideous, covered in brown matted hair, with claws like talons, but I’m okay with it. Happy even. When I wake up, the mantra sticks in my head like a bur on wool.
I am a wild, flawless thing.
I am a wild, flawless thing.
I am a wild, flawless thing.
Timeshare guy is here again. So are the anorexic sisters who wear fur coats in summer and sit beside each other for extra warmth. They look like Joni Mitchell but worse.
I bring Timeshare a double kale shot and walk back toward the kitchen.
“What do you do when you’re not here?” he calls after me.
I shuffle back.
“What do I do?” I ask.
He pushes his Oakleys up on his head. “Well, I assume you’re not only a waitress.”
Hear that, Vicky? You’re not only a waitress. What do I do? I work and drink and fuck and loaf. I think in monosyllables.
“Yoga!” I blurt and am mortified.
“You always seem distressed. Why is that?” He licks his lips like he’s going to devour me.
My palms begin to sweat.
“I’m OK,” I say.
He shakes his head. “No, you’re tense. You seem joyless.”
“I’m at work. I’m trying to be efficient.”
My face burns. The word joyless is precise and it cuts. I do feel joyless. Or indifferent, separate from my body. I sit down. I seem to have no control over it.
He’s surprised, but pleased. Now I am a spectacle.
I look him dead in the eyes. “For starters I have no direction. College was bad for me. It gave me too much self–esteem. Now I’m nervous all the time.”
“What are you nervous about?”
“Beats me. The other day, I almost bit my tongue off on the bus.”
Timeshare just stares. The sisters turn and stare too.
One is wearing a rabbit fur coat; the other one has on horse hair, or something like it. It’s fine and brown, the kind that’s only soft if you pet it in one direction. With their heads turned like that, they remind me of the Tootsie Pop commercial where the owl eats the sucker whole, and nothing is resolved.
“How many licks does it take? The world may never know,” a voice says. It doesn’t sound like me.
Timeshare raises his eyebrows and slips me a twenty. The bill is for six dollars. He says, keep it and scuttles out the door. The sisters skip out on the check before I can bring it to them.
My impulse is to run after him, tell him thank you, though I don’t know why. He’s peeled me like a hard boiled egg, only to realize he’s not hungry for it.
Part of me wonders if the guy’s even real.
I limp back to the kitchen, like I’m wounded.
“Are you okay?” asks my boss.
“Yeah,” I say, “Why?”
I tell her I might be depressed. She gives me the night off.
Christoph tells us to let our full sweet breath fall to our toes and rise up again. I don’t know what this means but I like the sound of it.
The cat won’t quit batting at the sugar cubes hanging from my vanity mirror. Mom gave them to me for my sweet sixteen. Dad was already gone, as was the Jacuzzi. We had moved to a small one bedroom on the other end of town, where I slept on the pullout and she slept on a waterbed and we groaned about backaches every morning.
“Memaw gave these to me and now I’m giving them to you,” she’d said. There were six sugar cubes, hardened and tied with a pale pink ribbon. She hung them from the mirror of my Cadillac, a car I’d inherited from Memaw. They swayed when I drove, knocking together like soundless wind chimes.
I stared at them blankly.
“It’s a sentimental gesture, Vicky. Take it for what it is.”
I didn’t start out with a sweet tooth, didn’t take sugar in my coffee, not even at first to get used to the acidity. I didn’t eat the chocolate rabbits from my Easter baskets either. They were too pretty, someone worked so hard to get it right, to make them look like storybook bunnies. I put them in the freezer for safe keeping and moved on to boys and plucking my eyebrows and forgot all about them. My sweet tooth came with my breasts, seemingly overnight, and I went back to the freezer. But the rabbits were frost burned and I threw them in the trash.
Taylor Grieshober writes from her lovely home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lime Hawk has recently nominated her for a Pushcart Prize and a storySouth Million Writers Award for her story “This is How I Leave You.” She is also a 2015 Best of the Net Nominee, via Pretty Owl Poetry. Her debut story collection, Off Days, is forthcoming from Low Ghost Press. You can follow her @harshcharms.
Image: James Petts