On Tuesdays the teapot and I would deliberate over whether or not I was crazy.
“Oh, you’re definitely crazy,” the teapot whistled, wagging its spout from side to side like a pageant girl on a parade float.
“Shut up you,” I said, and knocked it from the table.
I work as a secretary for a short round man who does short round things, and that’s all I need to know to file his papers and answer his phone. I think I have a title like admini… well, adminisomething, but it’s all crap anyway. My real job is to distract his wife when she drops by unannounced and he’s otherwise occupied (fucking his former adminisomething in the conference room); and to pretend that the coffee mugs aren’t racist hunters from Alabama. The last one’s a given, but it’s more difficult than you’d think when Mrs. Blatt traipses into the office wrapped in mink.
And more or less smelling like a dead animal.
“Hello, Mrs. Blatt,” I always say in a voice that sounds far too cheerful to be my own. I used to know that as my mother’s “phone voice”; she’d be screaming and hissing and raging at my brother and I, then the phone would ring and she’d be as polite and dainty as Mary Tyler-Moore (midjump). “Can I get your coat?”
Of course, she wouldn’t reply – not yet, anyway. As I fussed around the coat rack, her fat, freckled arms would crawl out of her shrunken cardigan, reach into her dead-animal-bag and retrieve a tube of lipstick. “Alison,” she’s sniff. Mrs. Blatt was cordial, but she was no Mary Tyler-Moore. I’d pretend to ring her husband, and she knew that.
“If he thinks for one second that I believe he’s in a meeting,” she drawled.
“I could make a rug out of her,” World’s #1 Dad said, nudging Happy Valentine’s Day with his handle.
“Some coffee, Mrs. Blatt?” I chirped, maybe a little too loudly.
Jack worked later on Tuesdays because board meetings were on Wednesdays, and Jack was never the type to be caught unprepared; his “unprepared face” is simply too comical for the workplace.
“Look at you,” I’d tease.
“Look at me what?”
“Going to board meetings and carrying a briefcase and stuff. You’re like a real person or something.”
I liked to imagine Jack at those meetings losing his temper over some moral breach by a slick exec. It was, of course, far more likely that he sat plaintively in his swivel chair, sticking his index finger in the air and asking permission to speak every time he had a point to make. Jack was very diplomatic like that.
I heard his shoes stomping off mud onto the welcome mat, then that friction-y sound of metal when keys scrape inside their soul mates.
“The day I had.” He ducked through the doorframe of the kitchen and kissed the top of my head. Jack had the voice of a game show announcer, all spirit at an artificial volume that he harnessed as genuine. He was handsome; or rather, much like a caricature of a handsome person, his eyes a little too big and a little too deep-set, his curly hair jumping off his scalp like wayward springs.
“The day you had,” I parroted.
“If I never have to hear about the malum in se again…”
“Well fuck. There goes my dinner conversation starter.”
“Your idea of dinner conversation is making cat noises and otherwise pretending you’re five.” Jack slouched against the counter and grinned. “What is that?” All the tiny wrinkles outside his eyes smiled too.
“What is what?” My hands followed his stare and found themselves in my hair.
“That. Is that a Chip Clip?”
“My hair was in my face.”
“Your hair was in your…”
“So how about that mal… what did you call it? Something about Malfoy?”
Sometimes his eyes twinkle just right and I know he loves me. “C’mere,” Jack said, legs loping backward from the kitchen. “I have an idea.”
“He has an idea, Judge! Can you argue with that persuasion?”
I slapped my knees, stood up, and followed him to bed.
When I was 23 I realized that I could build a zipline from one place to another with just my mind. All I had to do was think, I really want a Mars Bar, and there it would be, a zipline cord from my apartment to the 7-11. I couldn’t use it, though, or think about it, because everyone around me could hear my thoughts. I suspected my landlady was controlling these thoughts, and making me think I could build ziplines so that I’d try to use one and just fall off a building; but someone informed me that I was crazy before I was able to confirm that suspicion.
That was three years ago. Since I first started showing “symptoms” (because – would you believe it – the belief that you can create transportation devices usually reserved for Jackie Chan movies isn’t classically “normal”), I’ve become a regular at the local drugstore. I find it strange that pharmacies are referred to as “drugstores,” considering that most people there are buying disposable cameras or shampoo… and not neuroleptics. But that may just be my take on the matter.
Because when the doors slide open and that sterile smell of wiped-clean glass greets me, my hands dig tunnels in my pockets, as though my forearms could follow and drag my body inside itself and disappear. I’m not buying scrunchies or gummy worms or Newsweek. The pharmacist is not giving me cold medicine or Vagisil. I wish she was.
We don’t exchange words, usually. Once she – a squat Asian woman with sullen eyes and thin lips – found it in her heart to tell me:
“You know not to take these if you think you might be pregnant.”
I knew that. It said it on the label. “And I take it with food,” I said stiffly.
But normally I just slide my chicken-scratch prescription note across the table, she reads it, then looks at me like there should be a barrier between us – prison or confessional booth, I can’t be sure; but she gets the pills and I get on my way. My eyes lose focus and blur the aisles into shapeless colors until I’m out of the store, outside, where the air is stale from car exhaust, but I gulp it in.
Do this once a week.
He met me four months after I started taking meds, when I was still always nervous that I’d slip up somehow in public. I’d missed the bus I usually took to see my parents in McLean. I was waiting for the next one, crunching on a candy bar, wondering if the crunch-gnash-crunch sounded as loud to everyone else as it did to me. I was so startled when he spoke that I literally squeaked. He asked:
“So do you go to GW?” because he did, and I was wearing a George Washington University sweatshirt. It was the middle of summer but my hands were wrestling together in the pocket of the hoodie. I had to drop out of grad school. I smiled because I didn’t want to tell him that. He thought I wasn’t interested, he’d later explain, and that’s why he didn’t sit with me on the bus.
But I liked how he smiled with half his mouth, and how he didn’t know I was breakable parts, like everyone else did. I showed up at the bus stop the same time the next day. I didn’t need to go anywhere.
When he walked up to the corner, I said, “I used to.”
“I’m answering your question. I used to go to GW.”
He was expressionless under a heavy set of black sunglasses. Blood was pumping in my cheeks, my knuckles were gnashing together inside my sweatshirt, because maybe that hadn’t been a normal thing to say, and hell, he wasn’t saying anything at all. I was about to turn and run, arms flailing in a wild sprint back to my crappy apartment and my crappy life.
But he smiled with half his mouth and said, “I’m a law student. My name is Jack.”
We sat down and he said he liked my pin and was it for that cause? (It wasn’t.) That I looked like this girl on TV whom he loved madly when he was six. And the next week he paid for my bus fare because I was low (on change, not sad).
Seven months later, we moved in together. How strange and light it felt to be so strange and light.
It was never close enough, when he held me. I was always limited by the barrier of our skin, wanted to permeate every hair and flake and pore of it, wanted it to give way so I could fall right through it and disappear inside him forever. I’d bury my head in the crevice where his chest met his shoulder so hard he could’ve bruised – but he never complained and I never broke through.
“I’m going to get some water,” he said. His fingers dusted my spine like a daddy long legs, feathery and sweet. “You want a glass of water?”
I nodded. My nose bobbed against the comforter I had pulled to my chin; he leaned in to kiss me but missed my mouth by a centimeter. I closed my eyes, listened to the slow, easy creak of the door.
I wondered what it would be like to close my eyes and listen to the door slam, never knowing which side of it he’d be on, hoping to God he’d be standing there when I opened my eyes.
“Baby?” he called from the kitchen. “What happened to the teapot?”
Sometimes I wake up and want to cut the clothes off my body, wash the shampoo out of my hair and slough all my skin off until I’m raw (just a pattering heart in a skeletal cage), until I’ve disappeared.
I froze too long in front of the full-length mirror one morning and he noticed. There are things to look for. He didn’t even know what he was looking for, but Jack asked, “Whatcha thinking?” His voice was sleepy, drugged by sex; but his eyes were wide and waiting in the reflection. I was thinking:
What do I look like under this?
I wanted to ask, but I knew not to. Instead I said, “Do I look fat? Or like someone who asks cliché questions?”
He laughed and I laughed and everything was okay that day.
I’d be more honest with my therapist if she wasn’t such a raging bitch.
“Pregnant,” she echoed, pursing her penciled-in lips. “That’s… interesting.”
When I had told her my symptoms had come back, she’d been far more sympathetic – or at least less interested.
“I don’t understand,” I’d told her. “I’ve been taking the fucking pills every day. Like, religiously.”
She had jotted a word or two on the notepad before becoming bored with her own handwriting. “It isn’t unusual,” she had drawled. “Patients with schizophrenia, they have residual symptoms sometimes. Left-overs, of sorts.”
She’d cocked her head and yawned, stretching her drawn-on lips into a perfect circle, the kind you’d throw bean bags through for prizes at a carnival. “It doesn’t mean the medicine isn’t working. The delusions, the paranoia, that’s gone, right?”
I nodded dumbly, blank as the wall.
“The important thing is that you can live your day to day life. Can you?”
I’d been staring at the farthest point of the carpet, where the seams frayed up against the plaster. “Can I what?”
“Live your day to day life.”
“Uh.” I wanted to ask, What the hell is a day to day life? “Yes. Well, I think so.”
“And you say your hallucinations are limited to… porcelain objects? Is that right?”
At first, I had thought it was the smell of Mrs. Blatt that was making me nauseous. When I realized it was morning sickness, I thought, How cliché. Mrs. Blatt seemed like such a more likely culprit.
“Alison,” she sniffed as she blustered through the office door. “You’re not a natural redhead, right?” She lowered her leathery sack of a chin, inviting me to divulge some deep secret.
“Actually I am, Mrs. Blatt. Why do you ask?” My hands found the cup of paperclips and busied themselves making a chain. Being nice is like reading from a script.
Mrs. Blatt rolled her eyes and plunked herself down. Her thick arms spilled over the chair frame. “You look pale today.”
Apparently she had not received her copy of the script. “I’ve been a bit under the weather,” I chirped, wedding a pink paperclip to a blue.
“A little chunkier, too.”
My hands had snapped a paperclip in half.
I blinked rapidly. Mrs. Blatt’s watery eyes were wide-open. Her jaw had divorced her mouth; it hung slack in her jowls. “Cheap office supplies,” I muttered, pushing off my desk. “Uh, excuse me, Mrs. Blatt.” The desk chair spun out behind me and clattered concernedly.
“Come now,” World’s #1 Dad chided. “The little paperclip fella didn’t do nothin’ to you.”
My arm was outstretched for the door knob a full ten seconds before it found the bathroom door. I slammed my fist against the mirror before the door could do the same behind me. “You look pale today, Alison. And almost as fat as me, Alison.” Fuck fuck fuck.
It was at about this point that the toilet invited me to throw up in it.
“Come here, sugar,” she said, voice sticky and saccharine. “Give me a kiss.”
I touched my lower abdomen, paralyzed with that sick wash of sudden knowledge. Spine swayed on the tile floor until my back found the wall, the thick cotton-white room, just tile after tile… I pictured Jack’s and my DNA, swirling around in a liquid tilt-a-whirl until it was one irrefutable thing, latching together and lurching and shuddering, shaking into being, tile after tile, fingers and toes kicking and crawling and tearing at my insides, screaming, screaming, tile after tile, I was sitting on the floor covered in my own vomit, gasping silently, shrinking.
“Oh, sugar,” the toilet clucked. “This is just embarrassing.”
When Jack graduated, he found a job with a firm uptown and I moved into his apartment on 8th. It smelled like warmth and musty books, and I fell back on the queen-sized bed with equally proportioned pride. I was so proud of myself. I was so normal.
“How y’feeling?” Jack would ask casually when he was pouring milk or changing the vacuum bag.
“Fine,” I’d reply, all sing-song and spirit. “Absolute perfectionism.”
I was so mad when the fine china started chiming in. “Your fiery courage will bring you great reward” or “Patience is virtue most envied by friends.”
I’d been taking my medicine every day. I had been taking my medicine every damn day. “Shut up,” I’d hiss hysterically. “Shut up!”
“Short temper, tall problem.”
“Shut up shut up shut the fuck—”
“Babe?” Jack stood in the doorway, a dark red towel wrapped around his waist. Drops of water from his hair, dark from dampness, were falling to the tile floor of the kitchen. He blinked a few times. I wanted him to stop looking at me like that. I never wanted him to look at me like that.
“Sorry,” I tried. “I was just singing something stupid.”
His fingers scratched his cheek, eyebrows still bent inward. My heart pounded out of my chest and beached onto the floor.
“It’s a stupid song,” I said again. “Just stuck in my head.”
He nodded with questionable conviction and sort of smiled.
“Just kiss me,” I pleaded. He did. He never mentioned it again. I was never so careless again. The next day we went to the mall and ate soft-serve ice-cream and we were happy.
I stood at the sink, staring down the drain.
Plink, plink, plink. He loves me.
The little white tablet danced on the metal, then took its final bow into the garbage disposal. I dropped another. Plink, plink, plink. He loves me not.
The orange bottle was empty. I left it sitting on the counter and walked into the bedroom. It was almost 7 o’clock, and it was Tuesday. Jack was probably stuck in traffic somewhere uptown. He wouldn’t be home for another hour.
I lay on the queen-sized bed that I always felt too small or meager or something in. The air conditioner was on too high, humming in perpetual exhale. The hairs on my arms prickled and stood up. What would happen? Even on pills, even in therapy, I was talking to toilets, I was screaming at the fine china. What would happen now?
I blinked. I unblinked.
“I love you,” I said to the no one in the room.
I thought of Mrs. Blatt, lard shifting in that cheap gray chair in that fucking waiting room. She was venomous, a toxic thing of a woman. But once upon a time, she fell in love. I wondered what she wore on her first date. I wondered what she thought the first time she made love to her husband. I wondered how long she would wait there, what she was waiting for.
I thought of the creature lolling around in my abdomen, drinking in my disease. I thought it to have Jack’s dark, sweet eyes. I wondered if its brain was already sick. I wanted to hold it and I wanted to kill it.
Mostly, I thought of Jack. I could tell him about the baby, and we could have a shotgun Tupperware wedding. Maybe we could take a zipline to Hawaii after the ceremony. Every little girl’s dream.
I spent an hour gluing my eyelids shut, forcing my brain to retrace every line of his body, memorize the limp of his smile, the feel of his fingertips on my cheeks when we slept inside each other, when he’d hold my face like an anchor and I would be right there. Oh, god.
I took my coat from the hall closet. I emptied the drawers and took my toothbrush.
“Where you goin’, Alison?” the coffee mug asked.
Folded my sweaters, took my photos off the fridge.
“Alison?” asked the tea cups.
My suitcase was red and nubby, and I had to sit on it so that it’d close.
“Alison? The fine china, the soap dish, the shards of the teapot in the dustbin that Jack had said we could glue back together. But we didn’t.
I left the scraped-up key on the counter, and I disappeared.