Monday, January 12, 2015

God Left the Ground to Circle the Earth

When the telephone rang, I grabbed for it before any of the other girls could answer.

"Manchester and Associates.  This is Mary.  How may I help you?"

"Yeah, it's me," Charlie muttered.

I braced myself but didn't say a word.  I knew he'd be calling.  I left this morning before he woke up.

Last night was insane.  That's the worst it's ever gotten.  We haven't been together long, but there sure have been some ugly fights.  Actually, they aren't really fights. Charlie gets high, and I get mad.  I get high and needle him.  He gets mad and breaks things.  I don't have much, but I kinda feel like I'm running out of things for him to break.

It does seem like he's getting more comfortable throwing punches though, and that makes me a little nervous.  But it's not entirely his fault.  I egg him on, and I do bruise easy.  And I'm clumsy.  Last night, I tripped and fell when I was yelling.  I turned too fast, getting out of the way.  That's when he stepped on my back.  A couple of times.

At first, I thought it was gonna be bad, like maybe he broke something.  I had a little trouble breathing.  But I think I just panicked.  It doesn't hurt as much today. I can feel two big lumps right above my hip, but I can't see them.  Not without using an extra mirror.

It's not as if I'm worried he might actually kill me.  Even when he says shit like, "Tonight, I'm gonna kill you."  It doesn't seem possible.  Well, maybe it did last night for a couple of seconds.

"I'm sorry," he offered reluctantly, I guess expecting me to respond.  I didn't.  "Mare?  You there?"


"Did you hear me?  I said 'I'm sorry.'"

I heard him.  He always feels bad right after.  Until it happens the next time.

"Hello?  Hello."  The tone of his voice grew impatient.

"Look, Charlie.  I don't know what you want from me."

"I don't want nothing, okay?  I was just calling, that's all."

"Fine, then," I replied.

"Yeah, fine," he snapped and slammed the phone down.

One of the young ladies I work with came over and sat on the edge of my desk. Ingrid is my age, but she seems older, more mature.  She lives in Connecticut with a white cat and a roommate.  Her boyfriend has a silly beard.  I'm very fond of Ingrid.  She's quirky, yet responsible.  She wears scarves with confidence.  I wish I could be more like her, but I just can't seem to get it together.  Ingrid hardly drinks, and she doesn't do drugs.  Still, I think she's great.

"Is everything all right?"  She rubbed my shoulder and right then, I wanted her to be my mother.

I shook my head 'no.'  My vision blurred as huge tears leapt from my face.  She handed me a box of tissues.  I pulled one out and blew my nose.  Gently because it's always sore and bleeds if I'm not careful.

I choose what I share with my co-workers very carefully.  I've told them lots of things, about the quarreling and how Charlie can get.  They've seen the bruises, and I welcome their sympathy.  I use this information as leverage every time I'm hung over, late or missing in action.  Nothing shameful or questionable about my own behavior.  I dump it all on Charlie.

"Oh, honey.  Tell me what's wrong."

"Not right now," I whispered as the phone rang again, and I grabbed it immediately.

"Manchester and Associates.  This is Mary.  How may I help you?"

"You hung up on me," Charlie insisted.

"I did not."

"Well, I got something to say."

"For Chrissake, what?  I have work to do, you know.  Or don't you give a shit?"

"Oh, yeah?  You got work to do?  You're so fuckin' important?"

This time, I did hang up on him.  But I lifted the receiver again on the very next ring.

"Manchester and Assoc.…"

"This crap ain't all my fault, bitch.  You fuckin' know that.  I already said I was sorry."

"Great," I exclaimed with no shortage of sarcasm.  "Then just be sorry!"

"You don't fuckin' get to tell me what to do."

I was silent, while he paused and changed directions.

"See what I mean?  How come you gotta make me so mad?"

This guy was unbelievable.

"That's just it!  I can't make you do a goddamn thing," I reminded him.  "If I could, you'd have a fucking job."

I tried not to raise my voice.  The clients are in the office on Mondays, so I had to be cool.  And dealing with Charlie was just like defusing a bomb.  I knew my colleagues were listening to every word.  I don't mind that so much anymore, but I can tell they worry about the black and blues.  They ask questions, and I mostly act like it's a joke.  My crazy life!  I kinda like the attention.

Tish turned around in her chair and made her eyes go wide.  She mouthed, "What's his problem?"  I smiled and pointed to myself.

"I'm his problem," I spoke softly, half laughing.

"What'd you say?" he asked.

"I didn't say anything."

"I heard you.  You think you're funny, with your greasy work bitches.  I'll fuck you all up."

"I have to go," I announced and hung up.

"Let me get it this time," Ingrid suggested when he called right back.  I watched her face light up as she reached for the receiver.

"It's a great day here at Manchester and Associates.  My name is Ingrid.  Good morning."

When Charlie started in on her, she held the phone away from her ear.  She responded politely, "One moment, please," and put him on hold.  We giggled, watching the line blink for several minutes and then disappear.

"I'm next," Tish said.

This was a dangerous game.  I got caught up in how free these girls were.  They didn't realize what an animal Charlie could be.  They weren't afraid of him like I was.  It felt good to be free.  But the switchboard remained quiet, so we returned to our assignments.

I knew exactly what Charlie was doing in the meanwhile.  Looking for cash.  I always hide it in different places.  I have to.  Either I'll spend it or he'll steal it.

It was two o'clock by the time he called back for more.  Getting late, so he was good and angry.

"I need money," he growled.  "Where's it at?"

"There is none," I informed him.

"Don't fuck with me.  I have to get outta here.

"I'm telling the truth.  Alls I got is tokens for the train."

Which was a lie.  I had $105 left until I got paid again, but I had to make it last.  I kept my coin on me.  I earned it.  Besides, I gave him money yesterday so he could look for a job.  Instead, he went right down to Harding Park.  Came back to the basement all zooted out and set fire to some garbage.  He punched a hole in the boiler room door and poured Lysol in the fish tank.  I told you, last night was nuts.

"Don't fuck with me.  I'm about to tear this place apart.  Where's the money?"

"I needed it to get to work.  I'm the one with the job, remember?"

"Listen, you fucking cunt.  Tell me where's it at or I'm coming down there.  I'll make sure I break your fuckin' back this time."

"How you gonna do that, huh?  You got no way to get here."

For the next four minutes, I listened to the sounds of him throwing shit around the apartment.  I tried to identify in my mind which items were being destroyed.  I have a few little plants.  The dirt's a pain in the ass to clean up, especially since he broke the vacuum.  The resin cactus statue my sister gave me for Christmas.  I love that thing, but I've already had to glue it twice.

The second round of noise was considerably more impressive.  Something glass, maybe a window.  We didn't have any plates left, so that couldn't be it.

"You hear that?" he menaced.  "Say goodbye to your kid's TV."

"C'mon, Charlie.  Please stop," I pleaded.

"Fuck you!" he roared, and the line went dead.

He'd clearly yanked the phone from the wall.  Again.  Game over.

I sat in my chair, frozen.  I felt like I'd just been somewhere else.  The clatter of typing and whirr of the xerox machine brought my thoughts back into focus.  Ingrid and her boss discussed changes that needed to be made to someone's letter of introduction.

"Mary, line one," Tish called over her shoulder.  "It's Rich."

"Rich who?"

"I don't know, but he said it's an emergency."


"Mary, it's Richie from upstairs."

I recognized the voice.  My neighbor, Mindy's boyfriend.  I guess he lives there now, which is nice for her.  She's a sweet girl, and she likes him a lot.

"What the fuck is going on in the basement?" he asked.

"I'm not sure.  I ain't there."

"Your man's gone crazy.  I'm telling you, lady.  Somebody's gonna call the cops."

"Promise me you won't go down there.  He ain't right," I warned.

"Oh, I'm not.  But you can't come back here neither.  You understand?"

"I got nowhere else to go," I whispered.

"You better just stay there, I guess.  Let him calm down.  I wish I had a magic answer."

"I know, Rich.  I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," he said.   "Just do something about it.  Either Charlie gets some help or he's out.  We pay our rent for peace and quiet.  Not for this shit.  And you're gonna end up dead."

"Yeah, okay."

I hung up and tried to concentrate on my work.  I went to the ladies' room.  I sat on the toilet and did two small, chunky lines of blow.  I licked the little mirror I used and dried it with my elbow.  I held it up to the reflection of the big one by the sinks, so I could check out my back.  I lifted my shirt.  It was all sorts of colors - purple, yellow and green, with satellite bruises all around the larger points of impact.  I went outside to our cubicle.

I took a deep breath and let my brain creep into position.  I thought about what Richie just said.  God, I hate it when people get so dramatic.

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