Kathleen Cecilia Nesbitt
I rarely go to married men's homes. The married ones meet me at motels, hotels. I never let them come to my place. It's odd. When I think about it.
But I know. The second I step foot into one of these apartments. It's not because there is no cover on the toaster, no multiple layers of blinds on the windows, no matching throw pillows on the bed, shaggy covers on the toilet seat that match the rugs and the towels and the face cloths; no Monets, no pictures of us at the... on the night stand or mantel. I know when I walk in that the man's anxiety is much more than worry that the wife is going to come home unexpectedly. It's a feeling.
There were two paintings of ballerinas in my room when I was a child. They were quite popular back then. Famous for the round whiteless eyes in small-featured faces and Pebbles hair-do's. For a while they frightened me. In the darkness their eyes drove me from my bed to my parents' room. My mother would tuck me into her fetal position like a marsupial pup, careful not to wake up my father. His alarm would sound at five-thirty and from that second until the minute I heard the final clenching of shoelaces tied against his city shoes I would hold my breath.
Later, my father hated the perfume and the high-heeled shoes I wore to high school. The noise on his precious slate floor in the foyer was an affront to him, the eau de toilette a cover-up. He growled when I took aspirin with juice one morning for cramps. "What kind of a breakfast is that?" He already had two women to live around.
There's something that tells you: Another woman's territory. Beware. I stand here on the concrete in high-heeled shoes. The soles are so thin I can feel the heat of the pavement and its gritty texture in my toes. This is the street where I live. I look up where the woman breathes behind the lace curtains, behind the placid smile. I want to smash her grandmother's crystal and turn her curio cabinet onto the hardwood floor and grind the broken pieces of figurines into the polished maple with my toes like this cigarette butt. She is hiding in there like a little girl in her doll house. Always gazing out the window.
I spent hours at my doll house in the yellow room I grew up in. It was the only territory where I could pull the strings. I still remember the daddy doll went to work every day, knocked on bedroom doors at night. In the doll house there was a big family and Abbey and Stephanie and Trixie were the sisters and Toby and Alan were the brothers. These kids never watered down vodka in the tender hours of the morning.
One Easter Sunday we return home for dinner. My brother is excited about the new girlfriend he has brought. She looks like she has lived her whole life the night before. Her clothes are not modest, her mascara is clumped above the blue circles under her eyes. The word my mother would use is "trashy." I wonder what my brother sees, what he hears underneath her "I seen dem."
My brother and my father go down the hall to my father's study leaving these four women--me, my mother, my grandmother, and the girlfriend--in the kitchen like a web torn by a rock. My grandmother, my father's mother, divorced and gave up marriage and child-rearing for an education. She lived with educated men, a physics professor and then a doctor. In her generation she was a whore. Now she pays her son for her room and board and has her place at this table where the tomato juice she drinks is a disguise. My mother stands by her endless coffee and cigarettes, just one credit and her mother's death short of a bachelor's degree. I'm petting the dog who is old and full of tumors from too much love in left over gravy. I'm kneeling on the same kitchen floor with the fried egg and parsley pattern that my father stood on in bare feet and baggy boxer shorts, pointing. Pointing his finger an inch from the bridge of my nose, saying, "I'm not paying for any fucking woman to go to college." But I'm not thinking about that right now, looking into the Labrador's loving brown eyes.
Months later my brother and I find some occasion to talk. It's probably Thanksgiving because we are using the formal living room. I ask him whatever happened to so-and-so, and he grins that grin you get when you've got something on someone that will keep you safe from them for the rest of their life. We go down to the basement where our childhood stands still amidst the scurrying spiders. Where we found safety in electric trains, playing house and rock stars. Where my brother whipped my naked dolls black with belt marks while I watched.
I get the story. It seemed that my father met my brother's new girl before he did. There was nothing romantic about it. A solicitation for a blow job in the K-Mart parking lot. I'm picturing my father in his rose-colored Cadillac, his arm hanging out of the window. Negotiating. I'm hearing, "Hey mister, you looking for a date?" I'm hearing, "Hey sweetheart, how 'bout a blow job?" It was not clear who sent the initial invitation, but the RSVP both sickens me and makes me laugh until tears have blistered from my eyes. I knew my father had to push the driver's seat back far enough to wedge this woman's head between his fat stomach and the steering wheel. I knew his feet were no longer touching the pedals. I could see her bobbing, her ear catching on the steering wheel over and over as her head was sandwiched in that place, in the K-Mart parking lot.
It couldn't have been an easy twenty.
I'm trying to imagine my father giving my brother this information as we go back up the stairs, as we once again leave our knowledge in the damp darkness with the sump pump. Considering my brother was never punished for "knocking-up" (a gold medal phrase my father used) a fourteen-year-old girl when he was fifteen, I imagine it was more a "you'll never guess what" type opening instead of an, "I've got something to tell you, son." When we close the door to the basement, my mother comes out of the kitchen with her calm, pleasant smile covering for her blood-shot eyes. That's when I feel sick. I see that woman's slinky dress on my mother's good sofa, the one she covered with plastic when I was a child, the one she couldn't afford to replace. My mother did not deserve that. I hug my mother with the knowledge I can never give her.
Today I get a call in the middle of the afternoon. I take the bus to the man's apartment. I walk in and she is everywhere. All these memories race around my head as I look for the one detail that tells me this, but I can't find it. I look at the man and I see her in his shoulders tensing towards each other over his chest. Narrowly I look at him and I find her in his furtive eyes. I keep my back to the door and call the boss to let him know I'm here. This red-haired man stammers with his feet as his own eyes dart suspiciously around his apartment. I don't like him. He senses this and deliberately rolling-pins me with his eyes. We're having a control issue. I put down the phone.
"You've got an hour and it's one-fifty. Shall we settle our business first?" I say.
He shoves his hands deep into his baggy corduroys and looks down at his stretched-out socks. He looks like he's been wrestling with himself all day.
"I don't have a hundred and fifty dollars," he mumbles. I reach for the phone, saying I hope that he at least has cab fare; I am a busy woman.
"Wait!" he says. "How much for a blow job?" I don't like putting my mouth on little pricks like this.
"Eighty," I say, just to get out of there.
"For a blow job? Are you nuts?"
"I am going under the assumption that you have never given anyone a blow job. It's an art form. If you want a good one, it's eighty."
"Who do you think you are?" He becomes full of himself, shoulders back and chest out like a barnyard bird. I pick up the phone.
"Wait!" His hand is out. "How much for a blow job for, say, twenty minutes only?"
"No, no, that's still too much." He paces in front of me. "In twenty minutes you probably couldn't even make a guy come." Now he's rubbing me the wrong way. I begin to dial.
"Wait!" He pulls his hair off his forehead. "I'll give you twenty bucks for twenty minutes."
"Twenty bucks will get you ten minutes, and that isn't even worth my time! So double or nothing. Forty bucks says you'll come in ten minutes."
"Twenty if it takes twenty," he points firmly at the clean brown rug.
"Fine," I say. "Let me see the money." He pulls a wad of bills out of his front pocket before realizing I see the roll and turns his back to me quickly. He hands me two twenties.
"Twenty back if you don't pull it off, right?" I stuff the money into my purse, covering my glare with a smile. "Right."
I finish the guy off in seven minutes, mostly to get his hand off the top of my head.
He trembles on the queen-sized bed with his pants around his ankles. I go into the bathroom to spit the cum down the sink and see the perfume bottles on the shelf, the pantyhose hanging over the shower rod. I think of the clean brown rug, of my mother handing a warm dish of mashed potatoes to my brother's girlfriend.
"Not too shabby," the creep calls from the bed. "I knew I could get off for less than a hundred and fifty bucks and not catch anything." Smug.
He doesn't know I have NUGS, a nasty little gum disease you get from not having enough fresh fruit and vegetables, or sleep. All I have to do is suck on my gums to draw blood out of them. I spit his semen into my hand. Mixed with the blood from my gums it makes a mucusy brownish red puddle. I walk back into the room with my hand cupped in front of me and feigned horror on my face.
"You better go to the doctor, man," I say, holding my hand under his chin for him to see. "You've got blood in your cum!"
He gasps and cries out as he grabs his limp dick and points it at himself as if it were his best friend. "Hang in there, Johnny. Help is on the way," I imagine him saying as I slam the apartment door behind me.
I let one more cigarette burn down until the hot filter has scorched my lips before I climb the stairs. I'm still in the habit of smoking outside. I don't slam the door because I don't want to rouse her. It doesn't seem to matter how gently I close it though; I always walk right into her. Then I am that little girl again, shuffling things to perfection in my doll house, pretending that houses automatically make a family when in reality they only roof separate lives, cloister secrets. I drum the phone table with my nails, willing the object to ring. "Come on," I say. There's still time for another call, before I spray-can my graffiti on this pretense. I'm going to extend my hours soon, maybe until ten instead of six. (I can always make something up, say my hours were changed because someone was sick, or quit, or there was inventory.) Lies bought the hall passes and the nights of lust for the young girl.
Whenever I'd get caught, my mother would say it was because I wanted to.
I have to get away from this nagging obsession with decorator beds, made and unused; combining patterns and colors, fluffing a sham to attention. I abhor straightening rug fringe with a hair pick, measuring capers with a Crate & Barrel spoon, rubbing the stiff keys on the typewriter to genie up a metaphor. I need to unplug from the spook acolyte and the camouflage dealer; be the sole tenant in my own asylum.
("Turf" is an excerpt from the author's Sentencing Silence. This monologue is from Reni, one of three voices in the novel which discourse on the manifestations of abuse and loss. Only Reni speaks in the present tense; from it she achieves self-preservation. Kathleen Cecilia Nesbitt's poetry has appeared in literary magazines including Honorable Mention in Cleveland State University's Whiskey Island Magazine, 1995. She received her MFA in Fiction Writing from Goddard College in 2001 and moved in January '02 to Springfield, Massachusetts to pursue additional graudate work in Transformative Language Arts. Her desire is to apply the therapeutic benefits inherent in the act of writing to individuals suffering from life traumas. This is her first appearance on the magazine.)