Sally

Sally folded her socks into perfect little balls then lined them up in soldier straight lines. Next she tackled her underwear drawer, folding them in half and placing them in piles according to style: hipster, bikini, briefs.  She used plastic dividers that she had bought at the dollar store to separate them.  After adding lavender sachets to both drawers, she sat down on the edge of her bed and took a long sip of Chardonnay.

Sally had just finished reading “De-Clutter & Manifest your Dreams!” by Dr. Bryanne Goodwyn.  Dr. Goodwyn – a Lifestyle Psychiatrist – wrote that a disorganized home reflected a chaotic psyche, a psyche unfit to receive the universe’s abundance. Therefore, in order to manifest one’s dreams, a person had to first get their home in order.  “De-Clutter & Manifest your Dreams!” had come into Sally’s life at the perfect moment.  She had been struggling with how to talk with her boyfriend, Derek, about the fact that he had not yet asked her to marry him.  But since reading Dr. Goodwyn’s book, Sally realized that she was partly to blame for the fact that she still didn’t have an engagement ring. Sally’s closets, drawers and cupboards were completely disorganized, there wasn’t any room for Derek’s belongings.  The message that Sally was sending him was: “You’re not important enough to me for me to make space for you.”  Thank God for Dr. Goodwyn, it it were not for her book Sally would’t have realized that she could manifest her dreams, which included marrying Derek.

After organizing all nine dresser drawers and emptying out three of them for Derek, Sally decided to take a break and work on her visualization board.  Dr. Goodwyn recommended creating a visualization board for all the things that one wanted to manifest in one’s life. Every morning she advised focusing on the board while repeating these words:  “I have de-cluttered my life to make room for my dreams.  I am deserving.  Thank you universe for your eternal love & please help me on my journey of manifestation.”

Sally’s visualization board was massive, she had a long Manifestation List.  The top left corner was dedicated to her wedding, with photos torn out of bridal magazines.  It was going to be a summer wedding, the theme – Rustic-Chic, with flowers in mason jars and long, country farm tables.  Her dress, designed by Jessica McClintock, was strapless with a sweetheart neckline and was ivory – not white – lace.

The top right corner of Sally’s visualization board was dedicated to her obsession with Corgis – the breed of low-rider dogs that the of Queen of England was famous for owning.  She wanted two of them and she had already located a breeder in a nearby state.  Their names would be Petal and Charlie. Unfortunately Derek didn’t like dogs, he preferred cats.  In fact he took care of his neighborhood’s feral cats, about fifteen of them, leaving food and water out every night and building elaborate cat hang-outs on his front porch.  During the winter months he even had specially heated covered cat beds.  Sally had some serious visualization work to do on this issue – there was no way in hell that she was going to be known as The Crazy Cat Lady and she didn’t want Petal and Charlie getting fleas or worse, from the wretched creatures.  Sally drained her glass of wine and walked over to the fridge to pour herself another one.  For a brief moment she worried that perhaps Derek was mentally unstable. The feral cat caretaker thing was a bit much – I mean what kind of person does that?

At eight o’clock sharp the phone rang.  It was Derek, he always called her at 8:00 PM on nights when he had to work late.  “Guess what?!” he asked happily. “What?!” cried Sally, trying to contain her excitement.  “Remember how you told me about that de-cluttering book you were reading and about how in order to manifest our dreams we had to first get our house in order?”  Sally was pleasantly surprised that Derek remembered her telling him about Dr. Goodwyn’s book.  She always figured that he kind of tuned her out when she started talking about her newest self-help book.  “Yes, it’s such a great book, really empowering,” Sally said.  “I know, it’s amazing!  I read the whole thing in one sitting. Then I took the day off work today and re-organized my entire condo.  I gave away eleven bags of stuff to The Salvation Army.”  Sally felt a little irritated at the idea that Derek had co-opted her book and one-upped her by de-cluttering his entire place, Sally had only finished her bedroom.  “Wow. Congrats to you,” she said, “How do you feel?” she asked.  “I feel SO good!  Organizing and purging was somehow like the jolt that I needed to move forward with my life.  I see things more clearly now.”  Sally held her breath, this was the moment she had been waiting for.  Although a marriage proposal over the phone was not ideal, the important things was that it was happening.  She took a sip of wine as Derek continued.  “I’ve realized that my dream is to open a cat sanctuary.  I’m taking a six week intensive training course on Animal Rescue, it starts next week in Denver.  My neighbor, Mrs. Jubas, is going to take care of my feral cats while I’m away.”  Sally exhaled.  You have got to be kidding me, she thought.  “Sally, I have you to thank for this incredible turn of events in my life.  If you hadn’t told me about Dr. Goodwyn’s book, I never would have de-cluttered and manifested my dream.  I hope that you manifest all your dreams too.  Sally, are you still there?” Not only was her Rustic-Chic wedding not happening, but Derek was a better Manifestor than her.  Sally turned off her phone and walked over to her visualization board.  She tore off all the wedding pictures, but left up the sections entitled “Dream Home,” “Health & Beauty,” and “Career.”  She also kept her Corgi pictures up.  Tomorrow she would call the Corgi Breeder.  Fuck Derek and his stupid cats anyways.

 

February

The air smelled clean, like Ivory soap. But then you felt the wind, a cold hard slap on your soft skin. Like a strike in the face from your lover that you didn’t see coming.

Dirty snow crunching. Discarded cans, bottles and garbage seemingly everywhere. Who still litters? It’s 2016, not the 1970’s. The snow is angry. It should be pristine and wedding-dress white. Instead it is brown and mucky, like an old forgotten river.

Crunch. A mitten propped up doll-like on a tree branch. One boot, laces un-done, lying in a bush like a body about to be discovered by the special victim’s unit. A hoodie left lonely and abandoned on a bench. Maybe this was an urban art exhibit by one of those media savvy types, soon to be featured in The New York Times.

The snow actually does make a crunching sound, it’s true. Crunch. Crunch. “Is your dog a lover or a fighter?” asks the man. His eyes are both watery and wild, his energy a mixture of deep sadness and frantic rage. “He’s a Lover” you say, trying to act casual, even though you want to take your elderly one eyed dog and run away across the street. “Good boy, good boy,” the man says as he lovingly strokes your dog. His watery eyes no longer wild, but soft, like pillows. He walks off and you and your elderly one eyed dog watch him go, both suddenly missing him. Why didn’t he stay longer?

Mister Lover stealthily slithers up to a large pizza crust and starts eating. You consider wrestling with him to try and retrieve the dirty pizza, but change your mind. He is old. Let him enjoy his garbage picking, it makes him feel like the King of the streets he once was.

Crunch, crunch. A couple walks by, two women holding hands. They look content. They look like they know that if one of them gets sick, the other will take care of her. A guy wearing grey skinny jeans and a low ponytail ambles along. He is carrying a granny style purse with giant knitting needles sticking out of it.

We finally arrive home. “Slowly baby, slowly” I say to Mister Lover. The front porch steps are slippery and his once powerful legs are now just little twigs. We make it up to the door and he lets out a soulful howl. A “damn that was a good walk girl!” kind of howl. February is really not so bad.

 

 

Manhattan

“Manhattan is over.  No one wants to live there anymore.  It’s all about Brooklyn now,” Stan declared.  What a pretentious prick, thought Mark.  He put his earbuds in, trying to zone out with music while kicking salt off his boots.  Damn weather, he mumbled to himself.  He thought about his day and the Epic Fail it had been. His boss had reamed him in front of the whole team.  Then at lunch his usual sandwich guy had been out of pastrami, so he’d had to get a chicken wrap.  A freakin chicken wrap.  He hated wraps.  Only pussies ate wraps.

“Brooklyn is where all the artists live, the techies, the movers and shakers. Manhattan is just the old guard now.  It’s over,” Stan droned on.  Shut. The. Fuck. Up.  Mark thought.  What had he ever done in his life to deserve sitting next to Stan Kolonsky every night on the subway?  God had a twisted sense of humor.  He closed his eyes and thought about his mom’s meatloaf that he’d be eating soon.  She served it with a spicy red sauce.  It was a Saracino secret family recipe.  He loved his mom.  His mom rocked.  He saw Stan’s mouth moving but he couldn’t hear him.  The Guess Who flooded his eardrums. Searching his left pocket he found a PAM and popped it in his mouth like a tic-tac.  He thought about texting Sally to see if she wanted to hook up this weekend.  She was kind of dim, but she was hot.  His mom was on his case about asking out Carla Rota, the young widow down the street.  Carla was good-looking, but there was no way he was dating a widow.  With a widow you’re never their #1 man.  Their #1 man is always their dead husband.  Of that Mark was sure.  He started to PAM-out and it felt good.  He felt the sharp edges starting to melt away like he was a piece of plywood that had just been sanded down.  He smiled at Stan.  Three more stops and he’d be home.

Beauty Prep

It was six thirty AM, time for Sharon to start getting ready.  She liked to look good for her surgical oncologist’s morning visits.  She asked her nurse for a bowl of water and washcloth.  Later in the day she would get a proper bath, well, as proper as you could get while lying in bed.  But for now she just wanted to wash away last night’s grime.  She washed her face, neck and armpits.  She followed up with a moisturizing wipe, the kind used to take makeup off, it left her face with an attractive glow she thought.  Then she brushed her teeth, using a styrofoam cup as her sink.  As soon as she finished, a strong wave of nausea overcame her. Fuckety fuck fuck she muttered.  She rode the wave for a few minutes – “nausea surfing” she called it – then thankfully it passed.

She propped up her travel mirror on the table next to her hospital bed.  Looking in the mirror her first instinct was always to burst into tears.  Her face was pale and scarily thin, she looked like a refugee from some godforsaken country.  She had lost twenty-five pounds and her hair was falling out, shedding like a dog all over her pillow.  But her daily beauty ritual of “putting on her face” as her grandmother used to say, (may she rest in peace), was essential to Sharon’s emotional survival. It gave her a sense of normalcy and the tiniest feeling of still having some control over her life and body.  She applied blush to the deflated apples of her cheeks, plucked a few stray hairs, then added a tinted lip balm. Obviously she didn’t do a full red carpet look, if for no other reason than she didn’t have the energy.  She finished primping by putting on scentless hand lotion and wrapping her bright pink Pashmina over her bony chest.

Feeling completely exhausted from the effort she lay back down, but then noticed that her overnight drainage bag was full of urine.  Worried that it might overflow, she buzzed her nurse.  A different nurse appeared this time.  “You’re going to have to start urinating on your own, you’ve had this catheter in for too long, ” the nurse said with a bossy edge to her voice.  “My bladder nerves were damaged during surgery, they’re taking awhile to bounce back.” Sharon said, trying not to reveal any emotion.  The nurse gave her a chastising look, her expression suggesting that it was somehow Sharon’s fault that she wasn’t able to urinate.  Dear God, where was her sweet nurse?

Ten minutes later her surgeon and his team of oncology residents were staring down at her.  They always seemed very tall to her.  It felt like being surrounded by tall, large headed aliens who were staring down at their human specimen restrained on a metal table.  A very handsome resident, Dr. Josh Doukas, pulled her gown aside and inspected her ten inch long abdominal scar.  “Looking good, looking good,” he said.  She felt humiliated.  Her sad little tummy, all mangled and grotesque.  Why did Josh have to be so good-looking?  “Now let’s take a look at your stoma, how has your output been?”  If there is one thing a girl does not want to be asked by a handsome medical resident, it’s “how is the fecal waste matter that is flowing out of the red intestinal stump on your stomach?” Sharon wanted to disappear.  Instead she smiled and patted the hideous bag affixed to her belly, the one that was collecting her waste.  “It’s working well, though I’m still only eating soft foods.”  The surgeon and his team continued to ask her questions and discuss her case amongst themselves.  Sharon was a bit of a Cancer Celebrity, in that she had a very rare type of terminal cancer.  The doctors, though they made a decent effort to hide it, were actually quite excited to have her as a patient – she was a fascinating case.

After lunch the physiotherapist and her assistant came by to help bring Sharon on a walk.  They were both plain looking, lovely young women.  Makeup free, hair pulled back in ponytails.  The types who wore Patagonia jackets and comfortable European made shoes.  Along with Sharon’s bladder, there had also been damage done to the nerves in her left leg.  Apparently it had something to do with being splayed out on the operating table for twelve hours.  So much to Sharon’s surprise, when she had awoken from surgery she’d found that she couldn’t walk, one leg was fucked up.  The three of them walked slowly, Sharon’s urine bag attached to the walker, her giant splinted leg awkwardly inching forward and brutal pain shooting out from her incision area.  She had once read about doctors who performed “vaginal tightening surgery” and for a moment Sharon wondered if her surgeon had tightened her tummy while stitching her up. The pain was enough to bring on another wave of nausea.  She bent her head into the little plastic barf bowl that the assistant always brought on their walks and threw up a little clear liquid.

Sharon succeeded in making it across her room and halfway down the long corridor.  This was considered a victory and for her prize she was offered a pain killer drip and some frozen yogurt.  Sharon passed on the yogurt, but was excited about the painkiller drip.  Maybe this is what it felt like to be a heroin addict – you looked forward to it, it was the highlight of your day.  What if she became a drug addict?  Then again she thought, who cares?  I’m already dying, so why the hell not?  She laughed to herself as the drug hit her body. She felt warm and cozy and happy.  The sweet nurse – Louise was her name – stopped in and put a couple of pillows under Sharon’s legs so that they were angled upwards.  “Sleep well Darlin,” she whispered to her.

 

Balls

“Do you have an extra ball at home?” he asked, his voice tinged with harshness.  “Excuse me?” I answered, confused and annoyed.  I’d been enjoying my daily shot of bliss – hanging out at the dog park – and I didn’t want to chat with a random peacoat wearing hipster boy with facial hair and faux broken-in chinos.  I looked at him sideways, hoping that if I just ignored him he would disappear.  But he crept towards me, one fake workboot at a time.  “Your dog stole my dog’s ball.  I recognize his sweater.”  I stared at him and was about to start laughing when I realized he was dead serious.  His eyes were full of well-seasoned anger, anger that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with balls.

A swoosh of fur went flying by, as a bossy Corgi herded a crew of six dogs, including mine. Surely I possessed enough feminine charms to get Random Hipster Boy to calm the fuck down.  I smiled, flashing what I hoped was a Julia Roberts style warm grin.  “That’s too bad about your dog’s ball, but Leroy didn’t take it, he’s not into balls and never has been.”  I kept my tone light and airy, imagining pink spun sugar swirling out of my mouth.  The spun sugar seemed to work against me, as Random Hipster Boy seethed with a newly enhanced level of anger.  “I saw YOUR dog, in that red sweater, leave the dog park with my dog’s ball in his mouth.”  My smile froze, pink spun sugar stuck to my lips. He was probably the type who would toss poisoned chunks of hot dog into his neighbor’s backyard, killing their pooch in retaliation for a perceived act of aggression, like their Maple Tree’s leaves falling on his deck.  “Well, I’m not sure who stole your dog’s ball and again, I’m very sorry for your loss, but I assure you it wasn’t Leroy.  But, you know, I have a 20% off coupon for PetLand and I’d be happy to buy a few new balls for the park.”  As if on cue his dog ran up to him.  Sweet Jesus it was ugly.  It looked like a caramel dipped ferret.  “Good boy Hashtag, good boy,” he said.  “His name is Hashtag?!!” I cried.  I couldn’t help myself, the words just flew past my lips, I tried grabbing them out of the air but it was too late.  Random Hipster Boy eyeballed me hard, while Hashtag barfed up some kind of pebble-grass mix.  “Next time you come to the park bring Hashtag’s ball with you!”  He was fuming like a cartoon character from a 1940’s comic book drawn with its head exploding.  He turned to leave.  A ragtag pack of two Beagles, a Pitbull, three Chihuahuas and Leroy flew by, the same bossy Corgi herding them from behind.  Sand and dirt filled the air and the Beagles howled.

 

 

Bright Ribbon

“I look like I’ve been pulled through a hedge backwards!” Brenda squawked, adjusting her bouffant hairdo.  She whipped out a coral lipstick and started applying it without a mirror, painting two large half circles.  Clown-Chic, thought Shannon.

“You look fine,” Shannon said, as she un-packed the bags of clothes dropped off by Mrs. Blackwell.  Mrs. Blackwell – one of their best clients – brought in high-end designer clothing almost every week.  Chanel, Valentino, Hermes.  Most of the items had been worn only once or twice, many not at all.  Last week’s haul had included a black Gucci dress with its Saks Fifth Avenue price tag still on, $6500.  A year’s rent for Shannon.

Brenda came around the corner, red stiletto pumps clicking on the floor, each click like an exclamation mark.  “You know about Mrs. Blackwell, don’t you?” asked Brenda leaning in, last night’s scotch masquerading as today’s perfume.  “No,” Shannon said, arranging Mrs. Blackwell’s Louis Vuitton luggage set, one on top of the other.  Shannon thought of her own luggage, a set of black hand-me-down Samsonite from her mom who’d told her to tie bright ribbon on the handles so that she’d be able to easily identify them at the airport.  Shannon had tied bright ribbon on the handles, but then everyone else’s mother had given the same advice and now luggage carousels were overflowing with plain black suitcases tied with bright ribbon.

Brenda took a swig of her coffee, leaving a ridiculous coral outline on the white cup.  “Mr. Blackwell, her husband, never gives her any actual cash because he’s a fucking control freak.  He makes her use credit cards for everything so that he can track her every move.  Bastard.”  Brenda lit the first of endless cigarettes, blowing smoke out the open window.  Shannon continued to hang clothes, admiring the fabrics.  Silk satin, wool crepe, cashmere.  To pass the time she often played a game with herself called “Name that Fabric.”  For every correct answer she won a quarter, which she took from the cash register.  Shannon was getting pretty good at the game and she wondered when Brenda would ask why they were always out of quarters.  Thankfully bookkeeping was not Brenda’s forte, though gossiping was.

“The funny thing is he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about how much she puts on her Saks or Neiman’s credit cards, she can charge up a storm and he doesn’t care.  But he never gives her spending money, she never has even one damn dollar in her purse.  He wants to keep her powerless because he’s an evil prick.”  Brenda sucked deeply on her cigarette, which was encased in a 1950’s style cigarette holder.

“So Gilda, that’s Mrs. Blackwell’s first name, Gilda buys tons of expensive clothing and then she sells it here.  She squirrels away the money she makes selling her clothes into a secret bank account.  Can you believe it?”  Looking satisfied with her storytelling, Brenda stamped out her cigarette and pulled a red pen from her bouffant.  She started writing out price tags and barking at Shannon.  “Dior floral dress, $785.  Missoni red sweater, $350.”  Shannon tagged the items as they went along, struggling to keep up with Brenda’s caffeinated pace.

Shannon looked at Brenda’s reflection in the gold vintage wall mirror.  Back in the day, the 1970’s Shannon guessed, Brenda had probably been one of those cute, button nosed, petite yet improbably busty blue-eyed blondes.  Most likely she had been a cheerleader, or maybe a baton twirler for the marching band.  Yes, definitely a twirler, thought Shannon.  Brenda was still petite with great legs.  “I’ve got killer stems,” is what Brenda always said as she pranced around in her high heels and short skirts.  But now Brenda’s cute button nose was overshadowed by her puffy eyes, which looked like two mini puffed pastries sitting high on her face.  Her petite twirler body now accented by a swollen booze belly.  Brenda was a well-seasoned alcoholic, destroying her good looks one drink at a time.

Brenda grabbed the ringing phone “Uptown Consignment, Brenda speaking,” she answered in her smoker’s gravelly voice.  “We DON’T do vintage, that’s for those young, trendy, Instagram-selfie girls,” groused Brenda.  “We only accept clothes that are 1-2 years old and in perfect condition.  And don’t bring me any mall crap, we are a high-end designer’s resale shop.”  With that Brenda slammed down the phone.  Well, that’s one way to approach customer service thought Shannon.

As Brenda stilettoed back to her office to refill her cigarette holder, Shannon took Mrs. Blackwell’s new Dolce & Gabbana strappy heels and put them in her tote bag.  She would add them to her eBay shop later tonight when she got home.  She could probably get $225 for them.  Shannon’s dream was to go to Paris next spring and she had already raised $925 towards her trip.  Although stealing was not the most legitimate way to raise funds, Shannon was surprised at how little she cared.  Plus, she only stole from ridiculously rich ladies like Mrs. Blackwell, ladies who would never know the difference.  In fact, now that Shannon knew about Mrs. Blackwell’s scheming, she felt a certain camaraderie with her.  They were both essentially doing the same thing and Shannon thought that Mrs. Blackwell would probably approve of her fundraising efforts.  The fact that Shannon was also stealing from Brenda didn’t faze her either.  Brenda’s father had made a fortune in the steel industry, leaving her a massive inheritance.  So why Brenda even bothered with this stupid resale business was beyond Shannon.

As Shannon waited for Brenda, she patted the Louis Vuitton luggage set like it was silky cat.  Sadly she wouldn’t be able to steal luggage from the store.  Brenda was clueless, but not that clueless.  Yet Shannon would not fly to Paris with her crappy hand-me-down Samsonite – I mean God, how ghetto would that be? – she would have to figure something out.  Shannon’s luggage thoughts were cut short by Brenda’s bellowing.  “I need you to go out and pick up some party supplies.”  Party supplies was code for Brenda’s weekend bingeing supplies.  “I need two bottles of Glenlivet 12, three bottles of Veuve and an assortment of cheese, crackers, grapes and olives.  And don’t get me that hideous blue cheese, that stuff looks grim.”  As Brenda went to find her car keys and get cash, Shannon stashed her incriminating tote bag in the back cupboard.  “We’ll do Mrs. Blackwell’s inventory when you get back” yelled Brenda from her office.

Just then two of their regular customers came in, both were secretaries at a big law firm.  They were always dressed impeccably.  In fact they looked almost as good as the female lawyers they worked for.  This pleased them greatly and irked their bosses.  How could they afford such style on their measly secretary salaries the lawyers wondered.  “Uptown Consignment” was their secret and they made a point of telling only the firm’s support staff about the shop.  Let the lawyers pay retail.

As Brenda chatted them up, Shannon went out the back entrance and slid onto the luxurious leather seats of Brenda’s Mercedes convertible.  Shannon didn’t have a car.  She took the bus to work, along with all the cleaning ladies and day laborers.  Growing up, her mother’s car had always had those grimy fabric seats that stuck to your clothes.  Shannon hated those fabric seats.  One time, her friend Lacy, who came from a well-to-do family, had commented on the seats.  “Oh weird, I’ve never sat on fabric seats before,” she’d said with surprise.  Shannon had felt humiliated.

Shannon put the top down and rooted around in her purse until she found her new Oliver People’s sunglasses.  Mrs. Stein had accidentally left them at the store last week.  When Mrs. Stein had called asking if anyone had found her sunglasses, Shannon had told her “no, but I’ll let you know if they turn up,” and then put them in her purse.  The thing was, they really looked better on Shannon, they just didn’t suit Mrs. Stein’s heart-shaped face.

Shannon drove so that she hit every red light.  That way the other drivers, especially the men, had plenty of time to admire her.  Her long wavy blond hair blowing in the breeze, oversized sunglasses, sexy car.  She was dazzling and she knew it.  Just then her phone beeped, it was a text from Brenda: “add to list: box of Parliaments, DARK chocolate – NOT milk!  NO blue cheese!!!”

At the next light a handsome young man leaned out of his convertible Porsche, “You need to go to lunch with me NOW.  Four Seasons Patio.  Meet you there in five.”  The light changed.  Shannon thought about it.  She WAS a little hungry.  I mean it was almost noon and all she’d eaten for breakfast was a Pop-Tart and a cup of coffee.  The Four Seasons was just a couple blocks away, she’d seen it before but never been.

She pulled up to the valet, smiling and taking her ticket like it was the most normal thing to do.  Like she always pulled up to 5 star hotels in her Mercedes.  Like the Oliver Peoples sunglasses now perched on her head truly belonged to her.  Like the blond streaks in her hair didn’t come out of a drugstore box.  She applied some lip-gloss, muted her phone and walked towards the patio.  Porsche-man was just being seated at a corner table.  Shannon breathed deeply, tossed her hair and smiled widely.