A fictional story
Do you remember the old church next to the school where I met you? I don’t go anymore, not for many years, but someone told me that there was a feast day celebration, and I realized it was your birthday. I thought to myself, well, if this isn’t auspicious, what is? So I decided to go and wish you happy birthday.
I get to church and sit way in the back, first because I don’t remember what to do, and secondly because I think I see someone I know. I don’t want her to see me and I don’t want to talk to her. Thank goodness I am wearing my sweatshirt. You know, the pink one that makes me invisible.
The children two pews up from me have the most evil, sly little faces I’ve ever seen. These are truly faces only a mother could love. A mother without eyes. My tummy tells me this is not auspicious.
When the service is over, the congregants stream over to the school gym across the parking lot and I blend in with them. No—that isn’t true. I don’t blend. I’m just invisible.
Once we’re in the building, I break off from the crowd and stop in the bathroom. I look in the mirror to see if my face is the same one that the door landed on that time, to see if there’s still a dent. I remember that it was orange back then. My face, I mean. That was the style. Orange faces.
But look at my hair now! My highlights! I didn’t have hair like this then.
I decide that I will use the toilet, and when I am done, I will study the door and compare my face.
While I’m sitting in the stall, I hear two girls come in. Damn them! Damn them to hell! I finish and come out to wash my hands. If you let go of the faucet while it’s running, it’ll shut off.
Now I can’t do what I intended to because of those damnable children. All I want to do is take a good look at the door, test the hinge, feel the grain, run my hand over the part that connected with my face.
I am looking in the mirror, pretending to fish something out of my eye, and the girls are next to me taking too many paper towels. I can tell that their mother is the type to misconstrue a situation and cause me all kinds of trouble, so I leave.
Alright, so here’s my secret: It’s when I play with the drawstrings that my magic pink sweatshirt makes me invisible.
I stop when I enter the front of the gym and take the lay of the land. There are a couple dozen round tables along the perimeter and a long banquet table down the center covered with trays of salads, pastas, fruit, and cold-cuts. Another table has an ice cream bar. Throughout the gym, people of all ages are standing in groups or seated at tables. Obnoxious children chase each other in between them.
I play with my strings. Do they see my highlights? Of course not. I’m playing with my strings.
I stop playing. I have always been petrified of standing in front of crowds. But with this hair? No, they need to see this. Their day is not complete without seeing my hair.
Look at my highlights! No frizz, so much body, so shiny. And look how cute my bangs are. I pull them over one eye and chew the ends. I didn’t have bangs then. Or highlights. I had lots of frizz though. Is that why the door hit my face?
See that woman with the coiffure and the big brooch with all the sequins—I think I will choose her table. I shuffle over and sit down in such a way that they’ll all think that this is originally my table and it is out of my kindness that I let them sit there.
I can’t remember if I had presented my face to you as a birthday gift to push the door into it or if you treated yourself.
All I know is, I didn’t have highlights then. And they have fixed everything. If I had known, I would have done this much sooner.
That, of course, and my magic sweatshirt. I am not invisible anymore with the highlights (is that why you shoved the door? Because you thought no one was there?) so I need the sweatshirt to become invisible again.
Turning to the lady with the coiffure and big brooch, I ask her where you, Mr. So&So, are.
“Who’s Mr. So&So?”
A crusty old woman to the other side of me leans towards her. “Don’t you remember Mr. So&So? He taught math.”
“No.” I shake my head. “Mr. So&So teaches English.”
The crusty old woman sits back and shakes her head. “Mr. So&So hasn’t worked here in twenty years.”
“Oh, twenty years, you say?” I rub the plastic tip of the drawstring around my lips. “Wow. Twenty years. Time certainly flies, doesn’t it?”
The conversation turns, as it always does, to grandchildren.
“Say, why’d he leave anyway?” I ask the crusty old woman.
“How should I remember?”
“Probably you shouldn’t. I’m getting some ice cream,” I announce to the entire table.
I slide between some people talking to the ancient priest. What a sharp blazer he’s wearing. Must be very expensive.
It takes ten minutes to explain that I want one scoop of each flavor and extra marshmallows, but I finally return in triumph to my seat. I look around while I eat.
Well, well. This isn’t good. You know that person in church I thought I knew? It’s her. She’s waving. And she’s coming closer.
“Hey!” She holds the back of my chair and bends her head close to mine. “How have you been doing?”
She’s the mother of those two execrable girls from the bathroom. But we’re not old enough to have children that age! How early did she get started? I do the math: not that early.
“Oh, pretty good… pretty good.”
I look down at her feet and compare them to mine. So what if I am wearing socks and sandals? It is a sign of my decency that I wear socks. Her, she’s wearing—some strappy thing—I see her toenail. And her toenail makes me queasy and I don’t know why. There’s nothing technically wrong with it. And I know that my real sin is not the socks and the sandals, but that my socks are stretched out and falling down in my sandals. And she knows all this. I’m sure she knows.
I nod and smile, playing with my strings while she talks.
“Husband—Manhattan—banking—private school—blah blah blah—”
They’re not working. I’m still visible. Well, I reason, if I must be visible, at least she can see my highlights. She doesn’t have highlights, so I reckon that I am better than she is.
“—apartment—Upper East Side—Venice—blah blah blah—”
“Hey,” I cut in, “do you remember the time you got caught in the boys’ bathroom giving that kid a blow job?”
I look around and the scales have fallen from all their eyes. They know me now. My history teacher, the crusty old principal.
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
The gathered crowd parts and the ancient priest in the expensive blazer appears. He shakingly raises his cane and points it at me.
“I know that voice! The things you said in that confessional! I should have known it was you! I don’t feel bad anymore that I crossed my fingers when I absolved you!”
“Well, Padre,” I say, “I crossed my fingers when I said I was sorry, so I guess we’re even.”
“You! You—” He lifts his cane one more time, spins around, and collapses.
I tug the string. Nothing happens.
“Well, I guess it’s time for me to go, then.” I stand up and push in my chair. “Time for me to go.” I am aware that they are watching me go, and I am flattered that they are more interested in me than in the man collapsed on the floor.
But I don’t really care. Out in the parking lot, I breathe in the cold air. The night is very clear. Yet not so clear—I can’t see the curb and I trip. I fall but I stay down. I used to sit there after detention.
So the door isn’t dented, my head isn’t dented—yet I am dented. I am clearly dented.
I guess I won’t be wishing you happy birthday tonight, Mr. So&So, you bastard.