Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Part Three - Chapter One

It all started so innocuously, the way the worst things always do, when Jenny fed too many scallion tails down the disposal drain. When you chop scallions, Jenny said, you clip off the squidian roots with the long green tails and only use the middle. The ends, short and white or long and green, you toss aside into the garbage. Or the disposal – which of course is anything but.

Another labor-saving device, the disposal never lived up to the spirit of the automatic bread-slicer in purely literal terms. A bread slicer sliced bread like the best thing since... whenever – and the disposal only disposed of mushy leftovers and baby food... maybe every once in a while something as strong as a carrot, but certainly never anything as strong as these scallion tails.

Once Jenny had heard of using a food processor to chop the most stubborn leftovers and then flipping them to the disposal. Saves your disposal, saves your garbage-hauling costs, saves everything. Except that twenty seconds of sanity that you save by chucking the damn things into the garbage can, and sometimes that's worth a lot more to you than a green world forever. If it came to going green, sometimes Jenny felt fine to peppering the garbage can with scallions.

Except this one time, she decided not to decorate the Glad bag with a garnish of green; she put her environmentalist hat on and threw the long strands down the drain. The environmentalist hat, Jenny always said, was too small for her, so small that it cramped her brain. An environmentalist hat would stop anyone from thinking, Jenny said.

I never understood that about her, her heartless conservatism, but there was a lot about her that I didn't understand, starting with everything. Starting with everything, culminating in something, and coming to a head with scallion tails dropped down the disposal.

Like a shot I was over there when she called me, because that's what good boyfriends do, right?

It was 8:30 in the morning. Who cooks scallions at 8:30 in the morning? I wondered. So I asked her when I arrived at her apartment, “who cooks scallions at 8:30 in the morning?”

“I was making an omelette,” she growled at me. She pointed to a tin bowl full of eggs, mixed, next to neat piles of shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled sausage, green pepper and yes, green onions.

Her hair wasn’t done for the day, and she was wearing big gray sweatpants and a plain white t-shirt. Her face was flushed with anger, the pink settling high on her cheeks, near her cheekbones. Her eyes, that opaque blue, tried to flash with fury, but only twinkled. She looked gorgeous.

I’ve heard a lot of people say it before, that some girl or other looks her best when she’s steaming mad. But for Jenny it was really true. I just wanted to smile and hold her as close as I could and make her laugh or love me. The only time she looked as good as when she was mad was when she was sharing an inside joke, across the table or across the room, when anyone else might see it but no one did.

Suddenly I realized that I was just standing there in front of her sink with a half-smile on my face, thinking about her while she was three feet away, staring at me and waiting. So I stuck my hand into the drain and started groping around.

I’d never fixed a disposal before; I’d never even tried. So I just made exploratory humming noises for a while, hoping to feel something inside the sink’s throat, or better yet, hoping the thing might magically fix itself. After about a minute and a half, almost enough time for her to realize that I was clueless, I pulled out my hand, rinsed it and shook tiny water droplets that spattered into the sink. “Feels jammed,” I said.

“Yeah, I know,” she said, with surprising patience. “Can you unjam it?”

I indicated her chair and white-formica-topped table next to the window. “Why don’t you sit down,” I said, “and tell me where I can find a screwdriver. Or maybe a pair of tongs.”

She reached up over my shoulder and grabbed tongs from where they hung on the wall above the stove. I took them with nodded thanks and ushered her out of the kitchen, the full twenty-five feet to the opposite end of her apartment to have a seat so I could concentrate on my work... or at least on figuring out what the hell my work was.

The apartment was almost as wide as it was long, almost twenty feet by twenty-five, but still, obviously, a very small place. The kitchen occupied one half of one of the short walls, separated by a wall from the entryway that took up the other half of the short wall. On the other short wall were her bed, opposite the kitchen, and her table, opposite the front door.

The front door, Jenny always called it the front door, although there was no back door or side door anywhere in the apartment. But she had a habit of domesticizing; her aparment was her home, and that door was the front door. I loved it about her – the habit of making things comfortable, not the door; there was nothing really special about the door. Not that it was a bad door or anything, I’d just never–

I saw her still staring at me from the table, so I hefted the tongs in a silent toast to her and poked them into the drain. For all her tendency to make things comfortable, she could still make people uncomfortable with almost no effort. It was funny when she did it to someone else.

After a minute or so of wiggling, I said, “Aha!” and removed the tongs from the drain. There was a smallish piece of scallion-tail clutched between the fingers. I raised my eyebrows in what I estimated to be a confident glance, paused for a dramatic moment, and then reached for what I thought was the disposal power switch. The light above the sink went on, then off again. Then on.

I cleared my throat. “Can see better now,” I said, and peered into the sink. I couldn’t see shit. Jenny reached over to the shelf at her shoulder, pulled out a book, and opened to the first page.

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