The Long Pinch
I took an extra shift to cover Kitchy because she was so upset at loosing her sorority pledge to domestic bliss that Veronica and I felt the need to convince her that it would be a good idea to see her shrink before going to a bar full of boys to get drunk. So, at seven P.M., after the boss and the boss’s third wife had their turn fanning my fanny 44 times(which isn’t fair by half because the boss’s third wife wasn’t an employee and retained deceptively strong arms from her pole dancing days), I walked to my apartment, not too proud to give my rump an almost continual rub, public propriety be damned. My flank ached to the bone and almost everybody I knew had already seen it anyway.
I’d hate for creatures without stars on their bellies to rise up.
However, I was in a good mood as it was my most important birthday, though I served the office of a whipping girl and walked a beaten wreck.
I didn’t use my Segway to get to work because it wasn’t too much of a walk. See, in Proper, there is Proper proper, to the north where all the townies work; then there is Proper Suburb to the east of Proper proper, where all the townies live; and finally, three miles of open brush and highway south of Proper proper, loomed College Town where all the school kids, professors, and youth targeting businesses linger at sufferance. Plenty of “Open Space” laws restricted growth, so we’re bunched up pretty close.
A car seemed superfluous to me. Also I was poor.
But enough socio-economics. I just wanted to take off those damn shoes, shower, and get ready for a girls’ night out of drunken revelry and Devil-may-care abandon in sneakers. Not that I knew many girls. This was only my second semester in college, and the first one had been rather demanding. But I planned on making a bunch of friends this semester, as I’d found my academic stride, so to speak.
I lived on the first floor, and I was glad of it, as I didn’t want to stretch my hips any more than necessary. I opened my door, tossed my purse to the entrance table where I put my bills, and walked into an empty apartment. I blinked a few times, stunned, until the sound of my purse hitting the floor shocked me into the Spartan reality that was my abode.
‘Where’s all my shit?’
Living room: nothing. Kitchen: nothing. Bathroom: nothing. Bedroom: while nothing ever happened there, at least there used to be crap in there. Now—nothing. My pad looked like the day before I moved in, not the day it was made because the last tenet left a cigarette burn in the carpet that I hid under my potato-battery middle school science fair project that I’m not giving up on. I named the potato Paul Kersey. But now the project had given up on me, and there was that burn in the carpet. Mocking me.
I got mad, stormed to my door, opened it in, and stamped right across the sill to get punched in the eye and knocked on my Injun red ass.
‘Tessy!’ Curfew Mayday Moynihan, my apartment neighbor, pounced on me. I was too dazed to defend myself, which is just as well as I wasn’t being attacked. We’d only talked maybe half a dozen times, and I don’t recall calling her a name or anything to justify domestic violence.
‘You need to be less clumsy.’ She checked my pulse and did that horizontal finger move refs use on boxers that just got knocked down but wouldn’t stay down because it was all on the line.
On my back, I gave up on everything.
‘Why did you punch me?’
‘I did not punch you.’
‘Madam, you most assuredly, and admirably, punched me, not one minute ago.’
‘I reached out to knock on your door, then you opened the door and ran towards my knock. My knuckles connected with your… It was an accident and not my fault. I need to teach you how to duck.’
‘You didn’t come here to spank me, did you?’
She grabbed me by the neck, I shook her off and waited for sweet oblivion. This was as good as any place to die. Curfew disagreed. She grabbed me by the neck and pinched my arm and forced me not to give up and die on the floor. I resisted, but the pain in my arm proved I was still stuck with life so I went limp and let her put me on my… sigh. The sill of my door is hard wood, and Curfew plopped my clickerclackers down on it with all the grace of a monkey shot out of a tree.
‘What? Why are you making that face?’
There is a full length wall mirror that came with my now sparse and barren and desolate room for living, so I gave myself a look. ‘Fantastic. Hey, teach me a lesson in the other eye so I’ll look like a cute raccoon.’
‘I’m really, really, very not at fault.’
I don’t know why we humans do this, but I felt an uncontrollable urge to poke my swelling eye socket. It hurt, bad, did no good, yet I couldn’t stop. I watched myself, in the mirror, torture myself, for no damn reason. I didn’t even know anything about Al-Qaeda.
Curfew is about my height, same shade of Arian blonde as me (but an anti-fascist. I’m a Blue Dog democrat and I think she’s just a democrat), but she is cut a womanly-shape (a callipygian pulchritude was her physique) while I am a dipstick. She’s also a modern type girl from
‘Was I robbed or something? They did a Hell of a job.’ She grabbed my wrist and stopped my eye poking.
‘Stop it. No, our apartment building is condemned until the asbestos decontamination is completed.’ Do you know how Bruce Lee could throw a punch without actually moving his fist through space-time? It just happens, instantly, without increment of time or displacement? Fist by waist—Fist in face—Fist by waist, all at the same time? Well, I do, because I transported to the parking lot.
‘There’s asbestos in there!?!?!’
It took a few seconds for Curfew to catch up to me. ‘No. But we’ll have to move-out until it is removed.’ I closed my black eye and eyed her with my other eye. I even turned my head oblique to give my glare import.
‘You should really read the inter-apartment memorandums.’
‘Indeed,’ I said. ‘No doubt. Could you please speak plainly?’
She sighed, and my confused rancor knelt to envy for one fraction of a second. Boys must love how Curfew sighs. Guttural and long. ‘This complex is owned by a company incorporated in Delaware. However, a Mesothelioma lung cancer federal lawsuit in
‘Even the ones without asbestos?’
‘Admittedly, the judgment is heavy handed.’ Curfew dressed like her airborne grand-father except for her running shorts, T-Shirt, and sneakers beaten so bad I could grok with them. I say she was airborne because she always carried this dark green messenger bag thingy she inherited from her greu-da(that’s what I called mine) that hung around the left shoulder but swayed around the right hip. It was bigger than a purse, covered with pockets inside and out, and bad-ass looking on her because she had that kind of internal self-love that didn’t feel foolish wearing military green canvas in a demilitarized zone.
‘I believe the issue has been appealed, and will be heard by the United States Supreme Court next year, a couple of months after the asbestos that isn’t there is removed according to schedule. However, delays are expected because of an upcoming union dispute.’
I mention her bag because it fascinates me as from it she could David Copperfield anything out of it. If she had been in the movie Back to the Future, the movie would have sucked because she would have said, “What, you need 1.21 gigawatts? No problem, got that right here next to the gum.” I assume she stores things alphabetically.
From her bag she now pulled a spray bottle, closed my right eye-lid, and sprayed molten lava into my face. I couldn’t move because she was so strong, but I could scream bloody murder, and I did. Passer byes were too drunk to help, so I writhed in agony alone.
‘Why are you doing that, bitch!?!?!’
‘I’m trying to help—‘
‘That’s the M.A.C.E. can not the medicine can, bitch!’
‘Don’t curse. My knocking on your door in conjunction with your failure to duck caused a slight cut on your mug.’ She put the can-o-lava away (I tried to run but she clamped my neck) and brought back a bottle of water she doused me with. Then she put away the water and brought out a towel to dry me up.
‘Holy Grail in there?’
‘Not yet. I do have Omega-8 fish oil pills. They’re good for youthful skin and prolonging brain functioning.’ She did have outstanding skin… ‘Look, Duck, your stuff was moved to a storage locker downtown.’ She gave me the information. ‘I got a line with a friend of mine. We can float you a couch to lay your hat until you score a pad. If you need it.’ She straightened my uniform.
She mollycoddled me and I let her. It felt good. I’d been so abused that day, and most of my life was spent as the baby of a large close-nit family, and Curfew was so damn dominate that getting pushed around and having my face washed and wiped was a nice break from homelessness.
Then, dear readers, I snapped. ‘I am not helpless!’ I stamped my foot, closed my eyes in shock, then knelt to the curb and sat on my red butt. I suspect moaned during the blackout.
‘Stop moaning, Duck. Lookit, we can—‘
‘Why are you calling me—don’t call me Duck. Thank you kindly for the offer, but all I need to do is get downtown, get my Segway out of storage, come back to
‘Curfew.’ I whispered. ‘Curfew. Call an ambulance.’
‘What? Oh, please.’ Curfew reached over my shoulder, put her hand on the monster’s giant face and shoved it. It took a few steps back, but it kept looking at me. ‘Go on, boy, go dig up a dirt squirrel or something. Tessy, you have a real problem here.’ I didn’t argue. ‘All the places are taken.’ The dog thought it over than scampered away at a bouncy lazy gait. I resumed breathing.
‘There must be an empty room somewhere.’ I scoffed this. Curfew knelt down herself and sat on the curb. She studied some loose gravel.
‘The apartment complex hosted a conference for the residents and local renters. I planned to drag you along, but you didn’t show. I surmise that you took an extra shift. I didn’t think of that. However, the conflagration of renters and homeless went well for those involved; but it went badly for those not involved, which is you, Duck. The long and short of it is this—there is not one vacancy left in the private sector in town. You are screwed unless you take my help and wait for another dropout to hightail. It wont take long, the way demographics are going.’
She looked away as she spoke, off to the sunset, like a cowboy. She let some gravel fly into the gutter across the street—all net. She looked on, totally unimpressed with her impossible shot but studying it none-the-less. That wasn’t fair. She was city folk. I’m the one that should have that internal strength Clint Eastwood is so good at mimicking.
‘Thanks, Curfew, but I got it covered.’
‘Anyway here’s my number.’
I had nothing covered. I rode on a bus. The seats were padded, but my ass was raw enough to make me shift the whole three miles north, hoping the other pedestrian proletariats didn’t notice. I let my eyes follow the low sun to the west and tried not to think. My feet swelled and felt too big. There was a sign, a specific sign, that forbade the removing of shoes.
They’ve thought of everything.
The greasy big headed storage yard manager gave me the key to storage locker 25 which held all my stuff. I followed the line of numbers until locker 24. The next locker was 27. I returned to the storage yard manager. Oh, that’s right. 25 and 26 are on the other side of downtown. I walked on hard concrete and found storage lockers 25 and 26 next to a dumpster full of flies and, from the smell, a probable corpse. The key did not work. On closer inspection, the number on the tag on the key was originally painted “26”, but some of the paint had worn off so that the number looked like “25”. On the walk back to the storage yard manager I tripped on the loose stone of an handicapped curb ramp. I hit the ground on my knees, and the key slipped from my fingers and flew right into a grated drain. I could see the keys, but that was it, as the bars protecting all the treasures of the street drain were too close together for my hand to penetrate far. The key and tag lay on a ledge halfway between the grate and the running water below. I continued to the storage yard manager who explained to me that company policy demands I return one key before getting another. I pleaded special circumstances. The
However, I am not allegoric to bee stings, so I guess someone up there is looking out for me.
It was dark anyway. The sun had almost completely abandon me anyway, but the wind and sharp rain made it difficult to see more than a few feet. The drops stung my eyes whenever I dropped my hands. Given the Irish holiday, I feared drunk drivers so I stuck to the edge of the road. I have no idea how far I sojourned when I slipped down a gentle flood plane. Not far, just a few feet, but enough to cover half my body in mud. I sat there looking in the direction of my hands (too dark to actually see them) and breathed. I couldn’t think of anything else to do for a long time. From somewhere deep in my brain surfaced a memory of my mother saying that some people are at the bottom of the barrel looking down. Then I looked up.
A bar. There was an olde timey type, well, pub I guess, thirty feet from the road, right in front of me. It was lit up and open for business. The door was a massive block of wood, but I managed to open it. The sign on it read “Crossroads Inn”. Despite the single road running north and south, and the obvious misnomer, I’d take it.
It was beautiful inside. Everything was made of mahogany, glimmered, and full of old looking crap like full suits of armor and grainy pictures of men in beards and women in corsets or white robes, and classy old world paintings from Italy I guess. Not the diner duck art I’m familiar with. I’d only just started Art 101. Best of all there was a massive fireplace gushing heat at me. No, even better: there was a bar.
Somehow, even on St. Patrick’s Day, I was the only customer. The place was large and open, like Beowulf’s tavern in the movie, but being the only customer made it seem more massive than even the Super Dome. I took my final limps to the bar, dropped my shoes, sat on a stool too high for me, my ass too numb from cold water to hurt more than my feet. There was a bar wench. She was beautiful too, like the place around her. She fit well with it. Her hair was pitch black, long, and I bet she stroked it five hundred times every night with a hairbrush. She looked like a tall, dark haired
‘What can I get for you, miss?’
Wet and shivering, my mouth muscles too numb to smile or frown, my makeup mixed with rain dripping off my face, I took all of the tip money out of my purse in one fisted ball, and plunked it down on the smooth wood.
‘I want this much alcohol.’
‘AAAAIIIIIIIII!’ I screamed as I fell from my stool. I hit the ground but bounced right up, hands up and ready to fight. Fight or flight chemicals triumphed over my self-pity, and this bar was the only place to survive the rain, so I held up my dukes and gritted my teeth. Then my eyes saw more than red.
The bar wench sat on the stool next to mine. I looked over, and no, the bar wench was still standing there, sweet looking as ever. I looked back to the stool. There she was.
I kept my fists up and covering my face, but just the same I thought I should say something. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you sit next to me.’
‘I get that all the time.’ I looked back and forth between the ladies. They were definitely twins. No doubt about it. Anywhere from twenty-seven to forty-three years old. The new one wore $10,000 worth of full body leather, tight from her toes to her high collar. Her face was thinner, more sever, and her smile was hungry.
‘I’m sorry. I, ah,’ I reassumed my perch on the stool. ‘you frightened me.’ The leather lady looked to her sister, the bar wench, and widened her smile.
‘I get that a lot as well.’
‘You guys are sisters that own this place?’
‘We run some of it,’ the bar wench said. ‘But neither of us own it.’
‘Ahem.’ The bar wench. ‘They call me Circe.’
‘Hello.’ I turned to the leathered one. ‘I’m Tessy.’
‘Yes, Tessy, and I am called Medea. Like I said, my tab. This time. Drink up.’
‘Media?’ Circe put a flask down in front of me. The designers of the hooch really put bucks into presentation. Way more than the company that makes that booze with gold flakes in it. This number was made of stone, with engraving and lattice work running up the side that all coalesced at the top, but there was no cork or screw cap. The bottle was latched. I unlatched it and smelled its innards. A red wine that smelled like red licorice, my favorite candy. I took a swig of the thick liquid. I shivered and hung my feet hurt from a high stool and I took a swig.
‘Oh, it’s not quite that loaded, dear, but I like your ambition.’
‘What?’ I took another swig. Holy Crap, please don’t be expensive or rare, Mr. Taste Good. I pray to whatever gods may be: don’t be expensive. I went for a third gulp. Media leaned in eager but frowned dejected when Shirley held my hand.
Shirley smiled at me and it was quite convincing as I agreed before she argued. ‘Let’s get you out of wet raiment before you catch consumption.’
‘Yeah,’ wow, this was powerful stuff. It must be moonshine with some Red Vines stuck in it. I wasn’t drunk, just really, really not thinking. ‘the remains of my uniform are… rags and consuming should happen… after warm.’
I got mollycoddled again, and this time by professionals. Before I knew it I was stripped down, patted dry, and rapped up in a robe like a snug little bug before the roaring fire on a couch with ten times my body weight of fluff a little bug like me can sink into and forget about all the trials and travails of this transient earth. I clutched my flask of awesomeness as I’ve seen mother apes hold their newborns. Get away, Jane Goodall. Mine!
Shirley sat at the other end and rubbed my feet. I think I thought I saw her suck the bee poison out of my toe, and the toe certainly felt fine now, but I lacked capacity to act as a proper witness. Ha!
‘Tessy,’ Shirley said. ‘Do you know what pain is?’
‘Shfff. Sister, I could write the wikipedia article on pain.’
‘I know you are familiar with pain, Tessy. But do you know what it is?’
‘Close. Pain is energy concentrated in the wrong place.’
‘Humph. Do you have a TV? I think they’re running a Scrubs marathon. I want to merry J.D.. Or Dr. Cox, maybe. Turk’s pretty cool, but he’s already married. To… the nurse. Carlene.’ I laughed. ‘She’ll never divorce Turk. She’s Catholic.’
‘I’ve only seen one marathon run, dear, and it didn’t end well.’ The leather one said. I must have been loaded first class because Media appeared right above me hanging over the arm of the couch I wanted to be buried in, and I didn’t even scream. ‘But, as I recall, it lasted a day. So we have time to answer Circe’s questions, don’t we?’ I just smiled at her. She was right, we had all night.
‘Tessy,’ Shirley said. She had a sweet voice. ‘Pain is energy concentrated in the wrong place. Did you know that energy is immortal?’
‘Sure. First Law of Thermodynamics.’ Wow, I pulled that out of my ass. ‘Energy isn’t created or—‘
‘Law?’ Media said, shocked. She grabbed my shoulders, but looked at her sister, then back at me, as she hovered above me. ‘Law? As a rule of man? Like the ban of littering?’ She started to take a laugh, but then the laugh took her. She managed, between gasps, to look at her sister, who also laughed but wasn’t quite as patronizing about it. ‘Law.’ Shirley cracked a little bit more, but seemed the type too demure to lose control. Still, the sisters shared a nice little sibling joke. I’ve been there. I sort of wanted in on it.
‘Yeah. You know, Sir Isaac Newton.’
Media exploded. ‘The puttering islander?! The mooncalf apple eater?’
‘Oh, wait… no, my mistake. He did motion. Sorry, the SAT’s are over, I can’t worry about that kind of higher level smart shit anymore.’
‘Medea, calm yourself!’ Shirley, though laughing herself, chastised the media, I mean Media, who rolled around the floor in a happy fit.
‘Higher… higher level! We’ve been gone too long! This is priceless!’ She stretched out her leather collar to get some room for her throat to breath. She wore some red beads or ropes or something around her neck. They were pretty, but looked pretty tight as well. Leather people love feeling hugged all the time like that. I didn’t even much care for tight jeans, but whatever. To each her own. I remember thinking about how I was warm, my ass in particular. Why was my ass so warm? Oh, right—everyone I worked with or for had spanked me just, let’s see… a month ago was it?
‘Dear,’ Shirley again. ‘Pain is energy, and energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred. Is what you were about to say.’
‘And did you know the movement of energy creates power?’
‘Yepper. Called heat.’ I took a swig.
‘So, if a wasting entity, like this
I took another swig of the licorice wine and gave her a think. Not understanding a word, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it, so I agreed with a scholarly ‘sure, why not?’ Being a college student now I had to accept the burdens of peer review. ‘Hmmmm…. Power. What do they say about power?’
I could smell the leather, but I didn’t feel any movement in the couch, or hear any movement for that matter. I turned towards the fire and there was Media, like a Doberman, right in my face and smiling at me. ‘It corrupts.’ Her eyes were huge and shifted gravity.
‘But it can also be used with virtue for good.’ Shirley tickled my feet. I hate being tickled. I managed to turn my head. It was slow work, those eyes were so lovely dark and deep, exactly like the pony I dreamed of when I was a little girl reading—but I had someone tickling my feet and my eye connection with Media snapped once I made it to Shirley who said, ‘Per ardua ad astra.’
‘I took French. No, I failed French. Then I took German. C-.’
Shirley was so nice. She smiled at me. She looked up and to the right, and blinked a few times. Then she looked down, thinking something over. I took a slug. She looked back at me, her head titled, amused that she did not perfectly understand what she said. I was certain of it. She looked like a dumb actor pretending to be a doctor or something, reading lines he didn’t understand, but still doing it well. ‘To help man in his long march from the swamps to the stars’?
‘Sure. Reagan. I was a Reagan Democrat, but I was too young to vote. Bush seemed like an alright guy, but Reagan was funny and had fantastic hair. Like J.D.. Oh, yeah, the marathon. TV?’
‘Almost there.’ Media said. She probably hated TV, given the name her parents labeled her with. Parents could be cold. The booze was working on me. I grew mawkish and thought more and more about my mother. Wherever she was, I hoped they had fireplaces and feet rubs.
I was fading fast, and I new it. I hated thinking about her. When I let these thoughts go it was a downhill slip. I took another slug of booze. Something went wrong. I went from mawkish to scared. I retreated into the couch. Media followed.
‘Tessy, what if you could take peoples’ pain from them, and have powers beyond your imagination?’
‘What would happen?’
‘I’d help people.’
‘Yes. Do you know what they would do?’
‘No, childe. Perhaps at first. Inexorably they would flock to you, en masse, and douse you with their pain until you drowned in agony; then they would blame you. Then they will forget you.’
‘You mean like Jesus?’
‘Don’t flatter yourself.’ Media was right in my face and seemed to take up the whole world. She kept smiling at me. She was over me and I couldn’t escape so I clutched my bottle and I think I started whimpering. I started breathing again when she looked to her sister. ‘I said it: this one is ambitious.’ Over me but head turned as she was, her ear was lined with my mouth, so I took my shot and let out whatever shriveled shred of self-respect or pride I had left after the day.
‘What do you want from me!?’
Media flinched. She looked at me, and now she wasn’t smiling. The bar wench shoved the leather freak away from me and I started to cry. She gave me that warm smile, but now I didn’t trust it. ‘Sleep, Tessy. You don’t have to decide tonight. It’s better if you don’t.’ She pet me.
If I dreamed that night, I never remembered them.