|IN TWO DIMENSIONS
from the shape of your shaved head, i recognized your silhouette
as you walked out of the sun and sat down
and the sight of your sleepy smile eclipsed all the other people
as they paused to sneer at the two girls from out of town
i said ‘look at you this morning: you are by far the cutest.
but be careful getting coffee—i think these people wanna shoot us’
or maybe there’s some sort of local competition here to see who can be the rudest
people talk about my image like i come in two dimensions
like lipstick is a sign of my declining mind
like what i happen to be wearing the day that someone takes a picture
is my new statement for all of womankind
i wish they could see us now…
* * *
I pressed my nose to the window screen to see as far out as I could. No sign at all. Ugh. Pardon my language, but waiting sucks.
And I’m no good at it.
You see, fall in our little New England college town is just about my favorite thing. Well…maybe my second favorite thing. At this point I was kneeling on the couch with my arms propped on the windowsill, waiting for my first favorite thing to walk in the door. It was a convenient position, because I could see both the road in front of the house and the edge of where the trees began at the back. I was waiting for the leaves to turn, and for Galen to get home, and in my opinion both of those events were taking far too long.
It had been a beautiful summer, but now, as the weather was preparing to transition into early autumn, I was getting impatient. Fall is my favorite season. I don’t care what the old poets say; in this town, at least, it’s the season of new beginnings. Annoyingly, Galen’s schedule this time of year was somewhat unpredictable; the department held meeting after meeting as it waited for the students to arrive and school to start. I got out earlier in the summers and without Galen home for dinner, the evenings got pretty boring pretty fast. Once fall started though, everything would go back to normal. No, better than normal.
I wandered away from the window and briefly considered picking up the living room. It looked fine to my eyes, but Galen is a little more particular. I compromised by straightening a few picture frames, a not too unpleasant task. I picked up a photograph of the two of us from the first autumn we’d lived here: we were trying to rake enormous piles of leaves and mostly just falling in them. I was just about to start feeling sentimental when I heard the first few rumbles of car wheels coming up the long road and dashed to the kitchen to finish washing the dishes.
I had filled the dishwasher and was sponging the basin down industriously when the front door opened and I ran for a greeting.
Wiping my hands on my jeans, I ducked around Galen and the open door for a kiss, which I got on the front steps before I was ushered inside.
“Hey. You look beautiful.” She kissed me again as the door closed behind us.
“I’m wearing your shirt,” I informed her.
“Mm. It looks much better on you.”
NO comment. I kissed her back, about to get seriously distracted when a horrible noise came from inside the kitchen. Galen disengaged herself and raised her eyes skyward. “What have you crushed in the garbage disposal now?”
“Nothing,” I assured her, trailing her to the kitchen where the dishwasher was emitting a serious of pained, pathetic bleeps and shrieks, with a little crunching thrown in for good measure. Galen gestured me back politely and opened the dishwasher to investigate.
I tugged at the soft, cream-colored sleeves of my shirt—well, her shirt—and tried not to think about what that stupid article of clothing had done to my day. She didn’t NEED to know, did she?
I considered that fact. She was funny about my keeping things from her. And mostly I agreed; she was a good listener if nothing else. And she had a knack for turning my disorganization and stress into much more helpful lists and tasks, a skill that went way back. Still…
I watched her profile as she leaned over the dishwasher and frowned, rearranging the dishes I’d flung in there a few minutes earlier.
“Mir. You know if you stack the glasses, they’re not actually going to get clean?” She shook her head. “And sticking a fork in the gears isn’t a great idea either.” She held it up. “If you can call this a fork now.”
“Sorry.” I took the nearly-circular fork she handed me and used the counter as leverage to press it back into shape. Our silverware is, thank heavens, pretty malleable, because between the heat controls on the dishwasher and our over-enthusiastic garbage disposal, the forks and spoons tend to mutate on a regular basis. Somehow they only morph under my watch, though.
Galen was muttering as she reached far into the machine again and pulled out what looked like a soggy dishtowel.
“I don’t want to know,” she said before I could explain.
“…doing the dishes quickly,” I mumbled anyway, trailing off.
She wrung the cloth out and draped it over the sink. “You’re turning my hair gray,” she said, kissing me and drying her hands on a paper towel. “I don’t know what’s worse: letting you mangle the silverware or watching you leave piles of dishes.”
I pulled her head down and examined it carefully. A little streaked on the tops from the summer sun, a darker blond underneath, but no discernible gray. So there. She unclasped my hands and pointed me toward the doorway. “I’m going to try to salvage our silver—why don’t you see if you can go make the living room look a little more livable.”
I sulked my way into the living room and straightened the cushions out half-heartedly. “Nice to see you, too!” I called resentfully into the kitchen when she’d ignored me for at least a minute and a half.
She poked her head out. “It’s always nice to see you, doll,” she said cheerfully. “Why don’t you clear some space to sit?”
She had a point. I fumbled around for a few minutes until the room looked the way Miss Perfect liked it, or reasonably close to that state. Over the sound of running water and the clank of dishes, Galen chatted to me, but I couldn’t manage anything more than a couple of few-word responses.
When the room looked decent again, I dropped onto the couch, most of my concentration on the maple outside the window, hugging the corner of the house like an old friend. I could open the window and be almost IN the tree, save for the screens. For a while I had tried opening the screens and reading half in the tree, a book propped on the branches—amazing—but for some reason Galen had freaked when she discovered my hobby and made me stop. Typical overreaction: I mean, it was the first-floor window, and I barely even broke my arm when I fell. Oh well. Even with the screens up, the windows open made this my favorite after dinner spot, although of course it was even better when I was sharing the space with Galen. I pressed my nose against the screen, looking for any hint of a change of color in the leaves. Uniform green. I shook my head in disgust. Fall was taking for-ev-er.
“What?” Galen flopped down behind me, automatically pulling me to her.
“Nothing.” I settled back against her, pulling her arms closer around me. It’s not that she needs help in the holding me department, just an old habit. I played with the cuff of her knit shirt, rubbing the soft fabric between my fingers. With any luck, we’d be wearing sweaters soon. Argh, never mind. I didn’t need to think about clothing right now. I hated keeping things from her; I just didn’t feel like talking about it yet.
Like that ever worked.
“How was today?”
“Fine. I missed you for dinner,” I pointed out. I knew it was a busy time for her, and I didn’t mean to make her feel guilty—but hey, if that was the result, then what could I do?
“I missed you too, babe.” She picked up a handful of curls, then dropped them back on my shoulder. “I much prefer your company to the department.”
I snorted. “There’s a compliment,” I said sarcastically.
She picked up the same few locks of hair and tugged gently. “Be nice.”
“I AM nice.”
“Sometimes,” she agreed cheerfully. “How were the kids?”
“Eh.” I shrugged. “Jackie’s coming down with some kind of stomach bug and threw up all over Shane. Also they’re still trying to fix the playground equipment and they don’t even know if it’ll be ready by the time school starts. And there was traffic on the way home—stupid construction.”
“That doesn’t sound like fun,” she said mildly.
I was conscious of her waiting. Typical Galen: she firmly believes in finding the good in things—back in the earlier stages of our relationship, she used to make me tell her one positive thing that had happened to me each day. I was irritated by it at first, and attempted refusal, but I was already learning at that point that argument when Galen is convinced of something is always futile. It was an old tradition between us, a coping mechanism really from the early days, and something we fell back on in times of stress.
“I met a nice guy,” I said finally, in response to her unspoken question.
“Yeah. His name is Tim. Actually, he went to high school with one of the assistants at the day care center, and he and his wife have triplets.” Was I speaking too quickly? “They didn’t take fertility drugs or anything. It just happened.”
“Where did you meet him?” She didn’t sound too concerned. She liked to tease me that I could make friends anywhere and find out all sorts of personal details about people. What can I say? I like to talk. I don’t even mind listening. Sometimes.
“Two boys and a girl,” I continued, aware now that my words were starting to run together. “They’re all still pretty bald but I saw a picture and they have one of those stretchy headband things with a bow on Alyssa’s head—that’s the girl triplet—to make her look like a girl, probably, because otherwise they just pretty much look like generic babies. I mean, except that there are three of them, which isn’t very generic, I guess,” I finished lamely.
“Where did you meet him?”
Thank you, mynah bird.
“They’re going to be two in November and his wife is pregnant again, so they may need to move to a bigger house. Wouldn’t it be wild if they had another set of triplets?”
“Miri,” she said quietly.
“He pulled me over,” I said finally. “He’s pretty new to the job and a little overzealous if you want my opinion,” I added quickly, then chanced a quick look at her face. “Uh, not that you wanted my opinion,” I mumbled.
“He pulled you over where?”
Somehow she’d risen to a standing position and had apparently grown several feet in the last few moments.
“Route 28,” I admitted. “I WASN’T speeding, though.”
“Well, what WERE you doing?”
“He pulled you over for doing nothing?”
“More or less.”
She swept a hand through her hair, the closest Galen ever gets to a gesture of frustration. “Miriam. Work with me here.”
“Yes?” I said sweetly.
“Your new friend Tim pulls you over for no reason at all.”
I squirmed. “He’s a policeman. It’s his job. And he probably thought there was a reason.”
“Do you have any idea what that reason might have been?”
“Reckless driving,” I said. But not as reckless as telling you, I added silently.
Her already wide eyes somehow widened further. “Reckless driving,” she repeated.
“But I didn’t get a ticket, because I wasn’t doing anything.”
“Mir, do me a favor. It’s been a long day. Just give me a hint of what happened today, and I’ll try to puzzle out the rest, but I’m going to need a hand.”
“He saw me after I poured the water and I guess maybe I swerved, and he pulled me over, but he was really nice when I explained everything, and he only gave me a warning,” I spelled out for her, slowly. Sheesh. You’d think a woman with a Ph.D. would be a little quicker on the uptake.
“What do you mean after you poured the water? Miri, WHAT happened?”
“Well.” I stood up and toed the rug back into position from where I’d been playing with it, then gave up and flopped back down again. “I was just driving back from the store and I was trying to drink an iced coffee, and there must have been something wrong with the cup it was in because I suddenly felt really cold, and I looked down, and there was coffee all over my shirt. I mean your shirt.”
I looked up at her, but except for being about twelve feet tall and looking extremely interested in what I was saying, she didn’t seem terribly shocked.
“Coffee,” I repeated, waiting. Finally I went on. “And I knew I had to get the stain out before it set, but I was going 60—I mean 50—and I couldn’t exactly fish around for a tissue or something…THAT would have been reckless,” I pointed out.
“And there’s no shoulder or anything but I needed to get the coffee off quickly. And I had this bottle of water on the front seat.”
She nodded encouragingly.
“So I sort of just poured it.” I paused. “All over the shirt. And I guess I got a little wet, and it was REALLY cold, because I’d just bought the water, and Tim said he saw that I looked ‘distressed’ inside the car and that the car was swerving, and he just wanted to make sure I was okay.” I smiled at Galen. “See? Chivalry isn’t dead.”
“How did you talk him out of the ticket?” She asked grimly.
“I didn’t have to,” I responded, trying not to sound smug. “He totally understood. He said his wife once threatened to leave him if he brings home one more shirt with coffee stains on it—because they’re really hard to get out, and she has to pre-treat and stuff, and she’s busy too. She teaches middle school,” I explained.
“Let me see the warning.” She held out a hand, seemingly uninterested in the details of Tim and his wife, which I thought was rather rude of her.
I sidled past her to my purse and fished out the warning. Somehow it had ended up crumpled and missing a corner.
She took it between two fingers disdainfully. “Mir, you got this ticket a few hours ago and already it looks like this?”
“My purse is a little cluttered,” I said defensively.
“Okay. One thing at a time.” She glanced at the ticket in her hand.
“See? No fine or anything.”
She crumpled the warning and tossed it in the trash. “ ‘No fine’ is right. It’s far from fine. Do you know you can get points on your license for that kind of stunt?”
“I didn’t do anything!”
“Miri.” She raised her eyebrows.
“I wasn’t doing anything wrong; the water was just cold and made me swerve a little. Tim understood,” I added.
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t think Tim knows you quite as well as I do.”
“I just didn’t want the coffee to stain.”
“You have to know that pouring a bottle of cold water on yourself while driving at highway speeds isn’t a particularly safe thing to do.”
“What if there had been a car in the other lane when you swerved?”
“I was in Eastham. There ARE no other cars around.”
“And I was trying NOT to be unsafe! I didn’t want to stop in the middle of the road!”
“Miri!” Her voice wasn’t any louder, but sharp enough to make me lower mine.
“Well, I just didn’t want to return your shirt all stained and ruined,” I said, hurt. “You TELL me I shouldn’t be careless.”
“I also tell you not to let yourself get distracted while you’re driving.”
“Trying to juggle a drink and the wheel is bad enough without adding an impromptu shower to the mix,” she pointed out.
“I was paying attention. And I’ve been REALLY careful lately,” I pleaded, not sure where she was going with this, but concerned nonetheless. I’d run over our recycling bins a few months back and blamed it, temporarily, on the neighbors’ dogs. Galen had been less than thrilled and had made me practice backing out of the driveway with her a zillion times before she let me do it myself again. She’s kind of funny about cars. Still, I had tried to be extra alert since then.
She shook her head and pointed to the trash bin where she’d tossed the ticket. “That ‘warning’ is your last warning. One more incident with the car and it’s going into lockdown…and you’re going to have to start hitchhiking to work.”
“Hitchhiking isn’t safe.”
“Then you’d better shape up, don’t you think?”
I nodded vigorously.
Dared I hope? This was working out a lot better than I had imagined. Warnings weren’t a problem. They just bought me more time, after all. Galen was saying something but I didn’t pay much attention, busy congratulating myself for a job well done. I rarely got off like this.
“…and I’ll feel better about your driving after you complete the course,” she was finishing.
It was my turn to be puzzled. “What course?”
“Defensive driving for beginners.”
“The five-hour course?”
“It’s 20 actually. Have you been listening to me?”
“WHAT? No, he said he wasn’t giving me any kind of fine or punishment. Let me see that.” I jumped up to retrieve the ticket from the garbage and Galen caught my hand before I could grab it.
“He may have said that, but I never said any such thing.”
And it’s me you have to listen to. She might as well have said it. I didn’t have any particular problem with that fact—it had been a group decision—but sometimes Galen worried about the strangest things and came up with the craziest ideas. Like this class.
“YOU’RE making me take the course?” I squeaked. “That’s crazy.”
“There’s one starting right on campus on Monday,” she continued calmly. “One of the TAs is enrolled and happened to mention it. I guess it’s b’shert,” she added cheerfully.
Right on campus…where she could keep an eye on me. Super. It was old tactic of Galen’s—over the years when I’d less than pleased her I’d found myself involved semi-consensually in such tasks as painting sets for the drama department and grading multiple-choice calculus tests for a seventy-year-old professor. Good deeds on Galen’s turf. But this course wouldn’t be good for anyone. Grr.
I glared. “Using the language of my own people against me,” I muttered, only half- teasing, feeling a little too outraged to joke.
She kissed me. “Nope. I’m not using anything against you except your driving, and you know I’m still on your side. Don’t ask me why, but I am,” she teased, then pulled out the hem of the shirt I was wearing to check the damage.
“It looks perfect,” she said, “but for the record I’d much prefer a stained shirt and your safety to a clean shirt and you swerving around like a maniac on the highway.”
“It made sense at the time,” I muttered. “You’re always saying I don’t take care of my things, and this was YOUR thing.”
“Yes, but so’s this,” she said, kissing me again, “and this one is a lot more important than the shirt.”
I risked half a smile. She might be difficult, but she really is awfully sweet a lot of the time. “I love you,” I told her, detaching her hands from my hem for a hug.
“Because of the reprieve?”
“Because of everything,” I assured her.
“I love you, too.” She moved my hair out of my eyes—you can’t brush it exactly; it takes a lot more force than that—and twisted a curl around her finger. I grinned. Apparently more than one good thing HAD happened to me today. This lenience wasn’t much like her, but I wasn’t going to question it.
Galen kissed my forehead and pulled away, sitting down on the settee. “Come here, then.”
I must have said it out loud, because she looked at me curiously. “Come on, Mir. Let’s get this over with.”
“But you said….”
“What?” She held out a hand, snapping her fingers when I didn’t take hold of it. “Come on, sweetheart.”
Reluctantly, I gave her my hand and let her tug me toward her. “You said I had a reprieve,” I mumbled, feeling stupid. I glared at her shoes.
She pulled me off balance to sit on her lap, wrapping her arms around me. “With the car, Miri. You know what I meant—that I wasn’t taking the car away.”
“I didn’t know that,” I said resentfully into her neck. I didn’t.
Hey! I SAID I didn’t.
Well, maybe I had an inkling. A little one. But it would only be fair to let me off completely, and I definitely had a shot convincing Galen of that.
Yeah. A shot in he….heck.
“You’re NO fun,” was all I said to her.
She rumpled the back of my hair. “I know. I’m a terrible bore. Up.”
I twined my arms tighter around her neck. “I haven’t seen you ALL day,” I protested. “And I’ve been looking forward to just unwinding with you. And then you come home and you’re all mad at me.”
She peeled me away gently. “Nice try. I’m not mad at you, and if you want us to spend more time relaxing together then try to avoid any more reckless automotive stunts, okay? Or,” she tapped my nose. “You could save some time by telling me straight out instead of making me drag it out of you.”
I was wondering if she’d noticed that.
“Good,” she responded, sounding a lot more cheerful than was really polite, considering the circumstances. “Thank you.” She paused. “Are we clear on what the problem is here?”
She raised her eyebrows.
It was a fairly common interaction.
“I should have had all my attention on the road,” I said as courteously as I could manage. “And not poured stuff on the shirt.”
“Right. I appreciate your not wanting to ruin my shirt, but as I said, the shirt is unimportant compared to the kind of damage you can do when you’re not alert while driving. It’s your safety and well-being I’m concerned about, and that’s what we’re going to talk about.”
I got the distinct feeling that it was not going to be a pleasant conversation.
She eased me off her lap and then I somehow ended up back on her lap, only this time instead of watching the maple outside our window I was staring at the wood grain of the floor. I put out a finger to trace a whorl, my thumb skimming a dark-colored knot in the one, two, three, fourth board from the settee leg. It should be said, I was way more familiar with this patch of wood than I wanted to be.
At this point protests are fairly unhelpful, so I tried the secondary strategy of ignoring what she was doing and hoping maybe she’d go away.
For the record, that’s NEVER worked. But there’s a first time for everything.
Somehow in the midst of my thoughts she’d managed to strip me from the waist down; my slacks were bunched at my knee and she was resting a cool hand on the small of my back. I wiggled a little bit, testing my space.
“Galen, I SAID I was sorry. And I’m going to be more careful. This isn’t necessary,” I protested.
Only it came out more like “This isn’t necessOW!”
“Galen!” I cried. Her hand swatted down sharply again.
“Yes?” she asked politely.
“Oh, nothing,” I muttered into the fabric of the settee.
I counted four more before she stopped and I blinked tears out of my eyes. I sensed her gearing up for some chatter.
“Is driving a privilege or a right, Miriam?”
Classical roots or no classical roots, the woman sometimes takes the Socratic method a little too far. These question and answer sessions are so—OW!—ill-timed. Argh.
“A privilege!” I yelped enthusiastically.
“Your safety is paramount,” she said firmly, punctuating her words with resounding and unfortunately unavoidable smacks. “What’s more important when you’re driving than being careful and taking care of yourself?”
“Nothing,” I said fervently.
“And what about getting distracted?”
“It shouldn’t happen!”
“What can you do to avoid it?”
“Pull over before I use my cell phone. Don’t play music really loudly,” I recited tearfully. “No taking my hands off the wheel when I’m dancing.”
Her hand descended particularly hard and I yelped.
“I mean no dancing!”
“And what can we add to the list?”
“No pouring water on myself,” I said miserably.
“Common sense. Just use your common sense, that’s all I ask.”
“But I don’t HAVE any common sense,” I wailed, my backside seriously stinging.
“Then you’ll use MINE,” she said sternly.
“I know. And that doesn’t change much, does it?”
“I know,” I sobbed. “I won’t do it again.”
“Good, I’m glad to hear it.” She stopped talking then to finish the job, covering every inch of skin until I was crying too hard to make out the familiar pattern in the floorboard and was just hanging on waiting for it to be over.
Then her hands were moving gently, on my back, in my hair. With both hands, she lifted the mess of curls from the back of my neck and blew gently on the hot, damp skin there, cooling it off—an old summer trick of hers. It brought fresh tears to my eyes and I wriggled upright, exhausted and miserable, reaching for her.
She eased me onto her lap, propping me on my hip, and tucked my head against her, rubbing my back, kissing my face, as I cried.
It was a while before I stopped hiccuping against the now-damp fabric of her shirt. I rested my cheek on her breast, feeling her heart beat against my ear, and felt my eyes start to droop. She continued to murmur to me quietly, both hands now deep in the riot of curls spread out on my shoulders. Gently she fingered the strands into neat, fat sausage curls, smoothing them as smooth as my wild hair could be. I coughed and buried my head deeper against her, loving the soothing feeling of her hands in my hair. She was the only person who’d ever been able to tame those strands.
I was drifting to sleep when her voice cut in softly.
“I almost forgot. I brought you something.”
I was too tired to perk up more than slightly, even at those exciting words, and I watched through lowered eyelids as she opened the day planner on the coffee table and removed something from the back flap. She handed it to me carefully and I took it between my fingers as delicately as I could.
“I found it on the grass outside the department offices,” she explained.
It was a perfect green leaf, edged with a sprinkling of deep gold, and boasting a few orange-red streaks.
“Look,” she said, touching the leaf with one finger, the other hand holding back my hair, “The leaves are starting to turn.”
*Lyrics from Ani DiFranco, “Little Plastic Castle.” No copyright infringement intended.
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