Such A Pretty Face, Page 2Cathy Lamb
Mrs. Leod was not in the mood to take it easy. “Do you know why I don’t want to have sex with you? It’s the size of your dick. It’s so small it couldn’t make a banana slug come.”
“Maybe it’s because you’re dry as a desert,” Mr. Leod said, sinking lower in Scott’s arms, his breathing labored. “It’s like having sex with sand!”
“You can’t turn me on, sandman! Sweaty, sticky hands aren’t sexy, Frank—not sexy. And you would know what it’s like to have sex with sand, wouldn’t you, because of the Maui trip you went on when you were supposed to be visiting your mother, the old fart!”
“Jae’s doing pretty good, Stevie,” Scott said, as if we were at a dinner party. “I’m taking her and the kids down to Long Shore this weekend. There’s a kite festival.”
“That sounds fun. The weather is supposed to be beautiful.” I dodged a flying foot.
“Screw you!” Mrs. Leod said, arching in her fury. “Screw you forever!”
“I don’t want to screw you,” Mr. Leod squeaked out, his face now an even deeper red. “You are a sick sorceress.”
A sorceress? Now that was clever. Me and Cherie exchanged another look.
“Hey, when is your annual dinner, Cherie?” Scott asked.
Cherie had a dinner every year, complete with a barbeque and a band to raise money for foster kids.
“October.” She shoved Mrs. Leod’s swinging arms back down as the woman spit out bad words through clenched teeth. “You and Jae better be there. And you, too, Stevie.”
“Wouldn’t miss it.” Scott’s octopus client was struggling but losing steam, because he was having a problem sucking in enough air, his arms flailing. “Can I say, Stevie, without getting slapped with a harassment suit, that you are simply gorgeous?”
I couldn’t help but smile, even though Mrs. Leod’s knee caught me in the chest.
“I hate you, you happiness-sucking prune!”
“I hate you, too. Your evil spell over me is gone. Vannnisshhhheed!”
A spell? Cherie winked at me. It was so witchly here today.
“Thank you, Scott,” I said. “I appreciate it. I’m trying. Walking every day.”
“Doesn’t she look fantastic?” Cherie gushed, her perfectly polished nails holding Mrs. Leod down. “Gorgeous. Stevie, you are an inspiration to all of us.”
“You won’t get a dime of my inheritance,” Mrs. Leod hissed, her voice not quite as shrieky. I lay across her legs. “I curse you!”
“I earned that inheritance being married to you,” Mr. Leod said, in a whisper voice, his face flushed. That headlock was good! Not too much, not too little!
“Let me up!” Mrs. Leod yelled. “I will not tolerate this for one second loooonger!”
“Release me,” Mr. Leod hissed out, his neck in truly a bad position. “Reeeeleeasse me.”
“Not unless you promise you won’t try to decapitate your husband,” Cherie said, tone so mild, sweet even.
“I’ll release you, Frank,” Scott said. “But I can’t have you mangling your wife. It’s impolite.”
“This is none of your business!” Mrs. Leod shot out. “We demand that you let us go at once!”
“Stay out of this, Scott,” Mr. Leod said, his voice tiny.
“This is my business,” Cherie said. “No killings in Poitras and Associates. It’s a rule we have here. The blood makes a mess, and I won’t have anyone staining these new wood floors.”
“I don’t think I’m an inspiration,” I said to Cherie and Scott, still holding onto Mrs. Leod’s kicking legs. “My stomach has been squeezed into something the size of an egg. Gorging is now impossible no matter how much I want to shovel in chocolate cake. Buying clothes has also been a problem.” I exhaled. Mrs. Leod finally relaxed her murderous self a bit.
“I’m sure,” Scott agreed. “Every month you’re skinnier.”
Mr. Leod had finally collapsed, so Scott let him sink down to the floor.
“Easy does it,” he said to his client. The client fell straight back. Scott made sure he was breathing, then said, “Jae said the same thing when we ran into you downtown last week. She said, ‘Stevie Barrett looks terrific.’”
“I’ve told her not to lose one more pound. Not a pound. This is enough,” Cherie said. “Now, everyone, take a breath, relax. Deep breath in, deep breath out, breathe in, out…We’re not going to talk any further unless you two promise not to try to kill each other.”
Mrs. Leod was trying to catch her breath, still lying splat on the floor. “I want him dead. I want him to be a corpse.”
“Over my dead body,” her husband wheezed. “Over my dead body, you wicked warlock woman.”
“You are the spawn of the devil,” she said.
“You are the devil.” He coughed, inhaled. Our octopus had had enough.
“Remember, no killing in Poitras and Associates,” Cherie said cheerfully.
I eyed Scott from the floor, where I still held Mrs. Leod. “Lovely to see you.”
“And you, Stevie.”
“Do tell Jae I said hello.”
“I’ll do that. Have a great day, you two.”
“See ya, Scott,” Cherie said, then smiled.
We hauled Mrs. Leod up and out the door. She tried to jam herself in the door frame, legs and arms splayed out, but we wrangled her away and down the hall. She still managed to call out, “I hope your pecker dissolves, I do, you ball-less wonder!”
“She’s sure clever,” I said to Cherie.
“Absolutely. Have to admire the vocabulary.”
“Good-bye, sand pit!” Mr. Leod called, his voice scratchy. “You barren wasteland!”
Scott would remove his octo-client from our law offices when Cherie’s office door slammed shut.
They would meet again another day, if neither had gutted the other. Mr. and Mrs. Leod were still living in the same mansion in the hills, so who knew.
We left Mrs. Leod in Cherie’s office to cool off. She kicked the door. Three times. We had a temper-tantrum-throwing kid.
“Nothing like an acrimonious divorce to get the blood pumping, is there, Stevie?” Cherie smiled at me. We’d gone rafting last year for our firm’s party and paintball shooting another time to “relieve the stress of warring spouses.”
I smiled back. She is the best boss ever. Ever. And she loves a good fight.
“Nothing like it,” I agreed.
When I got back to my desk and my computer, I noticed that my hands were shaking. They’d started shaking after I’d lost about thirty pounds and have gotten progressively worse these last six months. There is nothing medically wrong, we’ve checked that out.
It is, as they say, all in my head.
As the weight came off, the shaking started, the memories unearthed themselves, the visions grew, and the nightmares throttled my sleep. One problem solved, another problem stalking me.
The vision of myself in the mirror was truly the most alarming. Why? Because she was there.
She scared me to death.
I live in a one thousand square foot house built in 1940. I painted it emerald green with white trim and a burgundy-colored door. It has a huge backyard with a good-sized deck under a trellis. Because of my trees, and the neighbor’s trees, it’s quite private. My house is on a quiet street fifteen minutes from Portland, with a white picket fence that I built myself. That’s Portland, Oregon, not Portland, Maine.
My home also has a detached garage, green with white trim. I have an obsession in my garage. It’s rather an embarrassing, colorful obsession, but that is a story for later.
I bought this one-story, peaked-roof house about eighteen months ago after living in a dingy studio in a sketchy part of town for about a year after The Escape and all the new guilt. The studio came complete with occasional gunfire, domestic disturbances, and exciting carjackings. I was robbed once; all they took was my jean jacket and my pink robe. I have no idea why they wanted a pink robe. I think they took it to punish me for not having anything better.
During those dark months I tried to recover emotionally and physically from the heart attack, my operation, and a couple of other heart wrenching things I don’t want to speak about.
This house, here in a funky, older, classy-hippie neighborhood called Newport Village, three blocks from a street of eclectic stores and coffee shops, was in foreclosure. To buy it I sold my car for a clunker truck I named The Mobster, because the previous owner probably could have been in the Mob, only without the dashing facial features.
I also sold my TV and a ton of stuff online, including some fat clothes, and used my savings from the divorce settlement for the down payment.
My house was in a pretty poor state of disrepair, like me, although the structure was intact, sort of like me. The first thing I did was put my hope chest in the attic. All the women in my family line have hope chests where they hide their secrets and preserve their treasures. When the woman dies, they’re handed down to the next generation. Opening the chest would unleash too many emotional ghosts, so I’ve left it shut since I closed it with trembling hands twenty-four years ago.
The second thing I did was replace the two toilets. I would have had the EPA at my house if I hadn’t.
The third thing I did? I took a sledgehammer, after talking to a contractor so I didn’t bash any wires or pipes, and I smashed three walls down inside the house. The first wall I smashed out was between the kitchen and dining room. Another was between the kitchen and family room, the third between the family room and a bedroom. I am not embarrassed to say that I swung that sledgehammer again and again, and swore, and yelled and cried, the drywall dust and wood splinters covering me.
Have you ever smashed a wall down? You should try it. There’s something so…fulfilling about bashing something, especially if every time that sledgehammer hits the wall you think of something, or someone, deep in your memories who hurt you or set afire an anger in your stomach you thought would burn you straight through.
I pounded the heck out of those walls.
By the time I was done destroying those walls, I could breathe a little better and my house seemed three times bigger.
A contractor cleaned things up and I had myself a home.
After battling only two hours of insomnia, I dreamed.
I dreamed of the cornfield by the Schoolhouse House. It was golden and warm, and I was running through it, Sunshine behind me. The corn formed a path and we followed it. Our stream flowed through it and we jumped over it, pink and green fish swishing below. The sky was blue, and a willow tree on the property rose in the distance, a tree house built on its strong limbs. We climbed the steps on the trunk and entered the tree house, with its yellow curtains and pink and yellow furniture. At a table there were two teddy bears in chairs, chatting, and we sat down to have a tea party.
I ate three white-and-pink-striped cupcakes, and then a door opened and Helen stomped in. She was hollering and wearing a bat with red eyes on her head. She ripped the heads off the talking teddy bears, then threw Sunshine out the window. Finally, she turned to me and said, “You’re next,” and she sat on my stomach. In my dream I struggled for air. I kicked, I fought, but her expression didn’t change. It was blank.
I woke up tangled in my sheets and sweating, and peered through the window at the dirt outside my house.
I cannot plant corn. I wrapped my arms around myself and rocked back and forth, feeling the air constrict in my lungs, my body tightening.
I cannot plant corn.
I stopped on the steps of our office building in downtown Portland.
“Stevie! Right here!” My head swiveled around, stiffly, as I had apparently pulled myself into a pretzel while I slept, at least that’s how it felt.
“Are you blind?” the voice asked, sarcastic, disbelieving.
Aha. I knew that voice. I saw her head poke out around a pillar.
“Peekaboo, Zena Loo!” I called. “Why are you hiding?”
She made a face at me, rolled her eyes, sooo impatient.
I laughed when I saw her. It was glaringly apparent why Zena was hiding like a skunk in a log.
Zena, an overgrown Tinkerbell at a size 4, with a voguely cut wedge of black hair, was not dressed in appropriate professional attire for work as a legal assistant at Poitras and Associates. Tinkerbell was wearing a tiny black, slinky dress, plunging in front to show full cleavage, with four-inch black heels; a variety of chains, including one with a skull on it; and a black leather dog collar type of necklace with spikes. On her wrists were matching black leather dog collar bracelets.
She was also wearing something that resembled a plastic black snake winding up her leg.
“By golly gee, I don’t think you’re ready for work, Zena. Nice snake, though.”
“Funny,” Zena snapped. “Perhaps you’d enjoy taking the snake home to play with?”
“Do you have a leash to go with that dog collar?”
“You’re a frickin’ barrel of laughs, Stevie.” Zena is twenty-five but has lived through enough to be eighty. Her mother died of a drug overdose, and her father was in jail for aggravated assault and drug dealing. Her brother and she were split up when she was seventeen and he was twelve. At eighteen, she went to court and got full custody. They lived together from then on out. The brother, Shane, is a huge science nerd. He won the state, then national competition for his experiments with genes and DNA and something I still can’t understand, then received a full-ride scholarship to Stanford where he is majoring in biology and minoring in French. He adores Zena and calls her every day.
“You haven’t been to bed yet, have you?” I asked my snake friend.
She made an impatient clicking sound with her tongue. “If I had, would I be hiding behind a pillar waiting for you? Haven’t you ever been out dancing all night and then you check your watch and go, oh, shit, I have to be at work in fifteen minutes?” She tapped her heel.
“No. Never. Remember, I was huge until a little while ago.”
Zena rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I remember. Can’t forget that.”
I didn’t take offense. Zena was probably the only person in my life besides my cousins who didn’t treat me any different pre-and post-fat. She was sarcastic before and sarcastic after.
Zena tossed back her head. “Help me get dressed. I don’t want to give all the male attorneys and Caroline a boner when I walk in.”
“Do I have to?” I whined, knowing I would. I had done it many times in the past.
“Yes. No boners. Give me your coat.”
“Nope. No can do. This is my favorite.”
She tugged, I tugged back, she tugged harder, and I let her win. I mean, she was wearing a plastic snake!
She stuck her arms through the sleeves and flipped up the collar. The coat came down to midthigh on her.
“Give me your scarf.”
I sighed, pulled off my blue sparkly scarf. If I didn’t, she’d take it, strangling me if she had to. She tied it at her waist.
“Voilà! You have a dress,” I drawled.
She took off her chains and the skull and the metallic earrings that hung to her shoulders and shoved them in her purse. She took off the black dog collar, the black leather bracelets on her wrists with spikes, and the snake. Then she reached under my coat, pulled on the black straps of her dress and gave it a yank. She got an extra six inches of material at the bottom. She took out a comb to brush her hair, swiped on lipstick, popped in breath mints, and said, “Thanks, Stevie. Here we go.”
I was disgusted. She took my dreary corduroy coat and my sparkly scarf and transformed them into chic style. “I think I hate you today, Zena. No one who has been out partying all night should look that good. It should be illegal. You should be arrested.”
What was funny about Zena is that though she danced into the wee hours, she did not “do men.” No boyfriends, no lovers. She wasn’t into women, either. As she explained it, “When I meet a man I’m dum
b enough to fall in love with, that’s when I’ll do him. Until then, no. They just fuck with your brains.”
The elevator swooshed up and I glanced in the mirrored walls, then quickly away. My blue eyes appeared tired, my black curls messy. I still had a hard time recognizing myself without that extra 170 pounds. I still moved as if I were heavy, giving myself extra space I didn’t need. I automatically cringed at the thought of airline seats and seat belt extensions, movie theatre seats, and chairs in general. And then I’d remember.
Zena linked an arm around me and smiled. Her smile is huge and takes up half her face. “I love you, Stevie.”
I wiped at my tears. Zena is such a cool friend, and I am falling apart.
“Your mascara is smeared, Stevie. You’re a mess,” she said. She whipped out a tissue and cleaned up my face.
Yes, indeed. I am a mess.
“Steve, my office.” Crystal Chen stood next to me, her sharp red talons slashing through the air. She flipped her stick straight black hair behind her. “Now.”
I hated the way she instantly made me feel so nervous.
“Hello, Crystal,” Zena drawled. “How’s the stick up your ass?”
Crystal narrowed her eyes. “Shut up, you skinny pole with a head.”
Zena said, “That’s a good one. Creative. Accurate. Bet you’ve been up nights thinking of that one.”
Crystal flushed. “At least I’m not up nights with a cigarette in my hand staring out my grimy apartment window. Steve, now.” She turned away.
“Excuse me,” Zena said, quite loud, when Crystal was halfway down the hallway. “I don’t smoke, I dance, and prunes will help constipation, Crystal, don’t you worry. You’ll feel better in no time. Your colon is probably bursting with defecation.”
Crystal checked for other attorneys, saw none, then flipped Zena off.
Crystal and Zena don’t care for each other much.
Poitras and Associates is located in the second tallest building in Portland on the next to the top floor. We have spectacular views of the city, the hills west of Portland, the river, and the whole east side. We have about thirty attorneys, of all ages, colors, and cultures. Half are women. Our attorneys cost between $200 and $600 an hour. The lower end is for the newbies who are worked about fifteen hours a day, six days a week, slobbering with stress into their cereal each morning.