Lake Effect, Volume 25: "Pressed Powder"

Pressed Powder

By Garielle Lutz


She had advanced disposedly toward me in so many passageways at the community college that at some point I must have stopped waving her off. Like me, she had a futile disposition, or so she claimed, and she felt astray in herself, and had gone back to school, like me, to study office machines, office furniture, retail shelving. We were in some of the same classes. She was a participator. I liked the way her flesh fit her. She usually wore the same thing—a buttony shift-dress of cucumbrous green. You could tell she conducted her life with a certain venerealian pomp. You’d take her for the type who could show several true natures, someone who would ditch herself in others for a month here, a holiday there—someone who collected herself as she went along.  

She caught up with me one day on the way to class, hung one of her arms over my shoulder, and said, “So what else is there in this world of yours?”

There was a test that day. Only one of the profs ever gave essay exams, and this guy was the one. She was good at being evaluated, though all I’d ever managed was to arrange what had been taught into a fresh, glaring ignorance. But this time I found myself writing down everything I could remember about suit forms and droplights, risers and waterfall racks, island displays, complexion bulbs, demonstration cubes. I suddenly had a smug run of the subject.

At the campus coffee shack, she liked to talk about her two brothers, so we went there after the exam, and she talked. One of the brothers was a “boulevardier” benched these days in vestibules, lobbies, waiting rooms. He was against people using the word I when there was nothing behind it, nothing to back it up. The other was a pipefitter who ailed alcoholically and was known mostly for his panoramic absenteeism from work. Pricks were the easiest thing for him to get his hands on.

“Am I keeping you from anything?” she grew fond of saying. “Have you got anything anywhere?”

It’s all well and good for me to overlook how hidden I was even from myself in those days. This business of changing my address every other month, of making certain I was unheard of differently—I was, to be honest, a little tired of always feeling as if there were still hours and hours until whatever time it already was.

So, yes: I started sending her little tributes, honorings, keepsakes cheeky and affordable, through the mail, in care of the college.

I treated myself to feeling something for her. I toiled away little by little at how little I still felt.

You could always count on people wanting a bite to eat, but she must have still been in an “I’m different” stage, dramatically needing nothing. I sometimes drove us to a hamburger sanctum down the interstate. Like all women of such time and place, she kept running to the restroom, though she called it a bathroom and always came back to the table with her hair looking wet. She always spiced up her returns with a confession. Did I know she had a kid? The kid was too small to be much of anything yet, though, so there wasn’t much more for her to tell me, other than that the kid had its grandfather’s tattered hair. I pictured a lightly saddenable, girlier version of her.

In class one day, the Photocopying Sciences prof was looking right at me when he said the part about “no roving eyes,” then handed out the midterms. I was sitting next to her for a change, but only to throw her off a little. I hadn’t studied. I didn’t even read the questions. I doubt I even turned a page. I just signed my name on the answer sheet and distributed my #2-lead ovals in what I hoped would spell out something suitably, aptly terminal and crowning. But how much can you say with just A, B, C, D, and E? A BAD CAB BADE ABE and A CAD BEDDED DEAD DAD and BAD DEED were the most I could come up with. I repeated these a few times down the sheet, then reblackened all of it before turning everything in. The prof said, “Thank you,” and I went outside to wait.

She had taken her time, and when she came out, she took my arm and led me to her car—a first. “I’m taking you home,” she said. She drove us toward her part of town, pointing out features of buildings along the way, factories that now housed apartments for people to further themselves maritally or not. She pulled up in front of a notary public’s office. “I’ve got the upstairs,” she said.

Up there, in her place, was a man, a robed and orthopedically shod, concerned-looking person, in maybe his bottommost thirties, who looked a little like an unfiltered version of her. He said, “I called Mom—no, wait, she might’ve called me,” but there wasn’t any kid I could see.

The two of them offered me breakoffs of bulky candy they said came in crates all the way from the old country, showed me unkempt kindnesses of every sort, beat around every sort of bush, then walked me through what they miserably and lengthily professed was the notion of the truly biological spouse. It was like a team-taught lecture.

Then they wanted to know if I’d stay for a movie on TV. I did, but only out of courtesy, I’m still guessing, and afterward I could see that there was no place left on them to put what they felt onto each other, so they put it all on me.