Category Archives: fiction

United Gypsy Services

Sarah despised the new pastor’s wife, a wisp of a woman named Angie Drummond. It wasn’t a conscious decision on Sarah’s part. Instead, it stole on her slowly when Pastor Drummond, a refined theologian with enough books to fill a library, came to live in the rectory behind the church.

The rectory was a roomy old house, bright with fresh white paint inside and sky blue paint outside. A combination of the ladies’ rose club and the church janitor had, for years, lovingly tended the yard that ran below the house. Everything about the place sparkled and continued to sparkle because Angie and her refined husband had no children to turn the yard into a mud pit or to cloud the white walls with their dirty paws. And Angie, herself, whispered through the world, her ninety-pound frame leaving little impression anywhere. She barely swirled the dust, which was lacking anyway, owing to the maid the pastor had hired to help his wife with housework twice a month.

By contrast, Sarah was still heavy from giving birth to her fourth son. Nor had she ever been a floaty sprite, not even at her seventeen-year-old prime. Her husband, as a seasonally out-of-work contractor, was too unrefined to read anything but alternative online news sources. To add to the irritation, he refused to tend to the yard that came with their gloomy ranch house, which topped out at 1400 sq. ft. if Sarah added the garage measurement.

Sarah’s life was rendered chaotic from lack of help. Angie’s soft world was made continuously soft by her husband’s gifts to her, by the doting congregation, by a world that seemed to believe Angie was more special than the average human being. And for that, for her own extreme lack of specialness, Sarah found herself seething while sitting on Angie’s brand-new leather couch, which was just one piece in a brand-new living room set. The set hadn’t been there last week when Angie had invited Sarah to coffee.

Angie set a coaster on the brand-new bright red coffee table and placed a cup of coffee there for Sarah.

“Would you like a slice of pound cake?” Angie offered.

“I’m dieting,” Sarah said.

They sat in silence for a while, Sarah sipping at Angie’s weak coffee. Sarah smiled and pretended she liked brown water, though the entire affair felt as awkward as her meaty hands did gripping the tiny cup. Sarah was a giant at a little girl’s tea party. Angie, more of a doll than a child, sat with a slice of untouched pound cake as though it was a prop for the bone white china. Then, bizarrely, the doll cackled.

“United Gypsy Services,” Angie said. “That’s what you want to know, isn’t it? Where we ordered the furniture.”

Sarah stared at the woman open-mouthed. For a moment, Angie’s face transformed into a leering, witch face, her head covered by a coarse babushka. After squeezing her eyes open and shut a few times, the face opposite hers returned to normal. Surely, Angie jested. Everybody had heard of the United Gypsy Services, and everybody knew it was an occult mail order service that involved the casting of spells. A Methodist pastor would never stoop to such a public sin as ordering his new living room set through magic.

As soon as Sarah could reasonably escape, she did. Something was definitely off in the rectory. Back at her ranch house, she decided to check out the United Gypsy Services for herself. Once online, she didn’t hesitate before clicking straight into the mail order site. She convinced herself it was curiosity, or the need to investigate for the sake of the church.

It had nothing to do with Angie having better furniture than Sarah had. Why should Sarah have good furniture, anyway? Her boys would just destroy it.

The site was a little overwhelming, with bright flashing signs attracting the eyes to Today Only, 85% off! and other such sales pitches. Sarah smirked. Angie would be foolish enough to fall for such pitches; she wondered how much the pastor had been taken for after all was said and done. Sarah, on the other hand, was far too smart to fall prey to disreputable sales people.

She scrolled to the bottom of the page, seeing no advertisements for the quality living room set at Angie’s house. All the products–kitchen appliances, gardening tools, bedding, clothes–looked chintzier than the products at the Dollar Store. It was no surprise, then, to find this disclaimer in small print near the customer support button: UGS and their affiliates are not official trademarks of the Romani people. Yes, more likely, the products were made in a mishmash of third-world factories and shipped by slow boat to the states.

Bored at the obvious lack of magic, Sarah scrolled back up until the slow internet speed brought the page to a halt. That was strange. Her mouse arrow had landed on an ad for furniture she hadn’t previously seen. In fact, the arrow remained stuck there until she clicked into the furniture sales page.

There were the leather couches, the brightly painted tables and chairs. And they were cheap. Even Sarah could afford them. Overwhelming desire consumed her insides until she managed to satiate it by ordering the entire set and finalizing the sale by entering her credit card information. She told herself her husband would be happy about it. He would congratulate her on finding such a great deal.

He wasn’t. “You ordered furniture from the United Gypsy Services? What have you done to us, woman?”

“It was a great deal. We’ll have it paid off in a couple months, maximum.”

“You think I’m worried about more debt?” His laugh was dark and worrisome. “Just bring it on! Bring on more debt! That’s what you do. No, I care more about what this will do to our family, what the magic will require of us.”

“The pastor orders from them,” Sarah said–a faint excuse, spoken to herself because her husband had stomped off into the dark and gloomy bedroom.

She sat and stared at the awful mismatched, scratched up, stained furniture that decorated her living room. Didn’t she deserve better than this? And why was the debt her fault? She had never spent money on herself or her clothes–except maybe her monthly manicure, which was her only luxury. Instead, she was a responsible mother who took her children to the doctor or dentist and had the oldest wired with braces on his teeth. She bought them school clothes and soccer cleats. And for some reason, taking care of the boys made her husband angry. They were supposed to care for their offspring, which she had been doing, without complaint, for years.

Irritated at the deprivation caused by marriage and children, she slammed her dishes in the dishwasher–no bone china for her–and wiped the grunge from the counters.

By the time the gypsy caravan arrived with her furniture, she had overcome her anger. She was excited. She would tell the boys the living room was off limits to their wrestling games and wooden swords, and then she and her husband would sit together on the love seat. If he changed his clothes first, she would give him ready permission to enjoy the new living room, and he would come to enjoy relaxing there after a hard day.

For about fifteen minutes, the caravan and its train-like cars marched, noisy and bright, up the road. Obviously, this was not an anonymous service. Her neighbors, if they were at home, stumbled from their front doors to gape at the parade. How had it escaped the notice of the church when Angie’s furniture arrived? Sarah had no idea, but she itched with agitation to catch sight of her brand-new, beautiful living room set.

A man with a clipboard stepped from the main carriage and shouted orders for the products to be brought out. From inside the second carriage, three men in circus costumes popped out and unceremoniously dumped a few pieces of cheap, plastic furniture on her patchy front lawn.

“That’s not what I ordered,” she protested.

The man with the clipboard glared at her, his beady eyes making direct eye contact. “Am I to understand you’re refusing what we’ve delivered to your doorstep?”

“If that’s what you’re delivering, yes.”

“Move it back, boys!” he shouted. “And don’t you move, ma’am. This could get dangerous.”

Sarah couldn’t have moved if she’d wanted to. Her feet were glued to the spot, her limbs frozen. She could only watch, in horror, the train of caravans moving in slow speed toward her, their moving parts ching-chinging, clanging, whistling. Just as she thought she would be slowly crushed underneath the multiple wheels, the first car swung wide around her and all the rest followed, but pulled closer and closer, as though she were the center of a spiral that was ever shrinking. And then, when the nearest car sat inches from her face, the train halted. Aside from the faintest rattling, the world inside the spiral was silent.

Then she heard a loud, gruff voice: “How will she be redeemed?”

“Says here, her youngest son will go in trade to one Angie Drummond, in exchange for the leather living room set.”

“Terms of trade?”

“Eternal.”

Rough laughter, as if from an invisible but near caravan window, assaulted Sarah’s ears.

“She must be a nasty piece of work.”

“Measured by the pound, no doubt.”

More laughter. Sarah wanted to shout in protest, but her mouth was as frozen as the rest of her.

“Ah, look at that–a note from Mrs. Drummond. She’s willing to give the cow her china, too. Since boys break china, and she has a son now. Generosity never knew such bounds.”

“All right, men, let her go. We wouldn’t want another heart attack victim on our hands.”

With that, the spiral spun her loose, one slow car at a time. Sarah stomped her tingly feet, readying herself to dash off to her youngest child’s kindergarten.

“Run after him, if you like, but I doubt they’ll let you have the Drummond boy,” the man with the clipboard said as he checked an item on his paper. “They might even arrest you for kidnapping.”

“I–” Sarah closed her mouth, motherhood of three settling in her soul like the calm after a storm.

He jumped on the train that sat, waiting, rattling. He waved at her with one last shout: “Remember to tell your friends: United Gypsy Services aims to please every time!

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Bruno Solar System’s First News Now Reporting on the Planet Sardon

In recent Solar System news, the National Treasury of the Sardonian people has been unsealed, not for its yearly accounting, but for a printing of new funds at a volume never seen before.

“The underground presses were literally glowing with warmth,” our National Treasury correspondent, A. Fraser, reported by interplanetary wire. “The smell of newspaper and ink was overwhelming to the senses. I swooned. It was as if great works of literature were being churned out by the millisecond.”

As we’ve reported before, the Sardonian economy is kept afloat by scraps of official paper fibers over which words are printed in special government fonts. Being an extraordinarily complex system, only three economists understand the full spectrum of values the currency possesses. The average Sardonian simply attempts to keep up with the effect of market forces on those words found most frequently in his vocabulary. For example, the poorly educated comprehend all too well that articles, conjunctions, and other insubstantial one-syllable words are of little value (even if they don’t know exactly what the current low value is), while a confusing handful of one-syllable words contain such historic significance (e.g. tongue, horse, and moon) that they are priceless and, consequently, also of little value to anyone but esoteric historians.

By extension, most middle class men happily languish in workaday jobs to earn two-syllable words, such as balloon, python, and monkey, which suffice as exchange for words that put dinner on the table. However, due to the plebeian uprisings of 3024, the two-syllable word marrow–which represents the staple diet of the people–has been downgraded to the value of a conjunction so that the impoverished may also feed their families by trading lesser-fonted marrow coupons for grade B vegetables.

Why are they printing so many new words? The economic fate of the Bruno Solar System seems to hang on this very question. We asked A. Fraser, and he responded, “For more than a century, the Sardonian women have suffered oppression under the Primogeniture Word Act. They’ve been forced to subsist off strict word allowances belonging to their husbands or supporting male relatives. It’s all color of law, but it’s been practically illegal for women to own words of any kind (for more, see A Social History of Gender Inequalities). After weeks of silent protest by the women, which involved doing nothing but playing hand signal games with their children, newly elected President Grayhall pushed a landmark bill through the senate to give women back their own kinds of feminine words.”

Our interplanetary wire being cut from too much congestion, A. Fraser sent us this late, breaking news by old-fashioned quantum telegraph: While the senate spends the next fifty years defining what constitutes a feminine word–almost impossible because the language, itself, has evolved morphologically in the neuter–Grayhall has, in less than five minutes, met with advisers to finesse his healthcare reform plan. Throughout his private advisement meeting, his personal security officers leaned out the upper story windows at five second intervals, throwing out buckets of newly minted words for the women below to catch in their arms.

“It was beautiful,” one security officer remarked. “They were like blooming flowers with their arms wide open, catching a rainstorm of petals.” After that, the officer shut up because he had used his entire savings account in that one poetic sentiment.

And it appears the government has not only used all its stored words, but has caused a debt bubble as big as the planet itself. Nobody can quite get an accurate figure of words printed, but the estimates have ranged anywhere from 8 billion to 700 trillion, not to mention the words printed in a rush at the end for the sole purpose of repairing the smoking presses, which are estimated at ρ 5,000,000 paper cost.

We tried to contact A. Fraser by wire again for a badly needed verbal update, but were unable to do so. We did receive one last entangled particle telegraph from him, detailing the Chief Governor’s theory that President Grayhall printed all these beautiful words because he hopes the women will use them in support of his healthcare reform plan. While this may seem like a bright idea, A. Fraser teleported, modern Sardonian women aren’t the idealized oracles of ancient times. How could they be? They haven’t had any practice at it. Some men have reported hearing nothing but female voices, tinny from disuse, wasting currency on cupcakes, but I would question such rumors. One man claims he had to lock up his wife in a silencing room because she wouldn’t stop muttering the word chocolate, which is one of the most expensive luxury words available. But, again, that’s, as yet, an unsubstantiated rumor.

Is the Chief Governor’s theory correct? As soon as more information arrives via telegraph or wire, we’ll have late-breaking coverage on the debt bubble, President Grayhall’s healthcare reform plan, as well as a few human interest stories on how the men are coping with hearing the new sounds of their wives’ voices.

First News Now.

For related posts, click below:
The Planet Sardon: A Travelogue
The Planet Sardon: On Ethics, Morality, and the Greeting Card Fund
The Gillilander Pituitary Scale of the Male Out of Eden Complex

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Part VI: Living In One House

Cecilia has been pressing me to finish this story. It’s done! I told her. Finis! And as I discovered, marriage was the ultimate business for Oso. It was the end to everything, rather than the beginning it should have been. Let nobody say that Oso runs my life because it would be a lie. I have to admit that the order we created–together!–has always made a strange kind of sense to my soul, despite all.

First, I’m going to tell you, rather than show you, a little more about Oso. Oh, I’m sure you understand what kind of man he is after having read my previous installments. But this time I’m going to be blunt. Oso is brilliant. I have a PhD in genetics and am currently living my dream as a researcher; he has no degrees and his IQ outstrips mine by a good fifteen to twenty points. He’s instinctive. He’s clever. He’s in charge and has the bulldog body to back it up. He scares the living daylights out of most people because most people can’t compete with him on any level, neither physically nor mentally. In addition, he hires the right sort of engineer who will create the right sort of innovative products that will make Oso very, very rich. More on that in a minute.

Do you remember? When asked what his future plans were, back in high school, the yearbook staff highlighted this quote: “I’m going to make money.” They printed the words in bold as if he had said something profoundly important or noble, something along the lines of what a high school girl might breeze on about: “I plan to end world hunger!” Perhaps the term important has been slightly misconstrued as an end rather than a beginning, and perhaps the yearbook teacher, Claire, intimately understood how much more clever Oso was than the average idealist. Making money, and being brilliant about it, creates the means to propagate charity.

Oso did make money, and this money spawned more money, as well as a cluster of charity projects, which he, of course, headed, that benefited his local community. But I would sorely appreciate the credit I deserve in all of this. Oso, being one type of brilliant man, never could quite grasp that not all brilliant men were of his ilk. In the early days, when he was just forming his team, he brought over a stack of resumes to my apartment and slapped them down in front of me.

“I don’t get these people, Julia,” he said. “I need to know if they’re geniuses, autistics, both, or neither. I need to know if I can work with them. You have to help me.”

It wasn’t the first time I wished he would use the words please and thank you when commanding me to do something. I thumbed through the pages and stifled a yawn. I honestly didn’t care about Oso’s employees, or potential ones. “By these people I assume you mean engineers. You don’t expect me to read through these resumes, do you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“There’s no way I can tell from a resume whether someone is a genius or autistic. I have to interview them, and even then, I won’t be able to give you an official diagnosis without tests.”

“No tests. They’re potential employees, not patients. I’ll allow you to interview them.”

He wouldn’t ask for my professional opinion. He would allow me to give it, while failing to notice that I would rather have poked hot needles in my eyes than be put in a position where I could cause Oso to fail in his great life task of making money. What if his business went bankrupt, owing to me? From that day forward, and despite my protestations, I was part of his hiring team, but that was only because I was successful with my choices the first time around. Oso insisted those were the ones he would have picked, anyway, and he was thankful for the confirmation. It happened that way consistently. Ever after, Oso would have picked the same people I tentatively recommended, who then went on to positively succeed at their jobs.

As it turned out, I had a skill for picking competent, creative, and sane people. The last trait, obviously, was the most important. Once, when his human resources department insisted he had to hire at least one female for the sake of appearances, he handed the project to me because I was the one who had chosen his male-dominant team of shifting players. The females had never quite convinced me they had the two Cs and the S keeping them in balance and, frankly, I must admit that Oso doesn’t work well with women of any competence level. He doesn’t work with them at all. He charms them. On the other hand, I may have had a natural prejudice toward any young female who would be working under Oso. His charm worked a little too well.

I sifted through the female resumes, narrowed the group to the top three achievers, and then picked the ugliest. By ugly, I mean receding-chin, nose-like-a-toucan’s, ugly. And Oso henceforth loved her—in, I hope, a completely Platonic way. She was loyal, smart, and attune to deadlines, which most of his brilliant men just weren’t. She had the stamina to push projects through to completion. She was his godsend. His word, not mine.

What does all this have to do with the end of things? It has a lot to do with it, actually. About three months after Oso and I finally married, we decided to buy a house. He left the decision up to me, told me in no uncertain terms to pick whatever house I fancied. That was a first. I chose a house in town for ease of commute; I chose a middle-sized bungalow for ease of cleaning; I chose it for its front porch, its basement, and its two above-ground stories. Without the porch or basement measurement, the house was about 1600 square feet. The basement would be mine; the other two stories would belong to Oso and the children in whatever way they divvied up the space.

“No,” Oso said, after I gave him the tour.

I almost blew up. He’d given me the choice. Me. How dare he say no? “Why not?”

“Because I don’t want you living in the basement and pretending we still have our own places. I can see what you’re thinking, and it’s not going to happen.”

I tried to control myself, but I couldn’t. I shouted at him. “So now I’m not allowed to pick a house with a basement?”

He had the grace to appear surprised at my outburst. “The house is beautiful. It’s yours if you want it,” he said, and his mildly amused tone irritated me. “You’ll live on the first floor with me. Not in the basement. The kids can have the upstairs. I need you. More than you’ve ever needed me.”

And that—right there—is the end of it. Oso needed me. He needed the toucan-beaked woman, but differently. He needed me for safekeeping until death. We moved in and sent the kids running through from the basement to the top and then down again. Meanwhile, we shut ourselves in our very first room together, and Oso may have sighed and relaxed for the first time in his life. He flopped down on the bed we’d just assembled together.

“Will you bring me a beer, Julia? Please?” he asked. “I’m tired.”

Oso had clearly arrived, but had I? I had a career, three children, a husband, and a house—achieved, or blessed, in that order. I fetched Oso his beer (he had, after all, asked nicely) and then wandered upstairs to look down at the spring apple tree blooms in my new backyard.

I hadn’t arrived, but I was home. At least for now.

Oso Part V
Oso Part IV
Oso Part III
Oso Part II
Oso Part I

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Cabaret Singer, Lost Inside

Falling in love with a cabaret singer isn’t for the faint of heart. At points in my love journey, I closed my eyes and focused on an image of the man on a dark stage, dancing in a circle of light, his face a mask of black and white. But, in reality, he didn’t do much dancing. Rather, he sat at his black baby grand and played for hours with his eyes closed to me.

It hurt. True, he had more important songs to bring to light and air than the ones involving me — that I had written for him, of course. Somehow, even as a nobody, a woman second-class, I knew we had more than just a simple connection. And so I waited at the edge of the shiny wooden dance floor, which was always devoid of couples. As far as I could tell, although my cabaret singer was both talented and sought-after, he played for nobody on a nightly basis.

Rumor had it he was searching for a woman, or that his entourage did the searching, framing photos of eligible bachelorettes and sliding them to him while he sat at his instrument. He shooed them away, again and again. In my imagination, he didn’t prefer to have framed images of women dotting the landscape of his piano; he wished he could rattle them off. I detected a dismissive look in his eyes, and that wasn’t imagination. And, oh, were his eyes ever dismissive! They flitted past me, as well as the rest of the late-night stragglers at the dance hall. Making music — that was his primary job in this world, and who could convince him of anything else?

One night, I entered the hall to find my cabaret singer utterly changed. In addition to his usual tuxedo with the tie undone, he’d added a white pancake make-up to his face, red to his lips, and a set of disgustingly thick and black false eyelashes to his eyes. He was beautiful with that look — I couldn’t put my finger on why it suited him so well, as though a charmed blending had occurred. Overnight, he’d become the musical Emcee from Cabaret, and I half expected him to sing, “Beedle dee, dee dee dee, two ladies! And I’m the only man, ja!”

When I took up my usual corner vigil with my roommate — I always slouched my shoulders in the corner opposite his — he stopped playing to give the photograph parade a serious perusal. My heart jittered with nerves, and I pressed my hand to my chest and wondered if the three shots of Jack had depleted my potassium. I turned to the side and glanced his way out of the corners of my eyes, and then, when he spotted my obvious attempt to appear as though I didn’t care, I searched the glare of the waxed-over-scuff flooring. My roommate, whom I’d dragged with me, chucked a finger under my chin.

“You’ll survive,” she said. “I’m sure he’s not interested in any of those women. It’s hard to fall in love with a photograph.”

I might have believed her, but the man’s womanly face suddenly crumpled into a sad state, his full red lips pursed. He batted his eyelashes and couldn’t blink away the few stray tears that coursed black rivulets down his white cheeks.

“He’s fallen in love,” I said. “And not with me. I’ll be forever separated.”

My roommate seemed annoyed. She was one those invisible girls, far more invisible than I was — and I was nearly a ghost — and, hence, I tended to use her as my emissary. She did it without my asking. “Do you want me to go look at the photo for you, see what she looks like?”

“Please,” I said.

She slid across the floor, and I watched as she turned her frail blonde, invisible angel head to the framed image in my cabaret singer’s hand. While sliding back, she smiled in her sly way.

“It’s a picture of his mother,” she told me.

“How do you know?”

“Because of the resemblance. It’s obvious.”

“Oh.”

I raised my eyes to the piano, and I saw he’d brushed all the photos aside, and his entourage was packing them away, but he hadn’t yet begun to focus on his sheet music. Instead, he stared across the dance hall at me and my roommate. His shoulders were about as hunched as mine were. For five long minutes, he sat in silence and didn’t move, and he stared at us, the invisible females, as though he’d spotted two ghosts and didn’t know what to do with the vision.

Finally, he rose, gestured for another man to take his place on the piano bench, and crossed the room.

“Dance?” he said, holding out his hand to me. He sighed. “It’s about time, anyway.”

The new singer-player dashed out a folk waltz. I took my singer’s hand, and he pulled me into a swinging one-two-three.

“Beedle dee, dee dee dee, two ladies! I’m part of you, and you are two,” he sang so that only my ear could hear him.

You are two. I never saw him after that night because he disappeared at the end of our dance. For some reason, I no longer needed to see the man whose songs I wrote in secret. I never returned to the dance hall, and neither did he. Rumor had it, he’d found a better-paying gig. I heard his voice, though, especially in my dreams: I’m part of you, and you are two. I framed the song in my mind and kept it.

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Part V: Oso’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Men who demand obedience ought to be disobeyed on principle. After thirteen years—more or less—with Oso, I fully understood this. If I were his therapist, or thought it was my place to pretend such a profession, I would advise him to lend a hand to others rather than expecting others’ hands always to do for him. In case you’ve misconstrued my previous statement, let me clarify: Whatever adjective you might apply to my arrogant prick of a man, laziness doesn’t fit. No, Oso has always had a focus problem, not a laziness one. His work focuses on himself—how Oso can make money; how Oso can keep command of himself and others; how Oso propagates himself in the world.

He asked me to marry him the other week. Thirteen years and three children since our fateful meeting in the supermarket, and he finally asked the question. How could I say yes? How could I live with a man whose name hid inside the adjective overbearing? If you’re weary of these jokes, imagine how much more weary of them Oso is, and then imagine how often I secretly apply them to him.

He couldn’t put me off for thirteen years and then expect immediate elation on my part. Yes, actually, he could. When I failed to comply with his expectation, he demanded we attend couples counseling, and I obeyed, even though the principle required the opposite reaction. That was how I found myself sitting in front of a man with an intelligence quotient twenty points lower than either Oso’s or mine, squirming in my chair and wishing I could flee from the room. Oso was sitting closest to the door (squirming in his chair, too), and I feared he would catch me on my way out. He had the reflexes of an animal.

Last week, Oso and I argued through the entire first session over who was the one who didn’t want to marry whom all these years—Oso insisted I was the one who needed my own space, to which I insisted I would have preferred having my own office in our shared married abode. The counselor sent us away with an assignment to write a list of ten things we loved about each other and, conversely, a list of ten things we hated about each other. It seemed an assignment that could ruin any functioning relationship, but what did I know? This week, I stared at Oso’s scribbles in disgust.

Loves: 1. Doesn’t have chicken legs Good mother; 2. Needs me; 3. Easy to talk to; 4. Gives me space; 5. Cooks my favorite lentil dish better than the Indian buffet; 6. Pays her own bills; 7. Doesn’t enjoy spending money; 8. Intelligent. He didn’t make it to ten.

Hates: 1. Intelligent (Huh? Obviously he was undecided about that point); 2. Dresses like she’s fifty. It’s impossible to tell she doesn’t have chicken legs unless I pull off her baggy pants, which is difficult because we don’t spend much time together; 3. Doesn’t ever tell me she loves me; 4. Doesn’t ever tell me she needs me, even when she does; 5. Doesn’t show her feelings, and I never know where I stand with her; 6. Pretends her job is more important than I am my job.

Thank God he stopped at six.

That record of Janet’s, the one that fit neatly in its cardboard package of shiny golden girl—he played it repeatedly until he flew out to Australia and met up with the golden girl, herself. The song with the refrain, You’ve got to show your feelings, feelings. You’ve got to show your feelings, crooned through my head the entire two weeks he was away. When he returned, I knew immediately she’d turned down his amorous advances. I knew because I knew Oso; I knew he was exceptionally vulnerable to pain underneath his outward demeanor of money-making and pressed shirts.

For nearly a month, he avoided me except to pick up and drop off the kids. He avoided looking directly in my face. But I knew Oso, and I wasn’t particularly sympathetic to him, either, though I did refrain from gloating with the I could have told you so’s. I could have, too, because Janet was even richer than he was and, despite his overwhelming burliness, she was too young for him.

Then one Friday night, Oso toughened up again and set out to seduce me. He found a spare moment to pull off my baggy pants, which were comfortable and cheap, thank you, Oso. I shouldn’t have allowed it—review the principle of disobedience for further proof.

The counseling office was hot and stodgy. It was no place to mull over not-so romantic encounters with Oso. The counselor tapped his fingers and waited, and I knew the stupid little man with his brown suit and flared nose would soon break the silence and guide us through our lists. I watched Oso squirm, and I waited for him to react. The answer Oso needed, if he cared to pay attention to details, was there on the list of loves, which began with 1. Transplanted his start-up tech company to our hometown village (which he swore he’d never return to) so I could accept a job offer. My more humbling answer hid itself under number three: Asked me to marry him.

Finally, Oso raised his eyes from the page. “Really?” His voice cracked, but he cleared his throat in a hurry. A smug expression settled in his dark eyes.

“I’ve changed my mind,” I told him. “I’ll marry you after all.”

Oso rose from his chair, confident and tall—a big bear who always had his way. “I think we’re done here,” he told the counselor. “You can send your bill to my secretary.”

“Oh, I, uh…” the counselor coughed out.

Anger flashed inside, but as usual, I hid it. Oso couldn’t, wouldn’t win this game. Couples counseling? What a joke.

“Are you coming, Julia?” Oso held out his hand.

“No. You wanted me to attend counseling sessions with you, and here I am. I expect to be counseled.”

A nervous grin flitted over the counselor’s mouth area. Perhaps he, too, imagined Oso morphing into a hairy creature and lunging out with sharp incisors and claws.

“Have a seat, Oso,” the man tried a coaxing voice (even I was a little offended by it). “We have more to discuss, I think.”

Obviously, Oso didn’t obey him.

I was all out of patience. “Sit!” I deeply desired to add a few more words, such as you stupid @#%$*&% a-hole, but restrained myself.

Oso’s stare struck a direct path between me and the silly, little man he’d hired to foil me. The counselor gave in to the stare and fiddled with the folder on his desk. I didn’t give in, but stared back. Finally, Oso’s massive shoulders slouched, and he sank back in his chair.

How was I to show my feelings to this beast? I didn’t have a clue, but I suddenly felt things I should have demonstrated–sadness, shame. Oso’s slouched figure said it all. He was sad, too. Having won one round and lost the next, he exuded defeat. Our relationship wasn’t a game, though. Or, if it was, we should have been playing on the same team.

Had our relationship devolved to sports metaphors? How cliche! Sorry, Cecilia.

Let me try again. Our relationship was an image–a mysterious image of oneness, of rents in the fabric, of two people, one whose hand was lost in the pocket of the other, two parts of a fused form.

And we were wreathed in fog halos. We were back in December like a record needle scratched to its outer limit, the wine flowing, my heart breaking–Oso longing for a female on an album cover. That night was the crux. That was it, the deciding moment. It wasn’t a coincidence, just as Claire had said, because here we were.

Oso Part IV
Oso Part III
Oso Part II
Oso Part I

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