Category Archives: Oso

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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Part IV: Sundays With or Without Oso

It’s time I focused a little more, tweezed a miniscule piece of my life with Oso and scrutinized it under the microscope. Relationships aren’t my forte, but I have a lifetime of experiences with them for comparison’s sake. For example, my life experiences with my parents have taught me that a (married) couple will spend its Sundays together. They might choose to drink coffee and read the paper, trading sections silently as the need arises, or they might disappear into the bedroom for an afternoon nap, while their children squabble with boredom and wish it weren’t raining for the purpose of running outside, playing baseball, or riding bikes.

It doesn’t rain nearly as often here in the Silicon Valley as it does up in our home state, but by the time our daughter Sara turned three months, Sundays had already fallen into the same distinct pattern of laziness and lethargy, to the point that the grocery store looked like great fun, and I occasionally dared to leave Sara with Oso and rush to the store for anything–ice cream? Coffee? Bagels? Oso didn’t enjoy being left alone with his baby daughter. Too bad for him. I didn’t particularly enjoy grocery shopping, but it was a marvellously exciting time on a Sunday afternoon, and one that brought good things into the refrigerator and cupboards. How efficient I was!

The shade on the window flapped. It was a lazy Sunday of the usual pattern. Oso and I sat at the breakfast table, our toast and eggs long since eaten. The coffeepot was almost empty, and not owing to me, either, since I nursed the baby on a schedule of approximately every three hours and didn’t want her little heart jumped up on caffeine. As a compromise, I settled for half a cup and watched jealously as Oso sucked down the rest.

Oso didn’t read the newspaper, and that left out the sectional trade part. I read the letters to the editor and the funnies before giving up to boredom. Oso read all manner of business and tech magazines, as well as online news sources, a feat of word-pounding he accomplished only on Sundays. He didn’t read much of anything the rest of the week unless the words pertained to his personal business and finances.

You see, I knew all this about Oso because he had moved himself into my apartment after Sara’s birth, had carted over his pressed shirts and pants, and there he remained. Recently, there was a look in his eyes–the distant look he gets when he’s considering the diminished horizons of his world. I didn’t recognize the look, then, but I recognize it now.

Sara fussed, and I picked her up from the bassinet, only to realize her diaper had leaked. I set about to change it right then and there because I was efficient. I kept spare diapers on the shelf underneath the little wheeled bed.

Oso didn’t look up from his laptop screen. “Do you have to do that here? I’m trying to drink my coffee.”

“Why don’t you try changing it yourself? Then you can do the job wherever you want.”

“I didn’t take on that job in our role division plan.”

“I didn’t know I had, either.”

Finally, he looked up at me and gave me his glassy glare that instantly expressed his dislike of me. It hurt. However, in a way–even though I was annoyed–he was right. After moving in, he took it on himself to cook or wash dishes or sweep–just never, ever to change a diaper. And, by the way, he was the one who planned the role division. I had nothing whatever to do with it. In fact, when he first brought over all his neatly pressed button-downs, he demanded that I iron them for him. When I didn’t get the collars just right, he sent them back to his laundry service. But, still, I had nothing to do with it either way, even if I wanted to iron his shirts. And I tried to iron his shirts. I really did. My ironing wasn’t good enough for Oso.

I hid behind Sara, kissing her little cheeks, and cuddling her in her newly clean yellow sleeper. Yellow–that’s right, because Oso wouldn’t allow me to divulge the sex of our child before she was born. He said it wasn’t right. I, as a scientist, valued technology, and asked the ultrasound tech to whisper the secret in my ear. Since our babe’s sweet feminine side was a secret until birth, I graciously accepted the neutral colored clothing our friends sent us. Culture is what it is, and I wouldn’t have my Sara mistaken for a boy because of ill-chosen blue sailor suits.

I clung to her sunny, yellow-clad self, and I sensed something big. I waited for Oso to break the lethargy of my Sunday. I tried to hold the break back–I needed to hold it back for my sanity. Maybe my efforts were as bad as my ironing, never getting the details right. I tried to be normal, and those were the details that were wrong.

“I might walk to the grocery store later. Do you want anything?”

“No. Get what you want. I’m going to move back to my apartment for a little while.”

“Why?”

“I need space,” he said. “As do you, so don’t try to tell me you don’t.”

I opened my mouth to speak, to remind him that we could rent or buy a much larger abode–multiple bedrooms!–for the price we were paying for two one-bedroom apartments.

“Don’t argue with me, please, Julia. I have some big business deals coming up, and I don’t need the stress. I’ll visit when I get a chance.”

And that was that. His word was final. He expected to be obeyed–always. I picked up Sara with a gentleness I didn’t feel inside and walked to the store, Sara in her tummy pack, safe for the time being from adults and their hurtful ways. When I returned, Oso had vanished, his laundered shirts with him.

He needed his space. If he wanted to make money, which was still his primary goal, he needed private time for thinking. That first time he left, he avoided Sara and me for a month, and then visited sporadically for the next two. The following month after that, he moved back in, happy as could be, bearing flowers, groceries, etc.

I threw his flowers in the trash and put the groceries away. Why was he so happy? How could he whistle as he hung his crisp shirts in my closet again? He had made a deal–that was the reason for everything. Money. The game of it. The game I wouldn’t play, that I couldn’t understand.

Oso bears things well, and I apologize for the pun. He bears gifts, annoyances, hurts. I bear the children, but still–he bears life for the both of us. That’s Oso. That’s why we can live together and not live together at the same. It’s not all that complicated. I just can’t explain it! If you’re reading this Cecilia, how would you write about Oso? I honestly don’t know how. (Cecilia told me later that she writes humorous middle grade books so that the antagonists are campy rather than complex. Ha! So Oso is my antagonist. Good to know.)

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

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Part III: Some Stories Must Be Believed

I had never really meant to tell this as a story, so says Julia, until I, of course, did mean to. And then I heard from certain portions of the creative writing community–Cecilia, are you reading this?–that stories are to be shown and not told. As a logical thinker, I can’t fathom this idea. Stories are told. This seems one of those instances in which excessive rule-following has rendered creative writing graduates illogical, as well as lacking in true skepticism. Whatever one says about me, it is never Julia does things by the book because Julia doesn’t. I don’t do things by the book, lest anybody believe me schizophrenic.

I’m a true skeptic, as it were, of the unShermer camp of true skepticism. The Shermer camp, which nearly all scientists and university graduates squat in, is the one where the official story is always accepted, unless the evidence demonstrably proves the official story false. My camp, which waves its own lonely flag, is one where the few inhabitants, lacking the necessary evidence, mistrust even the official stories. By extension, I haven’t yet seen any evidence that one must show-rather-than-tell a story outside the theater and, therefore, showing is simply another unproven official story propagated by the creative writing community, with the ironic twist that it happens to be a story told about stories.

Good God, my head is pounding after working through all that. I’m a geneticist, by the way. Some geneticists claim they’re just shy of discovering a gene linked to migraines with auras. This isn’t my field of study, however, and my migraines don’t glow with such radiative properties. Rather, they’re preceded by premonitions of extreme stupidity, which I am, needless to say, skeptical of, even though life has taught me I should pay attention to these warnings.

Years after high school graduation, while I was living in the lush silicon valley, far, far away from my Washington home village, I bumped into Oso at the supermarket. I had a pending headache, an empty refrigerator in my 300 sq ft apartment, a few dollars in my bank account, and a premonition that my life was about to take a turn for the worse. I was debating whether to buy oranges and Greek yogurt on credit–not the sale oranges, either, because they were round and even in color, which caused yet another flare of disbelief in my overtaxed mind. I just couldn’t believe in those oranges. Surely they couldn’t be real, or at least not as authentic as the misshapen, mottled Valencias that cost twice as much per pound.

Smell is a fair indication of the quality of fruit, and of men, I have to add. The Valencias sent forth the molecular fragrance of orange grove, and I filled a bag with them, and then stared at the food I’d picked, still uncertain about purchasing groceries on credit. And then I smelled the molecular fragrance of man–an authentic odor devoid of the cheap imitations Oso and the other boys had doused themselves with in high school. I felt a presence, too, an energy force that vibrated the air around me. I turned around. Oso.

“Julia!”

Before I could utter an appropriate response, he engulfed me with his arms and pressed my face against his burly chest. Oso was stocky in high school; now, he was simply large.

“Dinner. With me,” he said. “You have to.”

Would he let me go if I told him yes? “I’m broke,” I said, and he released me.

“It’s on me.”

Because I’d walked to the store to save gas, he loaded my paltry groceries in the trunk of his rattletrap vehicle. Perhaps he hadn’t made his fortune yet. But, no, he reeked of pure confidence, rather than bravado. The car was surely a sign that Oso enjoyed making money, but not spending it. He took me to a cheap Indian restaurant, where he ordered a vegetarian dish, and this went some way toward confirming my suspicion (later, I discovered he would only eat at Indian restaurants because it was comfort food. His parents were vegetarian hippies.) I ordered chicken because I was starving and had just bought groceries on credit.

“Did you end up at Stanford, after all?” I asked him over chai. I knew the answer, though. I knew the answer because I’d heard our village gossip.

“No, I told you I didn’t need to. I work for a microelectronics company, heading an engineering team.”

“But you don’t have an engineering degree.”

“I’m not a rule-follower,” he said. “You can’t make money that way. And you, Julia? I hear you’re working on your dissertation at Stanford.”

Ah, so I was the rule follower. Huh. “Yes. On the genetics of autism.”

“A long time ago, I suggested you become a behavioral scientist. I thought you needed a little help so you wouldn’t be stunned by people’s stupidity. I never dreamed you’d study the genetics of autism so you could understand yourself.”

“I’m not…” He was grinning at me, and I decided it wasn’t worth it. To a man like Oso, anybody less extroverted than he was might be autistic. I say less extroverted because, honestly, I wasn’t all that introverted. It was all by degree.

As promised, he paid the bill. Then he drove me home, carried my paltry groceries upstairs, and found my only bottle of wine (saved since Christmas) and uncorked it. My headache was still pending, but the warmth of a good dinner spread to my heart. Why shouldn’t I share my wine?

“To making money and discovering beautiful things in dissertations,” he toasted with a coffee mug.

“Genetics isn’t all that beautiful when you get right down to it. Complex, maybe, and a little frightening, but not beautiful.”

“I’d roll my eyes at you, but they might get stuck in my head. From a biological standpoint, is that possible?”

“I’d like to see you try.” I raised my mug and drank to that.

The wine tasted like blackberries. Imagine the chemistry that turned grapes into blackberries! The next morning, my headache was no longer pending. It pounded. Thanks to Oso and wine with hints of blackberry. Thanks to Oso, who slept beside me. Such was the answer to my stupidity premonitions–nights with Oso, followed by headaches. And, eventually, followed by our first child.

Oso didn’t go by the rules. And neither did I, but I wasn’t so sure about breaking the relationship sort. For a start, I didn’t have that particular rule book in my library, and something told me I would end up the loser. I could hear my mom’s voice in my head, “Societal rules must never be ignored; they’re there to guide us.”

Or maybe that thought sprang from Oscar Wilde. How would I know? I ditched the humanities too long ago to remember. If I hadn’t, maybe I would understand men who oozed confidence, rather than frustrated autistic people who followed their own strict rule codes and told me the same things, ad infinitum, even if I didn’t always want to hear those things. They told, and they showed, and they were still a conundrum to me. And so–Cecilia are you reading this?–some of us are too obtuse to be shown things. We need a little more direction.

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

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Part II: The Night/Day When Oso Determined My Life Path

Giving more of my history with Oso–says Julia–wasn’t on my to-do list. The current blog administrator has already found her goose cooked in hot soup over failing to fulfill promises pertaining to serial fiction (see how vague her language is, how it has vaporized like fog). But Jessica Thomas is correct (see comments on Christmas with Oso) when she says there is more to this story. The history is, to be honest, intrinsic. And it isn’t altogether complex, either, just longer than what could be written in one post.

As I said previously, Oso and I have known each other since birth. Still, we would never have befriended each other given a different set of circumstances. He was a force to be reckoned with–by high school, a field and track star who had the thighs to out-jump and out-hurdle just about anybody he contended with. And, for god’s sake, was he competitive.

We found each other in Claire’s history-cum-journalism group; all of us who fell for Claire’s excitement with Lockean ideology, including Cecilia, also signed up for her “freedom of the press” journalism course that published the best high school newspaper in the state of Washington. We were a group, a team, that nobody could break in or tear apart. At the time, I recognized our ridiculousness, but so loved belonging that I went along with it.

One night just before graduation, we all hit the twenty-four hour hotcake house on the highway. We split into two groups: three of us in Claire’s clean sedan; the other three in Oso’s rattletrap Rabbit. I somehow ended up in Oso’s vehicle that carried the odor of his awful cologne combined with the previous owners’ penchant for smoking. This bouquet ringed my head and settled in my stomach with a strange mix of exhilaration and nausea.

After stuffing myself with three disgusting plate-sized buttermilk pancakes, the exhilaration abandoned me. I ordered coffee to stabilize my system. If it weren’t for the coffee, my life might have turned out differently. Claire, being the thirty-something teacher she was at the time, decided she needed an early, relatively speaking for one in the morning, night of it. Everybody ditched with her, leaving me alone with Oso as my only ride back to my parents’ house. He, too, had drunk too much coffee, laced with packets of sugar. We were wired.

The two of us had never conducted a tete-a-tete. No, I generally avoided a face-off with the high-energy, competitive Oso. Aside from his ambitious nature, he was a know-it-all, and I couldn’t abide males of this type, males who needed a few hired thugs to drag them out back and beat the shit out of them just to make certain they understood they weren’t kings of their own little multiverses. In fact, if I’d had the money in those days, I might have made a deal….If I had my own money today, rather than Oso’s….

“So what are you doing next year?” Oso asked me.

“Going to State.”

“Yeah, but what’re you studying?”

“Romance languages, I think. I already know Spanish, and I’m starting to learn French. I’d like to be a translator.”

“No,” he said.

Monosyllables were typical of Oso’s speech patterns, and if I didn’t know better, I would’ve doubted his intelligence. His status as class valedictorian told another story. I squirmed on the red vinyl seat and painted the gray Formica with syrup traces. What the hell did he mean by negating my future plans?

“And why not?”

“Because you’re not suited for it. You should go into a scientific field.”

“Why? Nothing in my high school career would lead me to believe that. Or in my life thus far.”

“You know, I put together that part of the paper, where the list of honor students goes. You were always on it.”

“Yes, but I made up for my mediocre grades in math and science with French, English, history, journalism.” I ticked my successes off on my sticky fingers. Oh, the humanities!

“That doesn’t matter.” He didn’t flinch. He ripped open a packet of sugar, dumped it in the brown coffee mug, then added a creamer from the base of the pyramid I’d built in the centre of the table. It didn’t collapse. “I know these things.”

Where were those thugs when I needed them to bloody his big nose? And yes, his nose was a little on the large size, not that the size of it deterred most females from throwing themselves at him. “No, you don’t.”

“I do. I know your mind. I’ve been senior editor of the paper for long enough to know the inner details of every one of my writers.”

His writers. “It’s a high school rag. People don’t put their real selves in it. I certainly don’t.”

“Doesn’t matter. I know you. You should go into one of the people-oriented sciences, behavioral or whatever.”

“No, thanks. And you? What will you do next year, aside from make money?” In the yearbook, that was his response to the ubiquitous future-plans question: What are you going to do with your life? I’m going to make money, he said. Sigh. Imagining the thugs. Imagining.

“I have a scholarship to Stanford, and may go into pre-business, but I’m not sure if that will get me any closer to my goals. I think I already have what it takes to succeed.”

I couldn’t help it; I laughed at him. Blame it on the coffee, which was akin to liquor in my juvenile mind. I laughed, while he glared with those bright, glassy eyes of his. What an ass was Oso–what an ass he still is. But he was right. He didn’t need Stanford. And before I’d concluded one semester at State, I knew he was right about my future, too. I hated him for it, and was relieved at the same time. How else could I account for my utter lack of enthusiasm for the humanities, and the way my heart nearly exploded when I took the plunge and entered a biology classroom?

Oh, but that’s the rub, isn’t it? Biology–mine specifically–and Oso’s manner of exploding my heart every few years were the true fates of my life, geneticist though I am now. Thanks to Oso. Where are those thugs, again? They’re hiding inside my soul as the mauled victims of a big, black bear.

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

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Part I: Christmas with Oso

Don’t ask me to explain my relationship with Oso. To be honest, it isn’t that complicated, but I grow weary of the questions. You’ve known him how long? All my life. We were baptized on the same day in the same Anglican church. You’ve never been married. Wait. How many kids do you have? We’ve never been married; we have three children together. We’re friends who live in separate houses. The children accept this because they must. Now that they’re older, they walk the five blocks in between our buildings. During school breaks, they run back and forth multiple times a day. Sometimes, Oso cooks for me and, occasionally, I cook for him. We’re friends. We’re best friends. But we can’t live together. Or, if I want to be honest, I should say Oso is the one who can’t live with me.

This Christmas, we packed the kids off to their grandparents’ house in Portland. The next day, we met a group of longtime friends at the airport, ready to have our annual adult vacation. Only Cecilia, the wildly popular self-pubbed author of children’s comic novels, had to fly in for our confab from a book-signing in New York. The rest drove in from their scattered places in Washington state. We kissed; we hugged. After squeezing our respective vehicles on the street outside my building, we went out for Indian food and drank far too much wine.

While staggering back to my place, Oso held my hand and slipped it in his coat pocket. I was used to this sort of affectionate display from him–his manner of owning me without actually being my owner–and his touch caused my chest to convulse on the icy air. Oso let go of my hand and thumped on my back.

“Watch it, there, Julia,” Claire said. “Oso’s giving you convulsions again. He had better cease and desist.”

Claire was the eldest among us–she was our history teacher back in school–and her white hair was capped with a red hat. By this time, she wasn’t merely a retired teacher of history, still dear friends with her loony, scattered students, but oracle to her core group–her inner sanctum of history nerds. Her sharp warnings, often taken as humorous, left undeniable bites. Her figurative teeth had morphed into canine fangs.

“Julia’s fine, she’s always fine.” So said Oso. So said Oso perpetually.

The white air hung heavily around the Christmas lights such that all of our heads seemed ringed with halos. Ah, we were all angels in some pageant, but the play didn’t involve me. It never had, even though we had all decided my apartment should be this year’s meeting place.

We took our wool-coated, winter weaving figures laughing into my stairwell. It was either laugh or cry for most of us, except for Cecilia, who had decided long ago that romantic relationships were for the birds–maybe the bees, too, but definitely not for her. All told, there were six of us, the other two being men I’ve decided to leave as shadowy nether figures for the purpose of this story. But it’s a fine point to make that we were three males and three females, all crammed into my stairwell, then in my tiny two-bedroom apartment.

We piled blankets and pillows on the floor and broke out three more bottles of wine. As Oso yanked out the corks, I caught Claire subtly rubbing her back and groaning.

“Are you all right, Claire?” I asked.

“Oh, fine, just too old for our slumber parties, as much as I enjoy them. This may be the last time I sleep on the floor. Didn’t you say your kids were in Portland? I’m sure I could fit on the bunk bed.”

“You could sleep in my bed,” I told her.

“No. I’m sure you and Oso will want to share that.”

I turned around before I could catch Oso’s expression. These days, he would do anything not to sleep with me. I suspected he was in love with somebody else, but didn’t care to ask. In fact, tears filled my eyes from out of nowhere–wasn’t I done crying over Oso? I walked all of ten paces to the laundry closet and shoved clothes from the net bag into the washer. For reasons still unknown to me, I pulled off my outer clothes down to my undershirt and shoved those in the wash, too. I watched the water fill the drum before realizing the party had gone silent.

I was half-naked, and in front of my friends, too. I forced a smile and spun around on tip-toe. “What a fool I am,” I said.

“You don’t know what a fool is until you self-edit and self-publish your novels,” said Cecilia. “We’re talking minus the darling panties and tank top.”

“It’s my nightly routine. I forgot you were here.”

Claire rose, creaky noises and all, and wrapped a blanket around me. Oso had disappeared with the other men–that explained the silence and lack of gamely puns about my strip show. From the kids’ bedroom, I heard the record player oozing out scratched, honey sounds. Oso’s Janet–his favourite singer. He’d met her once, twice, three times at different spots around the world. Her family was friendly with his.

I dropped the blanket and stood in the bedroom doorway and stared at the mess the kids had left behind–dirty clothes, scattered papers, books. The three men gazed at the album cover, at the willowy golden-honey Janet. Oso glanced at me, and then turned back to the cover–black-headed Oso, stretching his burly body on the incongruously small child’s bed, our gangly and shadowy men friends hovering near his authoritarian air. Oso always had his way. Always.

“Is there something wrong with me?” I asked.

Oso didn’t look up this time. “You’re fine,” he said.

And the record played, as though caught on Janet’s voice, “You’ve got to show your feelings, feelings. You’ve got to show your feelings.”

“I hate this music,” I told him.

Claire touched my shoulder. Claire’s presence couldn’t be avoided, and even Oso looked up at her.

“Janet and I’ll be in Australia at the same time in January,” Oso said. “Our flight paths will intersect. It can’t be a coincidence, can it, Claire?”

Claire pursed her lips together. “No, Oso, I think not. There is no such thing as coincidence.”

With that, Claire took my hand and led me from my children’s room.

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

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