The Word: GROUND
Jet set down her battered briefcase on the chair next to Nora, slipped off her jacket. Her girlfriend was hunched unhappily over an unfinished Sudoku on the dining room table, still in her work clothes. “Susan again?”
Nora appraised her with red rimmed eyes. “I am going to kill her. I’m going to hide behind the door of her office and when she comes in I’m going to staple one of her fucking memos to her forehead.” She clapped her hands smartly, the retort the sound of the staple through Susan Balt’s cranium.
Jet could smell the electrical storm rising from her girlfriend, the ozone under the slighty stale scent of her hair. A few months ago, Gelco had hired a new Human Resources Director– a position which everyone assumed would go to Nora. But they’d brought someone from HQ in Delaware, a petite woman who wore neat ladylike skirt-suits and flat shoes and pearls. Corporate drama. Academics was bad enough, but from what she heard from Nora, it was nothing compared to this kind of Machiavellian byplay.
She’d met Nora’s new boss a couple of times. Jet instantly pegged her for class fink — pursed lips, a smile she’d had to practice, the perennially anxious look in her eyes. A straight A girl—but not one of the naturally gifted ones, the ones who had to be heard in class no matter what, who came into her office and plopped themselves down anytime they liked, and began arguing about points in history from some weird but interesting point of view. No, your Susans of the world respected office hours, took perfect notes, they were the ones buttoned down so tight you worried about a breakdown, they crossed their legs at the ankle. The ones whose mothers made them take piano lessons all the way through high school, who had never had an original idea or a puff of marijuana or a really satisfying screw in their whole lives. The Susans lived to rise to a position of power, where they could force others to walk a mile in their little tight shoes—‘others’ who were, for the moment, her girlfriend Nora.
She tried to massage Nora’s shoulders, smooth in her sleeveless black dress, but Nora shrugged her off. Nora had more than a scoop of the good-girl thing too, which was why her new boss goaded her to such rage. Nora already tried hard. She was already careful and punctual and helpful. She never took sick days, never got into it with anybody. But Susan treated her as if she were a detention student, pointing out sloppiness, carelessness, handing out demerits in a mock-helpful tone.
Her darling girl lay her dark head on her arm on the cluttered tabletop.
“Glass of wine?” Jet asked helpfully. “Doobie?”
Her lover glanced up from her outstretched arm, skeptical, hurting, like an dog with a thorn in its paw, her lower lip turned out and nodded.
Over a glass of Beaujolais and a fatty in the living room, Nora poured out the details, the latest drama, each X-Acto-bladed insult, the whispering cabals. Jet nodded, murmuring sympathetic noises, though honestly, keeping a certain distance, a little remove. She had to keep it hidden, she had to be careful or Nora would accuse her of indifference, turn her fury on Jet. You don’t care at all, she’d said to her more than once. This, my life, it’s all a joke to you, isn’t it.
Jet sucked at the reefer, passed it to Nora. Was she soulless? she wondered. Her ex-girlfriend Hollye used to throw things at her and call her soulless, because she couldn’t get herself all worked up when some neighbor looked at her funny, some woman at the store. “Fight back!” Hollye used to shriek, clawing at her. “Goddamn you! What makes you so superior?” But Hollye was a hot and cold raving lunatic, drama queen extraordinaire. Jet could still picture her, a small, wiry blonde, taking Volume 2 of Churchill’s World In Crisis from her shelf, a precious first edition, and tearing the cover, flinging it across the room. “How’ja like that, you passive aggressive freak! Mad yet? Hit me why don’t you? ” She had not punched Hollye. But she had begun packing that very night.
Jet smiled understandingly at Nora. This was was no Hollye. Nora was a Human Resources manager, smooth shouldered, patrician. She didn’t break things, she wasn’t insane. Jet did what she could to make Nora feel loved. She refilled her wine, passed the joint to her. Her girl looked better now, more animated, the color coming back into her face as she ranted about on about Susan and her ‘henchmen’ and the Quasimodos of headquarters. But Jet had to admit, it was all junior high to her. Just so much sturm und drang. She’d learned as a kid to let her parents’ fights wash over her. It would be done eventually, there was no point in getting struck by lightning. She used to think of it as ‘grounding out.’
But she tried to interject sympathetic phrases when she could: . “That was way out of line,” “What a bitch.” Just to show she was listening.
“I was talking about Victor,” Nora finally said, squinting at her. “Are you even listening to me? This is real, this is happening.”
What could Jet say? Nora worked for a bunch of dickheads and they were being dickheads. News at eleven. Maybe there was something wrong with her, maybe these girls were right all along. That something was missing in her, that she just couldn’t feel what other people were all up in arms about. Even Nora. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, it was that she just didn’t see the point of getting all worked up about something that would soon settle itself out one way or another. No crisis lasted for ever.
“You think this is nothing. I can see that superior look on your face. Just a tempest in a teapot,” Nora said, sliding her feet off the coffee table, planting them on the oriental rug. Leaning forward. Ready for a fight. Why did women always want to fight with her? Why couldn’t they let her do what she did well and cut her some slack.
“It’s not me you’re mad at, remember? I’m on your side.”
“You should be outraged!” Nora said, her lips stained from the Beaujolais. “This is my life. These people are fucking your woman around. And you just sit there like it has nothing to do with you. It’s ghoulish how you can be so calm at a time like this.”
“Maybe I should be in Human Resources, eh?” Jet tried to give Nora a hug, but her girlfriend shoved her away. “Come on, N. It was just a joke.”
But Nora was staring to cry. “It’s not a joke! This is real, Jet, you just don’t get it. You never get it. You’re behind this windshield, looking at me like I was a bug in Bugland. You’re like encased in this rubber suit, walking through the world.”
Jet did care. She cared deeply about Nora, her happiness. But she couldn’t walk into the electrical storm wearing a metal suit. That would be idiocy. There was too much drama in the world as it was, both ephemeral and dangerous, enormous lightning storms, and she didn’t see the point in letting herself be electrocuted if she could allow a strike to pass safely into the ground. She loved Nora, but she didn’t feel what she felt, the humiliation, the torture by a thousand paper-cuts.
“I am listening.” She put her hand on Nora’s sleek bare knee. “Vic’s siding with Susan. Susan wants you to take on reordering the records, and it’s not your job.” And what if Jet did get upset about all this stuff? What if she was like Nora, or Hollye, and screamed and wept and slammed doors and threw first editions? What woman really wanted a partner like that?
“I’ve decided, I’m going to quit.” Nora gazed into her wineglass, turning the dregs this way and that, rubbing at her tears with the back of the other hand.
Jet gazed at Nora’s determined profile, the firm clean jaw, the smell of her light perfume. Would she really do it? No, her Nora was a tenacious creature, she wouldn’t let Susan run her off. Not in a million years.
Nora brought in the bulk of their income, this was her West Hollywood duplex. Restaurant meals and vacations on beautiful islands… In a month they’d be in Java. Jet knew she wouldn’t really go through with it. She was just talking. If she wanted to be broke, she could have gone on for a PhD in industrial psychology. But she’d weighed the intellectual stimulation of academia against the cold cash of the corporate world, and went the way that would support her aesthetic, her sweet way of life, the designer clothes she was wearing. Not to mention allowing Jet to be the semi-fuckup she was, a college prof but non-tenure track–she’d screwed up her tenure situation years ago, there was no going back.
“If you want to quit, quit,” Jet said with what she hoped was a bit of passion. She’d learned long ago that trying to stop an angry woman from doing something was to insure she’d do it, just to prove that she could.
“You think I won’t?” Nora asked. And then she growled, like a tiger, a grizzly, like she wanted to tear Jet’s face off with her strong straight teeth.
Jet had to say something. “I don’t know, babe. I don’t have a lot of say in this, do I?” And if Nora did quit? Now Jet smelled ozone, the tickling hair, the fizz of electrical storm, she was losing her grounding. Oh, surely they had enough dough to tide them over. It was Jet’s recurring nightmare–having to move back to a shitbox apartment in North Hollywood around a pool-less courtyard with kids screaming and people’s TVs blaring on all sides, the place she lived when she first moved to LA… No, Nora would never do that… Or worse–move out of LA entirely. They both knew people forced to do just that, fleeing to Ukiah, or Davis. Charles had moved back to Missouri, he was teaching high school. Erasers hitting him in the head when his back was turned.
“Maybe when we get back from Java…” Jet said. “Things’ll look different.”
Nora wrenched her mouth into a schwa. “Oh, didn’t I tell you?” Swallowing the rest of her wine. “Susan said it wasn’t convenient. She’s set a big Gelco HR conference that week. We’ll have to cancel.”
Susan had put the kibosh on their trip? Lightning broke around Jet’s head like a crown of thorns, the crackle of fire in dry leaves. “That bitch! What a fucking cunt!”
Now Nora smiled, and poured the rest of the Beaujolais into her glass. “Yeah, that Susan.”
Part of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: GLOVE