A Pain In the Neck
The Word: THROAT
Deborah’s sore throat starts after work. She’s gone to dinner with her boss, Avery, and four other lawyers, to a fusion sushi place near SciArc downtown. She can feel the tickle beginning, on the left side, and drinks a good measure of sake to try to sterilize it. She hates eating out with the Lapels, as she calls them privately. All of them in their jackets, the Kevlar of the business world. By the time she gets home, she can feel it coming on, a bad one, she heads for the bathroom and stares down her throat with a flashlight, examining it as she’d once examined her own intimate zones, Our Bodies Ourselves. This looks much the same.
Hammy lounges in the doorway, still in his pajama bottoms. At 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night. “So how’d it go with Aviary and the gang?”
“My throat hurts.” She takes a swig of Listerine and gargles vigorously, watching the clock. A full minute, and spit, eyeing the green globs in the sink. Hoping she’s got it all out.
“Of course it hurts. From the effort of not telling them to go piss up a rope,” he says. “Disease as metaphor.”
He hasn’t shaven. His shaggy blonde curls woolly and unwashed. His t-shirt has stains on the front. He smells of cigarettes. She knows it’s a good sign, he’s been writing all day. If he’d smelled of pot, that’s the bad sign. Whiskey, even worse—that he hadn’t been writing and he felt bad about it.
She doesn’t state the obvious—if she’d told them to piss up a rope, she would be fired, and then neither one of them would have a source of income. But of course, doesn’t say that. It would hurt his feelings, and it’s hard enough to be a writer without one’s girlfriend pointing out that one is being supported by her unpleasant but lucrative job as a corporate attorney.
“You get these sore throats because you don’t say what’s on your mind.” Rubbing her neck, looking in the mirror over her shoulder. His unshaven cheeks. Little specks of gray were starting to appear. Their lives aren’t as fluid as they’d once been. They’ve chosen their paths, and now they have to put up with their choices, she as a corporate shitshoveler, he as a brilliant but unappreciated writer of quirky literary fiction.
She feels her nodes with her fingertips, swollen.
What if she did tell Avery she hates him? Hates everything about him, from his big gold Rolex to his blue shirts, his blue eyes, his tan, his handball, his alma mater. What if she tells Robert and Yvonne they don’t have a chance at making partner? Takes Geoff by his Lapels and shouts stop being so mean. Just because you can’t face being gay is no reason to take it out on the rest of the world. What if she tells her client the Upland Group their exurban gated communities are a crime against humanity.
Why stop there? She could tell her mother to stop shopping and find something she could do that would be of some use to another human being. And tell her father to look up the definition of codependent. The things she would say if she started speaking her mind. Then what would happen, Hammy my love?
She watches her boyfriend in the mirror, Birmingham Walker III, about whom many things are true, and not all of them lovely. The truth is everybody always wants you to speak up, to speak your truth–about other people. But never about them.
She cannot, will not say, what would you do if I told them all off, Hammy? How far would you go for me? Would you get dressed and go out tomorrow looking for work, would you take whatever you found? Would you wait tables for me, wipe up people’s hamburger slop? Would you be a crew member at Trader Joe’s?
She already knows he would not. He would become paralyzed by self-loathing, fall into a depression, drink excessively and move back in with his mother.
She gargles again, spits out another wad of emerald green Listerine-stained mucous into the sink. She will have this throat kicked by morning, she can already feel herself besting it.
The truth is, if it’s left up to her, she could always wipe up hamburger slop. The difference between them–she could work at a Trader Joe’s without even blinking. Does that make her codependent, like her father with her mother? That she lets everybody else follow their horrible hearts, while she only allows herself to do the sensible thing? Does that make her strong or weak? Is there an AlAnon for people like her, with the will to go on, who take it and go to work with their sore throats and Lapels?
She imagines it, their basement meeting rooms–All the reliable people in their workclothes, sitting on folding chairs drinking burned coffee, practicing telling people off, practicing quitting.
“What’s so funny?” Hammy asks, wrapping his arms around her, resting his chin on her shoulder in the mirror, his dark eyes next to hers, his ..vulnerable unshaven face.
“Never mind,” she says. “Come, read me something.” She begins to undress for bed, hanging her jacket neatly on a hanger, to air out for the night, till tomorrow.
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: GROUND