You remember Deborah?
Well, I saw her last week.
She had me over for breakfast. Nothing too fancy, just some fried eggs, toast, and these delicious roast potatoes.
We found each other on Facebook. Someone from high school—what was that skinhead’s name? You know, that guy who works at the Mitsubishi dealership now.
Yeah, him. He posted some throwback picture from a party and Deborah was in the dim background of it, her face fading into the dark room. So, Kelly Christianson noticed it and tagged her.
I was happy when she accepted my request. Relieved. You never know what people remember. Stuff you don’t even recall doing, just that you can imagine it, you know. That you’d do it. Like, it sounds like you.
No, there was nothing. Nothing I remember.
Anyway, we’re eating and catching up or whatever, and this beautiful music starts up. The house is big enough that it was far away, but you know when you can tell a sound is there? Present. Like, not on a stereo or something. It’s this violin and even coming through the ceiling or down the stairs or whatever, the sounds were somehow richer than you’d get through, I don’t know, a Bose or something. What’s really good, these days?
So, turns out Deborah’s kid is upstairs and she’s some hotshot violin player, like symphony quality, you know? And she practices some huge amount—four or six hours a day. Maybe that’s not a lot, but to me? I used to play the piano and my parents were always threatening to take away this or that if I didn’t practice, right? It was some, like, big fight every time.
Well, Deborah’s daughter’s autistic, I think. I Google searched about autism and it sort of explains all that dedication. Deborah called her down so she could eat and Deborah’s daughter shouts back, “I’m not hungry.” But Deborah is like, “Marie, you’ve got to eat. Everybody needs to eat.” The girl is super obstinate about it, but eventually she comes down and gives me just the shittiest look, but Deborah says, “Marie!” and Marie says, “What!?” and they exchange some kind of look. Marie pulls out a chair and sits down like she’s trying to break it. Her hair’s all everywhere, like this wild I don’t know what. It’s clean, you can see that. Maybe even brushed at some point, but she smelled, too. Not terrible, but like sweaty armpits—teenagery, really—and this other hint of something sour and warm. I guess a smell can’t be warm, but—
It’s true. The anti-Deborah.
What did we talk about? Well, when Marie was there pushing food around her plate, Deborah was asking about my car—was it good on fuel, was it comfortable, would I recommend it? Not the most riveting stuff. I said the back seat wasn’t good for much, not big enough for anything fun, you know, and I winked. I’m still not sure she got it. ’Cause, I mean, can you imagine Deb ever fucking in the back seat of a car, let alone now, what with her life all locked in and stuff. Commitments.
Good question. Well, Marie is thirteen or fouteen I think, so Deborah must have had her when she was, like 24.
I don’t think she skipped a year in school or anything, but maybe, so maybe she’s a year younger than us.
Anyway, the conversation about the car dries up then Marie turns to me and says, “I love your dress.” It was the grey one, you know.
Why wouldn’t I wear it?
I was not trying to make Deborah feel anything. Don’t you ever wear something nice just to feel good?
Well, Marie liked it. She got up from her seat and came and sat beside me and started to touch the dress. She touched the hem first, so I didn’t think much about it, but then she just kept going. It got weird, like she was touching it like I wasn’t in it and that can have some strange consequences, you know, so suddenly your high school friend’s retarded daughter is running her hand up your thigh.
She was my friend.
Oh, that? Isn’t Marie retarded? I’m being serious.
Doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, but fine, Autism Spectrum Disorder. So Deborah’s daughter with Autism Spectrum Disorder, wild Marie there, is running her hands along my body and Deborah says, “Marie, it makes people uncomfortable when you touch their clothes, especially when they are still wearing them.”
Then Marie looks me in the eyes for, like, the first time really, the first time since she came down anyway, and she says, “This doesn’t bother you does it?”
Deb says, “Marie, you need to eat more of your food before you can go back and practice.”
Marie makes this exasperated grunt sound, sort of like a scream with your mouth closed. It was crazy because it was like this textbook teenager sound, like Marie learned it from some sort of “Teach Yourself Teenager” CD, or whatever. More likely from some teen movie, I guess. Then she stood up so fast the chair fell over and she just completely ignored it, walked around it with her fists at her sides and sat down at her plate of eggs and started shoveling the food into her mouth.
Deb just was super calm about it, but she must have repeated herself fifty times. Finally, she got Marie to pick up the chair. I wouldn’t have had the patience. I mean, I nearly picked it up at one point, just so the conversation could move on, but I knew better than to interfere.
So on Deborah’s Facebook, for a while there’s this husband. Then there just isn’t. So once Marie is back upstairs, back on the violin, I ask about it. Deb’s surprised at first, and I assume it’s because I’m mentioning Facebook. Some people get so upset that you actually pay attention to their profiles. Deborah says, “Well, David and I have been separated for almost two years now, but it’s funny you should ask because we just signed the divorce papers yesterday.”
They went to a special court downtown just for divorces. She said there were all these couples there doing the same thing, their credit cards in one hand, the other hand filling out forms, clipboards balanced on their knees. Divorce lawyers there, too, preying on people. I can picture everything, but I have trouble imagining the expressions on people’s faces.
They wouldn’t be all the same, true. At first I pictured all sad faces. All covered in tears.
Pfft. Of course. You’d totally be happy in some cases, but wouldn’t you have to hide it?
Right. And I’d guess, like, some people would just be over it and signing the papers would be like a check up after a surgery, you know? One final visit to say, Yep, all done.
Deborah? I don’t know how Deborah felt about it. Feels about it. I think one of the reasons she and I were never great friends is that with me, I like to think anyway, that there’s lots on the surface, right? I’m not holding things back. It’s maybe not so good or not great or whatever. But with her, you’ve got all these layers of things tucked away somewhere, sort of like she’s hiding them.
It’s gotta be tough for her. With Marie, like, it’s got to be a lot of work.
Sure, I think David must be involved, but I didn’t ask, no. I also wonder, I mean I’ve never met David, but I imagine that Marie put a real strain on their relationship.
Okay, but do you have a few more minutes? I have to tell you this.
So, I’m getting ready to go, right, and Deborah walks me to the door. My purse is open and all the shit in it is, like, disorganized. Well, let me be honest. It’s always disorganized, but it was differently disorganized. I don’t even say anything about it and Deborah is like, “Check for your credit card.” It isn’t there, and, again, before I can say anything Deborah says, “It’s gone, right?” then nods and starts upstairs. I follow her.
Marie is working away at the violin. Deborah opens the door and there is a gust of damp, sour air. Marie is standing in the center of the room, her hair still all chaos, but now she’s wearing this lovely red dress. She turns and gives us a startled, angry look, but then she makes eye contact with me and her expression changes to something obviously self-satisfied. There’s a squeaking off in the corner. In a big fish tank, a white rat with a beige head is running in a metal wheel. Deborah takes a clipboard off the tank lid and tosses it onto Marie’s unmade bed before she opens the tank.
Holding her violin and bow in one hand, Marie faces me and subtly bends first one knee, then the other. Then she takes her hand and spreads part of the dress out. She’s posing. And her head is down at this, like, intentionally demure angle but she keeps taking these quick glances at me, so I’m like, “What a lovely dress.”
Marie says, “It used to be Mum’s.”
I open my mouth, but I don’t say anything because I’m actually choked up. Actually. Sure, now I’m like, Okay, she’s probably got other pretty dresses, or whatever, I mean I don’t know what it means, right? But at that moment I felt sure that Deborah had just given up and handed all her pretty dresses down to Marie.
Anyway, Deborah is running her hand through the shredded paper at the bottom of the rat tank and you can tell she’s getting frustrated. And the smell in the room is getting worse. Marie turns and says, “Mum, you’re upsetting Rattata.”
Deborah says, “Where is it, Marie?”
Marie picks up the rat and holds him out towards me. “Do you want to hold him?” The poor thing is dangling there, but, no, I don’t want to hold him, thank you very much. Marie puts him on her shoulder and he perches there.
“Marie,” Deborah says.
“What?” Marie turns and I can see the rat’s tail brushing Marie’s shoulder blade.
“Where is Lisa’s credit card?”
“Why do you think I have it?”
“You have to stop taking people’s things.”
“You lose your credit card all the time.”
Deborah lifts the rat’s wheel.
“Mum. Stop, Rattata likes that there.”
Of course, my card’s under the wheel. Deborah is holding my Visa between her fingers and shaking her head.
Marie gives this big, exasperated huff. “It’s okay, Rattata,” she says, lifing him down from her shoulder.
“You need to clean that tank. Today.” Deborah leads me out of the room and closes the door. When I try to take my card from her, she says, “Let me wash it for you.”
While she’s doing that, I go through my purse just to make sure that nothing else is missing, you know?
Everything was there.
So, at the door Deborah says to me the normal stuff, you know, it was nice to see you and all that, but then she says, I hope you’ll still think about coming back.
I say, sure, yes, of course, but next time it’s my turn to host. Honestly, though, I don’t know if I could.
I mean, she didn’t seem sad. She looked really good and, yeah, was totally happy, or pretty happy seeming anyway. It’s just that I find it, or, well, it just all makes me feel so sad.
Toronto, December 2105
Emoji Sequence: Laura Wills, artist, illustrator and contributor to Swimming Holes We Have Known
Story: Lee Sheppard