BY EMILY KOON
Loretta, the cleaning woman, went at the picture window in the living room with a bottle of Windex, wiping in hard slashes. She always makes faces while she cleans, as if we live like animals on the days she doesn’t come. When she was finished, she dusted her hands off and said, “I don’t think I can get this house no cleaner, Mrs. T.,” like that’s my fault.
I asked her once how she liked her work. She looked at me like I was asking how many men she’d been with. All I wanted to know was how she got into the cleaning business, whether she chose it or life chose for her, because I think Sherry could do work like that when she gets out.
My mother told me Sherry has a new roommate or whatever you call it, a woman named Wanda Talmadge from Wilmington. Vehicular manslaughter. They must group the similar types together, like in a zoo.
We shared a room as children, which means I probably know how Wanda feels. If I ever meet her, I’ll tell her how Sherry was always working under that gooseneck lamp, cramming facts in her head, which has my face on it and people say is like Ava Gardner’s. No surprise she went into science. She said education equaled a future and if I was smart I’d study too. I said I didn’t need to because I was planning on marrying a doctor. Donald is an orthodontist, which is almost as good.
After Loretta left, I went outside and walked over the dunes. The beach was clear, so I started working on my hole, which Donald or the ocean or Loretta had filled in since yesterday. If I can ever get it deep enough, I’ll watch the whole beach slide into it, along with that big old house Donald bought to silence me. It will take the rest of my life because every day I have to start over.
While I was digging, the little boy next door, who’s named after a city in Texas I can never remember, trotted over to see what I was doing.
“You digging to China, Mrs. Tucker?” he asked.
“Not exactly, Abilene, but if you want to think of it that way, that’s fine with me,” I said.
He peeped over the edge of the hole, looking disappointed to see the bottom. “It ain’t very deep,” he said.
“That’s your opinion.”
He sat down and started working on his own hole, digging at the sand like a dog, kicking it all over the place. His hole was starting to show some potential when his mother came out and made him go back in. She doesn’t care much for him visiting me.
“Let me know when you get it all dug, Mrs. T.,” he said, waving goodbye.
“You’ll know, Lubbock,” I said.
I dug until the hole was up to my knees and the sun cracked like an egg and bled across the sky. Just as the egg dropped into the ocean, I heard the phone ring back at the house.
“Shoot,” I said to the water. “Look at me.”
My pants were wet. Sand was working itself into funny places that I’d need to get at with a washcloth. I knew my mother was on the phone because it just rang all day, as slow as I moved toward the house. We don’t have one of those machines people get to take messages. Well, we did, but I smashed it with a hammer, and Donald had to throw it and the hammer out.
I stood under the house rinsing myself with the hose, watching the sand skootch off into the drain like a coward. “Hold your horses, you crazy old thing,” I yelled up. The kid next door’s mother peeked at me out her kitchen window.
Mama was calling to see if I wanted to go to our old piano teacher’s funeral on Saturday. The Drill Sargeant, always jabbing at my hands when I messed up my scales.
“Why would I want to come all the way to Winston-Salem just for that?” I asked. “I even think about a piano, I want to mutilate myself.”
Mutilate is a word I have been trying out lately. They say it on Maury when those depressed kids who cut themselves come on and the audience yells it’s the mother’s fault.
“You got a piano in your house, Eva,” she said.
“Nobody’s making me play it.”
She didn’t say anything to that, so I knew she was looking over at my daddy, like she does. They’ve been married so long they don’t communicate with their mouths much anymore, or if they do, it’s with mouths you can’t see. I don’t know if it’s because they’re old or some kind of strategy.
“Why do you have to be so dramatic all the time?” she asked. “I honestly don’t know how you get through life.”
Donald says the same thing. I let the little things get under my skin like redbugs, start scritching and scratching, never thinking it might be my life I’m clawing at. He’ll talk your ear off about it. When I complain about Mama and Daddy’s house, how everything is vacuum-packed in there so you can’t take a step without falling and breaking your neck, and those jars full of moss she brings in from outside, attracting bugs—terraria, she calls them—he says no one has ever twisted my arm to go there. My house is the opposite, white light, clean plants and space to move between things.
It was to be our weekend home, I say, when people comment on how nice it is. We liked it so much Donald moved his practice out here. The truth is he thought living at the beach would settle me. Like in English novels where a girl is having conniptions, ruining everybody’s life, and they send her to the seaside to rest. Looking at sand and water will fix anybody up.
“I think Donald hired a cleaning woman to watch me,” I said.
There was another long pause, and then she hung up.
The story about the funeral was made up, of course. Saturday would be her and Daddy’s day to visit Sherry. A couple days before they go, she’ll always make up an excuse to call in case I have a message to send. It’s why I said the thing about the cleaning woman, though I don’t know what Sherry’s supposed to do about that.
I sent Sherry a letter a few weeks ago telling her that the Piggly Wiggly where I mixed up the pedals is going to become a hardware store. Donald said I shouldn’t have done that, probably because of the whole time thing. It’s her line of work. I looked it up at the library once, the white coat, the machines taking pictures of invisible things, prophesying about the end of the world. I think she’s even got a scrawny assistant like in the magazine, filling up notebooks of math problems like she used to do under that gooseneck lamp. She doesn’t have any of that where she is, not even the lamp, so she can’t punch a hole and skip to where the store isn’t a Piggly Wiggly anymore. I guess that’s what Donald meant.
I told her not to worry about me driving to the hardware store or anywhere because Donald gave my car to the rescue mission. We see it sometimes when we go into town. It’s usually got a couple of hopeless-looking people in the back, going wherever people like that go. I don’t think she’ll write back, even with that information.
—”Holes,” Thin Air Vol. 20.
Emily Koon is a writer from North Carolina. She has previously published work in Fiddleblack, Meridian, Juked, Camera Obscura and other places and can be found at thebookdress.com.