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She Needs the Room to Bake
I had no point of navigation but I was hell-bent on finding my way to Ordinary. I didn't know what I hoped to find on that voyage or, God forbid, at the end of it, but I knew there was nothing but bilge rats and bullshit on the course I'd been following.
I still awoke at night as if in midthought. That copy of Emerson's Essays . . . did Norman keep it? I'd be compelled to run downstairs to the storage room and root through the boxes I brought back from Kentucky with me. First, though, I had to rouse Ginny to find the key. Ginny tolerated these wakings only twice, and then, griping about delusional roommates, she had a copy of the key made and hung it by the condo's front door.
It's a physical deficiency you feel in the middle of the night after a breakup. Oh shit, you lie there thinking. It's not the books or the brassieres -- I've left my thighs in his spare closet.
Along with my ex, Norman, and possibly some missing-inaction body parts, I'd abandoned my creative spirit in Kentucky too, left it disintegrating underneath a tree beside the Barren River (symbolically enough), buried alongside the last paintings I swore I would ever do.
Ginny had left the newspaper on the kitchen table folded open to the employment section, alongside a conspicuously placed red pen. I sat down at the table and wriggled in the chair. Ginny's condo is the Shrine to Design: titanium white walls, ebony floors, leather furniture, and none of the clocks had numbers. I could never tell what time it was, not that I had anything to be late for. The two kitchen chairs were Bertoia Wire Chairs, sans cushions. The wire frame was incredibly uncomfortable and my butt would be dented like a reverse waffle when I stood up. If the other items in the room and I were featured in a certain Sesame Street game, I'd be one of the things that's not like the others.
I unfolded the paper and turned past the help-wanted ads to the furniture-for-sale column. I'd be getting my own place again, someday. It didn't cost anything to look and I wanted to feast my eyes on the cost of a nice flat-bottomed kitchen chair.
Underneath the amazing queen mattress & box, cost over $1100, sell $495, there it was:
BEAUTIFUL old phonograph for sale. 78 record player.
Excellent condition. Gladys doesn't dance anymore.
She needs the room to bake. Bring offer. Ph. 254-9885.
Now there was a woman grown earnest about life. It must be a joke. I picked up the portable phone and dialed the number. I didn't need a phonograph. (Who does, really?) I wanted to see Gladys. I imagined a woman wearing a flowered housedress, her arms covered in flour, polkaing and shaking the floor while cookies turned black in the oven. But now Gladys had abandoned dancing and turned serious about her baking, perhaps trying for a blue ribbon at the neighbourhood fair. I wanted to look at this woman, to see if she looked broken. I wanted to see how she managed to give it up.
"Hello." An old man's voice spoke on the other end of the line. Gladys was probably busy baking pies.
"Hi. I was calling about your ad in the paper."
"You're an early riser; that's good. I had people call at noon sounding like they just got out of bed. I didn't even let them see it. Do you like to read?"
"Uh, yes." What did that have to do with a record player? Perhaps Gladys had been driven to baking by her insane husband.
"Listen, could I come to see it?"
"Certainly. How about ten o'clock?"
I wrote the address down with the red pen, hung up the phone, and went back to flipping through the newspaper. It had been only two weeks since I returned to Winnipeg and moved in with Ginny, but she made it seem like I'd been lying about for months -- decades even. I first met Ginny at the Paraskeva College of Art three years ago. She was excelling in Commercial Art. I was dropping out of Fine Art. I randomly circled help wanted ads and made big noises with the pages. See, Ginny? Flip. I'm trying to restart my life. Flip. Flip. Look at me go.
I'd returned to Manitoba to live as I believed a normal person lived. No more Frieda Zweig the Artist. Abstract depictment in exchange for appropriate deportment. Who was I going to be? I was more inclined towards inertia than upward mobility and didn't like most people enough to devote my life to helping others less fortunate than myself. I'd work somewhere, I thought, watch tv in the evenings, and become wholly involved in the lives of non-existent people. I'd develop my own life of quiet desperation, as Emerson's buddy Thoreau suggested the mass of men (and, presumably, women) led.