Chaos Bites on the Nose
Sharon pounded on the trailer door. She stood holding her oldest daughter, Caren, by the hand and under her arm was a baby who liked to ride her hip. Caren carried the baby bed, a canvas squre almost too small for such a big baby, but a comfortable place. Women don't have much sensitivity for small places if they are small themselves, and Sharon a girl with two girl children, was probably a worse offender than Subi, who while the smallest adult female, had worked with men.
"Loraine is still sleeping," I told Sharon. "No one is dressed here."
"It's all right. We're all girls. We're not very formal here," Loraine explained from the bedroom door where she stood on the balls of her narrow, pink and blue feet. Big veins that ran like swollen rivers made my wife's feet blue in places. A lot of women have pink and blue feet. One shoulder of Loraine's ivory colored, sleeveless night gown dropped. She gave it a quick shove into place, pushed some hair out of her eyes and padded into the living room to be social. "I wish I could offer you coffee," went the pitter pat of her apology to Sharon. "I think my husband made juice." It wasn't juice. It was Kool-aide.
"Which flavor is it?" Loraine asked me. I shrugged. "Strawberry," Douglas answered. "Want some?" Loraine offered.
"It's still warm," I reminded her.
"Put it in the fridge. It will get cold."
Loraine padded into the kitchen and emerged with the pitcher, paper cups, and a cigarette clenched on one side of her mouth, and her hand bag over one arm. She found a rocking chair with hidden mechanism, a hideous early American thing with nubbly copper colored upholstery and huge, knicked, dark pine arms with cigarette burns. She glanced around for an ash tray and fumbled for a match. The pitcher and cups sat on the coffee table or what passed for one. I realized that I hated this trailer. Caren poured herself a cup of "juice."
"If you drink this stuff your tongue stays red all day," the little girl joined our conversation.
"You really think it's that long?" I inquired.
Loraine lit her cigarette and inhaled a greedy drag.
"I thought every thing in this house had cooties," Sharon talked kid. Sharon was wearing cut off, denim shorts, and a blue chambray shirt knotted just above the fly. The shirt was open to reveal a triangle of weathered, pale skin. Sharon was going to age badly. I was sure of that. She shifted from one foot to the other in red, slip on sneakers. Where do some women find all those canvas shoes? Thankfully, Loraine did not have a taste for those things, but Sharon and Subi both thought they were the best thing since sliced bread. Sharon stopped shifting, took the baby bed from Caren and put her younger daughter down in it.
"Douglas' mommy makes the juice!" Caren told everyone.
"Douglas' daddy made the juice," I corrected.
Sharon squatted on flexible, canvas-shod feet. The baby did not lie down but stood in the bed, holding the sides. Sharon fumbled in her oversize purse for a tommy-tippy and filled it with strawberry Kool-aide. Baby Jasmine took the cup with both hands, and chugged a swig. "Jasmine's going to have a red tongue," Caren announced and stuck out her freshly dyed tongue to show everyone. "Big deal," groaned Douglas. "Wan 'Juis!" cried Bradley about whom everyone had forgotten. "Coming right up," Sharon was happy to tend bar.
"Can I come for a walk with you mommy?" Caren dropped her little bomb.
"Sure," Sharon shrugged. "I'll bring Caren by later. I think Subi could use some air."
"She still taking it hard?" Loraine asked.
"We're both taking it hard, but Subi just has her husband, so it's worse for her. I have the girls to keep me company."
"I'm glad I can watch them for you. Are you sure you don't want me to take Caren."
"She wants to go walking."
"We don't say anything she doesn't know. She all ready saw me cry this morning."
"Yeah...it got to me. We're just lucky Subi didn't scratch DelGrasso's eyes out last night."
"She was that angry..." The cat fight metaphor amused me.
"Of course she was. You men left Richard and my husband flat! You know how it feels to be left flat!"
"We had to make time," I protested.
"You have to take care of your friends," Sharon replied. "Come on Caren. We're out of here."
"Wow!" I sighed.
"She's right," Loraine answered between puffs of blue smoke.
"Women always side with..."
"Didn't you hear what she said? And DelGrasso didn't even have the sense to say he was sorry to Subi last night. I'm glad all she did was cry. She's holding up very well."
"Well in two days her husband will be here. Then everything will calm down again. We'll get to work. Do you think she can forget..."
"Who knows... I never figured her out. She likes men. I mean she works with them, and that may make it easier for her. She's going to be the only woman in the water testing group if she passes her exam. She better like men.... God I could use a coffee."
"God is not going to make the coffee, Loraine dear."
"Is that a subtle hint? OK, William, I'll put up the water and measure out the coffee. You pour it in when it boils. I'm making six cups. We'll take the grounds off right away, and it will be good all day. Sound decent?"
I guessed I couldn't complain. "Can you watch the babies while I take a shower and get dressed?" I knew this was coming.
"Just don't use up all the hot water," I warned her.
"I won't. We can't let chaos break out you know?"
I laughed. "William dear," Loraine informed me. "You wouldn't know chaos if it bit you on the nose!"
Twystaboo, NV </p>
I had had coffee and two cigarettes, and watched Loraine, Douglas, and Bradley play musical chairs to the LP of Ethel Murman belting out Broadway standards for a good half hour when Sharon returned with Caren and this time Subi. My job had been to handle the tone arm to stop the music. Loraine sometimes "spoke kid" to a limited extent.She drew the line at children's music. The game began with an argument over whether Baby Jasmine could play, since she was too young to understand the rules. I suggested she play "unofficial." She could walk around the music but nobody would pay attention to whether she was in or out sitting or left standing. Her laughter filled the trailer. Loraine was going to turn the baby into an Ethel Murman fan.
When Subi, Sharon, and Caren stopped at the trailer door, I stopped the music and the silence felt like someone had put a snwoball down the back of my shirt. My face even burned with some kind of anger. I swallowed hard. "Mommy, we need to go get books," Caren, that spoiled brat announced. "If you get books," Sharon told her daughter, "you take Douglas with you."
Caren blinked. "Douglas is learning to read too. It's not fair." Caren glanced at Douglas and then told everyone in the trailer that musical chairs was a baby game. "It depends on the music," I told Caren who ducked out with Douglas under Subi's arm. Subi had been supporting herself on teh doorjamb. Her face was silent and her eyes far away. How often and how much had she cried, I wondered.
I caught my breath in stiff lungs. "Subi would like to study for the exam," Sharon explained. DelGrasso had forbidden all the men from preparing for work until Richard and Silberstein arrived. Subi, however, was not his direct subordinate and neither was I. Still... "DelGrasso said..." I began.
"We're chemists not lawyers!" Subi answered and her words came out as a scream.
I realized I was going to help a lady in distress. I did not mind, though it was still hard to picture, career woman, Subi as a lady in distress. I went to the bedroom and got my books. Subi's books were in her trailer. We studied outside at the picnic table that came in and out of the Washateria. Who thought of that dumb name.
After a time, Douglas, Caren, and Faith Doty came running along, books under their arms. School had recessed. Subi glared at the children. Then she laid down the law. "This is a quiet study table. You can only sit here and read if you can read silently."
"How do you read silently?" asked Faith.
My son suppressed a grin that took over his face. "It's the way mommy reads her novels!" Douglas cried out the answer. "I can't do that yet. Come on let's go."
"Can you teach me how to read silently?" Caren asked.
"After lunch," Subi promised.
"Faith says I have to go to school with the babies cause I'm a boy," Douglas complained.
"We don't have school yet," I said.
I really did want to go back to work, and so too, did Subi. "Mrs. DelGrasso and Mrs Silberstein are going to have school until they start real school," answered Douglas. "Mrs. DelGrasso is going to teach the big kids, and Mrs. Silbersteinn is teaching the babies. I can read, so I'm a big kid."
"Then it's a done deal isn't it?" I explained to Faith.
"Yeah, but boys are im-mature and Douglas is only five."
"Faith, it is not polite to talk about people as if they are not there. If Douglas can read, he is going to school with you."
"Says who..." Faith rocked on the balls of her obnoxious feet.
"Says any adult with sense, but first they'll give you an A double plus for rudeness."
Caren smiled. Faith stared at the ground. "Come on," the girl recovered her wits. "Let's go read in the chairs behind DelGrasso's trailer."
"What if the babies bother us?" asked Caren.
"We'll tell them to get lost," answered Faith.
"And what about the cooties."
"Babies are worse than cooties," Faith dismissed Caren's complaint and the children walked off to their own, noisey study group.
I sighed. "It's hard to be a boy," I spoke of my son, Douglas.
"He's learning to read isn't he?" Subi answered.
"He's like I was and he's lucky that way. Little girls are vicious and very competitive. He doesn't need to be beaten."
"He looks like he holds his own."
"He's very lucky. I'm glad he takes after me. It's just luck, you know that. You took genetics, didn't you?"
"I know about it from high school biology, but I was never premed."
"They don't take a lot of women, and I wanted to work right after I graduated and not teach high school. If you think little girls are bad, teenagers are worse.... They get their nature twisted back in the wrong direction."
"You really believe that."
"I remember it."
I remembered it too. Until they become interested in boys, my firecest competitors in school were always females. For some reason, girls take to and excel at intellectual work. I dreaded and later loved competing with them. By high school, most girls turned their attention to boys, but there were still three or four left, who often gave me a run for my money. Some were ugly and wore glasses, some were ordinary looking, some were beautiful. Girls are as diverse as boys. By adulthood, most women turn their attention to marriage, but Subi...had been one of those competitive girls who had never given up running around with a book, and yes Subi believed that her way of living was "completely natural" just as it is for men. I was not sure I bought all of Subi's philosophy, but I have no problem giving women like Subi respect, or giving someone like Faith Doty or Caren Silberstein the right to follow a path like Subi's. Perhaps if I had a daughter I would feel differently, but I have only sons, and was relieved my oldest could compete wtih the girls so far.
Twystaboo, NV </p>