Shut. Up. Pause.
Shut! Up! I'm trying to mind my own business while I stir my instant coffee (my brewer has gone back to Vancouver with its owner, one of my former roommates. My other college roommate, most furniture, all forms of cutlery and the living-room TV have also deserted me for the rainy city of Vancouver), but this teeth-scratching eeeeeeeeeeeeep keeps interrupting me. It's like when you bite your lip by accident and it gets all puffy, and because it's puffy, you keep biting ityou know?
Please, please, please stop.
Three minutes and ten seconds later: eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.
Time to detonate the smoke detector. I've lived in this apartment for over two years and in all that time, not once have the batteries run out. But isn't that always the case? They had to wait for Rebecca and Melissa to move out before they decided to kick the bucket. My ex-roommates are each at least half a foot taller than my five-foot frame (I prefer to be called petite, not short, and none of that vertically challenged crap, thank you very much) and could have reached it by standing on a stool without the aid of a phone book. Both could have easily, without breaking a glow, popped out the offending batteries, making the eeeeeeeeeeeeep go away. Go figure.
The beeping offends my ears yet again, and I examine my right thumb for a piece of stray nail to chew on. Gross? Yes. A bad habit I picked up from my mom.
Maybe this eeeeeeeeeeeeeping is a sign. A sign for me to get dressed, walk to the nearest Starbucks and order a cappuccino before going to work. Maybe while I'm there I will meet someone capable of stopping this eeeeeeeeeeeeeping. Maybe I will make new friends. I need new friends. Now that my former roomies have left town, I have only one friend left in Toronto, Clint, but secretly, I'm a little in love with Clint, so I don't think he counts. I've tried not to be in love with him, because he's not in love with me. I realized this last year (me loving him and him not loving me). I had a little too much Mike's Hard Lemonade (Canadian girl beer) and said, "I love you, Clint." And he got as pale as loose-leaf paper and said, "Thank you."
Thank you? What is thank you? Thank you for making me a turkey sandwich, Allie, maybe. Thank you for taping TWIB (that's This Week in Baseball for all those not in love with Blue Jays–obsessed men) while I was out sleeping with the slut from my economics class. Worst-case scenario, obviously, but still applicable. But thank you for the "I love you"? What does that mean? He started stammering all boylike that he had to go, he had an early class (as if he ever went to class), and I realized what a mistake, what a huge mistake I had just made, and I said, "As a friend, I mean. I love you as a friend. You're my best friend."
So technically I don't know for sure he doesn't love me. It's certainly possible that he believed me about me not loving him that way. And if he doesn't think I'm in love with him, he probably doesn't want to risk potential embarrassment and disappointment by admitting his true feelings for me. He's probably afraid of making the first move, because of his fear of rejection. Not that he's ever been afraid of being rejected by other girls.
But I'm different from other girls. I am. Clint says no one appreciates him the way I do.
So you see, I'm having a bit of a current living-in-Toronto friend drought. Obviously, I'll have two built-in friends when my two new roomies arrive in a couple weeks, but who should I talk to until then? I wish I had a dog. I've always wanted a dog. A dog that will sleep on my pillow. A dog that I can take for walks and feed snacks and teach to roll over and walk on two legs and do other fun tricks, and maybe one day I can present him on David Letterman's Stupid Pet Tricks. But shouldn't I ask my new roomies if I want to get a dog? In case they're allergic? Is it the ethical thing to do? Could I hide the dog? It could sleep in my room. I have the biggest one.
But if I can call them to ask them this, that means I have someone to talk to. And if I have someone to talk to, then I really don't need a dog, now do I?
Maybe by the time I get back from coffee and work the eeeeeeeeeeeeeping will have stopped. Sometimes you wish for something and it actually does happen. Really. Like in fourth grade. I went to sleep crying because in the morning I had to take the Monday multiplication test and I was stuck on table nine. For five weeks, Mrs. Tupper (who probably never used Bounce, because her skirt always stuck to the inside of her thighs) had been making me stand up in front of the class and answer, "Allison, what is nine times two?" And when I answered eighteen, she'd ask, "What is nine times five?" She'd ask me six questions in all, assuring me that if I passed the test, I could move on to the tenth table, but if I answered even one wrong, I'd have to repeat table nine again the next Monday.
Anyway, for five weeks I went to bed crying because even though nine times ten and nine times eleven were no-brainers ("Multiplication isn't your foe, times it by ten and add an 0. Don't let math give you trouble, times it by eleven and you're seeing double!" Mom made those up for me), I would either forget nine times eight (seventy-two!) or nine times nine (eighty-one!), and for some inexplicable reason answered sixty-five to both. Anyway, I had been on the ninth table for five weeks now, and the test was in the morning. I knew that one (maybe two) more days of practice would really be helpful, and then poof, the next morning there was a flood. There's never been a flood in my part of the city in its entire history. How weird was that? Needless to say, the schools were closed, since no one could get to them unless they had a boat or Jet Ski. Totally bizarre. And when I took the test (on Tuesday) I passed.
See? It happens.
I brush my teeth, throw on jean shorts, a tank top and sandals. I grab my purse and head out the door.
Mission not accomplished. Workgood. Well, not good as in fulfilling good. How can telemarketing be fulfilling? Although, I raise money for the Ontario University Alumni Fund so it's actually telefundraising, which isn't as immoral or annoying as telemarketing. And I did raise over five hundred bucks today, which is pretty good. Anyway. Cappuccinoalso good. Meeting taller friends so they can fix the eeeeeeeeeeeepbad.
But what's this? Silence? I look up at the offender on the wall in the living room next to the kitchen's entranceway. Has the sour-milk-sipping noise come to an end?
No sound except passing traffic. I leave the windows open because it is a breath-hampering, fluid-draining ninety-seven degrees outside. And I can't afford an air conditioner. I once had a fan, but like everything else that gave me joy, it is now in Vancouver.
Quiet. See? I told you it could happen. Sometimes when you wish for something hard enough
Hmm. There's a pharmacy next door to Starbucks. Why didn't I think to buy batteries? Wouldn't that have made more sense than to assume that the obviously dying batteries would self-heal while I was getting caffeinated?
I roll the computer chair from my bedroom into the living room and place it beneath the smoke detector. This is a bad plan. A very bad plan. My computer chair is one of those $15.99 You-Put-It-Together! chairs whose wheels are about as sturdy as legs in high heels after three glasses of zinfandel. Unfortunately, my other chairs, which are metal, sturdier, more appropriate for this situation (and which used to be arranged around a glass kitchen table which had to be placed beside the kitchen instead of inside it due to space limitations) are gone. With the glass table. In Vancouver.
I pump the computer chair as high as it can go. And now, the moment of suspense. It's just me, an eeeeeeeeeeeeeping smoke alarm, and a rolling computer chair in a couchless, coffeemaker-free apartment.
Steady. Stea-dy. Lift right arm to smoke detector. Lift left hand to mouth. Insert pinky nail between lips. Excellent nail overgrowth. Mmm. Missions accomplished. Superfluous nail piece is freely rolling around my tongue. And both hands are placed squarely on the smoke detector.
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPP. Whoops. Remove batteries? Why can't I remove batteries? Chair! Swerving! Seconds from head injury! Need both hands to balance! Steady! Stea-dy.
Stop. That. Now. Remove smoke detector? Crunch. Smoke detector removed. Three-minute wait. Beeping stopped.
I think I broke it. I guess I should put it back on the wall. I can't just leave it on the table. What table? (Do milk crates covered in a tablecloth count as a table?) Okay, smoke detector is now back on ceiling.
I carefully crouch into a sitting position and insert another finger into my mouth. I wait three minutes.
No eeeeeeeeeeeeep. Not even one tiny eee.
Now, isn't that better?
Terrific. Shouldn't the fact that I'm in the middle of reviewing something be a sign that I'm not interested in pursuing a conversation? "Fine, thanks."
He squashes his arm on the seat rest. "I'm doing well, too."
I pull out the New York Times. People are usually less likely to intrude on one's personal time when one appears to be engaged, especially if the engagement happens to be reading the Times. It's not a comic book, or worse, a fashion magazine. It spells serious all over it.
"What are you reading, little lady?"
It takes me another moment to get over the traumatizing shock of being called a little lady. Is he blind? "The paper," I answer in yet another dismissive attempt. Maybe now he will set sail the notion of small talk? Float away, annoying man! Float away!
"So what do you do?"
"I'm a student." Now vanish. Enough.
"Oh, that's nice," he says in a pat-me-on-the-head voice. Notice he does not think to ask the obvious question, What are you studying? Not that I care. I do not wish to engage in a conversation with this man. I'm not sure why people believe being seated next to someone implies an ensuing conversation.
He puffs himself up like a blown-up life jacket. "I run an international appliance sales force. It's one of the largest in the world."
I don't remember asking, but now that you've opened the field up for discussion, let me ask, is that why you're sitting in 23D in the economy section, next to me? Because you're so rich and powerful? "That's nice," I say instead. It's not that I'm a coward; why should I be rude?
I slip my Discman headphones out of my carry-on and over my ears. Unfortunately, my CD player is broken. I realized this while waiting to board. But the important thing is, he doesn't realize this.
Maybe if I nod my head and shake it side to side as if I'm in the swing, I'll be able to pull it off.
Forty-five minutes until landing.
My mother had better be on time to pick me up. In her last attempt to pick me up at the Toronto airport, when I flew back from a law conference in Calgary, she was fifty-five minutes late. Apparently she was under the false impression that my arrival time was at five, despite the photocopied version of my itinerary taped prominently to the refrigerator, which clearly stated that my flight was landing at four. When she drove up at four-fifty-five, she was congratulating herself for arriving five minutes early. My primary question, ignoring the more obvious why-didn't-she-pay-attention-to-the-time-on-the-fridge query, was why didn't she call the airport to verify the arrival time? Why, why, why, would one drive to the airport, a forty-five-minute trek in Toronto, without first confirming the accurate arrival time? The possibility of my flight being delayed was more than likely. It was December; a snowstorm was practically guaranteed. It made no sense.
This time, I specifically instructed her to call the airport. I even gave her the number. I should have insisted, however, on taking a cab. Sigh. Her inability to make it here for the assigned time is now beyond my control.
Dear, sweet Mom. In the last year, at least four times that I can remember, she's left her keys in the car while it was running and had to call my father to bring her the spare. Not that my dad is much better. Once when my mom"But it slammed shut so fast! Before I could catch it!"locked herself out, smack in the middle of downtown Queen Street, my dad trekked all the way to meet her, only to realize he'd left the spare keys back at the house, on the"But I could have sworn I'd put them in my pocket" kitchen table. They called me to rescue them. And when I got there, after two hours of subway-hell, they were having a giggly submarine picnic lunch on the hood of the car. How frustrating is that? Fine, I admit they can be a tiny bit adorable. They thought it was the funniest thing that had ever happened to them.
One week of living with my parents. Seven days. One hundred and sixty-eight hours. That's all I have left. Seven days of explaining to my mother how to work that "intercourse machine" so that she can go "to the line" ("Internet, Mom. Online, Mom"). Seven days of picking up my father's seemingly strategically discarded socks on the kitchen floor. Why would one take off his socks in the kitchen? There is no carpet, just cold tiles.
They will be fine without me around to take care of them, won't they?
I should get a cell phone to make sure I can be reached at all times.
Excerpted from Fishbowl by Sarah Mlynowski Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Mlynowski. Excerpted by permission.
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