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MOUTH: Dora introduces herself, meets Olivia [present] - J's Novel in Progress

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August 11th, 2005

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01:28 pm - MOUTH: Dora introduces herself, meets Olivia [present]
There are some people in life who were probably [never] destined [never] to be happy. Perhaps it seems rather [fatalistic] to think that way—I suppose it is. But sometimes I can't help but wonder, when I see everyone around me smiling and successful, just what it is that I'm missing.

[Now] The pragmatic answer is obvious, but unhelpful. I'm missing a husband; it's three in the A.M., and Bernard is Out—"Out" meaning with an attractive, sociable woman, younger than me, of course. Part of me thinks I should mind more than I do. I have so many friends who have gotten divorces—their freedom, they call it, [now they get] to shop for boyfriends instead of groceries. But the idea of broaching that subject in my household terrifies me; it's like the feeling of almost dropping a crystal wineglass and catching it on your fingertips right before it nearly shatters. The separation is inevitable, I suppose. But I could never leave the children.

I have a total of five children, all of whom I love dearly. Sometimes, I think they are what's holding me and Bernard together, which I know is impossibly wrong but unfortunately true. I don't want to do anything that might hurt them; I know that they love their father. They are the only things that keep me in this marriage… except when they're not. Except when that thing is Bernard. And when it’s me.

Instead of being in bed, alone, like I should be, I am at Denny's. The Denny's in Encinitas, specifically, an area of the city that I rarely frequent. It's about a half-hour drive from where I live. My sixteen-year old son James is at home minding his younger siblings. It's his punishment for coming in nearly two hours after his curfew.

I am sitting alone at a hard plastic table with a hard plastic seat nursing a cup of plain coffee, nothing else. This, for me, is a rarity. I prefer to take my morning espresso laced with a shot of vodka, my One Guilty Indulgence. I keep my secret stash hidden in the upper cabinet behind the non-stick pans we bought but never used. I'm not an alcoholic or anything—one bottle lasts me quite a while, actually. But it’s good to have something a little stronger to calm my nerves when I need it. Especially at three in the morning.

The setting is cheap, tacky, manufactured, but I welcome it. I even have a novel with me to keep me company, a cheap mass-market paperback to distract me from my woes at this ungodly hour. It supplements the caffeine, I suppose. The book is a lot lighter than what I usually read, because even with the coffee, I don't think I can handle anything literary and meaningful right now. [Ordinarily, I am quite a fan of Dickens, Dostoevsky, and even, God forbid, James Joyce, but for now my spy-murder mystery will more than suffice.] I turn the pages slowly, letting the easy flow of concise prose and inane dialogue wash over me. I'm more relaxed than I have been for weeks.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the waitress staring at me with a kind of fearful curiosity. She's young, but not pretty. She's got scraggly pale blonde hair and a sour face. She looks as if she is dying to come ask what the hell I, a domestic-looking middle-aged woman, am doing in a cheap restaurant usually patronised at this hour by Rocky Horror Picture Show attendees.

To which I would reply that I am waiting for someone. This someone is neither an acquaintance nor a friend—maybe something in between. Her name is Olivia Schroeder, and if I had to describe her in only three words, they would be “my polar opposite.” Olivia is a journalist. She is very career- and goal-oriented, and it shows. She is the only person I know who got a degree in Comparative Literature and was able to use it to find a career. (The others, oddly enough, all went into the wine business.) She works for the only major newspaper in the city, the San Diego [Times]. They like her because she's got incredible experience in foreign literature, plus she's well-read, witty, opinionated, and can write a mean book review, which is what she does. She prefers it to researching and reporting. Having coffee at Denny's at this unreasonable hour of the morning is her idea, one of her quirks—the equivalent of my Guilty Indulgence, I suppose. Everywhere else is closed this time of day, so she isn't left with many options. I know she comes here almost every night (morning?), alone. I wait for her.

It is a strange but refreshing feeling to be sitting here doing nothing of importance. Ordinarily I hate to be idle, dreading the gloomy solitude that I tend to fall into. But this is the first moment of peace I've had all day. My two youngest, Emma and Bryce, twins, are both mysteriously sick with the same cold, no doubt something brought home from school. (One of a mother's first important lessons is that elementary school is the ultimate cesspool of infectious diseases.) Usually I'm lucky and the kids take turns being sick, but this time I have both twins to deal with. My two oldest sons, of course, were nowhere to be seen all day, doing whatever it is that teenage boys do, and my poor, neglected middle child, Bridget, was, well… neglected.

Bernard had managed to escape the house early in the morning, claiming he had to put in some extra overtime to stay caught up with all his work. This was probably true, but not as true as he would like me to believe. In any case, he was miraculously absent while I was taking temperatures and administering Children's Tylenol Cold. Which, I suppose, was for the better anyway—he loves the kids, but gets a little awkward whenever they need anything from him other than hugs, kisses, and money.

Neither of my two absent sons was home in time for dinner—something that slightly worried me as a mother, but generally was quite a relief, as it meant I had to prepare significantly less food. Bernard was still at the office (or more likely, Out), and as Bryce and Emma were still confined to their beds, [I had very lonely company.] Feeling slightly guilty but more than slightly exhausted, I sat Bridget on the couch with a TV dinner and delivered similar to the sick twins in their room before sitting down myself with a microwaveable casserole that I had dug out of the freezer. Sometime in the middle of all this, my son Julian walked in, without a word to explain where he'd been or whether or not James was coming home as well. His presence upped my guilt to exhaustion ratio for not having cooked a proper meal, but not enough to keep me from sending him to his room with a TV dinner as well—it was his own fault for coming home late, I reasoned.

Abandoning the rest of the usual household chores, I had planned to quickly check on the twins and then succumb to bed like any sane, normal person. Unfortunately, as I went to collect the remaints of the TV dinners from the twins' room, I discovered that Emma had projectile vomited across her bed, much to her embarrassment and her brother's disgust. The remainder of the night I spent calming and medicating the children and scrubbing vomit out of the expensive, Egyptian cotton sheets that had been a Christmas gift from my mother.

By the time the twins were asleep and Bridget and Julian were peacefully enclosed in their respective rooms, I had managed to scrub the sheets clean—or at least clean enough to pass inspection in case my mother ever comes by and is hit by a spontaneous wave of nostalgia. I tossed them into the dryer along with a cupful of fabric softener, [another] one of my compulsive housewife [domestic] habits, before trudging off to my own very empty, very lonely bed.

What felt like mere minutes later, I had woken up to the sound of my dryer going berserk, its way of telling me the laundry's done. Climbing out of bed and feeling distinctly disgruntled, I threw the sheets into an empty laundry basket, too tired to do anything else with them. I also discovered, on my way to the laundry room, James, in the kitchen fixing himself a sandwich, apparently unconcerned that his curfew and passed hours ago. It was at this point that I decided to sentence James to baby-sitting duty and drive to Encinitas to see Olivia.

The sour-looking waitress is still giving me odd looks. I guess I must be a sight. Everyone else, with the exception of a clean-shaven businessman having a rather belated dinner, looks to be about high school or college age. They chatter noisily, sociably. I, on the other hand, am utterly alone, feeling awkward and self-conscious. I'm wearing loose grey slacks and an oversize blue T-shirt, clothes that scream mid-life crisis. [Funnily enough, I can't bring myself to care.] If I chanced to glance into a mirror, I know what I would see: bags under my eyes, fine wrinkles around my mouth, the wispy beginnings of grey hairs near my temples. The make-up in my medicine cabinet is probably stale and crumbling—at any rate, it hasn't been touched for ages.

At this point I should say that I am not, by nature, a pessimistic person (although I’m sure some who know me might disagree). [add more bg]

[Just as I'm ordering my second cup of coffee from Sour Waitress, the door swings open. A woman with curly black hair walks in. I wave my arm in the air.]

"Olivia," I call out loudly, realising belated that I sound like an idiot. Olivia, however, is apparently undeterred by my idiocy and walks over to my table, eyebrows raised in surprise.

"Dora! Hey, can I join you?"

I gesture to the empty bench seat across from me.

"What're you having?" Olivia asks, glancing down at the table. "Coffee? I'll have the same." This [] to Sour Waitress, who takes down her order and sets a steaming cup down in front of me.

I accept the beverage gratefully, cupping it between my hands. "I was hoping I'd bump into you, actually," I remark casually.

"Oh." Is it just me, or does she sound a little nonplussed? "Um, are you all right?"

"Yeah, sure. I'm fine. The kids are fine, too. Well, not really, actually, Bryce and Emma are sick, but they're okay."

"Is Bernard at home watching the kids?"

"Bernard? Um, no. He said he was working late."

"Oh, I see." She looks at me[,] with sympathy, but not enough for me to hate her for it. "Who's with the kids, then?" she asks.

I take another sip of coffee before replying, "I coerced James into doing it. Penance for curfew violation."

Olivia laughs lightly. "Good for you," she says, amused.

We're quiet for a few seconds, then she asks, "Are you sure you're okay? You look kind of… exhausted."

It's her polite way of telling me I look terrible. Strangely, I find myself grateful for her attempt at tact. "Yeah, of course. Just a little tired from taking care of the twins, that's all. Sick kids are a mother's worst nightmare." I glance at her. "What about you? How're the book reviews going?"

She shrugs. "Eh, it's going okay, I guess. Actually, I'm in the middle of reading something a publisher sent me. Their latest book, they want reviews for it. Honestly, though, I think it's crap. Speaking of books, what're you reading?"

She looks pointedly at my novel, which is lying open and face down on the table. The spine is starting to crack. I'm such a book abuser.

"Oh, that? Well, speaking of crap, it's my latest paperback mystery thriller. Some light reading."

"I didn't know you were into that kind of light reading," she says. "What's it about?"

"This woman who's a CIA agent is murdered, and her boyfriend tries to solve the conspiracy behind it." I can't tell if she's actually interested or just politely inquiring, so I answer anyway. "And I'm not really into that kind of stuff... I'm, well... it was the first thing I found to read and I was too tired to go looking for anything better, I guess."

"Sounds pretty fascinating to me." She sighs. "The redeeming quality of commercial fiction is that you know the author is under no delusions that they're writing the Great American Novel. [Some of those arrogant pricks who call themselves writers could give James Joyce a run for his money.]"

"Hey, I happen to like James Joyce," I reply, half-jokingly. Olivia smirks at me. "Listening to you talk, anyone would think you hate your job."

"Oh, I love my job. I just hate the people who make it a chore sometimes." She explains this as if it is a very simple matter.

I take a few moments to digest what she has said. “I think that’s true for a lot of things, though.” I set my cup down with a gentle clink. “Isn’t it?”

Olivia studies me carefully. “You could say that,” she says. I can’t read the expression on her face at all.

The relationship that Olivia Schroeder and I have is strange, to say the least. I would be lying if I said I was terribly fond of her; we’ve known each other for [a while], but sometimes—oftentimes—I’m still walking on eggshells [around her]. I’m not quite comfortable around her, and every conversation we have seems to have an air of being carefully guarded from something. I’ll say things—maybe casual things, maybe opinions—and they won’t come out quite how I mean them. Or even worse, they will come out exactly how I mean them, but only when spoken aloud will I realise how foolish they sound. I can’t help that I’m a naturally honest person, but not very [] shrewd. I mean, it doesn’t really matter what Olivia thinks of me; she’s hardly a major part of my life and hardly one of the most important. But I also recognise, however reluctantly, that she is intelligent and clever, and somewhat judgemental. [Levin and Vronsky, TH] I see these things in her, and I see where they are missing in me. The point is, [_____.]

We sit quietly for a few minutes, an awkward silence filling the air between us. Sour Waitress arrives with Olivia’s coffee. Olivia thanks her and takes a quick sip. She hisses, and sets the cup down quickly, her hand flying up to her mouth. Looking [bashfully amused], she glances at me quickly. I give her a small, close-lipped smile, trying to be companiable.

Meanwhile, I’m desperately racking my mind for something, anything to say. I feel incredibly foolish, sitting across from this woman who is not my friend, who knows I came here because I wanted to see her. It’s incredibly ridiculous, then, that I have nothing of purpose to say. I think, guiltily, of James, who is no doubt waiting for Bernard or me to come home so he can get some sleep. But I can’t leave—I can’t drag my body off this plastic bench and out the door with a cheery “Was nice seeing you bye now!” For one thing, I haven’t paid for my coffee, but the point is, I can’t bear the thought of being alone right now. The part of me that is a wife, a mother—the part of me that is Mrs Bernard Bishop—is resigned to this exhaustive loneliness, this bone-aching minimal satisfaction. But the other part of me, the part that me that is a woman, that is human, that is both weak and strong, vulnerable and resilient—the part of me that is just Dora—desperately wants more, wants to have a life that is real and fulfilling, wants to look into someone else’s eyes and say something that is honest and heartfelt and meaningful.

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[User Picture]
Date:August 16th, 2005 06:09 am (UTC)

Margin notes

--remove one of the two mentions of Joyce

--add more "had" into past tense narration

--Sour Waitress' name is Dana. Have Olivia use it by looking at name tag.

--stolen phrase/snippet from Alex and Emma: "There are times in life when..."

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