Carrie was trying to decide whether or not to get divorced, while taking the bus for the work she hated.
They had had sex last night, for the first time in months – sure. That was nice. But it wasn’t as if it mattered.
Jon was too tired after, and she didn’t really feel they connected. More like they just tried to copy something they had done without thinking 10 years ago.
Now they were over-thinking it.
So sex, or lack of sex, was a problem but it wasn’t the problem anyway. It was just a sign.
One of many.
“East 24th” the bus driver droned and Carrie got up without thinking, as she had done so many times before.
A lot things you did in life without thinking, and then … when you got thinking too much: It hurt.
She stepped out into the afternoon blaze. The sun almost blinded her. The heat choked. People bustled to and fro.
She’d bustle to the nursing home and clean. That was her job. For the 5th year.
“You’ll find something new,” Jon had said, but only for so many years until even he had stopped trying to believe it.
She had said to herself for a while it was a necessary sacrifice – to keep up with her voluntary work.
She had said to herself that she was better off – a lot – than those poor women coming up and getting legal counsel (what she could give) as a volunteer at OMAC and then being sent back by the authorities.
She was here in the promised land, Carrie Sawyer, yes, she was. She just had to fight a little harder and things would work out for the college drop-out.
Carrie went over to the building and checked in.
Clarice was at the reception desk.
“Afternoon, hun,” Clarice said without looking up, “don’t do the second floor today.”
“Some concert. Local band. The residents will be coming in to hear it in an hour or so.”
The usual chit-chat followed, but it wasn’t much. Clarice didn’t overly care about Carrie and the feeling was mutual.
Like many of her colleagues she was a shadow, someone you saw and then moved past.
Like most of the old folks here. Except perhaps one or two.
Mrs. Darrington had really been nice the last time, Carrie had been in her room for the trash bag. So sweet. And also a little pathetic. What would Carrie do with a picture of Mrs. Darrington from a Florida vacation in 1958?
Mrs. D was slowly going senile. Carrie knew that sometimes she couldn’t see if Carrie was Carrie the cleaning lady or Mrs. D’s daughter who had died in a traffic accident in 1992.
Carrie went for her uniform and stuff and started at the bottom floor. She figured she’d go through there and then wait until the rest of the rooms cleared for the concert. Would make it easier … in so many ways.
So about that divorce … what the hell would it help? Jon has been good to me. It is not his fault we don’t talk much anymore, or don’t turn each other on. I wouldn’t be turned on by myself … hell no.
She swung the mob in angry strokes over the first dirty floor and wondered if Maria Gonzales would be there the next time Carrie had time to go to OMAC to counsel and translate. Pretend that it mattered that she flunked out of university 17 years ago.
Not many of the books from back then had any relevance here. In fact, her Spanish skills were more of a relevance.
Carrie thought a lot more about Spanish whilst doing the other floors.
It would be easiest, after all, to go home and pretend everything was normal and let the kids be the most important matter.
At some point Carrie got to room 14B and discovered the new name tag. She discovered it but paid it no attention until she actually went in and saw the new furniture and images. Including the wedding shots, of course.
She stopped and picked up the old photo. A dark-haired man with a mustache, a bit Latino. A wisp of a woman, blonde, short hair. The room belonged to the man.
So what exactly is it that doesn’t work? she asked herself. It’s not the sex and all that. We can fix that. I hope …
Was it then the fact, that Jon was burying himself more and more in work? He had a desk job now and seldom went on patrol or in the field. But there was a lot more to do, even if less dangerous. All those young offenders that he wanted to save.
Like he had wanted to save her, back in the day…
She smiled briefly and put away the photo.
No, it wasn’t Jon’s priorities.
But they had drifted apart. Something was missing. They seldom talked. And it didn’t feel like it was getting better.
And, if she got that divorce – she hated to admit it but there it was … then she’d only have to have the kids part of the time.
Carrie took the mop and furiously attacked the bath room floor.
She wasn’t allowed to think this.
But on the other hand, it was there – true.
And yet – how could she?
She stopped again.
I love you, Emma, she thought imagining her daughter sitting on her lap, when she was smaller and wanted to.
I love you, Michael, she thought and imagined the same with her son.
She really did love them. But she needed some time away. Not feeling so boxed in …
Then she heard somebody coming up the stairs and hurried on the the next room.
When she was finished, she sat down in the small shed out near the parking lot and pulled out the pack.
At least it is not snow …
Or booze …
Yeah, she had made some progress in life. And she knew she ought to be grateful.
How many would’ve predicted that a college drop-out runaway crack-addict would ever get back into life?
Move to suburbia?
Get a job – even if it was a lousy one?
And, of course, do her little bit to help society along – with the volunteering and all?
When she was rattling in her own puke more than once in those desolate hotel rooms after someone had long gone and she barely remembered him, well, … what could she think of then, except the regret if she died now without being able to get better?
Clarice came out. Pulled out her pack:
“Long day, eh?” she said, as if she had already read Carrie’s mind. Once again …
“Long day,” Carrie admitted. “Again … ”
“You know, maybe it’s okay,” said Clarice. “That we got this far. Maybe we don’t need anymore. Maybe this is a victory.”
Clarice had told Carrie, in the only unguarded moment, during the Christmas get-together in ’14. Oh, had she told …
(Denied it afterwards, of course, but still … )
“What do you mean ‘victory’?” Carrie asked and looked at her cigarette, slowly burning out.
“Well, you know what the hell I mean,” Clarice answered in a non-answer, blowing smoke towards the merciless sun.
The smoke seemed to dissipate and drift away in the heatwaves of the air, like their lives.
“Look, I would have died if I had stayed with Seth,” Clarice then said. “But I got over him and away from him. Maybe Sam is a fat idiot but he is not Seth. And many women never leave. They just … succumb.”
“I feel like I have succumbed,” Carrie mumbled and finally inhaled.
“Bullshit,” Clarice snarled and Carrie almost jumped with surprise.
Clarice got up and threw away the cig: “I’m tired of your whining, Carrie. You are still pretty – not like … ”
She wiped her skirt for something. Maybe dust. Then she turned around, but one last thing still got said:
“You have 20 years more time than me to make mistakes. Why the hell you wastin’ them here?”
Carrie didn’t answer. She just inhaled more.
Back towards home in the bus. Yuma passing by. Texting with Emma about her school project.
I look so much fw 2 seein it, honey. On my way home.
And other letters she didn’t remember. Carrie looked out at the city. Everything seemed grey and yet sunny at the same time.
It was a paradox. It was her life.
She had won. She had triumphed over the hardest odds. Who came back from the needle, from being a train wreck in the head, from … that nowhere where she had been?
Who came back?
So now she was suburban house-wife with drone marriage and tired of kids? Big deal!
Carrie drew out her notepad. It was already filled, like the walls of a pyramid with the hieroglyphs of her strained handwriting.
On the last page she just wrote one sentence:
“Why can’t I win this one, too?”