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g r a v e l
A L I T E R A R Y J O U R N A L
A Room With No Doors
After graduating college, Zinaida didn’t know what she wanted to “be.” She had majored in Communications Studies but came to the conclusion, just as President Martano was handing her the diploma, that she didn’t know how to communicate, had never known. She remembered ex-boyfriends. “Zin, you’re like a room with no doors,” the cute one, Andy Basso, had told her. Putting “Room, no doors” on a resume looked bad. Her mom often told her, “Be aggressive. When times are bad, grab the world’s ass and pinch like there’s no tomorrow.”
She got a job at Macy’s working in cosmetics, which, to her surprise, she enjoyed. Women would come in looking to her to save them from what they thought was ugliness. One bleached woman, probably close to 70, said, “You’re my last hope. My hubby called me a dry stick. You have to work a miracle.”
Zinaida could change a face so completely that even a woman’s children wouldn’t recognize their mom. She didn’t fret about her own face. Lovers came and went and she gave up on finding “the one.” Listening to music was more satisfying anyway, though she wearied of the canned kind in her department.
She looked for meaning, not with much enthusiasm, but she picked up spiritual how-to books and watched TV shows about “the world’s great religions.” All of them seemed lame, a little like a song that everyone covers but no one gets it right.
The counter was a Buddhist, believed utterly in detachment. So did Zinaida, who became the best salesperson in the store. The counter and she were happy together. Customers approved of the match. All mirrors held them in high esteem.
Before Aunt Belinda drives the eighty miles from Jeff City to see her sister, Spacker’s mom spends the day dusting and cleaning. She uses the dishes which have the fewest chips, opens a fresh bag of Wheat Thins. The saggy house will never be “neat as a pin.” The pin lodges between her eyes, poking and turning.
Belinda, her older sister, owns a house with ten rooms. A cleaning woman comes in twice a week. She’s divorced and her children have moved to St. Louis and Ft. Smith. Her life is film stars, church, and shopping. Her sister sees her own life as a cracked window that no one ever replaces. One day it will break utterly. She doubts that anyone would notice.
Spacker would notice. If he loves one person, it’s his mom. Trouble is, he doesn’t like her. Her nasal voice and bitter complaints drive him out to his truck. He drives, drives some more, finding no escape route. With Aunt Belinda coming, he knows to be out of the house or face her questions.
Why aren’t you married yet?
How much do you make?
You look tired. Have you seen the doctor?
His mother would rather hide in the basement than let her in, but Belinda is her one surviving sister. When their youngest sister Marie died at 31 in a tractor accident, she wanted to hide for good but never found a foolproof hiding place. She practices hiding. The Fuller Brush man comes calling and she keeps the lights off till she hears his car pull away. When her husband gets drunk, a common occurrence, he gets nasty and bossy. She stays out of sight until he falls asleep in the naugahyde chair.
“I just read about Diane Keaton in that AARP magazine,” Belinda chirps. “Keaton thinks that at 66 life should be opening up. People should be curious. Are you curious, Milly? You’re only 51. Is your life opening up?”
“No, my life is pretty cramped. We’re lucky we even have this house with Mr. Good For Nothing out of work half the year and Spacker as whiney as a rusty gate. Diane doesn’t visit people like us.”
Belinda says little beyond “Uh huh” but thinks her sister is like a table holding too many heavy boxes. She doesn’t have the energy to remove any of the boxes, so she keeps talking, running out the clock until it’s time to drive the eighty miles back home.
They hug goodbye. Spacker stops off at Franklin’s Tap, giving his aunt ample time to clear out. He plays “Crazy” by Patsy Cline on the jukebox three times in a row. People leave him alone here. Mostly they think he’s angry and sulky. He likes that. Distance is the one lover he trusts.
At 28, life isn’t opening up for him. His mom was married and had him and his brother by this time. He thinks that 38 will be pretty much the same as now, maybe with a different truck. And 48. He starts the engine, knows this road’s every bump and turn. It’s the same going or coming. Dust on the windshield, a film on the speedometer.
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