Maxine Rosaler

Fiction

Maxine Rosaler’s fiction and nonfiction has appeared in or is scheduled to appear in The Southern Review, Glimmer Train, Witness, Green Mountains Review, Fifth Wednesday, and other literary quarterlies, and has been cited in Best American Short Stories. She lives in New York City and is currently at work on a novel.

The Girl from Texas

The only time Nick and I were in our apartment at the same time was when we slept, with me in the bedroom, where we used to have so much fun, and him in the living room, where three months ago he announced he was leaving me. When it was Nick’s turn to be in the apartment, I would go to the Starbucks up the block to copyedit romance novels, which was how I was making a living at the time, and that’s where I was when I met the girl from Texas.

A man at the table next to mine was talking on a cell phone. I recognized him as one of the wine salesmen who would come into Starbucks every now and then to hold their team meetings. Apparently his crew hadn’t arrived yet and he was biding his time talking to a friend about baseball. One player was injured, another was being traded; he was thinking of going to his friend’s house and they could watch the game together. That would be fun, wouldn’t it? How nice, I thought, to be so easy-going, so casual. What an amiable guy, I thought. What a nice way to be.

I had just written in the margins of the manuscript I was working on: “It was never clearly established why Glory remained a virgin after her marriages to both Calvin and Ormand.” I was a good line editor and good as far as content was concerned, but I had never managed to master the punctuation and all the other tiny particulars, which unfortunately happen to comprise 99 percent of the job of a copy editor.

Last week my editor had forwarded an email she had received from a romance novel fanatic containing an itemized list of fifty-three errors she had found in a book I had worked on called Theodora’s Heartbreak. Elaine said that she was tired of doing both my job and hers and that if I didn’t improve she wouldn’t be able give me any more assignments. I felt so ashamed of myself and so hurt at the thought of a complete stranger going out of her way to put me in danger of losing my only client. What a mean thing to do. And what a stupid waste of time to have actually sat down and recorded all my mistakes, and who reads romance novels anyway, and wasn’t the fact that Lord Mounteville finally realized that it was Theodora he loved and not that bitch Candice all that really mattered, in the end?

I had just added: “It might be conceivable for one man to put up with Glory’s virginity, but two?????” to my comment when a girl sat down at my table. I took her to be about nineteen or twenty. There were two empty tables available, so I wondered why she had sat down at mine. She was a small black girl dressed in blue jeans and a red T-shirt that had New Orleans written out in big bold sparkles across the front. She smiled at me sweetly, and that made me like her right away. Then she looked out the window and laughed quietly to herself.

When I was standing in line to get my free refill I noticed that the girl had fallen asleep, her head on the table. I was worried that the manager might kick her out but when I got back to my table she was awake and laughing to herself again.

“I’m happy,” she told me. She spoke so softly that I wasn’t sure I had heard her correctly. A few seconds later she asked me to ask her why she was happy and so I asked her why she was happy and she told me it was because she had just gotten a puppy.

“What kind of puppy is it?” I asked.

“Just a puppy. What difference does it make what kind of puppy it is?” she said.

“I was just wondering, that’s all,” I said.

“I’m happy, but you’re not happy,” she said. “Why are you so unhappy?”

I was glad she asked me that. I wanted to tell her everything, but when I opened up my mouth the words refused to come out so I told her that maybe I was just made that way.

“You look like you need a hug,” she said. “I’m going to give you a hug.”

I thought a hug might do us both a bit of good so I stood up from my chair and she stood up from hers and we gave each other a hug filled with hunger and love. When we sat down again, she asked me where I lived and I told her I lived down the block and then I asked her if she lived around here too.

“I’m from Texas,” she told me.

“What brought you here?”

“Doesn’t make much difference, does it?”

“I guess not. I’m just curious, that’s all.”

“Curiosity killed the cat,” she said and she started laughing to herself again.

“Where are you staying?” I asked her

“I’m natural,” she said.

“So are you staying around here?” I asked.

“I got my spot,” she said. And then she asked me if I had ever been to New Orleans. That made me sad because Nick and I had gone to New Orleans on our honeymoon. I didn’t tell her just then that Nick and I were a thing of the past, a figment of my imagination, but I did tell her about the honeymoon.

“You’re married? You got married? That makes you established. A real citizen. A true blue member of the true blue sea of drowning humanity.”

“Not anymore. We’re getting divorced,” I said. I was ready to tell her everything now. How I had loved Nick since he was thirteen and I was twelve and then three months ago, one sunny evening in the middle of April in response to my casual lament that the days were getting longer now he had told me that life was a finite thing and that he was going to be thirty next year and he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life with a woman who preferred darkness to light. Apparently this was something he had been contemplating for a long time.

“So how did you like it?”

“How did I like what?”

“New Orleans?”

“We were never any good at going on vacations,” I told her. “We tried to have a good time the first day or so. We even took a tour bus to look at the rich people’s houses, which made us feel like a couple of hicks. We had heard that the food in New Orleans was wonderful. The first night we got dressed up like a couple of newlyweds in our post-wedding clothes and had a jambalaya out of which came crawling a greasy cockroach. We got to wondering why we had gone to New Orleans in the first place. Why we bothered going anywhere at all. It was fun, just wondering about that. When we gave up on New Orleans we spent all our time in bed or at a café that sold those special donuts New Orleans is famous for, reading books we had brought along. Actually, we ended up having a great time.”

“You brought books along on your honeymoon?”

“Nick never goes anywhere without a book.”

“I’m from there,” she told me.

“Is that where you just came from?” I asked her.

“That’s where I came from. But it’s not where I come from. I come from Texas, like I told you.”

“How did you get here?” I asked her.

“On my own. I got here on my own.”

“But how did you get here? Did you come by plane? By bus? By car? By train?”

“Do you know where the psychiatrist hospital is?” she asked.

I knew exactly where it was and how to get there, so I gave her directions. “First you have to go to the emergency room,” I told her, giving her the directions to New York Presbyterian, which was just thirteen blocks away.

“You might have to wait a while,” I told her. “But they’ll take care of you.” I had waited on a gurney in the hallway for over ten hours. All night long a guard had stood over me. He was my own private guard, assigned just to me. He didn’t let me out of his sight for a minute. Even when I went to the bathroom he was there, standing outside the door, making sure I didn’t try to kill myself again.

“I like to have fun. What do you do for fun?” the girl asked me.

“Not much these days,” I told her. “My husband was my only fun and now that he’s gone there’s no more fun for me. Well, he’s not really gone, since he hasn’t found an apartment yet. But he’s gone in spirit, gone in mind. His heart is gone, gone from me forever. Where it is, nobody knows.”

“Maybe we could have a race one day? That’s a good way to have fun.”

“I have a bad knee,” I told her. But she wasn’t listening to me. She was looking out the window again.

I went back to my copyediting. The man on the phone was text-messaging now. I was glad about that because it looked like Glory was about to lose her virginity to the gardener who was really a duke and these scenes could get pretty racy sometimes, but then the girl stopped looking out the window and asked me if I was a psychiatrist.

I told her I wasn’t. “What makes you think I’m a psychiatrist?” I asked

“Just because,” she said. Then she went back to staring into space and didn’t say anything for a long time. As predicted, Glory finally lost her virginity. Now the salesman was back on the phone. He was talking about baseball again. The conversation was more or less an exact replica of the one that had preceded it.

“Do you know where there’s a gas station around here?” the girl asked me. I told her that I thought the closest one was on Amsterdam and 169th, but then the salesman, after apologizing for interrupting, pointed out that there was one much closer, on 179th and Broadway.

“Why do you want to go to the gas station?” I asked.

“Just to get some stuff. I’m going to leave my bag here.” And with that she was off. Could there be a bomb in her bag, which was a counterfeit Louis Vuitton, the kind they sell by the truckload on St. Nicholas Avenue for ten dollars apiece? Maybe all the craziness and all the compassion was just an act, a setup for an act of terrorism. What did she need a gas station for except to buy a can of oil to pour on herself, or pour on the floor, or maybe on me, and then light a match, and that would be that. But then the girl came back, holding two tiny white jewelry boxes.

“This is for you,” she said, handing me a box with a white pin and matching white earrings.

“Thank you,” I told her. “But I wouldn’t feel right about accepting it.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not good at accepting presents. This was one of the things my husband didn’t like—hated, I guess, about me. For our first anniversary he got me a silk nightgown and when I found out it cost a hundred dollars I told him to return it. He never got me another present after that.”

“Everyone likes presents. Why don’t you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because I had an unhappy childhood.”

“Then you should take my present,” she told me.

“Why do you want to give me a present?”

“Because I’m nice and I want to help make up for your unhappy childhood. Get you started on a whole new road,” she said. “I also got a present for the woman who was sitting over there. Did you notice her? The one with the blue hat? She looked unhappy too. Where did she go?”

“I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“Well I guess I’ll have to wear it for her,” she said, pinning a plastic pin that spelled out Mardi Gras in fake emeralds and diamonds onto her T-shirt.

“I’m going to wear this one for you too.” And then she took the other pin out of its box, and she pinned it onto the other side of her T-shirt.

“Thank you,” I said, regretting that I hadn’t accepted her gift. It could have been something I would treasure, possibly for the rest of my life.

“Do you know where the psychiatrist hospital is around here?” she asked me and I gave her the directions again.

“Some people I can open up to. I like to open up sometimes.”

“I know. It can help. If it’s the right person,” I said. I thought about the girl I met when I was in the hospital. She was pretty and nice like this girl. I wanted to be her friend. She had dozens of scars running up and down both her arms. I have just one scar on my wrist. I don’t think I really tried to kill myself. I just wanted to know what it would feel like to have the razor blade cut into my flesh. But mostly I think I thought there was just too much blood in me.

“Any drugs around here?” she asked. “This used to be the spot.”

“I know. It used to be. There used to be drug wars, when we first moved here. Once a bullet came right through our window. It went through the wall above the headboard of our bed, where we were sleeping at the time. All that’s different now. Things are much more peaceful now.”

“My man. He got shot. He’s dead now.”

“I’m so sorry about that,” I said.

“Do you know where the psychiatrist hospital is around here?”

“Yes, I do,” I said, giving her the directions again.

“Well, like I said I’m glad they took care of the drugs. It looks better and everyone seems happy here.”

“Some people are happy,” I said. “I guess some people are always happy. Or there is always someone who is happy.”

“I’m fine. Like I told you, I like to open up to certain people. But I’m worried about you. It’s you I’m worried about. You should have fun. Did you ever get your nails done,” she asked, looking at her nails, which were bitten down to the tips of her fingers. Her cuticles were chewed to bits. That was another thing we had in common.

“No. I never have. I guess that kind of makes me unique.”

“Ever get your feet soaked?”

“I did do that once. Someone on the street gave me a coupon. But the calluses on my feet were so tough they had to use a razor blade to slice them off. That cost me an extra seven dollars.”

“I’m glad you got your feet done. That’s a beginning at least.”

“I suppose so.”

“Where’s the psychiatrist hospital around here?” she asked me. And I gave her the directions again.

“I’m going to go now,” she said.

“I think that’s a good idea,” I said.

“Ain’t no shame in my game.”

“I know that, honey.”

“Well, I guess I better be on my way.”

After she went out the door, I noticed that she had left one of her jewelry boxes behind. The one that used to contain my pin, but it also contained a set of earrings. I ran out the door to give it to her. When I got back to the table the salesman said, “That was a close call.”

“What do you mean?”

“She almost left that. It’s a good thing you got to her in time.”

“Yeah. I suppose so,” I said.

“It looks like you two are really good friends.”

“Yes, we are.”

“I could see that,” he said with a smile. “I’m good at reading people. That’s one of my gifts. It comes in handy in my line of work.” Then the first member of his team arrived. The place was pretty empty by now and he asked me if I would mind moving to another table so that he could push my table together with his, since he was expecting six more people. I told him I didn’t mind and he helped me move my stuff to a table across the room.

There were just twenty-five pages to go. I knew that there was more trouble ahead for Glory, but that everything would work out just fine for her in the end. I felt a moment of true happiness when the gardener, after revealing to Glory that he was really a duke, explained to her the reason for his masquerade was because he wanted to find someone who loved him just for himself alone and that he was happy it turned out to be her because he loved her with all his heart and he always would.

‘The Girl from Texas’ is part of collection of short stories Maxine Rosaler has written about life in New York City.