THE TACKINESS OF SOULS


Minnie Fishman, burdened with a funny name by hippie parents, wants to hide in a corner at the office party, but is aware that being a wallflower is a cliché, so she forces herself to be social. Minnie Fishman, 31, whispers in her co-worker’s ear that she’s exhausted. She doesn’t say that it’s all these people who are exhausting her, that she’s tired of being “on” all the time, that she’s scared that if she finds someone she might actually like, she’ll be too jaded to connect. She finds herself at the bar with Bobby, the handsome gentlemen all of the women coo over at the water cooler. He’s friendly and so it’s not difficult to strike up a conversation. Both of them know that the other isn’t their type. Bobby isn’t interested because Minnie isn’t a conventional bombshell and she doesn’t have the confidence which must support strange beauty. Minnie isn’t interested because she’s talked to Bobby before and finds nothing beyond his jawbone appealing. There is no sexual tension. The jokes are lame on both sides.

Minnie excuses herself and sees the door to the pub open and it’s Daniel. At the office Daniel is the one she watches over the cubicle dividers. While sitting at her desk she can recognize the cadence of his footsteps down the carpeted “hallways” and adjusts her body language accordingly to open herself up to possible interaction. She is a producer at the ad firm. He is a creative. She thought he might not come to this holiday party, but here he is. His loose curls fall onto his thin face. He runs his hand through one side of his hair and behind the exposed lens of one of his round wire rims, his bloodshot eye is resting on a purple crescent of fatigue. Daniel wears an oversized Christmas sweater, with a Rudolph appliquéd on the front, complete with a light up red nose. Before he closes the door behind him, he takes a last pull on his brown paper bag and chucks the package in a trash can by the door. Minnie grimaces; she knows this is the sort of behavior that’s endangering his position at Maximum Creata. This is someone she imagines being able to swallow whole and fears will devour her entirely if given the chance. He is the one who makes her want to empty the liquor from her belly in one go and here he is after all.

*

Think the impossibility of beginning the build on a house; compare it to the decision to include Led Zeppelin in your music collection; remember trying to write your best friend’s eulogy.

*

Minnie abandons any thoughts of leaving early. She prays being near Daniel in a social situation will create enough of a connection to get her through the night. Minnie is sure Daniel notices her and loves her back the way he loves every girl. In fact, Minnie, is sure everyone likes her, or if they don’t know her, they notice and want to like her. She hates this inexplicable vanity and recognizes its false nature, what with its being rooted in blind faith and all. She knows this, but she also never performs the resource checks on her vile delusions. Half the time she doesn’t believe them, herself. If her mind is a scientific article, hers will be ignored for missing references.


*

Think supermodels going to self-esteem therapy; compare it to Bill Gates bouncing a check; remember the advice columns in Cosmo that suggest you play up your likable qualities to attract a man.

*

Minnie is in a sorrowful state, which syncs up perfectly with Daniel’s usual condition of misery. A self-diagnosed manic-depressive, Minnie’s moods shift for years at a time. She makes these judgments and tells no one. Minnie has put in her time as an optimist, reading SARK, buying “Carpe Diem” type magnets to distribute to her friends. Now, Minnie feels like a completely different person, though. In private she reads heavy philosophy and in public she reads whatever’s been nominated for the most recent book award. Music is easier; everyone listens to sad music.

*

Think the subliminal enculturation of depression chic; compare it to the uniformity of “Dare to Be Different” tee-shirts; remember young girls’ homogenous drawings of horses.

*

Minnie stands by herself in the center of several groups of people, but not in any of them. She stands and slowly rotates on the periphery of these clusters, pretending to be enthralled by the energy surrounding her, but looking a little lost. When people try to draw her into conversations, she comments on how great it is to see everyone so happy. She knows she’s awkward and convinced she likes this quality in herself because it makes everything exciting. She’s happy to never know what will come out of her mouth. In this position, turning between groups, she can pretend she doesn’t see Daniel approaching, but, in all honesty, her reason for moving around like this is so that she can keep an eye on him. She sees the red light of Daniel’s sweater peripherally as it comes towards the center of the room and soon he is standing shoulder to shoulder with her and saying nothing. If she were an honest person, Minnie would sink into Daniel with relief, but instead she holds still, nodding and smiling at a story her coworker tells.

*

Think an electron falling into its natural valence shell, post- “excited state;” compare it to a marker and its cap snapping together; remember how fabric starts to fray only where cuts are made.

*

After a few moments of this direct shoulder to shoulder connection, Minnie Fishman makes the effort to speak, “So, I read this book, "The Lightness of Being Unbearable," something like that…” she feels his shoulder shudder with laughter next to hers, and she continues in her nervously proper voice, “…and I was looking for someone to talk to about it.”


*

Think of the constant running script of conversations that might occur; compare it to the coupling of scissor blades and the benefit of this marriage; remember Henry Miller and Anais Nin.

*

Minnie and Daniel have spoken before. In all honesty, they kissed at last year’s Christmas party, but Minnie can’t be sure Daniel even remembers that. They were both sauced. They had their first notable conversation of late just months before when he came to work in a tee shirt she recognized as being from her elementary school and the coincidence was too great for her to keep her mouth shut this time. She asked where he’d gotten it, expecting to hear he’d happened upon it in a thrift store. Instead she learned that he’d just stopped seeing a girl who Minnie had gone to school with. Minnie did the math and discovered Daniel and his girlfriend must have still been together when he and Minnie had shared that kiss last December. Since then they’d nod to each other when passing and occasionally eat lunch together.


*

Think meeting someone and realizing they’ve lived in the building next door to you for years; compare it to the drone of the emergency broadcast system; remember the fear of being buried by the possibility of words and being scared into silence.

*

Minnie had been sitting in the lunch room a few weeks ago. Daniel sat down with a hot pocket and asked her, “Do you read?” Minnie knew he knew she read and was a snob about words and their usage. Minnie had been crowned “The Queen of the Red Pens” for the way she hacked at the advertising copy. Minnie knew he expected her to say, “Of course,” so, instead, she said, “Never.” She couldn’t hold it though and her disgusted scowl collapsed into a broad grin. He told her he’d just read The Unbearable Lightness of Being and he was thinking of starting a company book group. She nodded, seemingly indifferent, but as soon as she got home that night, she ordered the book. When it arrived she read it in one night. It may have been that she knew as soon as she read it, she would have a reason to talk to him again. Then again, the thought of speaking to him more, let alone coming up with intelligent things to say about a book, terrified her. Several months earlier she’d decided she needed to read all of the books on her shelf she’d been meaning to get around to. Each night she made her dinner and settled into the couch until she’d finished or fallen asleep, but sleep had been elusive lately. The books were an excuse to ignore the problem.


*

Think deliberation disguised as psychosis; compare it to scoffing at laughter from the apartment next door; remember the claustrophobia of a syllogism.

*

Back in the smoky and moist barroom, Minnie receives the response to her inquiry: a shoulder shrug and a smirk from Daniel.


*

Think of it as a metaphor for the future of this relationship; compare people who are smart to the ones who are hungry; remember that time your ex-boyfriend called you masochistic and you felt accomplished.

*

Minnie shakes her head and walks away from his cryptic and lackluster response. An hour later, she is sitting in a booth with co-workers and they are screaming along to some song that she loved when she was a teenager. They’re dancing in their seats; violently enough that they will feel an unfamiliar twist in their backs tomorrow. Daniel sits down next to her and grabs her hand and plants his face inches from hers. Minnie stops singing, but Daniel goes on. He sings and sings and Minnie manages to maintain both eye contact and her cool until the guitar part comes up and he leans in to whisper, “I bet I can freak you out.”


*

Think of being one “yes” short of severely depressed on the online mental health scale; compare it to how you have to collapse as much air as you can from your lungs before you can use an asthma inhaler; remember you haven’t eaten anything but candy canes for the last 96 hours.


*

Minnie’s eyes don’t blink as she says, “Too late,” and steps over him out of the booth. She is drunk, the heels of her shoes are skinny and she is eager to leave, so she stumbles. She is out the door and on the street before Daniel has even straightened his legs. He catches up as she gets into a cab and crawls in after her. This isn’t what Minnie Fishman wants, but she also doesn’t tell him to get out. When they get to her apartment, he goes to get out after her and she says, without looking at him, “Let me know when you get home safely.” In moments she’s gone behind the vestibule door.


*

Think about all that business touting medium as message; compare it to statues whittled away to their craggy essence at the art museum; remember shouting, “Just kiss her already,” at the movie screen.

*

Back in her apartment, Minnie crawls into a leotard and huge black pants. She’s too keyed up to sleep. She puts some music on and dances, low to the ground and primitive, until the phone breaks the flow.


*

Think how words become benign in languages you don’t know; compare it to the satisfaction of a twist ending; remember smashing your forearm against the doorknob accidentally and admiring the deep shades of the bruise.


*

“Minnie?” Daniel’s voice says. She asks if he got home okay, and of course, he did. Daniel tells Minnie how happy he is they left when they did. He tells her he can’t stand being around people lately, but that he felt like he had to go to the work party, to put in an appearance and to see if his feelings had changed. Minnie silently hates him for being the same as her, wishes neither of them were this self-centered. Her body bends to the memorized low height of her couch cushions. They talk for an hour, and then Daniel asks Minnie what she’s doing. Minnie doesn’t answer. He knows. “Do you want to go to the Golden Nugget? I’m starving.” She says, “Just let me get my jacket,” and hangs up without waiting for details. Finally, she feels powerful.


*

Think the fulfillment of peeling dried glue off your hands; compare it to a reverse-reverse psychology; remember that your definition of criticizing ads has always been to underline the phrases you like and the words you don’t.

*

Minnie waits outside her building twenty minutes later. He pulls up in his blue car, hubcaps gone. Minnie’s face is scrubbed clean. She’s scraped her tousled party hair into a neat ponytail. Now she feels clear and flat. Minnie climbs into the car and the CD that’s playing is cheesy pop, not what she expected. Neither says hello. They start driving and listen to the music and in a minute, the CD stops. “Happens in the cold,” Daniel says. They ride the rest of the way getting by on promising, maniacal giggles and frustrated grunts. Both are overcome with nerves and reservation because they know the truth of the noises the other is emitting. They pull into the lot and no one moves.


*

Think of the tense of your calves before you jump in the shark tank; compare it to red eyes showing up in photographs; remember the definite end to the warmth from the heaters of this ’93 Grand Am when its engine is off.

*

Minnie is relieved that Daniel waits while she navigates the faulty passenger seat belt, but happier he doesn’t hold the Golden Nugget door open for her. Minnie hates chivalry because she doesn’t possess the presumption to demand it all the time. They sit down. It is empty and 4 AM. The waitress takes their orders. Daniel orders a skillet and a cup of coffee. Minnie orders chocolate milk and Daniel’s face eases into a smile before he collapses with a whimper into his hands.

*

Think the orphanage of newspapers on the subway; compare it to Dutch elm disease; remember how easy it is to become a skilled liar.

*

“Minnie,” he moans, “tell me to take you home right now. I’m a mess.” Minnie squints at him and asks what’s wrong. Daniel’s forehead lands on the edge of the table with an “I don’t know.” Minnie smiles attentively, but she’s thinking, “Is this what I’m like?” Their food arrives. Daniel pulls himself together for the waitress, lifting his head and rubbing his eyes. Minnie stirs the chocolate into her milk and takes a big gulp. She licks the syrup off her spoon. Daniel pours lots of cream and sugar into his coffee and smiles at Minnie. He likes that she’s suddenly playing innocent. He thinks they are the same. Minnie places the bowl of the spoon in her mouth and sucks it even after no chocolate remains. Though it appears as if she is relishing it, her eyes are close to tipping their reserve of tears.


*

Think the way going to see a shrink would be irreversible; compare it to the incapacitation of a fireplace with no chimney; remember the easy happiness you gained from dinosaurs as a child.

*

Daniel hands Minnie a black and white composition book. He tells her she is the first to see it. Minnie feels honored and skeptical in equal parts. Minnie begins flipping through. The first thing she finds is an unfinished letter to his ex-girlfriend, telling her he misses the way her heels dug into his calves. Something twists inside her and she’s sure this isn’t where she’s supposed to be at all, but she stays. As Minnie pages through the notebook, she’s thinking that this is something she should have gotten out of her system in high school. Daniel can tell she’s distracted and makes Minnie read a story aloud because he thinks she’s not actually reading.

*

Think the way you skip tedious sonnets to get to, “For I am shamed by that which I bring forth / And so should you to love things nothing worth”; compare it to being wrong about something you fought so hard for; remember how a friend of yours told you he used to run through Central Park at night to test fate.

*

Two hours later, Minnie reaches a point when she is arranging silverware into architecture. Daniel talks about Hegel and the waiter bussing the table across the section appends Daniel’s reference, eager to show he is more than a night-shift employee. The waitress brings the check, and Daniel takes it. Minnie decides not to quibble over the price of chocolate milk. Daniel pays the bill while she runs into the bathroom. A moment later, she looks at her bright face in the fluorescent mirror. She smiles, exaggerated and toothy, and then her face unfolds itself into blankness.


*

Think of scars from impatience with scabs; compare it to the exhausted, disoriented genius of the last minutes of a football game; remember how you can now completely ignore the ceaseless purr of electricity everywhere.

*

Daniel is talking to the cashier when Minnie comes out of the bathroom and she waits for him to finish his conversation. Minnie’s biceps tense to cross her arms as Daniel holds the door open for her and she explodes into a sprint to the car. Daniel takes his time finding his keys and easing into the vehicle.


*

Think Aesop’s character foils; compare it to the tackiness of the concept of souls; remember the tension of condescension.

*

Minnie watches him reach across the passenger seat and unlock her door. She thanks God he doesn’t pull the handle. She jerks in as the cold quickly immobilizes her joints. The engine starts and they drive in silence until suddenly the CD kicks on again and it’s the same sappy pop song. Minnie laughs. Daniel says earnestly, “This is the saddest song in the world.” Minnie can’t help herself and disagrees. Daniel says they will drive around until she admits how depressing the song is.


*

Think the swipe of a credit card; compare it to the minor distortions of the shadow of bricks on the mortar separating them; remember how this song was sappy the first time you heard it and some things never change.

*

Around the fourth rotation, Minnie finally admits the song is heartbreaking because it’s 6:30 in the morning and she never seizes moments this easy. Daniel takes her back to her apartment. Minnie sits in her seat silent for several minutes. He asks her what she’s thinking. Minnie says, “Really?” and Daniel just looks at her. “I was counting the number of times you said the word pertinent tonight,” she smiles, tentative because she’s knows this is not what he wants to hear. He frowns and turns away, nodding. Minnie takes her time getting out of the car. Daniel says nothing.

*

Think needing permission to be happier; compare it to stopping yourself before you say something stupid and then saying it anyway; remember all you’ve wanted in this world is for one person to call you “home.”

*

Minnie disappears into the vestibule door for the second time tonight and calls his house before he gets home. On his answering machine she reads a story about being able to figure out what’s good and what’s bad.

*

Think telling someone he shouldn’t jump off that ledge for your sake instead of his own; compare it to the invasion of an epitaph; remember bedtime stories.


*

This will be the end of Minnie believing it could be as easy as finding someone else. This will be the day Minnie saw herself in another person and decided to change. Minnie Fishman will evaluate everything she’s attached herself to. She will think about how being unhappy in the company of another isn’t any better than being unhappy alone. She will realize that it might actually be worse, like looking into a funhouse mirror all day. Minnie will rent a comedy and mean it. She will buy a fresh bouquet of flowers. If it comes to it, she will make smart and reversible decisions, and see them as such. Minnie Fishman will avoid mirrors for a while and when she finally catches her reflection in a store window, weeks later, she will recognize some confluence of selves backlit by a halo of light and shadow.