Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Dermit has a skin problem. There is a name for his condition, but those who are blessedly free of it are oblivious to that name. They simply see Dermit’s splotchy red skin and put an extra foot of space between him and their own unblemished surfaces.
Dermit lives on the third floor. He rides the antique elevator up and down twice a day; once on his way to the post office where he works and once again on his way home. Occasionally he sees Tabitha from number 5 riding in the elevator to or from the second floor. When Dermit sees Tabitha his palms grow sweaty and the red patches of his skin feel particularly itchy.
Tabitha wears a goldenrod beret and matching crocheted scarf. Her pea coat is navy blue, her ballet flats are red and she wears a hue of lipstick that matches the color of the shoes. Her hair reminds Dermit of a dark polished wood like mahogany and maintains a stylish bit of waviness that he is certain comes naturally to her. Her eyes are remarkably blue. Dermit thinks that women with dark hair and pale eyes are a rare treasure.
Dermit wears his post office uniform. He covers his arms with a navy blue cardigan. He hides his legs in the dark blue trousers and avoids the shorts that some of his colleagues wear in the fair months. Despite this, the condition shows itself on the backs of his hands and sometimes flares up along his neck and behind his ears. He spends too much time in front of the mirror adjusting his wire rimmed spectacles and buttoning and unbuttoning the cardigan, helpless against the unwanted patches of irritated flesh.
Tabitha has noticed Dermit in the elevator, fussing with his sweater buttons and staring zombie like at anything but her. She has taken the extra steps to put space between herself and the guy with the rash.
One day, after work, Dermit boards the elevator.
“Hold the elevator please!” someone calls from the building entrance.
Dermit waits listening to the hurried scuffle of shoes on marble and Tabitha appears. Her eyes widen when she sees who it is she is boarding with. Dermit closes the accordion style gate and presses the number three button.
“You’re on two right?” he asks her.
Tabitha forces a smidgen of a smile and nods curtly. Dermit presses the button marked two. He begins to turn to stare into space as is customary, but suddenly looks directly at Tabitha and blurts:
“My name’s Dermit, I live in number 8.”
He extends his hand and Tabitha merely stares at it, at the red splotch that has swallowed it. After a moment Dermit retracts the hand.
“Sorry,” he says. “It’s... it’s not contagious.”
Tabitha swallows. Dermit tries again.
“I’ve just... seen you a lot and wanted to introduce myself. Maybe we could get a cup of tea around the corner sometime. It’s nice to know your neighbors.”
The elevator stops at the second floor.
“I’m really busy, a lot of the time,” Tabitha says as she opens the accordion style gate, steps out and closes it again behind her. She is already out of sight when the elevator resumes its ascent.
Alone in his apartment Dermit adds this year's special edition valentine stamp to his collection before feeding his cat, Archimedes. He vows to take the stairs for the rest of the month and looks for a new dermatologist in the phonebook.
One night after work, Dermit stops at the corner drugstore to pick up the cream his new dermatologist has prescribed. There is a woman in line ahead of him and it takes Dermit a while to recognize her as his unfriendly neighbor from the second floor. He abstains from greeting her.
At the register, Tabitha swipes her debit card to pay for the tampons and Advil she has brought to the counter. An uncomfortable minute lapses and the cashier says,
“I’m sorry. It says there are insufficient funds.”
Tabitha fumbles as she pulls out another credit card and takes the debit card back. She swipes it and is once again denied after an anxious wait. She tries again with the first card, her shoulders creeping towards her ears, her cheeks reddening. She can feel the eyes of those in the growing line behind her. As she takes the card back from the irritated clerk a fourth time, a man steps up beside her at the counter and hands the clerk his own debit card.
“Here, try this one.” Dermit says as the hot silent tears start slipping out of Tabitha’s eyes. “And I’m here to pick up a prescription for McLaughlin."
“Thank you.” Tabitha sniffs as the clerk turns to fetch Dermit’s cream. She is unable to look at the stranger beside her and instead stares down at the counter trying to stop the tears.
“It’s all right.” Dermit tells her.
When the transaction is complete Dermit hands the paper bag full of Tampons and Advil to Tabitha and she looks at him for the first time. She starts to cry silently again, walking with Dermit towards the exit. After a few sniffs they step out into the cool night and Tabitha says,
“Thank you again, uh, Dermit. I’ll pay you back. You said before that you’re in number 7 right?”
“Eight.” Dermit tells her, “But don’t worry about it.”
“No, I will.” They start walking towards their building together. In silence they pass through the lobby and board the elevator. Dermit presses the buttons for both floors. The elevator stops at the second floor and Dermit opens the accordion style gate for Tabitha.
She steps into the hall and presses her lips together. Her cheeks are still burning crimson.
“My name’s Tabitha.” she tells him. “I live in number 5.”
Then she vanishes down the hall, her ballet flats thudding softly on the carpet.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Fall was touching the ‘city on the hill’, interspersed between the mountain’s thick evergreen and redwood forests were yellow and red trees shedding their thin leaves. In the air was the ever-present smell of fireplaces alight and the crisp bite of the air required a thick cozy sweater and, just for pure tactile pleasure, a warm cup of hot coffee.
The sun was just beginning to fade as the doors of the lecture hall were closing for the 6pm class. It was an amphitheater-shaped building where two hundred students could comfortably fit. Pale gray metal chairs with dark gray cushioned seats and backs were arranged in a semi-circle that rose above the narrower main floor, which is where Professor Habiman stood at the wooden podium with his lecture notes. Isa chose a seat in the far back right corner, just four rows back from the wall in an aisle seat where she had a perfect view of the professor.
As the class began, his scrawny teaching assistants handed out the multiple-page syllabus which was stapled in the left hand corner. Isa flipped through the list of required reading and assignments as Professor Habiman outlined the material and course work for Drugs and Society as well as what they would be expected to learn.
Twenty minutes in, Mr. Habiman began the lecture with an overview about the roots of addiction; being a sociology class, he mentioned societal factors including poverty, class, gender, and education. It was then that Isa had something to say. Without thinking, wondering, or waiting, she raised her hand.
Professor Habiman called on her, though it was not the custom (unbeknownst to her) for lectures to be interrupted with questions or comments, which were either asked at specific times designated by the instructor or after the bulk of the lecture. As he raised his eyebrows and waited for her to speak, the full attention of every student in the amphitheater turned towards her. Projecting her voice so everyone could hear, she said:
“Also, I’ve found that Pisces tend to have addictive personalities.”
The class was silent. Mr. Habiman, a man in his mid-50s, with a slight paunch protruding from his button-up white shirt, a neatly trimmed 3-inch white beard and combed back gray hair, stood quiet for a second, seemingly stunned, as though he was still processing what he had heard. Then he found his words.
He looked around the class, gathering the confused attention like a good stand-up comedian, his eyes sparkled and drew the audience into the folds of his emerging joke. Through a faint smile tinged with anger, he replied:
“Astrology? That’s not science. In this class, within the discipline of sociology, we study science.”
He shook his head slightly, shaking off the pitiful comment like unwelcome rain. Isa heard chuckles reverberating around the room as though in stereo sound, echoing without end.
“As I was saying,” he continued, “there are various roots of addiction…”
She sat there, her cheeks burning with embarrassment and anger, her body suddenly more aware of the creaking folding metal seat cradling her form, her feet acutely aware of the cold cement floor. She shrunk slightly and stared straight ahead, hearing nothing but bass tones, seeing nothing but yellow light and muted colors on the periphery of vision. Her cheeks were beyond blush, she was red, sweating and covered in the odor of failure.
Isa sat there for five minutes, for what seemed like hours pushing back stinging tears. The laughter, the quick rebuttal to her theory, the anger in his voice, it swirled through her like a tempest of hurt, gathering speed and fury as she thought about it more, as she fed it with her rage.
As the tears were just about to break the surface walls, she gathered her purse and scarf from the empty chair beside her and quickly climbed the few remaining stairs to the back of the amphitheater. With the raw, aggressive force of her burning body she pushed into the long metal bar (which was the ‘knob’) and heard the quick blunt sound of metal hitting metal.
Beyond the door was a cement stairwell that led to the ground and the night air, now completely black and dotted with stars. She felt a sting as her hot cheeks met the cool air like a slap and she screamed ‘FUCK!’ as she quickly descended the twenty-five stairs. On the last few steps she heard the door close behind her and the yellowish light from inside the lecture hall disappeared.
* * *
The following Wednesday night, Isa went back. Without meaning to, but following a mechanical tendency, she sat in the same place, towards the back right, not too far away from the exit door, in the aisle seat with a clear view of the professor.
The class quieted as Mr. Habiman began:
“Before we get into the material, I wanted to ask, is the young woman here who made the comment about astrology on Monday?”
A girl with short dark hair sitting just one row in front of Isa turned towards her. Isa met her eyes quickly and then looked straight ahead, saying nothing while everyone in the room turned in the general direction of the back right corner and waited. When there was no raised hand they looked around the rest of the amphitheater blankly, searching for a recognizable face. Isa stared straight ahead in silence and was thankful the girl in front said nothing, playing along with Isa’s mute example.
“Well,” he continued, “if anyone knows or sees her, please give her my apology. I shouldn’t have said what I did.”