Yellow Mama Archives

Karen Sosnoski
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garret.jpg
Art by Brian Beardsley 2010

Garret Surviving

 

Karen Sosnoski

 

 

 

The Dive:

 

          7:04 p.m., according to my Montblanc glowing in the dark of Mother’s laundry room. There will be time. Jeans at ankles, I powder up in preparation for the dive down.

 

     Sure, I remind myself, I wasn’t going to do this again, but after this tough day, yet another one? . . . For all the oxygenating filters, the biochemically-secured air, I’m choking. If only I could chisel away the fear-shell, there’s a pearl inside me, always has been—black, perfect, cool, and rare. I know it’s there, but no one yet has reached for it, and I can’t seem to get to it.

 

      If only there weren’t guards and cameras monitoring the doors to the service level, I could walk down the stairs like a man.

 

      Still, let me hide the baby powder behind the detergent, pinch the creases in my khakis, pretend I’m civilized. That Garret may not have his brother’s brilliance, but he’s responsible.

 

     Since I heard they cleared John and his family for entry, I can’t stop seeing myself as my brother will: my eyes rat-shiny, looking for holes in fixtures, crumbs in corners, hunched old backs to slap. Scrambling towards anything I can use to support my rise to Complex VP. My grin the only sign of all the shit I’m eating. And to what end? John’s blunt, ugly face rises before me, flushed with all the nerve I lack.

 

     John and his crazed articles for “BurstTheirBubbles.com”; his insane protests against the “virtual politicians” who legislate from our complexes; all his righteous disgust over how elitist we were for moving here—and now when he needs us, he comes plowing back, entitled. 

 

     I couldn’t work now if I tried.

 

      Mother’s kitchen cabinet doors slam, ten feet away from me, the drum beat of a lonely woman rummaging for food. It seems my gratification is endlessly delayed; already I made conversation with her for half an hour tonight.

 

      “Do you think it was that Alicia who voted against John’s membership?” Mother asked ten times if she asked me once. “She makes nicey-nice, but who else would vote against him? Just because she and HER husband didn’t plan and now they can’t afford to get their brats in here. . .

     “I don’t know, Mother.” 

 

      “Yeah, well, John isn’t high on my A list these days, but blood sticks, you know what I’m saying?”

 

     “I do know, Mother.” It sticks no matter how often you wash, how much you powder.  “He got in, what more do you want?”

 

     “I want to know who voted against me.”

 

     “They voted against John, not you.”

 

     “Don’t be so sure, Garret.”

 

      “I never am.”

 

 

 

       But now it’s thank God for Mother’s heavy tread, heading for her couch, delivering her unto her evening binge, delivering me unto my own. I lean into the laundry chute. So dark.

 

    Sliding through lint bunnies it’s hard to stay GQ, but there’s no turning back because now it’s arg, ah, Look Ma, no hands.

 

 

 

Treats:    

 

       “What have we here?” Suzette says from her loveseat in the corner of her tiny room, looking up from her book, Art in the New Millennium.

 

     “You know what you have here.” I sound more factual than flirtatious. I’ve made my entrance with a dull thud, landing headfirst on Suzette’s spare bed on top of my mother’s unwashed whites, which cover Suzette’s unwashed linens. I smell both women—spaghetti sauce, L'Eau d'Issey, musk, lavender oil. I smell men—their after-shave, their sweat, their . . . them. I smell detergent from the washers in the corner.

 

     Canned sitcom laughter sounds from upstairs. The old bag cackles.

 

     Taking off her glasses, Suzette gives me the once-over.

 

     “Me plus these.” I throw ten Lindor balls into her lap. She laughs.

    

     Little did my mother know what she started, two months ago, when she introduced me to her “Estonian cook,” (third generation only, am I my mother’s “Swedish son”?). “She makes the best pickled pumpkin,” Mother told me, over her shoulder as she left to bring back pictures of her “other son” to show Suzette.

 

     “Pickled Pumpkin,” Suzette echoed, as if it were my pet name. She leaned against the counter, hip jutting; after a moment’s inspection, she brushed her hand against my crotch.

 

     “How?  Where?” I seized upon her words against my cautious nature. I did speak in a mumble though, characteristically prepared to betray my words.

 

     She paused. Then: “I live down there,” heading towards the laundry room, wherein she leaned headfirst into the chute. The substantial plush of her butt tipped in my direction.

 

     “When?” I asked.

 

     “Monday or Friday nights only. Other nights I’m occupied.”

 

       I should have asked, How much?  At least I knew she’d tell me.

     

     “Suzette makes the best Kringel,” Mother bubbled, returning to the kitchen.

 

      My mother is a spider, her web is everywhere, invisible strands clinging. Blood.

 

 

 

     Brave knight’s test in the forest:

 

     Here in her tiny room, Suzette turns off the paper lamp by her side. She lights red candles on a wooden table, near her single bed.  Pointedly, she closes her book, slipping off her terrycloth slippers.  “One never knows what comes in with the dirty laundry,” she chuckles. Her only other men are service guys already living in the basement. No awkward journeys down for them. 

 

     “OK, OK,” I say.

 

      Suzette’s an icy blonde—frozen blue eyes, frost blonde hair. She’s got big, kind, boobs though—a relief after my wife Ashley’s uptight titties. My big bonbon.

 

     “Just to clarify, Suzette,” I tell her—before and after, I like to keep things businesslike—“I’ve only got an hour. No, make that forty minutes.”

 

      “Hey, buddy, however long. I don’t complain. That’s why you come to me.”

 

       “OK, OK, I know.” I kind of like it when she calls me “buddy.” Makes things seem more friendly.

 

 

     I hate the beginnings, unzipping my fly or waiting for her to do it—makes me feel like a boy. I hate watching her undress because sometimes she looks bored and I see the lines around her mouth. I hate her body at first sight, the pale, bloated flesh around her middle, the sagging ass. You’d think she might be more respectful, maybe do the things my wife does—wax her underarms, wear silk bras.

 

     Sometimes I think, No one would believe this, me with my hot wife—my clean wife!—at home.

 

     But at my first contact with Suzette’s skin, warm and soft as a secret vice, densely salty like the ocean air, I forget what others think. I know what’s true for me: since I’ve entered this complex, I’m sick of clean and proper.

 

     “Undo your robe,” I tell Suzette as we move to her single bed. I picture myself, a knight in the forest, still young, strong, with gifts to bring home to his woman. I see myself slashing though brambles to get to her. “Please take off your robe,” I amend, because I want to be chivalrous. The most polite, the most satisfactory lover she’s known. It’s a test of my character, because I don’t have to be. “Let me lick your nipples, just the way you like.”

 

     As she draws my head in towards her breast, for a moment I’m disturbed. She’s so calm, she almost seems accommodating.

 

     I lift my head. “Tell me how much you need me to do this,” I insist, but with my neck craned, my voice chokes. My fear returns, a shamed dog, tail between its legs. I go back to Suzette’s nipple, hold it taut between my lips.

 

     “I need you to do this so much, it’s . . .”—she pauses, a measured—could it be a measured?—beat. “. . . indescribable.”

 

     I stop mid-lick. She’s mocking me? Then I catch a whiff of her unapologetic armpits, like balm to my inflamed ego. Who else but me would want to pleasure her? I continue swirling my tongue around her large, brown aureole, scattering fluttery, lover’s kisses near those armpits. Trees fall in my wake. The dog gets lost. Even wolf gangs take one look at me and scatter. I almost gag. I almost cry with joy.  

 

 

 

Born giver:

 

     When I was six, John, eight, my parents bought a family beach house. All summer, while John played Wally-ball, I collected shells alone. Found treasures I hid in a small hollow where beach met grassland.  My favorite was a conch, an unmarred spiral—dully white and tough, even ordinary on the outside, but on the inside, pink and magic, like my mother. I imagined the pink part hanging around Mom’s neck, a second heart of my choosing, perfect match for her soft hair.

 

       All summer, I sneaked glances at Mom, daydreaming about the day  her green eyes would light up for me the way they did for John—as they never did for Father. On her birthday, I’d deliver my special gifts. “Oh Garret,” she’d tell me, sweeping me up, covering me with the kisses I’d only pretend to blow away, “What a special boy you are!”

 

I replayed this scene over and over, walking dazed and smirking, special boy; but only John seemed to guess my secret fantasy.

 

               “What’s up, Mama’s Boy?” he’d ask, intercepting my gaze at Mom, sniffing suspiciously at my butt, my mouth, as if the “eau de Mama” as he called it—precocious even then—emanated from these orifices.

 

            “Nothing, Daddy’s Brat!” I snapped, giving him Mom’s name for me, but John waved the Mama air away from his face with one hand while the other plugged his nose. I didn’t care. I thought of sleek stones, precious shells, her adoration.

 

              Mother’s thirtieth birthday arrived. My parents’ friends showed up carrying bottles and gifts. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait. Ignoring John’s questions, I ran out of our cottage to my spot.

 

 

 

      When I returned—two hours later, at least—Mom sat at the head of the table, soon to blow out candles. Snuggled under her arm was John, grinning broadly if evading the kisses she planted on his neck.

 

In front of her, in a position of honor, shone my gems—the pure white angel wings, blue sea-glass, the royal conch. Seeing my glance, Mom smiled. “See what Johnny found me, Garret? Some things money can’t buy.”

 

      I dumped the jingle shells, ugly filler gifts that looked like Dad’s dead toenails, in front of Mother’s plate.

 

     “Copycat,” laughed John.

 

     “You stink!” I screamed like a girl.

 

     “Oh Garret, little man, calm down,” winked my father, holding up a small, pale blue box. “I got us covered—some gifts money can buy!”

 

      “Yes, please don’t worry about it, baby,” Mother said, speaking through her laughter at someone else’s joke, “I never expected a gift from you.”     

 

          I never could confront John. With those shells, he stole my voice. Later, I wrote poetry in private, while he got his published—daring Father’s ridicule, winning Mother’s sheepish approbation. He became the Sociology Professor, earning next to nothing except a cachet in his own mind that allows him to walk with a saunter, while I took the hard line, my father’s line, became his mincing little moneymaking man.

 

 

 

Princess, Baby, don’t be shy with me:

 

      Only 7:35. Ashley’s still grappling at the Fight for Freedom Gym. There’s time to sigh, relieved, as my mouth travels down Suzette’s torso, pausing to kiss and lick the fatty folds.  Fortified by her body, I take inventory of all I have to bear. Every day here in the complex, it’s the same forced gratitude—as predictable as the manufactured weather; the look-alike condos; the “Mr and Mrs. Joe Blow” signs above each door. I know the outside’s Outside for a reason with its deadly viruses and foreign terrorists; still, sometimes I think I’d welcome an attack on us in here. How better would it be to prove myself against an enemy, to this gnawing on the inside, this sickening paying of my dues.

 

     I stroke Suzette’s hair. How much older than me is she? Ten years, maybe fifteen? But her hair is soft and virginal. My baby’s hair.

 

     “Does this feel good?” I say.

 

     With Suzette, I feel the deep unhinging of those creeping, rooted knots. (I need this, I tell myself). “You need this,” I tell her. Every day here in the complex it’s, yes Dad, it’s great Dad, your buying protection for your family like this, DAD, yeah, don’t know where we’d be without you. And I don’t know. Sometimes I long for poverty’s bite. Or maybe just a break.

 

    Here, I get it. Once I start, I know exactly where I am and where I’m going. I spread Suzette’s legs to nibble her inner thighs. “Don’t be afraid to moan, Suzette.” She moans. I swallow her heavy scent. My big, fat, fairy princess needs me, needs me so much.

 

 

 

Ever after:    

 

      Ashley used to need me. Our wedding took place one September weekend, three years before the viruses. Our Big Day Eve, in the rose garden at the Lyndhurst Mansion, we posed with our five hundred guests (all in 1920s garb) before the cameras. Usually I avoid red, not wanting to emphasize my hair so like my mother’s, but this once Ashley convinced me to “draw on my Swedish assets.” She probably had a point. I looked cool and cut, I knew I did, in my dusty-rose, double-breasted linen waistcoat, spats, and bow tie; my black cutaway and trousers; my black silk hat. With Ashley on my arm, pulsing in her beaded cocktail dress, I’d never felt so confident. Never mind that we were oozing grease from every pore after three months spent on the high protein Liberty diet preparing for this moment—or that our jaws ached from the speed we took to keep our will power. We swayed together, slender as reeds in the just-post-sunset-afterglow.

 

     We’d survived a tough engagement, after all. Her Long Island, old- money parents, recently divorced, fought drunkenly with each other through Ashley. My Chicago-born, new-money parents flexed their financial muscles through me. In the face of this, Ashley grew as hard as her red nails. She’d pick up the phone, chin lifted, signature pen poised over her planner. I need your guest list minus fifty by Thursday, 9 a.m.  Meanwhile, I wallowed in the sludge of all demands.

 

       It was obvious I needed Ashley. But vice versa?

 

        At our pre-wedding reception, just as the photographer was arranging the crowd, Ashley leaned into my ear, her breath an expensive bouquet of dry champagne, generous strawberries, sophisticated mint, with just the slightest undertone of puke. The feather on her flapper’s cap waved jauntily in the breeze. From behind her beaded purse, this soon-to-be-wife of mine whispered those priceless words I’d always craved: “I will always need you.”  Then she squeezed my hand, and licked her newly- whitened teeth. Say cheese.

 

              “Ditto,” I told Ashley, as the camera flashed. I licked my newly- whitened teeth, then cringed as I heard myself, in my Old Man’s hollow voice, say it once more for effect. “Ditto.”

 

      I should have asked, what for?

 

 

 

      As I flick my tongue, a tease to myself as well as Suzette, my balls tighten. She tastes like something difficult to find. Precious mushrooms hidden in the underbrush. “Tell me how much you need this,” I pant.

 

     “So much, I need it so much.”

 

     “So much, who?”

 

      “So much who?

 

      “I need this so much, Garret.”

 

     “So much, Garret.”

 

 

 

      And now the tough part. I think she feels wet, but it could be my saliva, and when I tell her don’t be afraid to let go, she always shudders so quickly, I’ve got to wonder.

 

     But by the time I’m wondering, and remembering that I’ve wondered like this before, and that I’ll always wonder like this with her, it’s too late. Involuntarily, I’m thrusting against her leg, her thigh, her ass. In the minute before the end, my guilt marries my excitement.

 

    Because what kind of “knight in the forest” am I anyway? Cheating on my wife. Paying a woman to let me eat her out. Voting against my own brother and his family when their lives are at stake.  And the happy ending always the same. Oh. Mmm. 

 

     Ashley, do you need me now?  I wonder.

 

 

 

Karen Sosnoski is a writer, mother, and documentary filmmaker in ever-shifting orders of priority. “Garret Surviving” is a stand-alone chapter from her novel-in-progress “Dreaming in the Sleepless Complex.“ Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Radioactive Moat, Word Riot, decomP magazine, Studio 360, This American Life, and in the LA Times, Poets and Writers, The Washington City Paper, Personal Journaling, Bitch, Grappling Magazine, Wordswright, and Pembroke Review among other literary journals and anthologies. Her film, Wedding Advice: Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace, is distributed by Berkeley Media. She is working on a nonfiction book, When Birdboy Calls, about the relationship between a brain tumor patient and the artist he commissioned to chronicle his experiences.  She has blogged for skirt.com and has a new blog at Psychology Today.

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