a tragic character: part three.

The snow is killing me.  Please send care packages of whiskey, comic books, and Chick-o-sticks.   One would think the recent blizzarding (or is the correct verb “blizzing?”) would give me plenty of time to write, write, write.  But in reality, it just gives me extra time to clean my closet and dye my hair.  And nitpick at everything I’ve written ever.  Ack!  Okay, cross your fingers for an early spring (and don’t forget to send the aforementioned care packages).


“The most important thing is to use the correct heat setting. Always check the label for the fabric content.” I gesture towards the dial, pointing out the cotton, silk, and polyester icons.

I am teaching Carrot how to iron. He had a dream about being mocked for wearing a wrinkly shirt. He was forced to wash away the aftertaste of imaginary ignominy with half of a plastic bottle of vodka. My concern for his liver–coupled with my own irritation from dealing with a drunk boyfriend at five pm–has motivated me to give this lesson. He’s so serious, he’s actually taking notes in an illegible scrawl on the back of a used envelope.

“If the garment doesn’t have a tag and you don’t trust yourself to guess, just use the lowest setting. It’s easy to assume that the hottest iron will guarantee the best results, but really you’re just going to burn your clothes.”

Carrot nods his head. “How do you know this stuff?”

I shrug my shoulders. “I guess my mom showed me somewhere along the line.” And then I remember. “Actually, I was obsessed with ironing for a while; I would beg my mom and my grandma to let me iron the curtains, the tablecloth, my grandpa’s pants…whatever. I found it very relaxing.”

Of course he laughs at this. “You know, that is the first time you’ve ever mentioned your family.”

Oh, he’s drunk. It’s a recurring theme, always fueled by bottom shelf liquor: “Ella you’re so mysterious and I don’t know anything about you.”

The next line will be “Why won’t you let me know you?”

When we first met, he would keep me awake in the wee hours asking questions. But nothing useful (and therefore, nothing that made me nervous). No, no…only the hard-hitting issues were covered, like, “Would you rather have a beard made of bees or a bee made of beards?” Hours of this every night. I would laugh and laugh, my answers growing sillier as I began to slip into sleep. An endless, foolish game of “Would you rather?” created a facade of intimacy. He liked this.

The best way to handle any uncomfortable prying is always by asking another question. A counter attack.

“Well, what do you think my family is like?”

Carrot likes this move. “I imagine that your dad is an English professor at a stuffy east coast university. And your mom is a debutante-cum-faculty-wife with a penchant for pottery. They have quiet, sarcastic fights. You were raised by college students posing as nannies. You wore frilly dresses and practical Swedish children’s shoes. You went to some sort of boarding school, maybe Choate? And then you blew everyone’s mind by choosing Smith over Brown.”

Of course.

Wouldn’t it be just as likely that my childhood was a melange of powdered milk and reduced cost school lunches? Plastic, no-name shoes coupled with jeans fished out of the “irregular” bin at the factory outlet? Scholarship applications and crossed fingers?

I could have been a smartass runaway, hiding from my wealthy-yet-morally-bankrupt parents. They would never understand me and my self-ordained revolution.

Or maybe I was a latchkey child eating microwaved frozen mashed potatoes for dinner. A single mother with 1.5 jobs. A revolving door of stepfathers and “uncles.”

I could be an orphan.

I once dated a terrible writer. He strung words into senseless sentences that formed meaningless, dense paragraphs. The paragraphs filled pages with nonsense, evolving into stories that said absolutely nothing. No plot, no characters, no anything. Of course I would always smile and say, “Good work, dear.” I was mostly drunk, and therefore, frequently jovial. It goes without saying that he also had a little cadre of female fans thats virtually wept at his imaginary genius, so he needed little cheerleading from me and my whiskey mouth.

One day he decided to write a little character portrait of me. It was a simmering stew of four-syllable adjectives and antiquated verbiage. I understood nothing, except for one surprisingly lucid turn-of-phrase hidden in the center of the otherwise undulating mess:

“Her father had left her, and so, she would leave everyone else…her husbands, her children, her lovers, her friends.”

I asked him, “Why do you assume that my father has abandoned me?”

And he said (without hesitation), “Because you didn’t know when Father’s Day was and you knew how to fix your own kitchen sink.”

I considered suggesting he focus more on detective work in the future, as authoring was unlikely to pan out.

But poor Carrot. Despite his excessive viewing of television crime dramas “ripped from the headlines,” he is no Sherlock Holmes. And so, he assumes I grew up on the set of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

He looks at me, waiting for a confirmation. “Oh, Mr. C. Flowers, you are so perceptive! Or did you just google me while I was at work?”

But instead I ask, “Would you rather have an iron for a hand or a hammer for a foot?”


Carrot is the best liar I have ever met.

To avoid a shift at the clothing store, he tells his coworker a long sad story about his grandmother’s health. Chemotherapy and hospice care are included. “There isn’t much time left…” A single tear springs from the coworker’s eye. Meanwhile, his grandmother is playing tennis and drinking margaritas in Cabo.

When he decides that we need a video game system to entertain us during the long winter, he tells his mother that he needs money for an abortion. For me, obviously. “Oh, Ella’s just a wreck about this. I can’t very well ask her to pay for it herself.” And so the check arrives the next day, via FedEx, with a tiny scribbled note saying “If Ella needs to talk to a woman about this, I’m here for her.”

His skill is so impressive, it’s hard to be angry even when he lies to me. Generally I just want to buy him a sandwich or a trophy in honor of his unmatchable talent. I consider asking him to teach me his technique.

The thing is, his dishonesty is always obvious to me. His mouth is just a bit drier. His left eye twitches a little bit more than usual. And every sentence sounds vaguely like it ends with a question mark.

I tell myself that sleeping with someone every night can only lead to a certain level of transparency. My immunity to his deception was earned after hours, days, and months of folding his laundry and cutting his hair. Buying him a new new toothbrush every month. Serving his dinner almost every day. Comfort is found in always being able to discern truth from fiction.

Of course I pretend that I believe him. Always. There’s no need to rob him of his faith in his talents.

He’s nowhere to be found when I get home from work. It’s unlikely that he is out earning a paycheck right now. He’s probably at a bar with one or many of his attractive female coworkers. Or maybe he’s doing lots of coke and trying to get into fights. That was the agenda when he went out without me last Friday night.

I’m wondering how he will explain his absence.

“I was at the library, studying for the GREs.” That one always forces me to stifle laughter, generally leading to a dash for the bathroom so I can giggle into a towel.

“Oh, I was running. I’m trying to get fit.” Nevermind the tight jeans and beetle boots he might be wearing.

“I was just walking around, thinking.” Um. Okay.

I will just nod my head, smile, and offer a B-vitamin or a late night sandwich. The model girlfriend.

I grab cigarettes and book, before heading up to the roof. I sit cross-legged, petting a neighbor’s little black cat. Early is her name, according to the medallion dangling from her collar. I’m not even sure if she’s a SHE, because I’m far too delicate to peek at her privates.

Early visits me every time I’m smoking. She leaps from roof to roof, until she settles on my lap. I’m convinced that all felines are fans of tobacco. Their lack of opposable thumbs are the only thing saving them from emphysema and long bouts of lung cancer.

Cats filled my old life. If I nodded off on a bus stop bench, I could be assured that a little tabby would be snuggled under my elbow when I awoke. Strays gathered around me as I smoked unnecessary cigarettes on the corner outside any bar. Friendly house cats followed me home as I slurred and swayed after too many cocktails at happy hour. They climbed in my apartment window to lick my cheek when I was blacked out on the kitchen floor. In exchange, I gave them compliments, pats, and cans of chunk light tuna.

But Early is the only feline in my new life. I scratch behind her ears, cooing platitudes. She rewards my effort with a loud purr.

“Cats aren’t aloof at all,” I think. “They need people around to grant them the illusion of coolness and independence.”

I wish I could invite Early into my bedroom, to sleep on Carrot’s half of the bed in his absence. I’m sure he won’t be home tonight.

I should probably get a cat.


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