By Jamey Genna
I don’t know why she likes me or how she hooked onto me—I’m miss uber-conservative compared to her, but we had stuff in common. She calls me when I’m channel surfing between Extreme Makeover reruns and the rerun of Workout where Doug, the kind gay guy, dies and what’s-her-face, his boss finds out. This woman who owns the gym on TV acts like she’s full of grief, but she’s the most emotionless person I’ve ever seen—what with her speeches about how she’s contending with dealing with the fact that her mom won’t accept her lesbianism and her rants at her overweight customers about how they’re not really working her program, but I guess that’s the abuse they pay her for.
“Uh-huh,” I say to Dena when she starts in on another description of how she saw her ex-boyfriend’s new wife—this time it was at the library in Berkeley.
“I saw her through the window,” she says. “That bitch is following me around. She needs to stay on her side of the bay.”
I imagine the windows at the Berkeley library, aren’t they frosted over with that spray stuff you can’t see through? I can’t remember. I never know when Dena’s telling the truth or when she’s delusional. I tried telling my friend Hector about her, but he knows Dena from the street and won’t believe me. Hector is just a guy I know who happens to know Dena. That’s the size of this world.
I say to Hector, “Now look, her ex-boyfriend lives in the city, in San Francisco, he’s a janitor for God’s sake. He married some Asian chick because she had cancer and was going to die? Where does she come up with this shit?”
Hector says, “No, she’s telling you the truth.”
I say, “No look man, she says she saw this woman at the library. What the hell is this Asian woman who has cancer that’s married to a janitor doing at the library?”
Hector laughs, “C’mon. Why would she make it up?”
“Paranoid schizophrenia,” I say. “That’s what it looks like.”
The next time Dena calls me up, I tell myself, “Don’t answer it. Don’t answer it.”
But I can’t resist.
Dena tells me, “The fucking bitch came down to my job. She was sitting in my station. She was talking about me. I heard her call me a bitch.”
Dena got a job bussing tables at some hippie-granola restaurant on fortieth, how I don’t know. She showed me her resume once, asked me for advice on how to fix it. It wasn’t pretty. She mixed the jobs she got fired from in with the jobs she quit. She didn’t have any references. I let her use my name and prayed no one would call.
I try to bring her around. I say, “Look Dena if you’re going to start yelling, I’m going to have to hang up again.”
Another time I’m watching this new show Shear Genius where people cut hair, when she calls. It’s the stupidest show ever. One guy, Doctor Somebody, uses only clippers to cut hair, no scissors, which is an affectation meant to get attention for himself. Then this other gal starts using hedge clippers and the other stylists freak out on her, including Doctor So-and-So. They all gang up on her and say she’s putting the industry back a hundred years. I know I should get up and exercise. I already saw this one. I don’t have to work out though because I’m the thinnest I’ve ever been, but it’s healthy to move around. I like to see the hairstyles at the end of this show. I’m not big on eating right now is why I’m thin, but I know that eventually the appetite will come back and I want to stay ahead of it.
Dena says, “I did a stupid thing. I ran into Larry.” His name’s Larry. That should tell her something right there.
“Dena,” I say. “How did you happen to run into Larry?”
She says sheepishly, “I was in the city?”
“Where in the city?” I say.
“At his workplace?”
“And what did you do at his workplace?” I ask but I already know, she went over there and stalked him at his janitor job and said a bunch of inappropriate stuff to him.
“Yeah,” she says when I say that and she says she was yelling out loud, too. She says she went to the city for her free massage therapy she gets for being an ex-dominatrix in another life. They have some clinic over there specifically for these ex-prostitutes. I already know the random circle her brain made in justifying the trip from the massage place to his worksite.
“God, Dena,” I say. “When are you going to get over him? That’s worse than a drive-by.” I’m not usually this harsh, but there are some Soprano reruns coming on that I’ve never seen—the early ones that were on back when I was in the thick of it. I hardly ever watched TV back then. I was too busy looking up at the lights in Peter’s new apartment or walking the streets near where he lived, hoping he’d look out the window. See me and come out. Start things over. Reconsider the ending. At home—Googling his name into my computer over and over.
I know my conversation’s going nowhere with her.
She’s crying on the other end of the line now. At least she’s done yelling. She scares me when she’s yelling.
I say, “I told you: You’ve just got to stay away from him.” She keeps crying, harder, so I say softer. “If you can just stay away from him for a few months, you’ll get better.”
My sixth sense buzzer has gone off inside my head. It says you can’t push these people too hard. It only makes it worse. She sniffles and asks me if she can call me again and I say, “Okay, Dena, but don’t yell at me next time. I’m not the jerk.”
I hang up the phone and turn up the Sopranos rerun. There’s some new guy on there I’ve never seen, he must be dead already. He turns to face me. He looks at me, he’s looking at the girl on the TV, but he’s looking at her the way he’s looking at me. I turn the sound off and just look at him. He looks just like Peter, same long curls, hooded eyes, a little bend in his nose, quirky smile full of love.
My damn mantra starts up in my head. I could call Dena back or my friend Hector. That’d put a stop to this. Or I could just change the channel, the On Demand-Exercise channel, and see if there’s a new ab workout I could watch. I search through the blue info labels at the bottom of the screen looking for something else, change the channel to How Do I Look? But I keep the Sopranos on the LAST button.
I wonder to myself if Dena’s going to make it. She doesn’t even have a television. Her mom’s dead, murdered when Dena was 18. They never found her killer and they even thought Dena might’ve done it. She’s one step away from living on the street again. Her grandma paid her rent for her for three months but told Dena that after that, she’s through with her.
I flip back to the Sopranos. The guy is in close-up. His nose. His hair.
My brain squeaks over and over, Stay away from the phone. Stay away from the computer. Don’t e-mail him. Don’t e-mail him.
Jamey Genna teaches writing in northern California. She received her masters in writing from the University of San Francisco. Her short fiction has been published in many fine literary magazines such as the Iowa Review, Farallon Review, Georgetown Review, Cuthroat, and Dislocate, among others. Her short story collection Still Slipping on the Ice was a finalist for the 2008 Hudson Prize.
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