Black mascara flakes crusted her lashes and pitted the puffy skin of her upper cheeks where tears had earlier lain. She hadn't washed her face yet. She had, however, brushed her teeth and scrubbed her tongue three times and, still, couldn't rid her mouth of the lingering bitterness from the acrid coating burning the walls of her esophagus.
Doreen could smell herself.
Seated on the covered toilet, she clasped her hands about her head. It was preventative. Her brain was throbbing, rushing to detach itself from inside her cranium and leak out her ears like Play-doh pressing through the stencils of a plastic fun factory. Her temperature felt elevated, probably due to the worn, chenille bathrobe she was wearing despite it being 3:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday. Bent over, quasi-fetal, she looked up at her roommate. She attempted to speak but the boulder on her tongue made it difficult.
"Are you going to be sick again?" her roommate asked from the bathroom door, a safe distance away.
"No," she said closing her eyes and then reaching for the green silk dress from last night's party, which lay crumpled like a dead person on the shineless linoleum floor. Her roommate interrupted her reach.
"I wouldn't bother, sweetie," came the warning. "Just throw it out."
Throw it out. $279. Practically a car payment. Doreen inhaled.
"Tell me--what did I say?" she asked.
"To whom?" her roommate inquired, facetiously.
"Oh, God," Doreen warbled, "the abridged version please."
"Let's see. You told Sheila she was a phony, which she is of course; the alumni director that the hors d'oeuvres sucked and couldn't the school's endowment fund cover the cost of a decent caterer; what you said to the old guy from the class of '32 I have no idea; and you told Tom to name the day and you'd have sex with him in front of his girlfriend."
"I offered to screw Tom in front of his girlfriend?! What kind of closet exhibitionist am I?!"
"Nooooo," clarified the roommate, "you just said it in front of his girlfriend. Don't worry, it's not like he's that serious about her or anything. Actually, it was pretty funny. We all laughed."
"Other people heard me?"
"Well, yeah, you know, the usuals. NBD, sweetie. It was a college moment reincarnated complete with liquid truth. You needed to say it." She paused. "Maybe he needed to hear it."
"Oh yeah, the start of a beautiful romance," Doreen said in deprecation.
"Hey, cheer up." Her roommate looked at her sympathetically. "Can I get you a glass of water or something?"
"No, I don't think I could keep it down." She took another deep breath (more like a sigh). "Oh, God, I'm meeting them all tomorrow for brunch at Stephanie's. I have to call everyone and apologize!" She burrowed her face into a clean towel to soften her cry, "I'm so embarrassed."
"Don't feel bad, Reenie," comforted her roommate, "it happens to everyone."
Another Saturday. Another afternoon. Doreen leaned against the ledge of the sink's Italian marble vanity. It wasn't too bad; she'd remembered to take some aspirin before she went to bed. She did need a hot shower, however.
In the mirrors' reflection, the halogen lighting from the Holtkotter sconces revealed she looked like hell. No surprise there. It also revealed she'd lost one of the diamond earrings Tom had given her for their third anniversary. Damn, she thought, he's going to be pissed.
She could call the jeweler and spare Tom the anguish ...
Rolling her eyes, she brushed her teeth for the second time, thankful she couldn't recall the prior evening in its entirety, and pulled herself together.
"Tom, I'm so sorry," she said (foamily) to her husband who was on the other side of the bathroom door giving her some privacy, "I don't know why I said that to the senior partner. In a way, it's kind of funny--don't you think? --even Matt Simons laughed. But, I know how reserved George is. I'm sorry, really sweetie, I am. I'll call his wife later to apologize. I promise. It'll be fine."
For a moment there was silence.
"No," he said, "don't bother." More silence. "I'll call and explain. You should drink some water, you're probably dehydrated."
Doreen spat out her toothpaste.
"That's a good idea," she replied filling the cut-glass tumbler on the counter with water from the faucet-filter, mesmerized by the prismed colors trapped within its angled grooves as her husband's muffled footsteps padded down the hallway's Aubusson rug, further and further away until they reached his darkened den.
"I'll be fine, I'll be fine, I'll be fine," Doreen repeated under her breath, balancing herself in a mantra synchronized to the rhythm of the commuter train she was riding in to work. Nausea gripped her--motion sickness she blamed on the damned mass transportation she used now that she lived so far from her job. However, it probably didn't help that she'd stayed out past midnight last night--a Wednesday no less--but she'd had no choice. The girls from her office had insisted.
`You can't stay home tonight.'
`You should be celebrating--it's a milestone, honey."
Piling into a booth at Ernie's Tavern right after 5:00, they'd toasted the six-month anniversary of Doreen's divorce from Tom. Nothing wild followed--just girl talk--but they had tons to discuss and the night flashed by. Even though the girls had never met Tom, it was eerie how much they understood about Tom and how he'd changed so much. During Doreen's seven-year marriage, he'd transformed from fun, sweet and caring into sullen, distant and acting like everything wrong with their relationship was her fault; as if she was responsible for him not making partner two years ago. In addition, he'd become a control freak, monitoring her actions, deciding with whom she could socialize, taking charge over the finances.
When he approached her about a divorce a year ago, she wasn't surprised. In fact, she'd been relieved. But, it burned her that after being a good sport about the settlement, she'd been sequestered to a crappy little condo in the wrong zip code that nobody wanted to visit while Tom kept the house in town, entertained all their old friends and was now engaged to little-miss-perfect-law-associate.
Well, no use crying over spilt milk. She was enjoying her life now--no one to harass her about what she ate, drank or how she spent her time. And she was having fun making new friends. Here was a group she could finally say anything to--and they really cared. To show her appreciation, Doreen had picked up last night's $200 plus bar tab (which she'd forgotten until she ordered a regular coffee and found the stained receipt in her bag).
The train lurched into the station giving a jolt to Doreen's already queasy stomach but she refused to get sick, she could handle it. She'd wait till the train emptied before she stood to take her leave. Once she got to the door, the fresh air and walk to work would do her good. She'd be fine in no time. Besides, today was going to be a good day: it was Thursday after all, and Thursday starts the weekend.
Copyright 2003 by P.D. Sunderland. All rights reserved.