Short Story

Eliza Wright was busy. Not busy in the usual sense, but more so. She was about to start a new job for which she was completely unqualified, she moved to Pittsburgh from Manhattan, and she was pregnant.

Eliza knew the minute that she awoke the “morning after”, the egg had been fertilized. She could feel it melding with the sperm. Mocking her. So damn busy being so damn drunk that she didn’t insist he keep that condom on.

Busy making sure she looked like people do in the movies when they have sex. What were the chances that she’d be ovulating? Her ovaries had been busy, too.

Now with a stranger in a somewhat strange city, Eliza tucked her knees into her body and pulled the sheet over them. Opressive sadness added heaviness to the weight of the sheet. She fingered the label on the sheet as she looked at the man lying next to her. A stranger. She had no desire to say goodbye. She contemplated the level of rudeness she’d be skirting if she just left. She noticed the maker of the sheet was Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart? What kind of guy bought Martha Stewart bedding?

“Who the hell cares? Where do you even buy Martha Stewart?” Eliza whispered to herself.
She had met Martha once in New York. A fancy Schmancy thing. In the bathroom. Eliza stared in the mirror at her boobs. Her nipples jutted out as though having wanting to partipate in the party themselves.

“Here,” a voice startled Eliza. Martha. Offering Eliza bandaids.
Eliza was confused.
“For your problem. Nothing has proven to be a more formidable foe for hardened aeriolas. Except a good bra. That might have worked.”
Eliza reddened. “I tried this strapless thing, but it was cutting into me. So I threw it out, thinking it’d be no big deal. I don’t have boobs, or anything. Guess I was wrong.”
Martha held her hand up. “No need to explain. We all have these moments we wish we could take back.”
Eliza had watched Martha leave the bathroom without ever using it. Like a fairy Godmother sent just for her.

Eliza’s mind came back to the present. To the stranger beside her snoring in that wet, disgusting way men seemed to do. Gloom rested upon Eliza like a lazily held umbrella. The gloom was a psychic manifestation of Leonard, her boyfriend. The one who left her three months before. She felt her heart skip at the realization that drink, sex and a string of first dates that led to one night stands wouldn’t extricate him from her soul. Did he have a permanent place there? She thought he might.

The stranger began to droul between sloppy snores. This got Eliza moving. She slipped out of bed, got dressed, and slunk out of the stanger’s apartment.

Eliza tried to pinpoint the catalyst for her busyness. Maybe it was her newly brazen sexual habits which resulted in this pregnancy. Or the move. She wasn’t completely new to Pittsburgh. She had left long ago and shrugged off the friends who had meant much at one time. Now, it seemed completely fresh. That was why she went there.

She had lived her entire independent adult life–five years– happily in New York City. At least she would have sworn she was happy until a few months ago. Now, this busyness allowed her to avoid the fact she was pregnant. She managed to ignore the product of conception would eventually be. If nothing else, Eliza realized how much of life’s awful moments, months, and years could be covered up with intense activities that consume every bit of her being.

Eliza could have easily slipped into anonymity in one of the remaining four boroughs in New York. But in New York, anonymity brought lonlieness. In a city like Pittsburgh, you can be anonymous and not feel as though you were. The perfect place for her to start over.

Unfortunately Eliza hadn’t really worked since she met Leonard four years before. She didn’t have the energy to dig out her old resume and try to make it look as though four jobless years were filled with substance, not just unpublished books and essays.

So, she lied. And got a fantastic job. Her jam packed resume’ should have made the higher-ups wonder how a person with all her “superb qualifications” was unknown to them. But maybe they were busy too. The kind of busyness that allows you to ignore even glaring factual fallacies.

So how could someone who was smart enough to get through three interviews for which she shouldn’t have been skilled enough to get past the first, not aware that there was such a thing as a “morning after pill?” It just didn’t occur to her.

To compensate for the extensive wardrobe that Eliza needed to buy to ensure her workplace charade was successful, she chose a tiny apartment in the cheap end of Shady Side. The confining nature of the place meant that she would have to part with many of the things that she loved.

Eliza was one of those people who fell in love with objects as easily and hard as she did with people. Just the sight of an antique chair with the right legs, or gently curved back brought exileration and pleasure. There were boxes of books and decorative items that made the trip to Pittsburgh but wouldn’t be staying in the apartment. A few things she found a way to keep, others she sold and the remaining things were going to Goodwill.

She was on her way there when the Giant Eagle called her name and forced her to stop. Actually it was the Little Debbie snack cakes in the Giant Eagle that summoned. Ever since she broke up with Leonard and the depression fully set in she had been eating non-stop. Each day she ended up in the checkout line with Oreos, milk, diet coke—for the taste, not the lack of calories—and some sort of snack cake. She looked at them like she didn’t know how they got into her hands and wondered if she would ever get sick of eating them.

“Can I have your advantage card?” The young cashier asked Eliza for the card that ensured a few cents off of the total bill and enabled the store to track what items the customers were buying. She held her hand out limply as though she couldn’t stand the fact she had to be there.

“Um, uh, no, I don’t have one yet. Excuse me,” Eliza strained to get the attention of the woman ahead of her who was waiting for her groceries to be bagged. The woman looked startled that Eliza had called her.

“Could I use your Advantage Card?”

The woman’s hard blue eyed gaze traveled Eliza’s body twice before making eye-contact. Normally that kind of assessment yielded Eliza complements and approving looks from women like this. An upper middle class woman. This one was dressed casually in khaki pants and a red t-shirt. But her perfect hair, make-up, tastefully large diamonds, and gently lifted face told the tale her clothing did not. This was the kind of woman Eliza had spent much of the last few years with.

“I was told I wasn’t supposed to share my advantage card. Against the rules.” The woman bolted from the store.

“That’s a bunch of crap!” the cashier snapping to life said harshly. She and the woman behind Eliza shook their heads and made comments regarding the obvious social position of that woman. Eliza was too stunned to join in.

“Your Access Card?” the cashier asked Eliza.

“Access?” Eliza was still trying to figure out why that woman had lied about something so simple as an Advantage Card.

“You know, food stamps?”

“Oh, no, I don’t have food stamps.” Eliza’s eyes grew small with confusion. In a daze she pulled out her gold card and slid it through the machine.

The cashier and her friend chirped and chortled about the gold card. They suggested playfully that Eliza buy everyone in the store their groceries. Stunned, Eliza left the store. But not before she caught a reflection in the store window.

The shape in the window looked more like a line backer than a dancer and she stopped short. She looked beside and behind her to see if someone else was standing there blocking her reflection. She owned the lumpy reflection. Reality strangled her. Everything and everyone around her disappeared as she stared at herself.

In her mind she was svelte, well dressed, and as graceful as any dancer you might see at a professional ballet. In her mind, her eyes were large and brown and seemed to make up the majority of her face. Still holding onto the cart she stepped closer to the window. Her dainty, but distinctive cheeks and her small features were now soft and large. Except her eyes. Shrunken, absorbed into her face in a way that left her ordinary looking.

She touched her cheeks. How could this have happened?
Firm nudging from a the cart behind her tore her out of her thoughts.
“Hey gold card,” it was the nice woman behind her. “Move it, sister.” She said playfully.
“Yeah, okay.” Eliza said quietly. “Thanks for the Advantage Card.” Eliza forced a smile. She didn’t force the smile out of insincerity, it was that she genuinely couldn’t find a real one.
“Anytime I can help a sister out.” She said in a happy tone. “I been down too in my life. Oh yea, I been down.” She said finally passing by Eliza with her buggy of groceries.

Down too? How did she know that? Eliza was suddenly rushing to her car. She needed to eat, get the stuff to Goodwill, get home, eat some more and study. Then tomorrow, she better quit eating or she would have to buy double the amount of clothing that she had anticipated. She wondered if she would fit into anything she owned.

Eliza reached Goodwill and popped open the back of her Jeep. No one was around to help. Four years, Eliza had access to a butler. Now it was only her.

The sugar from the junk food was taking effect, bringing her down. Almost instantly. Her back muscles contracted as she bobbled three boxes of books. Once in the large garage area, she dropped them. She looked for the guy who was supposed to give her a tax receipt.

Then she heard a guitar and the gentle voice of a man singing “Danny’s Song.” The words, Even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey, pulled her toward the soft voice and expert guitar playing as though there was a string attatched to her midsection. As she rounded the corner, a man about her age, 26, came into view. His eyes were shut and he sang the song as though the woman he might be singing it to was standing right there in front of him.

Nothing like live acoustic guitar music. Eliza’s gloomy umbrella threatened to suffocate her as she fully felt the pain of Leonard. He’d never say those words to her. As a matter of fact. Leonard’s song was more like, “Because you ain’t got money, I have to leave you honey.”

Until this moment she hadn’t allowed herself to internalize that. Leonard had used her and tossed her out for the sake of some crazy grandmother who couldn’t accept his future wife not be one of “them.” Leonard just loved money. Eliza used to think no one loved it more than her. But, she’d pass it up for love. Mostly because she knew in her heart that someday she’d be rich, she had no doubt. But then again, she hadn’t doubted Leonard either.

Tears welled in Eliza’s eyes and she knew the pain in heart was also in her face as tears ran down her cheeks in an unstoppable manner. She wasn’t sobbing, no noise came from her at all, but the tears poured. Guitar man opened his eyes, seeing her. His soft blue eyes were kind. He didn’t seem surprised.

“He’s good, huh?” A man wearing a nametag with “Powell” on it interrupted Eliza’s cry. Guitar man kept playing.

“Yeah. That’s my stuff over there.” She wiped tears away and followed Powell.
She ran through the list of items in the boxes and bags with him.
“Whoa there,” he held up his hand and Eliza noticed his hands were coated with dirt and although he was unshaven he did not look like the kind of fella who should be working at Goodwill. She hated that she thought that about him.

“You can’t donate text books. No how, no way.” He shook his head vigorously. “We can’t ever move those things in here. They sit forever.” He shrugged and nodded again.

Eliza thought he was kidding and she chuckled.

“I’m not kidding. Are there any textbooks in there?”

Eliza visualized the half a ton of textbooks that used to sit proudly and comfortably on her huge library shelves. The ones painted in a red as full bodied as her ex-boyfriend’s bank account. She almost told the truth about what was in the boxes, but she knew that her looks were gone. And not because of the pregnancy—she was barely pregnant—it was the deep sorrow that removed every ounce of outward beauty that she once so easily possessed. And for Eliza, the loss of outward beauty only made the fact that she lacked inner beauty painfully and consistently obvious to her. At one time she could have told this guy the truth and convinced him to take the books—academic or not. But not anymore. She couldn’t even try.

“Miss? What’s in the box?”

“Uh, they’re books. Children’s books.” Eliza filled out the donation tax form as she tried to lie convincingly.

“Well, okay. You wouldn’t believe how many people tell me they didn’t pack up their parcels with textbooks and when I get them open—bam—there they are.”

Parcels? His use of that word made her stop and look at him again. His eyes were soft and as she stared into them, guilt rushed in as she imagined his upset and probably hurt that he had been lied to yet again.

Over Powell’s shoulder Eliza noticed huge garbage dumpsters and quickly quelled her guilt with the knowledge that all Powell had to do was toss the text books away. She rushed away before he could pry into the boxes feeling that she had successfully finished one task for the day. Maybe her depression was finally lifting.

Starting her jeep, she saw guitar man talking to Powell. Powell’s face was swelled with hot emotion. They watched Eliza leave. She felt like shit. The way she hoped Leonard felt knowing he broke her heart. Not possible, she decided as she squealed out of the parking lot and onto Liberty Ave.

5 thoughts on “Short Story

  1. I LOVE Martha Stewart – the bandaids – too funny! By the way, you can buy MS stuff at K-mart or online at Hee.

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