Something Big, Something Important (fiction-ish)
Between yesterday and today, it rained seven inches. It started as a trickle on Friday; I darted into Christopher Street station after my shift at the restaurant, I darted from bar to bar slippery in borrowed heels that night, I fell asleep to the sound of drops slapping against the window.
On Friday night, we'd promised to turn the rain into a contest -- actually, the contest was Violet's idea -- how long could we last without going outside? My bank account was near zero, the fridge was stocked, the DVDs I'd rented last week were still on the coffee table (four days overdue now). I'd make it, easy, through the forecast weekend of rain. Violet was confident, too.
I started off by sleeping in, then lingered over the newspaper during breakfast (retrieving it did not count as going outside, as I rented a studio apartment on the twenty-third floor of a rickety old high rise). At one o'clock I began cleaning, as I did every Saturday; this week, though, I felt none of the rush to finish it and move on to other things. I organized the pantry, rearranged the bookshelf, cleaned invisible cobwebs from the corners of the ceiling.
It was after four o'clock by the time I'd finished the final step -- cleaning myself -- when the phone rang.
It was Violet.
"How's it going?" she inquired casually, which made me immediately suspicious that it wasn't going well on her end, a spacious two-bedroom she'd purchased uptown a few months ago.
"Great," I said. "Just finished cleaning."
"Again?" she asked, a hint of annoyance flickering in her voice.
"You know me," I said, trying to make my voice sound light and not wounded. "How's it going on your end?"
"OK," Violet said. "I just finished reading the new Vogue."
"You sound bored."
"I am. I'm already tired of being inside. I want to go shopping."
A little silence hung between us; the contest she'd proposed now seemed one-sided. I could tell I was still in it to win, but that my opponent was on the verge of leaving the stadium in search of a sample sale.
"I can't really afford a shopping excursion right now," I confessed.
"Right, right," she answered, acknowledging that my confession wasn't a confession so much as something she should have realized, something that she's known all along, our whole lives.
I felt annoyed then, and looking back, maybe it showed when I said, "Well, I'm going to watch a movie now, I think."
We hung up and I shuffled through the rented DVDs with every intention of watching one, yet looking at the miniature movie poster art on the covers made me feel lonely. I moved to the window, where I stood watching the droplets of rain run like a disgruntled subway down the pane.
Once, when I was younger, in middle school, I'd fallen in love with a movie. It was tripe, some action adventure where the main character is in trouble and in the process of escaping trouble also has to rescue a beautiful girl over and over again.
My father asked the rental store's employees if he could have the full-size movie poster they'd hung in the window, when they were finished with it, of course, for his daughter. They gave it to him on the spot -- and when he brought it home I immediately hung it above my bed.
A few days later when Violet came over after school to study and whisper about boys, she stood, stunned, when she saw it.
"What," she demanded, "is that?"
I explained, and she shook her head sadly, as if I'd disappointed her.
"You're too old for that kind of thing," she said finally.
Something rose up in my chest then; it was the first time in my life I'd felt it but it would become an old friend as I aged, a cross between shame and rage and something else, a desire to protect and defend something dear to me, at any cost.
"I think you should go home now," I told her.
If she was surprised by my command or the insistence with which I spoke it, she didn't show it.
She gathered up her books and walked out of my bedroom.
Hot-faced, I'd sat at the foot of my bed and done my homework until an hour later, when my father knocked on the door and entered before I could answer it.
He looked concerned.
"I just saw Violet off; her father sent a car. She was sitting outside all by herself," he explained.
I shrugged, though I felt some pleasure at the thought of Violet sitting outside my family's rundown home for the past hour, waiting for her ride.
"Did you girls have a fight?"
I shrugged again.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
I shook my head, then stuttered, then my eyes filled with tears. "She made fun of my poster," I said finally.
He looked up at it, then back at me, and then in an instant, he seemed to understand.
"Oh, bud," he said, sitting down beside me, "I'm sure she didn't mean to hurt your feelings. You need to remember that things are very different for Violet."
I shrugged, not wanting to admit that I didn't understand.
"You girls will be fine," he said, then smiled. "Your mom's working tonight so I'm in charge of making dinner. I was thinking of making...I don't know, reservations at the pizza place. That sound OK?"
I smiled, finally, for his sake.
And I smiled again, there, in my tiny apartment, and when I caught sight of my rain-streaked face in the reflection from the window, and I felt silly and small.
I poured myself a glass of wine -- even though it wasn't even six -- and turned on a movie.
I'd watched two movies and sipped my way through a bottle of wine when my phone rang again. I glanced at my watch -- it was ten-thirty.
"Kate!" Violet shrieked on the other end, the sound of music, talking, laughter throbbing behind her like a hangover that arrived early.
"Violet? Hello?" I said, pretending to not be able to hear her, even though I could, perfectly. I wanted to delay what I knew was coming next.
"Kate, it's Violet, can you hear me? I'm in your neighborhood," she spoke quickly, as if she knew she didn't have long to plead her case. "I went shopping on Fifth Avenue and found the most adorable shoes, you'll love them. I'm at Bar Door now -- come meet me."
"Violet, what about the contest?" I asked, miserably.
"Oh, Kate, don't be so competitive! I just couldn't bear to be inside any longer," she explained airily, but I knew that by competitive she meant simple, and by simple she meant easily amused. "Please, come on out."
"I can't," I said. "I can't."
She pleaded further, but I didn't hear her. I hung up the phone, and then I turned it off.
I fell asleep on the couch that night, thinking about what my father had said that day, how things were different for Violet. I'd wanted to ask him then, "How? How are they different? And why?" but I hadn't, and in that moment, I realized now, I'd missed a chance to understand something big, something important, something that would have helped me avoid this very moment, and all the ones like it in between.