Friday, October 16, 2009
Call of Duty
A disheveled young man came up to Valerie and shouted. “Hey. Wadda ya mean standing here lookin’ like that! I wanna know why ya in my way? I wanna take a picture here.”
He was holding a radio with a missing battery cover. Valerie, not turning her head to him said, “You have no film in the camera.”
He looked at his hands. “Well. Then, ya have any spare change?”
The bus was ten minutes late and Valerie’s eyes kept scanning south, as if through directed strength of gaze, the bus would be pulled along, unable to stay Local and become an Express.
She had to get away from this crazy guy. A cab driver obeyed the come-rescue-me pull of Valerie’s finger and without waiting for the door to be fully closed took off. He tried to make small talk with his passenger but she did not have the look of someone who wanted to hear his words. He turned on the radio and did not say anything until he dropped her off at a house.
“Have a good day.”
Valerie turned to him. “It’s seven o’clock in the evening. I had my day and it wasn’t good.”
The women at the house were already seated in the den and drinking. Mimi, the oldest, opened the door. “You’re very late but The Affirmation Society Meeting can now begin.”
The other four stood up and formed a circle with Valerie and Mimi. They began chanting as they did every week.
“I’m valid. You’re valid. We’re valid.”
Mimi motioned for everyone to sit. “Ladies, here is the plan for tonight. First, we will hear a very nice little story from Lucy about her neighbor’s mother who was in the shower when her uterus dropped.”
She sat down and nodded at the frail woman seated across from her who stood up and cleared her throat for a few seconds.
“For our Design and Conquer portion of the evening, we have underwear, fabric glue, sparkles, beads and, oh I can’t remember. Well, nothing else. Wait! There’s also a prize for the best one.” She sat down quickly. The other women, except for Valerie, clapped.
Mimi took over again. She smiled at Valerie. “Dear, for our Open Up and Let your Heart Show segment, you will tell us about your problems with that horrible man? The others nodded vigorously and applauded some more.
The women were waiting for her to begin so Valerie sat and took out five yellow files from her briefcase. As a caseworker, it was her job to make weekly visits to this group home and to make sure that the residents were well. She would not call them crazy, just –
diminished. They had already forgotten their plans for the evening. They always did.
When Valerie walked to a taxi an hour later, she heard her name and looked up to see the elderly Affirmation Society waving and smiling at the door. Mimi blew her a kiss. Valerie knew that after the women closed the door, they would turn to the orderly waiting for them with their last cups of juice. They would sleep very well, the drugs would see to it.
As the car moved away from the curb, the driver spoke. “How are you tonight?”
Valerie looked at his weary face, and smiled.
“Well, actually, I’m valid.”
He laughed. “Aren’t we all.”