Wonder When You’ll Miss Me (5 page)

BOOK: Wonder When You’ll Miss Me
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I loved working at Ibarista's Bakery. I had a knack for making icing flowers, Mrs. Ibarista said. I was a natural. It made me very happy: the delicacy of the icing, the careful way I had to squirt food coloring to mix just the right shade of pink or blue or peach; the smell of the worn back room, all sugar and sweetness that seeped into my clothes when I left. And I loved the flowers themselves, spun on small plastic platforms, dainty and fine.

But I quit when I started my sophomore year of high school. I told her it was because I didn't have enough time for my homework, but really it was because so many high school kids came to Ibarista's when classes let out and I saw how they looked at me, fat as I was, surrounded by cakes and pastries and pies. I saw the pity and disgust that flashed across their faces like sudden pain.

But I couldn't tell Mrs. Ibarista that was the reason. She would have said,
Faith, you gotta not listen to these kids, okay? They don't know you, what do you care what they think?

She couldn't understand how much I did care. How desperately I wanted to avoid drawing attention to my enormous size. Or, as Mrs. Ibarista liked to say, “my chunkiness.” There was little room for pity in Mrs. Ibarista's world. Life was about being tough and accepting whatever gritty hand you'd been dealt by a fierce and vengeful God, then just getting on with things.

When I quit, Mrs. Ibarista was rolling flaky dough for lemon custard tarts. She gave me a long hard look, then wiped her hands on a cloth and
pulled me to her and hugged me. She drew her lips together and sighed heavily.

“Faithy,” she said. “You do what you gotta do. I will miss you and the customers will miss you.”

Then she went back to rolling the dough.

At first I stopped in and visited after school. She had a new girl working there then. A pasty blond girl named Tammy, from the private Catholic school, who didn't quite meet your eyes when you spoke to her.

But after Homecoming I never went in again. I had this sense that Mrs. Ibarista would take one look at my face and know. She'd always known the truth without my telling it and I couldn't bear to have her narrow her eyes the way she did, and put her hands on either side of her floury apron and shake her head in disappointment. Or throw her head back so that her dark hair almost touched her back and shout at God in Italian. I couldn't and I didn't. I never went in again.

 

I wanted to leave like an explosion. It was no longer a question of whether or not to go. It was just a question of when and how.

I bought a small blue notebook and began to jot down ideas. Leaving, it seemed to me, was both incredibly simple and heavily complex. Whatever idea for escape I had, I wrote it down:
Train. Bus. Cruise ship.
I felt like the answer was just ahead of me somewhere, but I had no idea what it was. I jotted down ideas for money as well, jobs I could do, skills I had:
clerk, cashier, waitress, baby-sitter
.

Of course, I did not mention any of it to Fern Hester.

The fat girl coached me on the way to Fern's office. “Nothing,” she kept saying. “Nothing at all.” On the bus, “Faith, I mean it—you watch what you say.” And in the elevator up, “…because you just let things slip sometimes, Faith, and we can't risk that. Especially if everything goes as planned.”

As planned.

As planned meant
striking back
. As planned meant
leaving like you mean it.
As planned meant
something to remember you by.

We had not yet reached an agreement about what was planned.

 

I applied to be a cashier at the SaveLots, at Bandy Drugs, at the local U-Haul, at Mitler's Grocery. I applied to stock inventory at a ball-bearing
warehouse, answer phones at a clinic, and sell encyclopedias. I even applied to do absolutely anything at the Gleryton animal shelter.

“You can volunteer,” the tired woman who took the application clipboard from me said. “But there's a waiting list for that, too.”

No one hired me.

Each application I filled out was drenched in so much hope that it affected my penmanship and infused my answers. I became better at filling out forms. Now under “position” at Ibarista's Bakery, I wrote:
Confectionery Technician
. Under reason for leaving I wrote:
Needed at home
. I was learning that a manipulation of the facts was absolutely in order. No one needed to know anything else factual, for that matter. By the time I applied at the BumperLube to be an “appointment specialist,” I had worked myself into a lying lather, inventing jobs and skills and positions and amazing horizons of experience I had never even imagined possible. If I could leave and tackle the world on my own, what did I need with
absolute
truth? Truth was as malleable as time, it seemed to me, or fate. There was no reason to feel limited by the facts.

Amy's After School Care, Tino's Pizzeria, Gino's Pizzeria, Gino's Pizzeria Two, the LeBlanc Restaurant, landscaping, managing the Treasure Chest Arcade—I even tried to get a paper route. My expectations had been low, then high, then desperate and all-encompassing. But I grew tired of smiling while people with jobs looked me up and down and tried to decide what I was worth.

I began to doubt the plan.

“We could go see the guidance counselor,” the fat girl said. We were sitting on the low wall watching people change classes. The fat girl had cotton candy. The wind kept blowing her hair into it and she was absorbed by picking pink fluff from her long brown bangs.

“I don't want to see the guidance counselor,” I said. I knew I sounded pissy, but I also knew Mrs. Twine would just smile at me in that pitying way she had, and I'd feel even more hopeless and incapable.

“She might know something,” the fat girl said.

I ignored her. Across from us I saw a cluster of boys collecting, their backs angled in a huddle. One of them looked over his shoulder at me and then quickly looked away.

“Let's go, Faith,” the fat girl said. Her voice was firm but urgent. I couldn't quite breathe.

“Hey!” She yanked my elbow so that I nearly lost my balance. “Up. Now.”

“O
kay!
” I shook myself free and stomped off towards my locker. I resisted the urge to see if they watched.

 

Clark's was a big fancy restaurant with brightly colored umbrellas hanging from the ceiling. All of the waitresses wore white shirts and identical neckties swimming with green and orange fish. It was a place I'd been taken for birthdays and I figured it would be a good place to work.

I didn't know what to wear, but the fat girl suggested black and white. “Dress like them and they'll hire you,” she said. “Works every time.”

“Like you've ever even been to a job interview,” I said.

But in the end I listened to her and walked the whole way there in a pair of black jeans and one of my dad's old white oxford shirts.

The restaurant sat by itself surrounded by a parking lot. It looked dark inside and there weren't many cars.

“You wait out here,” I said, but she just snorted and ignored me, following behind, sucking on a Popsicle.

I pushed through the heavy wooden doors and stood blinking in the sudden darkness, waiting for my eyes to adjust. Near the entrance a perky brunette with inches of makeup watched me from a lectern. She smiled, then looked me up and down.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

Behind her, teams of white-shirted women lit candles all over the restaurant, each bending with a flame, then rising, pivoting, and bending again, like large, clumsy moths. Directly ahead, a tall guy with spiky red hair was wiping glasses with a rag and hanging them from a rack above his head. My courage began to falter.

“Um, I was just wondering…”

My voice sounded thin and high. I cleared my throat.
Buck up,
I told myself,
buck up
. But inside I felt a creeping sense of shame. They were never going to hire me. All these people were beautiful, fresh faced, and perky. Not the kind of people who'd want me around.

“I was wondering if you're hiring,” I blurted.

The woman gave me a warm smile. “Well, not right now, but things turn over quickly around here and we may be looking soon. What's your name?”

“Faith Duckle.”

“And, Faith, how old are you?”

“Sixteen,” I said, shifting from one foot to the other.

“Sixteen,” she repeated, and I saw her thinking. “Well, you can't serve alcohol unless you're eighteen,” she said finally. “So waiting tables is out, you have a little time there, but are you willing to work hard? We may have an opening for a busboy…busgirl soon. Do you want to fill out an application?”

“Sure,” I said. I wasn't sure what a busgirl was but it sounded fine. She led me to one of the tables and gave me a black pen and a sheet of paper littered with questions.

When I had finished, I brought it back and stood awkwardly, trying to figure out what to do with my hands. “Thank you,” I said, overly bright, and smiled as wide as I could, baring my teeth and willing myself to look as shiny and fresh as someone who deserved to be there. Then the fat girl scooped up a handful of mints and I followed her out the door.

 

I walked home from Clark's thinking grand thoughts. I would work hard and then we would take off, abandoning school and the terrible claustrophobic familiarity of Gleryton.

“I bet they'll hire me,” I said, talking as fast as the words could come. “I'll work really hard and I bet I'll make a lot of money. They must make a lot of money, huh? How much do you think we need?”

The fat girl kicked along beside me with her hands behind her back. She didn't say anything. Finally I couldn't take it. I stopped by the side of the road.

“What?” I said.

She sighed and looked beyond my shoulder to the field that bordered the road. “You are still going to have to
do
something to strike back. You can't just leave like nothing happened. You have to make a point.”

“Oh please,” I said. “Be serious. There's nothing for me to do. I mean what
point
could I possibly make before we leave?”

“You
know,
Faith,” she said. “You know what you have to do.”

I pushed past her and began to run as fast as I could in the direction of my house. My head pounded in time with my feet, asphalt crunched beneath me. My face was warm and sweat began to stream down my back, soaking my father's shirt. I only looked over my shoulder once. The fat girl was a blue dot in the distance.

 

The next day I was supposed to go see Fern Hester. The fat girl walked ahead of me eating a string of licorice, and the sun filtered through the
pine trees and played over the top of her head so that her hair, dancing with light, looked shiny and smooth. Her sleeves were pushed up and the skin at her elbows dimpled where the fat gathered. She wasn't speaking to me. All day she'd been following me around like a petulant shadow, sighing and snorting, but didn't answer when I asked what her problem was.

We shifted in the sun and ignored each other until the bus pulled up. Then I slung my backpack over my shoulder and climbed on board. I slid my coins into the slot and walked back without looking at the driver.

The fat girl rode for free.

The bus was mostly empty. I walked halfway back, took a window seat, and leaned my head against the cool glass. Through the window the world looked distant and manageable.

Soon we zoomed down the highway, heading downtown, and the fat girl, who still hadn't spoken, began to hum beside me.

Leaving on a jet plane

Don't know when I'll be back again…

“All right, already,” I said as quietly as I could. “I get it.”

She stopped humming and looked at me. “Do you, Faith? Because I hate to think I've been wasting my time.”

I didn't answer. Ahead of me an old lady whose hair was so thin her pink scalp shone through sat next to a guy in an army jacket leaning forward, reading something in his lap. The bus smelled like exhaust. I was tired, so tired.

It was three forty-five. I had fifteen minutes before my appointment with Fern and I didn't want to go. I didn't want to talk about how I felt or what I thought or my father or my mother or any of it at all. I didn't want to say anything.

We got off at our stop and the bus lurched away, leaving a small cloud of gray smoke and a quiet space where its noise had been. I whipped around. Behind me ugly apartment buildings punched the wide sky. Even the trees lining the sidewalk seemed sharp and hostile. I stepped off the curb and onto mulch and made my way to a weathered wooden bench, where I sat.

I put my head in my hands and looked at my feet, tucked in their dirty suede sneakers. It was all so outrageously boring, all this talking. Where was the part of me that was angry? The part that made me want to claw the sky?

“I'm right here,” the fat girl said. “Faith, I'm here.”

She put her arm around me and pulled me to her, whispering all sorts of things. “We're going to leave,” she was saying. “Honey, I believe in you. We're going to survive and we're going to have fun. You just watch. You just sit back and watch.”

 

I skipped my appointment. I was surprised that the fat girl didn't try to talk me out of it, just looked over her shoulder at the Annex building for a minute, then nodded quietly and rubbed my arm.

“Maybe it is time for a break,” she said. “Let's walk around. Let's go look at the pawnshops. Or…what do you want to do?”

“That's fine,” I said. But that wasn't what I wanted to do. The roads were mostly empty of people. Cars whizzed by, one after the other, but except for the occasional drooping old man on a bench, there weren't many people on this stretch of Gleryton Road Extension. Then we came to regular Gleryton Road. Here was a band of old shops, many of which were now vacant. They had once been the center of everything, before the strip malls and shopping malls began to cluster outside the Yander section of Gleryton. I liked this part of town, its old-fashioned architecture and empty streets. The shops here were small and dusty or boarded up. They all had family names in faded letters:
WALKER'S SHOE REPAIR
,
THOMPSON'S DRY CLEANING
,
J
.
LIPSKY FURNITURE
. All the chain stores had opened in the malls. My favorite thing for a while had been to wander down South Cherry Road and stop in the three pawnshops there, just looking at the things people traded away.

BOOK: Wonder When You’ll Miss Me
9.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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