His girlfriend follows him around like a sad- eyed puppy dog. She’s buying him candy bars and trotting behind him trying to give him half. She’s the fleshy type — breasts bouncing and jiggling under her sweater. She left her husband and her kids for him. He’s the handsomest one in the building. It’s his face and his body and those thighs packed into Levi’s 501’s. All the women flirt with him and it’s because he’s handsome. The best looking ones get everything, in the end.
He’s staring at you from his truck and revving up the engine on the coldest nights in winter the year you met at work. You work together at a newspaper and you have just graduated from college. You look different than most of the women that work there because of your clothes. You’re fashionable. You love shoes and the most modern outfits. You read fashion magazines as if they are stylistic bibles.
The men in the building don’t understand you. Neither do the women. They give you the job of proofreader in those years. You sit at a little desk in the room where the whole newspaper comes together. Composing, they call it. Everything gets read — every word, every sentence, every article. You come in to work in those years and the baskets of reading overflow. There is a buzz and hum to it all, an excitement. You’re paid well, too. Your salary has doubled overnight once you took the new job.
You’re the night proofreader. All day you are free to do what you want. You go to the beach and walk for hours by the sea. In the summers you’ll be coming in all sandytan, and the sand clings to your feet. You buy pink jelly sandals. He tells you later that they reminded him of fish and chip baskets. He and his friend grab one of your shoes and toss it around, playing on the back dock. It’s his way of flirting.
“You’re such a food snob.”
“No I’m not.”
“Yeah, you are.”
They look at your carrot soup and your baguette from the little French bistro that has opened on State Street. Most of them bring their own lunches to work. They carry these in grubby plastic containers that are stained from so much usage.
You can hear the men laughing at your raincoat as you come in to work. It’s the most current Danish design, huge and baggy like the 80’s clothes are. You bury your body inside the fabric. It’s chaste that way at work. Women don’t like women who dress too sexily, and you find this out because they take you along with them, all the women from the typist’s pool — the ones who had made fun of your clothes and your fresh French soup and your coat — just like the men did –they take you along to the fast food hamburger place one night so they can gossip about his girlfriend.
Her sweaters are too tight, and so are her pants. Her sweaters are too low cut and this makes the women want to tear into her. They do this while they stuff down the french fries and the hamburgers and their giant-sized soft drinks.
The moneymen that run the place have a program to train you to be something called a journeyman. Each new thing you learn is worth about a dollar an hour. You tell them you want to be part of this. You’re getting raises. You’re earning real money. You’re getting you first credit card because you graduated from the university and it’s just like your grandfather’s and your Uncle’s. It’s green and they carried theirs around the world and you plan to, too.
“Look what I got!”
At least it feels like freedom, and soon you are using it to take all your friends out for dinner, because you can, and you are buying more clothes than you ever needed.
“I’d be careful with that if I were you,” he laughs.
You smile at him. He’s so quiet most of the time. He’s already traveled the world too, everywhere — and this intrigues you. You want to know everything. He seems so cosmopolitan.
Years later you remember the way his hands used to shake when he had to pay for something. He carried his money in a golden clip like his golden watch. His hands would start to shake as they peeled off one of his many hundred dollar bills to pay for dinner.
You’re just the opposite aren’t you? You like to pick up all the tabs. You like to buy all the presents and now you’re making enough money to make everyone happy. You can help your mother. You can help your brother if you need too. You’re a moneyman too.
You realize later that he saw you as a moneymaker. For himself. You wonder if it was love, or money that was motivating him.
You wanted to be like your grandfather with his little green card and all of his traveler’s checks and his passport. You wanted to be able to pick up all the checks for your friends and sit at the head of the table. Your hands didn’t shake, did they? You liked to pay for things.
“Stop buying things for him.”
“He isn’t spending a dime on you.”
“Mom, I’m married.”
“Keep some money for yourself.”
“Mom, you don’t understand.”
She gives him an antique picture of a moneyman with bulging pockets and a big top hat. He doesn’t know anything about antiques because he never had any.
“I’m going to give this vase to Dennis,” you say.
It’s a Chinese bronze that belonged to your Uncle.
“You’re not giving that away,” he says.
“I want to, it was my Uncle’s.”
Your voice trails off. Dennis was your therapist and you knew he would love it. His partner was an Art Historian just like you.
“I want to give it to him.”
But you don’t, because he has forbidden it.
He takes you to meet one of his old friends the year after you marry. He’s going to be doing your taxes. He works in one of the glazed roof buildings downtown. He’s an accountant. You are sitting there as a brand new wife with your brand new gold ring that traps your finger in an orb on the hand that wants to make pottery so you can have a baby.
You’d been taking classes and you thought you were going to be able to make a living at it. You’d gotten good. People were telling you that. You’d given everyone at work little presents you were making.
“It doesn’t make any sense for you to take a part time job right now,” the accountant says.
He’s sitting behind a large brown desk in a corner office. They’d known each other since high school.
“I want to try and have a baby,” you said.
By then your job was becoming more stressful.
“I think you should wait,” the accountant says.
The two of them nod their heads in unison.
It’s as if they have reached some kind of pact over the taxes, and the property and whether you are ever going to be able to be a mother…
This is the beginning of your silence. All of a sudden you are wearing invisible chains.
“moneymen” — copyright 2011 — by Valentine Bonnaire — all rights reserved