I like to draw smiley faces on cue balls with dry sharpies. I’m not sure who gave me the habit (family was always meticulous), but it’s always been a private source of joy. It’s not just making the face, it’s the squeak of the ink-strained tip as I press it to the glossed surface. Moving the malleable nib in circles for nearly a half hour, the day’s stress melts away from my grateful fingers.
“Excuse me, would you mind if I took a picture of you for the student paper?” the woman with a camera asked. The study group of four automatically agreed, each choking down their sighs and smoothly cracking smiles down toward the table’s end. In the group is Michael Durnam, a skinny fellow, decked out in full Urban Outfitters armor (a rich, shy sprite doesn’t want to miss an opportunity), who resisted higher education until this past year, enrolling into the community college’s two-year child psychology program while he entertains a possible career with the Child Protection Agency. Darlene Applen, our hero and protagonist, used to be a receptionist—and a good one—until a tragically silly merger forced her to think about school again. She carries around a looming suspicion that she will forever place second in all her relationships and endeavors. In fact, just this morning she correctly imagined that if she were the subject of a novel, she would certainly not be introduced first. The other two, Richard Fierstein (no relation to Harvey he would tell you) and Lisa Cratz are not important, as they are not important to Darlene. They are simply the eccentric entrepreneur and the talker. Michael is a distraction to her, she knows, and far too young, but still, she silently revels in her proximity to the clean cut boy to her right.
“Sorry, can you guys pretend like you’re working? It’d be great to get an action shot. Thanks again,” the woman droned out with a nasally voice.
Everyone shifted to predictable poses. Michael picked up his graphs in one hand and cracked an easy smile, looking down; Richard clasped his hands together, making sure nothing obstructed the sweater’s gray stripe that got a compliment as he came off the bus this morning; and Lisa splayed her hands out fantasizing that she could capture an audience with her squeaky voice. Darlene couldn’t think of any dramatic pose except pushing her felt pen to the open scratch paper and clenching her jaw in anxiety.
Darlene didn’t like her picture being taken. She felt, today, embarrassed for attending a community college in her early forties. She was trapped doing frivolous assignments between cheap, clanking blinds and a woman who talked like a singing mosquito all too incessantly. This wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life. She wanted to help children, not study graphs and charts and read psychological case studies on children from other countries. She wanted to leap far from here and into a fulfilling career, not immortalize her own feelings of inadequacy in the student paper. There are times, however, when Darlene, at her most productive, feels like running down the halls and banging on the doors screaming, “Look at me! I’m doing something with my life!” The productivity never lasts long, but the memory of this feeling serves as a nice study break when she finds herself drowning in stagnant apathy.
Thomas Reddington, with his fingers still prune-y from the steaming bathwater, threw open the glossy windows leading to the veranda draped in nothing but a blue towel and a guitar. Outside, the cream walls enveloped him, cradling him atop the shiny, porcelain platform and with eyes half crazed and half wondrous, Mr. Reddington warmly shifted his gaze to the sea before him—the reason for buying the damned villa fifteen years ago. The expanse of water lazily jaunted around the edge of the dentist’s consciousness as he wafted, still lulled by the dreamy cream. Calmed by the ghostly hand of Mrs. Reddington stoking his hair, as she always used to do, Mr. Reddington let his limp hand fall and strike a chord. Major, sweet, and unmoving it proved to be. The waves lapped in as Mr. Reddington remained fixed on the sea (knowing the kettle was soon to screech) and before he turned in, back to his routine, back to his impassive smile that greeted the deluge of recent condolences, he noticed that to him, now, the sea sang not of its unfurling beauty, but rather a mysterious and unpromising utility. He crawled back inside—his joint pains coming back to him all at once.