Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Dream Crib

She finally broke her gaze from the pot of water, as though mindful of the adage that a watched one never boils, to open up the pantry to search for something extra to throw in the soup. As a child, she'd loved making it with black pepper, though it may just have been that it was the one seasoning they actually kept on hand. Her mother was fond of throwing it into her mouth as punishment for using curse words in her presence, and as a result she had developed the taste for it. Their current pantry held cinnamon, rock salt, not much else usable.
She tried the fridge. A bottle of Grey Goose which she had not noticed before was sitting there. The buzz from the weed was dwindling into a slow, silent hum, and she thought a little vodka might be just the thing for it. Stirring the noodles in with the seasoning, she popped the bottle and measured out a cup. "I will not get drunk tonight," she said out loud.
She started crying just as the noodles had reached their desired level of firmness and the flavoring in the soup had found its consistency. Everything was balanced out, just the way she liked it, little bubbles clinging to the edges of the noodles, steam circling upward from the bowl she poured the broth into. It was all perfect. She threw the cup of vodka in and mixed it around, and cried softly, almost unaware of herself.
The bolt to the door turned just then, and Naomi walked in the door, tapping on her phone, not looking up. Calisto sniffed and carried her bowl over to the couch.
"You turned the light on... Smells good in here," Naomi said.
"Do you want some? It's got vodka in it."
"Vodka? Jesus H., Calisto, you're fucking stoned!"
"I've been crying but I'm okay."
"Oh my god babe, I'm so sorry. What did that guy do to you?"
"Nothing. We got ice cream. He hates Eric."
"I won't abandon you like that again, honest to Christ I've been running guilt trips the whole night. I invited you out and ditched you. If I ever do that again you can unfriend me."
"It was nice. We have a scary amount of things in common. And this is so good, you now have to try some," she blew on a forkful of hot noodles and offered them up.
"Thanks. Okay, you got me, I kind of heard some things about the freak's life story and thought, Hey, he sounds kind of like you. Maybe that's what you need. But that was a mistake and now I feel awful."
"Don't, come on. I'm serious, he's a nice guy. Yeah he's strange, but I don't know anyone who isn't. Thank you. Thank you for introducing us. This is gonna sound dumb, but I feel like I turned some kind of page tonight."
"Yeah well, next time I leave you alone with some guy who has drugs, call me up."
Calisto smiled to herself and packed her mouth with another forkful of vodka saimin. She was smiling because the last time Naomi had left her alone with a guy who was holding, that guy was James and the drug was coke and they'd ended up fucking off and on for 10 or 11 months before he finally made a clean break from her. Calisto would never think of blaming Naomi for that outcome, but her friend tended to hold herself responsible for any disasters that may befall her. Although their relationship had never become defined enough for him to be considered her "boyfriend" it was the last intimate one she'd had and if she didn't think of him as that the alternative was to loathe herself and languish in shame. She'd thought of herself as free and open at the time, when was she really was was attached and lovesick. And she had never wanted to be one of those girls -- unable to distance herself from the emotions a man had made her feel, always deluding herself that this time, no this time when he breaks down in tears and begs her to come back and swears that his father never showed him how to be faithful so how could he learn it from scratch, this time he wouldn't turn around the next day and start cheating on her with the first fair-looking piece of ass he laid eyes on, he would control what he referred to as his "sickness", he would love only her.
Recalling the drama made her realize that perhaps Naomi had been on to something -- Monte couldn't have been different from James, and that had to have been taken into consideration. Afraid she'd made Monte out to be a shadier character than he actually was, she downplayed her uneasiness with the note they'd ended the night on and backpedaled. "He's probably the type of guy who would be good for me. Which might explain why we have no compatibility on that kind of ground whatsoever."
"You sure about that? I think he digs you." Naomi was calling this from the hallway bathroom, her toothbrush working though the garble.
"Then it's a one-way thing. Actually, he wouldn't stop talking about his failed marriage." It's wasn't true, and Calisto had no reason to lie about it. Yet the fallout from his previous relationship had hung in the background of their entire evening, like an unremarked-upon odor.
"Well, better luck with the next one." She emerged from the hallway in her robe, taking her hair down. "I think this is a good start for you. Besides, any experience is better than none, right?"
Calisto shrugged. Mixing vodka with two bags roast beef saimin noodle soup had not been a bad idea. The first few bites were savory, but the alcohol had meddled with the consistency of the broth and rendered the whole mess soggy and unappetizing. She put it aside, resolving to finish it later.
"Listen," Naomi went on, "I have to talk serious for a second. Eric's manager friend found this really cute duplex for you. It's in Kaimuki, you'd have to find a ride. But we would help you out with that until then. Three other girls live there, they all work super hard and none of them have pets. It's perfect."
"Can we not do this right now?"
"Look, I know you're holding out for that raise, or that promotion, whatever it is. But in your price range, this is as good as it will get right now."
"I had a couple more months, or thought I did."
"And you can always look around once you get established. Now we've carried you this far, and you know I hate to do this. But it's time to get realistic."
"I just remembered, I have to go smoke --" Calisto got up and opened her pack. "Twelve cigarettes in a row. Let's pick this up later, okay?"
"At least look at the place," Naomi stopped her on the way to the door and pressed a card into her hand. "You can check out the pics on Craigslist. It'll mean a lot to me if you look. It's the best place yet."
"Thanks," said Calisto, accepting the card without looking at it, making haste to get out the door, like a guilty shoplifter.
You weren't supposed to sneak onto the roof of their building via an old fire exit on their floor. If the manager saw her going up there she would catch hell for it; even a member of the maintenance crew who did repairs in the apartments had managed to get a former tenant evicted when they were caught using that stairway, which was a safety hazard that never got brought up to code. But it was late and she was alone, so the noise which commonly gave away would-be prowlers and trespassers could be kept to a minimum. This rooftop had always been Calisto's favorite spot to smoke, and she crouched near the edge lifting deadly toxins into her face and exhaling them out again.
She liked this particular roof for a specific reason, though. She could look down on the Dream Crib from up here. The pool on the roof of the Dream Crib was empty, but the lights to the pool were turned on, and the pale blue water in it rippled and undulated, reflecting back the higher lights of the city to their sources. This was where she had planned on living once Naomi and Eric got married. A modest enough building from the outside, but with luxurious 2 bed/2 bath rental units that each took up one half of an entire floor, in a plum location mere blocks from the ocean that was adjacent enough to the heart of downtown without being surrounded by its most congested areas (like the Seafood Square where she worked). She could've afforded it too, if she had been able to convince James, who was a commercial real estate developer, to move in there with her. The owner of the unit she wanted, on the 6th floor, was a friend of his family and would've pro-rated their rent and deposit. The idea that she stayed with him (or tried to) for so long because his salary would've made it possible for her to live in the Crib of her Dreams was one of the guilty, shameful thoughts that drove her to do things like smoke entire packs of smokes in a single night or sit in dark rooms neglecting her most basic desires. This was partly why it was important to convince herself that she had been in love; it seemed to justify the lengths she went to more so than rational concerns like living arrangements and financial solvency. You can question motives that are based in pragmatic reasoning more scrutinously than you can ones that stemmed from emotions and unaccountable human attractions. Matters of the heart have the advantage of being beyond debate.
The truth was, Calisto could've afforded it herself after her mother had died, at least initially. When she'd sold her clothing label to a friend who owned her own boutique she had kept an interest in the rival company as part of the deal, which had grown considerably in the years following and would cash out and be left to her daughter in the event of her death. True, the few tens of thousands that this investment was worth would only cover about half a years's rent at the Dream Crib (not counting the cost of utilities and the basic essentials of a comfortable life), but there were moments when Calisto had seriously contemplated quitting her job with the Hawaiian Airlines customer service center, moving into the place alone, and just living in lap of luxury, generally spending that time recuperating from the challenges of the past year and figuring out where she truly wanted to go next from there, until her inheritance was all used up. This was the stuff of idle fantasy of course, and even in her worst moments she knew this sort of life would soon lead to boredom and restlessness, and the pain of being evicted from her Dream Crib would far outweigh the quiet comfort of spending a few months there.
No, the Dream Crib was not a place you spent a few days in like a timeshare, it was a place where you went to retire. She knew on some level that she would be unable to drag her standard of living backward once she had experience such a radical upgrade. Anyplace she moved after that would seem poor and depressing in comparison. Another part of her fear of letting things finally end with James was that it had honest-to-God been the most stable and healthy relationship she'd yet experienced with a man (which was saying something in itself), and the thought of leaving that and ending up in something that didn't quite match it, or worse, simply repeated her old cycles of pining after boys who never seemed to return the same measure of affections was just too heartbreaking to face. It was the same way with the Dream Crib. She hadn't wanted to move there unless it was going to be a permanent move, and after James broke it off with her she lost all desire to live there at all. It was the kind of place you wanted to share.

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