On the bus, this guy told me he knew exactly how I felt and it totally pissed me off, even though I only said I was exhausted, which is sort of a general feeling. I wasn’t talking to him, and I didn’t even know him. So he couldn’t know exactly how I felt. He couldn’t know anything about how I felt ever. I ignored him and continued talking to this girl I kind of know. She didn’t say she knew exactly how I felt, so it was ok. That guy was trying too hard and it was not working because I really was exhausted and especially too exhausted to deal with some guy who was trying too hard.
He was kind of cute. I thought if I wasn’t exhausted, I might have let him say stupid crap and said something back. However, I probably wouldn’t have, because I have the dumbest unrequited crush on this guy at work. Worse yet, it is totally clichéd and, like, a billion people know exactly how I feel because the guy at work is my boss.
My boss does not have a crush on me. He sort of hates me. I don’t know why because I never say stupid things like I know exactly how he feels or that I love him so much I want to inhale him and have him live in my lungs, but he doesn’t like me anyways. He is Assistant Director of Fundraising at the University. He hates my writing, doesn’t like how I talk to donors and potential donors, and criticizes how I dress and wear my hair for our stupid beg-for-money luncheons. Rich people don’t want to eat chicken salad and stale rolls, I’m pretty sure, but I don’t say anything, because they give us money. I’m pretty sure they give us money because my boss is beautiful and awesome.
My boss is single. He recently ended a relationship with this woman who’s a first cousin to the Kennedy family or something. She isn’t pretty or smart or funny, and she laughs like a guy, loud and sloppy, but she doesn’t seem fun at all. I guess my boss might be an opportunist, but I still love him.
My boss’s name is Richard, but I swear he goes by Dick. By choice. I mean, who chooses willingly to be addressed by a slang term for a man’s genitals? But nobody laughs, because Dick is beautiful and smart and … beautiful, and, damn, that man is beautiful. And I think it just makes women think of having sex with him and it makes men feel less masculine, which makes them want to be around him, so they can at least be friends with a perfect man. Maybe his glow will hide their flaws. It’s kind of sad, but I totally get it. I used to hang out with prettier girls. We are only subsets of our associations.
Sometimes when I’m with Dick, I sort of pretend we’re a couple. I say “we” as much as I can without invoking his attention. At those times, I’m glad he pretty much doesn’t know I’m alive. I stand slightly behind him, close. I breathe him in, not close enough to take him into my lungs, but close enough to smell him. Cologne and starch from his perfectly laundered shirts.
I date boys who smell like sweat or dryer sheets. They are boys and they are not Dick, who neither knows nor cares exactly how I feel. I think I will talk to the bus guy tomorrow. He wore a starched shirt and looked like someone he ignored or hated might love him. I will ask him what I am feeling, exactly, and hope he gets it wrong.
Mona called them antiques, when she called them anything. We called them junk, spelled “junque,” gently mocking her in emails in which we paid her passing attention. We saw her and her collection of lamps found at yard sales, on sidewalks next to garbage bins, as old and pitiful. Beyond utility and better unseen.
She spent Social Security checks on lamps and on light bulbs she could not afford, though many of the lamps did not work. Her much younger half sister, Martha, forced her mechanically inclined son to visit Mona to re-wire salvageable lamps.
Mitch was seventeen and disliked the smell of old things and people. But Mona did not try to talk to him. She did not ask him about school or girlfriends or try to give him butterscotch candies or fruit cocktail, so he didn’t put up much fight. He didn’t tell his mother about the money Mona gave him for his efforts. His time was worth more than Martha’s promises of eternal salvation in the name of Jesus.
Nobody remembered when the collecting began. Nobody remembered a time when Mona was not surrounded by lamps. Some of us inherited pushed out furniture. Her queen-size mattress replaced with a twin, the twin given up for sleep on the sofa. China cabinet, dresser, kitchen table and chairs, television set, gone. The china went with the china cabinet, pictures left the walls, almost no clothing remained in closets. The dining room table and a number of end tables held lamps, some with shades, some without. A few shades awaited lamps, but never for long.
She did not collect a specific design or era or even size of lamp. She took in table lamps, floor lamps, bankers’ lamps, sconces, chandeliers, torchieres. Ornate and plain. Hobnailed milk glass lanterns, goosenecked desk lamps. Lamps that were cheap when new. Art deco, mid-century, plain. A few Stiffels and Coopers purchased with hoarded money.
Mona was never married, never had children. She never seemed to want those things. We saw her at Christmas at Martha’s house. She spoke little and gave us each wilted $5 bills in cheap Wal-Mart cards. We gave her crisp $20s. She was in excellent health, lived in a rent-controlled apartment, and had a slight appetite. We knew where our money would go. Her habit was simple and harmless. If we had been asked, we would have said we loved Mona, because that is what you say of relatives. More accurately, we appreciated Mona for her quiet existence that came with no demands.
We wondered about her electric bills, but Mitch informed us that she did not keep all of the lamps lit, even after he fixed them. She rotated their use. Mitch said she did not do anything while he was there, and likely when he wasn’t. She did not read, or cook, or knit. She did not have a pet. She sat on her sofa, blanket and pillow arranged neatly at one end, sometimes looked around, eyes alighting on one lamp or another briefly. Her only activity appeared to be accumulating.
On one of his weekly visits, Mitch found Mona. If she had been sick, nobody knew. She had designated a lamp for each of us. The others were marked for Goodwill. Our lamps suited us, as if Mona had bought or found them with us in mind. As if she had seen us in her light.
About the Author: Lauren Becker is editor of Corium Magazine. Her work has appeared in numerous venues, including Tin House online, The Rumpus, Alice Blue, and Wigleaf. Her collection of short fiction, If I Would Leave Myself Behind, was released by Curbside Splendor in 2014.
Photo Credits: Leesa Cross-Smith, Lindsey Gates-Markel