The Commodore (1997)
Sarah Gallien

Lu slides out of the door, hard-plodding. Her eyes shift across the horizon like a dot-matrix. “She’s got a real thing about eye-contact,” she says making eye-contact. “I think it’s about dominance.”

I slip my red hat from its pocket. I look down at my shoes.

She faces the horizon. Her eye-slits stab-stab-stab the nothing as she piles a mass of red curls atop her head and chop-sticks it there. “Don’t break eye-contact,” she says.

I nod.

She nods.

We allow an awkward moment to quietly acknowledge our situation—this shitty little boat we’re in together—before she walks away.

I check-my-watch/lean-against-the-cool-concrete-building. The sun’s making the buildings mist like cold-smoke/cold-fire and I wonder for a moment if they’ve called my parental units. Then I feel the earth sliding away from me. The Hill—not eroding but—melting away, its matchsticky staircases hanging without their buildings for a moment before they’re swept down and out.
This whole thing is just a gross over-reaction to a few stray comments. They’re shocked to discover a dead child among them after all those years of dying.

“I want[…] to meet in the real world that unsubstantial image which [my] soul so constantly beh[olds].1 Right?

And there are, actually, children dying. Children-actually-dying. In Bosnia, Rwanda. I play solitaire on my laptop for hours—If you’re real, God, deal me an eight. And kids die here too—Megan, anorexic, out of school for the year; Kendal in rehab. Busy outpatients, busy-busy. I don’t like giving up control, but there are kids doing X I hear. Caffeine pills cascade across hardwood floors, filling gymnasiums to the skylights. It’s a lot of pressure I guess but “boo-hoo” for the rich kids.

“Alex?” Her pinch of a face, weathered and humorless, levels with mine. Her skirt, blouse, blazer set—blue, unremarkable. Remarkable only in that it’s unremarkable—plain, I’m sure by design. She’s on-time-to-the-second and when I step into the office I see it is so small there’s only just enough room for two chairs and a desk—the desk pushed up against one wall. It’s a half-hexagon and, where I’m supposed to be sitting, I won’t be able to see the door. The door will open into me. The window’s covered with parcel paper. Weathered, it’s cracking. I put on my hat. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to sit. But, clearly, there’s no other choice.

I hear the click of the lock behind me and I take some small breaths. I remind myself it’s okay. It’s okay because I am small but I am quick. My hormones make me superhuman. I am young and virile and I can always take up that office phone, though it’s across my body, I can take up that phone and beat her till she’s still.

I hear the dull wet thud of it. Again. And again and again.

And again.

“Do you know why you’re here?” she asks.

I interlace my fingers. I don’t, actually, know why I’m there. Not actually. It’s been a difficult week. I am difficult. There may have been swearing. I’m not always in uniform.

“Your friends are worried about you.”

I make a face.

“That surprises you?” she says. “They said you talked about killing yourself.”

I am surprised, actually. Actually-actually. Surprised I have friends. Surprised they are worried about me. Surprised I talked about killing myself. I think back over the past few days and when I remember, I probably make another face, because somebody’s failed to account for the overall tone of the conversation, failed to relay its obvious contextual framework. Because that person is not, actually, a friend of mine. That person probably saw some PSA and is now shrill-humming Gee-Ef E Geeee and feeling pretty good about herself, about doing The Right Thing. Pat on the head. Good girl.

And I suppose I should be angry. I mean, I’m going to kill her! That’s what I should be thinking. Or should I be crying? Jesus. All those pleas for intervention, ‘Oh my God, my parents are going to kill me!’ they say. They say it all the time, but self-immolation… One off-hand comment and everyone’s a hero.

I don’t know what it would take. I love you. I’d set myself on fire. Seriously. Hannah…

“Do you want to kill yourself?”

I almost say no. Because, at this moment, I don’t. I almost say yes, because her tone is combative and I’m quick to combat, but I know the only way to combat someone who’s trying to provoke you is to stay calm. So I calm. I calm like there’s a war on. I will calm the fuck out this shit, I think, and I don’t say anything for the rest of the meeting. There’s a ten minute period at the end where she doesn’t speak either and tries to stare me down, but my will is strong and I know the hour’s ending. I will freeze you right out of your job, I think. This is my deer burning hat.

And within a week, she’s gone.

1. James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: The Modern Library, 1996), 85.

Sarah Gallien raises two small children in an old northwest river town. She’s got work in the Fanzine, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and elsewhere. Find her online here.