Bert had a nice way about him in bed, but he was moving into territory reserved for years Elsa had yet to experience and at this time did not want to explore. His manners were nice, his eyes pleaded when he didn’t speak. She pleaded, too, but far more openly. There were moments when that felt wonderful.
So, needless to say, she cut him loose.
Elsa tells herself that she will never give a fuck again. She painted it in red spray paint on a wall outside the wood chip factory. She prays in the direction of the wood chip factory when she feels good again. When she drives to work or school she has to pass the wood chip factory and blesses her forehead, chest, and stomach with a light tap from her right index finger. Elsa prays that she will find the strength to be alone.
She keeps a bottle of the worst whiskey in a cabinet in her bedroom, which remains locked at all times. Her roommates, Poe and Mary, would steal her whiskey. They are in a relationship of proximity with one another and Elsa does not trust them to give each other reason, as they are like her in the way of sense. She keeps only one bottle at a time and does not purchase the next until she is done with the extant whiskey. This is a rule that must be kept.
Elsa walks to her classes in denim pants and large sweaters, regardless of season. She doesn’t know any other way. She attends her Poli. Sci. class at nine o’ clock in the mornings of Monday and Wednesday. Bert is in that class and she does say hello to him but only because it would be rude not to. Bert says hello back and seems to portray the very model of masculine stoicism. Elsa accepts this because he will not pester and she will be allowed to concentrate on classes.
In Poli. Sci. the professor’s name is Klein, and Elsa wants to fuck him. She recognizes it as attraction and considers the reasons to herself until he is done pronouncing and declaring before her and, in her imagination, for her. She does not say goodbye to Bert.
Work for Elsa is about pizza. She does not make the pizza, but she does ring up the pizza. Mexican men in the kitchen make it. One, named Alberto, thinks she would be a nice girl for his nephew, whom he calls Humberto. Elsa does not show interest but wonders what he might be like as the nephew of a pizza man.
Elsa goes to work for four hours on Mondays and Wednesdays. She gets asked about the tattoo on her neck frequently, and always by boys. She tells them it’s a dove. She neglects the most interesting part of the story, which is that she got the tattoo to impress the tattoo artist.
Now you know things about Elsa.
She speaks to her manager like he’s the prince of thieves. Respect, but no trust.
-I’m not going to be able to close next Monday.
-I have an appointment at the doctor’s after class. I’m sorry.
-One week’s notice? You know to give me two weeks, Elsa.
-Yes. It just came up suddenly.
Her manager shakes his head and brings out a worksheet in triplicate held down by a clipboard.
-You’ll have to ask Allyson to work a double.
-It’s your problem to resolve.
Elsa nods and walks out to resume closing the register. She counts the twenties, the tens, the fives, the ones, the fifty cent pieces, the quarters, the dimes, the nickles, and the pennies. Her register is good.
She calls Allyson to ask her if she will please cover her shift the following Monday.
-Yes. I know. I can’t change the appointment. I understand that I owe you. Okay. Bye.
Elsa drives home and opens the cabinet. She sits in bed with her headphones over her scalp and falls asleep when all the whiskey is vanished.
You don’t know this, but Elsa dreams. She dreams that she is running from people and animals. She is always running somewhere and they follow her everywhere so she runs on. She runs from one side of the country to the other and always with different people behind her. She is sometimes wearing a red robe and sometimes nothing at all, except not naked but a floating head, still running ahead of her pursuers. When she stops dreaming, Elsa goes back to sleep.
She rises in her bed with her lips dry and acrid. She removes the headphones before she sees that it is noon and she missed her morning English class. With little time to shower and drive to school she forgoes school and drives to the liquor store for one more bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey and drives away with two more. She returns to find Poe on the living room couch, playing a video game.
-What is that?
Poe’s eyes remain fixed on the screen as he explains that this is a new game from Japan in which he must successfully date a girl and win her heart.
-Do you have sex with her in the game?
-Yea, but it’s about getting her to love you. Then you have sex.
-What if you just want to have sex?
-That’s not how the game works. If you do the wrong things you fail and start over.
Elsa walks into her room and places one bottle in the cabinet. She takes a towel from her closet and enters the bathroom to run a bath. When the foam is well above the top of the tub she removes her clothes, holds the other bottle of whiskey in her hand, and slides in. The water envelops her. She rests and rubs her free hand over her belly until she dreams again.