John and Silke
After waking, Silke made her way down the stairs to the kitchen. The shock was beginning to wear off, and she decided to take her time and look around a bit. The stairway was lined with framed photos. Silke and Ariana with their arms around each other’s shoulders in what looked like a dorm room; Silke, Ariana, and Silke’s mother sitting around the kitchen table in the house; a teenaged Silke in a red kerchief and a pair of Jackie O. sunglasses smiling into the camera below the Weltzeituhr, the World Clock, in Berlin.
Looking at these photos, Silke decided she had to read further in the diary. In John’s world, he and Ariana had long since moved out of the dorms when they first met. Not only that, Ariana had never even spoken with John’s mother, apart from a few awkward moments when she’d picked up the phone when she’d spend the night at his house. She remembered very well the cross looks she – John – had gotten from Ariana on those occasions: “John, why don’t you ever talk to your mother?”
As she passed through the doorway to the kitchen and moved toward the coffeemaker, she noticed a note on the carafe:
Hey Sweetie, the coffee’s fresh. I made the chocolate crème kind you like so much. I hope you’re feeling better, and I want you to know that I am always there if you need to talk. See you after class this afternoon, XOXO Ariana.
PS. Your mom called earlier, but she didn’t want to wake you, so she’ll be calling in a few hours.
Silke filled up one of the big, rounded, purple coffee mugs from the cabinet and stuck it into the microwave. She counted down with the timer for the minute that lay between her and tasty, caffeinated goodness. The bit that Ariana had seen fit to include in a PS could wait until the coffee was ready.
With a piercing BEEP!, the microwave announced that the coffee was now available. Silke yanked it out of the microwave, and took a first careful sip. It burned her lips, but she decided to keep drinking. She’d never had chocolate crème coffee before, at least as far as she could tell from her memories as John. It sounded like the kind of stuff Ariana was always trying to get John to develop a taste for. After two sips, Silke pronounced it delicious. Perhaps, though, it was too good. She resolved to pick up a jar of instant coffee later that afternoon.
Her mother. Just what she needed. Phone calls from Mother mostly evinced pangs of guilt. John never called, and, on the rare occasions when his mother called and he picked up, the conversation was a tense affair that usually revolved around the weather and car trouble, interspersed with an abundance of awkward silence. She was not looking forward to it. But something about the vibe she got from the photo she’d seen in the stairway, where she, her mother, and Ariana were together, made her a little curious. The smiles in that photo didn’t seem forced at all they seemed to be genuinely enjoying each other’s company. Who knew?
This kitchen, Silke noted, was nothing like John’s. John’s kitchen was populated mostly by thrift-store cookware and what John liked to call his “picnic motif,” all paper and disposable plastic, all the time. He’d kept it quite clean, especially since he rarely did more there than microwave or reheat. But it was not in the same league as this place. The cabinets were all whitewashed, with bright red knobs. The range looked to be brand new, as did all the other appliances. There were photos and knick-knacks scattered throughout. Even the salt and pepper mills had obviously been picked with the utmost care. The entire place had a brightness, a warmth that Silke could not help but bask in.
She savoured every last drop of her coffee. When she finished, she put the mug in the sink, rinsed it out, and left it in the dishwasher. It was time to begin to confront the day. She went back up to the stairs to her room, took off her pyjamas, wrapped herself in the towel hanging on her wall in the way she’d somehow known to do it since yesterday, and walked down the hall into the bathroom. She let the towel fall to the ground, and began running the water while she brushed her teeth. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her reflection in the full-length mirror nailed to the inside of the bathroom door.
Yesterday, her reflection had brought her into a state of horror. Today, examining herself in the full-length mirror, she felt awe. Damn. Somehow, despite having seen plenty of naked women, both in real life and on cable, it was as if she’d never really seen anything. This was nothing like the body she’d known for twenty-five years. John had spent more than half of his life lusting after the female body, but this…this, she thought, must be what artists see.
The steam coming from the shower interrupted Silke’s reverie. Still rather in awe, she stepped into the stream of hot water, turning away from the showerhead to have a look around the shower/bath. There was definitely a lot more stuff than she was accustomed to.
The various shower caddies were marked with either Silke’s or Ariana’s name in a cheerful script. Taking inventory, Silke found that she was the owner of two different types of foaming body wash, shampoo and conditioner made by a company she’d never heard of, a pink razor (Oh, duh, she realised, feeling the distinct lack of stubble on her cheeks), something called a “body smoother,” and a purple netted plastic puffball thing that she assumed was used for distributing body washes and such.
As her hair finally became saturated with water, Silke decided that she’d try it all, just for the hell of it. She squeezed out a glob of the shampoo, and lathered it into her hair, noting that it had a somewhat intoxicating, vaguely rain-like scent that she couldn’t quite place. It took a while to work the shampoo and conditioner both through her ample hair, and she became somewhat impatient as she waited for the two minutes specified in the conditioner instructions to be up. As she began rinsing out the conditioner, she looked at her body wash selection, and ultimately put a small globule of the one marked Lavender & Camomile into the puffball thing.
She held the puffball under the water until it was good and wet, and began rubbing it against her right arm. Slowly and deliberately, she moved on to her sides, tummy, and chest. This feels incredible, she couldn’t help but think. After finishing off both legs, she just stood in the water for a few minutes, moving her hair out of her face. The warm water did her a world of good.
After drying herself off with the towel, she took the hair pick and blow dryer out of the bathroom cabinet, plugged the blow dryer in, and began to dry her hair, still enveloped in the scents of a particularly lush garden.
Once her hair was dry, she gathered it up into one of the various scrunchies that were lying around and let it fall down her back in a ponytail. Once the towel was again securely wrapped around her, she opened the bathroom door, and returned to her room. After shutting the door, she hung the towel back on the hook, and moved over to the small chest of drawers standing to the right of her closet. She found the underwear drawer on her first try. The variety was overwhelming, and overwhelmingly unsettling.
In the drawer, she found enough panties to start a second-hand shop, all laid out neatly one next to the other. Every imaginable style, pattern, and colour was represented. Floral, stars, lace, Strawberry Shortcake…vomit. Toward the back, she found some plain cotton. They were pink, but it certainly beat having Strawberry Shortcake emblazoned on her ass. That done, Silke started digging through the next drawer, which she remembered from yesterday to be her bra drawer. Toward the bottom, she located a black front-closing bra. That should make things easier.
With underthings now taken care of, Silke turned on the light in her closet and began looking around. She soon found another pair of jeans and a grey Boston University t-shirt. Relieved to have that over with, she got dressed, grabbed her purse, and headed back downstairs. Remembering that her car was still waiting for her in the parking lot at Kelly’s, she decided to walk to the convenience store a few blocks away.
As she stepped onto the sidewalk, she felt as if every eye were on her. As if, any minute, any random person could jump out at her and shout: Hey John! How’s the underwire treatin’ ya, bizzotch? She knew that was impossible. Anyone who even recognised her would know her only as Silke. No one had even heard of John. But it didn’t help. She walked quickly, dedicating her entire energy to the separate, but equally important, endeavours of not attracting any attention, and ignoring the distracting movement her hips now made when walking.
Ten minutes later, she arrived at the convenience store. A middle-aged man who had reached the door seconds earlier opened it up, and Silke stepped back to let him through. Instead of going in, the man gestured for her to go first. After a moment’s hesitation, she hastily walked through, eager to get the interaction over with. She wandered through the narrow aisles, trying her best to remain invisible, when a youngish employee whose nametag identified him as “(Hi! I’m) SKIP.”
“Hi, Ma’am! Is there anything I can help you with today,” he said, with a smile that was broader than he probably knew and enough pep in his voice to annoy a Spice Girl.
“Um, thanks, I’m fine,” Silke mumbled, not looking up to meet his gaze.
“OK, well, if you have any questions, just track me down and I’ll be more than happy to help you!”
Was he hitting on her? Was that what this excessive enthusiasm was? Why didn’t she hang a DO NOT DISTURB sign on herself? Silke had no interest in getting hit on, and certainly not by a guy called “Skip.”
She pretended to be engrossed in the collection of replacement shoelaces until he had reached a comfortable distance. She saw coffee products in the next aisle, and briskly moved over to the shelf to pick up a large jar of Folger’s Crystals.
She walked over to the counter to pay, where a fiftyish woman smiled at her, “Will this be all, dear?”
In the interest of getting it over with, Silke nodded brusquely, but corrected herself in the middle, “Oh, wait, can I get a pack of Winstons?”
“Can I see your ID, please?”
Silke dug through her purse to produce her driving license and a ten dollar bill, which she practically threw onto the checkout counter. The cashier looked at the license and handed it back, while counting out Silke’s change.
“Here you go, hon. You know, whatever it is, it can’t be that bad. Try to smile a little.”
Silke wanted to scream. She couldn’t even buy a damn jar of freeze-dried coffee and a pack of cigarettes from a crappy convenience store without someone invading her privacy.
“Right,” she mumbled as she almost ran out of the store.
Once on the street, she tore open the cellophane packing and popped the top on the pack of cigarettes. She pulled a cigarette out, and clamped the filter between her teeth while she looked through her purse for a lighter. How the hell was she supposed to find anything in this thing? There was no lighter, but she found an almost-empty matchbook from Kelly’s that looked like it had been there for months. She ripped the match out of the book and, shielding the small flame, brought it up to the tip of the cigarette. She inhaled once, and tossed the match on the ground.
Silke took a quick drag on her smoke, and held it in for a second. The buzz came quickly, and it came hard. So hard that she had to sit down on the bench at the first bus stop she passed. She took another drag, and felt downright queasy. These are stronger than I remembered, she thought as she started coughing. After one more drag, she tossed the cigarette, not even half smoked, onto the ground, and continued walking back home.
As she approached the front door of the house, Silke heard the phone ringing. She quickly turned the keys, tossed them on the table in the foyer, and ran to the kitchen to pick it up.
It was her mother.
“Hallo, Schatz,” she heard her mother say.
“Uh, hi, Mom, how are you doing?”
There was a slight cough on the other end of the line. “OK, English today, then,” her mother said with a laugh.
“So, uh, how are you doing, Mom?”
“I’m doing fine. I just wanted to thank you for the birthday card you sent last week. You know how I love the inscriptions you put in. “
“Well, I’m happy you liked it.”
“So, Silke, are we on for next week?”
Were they on for next week? That was a good question. Silke had no idea what they’d be “on” for. Apparently they had some kind of plans. Of course they did. It would be just too simple for even just one little thing to be the same as in John’s world.
Her mother was still talking, “…I’m so looking forward to seeing you and Ariana again. It’s always so lovely spending time with the both of you.”
“Oh yeah, next week. We’re definitely on.” Silke could think of nothing else to say.
“Excellent, sweetie. Did I catch you at a bad time?”
“Oh, no, Mom, it’s just that I just now got in the door. I had to race through to the kitchen to catch the phone.”
“Oh, then I’ll let you go for now. And, just so you know, I’m not expecting you and Ariana to cook, as much as I do love it when you do.”
“Well, we’ll think of something,” Silke improvised, not currently succeeding at thinking of something.
“I love you, sweetie.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
She hung up. Once again, someone had her on the spot. This was worse than school. At least in school, she knew enough to bullshit the answers when she didn’t know them. Here, she was just stuck. She needed a plan, she thought, cursing at the realisation that she hadn’t thought to confirm what day next week they were supposed to be “on” for. She needed to figure that out first of all. Second of all cook? Did her mother just imply that she might actually be expected to make an actual dinner? Silke needed to lie down and think. She brought her purse with her up to her room, and fell onto the bed, which, she noticed, she had once again remembered to make.
In a sudden brainstorm, Silke remembered having seen a datebook in her purse. She unzipped it and started digging around. After a minute’s searching, she pulled the little red datebook out of her purse, and turned the pages until she got to March. She skipped through the current week, until she reached the page that included March 21 – 24. Nothing mom-related there. On the next page, Mom’s bday dinner, 6:00pm was written in under March 26.
Good. I have until next Saturday to figure something out.
Her mother’s phone call had made Silke temporarily forget about her shopping excursion. She picked up the bag she’d gotten from the convenience store and returned to the kitchen. She threw the bag into the wastebasket, and found a fresh mug in the cabinet. Now this, Silke thought as she poured the freeze-dried crystals in and stirred in water, is more like it. After the forty-five seconds were up, she pulled the steaming mug out of the microwave, stirred again, and grinned as she lifted the mug to her lips.
But before Silke took her first sip, she heard the front door open.
“Silke, I’m home!” It was Ariana.
“Hey, I’m in the kitchen.”
“Pretty good. I was just having some coffee.”
“I could go for another cup, too. What are you having?” Ariana asked, as her eyes fell on the Folger’s Crystal’s jar on the table.
“Instant coffee? Was this another of Kevin’s brilliant suggestions?”
“I’ll have you know, Ariana, that this stuff…,” she paused to take a demonstrative sip. She slowly let a mouthful flow between her lips and wash about in her mouth, letting the taste soak in. “…tastes like shit!” she exclaimed, spitting the dubious brown liquid back into the mug. She ran over to the kitchen sink and poured herself a glass of water, which she drank in one gulp.
“That’s got to be the worst thing I have ever tasted in my life,” she said, as she watched a grin play across Ariana’s face. Soon, Ariana’s grin became laughter, and Silke found herself laughing, too.
“You mean to tell me all of those people who had their coffee substituted in the commercials were wrong?” Ariana asked sardonically, as they both exploded into another peel of laughter.
“My mom just called a few minutes ago,” Silke said, once the giggles had died down.
“Oh yeah, did she like the card you sent her?”
“Yeah. She mostly just wanted to confirm we were on for next week.”
“What are we going to do when she comes?” Silke really liked the sound of that “we.”
“I’m not sure. Do you have any ideas?”
“She’ll love anything you come up with, sweetie. She always does. She wouldn’t care if you made canned baked beans. You know, I think she really means it when she says, ‘All I really care about is spending time with my little girl.’”
“I’m thinking we might go out to eat this time,” Silke suggested, trying not to wince openly at the “little girl” remark.
“Go out? But we always have so much fun fixing dinner for her when she’s in town.”
“I just don’t know if I really feel like cooking.” That wasn’t the real reason, Silke admitted to herself, but it wasn’t inaccurate, either.
“Well, you’ve got till next weekend to decide. Maybe you’ll change your mind by then,” Ariana replied, with more than a little hope in her voice.
Wonderful, Silke groaned internally, if I cook, they’ll probably puke; if I don’t, they’ll just be terribly disappointed.
“By the way,” Ariana continued, “you about saved my life in Civ Pro today. Thanks so much for going over the Erie doctrine with me last week.”
“Oh, right!” improvised Silke, who was glad not to have even thought of the Erie doctrine in over a year. “So that went well, then?”
“You know how some days you just know you’re going to get called? Even before the professor gets into the room? Like it’s just in the air or something.”
“So, anyway, I just knew I was going to be the one who’d have to explain Erie. The heartburn kind of tipped me off, there. Ten minutes into class, just as I was nodding off a bit and thinking I was in the clear, Moretti croaks, ‘Ms. Domínguez-Klapprath,’ and I’ve given up telling her that the rath in Klapprath rhymes with pot and not bath, so I let her continue, ‘Ms. Domínguez-Klapprath, would you be so kind as to tell us about the rule in Erie R.R. v. Tompkins?”
Silke laughed. There was something else that hadn’t changed. Ariana could always do the voices.
“Talk about a rude awakening,” she said, just to have something to say.
“Totally,” Ariana grinned, “so, I stood up and kind of coughed, ‘cause I needed to buy myself some time, right? For some reason, I didn’t get all that much sleep last night, so I was just half-awake to begin with. So, Moretti, she shoots me this glare, ‘Is an answer forthcoming, Ms. Domínguez-Klapprath?’ And now everyone is looking my way and I’m feeling my heart pounding in my ears, trying to get centred.”
“What did you end up saying?”
“I’ll get there, don’t worry,” Ariana smiled again. For Ariana, telling a story was always less about the ending than about getting there. “So, I looked her right in the eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to concentrate, knowing that at this point, half of the class is having sympathy pains, while the other is hoping I choke so that they can give their answer. You know?” She paused, walking over to the cabinet over the microwave, and pulled out a box of chocolate Leibniz. “Cookie?” Silke nodded, and Ariana took out one for herself and one for Silke.
Ariana laughed, enjoying the building dramatic tension. “Sooo, I just kept looking straight in her eyes, and answered, ‘Well, Professor Moretti, the Erie doctrine says that, where a federal court has jurisdiction of a case based on diversity of citizenship between the parties, it applies the substantive laws of the state in which it’s located. It abrogated the Swift v. Tyson doctrine that had tended to encourage forum shopping.’”
“That’s better than I’d have come up with.”
“That is what you came up with, silly. It was right in the notes you gave me. I love that you started a year before me.”
“So? What did Moretti say?”
“’If a defendant in a federal diversity case moves to dismiss based on the statute of limitations, can anyone tell me, based on Erie, what law would the court apply?’”
“She really showered you with praise there,” Silke laughed again.
“Oh yeah, what a fountain of positive feedback. Thank you so much, Silke.”
Silke smiled across the table to Ariana. She wasn’t quite sure how to feel. She, of course, had no memory of any of this. As far as she was concerned, she hadn’t even talked on the phone with Ariana “last week.” But, she was in this reality now, and Silke had done this, and, like it or not, she was Silke. She couldn’t help being rather proud of Ariana, and of herself. So this was their relationship now.
“You seem better today,” Ariana noted. “I was really worried about you last night, you know.”
“Yeah, I am feeling better.”
“Still not going to tell me what it is?”
“Not too much to tell, really. It’s just stress, I think.” This was not entirely untrue, Silke reasoned. There was definitely a lot of stress involved.
“Well, just try to take it easy, OK, sweetie?” Ariana smiled softly as she walked over to Silke’s side of the table to give her a hug.
Silke’s initial thought haven’t we had enough of the hugging already? quickly gave way to another, “Thanks, Ariana. I really needed that.”
“You’re going to take it easy, OK? Just relax and don’t worry about anything. I’ll take care of everything.”
“Ariana, you really don’t have to…”
“After all the help you give me? Don’t even think of objecting,” Ariana grinned. “Just go over into the living room and lie down on the couch if you want. Take a nap or something.”
“I think I’m going to have a quick smoke first.”
“Guess I can’t blame you there. It must really be getting to you.”
After her smoke (she'd only made it halfway through the cigarette, but it was something, at least), she settled down on the living room couch. The living room, she noticed, wasn't all that different from the way she remembered Ariana's living room in John's world. Apart from a couple of cityscapes, the walls, which were painted some sort of soft, off-white colour, were adorned with pictures of Ariana and Silke, Ariana's family, Silke's family, Ariana with Silke's family and vice versa. By the front bay window, there was a small, round table with two chairs, suitable for coffee, and the couch was a lilac, overstuffed affair covered in very soft fabric. Silke tried to lie down flat on her back, as she was accustomed to, but found it uncomfortable after a couple of minutes. Instead, she rolled over on her side, and found her knees tucking in as she pulled one of the throw pillows under her head. She took a deep breath, and sighed softly as she let herself sink into the upholstery.
As she lay on the couch, gradually getting more and more comfortable, Ariana came by, and draped her in the blanket that was laid over the arm of the couch opposite Silke's head. As Ariana spread out the blanket, Silke couldn't help thinking what happened the last time she'd fallen asleep on Ariana's couch.
Ariana knelt by Silke's head. "How's that?"
"Great," Silke smiled, "I could stay like this all day."
"Just take it easy today. Don't worry about anything. I'll handle everything."
Silke found herself wondering how she could possibly not worry about anything under these circumstances. Though the warmth of the blanket, and the softness of the couch, not to mention how nice Ariana was being, did help. A lot. She felt the tension draining from her body, and slowly drifted off.
Chapter 4Chapter 6
Copyright 2006-2007, Élise R. Hendrick, All rights reserved.