Can We Talk?

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Can We Talk?

The Ugly Duckling

How can I describe her? When I first met her, she looked “cheap”, “hard”. There was that do-it-yourself bleach job, for starters.  She suffered from acne. Her voice was tinny, jarring, guttural, clipped and sometimes, shrieking.   Although very fair-skinned she wore heavy black eyeliner on her upper lids.  She painted her eyebrows black.  Her skin was oily so, by mid-day, the painted eyebrows glistened and sometimes smeared.  She talked tough.  You’d think she had slept with every man in town.  Years later, I learned she’d been a virgin all that time.  Maybe she wanted to draw attention to herself.  Well, she did but in a negative way. 

Jane was very thin yet her hips and thighs were ample.  She had no bust to speak of.  Furthermore, she seemed weary of life, although she was only nineteen at the time.  Jane was, at best, a curiosity. Some of the girls chided her. Some, like me, were curious and wanted to get to know her better. Despite outward appearances Jane was friendly and looked like she desperately wanted to be liked. Most of the girls shied away from her. I guess it was that hard edge that turned some people off. Tough girls are hard to like.

Her father, Fred, was a truck driver, a kindly man who cherished the simple life. Her mother, Emily, was a homemaker and sold Tupperware at house parties. Emily had been a rare beauty in her youth. Had she been born into a different family, she could have been the belle of any ball. Unfortunately, she married Fred. Unfortunately, Jane looked like her father. It was early sixties. For a girl to get ahead in business at that time, she had to either sleep her way to the top or marry her way to the top. Jane was ready for the sleeping part. For marrying, she lacked the self-confidence to think such a man would be interested in her. That lack of confidence on a personal level, stayed with her throughout all the years I knew her. At work, during lulls in telephone calls, we talked. Small talk. What perfume was on sale at The Right House? Where should we have lunch or did you bring yours, etc? Coffee break was 10:20AM and, to this day, that’s when I want a cup of Java. We’d rush to the cafeteria, get a cup of coffee, sit and have a cigarette. Ah, those were great days. It cost 39 cents for a package. The only reason anyone quit was because they couldn’t stand the taste in their mouth or didn’t like those yellow fingers. I don’t remember anyone with smoker’s cough, would you believe? But I digress.One January day, there was a huge snow storm. It snowed all day while we were at work. There was no way I could get up the mountain in that weather. I wouldn’t even have been able to get my car out of the parking lot. Even the buses were stuck. Jane asked me if I wanted to spend the night at her place and I gratefully accepted. To get there, we had to walk. It took the best part of an hour or more.Her apartment was on the main floor of an old Victorian house. It was so cool. She had a tiny fridge, a little two-burner stove, a table and two chairs. Her bed was in a little nook in a corner off the kitchen. From her closet, she pulled out a cot for me to sleep on – you know the kind. It had an iron frame and the ends folded in two in the middle. There were four little wheels on the bottom that worked when the bed was folded, making it easy to manoeuvre. We opened it up in the “living room”.There was a bathtub but no shower. Since there was no shower, I had a bath and was impressed with the lovely accessories she had. There were bath salts and talcum powder and body lotion. Gee, who would have thought she’d have such nice things – such feminine things? I was surprised. I think the salts, talcum powder and body lotion were called “Blue Grass” and was made by Estee Lauder, as I recall. You just can’t judge a book by its cover, I thought to myself. Anyway, after the bath I slept like a log.In the morning, she made fried eggs, sunny side up. That was the first time I’d seen anyone drop water into the hot pan then cover it with a lid. The steam cooked the top of the eggs. With that, she served canned peaches and toast. It was so good. We then got dressed and walked to work in the snow.That’s how she lived and I envied her so much.

Meanwhile, I lived in a big, split-level home off Scenic Drive. We had all the modern conveniences, lovely furniture and money to spend.

It was a living hell.

My parent’s marriage had gone on the rocks. He had a mistress. He wanted Mother to evaporate. The tension in the house was thick enough to cut with a knife. Sometimes, there was violence. He’d slap Mother around. I lived in a state of terror, afraid of the violence. In the months and weeks before the final split, I slept with an ice pick under my pillow. During that time, I often thought how wonderful it would be if I could have a place like Jane’s. However, I felt compelled to stay with Mother in order to “protect” her.

The years went by. I married, moved away, and became a mother. Jane wrote me every week. One year she paid us a visit. Suddenly, I saw breasts. I was puzzled. Where did they come from? I was too polite to ask but I did notice that when she lay on the beach, her breasts did not flatten but pointed straight up like two mountains. Eventually, she told me herself. Yes, her boyfriend had paid for them. Now, that’s a generous boyfriend. Married but generous. Also, her skin was clear. Well, she’d been to a dermatologist and was taking low dosage antibiotics. Wow. Well, the treatments worked. She’d had some dental work done as well. Not only that, but she’d been to a cosmetician and had her colours done. She looked, well, wonderful, to say the least. Talk about a transformation!

She still tended to overdress.  Somewhat like the girl in “Sweet Charity”, she often tried too hard and it showed.

Sadly, Jane never married. Perhaps she never met her soul mate. Perhaps she was too afraid to let her guard down. Perhaps she never learned to trust. Perhaps it was because she continually had affairs with married men.

She did well at her work and stayed with the utility company until they offered her an early retirement package. She took it and launched a new career in real estate. From what I understand, she’s doing brilliantly well. Did we remain friends for life?As the years went by, we became more and more distant until there was no point in continuing. But then, such is life.

May 19th, 2008 Posted by | For Women Only, Musings, Nostalgia | no comments

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