Yoharie: Report from the Trenches (part two)
She was sensitive to the critic’s take.
Of walls (stone), that she’d seen erected a million times—“Get a sense of humor”; “Grow a thicker hide”…and the several variations: “C’mon, the guys are just letting off steam”; “I dunno…that stuff doesn’t bother me”—the implication was reliable. She’d asked in HR if people ever complained about harassment, an oblique approach to finding some safe patch of ground on which to (in case she did) make a stand.
“Are you wanting to file a complaint?”
What a question.
Go that route, and by all accounts, you might as well go jump off a bridge. But how could Giarma answer no, burning it?
She answered, “Um.” She started to qualify, bit down on the word “no”, and said, “I’m curious.”
She left with a pamphlet.
“You’ve got that thing,” she told Trevor.
His face struggled over a quip, and to his credit, he settled for, “Elucidate.”
“The blog with the conspiracies. Just because…you know how people get paranoid, right?”
She hoped, now it was over, Giarma Yoharie having definitely scurried off in defeat, two things. One, that all their busy planning had become life to them, a time-occupier, a reason for cozy phone calls and hallway tête-à-têtes; thus, that they could not relinquish the daily scapegoat without the wrench of an addict giving up his drug.
So, two, that they would fall into repeating this pattern of behavior; that months must pass and nothing the Yoharie had touched could remain. Failures could not be her fault. Giggly pranks…not to wish evil on others…would have to be played on some up-and-coming stooge.
She’d fallen, herself, into stopping at fast food places for hoagies, snacking on kettle chips, actually dropping the grocery entryway’s BOGO donuts into her shopping cart; a swinging back and forth between comfort-eating and guilt (bulging in your skirts a bad idea anyway, where your tormenters pretended to see tight clothes flirtation).
Slugging coffee, taking long walks, evening declining to darkness, no work done.
The work was watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Or scrolling Twitter. There was real work going begging, but she’d put the kibosh on doing any of it at home. It would never be right; it would never be finished.
Her dad and Dawn had got their new house—bought late summer, move-in ready by All Hallows Eve. Until then, Giarma couldn’t have helped with anything; the drive was ninety minutes both ways, and to lose a weekend day just brought her closer—with less recovery time for herself—to the grinder, cranking up fresh Monday mornings.
Dawn made her crabby. Her dad made her crabby…and guilty. And he hadn’t done anything, only said now they lived where she could come down, he wished she would. He called her Giarma, taking care. Because there was no sweetheart, no kid, no pet name…no dad and daughter history…and every time he called her Giarma, following a painstaking, humble pause, she steeled herself not to feel bad about this, too.
She’d gone at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, the nothingest holiday…
“…I mean, that you have to feel bad about. Another thing. Mother’s Day, you send a gift card. Easter, I buy the M & M’s, that’s all… But Thanksgiving, everyone has to eat turkey, which you would never normally do…and cranberry sauce, which…what is it?”
“Ground up cranberries.”
Because nature had infested her with a pointless empathy; thus she felt other people’s efforts, other people’s failures, so acutely they were like her own, Giarma found Dawn’s brave household almost unbearable. Tina would be there, ruining things. Val, living at Dad’s as an Alternative Adult, could come out of his room or not.
He didn’t…though a forlorn place setting represented him.
“I’m surprised,” Tina said to Giarma, “what with that insurance stuff you do, you can be so quiet.”
Dawn stood, and Giarma did too, for no reason.
“Are you all ready for pie? No, Mom…”
Tina was slow at rising and sitting. She was probably arthritic and didn’t deserve to be hated. Giarma scuttled to the coffee maker, and Dawn asked:
“Do you want ice cream?”
“No. I don’t want any of it.”
There’d been apple, and pumpkin, and pecan. And a plate of cookies. Something of Tina’s…a Sara Lee pound cake, with raspberry syrup and Cool Whip. You could cry.
But Dawn, a rock, truly…beyond all possible thanks for the way she looked after Dad…Giarma wanted never to be rude to.
“Oh…listen…I think I have to quit my job.”
And Dawn, whose patience was not untriable, but whose gallantry was such she was going for the pound cake, a big piece on her own plate, pumpkin pie for Giarma’s dad, glanced up over her shoulder.
She caught Giarma’s eye squarely. She said, “Do it!”
Report from the Trenches
(2018, Stephanie Foster)