“Catalogue of Unpretentious Gripes” by Lenore Weiss

Lenore Weiss, 2019 PSP participant

Lenore’s writing has been published online and in print journals. Her poetry collections are a trilogy about love, loss, and being mortal: Cutting Down the Last Tree on Easter Island (West End Press, 2012); Two Places (Kelsay Books, 2014), and The Golem (Hadassa Word Press, 2017). Her children’s story, The Glimmerine, is an urban environmental fantasy. Lenore tutors middle-school and high-school students in reading and writing and volunteers at Chapter510 in Oakland, California

This “catalogue” emerged in the unprecedented heat wave during the first several days of the Prague Summer Program. The word “eighth” got stuck in my mind, and wouldn’t let go!

Catalogue of Unpretentious Gripes

1.

Consider the word eighth with its infusion of h’s and four consonants. Anyone seeing it for the first time can’t help but be insulted by its clumsiness—There’s the Seven Wonders of the World—an Eighth seems handily misplaced. A half of a cheesecake might suggest a birthday, even a quarter would be substantial with coffee, but never serve a guest a mere eighth. Henry the VIII could hide behind the architectural dignity of a roman numeral. I had no such choice since the woman I loved announced I was the eighth person she’d ever want to talk to, better than the last, I suppose, but eighth implies a sarcastic temperament capable of even worse.

As for myself, I unfold these origami arms outward, a would-be professor of phonetics who wishes only to ensure the comity of exchange between all peoples, and in that regard, a very ordinary man.

2.

Evie and I were introduced on a record hot day when air conditioners spewed evaporation from overhead ledges. Everyone stopped in the shade for a few minutes, which is when I met her, a slight woman, hair swept into a knot like a thousand other women heading toward the tram after work.

“Dominic!”

I’m terrible at remembering names, but knew his face. He saw my confusion. “Charles. You know, from Maritza’s wedding.”

I extended my hand. “Right. We sat next to each other.” Something about his being a manager at a car rental; he didn’t like the job, but did like the new car parked in his garage.

Charles turned to a woman next to him. “This is Evie. We work at the same rental.” 

Evie nodded. Her smile was peremptory, her expression a mask easily assumed for any customer. But, then, her smile lit up from within. She touched Charles’s shoulder, pointed to the approaching tram. They dashed away together. “Evie,” I whispered; it was short for Evelyn. 

3.

“Hello,” I greeted. She sat at a table, drinking lemonade. A straw hat shadowed her lively brown eyes. I was pleased that she sat alone in the park. “Evie, isn’t it? I’m Dominic, Charles’s friend. We met the other day.” I didn’t want to give her the impression that I was some loser trying to pick her up.

We sat together as the sky melted into tangerine streaks. She smiled, and gazed at her cellphone. I explained how I’d winnowed my Facebook friends from five hundred to a mere twenty-five.

“What about you?” I realized that I had been talking nonstop for more than a half hour. Evie said she had to leave. She had an appointment.

 I took her to the tram hoping that I hadn’t shot myself in the foot.

4.

My mouth has always been my Achilles heel at least that’s what my first wife Jarmila used to tell me. She wasn’t attractive, rather homely, with a nose that ended in a bulb giving her a comical look. But I always admired in her what I did not admire in myself.

“Look, dear. Why don’t we get that sausage from Moldavia? I can fix it with lovely string beans.”

Her enthusiasm made any suggestion sound exciting. But when it came to fixing dinner, I peppered her with questions. “How do you want me to cut the beans? On the diagonal? Quarter-inch? 

“Whatever you think is best.” Her smile drooped.

“What about the sausage? In rounds? For the soup?”

“Halve the sausage. Then cut it in quarters. Juggle them on the tip of your nose. From there, toss the cut sides down in the pan. Is that clear enough for you?” 

I did not understand her vitriolic response. I’d always assisted Jarmila in expressing herself more clearly, until she pounded the table like a Soviet bureaucrat. “I’ve had enough, Dominic! You can go to hell!” And that’s exactly where she sent me after we divorced.

5.

Her real name was Evelyn.

Evie was nothing like Jarmila. How could she be? She was a different person and never got impatient, which had something to do, I believed, with her job in helping people just off the jet. At this point in our relationship, and with my encouragement, she was talking quite freely.

“There are two types of people,” she said. “The Economy Class and the Gold Club.”

“But those are company programs,” I opined. “How can you…”

“You don’t understand,” she said. I bristled at the suggestion. “There are always the ones who try to cut corners and won’t allow any real enjoyment.”

“And the others?”

“Gold club,” she sniffed. “People who rent Mustangs or Cadillacs. The two-seaters or top-downers. They don’t have money. They simply don’t wish to be clumped into the vast majority, the hoi polloi. They thrive on the lie.”

“And where do you clock in?”

She brushed me aside. ” I own my own wheels.”

Although her logic was faulty, I was mesmerized. Clearly, I was falling in love and wanted to press her on the subject. “How do you feel about us? “She applied rouge to her cheeks. “How do you feel about me?”

She looked like I had cracked a hard boiled egg on her scalp. “About you? If you were the eighth person waiting in my line at work, I wouldn’t bother.”

“But what about the first?” I cried. “What about the first?”

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