had secrets. Secrets she would share with no one; not now, not ever. They
weren’t little secrets either. No. They were great big secrets with dark
hidden recesses like the hardest-to-reach parts of a room, like the floor
underneath the couch, way back by the wall where the dust bunnies hide;
parts that never see the light of day; parts unreachable for inspection,
unable to be cleaned.
Mindy had problems too. Problems with many
complexities to them. Complexities that might even warrant medical attention
if she were to share them, which, like her secrets, she wasn’t planning
to, at least not any time soon.
During the pretty lady’s talk, Mindy’s secrets and problems danced through
her head. Mindy pictured them doing a samba.
The pretty lady had come to talk about problems. Mindy didn’t have the
problems that the pretty lady had come to discuss, but she still had problems
of her own. She had her own problems, and secrets too, and she wasn’t
going to be having anyone talk to her about them either.
The pretty lady was very pretty and also
very friendly, but Mindy was inclined to think of her more as being pretty
than as being friendly. There was something about the pretty lady’s friendliness
that Mindy didn’t quite believe, didn’t really trust, whereas her prettiness
was evident and clear, like a truth that you could touch with your fingertip
or hold in the warm, fleshy inside of your hand.
Several preparations preceded the pretty lady’s appearance, several acts
intended to underscore its importance. These preparations made Mindy a
little suspicious. Or not really suspicious, but skeptical and maybe also
a wee bit concerned.
One of these things was vacuuming.
The vacuuming that preceded the pretty lady’s
appearance was full of violent, gnawing sounds—sounds that echoed and
blasted their way through the halls. The vacuuming woke Mindy from a dream
she was having, something about bees laying eggs in her ears. Mindy wasn’t
even sure if bees actually laid eggs, but she was sure about the vacuuming,
which was going on downstairs and filling her ears with its violent gnawing.
Being woken so suddenly filled Mindy with dread—with the sense that she
was in danger or that danger was coming soon. It also told her that Mrs.
Bell was still here, which was not at all normal since Saturday was one
of her only days off. Everyone knew it was one of her only days off because
if you ever left your sandwich on the floor of the TV room—like because
you were on the hall phone with your dad who never called—someone reminded
you that Mrs. Bell wasn’t always around to clean up, as if you actually
thought that in the first place.
Another specific act that preceded the pretty
lady’s appearance was the canceling of morning study hours. Mindy could
not recall study hours ever having been cancelled before. Normally if
you needed to get out of a class or study hour—as Mindy had needed to
on a number of occasions—you had to go see the scary nurse. The scary
nurse’s office smelled like ammonia and alcohol and if you wanted to get
out of something you’d have to go there to her office and explain that
you were sick. You’d have to explain that you were actually really sick,
or maybe that you had very bad cramps. Then you had to hope that the scary
nurse would believe you. You had to hope that she either believed you
or was bothered enough by your sniveling to give you what you wanted just
to get rid of you because you were always in there with this or that complaint
and she had had enough of you already. If either of these things happened,
if she either believed you or wanted to get rid of you, then she would
give you a pass written out on a small slip of paper—a tiny slip of paper
roughly the color of baby aspirin.
Now, the scary nurse’s handwriting was impossible
to read and also very small. This meant that as you walked back across
campus to the headmistress’s office, all the while examining the little
slip of pink paper in your hand, you wouldn’t be able to read what the
scary nurse had written. You would have the little pink slip but it would
do you no good.
The scary nurse’s sentences looked like
scratchy graphs, like the scratchy graphs made by lie detectors on television
police shows. This scratchy-graphness made Mindy start to wonder if maybe
the small, unreadable letters weren’t really some kind of code. Mindy
wondered if maybe it weren’t really some unusual kind of code—a code the
scary nurse used to talk with the headmistress and the teachers too—but
when she got the courage up to finally share this rare idea, she found
herself facing a swiftly closed door. When she approached fat Miriam who
also lived on her floor, Miriam just looked at her funny and then closed
her bedroom door. When Miriam’s stringy-haired roommate got wind of the
theory herself, she told Mindy that she’d never heard something so stupid
in all her life; the scary nurse didn’t need any code to talk to those
people; she could far more easily pick up the phone.
The third preparation that preceded the
pretty lady’s appearance came after the vacuuming but before the canceling.
The third preparation was an elaborate buffet of snacks. These weren’t
just any old regular snacks, either, but the kind of snacks served only
a few times a year: during headmistress teas or on parents weekend or
when someone like the fire marshal came to talk about fire safety or someone
like the police chief came to talk about not taking drugs. In a certain
way, this made the snacks seem less like a special, fancy treat for them
than it did a special, fancy treat for whoever was doing the visiting—a
realization which felt like a not-so-nice surprise since they were the
ones who were here all the time, they were the ones who really deserved
special treats, not these other people who just came in from whoknowswhere.
It was from this line of thinking that Mindy
felt herself grow angry.
Mindy was getting angry about these varied
preparations—who was this pretty lady anyway?—but when, during breakfast,
she looked at the faces of the girls around her, she saw that she was
the only one who was feeling this way at all. The other girls at the table
very clearly noticed nothing; they just went about their morning meal
like nothing in particular was going on: chomping down on big spoonfuls
of rainbow-colored sugar cereal, washing down piece after piece of buttered
toast with glasses of pulpy fruit juice, letting crumbs build up at the
edges of their mouth and neglecting the crusty bits of sleep clinging
to the corners of their eyes.
The pretty lady was introduced just after the coming week’s announcements,
which Mindy missed because she was still occupied upstairs. Mindy didn’t
mind this though. Mindy would happily admit that she hated being rushed
and sometimes that meant missing things or at least arriving late.
In order not to be rushed, you had to bend
certain rules. Sometimes rules were good, if they protected you or your
property, like the rules about not going through people’s drawers or not
looking under their bed where they kept their private things. Sometimes
though, rules needed to be ignored—like the rules about not being late
for meetings or not being late for class—particularly for matters that
related to the protection of you or your personal privacy.
Privacy was very important to Mindy.
Everyone on Mindy’s floor shared one big
bathroom, which Mindy really hated for how it impinged on her private
zones. Mindy hated how the set up called for being especially speedy—she
hated having to be speedy moving through her shower and sink routines—speedy
and also hasty. Mindy hated having to share with so many other random
girls and hated having to rush through her special cleaning routines.
It was for this reason that Mindy tried to linger, that she tried on purpose
to be last in line. She tried to be last in line in order to secure the
It wasn’t just the sharing and the rushing
that Mindy didn’t like, it was also the excess of noise and how it crowded
up her mind. The other girls were noisy. Not only were they noisy but
they were also a good bit messy and more than a little dirty and all this
made Mindy really need to be in there by herself. Mindy liked to keep
herself very very clean and so, understandably, liked to take her time
in the shower and with her routines. She liked baths a lot too but there
was no bathtub here and even if there were Mindy wouldn’t have used it.
(Mindy wouldn’t even go into the shower room without her shower shoes
on so she definitely wouldn’t have used a bathtub if they had one, which
they didn’t.) Scalding showers were her favorite, especially if she were
feeling blue, due to her problems. And her secrets. Her problems and her
secrets weighed upon her like pelts of fur; they weighed on her and sometimes
only scalding water seemed to help. Sometimes scrubbing her skin with
a big, hard, bristled brush under scalding water helped. Sometimes that
helped make things better, especially when she could be in there alone,
in the stall furthest from the door and closest to the window and she
could go through her shower routine slowly, counting the tiny wall tiles
as she scrubbed.
So Mindy missed the coming week’s announcements but she didn’t really
care; she didn’t even mind the scolding looks she got for coming in late.
She may have missed next week’s announcements and the handing out of dorm
awards, but she had made it down in time for the pretty lady’s introduction.
Despite her reservations and suspicions,
Mindy found herself interested to find out what the pretty lady had to
Usually all these meetings—usually they
were all the same. They were almost always all the same but Mindy felt
like she was the only one who cared. Just like how she was the only one
who noticed all the special preparations. Being the only person to notice
things made Mindy feel pretty lonely but she could share these feelings
of loneliness with no one but Mr. Boo; Mr. Boo who she kept hidden in
a shoe box, way underneath her bed.
Mindy used to share these feelings with
her feelings journal too, but she found that if she missed one day’s entry
she often missed two, and then eventually ten, and then going back and
filling in the gaps was overwhelming and just too much work, and so she
was forced to bury the evidence in the dining hall’s massive trash.
It’s true that this was a meeting like all
the ones before and that Mindy had come in late because she was busy being
alone; she was busy being alone in the bathroom upstairs which was in
the end more important to her than being on time for every single thing.
But as much as most meetings were really all very much the same, this
meeting was at least a little different because the pretty lady had come.
As the introduction introduced, the pretty lady was here today and she
would be talking to the group of them—talking about problems.
Mindy noticed the pretty lady was remarkably clean. She was remarkably
clean, and clearly very fresh, and probably smelled like something pink
and powdery and new.
Also, the pretty lady really was very pretty.
Mindy thought so, but she could tell by the way the others were listening
to her—really listening instead of passing notes or cracking jokes from
the back row where they wouldn’t be heard or rolling their eyes like they
did whenever anyone said anything stupid—that they thought so too.
The pretty lady had brown shiny hair that
covered her head in a glassy helmet and a smooth, creamy complexion without
a single pore. But this was not much of a surprise, the way the pretty
lady looked. Mindy had figured that the lady would be pretty, not to mention
trim and smiley and even a little bouncy because otherwise, what good
would it do? No one wanted to hear about problems from someone with problems.
That’s why Mindy couldn’t ask any questions. Because she had problems
and secrets and even if she didn’t share them, people could tell that
she did and if she asked about them then they’d finally know for sure
and then they’d pass notes and crack jokes behind her back.
People like Laura Calhoun could ask questions
because it was clear she wasn’t asking for herself, or, if she was, she
carried her problems so well that they were no longer problems but pluses.
Big pluses lined up in a column. One for being pretty. One for being thin.
One for eating her dinner. One for skipping lunch. One for her suede boots.
Another for Tommy Grady who she let get down her pants. She might have
problems, that Laura, but she turned them into pluses. That was what Mindy
decided she’d do; Mindy decided she would do that too, but for now she
would have to be content to bide her time.
Before she finally started, the pretty lady said she would be available
afterwards. She said that after her talk, she would be available for more
questions—private questions in the common room which Mindy knew was also
the smoking room if it was after-hours, or, if it was really late, the
she-knew-what room. But it was just the common room now and next to the
common room was the uncomfortable room with its overstuffed couches covered
in stiff floral fabric and the housemother’s hanging ferns that the girls
liked to water with beer and cigarette butts.
The fancy snacks were arrayed in a fancy
snack buffet: neatly dressed-up tables set out under the hanging ferns.
The snacks were laid out on sparkling silver trays and the trays were
lined with doilies that looked like snowflakes captured mid-flight.
The doilies looked crisp and lacy, like
snowflakes captured mid-flight, but the dressed-up table linens were thick
and overly stuffy.
The tables of the snack buffet were covered
in a thick, stiff linen that reminded Mindy of her sheets and t-shirts
and underthings when they came back from the wash. When things returned
from the wash they were shiny and also flattened from the weight of a
steamroller-sized iron that someone must have used on everything all at
once. A big steamroller of an iron mashed your things with everyone else’s,
and the whole cycle made your clothes and sheets smell like slightly burnt
cotton, a smell which made you wish that you could still have your mother
do your laundry instead.
But Mindy tried hard to ignore how the table
linen and the pretty lady and everything else made her feel; she tried
to concentrate on getting excited about getting herself a fancy snack.
When she was able, Mindy intended to head
for the fancy snacks—to get some before they were gone. She pictured herself
examining them and carefully weighing all her options. She imagined selecting
a few snacks from each of the silver trays and then stuffing them in her
sweater pocket to savor sometime later, upstairs with Mr. Boo.
And everyone else? Everyone else would be
ignoring the fancy snacks, making Mindy’s rush for them seem silly. Everyone
else would be too busy to even think about the snacks, too busy sipping
from tiny porcelain tea cups and smiling at the pretty lady. Everyone
else would have forgotten about the snacks and be focused on the pretty
lady. They would be circled around her, nodding and smiling and sharing:
Laura Calhoun and her roommate Cheryl-Lynne, and the headmistress and
the scary nurse, and everyone else too. Everyone that is, except Mindy.
Mindy would not be circled around anybody.
She would not be smiling or nodding. She would not be meeting with the
lady, no matter how pretty, whether she was available afterwards or not.
Mindy wouldn’t be talking and wouldn’t be listening but she might very
well be planning—planning how to turn her problems into pluses. Sure,
she had no experience with such things, but she could learn. She could
watch the other girls and learn. Learn how to turn those problems right
around. Mindy was pretty sure this was possible, if she could be patient.
If she could be patient she might persevere. As for her secrets, Mindy
wasn’t so sure.