Monday
Jan052015

A Heart Beating Hard

By Lauren Foss Goodman


University of Michigan Press
December 2014
978-0472036165



 

Marjorie stands here in her self in her pains in her place in front of the swinging door at the front of the Store and waits for the People to come. She smiles wide and holds her hands together behind her soft back. The door is long and glass and when the People step toward it the door swings to the side to let them through. Outside it is cold wind and gray ice and hills of black-spotted snow. Outside is home and the Club and Ma in a box beside the sofa and Gram and her Stories. Outside, the lined-up hills that surround the town are covered in white, are powdered, like donuts, coated, like white chocolates, round and circling like arms like walls. Outside there is the mountain rising. Inside it is bright white light and warm. Hot. Heat blows down from the light-lined ceiling right here right on the place where Marjorie stands. Marjorie stands here in the blowing heat because here is the first step the People take in out of the cold. Here is where the snow falls off boots and melts in pools. Here there is a puddle that Marjorie stands in, a puddle made by the boots and coats and hats of all the People who step into the warm around her.

Sometimes Marjorie sweats, a little, standing here in the hot air, but she does not mind. She does not move from the puddle, from her important place here by the door. Marjorie smiles her Store smile and thinks her Store thoughts. The People, the cold, the hot, the Hello, the things, all the things. Here, in her place, she is busy helping the People and so does not need to direct her self to the good departments. The registers beep and beep and beep and beep and the People pass by and the registers beep. Marjorie wears clean brown pants and black sneakers and a white short-sleeved shirt under her blue vest and when the door swings open she is red-faced, smiling, ready to Welcome the People. She does not need to remember or wonder or imagine. Marjorie needs to say the words she needs to say.

Marjorie says:

Hello.

Welcome.

Cold Out There Today.

Good Morning.

Good Afternoon.

Good Evening.

Come On In.

Marjorie holds her heavy shoulders still so that the People can see her name tag. Her name is very long, so long that the white stuck-on letters touch each other, so that her name is almost longer than the tag.

MARJORIE.

Marjorie stands up straight as she can and smiles and she is very good at keeping her eyes on the door and waiting and watching the People come in. She feels the straps of her bra under and inside, making a pain, holding her up. Marjorie moves her wind through slow and steady, in and out, down and up the length of her self. She is bigger than most. Marjorie takes up a little more space than most of the People but Marjorie knows this, Marjorie knows how to hold her self still, how to move her wind to make her self smaller, how to smile so that the People will smile and not notice how she has just a little bit more of the world than she should.

Hello.

Cold Out There Today.

Past the door is the parking lot and sometimes when the day is slow Marjorie watches the People park their cars and get out of their cars and pull their coats down over their belts and lock the car doors and check to make sure the doors are locked and walk from their car to the swinging glass door at the start of the Store where she is ready for them and waiting for them and smiling for them.

Welcome.

Hello.

Cold Out There Today.

Hello.

Sometimes Steve stops by to tell Marjorie to Mix it up a bit. Steve has a lot of long black hairs growing above his lips and he is big and wide like her. He wears his extra-extra-large shirts tucked into his black pants and often his shirts rise up when he bends over and often Marjorie sees some of Steve's white black-haired skin come up to the surface. Steve is big and wide like her but Steve is not quiet about it the way Marjorie is. Steve likes to talk loud and laugh loud and slap People's backs loud and Steve is loud about his big and fat, proud about it. Marjorie is not proud and not not proud, Marjorie is just Marjorie and Marjorie keeps quiet. Steve likes to push his huge chest out so that all the People will see the yellow pin on his vest that says MANAGER.

Try something new, Marge, Steve says.

Marjorie, she says.

Marjorie's name is important. She does not want to be called any name but her name. Before she had Ma and Him calling her all sorts of names and now that it is after, now that they are done and now that Marjorie is done with Him she is done with all the names except Marjorie.

My name is Marjorie, not Marge.

Sometimes she points to her nametag, just to make sure that Steve understands.

MARJORIE.

Okay, Marjorie, Steve says.

Keep it new, he says. Keep them happy. Get them in here so they'll empty those fat pockets. Keep it casual, you know, natural. And excited. Hey, I love that coat. Come check out these great sales we're having. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. All that shit.

Marjorie smiles her big Steve smile.

I will try, she says.

Try isn't good enough. Try harder, Margie. You got to do, not try. You mind if I call you Margie?

Sorry, I mind. My name is Marjorie.

Okay, okay, no need to twist up those fat panties, Marjorie.

Steve squeezes Marjorie's shoulder with his big fingers with the small holes in them where the black hairs poke through and Marjorie stares at that hand as it squeezes. Steve squeezes Marjorie in the pained place where her bra strap cuts through, where her shoulder splits into two hills. The squeeze is just a fast squeeze, a moment squeeze, and soon as his hand has touched enough of her for her to feel it, Steve walks slow off to wherever he goes to do whatever he does in the Store. Steve and his squeezes. His dirty mouth. Marjorie rubs her shoulder at the spot where Steve's fingers were, rubs and rubs until she cannot feel his hand anymore.

The problem of Steve. Marjorie tries her best to see People as good and kind. Steve is fine and Steve laughs a lot and the People seem to like Steve. It is just that Marjorie is very particular about her touching. Down one of her inside aisles she has a list of People She Minds and a list of People She Does Not Mind. And the big ghost of Steve that walks around pinching those hidden parts of Marjorie is on her People She Minds list. So Marjorie always smiles and tells Steve that she will try and rubs and rubs at the place where Steve was, and then goes right on being Marjorie, staying right where she is, saying exactly what she feels is right for the People.

Welcome.

Cold Out There Today.

Good Afternoon.

Come On In.

The door swings open and Marjorie says Hello and just as she says Hello she sees that this is not just People coming in, that this is Benjamin. Her friend. Good. A good break in the People. The good of the outside coming in. Marjorie smiles big and waves.

Hi, Benjamin.

Benjamin is pushing a shopping cart piled high with small plastic red-and-green Christmas trees. He is tall and thin and not old and not young. Benjamin leans over the handle of the cart and his hair, dark blonde, long, twisted into tangled braids, hangs heavy down around his head. His skin is smooth and such a good color, like cinnamon, like gingerbread man. Marjorie likes the color of Benjamin's skin and sometime Marjorie would like to reach over the space between them and touch Benjamin's arm. Not a big touch and not a squeeze. Just a touch, to see, to feel, what Benjamin is.

Hey, Marjorie, Benjamin says. How's it going?

Benjamin is good. Benjamin smells good sour, a green apple smell. Benjamin always stops by to say Hello and ask Marjorie how the day is. He works in the sides, at the back, in the belly of the Store, in hidden places where the People cannot go, doing important things. Benjamin is always busy. But Benjamin always comes by to say Hello and Marjorie always enjoys talking to Benjamin.

Good, Marjorie says. Good.

Marjorie smiles her best. She keeps her eyes on the door in case People come in. She keeps the gone of Ma to her self. Not because Benjamin is not good. Because she does. Because this is what Marjorie is doing.

How are you today, Benjamin?

Oh, hanging in there. We got a shitload of shampoo delivered last night and four of the boxes exploded somehow. Don't know what happened but it smells like fucking Hell back there. Like some lilac and strawberry and orange and vanilla orgy. Some fucking sorority massacre or some shit like that.

Marjorie nods and smiles. She does not always understand what Benjamin is saying, and so many of Benjamin's words are bad words, but Marjorie knows Benjamin is good. Marjorie understands that sometimes People cannot be blamed for how they talk, that People learn to say what the People around them are saying. That if it were not for Gram and television, Marjorie might also talk like Benjamin, like Ma, like Him, like People who say bad words because bad words are probably all they have ever heard.

Wow, Marjorie says. Sounds smelly.

Yeah, something awful. And then we got to get rid of all these asshole Christmas trees by the end of the day.

Marjorie nods and smiles and steps two steps sideways so that Benjamin can move his cart through.

Benjamin pushes past and stops and puts his hand gentle on Marjorie's shoulder. His long thin fingers feel fine there, feel warm and not hard or hurting. Benjamin is on Marjorie's list of People She Does Not Mind, so his hand touching her shoulder is fine, is good, feels good.

I'll stop by later, Marjorie. Stay warm, it's fucking freezing out there.

Okay, Benjamin.

Benjamin walks away into the long, bright deep of the Store and Marjorie turns and stands tall as she can and smiles at the People passing through.

Welcome.

Cold Out There Today.

Hello.

Benjamin and Marjorie and all the workers and even Steve are here for the good of the Store, are here to help the People. The bright lines of white light above Marjorie shine out for what feels like forever. Lights above shine out and out and down in long lines on the white shining floor, so bright Marjorie sometimes feels as if the whole of the Store is just light and light and light. The People pass through the swinging glass door, pass by Marjorie's Hello, and the People say Hello or the People do not say Hello and the People move on and into the Store to find the needed things. Spaghetti sauce and shampoo and t-shirts and tin foil and toothpaste and bottles of pills and boxes of tissues and bags of chocolate. So many People passing by and so many things out there to need.

And Marjorie, here, to say Hello.

Marjorie, here, to help.

Mostly Marjorie stands with her back to the Store not because she does not like the Store but because she likes it so much. This is a very huge Store and what Marjorie has come to understand after a long, long time of standing here is that a very huge Store is like very huge water. Not like the brook that sat low and still at the end of dead-end Summer Street. But big water, wide water, like the biggest lake, maybe, or like the sea, maybe.

Hello.

Marjorie has never been to the sea but she has seen it many times on television and she can understand how People feel about it. She knows that the sea is something People like to stand beside because it is so endless and beautiful and so strong that you have to stop thinking about your self because you are so small and finished. People start at their heads and end at their feet but the sea has no entrance and no exit. It just stretches and stretches and stretches. Goes and goes. This is why the sea happens so much on television. Because it is good, strong, and forever.

Cold Out There Today.

Welcome.

And this is how the Store is too. The very huge Store just goes and goes. It rolls out behind Marjorie, reaching so far back it feels as if there is no end. Marjorie keeps her eyes on the glass door and the parking lot beyond because if she were to look back into the Store she is a little sure that she might never be able to stop looking. Outside, there are hills touching hills in a circle against the sky that shows Marjorie where things begin and where things end. In the Store, here, behind her, there is just too much to see. Too many things. Baby clothes on baby hangers, televisions in love, big plastic plants, Bibles, bibs, sofas, fish food flakes, toothpaste, vitamin this and vitamin that, bras, tiny electric cars, dolls, cough drops, mops.

Good Afternoon.

Come On In.

Marjorie thinks this must be like what happens when People put their bodies under the sea and open their eyes. Down there they have so much to look at. Down there are all the colors of all the fish, the waving seaweed, the sharp gray lines of the sharks that cut through and how the sunlight comes down into the water and burns and disappears into all the dark under of water that does not end.

Welcome.

People open their eyes under the sea to see all of these things and this is why, Marjorie thinks, People are not made to breathe underwater. So many good things to look at down there that if People could they would stay under the sea forever. But People need to feel air and wind and sun in them and so no matter how much they want to stay and look at the sea, to live, to keep living, People have to stop looking, sometime.

Hello.

Cold Out There Today.

The Store is just like this, except the Store never closes. Except that People can breathe free and full in the Store. The Store is bright and warm air blows through and music plays and People laugh and registers beep. Just turn around and start looking and it is possible that Marjorie might never be able to stop watching all the things and things rolling out down the aisles and aisles and in those aisles things arranged in rows and boxes and baskets. On shelves on racks on tables on display. White-bread white and pink-panty pink and cornflake yellow and orange-juice yellow and orange-cat orange and mint-mouthwash green and purple-pen purple and angry-faced red. Every color People will ever see in the whole history of People is out there somewhere in the Store. All the shapes, too. So many smells, Marjorie cannot even begin to think about how many smells there are in the Store to smell. Blueberry muffins and coconut shampoo and black magic markers and chicken-liver cat food and coffee and roses and popcorn. Sea-scented candles and dried seaweed in packages and sand in hourglasses. The Store so huge that even the whole sea can fit inside it, if Marjorie stays too down deep in her thinking.

Welcome.

Come On In.

And above, there are signs. Big blue signs hanging down with their big white letters show the way.

HOME DECOR

BEDDING

JEWELRY

WOMEN'S WEAR

WINDOWS

ELECTRONICS

BABY

When Marjorie does need to turn, when Marjorie needs to walk out into the center of the Store, she looks up. She watches the signs to know where she is, to know where to go. The signs above and the things below and the People all around, searching, circling. Looking for what is needed.

Marjorie smiles and shakes her head from this side to this side. She stares so hard at the door her eyes almost cross. If she thinks too much about the very huge Store behind her, Marjorie begins to feel dizzy with the long beautiful lined-up life of all the things. It can feel good to be pulled and part of something so big, but the pull can also feel so strong Marjorie wants to sit down right here and close her eyes and be in her dark for a while. To spend some time sitting in her own departments, smelling the things she has stacked up on the shelves, touching the good she has saved from before and the new bright things she is finding in this after. The sound of the frogs singing in the dark in the brook at night, Dr. Goodwin and his shiny shoes, Gram on an up-day putting on her lipstick, and Lucy.

Lucy.

But here is the door to watch and there are always waves of People to say Hello to. The Store without the People is like the sea without the fish. Marjorie smiles and thinks about how good it would be if just for one minute of one day all the People in the Store—and Marjorie, too, Marjorie, too—could stop having to walk on their feet and instead float up light and free to swim around and touch and taste and hold all the beauty of all the things. Marjorie thinks it would be very good if sometime People could have a break from being People and be something else instead.

Good Afternoon.

Hello.

Cold Out There Today.

Marjorie stands her two feet hard on the floor and takes deep breaths and does her best to stop thinking about the big of the Store pulling her big self into it. So many departments inside for her to turn to, so many things she has to turn away from so that she can keep standing, keep smiling, keep giving the People her Hello. Marjorie bends one knee and she bends the other knee. Inside, her pains are here, are long, heavy, but quiet, but no different than usual. Sometimes she blurs her eyes so that the colors of the cars and the gray of the parking lot and the bright silver flash of the sun on the glass of the door become all the same, all shining. She smiles, she takes wind in, blows wind out. She waits. She speaks.

Welcome.

Hello.

The door swings open, slides shut. Cold air blows in and feels good mixed with the hot air on Marjorie's bare skin. Beside Marjorie are registers beeping and rows and rows of People lined up and needing things. Morning, night, always, the light in here is the same. Bright, white, beeping, everywhere. The light comes from long tubes up on the ceiling and sometimes when the day is slow Marjorie likes to look up at the loud lines of light and close her eyes and watch the ghosts of those lines cut across the black inside. Up, down, and across her departments. She does this now, looks up, stares until the bright lines hurt her eyes. Until she burns, until she needs to squeeze shut inside her self, to watch what happens there. Marjorie opens and closes, and closes. Because it is so cold outside that the People are few, because this is a different kind of pain, because this is something to do that belongs all and only to her.