Practical Life
by Steve Weisman

Georgine had taken to writing graffiti. Though she could not see it in this way, (the deviance far more complicated, dark and grave in the privacy of her own thoughts), her vandalism was an act of love. What began with an episode on her forty-first birthday flourished, as summer was swallowed by August, into a fierce compulsion. A can of spray paint stowed beneath the car seat. Sharpee pens shoved down among the more utilitarian items in her purse. Her illicit deeds belied a secret life, one she disclosed to no one including her husband, Conrad, of course especially Conrad. She kept a notebook filled with foul, remorseless verbiage, a kind of diary or rehearsal space, and worried constantly that he might discover its hiding place, removing it from under the bed, to the linen closet, to the small cupboard above the refrigerator home only to juice squeezers and muffin tins. She ignored a single temptation to research her behavior on the internet, preferring the obvious to the clinical. Georgine lacked the criminal in her life. Her motives obfuscated reason or justice. The ends justified the means. It just plain made her feel better.

Her birthday, the first in the new house, they celebrated at Fantucci’s, the menu in cursive script and Chianti bottles hung from the ceiling. Georgine excused herself after the meal, the restrooms a wander down the fluorescent corridor of the adjacent mall, and soon found herself more buzzed than she’d intended, bow-legged on the toilet, sweaty and feeling out of her mind. The toilet paper dispenser, to go with several miscues that particular evening, was empty. Written in a bold, flagrant hand across the stall divider were the words, Hickory dickory dock, my tongue slid up his… It went on.

She stared at the vulgar limerick and it quelled the tears that had been soundlessly forming. The insolence made her smile. She reached for her purse, drew out the only available implement, a rosewine colored lipstick, and watched her own boney hand quickly draw a giant penis and testicles and the words, I hate giving head but my husband likes it so I do it anyways and tell him I don’t mind.

Back at the table she was flush and shamed. Conrad noticed the change and made her drink a full glass of water. In the parking lot, it was April but the clocks had changed and it was still early enough for the orange light of dusk, he gave her a soft kiss on the cheek and felt her forehead. “You have to drink more water in this heat, Georgie.”

A month later she thought the thing was gone, an anomaly caused by wine and age. They took a trip down to Yuma, Arizona to visit Connie’s mother. Georgine did all the work, the cleaning, the visiting, while he watched golf on television. They sat in wicker chairs on the patio, in the heat and shade of wilting bougainvillea. Georgine talked about the house, her plans for fixing it up. “She won’t do it,” Conrad shook his head. “We’ve been there since February and not a thing done. We’re still living out of boxes.”

“I have my ideas,” she conjectured. She’d been working on purchasing some wall hangings on-line.

“Sure, sure,” he said.

It wasn’t true and it hurt her feelings. There had been flowers, little pink things from the nursery at the end of the expressway that she planted along the front walk. Some hand-painted plates with roosters from their weekend to Catalina Island she displayed on stands in the dining room. She’d tried. But Connie had vetoed her early enthusiasms. The house was too big, too abstractly vacant to undertake at once.

The afternoon before they went home, Conrad took her across the border into San Luis Rio Colorado, his mother staying behind because she hated the crowds and the Mexicans. They waited in line at the pharmacy where their pills were a fraction of regular cost. Georgine wanted tacos for lunch, but Connie refused. “Dog meat,” he said. “I’m telling you.”

“Just once isn’t going to kill us.”

“That’s all it takes.”

She looked sideways at the mongrels begging for scraps on the street corners. Underneath an elm they sat on a concrete bench sharing churros and an orange Fanta. Across the street a group of children played baseball in a lot. Conrad talked about the history of the siesta. Behind the boys and their game, an entire wall swarmed with color and lyrics. A collage of Spanish words, symbols and artwork splayed across the dark brick in bright yellow and orange. In the center, the crude outline of a naked woman with udder-shaped breasts stretched its arms outward, possibly in welcome, maybe submission, Georgine wasn’t sure. The eye sockets were hollow like a skull’s and a forked tongue curled from the lips.

On the walk back to the border, Georgine kept watchfor similar displays. She hadn’t noticed earlier in the day, but many of the buildings and alleyways were painted with graffiti: words, pictures, both crude scribble and beautifully rendered. Patient drawings, of sad men and statuesque women, an eagle with a snake in its mouth. She thought of it like a secret language, a shared network of communication, sign-posts in the wilderness. She saw a skinny little girl with a thumb-size wedge of pink chalk drawing on the sidewalk. Georgine stared, but the girl looked up and her dark eyes went wide with sudden shame and she ran off.

There was one more incident, on the ride home, that enabled Georgine’s coming addiction. Conrad wouldn’t pull over to let her use the bathroom. Exit after exit. He was concerned with “making good time”. Finally they stopped for gas at an off-ramp service station. The toilet was disgusting, and Georgine hovered, holding her breath. Leaving, she paused to see herself in the mirror and found her image disappointing. Her hair was ragged from the open window and freeway, her skin blotchy, eyes wide behind the glasses like a cartoon owl, fearful, feral, she thought, her features small and lost on the landscape of her face, and her posture tentative, crouched it seemed, like a child or pet waiting to be scolded. On the mirror a ragged blade stroke etched out the words, Eat Shit And Die. She reached into her purse without hesitation. With the rosewine lipstick she slowly added in neat letters, Without love all one’s life is to, and here she applied commas, Eat, Shit, And Die.

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