The words over at Three Word Wednesday are conniption, janky and scooch.
Ethereal, Lightness & Being
As far back as she could remember, Gloria Brackens had never spent a day of her life happy, and rightly so, she thought.
There was the story of her birth, which grew to legend status among family at gatherings, told over and over more as a defense mechanism against Gloria’s abrasiveness, rather than the fondness of the moment.
Gloria Brackens had left the warm wetness of her mother’s womb screaming.
The wailing continued through the weigh-in, the foot-printing, the attempts by her mother to quiet Gloria at her breast. Finally, when she could not take it any longer, Gloria’s mother gave her to a nurse, who held the pink, wailing child at arm’s length. Gloria’s mother then burst into a fit of weary wailing all her own.
The nurse, a short and stout woman who broke down her white orthopedic nursing shoes with some frequency, fearing for the sanctity of the nursery and all the quiet, happy little souls laid there, found a bassinet, deposited Gloria into it, wrapped her gently in soft cotton blankets and parked her in a utility closet near the boiler room.
Gloria simply cried herself out into slumber, like a flame that succumbs to ember, then ash.
As she entered her 40s, unhappily alone and childless, Gloria began to think that maybe a life of lemon-sucking sourness probably wasn’t going to get her past the Pearly Gates without some deep, deep discussion and explanations, something she abhorred in the most strongest of terms.
And while riding the 7 train back to Queens after juggling another day of accounts receivables for her corporation (Gloria’s bosses avoided her office like a flaming turd, but agreed that there was no one better suited to squeeze accounts than the dour Ms. Gloria Brackens), she read an advertisement behind an ancient, liver-spotted-etched and wrinkled Chinese mamasan – actually asking the old woman to dip her head so she could read the fine print of the poster – that promised the key that could unlock a chest full of happiness in a single weekend.
Gloria rifled through her purse for a pen and found the back of an envelope to jot down the Web address of the school. She finished the ride by making two small Hispanic children cry with a cold, disapproving stare.
Days went by and the envelope with Gloria’s tight, precise handwriting sat near her open laptop, which now not only carried vital information about possible happiness, but served quite well as a coaster for her tea cup. Gloria, while ordering foodstuffs online for delivery that would come from a Negro driver she thought was shiftless and lazy, picked up her mother’s bone China cup and saw what she had written, clicked open a new browser tab and searched out the school in question.
It took he another two hours to actually sign up for the two-day introductory course in practical philosophy, which would be held in a week’s time in a well-appointed town home in the upper 70s in Manhattan.
It was a crisp winter Saturday, the kind of day that still attracted runners to the sidewalks in their tight, brightly-colored Spandex that Gloria disapproved of openly. She waddled to the station and took the 7 to Grand Central, waddled over to the 6 up to 77th and waddled the two blocks to the school.
Gloria gripped the wrought-iron railing and for a moment felt something other than unhappiness flowing through her – she thought she felt a twinge of fear. The sensation was not unlike a paper cut, searing at first, then a sharpness that stayed in the background. Gloria surrounded it with melancholic thoughts, gripes and despair, lifted her ample frame up the speckled granite steps to an oaken door with an impressive black iron crow’s head knocker.
She rapped once, twice and nearing the third knock the door swung wide and Gloria was swept into the foyer by a tiny, bespecked man in a tweed suit, a kind of professor getup, complete with leather patches at the elbows. He grabbed for Gloria’s hand, pumping it furiously with both of his, making proper introductions and the warmest of greetings.
“I am Randolph Hirsh, a student here at the school – there are no ‘professors,’ just volunteers who have been here a few days longer than anyone else (he laughed at his own joke), and I’ll be leading your class this weekend,” he said jovially, so much so that his jowls shook as he spoke. “You’re a little early, so I invite you to the library for refreshments.”
Gloria, feeling a bit janky from the onslaught of Hirsh’s oblivious happiness, stumbled into the walnut-paneled library, where other, equally-exultant volunteers asked for her coat, brought her tea with milk and sugar and a small plate of assorted cookies, including Pepperidge Farm Milano sandwich cookies, a personal favorite.
Gloria avoided much of the small-talk going on in the room, preferring to stick to the high panel of books at the room’s outer-edges, ticking off the names across spines in her mind, flaring her nostrils at the titles she despised, raising a slight eyebrow at the ones she didn’t quite mind.
She huffed a breath when Hirsh put a hand upon her shoulder, pointed a tiny, black-hair-covered bone-white hand jutting out of its tweed hole in the direction of a classroom and asked her with great enthusiasm to join the others and grab a comfortable seat.
“This will change your life,” a cheery woman at the door said. “What’s your name, dear?”
The woman ticked Gloria’s name form a pre-printed list she kept in a leather-bound folder, then gave Gloria a nametag with a metal clip that could be pinned to a lapel or a dress, Gloria’s first and last name neatly etched in two lines in fancy calligraphy.
Gloria chose a seat near the back, right on the aisle and percolated away with a practiced despondentcy, lest someone would occupy the seat next to her seeking conversation and camaraderie. The room filled up quickly and Gloria scanned eager faces with a flat, disapproving detachment.
Hirsh began by clapping for everyone who made the trek, then went over the ground-rules for the course, taking tiny sips of water from a wineglass, which Gloria found distasteful and fake.
“Leave everything you thought you knew at the door, better yet, leave it at home,” he said, adjusting his wire-rimmed glasses. “We’re here today and tomorrow to give you practical guidance to open your heart and mind to wisdom. For that’s what philosophy is all about right? ‘Philos’ the Latin for love and ‘Sophia,’ wisdom. So what we’re going to do here is give you the tools to love wisdom. And in that, you should find happiness.”
Gloria huffed loudly through her nose, enough to draw sideways glances from two gay men dressed equally elegant in wool slacks and sweaters in various shades of gray.
For 20 minutes, Hirsh went over ground rules, listened intently to questions Gloria found rote, and then announced the first exercise intended to unlock the well of happiness inside them all.
“This is all about staying in the moment,” he said. “Feeling your senses, yet not being aware of them as to take away from the moment.”
Hirsh invited the class to sit spine-straight in their chairs, arms resting comfortably on laps or thighs, feet secure to the floor. He asked that the close their eyes, breath deep, relax.
Gloria was the last to shutter her lids, running her top teeth across her lower lip as she did so.
“Good. Now feel the weight of yourself on the chair, the weight of your feet on the floor,” Hirsh said in a calm, flat voice. “Feel the fabric on the skin. Good. Now taste. Smell. Finally, listen. Listen to the conversation in the hallway, but let it go. Go further out, hear the noise of the street, listen further out.”
Gloria’s mind cleared. She felt like she was standing at the edge of a deep, dark pool. There was a calmness, a stillness. Her mind was blank, not empty, but void of the everyday buzzings of work and home and TV and subway beggars.
Slowly, nearly unnoticeable, the corners of Gloria’s lips began to turn into a smile.
Just as the grin was fighting to blossom, Gloria felt a presence standing next to her. She cracked an eye and was greeted by a late-comer, a strikingly thin woman with dark, Slavic features who, as she gained Gloria’s attention, opened her palms, thrust them forward and said, “Please, be so kind and scooch over?”
She then smiled, her red-painted lips drawn dangerously thin across perfect, white teeth.
“Piss off,” Gloria hissed, low and threatening.
Gloria motioned with several head pumps toward the three empty seats next to her.
“I am not understanding you.”
“Drop your skinny ass into any open chair that’s not occupied by me,” Gloria said.
The conniption broke the silence, all eyes falling first on the woman in the black knit dress, thick black leggings and black leather boots that came up to her knees, who covered those red-painted lips with the back of her hand, her cheeks going as red as the lipstick.
Gloria tried keeping her eyes clamped shut, tried going backward toward the deep pool, but the tension was too much. She cracked one eye open, then the other.
Everyone in the room had screwed themselves into a position where they could watch the commotion. Arms rested on chair backs, eyes blinked.
“Ah, yes, perhaps we should continue without any further outbursts,” Hirsh said. “Welcome, newcomer, please take a seat and let’s continue, shall we?”
The woman passed ass-first, claiming the chair furthest from Gloria. The woman’s eyes, indeed every eye in the room save for Hirsh’s, which were currently focused on his scuffed brown wingtips, bore holes into Gloria.
“Fuck this,” she said. “And fuck you all.”
She stood slowly, ironing out the clothing wrinkles with her palms and waddled into the library, calling sternly for a volunteer to get her coat, immediately.
Hirsh bit at a knuckle, but made no attempt to stop Gloria from exiting the seminar. Neither did the volunteers, who stared at the floor, or the wall as Gloria swayed on heavy hips toward the door, opened it, exited and slammed the heavy wood for all its worth.
Once on the street, Gloria looked one way toward Central Park, then cast a glance toward Madison Avenue. She turned toward Madison, deciding to take the train back to Queens, back to her tiny, tidy flat to ever stew in her unhappiness.
Approaching the corner, she watched a maple leaf move across the sidewalk, its colored crispiness dancing to the whim of the wind. She watched, then closed her eyes.
Gloria felt her weight on the sidewalk, felt the pressure in her cankles as they pressed toward the cement. Gloria tasted. She smelled.
She listened. Past the loud-talkers on their mobiles, past car engines and horns, past the breeze, even. And in the moment, Gloria’s mind cleared. She was back at the edge of the pool, unaware.
And she smiled, a big, toothy grin that drew stares from the passers-by who ebbed and flowed around her quiet, stationary self.