Sunday, December 21, 2003

I refuse to pay for this shoddy service

Mum: Hello?
Me: Hallo, Mum!! Guess what?
Mum: Patricia? (static)
Me: Yes, it's me, Mum! Geuss what?
Mum: What is- (static) Darling, I think we're on a bad line- (static)
Me: Oh... alright... shall I call back?
Mum: (static) WOT?
Me: I'LL. CALL. BACK.
Mum: Happy early Chrimbos to you, too, (static) poppet!

Bloody. Just bloody. I mean, total bloody. Try to tell someone the good news.

I'm emailing Lu instead. Hopefully she will get word to Mum and Dad ASAP- We leave Monday night and will be home in time for lunch!!

Saturday, December 20, 2003

I'M COMING HOME!!!

William is so wonderful… I can hardly take it all in… He has asked me to go back to England with him for Christmas! For an entire week, in London! He is fantastic!! I didn’t know what to say- it is so expensive, but I miss home SOSO much…

“Patricia,” he said, taking my hand across the café table, and looking deeply into my eyes. “I know how difficult it is to make this huge leap from one continent to another. Leaving everyone you love… all the places you know… people you can understand… who understand you…” I had to quickly dab at my eyes with a napkin- all I could think of was you, Lu, and Amy and Rose and Mary, your children and your husbands and even your on-again off-again boyfriends… I remembered Mum’s custard and the smell of Dad’s cigarettes, even though he hasn’t smoked them in twelve years. William smiled sympathetically. “Let me take you home, darling. It will make all the difference in the world.”

“But it’s so much,” I argued weakly. Even in dollars, a flight and a hotel are never cheap. “And we hardly…”

“The company takes care of it,” he said easily. “And we use one of those online places- Expedia, Travelosity- one of those, to find more affordable everything. Really, darling, you don’t have to worry about it.”

“I haven’t the money…”

He leaned in and kissed me. “It’s my gift to you. Your Christmas gift.” Dear God, when you made men, why did you make their smiles so irresistible?

I am going back to London, and I will be home for Christmas!! I hummed that silly Christmas carol all the way to bed.

Office Party

Lu, I promised on the phone to tell you everything that happened at the party. It's six-bloody-a.m. and I haven't slept a week, so go down on bended knee!

He picked me up at six-thirty, a rather early time, considering that I had just come from a school in the city. I had to skip showering but used lots of J&Js. (It's not the same here- they've stopped making it with talc.) I know Amy would want to know what I wore- a silk chapagne blouse, on sale at an outlet store, my same, sorry black skirt... and jade and gold jewelry on loan from Lian. My hair was terrible- it's been dry in all this central heating- but I managed to keep it back with gel and bobby pins. William looked dashing, as always. He drove us to a restaurant near his bulding- absolutely packed. There was a considerable French portion to the menu and I corrected the waiter's pronunciation. He had the most abysmal Brooklyn accent. (I know where Brooklyn is now, Lu!)

William did an excellent job calming me down over dinner, but when we reached the office, I was dreadfully nervous. He is a very senior partner, you know. (No need to tell me he's a catch!!) I did not realize HOW senior until he was introduced to another man's fiancee as the company's owner! Everyone deferred to him and it was a bit like being Queen of England for a night. I was on an absolute cloud.

Let me describe this office for you, Lu, because you will never believe me otherwise. It is several floors up- nine, I believe, surrounded by windows. The flooring is granite, the accents are chrome. My mother would die. Because it's the hols, they had tinsel and holly up- REAL holly. Real green boughs! It smelled lovely- just like my grandmother's home always used to. The ceilings in this building were amazing- nine feet, at least, and the trees pushed the limit with their stars and angels on top. The ornaments were SO clever- bits of computers! Instead of a popcorn string, there was a strand of keyboard buttons! I thought it was wonderfully clever, and William indulged me in the sweetest ways.

Thankfully, I did not have to sound particularly clever. Very few people spoke to me directly- I suppose Prince Philip has felt the same way.

It was well past one in the morning by the time we left, and William drove me home himself. To New Jersey and back twice in one day- for me! He is wonderful- excellent- and a lovely kisser. The first thing I did when I was sure he was gone was to kick off my dreadful shoes. Then drop onto the couch. Then shower at long last.

It is now nearly seven in the morning and I am sitting here in my nightie sipping tea and wishing that I could tell you all of this in person, Lu. I miss you most at times when I am happy.

William has just called (he could not sleep either) and said that he wants to meet for tea this afternoon. So THIS is what love is. :)

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Buggerbloodyation!!

Official: There is no justice. Have torn new stockings again. As the kids here say: Life bloody sucks. …only without so much of the bloody.

Well, no lunch, but stockings were on sale at the grocer. Perhaps there is justice.

Too Much!

There is no justice in this world, for, if there were, I would not have to dash out on my meagre lunch break to buy new stockings. If there were justice, I would not have made a run in the only nice black pair I have on the bloody playground.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Baby-sitting

Lian didn’t know I was going to stay home today, so she knocked at the door at my usual time. I had to struggle out of bed and to the door before she left.

“Yes?”

“Oh, Pat-ish-a! I sorry- Did I wake you?”

“No, no… it’s alright…”

“Can I ask you for favor?”

“Urrrr…” Hair limp and tangly, nightie all rumpled and bunched, eyes all crusty and dry… “Ask.”

“An still sick, and Brian have to work, and I have to work- I lose pay if I miss more-“

My first thought was for An. “She’s still sick? Oh, the poor child… They’ll dock your pay?”

She nodded miserably, just as freezing as I was. “And she too sick to go to school again.”

I nodded, my mind made up. “I’ll come around as soon as you want me.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, yes! I was going to take today off anyway.” To do my hair and my nails, and have a nice bath…

She looked SO relieved. “Thank you, Pa-tish-a,” she said, hugging me tightly. She barely came up to my chin, but she was warm. I hugged back and smiled, and in an hour I was in the apartment, being shown where the medicine was and what to do should such and such happen. They kissed An good-bye, and she stirred, so they were able to explain to her that I would be staying. She looked at me foggily and then went back to sleep.

They told me to help myself to the kitchen, so I made myself some of Lian’s lovely green tea (note: NOT good with milk) and heated up those lovely little green onion pancakes for breakfast. I felt quite exotic, sitting at the low table to eat. Of course, as soon as I did sit, An woke up.

She mumbled something in Chinese when I went in, and I had to push her to answer me in English. The poor darling was burning up- I felt a streak of panic. What was I supposed to do for fever again? Right, the bottle- the bottle written only in Chinese characters, with some… very foreign elements inside. Was this really what I was supposed to give her? I didn’t want to call Lian, though, and Brian probably wasn’t at work yet. Who on earth could I speak to? WILLIAM!

I left a message with his secretary and made An a little cup of tea. She didn’t seem very interested, but she did settle down.

It was eight thirty when the phone rang. “Zhao residence,” I declared, trying to sound confident.

“You’ll never make anyone believe you’re Chinese with an accent like that,” said a WONDERFULLY British voice.

“William!” I said happily, clutching the phone with both hands like an excited schoolgirl.

“How are you, Henny Penny?”

“Well- not so well. But An is worse.”

“An? Who…? OH! Yes, Brian’s… What’s wrong with her?”

“Well, she has a stomach flu and Lian left me with this bottle… for her fever, but I can’t read it… It’s all in Chinese…”

I could just imagine him nodding, and tipping back roguishly in an office chair. “What does it smell like?”

I blinked. “Smell?”

“Yes- pour some into a tablespoon and tell me what it looks like and what it smells like.”

That sounded rather odd, but I did as he suggested. “Syrupy,” I said. “Syrupy and… it smells like berries.”

“Elderberries?”

“Yes!”

“That’s fine to give to her. It’ll make her sweat the fever out.”

Gratitude and affection- no, not love, Patricia, affection, swept through me. “Thank you, William… I don’t know where I would be without you…”

“My pleasure, Penny.” The smile was threaded in his voice.

That’s how the day went. An alternately sleeping, taking tea and elderberry syrup, and insisting that I read to her. Once I let her come into the living room to watch television, but she fell asleep. I worried about the fever- she was certainly sweating, but by the time Brian got home, she seemed much perkier.

“Thank you, Patricia,” he said sincerely, holding her tiny hand. I returned his smile.

“It was my pleasure.”

Back From the Shops

Have just come back from a brief shopping spree. Lian is finishing her shift here and then we are going home to have a traditional Chinese supper. William is more than marvelous. He’s invited me to his company’s Christmas party this Friday, and so I scraped together enough money to buy a simple black dress and new stockings. I’m going to feel horribly underdressed… but Lian is going to let me have a look through her jewelry tonight.

Beginning to regret taking Friday off. But how could I say no to a girl with a virus and a woman at her wit’s end?

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

A Sweet Intervention

Yesterday seemed absolutely doomed to be one of the worst days of my life- and yet it somehow ended up as a rather all right one. I am amazed. It began when I found my closet nearly empty. I haven’t many clothes with me to begin with, but this weekend I didn’t have time to go and do the laundry. Which left me with the skirt I wore to Thanksgiving, and a shirt that is MUCH too thin for this weather. Have I mentioned how cold it is here? It’s not even snowing and it’s FREEZING. I’m amazed anyone is still doing business here- but New Yorkers seem content to continue to walk the streets. Unfortunately, I had to do so this morning in a skirt that barely comes to my knees, stockings, a thin shirt, a MUCH too thin jacket (which has been all right thus far, but it was VERY windy today), and, because I was wearing the skirt, high heels. It was murderous, and made my mood all the worse.

By the time the school day ended, I was feeling absolutely miserable, and not particularly paying attention as I walked to the bus. I kept to myself, leaning against the bus sign, wishing I had a hot cuppa and a hug waiting for me at home, instead of a chilly apartment an hour away.

And then, out of nowhere, this fellow says to me, “Oh, hello. You look like you’re freezing. Why don’t we both try that stop up front? The bus neglects this stop three times a week.” I found myself staring at an Indian man in a long trench coat, holding a terribly battered brief case. He looked strangely out of place surrounded by scarves and down jackets, all these bundled up students.

“I beg your pardon?”

“It's not going to tell you that on there, silly,” he said, not unkindly. “'Sorry, we're incompetent louses and we don't know when the hell any of our buses come' I've learned one thing when I came to this country, madam, -- and that is that these train schedules are but the best fiction I have ever read.”

I had to laugh at that, and let him cajole me into joining him for tea and cocoa before going to the other bus stop. I confess, it was the promise of something hot that made me agree to go. He was a little clumsy, but a perfect gentleman- my uncle would call him an excellent byproduct of the British Empire. Frankly, I couldn’t care less. He was fantastically polite and funny, and he introduced himself as Tim. He seemed completely sympathetic to the trials of a teacher. And he obviously likes small children. He also offered to pay for my tea.

I’m afraid I ended our conversation rather rudely, however. He asked me what I had to worry about, and I replied with something about MEN, of all things to mention…

“Men? You’ve got many of them?” he asked, raising a dark eyebrow. “A good kind of stress for a woman!”

I blushed, quite enough to keep me warm on the bus ride home, and stammered a bit. “No- just- one man. And he hasn’t called…” All the anxiety welled back up. What was I doing on a street corner in this freezing weather, telling a nice man who had invited me for cocoa that I already had a man in my life?

He seemed to not be offended, however. He called me something again, I don’t remember quite what, and said, “Don’t worry!”

But I was already feeling wretched. “Why?” I asked cynically. “Is that common practice in America? Not to call?” I felt TERRIBLE- he hadn’t done anything wrong! But my bus came, and I had to board right then or lose my seat. He looked so very piteous standing on the sidewalk, waving as the bus pulled away. I smiled back, and I waved, but I don’t know if he saw me.

Worse, Lian told me when I arrived home that William had called. She seemed alright, if tired, and was bundling An out in a little puffy jacket that she could hardly move in. The jacket sneezed and began to whine.

“Sorry, Pat-ish-a,” Lian sighed. “An have doctor appointment.”

“Oh, no- is she ill?”

“Stomach virus. Hope we no wake you las’ night. Very messy.” An was fussing and she lifted her onto her hip.

Relief flooded me, and I nodded. “No, it’s alright. Really. Go to your appointment- I hope you feel better, An.” When I got inside, I slit open every envelope of mail I’ve received this week, and made myself a cuppa with lots of hot milk.

Lloyds says I have a perfectly fine balance. As a gift to myself, I cam giving myself a recovery day from all of this frustration and turmoil, as I am quite exhausted. I am going to stay home on Friday and do my hair and my nails, then go to dinner with William.

…but I will tell you more about that meeting, later, as it is well past the end of my work day.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Tense

I cannot do this. Mum called yesterday while I was at school saying something about Dad in the hospital, but I can’t call her back until Sunday because I haven’t got the money- Lu, please, please, PLEASE tell me what has happened. I cannot- what if something has happened to him?

I haven’t opened the Lloyds envelope and it’s been nearly a week. Will they fine me for that? I keep meaning to, but it is deep in my bag (Oh god- it’s getting all folded and worn- What if I have to send something back? It’ll look like a first year’s math homework-!) and I manage to never look in there or take it out or do anything else useful with it.

Here is what is really the final thing on the cake- I heard Lian and Brian fighting this morning- early this morning. It started with An crying and then I could see their lights coming on (it lights up the wall behind us) and I could hear them squabbling and it turned into a full-out fight and now I am worried that something has gone terribly wrong with them. Maybe Lian slipped? Maybe he is angry that she hid it from him? Merciful Mars Bars, what if all the pleasantness has been a sham and they are getting a divorce?

And where is William’s phone call?!?! I think I have made myself worse.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Bad Teacher

It’s a sign. I am not meant to work with children. They assigned me to fifth graders today and the little SHITS would not leave me alone.

“Where are you from?”
“What’s your accent mean?”
“Oh- didn’t you lose The War?”
“What war?”
“The one my Grampa’s always talking about-“

They played EVERY trick known to man!!

“Michael Anderson?”
“Here!” Giggle giggle.
“Jeffrey Baylor?”
“Here!” Gigglegigglegiggle.

“Michael-“
“My name’s not Michael, it’s Jeffrey!”
“Jeffrey-“
“No, I’m Michael!”
“I am!”

I’m still picking bits of paper out of my hair, and I think I’m going to cry.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

BLOODY ducks.

She said, “I’ve heard this one before,” and climbed into my lap. I just had time to publish that last entry and close the window. She is a surprisingly solid child, for all she looks like a tiny porcelain doll. Her eyes are actually a very dark brown, rather than black, which they appear to be from a distance. What could I say?

“Don’t you like it?” I asked, remembering that Louisa has complained of her rascal wanting to hear the same story over a thousand times.

“No.” Her little nose wrinkled in distaste. “It’s about a fire engine. I don’t like fire engines.”

“What do you like?”

“DUCKS!” she yelled happily, and giggling madly as every head in the vicinity turned to us. Oh, GOD- did that sound enough like--? I’m getting such dirty looks!!

“An!” I scolded, “You can’t be so noisy in the library- people are trying to read.” Lord, even the story hour woman is glaring at me. I feel like a terrible person! And it’s not even my fault!

She wriggled around until she was kneeling in my lap. “Can we go outside? Maybe we can see ducks-”

I looked at her, and I looked around the room. That Library Stillness and Murmur was just settling back into place, and I didn’t want it to be torn away again. “Lets go ask your mum.”

So here I am, an hour and a half later, frozen to the bone. An does not seem as unhappy, and is happily telling Lian about her time while Lian checks in books. Her shifts ends in fifteen minutes, so we will head home to a lunch of dumplings and tea. So hungry…

…when will William call?

Saturdays

At the library again. Lian is working and so it is my job to keep an eye on An and make sure she doesn’t try to make the story hour librarian play hopscotch with her in the middle of the circle. I don’t know where that child comes up with these things. She’s been incredibly insistent lately. Brian says that this means she likes me and is very comfortable with me. I am beginning to regret choosing a career in education, and am only grateful that French is usually only taught to older children in the United States.

CRIPES- An has wandered over!!

Friday, December 05, 2003

The Suspense Will Kill Me

Lian won’t tell Brian, and William hasn’t called. It feels as though all my troubles right now are wrapped up in the Zhaos. Even An insisted that I play hopscotch with her yesterday when I got home from work, but I had just come from the grocer with my hands full and she wouldn’t even let me go inside to them down. My milk had ice crystals by the time I tried to make tea.

Brian is absolutely oblivious. He hasn’t a clue that anything is wrong, but I can hear that things are getting strained next door. They’re fighting more- I can hear it through the walls. (Who the DEVIL builds houses out of this awful cardboard? Where is the STONE? The BRICK?)

At the Genetic Mutation Plant two days in a row. They keep turning the lights on and off to see if their bacteria are glowing yet. I hate genetics.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Aaaaugh and what-rot

William has not called. Why not?? He said that he would- and he was so prompt before. Thursday to Monday is only three d-

Nevermind. I will give him another day.

Still have not opened envelope. Am hoping Victorian ideal of Ignore It Until It Goes Away will apply.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Bank Statement

Oh, dear. Pretend you haven’t got money issues for a single lunch hour, and the bank will very quickly remind you… The postman was at the communal mailbox on the corner as I hurried out to work (hurried more to be out of the chill than because I was late) so I asked him for mine. He was very kind and gave it to me once I showed him my key, and so I had something to read on the train here. (Here being a very swanky high school; my class is performing experiments on bacteria to make them GLOW IN THE DARK. I think this is rather risky, even for an advanced Genetics class, but there is a department aide here making sure they don’t set off a radioactive mishap and turn Manhattan Island into another Three Mile Island.)

I had all the usual- catalogues and other junk mail, none of which I can afford to indulge it, but that I read regardless… yet I have saved this dry, foreboding envelope for last.

It is from Lloyds TSB (Offshore- bless them), and it has been sitting on my desk all day.

I do not want to open it. I am afraid that my meager paycheck is not enough. I’m afraid that I will have to go back to England in ruin. I shall lose the apartment and the Zhaos and be sent home in disgrace.

It will keep for tomorrow.

Do wish William would call tonight.

Monday, December 01, 2003

I am supposed to be “subbing” (as everyone here calls it) for a history class this period, but they have been given a video to watch and I am simply over the moon. William was waiting outside the school in his car, and we drove to a lovely restaurant a few blocks away. The food was wonderful- I had a salad and sandwich- it feels like I have been missing real food for weeks!

We talked about everything- my work, his work… and England. So much about England. He has been here for almost a year, and so he wanted to know everything. And I was more than happy to tell him. The only downside is that now I feel I miss it all more than ever. I almost forgot that we were sitting in an American restaurant, about to pay with dollars for our meal. Speaking of which- he wouldn’t let me pay. He insisted on his role as a gentleman to be allowed to treat me.

I am afraid he thinks me poor and naïve.

Did I give myself away by asking him to change our arrangement? Maybe my cardigan is frayed?

I hope he does not think any less of me for it…

He is so sweet! He said, “Of course, love. Where would you prefer to go?”

So we are going to meet for lunch in twenty minutes- Wish me luck!

William!

William called! He called just like he promised!!

We are going to dinner and a film tomorrow evening. He said to dress semi-formally.

Shit. I have only my business suit for interviews. Must call and ask to change plans… He must know what it is like…

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Merciful Mars Bars!

On our way home from the library on Friday, Lian looked very pensive. She said, “Pat-ish-a, have you had husband?”

I was a little taken aback, but I said, “No… I’ve never been married.”

“Boyfriend? Long-term.”

I thought back to Jimmy The Slug. “No, nothing long-term.”

She sighed, watching An skip ahead of us to examine the remains of someone’s garden. “You keep secret?” Of course I said yes. “I did not know how to tell Brian. We have another baby.”

I nearly tripped. “Another baby? You’re pregnant?” She nodded. “Lian, that’s wonderful- I’m so happy for you.”

She gave me a wry smile. “But will Brian be happy?”

“Of course he’ll be happy- he loves An, and he loves you.”

“But we struggle so much with An… We young, and he work for post office. I work for library.” She dropped her voice confidentially, clearly unhappy. “We not have much money. Kid expensive. Diaper, doctor, college-“ She studied An, who was squatting next to the patch of dying plants, her little red jacket just barely covering her bottom. She always looks cherubic, even after destroying the library’s Thanksgiving display. “I love An. He love An. But we dunno how to afford second baby. Maybe he not be so happy. Maybe he not be happy… and tell me he is, to make me happy.” The thought did not make her happy.

I squeezed her hand, and smiled encouragingly- more confidently than I felt. “You won’t know until you say something. And then you can decide together.” I felt very wise, and I also felt very warm when she smiled at me. Suddenly the wintry air didn’t bother me as much.

But now I must try very hard to keep this secret. ‘elp!