May 06, 2010

Ally Given, installment #6

When the phone starts ringing Ally is in the downstairs bathroom, her face 4 inches from the mirror, popping zits. It’s recently become difficult not to disappear into the minutiae of her own deeply imperfect visage. The shame of these daily obsessive excavations combined with not wanting people to yell at her to hurry up and pound the door has produced a sort of nocturnal double- a late night resident of the house who creeps around distributing tiny spots of pus to reflective surfaces.
The phone rings once and the echo reverberates in the kitchen and through the hallway. It seems to shake the bathroom door. It’s wicked late for anyone to be calling, Ally thinks. Must be a wrong number. But it stopped after that first ring. Which means someone picked it up. Murphy’s got the portable in his room. It’s been there all summer- she knows because when the battery dies on the handheld it beeps- muffled by the ratty folds of Murphy’s comforter in the deep shadows of his sunless unkempt bedroom- until Ally goes in to find it and put it back on the receiver in the den downstairs. The phone has, many times, provided an excuse for Ally to rummage through the well-worn Playboy magazines in the drawer of Murphy’s bedside table; to stare, astonished, as naked women recline, spread their legs, offer themselves to anyone, even to her, in the musty, penumbral light.
Without hesitation- no ethical considerations, maybe the barest practical fear of discovery- Ally walks down the hall and picks up the receiver on the kitchen phone, covers the mouthpiece, holds it to her ear. There is a girl on the line, and she’s crying. Murphy’s voice, strained, a voice Ally almost doesn’t recognize, says

Nadia. Nadia. calm down.

I won’t fucking calm down!

I don’t know what you want me to do. I-

Fuck you!

Total silence, as if the Fuck you abruptly changed her mood.Then Murphy:

Does your mother know?


Nadia practically snorts at the end of this “NO”. Whatever is being discussed, the idea that her mother would know about it is the most ridiculous thing anyone has ever suggested to her.

Well, I mean…maybe you should tell her.


Okay, don’t. I just….I don’t know what you want me to do.

There is resignation is his voice that reminds Ally of a much older man.

Just fuck off! She says, then
Just be a man. Fuck!

The girl is indignant, but just beneath the surface of her indignation is something flailing. Something that can’t get a grip. Her valiant attempt at getting a grip is that “Just be a man. Fuck!” projected with inherited, and therefore false, conviction.

Murphy says nothing. Ally hears him breathing out hard, through his nose, and she knows he is probably sitting on the edge of his bed in the dark, in his shorts, elbows on his knees, with one hand on the phone and the other one gripping his forehead, pushing back his rust-colored cowlick.
Ally doesn’t think she knows her brother very well- who he is, really, on the inside- but she knows all his physical gestures and characteristics almost as well as her own, through years of (totally disinterested) observation while being forced to inhabit the same house. Now, suddenly, she feels a sharp physical pain in her chest, and it has something to do with him, with the mysterious happenings of his life that she knows are none of her business. Ally hangs up the phone and wishes she could have been content not to hear, to know nothing more about Murphy than what she could easily understand.

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