Jo Neace Krause
Fiction in DREAMSCAPES
WHEN I WAS HAPPY and in high school, we lived next door to a woman who
a few years later would kill herself. I was sixteen the year we moved
beside her, into a little brick cape with a narrow back yard. We were
moving into town from the country, to escape the long drive to school
and work. I loved the idea of being in town. I was a cruel self involved
teenager who thought about nothing except my face and body, my legs, my
hair and clothes. I wasn't pretty, but I knew with a sly cunning how to
make people believe I was . I don't know how I picked up such cunning.
Just knew if you held yourself a certain way people would think they were
looking at a beautiful girl, when all they were seeing was a posture of
beauty. That's why they began to say, "Josie is a pretty girl, isn't
she? Real nice girl too. She looks good in her clothes., don't she?."
I worried about my popularity. The way people worry about their health.,not
wanting it to fade , so I kept looking at myself in the mirror upstairs,
holding very still, staring, as if not sure I existed.. I had a little
gang of similarly self involved friends of which I was the leader. We
were always together. At the games, at the drive-in, at the sleeping parties.
We drove around in my father's car, knowing our importance, singing all
the great songs , bodies rocking in the seats , oh dew wat ta dew wat
ta dew wat ta dew. Oh, Hearts made out of stone will never never break.
All the love you have for them, they just won't take. We measured and
judged each other by a rigid code . Clothes might save you for awhile.
But usually you were either good looking and had a neat walk or you were
a scag . And we didn't hang around with scags. We cut them out of our
lives like weeds . Dewwatadew wat ah dew wat ah dew.
My face. My face in those days, my breaking smile, my quick flashing eyes,
even after all those hours of studying it, I still couldn't describe it.
Can't begin. Couldn't get it down right because it was too mixed up with
the famous faces that floated in my dreams, faces I imagined I should
be like, deserved to be like. Tried to draw my face, doodle it when I
was on the phone, but the real features escaped me. White. Round. Heart
shaped. Valentine face. Full lips. Dark hair. Almost black. Practiced
kissing the mirror like I was in a scene with Bogart. Me Bacall. Hair
over the eye. You know how to whistle , don't you? Just pucker up your
lips and blow. Ah ha ha ha. Now let Jean say it. Now let Shirley. Go on,
Glenna, you show'em how to do Bacall.! Ask Bacall's big question. Quiet
now. Quiet. Anybody got a match? Collapsing in laughter on the floor.
Cheerleading in the back yard. Doing the splits, the flip. Who doesn't
like me? Who doesn't love me? Who oh what god could stop this high sweeping
roll of life carrying me spinning down the shady streets with my curly
shiny hair , my clothes , my laugh, my intimate knowledge of all the great
movie stars and singers and dancers of this wonderful world?
A woman. Pushing open a screen door. A tall lithe woman in summer . Somehow
very alone. Stepping, stepping down her little back step .Yellow shorts
perfectly ironed with a crease, a thin orange tank top. Carrying a radio
and glass of ice. Followed by the little dog. Ordinary little dog. But
strange. Obviously a strange dog. Staring at me. Why did it stare like
that? So stiff and intense. Dogs normally don't stare at people. They
wag the tips of their tails in a good natured salute and trot off. They
don't study you like you sleep in a coffin. Little crazy dog.
Woman lies down on a lawn chair, fixed her dark glasses. crosses her legs
at the ankle. and turns on the radio but you can't hear anything coming
from it. The dog takes up a space near her feet , a slick shadow, but
its eyes follow me. I am learning to do a cartwheel. I know I can do it.
The dog begins a strange low whimpering.
"I better not catch your father looking over there at her. Pink and
orange! Anybody, anybody in their right mind knows those colors clash
like tin cans. All she wants is somebody to look at her. Who does she
think she is? Never does a damn thing. Cleans that house and then lays
around all day in the yard for people to look at. I don't care who hears
me, I'd say it to her face.."
"Mom, she didn't do anything to you. "
"She doesn't do anything period. Her husband is on the night shift.
And there she sits. If she had to work like me. Getting up at five o'clock
in the morning and catching that damn bus into town. I'd have somebody
looking at me too if I could lay around all day getting tan."
"Mom, be quiet . You make me sick. "
"And you, whata you think you do to me? Just sit and gawk in that
mirror upstairs. You and that gang of maggots you carry around in the
the car....you better make them help pay for the gas or I'm locking the
damn thing in the garage. "
A woman coming out of her door. Neighborly and bright. Skirt this time,
but the same intense starched neatness. Lifting her hand to my father.
She looks very happy, but like something is hurting her, like someone
in pain, meeting a crowd of well wishers with a sword plunged, stuck in
her heart. Something bleeding in her. As if it is a tremendous event to
wave to someone. "Hello, Mr. Arwood," she calls brightly across
the small lawn.
"How's it going, Dorothy! Going to have some lemonade and a little
sun, hu" My father answers. He is pushing the old lawn mower. All
his life he lived on a farm, lawn mowers are urban toys to him, a come
down from his old serious machinery of the farm. Yet he is pleased he
has moved into the city so his girls can be in town. If they are going
to do things after school, like be in the marching band, or be cheerleaders,
then the farm is too far away for them to drive after practice. He works
in a printing company , night shift. "Getting some real sun, huh?"
The woman comes forward to talk, but it is the dog that takes my attention.
the dog stares as if terrified. I am astonished to see it begin to tremble,
trembling as if with a chill. that would shake the flesh off its bones.
I take a few steps towards it, curious. The dog seems paralyzed by a terror
, like an engine throbbing, its poor legs are like leaves trembling in
a wind.. "I wont hurt you, what's the matter?"
The dog convulses on the ground, foaming at the mouth, "He'll be
all right in a minute, he does that if someone comes near him. He won't
let you near him." Finally the dog comes back to itself and stands
weakly up on its legs. "He's all right now. Just leave him alone,"
Dorothy says,looking at me.
"I didn't do anything to him."
"Get away from him."
I lunge at the dog, it cringes back under the lawn chair in a whimpering
"Best to let him alone, I said."
"But why? Why is he like this?"
"That's just the way he is. Some people are like that too. Never
...." she didn't finish her sentence. Her voice was high and lilting.
She was pretending to be happy, smiling even though her dog was having
a fit of some kind.
"I bet that's the way her own insides are. The way that dog is,"
My mother says. "That dog knows more than you think it knows."
" But Dorothy's really pretty. Pretty legs. Tan. She looks like Loretta
" I'd look like Loretta Young too if I never had to have three or
four big ass babies and wipe and scrub after a bunch of lazy girls. That
bathroom better be clean when I go up there."
"Why does she want to keep a crazy dog for?"
Driving off with my friends. The scenery speeding, whirling, radio loud.
Sara Vaughan going but Shirley calls her old snot nose. Old snot nose
is singing. Shirley likes a new singer called Johnny Ray.They're going
to play Johnny Ray is a minute. He's deaf she tells us. But my favorite
song now is Secret Love. Once I had a secret love that dwelled within
the heart of me Oh ,God I loved that song. Everyone knew my secret though.
It was Bobby V. When we drove out it was to see if we would run into Bobby.
He worked for the Egg Factory. Candling eggs. He held eggs up to the light
to see if they were sound. "Come in here and let me hold your heads
up to the candle, see if you got anything in them. See which one is bad."
He knew how to put people in their place while smiling at them at the
same time. He looked really cute in his apron. He was on first string
line up in basket ball, and I liked to park with him , after the games,
we'd eat at the drive in and go up in the woods near the city water tower.
All we did was kiss. I never let him do anything else. I wanted something
more. I wanted to turn into a movie star or something I guess. Anything.
Bobbie would be kissing me, breathing hard. "Honey, listen. Honey,
you keep playing hard to get, you just keep playing hard to get, and you're
going to be playing by yourself."
" You better not be letting these boys around here kiss you in the
mouth. That's all I've got to say." Mom's thick back and shoulders
going out of sight down the hallway. She likes to tie a rag on her head
when she is serious about cleaning the house. She slaps the dust cloths
against the book case angrily.
"You hear about Dorothy? Her husband stepped over in the yard told
your dad. He looks awfully bad. Pale and worried. She had a nervous attack
of some sort Wesnesday. Tried to kill herself. Got her locked up over
in Longview. The state hospital. She'll be in there a month."
Bobby V. and me parked. No, I don't want that. Well, what do you want?
"Something better than me, is that what you want?"
"I don't want to be like everybody else in this town. All the little
houses. All the little babies. I hate it. I think I would like to write.
" You wanta write the world off, that's what you want you. I know
people like you. What else could you write? " he snarled.
"Stuff..I'd like to just write stuff."
"Shit."he hisses through his teeth," Its people like you
...I mean it, its people like you that cause all the trouble."
"Why are you getting mad at me ?"
"I just don't like a tease. I hate a damn tease. You want to go home?
I'll take you home."
A woman walking down the other side of the street, clutching a purse close
to her side, so tight its like she is about to break her fingers clutching
it like that. Walking in a determined way , as if hurrying to meet an
appointment. Tall and slender, pale now, sandals. A pink sun dress, her
slender back exposed. Brown hair in a simple cut. Hurrying down the empty
street of the small town where no one hurried.
"Dorothy is nervous. The doctor told her what she needs. He said
you should get a job. Get out of that house. Her husband came over and
told your dad. He's a nice man but befuddled. He doesn't know what to
do. They asked about where I work. Downtown in that department store selling
soap to those old screwballs from Indian Hill. Yesterday some woman came
in with a piece of pink toilet paper, wanted to buy soap to match it.
Wanted three hundred cakes of soap delivered. I showed her thirteen different
shades of pink soap. Which do you think matches best? Which pink.? She
kept coming back, three days in a row. Yeah, you can cure yourself with
a job like mine."
Woman in a white slip brushing her hair in front of the mirror. She is
really pretty, but beginning to age, beginning to dry out, deep within
her a dry desert growing. Upstairs looking down at her through the bathroom
window. Her long slender arm, the brush flying,pulling the soft brown
hair back from the animal face that is beautiful. Beautiful but wooed
by death. A face to adore yet no one is looking except the spy next door.
Wooed by death says the spy next door. My English teacher says, why, Josie,
that is sort of interesting. How did you think of it?
Woman opens her door and comes out , looks around. Her dog is at her ankle,
its eyes bulge with an unhealthy suspicion of the world beyond, these
eyes travel and roll like two large marbles up the side of the house ,
up, up to the dark bathroom window, where the dog face suddenly jumps
back in a stab of alarm and begins to moil at the woman's long elegant
foot. "No .No. What do you see? Something out there in the dark?
What's out there, what?"
"Who's there? What do you want?" the woman calls.
"She was married before, you know that? Her husband was in the war,
died in Korea. But you have to get over things like that. Thinks like
war.. War is like earthquakes. Nothing personal. You have to get over
them and go on."
"Well, I can't believe she's got a mind like she's got." My
mother was shaking her head." She won't drive. Too nervous. Won't
ride the bus. That upsets her. I talked to her about the bus. I said you
can sit with me, and know what?"
"She has the entire bus route memorized. In terror, she has memorized
it. She sits over there and goes over the route in her mind, over and
over. Everything on the road. Herself in the bus, the bus carrying her
along . She's frightened of the whole road. It s a torment the whole way.
Afraid her heart will start beating like hell and she'll have to get off.
'On this route there's a doctor's office in Mary Mount. Right next to
the traffic light,' she said. 'If it happened there, I could get off and
he would give me something. The doctor would be there to help. Give me
a shot to save me. But there is no other doctor on the road. That traffic
light is my last chance.' Now , you tell me if she sounds all right. Someone
talking like that?"
Doctor Sage comes up the sidewalk of her house. He is very short, white
haired, carrying his black bag. He seems weary, almost put out about it
all. Behind him follows Dorothy's old mother in a long flowered dress
, brown and drab, the kind old women wear. Flat shoes. Hair pinned in
a flat greasy roll to her head, hands clasped in front of her. A dark
shadowy woman who must smell dank and musty like an old house where life
has been battled over and over. Behind the mother walks the father, a
little procession. The father is short and thick as well, they look like
two cinder blocks, trudging along, and everyone knows they never had any
children, but adopted Dorothy . They work at the school. He is a janitor
and she works in the cafeteria. They try to get Dorothy to work in the
school but she won't. They try to get her to have children. She says she
can't. Their faces are drawn in pain. Who thought it would end like this?
"I've told her what she has to do," the doctor says. "I'm
through with her. You've got to have some guts . This world don't run
on poetry. All that junk she reads."
Dorothy is better again. The medication is helping her and she comes back
outside, although it is November now, chilly and the leaves are falling
off the trees. She talks with my father. He is a nice man, my father,
a southerner from the mountains, but there is no macho flash about him.
He is simple and encouraging . "Hey, you're young. You'll come out
from under it." he tells her. "I've seen it all my life. You're
pull out from under it."
The dog is standing behind her , its watery eyes stare at me in an edgy
suspicion. It seems to be thinking something insulting about me, something
very degrading, sifting my insides with its nose, you're a fake. You're
a fake. I know about you., it seems to be saying, know what you do with
the boys, how you let them . How. you let Bobby V. He bosses you around.
And you're trapped. You won't be able to do anything once you get out
of school, and what are you going to do anyway,you who act so big, like
you're something? What in hell are you going to do when they turn you
out of that highschool, that prison?"
The dog is shivering again
"Did you smell my butt?" I point a teasing finger to the dog.
"Don't do that, Josie!"
"What am I doing, just looking at him. What's his name, I never hear
you say his name."
"He doesn't have a name.'
"Why don't you name him?"
"He doesn't need a name ."
Dorothy suddenly covers her face with her hands and begins to weep. She
runs inside her house , hitting the doorframe with her shoulder, stumbling.
My mother follows her inside.
"Why did you do that, honey? Why did you lunge at the dog like that?
I saw you, Josie. You shouldn't try to frighten the dog It upsets Dorothy."
"He's a stupid little bastard, always staring at me like he can read
my mind. Like he thinks I'm no better than he is or something. Stuck in
some little house ...shivering and shit.."
"I don't want you talking like that. I want you to act right. Do
right. I want you to make something out of yourself so you really won't
be stuck at home in some little dog house.'
"I'll do exactly like you want, I'll buy a penthouse by the ocean.
Is the Arctic Ocean good enough?"
"Josie, respect your mother!"
Mother bent over the phone. She is crying. She is astounded. She is talking
to me. I'm miles away. "Honey, something awful has happened here
in town. At times I'm glad you're living in Charlotte. You know that Dorothy
.... who lived next door.... well, Dorothy killed herself yesterday. Yes,
oh, god, yes, she did. I went out early like I always do to work, and
looked up,I don't know what made me look up right when I did, but there
in the attic window I saw something. I didn't want it to be what I though
it was. Her hanging by the neck in the window. It was me who called the
police. Then everybody came. The Priest. Father Herman. She had climbed
up on a ladder. Took enough pills to kill forty men. Put the rope around
her neck , and when the pills put her to sleep she fell off and the rope
caught her. I've been crying all morning."
" Well, don't cry, mom. I don't know what to say. I guess she didn't
have much to live for. Did she still have her little dog. That little
"Oh, that dog was dead. Lying right next to her. They say it was
already stiff as a board , been dead about an hour before Dorothy herself
died, to their guess. No, she didn't poison it. It just died on its own.
So, I tell you It knew. It knew what she was going. Dogs know more than
people think. Poor little thing. But how're you doin' honey? You and Bobby
and the babies ok."
© Jo Neace Krause 2003
Camden, West Virginia
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