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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

The Subheroes Chapter 11: Sense and Sensibility

Submitted by on January 24, 2005 – 9:36 AMNo Comment

It’s looking like snow. Jenny hopes it snows; snow dulls the old smells, makes it easier for Rina to work, plus maybe they’ll open the bookstore late and she won’t have to go in for a full shift. She hates it there more and more lately, how dim the rest of them are about everything. Her Elizabeth Gaskell idea was really good, but she might as well have told it to a lamppost.

Of course, Shelley’s no better — don’t get her started on Shelley. “Get her ready, twenty minutes” — these things take time. Rina isn’t a dog. She has an instrument. Even virtuosi warm up before they play, but Shelley always just sends someone, and then Inge shows up — Inge, with her dirty nails and those trousers, and she always roughhouses with the cats and says they like it, but they don’t, Jenny can tell.

The Voice put it on the wire this time, the job. Rina was listening to it in the study while she worked — the cookbook people, don’t get Jenny started on them, either, they’re as bad as Shelley always wanting it right now last minute, worse probably, no respect for the craft. When Jenny came in, Rina was cocked back in her chair staring at her sneaker toes, and Jenny asked what she was working on, and Rina jumped and said in a not-there way, “Oh, chicked…uh, viddaloo.”


It’s pretty easy for Rina to pretend she can’t hear Jenny, that she misses what Jenny says or that she’s talking to Rina at all. Her ears don’t usually get stuffed up, it depends on the allergen she’s taking, but sometimes it’s easier if Jenny thinks they are. Jenny’s always doing — talking, fixing, washing — and if Rina wants to just sit and have a good stare at her feet, she has to make like she doesn’t hear.

Rina puts her chin in her hand and stares at her desk until everything on it is burnt onto her eyes — the boxes of Kleenex, the pot of Burt’s Bees, the jar of caraway seeds paperweighting a galley page — the last quiet moment before everything rushes in, led by Jenny with Rina’s boots under her arm.


Inge is in a bath when The Voice stop the Mozart to say, “Voice to all Trackers, Voice to all Trackers, location reports please, over.” Mr. Sharp say he is in a park, Tanisha say she is in the downtown, and Inge get out of a bath and say she is in a towel, and The Voice say for her to go to The Nose and Jenny at their house, to wait, and The Driver come there.

Inge, looking in the mirror, make a face at herself very sour and stomp off to put on the clothes. The job is the job, okay, but Jenny. Pah. For the first thing? Everywhere, the cats. At the door is cat, on the table is cat, on the refrigerator is cat, each sofa cushion is cat cat cat…and cat, on desk, in bathroom, always is cat. Inge like a cat or two, but it is like Escher at that place, ridiculous with the cats and do you sit on one by mistake? Take very much care, do not, Jenny will become, just, rage. Inge work with many rage people as adult film actress, no one as rage as that one Jenny. And also her hair is not good, it is paste to her head. From rage, Inge think. Weigh down the hair.

All the way in the bus, Inge listen to music and think the calm thoughts about Jenny. Rina, Inge wish to work with her alone but this is not the world we live in.


It’s not an instrument. It’s just what she is, just this thing that she…has. When Jenny acts like she’s some kind of delicate genius…the thing about geniuses is that they’re always crazy, too, a little. Rina’s just a regular person…who can tell when they’ve cut the grass…in Connecticut.

Why doesn’t she live in Connecticut? …Montana, the Yukon, someplace that isn’t overloaded with people and their smells, exhaust, food, sweat? She tried it for a while. She had a cabin at the top of Maine — Fort Kent. She thought the cold would kill the scents, but — it didn’t work. There’s always the smell of something and it’s always strong, and in the city it’s the subway and Chinese food and ten million colognes, but out there it’s weather systems and dander and fear. People are still afraid, and animals, and she could still pick it up. And thunderstorms. Those were harder, outside the city. They stung. And not as many fires, but each one seemed to — have more information in it. Dolls and things. Jewelry melting.

So she lives here. She can see the latest movies here, get work, get the shots she needs.


Some of the times Inge wonder, can she be Rina instead of be herself. In the old job, she can choose the thing to see or remember, put the rest away, anything bad. Rina, everything come in the nose, she smell everything. Inge feel like she cannot live this way, always to take the shots to plug up the nose, plug up the ears, to stay inside the head. To do it is too hard, and not to do it is too hard.


“Oh, poor thing, she can’t enjoy popcorn” — that’s not true. The injections only dull it, things still come through. Rina can still test the recipes. There’s just so much ig-norance surrounding Rina, people are just so wrapped up, they don’t think. Jenny wishes they would just think, just for a second.


Jenny is treat Rina always like a child or a cripple, and she is not. Inge tell you one thing, if there is the baby in that pair of them it is Jenny. Rina can give herself the shots, Inge see her take care for that a few times, but Jenny always is protecting, like Rina is just born.


Her first word was “fire.” She was — just a baby still, really, and she ran to the window and said “fire, fire.” So serious, her mother told her, years later.


Very grown-up in her face. Like reporter or priest.


Her mother sniffed the air, didn’t smell anything, opened their front door — nothing, no smoke, no sign of fire anywhere. All up and down the street, nothing.


Just birds, tweet-tweet.


But the next day, in the paper.




Two houses burned to the ground, the families out in the street, a little boy died. Fifty miles away.

The headaches started around then — not long after.


Rina goes into a bathroom off the foyer. One of the cats is napping in the sink and it blinks equably when she turns the fluorescent lights on. She opens the long mirrored cabinet full of vials, sitting in regiments, labels out — grass, leaf mold, merino, forsythia extract — and syringes and gauze pads and, at the end, a little handbag labeled “Go Kit,” which she takes down.

She holds it for a moment, weighing it in both hands, and opens it to count everything off — alcohol wipes, two hot-shot syringes of wool dander, Gravol for the nausea, Tylenol PM, earplugs, oil of lavender.

Jenny comes in. “I already checked that.”


Jenny stands there.

“Okay. I know. I just like to see. For…myself.” Rina rezips the bag and smiles and takes the glass of water Jenny is holding out for her, and after a moment Jenny leaves.


It is like…it is like Inge’s job in adult films. The people think they can know what it is like for Inge, was like, because maybe they see a film like this or they imagine things, but they cannot know. It is not better, not worse, not more than they are thinking — it just is, it is the job, and unless you do it, you do not know its face.

Inge does not know the face of Rina’s job, but what it is like to do a thing that no one else can know, that you are seen and not seen — she know this. Know it every day.


Rina washes down two Benadryl and looks in the mirror at the red rings around her nostrils. In a few minutes, she will start to look less puffy around the eyes. She will start to feel taller from the inside, in her lungs, as everything deflates and the air comes in and everything on the air with it, fried chicken and diesel and snow and diapers and dread. Her head will fill up with the world and what is happening in it, a Babel of food and cars and death out of which she will have to hear and understand a single voice and call out what it says and hope Jenny knows what it means and tells Inge where to find it.


And Inge will find it.


“Voice to Jenny, Schooley’s Mountain PD radioed in to Jersey State Troopers at twenty-two hundred hours — Ghost en route. Tracker also en route, get ready for pick-up at twenty-three hundred, acknowledge, over.”

January 24, 2005



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