Nobody Said When

I check the clock, during dessert, canned pears with cinnamon, standard

for lunch, and look for Moira in her place, two tables over. She’s gone already. I put my hand up, I am excused. We don’t do this too often, and always at different times of day.

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In the washroom I go to the second-last stall, as usual.

Are you there? I whisper.

Large as life and twice as ugly, Moira whispers back.

What have you heard? I ask her.

Nothing much. I’ve got to get out of here, I’m going bats.

I feel panic. No, no, Moira, I say, don’t try it. Not on your own.

I’ll fake sick. They send an ambulance, I’ve seen it.

You’ll only get as far as the hospital.

At least it’ll be a change. I won’t have to listen to that old bitch.

They’ll find you out.

Not to worry, I’m good at it. When I was a kid in high school I cut out vitamin C, I got scurvy. In the early stages they can’t diagnose it. Then you just start it again and you’re fine. I’ll hide my vitamin pills.

Moira, don’t.

I couldn’t stand the thought of her not being here, with me. For me.

They send two guys with you, in the ambulance. Think about it. They must be starved for it, shit, they aren’t even allowed to put their hands in their pockets, the possibilities are –

You in there. Time’s up, said the voice of Aunt Elizabeth, from the doorway. I stood up, flushed the toilet. Two of Moira’s fingers appeared, through the hole in the wall. It was only large enough for two fingers. I touched my own fingers to them, quickly, held on. Let go.

“And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband,” says the Commander. He lets the book fall closed. It makes an exhausted sound, like a padded door shutting, by itself, at a distance: a puff of air. The sound suggests the softness of the thin oniony pages, how they would feel under the fingers. Soft and dry, like papier poudre, pink and powdery, from the time before, you’d get it in booklets for taking the shine off your nose, in those stores that sold candles and soap in the shapes of things:

seashells, mushrooms. Like cigarette paper. Like petals.

The Commander sits with his eyes closed for a moment, as if tired. He works long hours. He has a lot of responsibilities.

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