by Thomas Kearnes
Helen has been in the bathroom for fifteen minutes. Her limit is ten. She knows this. I have the contract in my purse, next to her caddy of anti-depressants and stabilizers. I will show it to her once she returns and say, ‘What did we agree upon last month? I know you like this restaurant, but if I can’t trust you here, we can’t come anymore. Do you understand?’
I watch for other women to leave the restroom, to catch the clues not even an accomplished talent like Helen can hide. Older women, their faces pinched sour with disgust and the younger ones, especially in the summer, who bolt from the room with whispers and backward glances. Poor Helen. Like most unfortunates in her position, her hard, impenetrable blindness prevents her from knowing the effect she has on others. In some ways, I prefer our afternoons or mornings in public to the interminable days in which her paranoia keeps us trapped in her home. Aided by the indulgence of others, I can trace her movements and perform my duties more easily.
I check my watch. Twenty minutes. No doubt Helen would implore me in her singsong voice, pale blue eyes darting like goldfish, that time had escaped her. This is nonsense. Those afflicted with her condition, in addition to her myriad other difficulties, have few skills, but they do possess an inborn awareness of where they are in time. This knowledge they rarely apply to their own betterment, but it is a unique gift, a grain of sand’s awareness of where the tide will next fall.
Helen’s salad sits rearranged, uneaten. One of my coworkers once joked she couldn’t understand these women who regurgitated their meals yet never ate them. What were they vomiting? You can tell from this ignorance my coworker is a poor nurse. For unfortunates like Helen, eating, like most intimate activities, was something she only could do alone. Perhaps that is what was taking so long. I believe she was at the point in her illness where she took a perverse pride in the fact she could continue her behavior without anyone trying to stop her. After all, if one makes it her mission to destroy another, someone usually will step in, but if one decides to destroy herself, most will just step aside.