Chapter 13: Susan
Martin hardly speaks to me anymore. Living with him is like living with a ghost who can eat.
Thank goodness I have my books to write and my show to do.
On the second Saturday in March, Jeff calls at seven.
“Hi,” he says. “I’m not feeling so great.” He doesn’t sound good, but I don’t say that.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Are we canceling the show today?”
“No way. You go right into that studio and knock their . . .” He caughs. “Pardon me. Knock their socks off.”
At the stroke of nine, the on air light comes on.
“Good morning. This is Tina. Jeff’s sick today, so there’s just me here.”
Everything goes well until 9:55.
I’ve just finished talking to a caller when line 1 lights up again.
“Hi, this is Tina. You’re on the air.”
There’s moment of silence, and I’m about to repeat myself, when a voice speaks.
“Hi Tina. I think it’s time you told people your real name.”
It’s not a real voice. It’s one of those voices a GPS or a phone might have.
“She’s from Detroit.”
I need to stop this.
The voiice says “Susan,” and then my maiden name.
Line 1 goes dark.
There’s dead air.
Jeff and Sam both say there must never be dead air, but what can I say?
It’s almost time to leave.
That’s what I need to do.
I take off my headset, grab my coat, and walk out of the studio.
I go outside, get into my car, and start the engine.
I pull out of the parking lot and drive toward home.
As I drive, one name goes through my head.
A very small number of people know Tina is Susan, but only Martin knows that, my maiden name, and that I’m from Detroit.
He used his phone so nobody could identify him, but I know it’s him. He’s sending me a message. He hates me. I have no idea why, but he does. I’m going to have to leave the house and Tina behind. I can’t have people knocking on our door or coming up to me as I grocery shop. Nobody’s supposed to know. Talking to people on the radio is okay, but I can’t stand the thought of people just walking up to me and talking as if they know me inside out.
Where can I go? Maybe a hotel, but those are expensive.
I’ve never worked a day in my life except to write, but I’ll have to now.
Martin’s working late today, so I have a few hours to pack.
I find trash bags and bring them into our bedroom.
I go into the bathroom.
I pack sheets, towels, some pots and pans, cups, plates, and cutlery.
I find and pack my family photo album, and that’s it.
I load my car, put the house key on the kitchen table, and make sure the door locks behind me.
My phone rings. I look at it. It’s Jeff. I turn it off. I need a phone, so I go to a store and buy a new one.
It doesn’t take long for me to find a cheap hotel. Next week, I’ll look for a cheap apartment.
It takes me longer than a week to find an apartment. I’m limited because I don’t want to have to present ID, give employer information, or my previous address.
I want to pay cash with no questions asked, but not live in a dump in a slum.
Finally, I find one. There are a lot of families with children, some of them don’t speak English, but the building looks clean and well-maintained.
The place is managed by a couple in their eighties.
“What information do you need?”
The man, whose name is John, says, “None. We live and let live. All we need is the rent paid on time.”
I pay and get the key to apartment 4A. There’s no elevator, but that’s a small price to pay.
Finally, I can unpack my car.
There are a couple of large boxes in the trunk.
I lug everything up the stairs.
I make a note to go grocery shopping more often, so I won’t have to carry a lot of bags up three flights.
After dinner, I open them.
Oh yes, all the knitting and sewing paraphernalia Martin bought me for Christmas.
I never did get around to donating it, and I’m not carrying it all back down the stairs.
I need a job so I can pay my rent and also so I’ll have something to do.
It doesn’t take me long to find a job at a fast food restaurant. It’s boring, but I get paid.
When I’m at home, I learn to sew and to knit. It’s actually fun, and certainly better than giving bags of greasy food to greedy customers.
My first project is the scarf Martin admired, except I make it in an adult size.
One day in April, I’m in the laundry room in the basement, when a man walks in with his laundry bag slung over his shoulder.
He smiles at me.
“Hi,” he says.
The machine I’m using finishes, and I open it and start shoving my clothes into a dryer.
“Hi,” he says a little louder. “I’m Matthew. What’s your name?”
I gesture that I can’t hear and indicate that he can use the washing machine.
“Thanks. I was just saying hi and asked what your name was. I’m in 4B and I think we’re neighbors.”
“Sorry, gotta run, bye.”
I leave the laundry room at a jog and go up the stairs as fast as I can.
I don’t like to leave my clothes unattended, but I don’t want to talk to this nosy neighbor, even if he looks nice. He might look good, but so did Martin, and he sure wasn’t. Matthew looks a bit like him, except he’s not as muscular.
I wait an hour and go back down to check on my clothes.
Matthew is still there.
He’s standing in front of the dryers, right beside the one I’m using. The room is a lot quieter than it was before, and I know I can’t pull off the “sorry, I can’t hear you” act.
How’s Dad doing with his new implant?
I know I should call Mom and find out, but I can’t take the chance. I can’t tell her about leaving Martin, because that would mean I’d have to tell ehr about Tina.
I can just picture her reaciton.
“What?! All these years, and you never told me? Why not? We would have bought your books and told all our friends about them.”
Yes, and that’s exactly why I didn’t tell her. I never wanted Tina’s stories to be something only my family would want to read, and only because they were my family. I wanted them to stand on their own intrinsic value, not on a mother’s love for her only child.
So I’m not going to call her.
“Your load’s dry,” Matthew says.
Has he opened the dryer and looked at my clothes? What a nosy little brat.
I rush over to the dryer. To heck with appearing a little bit rude. I am not speaking to this man, ever.
I yank open the door and look at my clothes.
Has he touched them? Should I rewash them and stand guard? Oh no! There’s a pair of underpants right on top.
I start shoving clothes into my bag. Maybe I should buy a drying rack and wash my clothes in the tub. Then I won’t have to come here and meet this thug.
The door opens, and a woman comes in with a toddler beside her.
Matthew says hi to them and I nod, smile, and make my escape.
I definitely need that clothes-drying rack.
Getting it up the stairs might be a pain in the neck, but I can’t have Matthew bugging me every time I do laundry.
He’s too much like Martin.
No more men for me.
Why did I get married? Marriage is for people who want kids, and I’m sure I never do.
I wonder how Martin’s doing now. I picture him at home, yelling and screaming to the empty house that he’s hungry, tired of ordering pizza, and promising that if I’d just come and cook for him again, he’ll call the radio station and tell them that what he said was a lie.
We’re past that, honey. Even if he could call and take it back, there’s no way I’d ever want to live with him again.
I’ll never have to cook dinner for a man again. Never.
My days of slaving away for an ungreatful husband are over.
Sure, my job is slaving away for ungreatful customers, but at least they pay, and I get some of the money, even if it’s not exactly what I’d call a princely sum.
A couple weeks after the laundry incident, I’m coming home from the grocery store.
I’m on the last flight of stairs, when I hear a voice behind me.
I’ve made red, white, and blue socks from a pattern in a knitting book.
I keep climbing the stairs, and pull on the door at the top. It doesn’t open. I pull harder.
“Is it locked?” he says.
“Want some help?”
I pull harder, and finally, the door opens.
“Wow, you’re strong. Where did you get those socks? I’d love a pair.”
Without a word, I grab my groceries and walk through the door.
He follows me.
“I guess you’re busy, but can we talk some time? Maybe we could go out for coffee.”
I reach my door, get out my key, and unlock it. I hiope he isn’t going to try and come inside with me. As fast as I can, I carry my bags inside and close the door, practically in his face.
Fine with me.
What a lot of nerve he has, commenting on my socks, commenting on me, and constantly talking when he can see I’m doing something. Just like Martin.
“Where’s my dinner?”
“I’ll be right there.”
“I’m hungry now!”
“I said now!”
That’s exactly how Matthew would act if he had a wife, I’m sure. Maybe he already has an ex.
I’ll bet he’s even the same age as Martin.
As I’m making dinner that night, I realize that I may have to move if Matthew keeps pestering me. He’s not doing anything illegal, so I can’t call the police, but I can’t have him following me around the building. Well, maybe I can order groceries, but how will I come and go to work without possibly running into him? His presence makes me edgy, and I don’t want to feel that way when I’m trying to serve customers. Besides, I have the right to feel comfortable in my own home, but it’s starting to feel like I’m back with Martin.
Nobody else is here, but I keep remembering Martin’s voice and hearing him demanding his dinner.
It was easier to ignore him when it was happening, but now, in the quiet of my apartment, it’s impossible to shut him out. Matthew makes it worse. But I don’t want to move again. There aren’t many apartments like this one. Maybe I’ll look for a night job. Laundry washed in the tub, laundry drying on the rack, groceries ordered online, and a job in the small hours when Matthew is fast asleep. He doesn’t even live with me, but he’s controling my life.
No Martin, make your own dinner or order something. I’m not your slave and I’ll never cook for anybody but myself.
Matthew isn’t in my apartment, and I’m not letting him dictate what I do. I’m going to keep using the laundry room, and I’m certainly not going to change jobs because of him. This is ridiculous.
That night, I dream.
The on air light comes on.
“Good morning. It’s-”
“I want dinner now!”
Line 1 lights up.
“Hi, this is Tina, you’re on the air.”
“Hi,” Fiona says. “Am I on the real air?”
“Yes, of course. Do you have any-”
“I want dinner right now!”
“Who’s that?” Fiona asks.
“I’m not sure. Maybe Matthew.”
“Tell her! You’re really Susan, not Tina. Tell her and give me my dinner!”
“We’ll wait while you make him something,” Fiona says.
“No we won’t,” Jeff says. “No dead air.”
“He’ll start banging on the door if I don’t make him dinner,” I say.
“Are you a writer or a wife?” Fiona asks.
I can’t answer that, so I try to leave the studio, but I can’t seem to get out of my seat.
Martin starts banging on the door.
I want to ask Jeff if he can turn off Martin’s microphone, but I can’t speak.
That same day, I start looking for a night job.
I end up going to work at a bakery. I like the work, and I don’t have to serve customers, but stay in the kitchen moving things in and out of the oven, onto cooling racks, and into boxes to be sold out front.
I can buy groceries on the way home, and I have a drying rack and the tub, so I don’t run into Matthew.
And then one day, I do.