Saturday, 3 December 2011

One is the loneliest number

Vera Polk was tired. Her younger sister had descended on her for the four-day Thanksgiving weekend with only a few days notice, and she’d shown up with her new girlfriend and her daughters in tow.
Illustration by Mark Satchwill
Vera had given Kim and Sarah her room and bedded down her nieces on the pull-out couch, which left her sleeping on a blow-up mattress on the floor of the room she used as her office. She hadn’t slept very well and the sleep deficit was still playing havoc with her biorhythms more than a week after her guests had gone home.
The visit had been a disaster.
She hadn’t expected to be cooking over the holiday. Usually she and her best friend hit the Thanksgiving buffet at the Sportsman’s Lodge and then went to a movie afterwards. It was low-stress and she could eat herself willy without having all those tempting leftovers sitting around afterwards.
When Kim had called her on Tuesday to announce she was coming—it was Kim’s universe, Vera just lived in it—Vera had scrambled to assemble the necessary ingredients for a Thanksgiving feast, spending way too much money on pre-made dishes so she wouldn’t have to spend way too much time in the kitchen.
It was soon obvious that Kim’s intention in coming to visit had not been to spend time with her sister but to use Vera’s condo as a free home base for a four-day vacation.
Sarah had made it very clear she was not impressed with the nest Vera had made for herself—a comfy, cozy two-bedroom off Magnolia close enough to the high school where she worked that she could walk there if she wanted.
“You should rent out this extra bedroom Vera,” Sarah had suggested when she saw Vera’s home office. “Someone to help you out with the mortgage.”
“My home is paid for,” Vera said.
“Well, for companionship then,” Sarah said. “We worry about you being alone.”
“Why would you worry about me?” Vera asked. “You just met me.”
Sarah had given her a pitying smile. “No need to be defensive Vera.”
Oh, no reason at all, you self-righteous bitch.
“Vera needs the office,” Kim had said hastily. “She’s not just a math teacher, she writes too.”
“That’s nice,” Sarah said. “Would I have read anything you’ve written?”
She didn’t bother to disguise the smirk on her face.
Not unless you have a post-graduate degree in chaos theory, Vera thought.
“I doubt it,” she said.
“Well, I don’t read many novels,” Sarah said.
Fuck you.

“Neither do I,” Vera said, enjoying the confused expression that passed over Sarah’s face.
“Vera writes math textbooks,” Kim said.
“Ah,” Sarah said. “Fascinating.” She walked over to the window behind Vera’s computer and looked out over the condo’s parking lot. “Nice view.”
Before Vera could say anything, her youngest niece interrupted with a whine. “Where’s the TV Aunty Vera?”
“I don’t have a TV sweetie,” Vera said.
“You don’t have a TV?” Kim repeated, almost on the edge of panic.
“Sorry,” Vera said, enjoying her sister’s reaction. In truth, she often watched shows on Hulu, running her laptop in the background while she did paperwork. She didn’t worry about losing a step in popular culture because people always talked about what they’d watched the night before in the teacher’s lounge. She could name the winners of every reality show going back to the first Survivor.
Is Richard Hatch out of jail yet? she wondered.
Things had gone downhill from there. Vera had cooked all Thursday morning and the food was devoured 20 minutes after she served it. Half an hour later, her sister had bundled everyone up to go to the movies, leaving Vera to clean up the mess alone.
They hadn’t come back until nine, grumbling about movie ticket prices. Kim put her daughters to bed at ten, then she and Sarah retired shortly after, telling Vera they wanted to get up early in order to hit some Black Friday sales.
What they hadn’t told her was that they planned to hit those sales alone, leaving the girls with Vera.
Without the distraction of television, the girls nearly drove Vera to distraction, so in the afternoon she’d driven them to Universal Studios and paid $223 for three tickets to the tour. It would have been $231 but Jennifer was only a little over three feet tall, so she got a discount.
By the time the afternoon was over, Vera had spent close to $400.
Kim and Sarah showed up around 8, laden with bags and high on the retail rush.
On Saturday Vera begged off an excursion to Disneyland and spent the day catching up on email and updating her blog (
None of her students knew that she was the person behind the blog or the twitter handle (@mizmathwhiz) because she didn’t like mixing her professional and private lives. She’d learned that lesson the hard way while getting her Masters. A messy affair with her thesis advisor had derailed her career before it was even started. In the wake of her lover’s suicide, the internship offers had dried up. There had been no letters of recommendation, despite her stellar grades and scores. And now, thirty years later, instead of being a tenured professor at a prestigious university, she was a high school math teacher who made more money writing “math for dummies” handbooks with a bogus brand name as her by-line.
Jennifer and Lindsay had brought her presents from Disneyland—a “princess” crown and a snowglobe—and had been so tired out by their adventures at the happiest place on earth that they’d gone to bed without complaining of television deprivation.
Kim and Sarah had changed clothes and headed out to a club Sarah had heard about in West Hollywood.
Vera had been asleep when they returned and they woke up the girls when they drunkenly stumbled over the sofa bed in the dark.
The noise in the living room had roused Vera, who had gone into the living room to make sure everyone was all right.
“Ooooh, we woke Vera up,” Kim said to Sarah, giggling like it was the funniest thing she’d ever said.
Sarah had turned an exaggeratedly solicitous expression on Vera. “I guess you’re used to it being really quiet around here,” she said.
Oh shut up, Vera thought, wishing she had the guts to say it out loud.
Instead, she simply turned and walked back to her office.
“I’m sorry Vera’s being so weird,” she heard Kimmy say.
“It’s okay Kimmy,” Sarah said. “I understand. She’s getting old alone and she sees you in a relationship, having a good time. She’s just jealous.”
Oh shut up, Vera thought again, but this time there were tears prickling in her eyes.


  1. Wow. You are quite skilled at creating hateful people within a few strokes.

  2. Yes, i like what you write, very engaging.