She owns a house.
But the Newfoundland men who occasionally lean against her kitchen counter make her feel insufficient about her coffee maker, which is cheap and black and plastic. She does not confess that it was purchased to replace a red bodum with a cracked lip. She does not recount how every cup of coffee for her initial six months of house-poor singledom had been spilled upon the counter. She could confide that the last sleepy spill splashed hot coffee on her naked feet after a restless night of Advil-induced tossing.
Night-time cold medications remind Sally of being young and on drugs. She sends messages to friends in case she strokes out in the night. She worries her dad will bury her in a non-biodegradable casket even though she has begged repeatedly to be cremated. Sally had lain womb-like, enveloped in pillows, imagining the frilly varnished box he would have her rot inside to ease himself. Her heart was a flutter of sparrows in her chest. Her brain zip-lined from one unhappy thought to another. Hallucinatory dreams of being trapped underground held her hag-like in the small hours between four and eight, when she rose again to splatter hot coffee over the kitchen and herself.
Sally had kneeled to mop up the mess with her bathrobe, not knowing that the coffee stains would never release from pink waffle cotton after they had set. She wept a bit while drinking a cup of coffee on the floor. And she wondered how she got to there, as all women do when they find themselves low-down and dirty.
But tired or not, Sally can rally.
She rallied on, up off the floor, into the shower and so forth until reaching Bed Bath & Beyond where she purchased, on credit, a replacement for the cracked-lip red bodum, which was also made of plastic. Also cheap. But nevertheless, she kept it. Sally doesn’t throw away anything she anticipates needing in the future. She forecasts a morning when the on-credit Black & Decker no longer feels perky.
Sally suspects her luck with coffee makers is somehow a result of her own womanly neglect. She does not domestic 100 percent. She was raised amongst wolves. Or brothers rather. She was raised amongst brothers and while her mother stresses the importance of inside cleaning, Sally routinely forgoes. The insides of her kettle, fridge and garbage can were disturbing. That was the word her mother used when she pressed her foot down to lift the garbage lid.
I finds your garbage disturbing.
Sally wants to yell I finds your garbage disturbing!
But never. Because there is no use in trying to hold parents accountable. They are just people. They were likely less broken before your child mind evolved diabolical enough to further break them. When Sally was little she would wish aloud she were a boy until her mother sulked and spoke of the neighbours’ daughter. The neighbours’ daughter is a teacher and married. She has two little girls and complementary golden retrievers. Sally could get a dog. She could. But everyone would likely find that unsatisfactory too. Like the new coffee maker.
The new coffee maker was found wanting as well.
Sally’s man guests, who rent loft apartments downtown, like to comment on her truck as they allow her to drive them to their serving jobs. They think it is peculiar and masculine for such a small woman to drive such a large truck. When plied to offer more Sally-appropriate automobiles, most suggest an Impreza or a Golf. Sally scores them accordingly as she has fostered the whole after-intercourse affair into a track for fielding. She wills one of them to say something surprising, an unheard-of or unexpected theory on how Sally should travel as a woman. She nearly wills some of the finer-looking ones to utter anything half creative. Sally would propose marriage if one would effectively make a case for her travelling by unicorn or dragon. Anything beyond a hatchback.
She likes to look them in the face when she admits to owning a snowblower.
Most eye her with suspicion, attempting to determine if she were capable of mastering such a powerful symbol. They eye her further as she explains the practicality of the choice in great boring detail. They also eye the roses on her coffee table until she mentions that she buys them for herself. Getting laid is a balancing act in and out of bed. The truck was not even her idea. Not really.
She bought the truck so her dad would stop complaining about her needing a truck. You goes on about that old climate change til you needs a stick a furniture picked up.
And she does. Sally goes on endlessly about global warming, though her father, nor any other member of her family, seems to not mind her at all. She is like soup boiling over on the stove while everyone yells in the next room. Burnt on, fit for the garbage. Her father and brothers tell her to go on with her old foolishness. They are convinced this is why she is single. Sally and a swarm of her women friends don’t got a man. Their dads still have to do everything for them.
Clifford thinks it is a punishment that his daughter is not married.
He still got to do everything for her sure. She don’t even know how to change a tire. Every little thing is a phone call. Dad, the power’s gone. Dad, dishwasher won’t drain. Dad, I can’t get the door open. Dad, Dad, Dad. Cliff is some tired of hearing it. Hell froze over twelve-fifteen year ago when her feller run off. Cliff never thought when his youngsters was grown that the word Dad would chill his nerves so completely but by the jesus, he can hardly hold a warm feeling toward her when she says Dad on the top turn.
He knows the sound of that Dad. What that Dad means. That is not an I love you Dad. That is an I need you Dad. And she always needs him. Every hour that his eyes are open and his heart is still beating. Her never-ceasing need is exhausting.
He is so tired of being her father.
He often fantasizes about moving away. He wants to put a body of water between them so he cannot be called upon to parent her. He hardly got to parent her brothers at all. Him and the wife does a lot of child-minding but Cliff don’t mind napping to Paw Patrol. Janet is always handy so it don’t matter much if he falls asleep with the youngest one on his lap. Janet won’t let him drop her on the floor. In exchange for this comfort, he got to go over to Sally’s and fix her bathroom fan or else Janet will pitch a fit at him. Then home would become uncivilized and taxing too. He would have to make his own lunch. And Cliff hates getting his own lunch. He would sooner do almost anything than cook. The boys cooks but he don’t know how they comes by that skill. He sure as shit never taught them. Randy makes the biggest kind of dinners, brazes pork, all the fixings and something sweet every time too. Cliff’s firstborn bakes. Bakes actual cakes. Sometimes without a recipe. All four of his youngsters does this.
Sally calls them junk cakes. Or trash cakes. Some kind of unappealing name he can’t recall.
Uses whatever is going off in the refrigerator cause Cliff’s crowd knows not to waste food. These here crap cakes the youngsters makes is a blessing and a curse cause they’re delicious but never to be replicated. Cliff don’t see how come Sally can’t write down what she puts into the jesus compost cake but she says she is not paying attention. Too busy listening to radio programs on how to be smarter. More smart as if she is not too smart for her own good now as it is.
I dare say that’s why she got neither man.
Cliff said this to Janet when Sally announced she was going back to school again and Janet flung a can of sausages at him. Janet is not above domestic violence when it comes to Sally. Sally’s her girl. Randy was Sally. Then Jeremy was Sally. After that Luke was Sally. Cliff said that they was only trying for a girl one more time. Four tries was all she got before he was off to the clinic for the snip. But then Sally was Sally and thank the lord cause Janet was right ready to fight for her. Cliff is sure she would have gone out and found another man to give her a girl. He is sure cause she would tell him this when he threatened to get a secret vasectomy after Jeremy was born. Janet is strong-minded. Always was and there is a grease spot on the couch cushion to prove it. He can’t look at a can a Vienna without bad memories now.
Cliff supposes they all thinks how Sally behaves is his fault but he could never figure out how he was supposed to be with a daughter. If he was good to her, everyone said he was too nice to her. If he was not good to her, everyone said he wouldn’t nice enough to her. Sometimes he would spend hours teaching her a jump shot. Sweating and rebounding the ball in until the street lights lit the mesh and hoop. Other times he bawled at her from the sofa to shut up crying over whatever man didn’t want her. He just did not know what to do or say. Janet would snark back that he would make a shit detective, which Cliff took to be a comment on his intelligence until he was locked out of the bedroom.
Does she even like basketball Cliff? Have you ever asked her?
And it is true, Cliff never asked her. He liked basketball and the boys liked basketball so he just assumed it would be the same for Sally. Or he hoped it would be. Or he willed it into being. Cliff didn’t really want to know what she was into because then he might have to be into that too and playing dolls on the carpet was not something Cliff was into. He was not getting down on the floor for Barbies. Then it was too late to ask Sally if she liked it cause there was no longer a straightforward answer fit to give. All of Sally’s likes was snarled up with his likes and the likes of the boys.
Cliff cannot know Sally until Sally knows Sally.
Her brothers was secretly vexed over how Cliff ignores her. Each one, overbearing and protective in their way, has overcompensated for their father’s oblivious conduct. Cliff often wonders if it was her brothers that wrecked her with all this attention. It was them that never let anyone say a bad word about her in high school. It was them that shovelled out her little car in university. Sure, Cliff knows for certain that Luke did all the cooking between the pair of them when they was living together in undergrad. Sally always answered the phone at supper time because she was always sitting next to it in the living room.
There was that little space of time before they all paired off when Sally hardly phoned for anything. Cliff was a bit lonesome for her but also, pretty relaxed. Then the boys siphoned their devotion back to redirect it toward their own families. Now Cliff’s cellphone is steady ringing off the hook about cutting down Christmas trees and flooded lawnmowers. Then there was always wasps and mice and rats. Sally getting stung four times on the one thigh, beating a mouse to death with the backside of a frying pan, firing snowballs at a rat in the backyard. Sally was forever under invasion from all levels of vermin.
The men she dated were all half-weaselly.
Still, couldn’t she just pick one to help her stain the fucking deck.
Cliff’s back was destroyed.
Sally knows her father don’t want to come hang pictures. He hates that kind of thing the most. Not even pragmatic. Not even functional. Purely cosmetic. Womanly. But it makes her so happy and she needs a little happy. Randy would come but Kim is at yoga, Jeremy is offshore and Luke is in love with her friend Kate. This was her and Kate’s drunk idea, which Sally regularly momentarily regrets. The moments she regrets the match 100 percent of the time involve having to ask something of her father because Luke won’t respond to her texts. Sally thought that it would be her and Luke forever. Or at least that she would pair up before him. It didn’t matter that she was two years younger. Luke was like ten years younger in his mind. Luke was basically still a teenager. But he was handsome and kind and very fond of Kate. Sally did not think he would hurt her and so let the coupling commence. She had just not anticipated how much coupling would commence.
Now she had no one to go skating with in the middle of January. Her brother and best friend were too busy banging. And that is not like a game of cards. They can’t just like randomly deal her in. Yuck b’y.
And Sally does not know how to make friends at her age. Everything she does to inspire friendship feels desperate and humiliating. Her plays for a new Luke had yielded poor results. She realizes now that when a man says he would love to go hiking it usually means he would love to be the kind of man who goes hiking. Or that he is the kind of man who thinks four hikes a year makes him a hiker. Or worse still, he is the kind of man that would love to go hiking with other people who are not Sally. She comes to these conclusions after her friend conquests post photos of themselves doing things Sally enjoys without Sally. She calls Luke and then Kate to complain but they don’t answer because they are too busy screwing.
So she has no one to help drag her treadmill in from the truck.
Sally doesn’t want to ask her father for help but she has no choice or little choice that would please her. She does not know how to be displeased. Up until recently, she had handy to a basketball team of men wanting to assist her. Okay. Wanting is a for sure stretch. But willing to help her. Her brothers, her grandfather, Joe. There had been choice and she spaced things around so as not to get noticed. But then Joe broke up with her over Messenger. Her grandfather had a stroke. And her brothers fell in love. One by one they all met humans who found them not appalling. Randy and Jeremy are dads now. Not brothers.
Sally lost a favoured place. She used to be the littlest.
And she loves her nieces and nephew. It shocked her how immediate and childish this love came to her. Without focus or effort, like a body function unbeknownst, suddenly there were smaller humans she thought were the very best humans. She loves them all the time. Even when her nephew gets slappy. Even when the girls get greedy. She wants to go back to her own house then, but she still super loves them.
Her father asked why she needed a whole house for just herself.
And Sally doesn’t know what it was about the question that made her cry exactly. She doesn’t know what about the answer made her cry either. She was trying to articulate that the boys all had houses through the rivers of snot. He would not ask that of the boys. He countered in his defence that the boys all had families. And perhaps she was hurt by the implication that she did not have one. Or that she would not have one. Perhaps it was his inference that she did not deserve the same standard of living as her brothers because she was living a solo, unseen sort of existence. Perhaps it was because she was tired of men questioning every aspect of every choice she made, tired of having to justify her existence to them in great detail so that they might understand how she conducts herself.
Perhaps, Sally has finally run out of words to explain why the ever-present double standard of her life standing three-fold before her from birth is tiresome. Perhaps, she cries her exhaustion.
Megan Gail Coles is an award-winning writer from the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland (Ktaqmkuk). Her debut novel, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a contender for CBC Canada Reads, and won the BMO Winterset Award. She is the executive director of Riddle Fence Publishing and a doctoral student at Concordia University.