“Yeah, it's me,” Gwen says, pressing the phone to her ear.
“Are you okay?” her father says.
“Sort of. Ricardo and I broke up.”
Gwen hears traffic in the background. Her father must be on his way to work.
“Ricardo,” she says. “My boyfriend. Well, not anymore because we just broke up. I left something in his apartment.”
Her father groans. With Brent it was her DVD collection. With Todd it was a record player. Kevin had her microwave. Jason her IPOD.
“It's a TV, dad. I need it.”
“Sorry, Gwen. I can’t do it anymore.”
“Gwen, the last time I got your stuff from a boyfriend’s house was a nightmare. With what’s his face? Fred.”
“Whoever! The guy threatened to call the cops on you. I had to talk him off the ledge.”
“He was a dweeb.”
“Then why were you with him?”
“Are you going to help me or not?”
“Thanks for nothing,” Gwen says, and hangs up.
She calls her mother.
“Yeah, it's me. What are you doing?”
“Oh Me? Nothing, just flipping through a magazine is all.”
“I broke up with my boyfriend, mom.”
“Yeah. It wasn't working out. He was kind of a jerk.”
“Are you listening to me?”
“Gwen, dear,” her mother says, “You know, Evelyn's in med school. She’s happy. She's doing well. In fact, Evelyn's engaged. She's going to marry Brad, after med school, when she becomes a doctor. Why don't you go back to school, Gwen? You should. You should do something with yourself. You don't have to go to med school. You can do something, easier.”
“Listen mom, I got to go. Someone’s at my door.”
Gwen hangs up.
She calls Ricardo.
“Hey,” she says. “What are you doing?”
There’s a three second pause where Gwen is thinking that Ricardo is thinking if he should hang up or not.
“What do you want?” he says.
“Just seeing what you’re doing.”
Gwen doesn't have an answer.
“Nothing,” Ricardo says. “I'm doing nothing. Is that okay with you?”
“You want me to come over?”
“Are you kidding me? Do you not remember what happened the other night? Do you not remember throwing a plate of spaghetti at my head? Any of that ring a bell?”
Gwen hangs up.
She calls back to say she’s coming for her TV.
“I don’t care,” Ricardo says. “I'm going out soon so get here before I leave.”
Ricardo hangs up.
Gwen calls her boss.
“Yeah, it's me. Hey listen, I can't come into work today.”
“Gwen, your shift started an hour ago.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’m feeling kind of sick.
“What kind of sick?”
“It’s my stomach.”
“What’s wrong with your stomach?”
“I don’t know. Could be something I ate. I’m constantly running to the bathroom. It’s not pretty, Brian. Trust me, you don’t want me there.”
“Call me tomorrow,” he says, “We need to talk.” And hangs up.
Gwen gets off the couch and paces her near empty apartment. She finds speckles of lint in the rug and bends down to pick them up with her fingers. When Gwen has any time on her hands she doesn’t know what to do with herself. She has no hobbies. She’s always what her boyfriends are. With Paul she was into college football. With Robbie she played tennis. With Steve she watched the entire NHL playoffs in a bar wearing a Wayne Gretzky jersey. Victor blasted death metal and so did she. Hugh watched foreign films. Gwen pinched herself to stay awake. Richard (not to be mistaken with Ricardo) frequented tea bars around the city with his literary chums and dissected Morrison, Keats, Munro. Gwen did no dissecting. She sipped organic acai berry green tea for two and a half weeks.
While bleaching the bathtub, Gwen thinks she hears her neighbor's door. Tina, who lives across the hall, who Gwen thinks is a lesbian, has helped her out before.
Gwen peels off her latex gloves and goes to knock on her neighbor’s door. Tina answers in a sleeveless T-shirt and basketball shorts.
“Hey,” Gwen says. “Are you busy?”
Tina's arms are massively ripped. She likes to fold them across her chest. She does it now.
“I broke up with my boyfriend and he has my TV. He said I can come get it but he knows I won't because I can't carry it myself and he won't help.”
“It’s your TV, right?”
“If I don’t get it back soon he’s going to sell it.”
Tina tells her to come in, give her a minute, she needs to change.
Gwen waits in Tina’s apartment. She feels kind of bad for lying, but what’s the difference what she says? The point is Ricardo’s a jerk who broke up with her and now she’s going to get her TV back.
Tina comes out wearing sweatpants over her basketball shorts and holding a set of keys.
“Ready?” she says. “Let's dis-co.”
Gwen hopes the keys are to a car but Tina doesn't own one so they'll have to take the bus to Ricardo's.
On the bus, Gwen regrets her decision to involve Tina. Tina is old enough to be her mother, which makes her think of her mother. Gwen’s mother remarried when Gwen was sixteen and now lives in Indiana with her better, brighter, more perfect family. With her better, brighter, more perfect daughter, Evelyn.
Gwen has met Evelyn once, when she took a Greyhound to Indiana to meet her mother's new husband and his daughter. At the time, Gwen and Evelyn had just finished high school. They went out to dinner, just the two of them, an attempt to make friends. But Evelyn is a stuck up bitch and Gwen has a bad temper. All through dinner, Evelyn kept saying, girls like you. “Girls like you…I know girls like you…But girls like you.” So after dinner, when it was time to leave, Gwen stuck her foot out and sent Evelyn flying into the next table. Evelyn came home with food in her hair and a partially dislocated shoulder. Gwen was on the first bus back home.
“Don't worry,” Tina says, leaning into Gwen. “It'll be all right.”
Gwen has no idea what Tina’s talking about. They’re sitting so close Gwen can smell the sweat coming off of Tina’s neck.
As far as Gwen knows, Tina lives alone. How Tina has helped her out before was the time Gwen borrowed antiseptic and a towel to put on a cut on her arm. Another time was for a dustpan and a brush to clean up glass from a broken mirror.
Now Gwen wishes she hadn't started any of this. It's an old TV and she doesn't watch TV anyway. She’d gotten it for Ricardo, a week after they met in the art gallery where he sometimes works. He sits in the front and hands out pamphlets and makes sure people are quiet and not taking pictures of the art. She liked the way he looked in a black cardigan. She liked him more when she discovered a pushpin mole on the side of his cheek.
With Gwen, it’s always been a ‘thing’. In a way, she likes the ‘thing’ more than the actual person. Ricardo had the whole art scene and mole. Billy had cigars and mustangs. Andy wore fedoras and leather jackets. Scott had tattoos.
The bus drops them off in front of the art gallery. Gwen stands by the door in some depressing modern art pose: YOUNG GIRL IN FRONT OF GALLERY.
Tina reaches out and squeezes the meaty part of Gwen’s upper arm.
“It's okay,” Tina says. “It'll be all right.”
Gwen doesn’t get this either. She didn’t bring Tina along for emotional support. Anyone would have done. The maintenance man in her building would have done. She just didn’t want to show up to Ricardo’s alone. She wants him to know she has friends. She has a life. She’s moved on.
From the art gallery, it's three blocks to Ricardo's apartment. Tina walks with her chest out like she’s some kind of a wrestler, or a professional mercenary. Gwen leads her up two flights of stairs and down a narrow hallway. The atmosphere is very Californian; palm tree wallpaper and terracotta tiles.
Gwen knocks on a door at the end of the hall.
Ricardo squints out.
“Oh,” he says, “it's just you.”
He leaves the door open and goes back to the couch and opens a laptop.
Gwen’s TV is on the floor, beside an entertainment stand on which a new flat screen TV is perched. Gwen's TV is not a flat screen. It's dusty and heavy and has a back that sticks out like a turtle's shell.
Gwen goes to move it. She squats down with Tina on the other side and together they lift. Gwen shuffles forward as Tina backs out. The hauling is not going well. Mostly because Gwen is struggling to hold up her end but also because she keeps looking back to see if Ricardo is watching her. When they get to the top of the stairs, they put the TV down and Gwen goes back to Ricardo’s apartment.
He's still on the couch. Gwen notices he's wearing a beanie. He never wears a beanie.
“Where are you going?” Gwen says.
“What?” Ricardo says, not looking up from the laptop.
“You said I had to get here soon. You were going out. Where?”
“I don't think that's any of your business.”
“Are you seeing someone?”
“Who?” he says.
“Why do you hate me?”
“I don't hate you.”
“Why are you doing this to me?”
“Acting like this.”
“Acting like what?”
Gwen grabs a shoe box and launches it across the room. It smacks the wall behind Ricardo’s head and bursts open; a stack of index cards flutter in the air.
“Hey,” Ricardo shouts, getting onto his feet. “Those are my study notes!”
Gwen takes off her shoe and holds it up like a threat.
“Why are you pushing me away?”
“Why?!” Ricardo says. “Because you're psychotic! Because you're crazy! You're the happiest, saddest, meanest person I’ve ever met. You hate yourself, you hate your life, and you hate me for being in it. You’re totally brain-sick!”
Gwen's eyes flicker like lightning and Ricardo ducks. The shoe soars over his head and knocks over a lamp. Gwen grabs a pile of CD's and frisbees them at him.
“You see?” Ricardo says, bobbing and weaving. “You see? This is what I mean.”
Gwen goes into hyper drive. She kicks over a chair. Knocks down a bookcase. Tears the threads of a sweater, and pulls a Bob Dylan painting off the wall.
“Don't you dare,” Ricardo says.
He lunges forward and gets his hands on the painting.
“Let go,” he says.
“You let go.”
“You're going to break it.”
Two more hands grab the painting and Tina pulls in her direction.
“Let go,” she says. “Both of you.”
They push and pull and spin in jerking circles like a busted carousel. Tina pulls hard and a corner of the frame catches Ricardo above the eye.
“Ouch!” he yells. He yanks the painting from Tina’s hands and it slips from his fingers and bounces across the hardwood floor.
“Are you kidding me?!” Ricardo says, his voice cracking as he sees a tear in the painting. “This is all your fault! Why can’t you just leave me alone? Why can’t you just stay away? You ruin everything you crazy bitch!”
“Hey, watch your mouth,” Tina says, and Gwen runs out of the apartment.
On the stairs, Gwen sits and listens to Ricardo and Tina yell at each other. The worst part is Ricardo isn’t wrong. Gwen buries her head between her knees and stares at her shoe-less foot.
Soon, Tina is beside her, handing over her shoe and saying, it’s okay, he’s an asshole.
But not a liar.
Together they carry the TV down the stairs. Gwen missteps and the TV crashes like a boulder on the landing. Gwen smacks her thighs. She's exhausted, and it’s still only Monday morning.
On the bus, their clothes are wet. It started to rain when they waited on the curb. The TV has a large crack down the front. It sits on the floor, hazardously sticking out into the aisle. The stop and go of the bus is putting Gwen to sleep. She leans her head against the window and rests her eyes.
“Have any kids, Tina?”
Tina crosses her arms.
“It’s hard enough to survive on my own. I don’t need to bring anyone else into this.”
“How do you do it?”
“Well,” Tina says, “I found something I like to do. Something that keeps my head on straight. For me, it’s lifting. I lift a lot. I lift every day, and if I miss a day, I get very cranky. If you have something you like to do every day, there’ll always be something to look forward to, then maybe you won’t feel so alone.”
The bus makes a wide, sweeping turn.
Gwen’s eyes are still closed but Tina knows she’s not asleep.
“What are you going to do now?” Tina says.
“You know,” Gwen says with a tired smile. “I have no idea.”
The bus comes to a squeaking stop.
Tina gets up.
“If you need anything, you know where to find me.”
“Can you take care of my TV for me? I’ll come by to pick it up. If that’s okay?”
“Rock and roll.”
Tina squats down and wraps her arms around the TV. In one smooth motion she stands and turns. When Gwen opens her eyes, the bus is pulling away. Through the rain dotted window, she sees Tina stepping onto the curb. Gwen leans back and closes her eyes again. Who knows what she’ll do next. For now, she’s content to ride the bus to the end of the line.