Rachel Morton and Paula Tarnapol Whitacre


Rachel Morton
Inspiration piece provided to Paula Tarnopol Whitacre

My Friend Frank
By Paula
Tarnapol Whitacre

The head conveyed.

Between the time I signed the lease and moved in, the head had taken up residence on the back porch. The property company had no idea how he got there; the owner lived abroad. Did I want him moved, that would be $250 or I could wait until they contacted the owner, but that might be a while.

I let him stay. I invited him into my life.

He was made of dark grainy stone and weighed far more than I could lift, even on days I felt strong. His milky eyes stared into middle space, aware but not deigning to look at me. His ear lobes drooped. His lips stretched thick and straight, downturned, reacting to yet more news he had heard about the stupidity of the human race. He was bald as, well, a rock, or maybe all his hair had migrated to his thick, straggly, old-man eyebrows.

He was not a happy man, this head. And I was not a happy woman. Maybe we would be compatible housemates.

After a few days, I called him Frank. He did not correct me. I would come outside before work with a cup of coffee, or at the end of the day with a bottle of Bud. If I sat in front of him, he blocked my one glimpse of the mountain. If I sat behind him, he gave me the cold shoulder.

I moved to the city knowing only an old elementary school friend named Susie. She had offered to drive me around to look for a place to live, to give me what she called the “real skivvy” about different areas, and to sniff out whether it was worth bringing me into her world. Apparently not. At noon, she remembered an appointment and left me to determine the skivvy on my own.

The place I found was actually much better than what I had seen with Susie. It seemed safe. The patio looked out over the rooftops in the canyon. If I went out there naked (not that I ever did), no one would have seen me. I rarely heard my neighbors’ living noises. At 7 each morning, I headed downtown on the #28 bus. The same people rode the bus, but they slept, tended their children, looked intently at the buttons of their cellphones, anything to avoid eye contact. My new co-workers were nice enough, but we wore headsets most of the day and our lunches and breaks were staggered. All day, we made calls to people with overdue credit card bills, reminding, nagging, cajoling, berating, threatening—our supervisors left us notes about the tone to use. I felt clammy by the time I took the 4:35 bus back up the hill.

Frank may have closed his eyes while I was gone, but he was always awake by the time I got back. “Hey, Frank, how was your day,” I said every day. “Hope it was better than mine.”

After two months or so, I realized I hadn’t had a conversation with another living human, beyond the niceties in a store or in the rest room at work. My body had touched no one. I felt like I, too, was turning into stone. I went to a bar, made eye contact with increasingly less attractive men.  Eventually, a guy joined me. He said his name was Ronnie, and maybe it really was. After a few beers, Ronnie and I were groping out in the parking lot. I followed his Tercel back to his place, already sober enough to realize what a dumb idea it was. I went upstairs to a room with an unmade bed, rolled around with him, came home without exchanging phone numbers or even last names.

Frank was still up when I got back. I showered and went outside to the patio. He looked disapproving. “Easy for you to look all hoity-toity,” I said. “You never get horny.” For the first time in a while, I wished I had a cigarette, more to see the glow of the tip in the darkness than to inhale the smoke. Frank just didn’t understand.


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