|Mary Sue Fiction|
*Nothing makes sense anymore.* This was what Pam thought as she lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling. Then she wondered why she thought that. After all, things hadn't made much sense for a long time. She'd given up on understanding and was just working on getting along. That was all that the world seemed to ask of her, and she was doing her best to meet expectations.
She rolled on her side and her gaze fell upon the small amber plastic bottle sitting on her bedside table. She frowned. It was sitting there for a specific reason. It was supposed to be the very first thing that she saw every morning. There was a glass of water sitting beside it, so that she wouldn't even have to get out of bed before she took a dosage. She'd been known to lose track of what she'd been doing between the bedroom and the bathroom or kitchen sink. The glass of water was supposed to prevent that. When she'd been living at home her mother had placed it beside her bed each evening before pressing her lips to Pam's forehead in a good-night kiss. When she moved out she'd promised, she'd sworn, that she'd keep up the routine, and she had. She wondered why. After all, she was a grown woman. The fact that she'd been hectored into doing such a thing, the sort of thing that was done for little children or forgetful old people, irritated her.
Pam sat up and reached past the pills. She drank the water, then set the glass beside the bottle with a defiant click. She got up to get dressed, and found herself frowning at the clothes that lay across the chair. She was almost positive that she'd laid out her yellow dress, but there were her tweed slacks and green blouse. Was it Casual Friday, and she'd forgotten? *Or maybe someone came in while I was asleep and changed them? Mom used to do that when I was a kid. She thought I wouldn't notice. She'd never admit it, but I know that she did.*
Pam checked the calendar on the wall. Then next uncrossed day was indeed Friday. That didn't necessarily mean anything. She usually remembered to cross the day off before she went to bed, but there had been times she'd forgotten. When that happened she'd check the newspaper, but that didn't work if she hadn't remembered to bring it in for a few days. Or if it had been stolen. Someone stole her newspaper occasionally, and perhaps her mail, too. She decided better safe than sorry, and put on the yellow dress, as she'd planned.
She went into the kitchen and made herself some toast, trying to remember to pick up some more bread that afternoon. *And maybe some more food,* she thought vaguely. *That half loaf of bread looked kind of lonely sitting by itself in the cabinet.* But she had some milk left, and as long as she drank her milk like a good girl everything was all right, wasn't it?
Breakfast finished, Pam went out, triple checking the half-dozen locks on the front door, and walked down to the bus stop. She settled on the bench to wait. Pam always made sure that she was at the stop in plenty of time. If she missed her bus she'd either have to stay home or take a taxi, and her part time job didn't pay enough for taxis. She wouldn't have been able to live on her own without the government check each month.
The bus stop was a busy one. Other people gathered, but Pam sat on the bench alone. People stood beside the bench, shifting from foot to foot, gazing at her occasionally. Just before the bus pulled up a teenage boy pushed his way up through the crowd and slouched on the bench beside her. She looked over at him. Typical modern boy. Messy. Bad posture. Rumpled, baggy clothes. He glanced over at her. "You should be in school."
"None of your business, lady," said the boy, bored.
"You should. They keep track of things like that. It'll go on your permanent record, and it'll follow you through life. How will you feel if you go to interview for a job and they say no, no hooky players needed here?"
He blinked at her. "How old are you, lady? You talk like my grandma, but you don't look like you been out of school all that long yourself."
"It's been five years. Yes, five years. I never missed a day that I wasn't flat on my back in bed, sick. Never. Not till my junior year in college, and then I was flat on my back, but I wasn't sick..." She could feel her face twisting as the confusion closed in again. She was sure that when she'd begun speaking to the young man she had something very significant and profound to tell him, but now she was mixed up. "Not... Not sick with a fever, or... I just couldn't make myself get up, not for days. When my mother came to check on me I was sick in the hospital for days, and..." The boy, his expression stiff, scooted toward the end of the bench, half turning from her. "Just remember--they don't let you forget your mistakes." She had a seat to herself on the bus. She always did, no matter how crowded it was.
As usual, Pam was waiting outside the bookstore when the manager arrived to unlock the door. "Good morning, Pamela," he greeted her.
"Pam," she said. "Just Pam. That's what it says on my birth certificate. That's what my mother named me. Just Pam."
"Yes, I'm sorry I forgot." He unlocked the door. "My, you're dressed nicely today. Everyone else will probably be wearing jeans."
Pam went to the break room and got her store apron, tying it on. *So it is Friday. And now the others will think I'm stuck up because I wore one of my good dresses. But when I wear my plain clothes I know they laugh behind my back because they're old and out of style, or... or funny. They don't like the patterns and colors I like. I wish I could figure out what it is they want from me. It's so confusing.*
Her job wasn't confusing, though. Simple. No-nonsense. Take the new books to their designated sections, put them in alphabetical order by author's name, then in chronological order. She had to check the dates on the fly leaf for that, but that was okay. Numbers didn't confuse her all that much, not like words, or people. They changed all the time. Yes, her job wasn't confusing. All the other employees wanted the jobs where they worked with the customers--cashier or hostess. The manager knew that she was all right with numbers, and he'd offered to make her a cashier--it paid better than what she was doing. But Pam turned him down. Sometimes the customers wanted to talk, or asked questions, and she knew, she just knew that she'd get mixed up and make mistakes. Usually the customers ignored her. She might as well have been a machine. She felt like a machine sometimes, just making the same motions over and over, and being ignored.
Today Pam was working on the Mystery Section. These shelves were right beside the tables that belonged to the little in store coffee shop. The customers would sit there and sip coffee, eat pastries, and read the books they'd just bought, or were about to buy. Pam worked just a foot or two away, and they ignored her except to occasionally ask a question about where they could find a particular book. Pam would try to answer. She usually knew exactly where the book was--after all, she shelved most of them. But when she tried to tell them the words got mixed up, and she found that instead she was talking about how you could find the special messages in books if you experimented with reading every third or fourth word, or how careful you had to be to avoid paper cuts when you were reading because you could catch dreadful, flesh eating infections from the chemicals they used to treat the pages. More than once a customer she'd been trying to help went directly to the managed and held earnest conversation. Pam wondered why it took the manager so long to give simple directions. She'd always be sent to work in the store room for awhile after that.
Today Pam wasn't ignored. "Excuse me, Miss?"
Pam looked over. There was a man sitting at the nearest table--a handsome young man. He was dressed neatly, his hair was combed, his posture was excellent, and he was smiling at her. "Yes, excused. Can I help you? What do you need to find?"
"Oh, nothing right now. I was just wondering..." he gestured at a pile of disordered newspaper sections sitting beside a half-filled cup of coffee. "This was left here. Do you suppose that anyone would mind if I did the crossword?"
"Oh, no. That's trash. We don't want trash in here. The management won't even carry tabloids..."
He laughed, and she frowned at him. "That was funny."
She blinked. She hadn't meant to be funny. Sometimes people laughed at her, and there was always something cruel about it--but not this time. This time Pam knew that he was laughing with her, not at her. "You can do it. No one will care."
"Thank you." He pulled out a pen, clicking it, and picked up the paper. "You're giving me a funny look."
"I'm sorry." Pam knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of funny looks. She thought she'd better explain. "You're using a pen. Don't you make mistakes?"
"Not on these."
The manager came up on Pam's other side. "Pam, why don't you take your break now? You seem a little tired. Have you been sleeping well?"
"I don't know," she said honestly. "Why are you interested?"
He flushed. "When I gave you this job I promised your mother that I'd keep an eye on you, and..."
"How much does spying pay these days?"
"I don't mind. She sends lots of people to spy on me. I don't mind at all, because I have nothing to hide, not even my secrets. I just like to be sure who is reporting to her. I don't want to get them confused with... them."
"Just... just take a few minutes."
"Why don't you join me?" said the young man. "You can help me do my crossword."
"Yes, I'd like that," said Pam.
"Good, good," said the manager. "Take fifteen minutes, then, and you can still have your afternoon break." He walked away rapidly.
Pam got up and went to sit at the table. The young man smiled at her again. "You're Pam Wallace. Not Pamela, just Pam. That's what's on your birth certificate, and what your mother named you."
"Yes." Pam was pleased to finally find someone who understood. "How do you know?"
"I know because I'm Tim Feng. Just Tim, not Timothy." He showed her the paper. "This is the one I'm working on."
She looked. "Oh, it's a British style."
"Here's the clue--'Initially soiled old dolls are laid'." Pam covered her mouth, and he gave her a smile. "Yes, it sounds a little risque, doesn't it? What's the answer?"
"Sod," she said promptly. "Initially, S-O-D. Sod. Sod is dirt, and it's laid."
"Perfect! How about 'Mixed up tacks in a pile'?"
"Easy. S-T-A-C-K. I like anagrams. They're supposed to be mixed up. You know that they are, so you know that you have to figure them out, and..." One of her co-workers was staring at them. Pam lifted her voice, "It's rude to stare at people! Don't bother the customers or they'll report you, and it'll go on your permanent record." The other girl hurried away. "No one understands about permanent records. The whole world is mixed up."
Tim agreed with her. They spent the rest of her break working on the crossword. When it was time for Pam to go back to work he said, "I've had a good time, Pam Wallace. You know, you don't seem very mixed up to me."
Pam had never been good with people. She knew that, knew that even when she tried her hardest to be normal or even charming, she'd be more likely to drive them away. Her mother told her that if she'd just choose appropriate topics, she'd be all right. But what was appropriate? It changed with every person, every meeting, every situation. She tried, but by the time she was starting to figure out the right thing to say the conversation would be over, the person she'd been trying to talk to hurrying away, tossing her funny looks. "You don't seem mixed up, either."
"But I am. I'm very mixed up."
"I don't care. You're nice."
This time his smile was brilliant. "You are, too. Would you like to see me again, Pam?"
"Then you will."
The girl who bussed tables in the coffee area came up to the table. "Pam, are you done with that paper? I need to clear this table."
Pam gave Tim a significant look. "I'm through with it." She watched in surprise as the girl quickly cleared the table, then walked away. "How rude! You should report her. I don't usually like people to get in trouble, but that should go on her permanent record."
"Don't worry about it."
She stood up, and the manager came over to her again. "Pam, you really don't seem to be feeling well. Would you like to go home early? I can call your mother to come get you, and..."
"I'm fine. I'm better than ever. Finding a sympathetic ear will do wonders for you." She turned to give Tim a conspiratorial smile, but he'd already left. When she looked back at the manager he seemed even more concerned. "I can't afford to work any less hours."
"I won't dock you. Go home. Take a nap."
"My bus won't be running now."
"No!" She got hold of herself when she saw his alarmed look and said, slowly and quietly. "I'm find. I'll work till lunch, then I can take the noon bus. But don't call my mother. She gets enough reports as it is."
She worked till noon, then went home, sitting alone on the bus again. But this time the ride wasn't boring, because she was thinking about her new friend. "Tim," she said softly to herself. "Tim Feng. Just Tim, not Timothy. That's what's on his birth certificate, what his mother named him. Just Tim."
Her mother was waiting for her when she got home, so she knew that the manager had made his report. "Pam, honey, you haven't been taking your medicine."
Pam could feel herself turning red. "You see that bottle right there, where you say I have to keep it. You see that glass right beside it, so I won't forget. You see them."
"I counted your pills. There are many more than there should be left in this prescription. Did you take your dose this morning." Pam was silent. She often didn't tell her mother the whole truth, but she didn't want to lie to her. Lying complicated things. You had to keep track of the lies you'd told, and that was confusing. "You didn't." She held out a pill and a glass of water. "Here."
Pam crossed her arms. "But I don't NEED it! I'm doing fine. I eat. I wear clean clothes. I brush my hair. I ride the right bus every time. I go to work, and I do my job. I'm good at my job. And... and I made a friend today."
"That's good, dear."
"You don't believe me! I did. His name is Tim, Tim Feng. Just Tim, not Timothy, because..."
"Pam! You know what we agreed. If you aren't going to take your medicine, you have to move back home, where I can be sure that you do."
Pam hugged herself tighter. "You can't do that. I'm a grown woman."
"You're a SICK grown woman, baby." Her mother sighed. "Oh, God, do you think I like this? I WANT you to be healthy and happy. I'd give anything for that. But Pam--you're not. There's no cure. We can just control it with the medicine, and sometimes... sometimes I don't think it works too well. Please, baby." She held out the pill.
"What if I won't?"
Her mother's expression hardened. "We've talked about that, too. A residential facility."
"A jail, a prison! You'd put your own daughter in prison! This is a free country. I'm a citizen, I know my rights! You can't just lock me up for no..."
"Pam! Listen to me." She spoke slowly and clearly. "I am your legal guardian. I can't have you committed, but I can have you locked up for observation and assessment, and that would give them time to put you back on your meads..." Pam's bottom lip was trembling, and her mother weakened, "But I don't want to do that, honey. Please take the medicine." Pam reached out and plucked the pill from her mother's palm. Ignoring the offered water, she dry swallowed it, then gave her mother a look that was both resigned, and defiant. Her mother sighed in relief. "That's my good girl. Why don't you lie down for a few minutes, and I'll make us some lunch. I brought you some groceries..."
"I can do my own shopping."
"But you don't. All there was in your kitchen was a little bread, some milk, and some canned cat food. Pam, tell me you're not eating cat food."
"No, of course not. There's a cat who's been coming..."
"Don't feed it. The last thing you need is a dependent. I'll take it with me when I go, so you won't be tempted. Go lie down."
Pam went into her room and dropped down on the bed, staring up at the ceiling as she had this morning, right back where she'd begun. But now she was more confused than ever. Didn't her mother want her to live like a grown up? She wasn't doing so bad, was she?
Pam knew that her mother wanted her to nap, but she didn't much feel like doing what her mother wanted. Instead she rolled over on her belly and fished under the bed. Her hands skated over a number of flat cardboard boxes, and she grabbed one at random, pulling it out. *Scrabble. Good.* She sat cross-legged on the bed in the dim room and opened the box.
Pam emptied the small pouch of wooden tiles out on the spread, then turned them all face up. She started to align them in neat rows, then hesitated and began fishing out certain letters. In a moment she had them lined up before her. T-I-M-F-E-N-G. She ran her fingertip gently over the smooth wood, smiling, tracing each black letter. Then she chocked her head and started shuffling the seven tiles, rearranging them. M-F-I-N-G-T-E. N-E-T-F-I-G-M. Another combination, then another... And finally a word that she recognized.
"Pam?" her mother called. "Come on, hon. It's cream of tomato soup and grilled cheese for lunch."
Not looking up from the tiles, Pam replied, "I don't like the cream kind--you know that."
"You need the calcium and vitamins."
"But I've been drinking milk, you know that."
"Are we going to have another argument?" Her mother came to stand in the doorway. "What are you doing? Scrabble? Do you want to have a game later? You used to love that when you were little, before... Well, before."
"No, I don't think so. I'll be there in a minute." Her mother remained where she was. "For pity's sake, Mom, I'm just going to put the game away." Reluctantly, her mother went into the kitchen.
Pam scooped the tiles back into the pouch--all but the seven she'd been working with. Those she lined up neatly on her bedside table after she put the box back under her bed. She stared at the word she'd formed, thinking. Her mother would have said it was her medicine that was making things seem less mixed up. Pam had been taking various medications for a long time, and she knew that it wouldn't have had time to do very much. She looked at the word and touched it, then nodded, smiling. "That's all right, then," and went into the kitchen.
The word lay there on her bedside table, meaning nothing, meaning much.