THE CITY a blind study in cool. Puts her in an evil mood. This lasts ten years. By the end of it, all she could do was go into the bathroom and splash water on her face, trying to wake from it, trying to break free. Didn’t work. She’d stand there, bent over as if in prayer – not her own prayer but the exotic prayers she saw on TV – collecting water in her cupped hands, and when she splashed she’d bend even lower, so as to make less of a mess of it. Didn’t work. The evidence of her unhappy splashing was left all over the rim of the sink, on the front of her pressed blouse, in slivered drops at the base of her neck, in splattered patterns on the floor. The public bathroom cold, echoey. No one there to see or care. Not caring was an integral part of the city, of the study, and her evil, evil mood. As she stood there with the water running, catching and scooping it in handfuls, leaning in to throw it against her face, into her eyes, against her nose, her forehead (rubbing hard, with her index finger), as she looked into the mirror from the corners of her eyes, trying to get a read on her own face, she would often wonder what would happen if it worked, or if it never worked, if she never came out of it, if she was in an evil mood forever. What kind of sentence was that? Not that it mattered. Not that she cared. She didn’t care, right? They could do anything to her. In fact, by the end of ten years the idea of caring was almost completely gone, every day there was just a little bit less of it. She was as cool as the city. It was a lonely kind of cool. She could feel her aloneness. She never saw anyone else splashing their faces like she did. Women just didn’t do that. Maybe it was because of their makeup. She didn’t wear makeup. Women who didn’t care didn’t wear makeup. You could make that a rule, she thought. Only men are face-splashers, and even then only men in movies, it’s always some cop who’s been up all night or some guy who’s sleeping with his wife’s sister, some really bad spot this guy’s got himself into and the water is a metaphor, some metaphor for waking up or harsh reality, or waking up to harsh reality. Which is when, bent over the sink, looking up at the mirror, at her dripping face, at the way her freckles clustered at the bridge of her nose, and then fell away below her eyes, in spattered sprays of broken, falling spots, she saw at last how young she still was, and still might be, how clear her eyes were, in liquid blue, and how scrubbed and rich her skin was, and she felt much, much worse, having to go back into that courtroom.


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