On Grease: A Portrait of a Woman

This is a stream-of-consciousness sketch I wrote about an “off-stage” character in my short story Kirkenes, Norway (p. 95, Ginosko Literary Journal). In that great way it happens sometimes, this character, Marit, swam to the forefront of the original story and became the most interesting figure in it for me.  I imagine she is in her 30s, living in post-war Norway in the 1950s. I don’t think we could be friends, but I like her.

Grease spots were profoundly irritating to her, and her clothes were full of them. She remembered scrubbing and scrubbing; lemon juice, baking soda, hot water, cold water–still the spots. There was no way to fry without sustaining these little oily insults, and she loved to fry. Vegetables, meat, anything. Her mother thought she was helpful–cold and quiet but helpful. It’s true she did other chores, but she fried because she wanted to. There was that side to her. The part that liked to see a piece of soft meat covered in egg and flour, all white and malleable, plunged in sparking oil. It always shocked her how quickly a thing could brown.

Her dresses were all solid colors—blue, white, brown, full length, which showed the spots worse. There was nothing to hide them. Sometimes she did her short hair up in a handkerchief. It’s not that she believed in God so much as that she didn’t think she could find a way not to. It was hard to say, even for her, what she believed. She felt her life in quick turns. Sometimes, she straightened her shoulders, stood as tall as she could–and she was a tall woman–walking forward in her long, blue gown buttoned at the neck, but then, just when she thought she would keep walking, she took another sharp right turn, and she ended up back where she started, treading her square.

He was not like that. Which is why she loved him. It was hard to know how much. She was a strange mystery to herself. The usual metaphors didn’t apply even though he tried them all like dresses on a doll. She wasn’t like the sea, as he had once told her. She didn’t spread that way and nothing about her was soft; nothing curled or laughed. No, she was something else, she was a series of clicks and grooves that fit into each other in complex ways, box-like, but not quite. You could slice through a box if you had a knife sharp enough, and smooth out all the sides and lay them flat and see how it all worked. You couldn’t do that with her, although she kept hoping he might.

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