By Pam Benjamin
To Whom It May Concern:
I just didn’t want to go to work today.
The scribbled note lay haphazardly on the freshly made Pottery Barn ensemble. Her body sprawled unnaturally at the foot of the bed with scattered yellow and pink and white pills littering the raw linen coverlet.
The multitudinous silk throw pillows sat untouched and nicely fluffed at the top.
She was very dead.
Snapdragons were her favorite flowers and a freshly arranged pot of them in yellow and pink and white tones cried in the corner.
“She was such a happy girl.”
“We never knew.”
“She never said anything.”
“She arranged us with such precision, such care.”
“She didn’t seem crazy.”
“I need more water.”
The silent room waited for decomposition. Her body unfortunately emptied itself and slowly seeped, embedding her urine in the mattress. The bed didn’t mind, per se. It knew her.
Yet the lonely pillows only knew her smell, and longed for other heads and bodies to wrap themselves around their downy fillings.
Megan had longed for the same. She often complained to the listening air about her lonely vagina and listed her wants in a mate.
More than sex, she desperately wanted someone to hold through the night. She wanted to nuzzle her nose in his neck and enwrap him in her arms. She wanted to laugh out loud.
“He has to be funny. He has to get my brand of humor. He has to like bacon.”
Her list was short; she didn’t demand much, but they never fulfilled. She knew she could have sex with most men, but craved respect.
She never brought them back to her pristine haven if she questioned their accountability. She didn’t like washing her 400 thread-count sheets more than once a week. She worried about breaking down the fibers — and it’s practically impossible to get semen out of silk.
The pillows thankfully agreed.
Sunlight poured through the puffy window swag and bathed her dead body in striated magical light. She almost looked alive. She would not be discovered for three days.
Three days later, thoughts burbled up from the cubical walls as her coworkers gossiped about the event that would be forgotten in less than a month; no one cried at the office.
“She was such a happy girl.”
“We never knew.”
“She never said anything.”
“She worked with such precision, such care.”
“She didn’t seem crazy.”
“I need more water.”
Gopher heads popped up above their shortened walls among the buzzing computers and plastic flowers.
“Did she say anything Friday?”
“Did she eat lunch alone?”
“Someone must know something.”
“She liked Pottery Barn catalogues and read them in the break room over lunch.”
“She was always alone, by choice.”
“Never went out to happy hour.”
“Weird. Did anyone see the signs?”
Megan left no signs. She worked diligently and refused to call attention to herself at the office. Work was work. Work was for money. She derived no joy from numbers and phone calls and angry cat ladies yelling about “full coverage.”
Megan’s real life was secret, and she needed grand separation between work and play.
She purposely made sure no one knew her and flew silently under the radar.
Megan liked drugs.
“Dani trabajo aqui?” She ran from shop to shop in Mexico looking for the infamous Dani.
She heard from a guy at the taco shop that he was willing to sell Oxys and Flexural and Ritalin and Aderol and maybe a spot of coke and Valium for a buck a pill.
Oxys were significantly more expensive, but worth the drive across the border.
Megan was a mule.
Taking orders for all, she ran down to TJ once a month in pants without pockets, two pair of underwear and clean American smile. The border guards never suspected the bouncy little redhead held hundreds of little yellow and pink and white pills rolled in plastic baggies discretely tucked between undies.
They were never looking for her. The guards had their eyes on shifty men with baggy pants or fakely pregnant women hiding kilos of coke under flowered mumus. Cute, thirtysomething, obvious Americans weren’t on the manifest; she slid through unscathed every time.
Roaming in and out of sterile mirrored pharmacies desperately seeking Dani, Megan played her part. She was a darling, white-toothed American girl looking for a few recreational drugs.
Her favorite former pharmacist disappointed the last three trips. She crossed the border with a belly full of churros and no pills. Customers disappointedly looked elsewhere and Meg didn’t get to drink whisky at her favorite bar that week.
This monetary side project was necessary to support her secret rock-and-roll life style. Project Management just didn’t pay, and the commission checks were light this quarter.
She was looking for a new pharmaceutical safe zone, and the bald, heavily tattooed Mexican with the 42 emblazoned on his lower lip seemed trustworthy. She liked the number 42 and trusted the Virgin Mary colorfully marking the side of his head.
He would know where to get drugs.
She flittered up with hands clasped behind her back batting lashes coquettishly: “Hey, do you know which pharmacy will sell me some Ritalin without a prescription?”
“I’m looking for drugs.” Her eyes gleamed and cheeks crunched with genuine smile.
A dangerous grin split his face as he flipped open a cell phone and made a call. Megan knew no Spanish, but intently attempted to decipher. She heard “bonita” and “loco” and “puta.”
Pretty. Crazy. Whore.
Megan was not offended. He was finding her drugs.
“You’re looking for Dani. Go to Revolucíon, right side. About three blocks in. Ask for Dani. Dani trabajo aqui? Can you remember? Please repeat.”
“Dani trabajo aqui?”
He turned back to his tattooed brethren in baggy pants.
Finding things was easy for Megan. No one expects the tiny redhead to be involved in underhanded dealings. No one suspects the little smiling sweetheart.
An astute actor and a pathological liar, she went pro on the Imposter Circuit in 1998.
She made her way down the busy street past the zebrafied donkey and 2 x 1 margarita specials. She easily passed kissy-faced men peddling their overpriced Mexican silver, and refused the urchin offers for Chiclets and hair braiding.
Megan was not a tourist; she was on a mission.
Seven pharmacies later, Megan found no elusive “Dani.” He did not seem to “trabajo” anywhere, and her thoughts began drifting into churros.
Sweet crunchy deep fried churros might be her only souvenir, again.
Her once-productive side business would be closing its doors forever with her inventory and supply cut off. She damned the “Homeland Security” tightening rules and cursed at a skittering cockroach.
This would be her last effort.
“Dani trabajo aqui?” She questioned half heartedly. Her cheeks hurt from smiling. Her act slipped. She meant to wink and smile and bounce, but could no longer hold the charade.
“No, no Dani. What do you need?”
He opened the door.
“Ritalin and Valium?”
“I don’t trust you, American.”
“I don’t trust you, Mexican.”
He tentatively pressed his hand into hers and shook. “We don’t trust each other. How many?”
She smiled genuine, and pulled a folded paper from her pocket. He smiled genuine, as his family would be eating well for the next month.
Megan found it best not to tell everyone everything. Withheld truth is not lying.
She practiced avoidance and mastered silence. She didn’t care if people labeled her smug. She wasn’t a quiet person, but it’s best to be wordless if faced with the necessity to lie.
Megan had a lot to hide. Double life can be rough on the soul.
Remembering what you said to who, contemplating how much to reveal to which individuals, knowing who to trust and how far — these concepts rolled about in her brain, clanging on the edges of sanity.
Megan was plagued with headaches. The white pills helped significantly.
She tried not to indulge in her own pills; drug addicts make bad business people, and this was a business. Megan supplied happy pills to a small contingency for money, and dipping into her stash cut profits significantly. She had other habits to attend to.
She liked to joke about whores and the dog track, claiming she would give them up for Lent, but it was whisky (not whores) and horses (not dogs) that plagued her thinning Brighton pocketbook.
She slept with her two favorite boyfriends, Jim and Mark, bottled next to the bed. Jim Beam was the only man who truly understood her and had no qualms about a threesome with Maker’s Mark. They got along famously with the other men in her life, Johnny and Jack (Walker and Daniels, respectively), and made Megan feel warm and loved inside.
They snuggled her nightly and didn’t douse the bed with unwanted man juice or errant pubic hair.
Megan liked to keep things clean, and liked to keep her life in separate boxes. She liked to know where her tax return from 1998 was filed. She liked her buttons stapled to paper and alphabetized. She had no junk drawer. Organized to a fault, Megan believed every item had a specific home.
Megan knew she had a problem when she started betting over televised races.
Initially, she claimed to enjoy the smell of the track; she liked to look at the horses and judge by the musculature she pretended to understand from her days collecting plastic horses.
She always loved horses. Her parents promised to buy her one when they moved far from the city. They took away her friends and her life and her stability in exchange for a promise.
She agreed, they moved, but the promised horse never arrived. She kneeled bedside, pretending to pray to an invisible god she didn’t believe in loudly enough for her parents to hear.
“Please God, let my parents not be liars. Let them buy me a horse.”
She watched “International Velvet” every weekend. She hung around Joe’s Feed and Tack Barn looking at pictures and pulling flyers to send to her parents in the mail without signature or return address.
Her obsession grew daily. She named her plastic horses and lined them up on self-built shelving around her room. She drew exquisite horses on the wall by amber night light after bedtime.
Pushing her bed from the wall, she sat cross-legged with markers in hand, flowing detailed colors into hindquarter muscles and shimmering waves into manes and tails.
Her lack of sleep evident, she napped and drooled over horse doodles in class.
She needed her horse; it never came.
Megan wore hats at the races. She stood along the rail and yelled at the horses and tiny jockeys in bright satin garb.
She often picked winners based on the colors alone; Megan was partial to yellow and pink and white and often matched her hats to the colors that felt lucky for the day.
She loved the adrenalin force as they took the back stretch, knowing that she could win or lose. That feeling was worth more than money to Megan. She felt alive.
Megan was lucky, in the beginning. She couldn’t lose.
Picking numbers from tarot cards or street signs that popped out on the way to the track or dreams or the color of the man’s shirt three rows back, Megan’s system of no system won her money. Money made her momentarily happy as she ticked items off her list of wants:
• Down comforter
• Silk window treatments
• Cashmere Pashmina throw
• Matching Tiffany-style lamps
• Hand-woven wool rug from Pakistan
• Pottery Barn bathroom vanity collection in white
• Set of eight matching tea cups with saucers
• Silver Tiffany bracelet
• New laptop
• 50-inch HDTV
• Yellow KitchenAid mixer
• Pink bathrobe
• White 400 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets
“Why am I still on the list?” her never-boyfriend whispered from the note.
“Because you hate me,” answered Megan. “I have too many secrets and can’t buy you in a store.”
She pinned him to her bathroom mirror and re-read him every morning. She added one thing to him every time stuff was crossed off.
Things and stuff were important to Megan; she had little else to fill time with. She was lonely but surrounded by things — expensive things. Stuff to build pride from.
No one ever saw her prized things; she never invited men in to see her stuff.
Megan liked men. Actually, she loved them. She had all their greatest hits, including “You’re too Crazy for Me” and “Why Won’t You Just Shut Up and Suck my Dick.”
They took her home from bars, many men, and she held and loved them as long as they would let her. They never called. They were transient things, stuff to hold onto for a little while, but she smashed them into crystal bits and cut her feet walking to her car the next morning.
She never stayed for orange juice.
She refused to count her number. She figured it over 40, possibly into the 60 range, maybe over 100.
She always used protection and was free of disease. Megan liked things clean; she always fucked on top to avoid whomever’s droplets of sweat.
Megan rarely had orgasms. Too distracted by errant body hair or unbalanced items in single men’s rooms, she often rearranged furniture before she slunk out the front door into the grey morning.
Pushing sofas on angles, re-stacking bookshelves, straitening rugs, folding laundry, she usually took out old newspapers to the recycle bin.
She attributed their not calling to her strange post-coital behaviors; if they’d let her fold laundry before sex, she might have cum.
It took her less than thirty-three seconds when alone.
“You got my fucking drugs or what?”
She quizzically squenched her face, “Not if you talk to me like that.”
“I want my drugs!”
“It’s good to want things, dear. Builds character.”
Megan became very calm when verbally attacked; she learned this technique through years of customer service. She ran the angry phone gauntlet daily and knew how to deal with the crazy, enraged souls crackling on the other end of the line.
Gerry taunted Meg for weeks about his stash. She made a judgment call in cutting him off. He took too many, re-ordered too often.
She would supply for recreation, but refused to play party to his suicide.
She was a good drug dealer: no kids, no addicts, no pregnant ladies. She had rules and boundaries, limits and structure, holding fast to her ambiguous moral compass.
“Seriously. I need that shit, Penny.”
Megan used pseudonyms with her clients. She answered to Jenny, Penny, Peggy, Pammy, Cammy and Sue. She liked names ending in “Y.” They bounced off the tongue and made her sound younger and cuter than she believed herself to be.
She had a different cell phone number with separate bill for her dealings. She carefully marked her profits and knew the expense of her business. She never dealt from her home.
Megan was clean and careful. Work was work. Business was business. Sex was sex. Bars were bars. Betting was betting. Every detail stapled to a small cardboard backing, buttons color coded and lined in a box just so.
Her mother collected buttons.
At approximately three years of age, at approximately three in the afternoon, little Meggy Poo Poo sat in the center of the floor surrounded by yellow and pink and white buttons.
Cardboard backing littering the floor around her chubby baby legs, she tossed the buttons into the air and laughed and cackled and giggled and shook her little red curls playfully.
Her mother turned the corner down the stairs. Screaming, she tossed little Meggy across the room and attended to her beloved buttons.
“How could you? You filthy brat! Look!”
“You want something to cry about?! I’ll give you something to cry about!”
Little Meggy Poo Poo stopped crying. She never cried again.
Not when her mother hovered over her feet with a hammer screaming about buttons and slamming toenails into floors, or threw hot potatoes at her head during dinner because she brought her favorite pink little pony to the table. Not even when her mother put dirty dishes in Megan’s bed or threw her clothing out the second story window into the pond.
Megan learned not to cry. She learned to compartmentalize feelings and ideas. She learned that being quiet is better than talking. She learned how to lie to herself.
“Mother, I’d like to take my horses.”
“You can’t. I threw them away when you left for college.”
“You what?” Megan almost started crying. She recently completed the shelving units to house her collection in the new apartment. “Mother, I collected those for years. They were very important to me.”
She became very calm as the onslaught began.
“You fucking little freak. Horses? Horses! That’s what you care about? You called about those stupid plastic horses? What about me? Did you want to talk to your mother? Did you want to ask me how I’m doing? It’s been three years! Three God-damn years and the first thing you say is ‘I’d like to take my fucking horses.’ You ungrateful piece of shit. Stick your fucking horses up your ass and don’t call again. You got my fucking drugs or what? ”
The receiver clicked and she spoke calmly to the tone, “Not if you talk to me like that.”
Her mother used a cocktail of yellow and pink and white pills and washed them down with Vodka or gin. She liked her pills colorful and alcohol clear.
She was terribly kind and sweet to the neighbors, bringing casseroles and lasagna over when babies were born, baking cakes with homemade buttercream frosting for school cake walks, she played well with others, but never with Megan.
She never counted her pills.
Megan stashed a few every week and amassed a rainbow of drugs. She never knew which were which and chose based on color alone. She was very lucky. Smart enough not to mix colors, she took only one at a time. She was careful and organized; Megan was clean.
“What did you know about Penny?”
“Who the fuck is Penny?”
“What did you call her?”
“Pammy. My dealer’s name was Pammy.”
“Short? Red? Smiley?”
“I’d describe her as bouncy, but yes, that’s Pammy.”
“Damn. What a waste. Where do we get our drugs now?”
Their concern lasted mere seconds as they discussed her death. They would have to find a new source. This suicide was very distressing and would ruin their weekend plans.
“Did you hear she was in there for three days?”
“The neighbor noticed the smell. They thought it was a dead rat, opened the door and, you know, dead lady.”
“Gross. How’d she do it?”
“There were yellow and pink and white pills all over the bed.”
“What … Flexural, Diazapam, Vicodin? Quite a mix. I thought she didn’t do drugs.”
“Dude, we didn’t even know her name. I bet she did a lot of things no one knew about.”
The doorbell rang unexpectantly. No one knew where Megan lived: not workmates, not clients, not fuck buddies, no one.
She crept beneath the view of the convex peek hole in case whoever was out there was watching.
Crawling up to the closed white wooden shutters with yellow-silk roman shades pulled half way up, she peaked between the slats to see the tapping toe of a familiar red Anne Klein pump. Her mother rang the doorbell repeatedly and began to bang on the door.
“I found you, you little whore.”
Her singsong voice wouldn’t upset the neighbors. She banged again with a hollow pink object. The empty shelving units shuddered with the incessant pounding.
“I know you’re in there. I saw something move in the peep hole and you’re larger than and allergic to cats. Fucking let me in before I start to scream.” She continued on with light and happy tone.
Megan knew she was smiling without expression. She’d been using Botox for years now, smoothing her forehead to match her marble heart.
“I’ve got some things you might want in exchange for some stuff I need.”
Megan saw the nondescript paper bags lining the porch beneath flower boxes filled with yellow and pink and white pansies and snapdragons and baby roses.
Her mother continued to pound the door with the disembodied head of a vintage My Little Pony. The fuschia-plastic mane fluttered and peeked between the fingers of her French manicure as she rapped on the door. “I know you want them.”
Megan breathed deeply with back pressed against the bottom of the window sill. She would not cry; she was an adult now. They would make a business agreement. Megan didn’t do business from the house, but she would make an exception for those bags of horses.
She would do it to reclaim her childhood.
She would make a deal for Sunshine and Sandy and Silver Moon and Take No Prisoners. She would open the door to kiss Gilbert and Secret Boyfriend and Takes the Cake. She would get her horses; they were worth the painful interaction to come.
“Let me in, little whore.” She sang menacingly.
Megan stayed in her hiding place but reached a bare foot to unlock the latch and throw the toggle down on the door. She remained huddled, arms around knees, as the red shoes stepped confidently onto her Italian rolled marble entry.
“What a dump!”
“Mother, wonderful to see you. What do you need?”
Her head remained buried tightly in knees, but Megan’s voice sang confidence.
“You know I don’t do business from here. How did you find me?”
“You send in the mail. I have Internet. You have phone. I’m a smart woman, child. I have your precious horses.”
“How many do you want?”
“As many as you got. Mama’s out.”
“Bathroom. Medicine cabinet. Third bottle. Third shelf. Take it. Leave the horses. Leave.”
Megan’s head remained glued to her knees. She needed to shave; the bristles of hair tickled her nose.
Her mother rifled through cabinets knocking down plastic bottles that bounced and rattled on the imported marble. “Wow, I’m taking some pink too. You’ve got great stock, but this place looks like poop, Meggy Poo-Poo. What kind of towels are these? Not nearly fluffy enough. Try Polo next time. Fifty bucks a piece at Macy’s. You never could shop worth a shit.”
She kicked the brown paper bags into the center of the living room and slammed the front door closed.
Megan refused to move for thirty-three minutes, frozen in fear and plagued by past.
Finally, she stretched legs across Berber carpet, raising her head and creaking neck to creep toward her beloved horses.
On hands and knees, she crawled across the floor to the spilled bags cradling her childhood friends.
They weren’t talking.
Megan began to sob.
Horse manes mutilated, plastic flesh scorched and melted, the smell of death and sight of crinkled destruction, My Little Ponies and plastic horses without heads and broken legs littered the living room. Megan sat centered in the pile of past and reached for a scrawled note inside the third bag.
“Now you understand the buttons — Mommy.”
She collapsed upon the carcasses of her dreams. Her business would suffer the loss.
Megan showered and exfoliated with Bed Bath & Beyond’s excellent Lavender Oatmeal scrub, picked out her favorite yellow sweater set with pearl buttons, clasped her Tiffany pearl necklace around her neck, and tilted her favorite yellow hat jauntily upon her head.
She lined her eyes and powdered her nose with MAC cosmetics and buried her toes into her favorite white Anne Klein sandals.
Heading to the track with three thousand dollars spread her lips to a grimacing smile. She took three shots of Oban Scotch, filled her flask with the remainder of the bottle and placed it gently in her pink and yellow Coach purse.
She would not win.
After the three thousand disappeared on “Mommy’s Best Girl” (the third horse in the third race), Megan sold her Coach bag to a woman in the bathroom for three hundred dollars.
Worth significantly more, the woman readily handed over the cash.
After the three hundred disappeared on “Mexican Night” (wearing yellow and pink satins in the seventh), Megan ran around barefoot.
Her size seven sandals went for thirty-three dollars to a woman in the stands.
After the thirty-three disappeared on “Penny Lane” (the third horse in the eighth race), she slammed the rest of her flask and made out with a janitor behind the bar for three dollars.
Megan missed the last race of the night. She didn’t place bets as she passed out with sweater back to garbage can as white slips of lost bets littered her shoeless feet and fluttered into her lap. Dead butterflies of hope covered her body.
Someone stole her hat.
“Megan? Is that you?”
A gentle hand shook her shoulder.
Megan threw up on Paul. He sat behind her at the office. Mortified, she tried to stand, but crumpled into his puke ridden arms. He lifted her off the ground and carried her to her car.
“Let me take you home.”
“No, no, I’m drive. I can fine.” She slurred and jumbled words, eyes tracking dangerously, missing the keyhole and running long scratches down her yellow BMW.
“I’ll follow you home.”
“No, no. I’m private. I don’t want to tell you where I live. I deal drugs from my house. Shhhhhh, it’s a secret.”
“Right. You’re drunk. Sleep it off, love. I’ll see you Monday at the office; I’m taking a long weekend. Maybe you should too?”
Megan came to as the cop rapped on the window.
“You gotta go. Gates closing.”
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry sir.”
Darkness bathed the empty parking lot; Megan started home sans winnings, hat, shoes, purse and dignity.
It was over. Paul saw her; he knew.
Her past had found her. She told him about the drugs. She blew her safety wad at the track. Her mother stole her pre-paid stash. They would be coming demanding their drugs, and she would have to explain her life.
She refused to explain anything to anyone. She could no longer hold on to the lies; it was time to die.
“Hey Jim. Let’s you and me have a good fuck.”
Megan swallowed him with thre bottles of pills while crafting the clearly printed note.
“I’ve always loved you,” Jim whispered as he slid down her throat.
“You’ve been a good friend,” the Beam bottle cried from the recycling bin.
“The sun will always shine on your face,” the snapdragons sang in high pitched chorus from their arrangement on the table.
“We looovvveee youuuuu!” the horse ghosts screamed from their twisted mass grave.
Megan fell asleep staring at her only family photograph; her father held her tight in his arms of safety.
To Whom It May Concern:
I just didn’t want to go to work today.
Pam Benjamin is a writer living in San Francisco. Awarded an MA in Fiction from San Francisco State University in 2010, she is also working on her MFA in Poetry because pieces of paper look nice framed. Ink. published “The Pigeon Chronicles or Bike Messenger Assassins” in Summer 2010. She is the co-host of “Common Threads” on the PCR Collective in San Francisco. Her poetry has appeared in several literary journals. Pam also really likes to bake cookies.