Saturday, April 4, 2009

the ninny & the weasel

“Is this signature alright, yes or no?” The man behind the counter at the DMV asked Kate as she looked at the form to verify her own signature.

“Yes, it’s fine,” she said politely.

“M’am, is this signature alright, yes or no?”

Kate thought she hadn’t answered loudly enough, so this time she said very clearly, in a stronger voice, “Yes, it is fine.”

Now the man behind the counter let out an exasperated sigh and spoke very slowly, annunciating every word in an exaggerated manner as if she were mentally challenged, “M’am, is this signature alright,” and through gritted, impatient teeth he finished, “...yes or no?”

Kate now realized he had heard her the first two times, it was her response that was at fault. Was he only allowed to accept a specific ‘yes or no’ answer, or was he just being a prick? Normally Kate would have just given him what he wanted. She would have felt stupid for not having picked up on the requirement and given the proper answer in the first place. But today, today she was not in the mood to give anyone what they wanted, least of all this weasely little ass behind the DMV counter. Nola had kept her up all night and she was bone tired, she was too tired to give anyone what they wanted anymore.

“Yes, it is fine!” Kate said loudly, slowly, matching his exasperation word for word, spitting out the words through her own clenched teeth.

He finally looked up at her. She was staring at him as if he were the most evil man on earth, as if he was the epitome of evil and she had been hunting him her whole life waiting for this very moment to jump over the counter and drive a stake through his inhuman heart.

Without looking away and maintaining a totally blank expression he said, “Twelve dollars please.” This time his tone was flat, not angry, but not pleasant either. Kate placed her cash down on the counter and he slid her driver’s license towards her, just close enough for her to reach. She snatched it up, glared at him one more second, and then turned and walked away as defiantly as she could, triumphant, knowing that people were staring at her, secretly cheering her on for standing up to the weasel behind the DMV counter the way they all wished they had the nerve to do.

It wasn’t until she got all the way out to her car that she realized she didn’t have her purse.

Oh good God, I left it on the counter! Oh shit! What am I going to do? I can’t go back. I won’t. She looked at the car door, luck would have it the car was unlocked. She opened the door and climbed in, relieved she could find some cover, some semblance of privacy to hide in. At least she could have a moment to think.

She wouldn’t go back in, no way. She would call Graham from a payphone and tell him she lost her purse, that she didn’t know where. But he would suggest it was at Motor Vehicle, he would tell her to go there and check first before he came all the way down there. Or did he even know that’s where she went? Had she remembered to tell him where she was going? Maybe she could say she had come to town to go to one of the stores instead. The shoe store, yes, she could say she went there.

This was ridiculous, she should go back to the DMV and get her damn purse, she’d done nothing wrong, nothing to be embarrassed about. But that man had been so mean and she had stood up to him, sort of. She had certainly let him know that she didn’t take kindly to his treatment of her, she had made that clear at least. But now all her courage, all her brave defiance had evaporated at the foolishness and pathetic idiocy of forgetting her purse. How could she have been so stupid? If she had a brain she’d be dangerous.

That’s what her mother always said to her, “if you had a brain you’d be dangerous.” Graham had laughed hysterically the first time her mom had said it in front of him, back when he and Kate were dating. He thought it was very funny, said he’d have to remember that. And he did. Kate had laughed too then, trying not to appear overly sensitive, like she was a good sport and could take a joke. But it had cut her to the quick that her mom would use that familiar phrase in front of her new boyfriend. If only she’d known then that it would pale in comparison to what Graham was capable of saying. Graham and her mom had a lot in common. They both could make her feel inept with one look; one sharp verbal jab could flatten her and cut her to the core.

Kate felt stupid, like she couldn’t even manage to do the simplest stuff right. Her mother would chastise her, point out her mistakes with a laugh, but not because it was funny. In fact, she knew she was the bane of her mother’s existence. Always with her head in the clouds and her feet going the wrong way, Kate forgot things all the time, mere minutes after instructions were given she would have no recollection of what was expected, probably because she wasn’t paying attention in the first place. No doubt because of that she made mistakes, sometimes big ones. She probably would actually forget her own head if it weren’t attached.

Her mother would have a few choice things to say about this episode. She’d say, “what’s wrong with you, how could you forget your purse, it was right there on the counter in front of your own eyes?” And she’d think Kate was utterly ridiculous for not wanting to go back and get it, she’d call her a ninny – yet another of her mother’s favorite ways to castigate her. Kate hated that word, “ninny.” It sounded exactly like what it was, a weak, silly, lame little person with no sense whatsoever. “Why are you being such a ninny, go back and get your own damn purse.”

Kate new from an early age she just didn’t have the courage, the fortitude her mother did. Her mother was the strongest woman she knew, she seemed made of iron. When her father died Kate’s mother had raised her and her three brothers, worked two jobs and kept the house spotless. Kate’s brothers had all gone to college, each one had achieved success and credited their mother for pushing and for making them tow the line. Somehow Kate was different, what seemed like basic tasks of life overwhelmed her. Even as a child she always knew she was her mother’s greatest disappointment. When her mother didn’t speak to her, ignored her, she knew it was because poor Agnes couldn’t bear to be reminded of this colossal failure, Kate’s mere presence would be like rubbing salt into the wound.

There was no escape from Agnes and her critisizm, even from beyond the grave she manged to shake Kate’s confidence. Whenever Kate felt stupid, every time she made a mistake, she thought of what her mother would think, could practically hear her harsh, raspy voice in her head. It was an automatic response. Now she sat in the cold car and wished she had the nerve to go back and get her purse, wished she could be more like normal people. But she wasn’t and never would be. She was weak, her mother was right. Graham was right. Even Nola, the way she looked at Kate sometimes with those knowing blue eyes, even her own infant daughter already knew she was useless.

Kate looked up just in time to see that man, the weasel from the DMV, walking towards her car, her purse in his hand. She got out and walked around the front of her car to meet him. “You forgot this,” he said, barely looking at her. “Yes, I just realized…” but before she could finish the sentence he’d already turned and was walking away, back to his weasely counter, his weasely job.

Even he knows I’m a ninny. It is obvious even to him.

Disclaimer: Weasels are noble creatures, some of my most treasured friends are weasels -- the dreaded DMV Weasel is a species unto itself and no relation to the other, talented and remarkable weasels of the world :)


Chuck Dilmore said...

oh, my!

a) this is exceptional writing! Bravo!
b) the DMV Weasel's final act caught me completely by surprise, which i love!
c) i love and feel for Kate. the voices in her head, the wrestling with her worthiness. but i feel she will rise, will gain strength, will realize that she has more than a valid place in this world.

nice, nice writing!
thank you for sharing with us!


Suzette Saxton said...

Ooo, I love this idea! A thousand words a day. Nice writing - you have a knack for believable internal dialogue.

Kayleigh said...

Chuck, thanks so much, and I'm glad the DMV weasel's action in the end surprised you, it did me too, lol! It's nice when characters do that for you :)

Suzette, thank you :) I got the idea for 1000 words a day from "Making a Literary Life" by Carolyn See -- have you read it? It's a great book. I am extremely flattered by your compliment about the internal dialogue...that was wonderful to hear!

La Belette Rouge said...

I, as a weasel, appreciate your kind disclaimer. This weasel takes no offense. Weasel is a word that still has a negative meaning in the greater culture. I am doing the best I can to give the word a makeover. In 10-20 years I hope to have so transformed the word that people will assume "weasel" is a compliment. Until that time I won't be a ninny about it.;-)

P.s. You continue to inspire and awe me.

Kayleigh said...

LOL, you are too funny -- that disclaimer was just por vous mon amie (not sure the French is correct, but you get the point)...and you could never be a ninny, c'est impossible :)

Thank you so much for your wonderful compliments, you've no idea how encouraging they are to me!

Mervat said...

I love this line:

“if you had a brain you’d be dangerous.”

The fact that that those words came so naturally to her as a result of her mother saying them to her. Poignant.

Thank you for sharing.


Kayleigh said...

Thanks Mervat -- that phrase is a sort of "joke" in my family. Whenever one of us would do something foolish my father would say that. Mostly it was lighthearted, altho sometimes, not so much. It could go either way, depending on the intonation...of course here it takes on a much darker undertone, huh?

I'm so glad you came by -- thank you!