Sunday, December 18, 2005


One term, there is Eva Sherman. Eva Sherman is wearing hobnailed boots. Not shiny new Doc Matrins, but hobnailed boots. The light gleams off her shaved head. She is tiny, with an innocent baby face, dark fine eyebrows and blue eyes. She is watching everyone with alert, bird-like curiousity.

As my boss starts introductions for the library tour, I survey the new faces. Every year there’s a girl or boy next door, dressed carefully in second hand clothes, an awkward guess at art school chic. There’s a shy one or two who look away when you catch their eye. There’s one in the far corner, usually a boy, sometimes a girl, all boiling fury, lip curled in disdain. This crap is not what he/she came to art school for. This is the crap he/she came to get away from. There are a few genuine freaks, the real article. Kids so alienated, so bludgeoned by being different in some little rural town that they’ve grown chips that reach from shoulders to knees. There’s one mature student, or two, taking earnest notes and looking scared.

I pick Eva out. The Little Bald Girl. I want to know about the little bald girl.

Eva comes to the library a lot. She is shy and inept. It takes four explanations of how to use the computer catalog before I realize that, earnestly as she listens, bright as she is, she doesn’t understand a word I’m saying. Instead of annoying me, this has the opposite effect. I become kinder.

I study her from the corner of my eye or when she is reading at one of the big wooden tables. She wears the same man’s white shirt and old scruffy pants every day and the hobnailed boots. She appears to have dropped in from some distant galaxy. She seems to be furiously engaged in studying the life forms and culture. She seems to think she is invisible. She smiles at me, a real smile and I smile back. I give her extra help finding her books and speak quietly to her.

The term swings into gear, and the foundation students start to shape-shift. The shy ones laugh sometimes, or they come in on a certain Monday with a tattoo, or three Tuesdays later than that, they've cut their hair with gardening shears. The mature students are grateful for all and any help and they've begun to suspect that maybe they can do this. The student who arrived furious, ready to throw a punch, says "thank you" when you check out their books.

Eva arrives one day wearing a long blonde Marilyn Munro wig, come-fuck-me-shoes, and a tight dress. Big blue eyes wide. Little stiletto heels clacking.

“Hi Eva,” I say, “this is pretty amazing.”

“You wouldn’t believe the reactions,” she says as if she is conducting a science experiment. Yes, I would.

Later that day we wait for the elevator together. Eva, me, and some guys doing repair work on the roof. The repair guys are staring outright. When I look at them, they tear their eyes off Eva for approximately one second, and then helpless as dogs smelling meat, they look back. She is smiling her big innocent smile at me. The Little Bald Girl under the wig is still Eva. I smile back at her and hold down a giggle.

Eva comes and goes borrowing and returning dozens of books every week. Mostly she wears her big shirt and old pants. But there is a Suzi Wong dress, a long black oriental wig with bangs. She adds a secretarial outfit.

“Why?” I finally ask her. “It’s like performance art.” She explains, very earnestly, about doing gender studies.

“It’s to do with my art,” she says.

“I thought so. It must be very interesting to see the reactions.”

She nods seriously. “Yes.”

Stories circulate about Eva.

“She’s in my Post Modern class. The prof assigned us an essay on one decade and she sticks up her hand and says, ‘Excuse me. Can you tell me the easiest decade, please? I’m very busy.’ She was dead serious. She wasn’t being a smart-ass. So, you know who teaches that one, right? And he says to her, dead-pan, ‘The sixties. Do the sixties.’”

I shake my head. That’s Eva. Of course she wasn’t being rude.

Eva tells me she’s going away to another province. I wish her the best and I mean it. I like her. I don’t see her for several years.

One day she walks through the door and I think it must be a costume. Her dark hair is cut in a tidy blunt cut, chin-length. She’s wearing a little lipstick, a clean white sweater and a dark skirt. Fashionable shoes.

I ask her if she’s making art.

She looks embarrassed. She looks away.

“I have a job now,” she tells me. “This was just a stage, you know. Just a stage. I’m better now.”

Suddenly I want to hold her and cry.


Mella said...

Oh, Eva... I can relate to needing to dress the "part" when entering the working world. I used to wear stickers and sparkles and patchwork pants - all things that would never fly in an office environment.

But I would never ever say that I'm better now, this way, stickerless, sparkleless, with a closet full of patch-free clothing. If anything, I long for the days of thrift store tee's and scuffed up Doc Martins.

LJ said...

Yeah. It was the "better now" that really ate at me. How the world will do whatever it can to erase an original.

Goon said...

That's one beautifully written piece, LJ. Really, really nice.

LJ said...

Thanks Dan. The inspiration, "Eva" herself, was pretty amazing. I've never been able to write fiction because the real world is too full of astonishing people I could never make up.

coy said...


this is my favorite story. ever.

i mean it.

you know i do.

Koru's Daughter said...

When I reread this, I kept hoping that conforming to the job world was the stage. Yet, I keep rereading and it never is.

In my dream, in a few years, Eva breaks the hardened shell (egg) of corporate conformity and rises from the flames like a pheonix.

Or I could just be making dream art.

g said...

Wow, I didn't get the part about her being constricted at work, or living a diminished life.

And when she said "This was just a stage" my first take was that it was like the theatre-stage, not like it was a stage in her life.