By Lori Jakiela
I worked bingo nights at the Trafford Polish Hall Mondays and Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, Fannie would come in and order her usual—fish sandwich, half a bun.
“And blot it good,” Fannie would say, meaning she wanted the grease from her fish sopped up with a paper towel before I served it to her.
Fannie was about four feet tall. Her dark hair curled on her head like a raccoon. She never smiled. [blocktext align=”left”]“B-12 never comes up,” Fannie would say. “They pump it full of lead so it don’t float. You know why? They don’t want me to win, that’s why.” [/blocktext]Everything about her seemed withered, like the hot dogs I’d let boil all night long until they split open and curled into themselves. She was the unhappiest person I’d ever met.
“Pain in my ass, that Fannie,” my grandmother, who ran the kitchen, liked to say.
“That Fannie loves to hang on her cross,” my grandmother would say.
“That Fannie’s a pain in mine.”
My grandmother was clever like that.
My grandmother’s name was Ethel. Ethel weighed over 200 pounds and loved halushki and polkas and her soaps. Ethel loved life as much as Fannie seemed to hate it. That might be why Ethel and Fannie didn’t get along.
Ethel and Fannie were neighbors. Ethel lived in a yellow house with two windows on the second floor and a white porch awning that made it look like a duck. Fannie lived in a lopsided white box of a house that seemed about to collapse down the ragged little hill it was built on.
Fannie always seemed about to collapse, too. She was always complaining about this or that, the weather, the president. She was sure the bingo was rigged.
“B-12 never comes up,” Fannie would say. “They pump it full of lead so it don’t float. You know why? They don’t want me to win, that’s why.”
“Oh piss and moan,” Ethel would say.
I didn’t mind Fannie. I was seventeen. Work was four hours each night, then homework, then bed. When Fannie came in on Wednesdays, I didn’t have anywhere else I had to be. I’d make a big deal of blotting down Fannie’s fish. I’d hand it to her in a fancy way. She’d inspect it, hold it at eye-level, then she’d sigh and blot more. When she was done, she’d tip me a quarter.
“Blot it better next time,” she’d say. Then she’d waddle off, holding the fish on the paper plate in front of her with both hands like it was something holy, an offering.
We did this every Wednesday. It was like a skit, always the same thing. Fanny lived alone, I knew, and probably didn’t have anyone to talk to most of the time. At seventeen, I liked sadness. I was drawn to it and thought I understood something about it.
Fanny would take her time with the fish. She wanted someone to care a little, I think. She said grease was bad for her. She said no one knew how she suffered. She said she was checking all her cards to make sure B-12 wasn’t on them. She said she couldn’t bear it. She said if she wasn’t careful, the grease would keep her up all night, burping.
She said it was about her heart, which of course it was.
Lori Jakiela lives in Pittsburgh and is the author of two memoirs—The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious (C&R Press, 2013) and Miss New York Has Everything (Hatchette, 2006)—and a poetry collection, Spot The Terrorist (Turning Point, 2012).