Hurdles

Ann Lewis Hamilton

I love my friends.  We met freshmen year in college and we’ve been tight ever since.  We’ve got this bond, this band of brothers thing.  We’re there for each other, we’re loyal, we’re honest.

 

No, honest might not be the right word.  Sometimes we’re vicious.  Especially vicious with anyone who wants to join our pack.  Cole and Weiner and Smith, they could be brutal.  

What do her parents do?  Where did she go to college, where did her parents go to college?  Is she from Greenwich?  Pacoima?  Does she know Vineyard Vines isn’t a wine label?  Would she date her first cousin?

We’re hanging out at Smith’s mom’s house in the Palisades, it’s late afternoon and we’re drinking wine and anticipating a gorgeous sunset.  We’re talking about plastic surgery, about how the Kardashians don’t look like humans any more, they look like parody humans, and my girlfriend Tracy says something about her roommate needing a nose job because she has a really big probiscis.  

“A what?” Smith asks her.

“Probiscis,” she says with the slightest tone of – ha ha, I know a word you don’t know.  Tracy taps her nose.  “My roommate, her nose is gigantic.”

“Didn’t you go to Claremont?”  Smith grins at her.

“Yes.”  Tracy grins back at Smith.  She’s told me how much she likes my friends and I don’t believe her since they still grill her every time (“She's on probation, David,” that’s what they tell me).  But I’m happy she’s trying to be a good sport.

I attempt to catch Smith’s eye.  Go easy, that’s what I’m projecting.  But he’s not paying attention.

“Didn’t you have to take the SAT to get into Claremont or were you some special case?” Smith asks Tracy.

“I did fine on my SATS, sorry I didn’t go to Stanford like the rest of you guys.”

 

“Did they have the word probiscis on the vocab part of the SAT?”

Tracy starts to look worried.  “I don’t remember.  I don’t think so.”

Smith turns to Weiner and Cole.  They can’t help themselves, they’re laughing.  

“Maybe you got into Claremont by mistake.”  Smith smiles at Tracy.  A shark smile.  Ready to go in for the kill.

“Cut it out, Smith,” I say.

Tracy looks at me, she doesn’t understand what’s happening.  

“Don’t pay any attention to him,” I tell her.  “He’s drunk.”

“Not drunk,” Smith says.  “Just intelligent.”  He sips from his wine glass and moves his face close to Tracy.  He speaks slowly and deliberately.  “There is no such word as probiscis.  Unless maybe it’s another word for twat.”

Weiner and Cole laugh out loud.  Tracy’s mouth opens, but she’s not saying anything.

“Perhaps you meant proboscis.”  Smith puts his wine glass back on the table, a little too close to the edge.  “You’ve heard of a proboscis?  That would be a long appendage that comes out of an animal’s head.  Frequently used to describe the nose or snout of a vertebrate, like an elephant, or the mouth of an insect, like a butterfly.”  He pauses to drink more wine.  “You do know what a vertebrate is, don’t you?”

Tracey is about to speak, but Smith holds up his hand.  “In insects, the proboscis sucks food into the body.”  Smith makes a slurping sound.  “Butterflies and moths have a proboscis, as do other insects like stink bugs, assassin bugs, and bees.  Do you like bees, Tracy?”

“Bees are okay.  I mean, they make honey.”

“They make honey,” Smith says and he looks around at us.  “Well, you got that one right.  Would you like to hear another definition of a proboscis?”

“I don’t think so.”  Tracy’s voice is soft.

I shake my head at Smith.  Stop.  But he isn’t paying attention to me.

“A proboscis can be an abnormal facial appendage that sometimes accompanies ocular and nasal abnormalities in humans.”  Smith applauds himself.  “Perhaps someone should call up Claremont and have them rescind your degree.”

Tracy’s cheeks are pink.  I watch the pink move down her face to her chest.  “That’s not very funny,” she finally says.  

Smith turns away from her.  “I can’t hear you, Tracy.  My probiscis is itching and I have to sneeze.”  He mocks sneezes.  Weiner and Cole howl.  

Tracy gets up and walks back into the house.  I follow her and immediately try to apologize, but she isn’t having it.  “You let him do that.”

“He didn’t mean anything.  He does that to everybody.”

She looks at me for a moment.  “You just sat there.”

“Smith has a warped sense of humor.”

“It wasn’t funny.”  She’s mad now, the pink in her cheeks going red.  “Jesus.  All I did was mispronounce a word.  And he totally made fun of me.  Like I was an idiot.”

I hesitate.  My second biggest mistake.  I should have agreed with her, yes, Smith is an asshole, he shouldn’t have done that, it wasn’t funny, I’m going to go outside to the back yard and tell him to apologize.  After I hit him.  And make him beg for mercy.  Why were you such an asshole, Smith?  She’s my girlfriend, you need to respect her.  You’re the insect.  You’re the arthropod, the invertebrate, the assassin bug.  I should crush you with my shoe, smash your antennae and six legs and claws and wings into tiny pieces.

 

But I don’t say any of those things.  I don’t go outside to confront Smith.  And it kills me to remember this, but I know I was thinking, dammit, why did Tracy have to mispronounce proboscis?

Needless to say, I never went out with Tracy again.  

Ann Lewis Hamilton is a writer living in California.

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