Miss Resignation by Padgett Powell

BOMB 37 Fall 1991
037 Fall 1991

Lisa smoked her first Bingo card unnoticed. She coughed, coughed considerably, but not as much as one might expect smoking cardboard, and her condo neighbors could hear her coughing through the walls, but it sounded not unlike their own rheumy hacking and gasping and they never fathomed she had taken to smoking her Bingo cards. She never won at Bingo and the decision to smoke the losing cards—not just burn them—was a deep, involuted response to her lack of luck.

She had a myna bird that did not talk and that had lost so many feathers to his ineradicable mite problem that he looked more like a desert lizard than a bird.

Her refrigerator would regularly fail to close by one-quarter of an inch, which was enough to perish the perishable and the compressor.

Her curtain rods sagged in the middle so badly that her drapes slid from the sides of her windows into the middle of the span.

One day four of 40 hair curlers refused to let go and she had to use scissors to get them out.

She had a beautiful daughter.

She could no longer effect a long-distance phone call.

The television one day blinked and then showed her a tiny, shrinking, green pupil in the middle of the dark screen. The repairman, whom she secured by yelling at as he drove down the street, said he could not fix her set.

“Why not?” she asked.

“It’s tubes,” he said.

Potatoes were a staple of her diet. One day she experimented with how potatoes bounce on linoleum. They bounce pretty well and are not damaged much.

Toast impressed her as a waste of time. Bread was already cooked, you eat it or you do not.

Socks, likewise, seemed superfluous, if one has shoes.

She liked football and was absolutely certain that she could have been an excellent off-tackle slant-type power runner in a wishbone or two-back set. Forty-four was her number.

Forty-four was her bra size, too. This had held her back in life, she felt.

The salt air outside had corroded the aluminum frames of her windows to the point she was afraid to open them for fear of not being able to close them. They, the frames, had little white pocks on them, reminiscent of chenille.

Under her sink was a rat trap she could not set for her nerves and a rat. She baited the trap for him and fed him, safely and humanely, from the harmless little copper bait seesaw. She wondered if the rat knew she knew the trap was just a … just a whatever a sprung trap you continue to bait is. Maybe he just ate the cheese, period. It was hard to know what a rat thought. Once she put a small wad of wet toilet paper on the bait seesaw and he ate that too, or at least took it off somewhere with him. All in all, she thought of him as a good sport, a good sport under the sink, and took comfort in it. She resisted the idea that he ate in fear, held his breath before biting the cheese. But she resisted equally the notion of feeding him on a saucer instead of the little bait seesaw—that was openly feeding a rat. He was not a dog. The rat under the sink was not a dog. The rat under the sink who could eat on a guillotine and find a use for or even eat toilet paper was not a dog. You could discover what a dog did with toilet paper, wet or dry. A dog is no rat. The rat is in possession of a dignity of desperation, and not the dignity of desperation, for there are many dignities of desperation. There is the desperate dignity of smoking the Bingo card which represents your millionth consecutive loss at Bingo, which is not even a true gamble. There is the desperate dignity of sweltering in your apartment with its closed windows because the event of window-frame failure, caused by electrolytic erosion of aluminum, will admit of the whole, giant ocean but blocks away and of all the destructive power of the sea, its swallowed cargoes and lives and lighthouse failures and fogs and seas higher than ships and icebergs and scurvy and sailors spreading syphilis and the entire trunk of doom that is Davey Jones’s locker just two blocks away. This is just one of hundreds of desperations of dignity, not opening your windows.

A dog may have dignity, but not a desperate dignity. No dog, save those very first ones to perceive the domestication plans, has ever been possessed of a dignity of desperation. It is arguable that the kind of poodle whose nails get painted purple by Lisa’s condo neighbors can have a desperation, often betrayed by their nail-clicking dancing irrational barking skin problems self-mutilation visits to dog psychologists etc., but this, too, is not a desperation of dignity. This is clearly desperation of indignity, and why Lisa likes a rat under the sink, not a dog.

From the collection of short stories, Typical, by Padgett Powell. Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. © 1991 by Padgett Powell. All rights reserved.

Padgett Powell lives and teaches in Gainesville, Florida. He’s also the author of two novels, Edisto and A Woman Named Drown.

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BOMB 37, Fall 1991

Featuring interviews with Nan Goldin, Elizabeth LeCompte, Robert Duvall, P.M. Dawn, Jane Wilson, Louis Edwards, Craig Coleman, James Chance, Hal Hartley, and Constance Congdon.

Read the issue
037 Fall 1991