Like Clockwork

Sheila had hit the age range wherein most women stop taking inventory of their independent life acts, and begin taking inventory of their ovaries.

Both inventories are entirely theoretical. Both are internally monitored.

Neither got her laid.

Sheila uncrossed her legs at the bar and leaned on it with her elbow, hoping the pose would make her look sexy. She took a fast slug of her beer, hoping it would make her look bored.

Nobody in the bar had talked to Sheila since she had walked in. Except The Bartender. The music felt good, which was strange, since it was loud, and exactly the music she hated.

Sheila never really drank beer. She found that she could never really want more than one. Sheila preferred to drink hard, if she was going to drink at all. Sheila liked to get it done.

Sheila had tried to flirt with The Bartender when she first sat down, but the bar had been busy, and he'd walked away. Now, she noticed, he wasn't busy. He was talking to someone else.

Sheila sat back up and hooked her heels over the rungs of the bar stool. This was a pose that made it easy to slouch unless you remembered to push your boobs out.

Sheila pushed her boobs out.

A man who was walking by looked twice. Sheila took a slug of her beer. This made the man keep walking.

Sheila had just come from an office downtown. The office was recommended to her by another woman who worked in another office. This other office just happened to be two floors down from Sheila's. The Woman who worked downstairs from Sheila had a friend -- a Doctor. This Doctor had an office downtown -- the office that Sheila had come from.

The Woman who worked a couple floors down was someone Sheila would never have met if it had not been for the elevator. Sheila and The Woman happened to use the exact same elevator at the exact same time everyday.

Like clockwork.

Sheila liked things that were like clockwork. Sheila liked The Woman.

Sheila had never quite thought it before, but Sheila liked having her period. Believe it or not, she did. She liked it because it, too, was like clockwork. Sheila had once even said this out loud to The Woman she knew from the elevator -- that The Woman was, along with her period, the only thing Sheila knew she could rely on.

Sheila recrossed her legs at the bar and leaned on her elbow, this time behind her. This was also a slouching position, and Sheila pushed out her boobs.

Sheila had been to this bar before, and was grateful that tonight, she recognized no one, not even The Bartender. Sheila, in fact, was careful to space out the times that she came here, all in the hopes that no one would know her. She had walked quite awhile after leaving The Doctor's, had found herself walking straight up to this bar, and then had come in and sat down. It had not been as long since the last time she came as Sheila usually liked to have pass, and Sheila was glad that tonight, it didn't seem much to matter.

The Doctor had had a few things to say. The first was that Sheila was perfectly fertile. On that end, things were okay. Despite what Sheila had come to expect, the eggs would be coming -- like clockwork.

The thing was that Sheila had gone home with someone on each of the nights she had come to this bar. On each of the mornings after each of these nights, Sheila had felt, very strongly, that she shouldn't see the someone she'd slept with again. Ever.

The Woman she knew from the elevator -- the one who worked two floors down -- knew about each of these mornings, and knew about each of these nights. She knew because Sheila had told her.

The other thing that The Doctor had said was how foolish it was for Sheila not to have come to a doctor before this for such a long time. He had asked if Sheila was sexually active. Sheila had said no. Sheila felt it had been awhile.

Sheila had been riding the same elevator to the same office in the same building for six years.

The Woman who worked downstairs had been riding the said same elevator since long before Sheila had gotten there. They hadn't always ridden it at exactly the same time. Sheila had begun timing her rides for when she knew that The Woman would be there. Sheila and The Woman had never discussed it, but Sheila suspected that The Woman timed her rides, too.

The Bartender placed a second beer next to Sheila's elbow. Sheila had not ordered it. The Bartender pointed to the end of the bar. A Man who was sitting there was waving.

Sheila nodded a little toward The Man, and took another slug of her beer.

Over the course of the past six years, Sheila and The Woman had spent quite a lot of time talking. The elevator always happened to be empty, except for the two of them, all the way down. This was the reason that Sheila suspected The Woman of timing her rides. Sheila timed it to match with The Woman. The Woman timed it so they'd be alone. This is what Sheila suspected.

The reason Sheila had gone to The Doctor was because she'd begun her ovarian inventory. The Woman from the elevator referred to this as Sheila's biological clock. Sheila had heard of this phrase before, but didn't like to use it. Now that Sheila gave thought to these things, it seemed as though the "ticking" one heard at her age was not the seconds of time passing by, but the sound of each bit of her human potential one-by-one dropping, wasted.

The Man at the end of the bar was staring at Sheila. Sheila put on a face that made it look like she didn't care.

The office that Sheila had gone to downtown was really more of a clinic. The Doctor had asked if she'd practiced safe sex. Sheila had said that she did. That was true. She could easily bypass the clinic and save herself all kinds of trouble if she were willing to be a little less safe with one of the men from the bar. The Woman she knew from the elevator had pointed this out to her. Sheila had said that not one of these men was a man that Sheila could think about when imagining somebody's father.

Sheila had not lost faith in finding a man she wanted to marry. Sheila had never had any. Sheila never really liked men.

The Woman had recommended The Doctor to Sheila weeks before Sheila had actually gone. In the time in between, the two of them had talked a lot about Sheila's fertility.

Sheila always thought of the talks she had with The Woman as long. The truth was, they lasted as long as it took the elevator to drop to the ground floor. Neither of them ever asked for a phone number. They did not know each others' names.

The Man at the end of the bar was named Bill. He worked for an advertisement group who developed television commercials. Bill thought Sheila could have a career in television, and had been divorced twice already.

The last man from the bar that Sheila had slept with had also been married. His name was George, and he had once had a problem with pain killers.

The day before this -- the day before Sheila had gone to The Doctor -- The Woman who worked downstairs had kissed Sheila, just before the doors opened onto the lobby.

The third thing The Doctor had said was that Sheila had what looked like a tumor the size of an orange growing on the side of her uterus. He had made an appointment for Sheila to have her entire system removed.

The Man from the end of the bar -- Bill -- ordered Sheila another beer. This is how it always began, these nights. The beers would be coming -- like clockwork. This is why Sheila drank beer when she came. The beers would all take to her much more slowly, and give Sheila time to keep her head straight.

About the author:

Tomi M. Tsunoda teaches directing at New York University, and theatre skills at The Harlem Educational Activities Fund. She has worked with theatre and music artists such as Gordon Dahlquist, Elizabeth Swados, and Walter Thompson, and is the co-founder of both Director's Eye theatre company and breedingground productions. Her poetry has been published in the zine Dark Penguin, and her solo album Marketplaces will be available through breedingground by the end of 2002. Tomi graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts with an award for Outstanding Achievement.