Annotations: Bad Behaviour by Mary Gaitskill

Words by Hayley Stockall

Published on June 2, 2014

Tangential thoughts on recently read books.

The migraines are getting worse. The doctor refuses to renew my prescription medication.

Because of stroke.You’re 22, but the risk is increased.

The spots on my vision had seemed ominous enough.

Stroke (n): a sudden disabling attack or loss of consciousness caused by an interruption in the flow of blood to the brain, especially through thrombosis.

Stroke (n): an act of hitting or striking someone or something; a blow.

I read ‘Secretary’ first. I anticipate white hand imprints on reddened skin; hitched up skirts and pantyhose in a tangle. I steel myself for potential arousal. I hope for potential arousal.

I follow Debby to work, to her typewriter, to her humiliation, to her apathetic reactions. Debby lies in bed with her clothes on and her back to the door. I lie in bed, hunched over. Sometimes I dream of home invasions. Sometimes I dream of drunk-driving charges. I wake with a migraine – on average – once every ten days. My canines have been ground to a blunt tip; my jaw aches at the pressure points. My apathy is not adequate pain relief.

I read ‘Something Nice’ while working at the modern art gallery. I work a six-hour shift, alone.

Male character:’This is an adventure for me. Something nice.’

Female, in response: ‘Is it something nice?’

At the busiest point in the day, five people wander through. Later, nearing the gallery’s close, an old man walks past. The area is quiet, people-less. He leans in close, mouth full of stained teeth, to tell me that I am beautiful. There is more, but it is mostly lost in translation. Something about it not mattering if the art were dull, beacause he had seen me. Something about him not actually being a seedy old man, despite what I might think. Something that I couldn’t comprehend because I was concentrating my hardest on smiling more than just half-heartedly. Smiling as if my life depended on it.
Male character: ‘With you it’s going to be very nice.’

Stroke (v): move one’s hand with gentle pressure over (a surface), typically repeatedly.

I read ‘Heaven’ beside a window. My neighbour’s chickens scratch the ground below. The refugee children run up and down the street. It’s the final story in the collection. The girls with the bad behaviour have become mothers, and produced girls with their own bad behaviours. I drink Earl Grey while reading, even though it’s coffee that works best to keep migraines away.

I think of it as a story to read during the turning of the season, in the twilight of five and six in the winter evening, when the air smells like wood fire smoke and the tips of your cheeks sting.

I have yet to find a correlation between temperature and migraines. But I haven’t been trying very hard.