Funding for this book was partially provided by the Texas Commission on the Arts, for which we are grateful.
Some of these pieces have appeared previously in The Chowder Review, The Pawn Review, Hubris, Junction, and Intra 14.
BoyCrazy and other stories
by Marion Winik
ÂŠ 1986 by Marion Winik.
illustrated by: Philippe Brochard Steven Cerbo Gail Deery Michael Evert Peter La Bonne Jan Ralske Tracey Regester Sandye Rem Shelley Valachovic cover design: Cheryl Meyer
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including storage or retneval system, without permission in writing from the publisher or writer.
Library of Congress Catalog No.: LC 85-050859 ISBN: 0-941720-24-1
Printed in the United States of America. Slough Press Box 1385 Austin, TX 78767
for Tony, my crazy boy
I have some pretty incredible friends. Ten of them illustr<~ted this book. I consider myself lucky even to know these people, much less to be exacting enormous personal favors from them. Thank you, Sandye, Shelley, Tracey, Gail, Pete, Michael, Phillipe, Jan, Steve, and Cheryl. Our eleven heads are far superior to my one. Due to the autobiographical basis of my work, some of these stories have actually been illustrated by their own characters. Miscellaneous thank yous: Thank you, Jonathan Baumbach and Peter Spielberg, wherever you are, for the encouragement and direction you gave me while I was at Brooklyn College writing these stories. You too, Victoria Schoenburg and David Rotman. Thank you, Naomi Nye and Albert Goldbarth, whom I shall always consider my Main Squeezes of the Literary World. Thank you, Chris Hobson, for various reasons. The last two people I would like to thank are not around to read this, both having unexpectedly departed the planet earlier this year. Thank you, David Yates, for nonstop and everything that went with it. Thank you, Hyman Winik, for nothing I can state in a few words. Marion Winik Austin, Texas August 1985
Table of Contents Self Portrait With Goat. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 2 I Take My Poems To Mexico 18 Making Babies 21 Only Chance 28 Traffic Safety 33 Dishes/day; Dishes/night 37 The Student Of Women .40 BoyCrazy 42 Heroin Girl 49 I Wake To Find My Right Arm Gone 58 For You 61 Metasex 68
Table of Illustrations "I lay on my bed in a coma". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 1 Steve Cerbo "Letters arrived with Midwestern postmarks" 4 Michael Evert "The dogs were strewn around the lawn" . . . . . . . . .. 9 Steve Cerbo "I wanted him to totally disappear" 16 Gail Deery "The poems are off taking snapshots of beach chairs" 20 Sandye Renz "I have toyed with the idea of Alabama" 23 Shelley Valachovic "They pulled up onto the tundra in a rented car" .... 26 Shelley Valachovic "Could her future husband just disappear?" 29 Gail Deery "In the back they keep a flock of Plymouth Rock hens" 32 Sandye Renz 35 "We sound just the same when we cry" Steve Cerbo "Doves were flying through the kitchen with dishtowels " 38 Phillipe Brochard "She scrunched her stocking over one foot" 39 Sandye Renz BoyCrazy 43 Jan Ralske "Eddie's father watches only old reruns" 50 Pete La Bonne "Heroin Girl wishes Eddie would shut up sometimes" 54 Pete La Bonne
"It was more beautiful than any video screen in the world" Pete La Bonne "If she really wants my leg she can have it" Steve Cerbo "They wrote stupid things in the ladies room" Tracey Register "Oh, me" Tracey Register "As poised as a skyscraper, and as fragile" Tracey Register Metasex Shelley Valachovic
62 64 66 70
Self Portrait With Goat
My senior year at college there was a Halloween party. The Goat was there as nuclear fallout. I was Mary Hartman Mary Hartman. The Goat was widely renowned for dropping out every semester. I'd never met him, though we moved in similar circles. We went downstairs to his room in the basement. As soon as we got our clothes off he started trembling. I tried to be gentle and calm, but that seemed to make things worse. Finally I gave up and lay still. One time two truckdrivers picked him up hitching and took him to a dark empty place. He tried not to remember, but whenever someone touched him the feeling was still right there in his body. I felt incompetent and sad. A ribbon of light from the party fell down the stairs. Then I looked at the Goat with his big broken nose and his fine, wild blond hair. I wanted him to trust me, so I stayed. We lived together after that except when he got mad at me. I was unfaithful and bourgeois. He left me a note: he had gone to Alaska. I lay on my bed in a coma.
Letters arrived with midwestern postmarks. Drawings of my shoulders. Dreams about my thighs. The whole erotic geography between. But. Coupledom to be avoided at any and every cost. Cold mention of monogamy and Bloomingdales. After three weeks he called from Minneapolis. We both knew he should come home right away. Once I lost the car keys and put out a cigarette in my hand. He sat beside me, frightened but elated. We were best at each other's furthest extreme.
After I finished school we left the country forever. But first we drove all over saying goodbye. We put fifteen thousand miles on the car in a month. I knew I was pregnant the whole time. I got pregnancy tests in Planned Parenthoods from Saratoga to Las Vegas. Negative, every single one. "See," the Goat said cheerfully, "no cause for alarm." "Yeah," I muttered, watching the highway. "Right." I could see us in some godforsaken communist country. Me six months pregnant. Then what. We got back to the east coast at the end of the summer. I went to my mother's house. The Goat went somewhere else. He and my mother never hit it off, though once he sent her pistachio nuts in the mail. My mother took it calmly but her doctor was a quack. He gave me hormone pills to "bring on my period." Ha, I thought. I told him I was definitely pregnant. "Oh no dear, you can't be," he said. This baffled me. A week later, I was sitting out back on a lawn chair with my mother's miniature dachsund, Noppsie Goose. Finally I went inside and called the Goat. But I think he should have been the one to call. He said uh-huh. Uh-huh. Then we hung up.
THE CLOISTER HOTEL ..,
We lived in an abandoned factory near the Berlin Wall. The weather was revolting, but we were determined. Then we ran out of money and couldn't get work. It was not an easy time for the Goat and me. We could hardly hold a civil conversation. Even the simple facts were bones of contention. I was making coffee. I poured kerosene over a pile of garbage in the middle of the room. The factory was sadly lacking in handy appliances. "Goat," I said. He was sitting near the window in a broken swivel chair, staring at a six-month-old newspaper. The windows were ten feet high and stretched the length of two facing walls. The light rolled in all day in 4
tremendous implacable waves which were gTay and swallowed everything in their path. The Goat liked to sit by the window where the backlight made his details disappear. "Goat," I said. "Answer nle." ")\'lmm," he said, pretending to read. "I think we should go home, Goat." "Home," he repeated. I poked the coffeepot out of the fire with the end of a broken flute. The milk was out on the window sill, staying cool. I sat on the floor in front of the Goat where the light from the window poured into my eyes and burned the ends of his hair. His face was a shadow with glasses. "We don't have any money," he eventually said. "What about calling your brother?" His brother was a rich psychoanalyst in Los Angeles. He said if we got in trouble just to call. "I still think we could get jobs," he mumbled quickly. That was it. I jumped up and took off around the room in a circle, stomping my feet and making rain dance sounds. He watched like ajudge at ringside. Then I came arolmd the curve. There were tears on his face. I fell on the floor with my head in his lap and whispered things into his leg. He rocked back and forth in the chair. While he was at the post office making the call, I packed what we still had worth taking. In the beginning there was a ton of stuff, but we never learned to cooperate. Things kept dri\'ing off in people's cars. I saved the notebooks, the maps, and the broken mo\ie camera. l\lost of our thrift shop clothes I had to burn. The mattress and the coffeepot I left for future residents. \\ben I finished, the Goat was still gone. By the time he got back it was dark out. He said ewrything was set. The money would come tomorrow. We were in a relatively jolly mood and built a big fire. The Goat told me about current events in America.
* Thousands of people were in a green and white striped tent waiting to get on standby flights from London. In sleeping bags. It was a horizontal line. The Goat perked right up and was a big social success. He played cards and drank wine with everybody. He tried to get the camera working for a movie about standby life. Unfortunately I wasn't in the mood. I lay on the ground with my head on the knapsack. I talked when I saw something to eat. A German girl named Zenzi had a crush on the Goat. She dragged her backpack over by us. She was going to Kentucky and had a very annoying laugh. Everything was striped green in the tent light. It was impossible to tell the time of day. It seemed we had been in there for several months. "I'm going to Texas to see my sister," I announced one morning. We were close to the front of the line. "Okay," said the Goat in a noncommittal tone. I didn't know if he was coming or what. The man from the airline made his daily appearance. We were leaving transcontinental purgatory. The travellers were saddened by this news. They liked the tent. They wrote their addresses and kissed each other goodbye. Zenzi was now with us in some more formal way. The Goat asked for three seats together. A girl falls in love with an aborigine in the outback. Many repulsive reptiles are looking on. The Goat was trying to say something, but I was busy watching the movie. I turned and gave him several mean looks. At baggage claim he told me Zenzi was hitching with us to Lexington. Why not. It was on the way to Texas. Zenzi was an airhead and a snake. On the other hand, I shouldn't be so snotty. So what if she was stealing my boyfriend.
The three of us got rides with surprising ease. Everyone who picked us up spoke fluent English. The United States zipped by looking smug. Zenzi and the Goat reminded me of me and the Goat. She had been sent to replace me from Central Casting. I smiled fakely, feeling fat and outdated. The Goat consulted my opinion about practical matters in a kind cheery voice, as if I were mentally retarded. I couldn't wait to get to Lexington and be rid of them. It was night in Lexington. We were in a Denny's eating two eggs any style while Zenzi tried the phone numbers she had. "What are you going to do?" I asked, examining my eggs. "\\bat do you mean, what am I going to do?" "I mean stay here or come with me or what." "Stay here? What? What do you mean?" I gave the Goat a terrible look with my teeth. "Which word didn't you understand?" ',\\bat's the matter with you, anyway?" the Goat demanded in a low voice. "You're acting like an idiot." "So, I'm an idiot. Big deal." Zenzi returned from the phone. All her friends were temporarily out of service. She recited the recording in her adorable German accent. I thought I would puke just from looking at those eggs. The Goat was describing for Zenzi the many splendors of Texas. The convenience stores. The cactus. The cows. Zenzi exhibited some interest in my eggs. I graciously insisted that she eat them.
* :\ly sister Stella and her boyfriend r'\ick lived in a shack across from the cemetery. They had five dogs. He was a plumber, she was an auto mechanic. They had
blue uniforms with their names in red script on the pockets. The dogs heard our footsteps in their sleep. They jumped up barking like trained circus seals. Stella and Nick came out on the porch in their bathrobes. I decided to stay in Texas and look for a job. I went down to the Safeway to pick up a paper. Stella came along to buy something to eat. She filled me in on events since my departure. Many of our relatives had gotten mono. Noppsie Goose, however, was in good health. "Who's that girl?" she asked me casually as we went through the electric doors. "Just some girl we met waiting for the plane." "Is she nice?" "Oh, she's all right." We were trying to figure out if jumbo eggs were really worth it. Five cents more than extra large, ten cents more than medium. There was a formula which neither of us remembered. The next day I put my fate in the hands of the Texas Employment Commission. They subjected me to a difficult test. I had to sit in the waiting room for three straight days with nothing but a five year old Sports Illustrated. The fourth day they certified me for a federal government project to assist the terminally unemployed. I went on to an interview to be the driver education instructor at a summer camp for teenage delinquents. I pulled over to call the Goat on my way home from the camp. I wanted to drink a million margaritas. No one was home. Probably swimming with the dogs. The dogs were strewn around the lawn like victims of a sneak attack. The day was blue-hot and clear. I pulled into the driveway thinking about buying things. A summer dress. A paperback. A burrito. The window shades were drawn against the sun. The air inside was dark and thick and sweaty.
the lawn like victims of. â€˘ Ir
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Zenzi and the Goat were laughing in the bedroom. I didn't think, Ijust opened the door. I shut the door and went into the kitchen. Then I felt breath on the back of my neck. "Hi, Goat," I said quietly. "Hi," he said. "I got ajob today." He put his arm around my waist to pull me against him. For a second I could have shut my eyes and let go. Then it was already too late. "Don't fucking touch me." "Oh, God," he said, "You don't even-" "Shut up, okay. Just shut up." I turned and stared blindly into his face. Zenzi walked in. "You can't say anything," she announced. "You knew what was going on and you didn't care." The little Nazi bitch. "Besides," she continued, buttoning her shirt, "it's your own fault. The forbidden fruit is sweet." The Goat was helpless. I walked out the back door. Two seconds later I walked back in. She was speaking softly with her fingers touching his cheek. "Get the fuck out of here," I said. The Goat tried to open his mouth. "GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE, ZENZI. I'M NOT KIDDING." I ran to the bedroom choking and slammed the. door. Low voices continued in the kitchen. I opened the door and screamed across the house. "Goddammit, there's nothing to talk about. Go with her if you want. I don't care." I threw her knapsack out into the hall.
* The camp was six miles out of town in a castle built by acid heads out of chicken wire, foam rubber, and spray cement. It looked like a giant seashell made of Marshmallow Fluff. 10
The campers were all addicted to sniffing paint and eating white bread..They were shoplifters and dope dealers. They refused to participate. Fortunately driver's ed had a natural following. The other counselors were lovely people in their thirties who knew nothing about running a camp full of hardened criminals. My role as driver's ed teacher was supposed to be very key, since I had each kid out alone three times a week. This was written up at length in all the grants. After work I'd go home and he'd be lying there. He had a notebook full of lists of Things To Do. He wrote letters to long-lost friends in a 1968 diary, which he tore out and left around for me to read. He ate candy bars. His hair was a rat's nest. All through May and June he was leaving in two days. He said he was going to Los Angeles. Once a week he'd go down to the Employment Commision for day labor. This was not constructive at all. He'd come home from doing shitwork angry and humiliated with twenty-five dollars in his hand. Somewhat better than this was the Plasma Center. They paid fifteen dollars a pint. We kept everyone up all night with our babytalk and hysteria. Stella shot me meaningful eyebrows over coffee. Well Jesus Christ. I spent the whole day driving around with delinquents and then I came home to the vegetable. I'd spend half an hour trying to get him out of bed. Anything. Mexican food. A walk in the cemetery. "Oh come on," I'd wheedle. "It'll be fun." The only thing he wanted to do for fun was make love. I didn't want to anymore, hardly ever. He'd touch me in the night and I'd hiss without thinking. Stop. I have to sleep. Lie still. Some nights he jerked off right next to me in bed. I looked sideways at his profile. He was ugly. This whole time it was one hundred degrees every day.
* "Change to third, Phil. No, not first, third. Over and up. When the motor makes that noise it wants you to change." Behind the Sonic Drive-In a creek ran through the woods. We parked the car and went down to wet our feet. His sisters and brothers were in reform schools and foster homes. His mother had a stupid, violent boyfriend. She was gone for weeks at a time and forgot to leave the food stamps. He was fifteen. He wanted a moped. "So," he said conversationally, "how are you?" There were designs on his face and his legs from the sun. They shifted as the air brushed through the leaves. Our toes touched accidentally under the water. "Hey, can I ask you something and you promise you won't get mad?" "Sure," I answered, interested. What was this. "You smoke pot sometimes, right?" ''Well, yeah, sometimes." You asked for it, I told myself. "Only sometimes?" He sized me up, eyes half-shut, over his animal cheekbones. I almost blushed. ''What about now?" Holy mother of God, I thought, help me. Here I was on the verge of saying yes. "I really really want to," I assured him. What a professional. "And I would, in a different situation. It's not that-" "Forget it," he interrupted. "I understand." I noticed I was touching his thigh with my second and middle fingers. "Let's go swimming," I heard myself say. "Swimming? Here?" "Oh, come on. It's hot as hell." I stood up resolutely and started taking off my shirt. He watched for a second, then bent to untie his shoe. He kept checking to see just how undressed I would get.
* The day Stella turned twenty-one we went out to a fancy restaurant. My friend Rain from work came along. I figured somebody had to be there who was on speaking terms with the Goat. And he always had a special way with lesbians. The Goat and I fought for hours over what he should wear. "Anything but that," I moaned, "Please." He kept his clothes in a heap stuffed under the bed. For Stella's present, Nick had planted grass and flowers in the yard. Also a little fig tree and a birdhouse. I gave her a string hammock from Guatemala. The Goat came up with a miniature plastic lunchbox filled with tiny pastel-colored sandwiches. The Goat had become a vegetarian. He eyed the menu from a distance like a piece of fascist propaganda. I was desperate for everyone to get along. I helpfully pointed out items that had no meat. "What about some eggs?" I suggested in a bright voice. "Why not try the huevos rancheros?" "I can read," he informed me coldly. Rapid eyebrow fire from Nick and Stella. Were it up to them, he would have stayed home. I drank a number of margaritas and tried to keep up the conversation. Rain and I told stories about the camp. Then she got in a semi-argument with Nick about the causes c:f homosexuality. He had heard it was a genetic mutation. Stella joined in on Rain's side. Outnumbered, Nick gave up. "All right, all right. Maybe it's different for girls." The Goat splashed around in his soup. I split the check with Nick and Rain left the tip. The Goat was insolvent as usual. We went back to the shack to eat chocolate chip ice cream cake roll. One thing that Goat could do was bake. My mother called from New Jersey to wish Stella a happy birthday. She put Noppsie Goose on the phone to say hello. '
I took Rain home in Stella's car. I decided to go in for a minute. Then once I started talking I couldn't stop. His hair, his lists, his nose, his diet. Forbidden fruit. Our sex life. Money. I tried to add up how much I'd spent on the G()at in the course of the past two years. I had to estimate in several of the categories: rent, gas, planes, food, phone bills. I didn't even include things like laundry and movies. I subtracted the loan from his brother and threw in half the abortion. It came out to two thousand dollars. I looked at my calculations and couldn't speak. Rain brought over a glass of wine and sat beside me on the couch. She stroked my hair with one slender hand. I didn't even want to talk about it. But I couldn't stand the thought of going home. I started kissing her to see what it was like.
* "y ou owe me two thousand dollars," I told the Goat when I got home. It was late, I had been at a bar since work. The Goat was a lump under the sheets. He reached for his glasses and stuck out his head. "Oh yeah?" he said. "Where were you last night?" "Up late, talking to Rain." "What did you talk about all that time?" "Nothing. You." "What about me?" "Are you still going to Los Angeles?" ''Why?'' I waded through the wreckage and sat down on the edge of the bed. "I think you should leave, Goat," I began earnestly. ''We're driving each other nuts. Just look." "What do you mean, we? I'm the basket case, right? I'm the one who's been in bed since May. You have a job, you have friends, you drive around, you make
money, you're as productive and responsible as can be. If your boyfriend gets out of hand, you just tell him to lie still. And he does, right? He lies still." This was the longest speech the Goat had made in a year. I had to take it in for a second. "I'm going out of my mind, Goat, I swear to God I am. I'm having affairs with a teenage kid and an older woman. I can't think straight any more, I don't even know what I'm doing. I just know I can't stand it. I really can't." "Oh great. This is great. All that bullshit with Zenzi and now you're fucking ten other people." He pulled the sheets back over his head. "I am not fucking ten other people. And it's nothing like the way it was with Zenzi, not with me and them, not with me and you. Anyway, I told you to go with her if you wanted. Maybe you should have just gone." "Fuck you," he said. "I'm leaving." He jumped out of bed and dragged his knapsack out of the closet. He started stuffing in all the junk that was on the floor. "Make sure you don't take any of my stuff," I told him. "Your stuff. Oh my god. Your stuff. Don't worry, little Miss Bourgeois Hypocrite, I wouldn't dream of touching your sacred possessions." "I can't believe this. I can't believe you have the fucking nerve to say that. I'm so selfish, I'm so bourgeois, that's why I've spent two thousand fucking dollars supporting you in proletarian bliss for the past two years." "I don't even know what you're talking about." "I'm sure you don't," I spat, going outside to sit on the porch. I buried my face in the nearest available dog. In a little while he came out. He was wearing a black tuxedo jacket and a battered fedora. He had a contraption made out of a seat belt to hold up his pants. "Okay," he said. "I'm ready. Let's go." I headed out to the northern city limits. I could tell he was trying to talk. "What," I said.
"I need some money for the trip. I don't have enough to get there." "Oh yeah?" I answered warily. "How much?" "About fifty would be good." "Well, let me see." I stuck my hand into my purse and opened my wallet. There was a wad of bills. I had just cashed my check. I pulled out a five. "Here. I can give you this." He looked. Then he took it. "You could at least say thank you." He smashed his fist into the dashboard. By then the sun was gone. The road was dark. I pulled over and stopped the car in the emergency lane. A ray of neon cut across his cheek. "I hope you get good rides," I said. "I hope I get run over." My voice was broken. I covered my face. Then we looked at each other through our hair and our glasses. Everything dissolved in between. I wanted him completely inside me. I wanted him to totally disappear.
I Take My Poems To Mexico
In the back seat, napping through customs, their little fists curled around their passports: It's educational, I explain to the guard. I give my poems all the advantages.
Here is what I want you to see: tortillas in rags, midnight mass, Toltec tombs, dead cows in the road, dead fish on the dock, pink doors on blue houses, blue light on pink stones. Wait a minute. What's going on back there? Didn't I say no spitting contests in the car? This is a pool where the Mayan queens bathed. Let's take off our clothes and go for a dip. (Giggling, they examine a reclining Italian. They've never seen a foreskin before.) Back in the car, it's Mexican riddles: Why did the pollo cross the border. Knock, knock, who's there, Hugo Naranja. Late Christmas Eve, the road peters out. Ahead is a river up to my waist; behind takes us three days out of the way. The local banditos want eight hundred pesos to push me across. How about five hundred? No way, senorita.
Then my poems leap from the back seat like heroes, snorting and flexing their little white biceps. They can never resist an impromptu performance. In the morning the car is surrounded by mules. The poems are off taking snapshots of beach chairs. They tell me they saw a drowning just now, while I was away distracting the lifeguard. But they always exaggerate. It makes me feel guilty.
For two weeks they work hard on their suntans, lolling in hammocks. Four get turista and I nurse them with herbs while the others learn Spanish and flirt with Peruvians. Chubby and pale in those ridiculous bikinis, they tell everyone they're famous poems back in the States. New Year's Eve I find them dead drunk on mezcal, babbling like ninnies, two of them pregnant. Enough is enough. They weep in the car. Passing through Monterrey, we visit Joaquin. He's glued to the t.v. report on EI Salvador. See that house, he says, my sister lives there. The poems are terrifically excited by this. They love all kinds of politics. They get that from their father. Oh poems, stop scribbling in your journals. Come sit on the bed, help keep us warm. Comfort us. Offer us hope.
I've had a few kids of my own you know. The first when I was twelve, maybe twelve and a half. The father was this kid in the eighth grade production of "South Pacific." On those islands people have babies at twelve all the time. I told my mother I was pregnant but she refused to believe it. She thought it was just a clever excuse for seconds. When I gained a few pounds she was convinced she was right. She had the doctor prescribe an appetite suppressant. By the time she finally wised up, it was too late. They had to take me out of school, my father was furious. He was planning for me to be President of the United States, so I couldn't afford to miss a day of my education. He called the principal and said I had mono so my teachers would be sent to the house. I kept up with my homework right till the day of delivery. They paid off our live-in maid to take my baby to Alabama. I had no choice but to go along with the decision. Johnnie Mae had her shortcomings, but was on the whole pretty well-adjusted. She resorted to physical violence under only the most trying conditions, and preferred pinching to the more traditional spanking and
slapping. On the plus side, she was a good cook and took an interest in current events. I remember watching Kennedy's funeral with her on television. By the time I got home from the hospital, they were gone without a trace. Except Johnnie Mae had left me a note under my pillow: Remember the time you shook up the salad dressing when the top wasn't screwed on tight? You got Hail Caesar all over your head and wouldn't take a bath. You smelled like a salad dressing factory. Your mama told me Johnnie Mae we can't go on like this any longer. I want you to go in there while she's asleep and carry her into the shower and hold her under the water if she wakes up. That's the only time I ever put my foot down. I said we had to let you wash your hair when you was good and ready. You can't raise children by washing their hair when they asleep. I just wanted you to know this before I go. I know they didn't tell you it's a girl. We were on the plane before you ever woke up. She is real nice-looking and you know I will do my best. Very truly, your friend, Johnnie Mae I have toyed with the idea of Alabama. I could find out the address, my mother sends checks down there once a month. But it doesn't seem fair for me to just show up like that. I don't even know Johnnie Mae's version of the story. The second time I got pregnant it was at boarding school a few years later. "South Pacific" again, this time the drama teacher. I had the same part I'd had in public school because I already knew the words to Bali H'ai. I managed to avoid exposure until opening night. But in a grass skirt my condition was unmistakable. I was
sent home on a train with a paper hibiscus behind my ear and a, regretful note to my mother from the headmistress. By this time my parents' marriage was falling apart. My father was going bankrupt and my mother had taken up breeding miniature dachsunds. My sister had become an anti-abortion activist; our garage was the local movement headquarters. I arrived in a taxi in my second trimester. Under the circumstances, abortion was out of the question. My father said he was moving out when the baby was born. And he was taking the baby with him. My mother could keep the dachsunds. Not to mention me and my sister. My mother agreed, thinking he wouldn't last a week. But in fact he did a wonderful job with Norman. He strapped him into a carseat and took him to work. With the business each day closer to the brink of financial doom, Norman provided a welcome distraction for everyone. When no orders came in he got fed and changed every half hour. By his first birthday, Norman had learned to work the computers. He took the company in hand and saved it from ruin. At six, he engineered a merger with a prestigious multi-national. Now he and my father are living, I think, in Geneva. I've never met my son, but my father keeps in touch by post card. From the descriptions, he takes after the drama teacher. After Norman, my mother took special precautions. I had to swallow my pill each morning where she could see me. She stocked up on do-it-yourself pregnancy tests which she administered every ten days whether I'd had a chance to conceive in the interim or not. Then I went on a trip to Quebec with the French Club. After a few tries I managed to slip away from the group. I got on a bus that was headed north and ended up at the Arctic Circle. I got a job in a factory making Eskimo -Pies. I loved that job, drizzling chocolate over
vanilla, the whole tundra stretched out around me like a piece of glass. When I missed a period I thought the weather had frozen my ovaries. I couldn't even remember having had sex. But my mother had packed in my suitcase an ample supply of home pregnancy tests, so I decided to break one out for old times sake. I still don't know how it happened but I was pregnant. I did three tests to be sure and they all said yes. I started reading up on the Immaculate Conception, my religious education having ended with Noah's Ark. Two more months went by before my mother and sister found me. They pulled up onto the tundra in a rented car. I know there was no point in arguing with them, so I grabbed a few Eskimo Pies and climbed in the back. The whole way home they fought about what to do with me. My sister was armed with pro-life propaganda and read aloud about fetal hands and feet. My mother stuck to her traditional line of argument: ARE YOU CRAZY SHE CAN'T EVEN TAKE CARE OF HERSELF. I made peanut butter sandwiches and played with my dolls. By the time we got home the police had cordoned off the development. My sister's friends were in a picket line around the house. The pro-choice forces were gathered in the street; candidates for school board debated the issue somewhere nearby. Leaflets were drifting from helicopters with a picture of me in my hula skirt from Bali H'ai. My mother set her jaw and stepped on the gas. She plowed through the police lines and the crowds. She drove across the front lawn, swung around to the back of the house, and crashed through the fence of the miniature dachsund pen. The puppies got out and were quickly scooped up by opportunist picketers, who stuffed them into their pockets and snuck away. We ran into the house with blankets over our heads. My mother was on the phone trying to get a court
order and a pizza, but nobody would deliver to our neighborhood. I thought I heard an announcement that Johnnie Mae was being flown in to speak, but I never figured out for which side. Before anything else could happen, I went into labor. This brought all the factions together in recognition of the natural forces which shape our lives. There was a massive candlelight vigil on the sidewalk: No baby had ever survived four months premature. After seventy-two hours of labor I gave birth to twins. They were kept alive by a team of specialists on the back porch. The Supreme Court, in emergency session, awarded custody to my sister. Then finally things calmed down around here a bit. My mother seems to have taken it the hardest. I have to feed her and help her decide what to watch on TV. She keeps going out to the back yard to look for her dachsunds. I think I'll get her a puppy for Christmas from the S.P.C.A.
Sophie on a sidewalk in a city in America, waiting to meet a friend for lunch. Sophie doesn't mind. She doesn't come downtown too often. Sophie is a level-headed person, with a black braid straight down her back. Now her friend is moving toward her through the business lunch stampede. Behind her are strangers in suits. It's the one on the right. The shy-looking one. The man Sophie is going to marry. She receives this information from a voice in her head, a rather distinctive voice with a slight foreign accent. It is destiny. Like a kidnapper who calls and tells you where to leave the suitcase, but hangs up just as you're about to ask directions, the voice is gone before she can reply. Sophie tries to remain calm. The stranger is a friend of her friend, brought along for lunch from work at the County Courthouse. This arrangement saves Sophie a lot of trouble.
cOU1d her 'uture .;>:. •••
, ... .-
The man Sophie will marry is a lawyer named Pete who orders a cheeseburger for lunch. Sophie is not herself at all. She's telling her whole life story very fast with her mouth full. A medium at a seance with her palms on the table, the words pouring out from someplace else. Everyone's finished eating and has to hurry back to work. Could her future husband just disappear? Quick. A dinner party. Tomorrow night at her house. Of course, bring anyone you want. Pete will bring his slides of Guatemala. One thing leads to another. Sophie feels like her old familiar self again. The telegram from destiny is buried and forgotten under a pile of logical events. After the honeymoon, a white house on Main Street. In the back they keep a flock of Plymouth Rock hens, named for the capital cities of the thirteen original colonies. I was sitting at the table in that back yard four years later when Sophie told me what I just told you.
********** Marriage has never been a major concern of mine. While I was growing up divorce was much more popular. I could see myself at cocktail parties in expensive low-cut dresses, making bitter, clever remarks about my alimony. Then I heard this story, and it did me no good. Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe I missed the point. Maybe the whole idea was to stay calm and level-headed. But I'd been waiting a long time for a message from destiny. Everything had significance. Nothing was coincidence. I wouldn't have known an accident if it hit me on the street.
In the subway station. Beside me on the bench, a man with fine Latin features. Nose, moustache, creamcolored windbreaker. Reading an article called THREE DAYS OF TORTURE IN LONG ISLAND HELL-HOLE APARTMENT. His eyes were puzzled brown when he looked up at the train, as if he had to make a choice in life between angry and sad, and he picked sad. But the two of us took different trains. A tall jogger on the street wearing shorts in the chilly dusk. Tucked under his arm, a rose with baby's breath. When he stopped to adjust the green tissue paper, I was sure. He straightened up and jogged down the block. I fell asleep on the bus and dreamed of knitting a long blue scarf. That night a man was wearing it across a border in Eastern Europe. I saw it in the movies. I have to go to Bratislava. Are the planets turning in circles to one charmed moment when the astrologist drops her chart and does a jig of joy? Will the moon and stars reel, will drinks be on the house, will the black holes in our lives implode and disappear? Just one clear vision one voice one time, like the day the blind puppy opens its eyes and struggles toward the country of waking.
. "'ttl ~ .
In the ~Ck they kee flOCk ~t Plymouth RO~ka \.. h~ns;. named for the â€˘ ~ hCiap~tal cities.of the ~ ell, rteen original W -). II colonies. ,
One time I was riding in the back of a pick-up and here is what I saw: A man was stooped over a wooden cart of oranges. He was completely absorbed in arranging the oranges into neat little piles, the way they like to do in Mexico, four on the bottom, two in the middle, one on top. Concentrated oranges. Florida. Egypt. Potentially this man was in great peril. He was right out in the road with his cart of oranges, cars whizzing by two feet from his elbow and nobody slowing down. If he'd been a dog, he would have been dead. But most of the dogs are so hungry and lonely, it's more like euthanasia than murder. Lucky for the orange man, he had a wife. She stood like a totem pole between him and the traffic. Her arms were crossed, her eyes were crossed, she was wider than she was tall. The man behind her was safe. Those cars didn't have a chance. I was in a pick-up, and I saw them, and I thought: Here in Mexico, people protect each other. 33
* I mention this because of my sister, Stella. Because I can't seem to protect her at all. Like one night she and Nicky went to the movies but Stella came home alone. This was strange since we all live together. I sleep on the couch because there's only one bedroom. Before Nicky moved in it was Stella's and mine. But I don't mind the couch. I said, where's Nick. She said, he ran away from me at the 7-11 and never came back and I couldn't find him. Then she started crying arid I couldn't get another word out of her. So I went to the kitchen to pour her some orange juice, and that's when Nicky came home. I'm sleeping on the couch tonight, Stella, said Nick. And I don't want to talk about it. Leave me alone. Please talk to me, she begged him, oh please. She said this over and over, crying, and he was not saying anything. Can't we go to bed now oh Nicky please can't we go to bed no don't please don't leave. He was waiting for his chance to get away. I was afraid to come out of the kitchen. Where could I go with them on the couch,and Stella still trying for the bedroom. I laid down on the floor in front of the refrigerator. A little heat was coming out the vent. I listened a long time to her cry. We sound just the same when we cry. I listened to Nicky not saying anything, and the refrigerator humming loudly to cool down.
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The door slammed, the refrigerator shut off, and the living room was quiet. I went out there and Stella was alone on the couch, staring at the door with her head to one side, like a dog that hears a very high sound. I was frantic, running around the house with a grocery
bag, throwing in the razorblades and knives and prescriptions. I went out and locked the bag in my car. Then I brought her some orange juice but she wouldn't talk to me. I crossed my arms and locked the front door. Stella, I said, Stella honey, it's late. We both have to get up for work in the morning. I'll sleep in the room with you tonight if you want. We can both sleep in the room together. You sound just like Mommy, said Stella, not moving, but I didn't want to leave her alone. Finally I fell asleep sitting by her on the couch. Next time I looked it was dawn. She was standing by the window in the cold gray light, tiredly brushing her hair. I asked her what she was thinking. She said, on the way to work sometimes I start going crazy. Everybody drives so fast you can't believe it, they pass on the right, they cut you off on the left, they love to honk their horns but they never use their blinkers. Sometimes I start shaking and I just want to stop but I can't. I have to get to work, she said, going out the door.
Dishes / day Today the dishes washed themselves: the cup in her hand spurted streams of soapy water, bubbles drifted up from the basin, doves were flying through the kitchen with dishtowels in their beaks, and chocolates, and clouds sailed in the window, crackling and flashing, they burst into rain. Her dress was drenched, her braids were faucets, in the sink the plates were water lilies.
Dishes / night Shadow of hands quick as clouds over the full moon of a plate, hollow of bowl, lip of a cup, circles of saucer and spoon. The sink-light of kitchen rinses his face, the length of his body from shoulder to hip, the tap-water singing lost vowels from the language of dark.
WE.R.!- FI.YlN6 11(/(O(/(jH TilE. /(IT(I+EN
r H t> 11 H TO w(; to SIN
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How to put on
your PANTY HOSE
Gently gather panty hose down to the toes, as you do regular stockings,
With both legs In the hose, Just below hips, place both hands Inside panty, palms against legs.
Fit stocking over toe, foot and With care and a steady upward heel, straighten hose carefully motion pull hose up to fit over until smooth. knee.
Move hands to side of hips and with wrists arched, stretch fabric out and up to bring up to crotch.
Then pull gently up until the panty hose fils smoothly on your waist.
The Student of Women
Whole centuries, explained his professor, women's dresses had no pockets. Tomorrow we have a videotape of an actual home birth. He cut class, went to the library, checked out the primary sources: how Indian brides the first night their nipples are tips of arrows then whole days after Eskimo women have the feeling between their legs We are lonely in the huntÂŁng season Everything, it seems, is either blood or the moon. Drunk one night and helpless he asked his lover where's your crotch? In the morning he watched her on the edge of his bed in a corridor oflight from the window: she scrunched her stocking over one foot, the other, the ankle, the calf, then she stood and wriggled her hips the rest of the way.
He imagined her going home with that feeling between her legs and all the other women on the 'bus, carrying children, to the market, to the doctor, to church, to cook, to work, he imagined all the women in his city, every single one a primary source.
I was trying to remember making love with A. His thumbs, his hips, his eyelids, the bridge of his nose. Useless. Friday night at the restaurant. His blue eyes full of guilt and pity. He said something about "disparity." The other words I couldn't remember. I could remember the little white curry bowls. The amount of the check and the tip. And every stupid thing I had ever said in my life. I stumbled along beside him on the way to the train. He talked about the weather: I should take a trip to Mexico. Bye, he said. I'll see you Monday at work. He disappeared into the station to catch the last train to New Jersey. A parking meter felt cool against my cheek. A cab driver pulled up. He seemed to think I had been raped. Let me take you to the police, he said. You got nothing to be ashamed of. The bastards get away with it all the time. At home I went crazy. My chest was splitting open. I could imagine my heart inside, peeled and sectioned like a fruit. I threw myself around. The couch, the bed, the chair. The liquor cabinet. The telephone. The toilet. The 42
refrigerator. Not just for A; A was nothin,g. For everyone, for saying no, for everyone saying no all the time. This went on until Saturday. Saturday I tried to call my former lover, B. I thought we could have dinner; we hadn't seen each other in months. Monday morning I went to work from his house, feeling grimly sophisticated. I wondered if A would notice that I was wearing the same dress as Friday night.
I looked up from my typewriter when A walked through my line of vision. He didn't even glance. Oh, A, I thought. Oh, oh, oh. I made a desultory attempt to continue typing, something about cognates in romance languages. C walked into the office in a blue down jacket and punched his time card. C was tall and good-looking. A was all wrong for me. C was extremely intelligent. I intuitively trusted him. A's blue gaze was cold and mathematical. I had made a mistake, a serious mistake. But it was too late; things at work were bad enough. This thinking made me sick. Maybe I was already sick. At best I was disgustingly shallow. C was standing at my desk, looking concerned. He asked if I had a cold, my eyes and nose were red. No, I said, I've just been crying and drinking all weekend. Oh, said C, nonplussed. Sounds like fun. God, C was great. If I hadn't been in such a hurry to throw myself at A, I certainly would have noticed C sooner. If I made overtures to C now, what would A think? Maybe I could manage it without his knowing. And what if A did find out? He probably couldn't care less. A and C were standing by the coffee machine, talking and laughing. They were discussing a television show they had both watched as children. I had also known this program, but refrained from joining the conversation. The politics of talking to both A and C at once were beyond me. I looked at the clock. It was only 10:30. But I had to get out of there right away. Something essential was . gushing out of me very fast. I have to go to the bank, I said loudly; fortunately, no one objected. I hurried to the bank plaza, but the benches were covered with snow. I leaned on the pedestal of a statue and lit a cigarette. I stared beseechingly at other people's shoes. A taxi driver jumped out of his cab and bought two hotdogs from a vendor. One he put on the seat of his
cab, the other he eagerly chomped. The hotdogs looked skinny and unappetizing. Yet people kept pulling up or walking past and buying them. The hotdog business was booming. I was oppressed by this. A few days earlier I had been walking to a train. A gold Nova pulled up alongside me. The driver asked if I could direct him to Ocean Parkway. I had to think for a second; I was still new in town. But it's only a block away, I remembered, glancing down at him. The guy was wearing nothing but a nylon net tank top. He was gritting his teeth and frantically pulling his penis. Oh my God, I think I said, what are you doing. I had to get out of the bank plaza. I couldn't go back to the office. I wanted to go home and go to bed. I went to a pay phone and called in to work. I said I was sick, mumbled something about a hotdog. I felt too weak to take the subway home. Bus and foot were equally out of the question. Then the relief of getting a cab made me cry. The driver kindly wondered what was wrong. I didn't know what to say, so I told him about that weirdo in the Nova. He was sympathetic. He said I would never believe how many times he looked in the rearview and some guy would be back there with a magazine, whacking off. Not to mention the couples. But them he didn't mind as much. People should jerk off in the privacy of their own home, he said. That's my opinion. At home I fell asleep in about two seconds with my clothes on. I dreamed I was trying to call D, my boyfriend from college. We lived together for two and a half years. D was friends with the Manson family and many unknown filmmakers. People were always mistaking him for John Lennon. I was in a phone booth in a very small town, a sound stage version of Iowa in the fifties. I kept getting a recording which said D's phone was disconnected. A realistic touch; D never paid his bills. But I called directory assistance over and over again, trying all his different aliases for a listing. 45
It was very hot in Iowa, and I was almost hysterical. I wanted D; I knew he still loved me, after everything. I went out of the booth, taking all my luggage with me. I had three tote bags, a knapsack, a cosmetic kit, and a Val-Pak. I wanted to hitch out of town, but the street was deserted. Suddenly A roared up in a vintage blue Valiant. There was obviously someone else in the car. Still, I never doubted he would stop and give me a lift; I worked up an appropriately ironic smile. It was still on my face when he didn't slow down. Then everyone started turning up. Everyone but D. I saw C iI,l a doughnut shop across the street. He was knocking on the window to get my attention. Come in, he mouthed, holding up his doughnut. I thought perhaps he wanted to buy me a doughnut. Then I noticed I was naked. I pointed to my mountain of luggage and tried to look regretful. He nodded appreciatively and turned away. A sharp pain in my stomach called me home from Iowa. I woke up starving and went into the kitchen. I managed to locate a box of cereal but all the raisins were already gone. Desperate, I brought it back with me to bed. I took my address book out of the night-table drawer and checked the "D" page. I wanted to see if I'd dialed correctly in the dream. Then I flipped to the inside back cover, where I kept the list. The list was very long, including all the lovers I had had in my life in chronological order, numbered and divided by years. I used first names only, with a last initial for doubles of the same name. Many were foreign: Ghislain, Volker, Zeno, Thibault, Lars. Looking at the list was usually soothing. No matter what, there was always the list, with its neat handwritten entries in various colors of ink. It was how some people feel about their checkbooks. A was on the list, number forty-six. B was thirty-two, D was nineteen. C will be next, I thought. Forty-seven.
Secretly I wanted the list to end. The next day I went into work feeling better. I had a plan. I left a note in C's mailbox, asking him to dinner Friday night. He looked a little surprised when he read it. I thought maybe because he knew I'd been seeing A. In any case, he said why not. This路 development gave me something new to think about. But at the same time I was thinking about it, I couldn't remember why it was important. Mostly Ijust entertained myself with daydreams about clothes and food, trying to take my mind off A and C. The week passed with no major crises. Wednesday I got a card in the mail from D. It said he had been in bed with the wife of a Czech filmmaker, once a famous fashion model in Prague. In an abandoned moment he called her my name by mistake. I found this oddly cheering. Then he went on to say that the me he cried out for no longer existed. Thursday I had my first post-restaurant conversation with A. I realized from his demeanor that he had absolutely no concept of what really had happened between us. This was often the case in these situations. Dinner with C went fine. I played Supremes tapes and we drank beer. Afterwards it was a little awkward. We talked about twenty-four hour doughnut places. We might have even ended up going to a twenty-four hour doughnut place, but then he put his arms around me and started to kiss me as if he'd never thought of it before. I kissed him back as if I hadn't either. I had to do it that way, for ~y own sake. When I asked him about it later, he said that earlier in the week he'd had a sudden vision of making love to me. He was pushing a cart around the grocery store at the time. He said it took him by surprise and he hadn't thought much about it SInce. In the morning C left without having breakfast because he had to go visit his grandmother. After he was gone, I got out路 of bed and went to the bathroom with
my address book. I sat on the toilet and turned to the list, neatly printing C's name at the bottom. C was really sweet. There were definite possibilities. And here he was, number forty-seven. For some reason I couldn't get excited about it. Too many on that list I hurt, too many hurt me. I knew that people can go crazy from loneliness and rejection with their naked bodies touching every night. I stood up on the toilet and looked in the mirror over the sink. My image was cut off at the neck and thighs. I saw a bunch of stupid body parts. The affair with C lasted several months. He said he loved me, but then he got depressed. The way I loved him, he said, made him forget who he was. One night we were watching a talk show. I said, Hey. Do you still love me? He said no. I didn't believe him at first, but it was true. I don't know how I ever got any work done at that point. That office was the heartbreak hall of fame. Everywhere I looked it was C. Or A. Or both. Also E, who seemed to be after me in a low-key way. I was actually in rather acute pain. I wore the same dress every day and stopped shaving my legs altogether. I read the newspaper, which made me feel marginal and exhausted. A took me out for a drink one night. I tried to explain myself to him. A, I said, I loved you. Even still I love you. A replied that in the six months since our separation he'd come to see me much more clearly than before. I like you a lot, he said. Back then I didn't. We ended up going back to my house. We were together three more times after that. I wondered if C knew, or if he cared. Within two weeks, A was talking again about "disparity." I listened patiently and did not interrupt. He said he didn't want to sleep with me anymore. Okay, A, I said, so don't.
In the late afternoon when they wake up, Heroin Girl rolls over and recites articles from the newspaper out loud. She likes to pretend she's an announcer on the radio news. The information in her broadcasts is of little immediate relevance since the editions she reads from are over a decade old. Also she keeps on using the same group of stories day after day; by now she knows them perfectly by heart. "Good morning, Eddie," she begins, "or should I say good afternoon," making sure he's really awake enough to hear. He should listen. He talks all the rest of the time. But Eddie doesn't mind it at all, the regular stream of familiar words, drifting like the trail of a jet through the top of his head. It makes him think of his father, a Chicano boxer from a small town in Texas, now retired to Bound Brook, New Jersey to watch tv. Eddie's father watches only old reruns, scorns the news and the talk shows, never even opens the TV Guide. He's too old for new series, he says, and the reruns make better company, with people whose faces and voices and houses he knows. And the best stories only get better when you know the end. So each morning Heroin Girl takes an inside look at airplane food, and at the troubled private life of 49
Dorothy Hamill. A short bulletin, dateline Wichita, reports the alarming number of children being given up by their parents for adoption. Thes~ children range in age from early infancy to middle teens, and they are not unloved. They are simply too expensive. But her favorite is a three-part series on a woman lawyer from Tennessee who ran off with the convicted murderer she'd been hired to defend. The first article was a front-page piece with yearbook photos of the woman and her lover and an interview with the court psychologist. "I think you have to consider the malefemale aspect of this thing. What I think happened is that she fell in love with him." In a second article, days later, her red Toyota had been recovered. It was abandoned outside a housing project in Memphis. The following week the woman's parents received a letter. It had a Mexican stamp and said not to get upset. At this point there was some speculation that the woman
was suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome, in which a hostage begins to identify with her captor. The circumstances of captivity can create a profound psychological dependence, a dependence often mistaken for love. After that, there was no more word on the fate of the fugitive couple; Heroin Girl searched diligently through the stacks. She had once been an assistant librarian.
* Heroin Girl and Eddie live in the basement of what had once been a building. The former building is located in what posters tacked up on phone poles proclaim "the most notorious Narcotics Supermarket in the Free World." They sleep in the back of the shelter near a broken casement window on a wall-to-wall carpet of vintage American journalism. At first it was only the two of them, but Eddie is expansive by nature. Now there are five other regulars as well as a transient horde. Undoubtedly the police will be next. Heroin Girl is on the lookout for a place to move. The alleys get rained on and the buildings are filled with knives. Shortly after the daily news it is time to go get high. Two blocks away is the store where Eddie works. The store consists of a stoop and a hallway and a hole in the door at the end, through which are sold packets of heroin and cocaine. Eddie, who works as a doorman, gets paid every day in dope, just enough to share with Heroin Girl. If Eddie's place is closed due to lack of supplies or a bust, they have friends at other stores who will make a deal. They rarely get hungry, so money is not a big problem. Sometimes Eddie borrows ten bucks for take-out Chinese. They can't sit down in a restaurant because of their clothes.
Heroin Girl believes it is the end of the world. Like a prayer she forms the words to herself: the end of the world. She goes by the newstand to read the current headlines and sees she is right. Soon everyone will be living in bombed-out basements like her and Eddie. They are simply members of the avant-garde. When the end of the world began for her, Heroin Girl was ready. She'd seen it coming but she didn't know when or how. She took out books from the library about nuclear war and limited resources, but something more personal was what she had in mind. When everyone was asleep she'd pour some vodka into a glass and picture the walls of the house tumbling down. In her head she could make everything disappear. Yet suicide would be completely ineffective; the danger wasn't coming from inside. She dreamed of getting fucked on broken hunks of asphalt by someone heavy whose face she didn't know. Thousands of people fucking for miles and miles around them on the demolition parking lot of the world.
* She fell in love with Eddie in the bathroom at her house. He was sticking a needle in her arm at the time. She watched him pull back slightly to make sure he'd hit the vein; her obliging blood rushed into the plastic syringe. The intent look on his face as he pushed the p~unger down thrilled her more than the flood of the drug inside. As if that vein in her arm were the only thing. Before this, she had barely even noticed him. He was a friend of somebody else's from grammar school. She let him in the front door at four a.m. a couple of times, kicked out of somewhere asleep or beaten or robbed. His skin seemed to have been plowed with a RotoTiller; he could barely stand up long enough to pee. He slept on the couch for two days straight, hardly moving at all. She brought him food and took the plates away.
Then he would wake up sick for dope, borrow money, and disappear. Right before the bathroom incident, she'd had a dream about him. They were the last two people in a mutant jungle full of wild animals where the sun never rose and the full moon never went down. Naked and helpless, she trusted him like a child. He surrounded her body with his when she went to sleep. His watchful eyes glinted, guarding her from shapes in the dark. In this dream her life was a visceral, tangible thing, something with edges, boundaries she could feel. The way she felt watching the needle fill with her blood. She told him that night in the bathroom that she wanted to go with him. "Go with me where?" he asked her, a little surprised.
* It was winter then and it still is winter now, though Heroin Girl is convinced she sees signs of spring. It's hard to tell in the place where they live, because there's nothing that blooms or turns green and most of their waking hours are during the night. Yet it is definitely taking longer to get dark after they wake up; the twilight lasts for hours and hours these days. It makes the buildings look as if they're about to dissolve. Heroin Girl wishes Eddie would shut up sometimes, especially when he starts talking about his plans. Trips to take, cars to buy, deals to set up, professions to enter: magic futures which flourish like air ferns without roots or ground. It's not that she's worried he'll actually try to do something. It's the whole idea of ambition itself that gets on her nerves. If there is a future, Heroin Girl has no stake in helping imagine it. That's what everyone else does. She just wants to get high. Being a junkie can make the future very concrete.
She opens her eyes and tries to remember where she is. Some park. It is summer now, fortunately, since they have to sleep outside most of the time. Armed bands of middle-class vigilantes are patrolling the alleys and vacant buildings at night. It's a volunteer project: Operation Straight Flush. "Flush the Varmints out," urges a recent poster campaign. "Round Up a Posse on Your Block BEFORE ITS TOO LATE." The passage of time has not escaped Heroin Girl's attention. The world doesn't seem to be ending with due dispatch. Operation Straight Flush could be another
major setback. She's starting to feel a little depressed. And feeling depressed makes her start feeling annoyed, because she wants to feel nothing at all. She does feel nothing, but it feels like an empty space. She and Eddie have not touched in a long time. In the very beginning he told her that because of being a junkie his body doesn't work that way anymore. By this time, she even shoots up without his help. She's not sure whether her body still works or not.
* Eddie says he wants to join a methadone program. There's one right near his father's house in New Jersey. "Go ahead," she says. "Don't you want to come with me?" "Are you kidding? I'm not moving to New Jersey."
* Operation Straight Flush ends with the first frost. It's too cold to be crawling through garbage all night long. Heroin Girl moves back into the basement. Eddie is there three or four nights a week. He lies about where he is the rest of the time. During his methadone phase she tried calling him at his father's; his father hadn't seen him in a couple of weeks. She has to pay for dope now that Eddie's not working, sixty dollars a day every day. She goes down with some black girls she knows to the commuter tunnel during rush-hour traffic. In red satin hot pants and a white ski parka she threads her way through the crowd of cars. Ten minutes in a heated front seat on the way home from work for fifteen bucks; it beats reading the Wall Street Journal or having a stroke. Still the world has not ended, the headlines have turned optimistic, and she should leave but she doesn't know where to go. She doesn't even want to go anyway.
* She lets Eddie sleep now, reads the paper herself. Not the same old stories she used to recite in her broadcasting days; now she is systematically reading her way through the room. The article she's reading today tells the story of Video Boy, who burned down a house in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It was because his parents, who lived next door to the video arcade, had decided to move to a different part of town. Their last resort, they
explained. Their son was a video addict. He was absent from school so often he'd been expelled. They tried cutting off his allowance, but quarters were easy to steal and Video Boy could play all day for fifty cents. Since he was only thirteen and it was the only arcade in town, they figured if they moved away far enough, he'd be stuck. The week they were supposed to move, Video Boy sneaked out of the house one night. He took the gasoline can from his father's car. He walked miles and miles through the sleeping streets of the town, the squeak of his new sneakers and the slosh of the gas in the can the only sounds. By the time he got to the house it was almost dawn. The orange flames streaked out of the windows, invading the black sky, devouring the tiny lights of the stars in their glow. It was more beautiful than any video screen in the world. He was still standing in the street transfixed when the police arrived. "I just didn't want to live there," the boy explained.
I Wake To Find My Right Arm Gone
I woke thinking about the difference between "realistic" and "real", but this is neither. It's not that my arm is actually gone, or even looks gone, but that something of mine, something I never thought could be missing, is gone. Like that. Overnight. Not my arm, really, I'm just calling it that so you'll understand. A person like me does not deserve a right arm, who lops it off like a hangnail for the sake of a metaphor, who can't be bothered to explain what really is gone, who lied her way blithely into the poem but hasn't the nerve to lie her way out. Imagine the arm really were gone. Then where would I be. Surely not here, writing all this. No. This is definitive proof. The arm is not gone. What's gone is
my youth. My youth is gone, and you've gone with it, both you and my youth are going going Whose idea of ajoke is this. Everyone's leaving and I'm not surprised. My left leg murmurs something polite, slips out the back door with my sister, sister who's stood up for me all these years. Well if she really wants my leg she can have it. There's nothing I wouldn't give that woman. What's the use of a leg withou t an arm or a sister. They'll be back soon enough. It's September already. Even the leaves are falling into disuse.
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Once upon a time there was a girl named Me and a boy named You. They worked as grocery checkers at the local Value Round-Up, but aspired to better, vaguer things. Me envied You his slender surgeon's fingers on the numbered keys. You admired Me's sassy way with the grocery shoppers. One Saturday night You got sick of reading Kafka. He found himself flipping through the M's in the telephone book. McZeal, McZinc, Mdviani. Impulsively he picked up the phone. "Me," he said. "It's You!' "You?!" Me was delighted. "You, you know, the guy with the fingers from work." That night You and Me went to the movies. Me saw how the patterns of light shifted over the elegant bones of You's face. He looked so different without the supermarket. They compared their pasts and futures over eggs at the all-night diner, impressing themselves with their cogency and their passion. Then suddenly it was time to go to work. You drove the car with one hand and drove Me crazy with the other. I'm in love with this guy, Me thought, feeling awed.
On their second date, they cooked up a plan to organize their fellow workers. This gave the relationship an exciting political dimension. They lay side by side on You's futon, legs all tangled together, lightly sweating as they plotted points of strategy. But some jealous comrades at the market started trouble for Me and You. They said lovebirds don't belong in a revolutionary vanguard. They wrote stupid things in the ladies' room about You's penis. You told her to just ignore it, but Me felt she must take action. She went in with a can of spray paint and scrawled her reply: IF WE CAN'T LOVE WHO WE WANT, WHAT'S THE POINT OF THE REVOLUTION? The innocence of this left everyone speechless. Months of secret meetings resulted in plans for a nonviolent take-over. The workers approached the electric doorways in a long double line, pushing symbolic empty
carts over the rubber mats. You's voice came over the loudspeaker. Me tried to take deep breaths. For several weeks she had been having an awful fantasy. His face is white, his shirt is red with her blood. He lifts her fingers to his lips as the flashbulbs explode. Brave Cashier Cradles Dead Love in Grocery Violence. At home, he stands at the closet touching her clothes. She turned to look at You, right beside her at the head of the line. Is it possible to love him in a way that affects his life as relentlessly and powerfully as if she died? She feels the separateness of him like a hex. Only at night when he is inside her is she released from the eerie privacy of her love. She tried to explain this to You, but it came out sounding ridiculous. She babbled something about artichoke hearts and the ocean floor. You looked puzzled, said he didn't think sex was all that important. The revolution was a great success and the store became a worker-owned cooperative. Its name was changed to The People's Value Round-Up. Jobs were rotated. Profits were shared. ~imilar movements were inspired elsewhere. You and Me, however, were having their problems. What went on inside Me's head when she tried to think about You became increasingly unrelated to real life. You worried about her. He worried about himself. One afternoon they were stacking detergent in the stockroom. "Me," he said suddenly, "we're living at the end of the world. Israel's bombing Beirut, famous people are dying, a black man was murdered for nothing yesterday at MacDonald's. Stop fretting about merging and submerging for a while. Maybe you should try reading the newspaper." He watched Me's eyes fill with tears. "Oh, Me," he said. "I love you as best I can." "I know," she said. "I'm sorry. I'm just ajerk.". One day there was a big shindig at the Round-Up to celebrate the birthday of the revolution. Me drank champagne with grim determination. Then she flirted like a goose with everyone and french-kissed the former
produce manager with poor You standing just a few feet away. A frizzy girl who privately thought Me deserved whatever she got smiled sympathetically at You. She wondered if there was a love-triangle in her future. Finally You decided he'd had enough. Me was maneuvering some stockboy into the walk-in. He went over and said, "Come on, Me. Let's go." Me looked up at her own true love and followed him docilely out to the street. Then she laughed very loudly and tried to stick her hand down his pants. "Let's not go to the movies, You. Let's go home and fuck." "No," said You. "I want to go to the movies." "Oh you do not," Me pouted, stamping her drunken foot. "You just want me to sober up. So why waste ten bucks when we can go to bed for free." Me made what she hoped was a sexy face. 64
"You know, sometimes, Me, sometimes I don't think you care about me at all. Sometimes I think you don't even know who I am." Me was horrified. "You," she gasped, "you're crazy. I love you more than anything in the world." "Don't say that," said You. "I mean it. I don't want you to say that to me any more." "You hate me," Me concluded hysterically. Then You left Me and Me was all alone. She lay down in the street to take a nap. You turned and saw her lying there and he wanted to go back very badly but to hit her or to hold her in his arms he didn't know. Keep walking, You, he told himself. Keep walking. A nice man came along and knelt beside her. He said she was too pretty to be sleeping in the street. She could stay with him and his mother if she had nowhere to go. . They lived in an abandoned subway station, out of which they ran their business selling heroin. They drank Yoo-Hoo and ate a lot of ice cream sandwiches. Me didn't mind it at all, living underground with the junkies. On weekends she liked to shoot up and watch the trains go by. Both You and Me continued to work at the market, forced by necessity and pride. Sometimes they didn't speak and other times they did, but neither way did them any good. Then one day You noticed Me's track marks and was very angry. He asked her what the hell was going on. She said it was no big deal and burst into tears. "Kiss me," she pleaded, slightly lifting her face. "No, no, no," You told her, wanting to. Me told him one "no" would be sufficient. You wrote a poem that night about Me. It was published somewhere important and drew a lot of attention. Me sat on the bench in her subway and learned it by heart. How could he write that poem and not want her back? She dialed his number from a pay phone to hear his recorded voice on tape. It was horrible to see him so often and miss him so much.
Me started visiting a doctor but he couldn't help her distinguish what was real from what unfortunately was not. She went down and sat on the train tracks and tried to see what to do with her life. This is the story Me wrote for You. He found it one day, stuck in his cash register drawer.
* In my dreams, my psychiatrist says, all the characters are really me. But in this story, all the characters are you~~xcept for me, which is of course still me. My psychiatrist says I'm in love with my own inner you, distinct from the real you 'in many ways. Finally, your you is yours; my you is mine. But when did all this fission occur? Picture you and me, lying in your bed, sleeping, each all night dreaming of the other. In the morning, the four of us get out of bed: me, you, your me, my you. We could play in a mixed doubles tournament. But this is not a story about tennis, about real people and the things they like to do. On the other hand, it is what I have to say. I want to walk out of here as if a story were a lobby. The glass doors swing shut behind me; I stand out on the street in the sun. As poised as a skyscraper, and as fragile. I am awaiting your arrival at the dock. My you sleeps in my arms like an exhausted child. He is heavy, and he misses you very much. Please. Come take him away.
Me started visiting a doctor but he couldn't help her distinguish what was real from what unfortunately was not. She went down and sat on the train tracks and tried to see what to do with her life. This is the story Me wrote for You. He found it one day, stuck in his cash register drawer.
* In my dreams, my psychiatrist says, all the characters are really me. But in this story, all the characters are you. Except for me, which is of course still me. My psychiatrist says I'm in love with my own inner you, distinct from the real you in many ways. Finally, your you is yours; my you is mine. But when did all this fission occur? Picture you and me, lying in your bed, sleeping, each all night dreaming of the other. In the morning, the four of us get out of bed: me, you, your me, my you. We could play in a mixed doubles tournament. But this is not a story about tennis, about real people and the things they like to do. On the other hand, it is what I have to say. I want to walk out of here as if a story were a lobby. The glass doors swing shut behind me; I stand out on the street in the sun. As poised as a skyscraper, and as fragile. I am awaiting your arrival at the dock. My you sleeps in my arms like an exhausted child. He is heavy, and he misses you very much. Please. Come take him away.
I had been trying to tell him this dream since the death of my mother last week: bowls of white sugar, jugs of white cream, and the snow, cool and white on my cheek.
Dawn. I was naked, pregnant, out on the street, Jaywalking into the light Down to the station to throw myself under a train. But my father showed up on the 6 : 58 in a linen suit, dying to eat: "Happy birthday, darling. You look gorgeous. I'm starving." He didn't seem to see I was eight months along, bare-assed, and platinum blonde. "I know a place for breakfast," said Daddy. "I'm sure you'll love it," he beamed. I had been trying to tell him this dream but he was dragging me into a cab. "Great oatmeal, they have, and blueberry blintzes -God could I use a blintz right nowWe were friends with the owner, they lived down the hall, the old schnook was in love with your mom. She fell for his Muscovite chic." The restaurant was just where Daddy remembered, a charming courtyard, knee-deep in snow. The food looked great, I'd had nothing to eat since the death of my mother last week.
A beautiful woman skated out from the kitchen. "Marya!" said Daddy. "The old schnook's young wife!" "Andruschka!" she cried. "Have some oatmeal, my darling, is it you after so many years? You know Ivan is dead? Come here and kiss me!" I could see my father was mad for this Marya, tears streamed down their cheeks, they fell into a drift, Marya tossed me her apron, I picked up a tray, the samovar in its cloud of steam, bowls of white sugar, jugs of white cream. Finally the diners stopped calling for refills, and the three of us sat down to eat. Marya asked me when I was expecting the baby; by then the contractions were seconds apart. Back in Latvia Marya had trained as a midwife and she still knew all the techniques. "Finish your blintz," she said, "Then we'll begin." All the old Russians helped. Daddy was brilliant. I wasn't frightened at all, just happy and weak, the snow, cool and white on my cheek.
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Marion Winik was born in New York City in 1958. She received a B.A. in Russian History from Brown University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College. Her first book, nonstop, was published in 1981 by Cedar Rock Press. Winik now lives in Austin, Texas, where she writes computer soft· ware manuals; she finds it soothing. She will soon be married to a handsome hairdresser.
Reprint, by permission of author, of 2nd book by Marion Winik; originally published by Slough