Your wish is my command:
I will grip
my two-tailed tawse
within an inch of my gloved appendage
& your exposed up-turned posterior
& I will
you into submission
& you will obey
my iron clad mind
will thrash you within
your wildest dreams whetting
only my appetite for your pleasure
those looks will not go unpunished
you want me to break down your defences?
I will break down your defences
you will not look me in the eyes
you will not touch any part of me
you will not soil in my presence
you will obey my every command
& you will cry like a baby
& beg for my forgiveness when you fail
© Copyright 2010 Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
[From a collection scheduled out Jan 2011]
In a Brooklyn bar, in late August of 1971, Sid had troubles. He was soaking up the suds with two friends. “Guys, I pulled 117 in the draft lottery, they’re gonna call me up in a few days, I’m dead.”
Fred, who always lucked out, had drawn 364, next to last, safe. “Man, too bad buddy.”
Mitch, exempt as a Conscientious Objector, commiserated. “Yeah, sucks.”
The three sat there, not knowing what else to say, Sid couldn’t do the Canada thing, too many reasons to stay.
“Effin system” Sid moaned.
“Yeh, effin’ system” from Fred.
Then the light bulb. “Work within the system – use bureaucracy!” from Mitch. “Move!” “Legit!” “To our bud Eddie out in California!”
They worked out that Sid flies out there immediately, walks into the draftboard and tells them that he has moved.
“Then, when Eddie gets your notice, you mosey into the draftboard here and tell them ‘No work in California, I moved back’.” Mitch always had ideas.
“Yeah, then each time they gotta ship your records back and forth. By the time they get back, Bingo, its ’72, they’re saying the cut will be around 80 next year, and you’re safe!”
Maybe the combined twelve years of college and student deferrments weren’t wasted, it sounded fool-proof on paper, but this was beer-soaked bar napkin paper, so things couldn’t be all that easy.
The ’69 Chevy Impala, grey-black smoke pouring out of its tailpipe, came to a crunching stop on the top of a hill fifty miles to go on the road to Portland, the smoke mixing with the fog and remnant’s of brush fires that, with the burnt rubber, gave the air the smell of Secaucus if it had farms. Sooz looked over her shoulder from the driver’s seat to the two shadows she passed about 200 feet back.
“What’cha think Gertie? Should we go back for them?”
“Ehh, Sooz, think they’re like freaks, wasn’t sure if they even were guys at first. Thought we were goin’ into the city for some big studs, not skinny freaky gawd knows what. ”
“Ever do one, Gertie?”
“Do one what?”
“A hippie. I did one once, everyday for a week.”
“No way – eccch, was he dirty and smelly, they don’t wear Brut, or any after-shave, or even deodorant, I heard. And where’dja meet him? Down by the roadhouse, you didn’t go down there, didja?”
“Naw, you know my brother knows a few, for the pot, I mean Richie’s not a freak, but he likes to get stoned. Anyway, this guy, he actually was good, I mean it wasn’t just slam, bam; he went down on me.”
“Sheesh! Sooz, that only happened once for me, ‘member Chuck? His first time, I tole him he hadda, he never did it again.”
“Well, this guy liked to do it, didn’t wanna stop. But he hadda go back to Arizona, or someplace. Never saw him again.”
Gertie stopped to think. “Alright, let’s take ‘em, as a backup. If we can’t find any real guys before we dump these off, I’ll give it a go, if they’re not too freaky.”
Sooz gunned the Impala into reverse and screeched back to Sid and Eddie, who had just about given up hope for a ride and were about to snooze down in the ditch at the side of the road.
“Hop in fellas”, Sooz and Gertie’s voices mixed with “you would cry too if this happened to you” coming out of the AM oldies station.
Sid and Eddie got in the back, Sooz popping into forward just as Sid got his foot in the door, shutting it as they tore off.
“Where ya goin’ guys?” Gertie asked as blasé as she could be while picturing swirling tongues.
“Uh, Sid here is headed back east, and I’m going back down south of San Fran, but thought we’d take in Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies on the out of the way.”
“We’re goin’ ta Portland for the night, lookin’ for some fellas to hook up with, so wese can take ya that far” Sooz took command, snapping her gum. “You guys ok with oldies, I could change it to FM if you want, look like you’re FM guys.”
“Anything is fine with us” Sid replied, trying to see Sooz over Gertie’s puffed up, teased hair.
Eddie and Sid looked at each other, saw the dice from the mirror, hula girl on the dash, capri pants and shiny dacron tops on the bodies, bee-hives, smelled the gum. Sid leaned over to Rich and whispered “What are we, in a 10 year time-warp?”
Sooz switched the channel anyway. After a commercial to the Pepsi Generation, “I remember holding you while you sleep . . . bring it home baby make it soon.” That was a little better, although it was pop-rock, not the blues or underground stuff Sid and Eddie were into. Harrison and Ham traded some good slide work though, and maybe it was telling them something.
Now, Sid and Eddie were not averse to doing some time-sex traveling, after all it was four years earlier that they popped their cherries in Chattanooga, along with Fred, on the same night, with the same woman. She had a bouffant and leopard-skin patterned bra and panties, but it wasn’t so far removed in time then, and she was older, from that time. She also charged, this could be a freebie. Had to be – Sid and Eddie were as poor as their torn jeans.
As the asphalt ribbon became the main strip leading into Portland, bars and clubs started to appear at the side of the road. At each one, Sooz would turn into the parking lot, drive around and she and Gertie would size up the guys hanging outside.
“Ehh. Bikers, they’re just hippies with only half their teeth and beer guts. Sheeeet, real hippies, we got two in the back.” Gertie wasn’t reticent to assess the attributes loud enough for Sid and Eddie to hear. “Look, some nervous kids, we could break ‘em in Gertie, but they might go cryin’ home to mama.”
After about a half-dozen of these, with no success, they reached downtown.
“Alright guys, we’re going to a club we know. Got any money?” Sooz kinda made it sound like the only way they were gonna hang was if the guys would pay the way, their last shot.
“Naw, that’s why we’re hitchin’. But, hey – there’s the City Forest we heard about. Allowed to sleep overnight, where we’re gonna stay.” Sid leaned over and put his hand on Sooz’s shoulder. “You gals wanna join us, why bother fishin’ all night when we got the goods right here ?” Sid couldn’t believe what he just said, it must’ve been the hairspray fumes.
“OUT!! GETTA OUTTA HERE RIGHT NOW YOU CHEAPASS FREAKIN’ HIPPIES, SCREW IN THE WOODS? WITH YOUSE? THINK WE EVEN WANNA TOUCH YOUSE?” Gertie was apoplectic at the thought of bugs nesting in her beehive, swirling tongues nothwithstanding.
Both Sooz and Gertie started pushing the guys out as best they could with one arm, whacking them with the other, giggling all the time. Sid and Eddie tumbled out of each door, but as Sooz burnt rubber, Sid’s leg got caught up in the door and he got pulled along the ground for about twenty feet, wrenching his knee socket in every direction.
Sid spent the night in the hospital, Eddie ordered take-out for them from a Sambo’s nearby then fell asleep in the chair next to the bed. The next day they had to drain the knee and pull out a few tiny cartilage fragments.
The bureaucratic ruse didn’t work. Sid had to report for his physical on December 20th, they missed by 12 days.
The induction letter arrived on Christmas Eve. It stated that due to the temporary injury to Sid’s knee, he was to wait two months for it to heal, and report his status to the draft board at that time.
Free and clear. Turned out Sid did score with Sooz afterall.
“How was it, old boy? Good do?”
“Yes, yes, very smart. Excellent service.”
“Good-oh. So, the penis, you say?”
“Yes. Bit of a shrinkage situation.”
“Had a chap out to look at it?”
“No. Doctors are terribly busy these days, doesn’t seem appropriate to bother them with penis deflation. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Well, yes, when it’s put like that…”
“After all, one expects some attrition with age.”
“We’re not the young men we were.”
“Way of the world.”
“Surprised, though, how noticeable the difference was. It was rather…”
“Goodness, that does sound a tad alarming, if I might say so.”
“Thought at first it was perspective; a little wide around the midriff these days.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, in percentage terms, what sort of a, um, reduction have you experienced?”
“Percentage? Oh my dear boy, there’s hardly any of it left.”
“The bare minimum.”
“Perhaps a doctor would be in order nevertheless?”
“That’s the funny thing, Not sure I want patching up. Never been happier.”
“Taken a weight off the old shoulders.”
“Yes. More whisky, old chap?”
“Wouldn’t say no. Much obliged.”
I can’t wait
to get you
where I want
you to be:
on your back
with your hands
tied & your
so I can look
at you with
& you can’t
do a damn thing
I will take
what is mine
& have my way
& fuck you
till I am
& you are
of the week it is
& whether or not
the wet patch
is on your side
of the bed
© Copyright 2010 Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
an iron lung
the sweet desire
for oral pleasure
warm & inviting
& I watch him
before raising his shaft
can I have one?
she assumes the position
& I am sucked right in
she folds, rolls
& sets her fire to smoulder
together we watch
the world burn
© Copyright 2010 Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
(Written a few days ago for 52|250′s Union of Opposites challenge, snatched up by SLEEP.SNORT.FUCK. Can’t help myself; this belongs here at VOICES, too. )
The date began badly. First, she turned up her nose at my suggestion of sushi: “Ew! I want real food!” So we found ourselves at a picnic table eating hamburgers and fries, hers dipped in a large pile of blubbery mayo.
Back in the car, she switched the radio from Waits to Madonna. I thought about kicking her out right then.
But I’m a gentleman, so I suggested wine at my place (she was French, after all), but she said, “No, that’s boring,” and next thing I know we’re down by the lake drinking Jaegermeister. Jaegermeister, for chrissakes! Haven’t drunk that stuff since college. I managed not to puke this time, even when she said, “I’m going to fuck you now, oui?” What could I say? I was powerless in her hands, her mouth, her cunt. She scared the hell out of me, from her rock-hard nipples to her abundant thighs to her curious tongue. I envisioned news flashes next day: Culture Clash: Carniverous Frenchie Fucks Shy Biology Teacher Dead. She was all energy, grinning and grinding, sound and sexual fury. I ached for days, especially where my knee wedged into the dashboard. How she fit all those ways I never did figure.
I kept her number for a long time. “Call me,” she said as she slipped the paper into my jeans pocket. Not a question, more a demand. I wanted to, I really did.
Hey! Where? Georgie Girl!
The Decade of Myth didn’t start
with the year six-oh
nor did it stop with the one
ending in six-nine
It started in sixty-three
with the death of Young John the Debaucher
and ended in seventy-four,
with Sir Dickie the Trickie’s departure
we all got that straight? – solid, man!
[In The Beginning And In The End]
I met the Fair Maiden Georgie Girl
on an Ivoryton Sixty-Nine summer night
my Boys of Summer campin’ cross the lake
as were your hippie-chicks
[Original Boys of Summer, Fantasy Hippie Chicks]
Welfare and rich, mixin’ & matchin’
in each other’s sleeping bags
thirteen year old Elke Sommer’s kid shackin’
up with the Gypsy Queen’s daughter
so we figured why not us too
[Elke Sommer, one of my kid's Mom, Gypsy Queen, one of yours]
While my tongue was in your nethers
on that misty-meadowed night
and yours on my fair lance
I felt another on my foot
thought “How can she do that?”
I had to give a glance
In the heat of a passion
I look back and see
that a goat of the pastures
decided to make the scene
[Three's a Crowd on My Cloud]
“Man, you know what yew got there, compadre?”
said old Ed the cook – “just one word, man
you’ll understand, she goes to the same
school as Jackie O’s kid!”
[Did Caroline Ever Eat Camp Slop?]
Your name was Georgette, your brother’s Carroll
I should’a got the clue
but we talked not of backgrounds
we just wanted to screw
That mescalined night in the pond
skinny-dippin with three others
in front of the Ivoryton post office
doin’ it in the road
an early train-spotting with cars
none came, we did
[Ivoryton Post Office, No Worry, it was after midnight]
Man – we got two days off – where we gonna’ go?
it’s the weekend of a gig on Yasgur’s Farm -
but we had not enough time for the show
Off instead to my poor man’s heaven
on the other side of the LI Sound
meeting those children of god
all going the other way
Starry, Starry Night
we slept, talked and did the nasty
where I, in innocence once
built a raft of driftwood
to take me twenty miles across
to the shore from which we ferried
escaping my Father’s demise
[Yasgur's Farm and Sound Beach
We were only two at the beach, wonder how many made it to the farm?]
“Wake up! Wake up!”
roust the commie, preppie, philosopher, hippie and jock
I had one of each sort in my troop
Neil the Man’s about to take his midnight walk!
we herded them into the mess tent to see
the moon violated by mankind’s knee
[It Takes All Kinds watching Armstrong]
Back in the City, you One East End Ave
me from across the Gowanus
riding the subway to the stars
wondering what I was doin’
your nanny plopped with a death thud
to the floor above us
in your private-elevator duplex
as we were loving in full window view
of the 59th Street Bridge – that wasn’t groovy
[The Gowanus - Bridge Over Dirty Waters, 59th St Bridge - Feelin' Groovy]
You off to bucolic Pine Manor in Brookline
with your mama’s Standard Oil money
me back to CCNY turmoil
in Harlem on my night cabbie’s pay
visits on weekends, further apart -
we did start to grow away
[Protected in Brookline, Protesting in Harlem]
One last stab – I your debutante escort
at your coming out debut
for the Grosvenor Ball in the Plaza
you were both loathe and loving to attend
four months after you first came with a man
or rather this boy from across the facts
Dine with a Kennedy here, a Lindsay there
under a blanket in a horse carraige ride
in Central Park, thereafter
you sneak into my room
for our last bedding
[The Poor Got Richer, if just for a day]
Remember back when we got kicked out
of that snooty Boston Common’s hotel
for me refusing to wear a tie?
you laughed all the way with me
to the cheap shack up the block
Time driftwooded on, we left each other
my only contact with your world
became the green of the bluebloods
as I ferried them around the town
We met again in seventy-four on Mass Ave
just up from the Coop
me with my Nancy girl, you with
a Japanese artist, your Yoko
spurning your parent’s wealth
he hair down to his calves
Maybe we had an effect on each other,
maybe the Sixties mattered
or maybe we were all just
Fools on the Hill
When we turned 50, my twin sister and I inherited money from an uncle. It was a modest amount, enough for me to enroll in a night course at the local college and to buy a new pair of glasses, not the $20 frames at JC Penney but an obscenely expensive designer pair which my made me feel sexy and smart, and which my boyfriend told me to keep on when we made wild rodeo love that night.
Some weeks later, my sister called. “You gotta come visit, see what I purchased with the help of Uncle Robbie’s money!” She sounded excited, so I drove across the state line the following weekend. I rang the bell and adjusted my new glasses, sure she’d notice them right away. She threw open the door with her characteristic enthusiasm and greeted me with a new set of D’s, maybe even Double-D’s. I hugged her, mindful not to squish her new acquisitions, and followed her in, my mind responding in overdrive: Good Lord, Patricia, what have you done? I am reading Foucault, have a copy of Discpline and Punish right here in my bag. Wanna read it? No, of course you don’t. I wonder if my $300 left over would get me a downpayment on a set of those. I couldn’t afford D’s of course (and they are ridiculous), but C’s might be quite sensible…
“You have new glasses!” Patricia interrupted.
“The better to see you with,” I replied.
Mama’s got a name made for trouble. That’s what the meat-man down at the store said. “Vyla,” he said, “now that’s a troublemaker’s name.” (He said troublemaker as if it was the same as a shoemaker). When he had finished up slicing mama’s ham he said, “How many hearts you done broke, Vyla?” Mama didn’t answer; she just said thank you for the ham, told me to come on, and walked off. I could have answered for her, though. Could have said “three” and named them, too— daddy, Jasper, and Clementine.
Now daddy had it coming. He let mama run all over him. When we had but one car in the garage, he always let mama have it to go wherever she needed to go. He’d take the bus or walk. “Vyla,” he’d say, “I got that car for you.” Knowing full well he bought the car for himself ’cause I was with him when he bought it. He had told the car-man to give him somethin’ in red. “I love red,” he told him and they went up and down the lot looking for the red that suited him— not wine-red, not blood-red, but cherry-red. He knew it when he saw it and that’s the car he bought. He drove that car but twice— once off the lot and once to take my mama to the hospital when she had this fever that wouldn’t go down. Fool, that’s what the people in the neighborhood called him— behind his back and to his face. Didn’t he know, they said, what all Vyla was doing around town in that car? Didn’t he know, they said, she had another fellow in the passenger seat most times? And sometimes they had even seen that fellow behind the wheel— driving daddy’s cherry-red car like it was his. But daddy would just say how town talk was just that— talk. But it wasn’t just talk. Once, when I was standing outside the candy store with a boyfriend of mine, I saw mama fly by in daddy’s car. Then a few minutes later, she flew by again with Jasper in the car. Jasper was the fellow the people in the neighborhood tried to tell daddy about. My boyfriend said, “Ain’t that your mama?” And all I did was nod. My boyfriend said, “But that ain’t your daddy in the car with her— that’s Jasper McGhee!” And he went on tellin’ me how Jasper was the football coach for the high school two towns over and how Jasper was gonna turn that team around. “So!” I said and something in my stomach made me spit out the gum I was chewing. “So,” my boyfriend said “if your mama’s messing around with Coach Jasper, your father don’t stand no kind of a chance!”
And he was right because when my daddy found out about Jasper, it was too late— mama was already round-&-radiant with Jasper’s child. Daddy had tried to put his foot down— had said, “Vyla, I’m sick of this foolishness.” And he buried the car keys in the backyard as if the car was the real problem. But mama just smiled and said, “You act like Jasper don’t own a car.” My father was through with her after that. He dug up the keys out the back yard and left. Before he left, he kissed me and told me to look after mama ’cause “she needs lookin’ after.” But I didn’t have to look after her on my own; Jasper moved in shortly after daddy left and he and mama were always off at the doctor’s office ’cause mama was always complainin’ about being so sick. “I can’t do nothing by lay up,” she’d say and point the finger at Jasper. She got sick of Jasper real quick, so he was with us but only for a little while. Mama got to the point where she couldn’t even stand the sight of his face. “Look at him,” she said to me once while Jasper was out in yard mowing the lawn, “don’t he gotta face like bruised fruit?” And she laughed. I wouldn’t have laughed like I did if it wasn’t the truth. She put Jasper out shortly after that and that boy who used to be my boyfriend said Coach Jasper wasn’t the same after my mama had got hold to him. No sooner had Jasper gone, mama’s roundness and radiance had gone too. “What I want with another you,” she told me while we ate breakfast and that was that. A few weeks later, I told mama how I missed her belly. Her eyes got real big and I almost thought she’d hit me, but she didn’t; she just hugged me and started crying— real tears, too! And mama hardly cried. She said that she had missed her belly, too. But that didn’t last long ’cause in no time, she was wiping her eyes and laughing, saying, “Supposin’ the baby had been a boy, huh?” And there were no more tears. She said, “And what I want with a boy taking after Jasper Mcgee with that bruised fruit skin of his!” I didn’t laugh this time; mama did and she kept on laughing, too, until her dinner got cold. But she was sad about the baby, I could tell— every day, she’d be on the phone with her friend Clementine talking low and gloomy-like. Once I overheard her on the kitchen phone talking to Clementine. She said, “Clem, you know, I have these dreams about what I done…” And in no time, Clementine would be sitting at our kitchen table rubbin’ mama’s back and listening. Sometimes, she’d come over to fix up mama’s hair.
“You can’t be sitting around the house like this, Vyla,” Clementine said to my mama one night.
“Why not,” mama said and Clementine would go on and on about how mama never used to let herself look like this— this unkempt, this slouched over.
“Ever since I’ve known you,” Clementine said, “you’d put on lipstick just to sit around the house— this ain’t you!” And she fixed mama up and dragged her out the house.
“You gon’ be alright here by yourself,” Clementine said to me and I nodded and said “Yes ma’am” like I was told to call her. Clementine didn’t look like a ma’am, though. She was a slim girl with slim fingers and slim, long, feet. She wasn’t bad looking, but she never had a man. Mama said it was because “Clem is real picky, you know?”
Well, when they got back the next morning (goin’ on somethin’ like six in the morning), mama was all better. They came in the house loud as morning roosters— waking me up. So I joined them in the kitchen. You should have seen mama showing me the moves she and Clementine did on the dance floor— they were hand and hand and leaning all over each other.
“So y’all went dancing,” I said, having nothing else to say.
“Mmm hmm,” mama said, “and can’t nobody dance like Clem!” At first I thought she had said him and I was going to say, “him who?” But she said Clem. I made a face and said:
“Mama, what y’all doin’ dancin’ together? I bet y’all looked funny.”
“Naw,” Clementine said, “we didn’t look funny. We were the best dancers out there.”
“Mmm hmm,” mama said and she grabbed Clementine by the waist and started dancing to the tune Clementine was humming. They were drunk, too, so I left them in the kitchen dancing while I, up for good, went to bathe. All throughout the day, though, Clementine and mama couldn’t stay away from each other and Clementine would be all up under mama like she was her man— tucking mama’s hair behind her ear and whispering in it. She started staying over nights. Sometimes, they’d go out dancing. Sometimes, they’d stay in and watch a late night movie in the living room. Then it got so Clementine was never leaving. She’d be here for breakfast, go to work, and come back for dinner and stay. We ain’t have but two bedrooms and Clementine wasn’t sleeping on the sofa downstairs. I don’t know what mama thought I thought, but I know woman-woman love when I see it. I just kept my mouth shut the whole time Clementine was with us. I made like I was too young to know what was goin’ on. I thought, this one day, Mama might sit me down and tell me what-all was goin’ on between her and Clementine. This one day, we were on the front porch while Clementine was at work, and mama sang a little ditty about her Clem being as sweet as Clementines (the fruit).
“You made that up?” I said
“Mmm hmm,” mama said, smiling. “I didn’t even know I was singin’ out loud.”
“You must be happy, then,” I said.
“Sorta,” mama said and closed her eyes. I left her on the porch— that ditty stuck in my head. Something about that ditty got under my skin, made me miss daddy and even miss Jasper. My old boyfriend stopped by one day and said, “Your mama messin’ with Clementine?” And I told him no. I said, “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.” He didn’t believe me, though. He just laughed and said that folks were talking and that Jasper McGhee was going crazy over the idea of being replaced by Clementine. “He don’t feel too good about that,” my old boyfriend said, looking back at me, as he walked down the street. I knew folks were talking about mama and Clementine— the same way they talked about Jasper drivin’ daddy’s car. But this was different; they had laughed a little at Jasper behind the wheel of daddy’s cherry-red car. They weren’t laughing now. They talked about mama and Clementine in the grocery store with frowns on their faces. Even the meat-man joined in on the talk, saying to this one woman: “I hear Clem got Vyla wearing a ring.” And that was no lie. Mama was wearing a ring— nothing fancy, just this gold band on her ring finger. Clementine brought it home one day and mama just put it on. Just like that. But I knew that ring would be the end of things. Mama don’t like being owned and, to me, that ring was Clementine trying to own mama. She said that’s what Jasper was trying to do when he slipped that baby in her. “He was trying to own me,” she had said. And so I told the meat-man, when my number had been called and it was my time to place my order, I said, “Nothing’s goin’ on between mama and Clementine.” And he laughed this laugh that told me he thought I was just a young’un who didn’t know woman-woman love when I saw it. But I only said what I said because I knew soon what was goin’ on between mama and Clementine would be over. ‘Cause I knew mama would get sick of Clementine the way, say, plum-people, who, trying somethin’ new, get sick of peaches after a while. And mama is a plum-woman— that is to say, if plum were men. And I was right because no sooner had that ring gone on, it came off. She wore it for about a month and then one morning she told Clementine she had dropped the ring down the sink. Clementine got down on her hands and knees and unscrewed the pipe and searched for the ring. She hollered for me to “get in here and help me look for this ring!” I said “Yes ma’am” and helped her.
“Ain’t no ring here,” she said and I knew then mama had probably tossed that ring in the trash somewhere.
“You see a ring anywhere?”
“No ma’am,” I said with the biggest smile on my face. They fought long and hard the rest of the day— Clementine accusing mama of lying about the ring and mama hollering that she did drop the ring down the sink.
“How can a ring just up and disappear, huh?” Clementine said and when she left the house, she was shaking with anger; her face wet with tears.
Mama’s cousin Lew came to stay with us after that and he brought his gun. He didn’t like what mama had said about how angry Clementine was when she had left and he felt like Clementine might could do somethin’. He told me to stay away from Clementine if I saw her in the street. Clementine didn’t bother us, though, but cousin Lew stayed just the same. I don’t know if Lew was really mama’s cousin or just somebody she called cousin, but he stayed with us and kept his gun on one of the pantry shelves. He called that gun “Clem” ’cause he said it was only to be used on Clementine. Something in his eyes told me he’d use it on her even if Clementine had just come over to pick up something she had forgot— like that bra she left hanging on the door knob on mama’s closet. And it’s a good thing Clementine never did show up for that bra; I don’t think Lew cared too much for what went on between Clementine and mama. I think, maybe, someone sent him up here to watch mama ’cause I heard mama and Lew talking one morning in the kitchen. Mama had said, “You don’t have to worry about me, Lew, I like my lovers thick-necked and wide-backed.” Lew laughed at this and as soon as mama was gone out the kitchen, Lew got on the kitchen phone and told somebody on the other line about how he had knocked that nonsense right out of mama.
Dear Dr. Ichovitzsky:
I recently read your article, “The Sex Lives of Starfish,” and viewed the accompanying video with your photograph on its cover. I found it all most elucidating. I perfected my PHD thesis, “The Sex Life of Octopuses” (due to be published in the March edition of “Sealegs”) last night, and I must tell you that there are striking similarities between starfish and octopuses when it comes to the mating ritual; the only striking difference is (of course) the role reversal. As you discovered, it is the male starfish that gives birth, a breathtaking phenomenon, rare in nature.
When a male octopus is in heat, he wriggles his legs, just as a female starfish wriggles her points. By employing a marine audio laser, I was able to hear the subtle song of the male octopus in heat, as he wriggles his feet. Oddly enough, it sounds like a cross between Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and an obscure folk song by Bela Bartok that has never been published or performed. You can imagine: the song is riveting. It attracts all female octopuses within a radius of 31 miles. What happens next is truly esoteric. The female octopuses vie ferociously for first place with the male, forming a totally out of control football huddle. It’s exceedingly difficult to tell what’s actually going on without employing sea opera binoculars, which, as I’m sure you know, are very hard to find. I procured a pair and was thus able to discern a rhythmic flapping of a plenitude of legs all entwined. My audio laser registered a hissing whisper.
Eventually, the legs of the female octopuses form a tight sailors’ milleoctocross knot and when that occurs, the male octopus jumps onto the knot as if it were a trampoline. During the ensuing mating ritual, the male bounces on this knot at a rate of 53 bounces per second and the voices of the male octopus and the female octopuses crescendo to attain an almost inaudible high-pitched screech, similar in tonality to the death song of the Samoan conch (with which I am sure you’re familiar) but also reminiscent of the screech uttered by the male starfish.
This bouncing and screeching activity lasts for 3 to 346 seconds, depending on the age and physical endurance of the male octopus, who collapses and dies when he can no longer keep it up. At that point, the female octopuses sing a dirge remarkably similar to the 17th mournful aria sung by Isolde in that opera by Wagner.
At least half of the female octopuses give birth to baby octopuses (affectionately termed “little leggies”) within the following three days. This gestation period, is of course, identical to that of the male starfish.
I propose that we get together to discuss the ramifications of our research. Just let me know when and where and I will make myself entirely disposable. I understand that you have been studying the mating habits of the Fijian seaworm. What a fascinating project! You must tell me all about it. Incidentally, I’m 6’1,” with long red hair, green eyes, and well-developed mammary glands. Seriously, I’m kidding about the mammary glands.
(soon to be Dr. Stella Marinaro)
Your wish is my command
I will push back and pull forward
confronting your senses while tearing apart my own
I perform admirably
I hold my head up in the face
there’s only one thing on my mind,
no monthly specials here
no flat ‘on my back’ rate either!
I’m a bargain in the first place, comparatively
they should be so lucky
no chance of getting bored,
I re-invent events
creatively juicy and spicy hot with a side of lies
the blood never drains nor loses its metallic colour
and the well will never dry with KY,
spread from arsehole to breakfast like _______
I got class, my website deems it so
“It would be my absolute pleasure to welcome you into my
wonderful world, filled with all things naughty and nice.”
oh make me over, please!
on my back, my side, my stomach and my face is covered
69 divine and women line up!
I’m not exclusive… smile ; )
sad and lonely is universally applied, like my eyeliner
smudged and blurred
obscured from most
I provide a service, the hostess with the most(est)
and fine wine will have you spellbound!
they line up
I spread em’
in a downtown apartment with a sea view
on Fur-Lined avenue – not!
my un-inhibited wide-on, exhibited
and the 26th floor, awaits you but
I am not for free
never for free
I am a Lady of the Night
who shines in the face of adversity
with trust issues and insecurities like the rest of us
I am not blinded by earthly needs by fools
I wake up,
I put on my make-up
I dance to my own tune
and pay the bills
© 2007 Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
Tante Margrit was getting used to this. It was late, and her husband Ivar was not home yet, working again into the night, digging the foundations for the Levittown Housing Projects in Long Island, just over the border from Queens. Margrit couldn’t object too much. After the depression and WW II, when it was mostly the women taking cleaning and cooking jobs to support the family, it was good to see their still not old men back at it, instead of drinking beers on the stoop or in the parks, bemoaning their lack of work. It was also good to get them out of their hair for a bit.
Levittown was the first ever planned suburbia, and there was a need for it. As the economy took off after the war, the educated professionals thrived, and wanted to spend their money on a place with a little greenery for their families, away from the swelter of the city. The prosperity spilled down to the immigrants such as Ivar and his sister Klara’s husband Axel, providing as much work as they wanted. The pay wasn’t great, but with the double shifts the wives could finally stay at home to see to their families.
Margrit was a bit flighty, to use a kind word, but in a sometimes calculated way. A few years later when they got a phone, she would call up Klara, and if either of her very young nephews answered, would ask how the weather was where they were, just four miles away. If it was August, and the boy would say “Hot, Tante Margrit” she would tell them “Oh – we just had six inches of snow here.” In January, the reverse – “It snowed six inches yesterday, kindygarden is closed” was followed by “Oh – its so hot here, I have my bathing suit on.” The nephews believed every word.
She also was the one who played Santa all those years, none of the kids ever knew, she was that well disguised and an actress, deepening her voice so well, her belly laugh shaking the walls and putting the requisite awe and fear in the kiddies.
This made her a perfect fit for Ivar, well known for antics of his own.
After a while, having her husband gone so much, Margrit got bored, so she went looking for a pet. But, it couldn’t be any pet, this was Margrit. She chose a myna bird, with her ever-skewed logic that she could have conversations with it, even though it would just repeat what she said.
Now, to tell the truth, those nights Ivar didn’t show up weren’t always because he worked a double shift. He liked to toddle every now and then, stopping in every two weeks or so at The 19th Hole, a bar a few blocks from the house, near the Dyker Beach golf course. He could cover the pay issue, for math was not Margrit’s strong point, and he was good at coming up with reasons – extra union dues, work clothes, etc. They didn’t have a phone yet, so he couldn’t call.
But Ivar knew Margrit was pretty shrewd in life matters, behind the ditzy facade, so he came up with an elaborite ruse for those nights. He didn’t want to be on the town in his mussy workclothes or cart them around; there were women at the bar, and even though he never strayed, he did like to flirt. So he would change at work, and he kept extra dirty clothes in a sack that he snuck to outside the back door in the morning, to don when he got back home, Margrit safely asleep upstairs. If she awoke upon his entering, there he was in the mud of the soon to be suburbanites.
One Thursday, the night Ivar would use to dally, Friday being payday was too obvious, Margrit needed to do laundry again. Mondays and Fridays were the normal days, but it had rained all week and she couldn’t finish on Wednesday. As she went out to the clotheslines in the backyard, she saw the sack and thought to herself “Oh, that Ivar, so silly, why didn’t he just tell me he had more laundry.” So she washed them and hung them out to dry.
That evening, Ivar ran into an old friend, and the usual four or five short beers turned into six or seven tall ones. The result was that he stayed out a few hours later, and his head was a few turns dizzier. As he came home, he searched for the sack of dirty clothes, but they were nowhere to be found. “I musha lef dem in the foyer by mistake” he thought. Ivar slurred his thought-words as well when tipsy.
As he entered the foyer, still in his glad-rags, he heard Margrit stir through the creaky floorboards above. “Uh-oh, gosta hide, cant gosh back out, she’ll hear the door close.” So he started to crawl to the kitchen table, which had a long cloth over it, down to the floor. Through the moonlight from the window, he saw Petey – Margrit gave the myna a parrot’s name, and Ivar thought fuzz-headed again, “Oops, better cover my bases.”
He lifted a finger to his lips and whispered to Petey “Shhhhhhh – don’t tell Margrit Ivar’s under the table.”
Margrit came down the stairs sleepy-eyed, looked around, saw nothing, and started to head back upstairs. “Good!” Ivar thought, peeping out from the cloth, “It worked!”
Margrit gave a turn before heading upstairs and called “Ivar, is that you?”
“Sqwaaaaaaaakk!! Don’t tell Maaaaagrit Ivar’s under the taaaaaaaaable!”
Hi. I am the voice inside your head. My name is Rogan.
I am the one who tells you that it is alright to laugh at that sad, pathetic little girl, eating lunch, unaware that there’s a piece of green vegetable stuck in her anyway ugly teeth. When your wife looks at you funny for laughing, I tell you that she has no clue that you once slept with that sad, pathetic little girl – she was not so little then, was she? I help you picture how your wife would look with a fork sticking out the side of her cheek, small droplets of blood dancing out, dark red and merry, happy to be liberated from the confines of her oily, white skin, that smells like buried disinfectants. I was the one who goaded you to bury the disinfectants when you were a child, with no reason other than the fact that it amused me to see you do something so futile, so pointless.
Like I said, I am the voice inside your head, and my name is Rogan. I am your boss-man and you belong to me, you whiny little piece-of-shit.
Sid & Eddie Reminsce at 46 of being 36 & Reminiscing of Being 26 & Reminiscing of Being 18 – by Walter Bjorkman
“Hey Eddie, tune into a replay of Nova in an hour, Gwendlyn Bacon is being featured, its on here right now, but you should see it from the start.” Sid was calling from deep in the bowels of the SuperCaliFragile Istic Expealidotious Laboratory in the mountains of western Pennsylvania.
“Yes! Get offa your ass, splash on the water and have a cuppa, then turn on PBS.”
“Oh, you mean Rock Lobster Gwendlyn Bacon.”
“Yes, you remember!”
“Sure, she was this semi-hot astronomy gal that was at a party for some distinguished retiring Astro-physicist great that you dragged me to and we hit it off so we start dancin’ an the kids of all these old profs are there and so they put on Rock Lobster an when they all went ‘down, down, down’ an fell to the floor I did too an Gwen is standin there lookin at me like I’m an Alien! Me E.T.! We kinda drifted apart the rest of the night.”
“YES! That Gwendlyn Bacon.”
“So what’s that got to do with NOVA?”
“Well, alright, you never could wait. She’s now the head of MI NASA SUI NASA’s Search for Alien Life Program, and she’s doing a special. Man, if you just kept your cool you could be living on easy street right now, she makes buko, and get me a job with her, instead of me hanging in these caves! And – get this, when showing an image of a lobster shaped galaxy, they played the song!”
“What can I say, guess I was an Alien Ahead of My Time.”
“Hey , Sid! That reminds me, remember the time I called you up way back when about doin’ the same with The Gong Show? Only you were at CalTech then, and I was in Brooklyn, so you just waited til when it came on there?”
“Gonnng Showww! Yeah! I remember. Rita.”
“Rita Brandyalexandria, you remember!”
“Yep, on our coming of age trip to n’orlans. bout 4 days after we chatanooga-ed our chew-chews for the first time with the hooker, Fred too and then we go to the Showoff-Boat strip club an out comes Rita Brandyalexandria with a filled champagne glass balanced on top of eacha her boobs stickin so straight out she could do it without leanin back, drinks them without using her hands and puts em back then puts one plastic one at the foota the bar which you swoop up cause it touched her nipples an then she went on and did a fantasy fuck with James Bond all alone up there makin all those sounds on a big round bed, gyratin’ stark nakkers.”
“Yeah, that Rita Brandyalexandria.”
“And so I says, what that’s got to do with the Gong Show, Eddie?, an you says shes on there now! doin’ her act! but not the fantasy fuck just the balancin an sippin’ and she got on a skimpy bra not nothin like back then, and that she says she’s from Stormsville, Maryland and she’s only 24 but this is eight years after an’ she was no way 16 back then, we woulda got arrested.”
“Yep, Sid you got it the way I remember. But I forgot what you said to that.”
“I said, ‘well if she really was just sixteen, she came ahead of her time, if you know what I mean, nudge nudge.’”
PS – Rita won The Gong Show that day – so far no alien life found . . .
Damn. I didn’t think the crash would come so fast. I grip the sink, wait for the bathroom to clear but the door keeps opening. Men stand three deep before the urinals and I gag from the smell of ammonia melding with lemon disinfectant. Nausea pulses, a wave of jittering gray.
No time to wait for a stall to empty, seminar starts in ten minutes. I hurry out. Pale light fills the hospital atrium. Two kids toss coins in the fountain, each penny dropping with a melodious ping. Making wishes no doubt: help daddy get better, let mommy bring home a baby brother, fix Grammy’s broken heart. If I had time and money to waste, what would I wish for?
Rubber soles squeak on linoleum. Bette from ICU calls my name, snaps me from my daze. She waves, a tight curl of her hand. The smile plastering my face feels lopsided, too large. I walk carefully but no one else seems to mind the wavering floor.
I pause before the Chapel, look both ways before pushing the wooden door. The hospital roar fades, replaced by airless silence. A woman kneels before Mary and Jesus, blond hair tumbling down her back. For a moment I swear it’s Phoebe, but it’s not, it can’t be, Phoebe’s prepping anesthesia. I should be with her, but I’m in no shape to thread IV lines into veins.
Out of habit I genuflect before collapsing into the pew. My fingers tremble in the white jacket pocket under the ‘Kevin Sullivan, MD’ embroidered in black over my heart for the fentanyl patch I fished from Mrs. O’s hazards box. The foil crinkles.
The lady’s head lifts. I freeze. Her red-rimmed eyes stare back at me. She doesn’t look like Phoebe at all; fake blond, sucked-in cheeks from too many face lifts. A lot of women look like this in Baltimore, the rich ones. I know their sort too well. My lips quiver into a smile. She turns back to the altar.
Say a prayer for me, baby – I need all the help I can get.
My thumbnail scrapes the patch. Three drops, shiny and viscous, ooze into my palm like liquid crystals. Remorse pricks me, and disgust I’ve come to this again. Today is the last time, I swear, but I greedily lick my hand. The alcohol taste turns sweet. Calm gilds my mouth and throat, spreads to my chest, my fingers, my world, and I forget. The door opens, the blonde mourner floats from the room. I surrender to the velvet-lined bench.
Nothing else is more pure.
When Ellie comes into Western Appliance, I’m behind the counter waiting for the owner, Chase, to arrive. I have the package that my Aunt Ginny gave to me in my pocket, and I’m supposed to drop it off across town at eleven. It feels like a key, with baffling grooves and a tinny vibe.
I imagine it’s a key to mailbox or lockbox or box of some sort. The box is candy-apple red. A fun, frolicking red that some women wear to make an impression. The kind of red that has unintended results. Maybe it’s not for a box at all but for a piece of expensive luggage sailing on a ship in the Baltic sea.
All the packages that Aunt Ginny has given to me are wrapped in thick brown paper I think French butchers must use to wrap fatty meats. The paper is always the same, but the contents vary greatly in size. I had to rent a moving truck for the last one, and spent the night driving it up the mountains in a blizzard. Aunt Ginny thinks it’s better if I don’t know what’s in them, just in case.
“How’s it?” Ellie asks. Ellie is tall and voluptuous, with doe eyes and severe mouth. Everything about her seems ready to battle. In other words, she looks like how I want to look.
“Who’s on the job?” she asks, unloading her keys, cell phone and spare change onto the counter.
“Tim and Jay.” Ellie and I are the only women who work here. All the men have monosyllabic names, and sport mustaches that they caress at every opportunity.
I love this job because of Chase but my days here are numbered. For one, I page Ellie after hours when I know she’s with him. I also make sure to send her out with Jay, who gooses her when she’s underneath large objects. It was Sam who hired me but it will be Chase who will sack my sorry ass.
At my last job, I was accused of intimidation, of provoking the elderly clients. All I wanted was their stories. What they made of the world in which they lived. Perspective for the younger generation. A little inspiration! The place I worked at was called The Elderhaus. I took care of the independents. When I started I was given a list of activities that my clients might enjoy. Many horrified me. 4) Horseshoes. 9) Make tape recordings. 11) Visit Skyhawk casino. I had nightmares about sweet, arthritic Mr. Parker, breaking his wrist casually tossing a horseshoe, Mr. Allen confessing to his crimes, or Ms. Pendleton gambling her pension away in a single game of blackjack.
That’s where I met Chase Hughes. Chase owns Western Appliance and splits his time between Durango and Telluride. He has a wife from Morocco who lives in Seattle. They’ve lived apart for most of their twelve-year relationship and have a seven-year old daughter. I don’t know where Chase’s cash comes from but I know that he’s forty-six, plays the hurdy gurdy, and is allergic to peanuts. Other fun facts include his fear of dead ringers, the Ice Capades, and safes that might fall from the sky. It’s the sort of lunacy that I want to open up with this key in my pocket.
At the Elderhaus, Chase was a friend of Mr. Allen’s. I later learned that Chase had known Mr. Allen from the Illinois State Penitentiary. Chase was in for possession, Mr. Allen for sexual assault. Mr. Allen had no family, was pushing seventy, and had spent the last quarter century in and out of prison. Chase took care of him. After their release, Mr. Allen wanted to be close to the mountains, and so Chase had brought him here to Durango.
Mr. Allen was a dependent, and so he was not my client but I knew that he was on dialysis and was popular with the residents. Chase visited twice a week for months, and so I was bound to run into him now and then. He always came with gifts for Mr. Allen and the others; large print books, DVD’s, candy. I had no interest in him until I found out that he wasn’t a relative. Then I took notice. It was silly of me, to think that he came without obligation.
Speaking of which, Aunt Ginny will not be happy if I lose this job. I have to be her eyes and ears in town, as she rarely ventures from her fortress in the mountains. As her transporter, I have to be flexible. While there’s no racket like the tourist industry and therefore no shortage of jobs, the jobs themselves are shitty. Long hours, little pay, and most importantly, no loyalty. It takes a couple of months at the least to build some trust, convince the boss that you’re a hardworking, responsible employee before you can begin to break that trust and get away with it. It gets harder as I get older. I’m pushing forty and have nothing to show for it. I have Aunt Ginny, true, but I don’t have a career. Or a family. Or Chase.
Where is he? Sam said he was coming by sometime today. It’s 10:36. I have twenty-four minutes. I don’t want to leave and risk missing him. If I have to, I can be out the door by five to and back by 11:15. I should be thinking about the logistics of my drop off, which will require me to remember a password, engage in “non-threatening” small talk with the person receiving said package, and make sure that no one sees me.
Aunt Ginny worries that I’ll get my heart broken, and she should be because my heart’s a fault line waiting to crack wide open. What can I tell her about his habit of resting his head in his left hand and blowing his bangs from his eyes in one poof!? Or that first time that he came up to me in the lobby of the Elderhaus and flicked my nametag with his forefinger and thumb. The pin poked my chest. I looked down and readjusted the tag, which was peeling at the edges.
“Stella Gold.” He smiled at me. He said my name again as if it were a problem to be solved. He was careful with each syllable.
“Can I help you?” I said. I was holding my work schedule. I was angry because Ms. Moore had complained to my supervisor. The paper in my hand felt greasy and uncouth, as if by holding it I was revealing more than I wanted to. I flipped it over and pressed it against my leg.
“Perhaps. It’s about Mr. Allen.”
“In 2B? I don’t work with him.” We liked to put things in productive terms. We didn’t use words like “help” or “aid” or “nurse.” We used words like “work with ” and “facilitate” and “growth.”
“You might want to talk to Gladys.” I pointed down the hallway to the Activities Room.
“I might want to, but I don’t. I’d rather talk to you.” He smiled again, and I noticed that he had a lot of metal in his mouth. I saw a flash of gold from the upper left.
What did he want? I wonder now. Ah, it was the bedding. Mr. Allen’s bedding. It irritated his skin. I felt a surge of affection for this man’s concern over his friend’s skin. Chase asked about the detergent we used, and the thread count of our sheets. I told him that we used chemical-free detergent (a lie), and that the thread count exceeded 300 (another lie).
“Stella, you’re fucking with me,” he said. He put his hand on my shoulder, as if to say – what?
As if to say, Fuck with me. I won’t mind.
“I know what it’s like to love someone who doesn’t love you back,” Aunt Ginny said. We were drinking our morning tea at the kitchen table, watching the sunrise through the trees. It was going to be a busy day. A drop off in Farmington, a place Durangoans like to poach from for its cheap labor force and commercial goods, and which can only be described as apocalyptic.
Aunt Ginny, of course, was referring to my father, the one and only love of her life.
It’s 10:45. Tim and Jay stop in for parts while I handle a call about a leaky dishwasher. Sam is in the back doing inventory. I don’t know where Ellie is. I check the schedule, fax an order, and brush my unruly hair. This task is painful in its futility.
I do it anyway and press my hand against the package in my pocket. From a certain angle, it may look like I’m pressing my hand against myself, in the quick manner of an inexperienced masturbator.
I move my fingers over it. Now, the key feels like it has multiplied into a hundred sharp angles. Conflict diamonds, I think. A funny phrase, conflict diamonds. It’s supposed to elucidate but ends up lessening its meaning. Conflict, as if war were an argument started over a family dinner.
My family tree will tell that we are fluent in the language of war. But I should say branch, not tree, since both my parents were only children and are long dead. Aunt Ginny’s really my parents’ closest friend, Virginia Critchlow, daughter of Llewellyn Critchlow, who worked under Kenneth Bainbridge at Los Alamos. As legend would have it, it was Ellen, as Critchlow was known, who Bainbridge turned to at the Trinity Test site on July 16, 1945 when the mushroom cloud erupted over Jornada del Muerto and said, “Now we are all sons of bitches.” Critchlow hired my mother, Ingrid Kohler, a German-born physicist in 1963, just one month after President Kennedy proclaimed “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
The tide was changing, indeed. Ingrid, brilliant, imperious, met my father, Raymond Wade, at one of Ginny’s soirées in 1964. Ginny was a rebel even then; she abducted Raymond from her parents’ hacienda in Santa Fe where Ginny was contemplating her future life of crime after being suspended from Texas A&M and Raymond was working as a ranch hand. Ginny took one look at my father and saw her future as one big, bright explosion, and told him she needed him in Los Alamos. Raymond came reluctantly; he had seen pictures of Hiroshima in National Geographic, and he had read Howl and “the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down.” And then there was Ms. Virginia Critchlow herself, and she scared him more than the H-bomb did. She was fast and smart and a looker, and though it wasn’t love for him, it was something like it. Rebellion. Freedom.
When I got the job at Western Appliance, I didn’t know Chase owned the place. It had been six months or more since I had last seen him. He came in the store one day. At first I thought he had come in to see me. Wow, I thought. He’s tracked me down. Foolish girl. As soon as we figured out what we were doing here – “Oh, you’re the new recruit!” and “Let me guess, you’re the tyrant I keep hearing about,” HaHaHa – tears welled up in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
Mr. Allen had been the only reason that he was staying in Durango full-time. He was building a house in Telluride and was set to move in August.
It was a glorious summer. We drank at the Strater and played pool at El Rancho and chased the wildfires that hopped from north to south and east to west like crickets in Apache Plume. The first question out of his mouth each day was “What are you doing later?” At El Rancho, he talked about Mr. Allen and prison, and I wanted to tell him that I understood what it’s like being an outcast and a criminal. Instead I told him about Aunt Ginny and how she raised me after my parents died in a plane crash outside of D.C. when I was three. My mother had been appointed to serve on the Atomic Energy Commission and was traveling to Washington once every couple of months. My father usually took care of me on these trips but Aunt Ginny offered to take me one weekend. Chase told me about his own daughter, Pauline, and how he hadn’t seen her in more than two years.
“That must be hard,” I said, silently cursing the wife. I sunk the eight ball in my anger, and Chase bought us another round.
One night we got into trouble. We were drinking by the river when a mother bear with her two cubs appeared on the bank. Chase pulled me down and held me, and we were still. The family moved on, and he looked at me and smiled. I saw no hope or promise in that smile but I kissed him anyway. I don’t want to go into what happened next so I won’t.
Ellie was hired in the fall. I took one look at her and saw my future blow-up in my face. I gave her bogus job orders, pinched tools from her truck, sent her out on wild goose hunts, but my attempts at sabotage were futile. People liked her. She was funny and smart and a good mechanic. What more can I say? She was on to me.
Chase didn’t go to Telluride. At the store they were discreet but Durango is a small town. I can’t turn a corner without seeing them together and each time the door opens, the first question out of his mouth is, “Where is she?”
I go to the back to let Sam know I have to go. Behind him, in the parking lot, is Ellie. She’s standing next to a light blue sedan, talking with a man in the passenger seat. Another car pulls up next to the sedan. The driver, a woman, walks over to it. I can see a gun holster beneath her jacket. The man gets out and introduces Ellie. The woman shows her something (a badge?) and shakes her hand.
While they were as different as two women could be, Ginny and Ingrid were best friends. As a “lady scientist” Ginny admired Ingrid and sought her advice on everything, despite the fact that Ingrid was woefully inept with matters of the heart. Ingrid was flattered and a little awed by Ginny, who exuded sophistication and worldliness. She also had no interest in the work done at the lab and when Ingrid would talk about her neutron-scattering experiments, Ginny would laugh and say, “Oh, Ingrid, I’m as scatterbrained as your neutrons or neurons or whatever. I’m a Capitalist, not a scientist.”
Like Ginny, Ingrid was also beautiful but men were more wary of her. She was too serious. And Ingrid had what was a deal-breaker for any would-be suitor at the time. Ambition. Unlike her good friend, Ingrid was a virgin. So when Ginny introduced Ingrid to the man who she was secretly seeing for months, Ingrid, guileless, shook Raymond’s hand warmly. Ginny, giddy at their meeting and at the success of her party, excused herself to greet her other guests.
The night I drove up the mountain in a blizzard, the snow came down in blue light. It was so lovely that I stopped caring about going over the edge. I almost wanted to, to see the light in the pine trees, gray green and blue.
As I drove, I was sure that I was carrying delicate Indonesian artifacts, glumly hued and stolen from Berlin. I imagined them falling all around me, ornate boxes and sculptures and utensils falling from the trees.
Sam is examining his clipboard. I tell him that I’m taking off and that I’ll be back in a half hour.
“Can you pick up a turkey sub for me?” he asks.
“Sure, you got any cash?” The man and woman look over at our window, but our window is tinted and they can’t see me. The woman is unfamiliar but I’ve seen the man before. He was in front of me at the grocery store two weeks ago. I remember him because he bought loads of gum and a teen magazine, which I thought an alarming combination for someone his age. I saw him later that day, behind me at a stoplight. I didn’t make him for a tail.
“Here’s a ten. No jalapeños, and a large Coke.”
“Got it.” Ellie is walking back toward the building with the man and woman trailing behind her. Ellie looks regal, like a woman accustomed to getting what she wants.
“Hey Sam, any chance you know who’s with Ellie?” Please, I think.
“No clue,” he answers as I make my exit. In the hallway, I hear Ellie, faint but still audible, saying Officer.
I pocket the ten. I have five hundred in my wallet, fifteen hundred sewn into the passenger seat, and a trailer in Abiquiu. What I don’t have is my gun. That’s in the drawer next to my bed. For a moment I’m far away. I’m over the mountain with my beautiful things.
“Ellie?” I turn around. In the doorway of Sam’s office is Chase. When he sees that I’m not Ellie, the lines in his bronze skin arc downward, and his hazel eyes glaze over in a far-off way. It’s a look that I’ll never get used to. A here-but-not-here look that I think prison guards give to ward off need. Which, if I don’t get out of here, I’ll be seeing a lot more of.
“Oh, I’m sorry Stella. I thought you were Ellie.”
“She’ll be here any minute.” Chase blinks and nods his head slowly, as if he understands the gravity of the situation. I put my hand in my pocket. The key, the diamonds, the lockbox, the sea. I’d give it all to him.
I don’t see him all day, he’s up in his office with the air-con cranked up, working on his papers. But then around 5.25 he starts up like a teenager – sprays on cologne, brushes his teeth, so when she gets in from Kroger he’ll be fresh for all the PDAs. He brushes his teeth with hot water; I’ve seen him. What is that?
Ugh, whatever. She’s, like, eight years older than me, and he’s getting ready to retire. It’s disgusting. Way to go, Dad, Mom would be so proud of you.
They love it when I ‘stay over at my girlfriends’. Petting in privacy in the den, eating take-out, watching her belly grow round. He bought me the car when they found out she was knocked up. My consolation prize.
Today it’s the gas station guy. He was a way down the list but he’s easy-pickings. I’m early parking up, so I get a soda and stand out front looking like some kind of hooker. But the night’s warm and there’s a stand of gardenia right by me. Smells like heaven.
He’s here at last and playing Springsteen. His eyes light up like a kid on Christmas day when I slide in beside him. He’s pleased to see me, all right. Damn it, though, he’s taking me to Joe’s bar on Lafayette and Tenth. Shit, Joe’s seen me here before with the biology teacher that gave me herpes. Nice twist on sex education, you asshole. But Joe’s OK. He looks at me funny, but then turns away, shaking his head a little, and pours the beers.
I’m a virgin, I tell Gas Station Guy. They love that shit. He holds my hand. He has stubby, rough little fingers. Good. Then I drink my beer and shut up. Gas Station Guy can talk for both of us. I guess not many people listen to him.
Tomorrow morning I’ll tell him I’m feeling sick. Headache. He’ll give me Tylenol. I’ll tell him I don’t remember a thing. Then he’ll tell me nothing happened, that I was a little drunk, couldn’t say where I lived, passed out. The usual. I’ll thank him. Then he’ll leave for work early, tell me to make myself breakfast, close the door behind me. I won’t eat a thing in his crumby kitchen. Gross. But I’ll help myself to a little souvenir. I’m a collector.
College roommates, Bill (later to be Strangefellow, Strange for short), Bill (later to be Arizona, Zona for short) & Eddie (later to be no nickname, Ed for short) – yes tripled up, about first month in, first doobie for Arizona & me, not Strange.
Bill (soon to be Arizona): What’s with the bracelet, Bill?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): This?
Eddie: Yeah that
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Oh I got it growing up in Nairobi.
Bill (soon to be Arizona): Nairobi? Kenya? Africa?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): yeah, my dad was over there working on research & treatments for cattle disease for the UN when I was 2 through10.
Bill (soon to be Arizona): Wow
Pause for run to lobby to get pizza delivered
Bill (soon to be Arizona): What’s it made of?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): You ordered it. peppers & mushroom.
Eddie: I think he means the bracelet, but that was cool the pizza guy messin’ up your last name Arabuena, yelling through the lobby, “Pizza for Arizona!! Pizza for Arizona!!” I don’t think its big enough for the whole state . .
All: giggle, giggle, guffaw, guffaw, cough, cough
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Its elephant hair
Arizona (now named officially, Bill no more, later Zona for brevity): The crust?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Yeah the crust, tastes good (munching his) – the bracelet, Dumbo
Arizona: What bracelet?
Eddie: The one you asked him about before the pizza came, and just now
Arizona: Oh, that bracelet
All: giggle, giggle, guffaw, guffaw, cough, cough
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Yeah its one strand of elephant tail hair
Eddie: Yeah, right that coarse.
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): True, elephants are big man
Eddie: hafta be to feed all of Arizona
Arizona: Where’d you get it?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Outside Nairobi about 30 kilometers
Arizona: You were in Africa?
Eddie & Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Seeeeesh!
Arizona: Oh, yeah – Nairobi, so how?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): when I was 8, they found me running in a herd of them, I pulled on a tail and it came off.
Arizona: Really? wow, the whole tail?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Yeah, Zona, the whole tail (eyes rolling)
Eddie: Wow, didnt you get stomped on?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Naw, the adults were dozing, the calfs curious, like you guys
Arizona: My calfs, curious?
All: Bwaaaaaa, curious calfs, indifferent insoles, answering armpits, etc etc etc for 10 minutes
Later, at the home of the doobie provider Stephan Potkin, later to be known as Son of Pot:
Potkin: Spider (dark, mysterious beauty), like you to meet William, he’s a strange fellow
Spider: Huh? What’s the name? William Strangefellow? What a cool name!!
All, except Spider: Bwaaaaaaaa!! giggle, giggle, cough, cough
Arizona: Yeah and he runs with elephants.
Strangefellow: My name isn’t really Strangefellow its . . . .
All, including Spider: Bwaaaaaaaa!! giggle, giggle, cough, cough
Ah, shit, Man, she’s a peach. I know her Daddy. Rough son-of-a-bitch. Old though. And rich. She’s standing outside the 7-11, skirt up round her ass. Ripe. She could be a whore but she looks way too classy. Plus she has a huge soda – I’d guess diet – and a Twinkie. I work kitty corner, at the Sunoco and I’ve been watching her since six-thirty. I’m getting off in ten minutes.
I drive the Chevy over, top down. I have to make four rights to get back over there. It’s a pain in the ass. She smiles mad, like she’s been waiting on me for hours.
Want to get a beer? I say.
I’m fifteen, she says.
You don’t look it.
There’s oil stains on my arms and I stink from the heat, but I got Springsteen in the deck – always a winner. Just like that, there she is, sitting right next to me, Her legs open a crack in her little Barbie skirt. All that skin. I’m telling you man; she’s a fucking grade A peach. What man in his right mind wouldn’t?
We park up on the corner of Lafayette and Tenth. The place is still half empty, strip–lit in blue. The bartender looks at me funny.
Rags, he says. And he pours the beers. Oily Rags, that’s what the sons-of-bitches call me in this joint. They’re as close to family as I got, though. I order beers.
The girl’s at the jukebox. The whole damn bar is staring at her ass and she knows it. But she ain’t playing it. She’s put on some goddam sentimental shit. The regulars groan, but when she comes back to the bar she takes the cigarette from my mouth and puts it in her own. She sucks it hard, and she knows what she’s doing. Jesus.
I’m a virgin, she says. Just so you know. I hold her hand and she relaxes a little.
I love Foreigner, I say.
Four beers later and she’s falling through the screen door. I scoop her up, over the couch and I pull up that skirt. I’m still good to go on four beers. My cock is hard. Not that she’d notice either way.
Who’s your Daddy? I say. And I slap her ass.