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Eat Or Be Eaten, a short story
Annemarie often sat within the bright sobriety of the campus coffee shop down the street from her and Roy’s house. The air there was filled with academic fulmination and the evaporating mists of senseless arguments, much like the state of her marriage. She was acknowledged by the college students as one of those bizarre, florid creatures from the 80’s, and they let her go about her pursuits, unfettered but slow.
“I can’t stand that place,” Roy said. “I don’t see how you can sit there day after day.” His comment, for her, aptly illustrated how unaware he was that her main occupation while there was mulling over whether or not to file for divorce.
“It makes me feel wired,” Annemarie said.
“You can say that again,” Roy said.
“Why don’t you meet me there for coffee sometime?” she said.
“Things are too crazy at the office right now,” he said.
One such crazy evening, after dinner, the air was busy gossiping with itself — Annemarie could feel it fluttering along her cheeks inquisitively, and the moon rose early, bouncing light off the red tiled roof. She put on her ratty ski jacket and then poured herself a tiny refreshment of Scotch, which she imbibed cautiously. Her small thick hands, gripping a kitchen chair like death, were chalky at the edges. The clanking emptiness of the room — of her life — created a milky haze over her sight. For what seemed like the hundredth night in a row, she invited Roy over to the lake on campus to see the alligators. For the first time, he said yes.
They rambled along the verdant avenue and before them flitted two zebra butterflies, as if teasing Annemarie to fly. Her husband, his blank, uncomprehending eyes, was at once her soul and her shame. It was horrible to have people such as him think ill of you, think you were wrong. It was small and ugly and soul-shaking. You felt as if you were coming apart like a cheap paperback, pages from your head fluttering to the floor every time somebody breathed on you. She wasn’t much for men herself — she never learned how to tell a sweet one from a poisonous one and besides, she’d never been convinced there was much difference. But a truly radiant woman never hustles off through life unaccompanied.
A small crowd was gathered on the boardwalk over the water — a leather-skinned old German couple, a tall skinny man with a pot-belly holding a toddler, three young college women with lush clouds of permed hair and tight little asses. A little girl came up with coral roses in a bucket balanced on her hip. The German people spoke softly to each other in German.
“We saw a wild boar on the highway back in the mountains in Kentucky,” said the man with the blond baby. “I thought it was a dog lying on the side of the road. Then I saw its tusks.”
Annemarie’s future, single life would be simple like this, among unpretentious people like these — she’d come see the alligators every night before dark with the out-of-towners. She would hear the gators’ mating calls, the deep bellows in the late spring. She’d appreciate the real elegance of nature. Roy appreciated only his new $60,000 car and his tax-free municipal bonds.
The alligator for this evening was a good seven-footer. It floated perfectly still on the surface of the water, the scales on its back pushing through like a miniature mountain range. Its fat front paws hung limp in the clear lake water. It seemed only a little threatening in the smooth summer light. The gator had a large sly grin.
Roy was from the North – he’d never been around alligators before. Florida was alien territory to him. People from the North always freaked out about the gators. Annemarie wanted to give Roy a thrill. She wanted to overwhelm him with her earthy, sensible, swampy ways. She rubbed his hand humbly and forgot to play the grouch.
“They like marshmallows the best,” the tall, chatty man holding the toddler said. The boy wore a short jumpsuit appliquéd with giraffes. The German couple nodded, the old man pushing his fluorescent yellow golf cap back on his forehead. “Let’s see what I’ve got in the truck,” the man said.
“That?” the little boy said, pointing.
“Alligator,” Annemarie told him. The boy nodded and bit his forefinger.
“Teeth,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “The alligator has lots of teeth.”
It was strong, it would eat her if it could. That was the way to be, she thought. That was the new simple way she would live, with or without a husband. Eat or be eaten. Roy hadn’t the slightest affinity for animals. Annemarie wanted to live a simple life. She didn’t want to be angry, ever again. Mostly, that was it. She could not afford any more to be bored with living — she didn’t have that kind of time. Her husband had become accustomed to disagreeing with her almost all of the time, as a method of entertainment.
The man with the baby came back with a vending-machine package of peanut butter cheese crackers. Annemarie shivered. Suddenly, she wasn’t so sure about feeding the thing. What if it came up on the bank? She had read how alligators could run 40 miles an hour over short distances. The man threw a cracker in the water near the alligator’s head. The animal whipped its head sideways and took a big gulp of water, inhaling the cracker. They all got a nice view of its teeth. The gator pumped its jaws, as if savoring the peanut butter, and the water clouded with dissolving cracker. Roy stood apart from the group, his face dark and tense. Annemarie leaned on her elbows, hanging over the railing of the boardwalk.
“Did you know it’s against the law to feed the alligators?” one of the young women with big hair asked. Her sharp voice made Annemarie jump.
“Really?” Annemarie said.
“Is that so?” the tall man said.
“It’s a felony,” the young woman said. “And there’s a fine.”
“How much is the fine?” asked Annemarie.
“A thousand dollars,” the young woman said.
“Really?” Annemarie might be afraid of the alligator but she wasn’t afraid of this young woman, with her elaborate hairdo and her half-pound of gold jewelry. This was the kind of woman Roy would marry next, she was sure. This kind would give him a lot less trouble. This kind would have no desire to feed reptiles of any sort. She directed herself to see marriage for what it was, not its tedious demonstration. The pretty young woman flipped her perfect locks over her shoulders and glared at the man with the peanut butter crackers. He threw another cracker to the alligator and laughed. His baby laughed too, throwing his head back so his fine pale hair waved in the breeze.
“The alligators get tame and that’s when they start eating dogs,” the young woman said. “And small children.” She was businesslike, her voice chilly with authority. The mystery of feeding the dangerous beast was lost on her, thought Annemarie. It was exactly the sort of thing Roy would say. Annemarie’s neck began to tingle, blood fury gathering in her cheeks. The tall man grinned at the snotty college girl and slowly pushed his glasses up with his middle finger.
“Then they have to shoot them,” the girl added. “So it’s really not a good thing to feed these animals.” The young woman had her nose up. Literally had her nose up; her voice resonated with indignation and righteous anger.
Annemarie pushed her arm against Roy.
“Maybe she’s right,” Roy whispered. He sounded reasonable, the way he always did.
“Oh, Christ, what’s the harm?” Annemarie said. She was still leery of the alligator, floating, for the moment seeming as harmless as a large rotting log, but she was enraged nonetheless. The hell with all of them, Annemarie thought. What do they know about right and wrong? What do they know about anger? What do they know about eating or being eaten?
“Great attitude,” the young woman said to Annemarie, shaking her head. “Come on, let’s get out of here.” The three lithe girls walked off, whispering to each other in disgust.
“Throw one of the crackers up on the bank,” Annemarie told the man, now her partner in crime, her body trembling. They were all standing on the wooden boardwalk over the water. She decided this animal was a deserving gator, nothing to be afraid of. She would bring it whole chickens, she decided. It would be her personal ritual. Her wants and needs had boiled down to nothing. It was amazing what she could do without, now she had decided to end her marriage. She would take one pot, a frying pan, and a wooden spatula when she left. That was all she needed. That was all anybody needed. Let him have the expensive cookware she was always cleaning improperly.
The man with the little boy threw a cracker onto the muddy bank. The alligator turned its head sideways and tried to pick up the cracker. Its teeth grazed the mud, making deep tracks. The cracker wouldn’t budge. The animal hauled itself onto the bank and took a mouthful of mud with the cracker. The man threw another cracker on the bank, and the gator swallowed it down. In the fading light, its teeth glowed pure and white. It did slow pushups on its meaty little forearms. Mud clotted its elbows, and the man threw more crackers. The German people oohed and aahed.
“I’m not putting you down,” the man said to his baby. The baby writhed in his arms.
“Teeth,” the baby yelled. “That!”
“Don’t put him down,” Annemarie told the man.
“No kidding,” the man said.
I could do this every night, Annemarie thought. Hang with the simple folk and feed dangerous wild animals like a crazy woman. She imagined the alligator getting angry, running toward her at forty miles an hour. She’d leap onto the railing of the boardwalk. She’d grab hold of the gator’s jaws and hold them closed with one hand, like the Seminole gator wrestlers at the orange groves she’d visited as a child. Reptilian rage was what she’d become practiced at. She had Roy to thank.
She remembered how all the muscles in an alligator’s jaws were for closing the mouth, not opening it. You could hold a gator’s mouth closed and flip it over on its back, and it would black out. The great beast would lie there, paws twitching, flabby white belly quivering. She still remembered one particular Seminole wrestler’s shiny black hair, slicked back off his forehead. He was lean and brown and his stomach muscles cast shadows upon one another. Her family had always watched the gator wrestling and bought rough sacks of tangelos and navel oranges. Annemarie had liked to squeeze the fruit and strain the juice, and think of the man’s bronze skin against the harsh concrete of the wrestling pit while she drank.
Now, Roy had never seen a gator wrestler in his life. He thought life was all harmless monkey jungles and parrot gardens and butterfly habitats. Annemarie knew better. She wanted to live on the edge, she wanted things out in the open. She didn’t want her problems hiding in the shadows anymore.
Annemarie stood against the wooden railing of the boardwalk and watched the alligator scraping the mud of the bank with its handsome teeth, trying for one last cracker. “Throw some more,” she told the man. Reflected light shone out of the gator’s dark eyes.
“Are you sure this is safe?” Roy asked. “That thing is huge. Didn’t you say a dog got eaten here last week?”
“Of course it’s not safe. That’s the point.”
“What’s got into you tonight?” Roy said. “Are you coming up on your period?”
“What kind of question is that?” She went rigid with black demented wrath.
Roy shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground. “Sorry.”
A black-and-white pulled off the main road, crunching over the loose gravel. “Police,” the German couple murmured. The two old people scuttled to the benches at the end of the boardwalk and sat down, removing their hats. The tall man stuffed the half-empty package of crackers into the pocket of his shorts. Car headlights flashed over the surface of the lake, then Annemarie was blinded by police flashlights.
“They’ll have to search me,” the tall man whispered.
“We got a complaint about someone feeding the gators,” said the first cop. He was short, and plump, with a dark bristly mustache. His partner was tall and black and stood several feet behind him. He held the flashlight while the white guy spoke. “People, this is a third-degree felony. You’ll go to jail.”
“Crackers,” the baby said. “Crackers!”
“Did they shoot that gator that ate the dog?” the tall man said.
“No,” said the white cop. “That might be it right there.” His partner shone the flashlight on the alligator. Its pupils contracted in the glare. It raised its chin above the water and smacked the surface. Annemarie felt water splash her legs. “It’s breeding season,” said the officer. “They’ll come at you at the drop of a hat.”
“Who was feeding the gators?” said the black cop.
“None of us,” said the tall man. The little boy grabbed his nose, and his father pushed his hand away. “There’ve been people coming and going for half an hour.”
Annemarie said nothing, leaning over the railing, her arms cradling her breasts, droplets of sweat rolling down her back. Roy stood at the other end of the boardwalk, his cigarette glowing.
She remembered the first time he had ever touched her. Roy’s fingertips had moved slowly back and forth over her forearm, the same way the gator’s paws now rocked in the water. His fingers had brushed against the side of her breasts, that was all. She had wanted his touch on her, back then. Where had it all gone?
“We could call the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission right now and they’d come down and cuff you,” said the white cop.
“I’m sure they would,” said the tall man.
“Teeth!” his baby boy shouted. “That,” the child said, one small finger pointing into the darkness of the swampy bank. “Hungry!” the boy squealed. His father shifted his weight from one foot to the other and back again. The police officers feigned disinterest and strode nonchalantly down the boardwalk, toward the German couple. She couldn’t hear what they said, but she saw how they shone their light into the old man’s eyes.
“Well, I’m going to get this little guy home to bed,” said the tall man, looking at Annemarie and smiling.
Annemarie nodded. “Let’s go,” she said to Roy. They walked toward the parking lot.
The policemen waited for them at the entrance to the boardwalk. “We have two witnesses who said they saw you feeding the gator,” the white one said. The old German couple huddled together on the bench nearby.
“Then you’ve got two liars,” Roy said. The German man patted his chest and looked at the ground.
“They both said it was a white male with a blue shirt.”
Roy’s shirt was blue, long-sleeved, covered with little paisleys. Annemarie had given it to him for Christmas. The man with the baby had on a blue T-shirt saying, “Eat Oysters, Live Longer.”
“There’ve been a lot of guys here with blue shirts,” Roy said, shrugging. The policemen took a few steps toward him, shining the flashlight in his face. Roy held his cigarette to his lips but didn’t inhale.
“I don’t like it when people lie to me,” said the cop. He touched the grip of his nightstick. Annemarie moved closer to Roy.
“Shit,” Roy said under his breath.
Back on the bench, the old German woman coughed, both hands over her mouth.
“I’ve been with my husband the whole time,” Annemarie told the officers. “He wasn’t feeding the alligators.”
“Care to sign a statement?” asked the black cop.
“Why can’t you just leave us alone?” Annemarie said.
“This is our job, lady.”
“Pretty messed-up job. Hassling people.”
“Is that right? Would you care to empty your pockets?”
“I told you, we weren’t feeding the alligator.”
“Maybe we think you were. Maybe we’re getting ready to arrest you and your husband here.”
“You do that and you’ll get slapped with a lawsuit.”
“So sue me. You’re under arrest.”
Roy held his hand out. “Now, wait a minute,” he said.
Annemarie heard a rustling in the reeds behind her. She felt something slither over her shoes. At her feet was a tiny alligator, six inches long. Nobody else seemed to notice.
“You’re under arrest,” the officer repeated, his words to Annemarie slow and drawn out as though he were talking to a foreigner.
“What for?” Annemarie asked.
“For feeding the alligators.”
The big gator on the bank bellowed, its pale throat pumping like a frog’s. The German couple shrieked and ran down the path toward the parking lot. The cop pointed his flashlight toward the noise. Out of the reeds swarmed dozens of baby gators.
“I told you people it was breeding season,” said the white cop. The reeds rustled again and this time Annemarie heard a loud croaking sound. The big gator stood there, raised up on its forelegs, its jaws hanging open. The pink fleshy gullet pulsed in the flashlight’s beam. The teeth were dull yellow at the roots, gleaming pale ivory at the points.
“Holy shit,” the black cop said, grabbing Annemarie’s arm.
“Get the hell out of here,” shouted the white cop.
“I am,” the other cop said. He started toward the car, yanking hard on Annemarie’s shoulder.
“Leave me alone,” Annemarie said. She watched the animal while the officer struggled to pull her away. She went limp, buckling at the knees and kneeling on the ground. “Just leave me alone.” She wasn’t angry anymore, not at anyone or anything, especially not at her soon to be ex-husband. The spirit of her rage had gone into the animal. Pure reptile.
“Are you crazy?” screamed the cop.
The big gator sucked air and croaked again. It raised and lowered its head. The babies scuttled back toward it, milling under its body and peeping loudly like baby chicks. The alligator’s thick tail whipped back and forth through the reeds, and finally the cop ran off, leaving Annemarie in the mud. Why had she been trying so hard? Who had she been trying to fool? This was how it was. Eat or be eaten — the end of one angry life marked only the beginning of another. She closed her eyes as she heard the roar of the gator coming closer.
Roy knelt beside her. “You don’t want to do this,” he said.
“Do what?” Annemarie said.
“Get this alligator shot,” he said. “It’s not going to help.”
He was right. The alligator had never done anything to her. She looked at Roy. He had not been shattered by any of it. His eyes begged, but for once he wasn’t judging her. For once, maybe for the first time, it seemed like he understood her. Life could be so simple, once you got rid of all that confusion. She realized that there was no telling what would happen after today.
“Come on,” Roy yelled, grabbing her arm and pulling her to her feet, and his hand against her skin felt better than she remembered. She ran behind him, her feet sliding over the muddy gravel, not afraid, but laughing like a madwoman. Let everyone see me for what I am, she thought. Let them observe my fiery trail from a safe distance, and weep for their own. Roy glanced back at her as they ran, but Annemarie’s lips did not move — she ran honestly, tripping across her own feet. She could feel the sea moving around inside her head, and she laughed.
Going To Sea
(for Barry Huplits)
She is a great white boat, carved
of wood, lacquered to a blinding
sheen, her sails immense, floating
over my head like the wings
of a fearsome angel. I sit
on her prow, clinging to the slight
metal rail, and together we leap
over the waves like some illiterate,
dangerous god. I am a mermaid,
a brightly colored figurehead,
thrust into the salt spray to bring luck.
The power of the water flings me to and fro,
but I hold fast, panting, the rich smell
of the sea making me drunk. As we pass
the ragged rock walls of the inlet,
I see the towering dwellings of men,
though these quickly fall behind our path,
growing tiny, frail to the elements
I have momentarily harnessed. We brush
great clumps of weeds, then the color beneath
changes from murky green to depthless indigo,
the froth of the peaks suddenly
light, riddled airy like the childish,
gladdened heart inside my chest.
In my net are jerking glass shrimp,
Tiny, tassled fish that look like
bits of leaf, one lone needle-nosed
eel, sinuous even in his distress,
and when I have stared long enough,
I fling them back to their wet lives
without regret. Under the sharp
edges of the sun, skin grows heated,
reddened as if by love’s rough brush,
yet we keep on, moving into the horizon,
towards the vanished place of wildness,
full of an impeccable, golden light.
Searching for Dreams in Little Havana, a short story
Karen knows it’s a bad sign when she sits wondering whether the man she’s crazy in love with is a liar, or a fool, or both. Fuck first, talk later, yes, that approach seems outdated, rather quaint. Impatience has always been her biggest problem. The way this one calls women bitches, it’s like a warning beacon, but she’s not listening because she already thinks she loves him.
Karen wants this man. Or rather, she wants something, and she is trying to figure out if it is him. She orders a latte made with chocolate milk, lights another cigarette. The waiter serving her is thin to the point of illness — his sharp elbows have worn holes in the sleeves of his chambray blouse. The waiter looks nothing like the man she thinks she wants. She wonders if the waiter wants anyone, right now.
“Can I get you anything else?” he, the waiter, asks.
“An audience with the Pope?” she says. “Eternal life, maybe?” She is only partly kidding. She has had her past lives examined under hypnosis. She remembers being locked in a tomb in France. She did not care for it.
The waiter laughs and shakes his head. He flees from her the way young waiters always flee from her — looking back over his shoulder, tossing his hair out of his eyes, knees trembling like a young mule deer’s.
Karen calls Edward, the man she thinks she wants, from her office. While the phone is ringing, her assistant comes to the doorway. She holds a sheaf of papers which Karen knows is the monthly billing.
“Go away,” Karen says to her, smiling. This is the way she talks to all her employees — imperious jokes, self-mocking but at the same time crushing and heavy with the power she refrains always from using.
“Hello,” says Edward.
“What are you doing?” Karen asks.
“Paying bills,” he says.
“Can I come over?”
“I told you I was impatient. I’m tired of dictating.”
“I need to dust off,” he says. “Shower, change.”
“Twenty minutes?” she says.
“Make it forty,” he says.
Before she gets out of the office, her ex-husband calls. Donald is furious, he is always furious, it is the reason they are no longer married. Donald has forgotten how to have fun. Either he has forgotten, or he never knew. He is a very practical person, he runs a tidy house, a neat garden, a solid social life. Karen is no longer sure what drew her to him in the first place. She tries to remember, often when she lies down to sleep she thinks of what it was like to live with him — the predictable days, the fully planned weekends. He never kissed or bit her in the throes of passion, merely covered his face with his hands, as though trying to block her out. He never talks about religion, nor politics, nor his health.
“Where have you been?” her ex-husband says. “You missed Sara’s school open house. I tried calling you all day. Didn’t your secretary tell you?”
“I had an emergency to attend to,” she says. “One of my clients was stranded in Baltimore.”
“Well, there’s always a reason,” he says. “There’s always a reason for the way you neglect your personal life.”
“I guess that’s why you divorced me,” she says. Karen remembers the day she told him she didn’t want to stay married to him — he threw his shoes at her , but they landed in the kitchen sink, splattering her with soapy water. She can have no doubts.
She kept waiting for Donald to have an affair, so she wouldn’t have to. But he was lazy, he put aside passion and loveliness and focused only on money. He could make a lot of it, it was his best talent.
At thirty-five, Karen gets carded one last time for cigarettes, tells the clerk she’s really old, takes off her sunglasses to show him her crow’s feet. Later, her man Edward says with heat, oh, he wanted you. She laughs nervously. No man is able to endure her — it comes from how her father left, how he wanted to stab her when she was born, how her secret heart is looking for some man to make up for that, to endure every hateful thing she can say but never leave.
Most of her adult life has been spent sleeping, so when Karen develops insomnia, she assumes it’s her own fault, always having been a slugabed. She has the blues every day even before she gets up. Life is both too full and too empty to tolerate. Like a snake, she holds everything in fierce embrace, she has loved it all so much, it is dead. She has slept enough, she decides, she’ll make the best of these wakeful hours. She takes up needlepoint, cross-stitch, knitting and crochet, and soon her living room is filled with her creations. Still, she misses her dreams.
Karen goes to a shop in Little Havana, searching for some harmless herbal remedy, something almost, but not quite, a placebo. She’s a firm believer in the power of the mind over the body. Witchcraft is another thing entirely, so when the pale shop-woman draws back a beaded curtain and motions her in to the back room, which smells of burnt sugar, she hesitates. She takes in the woman’s hairy upper lip, her gold canine tooth, her precisely lined red lips, her sexy upper arms — decides it’s worth a try.
Hirsuteness notwithstanding, the pale woman is abnormally beautiful, the kind of beauty women admire and men find frightening — hard, pristine, with sharp angles everywhere. This lady’s nose is a work of art, of architecture, of poetry. All Karen wants is to close her eyes and dream of this moment, twist it into a candy fluff to sustain her through the miserable waking hours.
It’s her desperation, Karen guesses, which has aroused the shop-woman’s sixth sense, a sympathy so strong her pale hands shake as they hold the tangle of beads behind her. Karen blinks back tears, surprised. The bottle the woman chooses is purple, with a gold foil label. Imported from Cuba, it reads. Cuban witchcraft — Castro hasn’t killed every colonial superstition, evidently.
And the voice in Karen’s head says: do what you must, and break your heart down even farther, you haven’t touched the depths yet, of where I will take you. And you will weep for your own folly, and still not be satisfied. You ask for sleep. What can you live without most easily? What can you give up, forever?
ELEVEN RANDOM QUESTIONS
What do you think of keeping a journal?
The real issue here is not that of how journal writing affects all the other forms of writing. There is much to be said about journal writing, both positively and negatively, and probably all of it is true at one time or another for all writers who face changing circumstances over the course of their writing lives. Sometimes journals can help our other projects, sometimes they can’t. Each person’s situation is best handled by themselves. The real issue here, the issue that has people so stirred up, and rightly so, is the fundamental arrogance displayed in both the “writer” Jimmy V.’s original essay condemning journaling out of hand, and his later condemning replies to any and all responses proffered to him. Arrogance of the intensity he displays has always been a substitute for actual wisdom. This truth is one of the fundamental truths of human nature, and I am not the only person to realize it. “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” (Bertrand Russell) That, little Jimmy V., spoiled rotten “writer,” is the central issue you should concern yourself with.
Which celebrity would you like to bitch slap?
Dr. Laura wins by a light-year. I only slap those who’ve been guilty of slapping others. She’s angry and cruel and gives just plain bad advice to her callers. I listen to her all the time to remind myself how wise and kind I am by comparison. King Solomon, she isn’t. She’s a one-note piano with a bent wire. She sounds like she needs heavy meds, and pronto! Wouldn’t we all just leap at the chance to come back as her husband or son? I’d rather be eaten alive by a swarm of rats.
Do you remember your dreams?
I remember my dreams often, but not every single night. My dreams run the gamut of emotional response — from terror to euphoria. I write down most of the dreams I remember. They are usually very long & complicated & sometimes make perfect sense but sometimes don’t contain the slightest thread of logic. My favorite dreams are the ones I call “therapy dreams.” Often, when I’m upset or angry with someone, I’ll dream about that person & act out my feelings in the dream & achieve some sort of resolution which flows over into waking life & is vastly superior to any traditional therapy I’ve tried. I’ve done everything in my dreams — flown without mechanical aids, been wonderfully fluent in foreign languages, had phenomenal sex with friends & strangers & celebrities, lived as a member of the opposite sex, written best sellers, killed people… my dreams are in many ways the best part of my life because they’re absolutely limitless in scope & action & intensity. Sometimes dreams are a lot more “real” than real life & more enjoyable. Surrealist dreams are the most interesting — upon waking I always try to puzzle out what was the link between seemingly unrelated events or objects. I’ve even accurately prophesied the future in dreams. I tend to think it’s because the subconscious is free to express itself rather than any supernatural explanation. We’re just that smart when we’re not weighed down with all our conscious baggage. Thanks for asking about dreams!
What’s your Wu-Tang name?
What’s the deal with long hair?
You’re right, it is 40. Not 30. Sometimes long hair can make the face look thin & drawn, but that’s also true for teenagers. Some of them shouldn’t have long hair. On the other hand, I’ve seen old ladies in wheelchairs with long fluffy white hair & it can be quite charming. I think if you look good with it, who cares what the rules are?
What are five good things about springtime?
1. Getting the taxes filed & out of the way
2. Wanderlust & regular lust & spring fever
3. Plants waking up & showing off & intoxicated
4. Putting the hand lotion away till next year
5. Birds, bees, butterflies & bikini underwear
What are your irrational annoyances?
Noise, noise & noise. Ungrateful children who view me as their maid. Children who, rather than empty the trash, stuff the can so full you can’t get the bag out. Children who leave dirty dishes & empty snack containers scattered around the house. Children who are, currently either at the movies or sleeping. Thank you, God.
Does springtime make you horny?
Nope. For me the season of lust is definitely winter. But then, I live in Florida.
Why do you love your pets?
I love my pets because they’re far less demanding than my children.
What do you think of the name game?
I have a former sister-in-law who collects unusual names. A couple of her favorites are Shithead (pronounced Shi-THEED) and Lemonjello (pronounced Le-MON-jello). Also PsalmCIV (pronounced PIZUM-siv). These are actual legal names, no joke.
What do you think of magazines with articles titled “Ten Steps to a Killer Orgasm!”?
I used to read Seventeen as a child… then read Glamour as a young woman… then read Mirabella as a grown-up. It figures Mirabella went bust, it was the most intelligent in a sea of dreck. Redbook was pretty good until they quit publishing short fiction. Jane’s okay, but too young for me. I hate Martha Stewart but her magazine’s got the best art direction, I think. And I like when she runs those articles about 27 varieties of tomatoes, or whatever, with a poster illustration. Gourmet is an old classic, still living up to its past. Vanity Fair has great writing & an eclectic subject matter. Rolling Stone & Sports Illustrated also win for good writing that crosses subject lines. I find I don’t have enough time to read all the magazines I subscribe to — they languish in piles. W is nice just for the outsized format but their writing is negligible.
August in Florida
Outside, people crowd around water. Heat, the bright aqua of water, smell of chlorine and sun lotion. Coconut, spice. Young girls with slender hips, high breasts. Mincing, they walk barefoot over the burning concrete. Ankle bracelets. Hairless women, hairy men. Some men look vaguely female–lack body hair, possess slender torso, a feminine grace. They practice diving off the high platform, catapulting through the air like minor gods.
Spindly little children, bowlegged, one girl like a large walking doll, Wedgewood eyes, white skin, hair almost white, but so fierce. She puts her face in the water, proud of herself, comes up spitting, does it over and over. This girl’s mother, slim, pale body like a teenager’s, but her face red and sun-aged, enormous Southern twang. A former cheerleader, rural Georgia or Alabama. Lying on the blistering concrete, eyes closed, listening to the sounds of laughter and splashing. My sore back, the heat melting the ache away.
On the towel closest to me, a young girl, pretty, bleached blonde hair with dark roots showing, golden-brown string bikini that matches her skin, her perfect feet. Sudden thunder, the pool closed, into the locker rooms for 20 minutes. Live oaks, huge spread branches like arms reaching into the sky. The arms are shading, watchful. The oaks are like sentinels. The moss hangs like underarm hair. Young boys, thick and awkward, walk stiff-legged. They turn dark reddish-brown, but look silly next to the black kids. Tall, skinny black boy with red hair, a crew cut. His mama, a large woman in bright blue tank suit and neon orange shorts, matching neon bathing cap. Her earrings graze the sides of her neck. She isn’t ready to leave yet. He watches the girls, pretending not to.
Over there, a skinny, burnt woman with bad teeth, yet her daughters are so lovely, so young and fair and smooth. How did she produce them? A hippie girl with a blonde baby boy, crooning one minute, yelling the next, she holds him on her hip, sways in the sun. More and more women look like those prehistoric clay fertility figurines, heavy hanging breasts, stomach overlapping their thighs. I lie still and watch, lazy with the heat, my own weight.
Sisterlove, a short story
I was teaching my sister to drive that year. We had bought a weird old ’66 Barracuda, silvery-mauve color, and we’d spent weekends compounding the surface, getting ready to give it a coat of wax that would make it really shine. Vickie and I used the car to cruise the strip and troll for boys. My sister loved the boys. The boys loved my sister.
She had long hair, golden brown, with blonde ends. It turned green when she went swimming, then we’d cut the green parts off with nail scissors, her sitting on the toilet, me catching the hair in an ancient orange beach bucket. We’d leave the hair on the compost pile for the birds to line their nests with.
Vickie had gone crazy about this guy Michel she’d met over spring break, and all she could talk about was getting up to Canada to visit him. It might as well have been China. She was still a virgin, but crazy over the idea of sex. I pretended I didn’t care about boys in the slightest, but I did, maybe more than she did. I’d never had a real boyfriend, just a few short flings. Vickie was always falling in love, which made me sick to my stomach.
I was two years older. I was named Edna for my great-grandmother, but everyone called me Jessie, because for some reason that had been her nickname, too. I always wondered how they got Jessie out of Edna, but I was glad they had. Mom got really crabby whenever I asked her about the family history, she never showed old pictures, though we knew where they were, stuffed on the highest shelf of her closet, over the old college dresses she’d kept.
My mother was completely hippied out — she didn’t shave her legs or under her arms, and the compost pile was her altar. She didn’t pay much attention to us unless we were sick and then she was the most wonderful nurse in the world — even though she was a strict vegetarian she’d make us chicken broth with little stars, mostly stars so that it was more of a chicken pudding, a glob of butter oozing on the top. She’d spoon it into our open mouths like a mother bird.
Vickie and I liked to sneak into Mom’s room while she was at work, and dress up in her old clothes and look at her old pictures. She’d been married before she married our dad, straight out of college, and so we always tried to guess who he was from the pictures. Our favorite was the one of her going into a dance, frothy skirt and strapless bodice, her sharp collarbones like exclamation points underneath her satiny, satiny skin. She wouldn’t say, but we figured she’d had a pretty wild career, before we were born.
Neither of us were as pretty as Mom, though. We’d play all day with her makeup, trying and trying to get her look. It was no good — Vickie had her chin, I had her eyebrows, but there was too much of our dad in both of us, and this was unfortunate, because he was homely. Since Mom was drop-dead gorgeous, we came out average-looking.
Not that we didn’t get plenty of attention in our own way. We’d get in the Barracuda and drive up and down the beach road, honking at cute boys. Once in a while they’d motion us over, and we’d park, take our sandals off and hop across the burning sand to find out where they were from. Most were from Boston, a few from New York. We liked the Canadians best, they loved the sun so much they’d fry themselves, joyous to turn red and peel — they thought it looked so healthy. Sunscreen hadn’t been invented, we mixed iodine with baby oil and slathered it on.
Vickie and I had good skin, the kind that never burned, so we looked like Indians, and I’m not talking the American kind but the Hindus. Our brown legs shone — they were our best feature by far, all the boys said so. We learned to kiss from those sunburned Canucks. The ones from French Canada were the best, but they’d never write to you once they left. The other Canadian boys were all earnest and geeky and would write us millions of letters, which eventually we stopped even opening. Instead, we’d take them to the beach, put them in empty juice bottles, then cap them and throw them in the surf.
So, Vickie went more than a little nuts this time, started calling Michel in Montreal every night after Mom was asleep, and when the phone bill came she was put on restriction for a month. Mom yanked our bedroom phone out of the wall. I laughed, but Vickie cried, she was really serious about him. “Love isn’t real,” I told her. “Do you think this guy would ever, ever cry over you?”
“Michel loves me,” she said. “But now he’ll think I don’t love him and he’ll go back to his girlfriend.”
What had caught her eye first about Michel were the brilliant red scars on his back, streaky and painful-looking. We thought he’d been wounded playing hockey or something. His English was so bad, at first we thought he was kidding when we pointed to his back and asked what happened.
“My girlfriend,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and smiling. We were so dense, we didn’t know what he was talking about for days, until Vickie came across this ratty copy of the Joy of Sex while she was babysitting for our best client, a lady who danced Polynesian-style at a big tourist restaurant downtown.
“Scratches are given during the throes of passion,” she whispered over the phone.
“Bring the book home,” I said. Later that night, we snuck out of the bedroom window and went driving. I let her drive and held the book on my lap, reading it to her while we went up and down A-1-A, bending down and swigging our beer at the stoplights.
“His girlfriend scratched hell out of his back, and he let her do it,” I said. “He seemed happy about it, even.”
“He was,” she said. “Let’s drive to Canada.” She put her foot down hard on the gas and passed a couple of cars.
“No way,” I said. “We’d get caught before we got out of Florida.”
“I’m going,” she said. “I want to see him again. You can come if you want to.”
“This is insane,” I said. “You don’t even have your license.”
“There’s only one first time,” she said. “I want mine to be with Michel.”
“You’ve been loony over a dozen boys this past year,” I said. “How is this different? What makes you think this’ll last more than a week?”
“So what if it doesn’t?” she said, and the look in her eyes was fierce. “You’re missing the point.”
“The point is, we’ll be in jail,” I said.
“Where do you want me to let you out?” she said. She swerved over to the side of the road and slowed way down. Her hair rippled over her face like a million tiny whips. I knew I couldn’t let her go alone.
“God damn you,” I said, and she threw her head back and laughed.
“Hijacked by your baby sister,” she said.
“Hijacked by a victim of raging hormones,” I said.
“Damn right,” she said. “And deep down, you’re not any different.”
“Oh, yes I am,” I said. “I’d never drive to fucking Canada to lose my virginity.”
“I feel sorry for you, then,” she said.
“Shut up and drive,” I said. “The farther we get tonight, the better.”
“Mom is going to be so pissed,” she said.
I felt my stomach twirling with fear and excitement. “I would say Mom is the least of your problems.”