Fiction and Drama
The Bed Moved
There were film majors in my bed—they talked about film. There were poets, coxswains, guys trying to grow beards.
“Kids get really scared if their dad grows a beard,” I said.
Finally, I had an audience. I helped a pitcher understand the implications of his team’s hazing ritual. I encouraged indecisive dancer/premeds to double major. When a guy apologized for being sweaty, I got him a small towel. I made people feel good.
Then I took a break. Then I forgot that I was taking a break. Spring was here. Jake was here. Also Josh. One dancer/premed dropped medicine, just did dance. He danced with honors.
“Mazel tov,” I said.
The bed moved. Movers moved it. Movers asked what my dad did, why he wasn’t moving the bed.
New guys came to the bed. New guys had been in the Gulf War, had been bisexual, had taken out teeth, had taken out ads. Musical types left CDs with their names markered on—I kept a pile. I was careful not to smudge them, scratch them. (Scratch that, I wasn’t careful.)
“So many musicians in this city,” I observed, topless.
Boxer shorts were like laundry even on their bodies. Guys burrowed in my sheets, popped up, smiled. Did I have something? Did I have anything? Afterwards, cell phones jingled.
“No, wait, that’s mine.”
Be Bop, Mariachi Medley, Chicken Dance, Die Alone.
I rang and jangled around town. Nervous, I felt nervous. It was mariachi in the trains, or else just one guy playing “La Bamba.” Some days, I lost it, banged my face against the bed. Be easy, girl, I thought. Be bop. Something was definitely wrong with me—I never called myself “girl.” I played CDs, but CDs by artists who had already succeeded. They had succeeded for a reason. They weren’t wasting time in my bed. One did pass through the bed, to brag. He had been divorced, had met Madonna. He asked if this was what women were like now.
“What do you mean, now?”
I didn’t know what women were like now. I don’t know now. I’m only one. The others would be mad if I spoke for them. The others are already mad.
On the Bus
On the bus, I was jealous. I was jealous of the girl in front of me, and I was jealous of the girl diagonal. I was jealous of the elderly Chinese woman, sleeping by the window. It was the Chinatown bus. The bus was taking me to see a guy who had come to see me twice, a guy who held doors, a guy who told me I was cute like he was trying to ward something off. He would find all these girls cute. Any of us could step off the bus and be his girlfriend.
By the time I got off the bus, I was done with him. He was there anyway, waiting to take my bag. The problem was, it was his birthday. I had a box of Italian cookies and a card I had written on the bus.
“You are special,” I had written. It was the only thing I could think of that wasn’t a lie. Everyone was special.
“I hope you like cookies . . .” I had added. That was a lie. I knew he liked cookies. The cookies were in one of those white boxes that make baked goods seem promising.
“Some may have broken on the bus,” I said.
“I can’t wait,” he said. He really liked cookies. What else did I know about him? He cared about real estate. His mother was dead. So was my dad. Cookies and real estate. I did not care. This was my first boyfriend since the last one.
Does it matter that we were in Boston? We had to stay at his dad’s house in Newton, since my unwanted boyfriend wouldn’t rent an apartment. He only wanted to own. I wanted to meet the dad, but we got in too late. We put the white box on the white countertop, an island bisecting the kitchen, just like in my mother’s house. His dad had the same cheeses in the refrigerator, the same jams. The house had the same quiet.
On a bright square of printer paper, the dad had left me a note, a note that maybe needed a comma.
“I made a reservation for tomorrow,” said the son. It was actually only almost his birthday.
“For all of us?” He’d mentioned father, sister, maybe grandpa.
“No, just us.”
I didn’t know his father, his sister, or his grandpa, but there had been a chance they’d be people I’d like to know. I wanted to watch him with people he didn’t find cute. Maybe I could blend into those people. Though maybe he found his sister cute—not unfeasible.
“I’m going to have one.” He opened the white box, and held up the kind with a fruit center, the dark womb of cookie.
“I wanted to meet your sister.”
I wouldn’t. After the birthday ended, I was getting on a bus going the other way. Still, I liked the idea of the sister.
He tiptoed to get something from the pantry, and I watched his pants, dark gray with a little stretch in them. He shook a box of cereal. I saw that he wasn’t a boy, my boyfriend, but a small, clean man. He had come straight from work. Work was law. Real estate was his area. He had a client dying of AIDS who was suing his sister over a house they’d both inherited. I liked him best when he talked about the case.
“Hey,” I said over dinner with just us, “when you turned 20, did you care about real estate then?”
We were high up on plump cushions, intimidated by our steaks.
“I guess. Sure.” He started to cut a piece.
“How about when you were 16?” I looked at my knife, fork, perfect on the white cloth. I didn’t want to bloody them. It occurred to me that he would pay for dinner and that the paying would matter after I dumped him. I was taking pains to wait until the birthday was over, but unless I waited a week, it would still be his birthday. And he would have paid even if I had broken up over dinner, to show that he would.
“No, then I wanted to make films, I guess—documentaries.”
“What did you want to document?”
“I wasn’t thinking about what I would shoot. My mother.”
Documentarian—that’s what everyone wants to be before they decide to be something else. It’s a good imagined profession. Creative, yet factual. Lions, yet poor people. Shots through the grass, the hut, the chewing beast. Or snakes that don’t chew, that just suck the bump down.
My bag was on the floor, clothes erupting out of it, starting their sprawl across the carpet, underwear puddling in the jeans. I was at the door, pushing in the lock, but it would not catch.
“My dad’s sleeping,” he said. “He’s not going to come in here.”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said, and went down the hall and peed, peed through the swell, then washed my hands with a gray ball of soap. I had never had a boyfriend that I hadn’t liked. The one I’d had before this, I had liked him a lot. He was captain of his street hockey team. He carried his stick around, even on days when there was no practice, even though he was 33. He probably still carries it around.
Back in the guest room, I said, “Listen.” I said, “I feel.” He backed onto the guest bed, pulled me on with him to stop “I feel.”
“OK,” I said. He smiled. We were still on. It was still his birthday. The track lighting lit the wine scabbed on his lip, made his mouth look a little bloody in the corner. I sat on his mouth. That had happened every time since we’d met a month before, and made it feel like we’d known each other longer.
“Keep going,” I said. It was my version of “Don’t stop.”
“Good!” I said.
“You’re doing great,” I said.
“Can you breathe?” I said.
He hummed. I decided not to come.
“Thanks,” I said, climbing off his head. “You were doing great stuff, but I feel a little nauseous right now.”
“From the wine?”
“A little. I’m not going to vomit.”
He tried to make it up with a snuggle, a hair-stroke/whisper combination. I felt sorry for myself for all the times I had been on the other side, oblivious. It wasn’t just with the hockey captain. There were others, guys who’d let me hopelessly cuddle them for months, years. How had they let me go on, me not knowing what they knew? In return, I’d agree to let them be depressed.
Nobody had ever liked anybody.
Pick a Fish
He had found me on the internet, and now I was going back to the internet. He could know me through my college newspaper quotes (“The new student center is a costly mistake”), could check to see if I had added a new favorite movie, if I was growing my hair.
I am growing it. Maybe that will make this easier on him, my hair edging out from under, unblond. I wasn’t blond for very long—it doesn’t take that long to be blond. Long enough to make some mistakes. I was once a real blond—tiny, enthroned on shoulders, dangling little white shoes, the kind kids have been wearing since shoes started. It was a mistake to try to get that back. It got me the wrong guy. The internet is full of them.
Pics of them at sunset somewhere. Their favorite books that meant something to them. Them just wanting someone to make them laugh, stay up all night laughing.
Me, blond in my pic, at an impromptu street fair, also wrong, but he had found me there, in between trips to the copy machine, where he was xeroxing fish, fish pics for a calendar about fish. He worked for a calendar company, and in my pic, I was clutching a fish in a baggie, jubilant in a tube top (I had won the fish), and he was thinking about fish: September’s Fighter, October’s Monk. He was thinking about time, xeroxing next year’s October when it wasn’t even this year’s October—how much time since he had had a girlfriend, before he could break for lunch, the amount of time he spent online at work, was it wrong? He was thinking about fish. I was blond, tubed, a winner of fish. It was time for a girl like me. He clicked.
I answered, volleyed back his better jokes, introduced new queries. We exchanged additional pics—me reading at an unusually flattering angle, him toasting the end of the calendar year. We exchanged birthtowns, sibling counts. We mentioned coffee, but decided on drinks. Coffee always gets mentioned. Drinks always win.
Time passed. I arrived—not tube-topped or jubilant, but cardiganned and nauseous, on time. I slurped an icy gin. I retold some of my best stories, without remembering why they were important. In “Every Foreign Country I Visit Reminds Me of Long Island,” I forgot to say that’s where I’m from. In “The Summer I Spent Working with Pigeons,” I left out the lab assistant with the hyperactive thyroid. I left out Jen. He bit anyway. Soon we were negotiating—maybe we should go somewhere, and where should we go? Somewhere.
Jen had huge, pop-out eyes, like a fish. She had cystic acne, defeated breasts, a crush on our mentor, Dr. Walikson. She believed in comparative cognition, distrusted Freud. She taught me the milk ratio in Dr. W’s coffee. She taught me that a lot.
My date and I didn’t go to bed that night. We started dating instead. Then we went to bed. Bed was fine, bed was bed, except the one time he held his hand over my mouth. That was pretty good. I think it was an accident, though, because I never saw that hand again.
Xerox that hand, I should have said. Make me twenty copies. I’ll tell the pigeon story with all the good parts, with the Skinner boxes and the pellets and the time I caught the bird that escaped using just a flashlight and my hand.