Author’s Note: Heads up. The following short story contains mature elements that may be offensive to some readers.
My name is Everett Law and people say I look like Jesus except that I sometimes wear wire-rimmed glasses and don’t particularly believe my salvation lies in a God gone awry. I work as a toy clerk at a five-story department store in a city that some people call New York. I just call it “The City.” I’m the product of a well-respected, yet cold and sterile family from Upstate and I have a snobbish younger sister named Emily who attends Columbia University and lives with a dude named Frost. I live in a posh apartment building overlooking Grundy Park only because my folks are good friends with the owner of the building and I get deeply discounted rent. The folks retch at the thought of me living in squalor, but I believe it’s not that they feel for me, it’s just they don’t want to be embarrassed.
My father, Edward, owns his own construction company and builds big, fancy homes in the Upstate for rich sophistos. He has a penchant for wearing colorful pants that are way too tight and ugly sweaters with stretched out neck holes. On weekends, he ignores my overbearing and nagging mother completely and retires to his cozy study at the house and sips mass quantities of brandy while thinking of ways to make more money. My mother, Evelyn, has never worked a day in her life and prides herself on having a clean house and taking care of the children, and though we are grown and gone, she coddles and berates us like younglings whenever she has the chance. Even now, in her early 50s, growing ever impatient for grandchildren, my mother keeps pestering my father to have another baby.
“No way,” he tells her. “You’re crazy. At your age it will just come out all messed up, and I don’t want to spend my remaining years dealing with that kind of wobbly-headed bullshit.”
I think she is a very unhappy wife and I suspect that she has had several unsuccessful and sad affairs with wealthy, married men over the years to fill the emotional gaps. I often wonder if Emily is really my full-blooded sister because she seems so different from the rest of us. She is beautiful, happy and full of life; successful in her art history studies at Columbia; an incessant social butterfly. I on the other hand, am an incessant social butternut squash, so I’ve actually been told.
Emily rarely visits me even though it wouldn’t be hard for her to do since we both live in the city. I think she considers me to be a failure and a flea. I believe Frost encourages her to avoid me. He’s a real uppity prick who is also studying at Columbia to be some grand architect. My father gets along with his sickening facade swimmingly and is already prodding him to fill my sister’s womb with his fine seed in order to produce a gaggle of grandchildren with superb genes. I’m sure the wedding will be grand and expensive and maybe I will even be invited to be an usher or at least to pass out slimy snacks at the reception.
So then it begins … It was a chilly and drizzly day when my mother came to visit. She brought me a pastrami sandwich from the deli around the corner and as I unwrapped it from the white paper and took a bite, she looked at me with grave concern.
“That’s right, eat the whole thing,” she said. “You’re too skinny. I don’t think you get enough to eat.”
“I eat just fine, mom. I’m young. Do you want me to be fat?”
“No, of course not. Fat people are … disgusting.”
“Some people are just fat. You don’t need to put them down for that.”
“Why are you defending fat people? It’s that job you have, I’m sure of it. You’re spending too much time around sickly and common people. You really need to go back to school and get a proper job.”
“So, why is it dad has never asked me to come work for the company? Why is it he just lets me go on being a toy clerk and then frowns upon it?”
“Now Everett, we’ve always encouraged you and Emily to make your own ways. Take a look at your sister. She’s chosen to stay in school and be successful, and you … well, you’ve chosen to be lazy, I suppose is the best way to put it. Besides, your father feels working at the company wouldn’t suit you, and I tend to agree with him.”
She shed her gloves as she slowly walked around my apartment waiting for me to snap at her for the remark. She ran her fingers across my furniture and looked at the dust with disgust.
“Don’t you ever clean in here?” she asked. “I should order you up a maid.”
“I don’t need a maid.”
“Well, at least I’m going to buy you some cleaning supplies.”
“What about Frost then? It seems to me dad’s giving him a free pass to the company and he’s nothing but a lousy phony.”
My mother stopped walking around and glared at me.
“Frost isn’t a phony. He happens to be a very ambitious young man with big plans for his life. You’d be wise to take some advice from him.”
“Why are you in the city?” I asked her, trying to change the subject.
She nervously wiped at the corners of her mouth and scratched her head.
“Christmas shopping,” she answered. “Anything special you want this year?”
“I could use some more socks. Heavy socks. My feet are always cold.”
“Socks? That’s hardly a Christmas present. That’s something dirty poor people get.”
“That’s all I want.”
“All right then. So be it – socks! I’m tired of trying to convince you to be a better man. It’s exhausting, Everett.”
“Are you going to visit Emily as well?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t worry about her as much lately. You on the other hand I worry about, quite a bit actually.”
“You don’t need to worry so much. I’m living my life as well as can be expected.”
“I can’t help it. It’s exactly the way you live that I don’t like.”
“What is it you don’t like about it? I’m your oldest child. Why don’t you just spill it then, eh?”
“You’re always alone Everett. I never hear of any friends or acquaintances. You don’t mingle with good people, Everett. Why don’t you mingle?”
“I’ve never been much of a mingler, Ma … and so what?”
“It’s not healthy, Everett … It’s not normal to be so solitary. I mean, you’ve never even brought a girl home. If you’re queer you can tell me. I won’t say anything to your father, I promise.”
“I’m not like that mom. There’s no girls I like. None of them are like … Jenny.”
“Jenny? Your little summer friend from Maine? Oh please, don’t start with that again. That was childhood foolishness at best. That’s all.”
“See, you don’t understand anything about me at all. You don’t even try to understand.”
My mother shook her head and sighed as she slipped her gloves back on.
“It’s a haphazard lesson in futility trying to talk with you,” she said. “I’m going now.”
She came to me and lightly hugged me, barely touching her cheek to my face.
“But you just got here,” I said.
“Yes, well, I have a lot to get done today.”
After my mother left and day had slipped into darkness, I sipped egg nog by the glow of lighter light as I smoked hashish from my wizard-shaped bong. I was in a place of absolute zero. It was sepia shades surrounded by dark shapes and silhouettes of the ones who whispered unseen. I went to the kitchen and turned on a bright light. They scampered off. There was a crescent-shaped heart, collapsed and bleeding on the door of the refrigerator as I reached out to pull the handle. I suddenly turned when I heard someone exhale. Grandma’s cigarette smoke still lingered in the air above the antique breakfast nook bench I kept at my table – the one with the worn away Hansel and Gretel stencils on the side showing them parading through sunny lands of grass before sneaking off behind a tree to kiss while a bone-chewing witch watched with interest, ugly and twisted hands down her torn skirt.
The antique breakfast nook bench was the one thing I got from my grandmother when she passed from this world. My mother didn’t want it. My sister didn’t want it. It was too beat up and worn for them, but I always liked it.
The bench reminded me of sunny summer mornings at my grandmother’s old pink house in a small town near the ocean in Maine. I would spend a few weeks with her in that old pink house every summer and I had my own room in the very back that looked out onto the yard and the gigantic pine tree that grew there. I got to know the kids in the neighborhood and we’d often run the streets and alleyways together and sometimes go down to the water’s edge and think about drifting off to the other side of the world. There was that girl named Jenny, the one I talked about. She looked like a pig-tailed Marcia Brady with braces on her teeth and sometimes we’d break away, just her and I, and walk along the beach holding hands and we’d pretend we were married. She was the first girl I kissed and it happened right under that big pine tree in grandma’s yard. It was a quick kiss but afterward I knew I was in love with her. It was always sad for me when I had to leave my few weeks of summer in Maine behind and go back home to start school again. When I returned to Maine for what would be my final summer there, the first thing I did was get on the bike my grandmother kept there for me and I rode around the neighborhood looking for Jenny. I went around and around and around the block, past her house, honking my bike horn in an effort to draw her out to me. I did that for nearly half a day before one of the neighborhood kids finally came outside and told me that Jenny had been killed in a car crash right before school let out for the summer break.
I was devastated and heartbroken and demanded to go back home. My father reluctantly agreed to arrange train passage back to New York and the whole way home after he picked me up from the station he berated me for being a “spoiled crybaby brat” and wondered why I “had to make things difficult for everybody” and how I was “causing a big inconvenience” for all parties involved. When we got to the house I jumped out of the car, told my father to “fuck off” and ran up to my room and stayed there for pretty much the whole summer, lying on my bed or looking out the window and thinking only of Jenny and all about her being dead.
But that was then and this was now and I peeled an orange and ate it.
It was around 7 p.m. when I decided I’d go pay Emily a surprise visit; I thought it might perhaps appease my mother a bit if I got out and talked with someone – even if it was just my sister.
I cut through Grundy Park. They had a gigantic Christmas tree all lit up right in the center of a makeshift ice rink and I stopped for a while and watched with the snow-dappled statues as all the happy people went round and round. All the smiles and laughing and holding of hands seemed foreign to me. There were grotesque public displays of affection too; kissing and hugging and the ol’ staring lovingly into each other’s eyes syndrome going on. I despised the tenderness, yet longed for it, too. I never told anyone and wondered about the damage of it myself as well, but Jenny was the one and only girl I ever kissed in my whole life. It was true, there had been no one at all since I was a wee lad in summertime Maine – how odd I really must be then, eh? Everett Law: Doped up NYU dropout and unsexed toy clerk of the most tarnished kind.
I thought about things out there in the evening chill of Grundy Park; sitting on a toadstool, what others would call a bench, ass half frozen and wondering if it was finally time I got bold and stepped up to the world and introduced myself: “Hi, I’m Everett Law, wanna fuck?” No, that would be inappropriate. Would it?
“Uncouth,” my mother would say.
“What are you? Some kind of damn rapist?” my father would say.
“Ew, gross. Never gonna happen,” my sister would say.
My sister. Sister, sister, sister. I never told anyone, but when we were younger she would come into my room on stormy nights and crawl into bed with me. She said she was scared and wanted to sleep with me until the storm passed. I let her of course, but on some nights she would put her hand into my pajama bottoms and touch me. I never knew what to do so I just lied there and let her do it. Eventually she would get too tired and drift off to sleep. Sometimes she would want to play the “Hansel and Gretel kissing game” and she would hover her face over mine, close her eyes and pucker up her lips. I’d roll away and she’d laugh at me and call me a “chicken shit queer” before bounding out of my room and down the hall back to her own room. We shared a bathroom and she’d often try to sneak in on me taking a bath by popping the lock on the doorknob with a bobby pin. I’d yell at her to “get out! get out! get out!” and she’d try to get a peek at me before laughing and running off. One time she snuck in when I was half submerged and sudsy and she put her hand in the water, right between my legs.
“Ew!” she screamed. ”Little boy Everett has a hard one! He has a hard one!” and she ran out laughing; always she was laughing.
As I thought about it more, I tallied up all the times my sister tried to seduce me when we were young. It must have been close to one hundred, and I feverishly rejected every one of her awkward lusty advances. What was it that was going on inside her head and body and why did I lack the same … should I call it, enthusiasm? Was it childhood damage? Curiosity? Premature animalistic urges in high gear? And now I wondered why she despised me so as an adult when she once was so quick to offer herself up to me. What tainted her taste for me? And what was I going to do about it? That’s what I was going to find out.
Frost had a cozy place on the Upper West Side and that is where Emily lived. I stood outside the building of reddish-brown brick, ashen in the night, and looked at it. The windows were all aglow with light and I could see the shapes of people milling about beyond the curtains. There was some loud talk and laughing and I figured it was a party. My first instinct was to turn and walk away. I don’t care for society and didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of some beautiful Columbia sophistos. Then I saw Frost step out of the door. He stood there for a bit in the cold and then lit up a cigarette. Then he saw me, or someone like me.
“Hey there. Who is that lurking about out here? Geno? Is that you?”
I stepped into a circle of light.
“No Frost. It’s me, Everett.”
“Everett? What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to see my sister. Is she here?”
He eyed me suspiciously as he exhaled cigarette smoke and wiped at his fancy wool coat. He tossed his head back and his thick and annoying blonde locks waved in the wind.
“She’s inside. But we’re having a party. A private Christmas party. It’s not a good time, Everett. Maybe you should just call her on the phone later.”
“I’ve come all this way though, I’d rather speak to her in person. Couldn’t I just come in for a bit, I won’t stay long. It’s cold out here.”
Frost tossed his cigarette butt onto the walk and looked me over, then reluctantly motioned for me to follow him back inside. The place was gently roaring with the mumbly wumblings of perfect brains encased inside perfect faces wearing perfect clothes talking about their perfect lives. When I walked into the main room I could physically feel the gasps leak out of their insides. Some halfheartedly smiled, others quickly glanced my way and then just as quickly turned away. The girls though, mostly the pretty and shimmering girls, they were the ones that broke into mild laughter and then whispered among themselves. It was very uncomfortable for me and I pulled on Frost’s sleeve.
“Where’s Emily?” I asked him. “Where’s my sister?”
“Hey! You’re going to stain my coat with your filthy hands. Look in the kitchen … and then beat it, man.”
I pressed my way through a cluster of chattering people and into the deep kitchen at the back of the place. I stood in the doorway and saw Emily; she was huddled around an island with two other chicks, sipping wine and talking like they were drunk. She nearly dropped her glass when she noticed me standing there.
“Everett? What in the hell are you doing here?”
“I wanted to talk to you is all. I wanted to pay you a visit. It’s been a while.”
She set down her glass, whispered something in secret to the chicks there and then came over to me.
“This is just weird, Everett. I mean, you haven’t been here since we moved in. Is something wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. Mom was by my place today and it just got me thinking about things.”
“How do you feel about me, sister?”
“Feel about you? What do you mean? You’re my brother … I care about you of course, but … it’s not like we’ve been all that close for a long time.”
“I wanted to ask you … When we were young and you used to try and fool around with me. You know, how you said playing like Hansel and Gretel? … What about all that?”
She pulled me aside and led me into a small room that led out to the back. It was cold and quiet and I could smell her expensive perfume and the wine on her mouth.
“Everett! What is wrong with you? Why would you come here tonight, of all nights, and talk to me about this? Did you say something to mother? Does she know?”
“No. I said nothing to her. Like I was saying, I was just thinking about things, when I was in the park and I saw everyone there … groping and kissing.”
“That was a long time ago, Everett. I was just being a stupid little sister who happened to be curious about sex. I was just playing around. I never realized it bothered you so much.”
“It wasn’t so much that it just bothered me. It was more like I felt there was something wrong with me because I had no impulses to act.”
“Oh Everett. There’s no need to worry about any of that anymore. You’re over thinking it. You acted perfectly normal. But I have to get back to my party now; why don’t you call me next week, before Christmas, and we’ll get together for lunch or something.”
Emily put her arms around me and hugged me close. It was something my sister rarely did, but it felt good, it felt safe, it felt necessary. But when she pulled away and looked up at me, that’s when my heart began to thud and I let everything in my guts just go and I went for my sister’s parted lips and forced a kiss on her.
She made a gruesome noise and pushed me back against a wall.
“Everett!? Why did you kiss me like that?”
“I needed to know what I missed, sister.”
“Everett, I think you need to go home right now. I’m worried about you. I think you need to see someone.”
“A doctor, Everett. You need to talk to someone. A professional.”
“I’d rather talk to you, sister.”
“Don’t talk to me that way! It’s creeping me out when you call me ‘sister.’”
“But you are my sister … aren’t you?”
“Everett please, go home. I don’t know what you are talking about, but now is not the time or place. Call me next week.”
Emily forcefully dragged me back into the bright lights and cheery noise of the party and then straight to the front door where she pushed me out and I felt more cold and alone than ever when I heard the lock turn before I walked off into the night.
I went to the nearest station and boarded the ghost train that burrowed through the belly of the city. I sat down in a grimy seat and the lights flickered as metal bore down on metal and suddenly I noticed a bug-eyed black man wearing an Army green trench coat sitting across from me. He was holding a stick and his head wobbled with the motion of the subway car and he just stared at me, through me and beyond.
“What’s the stick for?” I asked him. “Gonna whack someone?”
He blinked slowly and barely grinned and then he started barking at me like a dog.
“Arf! Arf! Arf!” he went, and I got up and moved to another part of the train and sat down close to a window. I looked out at the rushing, mad world and thought about how foolish I had been for pressing my very own sister into an act of inappropriate affection. She must of thought I was a real loon and probably couldn’t wait to tell her lover and confidant, Frosty The D-Bag, all about it. That would surely lead to a leak to my father about the whole incident and then … I’d be disowned for good, lose my apartment and probably be locked up for being an unstable perv.
But even though I was feeling weird about the whole situation with my sister, I could not deny that the kiss felt good; hell, it felt wonderful, and I’d probably do it again if I had half the chance. Ugh, what was I thinking!? I pressed my hands to my head in an effort to keep my mind from leaking out all over the dirty floor of the train. And it was tunnel, tunnel, tunnel and I suddenly felt the need to get off. Next stop. I exited and up I went into the chill of city night in a place I didn’t really know. It was bright and bustling. Tailpipes of autos steamed. The people there hissed and meandered. I saw a coffee shop and went in. It was noisy and crowded but I found a place at the counter and ordered up a hot cup of joe. It burned my lips like Emily’s kiss. I sipped and thought … I needed more. The lust machine inside me had been ignited and I didn’t know how to turn it off. The blondie waitress wiped the space before me and I admired her entire essence. My belly began to burn with that sensation of just letting go again and making a move on her. I began to sit up and lean in her direction.
“Watch it asshole, or you’ll be wearing that coffee on your face,” she snapped.
Shut down I was and I retreated. She scowled at me and her gum-chewing mouth stretched to reveal utter bitterness toward me. I suddenly realized that accosting total strangers for a quick thrill wasn’t going to be all that easy.
“You want anything else? We got people waiting for your stool,” the waitress said.
I bowed my head and stared into my half-empty cup of coffee.
“No. I’ll be going now … wait, maybe just a kiss.”
Her eyes lit up and she sorta smiled as she looked around the joint. People started cheering and clapping and I noticed her face turned red.
“Aw, just give the lad a kiss! It’s nearly Christmas for crying out loud!” someone shouted.
“All right, all right,” she nervously spewed from under the pressure. “One kiss, but don’t you other fellas think this is going to go on all night now.”
My mind shut out all the hootin’ and hollerin’ as the waitress leaned in and gave me a sweet, slippery smooch that lasted much longer than I expected. When our lips finally parted, she kind of rolled her eyes and put the back of her hand to her forehead like she was overheated.
“Ooh baby,” she said. “You gotta give me your number.”
The whole place erupted with laughter and the hoisting of cups and I felt a bit embarrassed yet overjoyed as I put some money down on the counter, took a final sip of my coffee and walked back out into the street.
I was just in time to see the cops arrest an argumentative guy who wasn’t wearing a shirt. The reds and blues were popping and a crowd began to gather on the sidewalk.
“What’s happening?” I asked some quirky little chick wearing a long black coat, furry boots and a pointy stocking cap with a tail that went halfway down her back.
“There was some kind of fight. Those two guys. I think it was over a girl because she’s over there crying.”
“Ah. Well, my name’s Everett. Whatcha got there all wrapped up in those towels?”
“It’s a baby, and they’re not towels, they’re little blankets. I’m Helen.”
“It’s nice to meet and greet you sweet Helen Corvair. Do you live around here?”
“Not far. You?”
“I reside near Grundy Park,” I boasted to her. “Do you know of it?”
“That’s a pretty nice part of the city. Are you a doctor?”
“Actually, I’m a gynecologist.”
“Really? I was just kidding. You look nothing like a doctor.”
“So was I, but I think I’d like to give a go at being a gynecologist.”
Her baby began to cry and she gently rocked it back and forth.
“Why don’t you put that thing down somewhere and we’ll go get something to eat,” I said.
“Excuse me? Are you fucking serious?”
“Nah. I guess you couldn’t really do that.”
“No, I couldn’t. Boy, I think you’d make a lousy gynecologist.”
We started walking together without really talking about it and the baby started to settle down.
“Do you like Chinese food?” she asked. “There’s a great little place a few blocks down called the Mandarin Bistro. They’ve got the best General Tso’s chicken I’ve ever eaten.”
“Are you serious? You really want to eat food … with me?”
“Sure. Why not? I’m a wandering spirit open to other wandering spirits. I can tell that about you.”
“I’m not too sure about that. I’m kind of a weird wandering spirit.”
“The weirder the better,” she said with an innocent and shining smile.
“You know who you remind me of?” I said to her.
“Who the hell is Simka Gravas?”
“You know, Latka’s wife on that old television show called TAXI.”
She crinkled her nose and shook her head.
“No. Sorry. Never saw it.”
“Oh, you got to come over to my place some time because I got the whole series on DVD and it’s just great, fucking great. We’ll smoke some fine hashish and it will be the funniest thing you’ve ever seen. I just love Louie DePalma’s comic antics.”
She got quiet and looked down at the sidewalk.
“What’s the matter? Was I being offensive?” I asked her.
“No. But what about my baby?”
“Can’t you get a babysitter or something? Or just bring it with you. We’ll just put it in a box on the floor.”
She laughed out loud.
“Oh man, you are one funny young turk. I like that. And my baby is a boy. His name is Maine.”
“I dig that name. So, what do you think?”
“Let’s just get through dinner and then I’ll decide,” she answered.
We got a booth and she carefully set the baby down on the red vinyl seat and opened up the menu.
“What’s the baby gonna eat? Beef and broccoli?” I asked.
She peered at me over the edge of the menu and rolled her sparkling green eyes in a silly way.
“No silly. Milk.”
“A glass of milk?”
“No. Mother’s milk.”
And that’s when the baby began to fuss and Helen unleashed one of her perfect breasts right there at the table, picked up Maine and pressed him to her nipple. I watched in queer wonder as the baby eagerly sucked.
“Aren’t you going to look at the menu?” Helen asked me.
“No. I think I’ll follow your recommendation and get the General Tso’s chicken.”
She smiled and said, “I think you’ll like it.”
It was a few minutes later when a tall, skinny Chinese dude came to the table and looked at Helen breast-feeding the baby.
“I’m sorry. You cannot do that here,” he said to her.
“Do what?” she asked with a hint of annoyance.
The Chinese man pointed at her breast.
“That,” he said. “Other customer complain.”
Helen looked around the restaurant and there were a couple of uptight, old sophistos glaring at her from a nearby table.
“It’s my baby and I can feed him wherever and whenever I want. Could you please take our order?”
“No. You go to restroom if you want to do that. Not out here where everybody see.”
“I’m not going to feed my baby in some filthy bathroom. Could you just take our order please?”
“No. Our restrooms clean. Perfect for little baby.”
“I’m sorry, but I refuse to be herded into a toilet stall to do something that’s perfectly beautiful and natural. I don’t care how clean your bathrooms are, I’m not doing it!”
The lady sophisto from the nearby table craned her neck and looked over at us.
“Please miss,” she said. “We’re trying to enjoy our dinner. There’s no need to make a scene. Can’t you just take your baby outside and do that?”
“It’s freezing cold out there you dumb old hag! Why don’t you go eat your dinner outside!? See how you like it, huh!”
The woman scowled in disgust and turned back to her plate. She mumbled something to her husband and then they suddenly got up and walked out. Helen looked down at her son and then over at me in a quiet plea for advice.
“Why don’t we just go somewhere else,” I said to her. “I want to eat dinner, not get into an argument.”
Helen looked displeased as she popped the baby’s head off her breast, set him down and put herself back together.
“All right,” she said. “We can go.”
Helen’s pace was more brisk when we got back outside and I struggled to keep up with her.
“Is there something wrong?” I asked as I rushed to step in front of her.
“Yes,” she sternly said. “You could have at least defended me a little bit back there. Jesus, what kind of a man are you?”
“I guess not much of one, but really, you got to give me a break. I mean, I just met you and it isn’t even my baby.”
“It shouldn’t matter,” she hissed.
“Look, there’s a pizza place. Why don’t we just go in, have a pie and some root beer and just chill out for a while. I’m still hungry.”
Helen moved her head in a wayward way as she thought about it.
“All right,” she finally said. “And I’m sorry I snapped at you. It’s just all these judgmental pricks piss me off so much! I shouldn’t take it out on a seemingly decent guy like you.”
She smiled and then leaned into me and pressed her wet lips to my cold cheek.
“I’m really sorry,” she said.
The pizza place was half empty and we got a booth at the very back. The place was very woody and decorated in a lot of red neon and vinyl and the tables were topped with linens that resembled Yassar Arafat’s head garb and the coziness made me want to hug him. The baby fell asleep as we looked over the menu.
“So, what about the father then. Where is he?” I asked her.
She fumbled around inside her head for an answer.
“I don’t know,” she said, biting at her bottom lip.
“I’m sorry. Did he run out on you?”
“No. I mean … I don’t know who the father is.”
“How can you not know who the father is?”
Helen reached across the table and touched my hand.
“I’m going to tell you something and afterward if you want to just get up and leave you can. I won’t blame you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Everett … I got pregnant at a sex party.”
I was stunned by her open confession and really wasn’t sure what to say. I stared at her pretty face for a long time and I could tell she was on the verge of tears.
“Jesus. That’s pretty heavy stuff,” I finally said.
She withdrew her hand and rubbed under her eyes with a knuckle.
“There were probably thirty people there and everyone was having sex with everyone and most of the time I had no idea who was inside me because it was nothing but wet flesh pressed against wet flesh and some of the guys there, some of the guys, Everett, they wore masks over their faces. One of the rules was that the guys were supposed to wear protection, but that didn’t last very long once things got really hot and before I knew it I was getting filled up by one dude after another and it got to the point where I was so drunk on lust that I just didn’t care anymore and I kept begging for more, more, more! … And well, nine months later little Maine here came along.”
“Wow. That’s one of the wildest things I’ve ever heard,” I said to her. “Have you decided what kind of pizza you want?”
She half smiled and looked at me, puzzled and confused.
“Did you hear what I said? I got pregnant at an orgy.”
Someone in the restaurant coughed and cleared their throat.
“Yes. I heard you. I like sausage and black olives. How about you? Well, obviously you like sausage, but what about the black olives?”
Helen’s pretty mouth dropped open and she shook her head.
“Yes. That sounds fine, I guess … I can’t believe you’re being so understanding about this. I’m shocked, unless of course, this is all a joke.”
“It’s no joke, Helen. Look, I like you. I was attracted to you the first moment I saw you out on that sidewalk where the fight was. Hell, I even like your baby. Where he came from or what you did to get him is really no concern of mine. But let’s just say that if we did indeed start seeing each other on a regular basis, I would probably frown upon you going to orgies, unless of course, you invited me along.”
“Wowsa back to you,” she said. ”You’re really an open-minded dude.”
“Hey, I’m going to go up to the counter and order our pie. Don’t wander off.”
“I won’t,” she said with a wonderful smile.
After polishing off a large sausage and black olive pizza and a pitcher of root beer, I convinced Helen to get into a cab with me and go to my apartment to watch TAXI.
“I think it’s funny that we’re in a taxi on our way to watch TAXI,” I said to Helen and I nudged her side with my elbow.
She looked over at me and smiled like she was scared.
“Hey driver, have you ever seen the television show TAXI?”
His eyes went to the rear-view mirror and he shook his oily head.
“No sir, I have not.”
“Well, you really should,” I said, and I was so happy at that moment that I laughed out loud for the very first time in a very long time.
“Are you all right?” Helen asked.
“Yes, I’m fine. I’m just really enjoying our time together. Aren’t you?”
“I suppose I’m just a bit tired. Motherhood is exhausting.”
I turned to the window, covered my mouth with my hand and mumbled, “I guess you should have thought of that before you spread your legs for a bunch of strangers.”
“Did you say something?”
“No. Just admiring this fabulous city.”
When the driver reached my building, I hopped out and went to the other side of the car and opened the door for Helen. She got out, cuddling Maine, and looked around in wide wonder.
“Wowsa,” she said. “This looks like a really wonderful place!”
“It is,” I replied, and I paid the cabbie and waved him off. “I think you’ll really enjoy it. And right over there is Grundy Park. Maybe sometime soon we could take Maine ice skating over there.”
“Don’t be silly, he can’t ice skate.”
“Well, then we’ll set him on a bench and he can watch us ice skate.”
She laughed and playfully bumped her body into me.
When we got inside, Helen wandered all over my apartment going “wow, wow, wow” while I turned on the fireplace and set up the television and my wizard-shaped bong.
“If the baby’s cold, you can set him over here by the fire,” I said to her as she disappeared into my bedroom and then came out.
“I really like your place, Everett. It’ way better than mine.”
“Do you want to take a couple of hits before the show starts.”
“Um, I don’t know. What about Maine? I think I need to lie him down so he can sleep.”
“Set him over there on the kitchen counter.”
“No, he might fall off.”
“How come you care so much about this bastard kid?”
“Everett! He may be a bastard, but he’s my little bastard.”
She nuzzled his face with her nose and then set him down on the end of my long couch. She surrounded him with some of my throw pillows and covered him with a baby blanket.
“He’ll be all right for a while, just don’t play the TV too loud,” she said.
I ripped a good one off the bong and passed her the tube.
“Watch yourself, it’s pretty strong stuff.”
It wasn’t long before we were both pretty high and laughing hysterically as Louie DePalma tried to recite romantic poetry to Elaine Nardo in the taxi garage. I put my arm around Helen and pulled her close to me. I watched in the haze of the television glow as her face lit up when she smiled. It was funny to me that I had suddenly become so comfortable with someone; even a stranger and a slut. It was even more odd to me that I felt a glow inside that wasn’t just pain and agony, and that maybe I wasn’t so different from all those romantic whirling dervishes out there on the ice in Grundy Park after all. I turned her soft face to me and kissed her gently before she fell under the spell of a sound sleep. I left her there on the couch and in the morning when I got up and came out of my room, I noticed she was gone but that Maine was still there sleeping. My heart pounded and I ran down to the lobby and out the door in my pajamas just in time to see Helen hailing a cab in the morning sunlight.
“Hey Helen!” I yelled, “What are you doing!?”
She saw me, smiled and waved.
“I’m going to get us breakfast,” she called out. “Because I think I love you.”
“Be sure to bring back an English muffin for the baby!” I called back to her.
Her face lit up when she laughed and I watched as she got into the taxi and rode away.