We hire a babysitter, a kid we would tell never ever to do drugs, and we leave our kid with her while we play cards and get fucked up. It goes on all night. They other couple, Sandy and Tom, have been together about as long as their kid is old, about five years. Us, we’ve got a baby. We’ve only been together three years, but have known each other a long time. When we met we were with other people. Sandy and Tom got married when she got pregnant. We’re still not. We just have a baby.
I don’t know them. Jessie does. Sandy is Jessie’s friend, which puts me in that position of being a grown man on play date with another man. Jessie says she knows we’ll get along. I don’t know anything about Tom, except that when Sandy met him – right before he got her pregnant – he was in an abusive gay relationship.
What kind of man gets himself hit by another man? I say to Jessie.
You don’t know what goes on in other people’s homes, she says.
After getting himself fucked by that man? I add.
She gives me a look. Jessie stands by the kitchen window with it open a crack and smokes out through the screen. Her boobs are still giant, still coming down. We feed the baby formula, which is probably good, because otherwise the baby would be getting a shitload of xanax and hydrocodone.
The baby wakes up wailing and the babysitter comes right after that. I watch the two women negotiate the little body, the writhing, and the drool. The babysitter is one of those frumpy androgynous college kids in sweats and a ponytail. Too hard to sexualize. The baby calms down when she picks her up though. That’s good.
Sandy and Tom’s house is a double-wide, and sits next to a huge fallow field. It’s the only house around there. The next one down is way down. Too far to see. When we pull up, there are thirteen deer in the field. It’s not yet dusk, and their big bodies are out there like shadows in the late sun. I count them.
There are thirteen deer, I say. Jessie drives. She is slightly less fucked than I am right now. In the backseat, the baby’s seat jingles with all the shit we hang on it to keep her amused, a mirror, some bells, a stuffed smiling monkey. It’s like no one’s ever allowed to be alone, to just be, staring into space for a minute.
No there aren’t, Jessie says.
Yes. Yes there are. I count them again. And again. Thirteen.
They did this to my dad, too, I think. The shit to amuse you. All over his hospital room. Bells and trinkets. Mirrors and picture of flowers, puppies, mountain streams. Anything to distract you from the fact that you are dying. Anything to look at that is not your own blue feet at the end of the bed.
When we get out, Jessie stands and looks over the top of the car, squinting into the field. Weird, she says. Her face has that serene glaze. I wonder what else she is thinking.
Tom has a mustache. It’s all I can look at, think about. For a minute, while he is talking, I think that it’s moving, the hairs like legs on a big bug, waving, walking over the top of his mouth. His mouth, which has held a cock. I get a shiver, and my arms go all goosebumps. When he smiles, he shows a gold tooth, off to the side. An eye tooth.
Knocked out, he says, when he sees that I see it. He points. In a fight. He shrugs. Asks if I want a beer.
I follow him into the kitchen. It’s a weird peacock blue with white cupboards. It doesn’t match the plain brown of the rest of the house. Tom says, without me asking, that they let the kid pick the color. There’s a red rug and a litter box off to the side. I think I’m tripping out, but I see a rabbit come into the room, hopping, and go over to the litter box. He uses it like a cat. It’s a big rabbit. Red.
Tom looks at it and it comes over and paws his leg to be picked up. Sandy taught him, he says to me. He picks it up, and holds it to his neck, massaging the scruff. Its nose does its rabbit thing, moving. I have to rub my eyes, and then I take a long swig of beer. He’s got bottles, Killian’s Red. Jessie and me, we usually drink cheap. Cans. Busch and Utica Club. We buy them by the thirty rack.
That ok? Tom asks me. He puts the rabbit down and it hops into the living room. He reopens the fridge and cocks his hip a little when he does. He’s real skinny in his jeans. One of those guys who just looks like a pair of pants with a belt. I got some others, he says, if that’s not.
It’s good, I say. I like it. I do.
They put the dining room table by the fire place and Tom gets it going, down there on his knees, with his bony ass sticking out. He builds it up good, a big fire, not smoky, and pulls the screen shut. The rabbit stretches out along the top of the couch. Jessie laughs when she sees me looking at it.
They have the table set for cards, and smoking, and drinking. There are coasters and a glass pipe, blue with white honey combs and a white flowery head. The table is old, heavy oak with legs that all come together and have paws on the ends of them.
Tom claps his hands together. Shall we? he says.
It shouldn’t, but it bugs the shit out of me.
We play hearts. I’ve played it, but I’m better at spades. They keep a book, a notebook for scores and they draw pictures and talk shit in there too. We come up with names. Whenever I’ve played spades we just have names like guys against girls or maybe, maybe if we’re feeling it we go with something like studs and sluts. But Tom says you have to have a good name to play.
So, go, Sandy says to him. She sits down and I sort of notice her then. She’s little and blonde. She’s wearing soft white, a sweater that looks furry and a delicate gold necklace. I watch her pack the bowl right up to the rim.
Where’s um, where’s your kid? I ask her.
Oh, oh, she says. She looks up and smiles. She’s got super straight teeth. I wonder if she was a pageant girl or something in high school. He’s at my mom’s, she says. We’re good. She smiles again, wrinkles her nose, hands me the bowl.
Tom picks Charlemagne as his name and I snort out smoke. Fucking what? I say, and Sandy laughs real hard.
Charlemagne, he says again and then tells me to pick a king.
How about John? I say. King John.
Real inventive, Jessie says.
All our images of the devil, Tom says, come from King John.
I laugh. What? What’s that supposed to mean? I pass him the bowl.
I mean, he says, and takes a hit. He talks through it. Our pictures of the devil, with the pointed beard, look like King John. He exhales. That’s where we got that image.
Jessie’s watching the fire. I see it in her eyes, reflected, but also, that she’s not really listening to the rest of us. She’s mesmerized, her chair facing that way. It burns up behind Tom’s back. She’s in it, I think. Her head, soft and fuzzy.
Sandy’s writing them down. Charlemagne, she says, King John. I’ll be Queen Alexandra, she says. Jessie, she says, you should be Cleopatra.
Ok, Jessie says. It suits her, too. Her bangs.
I’m bad at hearts. Sandy shoots the moon in that first hand and kills us. It goes on. We play to five hundred and she’s either a genius or she’s cheating. We can’t catch up. After a bit, Tom turns to poke the fire, stirs it around and it sparks up around his head and flames up again, and I push back from the table. Say I’m going to smoke.
Jessie says, King John hates losing.
I suck at hearts, I say. I watch Sandy put her head down and tally up the scores. She has drawn a whole line of hearts down the middle of the page. Curvy, like her handwriting. I wonder how the baby’s doing.
I stand out on the porch facing the field. The deer are gone. You can hear the creek moving, fast over the rocky bed, and some coyotes along the water. They almost sounds like dogs, but more hysterical, and more of them. Their howling and yipping enough to make your hair stand on end.
The girls come out and talk about the super moon.
What’s that? I say. I expect Tom to pop out with the answer. To explain more than I care to hear.
Sandy shrugs. Her eyes are sleepy. Big moon? she says and then laughs. Maybe it has powers, she says. You know. Like, we should howl. Or some such shit.
I like her. I pet her sleeve. Imagine letting her nuzzle into my neck the way the rabbit did to Tom. I just stroke it down the top of her arm. Jessie gives me a look. I let go, and look away.
Tom comes out and we walk up the hill to see the super moon. Apparently, it’s supposed to be huge and bright and it only happens once every few years. The moon is the moon, I think, but the girls are excited so we walk, the girls up ahead and me and Tom behind. We bring our beers along. Bottles in one hand, cigarette in the other. Tom lopes when he walks. It’s like he’s got too much leg, or like his bones are strung too loose.
I wonder who the guy was. The guy that wanted him. He’s all edges and angles. I can’t imagine it. Then he looks and he says,
What you thinking?
And I think, Guys don’t say that. Nothing, I say, and then stupid, I laugh a little. The moon, I say.
Along the sides of the hill there are some low farm houses. The kind that are white with a deep porch that have stood there for a long time. They have rickety stove pipes going up the side, and big propane tanks in the yard. One has light blue shutters and big snowball bushes in front of the picture windows. After, there’s a long line of pines going up to the top of the hill. They look blue in the moonlight, that deep blue green that only belongs to pines. They shush in the wind and the moon comes between them in triangles of light.
It’s there at the top of the hill. The girls sort of howl in awe, but it gives me a pit in my stomach. The thing is fucking huge. I’ve never seen anything like it. It comes up behind a barn. A good sized barn. But the moon behind it and coming up over the top of it is like forty times its size. I just kind of stand there in the middle of the road looking at it. It gives me the creeps. Like a huge head, coming up from the horizon. Like something watching you. Or pulling you to it. I’m afraid for a second that I’ll get sucked up.
Jessie has her hands down on her knees, laughing. Holy shit! she cries out. Holy shit!
Tom pats me on the back and urges me closer. Sandy is twirling in the street, her arms out at her sides and her hair flying out. It’s bright as day right there, in that spot. The red barn and the rail fence around that field. The stones on the side of the road, all of them lit up and sparkling. The flowers that have come up already, some yellows and purples up along the side of the road. Even the double yellow line on the pavement, glowing gold. Sandy’s sweater looks like snow, glittering. The top of Jessie’s head, like a streak along her part.
Sandy spins over toward me. Dizzy, she bumps into me. She laughs and she grabs my arms to steady herself. She’s so little. The moon catches all the reds in her blonde hair, all of them, like little glints of fire. I imagine her kissing me, full on, pressed up against me, about putting my arms around her there in the middle of the road, feeling her small back, her shoulders. I look at her, and she looks up and in that second we both know it. It’s a real problem. The moon, I think. The fucking super moon.
I don’t know how long we stand out there, laughing, just looking at it. When we walk back down, though, it’s higher and smaller above us, but still bright white, lighting the way. I try to walk back by myself, ahead of them, just thinking. I hear Tom talking behind me but can’t make out the words. He walks with Jessie and when I look back, he kind of slings his arm around her, his hand hooked on her shoulder, loose and casual, the way a gay guy can hold your girl and it’s ok.
I start to rationalize shit, thinking about Sandy’s body, that she needs somebody to fuck her for real. And she sort of skips down the hill next to me, her feet kicking little pebbles that roll way ahead of us. We come back upon the same house on the corner, with the snowball bushes. I wish it would snow. Would like to feel it on my face, the cool speckle. She leans her head on my arm. And I do it too, I put my arm around her, my fingers just under her arm, where I can feel the edge of her bra under her sweater. It’s cool out there, the sky clear and the moon hard and bright. Let’s just switch, I think. I wonder what their kid looks like.
Tom gets out the bourbon. It’s some small batch I’ve never heard of. Makes me wonder if his boyfriend was rich, one of those small batch drinking, rolls his own cigarette smoking snoots. He puts two big ice cubes in my glass and just hands it to me with out asking. I drink. It’s good.
We sit like that for a while, at the table in the living room but facing the fire. He’s built it back up again. Added a log. Poked around. The girls are in the kitchen, looking at something and laughing, giggling like little girls. I wonder where we are going, what time it is. If we’re all going to end up together at the end of this. I think about Tom leaning over to put his arm around me, and then wonder what I was worrying about.
I met Jessie at a party like that. She was doing coke with a girlfriend and came out of the bathroom with blood on her nose. She talked to me like that, all sped up and animated, for like ten minutes before I put my thumb on her lip to wipe it off and she kind of put my thumb in her mouth. So I kissed her, blood and all. Later I kissed her girlfriend and they kissed each other. We were outside in the summertime, on a back patio with lounge chairs. The girls took their tops off. I remember Jessie leaning back like that, in just her shorts, with her tits out, small and high still. Her girlfriend, I can’t remember her name now, was a redhead, and had big tits covered in freckles. Her hair hung way down her back. She looked like a mermaid like that, with her top off and her hair undone. She sat on Jessie’s lap. I remember that. And kissed me, facing away from Jessie, with Jessie’s hands around the front of her.
I didn’t see Jessie for a long time after that, til after my dad died, til I was living up here. And then when I ran into her again, we kind of stood face to face for a minute, remembering, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her.
I hear her in the kitchen with Sandy. She laughs so hard she snorts. Tom leans across the table and puts another splash of bourbon into my glass. I hear the rabbit come in from behind me, its weird patter thump, pulling along its back legs. It comes over and it paws at me now, its front legs up and kneading at my jeans.
What’s its name? I ask Tom.
Red, he says.
Hey Red, I say. I talk to it the way I talk to the baby. In a voice that’s not quite mine, like a baby or an animal shouldn’t have to hear that, I soften it, make it higher. Hey Red. I’ve never pet a rabbit before. Only seen them, in the yard, or maybe at a pet store. I scratch it behind the ears the way you would a cat. It keeps pawing, so I pick it up, under the arms, its back feet waving. It’s heavier than I think it will be, way more than a cat, more bones and more muscle. It stretches out, and its back is ropy and strong. I hold it up near my face. His nose, twitching. When he strikes, I don’t even see it, I just taste metal and my eyes go black for a second. I think I’m falling.
Jesus Christ, Tom yells. I drop the rabbit. I hear it thump on the floor and then away. I hear the girls scatter when he runs into the kitchen.
My whole face is wet. The rabbit took a swipe at me and clawed up inside my nose. I feel it way inside, hot and metallic, like my skull has been gouged. It hurts my teeth. I lean forward onto the table, but Tom is behind me, then beside me, with his back to the fire. He moves the glass of bourbon, he takes my shoulder.
Not forward, he says, back. Lean back.
I start swinging my arms, like the rabbit did with its back feet. I think about striking Tom, gouging him with my blunt fingers. My eyes are tearing down my face. I think about my dad saying he tasted something burning, and how I said you mean you smell something burning? And he insisted no, he could taste it, something burning far off, like he could sense what was coming, his body small and caving into that bed. The tubes and bags hanging out of him the last few weeks.
My head feels stuffed with cotton. I can’t open my eyes anymore. I feel Tom’s hands on my shoulders, moving me from the table, over to the couch where he sits me down, sits beside me, his hands guiding me the whole way, and his voice in my ear.
Back, he says. Lean your head back. He says it in a different voice, softer, higher than normal.
I can’t hear the girls anymore. I imagine them outside chasing the rabbit. I imagine them out back with their tops off. I want to grab Sandy by the hair.
Tom puts a towel near my face. He puts his fingers on my temples. I can smell his bourbon and his cigarettes. He moves down to my jaw, his fingers tipping me backward and the towel under my nose. I can feel his arm across my chest. His leg alongside mine. He puts one hand behind my head then, cradling the back of my skull as I go back, holding me.
Jennifer Pashley is outlawed in 44 states. She is the author of two story collections, States (Lewis-Clark, 2007) and The Conjurer (Standing Stone Books, May 2013) Learn more at www.jenniferpashley.com.