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Mary Miller


Iím at my cousinís house, watching her fix dinner for her twins, who are trying to toss themselves out of their highchairs. When I take care of them, my only goal is to keep them alive but I donít bother with them now because Courtneyís here and if they crack their heads open itís all on her.

She cuts the hot dog lengthwise and chops it up like a tomato. Then she opens a can of green beans and fishes out the stalks with her fingers.

The phone rings. I answer it. Itís her husband, Wade. He thinks Iím Courtney and I donít correct him. He says heís on his way home, heís running a little late, heís sorry. I hear an ambulance in the background. "Thereís a bad wreck," he says, and then he tells me he loves me. I hang up.

"Heís on his way."

She points to a basket of laundry. "Would you mind folding those towels while youíre just sitting there?"

"Let me finish my drink first."

I have no intention of folding her towels. I have enough trouble folding my own towels.

I watch her flit about and remember the reason I came over here. I figure the best way to get information about her people is to insult one of mine. "My sister never returns my phone calls, sheís such a bitch," I say, and I remember the time my sister screwed her over, the stink that followed.

"She just doesnít think sometimes," she says diplomatically.

"Only about herself."

She twists her red hair into a pile on top of her head and sits down. We look at the twins, squishing bits of hot dog in their fists, waxing beans into their trays. She gives them a stern look and says, "Eat." They look like all babies: big-headed and big-eyed and pale, nothing special.

"So tell me about Erinís new husband. Do you like him?" I ask. I heard no one likes him and it isnít just because he installs sewer systems for a living. Heís been in trouble, my mother told me, but she wouldnít say what for. People donít tell me anything because I have a big mouth.

"Welló," she says, stalling. "I promised Erin I wouldnít talk about it, but he has a rap sheet."

"Like what, he got busted for pot or something?"

"No, more like statutory rape of a thirteen-year-old girl. Of course he swears up and down he didnít do it. Up and down. But still, these are the kind of people he hangs aroundótrash. But then heís trash, too. He wears these big gold chains and you should see his chest hair." She makes her hand a claw and holds it between her breasts to show me what this looks like.

I say, "Gold chains are terrible," and she looks at me like no shit.

Her dog comes over and sticks his nose in my crotch. I push his head away but he keeps coming back because I have my period and I remember the time she told me she was trusting her tampon. This was before the slogan, Trust Is Tampax. We were smoking behind the movie theater and waiting for her mother to pick us up in her station wagon.

"Mustang, get offa her," she says.

"Heís okay."

"Just kick him, if you want. I donít think these kids are hungry."

We look at the food theyíve thrown all over the floor and shake our heads. Iím glad I donít have to clean it up. I donít know what Iíd do if I had to clean up hot dog and shit all day long.

The garage door opens, closes. Wade comes in. He kisses his wife, his children, slaps his dog and says, "Good boy," before turning to me. "Was that you on the phone?" I smile. He wags his finger.

Wade is getting fat, but I still want to sleep with him, and I think he wants to sleep with me, too. Of course I think nearly everyone wants to sleep with me. I donít know why this is. Maybe everyone thinks this way, or Iím nuts. Courtney is mean to him. She talks to him in a voice reserved only for him because heís a doctor but he doesnít make as much money as she expected him to make. She tells me, there are rich doctors and there are poor doctors, but they live in a big house and she drives a nice car so I donít know what sheís complaining about.

Wade sits down and I ask him if he wants a glass of wine.

"Thatíd be great."

I pour him one and top mine off. Courtney doesnít drink, except on special occasions, and this isnít one of them. It is one more reason to hate her.

She tells Wade to clean the kitchen and he says, "Can I rest for two seconds, please?" and she says, "I donít care what you do. Rest forever," and takes the babies upstairs, one on each hip. She has already lost the baby weight. She likes for her wallet to match her purse to match her shoes to match her outfit.

We wait a moment for the air to clear.

"How was your day?" I ask.

"It was bad and then I came home," he says. He works with a kind of incurable cancer and it gets him down. When Courtneyís sick, he avoids her. He canít even prescribe my birth control pills. I always imagined doctors could fix things, but now I know that some doctors fix nothing. And all day long, people asking for things they canít deliver.

"Iím sorry," I say.

"Donít be."

"I feel like going somewhere."

"Like where?" he asks.

"Oh I donít know, out to dinner maybe, or Madagascar."


"Iíve been reading this blog and the girlís in Madagascar right now. Sheís trying to join this club where you have to set foot in a hundred countries in order to belong. I like how it has all these words built in: mad, gas, car."

"I hadnít thought about that," he says.

The dog rests his head on my leg and I feed him a potato chip.

"I have my period," I say, running my scissor fingers over his soft ears. I am always announcing my period to everybody. My mother says if I didnít say anything no one would know, but I canít help it. I know.

"Iím sorry."

"It hurts."

"Did you take something?"

"Not yet."

"You should take something," he says. "Courtney wants to go to Cancun. She sent off for this catalogue that lists all these resorts and they all look alike but she still managed to pick out the most expensive one." I want to tell him Courtney is wrong for him, but they have a house and two kids and wedding photos hanging everywhere and maybe if I had these things with him it would be the same: Iíd be bitchy and the children would be awful and spoiled, the house dirty. At night, Iíd have to beg him for it.

"Pretty water."

"I canít think of anywhere I want to go less."

"So where do you want to go?"

"Alaska." He looks up at the ceiling and blinks.

"I hear itís a good place to find a man," I say, and I think of my boyfriend, his olive skin and hazel eyes, and how, nine months ago he changed the song on his MySpace page to Donít You (Forget About Me) and thatís how I knew he was dead. I got his furniture and his things, since they were already in our apartment, and I still live among them, but when people look at me now they donít think: her boyfriend killed himself, or maybe they still do. I donít know. I should move.

"Not your type," he says.

"Iíd find me a big ole rugged man and weíd live in a cabin he built with his own two hands."

"Youíd get tired of cabin living."

"You donít know."

"You arenít really the rough-it kind. Youíre more of a room service girl, like my wife."

"No offense but Iím nothing like youíre wife," I say. I let that soak in for a minute and then I tell him that Iíd find me a big ole rugged man who liked to watch meteor showers and write poetry and drink wine and he wishes me luck.

"Donít be so negative," I say.

"Iím just kidding. Iím sure you could find a sensitive poet who builds cabins in his spare time and only drinks merlot."

"Thatís what Iíve been trying to tell you," I say, and I smile and he smiles and we get stuck there until he gets up and uncorks another bottle. I thread my fingers through the dogís hair, past the scratchy top layer to the soft undercoat.

"Heís shedding pretty bad right now," he says. I pull my hand out and look at it, covered in stiff black hairs. I turn it over slowly, like that scene in Back to the Future when Michael J. Fox is disappearing. "I need to w-a-l-k him."

Mustang barks.

"Uh oh," I say.

"Do you want to come?"

"I donít know. Can I bring my drink?"

"If you want," he says, but I know he doesnít want me to because their neighborhood is full of rich people keeping up appearances. God is big, as are fences and dogs and babies. I donít have a house or a fence or a dog or a baby and God and I are currently on a break. I think about that picture with the two sets of footprints in the sand and how thereís only one set during the worst times because thatís when God carries you but what good is being carried if you donít realize youíre being carried, if you get to the end of your life and have to ask?

"I told Courtney Iíd fold these towels," I say, because I just want to sit here with him a little while longer, because I know he wonít leave, but then the babies start crying. We look up at the empty stairs.

"Bath time," he says.



"Theyíre such sweet boys," I say. "Do you love them a lot?"

"Yeah. Sometimes I love them so much. Itís overwhelming."

"What about the other times?"

He shrugs. "You canít walk around all the time feeling like your heartís going to burst."

The water cuts off. I set my purse in my lap, soft black leather, full. Inside, my boyfriendís wallet, exactly as he left it minus five large bills and six small ones, which I gave away to a homeless man. I look through it when I have to wait somewhere, read the business cards and flip through the pictures of his sister and his mother, eighteen-year-old me.

"I better go," I say, but I donít move. Itís like a boulder, pressing me down, and I remember how, when I first started carrying a purse, it was empty so I filled it with things I didnít need, to take up space.

Mary Miller has stories in and forthcoming in The Oxford American, Blip Magazine Archive, Quick Fiction, Black Clock, elimae, and others. She is in the process of revising her novel, Even the Interstate Is Pretty.

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