Mary Miller ~ Full

Reprinted from Blip Magazine Archive Vol 13 No 4

I’m at my cousin’s 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 don’t both­er with them now because Courtney’s here and if they crack their heads open it’s 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. It’s her hus­band, Wade. He thinks I’m Courtney and I don’t cor­rect him. He says he’s on his way home, he’s run­ning a lit­tle late, he’s sor­ry. I hear an ambu­lance in the back­ground. “There’s a bad wreck,” he says, and then he tells me he loves me. I hang up.

He’s on his way.”

She points to a bas­ket of laun­dry. “Would you mind fold­ing those tow­els while you’re 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, she’s such a bitch,” I say, and I remem­ber the time my sis­ter screwed her over, the stink that fol­lowed.

She just doesn’t 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 Erin’s new hus­band. Do you like him?” I ask. I heard no one likes him and it isn’t just because he installs sew­er sys­tems for a liv­ing. He’s been in trou­ble, my moth­er told me, but she wouldn’t say what for. People don’t tell me any­thing because I have a big mouth.

Well—,” she says, stalling. “I promised Erin I wouldn’t 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 didn’t do it. Up and down. But still, these are the kind of peo­ple he hangs around—trash. But then he’s 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.

He’s okay.”

Just kick him, if you want. I don’t think these kids are hun­gry.”

We look at the food they’ve thrown all over the floor and shake our heads. I’m glad I don’t have to clean it up. I don’t know what I’d 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 don’t know why this is. Maybe every­one thinks this way, or I’m nuts. Courtney is mean to him. She talks to him in a voice reserved only for him because he’s a doc­tor but he doesn’t 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 don’t know what she’s com­plain­ing about.

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

That’d be great.”

I pour him one and top mine off. Courtney doesn’t drink, except on spe­cial occa­sions, and this isn’t 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 don’t 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 Courtney’s sick, he avoids her. He can’t 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 can’t deliv­er.

I’m sor­ry,” I say.

Don’t be.”

I feel like going some­where.”

Like where?” he asks.

Oh I don’t know, out to din­ner maybe, or Madagascar.”

Madagascar?”

I’ve been read­ing this blog and the girl’s in Madagascar right now. She’s 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 hadn’t 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 didn’t say any­thing no one would know, but I can’t help it. I know.

I’m 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: I’d be bitchy and the chil­dren would be awful and spoiled, the house dirty. At night, I’d have to beg him for it.

Pretty water.”

I can’t 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 it’s 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 Don’t You (Forget About Me) and that’s 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 don’t think: her boyfriend killed him­self, or maybe they still do. I don’t know. I should move.

Not your type,” he says.

I’d find me a big olé rugged man and we’d live in a cab­in he built with his own two hands.”

You’d get tired of cab­in liv­ing.”

You don’t know.”

You aren’t real­ly the rough-it kind. You’re more of a room ser­vice girl, like my wife.”

No offense but I’m noth­ing like you’re wife,” I say. I let that soak in for a minute and then I tell him that I’d find me a big olé rugged man who liked to watch mete­or show­ers and write poet­ry and drink wine and he wish­es me luck.

Don’t be so neg­a­tive,” I say.

I’m just kid­ding. I’m sure you could find a sen­si­tive poet who builds cab­ins in his spare time and only drinks mer­lot.”

That’s what I’ve 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 dog’s hair, past the scratchy top lay­er to the soft under­coat.

He’s 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 don’t know. Can I bring my drink?”

If you want,” he says, but I know he doesn’t 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 don’t 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 there’s only one set dur­ing the worst times because that’s when God car­ries you but what good is being car­ried if you don’t real­ize you’re being car­ried, if you get to the end of your life and have to ask?

I told Courtney I’d fold these tow­els,” I say, because I just want to sit here with him a lit­tle while longer, because I know he won’t leave, but then the babies start cry­ing. We look up at the emp­ty stairs.

Bath time,” he says.

Fun.”

Barrels.”

They’re such sweet boys,” I say. “Do you love them a lot?”

Yeah. Sometimes I love them so much. It’s over­whelm­ing.”

What about the oth­er times?”

He shrugs. “You can’t walk around all the time feel­ing like your heart’s going to burst.”

The water cuts off. I set my purse in my lap, soft black leather, full. Inside, my boyfriend’s 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 don’t move. It’s 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 didn’t need, to take up space.

~

Mary Miller is an American fic­tion writer, author of two col­lec­tions of short sto­ries enti­tled Big World and Always Happy Hour. Her debut nov­el enti­tled The Last Days of California was pub­lished by Liveright. It is the sto­ry of a four­teen-year-old girl on a fam­i­ly road trip from the South to California, led by her evan­gel­i­cal father.