“It’s a confession booth,” Jill says.
I stare at the large cardboard box in my sister’s garage. A velvet curtain covers an opening in the box’s side. “I thought I’d go to the party as Visiting Brother,” I say.
“C’mon. I’ve spent all week on this costume. Try it on.”
I put down my airline-tagged backpack. Over the velvet curtain, Jill has written Confess Here, Sinner! with a glitter pen. The box is surprisingly heavy. You could build homes from cardboard like this. The inside is perfumed shade.
“What was in here?”
I part the curtain. “What was in here?”
“My new washing machine.”
Behind Jill sits her Mercedes and a wall of plastic storage tubs. As for my sister, she looks the same as the last time we were together, a year or so ago. That is, radiant and healthy, as though California-born.
“It’s stuffy,” I say, taking off the costume.
“You’ll love it, listening to people’s secrets.”
“Nobody is going to confess anything real.”
“That reminds me. I have a non-disclosure agreement for you to sign.”
I should mention that Jill is a lawyer, though she’s probably kidding about the agreement. She draws up entertainment contracts or copyrights or something like that. A job like none other in my family. Serious money. Our father used to be a real estate agent. He sold plots of cattle land and stink-bad properties in Elgin. Mom was a substitute teacher for twenty years straight. Jill didn’t want any of that. During semester breaks, she’d come home tan, pretty and wiser. She even sounded different, her voice completely free of drawl and bland as TV news. Sometimes I think she’s adopted, gifted beyond our family’s genes. It helps explain the alchemy of her success.
Jill hits a wall switch that brings down the garage door. I pick up my pack.
I’ve never been to a Hollywood party before. Nor Hollywood. My last New Year’s party with Jill was a decade ago, back home. It was a mild Texas night and we ended up on the roof of our parents’ home drinking, smoking and launching bottle rockets with our friends. My guys loved her friends because they were older, mostly girls, and pretended to be easily impressed. They were women, and we were boys. Jill’s friends oohed and aahed whenever a bottle rocket reached the lowest of the clouds and burst inside with a warm glow. I remember my parents coming home from their own party, drunk and randy, and Jill’s friends saying, Oh my God! OH MY GOD! as they huddled around the bathroom roof vent, listening to my parents going at it in the bedroom below. It embarrassed me so much I left and sat downstairs on the front porch. One of Jill’s friends, Lisa, had her arm in a sling from a motorbike accident and she laughed so hard she rolled off the roof and landed right in front of me, breaking, among other things, her good arm. If I had been looking, I might have caught her. In a recurring dream I had for years afterwards, I did catch her, and she fell in love with me on the spot. I carried her away just as I caught her. The dream always began that way, the catch being just the prelude to adolescent fantasies.
Jill leads the way into a just-lit hallway. “Did you bring black shoes?”
She gives my sneakers a scowl. My backpack only has a few clothes, a toothbrush and a paperback.
“You’re going to need black pants, too. And a shave and a haircut.”
I poke my head into the rooms we pass: a wine cellar, a laundry room, then a home gym. It’s like a strip mall in her house. Tiny oil paintings of organs and body parts are hung along the hallway. A heart, an ear…
…a spleen, elbow, lungs. Creepy. The hallway then opens up into a bright glass and steel space big enough it holds palm trees. All the furniture is retro and there are sculptures on the tables and sideboards, and pop art hanging on the walls that aren’t translucent. I spot a Lichtenstein. I’m floored.
“What? You like?” She then points to a framed magazine spread that shows her house and a woman standing in the spot where Jill now has a side table. On the table is a sculpture of a skyscraper that gradually turns into a penis. (Modern Architect — June/July issue, 1952, pp. 38-39. The woman in the photo is smoking with a long cigarette holder and looks like one of the characters in the boardgame Clue.)
“Kink—” There’s a soft thud on a glass wall.
“Another sparrow,” Jill says.
I can see the dead bird lying on the sharp grass lawn. Beyond the narrow yard is a bamboo hedge so tall I can’t even see the leaves. The thick stalks sway in the wind like a crowd of stilt walkers. A large bronze digit pokes up from the middle of the lawn, like a thumbs-up without the rest of the hand. It could be a big toe.
“How much this place set you back?”
“Three. But I could get more now.”
That seems laughably affordable for a neighborhood like this. I can picture myself living here, minus the weird paintings and giant toe in the lawn. My girlfriend wants to buy a house soon. She has a down payment. Then I realize Jill isn’t talking in the hundreds of thousands, and the opportunity scatters like a million birds.
“She’s okay,” Jill says.
“The house? Oh, the bird.” It stirs, then flies off as though nothing happened.
“You must be thirsty,” Jill says, turning to me.
“Hungry, too.” I follow her into the kitchen. I see our parents’ postcards on one of two fridges. They’re the same cards I’ve been getting. The Eiffel tower. A big draft horse. Jill also has one of a huge beer stein with foam thick as clouds. I don’t have that one yet.
“Mom and Dad are having a good time,” I say.
“I’d rather send them to Europe for a couple of months than spend the holidays with them. Everyone’s happy.”
“Everyone but the Europeans,” I say.
“Yeah.” Jill tosses me an orange soda from the fridge.
“Bought a six-pack just for you,” she says, lifting herself onto the counter. She dislikes her family and loves us, all at the same time.
“Where’s your pool?” I ask.
“C’mon Grant. I can’t have it all, can I?” She winks. “Ah, you’re disappointed.”
I shrug. “Kinda.” On the flight earlier today, I pictured a lounger with drink holders spinning slowly on the surface of the pool, waiting for me. Grant’s Island. I even bought new swim trunks. I need to make friends with someone with a pool.
“Let’s go eat,” she says, swooping up some keys from the counter.
I drive her Mercedes. I’ve handled a couple of them before, older models—my girlfriend Maylee has one—but Jill’s Benz is new and quiet. The seats are so comfortable I almost don’t notice the traffic. So far, Hollywood looks a lot like The Drag up around UT, the sidewalks spotted with chewing gum warts and the stores just shells of dirty glass and aluminum. Jill tells me this isn’t Hollywood, though. One city blends into another, here.
For no reason I can see, the restaurant has valet parking.
“Clarky’s going to meet us,” she says. “He’s a busy guy, but he knows how to have fun. He throws these costume parties every year, and in the summer—”
Jill’s cellphone vibrates.
“Speaking of the devil,” she says, looking at the number. Jill’s a loud talker and people give our table looks as she talks to Clark. She takes my picture with her phone. I hear her boyfriend say Yee-haw! and Shit howdy!
Jill says, “That’s not nice,” but she doesn’t say it like she means it. “Clark says you look like the real deal,” she tells me.
“Let me see the photo.”
She holds the phone out briefly and there I am in miniature, hair to my shoulders, beard to my collar, my face so pale—is it really that pale? Clark is still talking. I want to grab the phone and say, I don’t wear a cowboy hat, I’m not an Aggie, I don’t own a gun or chew tobacco. I’m no Bush bitch. Fuck you, Mr. Hollywood. I’m not good when I’m hungry, and the bread’s gone. And there’s the fact that I have three hundred dollars in my bank account, and my sister’s sitting on a three+ million dollar home. Though I know I should be thankful. If it weren’t for Jill, I wouldn’t be out here for the weekend. They talk some more.
This much I’ve pieced together of Jill’s love life: She lived with one of her professors in college for a few months, then she was married, briefly, to a doctor. There was a year-long stint of lesbianism with a really hot girl (I only saw pictures) and then she began bringing men back with her on her Christmas visits to Texas, each richer and shorter than the last. Clarky, I’m guessing, is 5’2” and worth about 10 million. Balding, definitely. And older than her by at least a half-dozen genres of music.
She snaps her phone shut.
“Clarky can’t come,” she says, as though I haven’t been able to hear their entire conversation. I haven’t overheard pick up some more wine, or no, because he’s an asshole, or the phrase hot tits and applesauce coming from her phone, either.
“How old is Clarky?” I ask. Except for him being a record producer and a potential ass wipe, I know zip.
“Clark, with a k. Only I can call him Clarky. He hates it.” She flashes her white teeth. “When he’s mad, I call him Barky. When he’s horny—”
“Okay, whatever. Let’s order.” Darky, Farky, Garky, Harky…I don’t get it. But I don’t care to know, either.
“So, Grant. Give me an update on your love life.” She’s already put in her order, but the waiter is still standing there, waiting for me to complete mine. I’m not sure what answer he’s waiting for, now.
“Medium rare,” I say, “And, um, with the garlic potatoes.”
The waiter says very good, sir and disappears.
“Well? Are you getting laid at least?”
Jill’s all about bullshit-free fact-finding. I suppose it’s having so much geography between us that’s reduced the interest we have in each others’ lives to almost zilch, until we’re actually in the same room together. And then there’s a need for a quick catch-up.
“My girlfriend and I just moved in together,” I say.
“Really!” Her voice is gossipy. “Who’s the girl?”
“Her? Good god, Grant. She’s seventy!”
“C’mon, she’s thirty-eight.” She’s forty-one.
“Yeah, but you’re like eighteen.” (I’m a fresh twenty-five.) She uncurls an index finger from around her wine glass and points it at me. “That’s practically illegal. You know you’re only attracted to her because she’s zaftig.”
“You have no idea.” Maylee’s a 38EE, and more than I can handle, to tell the truth.
“Oh, but I do. Last Christmas, or the year before that, I walked in on her while she was changing into that Mrs. Claus outfit. I know what you have to work around. Bowls full of jelly.” Jill laughs. “It’s not your fault, Grant. It’s what comes from not having been breastfed by Momma. You’re a poor deprived boy.”
“Hardly.” Maylee recently took over as manager of the auction business where I work, and she has a little money. By moving in with Maylee, I’ve gone from a studio apartment to a three-bedroom, with the prospect of a house just around the corner. And Maylee is paying the tuition at UT where I’ll be restarting my junior year after this Hollywood trip. I tell Jill all of this. Maylee is a fun woman, too. Caring, kind. She’s easy to be with. And she has great legs. In spite of the physical evidence, I am 80% a leg guy.
“You got a sugar momma. Take my advice. Come out West. Join us,” she says, her voice all zombie-like. “You’ll find yourself a nice city girl. Hmm? Should I help pick one out?”
“Do I get a free toaster.”
“Forget it, then.”
“Well, I hope she’s good in bed, at least.”
A different sister might have asked, Do you love her? or Are you happy? but Jill cuts past the touchy-feely and goes for the immediate rewards. I blame the law degree.
“What about you and Clark?” I say, deflecting. “You going to move in together?”
She sighs. I feel I’ve asked something I shouldn’t have.
“We’re at an amicable impasse. Neither of us wants to give up our house. I know it’s stupid. He lives just a couple blocks away from me. But I mean—my house! I can’t give that up for a cramped bungalow. I put it up on the market for an hour, then had to cancel the sale. I couldn’t do it. It’s the only Greenly-Böll left in Hollywood. I love Clarky. I love my house. So, Clarky stays with his ghost and his tiny recording studio and visits me, and vice versa. Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, we have the one perfect relationship in the known universe. We never argue. Ever. Things get uncomfortable?—we each have a home of our own.”
“What ghost?” I ask. “Like it’s haunted?”
“Uh-huh,” she says, chewing a slice of bread from our newly deposited second basket. She becomes lost in thought. Then she leans forward, confidentiality in her eyes, her mouth still full. “Beers bras and,” she says.
She swallows and says it again. “Pierce Brosnan.”
It takes me a moment. “The James Bond guy?”
“He isn’t dead.”
“No, no. Behind you, no, your left. C a s u a l,” she stresses as I scan the tables.
It’s him. The actor is talking to a woman at his table. His hair looks exactly like in the movies, with a couple dark wisps bobbing over his forehead like commas.
“You probably think it’s cool,” Jill says, as I turn back.
I shrug casually, proud of myself for putting on this casual shrug in a chichi restaurant in Hollywood (or a city nearby) with a famous actor sitting just a few tables away. I’d like to borrow my sister’s phone and call Maylee. She loves anything about celebrities. This morning at the airport—Maylee on her way to Memphis to check out some furniture at an estate sale, and me, here to Hollywood on a free flight courtesy of Jill—Maylee told me I had to get the autograph of every famous person I saw. Actually, she promised one unique sexual favor for each autograph. Her saying that made me think she had a whole bunch of ideas in her head I’ve never even considered. She is probably bluffing, but with an older woman you can’t tell.
“No, you’re going to get the bug. I can see it.”
“People got to eat,” I say.
“Is this your first sighting?”
“Nah,” I say, though I doubt Jill counts having seen Willie Nelson at the airport as a sighting. Everyone I know has seen Willie Nelson.
“Do you have a pen?” I ask.
“No way,” Jill says. “You can’t ask for an autograph. That’s not done.”
“It’s for Maylee.”
“Not around me. Besides, celebs mean we’re going to get bad service. He outranks me by five thousand here, and you by a billion. The waiters will forget about us. Just watch. He’ll be no plus. He’s the black hole.”
She’s right. It’s an hour and a half before the food orbits back to our table. My steak arrives rare, but I’m too hungry to send it back and chance another hour’s wait.
After dinner, Jill drives. It’s dark out and a light rain is falling. The road is a shimmer of red, obsidian black and pure glare.
“We’re going to make a stop,” Jill says, pulling up in front of a salon. “I’ve booked you for a cut.”
Entrapment. If I were in the confession booth costume, I’d have to dole out a Hail Mary or two.
The hairdresser’s name is Trudy. She has a pink stripe running down her black hair and a nose stud in the shape of a broken heart. She looks me over in a way that does not make me feel good about myself. I feel for dogs at the groomers.
“Give me forty-five minutes,” Trudy tells Jill, who is already headed out the door.
Trudy points to the sinks. During the shampoo, her thick fingers rub my scalp so hard I wonder if I’ve been washing my own hair wrong all these years. She has twenty fingers. At her station, she shaves off my beard with electric clippers, then lathers my face and takes out a razor. No one, not even Maylee, has ever given me a shave. I sit up straight in her chair.
“Trust me,” Trudy says. “I shave more often than you do.”
“I trust you,” I say, though that comes out sounding wrong.
I thumb through People. Heavy wet wads of hair fall onto the pages where not a word is printed about Pierce Brosnan. Trudy and I do not talk. I don’t know why that is. And it’s too late to start talking now, unless I pretend like I’ve just come to after a slight concussion from her vigorous shampoo. She keeps standing in a way that forces me to pull in my elbows. I know it’s not exactly dry-humping on her part, but the presence of her crotch against my elbows feels like a faint, faint, faint precursor to that. I’m sure it’s completely in my own head, but, there, now she’s walked right to my elbow and I’m not going to move it. Okay, I have to move it.
Trudy finishes early, so I walk outside and wait for Jill to return. I pretend to window browse, but I’m really looking at my reflection. I’m trying to be nonchalant about this, but the thing is, the haircut is fucking A! I’ve never had a haircut like this in all my life. And without the beard, I look twenty, rich, and stylish beyond words. Even my rumpled clothes now look deliberately so. I hold my chin between my fingers. I have a cleft. I forgot I have a cleft.
Jill pulls up in her Benz and actually gets out of the car when she sees me. “You clean up nice.” In the back seat are bags with shoes and a shirt for me. “Late Christmas present,” she says.
I take the wheel. On the way back to her house, in a clear patch between lights, I take the car up to sixty. I glance in the rearview mirror and see the stretch Hummer that’s been trailing us from the border. I search the Benz’s controls for the reverse rocket launcher until my sister’s voice cuts in.
“Turn here. Well, now it’s too late. You’ll have to make a Uey at the next light.”
Damn! Pierce Brosnan. I laugh out loud. It is still Day One in Hollywood.
There’s a schoolgirl in Jill’s living room when we get back. Her hair is long and straight, the colors of mother of pearl, and her skin, ivory. Her skirt is crazy short. Then I think: costume.
“Hello,” I say.
“I see the resemblance.”
“Tch, yeah.” I don’t mean to sound sarcastic, but I don’t think we look alike. “I don’t mean to sarcastic…to sound sarcastic.”
“I don’t mean to…” Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! I’m not good talking to people I don’t know. Until they’ve seen me a few times, folks probably think I’m a retard.
“Hey, I love it,” the girl interrupts, as Jill comes up behind me. “It turned out great.”
“Didn’t I tell you? Thanks for the velvet.”
“That makes it.”
“Grant here will be our priest for the evening.”
“Just for the evening,” I say.
“Don’t worry,” Jill says. “Grant’s into older women. Where’s your costume?”
“It’s with my stuff,” the girl says. “I took the room with the bath, okay?”
“Mi casa si casa.”
Alone in the kitchen with Jill, I ask her about the girl.
“Rebekkah?” Jill asks. She takes a pen from the counter and tosses it to me. “Go crazy.”
“Just a little.”
I open an orange soda and take another back with me to where Rebekkah is sitting, looking through a book.
“Want one?” I ask, holding up the unopened soda.
“Already did, thanks.” Okay, this is good.
“So you’re going to the party, too?”
“You an actress or something?” I ask, remembering too late that actresses say actor now, but remembering quick enough that I don’t try to correct myself aloud. Maybe she plays a high school kid on TV.
Rebekkah shakes her head no and makes some air guitar strums.
“Ah. Oh, yeah. Of course. You and the…” She leaves me hanging.
“Oh, come on. I’m a household name.”
I think: Tide, Kleenex, Rebekkah.
I laugh because she is laughing.
She doesn’t look familiar to me. Her arms seem too thin to play a guitar. Maybe she doesn’t play guitar. She could play keyboards. Probably she sings. Her tongue is studded, though, giving her a lisp.
Rebekkah holds up the book she’s reading and points to a photo of a nude woman on all fours. Behind her I can see the rain coming down the glass wall with little quicksilver-colored tails. The room and Rebekkah and the book all look wet from the shadows. We’re riding through a giant car wash.
“That’s ghastly,” she says. “They’re huge.”
“What is that?”
“History of erotic photography. Your sister’s book.”
Maylee is equally zaftig, but I don’t say My girlfriend has breasts like that, or yes, you’re right. They are ghastly. I try changing the subject.
“So what’s the deal with this haunted house.”
“Buster.” She pauses. “Yeah.”
Jill comes in and puts down three small bowls of fruit salad. “Do you know who Buster Keaton was?” she asks me. She searches the bookshelf.
“Of course,” I say, the name familiar, but that’s actually all I got. Like the word Adirondacks is familiar to me, though I don’t have a clue what they look like or how tall they are, of if they hold any lakes or have any historical significance.
“Rebekkah thinks the Great Stone Face still lives at Clarky’s,” Jill says. She hands me Haunted America. “It’s the dog-eared page.”
I see a Hollywood address circled in pen and a black and white photo of Buster Keaton. He looks like he’s never seen a happy day in his life.
“You’ve seen his ghost?” I ask Jill.
“Nope. Doesn’t show up for me.” She points at Rebekkah. “Bekky won’t stay there alone.”
“I don’t even like recording in that place. I told Clark that I wouldn’t do the next album there.”
“You’re shitting me,” I say.
“I’ve been there more than anybody,” Jill says. “More than Clarky and Bekky together, I bet. Here, eat.” She hands me a bowl. “It’s just an old house. It creaks and groans. There are opossums in the attic and mice in the walls. I dare Buster to show himself.”
Rebekkah shakes her head. “Don’t joke. I get goosebumps just talking about him.”
“What does he look like?” I ask.
“I don’t know. He’s always behind me, like an evil mime. Ugh.” She shivers. “He turns on the TV and the heater, and leaves faucets running.”
I hold Haunted America in my hand. The book is four-hundred and thirty-three pages. I look up Elgin, where our parents live and where we grew up, but the index skips from Elaine, VT to Emerson, OR. Which figures. Everyone leaves Elgin.
Once costumed, we walk downhill in the dark to Clarky’s house on Kingsrise Avenue. I’m wearing the confessional, because it’s too awkward to carry any other way. Jill is a cat burglar, which means black clothes, a black cap and a black eye mask. Rebekkah is dressed identically.
“You can’t both be a cat burglar,” I say.
“Did the box just talk?” Rebekkah asks.
“I think so. Should we answer it?”
“We work as a team,” Jill says.
“Don’t worry. We’re not after anything valuable. We only steal hearts.”
I notice that Jill hasn’t added any air holes.
We’re nearly the first to arrive. Even Clarky isn’t there.
“These things always start late,” Jill says. “Fix yourself a drink.”
I put the confessional on the dining room table and see Buster Keaton right away. He’s in a movie poster for Haunted House. Clark’s house seems too small to be haunted, and definitely too cramped for a movie star. The air has that small-house smell. I take a gin and tonic on a tour, starting with the kitchen and its vaulted ceiling above and cracked green tile below. In the dining room there’s an autographed photo of Stevie Wonder with his arm around Michael Caine, and another framed photo of Bono talking to Michael Caine at a wedding. The living room has a dark wood ceiling, Stickley-esque furniture and more framed photographs. In one, Miles Davis is shaking hands with Michael Caine. There’s a beach in the background of this photo and Miles looks like he despises water. In the bedroom, there’s a photo of three older kids who I figure must be Clarky’s from a past marriage. On the opposite wall is a vintage poster of a woman laughing, eyes green and squinting. And in huge block letters: SHE MAY LOOK CLEAN…BUT “GOOD TIME” GIRLS SPREAD DISEASE. There’s a toothbrush lying next to the bathroom sink and a priest in the mirror (me). One wall of the den is covered with a shooting gallery menagerie. Chipmunk, prospector, wagon, gold pan, grizzly bear, all with small bull’s eyes and hinges along the bottom on which they each must have swung back, still vibrating, ten thousand times. A battle scene of army men is laid out across the top of a battered upright piano. I notice a row of iPods on a mantelpiece, each labeled along the spine: R&B, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Classical, New Rock, Clients, Clients? (Clients he’d like to have? Clients he can’t remember representing?), Rock. I play (badly) a round on a 1930s pinball machine with a baseball theme. The house seems steeped in that decade. It’s sepia, projector flicker, leather. The only exception is the antiseptic hush of Clark’s tiny recording studio, the plate glass, computer monitors and mixing board.
“Grant.” Jill waves me over from the kitchen.
“This is Clark,” she says, introducing me to Michael Caine. Though now I can see that it isn’t really Michael Caine. As with all look-alikes, Clark has a little bit of ugliness to set him apart from the real deal. His is in the stature and nose.
“Good to meet you,” he says.
He’s much older than my sister, has a trace accent that seems fake, and a thick gray beard. We shake hands. His are wet and cold. I grip the way my dad taught me. So strong you’re almost hurting them. And hold it a second longer than they do. Clark, apparently, comes from the same school.
“Austin’s the place.”
“It’s cool,” I say.
We each release our grip.
“Can I put you to work?” He points to a couple bags of ice on the kitchen counter. “There’s more in the car. Here.” He tosses me some keys. “I’ll rustle up some drink tubs for you.”
“Yee-haw,” I say.
Most of the party arrives as I’m lugging ice out of Clark’s vintage red Mini. The guests come up the driveway and pass me singly and in groups: The Pirate, Barney, Hooker, Yogi Bear, Pothead (with flower), Cigarette, Devil President and First Lady, Drag Queen, Big Island Bikini Finalist (wearing Big Island Bikini Finalist sash), Deep Throat (old man with book contract pinned to his suit), Chewbacca, three Buddhist monks (possibly not costumes?), and Heavy-Metal Musician (with double-neck guitar). They disappear inside, or off to the far corners of the patio, their cigarettes and joints glowing like fireflies beneath the umbrellas. The outdoor heat lamps are tongues of dry blue gaslight. There’s a drizzle falling. I keep my eyes open for musicians I might recognize. I imagine the clubs and stadiums where they’ve performed, the size of the audiences, the number of ticket stubs taped to bedroom walls, the fan websites, concert T-shirts on shoppers in supermarket aisles. There must be thousands and thousands of people keeping their fame alive by listening to them this instant. I know forty or fifty people well enough that they would think of me from time to time. Right now, there’s maybe one person thinking of me. Maybe no one.
There are more guests inside. Pom-pommed Cheerleader, a few generic monsters masks, Henry VIII, 2-person Horse costume, Jury Notice, and more. Here, the air is hot and the conversations are loud as shouts. In the kitchen, Clark has filled a couple of plastic tubs with bottled water, Japanese beers, and sodas I’ve never heard of. I cover them with the remaining ice, then riffle through the kitchen drawers, find a knife, and perforate the top of the confessional with air holes. Someone turns on some bass-heavy music. The beat’s thump vibrates at the exact resonant frequency of my penis. I turn toward the fridge, an ancient thing that won’t mind, and make some adjustments to my crotch. I open the fridge and pretend to browse. There’s a single bottle of beer, and mustard. The refrigerator light dims from someone running the blender. On the freezer door are dozens of small Polaroids. They all look to be taken in this kitchen. Amid all the anonymous peace signs, lowered sunglasses, toasts and flash-bleached smiles, I recognize Jack White, Sarah McLachlan (maybe), Tom Petty, and, holding a bouquet of flowers, Bill Murray.
Big Island Bikini Finalist comes looking for a bottle opener. “Who’s the confessional?”
I close the fridge and raise my hand.
“That’s so great,” she says.
“Isn’t he a genius?” It’s Rebekkah. She dips a ladle between the lilypads of orange slices and into the punchbowl of sangria. “Put it on already.”
Inside the box, I can hear myself breathe.
“I’m going to have to come back to you tonight,” Big Island Bikini Finalist says, or maybe it’s Rebekkah. I part the confessional’s curtain but they’re both halfway across the room. I plant myself in the middle of the house and wait. The new shoes from Jill look about a hundred bucks, but feel like ten. I pull off the priest’s collar and unbutton. I can hear lots of conversations and the conversations are clever and electric and effortlessly so.
“I think they’re baby surrogates. No one used to name their dogs Carl, Philip, Josie or Paul.”
“My dog’s name is Champ.”
“Perfect. As it should be.”
“They should try chimps instead. Dogs are nothing like babies.”
“No way. Chimps are worse than babies. Have you ever worked with a chimp? Try changing a diaper on a hairy ass. And they have big sharp teeth, and a nicotine habit by age two.”
My friends (Matches, Carrie, Ryan, Mike and Repo) are so much more quiet, even at a party. Maylee’s friends are even quieter, most of them married or parents, with the life kind of sucked out of them. That’s not to say that my friends can’t be like the people here: fresh, funny, meticulously cool and relaxed all at the same time. Polaroid-worthy. But when my friends take off from a party they climb into their ‘89 Accords and busted Chevys and I see them again at work the next morning. Hey. What’s up. They don’t go off to perform in front of thousands, or live in neighborhoods like these, or, like right now, talk about their vacation in New Zealand, their guest-house renovation, or how Clinton is looking too thin, the last time we had lunch.
I’m beginning to really regret agreeing to go as a confessional. I should be outside the costume, throwing around my own stories, my glass clinking with ice, listening, laughing. Ha ha. Instead, I feel caged and detached.
Then the confessions start.
“I used to pay the rent by selling my girlfriend’s underwear on eBay. We’d take a picture of her in a pair and they’d sell like crazy. Now everyone’s doing it and you can’t even get twenty bucks. The free market sucks.”
I don’t part the curtain, but I can tell from the shoes that it’s the Pirate.
“Three dozen Our Fathers?” I say. “And six– no, seventeen Hail Marys.”
“Okay, just the Our Fathers.”
“Can I do another?”
“I love women in girdles. Old-fashioned girdles, nothing frilly. Yowzers! Is that a sin?”
“Do those Hail Marys.”
The Pirate breaks the ice. I take a rapid series of confessions from different folks and by the fourth or fifth confession, I realize they’re not making this stuff up.
“I accidentally ruined the needle on my husband’s two-thousand dollar record player. I blamed it on the maid, who he fired. I don’t care. And the new maid is better and even cooks.”
“When I get high I’m crazy about opera music and sometimes I sing along. I play in a rock band.”
“I am so happy to be out of the house. I love my kids, but I am so happy not to be spending New Years’ Eve at home again.”
“I had work done on my ass and no one’s noticed and now, every time I sit down, I can feel the difference, like there’s an extra seat cushion. Feel that. Here, give me your hand. Can I come inside the booth? Okay, now, feel that. I should have spent the money on something else, like giving it to a charity. What do you think? Here, I’ll walk away. Take a good look.”
“I haven’t had anybody over to my place in three years. It’s a pig-sty. I have car air fresheners hanging from my ceiling fans.”
“I’m addicted to video golf.”
“My wife is in love with the guy over there in the king costume, but she stays with me because he doesn’t have any money.”
With Rebekkah popping up inside the confessional every now and then to see how I’m doing and to take and deliver drink orders, I’m beginning to enjoy the party. I leave the curtain parted a hair just so I can see if I’m taking the confession of anyone famous. Chewbacca’s removed his head and turns out to be a woman I think I’ve seen in a TV commercial for paper towels. But I don’t recognize many others, even from the guests whose only disguise is token false teeth or funny hats. There are probably a lot of industry suits here, and assistants. I’m looking for Rebekkah when she pops up inside the confessional.
“Another?” She smells of smoke.
“Can I take a confession?” she asks.
We wait, inches apart, for a sinner. I can feel her breaths on my neck.
“Hello?” someone asks.
“Speak my son.” Rebekkah’s deepened voice comes off menacing.
“Have you seen Lewis? He said Rebekkah was going to be here.”
We wait for another.
“This is the first time I’ve cross-dressed in front of my friends. They think this is a costume.”
“That’s not a sin,” Rebekkah says. “Try again.”
“This is God’s house, my son.”
“I wasn’t around when my mother passed away. I knew she was sick, but I took care of my father when he died. They were divorced. I didn’t want to go through that again. But I should have. Am I going to hell?”
Rebekkah prods me.
“Say the rosary every night for a week,” I say.
Rebekkah looks at me and makes a sad face. “This is a downer. Later.” She misses a half-dozen confessions before she returns with a glass of sangria.
“You know those pads of butter you get in restaurants? I’ve taken them home and rubbed them on my girlfriend while I go down on her. I love butter. Is that the weirdest thing you’ve heard tonight?”
“I ran over my neighbors’ cat, but didn’t tell them. I helped them put up Lost Cat flyers.”
“I haven’t sold a single piece of art, except to my parents, and they paid way too much for it. I also didn’t want to come to this party alone, so I invited this guy I just met this morning at a coffee shop. I don’t even know his last name.”
“I love my younger daughter more than my older one.”
“It’s been over two months since I’ve shaved my legs.” (Chewbacca)
“I’m a member of the mile-high club.”
Rebekkah returns, smelling of weed and rain.
“It’s pouring,” she says. “I miss anything good?”
“Nah,” I say, lying.
“You’re never going to get a chance to confess something.”
What could I confess? I’m a slacker. I like wasting time. I like women with mudflap silhouettes, big deal. I want things to be easy. I am green. More? I’ve wondered whether I’ll inherit Jill’s money one day. If I outlive her and she doesn’t have any kids, that is. Horrible, I know. Or, how I have a sugar-momma and know it. Or how, when Jill’s friend Lisa fell from our parent’s roof, and I saw her roll off the edge and fall, why did I just stand there and not run toward her? I was so close, and she was at least twenty feet up when I heard her gasp. I might have broken her fall. I remembering being relieved when she no longer had to use her wheelchair. But she still had a bad limp and had to use a cane because of the paralysis. I never told her, or anyone, that I could have prevented the way she landed. Like Jill, Lisa moved out of state after she graduated high school. My only communication with Lisa were within the fantasies I stoked for at least a year. Fantasies complete with different locations, different scenarios, different outfits, including, from what I can recall: Nurse, Maid, School Teacher, Lingerie Model, Elevator Attendant, Businesswoman, Stripper, etc. Not once Girl In Wheelchair, or Girl with Cane. Or Girl Wrongfully Made Lame By Boy Too Lazy To Get Off His Ass And Simply Hold Out His Arms.
Rebekkah confesses that she is afraid of walking through long grass, eating any kind of seafood, and of getting too old to transition her career into movies. She still misses her childhood cat, she admits. The Minx, who was decapitated by an automatic garage door.
Inside the confessional, as we hear people counting down the seconds to midnight, we count together. I can hear the rain pouring off the roof and onto the patio and, somewhere, into a puddle. Midnight. I kiss her because it’s New Year’s Eve, because we are inches apart, because I am drunk, because she is afraid to walk through long grass. We kiss through I’m addicted to video footage of disasters, especially ones with people in it. It makes me feel blessed. The tsunami ones were the best. We kiss through I make more money than I know what to do with and I wish everyone here were really my friends and When are they going to launch the rocket? Do you know? Her tongue is small and flighty. I hear her name being called and don’t want her to leave.
“I’ll be back,” she whispers.
I hear Rebekkah! shouted joyously as soon as she’s outside of the confessional. Then the lights flicker and the music cuts out. A woman screams, and then everyone screams for fun. I wait for the power to come back on, but it doesn’t. I part the confessional’s curtain and see nothing for a few minutes, then candlelight. I don’t see Rebekkah. In the game room, I listen to I like barely legal girls and I am such a jealous person. There’s something illegal going on in the bedroom. In the den are people reading books, eating, and playing Scrabble by candlelight.
There are confessions to be heard here, too.
“I’ve slept with over fifty women and I can’t believe I’m not with any of them now. There were some really nice ones I should have fallen in love with.”
“I’m only here because my agent said I should network more. God, I hate my life.”
“My brother’s living with us, and he killed like six people at close range in Afghanistan and he tells me about it late at night and he cries like a baby and I can’t sleep because I feel like I was there, too. Never ask a soldier to tell you their story.”
“I hired a new employee because she insinuated something would go on between us if I hired her, and something did, but not anymore. She says if I fire her she’ll claim sexual harassment. She’s terrible at her job and I might have to let someone else go because business is down. I’m an idiot.”
“I’ve been in prison twice and tell people I was in Brazil during those years.”
I’m tired of hearing confessions and complaints. Personally, I’d be happier without the costume, and after a piss. While in line for the bathroom, I listen to: I wish I could see who you are. You have a nice voice. You really could be a priest. You’re not really a priest, are you? But you still have to keep everything secret, right? Okay, so our bedroom is below our lesbian neighbors and whenever I hear them having sex, I get my rocks off, even though I’m straight. Also, I only had our third kid because my husband wanted another. Sometimes, like when I’m in bed and almost asleep, I can’t remember our last kid’s name. Your turn.
“I can only confess to another priest.”
“No, the bathroom’s free.”
I lock the bathroom door behind me, take off the cardboard box, and stand over the toilet. In the candlelight, I see I have a clear shot of the bowl. Afterwards, in the mirror, I see the haircut I’ve forgotten about. It’s still fucking A, though a little flat on top from the confessional. I try the switch, but the power is still out. It’s then I notice the pirate lying in the empty bathtub.
“Don’t mind me,” he says. “I’m not here.” His mustache is crooked. There’s a hook lying on the floor, while a free hand holds a cigarette. “I’ve got another one for you. My father died of lung cancer. I still love smoking. How fucked is that?”
“Here,” I say, leaving the confessional on the bathroom floor. “All yours.”
Free of the costume, I finally feel a part of a Hollywood party. Not a priest in a confessional, but me, Grant. Tom Petty is standing right next to me wearing a feather headdress. The guy from INXS, the one who didn’t commit suicide—obviously—is filling someone’s wine glass. I try to join a few circles but I realize that though I now recognize lots of people, no one recognizes me. It’s worse than normal social awkwardness. When I was a costume everyone knew me and confessed their hearts. Now I feel like a footnote in a much more interesting text. I have the status of a catering employee. I search out those I know.
Rebekkah is at the far end of the room, just a face amid her black clothes and the darkness behind her. There’s Big Island Bikini Finalist and Henry VIII and the back half of Horse. Jill is on the couch talking to the front half. I watch Jill. She’s always been mature, even when she was younger, but now she makes being an adult look like the most fun on earth. She may not be a celebrity, but she’s a friend of the famous—and that anonymity is perhaps even more exclusive. One moment we’re launching bottle rockets and sharing roof-top beers with our friends, the next we’re holding martinis, the friends upgraded, the digs upgraded, the humidity traded for Pacific breezes. At least for her. Jill says something and the people around her laugh. Someone snaps their fingers and points at her repeatedly. A guy pounds the arm of the couch and laughs so hard he has to spit back into his glass. Jill sees me and raises a martini glass. I toast with my invisible glass, though I hardly need one—I haven’t been this toasted all year.
It has to be more than just hard work, education or genes that’s put Jill here (and me for only a tease of a weekend). I’ve read up on Blake’s Resource Dilution Model and Zajonc’s Confluence Model. The advantages of the firstborn aren’t that pronounced in a suburban family with just two kids. Rebekkah said I look like Jill, with my haircut and shave, which puts us on genetic par. I work hard, when the work’s worthy, so it’s not that.
Another sparkler bursts with light at the far end of the room and illuminates the walls and the ceiling and a pocket of this New Year’s Eve party. In the firework light I see Chewbakka swatting stray sparks, and French Maid and Deep Throat, hand in hand, and balloons I hadn’t noticed, bobbing against the ceiling, their half-curled strings almost touching the heads of the guests. Everyone is New Year’s happy, even those who’ve confessed guilts and pleasures. There’s a wind-up record player turning, with I Got Rhythm coming out from the invisibly dark center of the horn. I want this. Now. I want to throw Hollywood parties, tell funny stories, be clever as all hell. A fuller life, with more experiences packed into the same span of time. Higher density living. What I lack is connections. I need I have a buddy you should call. I could get far if my people could contact their people. I need a lucky break if I’m going to join this crowd. Because, let’s face it, what do I have otherwise? A half-ass education, a half-ass job.
Rebekkah is the one holding the sparkler, and she finds me by the light and hands it to me. I feel everyone staring at the white-bright not-to-be-seen center of sparks. I wave the sparkler around a bit, because it seems that’s what you’re supposed to do with sparklers. Small circles are easy. As are figure eights. Squares are impossible.
In the last sputtering sparks, I see Buster Keaton again. This time it’s within an aquarium tank, in the body of a lone puffer fish who sweeps back and forth behind the glass to survey the light from my sparkler. The Busterfish looks much more intelligent than a fish should. It’s expression is just like Buster Keaton’s—the same sad eyes and sallow face, reincarnated. Then the sparkler smokes out and it’s darker than ever in the room. I hold onto someone’s shoulder to steady myself, an albino with dyed black hair and castanets in his hands. Maybe I’m dizzy because I didn’t make those air holes big enough, and I was breathing too much carbon monoxide. Wait, breathing out, that’s carbon dioxide, right? We wouldn’t be breathing out something deadly. Maybe it’s just the sparkler’s fumes. Or too many drinks. Stupid costume. Had I known, I would have gone as Buster Keaton. Then I would’ve been what I want to be. Host in my own house.
The confessional wins grand prize. “Repent, the End is Near” is a late show to the party and wins third place, despite infringing on my turf. Pirate, emerging from the bathroom, claims my victory (Jill’s, rightly), dressed in the confessional. Clark hands him a rocket. In the candlelight I can make out the fins, cap, and Chinese lettering down the side. It’s at least three inches thick, and no bottle rocket. The guests applaud and begin chanting “Launch! Launch! Launch!,” as we begin streaming out into the backyard. It’s drizzling lightly and I stand to the side with Rebekkah and watch Pirate (as the Confessional; as me) weave drunkenly to a metal stand set up in the middle of the backyard.
“It’s an annual tradition,” Rebekkah says, when I ask.
Pirate sticks his arm out of the confession booth’s window and, with a butane lighter, tries to find the rocket’s fuse. One of the monks steps forward and helps him. The tiki torches sputter in the drizzle. Before I expect it, the rocket disappears in a violent hiss and is up and gone into the darkness above. Any second now, any moment and there’ll be a blossom in the sky. Seconds pass. There’s a groan from the guests.
“Shit, Donald,” someone says. “Where did you get this one?”
“I guy I know.”
“You need to find a new guy.”
I’m not completely convinced it’s a dud. It might have fallen unexploded and be lying on a roof—this roof just behind us—fuse barely lit but still going, and then, Kaboom. Kaboom! KABOOM! But these explosions are only in my head. We flow back into the house.
“Sorry folks. Show’s ov—”
I let loose a dribble of pee as the air rips open in bright searing threads. This is, by far, the loudest explosion I have ever heard, including the string of M80s my friends and I tied together one summer, and the time the tanker exploded on the highway when I was in grade school, turning the air to night.
Rebekkah claps, completely unafraid. And then everyone claps and hollers and the sound of freshly popped beers relaxes the atmosphere.
Rebekkah puts a hand into my pocket.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“When work is slow, I pick-pocket.” She is dangerously close to my wet spot when she pulls out the car keys. “What’s this?”
“The keys to Clark’s car.”
“Let’s go, then. It reeks in here.”
She pulls my hand through the crowd and gunpowder smoke. There are windows open now, sliding in chutes of cold air. A woman is coughing uncontrollably. At times, I only see my arm disappearing between robes and wings and shoulders and staffs and capes and how many people are in here? A hundred? Then we’re outside, in wind. Buster’s house is sparkler-lit amid all the pre-electric darkness. There are no fires outside, no lanterns, no gas lamps. The sky is pure black. Part of me wants to stay inside where the stars are. The other is being pulled by Rebekkah. We crawl inside the Mini only to set off the car’s alarm.
“Shit. Where’s the button,” I say, feeling the keychain and finding nothing. Rebekkah just laughs. “C’mon, help me.” I feel under the steering column for a switch.
“You dope. It’s not the car alarm. It’s inside.”
Through the windows of the house, I can see a woman on a man’s shoulders, reaching up to a smoke detector. The place is packed and crazy in the light, all feathers and fur and pom-poms and makeup and gray smoke.
“Let’s go to Jillseys,” Rebekkah says.
We roll into the street just as there’s a flicker of lightning. The street looks like the parking lot for a car show: vintage Cadillacs, a Jaguar, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, a Hummer.
“Six-one-thousand, seven-one—” Rebekkah stops when the thunder booms. “Over a mile away.”
“You’re not afraid of lightning, are you?” I ask.
“Because I’m a girl?”
“No. I hate lightning.”
“When I was little, my whole family would sit on the porch and watch storms come over the fields. It seems like we spent whole summers doing that.”
“That’s nice,” I say, because I like picturing Rebekkah there, maybe on a porch with a swing, a pitcher of ice tea on the floorboards. “My family never did anything together.”
There was one summer when I don’t think we were ever in the same room. Jill had left for college. Dad was working, Mom was working. A couple of my friends moved away, another went to South America on vacation. I was left at home, thinking about my upcoming freshman year in high school. Even worse, my dad put me to work tucking real estate pads with his photo under every welcome mat in our town and the next. I got to about fifty homes and then I just hung out by the creek, doodling in the pads. My dad looked incredibly young in the photo and even though I knew it was an old photo, it was hard to believe he ever looked that good. I’d mostly make little flip-books with the pads, ten-second animations of my father sprouting horns, mustaches and pointy goatees. Or I’d draw eye patches, steaming ears, or make him into a boxer who’s lost a bout. Sometimes I’d make drawings of little rocks that would fall on his head, then tumble down and hit our address, printed in the corner of each pad. I thought a lot about Lisa, too, that summer. About not catching her as she fell. I bought a moped that I wasn’t able to fix. I became a life guard at the community pool, saved nobody. I jacked off to scrambled porn. I went into Austin and had my tongue pierced on 6th Street after a show, then went back again two days later to the hospital there when my infected tongue swelled up like a sea cucumber. When the A/C in the house died and was down for a week, I lay in the bath, filled with cool water, and wondered where I’d be in ten years. I waited and waited and waited for something to kick in.
The gears crunch. I leave the Mini in first. The distance is short, anyway, and I’m too drunk to drive safely in any other gear. This doesn’t feel like regular driving, though. Wind slaps the car like waves. We are at sea. After each roll of thunder, Rebekkah says a mile away, or half a mile, or seven miles. It starts to rain hard again, then it feels like we’re underwater. We begin singing Yellow Submarine, then there’s an explosion as much in us as around us. I can feel the chambers of my heart bulge.
“Zero miles,” Rebekkah says. “Forty-thousand points!”
“Once, my dad and I sat through a fifty-thousand-point storm. That’s when the tree in front of your house gets hit and catches on fire.”
Rebekkah is beaming. All I know is that this is the closest I have ever been to a strike, one so close that the lightening and thunder are one. I see the afterimage without having to blink. I feel the charge still on me, the hair on end, the pulse so fast it’s almost solid. I can see the teeth in Rebekkah’s smile. She is fearless and I want to be fearless, too. I want to run through the rain, I want to clap with the thunder. This Mini can’t contain me.
We stumble from the car and practically swim back to Jill’s place, overshot by a good half block. There are branches all over the road and sidewalk. We are wet and Rebekkah’s black cat burglar costume is brush-marked with golden bamboo leaves. Thank god, thank god, she knows where there’s a key. We bump and stumble past the wine room, the laundry room, the home gym, down the hall of body parts—heart, ear, spleen, elbow, lungs—everything lit by a pale blue emergency light in the ceiling above us. Rebekkah is soaked, I am soaked, we shouldn’t swim in our clothes, so we take them off as we go, shoes are the hardest—fuckers, and then we’re up a carpeted staircase that feels like clouds, to a bedroom with a glass wall.
There’s another flash of lightning.
“She has a pool!” It can’t be, but I can see it there, behind a low hedge, a rectangle of rain drops. There is pool furniture, lounge chairs, a BBQ, downed umbrellas, a jacuzzi, and then nothing. “She has a jacuzzi! Let’s get in the jacuzzi.”
“It’ll be great!” I’m so lit I’m flying. If there wasn’t glass in front of me, I feel like I’d jump straight into the pool.
“It’s pouring. And the power’s out. It’ll be freezing.”
She’s right. “You’re right.” And the momentum skips a beat, like my heart, just now. It’s only at this moment, both of us in our underwear, standing dead still, that I realize I am near-naked in a room with a celebrity in Hollywood. It’s too dark for her to see my erection. “Is the penis an organ?” I think, then realize I’ve asked the question aloud.
Rebekkah laughs. I can hear the bed springs. Lightning freezes her in mid-jump, thin, long-armed. And then she jumps and never hits the ground. I catch her. There’s a kiss. I feel old guilts and fantasies collide. This could finally be perfect.
Her snoring, afterwards, is like thunder.
I walk downstairs in my boxers, looking for some water, and notice that the power is back on. Jill’s huge flatscreen TV says CHECK INPUT against a chemical blue. I can’t find any buttons on the TV, and no remote. “TV off,” I say, but that doesn’t work. I sit on the couch and page through the book of erotic photographs. The sex with Rebekkah wasn’t great, not that this should diminish the infidelity. It was thin and hard to appreciate while it lasted. Next time I’m going to be completely sober. I picture Rebekkah and see her caught in mid-jump, by lightning-light. Sinewy. When I think of Maylee, I think of her reclined and sultry. I see her that first time sitting in the dunk tank at the Elgin fair in her Orange Crush T-shirt. Maylee might actually be proud that I slept with a celebrity, however minor, as long as I get her autograph. I’d have slept with her, Maylee might say.
Bullshit, Grant. You’ve just cheated on me, the first woman you’ve ever cheated on. (Fourth actually, but some of those were in junior high, and probably don’t count.)
Yeah, but it doesn’t feel like it. I’m tired and tingling and thirsty and bad drunk.
That’s hardly an excuse.
I know. But were you and me really going to work out, in the long run? When I’m thirty, you’ll be…(the math fails me)…old. Last week I noticed a gray hair in your bush.
When something like this, like Rebekkah, comes along, you know I have to take it. The first step to success is knowing your first step.
What’s that, from a self-help book? You’re a one-night stand for her. I’m a lifetime. Don’t be such an opportunist.
What if I really love her?
Love her? Ha!
Yeah, love her. Maybe her fame is just icing.
Did you love me?
Did you ever love me enough to donate a lung?
Can they do that?
I don’t think so.
Um, probably not.
Yeah, I know. Sorry.
I close the book. Maylee doesn’t deserve this. I thought I loved her, I’ve told her I love her. I find a pen and start writing down names on the sheet of paper where Rebekkah earlier wrote Rebekkah says Rock On. I write To Maylee, — P. Brosnan. I find a blue ballpoint pen. Best, Paul Newman. There’s a pencil, just a nub left, in a kitchen drawer. I find as many different pens as I can in the house and write down as many names as I can think of, some famous, some made-up, until the page looks ripped from a celebrity yearbook. Have a bitchin’ summer. —Beck.
You’re an asshole, I can hear Maylee say.
You’re an asshole.
I know. I know.
I wake on the sofa to an empty house. Upstairs I find the bed where Rebekkah lay, still strong with the scent of cigarettes and perfume. I gather up my trail of clothes on the way back downstairs. Hers are gone. I shower, eat a doughnut from the fridge, then go for a walk. There are a few clouds, but otherwise a pale blue sky completely different from the one last night. Ahead of me a jogger hops through the obstacle course of storm debris: downed tree branches, trash can lids, puddles black as oil and with every appearance of being bottomless.
I’m sluggish. My face is stubbled for the first time in years. I never thought I’d sleep with a celebrity, so now, the morning after, I don’t know if how I feel is what we (by we I mean the through-a-friend pick-ups, like me, or the friend of a friend of a friend, or the assistant, the cameraman, the driver, the gardener—whatever the common-class recipients of a celebrity’s desire) are supposed to feel. I feel expectant. Rebekkah feels like alcohol. She’s the joy of getting drunk even though I know the morning after will be hell. This morning isn’t so bad. There’s a delayed hangover waiting for me: a Texas without a woman, probably a lost job, no apartment, no way to pay for going back to school. But that’ll pass.
I walk past a car crushed by a downed tree. I walk past the Mini, badly parked where we abandoned it, and with the keys still inside. I could drive it someplace, but I feel better walking. I pocket the keys. After an hour or so my head clears. The air is crisp as iceberg lettuce, a way it never is back in Texas. There’s plenty to think about, like whether I can stay at Jill’s for awhile longer, whether I should look for a job here, whether I should go back to Texas first, whether I’m doing the right thing, turning from one woman to another, moving from one state to another. I’ll probably lose my twang, need to get a California driver’s license, switch insurance companies, get a new dentist. Friends. I’ll need to make new friends. That’s a big one. But I try not to think about all that so much. Right now, I feel young—and finally en route. Anything is possible. It’s an oyster. What could have taken years of studying and schmoozing, is now skipped. I’ve switched tracks and there’s no going back. Luck, when it finally comes your way, is a California sky blowing clear any homemade sins.
Stepping back into Jill’s house, I hear Clark’s voice. There’s a marching band marching across the huge TV. And then I see Clark and Jill and Rebekkah in the kitchen. Clark is sitting at the table reading aloud a newspaper clipping, scissors in his hand. And just in front of him is Jill, sitting up on the counter. All good, so far. What stops me is Rebekkah, encircled by Jill’s legs. She and Jill are kissing—no—gnoshing. A meal kiss. This is intimacy familiar as familiar gets. I wait for them to stop. I wait to breathe again. Eleven-one-thousand, twelve-one-thousand, thirteen—
Clark sees me standing there. He is fully undressed. He rattles a box of cereal in the air. “Breakfast?”
I am Buster. ◆