Authors: Sarah Schulman
“What do you mean, âNo'?” Coco said, exasperated. “Yes! If you would believe in and be satisfied by what I just said, you would be a much happier person.”
“No,” I said. “It's just too much. I'll never give in like that. My anger is justified, therefore I need to maintain it until I get justice.”
“Then keep on crying,” Coco said, as if it was nothing.
I picked a little jar of green paint out of Coco's purse and threw that against the other wall so there was green glass too.
“Look,” Coco said. “The first time was weird enough but the second time was sick because by then you knew what was going to happen but you did it anyway. That paint cost me eight bucks.”
I didn't feel like saying anything right then. Not “fuck you” or “shut up,” so I just sat there and Coco sat there too. Then she started braiding her hair. Then she left.
When the door slammed shut, I pulled out my gun from under the couch and held it, first in the palm of my hand, then gripped it cowboy style. It smelled like stale licorice or polished wood and it tasted like Delores. I decided that day that I would carry it with me at all times, until it took me directly to her. Then I would make Delores suffer. It was the only way that I could be happy.
ALL DAY AT
Herbie's I wore the gun wrapped in a clean side towel, in the middle pocket of my apron. It felt great, hitting against my pubic bone.
Things were slow that day, so by three o'clock Dino and I were taking a break on the back stoop smoking his Kools, which he always pulled upside down from the bottom of the pack. We were talking about what kind of day it was and what those kinds of days reminded us of.
For Dino, it was about remembering being in San Francisco when he was young, “a few years back.”
“It's the weather,” he said, “that makes them all feel like that. It's like you're on vacation everyday and can take a bus in either direction. I had a friend, Max, who worked at the Do-City Barbeque. Eat Your Ass Off was their slogan. Old men be sweeping sidewalks anytime they got around to it because it's bright morning all day long. There's nowhere else I've ever been where you can take it so easy and still be in the middle of everything, except down south, but that's another story altogether.”
I looked up, leisurely smoking, when I saw Delores coming down the street. Her eyes were glazed over all fanatic like and she moved as quickly as the Wicked Witch of the West pedaling that bicycle through Kansas. In her left fist, she was clutching my Statue of Liberty postcard.
I jumped up as fast as I could but she still caught me square in the chest.
“Don't think I care about your fucking postcard,” she said, shoving me again with a strength I remembered immediately. I stood there with no expression and let her shove me all around the back lot of Herbie's. The gun in my apron was banging back and forth, cracking me in the bone.
“Don't think I care,” she said. âBut everyone else is going to care a lot. I have some friends now, you know.”
Well, the truth is, I never felt better. I felt successful. Delores looked so ugly that I didn't even have to shoot her. For the first time ever, she knew exactly how I felt. I had touched her. Delores finally got the message.
I watched her stalk away and picked up the beat-up old postcard she had discarded on the sidewalk.
“Shit, Dino, I mailed this months ago. God, the mail is slow. Man, it has really gotten out of hand.”
Cocky as all hell, I delicately dropped it into the mailbox that was standing, conveniently, right next to the streetlight.
Dino was blinking, dragging on his cigarette, looking calm and very handsome.
“Funny,” he said. “Funny how sometimes you're just sitting down having a smoke and all of a sudden you're in a movie. Right up there on the silver screen. And then, you're out of it again.”
I was smiling away, feeling that warm spot on my chest where Delores had put her hand.
THE NEXT DAY
, I made a big mistake. I started looking at old photographs of me and Delores. There was this one that really got to me. It was taken one weekend the previous August. We'd gotten shriveled and passive from surviving the city all summer, and when a customer at Herbie's recommended Ocean Grove, New Jersey, as not too expensive and not too far, we decided to stretch the budget and check it out.
About a half-hour after we got there, it became evident that the whole town was run by Christians and everything was closed by nine usually, and all day Sunday. Delores started calling it “Ocean Grave.” The hotel that we were staying in was more like someone's home that got too large so they rented out a few rooms. In the foyer were born-again Archie comics and a board game called Bible Trivia. I remember that Delores and I pushed our beds together over by the window so we could see and hear the ocean. When we made love, we had to be quiet because we were scared of getting caught. But the next morning we took a little stroll down the beach and found out that one town over was Asbury Park, home of Bruce Springsteen and the famous boardwalk. We jumped in and out of that scene, playing ski ball, eating fried clams at Howard Johnson's, going to a rock-and-roll revival concert of the Marvelettes singing “Please Mr. Postman” for the seventeen thousandth time, and then we looked at the water. On the way back to bed, Delores and I crowded into an old-fashioned photo booth and took a strip of four shots. The first three were black-and-white with Delores sitting on my lap. But at the last minute, she grabbed my face between her hands and kissed it so deeply in front of the camera that my face got drawn into her face. When the pictures came out of the little slot, she snatched the strip right away, tore off the three posed ones, and threw them in the garbage, handing me the kiss.
“Here,” she said, being nobody's fool. “I want you to have this one.”
That's why I still have it and it hurts too much. Looking at it again made me realize what a pansy I have been, what a Caspar Milquetoast, letting her walk all over me. I conveniently turn to putty as Delores bops into my life for one second to cause total disarray and then she walks out of it again whenever she pleases.
That was it. There was no more beating around the bush. No more pretending. The time had come for me to take that step and get Delores. I walked around the apartment with my gun for a while. It felt good. What was more important, it felt natural. I wasn't going to shoot Delores and throw my whole life away. I was just going to scare her. Then she'd have to be polite for a minute or two. All I wanted was to say a few things to that bitch without having to hear her snappy comebacks. First, though, I had to get her into my house.
“Hi, Delores? This is me. I just wanted to tell you that I'm very sorry for any inconveniences that I may have caused you. I've thought it all over very carefully and I've decided that you are right and I am wrong.”
I was talking to Sunshine's answering machine.
“Delores, if I had known that you were going to smash me because I wouldn't get married, then I would have married you. Being married to you could not have been worse than this.”
I was trembling just a tiny bit.
“Well, anyway, Delores, I would really like to make things up to you in person. I would really appreciate it if you would stop by here soon and I could tell you how wrong I've been.”
I poured myself a short one.
“Eight o'clock,” I said.
Then I hung up.
The plan was in motion. The first step was to finish my drink. Maybe then I should reassess my plan. Maybe I should take the gun and shoot my face off as soon as Delores walked through that door. Then I had another drink and looked out the window.
“Everyone's a liar.”
I was talking to myself out loud by this time and gritting my teeth. “Take Charlotte, she's as big a liar as Delores.”
I hated her.
“âMy house, her house.' Charlotte almost had me fooled into thinking she cared about me, that we shared a secret, almost like best friends. But the real reason she didn't want me talking to Beatriz was that Charlotte thought Punkette had told me something about Charlotte liking to get seriously high every now and again. In the meantime, there's that Beatriz looking for tracks on my arm when
son were probably high in front of her every single day.”
I was getting ready to walk right over to Charlotte's place and give her a piece of my mind when I heard someone knocking on the front door.
I opened it to find three women standing there. They looked exactly alike, even though one was rail-thin and the other two were not. Looking alike was what was unusual about them. Separately they would have looked very usual. Their hair was dyed the same color, black. And it was all the same style, ugly. They looked, at the same time, like a bad hallucination and very familiar. But I couldn't tell if that was because I was drunk. I couldn't tell which was more familiar, having hallucinations or them. Maybe they really did look like everybody else.
“We're from the Rape Crisis Center.”
“We're from the Rape Crisis Center.”
“Are you collecting clothes for a thrift sale?”
“You have committed violence against women.”
“What is this?”
I was not in the mood for this at all.
“You have threatened the life of Delores,” they said in unison. “We have evidence.” One of them pawed a greasy, crumpled Statue of Liberty postcard.
“But I just mailed that yesterday.”
“With the New York postal service, you never can tell. Anyway, you threatened to smash her face with a hammer.”
“I didn't say I would smash her face with a hammer, I said I wanted to. It's not the same thing. Anyway, that's not the issue. The issue is who the fuck are you and get the hell out of here.”
“Delores is a victim,” the greasiest one said. “She is your victim. You are a rapist. You have metaphorically raped her.”
“Why are you doing this?” I asked, almost crying.
“For justice,” the skinny one said. “To get justice for Delores.”
“Who's going to get justice for me? Where were you when I asked Sunshine to stay away from my bar on my night and she said, âYou can't tell me what to do'? Is that right? Where were you when I asked Delores why she said she loved me when she only wanted a place to live and she said, âI changed my mind'? Where were you when Delores took my shirt off in The Blue and the Gold? Where were you when she was pushing me around Herbie's back lot?”
“We don't care about that,” the middle one said. Her face was pasty-white and bloated, like she ate cortisone for breakfast.
“Because your name is mud in this town,” they all said in unison.
They each had their street names painted on their identical leather jackets: Dubble, Trubble, and Boil. Then I remembered where I had seen them before. They weren't from any Rape Crisis Center. They were Useless Phlegm. They were that horrible rock band that Coco used to manage.
“You're not from the Rape Crisis Center,” I said. “Your names aren't Dubble, Trubble, and Boil. Your names are Debbie, Amy, and Lynn. You have the three most boring names in America. You're not social workers. Social workers drive Le Cars and carry appointment books. They really want to care. You don't do anything for anybody. You must really need bucks to walk around giving rape crisis counselors a bad name.”
“Your name is mud,” they said.
“What's the matter?” I said, walking past them and down the stairs. “No more gigs at the blood bank? Can't find any more health clubs that will pay you to hand out circulars? Couldn't find enough deposit bottles? Is that why you let yourselves be hired out as Sunshine's paid goons?”
“Why?” asked Boil. “Can you make a better offer?”
“I hope you got cash first,” I said. “Or is she lending you her video equipment so you can make a music video of your band?”
“Video?” the one who wasn't skinny said. “All she promised us were free glossies.”
“You are just bullies and cunts,” I said. “Bullies and cunts.”
“Your name is mud,” they said. “All over town.”
“Shut up,” I said, slamming the front door behind me and running off down the street.
“Mud,” they yelled after me. “Mud, mud, mud.”
I ran all the way to Charlotte's house, but when I got up the stairs to the door, staring me in the face was that peephole. It was cavernous. I could have crawled into it. I didn't need to knock. The peephole would let me in. My palms left sweaty handprints when I pressed up against the door to look inside. The light was out in the hallway, so I stood, like a thief in the night, like a traitor committing espionage. I looked in and they were naked. Charlotte sitting strong and beautiful on a kitchen chair with her arms around Beatriz's tiny waist. They were sweating, their bodies glistening in the yellowed old kitchen.