We have to skillfully protect and defend people Trump has terrified, which means having a little bit of spine and calling bullshit when we see it.
Discover MFA Programs in Art and Writing
What are you required to do at a stop sign?
I have no one-dimpled, hockey forward boyfriend Dennis Leibowitz from camp who calls me CHILLS and gave me the gold bracelet Dad really found in the pooperscooper. Not exactly. But everyone in the car—Tony, Regina, even Mr. Diodado, our drivers ed instructor—believes me so I’m stuck.
“What color eyes?” Regina quizzes, yanking mine wide by french-braiding my frizz ultra tight here in the back seat. Tony whomps on the brakes into a pothole, then the gas out of it, and she still hangs on to my hair while I’m saying,
“Green,” biting into my tongue. Think it’s bleeding. I don’t even want to know about the egg.
The egg is a regular old egg excepting the pink number four that’s stenciled on it. As we speak, the egg is cracked and yoking up my knapsack innards (looseleaf, sneakers, Spanish take home test on future tense), or whole and cozy, please, between two sanitary napkins. The egg is the final assignment for Mrs. Smolka’s health class: Just carry around this dumb egg all month intact, you pass.
“This Dennis any relation to Seth?” Tony twists around to ask me. His mug is long and slick-wet as Bay Boulevard which disappears in the fog ahead, under, behind us. His mustache place is lined with white zits. “Seth Leibowitz?”
Turns out a last name like Leibowitz really upped the believability factor. Now there’s room to elaborate. Ignoring Tony, (no way could Dennis be any relation to one of Tony’s friends) I try, “Killer eyes,” (Tony’s friends are all SAT cramming camera club math team gumbys), fleck ’em with “gold speckles,” (Whoever drives after Tony has to do all kinds of seat adjusting.) and make ’em “walnut-shaped.” why not? (We hate him.)
“Almond,” says Regina. Regina Profusion. No one would ever believe a last name like that. Mrs. Smolka’s full name is Wanda Smolka. Rumor has it her husband works at a chicken farm. But for hands-on condom practice, she also distributes cucumbers, zucchinis, and bananas in class. “Almond you mean. Almond eyes.”
“Walnut I mean.” Least I think I do. Have I blown it? No, not yet. Regina moves on to “Hair?”, still trying to harass mine (medium American brown) into formation while Tony eyeballs us from beneath his own oily hair saucer. It’s receding and he’s only in the tenth grade; bleak or what? “Well Sue? This Dennis does have hair.”
“Yeah!” Major insult. Who’d invent themselves a bald boyfriend? “It’s—”
“If it’s anything like Seth’s, it’s humongous,” Tony butts back in, not only facing backwards now, but lifting his hands off the wheel, too, to show us. “Fro Like a hedge,” and flexing, unflexing his expression which is exactly that of some kid set on mowing down the next-door-girl with his Big Wheels, Big Shot. How I know is guess who Tony’s next-door-girl was? Is.
“Mangia Cake!” Diodado calls him “Yo! You’re driving remember?” As always, Diodado’s busy clawing at his face. Problem is there’s problems with this beard he’s trying to grow—says he can feel it growing—for his upcoming Fiddler on the Roof audition. Community Theatre. The stubble is patchy, is itchy, is fraying all his shirt collars. The color matches his ponytail, a vivid buttery sort of—
“Tabby?” Can hair be?
“Tabby?” Regina doesn’t sound convinced. “Tabby?” Regina’s pale hair is too short to even describe. “Tabb-AAAAH”
Luckily, I’m saved from a more thorough grilling when Tony drifts into the wrong lane and a schoolbus, almost.
“Righteous!” Boy is this boy spun. His eyes shine. I gotta say, adrenaline becomes him. But when he starts in boasting, “Our vehicle scared away the enemy vehicle.” I gotta say,
“You’re an asshole.” Majorly PMS’d, o.k? Which is egg-wise, I guess, lucky. Humpty’s still intact thanks to those unused maxi-pads—egg-size cushions, thanks to my secret tampon ineptitude. How’s that for optimism? “You asshole.”
“Nice ass? Dennis?” Regina free-associates. Course the swerve also junked my braid-to-be. She’s got to unravel—“OW, nails”—and start again. Regina’s known to give herself manicures in class. Black polish.
“If I’m an asshole,” Tony snorts, “you’re the whole ass.” Then he disinvites us to the St. Patty’s day party I didn’t know he was having next weekend when his parent’s take his baby sis to Disneyland, world; whatever. In sixth grade he once (accidentally?) shot me in the ass, with a BB gun. Little did we know that shotgunned jeans would become fashion; Regina’s wearing them.
“Up by the bridge pull over,” commands Diodado, who’s moved on to whisking his face with a plastic fork. You can hear it. Swisk, swisk. Course his left hand’s been co-steering this whole time or we’d be history. Both feet hover over that second pair of brakes, always. Defensive Driving. Must get wicked cramps in his calves when he goes home after this stress fest. And embarrassed by the vehicle—Ford Villanelle—when he has to pick up dates.
Does he? Have dates? A date tonight? Reasons for my suspicions: No wedding ring. Yes, sports jacket—checked green, black, narrow navy tie, WITH GOLD CLIP. And it’s Friday.
Maybe he climbs up on the roof after work to unscrew the yellow light-up Steer-Rite Auto School sign then burns rubber to HER house.
Does it? Unscrew? The sign? Could be his weekend ritual. Stash those permit books in the glove. Cover the extra brakes with sheepskin. Air out our teen odors (Tony’s hair ooze, Regina’s Grape-a-licious gum and nailpolish, my Reebook Pumps’ brand new leather smell) or blast them with the brown jiggling spray car perfume—My Tone—in the triangular bottle mysteriously attached to the backdash with the tissues.
I imagine Diodado’s woman smells of little dangling air-freshner trees—pine, coconut, green apple. She’s a cabby with a compact Italian pistol stashed in the glove. She’s an ace mechanicess, nothing on under the jumpsuit but grease. She’s a huge breasted Monster Truck circuit Mama performing at the Meadowlands every Saturday and Sunday this month! She’s a race car driver, a leggy loincloth car-show blond, or some cute jailbait drivers ed prodigy. She’s Regina.
Naturally, I keep these embellishments to myself. That way, they maintain some reality.
Then again, Diodado might borrow a friend’s coach on his time off, or prefer walking.
Walking’s better for you than jogging, which is better for you than running. Girls uteruses can fall out, my Dad says (every AM when I head out after my brother, Howie, for Windsprints). He also says no relative should ever teach another to drive.
It is raining horizontally. Really. If that is rain and not hail, snow, acid sleet, or metal shavings from some late breaking industrial disaster. It is raining light big drops that pock and fog the windows. No matter. Regina’s got me reined in by the hair so tight that my vision’s limited to one slice. What I see: moving guard rail, slat of choppy bay, gray-brown, flash of girl licking some kind of wrapper. That, though, the last, I likely hallucinated. Regina tugs my scalp hard.
“Skin?” is next on her Dennis checklist, and I start to realize that every one of her questions is actually the same one. That is, How come you can nail a boyfriend and I can’t. I can’t. And it should feel good to get your hair felt, but her silver puzzle ring keeps snaaaaagging on my knots. “As in complexion?” Her tiny, squashed voice, the only reason I even let her. The only reason I answer.
Skin? Lets try “Regular.” That’s safe.
Diodado’s started on his face with the ice-scraper. “I said pull over by the bridge Mangia!”
“Maaaan, shit!” Tony rolls down his window to spit. “My turn ain’t up yet.” He slams the wheel edge with an open palm like his father does, in traffic. Or for effect. And gerbing a second time, adds sound, eee, adds flem. “I know how to man this sled better than you do.”
To calm or ignore him, Diodado pops the question de jour. “What are you required to do at a stop sign?” We have “Two minutes” and “thinking music”. L’Chaim.
Regina moans. “Showtunes, uh.”
Personally, I like them, but would never admit it.
“To Life, to Life, L’Chaimmmmmm.”
Regina screams. “Showtunes suck dick!”
“L’Chaim, L’Chaim to Liiiiife.”
Personally, I don’t see why Diodado doesn’t TAKE CONTROL of his face, (now slapping it on the upbeats), the car (surely headed for some new collision), ME, with the obnoxious guess that at a stop sign you
“Gun it.” Why’d I say that? Not to impress him whose eyes, skin, hair I’ve pretty much just described. Neither do I care one BB about any Grand Prize promised to whoever’s got the most right in the end. It’ll never be me. Regina gets it every time. No one’s even keeping track. We might not even live that long. I refuse to be bribed.
“Trick question,” Tony concludes.
“Wrong … . To life, To life, L’Chaiiimmmmm.”
In junior high, some kids anonymously gave our ever jock-scratching music teacher CRUEX wrapped up with a red ribbon. Cruelty or charity, I’m still not sure.
“L’Chaimmmmm, L’Chaimmmm To Iiiiife I don’t know anymore wor-rds yet. Da da da dada. Drink L’Chaiimmmmm to Liiiiife!”
“STOP!” Regina wails and Tony brakes, skidding slightly, two wheels up and over the curb. A single HEH presses out from my chest.
And “Bingo!” Diodado swivels to beam upon Regina. What did I tell you? “Yes!” His hand actually leaves his chin to slap on the headrest. “The girl in the mocha slacks gets it right again!” Never mind that it was totally accidental. “Three for three!” Never mind she meant for him to stop singing, for me to stop moving my head around, for Tony to stop this car already! She got all these results anyway. Teacher’s pet and cool girl both—a skill. “Good,” Diodado coos. “And if there is no stopline?”
She sighs, continues braiding. “Stop before entering the crosswalk.”
“GOOD! And if there is no stop line nor crosswalk?”
“Stop before entering the intersection.”
Tony fake pants, sits on his feet, forgets to put the car in Park. Sings, “And if there is no stop line, nor crosswalk?” Driver’s Ed. The Musical. “And if there is no intersection, nor car?” Not such a bad voice, actually. He stretches out his arms, really hamming. “And if there is no Diodado, no Regina, no Sue, no me, no me, no me?” Hitting his head on the horn as if to free his tongue, like a stuck record needle.
We are all laughing.
But me. “Goody good,” I whisper. “Mocha slacks. Goody-goody.”
In retaliation, Regina snaps my neck viciously with the hair elastic, and then, letting the finished braid drop, scrawls Dennis wasn’t here on the steamed window. She is my best friend.
Stopped by the bridge, Diodado instructs us to “Marvel at the traffic, like choreography. The flow and weave.”
Regina snorts. “I’m giddy. You giddy Sue?”
“The anticipation in every merge.”
Turns out tonight is the first Fiddler on the Roof audition. Hence, the fancy duds and short temper. So I was wrong about the date. Hence my mild elation.
“Break a fucking leg,” Regina says, sweetly.
Braid feels complicated, light. The car air, still, heavy. Open a window? Add damp. I imagine what if the bay froze over and I could glide on one leg across to where Diodado lives.
“In ice-skating camp,” I tell whoever’s listening, “all the girls were figure skaters and all the boys were hockey players. Except one boy …”
“Dennis?” Tony guesses right.
About the real Dennis Leibowitz anyway, the Dennis Leibowitz, who can do a mean double axle. But that is not my Dennis Leibowitz. It can’t be. That Dennis Leibowitz doesn’t even like girls. My Dennis Leibowitz doesn’t even exist.
The sky’s a weird pearly green. Two poofy vertical clouds hang motionless above the bridge which swings slightly, which could, this very moment, just buckle. Then we’d watch as all the matchbox cars spilled, as everyone’s rush hour parents got trapped, crushed under the water, clutching portable phones, hook-on mugs, fuzzbusters, linty packets of trail mix, shivering while polluted fish float past the child-proof windows to the tune of panic and garbled classical, country, muzac, NEWS stations or books-on-tape—blockbuster thrillers, lite-porn, artery plumbing recipe bibles, how-to’s on communicating with teenage waywards, who’d be left IN CHARGE of the whole suburb then? Teach them to carpool.
“Individual brains and bodies operating individual machines,” Diodado drones on, tie rippling over his shoulder, out the window “coalescing as if one, single-smooth, international organism.”
Which makes Regina think to ask, “Orgasm?” of my summer fling. “Did you—”
“None of your business,” I say. “Yes.” And not to impress her or Diodado or Tony, who jabs me smack dab on my funny bone with his elbow, and wails.
“Noooooo. Suuuue! Block. That. Puck.” What’s with him? I wouldn’t like to know. I don’t like the way he says my name for one thing, SUUUUUE, like he’s gargling. And I don’t quite get what we’re stopped here for like last week’s lesson on changing a tire (aren’t people paid to know that?); I’ll just forget anyhow.
“Traffic is sociology.” Diodado ad libs, I’m sure, between bites of his marinated beet salad (“Fiddler fare,” Regina, again rudely whispering. “That’s the same fork he scratched his face with!”). Last week’s cabbage soup now permanently freckles the maroon upholstery, after Tony took a monster swerve to avoid a reckless tricyclist.
And believe this, you might not, but Tony’s the best driver in the group. No doubt something to do with those Big Wheels. Big Wheels, Hot Wheels, Slot Cars, Go Carts. Boys get comfy with the idea of transportation young. Take my brother, Howie, who says “yum yum” whenever he gets a whiff of his fave smell, gasoline.
“Hey.” Tony tap taps the horn, pointing. “My father’s caddy. There.” I slide down in the seat. Whenever I see Tony’s father, he forms his thumb and pointer fingers into a gun and shoots me. “That’s gonna be my Daddylac someday. Fuzzbuster, CD, phone.”
“Eyes on the road,” Diodado barks. He raises his dribbling cup—”To Life!”—to the bridge, to the lights just flickering on in the mist-smog-dusk.
If he could only get that part, he’s thinking, he would never ever have to teach drivers ed again. If I would only get my period, I would never ever …
“The big O,” Regina backtracks, perhaps reading the daydream off my face. “You.” She gawks incredulously at my bracelet. Witness to the act? “But how? But Su-ue. But—”
I don’t like way she says my name, either. Su-ue, like goo. Like ’do the do.’Now, plucking at my bracelet, could be real gold for all I know, tempted to say, “With the iceman I cometh,” I panic slightly, plug in mom answers. ”You just know.” And, “A sense. “
“But—” Maybe Regina’s as unsatisfied as I am with mom answers. “But—”
They’re all I’ve got. I chance, “Use your imagination.”
Score! Miraculously she obeys, unclasps the bracelet and tries it on herself.
Which is when it occurs to me, I am actually good at something. I lie good. I am better than my brother, Howie, at something.
It takes off from there. For Mom, I make Dennis a rabbi’s son who has actually been on the teen tour in Israel she’s always pushing. Twice he’s been. For Dad, he scored high on his SATs and knows chess. It acquires a shape. For Diodado, I give him a part time job at the local garage sizing brakes. It has weight. Dennis is already a hockey jock which takes care of Howie. And the bracelet is obviously Regina-inspired.
“Liar Liar pants on fire, hanging from a telephone wire,” I keep hearing in my head, I keep expecting to hear Tony chanting. And, “There Goes Pinnochio,” and, “The Girl Who Cried Wolf,” and “If you’ll lie you’ll steal,” all the old standards. He never believed my childhood fabrications, no one ever believed: “I’m adopted, I’m a psychic, David Cassidy’s my cousin.” But neither did they curb the impulse. It’s just grown up.
Before pulling out of a parking space what should you do?
This is Regina getting ready or not. Safety check: Bra strap showing? Bangs in eyes? Knuckle crack: one through ten in agonizing slow motion. Deep breath: “Hail Mary full of …” it. Twice. Locate mouth, sticky with lipstick, in the rearview.
“She’s got a decent mouth when it’s not sayin nothin,” is the way my brother, Howie, once described her, meaning he wouldn’t mind trying out one of those flavored glow-in-the-dark condoms from the arsenal I found in his drawer on her.
I should sheath the egg. Protect and decorate.
“Leave about a half inch of space at the end,” instructs shrill Mrs. Smolka; her corpse complexion white as the chalk dust that halos from her white bun, smudges her vast polyester suit bottom, settles into a fine sediment that lines everything on her desk, from the hot-pink plastic fallopian tubes to the stained coffee cup that says “Naomi’s Place. More than a Delicatessen.” “Now slowly unrollllll, to the base of the penis.”
In the back row jaded types fake know-it-all-boredom, and embarrassed innocents blush, take notes. In the front row, the bible/abstinence freaks write up protest petitions, threaten boycotts and parents. In the middle, the “Immatour majority,” as Smolka calls us, disintegrate into silliness. “I wanted a cucumber.” “Your banana’s bigger.” Then come giggle fits, vegetable duels, condom balloons. I really should have rubbered Dennis up when we did it with our skates on. Too late.
“You’re late?” Regina squeaks, jamming the seat forward just in time for a sneeze.
“NO.” I’m not. “It is.”
“Gesundheit,” says Diodado (in character?). He made the first Fiddler cut.
“What’s late?” Tony. “What’s it?”
“How late is late?” Regina. Why does she think she can clean seagull droppings off from the inside of the windshield with my sweatshirt?
“You tell me.” Will we ever get out of this parking lot? After awhile this drivers ed stuff gets to be like RISK or some other board (bored) game. No fun till it’s your turn.
“OH.” Tony inhales, figuring IT out. “No.” Tony exhales, not believing IT. The nervousness shows; he picks up his imaginary drumsticks.
“Dennis asks first,” I tell him when he begins rocking out on my stomach. I never told him when he hit me with that BB in sixth grade. Just walked away, behind my house and bawled. I sat stoically excruciating on the wound all through dinner too, afraid Howie’d rage. Nor would my parents ever comprehend why, even though Tony shot me, I still wanted to hang out with him.
Interception. Diodado catches Regina’s hand en route to the radio. One of the ten deadly car sins on his Xeroxed list. “Music?” Probably Diodado asks first. When he clears his throat we all know what’s coming. “How bout Sunrise Sunset?”
“Make Mangia quit air-drumming then.” Regina yanks her hand from Diodado’s grip to root in her pocketbook for two wads of Grape-a-licious; gum being the second car no-no, followed by Sudden jerks. Rough-housing. Gasps. Inebrients. Consumptables. Smoking. Limbs out the window. Unnecessary profanity.
“Is this the little girl I carr-ieeeed.” While he serenades, Regina sucks noisily on the purple juices. “Is this the little boy at plaaaay.” And employs her recent discovery: when she scratches her face with those long black claws of hers, Diodado rubs his itchy-looking chin on his itchy-looking sweater. Scratch, rub, scratch, rub. He doesn’t even know he’s doing it. “I don’t remember getting ol-der/When did theeeeey.”
The deadly sin list says nothing about wasting 20 minutes in the parking lot when we have our road tests in less than two weeks. About complaints, whining, lies, too-candid confessions (i.e. “I’m late”). About sex.
Here in the backseat, now that air-drumming’s been vetoed, Tony occupies his hands with my zucchini (we get to take our substitute penises home to practice on), snaking it up and up my thigh.
“You don’t know where that green thing’s been,” I say, not kidding. Smolka has given me ideas I’d never have had otherwise. Nutrition.
“Sunriiiiise/Sunset/Seatbeeelt/Gin-a/Profusion/Swiftly flow the yeeeears.” Diodado’s voice cracks on years. He pats out the rhythm on her freckly knee, fashionably exposed through an I bet homemade jean rip.
The bitch. He’s never touched me like that. Tony places my hand on the zucchini. Outside it’s white grainy sky, blacktop parking lot. Diodado’s never sang “Seatbeeelt” like that to me? So black and white. I am sure Mr. D will never call me anything other than Sue. As in sewer. As is what Howie calls me.
Outside a blowing sheet of newsprint, black and white too—spears itself into a flag on the metal fence. I return the zucchini to the safety of my knapsack, with the egg pushing Tony’s hands away. I am more restless than they are.
“Alright,” I say. “All set?” But after doing her seatbelt, Regina’s got to rethink her outfit—blouse, tuck, meticulously roll up each sleeve to exactly the same spot on either forearm.
“Whatsamatter?” Tony wants to know.
Zucchini, banana, cuke; these euphemisms stick. On the schoolbus, they peek out of half-zipped flys or poke at girls asses.
Will we ever get out of this parking lot? Will I ever get or get over Diodado?
True it’s repulsive to me, how his arm veins bulge and the things he finds hilarious like the accident victim we once saw sitting on a curb applying lipstick.
It’s his albino-esque lashes and brow like on a negative that make me squint.
It’s the fact he keeps his watch clasped around the steering wheel, ticking off the time till that little patch of chin will sprout.
These things make him intriguing without the burden of being significant. Unlike Howie. These things are diverting without the burden of making sense. Just like Dennis Leibowitz.
“Oh be my friends you guys?” Tony all of a sudden blurts like he means it. “I’ll pay you.”
“Ok.” I actually forgot about him for a minute there. He actually let me.
He reinvites us to his St. Patty’s Day party.
“Our St. Patricks Day party,” corrects Regina, feeling powerful now that she has FINALLY moved the machine! though she drives with her nails, I swear.
My first menstruation, (mouth contorts just saying it) I paper-bagged the underwear. It looked like rust on there, not blood. Yeah I knew what it was, had been expecting it like everyone else. That dread of getting it and not getting it and who’d find out and how. Howie had coincidentally taken to referring to girls as “stains” at the time. And four years earlier when I panicked over the red funky-smelling mess in the dog bed (thinking Tony had shot her with a BB) my Dad in his characteristically succinct style explained, “It’s nothing. This’ll happen to you soon. Your mom’ll give ya pads.” Period.
I carried the first and subsequent bags out of the house, casual as I could muster, checking no one (especially Tony next door) was watching me, stroll down the driveway, sprint-cross the street, chuck it in a neighbor’s garbage. A different pail each pair till I was eventually running pretty low both on neighbor’s garbages and cotton briefs and had to face Mom.
Who gave me pads. Got teary, said “My mother slapped my face, but I’ll just kiss you.” She tried to anyway. Then showed me the way to wash out blood. Soap, cold water, rub rub. Presto! “You’re a woman.”
If two vehicles going straight reach an uncontrolled intersection at the same time and there is a conflict, which vehicle goes first?
Tony: Say what?
Regina: The one on the right.
Tony brings cheddarized popcorn he won’t share to the film on defensive driving—dummies crashing through windshields at terrifying speeds, lots of primary colors, one broken babydoll head. He’s riveted.
Regina snores, gum in her hair.
I start a letter to Dennis in the health section of my looseleaf since health is really sex ed.
“Iceman Leibowitz—How you? Me and the egg are smashing. (Read: Fertilized!?) I don’t skate anymore. Thin ice.”
“Dear Dennis—Got any bros or cousins named Seth? Howie says tell you, ‘Leave my sis alone.’ Only kidding. I can run a ten minute mile. Sometimes.”
“Denny boy—St. Patty’s day bash! 2 Bay Blvd. Drink/Fight. Eight sharp as blades. RSVP. XO.”
“Darling D. Howie says the way to a jock’s heart is through his feet. Do you like zucchini?”
“Dearest Dennest, Defensive Driving means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Having made the second round of audition cuts, Diodado cleans out his wallet, humming, If I Were a Rich Man. “Deedle deedle deedle deedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dum.” Now and then, he wipes his facial growth with the edge of a Shell credit card.
What must you do if you are entering a road from a driveway?
My guess: “Scrape off some finish on the hedge, side-swipe a coupla trash cans and floor it.” That’s what Tony did this morning. 7:00 AM. His P’s weren’t gone eight minutes.
I feel carsick.
“Are you and the egg primed for a ride?” Tony asked, pulling up in the parental caddy where I’d just given up midway through my AM sprint after Howie. The bounce hurts my breasts too much now; they feel dense, pebbly, like sacks of pain, vulnerable as eggs. And besides, I’ve lately realized, I’ll never catch up to him. Running.
“I’m driving.” I told Tony by way of yes, ulteriorly motivated, and to meet me by the mailbox. After his deafening driveway performance, it looked as if we’d have only one go in the chariot before my parent’s nabbed the keys. And we needed ice.
I feel carsick even though I’m driving.
“Too fast,” Diodado says. “This is your first tunnel.” Today he manages to restrain from face-toying. Beard status: iffy. A wispy goatee-like growth framed with rash.
“Get an egg I recommended. Let it chill in the fridge awhile. Then, roll it across your face; feels nice.”
But he just grips the armrest and informs me I’m tailgaiting. “This isn’t a race.” Shows how much he knows. We are enroute to the Department of Motor Vehicles where we will take our written tests. And pass.
St. Patty’s day.
A mechanical hand, attached to the back windshield of the car ahead waves. I wave back. A kid pops her face up to smush against the glass. Does her dad say, “Hold your breath,” like mine always did, in tunnels. “We’re underwater.” And does she half-believe him, like I always did, turning myself blue? And can her brother always hold his breath longer, like mine could?
At the mailbox, I dropped off my love letter to Dennis. He has a hockey game. (Actually he has a date with a hockey player) . Maybe he’ll show, maybe not. I don’t care.
“Liar,” Regina says. “You care.” Shows how much she knows.
So anyway when I climbed in the caddy—it’s bright red with red leather interior—Tony goes
“Stop.” He doesn’t want this blabbled around.
“Stop was the quiz answer two weeks ago.” Regina tsks but playfully since Tony’s letting us plan the party since we’ve agreed to like him.
Tunnel vision; it seems endless. Sweaty, my hands slide over the wheel. Hot, I want to shed my coat, shirt, skin. The mechanical hand threatens to hypnotize me.
Regina suggests I’ve got afternoon sickness. The mall crawler! Is there such a thing? I am waiting for her to notice that my bracelet’s gone. To let on how I drove the caddy to Canal Street and hocked it for 85 bucks. Told Tony it was a friend who needed the cash.
“Fill her up. Fill er up.” I practice for what will be my first gas station at the end of my first tunnel, “Fillerup.” Which gives Diodado the idea to dig into his lunch of noxious smelling stuffed cabbage.
“Look both ways?” Tony tries for the driveway question. Sounds right to me but “Sorry guy,” as usual Regina right-er. “Yield to traffic on the roadway.” Ding! Ding!
Diodado booms, “Congratulations.”
It’s gotta be fixed. If not, I suspect Regina cheats and studies the permit book. In that very manual, now open on her lap, she is scribbling a VIP party guest list.
“What about Linda Delgado?” She wants to know.
“We already have too many girls.”
Tony suggests some of his animal friends. “Johnny Scarpo, Miggs and Mo Tedesco, Ace Kellerher.”
“Nonononono,” I say.
“Maybe Ace,” compromises Regina. “He’s Irish.”
Carwash was my next mission. Finding one that’d let us stay in the vehicle. A nearly bygone thrill. Soap spray, huge tongues slapping, dark and hum; like being safe in a stormy place with a view. My children’ll miss out. My child. Do children make you this sick forever? When we finally found one, on the outskirts of the outskirts, we went through six times. Then, while the man unscratched the finish, bought ice.
Meanwhile, I let Tony do some things. In the carwash. Then did some things to him. With the ice. Meanwhile, describing Dennis meanwhile picturing Diodado. Complex, yes. Deep.
Hatchback bumper stickers say Child On Board and Way to Go Shithead, in that order.
I wave again. “Glad we’re outta that tunnel. Those fumes were startin to get to me.”
“I know,” Tony says. “Wasn’t it great?”
Kid sticks her tongue out—farewell.
“Bugsy O’Neill’s Irish,” Regina says.
He’s in Smolka’s class. Didn’t even know what a zucchini was and took a bite right in front of everyone. In Smolka’s honor, I’ve already set out a party bowl where the egg-carriers can park their responsibility.
I am maybe getting too attached to the egg.
Abortions cost $125-150. Minus $85, that’s … .
Regina’s whining. ’Well who DO you want to invite Sue?”
“Diodado.” I don’t say though in his honor, I’ve already set out a second bowl where the drivers can park their car keys. Luck-o-the-Sober drunk accident prevention. And fashioned a paper-mache blarney stone for smooching.
“Seth Leibowitz?” Tony asks, timid now. “Candy Scarlucci? She’s got good tapes.”
“No one named Candy comes to my party.”
“OUR PARTY,” both Regina and Tony say.
“JINX.” This means they have to shut up till their names are spoken; bliss. If only I wasn’t so nauseated.
“Fill it,” is what I wind up blurting in the gas station. I don’t care. Resting my head on the wheel, I try and re-coup, re-group, re-generate enough energy to get myself out of this Villanelle to puke. That smell—gasoline mixed with stuffed cabbage, and the car perfume—shake my gut; serious.
Someone gimme the egg. I want to roll it across my forehead.
“Is she dead?” asks Regina. Cheater, I told you. No one unjinxed her. Inside my ears, I can feel my brain beat.
“Can I?” Tony’s asking. Then I hear the door slam. Air shoots in. Sickness subsides some. And just when I think I’m fine, I look up to see him coming out of Naomi’s Place. More than a Delicatessen across the street, to see the Specials sign on the window warning, “We have green bagels and cream cheese!”
“Uuuuuuuuh,” even Diodado says, though I manage to splash most of my innards out the window.
My throat burns. The gas stations attendant frowns at his shoe.
“I know a good car wash.” I try apologizing to Diodado and only then find out I’m crying cause he asks for me to stop. “Just clean it up,” dropping a little portable tissue pack he got out of the glove into my lap.
“You think I’m disgusting,” I say.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” But he winces. I saw it. “Don’t get hysterical.”
“I love you,” I say.
And Tony, “I think you’re disgusting.”
Road Test. Regina’s first. She gets a woman tester. Serves her right for dressing like a slut in heels and fishnet stockings. Something’s different about Diodado today I can’t place.
“Even I recall being sixteen,” he confides. “When all my sentences began with I.” Then, “How I wanted to go to camp like the other kids and learn to make lanyards or—”
Everything’s different about me since I stopped telling lies. Dr. Moody is my new afterschool activity, now that drivers ed is through, before SAT prep starts.
When Regina returns, tester’s driving which I figure must be a bad sign. The girl’s shook, white as Smolka, blubbering. When she slammed into a parked car, its owner ran out of a schoolyard, and threw a basketball into the open window. Broke two of her nails. Not one. TWO.
Next it’s Tony’s turn. He gets the same woman. In the foulest of moods now; she hardly bothers to greet him. But when he’s through, it’s another story entirely. They’re high-fiving, they’re on a first name basis, “Mona said I was very conscientious, Mona said I looked like someone she just knew she knew, Mona said I have it in the bag …” Into my knapsack, he slips a dyed green rabbit’s foot that someone left at the party.
The party, I mostly missed, laying in bed, rolling my refrigerated egg across my eyelids and temples. The bed felt like a moving car. Might I have willed myself pregnant? asked Dr. Moody who speaks in questions like Diodado, and computers. Soon as I gave up running, I had my period.
My driver’s ed tester is a man. Cleft chin so big it’s more like a cleft face. He reminds me of Moody too. Looks out the window and doesn’t talk, except to give directions: “Tell me what you thought?” Make a left at the light. “Tell me how you felt?” Make a right at the boulevard. “Describe your relationship with your father.” What do you see in the rearview?
Black car. A guess. A trick.
Tester sighs, “Look again. There is nothing behind you.”
From my bed, I could hear the party noise next door, those 32 acetate four leaf clovers I made squeaking, and a ringing, bringing Howie in. He lay down beside me and the egg. No more, I said, kicking him, Get out. You should cut your toenails, he told me. You have a phone call. Regina.
“Guess who’s here, bearing Lucky Charms?”
“Seth Leibowitz?” I guessed, but only after I’d already hung up, dragged myself from the bed to the shower, doused myself in baby powder and car perfume—MY TONE—then lay back down for a minute to rest.
“You shouldn’t stay long,” Howie said, flicking my nipple. “You’re sick.”
But I had to stay for at least as long as it took me to get ready. Party rules.
I put on a green shirt by accident.
“Just missed him,” Regina said when I made my entrance. “Cute. A little more delicate than you described, but cute. He’s lookin for ya.”
“And Diodado?” I ask, ceremoniously placing my egg in the egg bowl. On the sly, “I invited him.”
Of course Regina thinks I’m joking. Of course, Tony thinks he’s an absolute hoot, prancing over in his ridiculous leprechaun costume with a bent wrist meant to mock poor Dennis.
What was I thinking, inviting him? That he was my Dennis. No. That MY Dennis would show up instead? Couldn’t be. I wasn’t thinking. I was running. Just running along feeling stuff.
And then running out of the party into the street, a car screeched before not hitting me. Out of it, what should emerge but the feet, legs, torso, head of Dennis Leibowitz, the ice queen, himself.
Behind me I could hear Howie, laughing. But he wasn’t there. Instead, Ace Kellerher, clutching a beer in one hand and the bowl in the other, screamed, “Egg toss!” while all the Smolka kids chased him around and around on the lawn.
Holding my shoulders steady, Dennis said, “There is no such person as Howie. Is there? You don’t even have a brother.”
“Uh uh.” I got a rush then. A rush from telling the truth. And he started, we started laughing. In the darkness, the fragile ovals seemed to glow and pulse like the light stains on your retina after having your picture taken.
This tester’s also like a doctor in other ways. You don’t know what you’re revealing to them till the end; what rules you’ve broken, what infractions you’ve committed. I like that word, infractions. When I told Moody this, he said there are no rules, there are no infractions. A trickster too. If there are no rules I’d be carrying my imaginary brother’s child. My phantom niece-daughter or nephew/son. Or a tiny zucchini.
Driving up to Diodado, it hits me what’s different. He’s standing up. I have never seen him not sitting in a car. He’s short and sort of bent over like one of those little plastic men molded into toy vehicles, useless when you take them out of the seat.
A perfect parallel park I pulled off on the third try.
For the Grand Prize, Diodado gives Regina two tickets for opening night and suggests she take me. He’s the Fiddler on the Roof, the star, we assume till we get there and find out he has no lines, no songs, no part really except sitting on the roof and pretending to fiddle. But the play is pretty ok considering.
“You guys gonna miss me?” he asks when we go backstage afterwards. He looks hideous with stage makeup and a paste-on beard.
“No,” Regina says. She failed her road test.
“Least you’re on the stage the whole time,” I non sequitur. If there’s one thing, Smolka taught me, it’s how to make yourself memorable.
Diodado tries not to look disappointed at the beaded headrest we give him, hugging us both together, hard, clumsily. I hear and ignore a distinct popping sound. “Say hi to Mangia,” he says, giving bigmouth Regina the opportunity to let on that Tony’s my new boyfriend officially as of yesterday when he went down to Canal Street and unhocked my gold bracelet.
“What happened to Dennis?” Diodado asks.
Regina laughs. “He materialized.”
Later, defensively driving us home, I reach in my knapsack for a bridge token and pull out sticky yellow egg yolk strings.
I just failed health.
Jill Eisenstadt is the author of From Rockaway and Kiss Out.
We have to skillfully protect and defend people Trump has terrified, which means having a little bit of spine and calling bullshit when we see it.