Category Archives: Stories & Scenes

“Incubation Period”

“Tighten up, Felicia,” says Felicia. “Two more houses and you’re done.” She wrings the sweat from her bandit mask then stuffs it into the pocket of her stretchy jeans. How long has her fly been down? “These stretchy jeans came straight from hell,” says Felicia, zipping up. She leans over a blue mailbox, murmuring ad jingles and trying not to vomit, as the shortie princesses pass by with their parents.

“What are you supposed to be?” asks a preteen gremlin in a surgical mask. “A fat old lady?”

“Fuck off,” says Felicia. “Halloween is for everybody.” She’s got thirty years and seventy pounds on the gremlin, making her infinitely better at trick-or-treating. His plastic bag barely bulges, while her flannel pillowcase is almost at capacity. She peers into its gaping maw and begins to salivate, which induces a coughing fit. “You will feast tonight, Felicia,” says Felicia, when she catches her breath. Precisely once a year everything goes right for her.

Rich neighborhoods are known for the superior quality of their candy giveaways. Five city blocks of Georgetown will net Felicia enough booty to take her through November. Sours are her favorite. If it doesn’t make her mouth pucker into a butthole, it’s barely worth opening. No to caramel apples. No to toothbrushes. Yes to Jolly Ranchers, but predominantly greens. No to things that taste like coconut. Her stomach is killing her so she sucks down a WarHead’s bitter medicine.

A solitary witch skips by wearing goggles and holding a plastic pumpkin bucket. The bottom hem of the girl’s black gown collects more filth than the bristles of her broomstick. Felicia tails the witch to the next townhouse, the kind you live in if you’re a United States senator. They make their way up the stairs through the warm gauntlet of jack o’ lanterns. “Go ahead and do the bell if you want,” says Felicia, feeling weak in the jeans, and the witch rises gratefully to her tiptoes.

“Trick-or-treat,” they both say when a statesman answers the door in a werewolf onesie. He seems surprised to see a middle-aged woman standing at eye level on his stoop, brandishing a pillowcase. Maybe he’s from the country. When he removes his merkin of a monster mask, Felicia feels intrigued by his presidential aura, but she’s disappointed that his candy bowl contains only Tootsie Rolls of pygmy stature. Felicia takes a healthy handful.

“Excuse me, ma’am…,” says the werewolf, likely preparing to make a speech of some kind, and that’s when Felicia pukes into his azalea bushes. The witch screams and makes a run for it. Fussy little snot. She probably gets free chocolate on Valentine’s Day, too.

“Listen,” says Felicia, when she’s finished spitting sugar over the railing. “I’m a little under the weather. Can I get a soda or something?” She feels feverish. Her forehead could definitely benefit from the Arctic roll of a cola can.

With a degree of hesitation the werewolf abandons his candy on the stoop for children of the rich to rifle through and escorts Felicia into his front hall. “Of course, of course,” he says, being neighborly even though Felicia had to ride three different buses to reach his neighborhood. “Please wait here for a minute.” Felicia waits by the coat rack for a quarter of a minute. When her guts cramp up again she moves to a velvety couch in the living room. Someone has taken the time to arrange decorative gourds in an autumnal crescent around the fireplace. One wall of the room is just pillars. A substantial jar of candy corn sits on the coffee table next to some news magazines. Felicia thinks she has a good chance of guessing just how many candy corns are in the jar because in grade school she once won a jellybean-counting contest that no one expected her to win.

She clings to her pillowcase, which now weighs the same as a bag of human skulls. She wipes her sweaty brow with the bandit mask in her pocket, then sneezes into the tassels of a throw pillow. An icy female voice carries from the next room. “…a grown woman begs you for treats then vomits on our doorstep and you roll out the red carpet? Meanwhile the rest of us are here trying to secure our nation’s borders and fight an epidemic.”

“You let in those Mormons the other day.”

“That’s different. Have you ever met a sick Mormon? Sick people don’t ride bicycles. Sick people do the exact opposite of that.” Felicia realizes that the wife thinks she has that deadly hemorrhaging virus that’s been going around the world. What a stupid idiot.

“Very well,” says the werewolf. “I’ll ask her to leave, or…”

“I just saved all our lives, Mark. You’re welcome in advance.” The werewolf rounds a white pillar rubbing something into his finger webbing that Felicia assumes to be hand sanitizer.

“We seem to be out of ginger ale,” says the werewolf. “Is there anyone I can call, or…?” Felicia’s coworker Macy Something lives near Dupont Circle, but she only has her email address. And one time Felicia caught Macy spitting in the French fry grease at work so she punched her in the boob.

Felicia bends double over her pillowcase, feeling nauseated and stressed out. So what if she is a woman of hearty appetites? It’s called living, and she only gets to do it one night a year. With her skull between her knees, she opens a Fun Size Snickers. “Maybe this act is part of your costume, or…?” says the werewolf. As if anyone is that committed. Felicia probably just contracted flu from one of those unclean superheroes on her Halloween beat and this has nothing to do with eating a Twizzler off a public toilet seat four days ago. A skinny, whorish wife appears in front of the fireplace, wearing yellow rubber gloves.

“Oh hello,” she says. “I was just washing some dishes.”

The Fun Size Snickers made Felicia feel less woozy, so she opens a miniature Reese’s. Peanut butter is her ticket out of this hellhole. If Felicia had a cat, she’d name it Peter Pan. But people keep refusing to give her their cats.

“Your house reminds me of Las Vegas,” says Felicia, who has seen a lot of television commercials about Las Vegas.

“I think you mean Tuscany,” says the wife.

“Only if you can make a good living there as a stripper,” says Felicia.

“Before you go,” says the wife, using a fire poker to nudge a gourd back into formation, “for I know you have a long night of adult trick-or-treating ahead of you, I’m curious to hear what you do for a living. Do you often travel on business to exotic locales? Or maybe you work at an international airport, or as an orderly in the infectious disease unit of a hospital?” Felicia in fact works in the food court at Dulles International Airport but she will not give this rangy woman the satisfaction of knowing that. Felicia is starting to feel like the only person in this townhouse without a flesh-eating virus.

A fluffy white cat jumps onto the couch and begins licking flecks of vomit from Felicia’s t-shirt. “Oh my god,” says the werewolf’s wife. Felicia loosens her sneaker laces and then curls up in a ball on the luxurious cushions. Her stomach is a fandango of assorted flavors.

“Let me just…,” says the werewolf, swiping the throw pillows that prevent his guest from relaxing into the full depths of the couch. Felicia sees that the only nearby vomit receptacle is her trick-or-treat bag, and that is just not happening. If worse comes to worse, she’d rather puke into the jar of candy corn.

“May I use your toilet?” she says, directing her question to the werewolf because he alone can act like a grown-up around bodily functions.

The wife looks momentarily panicked, then claps her rubber gloves together. “Mark,” she says with epiphanic zeal, “do you still keep that tarp in your gun closet?” She calls for Jack Junior upstairs while the werewolf reluctantly excuses himself from the room. Felicia gags, then finds herself holding a fun-sized pool of throw-up.

“What the fuck, Mom?” says a teenager who was obviously interrupted halfway through applying full David Bowie makeup. He seems like the kind of kid who goes to bed every night with Starlight mints on his pillow.

“We need a hand real quick,” says the kid’s mother, “but try not to breathe.” Felicia breathes on everyone freely because she is a mammal. The werewolf returns and helps his wife spread a blue plastic sheet on the Oriental rug below the couch. “You’re doing it wrong,” she tells her husband.

“Take it easy, Jen,” says the werewolf.

“Ma’am,” says the wife to her houseguest, “would you mind rolling onto this tarp?” Felicia doesn’t want to walk to the bathroom, so she evacuates the couch with a thud. The family carries her to an upstairs bathtub like a fancy whale on its way to an aquarium.

Mother and son are responsible for the part of the tarp that holds Felicia’s bottom quarters, and the werewolf is responsible for the part with the head. As the latter backs everybody up the stairs, he gazes into Felicia’s eyes with a face that so much reminds her of nougat and caramel that she wants to take his Sugar Baby nose into her mouth and then just see where her instincts lead her. She can tell that he’s doing his very best not to jostle her in the tarp. Felicia wiggles around appreciatively, which loosens her stool.

Felicia sits on the toilet and listens to the werewolf conspire with a 911 operator outside the bathroom door. She briefly passes out with her stretchy jeans around her ankles, and is aware of having a small, fugue-state orgasm. “No room at the inn,” says the werewolf after he hangs up the phone.

“You’re kidding,” says the wife.

“Drunken robots and vampires and things have laid siege to all the ambulances. But they’re going to send a hazmat team.”

“Whatever you do,” the wife says, addressing whomever, “don’t touch your eyeballs.” This lady must hold her Junior League meetings at CDC headquarters.

“If I catch what she’s got and have to miss Suzie’s glam rock party I will be so pissed,” says JJ.

“No one’s missing any parties,” says the werewolf. “That’s the last thing we want.” He cracks the bathroom door and winks at Felicia as though there’s a private party in their future, one with bowls and bowls of complimentary refreshments. She waves a wad of toilet paper at him like a flirty handkerchief.

Ten minutes later Felicia’s body is arranged on the tarp in the front hall, the fly of her jeans left open to antagonize the wife. “Where’s my candy?” she asks the werewolf, but the doorbell rings before he can answer. Felicia’s body blocks the doorway, but when the three members of the hazmat team enter the townhouse, they step over her with ease. Two of the men sport convincing panda bear costumes under their yellow jumpsuits.

“Don’t tell me you’re trick-or-treating as well,” says the wife.

“Panda bears are immune to human fevers,” says one of the panda bears. “Which makes us doubly resistant.”

“Sir,” says the non-panda to the werewolf, “I’m going to need you to remove your costume.” After a brief struggle with the zipper, the werewolf costume drops to the walnut floorboards and the non-panda puts it on over his hazmat suit. The hairy mask barely fits over his respirator. The wife takes it upon herself to line up the eyes.

“Not bad,” she says.

“How many candy corns are in that jar?” says a panda, reconnoitering the ground floor.

“Four hundred twenty-nine,” says Felicia.

“By god she’s right,” says the husband. “I counted them myself.” Felicia wishes she could just dazzle people for a living. She feels delirious, but still manages to spot Jack Junior on the couch gobbling up candy from her pillowcase. That little weasel.

“Not the sours,” she moans.

“Is this tarp coming with us?” says the second panda.

“Please help yourself,” says the wife. “You can take the couch too.”

“It looks comfortable as shit,” says the hazmat werewolf, running his finger along the wife’s naked forearm—her skin so tight it gives off a glare—then snapping one of her rubber gloves like a middle school bra strap.

“What else you got?” says the first panda.

“I would be all right with your taking the rug, and the contaminated candy belonging to that doughy woman on the floor,” says the wife.

“Not this candy,” says Jack Junior, his teeth coated in chocolate film. Felicia wishes he were closer so she could try to have a nosebleed on him.

“Don’t eat that poison,” says the wife, fancying herself in charge of all the household’s most basic activities. Felicia’s butt toots in defiance.

“But Mom!”

“You can take my son as well,” says the wife. “He’s now infected.”

“Can do,” says the hazmat werewolf. “We’ll quarantine him along with the couch.”

“You’re very kind,” says the wife. Her gloved hand lingers in thanks on the werewolf’s furry bicep.

“Great,” says Jack Junior. “I guess I’ll just go back upstairs and remove the androgynous makeup it took me an hour to apply.”

“No, keep it on,” says the first panda. “We have a dedicated ward for kids like you.” He examines a pistol that he’s presumably stolen from the gun closet.

“That sounds wonderful,” says the wife. “Did you hear that, Jack Junior? Say, you gentlemen don’t have a ward for consenting adults, do you, hahaha?” The hazmat werewolf whispers something into her haircut. Felicia overhears “electrolytes” and “dick chlorine” and a word that could be either “serum” or “semen.” He wraps it up with “hemorrhaging organ,” and they both giggle.

“Thanks for nothing,” Jack Junior tells Felicia. He kicks her in the sole of her sneaker as he marches out the front door. His father throws a small gourd at the back of his son’s head, but hits the stroller of a chubby spaceman who is way too young to be trick-or-treating.

“I’m leaving the cat,” says the wife. “Because she’s as good as dead. And I’m leaving you, Mark. Same reason.” Her husband stands there in his boxer shorts, looking unbothered. Felicia can’t wait until all the sick people clear out. She thinks that she and Mark have what it takes to be Surgeon General and First Lady. It’s been a long time since she blew her nose in front of anyone.

“I like Halloween more than Christmas and my birthday,” the second panda announces to his partners as he slips the husband’s leather wallet into the pocket of his hazmat suit. “There’s always so much mischief afoot.”

“I like epidemics more than plane crashes and animal extinctions combined,” says the first panda, cocking his new pistol. “Where to next?”

“To quarantine some sexy nurses and requisition a new microwave.”

These guys,” says the hazmat werewolf, pulling the wife into an embrace. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

“I’ll just grab my purse,” says the wife, grabbing her purse.

When the hazmat team, the son, the couch, the pillowcase, the rug, and the wife are gone, the husband drags the tarp toward the fireplace and opens a bottle of chilled pink wine. He and Felicia take turns drinking from the bottle and fondling Peter Pan. Felicia feels her heart melting from within. “As far as I’m concerned,” she says, “your whole family can just go fuck itself.” The husband makes a nest around Felicia with 429 candy corns, then begins licking the perspiration from her neck.

“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says. “You’re so sweet inside.”

“No shit,” says Felicia. “That’s always been my way.”

“The Face Expert”

The animator took the call from Barbie’s people at noon on Veteran’s Day. They said they liked his work on Cyrus the Blimp and would he be interested in coming into Mattel to talk faces.

“I thought Barbie’s face was already a done deal,” said the animator, opening another can of Budweiser.

“It is and it isn’t,” said Barbie’s people. “Her appearance evolves with her target consumers. No one likes looking at the same face year after year.”

“I thought that’s why you created those teenage hooker dolls with the big eyes.”

“That wasn’t us.” The animator thought he heard a collective sigh on the other end of the line. Or maybe it was his sigh. His 12-pack was almost empty and his stump was throbbing.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here,” said Barbie’s people. “Our doll designers just need a consult from someone who knows faces. From someone who’s used to moving them around for marketing purposes.” Apparently they didn’t know the animator had been out of work for nine months. “You drew Cyrus the Blimp with simplistic strokes and yet movie-going audiences considered him an airship of great emotional depth. Essentially, we want to know how you pulled it off.”

“It’s funny that we’re having a conversation about faces when I can’t see any of yours,” said the animator. Sometimes he forgot what he looked like and had to run a hand over his face because he was too down in the dumps to look in a mirror. Sometimes he forgot that his right leg had been blown off in Iraq.

“I’m sure you can use your imagination,” said Barbie’s people. The animator envisioned a conference room full of pink ponies wearing telephone headsets, each one grinning within the strict parameters of red paint. Better than an ex-soldier getting drunk in an Echo Park studio bought with ephemeral cartoon money.

“I can tell you right now that the number one problem with Barbie’s face is that it’s made of hard plastic,” said the animator. “She’s practically a Lego person. You might as well put a blond wig on a flesh-colored gumball and call it a day.”

“We’re open to using more pliant materials.”

“For me, personally,” said the animator, “Barbie has always been more about the bod.”

Barbie’s people were silent. The animator remembered one of his sister’s Barbies after it got chewed up by their pet ferret. He could still see the puncture wounds in the cheeks and the torn nose. It was the most emotion he’d ever seen on a doll’s face.

“We already have a body guy,” said Barbie’s people. “He’s very good.”

“Have you ever put a Barbie’s head in your mouth and bit down?” said the animator.

“Of course,” said Barbie’s people.

“There’s nothing there.”

“That’s correct.”

“It seems to me that what you really want to give her is a brain. Let me put you in touch with a brain guy.”

“Not necessary,” said Barbie’s people. “Our problem is perception. People don’t believe that a woman could be happy all the time, for going on six decades.”

“Since Vietnam,” said the animator, adjusting his prosthesis. “The question I would pose to your face people is this: If Barbie were a flesh and blood human of the same stature, let’s say twelve inches tall—”

“Eleven and a half inches,” interrupted Barbie’s people.

“Okay. If she were that size, but real, what kind of things would she be interested in? Furthermore, what would she want to talk about? How would she feel from day to day? Is she a heavy drinker?”

“Barbie is a woman of many enthusiasms,” said Barbie’s people.

“Personally, if I were that short and didn’t have any toes to speak of? I’d probably kill myself.” The animator wished he could scratch his missing ankle. He opened another beer.

“You’re saying that her face should reflect gloom and unhappiness?” said Barbie’s people.

“If you want consumers to love her, her face needs to express more than lobotomized delight.”

“You’re saying she should frown?”

“Have you ever pressed down so hard on a Barbie’s head that her neck disappears?” said the animator.

“Yes,” said Barbie’s people.

“Have you ever disfigured Barbie’s face with black permanent marker? Or pulled off one of her legs and beat her with it?”

“Yes,” said Barbie’s people.

“You people are worse than my ferret,” said the animator. They seemed chastened. “When little girls play with baby dolls,” he continued, “they want them hungry and crying. Do you know why that is?”

“So they can feed them and comfort them,” said Barbie’s people.

“Precisely,” said the animator. He closed his eyes and saw rows and rows of Barbies with his face on them. Untidy beards. That same ragged scar across their foreheads. Flak helmets of synthetic hair. Their features were contorted with fear and anguish. Their mouths were wide open with weeping. Then little girls descended on them, gathered them in handkerchiefs, cradled them and sang to them.

“I’ll be there tomorrow morning at eight,” said the animator. “Let’s get some faces on these bitches.”

CHARLOTTESVILLE LITERATI ARM WRESTLERS (Round the First)

John Grisham flings his sequined cape over one shoulder to reveal the bulging muscles of his right arm. He has been working out. His spandex bodysuit hides nothing from the crowd gathered tonight at the Blue Moon Diner. Readers have come in droves to witness the first match of CLAW – the Charlottesville Literati Arm Wrestlers. As Grisham leaps to the platform and begins showboating for his lady fans, the crowd frantically places its bets.

“In it to win it,” yells poet Charles Wright. He slips a $10 bill into the plastic bucket that Grisham’s wife Renee dangles on a stick above the audience.

“The hell he is,” mutters John Casey as he palms a $50 bill to George Garrett, the CLAW referee. “I think Grisham’s been juicing again,” Casey whispers in the ref’s ear. Garrett nods his understanding and then confers with Rita Dove, the celebrity judge of tonight’s tournament.

“And in the opposite corner,” hollers MC Jan Karon, who stands on a chair over her amplifier, “Taking on heavily favored contender John Grisham, aka the Legal Eagle, in a fight for the first bracket trophy, is poet Lisa Russ Spaar, aka the Blonde Bomber!”

“Booo, hisss,” says Charles Wright.

“98-pounds,” says Renee to her husband. “Poetry. Tears. Spaghetti arm.”

Spaar emerges from the bar wearing a khaki flight suit and aviator goggles. Before taking the platform, she works the crowd with Top Gun dance moves. Her own bet bucket passes through the audience like a rambunctious church collection. Spaar’s MFA students stuff her pockets with dollar bills. From the back row, Deborah Eisenberg offers the poet a shot of Jagermeister. Spaar takes it.

The ref blows his whistle. “Competitors, take your seats,” he says. Last minute bets are handed forward through the rows. Grisham stops flexing and puts the top half of his jumpsuit back on. Garrett gives Spaar a hand up to the platform. She lets John Casteen hold her flight goggles and he squeals like a little girl. Spaar assumes the arm wrestling position at the table.

Grisham links his thumb with Spaar’s and squeezes. George Garrett holds their two hands in his own like a holy man giving a blessing. “Wrestlers, are you satisfied with your grip?” The adversaries nod their heads and clench their teeth.

“You’ve met your Waterloo,” says Grisham.

“You’re going down like a clown,” says Spaar.

“The jury says you’re guilty, mama,” says Grisham.

“Saddle up, buttercup,” says Spaar.

“Ready, set, wrassle!” says the ref. But before he can finish saying “wrassle,” the Blonde Bomber has sacked the Legal Eagle’s hand.

“Foul!” cries Grisham, leaping from his seat. Referee George Garrett declares Spaar the winner. MC Jan Karon blasts “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins on her CLAW stereo system. Charles Wright and Renee Grisham scream at Rita Dove, who guards the winner’s trophy in the corner, but Dove says the match was fought “fair and square.”

“This courtroom is corrupt!” shouts Grisham. “I demand a retrial!”

“Shut your jaw and stuff your law,” says the Blonde Bomber, “You are not the king of CLAW.” Spaar’s fans applaud the impromptu poem. Spaar curtsies in her flight suit.

“Round two,” says the ref. “Find your grip.” After a brief shoulder massage from his wife, Grisham reluctantly sits down again. This time he offers Spaar his left hand. Spaar shrugs and switches from her dominant arm. The writers grip up.

“Ready, Freddy?” asks Spaar.

“Don’t try to beat the system,” says Grisham. “Punks always get it in the end.”

“Okey-dokey, smokey,” says Spaar.

“Ready, set, wrassle!” cries the ref.

But before the ref can say “set,” Spaar has pinned Grisham’s left hand to the mat. The diner erupts in cheers for the triumphant underdog. “Order, order!” shouts the ref. “We have a winner!”

“Foul! Foul!” rages Grisham. Rita Dove hands the Blonde Bomber her trophy, a first edition of Leaves of Grass. As Charles Wright subdues Grisham and leads him to the bar, Spaar begins to read.

The Room’s Husband

We toasted the room’s husband with plastic cups of champagne. The room’s wife had cake on her fingers. Someone wandered outside in the apple orchard. The camera over his shoulder was full of the sermon and the mountains. The lake had dried up that afternoon and the toilets stopped flushing. The children picked the apples off the ground and the grownups plucked them from the trees. The Belgian could not stop smoking in the moonlight. The husband always stood behind the wife, his hands on her bare shoulders, his thumbs smoothing the nerves on her naked back. Until fingers find wrinkles. Until death do us part. The children ran between the tables, tickling each other. The cameraman was still in the orchard, film filled up, saturated. He would take a picture of himself and see a man at a wedding, wifeless.

Poem written in bathroom in the middle of the night

My feet churned the dust like a tornado.

I approached Edinburgh

and then the continent went dark.

The wedding photographer was drunk.

He took pictures of ruins, of history.

An esplanade of smoking sphinxes

and grey coliseums

where we had lived once.

My body was all that was left,

whisking the ashes,

a relic of weather and population.

I can’t make this shit up

A senile platoon of old ladies in wheelchairs sat next to the parking lot of the nursing home, looking for fresh air before their 5 o’clock dinner. Each octogenarian was accompanied by a nursing aide wearing scrubs and smelling like cigarettes. The old woman who looked the worst off was sulking at the group’s periphery, near the dusty hanging plants. She looked toward the parked cars and slouched lower in her wheelchair. “I’m ready for Jesus to take me,” she said.

“Don’t say that,” said her aide. “Let’s talk about something nice.”

“I’m ready for Jesus to take me,” the woman said again, like Jesus was the Grim Reaper who crept into the home at night to pick and choose his aged victims.

“Just eat your cookie,” said the aide.

The Deaf Poet

Her fingers flexed the stanzas. The blind man in the audience thought he was shit out of luck. But then an announcer in the wings began translating her dance into our language. It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak in signs. Padma Vowell was the most famous poet in the world, and we were in the front row of the auditorium. She was a seamstress of signs, turning birds into hearts and making hearts fly in her fingers. Her hands never stopped moving, yet the words seemed perfectly still, like they were on a page. She wore a black gown and white gloves to her elbows. Her face revealed nothing but a steady scowl. She didn’t acknowledge our applause when she moved us in particular. My favorite was the sonnet about her mother and father. I think her hands rhymed in iambic pentameter.

Moms on Acid (Did anyone else read The Babysitters Club books when she was little?)

“I think the moms are dropping acid,” said Mary as we sat around her bed, waiting for the phone to ring.

“I think so too,” said Debbie. “And last night, after the Danbury kids went to bed and I was digging around the freezer for ice cream, I found a sandwich bag of mushrooms. It must have been at least ten ounces.”

“Mrs. Danbury never has good ice cream,” I said. “I hate babysitting there.”

The phone rang and Mary picked it up, day planner and pencil at the ready on the purple bedspread. “Oh hi, Mrs. Chin. Thursday night? Let me see if Kate’s available.” Mary looked at Kate, who was shaking her head furiously. “Mrs. Chin? I’m sorry but Kate is already engaged. How about Debbie? Okay, six o’clock. Thanks for calling the Babysitters Club.”

“Sorry, Mary,” said Kate, looking relieved. “Last time I babysat there, Mrs. Chin came home at like 3 a.m. tripping balls and she tried to make out with me.”

“Great,” said Debbie. “Thanks a lot.”

Divorce had taken its toll on our small town. We were only in middle school, but we still heard about the past year’s rash of extramarital affairs. Middle-aged English teachers would come to class wearing sweat pants, and then let us watch movies while they text-messaged and graded papers through their tears. It all started with one cheating spouse, and then his wife cheated with a married man to get back at her husband, and then that wife cheated for revenge, etc. The whole thing snowballed until most of the formerly married men in town were living in hotels and the wives needed lots of babysitters to facilitate their new single lives. Soccer moms were dating again, driving to Baltimore, the nearest city, to meet men they had been talking to on the internet. They also hung out a lot with each other, at least those women who hadn’t shared men recently, and met for chardonnay and gossip and sobfests that went late into the evening. But we were pretty sure they were getting into harder stuff.

“Are you sure she was tripping?” I said. “I thought Mrs. Chin was more of a pothead.”

“Who knows anymore,” said Kate. “I think they’re all still looking for their drug of choice. They don’t want to get stuck in a routine again. That’s what fucked them up in the first place.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s acid,” said Susan, speaking up from the pile of stuffed animals in the corner of the room. “I was at the movies with Ryan last Saturday night and Mrs. Chin and Mrs. Vandross were sitting in the back row, totally tweaking. It was that movie with the aliens and the mind control – I forget the name – but the moms had to leave like a quarter of the way through. They kept screaming and stuff at parts that weren’t even scary, and giggling at the scary parts. When the movie was over I saw them lying down in the parking lot in front of CVS, trying to grab the sky.”

“That’s the night I was babysitting,” said Kate.

“Yeah,” said Mary. “And I was with the Vandross children that night. But Mrs. Vandross got home earlier, at midnight or something. She only said like two words to me. It seemed like I was freaking her out. And she didn’t even react when I told her Colin had busted his lip on the side of the bathtub. I told her how much she owed me, and she just handed me her whole wallet. All that was in there was a slice of processed cheese and a GI Joe. I was so pissed.”

“If Mrs. Vandross got home at midnight, I wonder where Mrs. Chin went for three hours,” said Susan.

“She was probably with Mrs. Haywood,” I said.

“The social studies teacher Mrs. Haywood?” said Debbie.

“Yeah,” I said. “Last Saturday I was watching cable at her house and fell asleep. Then I heard a car door slam at like 2:30 but no one came in. I looked out the window and she was on the front lawn, dancing in the sprinkler in her bra and underpants. She was making a lot of noise and I worried that someone was going to call the police, so I lured her into the house with Cassie’s colored flashlight.”

“I am so glad my mom’s just an alcoholic,” said Debbie.

“Yeah, no shit. Me too,” said Mary.

“Where are they even getting the stuff?” said Kate. “I can’t even find a dime bag anymore. I thought the town was dry.”

“I guess you have better connections when you’re grown up,” I said.

The phone rang and Susan lunged for it, kicking teddy bears out of the way. “Babysitter’s Club,” she said, and was silent. “I’m sorry Mrs. Murray, but I can’t help you. I think you’re trying to call the plumber. That number is on your fridge too…I don’t know how to get the circus out of the dryer. Call the plumber.”

“Ugh, I want to move,” I said.

“We are totally raking it in though,” said Mary. “We’ll be able to go on vacation together when school is out next month. My older brother said he’d take us to the Warped Tour.”

“No way. I think Mrs. Danbury’s going to that,” I said.

“What? She’s like 40!” said Mary.

“I know. It’s because she was way too young for Woodstock.”

“They all were,” said Mary. “Don’t you think that might be the problem?”

Ice Cream Gone Missing: A Telephone Conversation

Hey baby!

Hey… Listen, I had a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream in the freezer, and now it’s gone. Have you seen it?

No. What kind of ice cream did you say?

Chunky Monkey. By Ben & Jerry’s. It’s got bananas in it. That’s really weird that you don’t know where it is, because I purchased it, and put it in the freezer, and I haven’t seen it since.

Yeah, I don’t know anything about that.

I was looking forward to eating some after a long, frustrating day.

Yeah, I can see that.

I just wanted one or two bites.

Totally.

You’re sure you don’t know where it is?

No way. Bananas in ice cream? Gross.

The next day a pepperoni sausage pizza and two pints of banana-flavored ice cream mysteriously appear in the freezer. One is flavored Banana Split and it already has a big dent in it. Some little kid must have gotten into it at the grocery store.

PS Diana, you were my roommate once. Who is the little elf that follows me around and eats all the ice cream?

I have a little notebook for my writerly notes

Like a lot of pretentious writers, I keep a notebook in my purse for jotting down story ideas and snippets of dialogue and untraceable garbage like this: “Stuck behind the Frito Lay truck/Christmas stocking.” I’m not exactly proud of this notebook, and I’m careful not to write anything down where people can freely wonder what I’m writing. However, a couple weeks ago I went to a family reunion in Vermont and I made the mistake of pulling out my notebook and quoting from it. It was late at night and I was many beers into it and I was with my cousins, who you would expect would comprise a warm crowd. But no. The second I started flipping through the pages, saying “Wait guys – I have something in here that relates to that extemporaneous joke you were just telling,” I did not hear the end of it. When people are riffing and hanging out, do not pull out your notebook, looking for material. It is like getting caught cheating on a test, but at an institution where your peers actually care and will shame you for that sort of thing. But wouldn’t it have been worse if I had memorized the quoted line before I went out that night? If I had thought, “Better learn this line by heart because I might be able to use it at the bar tonight.” Isn’t that so much worse?

The quoted line, spoken by a Mountain-Dew-consuming friend I used to work with who had just come back from her lunch break to Arby’s, delighted that she hadn’t hit much traffic:

“Everybody must didn’t decide to go thatta way.”

And believe me, I humiliated myself further by saying, “But isn’t the syntax incredible? Didn’t you guys notice the syntax?” Shortly thereafter the Murrays called it a night.