A Free Novel

Part One

(Part Two), (Part Three), (Part Four), (Part Five),

(Part Six), (Part Seven), (Part Eight), (Part Nine), (Part Ten),

(Part Eleven), (Part Twelve)

Ginny Good, A Mostly True Story:

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"No, no!" said the Queen. "Sentence first—verdict afterwards."

"Stuff and nonsense!" said Alice loudly. "The idea of having the sentence first!"

"Hold your tongue!" said the Queen, turning purple.

"I won't!" said Alice.

"Off with her head!" the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

"Who cares for you?" said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) "You're nothing but a pack of cards!"

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Chapter Twelve

"Since September the 11th, I've delivered this message: everyone must choose; you're either with the civilized world, or you're with the terrorists."

—George W. Bush
April 4, 2002

"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

"And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

"And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice's den.

"They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters
cover the sea."

—Isaiah 11:6-9

Chapter One

Giselle had heard most everything—whistles, catcalls, hey baby this, hey mama that—they could all go fuck themselves. Her uncle was a judge. Her ex-husband was a lawyer. She taught math at the high school. The only mama she wanted to hear about was the one Ray Charles was singing to on her CD player; the mama he didn't want to treat him wrong, the one he wanted to love her daddy all night long.

At first she thought it was just the Raeletts singing "What'd I Say" back to Ray, but then she saw the flashing lights in her mirror. They weren't very bright in the crisp morning sunlight and her tinted windows and the dark, black-rimmed Bill Blass sunglasses dimmed them even dimmer.

"God damn Officer, god damn Harley," Giselle said. So her car had tinted windows, so the fuck what? How else but tinted could the windows of a white T-top '89 Firebird be? And, yeah, she was driving too fast. She always drove too fast. It was a fast car. She was late for work. She was always late for work. Giselle squinted the corners of her eyes and started leisurely slowing down to pull over into the gravel on the shoulder of the blacktop road.

Giselle lived a ways out of town, up the river, almost to Rockton, and had started taking the Old River Road to school, specifically to avoid run-ins with Officer Harley. He may have been waiting for her. There was nothing Ron Harley liked better than dicking with Giselle—pulling her over, showing off his fancy cop car, fingering the butt of his new 9mm Beretta. The last time he'd stopped her he'd taken the pistol out of its holster so she could get a close-up look. Ron had ordered the gun directly from the factory and had paid for it out of his own pocket. There was a laser-etched American Flag and the script "United We Stand" engraved into the barrel.

"Nice," Giselle had said.

They'd been going around and around with one another for twenty years. She had his number. It wasn't very long.

"Keep your hands where I can see them and step out of the car." Giselle heard Ron Harley's voice crackle from the built-in bullhorn. The bank of lights across the top of his Winnebago County Sheriff's Patrol Car were going back and forth, up and down, sideways, all red and blue and white like an old disco light show.

Giselle turned off the ignition. Ray Charles stopped singing. She rolled down her window, extended her long arm outside, stretched her gloved left hand up toward the clear blue cloudless sky, waved pleasantly enough and lazily flipped Ron Harley off at the same time.

"I'm serious, Giselle. Get out of the car." Officer Harley spoke more forcefully into the bullhorn. "Now," he added.

"Fuck off," she said in a quiet, singsong sort of way as a wry, flirtatious smile tickled in her chest and trembled along her lower lip. Giselle knew he couldn't hear her but she wouldn't have minded if he could. She and Ron Harley had been around and around with one another since high school. She'd felt sorry for him one weekend. That had been the mistake she knew it was going to be, but he never got over it.

She watched in her mirrors as Ron painfully pushed open the door of his big white cruiser, stood up, adjusted his holster and walked toward her with his bulging black citation book in one hand. He leaned against the side of the Firebird, looked down at her and shook his head.

"What's going on, Officer Harley?" Giselle pushed her sunglasses into her tangled hair, shaded her eyes from the glare, looked up and batted her eyelashes.

"Morning, Miss Szewczyk." He touched the wide brim of his hat.

"Ha!" Giselle blew a little puff of laughter into her bangs and said, "I haven't been called Miss Szewczyk in a coon's age."

"Yeah, well it took me a whole gol durn year to figure out how to say it right. Chef-chick. I kept picturing you as a cook in a fancy restaurant. Before that all I could ever come up with was Swizzle Stick."

"I'll give you swizzle stick." Giselle screwed up the side of her mouth.

"Do you have any idea what I got you clocked at?"

"Um...ninety miles an hour?"

"Pretty dang close. Seventy-seven in a forty mile zone. You have to be more careful, Giselle. I'll have to cite you. I really will. And when are you going to do something about these here windows?" He patted the glass. "You know they're in violation of the code. How many warnings have I gave you?"

"Oh my gosh." She made her eyes big. "A hundred?"

"It's no joke, Giselle. I've cited you before, and I'll cite you again. It don't matter to me your uncle's the judge." Ron stopped. They both knew that was a lie, of course. "How's your dad doing, anyways?" he asked in a more conciliatory way.

"He's all right. He just had cataract surgery," she said.

"Maybe I'll stop by one of these days."

"At my mom and dad's? Sure. They'd like that."

He looked down at the toes of his shiny Wellington Boots, then tapped his citation book. "Well, I'm just going to give you a warning, then. Slow it down. Get something done about them windows."

"Sure thing, Ron." She didn't wait until he got back into his car before she eased her sunglasses back down over the bridge of her nose, turned the ignition and took off, peeling out a little in the loose gravel by the side of the road as she watched him wave to her. "Schmuck," she said under her breath.

The time before the time Officer Harley had stopped her to show off his fancy new gun back in November, Giselle had been on her way to her grandmother's funeral. That had been at the beginning of August. The whole sad day came cascading back...the ornate, off-white quilted, satin-lined mahogany casket overwhelmed her grandmother's frail, wasted body. Mame would have wanted a box made out of weather-beaten boards nobody had any use for anymore...or just dig her a hole somewhere, wrap her up in a big white sheet, throw her down about six feet deep, nail two sticks together to make a cross, push it into the dirt and leave it at that. But, no, no, no Giselle's mother had had to make a big production out of it.

The cosmetologist at the funeral parlor had made Mame's face up like a clown, like a kewpie doll, like Clara Bow...gobs of foundation stuck to her dead forehead. Powder stuck to fine dead hairs on her cheeks. Purple mascara matched the god-awful purple dress Giselle knew Mame would never have worn in a million years. Giselle's mother had picked out the dress. Mame hated purple. Giselle hated purple. Anyone with any brains hated the color purple.

Mame's eyes were closed. Her arms were at her sides, resting comfortably on top of the satin coverlet. Her fingernails had been polished a lilac color...presumably to match the dress. Giselle's mother had made all the arrangements. Mame's mouth had been painted with creepy-red lipstick into a painful-looking smile. Except for the short, bald undertaker in a Talbot's black wool suit who hovered lasciviously around Giselle with his hands clasped solemnly around his little pot belly, the funeral parlor was deserted. When she thought the undertaker wasn't looking, Giselle had put her hand under the coverlet and had poked Mame in the ribs like she was trying to get her to crack a smile. She hadn't, but Giselle had. She smiled again when she thought about it.

And where the heck had Giselle's mother been the whole time? Mame's only daughter? In the god damn hospital, that's where. As soon as she'd picked out that puke dress, she'd come down with a phony case of pneumonia. And naturally Giselle's father had to be by his wife's bedside...which left Giselle alone with a bunch of people she barely knew—listening to inane eulogies, watching scruffy gravediggers watching their watches.

Kind of a lot had happened since then—terrorists had crashed the World Trade Center and more terrorists had crashed the Pentagon and some other terrorists had crashed a field near Pittsburgh. The whole western world was in a big uproar—but none of that had erased Giselle's memory of Mame made up like a kewpie doll in an ugly purple dress nestled dead as a doornail in the gaudy mahogany casket.

Ray Charles was singing again. Giselle turned up the volume. It crossed her mind that she might have tried to explain to Ron the way she operated. Nah. He'd never have understood. She had to do things the way she did them, period. She had to be late for work or she'd never get there at all. Write her a ticket, go ahead—she'd mail in a check when she paid her other bills.

Giselle was wearing her thin, skintight, black leather gloves again...finally. It had been fall long enough. It had been fall too long. Winter was half over and she was still waiting for some serious snow, for icicles, for frost on the bedroom windows. She wanted to see her breath in the air. What was going on with the weather, she did not know.

Squeezing the steering wheel kept her mind on the road. She hadn't bothered to roll her window back up. The cold air kept her from being quite so pissed off at Ron Harley as she otherwise would have been. Wind tangled her hair beyond repair. Red, chestnut, auburn...her hair was all kinds of colors, but Giselle mainly thought of it as red, brownish-red to be exact—a tall, acerbic, redheaded chick. She saw her nose and part of her pretty left cheek in the swept-back rearview mirror. Her nose and mouth were small. Everything else about her was big—like her big dark sunglasses and her big hands and the massive silver man's watch on her left wrist. Even the Firebird was big; it didn't look it, but it was. With the window rolled down, Giselle noticed that she couldn't even tell that the glass was tinted. Then the flaw in her logic dawned on her and she had to laugh. "Ha! Crack me up," she said.

She was also wearing her new favorite black turtleneck, which looked a lot like all her other black turtlenecks but was, of course, quite different. She also had on a pair of frayed jeans and was wearing her shiny black alligator shoes. She loved wearing her shiny black alligator shoes. They'd cost a fortune but she didn't mind splurging when she came across something she loved, something she had to have, and she had had to have her alligator shoes.

The jeans had places on them which had worn almost all the way through, places which could have been described as holes in the fabric—but they were discreet holes, even so. Besides, all anyone could have seen would have been the plain white cotton Calvin Klein underwear she'd remembered to put on that morning. Giselle loved her frayed jeans almost as much as she loved the alligator shoes. They could all go fuck themselves about the dress code, too. The dress code and the vehicle code were two codes Giselle could do without. Who hasn't seen a pair of white cotton underwear? Tint this. Code that. Forty miles an hour in the middle of nowhere, gimme a fucking break. Those things which didn't just annoy her downright pissed her off...but underneath everything else she was wearing or doing or thinking or saying there was always her tiny gold Russian Orthodox cross. It made a fluttery little tickle at the base of her throat. She'd had it for a million years and would have felt naked without it, would have been lost without it.

Father Gregory had given her the cross. They'd been in love. She'd been nineteen. He'd been forty-one. There had been rumors. They'd been careful. He was transferred. It was a long time ago. Now he was some big muckety-muck bishop with a long white beard in San Francisco. She still got sweet letters from him in the mail, still always signed in his cramped handwriting, "Yours in the Love of Christ."

She couldn't prove it, no—and, sure, she knew all about the placebo effect—but the tiny gold cross seemed to give her strength and courage...made her feel like God was on her side, somehow. She crossed bridges when she came to them. If Officer Harley wanted to give her a million tickets, he could go ahead and give her a million tickets. If Big Dog wanted to take Giselle aside and give her a lecture about the dress code, Big Dog could go ahead and take her aside and give her the lecture. Big Dog was Dr. Neisner—Madeline Neisner, BA, MFA, Ed.D., whoop-dee-doo. Giselle towered over her by more than a foot.

Besides, Big Dog had other worries, bigger worries; the anthrax that turned out to have been talcum powder in the girls' locker room, for one thing. She had all sorts of post nine-eleven anxieties. The PTA was waiting for other shoes to drop. The superintendent had Big Dog working on evacuation plans with the police and fire departments, not to mention smallpox vaccination information requests, radiation detection devices, contingencies for an attack on the nuclear plant in Byron, extra security, yadda, yadda—the last thing she'd notice would be a few frays in one of her math teachers's jeans. Giselle, on the other hand, wasn't worried about anything—not Officer Harley, not terrorists, not Big Dog, nothing—well, she did worry some about her relationship with her mother and she worried about having headaches all the time, but that was it, those two things. It bothered her that she and her mother didn't get along. You'd think after all these years...but there was nothing to be done. Her mother was her mother. Giselle was Giselle. They didn't hit it off. They never had. They never would. That was all there was to it...and, as for her headaches, fuck it, her head was going to do whatever it did. She could have an aneurysm or a stroke or a seizure or a blinding migraine or her head could just hurt, more or less, day after day—those were her options. Period. Giselle knew that. Sometimes she accepted it better than other times, but it was a fact whether she accepted it or not.

She bounced a bit in the black leather bucket seat going up and over the sidewalk across the steep driveway into the parking lot, pulled into the handicapped space that was always waiting for her next to Tom Riley's handicapped space. She didn't need her handicapped status as much as Tom needed his, but if the state was willing to give it to her, hey, it sure made parking easy. Giselle eased to a stop, rolled up the tinted window of her gorgeous white Firebird and waited for the song to end.

Chapter Two

That same morning, at around quarter to eleven, Giselle got her first phone call. It was Friday. She answered the way she always answered, without a thought in the world about who it might be. There weren't many people it could be. Big Dog. Tom Riley. Ted had called once to make sure she was going to be around some weekend or other. Dennis had called a few times. The ditzy guidance counselor called now and then. There was the occasional wrong number. She picked up the receiver on the second ring.

"Math Room. Mrs. Winters."

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," a man's voice said.

That was it. That was all he said. The tone of his voice was friendly, confident, carefree, buoyant. It sounded as if he enjoyed being the Mayonnaise Man, like being the Mayonnaise Man was the best thing he could possibly be, like he couldn't conceive of being anyone else.

"Yeah, so?" Giselle smiled at the receiver.

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," the man's voice said again.

"What sort of Mayonnaise Man are you? Kraft? Best Foods?"

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," the man's voice said proudly, even more buoyantly, more effusively, with a shade more confidence.

Giselle hung up. She was curious about the effect all that terrorist stuff might have been having on her that she didn't know about. As far as she knew, it wasn't having much of an effect at all, but she wondered whether it bothered her in ways of which she might have been unaware. At least three thousand people die every day, she figured—probably twice that many. More than twice that many. Close to three million people die every year...she knew that from looking it up on the Internet after Mame died. That would make, what? Around eight thousand a day? And that was just in the United States. Probably twenty times that many people died in the rest of the world every day. So, twenty times eight. A hundred and sixty thousand? Yikes. That was a lot of dead people per day. DPPD.

Thinking about acronyms and statistics got her to thinking about Dennis. He used to come up with statistics for everything, then made acronyms out of them. Ice Cubes per Fifth of Scotch. ICPFS. Divorces Among Childless Couples. DACC. Thinking about Dennis made her think about Jews. There were fewer than twenty million Jews on the planet, pretty much evenly divided between Israel and the United States. That meant that about one out of every five hundred people in the whole wide world was Jewish...man, Giselle thought, they sure get a lot of bandwidth for such a minuscule fraction of the general population. There were as many illegal aliens in the U. S. as there were Jews in the world but who ever heard of any of them? Jews were everywhere, illegal aliens were nowhere. "Name me one illegal alien," she cocked her head and said aloud.

Then she did a little mathematical figuring in her head—there was almost nothing Giselle liked better than mathematical figuring—and arrived at the conclusion that if nothing but Jews died every day, there wouldn't be any Jews left in, what? A little more than three months? Pfssh. The semester wouldn't even be over yet. She made a mental note to point that deduction out to Dennis the next time she talked to him. "Hey, Den," she would say. "Did you know that if only Jews died from now on you wouldn't make it past May?"

Dennis was her ex-husband. His family's last name had been Weintraub but was changed to Winters at Ellis Island, thank God. Giselle Weintraub would've been a deal-breaker. She used to tease him about being a Jew—and a short Jew, at that. He never took offense. He had loved her with all his heart. They met in law school. He was in his third year—editor of The Law Review, a clerkship lined up with a State Supreme Court Judge, a cushy way to make a decent living not more than a few years down the road. She got a work-study job in the library and was having a hard time with her first year. What the hell she was doing in law school, Giselle did not know. She'd been in love with Father Gregory and he'd been in love with her. That had been all that mattered. But he was a priest, for Christ's sake. She got aced out by God which ain't a bad guy to get aced out by but that didn't make her heart any less broken. There wasn't anything anyone could do. Instead jumping off one of the bridges over the Rock River or walking in front of a freight train, she took the LSAT and got into Northwestern where the first thing she learned was that going to law school was the closest thing to jumping off a bridge she could have found. That was when Dennis showed up.

He used to sidle up to her at the reference desk and stick pencils up his nose to try to get her to laugh. It didn't work for the longest time, but she didn't know her way around Chicago very well and he was so persistent and puckish and reverential. He would've got down on his knees for her. She let him stew for a week or two but gradually warmed-up to the idea that a short, smart Jewish boyfriend who made her laugh and worshipped the ground she walked on might be what God had sent her to make up for how he'd fucked her over with Father Gregory.

After their cute, cuddly, contrite courtship, Dennis used to sit cross-legged at the foot of the bed in his studio apartment off Clark Street reading Woody Allen stories and Phillip Roth books out loud to her until he couldn't keep his hands off her incredible tits. Incredible was his word. He used lots of words she wouldn't have used, words like "awesome" and "amazing" and "fantastic." She made bets with herself about how long it would take him to quit reading and start messing with her under the covers. The bets weren't fair. If she ever she got close to losing she'd absent-mindedly touch the hand holding the book with a bare toe.

When they weren't working or going to school or mauling each other in every nook and cranny of his tiny apartment they wandered around downtown, looking at Chagall's mosaics, going to movies and museums, standing at the extreme verge of the windswept Skydeck, pointing out boats inching across the lake, eating blintzes and pastrami sandwiches, fiddling with each other on rooftops and falling, eventually, in love. Well, with her it was eventually; with him it was like a bolt of lightning through his heart the first time he saw her looking lost behind the reference desk. She was his sunrise and sunset, the Irish, Polish shiksa chick of his dreams. He protected and defended her; she protected and defended him. They laughed at each other's jokes.

Dennis finished third year, passed the bar, clerked for awhile, started his own practice, struggled, came up with a client here and there, settled a few fair-sized lawsuits and got more clients, better clients. Giselle dropped all her classes and got a full-time real job at the law library. She helped support him until he could support them both. They'd grown up together. They'd been kids. They had each other's backs. He adored her. She let him. Then they weren't kids anymore. They had bills and taxes and insurance to worry about. One of his clients got Dennis got a "terrific" deal on a house in Evanston. There'd been plenty of room in his apartment but they started bumping into each other every time they turned around in the big, four-bedroom Evanston monstrosity and little by little they started rubbing each other the wrong way over the tiniest little two-bit thing, like the Holocaust, for example.

The Holocaust had been a big deal in his family. As many of her dad's relatives in Poland had been killed just as dead as his Jewish relatives but that didn't seem to mean the same thing. Jews were killed because Hitler thought they were smart and cunning and stuck together and stabbed Germany in the back after the First World War but Poles were just ignorant Slavs who were butchered when they couldn't do the work Germans wouldn't do. She didn't appreciate the implications of the distinction. Jews were killed because they were smart; Poles were killed because they were stupid. What the fuck? Dennis told her that wasn't the way it was but his whole family lived and died by what Nazis did to Jews in the thirties and forties. Never mind what Nazis did to anyone else, what they did to Jews was all anyone gave a shit about.

Sixty million people were killed in World War Two. So a tenth of them were Jews, so what? A tenth were Poles, too, not to mention all those Russians. War's a bitch. Hitler was a jerk. You want to dig him up and kill him all over again six million times, fine, but you're gonna have to wait 'til Russia digs him up and kills him all over again thirty million times first. Russians didn't matter, Poles didn't matter; all that mattered was Jews. As a percentage of the population, Jews got the worst of it, sure, but the way his family seemed to worship the Holocaust just plain irked her.

Dennis took on a partner, Saul Rosenthal. They went around and around about whether to call themselves Rosenthal & Winters or Winters & Rosenthal. Dennis ended up getting top billing but as a consolation prize, Saul got to hire every big-titted blond who walked through the front door calling herself a legal secretary. Somehow or other, by hook and by crook, W&R started bringing in money hand over fist. The more money the firm made the more Jewish Dennis got. That irked her. She wasn't entirely sure what all "more Jewish" meant but part of it was that he'd turned into a nit-picking, penny-pinching prick who worshipped billable hours, quick settlements and fat consulting fees more than he worshipped her. She wasn't completely convinced that it was all Saul's idea to hire nothing but blonds with big tits, either.

Dennis joined the ADL, gave money to AIPAC and started going to Temple once a month or so. His mother, who hadn't ever had any use for Giselle, was tickled pink. To top it all off, the house he'd bought was smack in the middle of the biggest upper middle class Jewish ghetto in Illinois. What was she supposed to do all day? Exchange gifilte fish recipes? That hadn't been what she'd signed up for. If he'd wanted to marry a nice Jewish girl, that's what he should have done. Then it started irking him that he was irking her and pretty soon they were irking each other all over the place until she finally drove him to a vacant lot where someone had spray painted "You're Just No Fun Anymore" on a brick wall. YJNFA. They sat there with the engine running. He tried to touch her cheek but her hair was in the way.

Something about saving a nickel or two on taxes made it a good time to file for divorce. That had been four years ago. The divorce was amicable. He was still her lawyer. He still adored her. She still let him. Instead of alimony she got a tidy sum of cash in the way of a settlement which she used to dabble in the stock and commodities markets. She'd been lucky. She had good instincts. She bought low and sold high and, all together, was worth a little over a million bucks by then, give or take. She didn't keep careful track. All she knew was that if Dennis had any idea how much money she'd made he'd want to marry her all over again.

So one day an extra three thousand people die. An extra three thousand people died in Africa all the time, or Indonesia or Tibet or China—India, Mexico, Peru. Nobody hears about it. Nobody gives a shit. They're just Africans or Asians or Mexicans. They were just Poles. But let a few Jews or a few Americans get killed and all holy hell breaks loose. She wasn't going to let a handful of suicidal Islamic fundamentalists fuck with the way she lived her life any more than she was going to let a bunch of knee-jerk thugs in the White House and at the Pentagon fuck with the way she lived her life. Rockford, Illinois was a far cry from anywhere anyone could possibly give a shit about. She felt safe, sane, secure, smug, insulated, isolated, obscure. There were all kinds of people they'd have to go through to get to her.

"Mrs. Winters."

Giselle heard her name. The phone call hadn't affected her in any way she could put her finger on, but still she felt distracted, somehow. Why would anyone want to call himself "the Mayonnaise Man?" What the hell kind of a stupid-ass thing was that to call yourself? Her head ached. There was that. There was always that. She looked up, found the hand that was raised.

"Hey, Mohammed," Giselle said.

"Are you going to keep calling me that?"

"Yep. Unless you want to be Osama."

"John's Osama already." The kid turned his left palm up toward the fluorescent light fixture hanging down from the ceiling.

"You guys can switch if you want."

"Could you come look at this? I don't get negative numbers."

"Sure," Mrs. Winters said. She got up from behind her desk and made her way down the aisle between two rows of desks and kneeled beside Andy Redkin, aka, Mohammed. Well, officially his name was Mullah Mohammed Omar, but Giselle just called him Mohammed. Calling the kids in her class by Muslim names cracked her up. She liked things that cracked her up. She cracked herself up. She liked herself. Her kids cracked her up. She liked her kids. If she didn't teach she didn't know what she would do.

"You should of seen your face," Andy whispered to her in the conspiratorial way he had of talking to her when they were "alone" with each other.


"When you were talking on the phone. You looked like a ghost."

"Get out of town." She brushed her hand through the air. "I did not."

"Who were you talking to?"

"The Mayonnaise Man," Giselle said.

"No, seriously. Was it my dad?"

"Do you want to know about negative numbers or not?"

"There's no way I'm ever going to get negative numbers. They don't make any sense. They're stupid."

"So you just called me over here to chat?"

"It's like if I owed you something, that would be a negative number. But you're telling me it's not like that."

"Think of it like this. A negative number is just a name. It has nothing to do with who owes who what. Like I call you Mohammed. So that's your name."

"But it's not my name." Andy frowned.

"Pretend. Use your imagination. Negative numbers are the same as positive numbers only with a different name. You're the same guy whether I call you Andy or Mohammed, right?"

"I guess." He looked at the back of his hand.

"So it's like that." She smiled encouragingly. "Simple, right?"

"No." Andy shook his head in despair.

"Why would your dad be calling me?" Giselle asked.

"He might like you. I don't know."

"Oh my gosh, gimme a break, okay? What'd you do wrong?"

"Nothing." Andy frowned, shook his head. "He thinks you're cool. He says you're having a good influence on me."

"He said that?"

"Yes. He was hella serious, too. He asked me all kind of questions."

"About me? Like what?"

"Are you married. Do you have a boyfriend." Andy flopped his hand back and forth at the wrist like a metronome.

Giselle smiled. She adored the things her kids said sometimes, the gestures they made, usually when she least expected it. "What'd you tell him?" she asked.

"I said, 'I don't know, she's my teacher,'" Andy shrugged.

"Good answer."

Giselle stood up, ran her fingers slowly, starting at the base of her skull, behind her ears, all the way though as much of her hair as she could get her fingers through, then stopped, stretched her arms the rest of the way up into the air, shook her hair back into its natural tangled mess, and went back to her desk.

That was all she needed. The amorous attentions of a divorced butcher. What would they talk about? Meat? Pig's feet? Mayonnaise? Wait a minute, maybe it had been Andy's dad. She really didn't know him that well. He'd shown up all by himself at a parent-teacher conference and had gone on and on about some claptrap he'd heard from some shrink on TV about the dire effects his divorce might have been having on Andy. Pfssh. That was all that had stuck in her head about Andy's dad—well, that and that he'd never been any good at math, either. Nobody had ever been any good at math. Even Giselle hadn't been any good at math.

Their conversation had been brief. Giselle had blown him off. Andy was fine, comparatively, and Ray Blovits' mother was waiting to talk to her. Now, Ray, on the other hand, whoa, he had real problems. Giselle had been preoccupied. She knew Andy's dad worked at one of the Longli's. She wouldn't recognize his voice if she heard it on the phone. Longli's sells mayonnaise. Hm. Maybe so. Mystery solved. Now all she had to worry about the rest of the day was her head. Worrying didn't do any good, really, not in any therapeutic way, but, as a purely practical matter, it was nice to know whether she was going to have time to stop off to get something to eat or whether she was going to have to go straight home and shoot herself up with the stuff that sometimes stopped the migrane that was coming on, then scrounge up something to eat later.

When something hurts, you worry about it whether you worry about it or not. It's like that's what pain is, a message, a form of communication, your nerves telling you, "Hey, dummy, your head hurts, do something!"

"Yeah? Like what?" Giselle had asked a million times.

"Worry!" the pain said.

"Worry, my ass. If you're gonna kill me, go ahead and kill me."

Chapter Three

The last time she and her Iranian neurologist had taken a look at her most recent batch of MRIs together, Giselle saw the face of Jesus among the shades of gray in the dark recesses of her brain. That had been in July of 2001—before Mame died in August, before the world came apart in September. The image was vague, something along the lines of a miniature version of the way the face of Jesus appeared on the Shroud of Turin, but it was the face of Jesus all the same.

Her neurologist didn't see the face of Jesus, even though Giselle kept pointing it out to him on the x-ray against the light panel in the examination room.

"Right there," Giselle had said. "Come on. How can you not see that?" She touched the film with the tip of her index finger. Her short fingernail, polished bright red, hovered over the rivers and eddies of gray inside her brain. "What are you? Blind? If that's not Jesus, I don't know who is."

"Remind me not ever to give you a Rorschach," Dr. Javid intoned in that singsong Iranian way he had of talking. He peered over the tops of his black-rimmed Wal-Mart reading glasses, smiled a sweet smile and twinkled his extraordinarily large, extraordinarily brown, tired-looking Iranian eyes as best he could.

He may have been flirting with her. Giselle could never tell. She may have been flirting with him, for all she knew. She could never tell that either. Whatever boy-girl stuff she'd ever done had always just sort of happened. Out of the blue. When she least expected it. Especially with Father Gregory. Wow, had that ever been a surprise! She looked for something to get her off her train of thought and settled on the white plastic name tag above the breast pocket of her neurologist's dark blue Men's Wearhouse blazer: "Fariboz Javid, M.D."

He didn't wear fancy clothes; well, except for that diver's watch—but, generally, Dr. Javid didn't seem to care whether he impressed anyone or not. He did his job. He was thorough. He was patient. If he didn't know the answer to one of her questions, he didn't lie about it, and sooner or later found out the answer—if there was an answer. He wasn't condescending. He laughed at her jokes. That was what Giselle liked best about him. It was what she always liked best about anyone, and maybe he needed a diver's watch, maybe he was a diver. She didn't know.

"So what do your friends call you? Fariboz? Fari?"

"Bo," the doctor said quickly. He sounded both proud and embarrassed. "It came from a daytime soap opera." He smiled a shy smile despite himself. "One of the other interns at the University of California at San Francisco and myself...Noc Nguyen was her name...she was Vietnamese...we used to watch it toghther in the lounge when we could. I forget now the name of which soap opera it was..."

"Days of Our Lives," Giselle had supplied.

"That's right!" Dr. Javid pointed a dark, hairy finger into the air. "We were engaged to be married. Dr. Noc and Dr. Bo." He bobbed his head as if he were introducing the two of them somewhere in the dark recesses of his own brain. "I was very happy." He looked down. He pronounced "happy" like "hoppy."

It had to have been hard being a doctor in a foreign country. He was both a neurologist and a psychiatrist, Giselle knew, but had given up his psychiatric practice. She wasn't sure why—probably 'cause his patients couldn't understand what the fuck he was talking about half the time. She wanted to make him feel like he was helping her. That was impossible, of course. They both knew that. Her brain was going to do whatever it did. He squeezed his hairy hands together and sighed a deep, foreign sounding sigh. His eyes were the saddest brown she'd ever seen—with dark, foreign, hardworking circles under them.

"What happened? Did you get married?" Giselle asked.

"Sadly, no." The doctor took off his glasses. "It was a very long time ago." The way he talked reminded Giselle of Apu on The Simpsons.

"So, Dr. Bo." She smirked gently. "Anything new going on in my brain?"

The doctor put his glasses back on and cleared his throat.

Giselle knew there was nothing he could tell her. Her head was a mess. There was something terribly wrong with the blood flow to her brain. Capillaries kept collapsing. There were lesions on top of lesions. She'd had the equivalent of hundreds of small strokes. She already knew all that. Doctors had been examining her since she was seventeen. She was now thirty-seven. That was what? Twenty years? Thirty-seven take away seventeen equals twenty. Ha! Giselle loved math.

Sometimes when one of the mini-strokes occurred, she had seizures; she'd black out and fall down and get thrown into huge, vivid, complicated dreams—but usually they just gave her the most gigantic headache anyone could ever imagine. The headaches, even at their most severe, often lasted for days. She'd gotten used to them. The condition was both inoperable and incurable. There was nothing anyone could do. It could only be treated "symptomatically." Giselle hated that word.

"Symptomatically, my ass," she used to say to herself, but, really, it was all she had. Intramuscular injections of DHE relieved the pain some if she caught it early enough. It was a balancing act. If she shot herself up too soon, the pain increased. If she waited too long, she had to tear off to the hospital in her Firebird to get intravenous injections.

"How have you been tolerating the medication?" the doctor asked.

"Oh, just peachy after I get through puking my guts out," she said.

"I can prescribe something for the nausea." His expression brightened.

"That might be sort of cool."

"I wish there were more that could be done, Giselle."

"I know," she said. "I'm tough. Let's try the nausea stuff. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. I've gotten used to puking my guts out."

"You remind me a great deal of my mother."

"Oh, great. Thanks." She reared her head back in a way that might have looked like a cobra in a basket and wondered if it was in Iran that they had cobras in baskets...probably not, that was probably India, but, for all she knew, it could have been Iran too. All she really knew about Iran was that it used to be Persia and figured that must have been where the cats came from. Well, that and that now it was some kind of Islamic Theocracy. Whether Dr. Javid was political at all, Giselle did not know. He'd mentioned that he'd lived in Iran under the Shah, but hadn't seemed to give much of a shit about him one way or the other.

"No, no," Dr. Javid put up his hand like a traffic cop. "You remind me of my mother only insofar as she also was a very strong woman, a very brave woman."

"Is she still in Iran?" Giselle pronounced it like her father always had, I-ran.

"Iran, yes." Dr. Javid pronounced it E-ron.

Aw. He liked his mother. How nice was that? Damn, she thought, and wished, again, that she liked her mother. His mother liked him, though. That probably made all the difference. Dr. Javid's eyes were so sad she wanted to cry. He looked like some big, morose, slow-moving animal; Eyore, maybe, or that old mother cow she'd seen in Wisconsin with Mame.

Giselle had been a kid; five or six—seven, maybe, at the most. It was just the two of them, her and her grandmother, driving way, way far out into the countryside one day, singing songs about teapots and spiders and rain barrels, laughing and licking Dairy Queens and dishing the dirt on Giselle's mother and dad.

"Do you miss her?" Giselle had asked Dr. Javid.

"Yes, I do. Very much. She was the light of my life," he said.

Giselle couldn't tell whether he was talking about his mother or his fiancé...probably both. The way he'd said it had made her even sadder, had made her want to cry even more, but she didn't cry. She almost never cried, no matter how much she sometimes felt like crying.

Maybe her life didn't have a light, Giselle had thought...but, no, that wasn't true. Father Gregory had been the light of her life. Her dad, too, had been the light of her life until he just seemed to give up one day. It had been like he'd had to choose between Giselle and her mother and he chose her mother, of course. Then there had been Mame. Her life had had a bunch of lights, come to think of it—even Dennis had been the light of Giselle's life for a while. If she had to pick one, though, it would have been Mame, hands down, no contest.

When they were as far away from her house as Giselle had ever been before, Mame pulled over and stopped the car on the side of a dusty dirt road. Wisconsin was a whole different state, for gosh sakes, like almost a foreign country. Giselle had a hard time believing the grass was still green. There was a cow with its head hanging over a barbed-wire fence. Giselle had gotten out of the car. It had been okay with Mame.

"Sure, sure, go ahead, dear," Mame had said, shooing her out of the car with the back of her left hand—the hand with the real diamond wedding ring still on it, though her husband was dead already. He'd died young, everyone had said.

The cow was standing in the shade of a tree with green nubs of unripe apples growing out from clusters of dusty leaves. Giselle got as close to the cow as she dared. Dried twigs cracked under her shiny black Mary Jane's. Prickly weeds tickled her legs. The cow flicked its raspy tail at flies buzzing around its rusty haunches. That made Giselle jump. She'd wanted to look back over her shoulder at Mame but hadn't wanted to take her eyes off that fidgety cow. She held out her hand. The cow's huge nostrils were dripping snot like it had a cold. She wanted to wipe its nose but she could tell the cow didn't want its nose wiped. She could see from its eyes that all that old mother cow wanted was to be left alone in the shade of that ripening apple tree, out of the blistering heat of that midday sun.

As Giselle backed away, reaching behind her to find the edge of the open door of the old Buick Mame drove, the cow blinked it's sad eyes, slowly, out of gratitude, out of relief, out of pity and affection and understanding. It was a look, a feeling, a bond, a shared experience she knew she'd remember always, her and that cow, her and Mame and the door of the old Buick and Wisconsin and an innocuous apple tree.

She'd wanted to tell Dr. Javid—Bo. Bo! Ha! Crack me up, she'd thought. She'd wanted to tell Dr. Javid about the cow, but didn't know how. She doubted they even had cows in Iran and wasn't sure how he'd take it that he reminded her of an old mother cow. She didn't want to hurt his feelings. She didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. She wanted to cradle his head in her arms, to tell him not to worry, that everything was going to be all right. She wanted him to cradle her head in his arms and tell her not to worry, that everything was going to be all right.

"You're lucky," Giselle said. "Sometimes I feel like I don't miss anyone."

"It is difficult, I suspect. Either way," the doctor had said.

Then he'd written her a prescription for the nausea medicine and had said that she could either take it or not take it and that they would see how it went.

On her way home from the doctor's appointment that day back in July of 2001, Giselle had thought about dropping by Mame's house, just popping in for a quick cup of Earl Gray tea and whatever kind of butter cookies or angel food cake Mame might have on hand the way she always used to whenever she felt like it, but, for some reason which she could no longer remember, didn't. Then Mame was dead. Just like that. Giselle heard it from her mother over the phone.

"Mame's dead," her mother had said.

Now it was February. February of 2002. It had been six months since Mame's funeral. It had been five months since September. She had another semester under her belt. A new semester had started already; different kids were learning Algebra and Geometry for the first time the way kids had been learning Algebra and Geometry since Euclid or who the fuck ever it had been thought it all up three thousand years ago. Then it would be summer again. Then it would be November and she'd be thirty-eight years old, then thirty-nine, then forty. Even thirty-seven was a lot of years old...one after the other after the other for as far back as she could remember, for as far back as it had been since Mame had shooed her out of the Buick to get a close-up look at that cow...that dead cow, that cow that had long since been ground up into hamburger and eaten on buns with ketchup and mustard by people who were now dead themselves, who'd been ground up themselves and had been eaten by bacteria.

Chapter Four

When Giselle got off work at around two-thirty, her head felt pretty good. That was relief. That was always a relief. It might have had something to do with having caught herself saying, "Mayonnaise Man, my ass," under her breath a couple of times. Maybe the phrase had turned itself into a magical mantra that had somehow succeeded in soothing her aching head. That was wishful thinking, of course, but it didn't keep her from wishing it or thinking it.

She decided to stop off at Woo Fat's. Giselle ate whatever it occurred to her to pick up on the spur of the moment—pizza with extra sauce, dinner salad by the pound from Longli's, Wendy's now and then, mostly when Dave Thomas reminded her of her dad, Taco Bell sometimes, like when a picture of their dorky Chihuahua from the ads on TV came to mind. "Drop the Chalupa!" Ha! He cracked her up. But most often what she picked up after work was Kung Pao Shrimp from Woo Fat's...with maybe a sizzling order of egg rolls if she felt herself salivating in front of his dusty cash register.

The swinging glass and aluminum door swooshed open. The tin bell tinkled. Woo must have been in the kitchen. Except for nights and weekends, he ran the place by himself. There were baskets of flowers on the smudged-glass display case, and more baskets of flowers on the cracked, brown and cream-colored linoleum floor. The baskets were draped with red satin ribbons with large, white Chinese writing on them. New Year's probably, Giselle thought. Tet. The Year of the Horse. She'd seen something about it out of the corner of her eye on Good Morning America.

"Missy Gee!" Woo Fat threw his arms above his head and smiled like a bouncing joyous Buddha, showing off what few snaggly old gold teeth he still had left in his round, chubby, almost completely hairless head. His exuberance was contagious. She smiled so hard it cramped the muscles under her ears and made her think she probably looked like that god damn Cheshire cat that kept disappearing every five seconds from out of that tree in Alice in Wonderland.

"That's me!" She felt like a contestant on The Price is Right.

"Long time no come see Woo!" he exclaimed, then frowned and pouted simultaneously, like he'd missed her too terribly for words.

"Long time, my ass, Woo. I was here two days ago."

"Where you go yesterday, then? Fast food burger place make you sick." He made a horrible face. "Better off stick with Kung Pao Shrimp. No MSG."

"That's exactly what I want." She cocked her head. "How did you know?"

"Woo know plenty." He moved his index finger toward beads of perspiration above his right eyebrow. "Woo one smart cookie, people say."

"Ha! People are right. You better give me an order of egg rolls, too."

"Maybe don't need egg rolls, Missy Gee. Woo has special today. Red envelope surprise. Free to good customer."

He held out a small wicker basket filled with red envelopes which she knew had something to do with Chinese New Year.

"I don't need anything else, really."

"Pick one," Woo said.

"Shrimp and egg rolls, that's it. It's nice of you, though. Thanks."

"Shrimp and egg roll, okay, but you pick anyway. Bad luck if you don't."

"If it weren't for bad luck I wouldn't have no luck at all."

"That no way to talk, Missy Gee."

"It's from a song. I think. I don't know. It might be my own invention," she said, then thought of the White Knight. She'd loved the Alice books. She knew them all by heart. Well, not the words, but the feelings—the poor White Knight! She'd felt so tender toward him when Mame used read to her of his bumblings, of his brilliant, under-appreciated inventions, of his kindness and the way he'd been the only one who really listened to what Alice had to say. Giselle had wanted to pat him, to touch his hair, to say, "There, there, sweet White Knight."

Woo's expression was blank. There was so much he didn't know, so much he had simply to ignore. Giselle felt tender toward him too. If he'd had any hair she would have patted him on the head.

"Take red envelope," Woo said. "Promise good luck."

"Okay." Giselle shrugged, gave in, felt around in the wicker basket, and handed him one of the thin, surprisingly flimsy envelopes.

Woo opened it. His eyes lit up.

"So what'd I get?" Giselle asked.

"Surprise. Best of all. You see."

Driving the rest of the way home, Giselle felt more like one of Pavlov's dogs than any kind of god damn grinning Cheshire cat. She was about to drool all over herself from the smells coming from the thick white paper bag on the passenger seat—Kung Pao Shrimp, an order of egg rolls and a surprise!

Woo hoo!

Giselle ate at her dining room table, picking at the shrimp and the rice alternately out of their carry out cartons with throwaway chopsticks. The egg rolls she ate sporadically, as sort of a change of pace, with her fingers.

When she got around to opening the last of the cartons, Woo's red envelope surprise baffled her. She'd never seen anything like it before—oddly shaped bundles of deep-fried dough, crispy, like fried won ton, but plumper, more succulent inside. The filling she couldn't figure out at all. Some strange variety of Chinese mushrooms, maybe, all ground up and mixed with an exotic pate, then wrapped around tiny nests of slivered vegetables, some crispier than others—and the spices! Ginger? Saffron? It was impossible to tell, but God were they scrumptious...like nothing she'd ever tasted before.

She nibbled at the first few of them with the chopsticks, but ended up popping them whole, one at a time, into her mouth with her fingers and savoring them, letting them melt like truffles, until she couldn't stand teasing herself any longer and had to bite into them and chew them between every tooth she could chew them between until all the different textures and flavors going off simultaneously almost made her fall off her chair. No wonder they weren't on the menu, poor Woo would have people passed out from pure ecstasy all over his cheap linoleum every night.

Giselle liked eating at home, by herself. She rarely ate out and never cooked anything in her own kitchen due, in part, to a pathological aversion to washing dishes. She had a dishwasher, sure, but there was still all that scraping and arranging and dragging shelves in and out that drove her nuts. If she'd wanted to be a housewife she would have stayed married. She wasn't a housewife when she'd been married. She and Dennis had had a maid service after his law practice started making them a decent income, and before that he washed the dishes. She could get a maid service again, she supposed, but her house just didn't ever get messy enough. She didn't mind vacuuming, dusting, mopping floors, doing laundry, cleaning up after the dogs; dishes she minded. Dishes she didn't do.

When she did eat out it was usually with Ted, an old boyfriend from high school. He drove over once every few weeks or so to visit his parents. He worked as a commodities trader in Chicago. It wasn't that far. He tried to see Giselle while he was around—to have dinner together, see a movie, maybe. After dinner he might spend the night and he might not. It depended entirely on her mood. The same went for whether they fucked or not, although whether they fucked or not was not contingent on whether Ted spent the night or didn't spend the night. Sometimes they fucked and he went back over to his parents house. Sometimes he stayed the night and they didn't fuck. It was always up to Giselle, whatever they did or didn't do.

Ted brought food over sometimes, too—steaks or stuff for spaghetti or lasagna or some kind of Beef Stroganoff thing he was particularly proud of—which he cooked and they ate sitting with plates in their laps in front of TV while he made eating disorder remarks about Ally McBeal and told her about the pictures of Gillian Anderson's pussy that were plastered all over the Internet. Ted never elaborated. He left a lot to her imagination. She liked that about him.

Then, after they finished dinner, they caught each other up, told jokes, mentioned their parents, his ex-wife, her ex-husband, the weather. Ted talked about his job. Giselle picked up an inadvertent tip once in awhile, but mostly went by her own intuition when it came to investing. She talked about her job; Dr. Neisner, the anthrax scare, evacuation plans, things her kids did in class.

"Oh, I have to tell you this," Giselle had said one night. "Remember Darrell? The big guy? Always complaining about Ray? That Ray made an extreme gesture toward him? That Ray threatened his life?"

"Vaguely," Ted said.

"Yeah, yeah. I've told you about him. Okay, so Darrell raises his hand the other day and says, 'Mrs. Winters. Ray is undressing me with his eyes.'"

"So, how'd you handle it?" Ted asked.

"Well, I took it very seriously, naturally. 'Ray,' I said. 'Please stop undressing Darrell with your eyes.'"

"That was it?"

"Well, yeah, except for the rest of the class laughing their asses off. Then a little while later, Darrell raises his hand again and says, 'Mrs. Winters, Ray is staring directly at my testicles.' Crack me up."

"You're kidding, right?"

"About what?"

"Never mind," Ted said.

He didn't exactly get her sense of humor. She thought he probably wasn't sure she had a sense of humor. She knew he didn't have one. Whichever of them was right didn't matter. They were both pretty easy for the other to ignore—which was the main reason there was never going to be anything between them beyond the occasional dinner and a movie every other weekend or so.

Giselle wasn't generally comfortable with people. The idea of "dating" was inconceivable to her. When they'd run out of things to talk about, Ted washed the dishes and Giselle made up her mind whether they would fuck or not. He was always pretty eager, but that didn't matter. They fucked slightly less often than they didn't fuck, maybe ten times, all told, since her divorce—twenty times, tops. It wasn't ever any kind of big deal one way or the other, and she was always glad to get back to her normal life when he was gone, back to her books and her magazines and her TV and her computer and her music and HER DOGS!

Giselle loved her dogs! She'd adored dogs all her life, but her mother never let her have a dog and Dennis had been allergic, so the first thing she did after she and Dennis had gotten her moved in to her new house and she had it reasonably well furnished, was get herself dogs—five, all together. She'd intended just to get one little Pekinese puppy, to start slow, to maybe get another later if the first one worked out, but ended up buying the whole litter of Pekes because she couldn't make up her mind among the four of them. There were two males and two females. Their names were Toot, Ankh, Calm and Mon.

Why she'd named them the names she'd named them was that when she'd been sixteen, Tutankhamen's red, black and gold sarcophagus and the rest of the contents of his tomb had enchanted her. She'd seen the exhibition with her parents at the Oriental Institute. She imagined she and Tutankhamen were around the same age at the time he died. She'd looked into the Boy King's wide painted eyes and felt what it must have been like to be him. What it felt like was amazing; clear, direct, open, spoiled, lavished with love—the way she wanted to feel, but didn't. Her parents hurried her out the museum. They had other things to do. Her father had a car show to go to. Her mother wanted to get to Marshall Fields.

Then there was Ketchum, the Great Pyrenees, who was named after the town in Idaho, not Hank Ketcham, the cartoonist who created Dennis the Menace. She was careful to point that out to Dennis when he asked. He'd been called "Dennis the Menace" when he was a kid and was still sensitive about it. Well, maybe that had been partly why she'd chosen the name, but it was also why she'd spelled it like the town in Idaho instead of the cartoonist, too. She still had mixed feelings about Dennis. You get married forever. Then you get divorced? What had been up with that? It hadn't been the way she'd thought it was going to be.

The dogs were another reason she didn't have a maid service. The little ones hated strangers. They got frantic and shivered and shook and barked so hard she worried they might hurt themselves...and Ketchum, whoa, he could accidentally tear some poor immigrant girl's leg off. Giselle had already been through all this. She'd been through everything. She didn't have to think much anymore, period; not about anything. She liked not thinking. Thinking was stupid. What good had it ever done? She went to school in the morning, came home in the afternoon, ate whatever take-out she'd taken out, tossed the empty containers into the garbage, then sat down in front of her computer and fiddled around on the Internet for awhile, looking up dumb stuff about her brain or about her dogs or about different outfits she might like to buy or different places she might like to go during summer vacation.

When she got bored with the computer, she'd go get a few Rice Krispy Treats or a pint of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia from the freezer, take them out to the sofa in the parlor, turn on the TV and watch a little Oprah, maybe—well, unless Oprah had that god damn ignorant baldheaded hick of a so-called shrink on—Giselle couldn't stand that guy. He was a fucking idiot. When Oprah had him on Giselle watched that loud mouth chick instead, Rosie what the fuck ever, although she was almost as stupid as the baldheaded shrink.

After Oprah she usually checked to see what was happening on CNN, then maybe caught a little Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather until The Simpsons came on. The Simpsons, Giselle never missed. She watched both shows every night, from six o'clock to seven o'clock, no matter what else might have been going on. Weeknights it was just reruns, sure, all of which she'd already seen a million times before, but that didn't matter; the more she saw them the more she liked them.

Then came Sunday night and a whole new Simpsons. Sunday night Giselle was in heaven—well, except for her head, she was pretty much in heaven all week...she had her kids during the day and Simpsons reruns at night; she had her dogs and her computer and her Firebird and her alligator shoes and anything else she ever wanted she could just go get—but when the new episode of the The Simpsons came on on Sunday night, she was in whatever the heck might have been better than heaven. That was it. That was her life. Take it or leave it. She'd take it. Ha!

After she'd disposed of the empty cartons from Woo's later on that afternoon, Giselle sat down at her computer. Her computer was on the table in the kitchen. She had no use for a table in the kitchen. She ate on the sofa, in front of the TV, or at the dining room table—sometimes even on the floor or upstairs in her big bed. There was no room on the kitchen table for anything but her computer and the paraphernalia it took to run the business of living. That was the way she liked it.

Once her computer booted itself up and got her onto the Internet, the first thing Giselle put into Google was: "Mayonnaise Man." Just for a lark, just to see if there might really have been such a thing—and, lo and behold, there was! Not counting "Captain Mayonnaise," there was a member of the Brandeis University Debate Team who called himself, "Zim-Zim the Mayonnaise Man." She took a look at his picture. He wasn't anyone she knew.

Chapter Five

Marge was being extra attentive. She was fidgeting and fixing her hair and bustling about, trying to make everything seem just right. She was overdoing it, trying too hard to give Homer the impression that there wasn't anything whatsoever out of the ordinary going on so she wouldn't arouse the slightest suspicion that she had been harboring dark, fearful, disturbing thoughts of having an extramarital affair with her bowling instructor—Jacques.

"Ha! Crack me up," Giselle said to the two little dogs who were curled up against her bare feet at the end of the sofa. They perked up their ears briefly, but decided she was just talking to hear herself talk again and settled back down.

Giselle had never had thoughts of infidelity, and could not imagine having an affair with a French bowling instructor, no matter how suave he may have been or how good a bowler he might have helped her to become—but, then again, Dennis had never bought her a new bowling ball, either, so she really couldn't say for sure. She smiled a little smile at how gullible Homer was, but then remembered that she'd been just as gullible. When she'd been married she was married, period, that was it. Forsaking all others. For richer or for poorer. For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. 'Til death do us part. Well, four out of five ain't bad.

Dennis had never had thoughts of infidelity, either; of that Giselle was sure. He worked too hard, for one thing, too long, too many hours; and even when he wasn't working he was worrying about working. He worried about blowing statutes of limitations, fiduciary responsibility, professional ethics...and money. Money, money, money, always money; how to get it, where to invest it, how to avoid paying taxes on it and lastly, almost as an afterthought, how to spend it. She had known where he was and what he was thinking, night and day, and it definitely hadn't been about other women. She'd been all he could ever want in a woman and more.

Why she'd never thought of having an affair, Giselle wasn't sure—that it would have killed Dennis was her best guess. He'd been such a pussy; he was still a pussy, he'd always be a pussy.

When they used to watch dirty movies together, he was more giddy and embarrassed than she was. One night, a little ways into a porn movie he'd brought home, she remembered having said at the sight of the actor's extremely large cock, "Oh, my gosh."

"What do you mean, 'Oh, my gosh?'" Dennis asked.

"Oh, my gosh, look at the schlong on that guy," Giselle said.

"Yeah, what about it? So the guy's got a big dick, so what? He can't act worth a damn. You believe any of this horseshit? I don't. They're not motivated. They're not involved. There's no chemistry. No pizzazz. Besides, he's got all those god damn...whatd'yacallit, fluff girls, to make sure his dick doesn't...disengorge."

"Yeah, well, they're doing a hell of a job." Giselle laughed.

"You know about those, right? Fluff girls?"

"Yes, Dennis. I read Vanity Fair. I stay informed."

"Oh, do you? Well have you also heard that this particular big-dick Nimrod freak of nature is queer as a three dollar bill? For him they use fluff guys."

"Whatever works," she said, not taking her eyes off the TV.

"Have these people never heard of verisimilitude?" Dennis haphazardly flung his hands about, as was his wont. "Why can't they have at least some modicum of affection for one another? Some nodding acquaintance with the concept of desire, of being in love, of having been in love. I can't watch this horseshit. I'm gonna get a drink. We don't need an ill-conceived, badly edited, insultingly stupid porn movie, do we? We can just mess with each other if we want, right?"

"Or not. Sure. Whichever. It's up to us."

Dennis had lived with other women since the divorce. The other women all looked like Giselle. None of them were as tall as her, but they all had thick red hair and pretty good-sized tits. "Bimbos," she called them. It was unimaginable to her that he would ever really fall in love with anyone else. She thought of him with affection and pity when she pictured him with one or another of his Bimbos—them all trying to please him in ways they never could, trying to calm him when he got too overbearing or cheer him up when he lost at trial to some dipshit shiksa DA fresh out of some two-bit law school he wouldn't go to to have his shoes shined. The poor guy, she thought. So earnest. Such a blowhard. So quick and smart and full of himself, but still so much like such a six-year-old boy underneath it all.

They'd been such kids...neither of them had the slightest clue about what married people were supposed to do with their lives together. Make money. Buy things. Be successful. None of those things had mattered. The way they'd felt with each other at the beginning had been what they were supposed to do with each other, but they'd let it slip away. Nobody could ever make Dennis feel the way she'd made him feel when they'd first fallen in love. He'd been so happy. So greedy. So grateful. They couldn't ever dislike each other. It wasn't his fault. It wasn't her fault. He probably didn't think she'd fall in love with anyone else, either. Well, she hadn't, had she? Nope. Giselle thought she might fall in love with someone else again someday, though—how it would happen, what it would take, who it could possibly be, however, she did not have the slightest clue.

The phone rang. The Simpsons were still on her mind. How pathetic was it that Homer and Marge were more exciting, more sophisticated and urbane than she and Dennis had been? She pushed the TALK button and said distractedly:


"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," the same man's voice said, with the same buoyancy, the same enthusiasm, the same confidence.

Giselle didn't say anything for the longest time. Neither did the guy on the phone. Finally Giselle said calmly, "You know, Bozo. Whoever you are. You're really not all that funny."

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," the man's voice repeated.

"I have caller ID," she lied.

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man." The man's voice became more conversational.

"Getting dumb-ass phone calls doesn't bother me, you know. Call some twit who might give a shit. I have four ferocious dogs here who would love to tear you to pieces." Giselle glanced at the two sleepy little bundles of fluff at the end of the sofa and couldn't help but smile at the thought of one of them—most likely Toot—trying to get his tiny teeth around some guy's gargantuan shin bone.

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man." He sounded as if he were trying to convince her.

"Okay, you're the Mayonnaise Man. Got it. So, what do you want?"

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," the man's voice whispered.

Giselle felt her heart beating in her throat. His voice seemed to crack, like it had a shy, comforting little hitch in it, the way Father Gregory's voice used to thicken, somehow, when they'd been in love, when she'd been so innocent and fresh and fluttery, when he was violating his vows to the church and his vows to God and his vows to himself by inching his hand up her plaid skirt and feeling the nipples of her teenage breasts getting hard under the soft touch of his lips, when she was that important to him, when he was that important to her, when nothing else mattered. She was caught off guard. She didn't know what to say.

"Yeah?" she said, finally, expectantly, quietly, with something of a rasp in her own throat.

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," he whispered again.

"This is nuts," she sighed. There was a pause. Giselle listened to the silence. She had a remarkably clear connection. The guy from Sprint had been right, you could hear a fucking pin drop. She felt her breath suspended in her lungs. It was utterly quiet. She heard him breathe, felt how his breath might feel against her ear, felt the words he was saying, as stupid as they were, make her heart get all fluttery. She felt her nipples stir.

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man." His voice was almost too low and gravely and choked with intensity to make out the words anymore. It sounded more like a growl in his throat, the way a big cat might purr, like a mountain lion, maybe, a puma, a panther.

Giselle pushed the button that disconnected the phone. She pushed it reluctantly. She pushed it gently. She hung up. She didn't know what else to do.

Next, Part Two


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Gerard Jones
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