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 momentpizza 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 feelingsthe 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 seatKung Pao Shrimp, an order of egg rolls and a surprise!
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 beforeoddly 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 othersand 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 aroundto 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, toosteaks or stuff for spaghetti or lasagna or some kind of Beef Stroganoff thing he was particularly proud ofwhich 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?"
"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 ignorewhich 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 divorcetwenty 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 dogsfive, 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 lovethe 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, maybewell, unless Oprah had that god damn ignorant baldheaded hick of a so-called shrink onGiselle 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 heavenwell, 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 getbut 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 tablesometimes 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 thingand, 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.