A Free Novel

Part Three

(Part One), (Part Two), (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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Chapter Ten

Giselle scooted her white flannel pajama bottoms across the soft carpet over closer to where Abraham Lincoln's head was propped up against a pillow. She pressed her elbow into one of the cushions, rested the side of her face in the palm of her right hand and surveyed the whole of his face while he was surveying the whole of her face. They did that for awhile, just looked at each other's faces here and there, up and down, back and forth, around and around.

He had a wide, smooth forehead with a fringe of kinky, curly, almost Rastafarian reddish-brown ringlets of hair hanging, in places, clear down to his thick eyebrows. In back, his hair brushed the fabric around the neck of her gray Gap sweatshirt. The skin across his cheekbones was stretched so tight it shined in the dim light until it disappeared under his wispy, reddish-brown beard. His lips were pretty. She got glimpses of his tongue between his pretty lips. His mustache was as wispy and as dark and as reddish-brown as his beard. She didn't like his nose as much as she liked the rest of his face—his nose was sort of big. His nostrils were little and nicely shaped, however, and, all in all, he was just about the cutest guy she'd ever seen in her whole entire life.

She didn't know what the hell he might have been thinking of her, although she wasn't all that worried. She looked the way she looked. Most guys thought the way she looked was okay. Some guys didn't. Some guys were idiots. He had to like her eyes. He was sure looking into them enough. Hadn't he ever seen eyes before? The thing about his eyes was they looked just like hers. It was like she was looking into her own eyes, like looking into his eyes was like she was looking at herself in a mirror. He had to be thinking the same thing. It couldn't have been mere coincidence. Mirror coincidence. Ha!

"Hey, you want to hear what a kid in my class said?" Giselle asked.

"Nope," said Abraham.

"Do you want to hear the best joke ever?"


"Okay, why did the monkey fall out of the tree?"

Abraham didn't answer.

"Because it was dead," Giselle said. Then she laughed a big horse laugh. She couldn't help it. She cracked herself up.

Abraham smiled a wan smile but made no comment.

"You want to hear a chicken joke?" she asked, undaunted.

"We don't need to do a lot of meaningless chitchat, Giselle." He looked directly at her. She saw how polite he was, how calm and kind and generous.

"No? What do we need to do?" she asked.

"Get to know each other."

"Isn't that usually why people do a little meaningless chitchat?"

"Nope," he said.

He was kind of a terse-ass motherfucker, she thought. Polite and kind and generous and direct and cute and all that, yeah, but pretty god damn terse when you got right down to it, too. She wasn't sure she thought much of that.

"Yeah? Well. That's why I do a little meaningless chitchat," Giselle said.

"No it's not. You talk to keep from knowing who you're talking to."

"How the fuck do you know what I do anything for?"

"I'm smart. We're two of a kind, you and me."

"Okay, so the chicken husband's sick, right?" She ignored him. "He's got the chicken flu. So the chicken wife goes out into her chicken kitchen and brings him a bowl of chicken soup. And the chicken husband looks down into the bowl of chicken soup, then looks back up at his chicken wife and asks, 'Anyone we know?'"

"That's a Gary Larson cartoon," Abraham said. He didn't say it in a snide way. He wasn't snotty. He just said what he knew to be a fact.

"Yep," said Giselle. "It is. I stole it. But I haven't finished. So the chicken wife says, 'No, dear, don't worry.' The chicken husband eats the chicken soup. He feels much better. Then the chicken wife says, 'Well, it's not anyone we've done a lot of meaningless chitchat with lately' The chicken husband looks worried. 'Okay,' the chicken wife says, 'I lied. It's your mother.' Ha!" Giselle laughed.

"Are you through?" Abraham's head lolled slowly over to one side. His eyes closed slightly, like he might have been on the verge of falling asleep.

"Nope." Giselle felt her stubborn streak kick in. She'd teach this guy not to nod off on her while she was in the middle of telling a joke. She'd tell the god damn joke forever. It would go on and on. She'd have that chicken wife and her chicken husband eating their chicken soup on the chicken moon. "'Well, it was your mother,' the chicken wife says. 'But she fell out of that tree, unfortunately. Do you remember why, dear? Why your mother fell out of the tree? Because she was dead!' Ha!"

Abraham reached over and touched the tiny gold Russian Orthodox cross at the base of Giselle's throat. She felt his finger brush her skin again and the same kinds of shivers ran through her as when he'd touched the back of her neck.

"Cool cross," he said.

"It's old." Giselle stammered slightly. She wanted to say something else but didn't know what else to say.

"Do you know why the bar at the bottom is crooked?"

"It's about heaven and hell, yeah. Father Gregroy went through all that with me about a million times. He was sort of hung up on religion. The way Father Gregory told it, there were these two thieves who were getting themselves crucified the same time as Jesus...and one got to go to heaven and the other had to go to hell. So the crooked cross is God's little reminder that if you don't go to heaven you go to hell. You have something to do with him, right? With Father Gregory?"

"I have nothing to do with anyone but you," Abraham said.

"Oh," she said. "Well, you remind me of him, anyway. Do you even know him at all? Have you ever been to San Francisco?"

"Nope," Abraham said. "My father's from San Francisco, though."

"Yeah? Maybe they knew each other."

"I doubt it. My father wasn't all that keen on organized religion."

"Neither was Father Gregory. How he got to be a bishop, nobody knows. We used to tell crucifixion jokes. Father Gregory and me. Like the one about the thieves who were hanging there with Jesus. Did you ever hear that joke?" Giselle asked.

He didn't answer for awhile. It looked to Giselle like he had to think for a minute. His eyes got a faraway look. It was like he knew there was no answer he could possibly come up with that would keep her from telling him another one of her stupid jokes, but maybe if he didn't answer at all that would postpone the inevitable.

"Nope," Abraham said, finally.

"One thief says to the other thief, 'Hey, I can see your house.' That's it. That's the whole joke. It wasn't that bad, was it?"

Abraham didn't answer. He sighed mildly and started to close his eyes again.

"I used to totally crack him up." Giselle went on. "I used to sit right at the end of the aisle. He'd be being all serious, all pious and somber, shaking incense and whatnot, and I'd whisper to him when he walked by, 'Hey, I can see your house.'"

"I want us to talk," Abraham said. He narrowed his eyes.

"About what?" She wrinkled up her forehead and felt her scalp move.

"Your heart. The vision you saw of your heart."

"Oh, my gosh. They sent you over from the Psychic Friends Network. Who was it? Ted? Tom Riley? Not Dennis. That fucker. Wait, wait. The Bimbo, right? I knew it. Gloria god damn Weitzman. She totally falls for that horseshit."

"You told me you saw a vision of a bleeding heart in your mind, Giselle."

"I did? Oh, yeah. I didn't say it was a god damn vision, though."

"Do you know Jesus is God?" Abraham crossed his arms over his chest.

"Pardon me?" Giselle asked.

"Do you know that Jesus Christ is God?" he repeated calmly, patiently. It was like she'd met her match, like he would indulge her forever, like he would let her talk herself under the table until she finally gave in and talked about what he wanted to talk about. He exuded understanding and forbearance from every pore. When people did that with her, Giselle automatically had to try to piss them off, to get them off their high horse, somehow.

"What is this, a test?" she asked.

"Nope. It's a serious question." He flexed the muscles under his eyes again.

"Serious question, my ass. Do I have any lifelines left? Can I call a friend? Poll the audience?"

"Giselle." He sighed. His head had started lolling over to one side again. She really did like the guy, though. She didn't want to piss him off too badly.

"Okay, look," she said. "I know that a bunch of people who gave it a hell of a lot more thought than I ever did don't know the answer to that question any more than I do. If I had to come up with something, I'd say he was both. 'God with us,' they say when he's born. Later on Pontius Pilate says, 'Ecce homo; behold the man.' And what was that stuff he said about, 'Father, father, why hast thou forsaken me?' If he was God, he'd have known he wasn't forsaken. Then he says, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.' It's a tossup, man. A constant struggle. One way and the other. He goes back and forth, is the way I see it," Giselle said. "Kind of like that movie, Chinatown. Did you ever see that movie?"

"Nope," Abraham said.

"Well, there's this part where Jack Nicholson keeps slapping Faye Dunaway around. 'She's my sister. She's my daughter. She's my sister. She's my daughter,' Faye Dunaway keeps saying. The thing is, she was both 'cause Faye Dunaway got knocked up by her father. John Huston. That was a good movie. I liked how Jack Nicholson had that Band-Aid on his nose from that guy sticking that switchblade up there and giving it a little yank. Yikes. Roman Polanski directed it. His wife got killed by some of Charlie Manson's people. She was pregnant. Does that answer the question?"

"God is love, Giselle."

"My ass is love. You think you know what love is? I sure don't."

"It's not something you think, Giselle. You know that. You feel it. In Jesus is God. In you is God—he who is love and love only and only love. You can't put a name on it. So you make up dumb jokes. Laugh. Change the subject. But in your flesh and in your bones and in your heart you know God is love."

"It was usually around in here somewhere that Father Gregory started unbuttoning my blouse."

"You're not wearing a blouse."

"My pajamas have buttons," she heard herself say.

"I want us to talk. Then I want to eat whatever you've got cooking."

"'Hey, good lookin'," Giselle said softly. Songs kept coming to her. She never knew why or from where. They just came to her. Usually she just sang them to herself, but, for some reason, this was such a small song she sang it aloud. She felt her tongue mouth the words, her lips pucker up, then heard herself whisper:

"Hey, good lookin', what'cha got cookin'?
How's about cookin' somethin' up with me..."

Her voice trailed off. She hated singing. She sang anyway. "That's Hank Williams," she said.

"I know. I grew up near Nashville." Abraham put his hand under her chin, touched her skin and looked at her like he liked her. He looked at her like she was a kid, a cute kid, a smart kid, an interesting kid. His eyes were kind and thoughtful and attentive—not the least bit patronizing, like he was a kid, too, like they were kids together, hanging out. He was proud of her and amused by her and attracted to her. Then he sniffed the air and touched his lower lip with the thumbnail of his right hand, cocked his head slightly, frowned and said, "Smells like a soufflé."

"A soufflé! Ha!" Giselle laughed her horse laugh. "Gimme a fucking break. That would be too totally absurd for words."

"What do you think was going on with the guys who flew the planes?" Abraham asked in an offhand, casual, apropos of nothing sort of way—the same way he'd asked Giselle if she knew Jesus is God.

"Man, you like asking questions from out of nowhere."

"Yep. Like you like telling jokes out of nowhere."

"So this is like some kind of tit for tat?" she asked, lifting her eyebrows.

"I don't do tit for tat," Abraham said emphatically. He shook his head slowly and flexed the muscles around his pretty brown eyes.

Whoa. That surprised her. He looked sort of menacing and sounded almost vindictive, like tit for tat was the worst thing a person could ever do, like it was some kind of sin—not like anything he'd sounded like at all until then.

"You mean the planes that whacked the World Trade Center?" Giselle asked.

"Yep. And the Pentagon. And that woods in Pennsylvania." He spoke softly and seemed to be back to his same old mellow self again.

"Fuck if I know." She shrugged. "They were fanatics. They were pissed off at America so they pissed off some Americans."

"By killing themselves?"


"That's pretty pissed off."

"Hey, we killed and starved a bunch of their wives and kids in Iraq. We give Israel all kinds of fancy weapons to kill their wives and kids in Palestine. We're assholes. They're assholes. Everybody's an asshole. People have been pissing each other off since god damn Cain and Abel, man."

"What would you die for?" Abraham asked. "Anything?"

"Nothing I can think of, no. I love my little life. Well, except for my head." She stopped, debated whether she wanted to tell him about her head or not, then said, "Hey, you want to know something really weird?" Giselle wrinkled her nose.

"I want to know everything," Abraham said.

"I don't know if you want to know this or not. I had a headache every day for the last twenty years...and now it's gone. Poof. Just like that. I was on my way to send Dennis an e-mail and BAM! It felt like a god damn lightning bolt crashed through the top of my skull and when I woke up my headache was gone. That was when that bleeding heart thing came into my mind. Then you showed up..."

Abraham smiled a goofy smile. Giselle wished she'd kept her mouth shut.

"That bleeding heart thing sounded sort of slick," he said.

His eyes were all soft and brimming up with some kind of mushy looking stuff—compassion, maybe. He swallowed. She looked at his Adam's apple. She hated compassion. They could blow compassion out their ass.

"I like not having a headache. That's something I would have died for—to not have a headache anymore. Hey, maybe I'm dead," she said.

"So the answer is yes?" he asked.

"No. What the fuck good would it have done me to not have a headache if I were dead? That was a question I thought about a lot, though. Whether 'tis nobler, blah, blah, blah."

"So the answer is no."

"Right. That was the answer I always came up with...if I didn't die from having a headache every day, I wouldn't die for anything. So the answer is no. There isn't anything I'd die for. Why?"

"Christ died for our sins."

"My ass. Christ died because he pissed off some Pharisees. Besides he didn't kill himself. Other people killed him. That's a whole different story."

"He didn't have to go through with it. Not my will but thine. He allowed it. He had faith. He trusted God. He let go. He gave up. The birth and life and death and resurrection of Christ was nothing but submission to God. That Abraham would have killed Isaac wasn't enough. 'Before Abraham was, I am,' Jesus says. Islam is nothing but submission to God. All life on earth is nothing but submission to God."

"Hey, is that why you call yourself Abraham Lincoln?" Giselle asked. "Because of Abraham in the Bible? Like if we had a kid, would we call him Isaac?" Holy Christ! Where the hell that had come from, Giselle did not know. Why the hell was she talking about having a kid with this guy?

"I call myself Abraham Lincoln because that's my name," he said.

"Are you sure you don't have anything to do with Father Gregory?"

"Positive," Abraham Lincoln said.

"When did your father live in San Francisco?" Giselle asked.

"A long time ago. 1967. Before I was born."

"Yeah, well, I guess they didn't know each other then. I can't get over how you remind me of someone, though. Me, maybe. That's who you remind me of. You remind me of me. Holy shit am I ever whacked."

"No you're not. You're fine. You're really pretty, you know."

"I am?"

"Yep," he said. "Your eyes are...I don't know what. I keep falling into them."

"You do? Really? Me too. Your eyes, I mean. It's weird."

"No, it's not." He smiled.

"Yes it is," she said.


She felt like she'd hurt his feelings. That was the last thing she wanted to do. She thought for a minute, then said, "Hey, you know, everybody dies. Everything dies. All life dies. If that isn't submission I don't know what is."

"Submission to God isn't death. It's life. God is in all things—people and trees and stars and black holes and mountain lions and centipedes and snakes and fleas and ants and mosquitoes."

"Mosquitoes. Ew," Giselle said. "I hate mosquitoes."

"You can't love God and kill God at the same time."

"Hey, if God's a mosquito, I'm gonna kill the fucker every chance I get."

"God's not a mosquito. Love is in all things, even mosquitoes. Love like you can't know on this earth, love that aches and waits and longs and bleeds."

"Like that heart thing I saw in my mind...that was what it felt like, aching, bleeding something, love maybe."

"Yep," Abraham said.

"God, help me." Giselle rolled her eyes.

Abraham took his hand from under her chin, smoothed her eyebrow with his thumb, inched his fingers under her hair, touched the top of her right ear and laughed with his eyes right into her eyes. She covered his hand with her hand, then quickly pulled it away again and pretended she had an itch on the tip of her nose. She felt the way she used to feel when she was a kid and stayed with her grandmother, when she sat in her grandmother's lap and her grandmother read stories to her.

"You just said the only prayer you ever need to say." He brushed his knuckles across the side of her hair, rested his hand on her shoulder, close to her bare neck.

"God, help me? That's a pretty simple-ass prayer." Giselle frowned and tried to sound tough, but got shy and giddy at the same time.

"Yep," he said. "You don't have to waste a lot of words. God knows what's going on in you. You don't have any secrets. All you have to do is ask."

There was a ding in the kitchen. Giselle ignored it.

"I think your timer went off," Abraham said.

"Pfssh." She blew a puff of breath at Abraham's chest. "Let it burn," she said. "Tell me more about this prayer."

"There's no more to tell. Ask. God, help me. That's it. Let what burn?"

"Oh, the stupid quiche." She waved roughly in the direction of the kitchen.

"Ooo. You baked quiche?" His eyes got all wide and twinkly.

"Don't get your hopes up." She stifled a sad sounding laugh.

"Hey, Giselle."

"Yeah?" she asked in a low, languid tone of voice. She felt the word escape between her lips from somewhere deep in her chest. She shook her hair and struck a pose and looked longingly at his mouth as if she expected him to say something more about how pretty she was or how amazing he thought her eyes were.

"I need to take a leak," Abraham said.

"A leak? What the hell kind of horseshit euphemism is that?"

"I have to go to the bathroom," he said.

"You have to piss like a racehorse?" she asked. "Is that what you're saying?"

"Yep," Abraham said. He crossed his legs. "That's exactly what I'm saying."

"Hey, what do you mean, my jokes are dumb?" She frowned. She knew it would piss him off to keep him there but figured it was retribution for him not mentioning again how pretty she was, for not rhapsodizing a little more about her eyes. He might not do tit for tat. That was cool. To each his or her own. But Giselle did. She did all the tit for tat she could get away with doing. "You called my jokes dumb," she said. "You said I made up dumb jokes."

"Giselle," he said indulgently, raising his knees a ways off the sofa. "That was a long time ago."

"Yeah, yeah," she said.

"We've gotten to know each other now."

"We have?"

"Yep," Abraham Lincoln said.

"Okay, okay...so, go take a leak."

Chapter Eleven

They went their separate ways, Abraham up the stairway toward the bathroom and Giselle out to the kitchen. He sure seemed to know his way around her house for a guy who hadn't been there much more than an hour, Giselle thought. Well, where else would the bathroom be? She didn't want to make too much out of anything; it was weird enough as it was. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, her dad used to say, although she never knew what the heck that ever meant, either.

The kitchen smelled scrumptious, like Martha Stewart's kitchen, maybe—or her mother's kitchen. Ha! The kitchen smelled pretty gosh darn good, whomsoever the fuck's kitchen it may have been. It had never smelled so good the whole time she'd lived there. Ted at his most inspired hadn't made anything that came close to making her kitchen smell as scrumptious her kitchen smelled.

"God, help me," Giselle said.

She giggled a tiny, giddy little giggle she felt in the muscles of her stomach, then pulled open the oven door, took out the quiche with a pair of pot holders shaped like pigs, happy piglets with twinkly blue eyes and smiles on their faces—pot holders her mother had bought her as a wedding gift, pot holders which Dennis had hated, kitsch pot holders, anti-Semitic pot holders, pot holders which, when she thought about it, she had hated, but pot holders which, for some reason, she didn't hate anymore, pot holders which she sort of liked all of a sudden—and sat it on top of the stove to cool. The quiche looked beautiful, all brown and yellow and steaming with waves of heat like mirages in the desert. It looked delicious. It looked perfect. Ha!

Nothing in Giselle's kitchen had changed. Her computer was on the table she used as a desk, right where it always was, surrounded by the same clutter of half-read books, unpaid bills and sundry office supplies—paper clips, a big pink eraser, Post-it pads, pens, pencils—like someone had swept the floor at Staples and emptied the dust pan onto her desk. Outside her window it was as dark as it always was at night. The moon was on the full side, but she had no idea whether it was waxing or waning. The spider plant brushed through her hair the way it always did when she leaned over her desk and looked out her kitchen window. Her hair smelled like lavender and vanilla from the shampoo. Her feet were bare. The linoleum was cold. Her pajamas smelled like cedar. The cross around her neck was warmer than usual, but her little dogs still followed around behind her wherever she went.

Well, there was a quiche cooling on the top of the stove. That was different. The only use to which she, personally, ever put her oven was to warm herself up by standing in front of the open oven door on chilly mornings. She and Dennis used to eat a lot of pasta. And salads. Salad, yes! She had lettuce, a tomato, a cucumber, and half a jar of Bernstein's Zesty Italian Dressing left in the refrigerator. Corn Quiche, salad and wine. Simplicity itself. Martha Stewart would have eaten her heart out. Giselle took down one of the dusty wine bottles, wiped it off, pulled the cork and felt suddenly and overwhelmingly like a housewife.

"God, help me," she said aloud. It calmed her. She said it again, as two separate phrases: "God," and "Help me." Then she thought about what a simple-ass prayer it was to say, and said it again, "God, help me." She said it over and over, in all sorts of different ways until the prayer settled into a comfortable chant.

For no apparent reason, which was not unusual in the least, all four dogs started barking their brains out. They tore out of the kitchen, getting in each other's way going through the door into the dining room. Giselle followed them, with her unruly mass of still-damp curly red hair tilting curiously to one side.

Abraham Lincoln had taken a seat in one of the chairs at the dining room table. His head was bowed over his plate. The napkin and silverware were untouched. The candles were short, beeswax votive candles. Their light flickered shadows of empty crystal glasses onto the wall. Toot was digging his hind feet into the carpet like a miniature bull pawing the ground. Then he reared back and barked like he thought he was the biggest, baddest dog who ever lived, a Rottweiler, say, or a Russian Wolfhound, but way fluffier and without much of a snout—almost no snout, in fact. Pekes hardly looked like dogs at all, but you'd never convince Toot he wasn't at least a Rottweiler.

"Knock it off!" Giselle yelled.

Abraham looked up slowly, right into her eyes. It was dark but for the candles. His hair was a rust-colored penumbra around his face. He smiled. It could have been a flicker from one of the candles. The shadow of his head on the wall was way bigger than his real head, three times bigger, maybe more. His elbows were on the table. The tips of his long fingers were touching, like his hands were a small tent in front of his face. On the wall, they looked like a big teepee.

"Not you, the dog," Giselle said. Abraham didn't say anything. Toot's barks diminished to growls at the back of his throat. "I'll just be a minute," Giselle said, then went back into the kitchen.

She still had no idea what the fuck was going on. No guy could come into her house, sit on her sofa, lay on her sofa, flutter her out with his hands, get her to cook him a quiche, for Christ's sake, piss in her toilet, then pull up a chair at her dining room table and sit there waiting to be waited on. It was unthinkable, yet there he was.

He had to have been sent there by someone. How else would he have known where she lived? Father Gregory had to be behind it somehow, she thought, vaguely, as she removed the salad fixings from the crisper at the bottom of her refrigerator. Who else could it have been? Her grandmother? She was dead. Giselle couldn't shake the feeling that this Mayonnaise Man, this quote-unquote "Abraham Lincoln" fellow, whoever the fuck he was, must have had some connection to Father Gregory. But the guy had said he didn't know Father Gregory. "I have nothing to do with anyone but you," he'd said. Yeah, well, people lie, too. Giselle was no dummy. She'd been around the block a time or two.

Maybe he was some kind of acolyte, a protégé, someone Father Gregory was grooming to be some kind of extra holy monk or some damn thing. She wouldn't put it past him. He was always on the lookout for people with the potential to be extra devoted to God in some way or other. Or maybe Father Gregory thought she might just dig the guy—hey, if that were the case, whoa, was he ever right. Abraham was flat-out gorgeous. Quiet. Well-spoken. Attentive. Or maybe it was the budding monk thing. Maybe Father Gregory wanted the guy to get from her what he'd gotten from her. Love. Sex. A woman. A worldly wife for awhile before he renounced the pleasures of the flesh completely and went about his priestly duties in peace.

They'd really been desperately in love, she and Father Gregory. Carnal love, yeah, but love is love, Father Gregory had said. Giselle had been so young, so idealistic, so romantic, so enchanted with Jesus and God—matters of the heart, love and lust and danger and the patient mysticism of the Eastern Orthodox Church. She'd happened into his quaint building on a whim one day. It had been raining. She didn't have an umbrella. Candles were burning quietly around the altar. Father Gregory had come out from somewhere in the back in his long black robe and had sat patiently next to her, not saying a word. It stopped raining. He invited her to services. They'd become friends. One thing had led to another. Nobody had been the aggressor. She wasn't so young anymore, not so idealistic or so romantic, either, for that matter, and the only thing she could say she was enchanted with was The Simpsons.

Giselle tore leaf after leaf of Romaine Lettuce into pieces and put the pieces into a clear glass salad bowl. She'd been at Northwestern, taking classes in art and philosophy without a clue what the hell she wanted to do with her life. Read. Paint. Go for walks down by Lake Michigan. See Van Gogh paintings at the art museum. Look at the leaves on trees, the flowers in dirt, the stars in the sky. That was about it. She had her own apartment. She studied with Father Gregory. She helped him. She learned from him. She taught him. There had been give and take the whole time they'd know each other—not much more than a year, all told. She'd proofread his essays on the nature of faith, the nature of charity. Caritos, he'd called it. God's yearning to love. God's yearning to be loved. Grace. She sort of got what he was getting at, but what most absorbed her was that he didn't know how to spell worth a damn. How many times had she told him that 'surprise' was not spelled with a 'z'? That tomorrow only had one 'm'?

She'd painted icons on pieces of wood from stories he told her, icons of saints on horseback, clothed in garments emblazoned with crosses and carrying swords. He adored her icons. He still had some. He mentioned them once in awhile in letters he wrote her. She adored his stories. She still remembered them. She mentioned them in letters she wrote to him. She'd gotten to know him like she'd never gotten to know anyone, before or since. Father Gregory trusted her with his life. She trusted him with hers.

Giselle sliced the big juicy tomato into halves, then quarters, then eighths and so on until it was more like salsa than a tomato. It had been like her and God were locked in some kind of duel over Father Gregory's heart. He was torn. She was torn. God won. God kicked her ass fair and square, but that was the only way it could have been, the way it had to be, the way she knew it was going to be all along. Father Gregory loved her as much as he'd loved any woman. He couldn't have loved her more. He adored her. She took hold of the cucumber and peeled it with a potato peeler into the sink, then held the peeled part in her hand and peeled the other end.

Whatever she did or didn't do was fine with him. He was patient and passive and kind and gentle and thoughtful and let her experiment to her heart's content. He'd fucked her on her hands and knees in the rectory. She'd fucked him on the sofa in her apartment and in her bed at night. They'd fucked in the woods with the sun on her tits. They'd held hands. They'd kissed. They'd walked with their arms around each other when there wasn't anyone else around to see and made fun of each other and cried their eyes out together. He bawled like a baby into her thick hair. She wiped the snot out of his mustache. That made him laugh.

She cried when he fucked her. He cried when she fucked him. They'd drained each other of every passion, every emotion two people could know. She was his. He was hers. They loved each other with everything in them. He loved her during the everyday living of his everyday life. He lived with her in his heart. She lived with him in her heart. They were married. He was her husband. She was his wife. Whether she got married to Dennis or not didn't matter, whether he was old or gone or had a long white beard didn't matter. They'd be in love forever. They'd belonged to each other. They'd belong to each other forever. Giselle broke a crust of bread into tiny pieces, then tossed them into the salad and brushed her hands together.

After she'd brought in the salad and the quiche and poured the wine, Giselle sat down next to Abraham at the dining room table, cut the quiche, put a big slice on both their plates, served the salad beside it, and said, "Hey, let's say grace."

"Knock yourself out." Abraham bowed his head slightly and smiled.

Giselle closed her eyes and said, "God, help me."

"And God bless us, every one," Abraham added.

"Ha!" Giselle laughed. "I'm so fucking starving I could eat a racehorse."

Abraham laughed.

They ate. They drank wine. They didn't talk, but mostly just made what sounded like animal noises, slurping noises, chewing noises, an inarticulate moan here and there in praise of a particularly yummy mouthful of quiche. At some point during dinner, Giselle got up, went out to the kitchen, got the other bottle of wine, opened it, filled their glasses again, and they went on eating until they were about finished with that bottle too, and, when the quiche and salad were completely gone, Giselle was drunk off her ass.

"Who the fuck are you, anyway?" she asked at long last. It was like, okay, let's cut the crap. You've eaten my food, drank my wine, swooned me out with your hands on my neck, now I want some motherfucking answers.

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," Abraham Lincoln said.

"Yeah, and what exactly the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"I have no idea. I've been called the Mayonnaise Man all my life. It was something my father dreamed up. Everybody calls me the Mayonnaise Man. Except for some of the little kids," he said. The right corner of his mouth curled into a fond, almost imperceptible smile.

"What do they call you?" Giselle asked.

He got shy. "It's embarrassing," Abraham said.

"Tell me," she said. "Come on. You said you'd tell me anything."

"Anything but that." He chuckled deep in his chest.

"If you don't tell me I'll kick your ass. How about that?"

"You can't kick my ass, Giselle. I'm bigger than you."

"Oh, no? Try not telling me and see." She got a determined look in her eyes.

"Mame," he said.

"Mame? She frowned.

"Yep." He nodded, pursed his pretty lips. "Not a very cool name for a guy. Kind of like a boy named Sue." Curls of his heavy hair bobbed up and down across his clear forehead. "This chick, Dow. She started it. When she was around a year-and-a-half old or so. I don't know how she came up with it. I guess 'the Mayonnaise Man' was kind of a mouthful to say all at once, so she shortened it to 'Mame.' She and some of the other guys who were kids when she was a kid still call me that. This kid named Davis. I don't like it. Well, I do and I don't, you know?"

"That's too weird." Giselle shook her head slowly, felt her hair brush her cheeks. "That's my grandmother's name. I gave it to her. They were trying to get me to say 'Grandma.' All I could say was 'My Mame.' Her real name was Agnes. She hated the name Agnes, and made everyone call her 'Mame' from then on. I still called her My Mame for a long time. I still think of her as My Mame. I probably always will. She died."

"Yeah?" Abraham sounded uncomfortable. "How long ago?" he asked.

"Toward the end of last summer. A week or so before that 9/11 stuff. I got sad. For a long time. I'm still sad. Like. You know. When I think about it."

"Was she your mother's mother?" he asked.

"Yep." Giselle wished she'd never started this part of the conversation. "She and my mother didn't get along. My mother didn't even go to her funeral."

"Well..." Abraham paused. "At least your Mame was a girl."

"Yeah. Ha!" Giselle laughed. "Okay I won't call you Mame. Hey, you want to hear something else weird, though?"

"The weirder the better," he said.

"Mame used to fix me homemade French Fries—all bubbly and really salty, with the skins still on. It was my favoritest thing to eat in the whole world. I liked her so much. Fuck." Giselle stopped. She felt her chest start to swell up, like she was going to cry—then she swallowed instead. "But the weird thing is she used to serve them with mayonnaise instead of ketchup. Maybe it was some Irish thing. I don't know. But any time I ever eat French Fries, I eat them with mayonnaise." She stopped. She put her hand onto the top of her head and said, "I have no idea what I'm talking about. Mayonnaise is stupid. Whoever even thinks of mayonnaise?"

"My father. Apparently." Abraham made a sound like a squirrel.

"Why?" Giselle asked.

"I wish I knew. I don't. What the hell kind of name is 'the Mayonnaise Man?'"

"Hey, you sound like me," Giselle said. "Have you asked him?"

"Yep," Abraham said. "He gets all mysterious."

"What does he say?" Giselle asked. Her chest went back to normal again.

"'I liked the way it sounded, son.' Then he laughs. That was all I ever got out of him. 'I liked the way it sounded, son.' It sounds sort of slick, though, like when you put the inflections in different places. 'I'm the Mayonnaise Man,' like that. Or, 'I'm the Mayonnaise Man.'" Abraham seemed to be experiencing some slight symptoms of intoxication, himself.

"I'm sorry I'm having a hard time understanding what's going on," Giselle said. "But I am. I can't help it. Too much happened all at once. Whacko phone calls. My head crashing me out like I was struck with lightning. That bleeding heart thing. Headache gone. You showing up. Dogs not barking. It's like I can't believe my ears, I can't believe my eyes. What the fuck can I believe?"

"Take my hand," Abraham held his left hand out matter-of-factly.

She frowned and moved her hands into her lap.

"Put your hand in my hand, Giselle. It's easy." He put his hands together, then turned his palms toward the ceiling.

"Okay, let's play Hot Hand," she said with a mischievous smirk. Then she removed her hands from her lap and leaned her wrists against the edge of the table.

"All right." He smiled. "You start."

Giselle moved her elbows up onto the tablecloth and offered the open palms of her hands out toward him. Abraham covered her palms with his palms, without either of them touching each other. She looked into his eyes. She was good at Hot Hand. She hardly ever missed. She faked like she was going to slap both his hands at the same time and watched his eyes. He didn't budge. Uh-oh. He was good too. Then she slapped her right hand over to his left hand...and he moved. She missed. Motherfuck.

"My turn," Abraham said.

Giselle put her hands over his. Their fingers touched, their palms touched, her hands got hot, her heart leaped into her throat, her stomach flip-flopped, she kept her hands on his hands as he folded his thumbs over her knuckles.

"Wow," she said.

"Can you believe your hands?"

"Yeah. I guess. I don't know. How fucking bizarre is this? It's pretty fucking bizarre, right?"

"Nope," he said, still holding her hands.

She held his hands back, looked into his eyes looking into her eyes. If he was anything other than a real guy, she sure couldn't see any signs of it.

"What are we supposed to do with each other?" she asked shyly.

"Talk. Eat. Hang out. Get to know each other."

"Are you going to stay here tonight?"

"I don't have anywhere else to stay."

"Are we going to sleep in the same bed?"

"Sure," he said. "If you want. Or not."

Giselle took her hands away. She clasped her palms together and put them in front of her face, in front of her mouth, covering her nose and looked directly into the syrupy-brown eyes of the guy calling himself Abraham Lincoln, then closed her eyes gently and kept them closed and said, "God, help me."

Chapter Twelve

Giselle felt the air from her lungs warm her hands. Her right thumbnail was resting gently under her nose. She was safe with her eyes closed, secure, alone, gone, in another place, another time. "Ain't nothing but a stranger in this world," Van Morrison's words sang to her from the Astral Weeks CD she'd put on. How long ago had that been? Her own words echoed in her head: "Where the fuck am I?" Had she ever sufficiently answered that question? Was there a sufficient answer?

She heard herself saying her new prayer, "God, help me. God, help me. God, help me." Her prayer had been saying itself for awhile by then, like her heart was always beating, but only rarely did she know her heart was beating. Abraham wouldn't mind her sitting there with her eyes closed. He was probably sitting there with his eyes closed, himself. She and Father Gregory had been quiet for hours...not talking was what Giselle remembered most about them.

Her hands felt like an oxygen mask, like she was in a hospital or being carried somewhere on a stretcher...or flying an airplane, yeah, like her hands were one of those khaki-colored canvas masks John Wayne had cupped over his face in Flying Tigers...and in her imagination Giselle became the pilot of a World War II fighter plane, flashing a quick "thumbs up" to the pilot flying beside her, seeing his propeller seem to move backwards, seeing the black and white shark's eye and the gaping maw of shark's teeth painted across the nose of his plane.

Giselle felt the muscles in her stomach tense up as she banked her plane through wisps of white fluffy fog and dove sideways down through clouds. Then she broke into clear bright sunlight and came upon an endless expanse of blue sky...only it wasn't a fighter plane she was flying by then, she suddenly found herself in the cockpit of a giant aircraft, flying at thirty thousand feet along the New Jersey shore. She watched the ribbon of sand and breaking waves where the Atlantic Ocean crashed against land, got a glimpse of Atlantic City as it passed beneath her. There were instruments across the control panel in front of her, all kinds of switches and knobs and LCD displays, red numbers, green numbers, yellow numbers. What did they mean? She didn't know.

Outside the wall-to-wall windows of the cockpit, she could see New York City—far below her, but straight ahead. The Statue of Liberty was off to one side of the harbor, the green rectangle of Central Park further out, the East River, Brooklyn Bridge, the Hudson River Valley, Battery Park, piers, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the whole island of Manhattan, Midtown, the Upper East Side, Long Island and beyond.

She felt huge, as if she could wrap her arms like rivers around the thousands of buildings bunched together, as if she could lay Broadway across the palm of her hand like a tiny ribbon, like she could rub Fifth Avenue between her fingers like a slick, shiny piece of brown cellophane from a broken cassette tape. It felt to Giselle like she could pick up the whole city like a platter in her hands, reach down and grab a whole plate full of millions of people too small to see, people in cabs and on buses, people on sidewalks, strolling through the park, and rattle them around, shake them up, spill them out like she was playing Jacks or Pick-up-Stix or Liar's Dice.

The plane was descending. She was at the controls. There was a steering device in her hands. She was pushing forward on it to make the plane head slowly, deliberately, toward the earth. Her prayer was repeating itself. The closer she got to Lower Manhattan, the faster she could tell the aircraft was traveling. She looked out to her left and saw one of the swept-back wings with two giant jet engines, vibrating from the power they were generating. Holy shit. Giselle was flying a big-ass airplane as fast as a big-ass airplane can fly, directly toward the buildings of New York. Her heart was racing. She was intent, unwavering, keeping her eyes as wide-open as she could keep them, saying her prayer over and over like a crazy person.

She picked out a spot three-quarters of the way up the side of the first of the huge structures, the one closest to her, and aimed the aircraft deliberately at that spot. The building was ethereal, at first. It shimmered like a mirage in the bright morning sunlight. Then, as she flew nearer, the tower became more imposing, standing erect and immovable as a steel-framed Carr's Cracker box driven deep into bedrock, the tallest building in town. She saw the skyline loom up, bigger and bigger, faster and faster. The green water of the harbor zipped along at six hundred miles an hour beneath her. She saw streets cutting through chasms of skyscrapers, saw the nose of the aircraft tearing toward the spot she'd picked, saw people at their desks, saw their faces, saw the nose of the aircraft slam into glass, felt herself explode.

Giselle opened her eyes.

Abraham had his head tilted to one side. His eyebrows were closer together than she'd ever seen them. His forehead was all wrinkled up.

"Whoa," she said.

"Whoa, what? You were looking a little...ah...pensive, there, Giselle."

"Pensive, my ass. I just crashed a gigantic fucking airplane into one of the buildings of the World Trade Center."

"Yikes," said Abraham.

"I might have gotten affected by that terrorist stuff more than I thought. The people. What must it have been like. Not even people. One person, you know? At her desk. Reading an e-mail. Feeling her mouth water, maybe. Thinking about whether she should have a cheese Danish or a bran muffin, looking at the clock, thinking about her next coffee break. Hearing the water cooler bubble up from Joe Schmo getting a drink, glancing out the window and seeing this gigantic god damn 757 flying straight at her, not a hundred yards away. Feeling the chill...the unreal, dreamlike shock, the disbelief. Seeing the pilot jabbering some prayer, calling out "Allah ho Akbar" over and over like a motherfucker. Seeing him seeing her. Holy shit. That'd be pretty much it...but for feeling her hair on fire, her skin ignite, her organs explode, bits of her brain still thinking snippets of thought. Deciding in the final instant of her life, on what? The cheese Danish?"

"People die all the time, Giselle."

"You sound like me. I can't imagine it is all. I haven't wanted to try. I know what it takes to kill somebody. Bones and brains and tendons—they're all such tough stuff. I know. I've read books. If it was only a matter of dying I would have died a million times already, but for a woman to burn to death, to be incinerated, and for thousands of people just like her, each of them just as fucking hard to kill, to be obliterated like that, my God."

"It's a cruel species." Abraham looked down into his empty plate.

"Yeah. War is hell. 'Pile the bodies high at Waterloo,' I know, I know." Giselle took her hand away from her mouth. "I mean, look what we did in Vietnam. Look at the bodies they dragged out of German concentration camps by the truckload. Think of war after war. Feel each life end in whatever way it did. The torture. The brutality. The inhuman cruelty. But so what? That's it, right? So what? Grass grows. Birds sing. What the fuck's coming next is what I want to know."

"More of the same, Giselle. You think it can stop now? Shit hit the fan, honey. According to the guys who flew the planes, it started a long time ago."

"You called me, 'honey.'"

"I know."

"So now we have to go do the same thing to somebody else? Another living, breathing, feeling, human fucking person somewhere? Maybe not a secretary or an accountant, but someone else doing his or her job at the moment is going to be surprised the same way people doing jobs in New York were surprised, right? Get themselves just as god damn painfully and heartlessly blown to fucking bits by a god damn bomb from out of fucking nowhere? And another and another? For what? Trying to make ends meet?"

"Would you just let it go, then?"

"That you called me, 'honey?' No. Why'd you call me, 'honey?'"

"I like you."

"Oh," she said. Then she felt shy and looked into her lap. She was wearing her white flannel pajamas. What the hell was she doing having dinner with some guy she'd never seen before in her life in a pair of white flannel pajamas? No wonder she felt shy. He'd called her "honey." He liked her. What the fuck?

"What about retaliation?" Abraham asked.

Giselle looked up from the lap of her pajamas into his eyes and said, "Huh?"

"Doesn't a country have to defend itself?"

"No," she said. "Well, yeah. I suppose. I don't know. It might be better if that cocksucker George Bush wasn't getting such a god damn kick out of it. I don't even know what that bin Laden did wrong. He doesn't like America. Who does?"

"Israel," Abraham said.

"Okay, Israel, that's it. All the other countries go along with us so we'll buy their stuff and sell them our stuff. Is that it?"

"Hey, you got me." He shook his head. "I don't blame anyone for anything. Make love not war, that's what I say." He smiled, touched the back of her hand.

"You don't have any more say in it than I do, and I have no say—zero, zip, nada. They're going to do what the fuck ever they want." She threw up her hands.

"How about, 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do?'"

"Holy Christ." She rolled her eyes. "Forgive who?"

"Everybody. There's nobody who's not a knee-jerk human piece of shit. You insult them, they insult you. They do their jobs. They believe what they believe—as silly or superstitious or as easily swayed by public opinion as it might be."

"So I'm supposed to do what? Write a letter? Send Bush an e-mail? 'Yo, G. W., forgive them for they know not what they do?' That'll sure make him stop and think a minute or two."

"What other choice do you have?"

"I don't know. We could all just up and leave the county, I suppose. That was what the Dali Lama did. It got him a Nobel Prize...and got Tibet taken over by China. Nobody seems to give a shit about that. They were just Buddhists."

"Hey, did you ever hear the story of the Chinese family who were always squabbling with each other at the dinner table?"

"Yes," Giselle said. "This wise old monk comes along and gives everyone a set of chopsticks five feet long. In order to eat they have to feed each other. Won't work. These dumb motherfuckers would just poke each other's eyes out."

"Do you know the difference between justice and mercy?"

"Vaguely," she said.

"Men do justice, God does mercy. That's it in a nutshell. Justice is an eye for an eye. Mercy is pity. You forgive everybody and love everybody. Period."

"Okay, okay, I'll do it. Where do I start? With Bush? With bin Laden?" She laughed. She was drunk. "Hey, did you ever see Grapes of Wrath?"

"Nope," Abraham said.

"There's a part at the beginning where a guy in a big convertible's telling the sharecroppers they have to get off their land. They want to know who's gonna make 'em. The guy in the car goes into a song and dance about corporations and banks and foreclosures and tractors and economics, and one of the sharecroppers stops him and says, "I don't care about any of that I just want to know who do we shoot?'"

"Start with yourself, Giselle. Love yourself. Forgive yourself."

"For what? I didn't do anything wrong. Did I? Yeah. I did. I do things wrong all the time. Everything I've ever done is wrong. I know. Fuck."

"Start fresh, do something new, something you've never done before." Abraham put his hand on Giselle's forearm. Under her pajamas, she felt her nipples become erect against the soft flannel.

"Like what? The dishes? Ha! Gimme a fucking break."

"Haven't you ever washed dishes?"

"Not in about a million years, no."

"Are you serious?" He smiled an incredulous smile. "Why not?"

"I hate washing dishes," Giselle said, getting tears in her eyes.

"Why?" he asked, then touched her cheek.

"My mother made me wash dishes."

"Don't do it for your mother, do it for yourself. Do it for God. Do it for love. Do it for the fun of it."

"For the fun of it, yeah, right. It's not fun. It makes me feel like crying."

"So? Cry if you want to."

"Really? I might just do that."

"Okay. Go ahead. Do it. I'm serious. Crying opens you up, let's you know who you are, feel who you are, gets you inside your heart where you belong."

"I don't want to get inside my heart. It hurts."

"That heart you saw, did it hurt?"

"No. It felt good, all warm and fuzzy. Ha! What a dork thing to say."

"Just wash the dishes. That was a good dinner."

"It was?"


"Hey, do you want to help me clear the table?"


"Why not?" She frowned.

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man."

"Okay, okay." She put her hands over her ears. Then she stopped, looked sort of girlishly up at him, batted her eyelashes and asked, "Hey, if I do dishes, will you knock it off about that Mayonnaise Man bullshit?"

"I don't do tit for tat," Abraham said.

Chapter Thirteen

Abraham got up from his chair, kissed Giselle on the top of her head, went over to the sofa, stretched himself out, shoved the same pillow behind his head again and closed his eyes. Giselle wanted to go over and tickle the cocky motherfucker, to blow in his ear, to mess up his hair, to piss him off, to get him to chase her so she could shriek and run but knew he really wouldn't like it if she did, so she didn't.

While she was clearing the dirty dishes from the dining room table, Giselle found herself remembering how she used to resent every plate she picked up, every food encrusted fork—the glass with her mother's lipstick gobbed onto the inside and the outside of the rim—when it had been her job to clear the table and wash the dishes when she was growing up. Gosh. She'd been such a droll, gangly kid, such a tomboy, so not a girlie girl at all, not ever, not even when she was three years old. Not even when she was two. That she'd had to do all the girlie girl things had made her feel like throwing up. She would gladly have mowed the lawn a million times, washed the car nonstop, taken out the garbage, trimmed the hedges, anything, but that it was her job to do the dishes she knew was a punishment, one of the ways her mother showed her that she didn't like her.

Another way her mother showed Giselle she didn't like her was by always picking the petite, blond, blue-eyed contestants in the Miss America Pageant as her favorites, as the ones she hoped would win. Giselle wasn't blond. Her eyes were brown, big, brown, puppy dog eyes, and she was taller than any of the other girls her age—well on her way to growing up to be five-feet, ten-inches tall in her stocking feet. Five-ten ain't petite, Giselle thought. Why her mother wanted the blond pipsqueaks to win, was, of course, that her mother hated Giselle. It wasn't any big secret, really. Nobody made any bones about it. Giselle had blanked it out, sublimated it, ignored it, changed the subject, gotten used to it...the way she'd gotten used to having headaches.

She barely talked to her dad anymore. He had to be on her mother's side in all things. What other choice did he have? When she said to her mother, "I love you," her mother said, "Thank you." Not "I love you too, Giselle." Not even, "Aw," or, "That's nice, dear." Not even a smile, but, "Thank you." And kind of a cold, lifeless, fish-eyed "Thank you," at that, like she hardly even meant "Thank you," at all, like what she really wanted to say was, "You do? Yeah, well, I hate you."

"I love you, Mom."

"Thank you."

Okay, okay, how about this, Giselle thought.

"I love you, Mom."

"I hate you, Giselle."

Her mother had been twenty when Giselle had been born. Twenty! How many years ago was that? Seventeen, yeah. She did the math, but it seemed more like about a million. If she'd gotten knocked up when she and Father Gregory had been in love, Giselle would have had a kid when she was twenty. She remembered how touchy she'd been. The slightest slight, the least hint of an unkind word, a thoughtless comment, the merest misunderstanding of one of Father Gregory's moods had sent her into paroxysms of inconsolable anguish. She had despised him. She had despised herself. She had wanted to die of shame and self-loathing. For what? Telling her she should wear a bra? That she should maybe run a brush through her hair before she went outside? She was still a kid at twenty. What she would have done with a kid when she'd been twenty, Giselle did not know.

Her father had been barely twenty-two when Giselle was born. The kids in her classes weren't far from twenty-two, themselves. Her father reminded her of Darrell, in fact, the big guy, the one who kept complaining about being pestered by Ray Blovits. Giselle smiled. Her parents had both been such neophytes, such bunglers, barely beyond pawing each other in the back seat of the old Studebaker her father and his brother had gone in on together.

Neither of them had been very adept in the mechanics of how to have a kid, let alone how to raise a kid. Who knew how to raise a kid? Who could know? Maybe some other kid would have been okay. Some blond kid. Some pretty blue-eyed little slip of a thing who would go on to be Miss Illinois at the very least. It was probably simple, something basic and immediate that had made her mother hate her. Having been pregnant for nine months and finally the ordeal of giving birth, per se, had no doubt had something to do with it. Her mother had been in labor a long time. Giselle had been big. Her mother was small. Maybe that was the reason, right there. Her mother had wanted a little girl who would be just like her—a blond, blue-eyed little Chatty Cathy doll—someone she could play dress-up with, someone with a string she could pull, someone who'd say whatever the fuck her mother wanted her to say. Ha! Giselle wasn't like her mother at all.

"Thank fucking God," she said aloud.

Giving birth had caused her mother a lot of pain for a long time—more than a whole day. Mame knew all about it. What her grandmother didn't tell her flat-out, Giselle was able to extrapolate. She'd been black and blue when she was born. She'd been bruised, bloody. Wet gobs of her dark hair stuck up in outrageous, other worldly spikes and was matted with afterbirth to her skull. She wasn't just black and blue, she was red, too, and yellow, and green—wrinkled, covered with mucous and slime, almost deformed looking—not the prettiest of newborn babies when she'd finally seen the sterile light of day in the delivery room. Her mother had pushed her away. One of the nurses had lain Giselle's gory, near lifeless body, all nine pounds, seven ounces of her, across her mother's chest and her mother had recoiled.

"Take it away," her mother had said.

And that was only the beginning. Giving birth had no doubt caused her mother's perky little teenage tits to sag. It had made her envious, jealous, insecure. It had ruined her life forever. Giselle couldn't blame her, really. It couldn't be easy having a kid, especially not when her mother had been such a selfish little snot to begin with. Maybe had she'd walked in on Giselle's dad changing her diapers, blowing into her belly, tossing her into the air, getting her to gurgle with shrieks of laughter and drool, getting her beside herself with happiness...and had been taken aback by the affection they had for each other. Fathers and daughters were supposed to have affection for each other. Weren't they?

"What the fuck?" Giselle asked.

Maybe that night her dad hadn't messed with her mother, hadn't kissed her and fondled her the way he used to kiss her and fondle her in the back seat of the Studebaker. Maybe she'd gotten her feelings so deeply hurt she couldn't ever talk about it to anyone and had blamed it unconsciously on Giselle. How plausible was that? As plausible as any other reason she could come up with as a reason for a mother to hate her own god damn kid, for Christ's sake.

Mame knew. Mame tried to make up for it. She lavished Giselle with attention and affection. Maybe she felt guilty that her daughter was such a snitty, shitty little spoiled snot of a mother. Maybe she'd been a shitty mother to Giselle's mother. Who could know any of this stuff? Giselle became a bone of contention between the two of them. They fought over her. Giselle's mother didn't like her, yeah, that much was clear, but she didn't want anyone else liking her either, not even Giselle's dad, not even her own mother, Giselle's grandmother, for God's sake.

"Fuck," Giselle said.

Giselle's mother used to punish her and her grandmother both by not letting Giselle stay at her grandmother's house. Her mother went to whatever lengths she had to go to cut off her nose to spite her face. She didn't want Giselle around, no, she wanted her over at Mimi Crenshaw's, she wanted her at Girl Scouts, she wanted her at the movies, in school, anywhere but home, but she didn't want her mother to have Giselle around either. Her mother was a mean, evil, selfish, spiteful, vicious bitch.

How the hell old was she by then, anyway? She had to be almost sixty. Fifty-seven. Thirty-seven plus twenty equals fifty-seven, yes. Giselle marveled at her math skills. Fifty-seven was old. Wouldn't a time come when she could just god damn let bygones be bygones? Wouldn't she someday forget that having a kid had hurt? That having a kid had fucked up her tits? Had cramped her style? Had driven a wedge between her and her husband? Between her and her own mother? Wouldn't she realize at some point that she didn't have many years left to live? Wouldn't she want to make it up to Giselle somehow? To atone? Did she want to leave an unloved daughter watching her casket being lowered into a god damn hole in the ground? Wouldn't she want someone to at least visit her at the cemetery? Apparently not. Her mother didn't visit her own god damn mother's grave, why would she want her daughter to visit her god damn grave. She wouldn't. Obviously.

"Fuck her," Giselle said.

She flipped off the dirty tablecloth before she removed it from the table and flipped it off again when she threw it into the laundry room.

Giselle had the dishes piled in the right sink and had decided to wash them by hand, without using the dishwasher, the way she used to wash dishes when she'd been a kid and it had been her job to wash the dishes. She let the water get hot and started filling the left sink. She was about to submerge the aluminum tin Ted's frozen pie crust had come in, then said, "Fuck it," and dropped the dirty pie tin into the Rubbermaid trash receptacle under the sink. She squirted lemon-scented Joy into the accumulating water and began piling dishes and plopping silverware into the soapsuds bubbling up. The water was hot. She rolled up the sleeves of her pajamas, grabbed a sponge and plunged her hands into dishwater up to her elbows.

She pulled open the door of the dishwasher and began stacking the washed and rinsed dishes into its soft, rubbery draining racks. Her poor mother, she thought. How hard must it have been? How could she not like her only kid all these years? How could she not like her own mother all these years. And now her own mother was dead. How bitter must her mother be, really? How alone? How isolated down at the bottom of a deep, dark well of loneliness and spite? How unloved herself? It had to have hurt her. Christ. Giselle was suddenly overcome with sadness...and empathy...and understanding...and forgiveness.

Her mother hadn't wanted to dislike her. Who wants to not like their own god damn kid? Nobody, that's who. How can you want to not like your own kid? She couldn't help herself any more than anyone else can help himself or herself or themselves from doing the loathsome things they do their whole god damn miserable lives. People got buffeted. They were in pain. They suffered. Cuts and scabs and scars came along and covered them up, over and over again. Their hearts got broken a billion times, broken and mended and broken again so often there was barely any blood left in them anymore, barely any life left in them but a life full of the fear of having their god damn hearts broken again and again and again.

Her poor father. The poor kids in her classes, their poor parents, the poor people all over the world. Bombay. Belize. Burkina Faso. People in places nobody ever heard of—Bangladesh, Botswana—dying, starving, being mistreated, beaten, abused, tortured, left alone in prisons and hospitals, alone in nursing homes, alone on smelly streets, alone, alone, alone, everywhere, all the time, abandoned, bereft, defenseless, left to fend for themselves, to die slow deaths, to lose hope, dignity, harmony, humanity. Her poor self. Her poor heart. Her poor head. It's nobody's fault. It's never anybody's fault.

By then she was crying. Cry if you want to, Abraham had said. Ha! She did. She wanted to. She had no choice. She couldn't have not cried if she'd tried. She did try, but it was a lame-ass effort at best, and finally she just gave up and let herself cry salty puddles of silent tears that overflowed her eyes and dripped down her cheeks. A few made it all the way to the fluffy mound of bursting soap bubbles in the sink and disappeared without a whisper.

"Hey," she heard Abraham say, and jumped.

"Hey, what?" She sobbed and smiled at the same time.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm peachy," she said without turning around. Her eyes, she knew, got all puffy and stained with goofy-looking eyeliner like a god damn raccoon when she cried. She felt his hands come to rest in the middle of her back, between her shoulder blades. His thumbs pressed against the base of her neck. She sobbed a big sob she hadn't meant to sob.

"It's all right," she heard him say.

His hands felt good through the soft flannel. Her back relaxed. She bent her head over and felt his fingers on the bare skin at the sides of her neck, felt his thumbs applying pressure at either side of her cervical spine, climbing her vertebrae, making their way up into her thick hair. Hot, prickly chills surged through the flesh of her ears and made her blush. The inside of her mouth dried up, made it hard to swallow, made it hard to talk right away. She cleared her throat.

"My hair's a mess. I didn't do anything with it," she said.

"I know," Abraham said. "It's all kinky...and warm...and sweet smelling, like a briar patch." Giselle felt his breath as he spoke. His words entered her, all dripping with affection and attention and consideration, through the circuitous canals of her left ear, down her dry throat and into what felt like her heart, her lungs, her liver, she couldn't tell for sure—all the organs inside her seemed to swell.

When he said the words, "briar patch," her clit got all hot and tingly. She felt her pussy come alive between her thighs. Unconsciously, she arched her back and moved her ass imperceptibly closer to him standing behind her. She felt the fabric of her pajama bottoms brush against the Levi's he was wearing. Her Levi's. She couldn't believe how well they fit him—a little tighter on him than they were on her, but a nice fit, all the same.

"It's getting sort of hard to do the dishes," she said.

"Concentrate," Abraham whispered absent-mindedly, while he ran his hands down the length of her pajama top, stopped just above the spot in the small of her back where her ass began to be defined, slipped his hands under the fabric, and ran his hands lightly up the bare skin across her ribs. "Your skin's like some kind of magical satin stretched across your bony little bones. You feel like such a girl, all soft and silky and warm, like a woman."

"I do?" Giselle asked.

"Yeah." His hands touched the sides of her breasts. Her lungs almost stopped breathing. She swallowed a little gulp of air into her stomach and bent over more, felt the cheeks of her ass push against the front of his pants, felt his cock against her. Then, suddenly, like electricity, she felt his knuckles touch her nipples, the knuckles of both his hands barely nudged up against the tips of both nipples of her breasts at the same time, and she had to lean her elbows onto the edge of the sink.

She let go of the plate in her left hand and let go of the sponge in her right hand and took her hands out of the dishwater and steadied herself with her forearms on either side of the sink as she felt him kiss the back of her neck while he squeezed her tits in his big hands and rolled the hard, pink, erect little nipples between his thumbs and index fingers. She felt his teeth bite into her neck, as if he was holding her with his teeth so she couldn't get away, like he was an animal, like she was an animal. She didn't want to get away, but squirmed a little, moved her neck away from his mouth, felt him follow her with his teeth.

Giselle didn't say anything else for a long time.

Neither did Abraham.

She felt him pull her pajama bottoms down with one hand while his other hand was still kneading her left nipple. He stuck his foot between her bare thighs and stepped on her pajama bottoms until they were on the floor. Then he moved his hands down to the small of her back and steadied her while she removed her right foot, then her left foot, from her pajama bottoms. Anything he wanted, he could have. Whatever he wanted to do, he could do. She felt his hands all over her, exploring between her legs. She felt the hair on his wrist brush accidentally against the hair between her legs, then felt his thumb touch high up the inside of her thigh on purpose.

She arched her back and spread her legs and stuck out her ass and felt his whole hand cover her from behind, felt his whole hand squeeze her pussy, felt the heel of his palm cup the underside her pubic bone. Then he let go and touched the tip of her clit. Giselle heard herself groan, but couldn't be sure whether he'd heard her or not. Then she felt him wet his index finger with her juice. He traced a line with his finger all along the lips of her gushing cunt, then slipped his middle finger slowly inside her, creeping deeper and deeper. She backed her ass down onto his finger and felt his finger fuck her and felt his finger slip out of her and onto the tip of her clit and felt him touch her clit with the tip of his finger while she heard him fiddling with the button and unzipping the zipper of his Levi's.

She fucked her clit against his finger and made a moaning sound she knew he couldn't help but hear and fucked her clit against his finger some more until she felt his hard cock pressing against her ass. Nothing was voluntary by then. Her body was no longer affected by consent or desire, but was moving automatically, like her lungs, like her heart, and, oh my gosh, was her heart ever beating in her chest. Her legs opened wider. Her back arched and she felt his hands pulling her ass apart, pushing his cock into her a little at a time, a little at a time, and she heard herself moan and moan and moan again until he was as deep inside her as he could get.

Then he stayed there. Still. Not moving. Just stuck inside her, like he was waiting, letting her get used to him, solidifying himself inside her. Giselle pushed herself further onto him. Still, he didn't move. She fucked him, back and forth, slowly, slowly. Abraham didn't fuck her, but just stayed there. She fucked him and fucked him, faster and slower and faster again, lifting one leg off the floor and turning slightly to her right, then lifting the other leg and turning slightly to her left, then fucked him with both feet on the floor and still he didn't fuck her, but just stayed inside her for her to do with what the fuck ever she wanted to do.


Finally, Abraham held onto her hips, pulled himself out from inside her, hugged his arms around her arms, put his hands on her tits, gave her nipples a friendly, casual, confident couple of lingering little caresses and said, "Come up to bed when you're done, my love."

"Okay," Giselle said.

What the hell kind of guy was he? Who would just fuck her for awhile and not care if he came or not? Not care if she came or not? She could have come all over him a hundred times, but hadn't. Why not? Maybe she wanted them in bed together, maybe that was why not.

"Come up to bed when you're done, my love," he'd said.

"My love," he'd said.

Holy fuck.

She could hardly wait. Hunger's the best sauce, her dad used to say. Ha! Her dad was an idiot. He'd married her mother. Who but an idiot would marry her mother? Giselle did not know.

Previous, Part Two

Next, Part Four


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Gerard Jones
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