A Free Novel

Part Five

(Part One), (Part Two), (Part Three), (Part Four),

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

(Part Eleven), (Part Twelve)

Ginny Good, A Mostly True Story:

Read and/or Watch

Chapter Nineteen

Even after they'd been driving inconspicuously west along the Interstate for a few miles, Giselle still couldn't help but glance nervously into the rearview mirror on her side of the car, expecting any second to hear sirens or to see flashing lights.

"This better be good's all I can say," the woman who looked like Oprah said.

"Ain't you glad to see me, Ma?" Abraham said.

"Yep. I am. But a little more notice might help next time."

"Sorry. Too many things happened all at once."

"What things, son? You haven't been making yourself very clear."

"I got a lot on my mind. How about we just settle in awhile," Abraham said.

Giselle didn't say anything. She had no idea what she could have said; there was too much she wanted to know all at the same time.

"Well, this is a fine kettle of fish." The woman who looked like Oprah sighed.

"Relax," Abraham said. "Enjoy your day off."

"I don't have days off. I have more time with my dogs or less time with my dogs. Today I was gonna have more time with my dogs."

"Giselle has dogs," Abraham said.

"Oh, what kind?" his so-called mother asked.

"Pekes. Four. Two males and two females." Giselle glanced back at her in the mirror. She wasn't going to commit to believing their cockamamie story, but she didn't see any reason she shouldn't be cordial. The woman seemed nice enough, no matter who she was. "Oh, and a Great Pyrenees I keep mostly tied up in the yard, unless it gets too cold. Hey, do you know why Eskimos wash their clothes in Tide?"

"Um...can I think about it a minute?"

"Because it's too cold outtide. Ha!" Giselle laughed her big horse laugh.

After she'd smiled, the woman said, "I adore my cocker spaniels. They're like my children. We have long conversations. I'd be lost without them."

"Yeah?" Giselle asked, skeptically. "I thought you had golden retrievers."

"That's at the farm. In the city, Sophie and Solomon are all I can handle."

"That's their names?"

"Yep. Or Snooky Poo and Cuddly Bug. I like to keep them confused."

"Ha! I do that, too. Especially with Ketchum. He's the Great Pyrenees. He answers to anything. Meatball. Spaghetti. Doofus."

"My dogs drown me in unconditional love."

"Oh, my gosh, yes! Mine too," Giselle said emphatically.

"Hey, I like you," the Oprah woman said.

"Really? I like you too. But, guess what?"

"What?" the woman asked.

"I'd like you even if you weren't Oprah Winfrey. How about that?"

"Well, I'm sure that's very nice, dear. But...um...well, I don't know what to tell you. Would you like me better if I were Martha Stewart?" She laughed a deep, genuine, affectionate laugh that simply could not have come from anyone but Oprah.

"God, no," Giselle said. "I'd stop the car right here. You could call a cab."

"Giselle gets a little skeptical when it comes to believing her own eyes on occasion," Abraham said, with a twitchy smile.

"Skeptical, my ass," Giselle said. "How god damn preposterous is this?"

"Believe what you want to believe. I don't lie," Abraham said.

"I'm afraid she's right, son. It is preposterous. I could shout it from the rooftops. 'Hey, y'all! Remember the illegitimate child I gave birth to back in 1968? The one I said had died? Well, that was a big fat lie. He didn't die. He's right here, right now, and he's going to be with me on our show today!'"

"Is that what you're gonna do? Have some kind of mother-son reunion on your show?" Giselle asked.

"Yep," the woman said. She might have done that funky thing Oprah did with her shoulders when she was out of words; Giselle couldn't tell. It was dark.

"Yeah, and...?" Giselle asked.

"We're still thinking about it," Abraham said.

"Okay, wait a second," said Giselle. "You're saying, like, if you went and got blood tests, you'd be her son?" she asked Abraham.

"Yep," he said.

"And you'd be his mother?"

"We've had blood tests," Oprah said. "You think I'd own up to this big lug if he weren't my son? There aren't many people in on it...for obvious reasons."

"Hey, I know!" Giselle said excitedly. "Let me see your driver's license."

"Um. You could, sure. But I don't have it on me," the woman who looked exactly like Oprah said. "I didn't have time to go back and get my purse."

"Giselle," Abraham said, then stopped, then went on. "Don't joke around with this, okay? I know it's a lot to swallow. She's Oprah Winfrey. She's my mother. We're telling you the truth. She's going to be our child's grandmother."

"Lord have mercy," Oprah exclaimed softly.

"Sorry, Ma. That's what I didn't have a chance to tell you yet. Giselle and I are going to get married. We're going to have a baby."

"Holy Guacamole," Oprah said. "You can forget about that grandmother business, I'm telling you that right now. Auntie Oprah, maybe." Oprah whistled. Then she got serious and asked, "Does Giselle know our whole deal, dear?"

"Nope. She don't know diddly. Y'all can thrash it out however you want."

"God, help me," Oprah said.

"Hey, Abraham told me that's the only prayer I need to know," Giselle said.

"Honey, you don't know the half of it." Oprah laughed and rolled her big eyes. Then she frowned and asked, "Who's Abraham?"

"Isn't that his name?"

"Whose name?"

"Him." Giselle pointed at Abraham with her thumb. "Your son."

"Not that I ever heard. Abraham what? Did he say?"

"Abraham Lincoln?" Giselle frowned.

Oprah cracked up. A deep, mellifluous chuckle filled the car. "Abraham Lincoln, huh?" Oprah shook him by his shoulders in a playful, motherly sort of way.

"So what's his real name?" Giselle asked.

"Well, his father always just called him The Mayonnaise Man as far as I ever knew. His father was a very strange person."

"Still is," Abraham said ironically.

"Myself, I never called him anything," Oprah went on.

"Yeah, what was up with that? I was like the no-name kid."

"You were your father's idea, child. All I did was give birth to you. They swooped down after you like a flock of storks. I didn't what was going on. I was fourteen years old, for gosh sakes. I didn't know my elbow from a sweet potato."

"Who swooped down?" Giselle asked.

"The people who raised me," Abraham said.

"So what's your real name?"

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man."

"I like Abraham Lincoln much better," Giselle said.

"Hey, so Abraham Lincoln it is," Abraham said.

"Works for me," Oprah offered.

"I'm just going with the flow." Giselle laughed nervously. "'Go with the flow, Kokomo Joe.' My dad used to say that. Ha! I just remembered."

"Just remembered what, Giselle?" Oprah asked.

"Oh, my dad." She brushed her hand through the air between the bucket seats. "Anytime some long-haired hippie type passed by us on the street, my father used to say out of the corner of his mouth, 'Go with the flow, Kokomo Joe.' Crack me up." She stopped suddenly, then felt slightly embarrassed.

"What does your father do?"

"Now? Not much. He just had cataract surgery. He was an ironworker."

"The guys who build skyscrapers?" Oprah asked.

"Yeah. He worked on the Sears Tower."

"I probably saw him. I used to watch them building it. Like to broke my neck craning up at them some mornings. Small world. What does your mother do, dear?"

"Pfsssh." Giselle blew into her bangs. "Nothing. Watches your show on TV. I mean, not that that's nothing. I mean, it's something. But she doesn't have a job or anything. We don't get along."

"Why not, child?"

"It's a long story," Giselle said.

"Seems we've all got a few long stories to tell," Oprah said.

"I have a question," Giselle said. She took her foot off the accelerator. The car slowed down. She'd been driving in the fast lane, but eased over into the slower lanes. They were halfway home. The turn signal clicked like a metronome.

"What's your question, hon?" Abraham asked.

"Did you say we're getting married?"

"Yep," Abraham said.

"So that's like, what? A proposal?" She wrinkled her nose.

"Yep. On as close to bended knee as I can get. How about it? Yes or no?"

"Sure," Giselle said.

Then she said, "Yippee!"

Then she said, "Ha!"

"Wow. I think I just witnessed a momentous occasion," Oprah said.

"Ah, you're used to it." Giselle waved her hand through the air.

"It's not every day my son gets married." Oprah sounded hurt.

"I didn't mean it like that. Sorry. I meant it like Woo Hoo!"

Oprah chuckled.

Giselle gave the Firebird some gas again, quickly passing all the cars that had passed her when she'd slowed down. Married, she said to herself. I'm getting married. Holy fuck. Again. No, not again. Pfssh. She and Dennis had gotten a divorce. You don't get a divorce when you get married. She and Father Gregory wouldn't have gotten a divorce, but they never got married. She and Abraham were going to get married and stay married forever and fucking ever no matter what.

"So do people call you Abe?" Oprah stifled another little laugh, then tried to get more serious again. "What do you call him, Giselle?"

"I haven't called him much of anything. We only just met last night."

"Isn't this all a bit...abrupt?" Oprah asked.

"Nope," Abraham said.

"How do you know you're going to have a baby, then?"

"He does. I don't." Giselle shrugged.

"My father knew you were going to have a baby, didn't he?" Abraham asked.

"Yeah, he told me that. Could be, honey. I'm no expert. And I for darn sure wasn't any kind of expert back then."

"What was he like?" Giselle asked. "Abraham's father?"

"All I remember of him is he was a long-haired hippie looking white guy who'd hitchhiked out to Nashville for the music," Oprah said. She paused, seemed to be trying to piece things together, then went on. "He thought he was gonna be the next Bob Dylan. He'd been living in San Francisco. He had a little jade rooster on a leather thong around his neck. Long dirty-blond hair, bright blue eyes. That's the sum total of my whole entire recollection. Then some of his flock or whatever you want to call them came back after my son was born and carried him off."

"Hey, do you remember listening to music with him?" Abraham asked.

"Yep," Oprah said. "They had a funky old record player. He talked about hearts. Our two hearts. It was sweet. I cried. I was a such a child."

"What about the music, though," Abraham said.

"He kept playing some Ian & Sylvia album, I think it was," she said.

"Yep," Abraham said. "My father used to talk about this one song. He used to sing it to me. He said it was the song I'd always know you by. Listen. See if it rings a bell." Abraham turned to his left and sang:

"If your memory serves you well
We're going to meet again and wait
So I'm going to unpack all my things
And sit before it gets too late
No man alive will come to you
With another tale to tell
And you know that we shall meet again
If your memory serves you well..."

His voice was beautiful; tender and low, gravelly, the way it had been on the phone that first night, Giselle remembered, like his vocal chords were ravaged with cancer or he'd smoked too many cigarettes, like he couldn't sing, but was just saying the words the way Woody Guthrie might say them, the way Bob Dylan might sing, Chet Baker, maybe, the way Paul Newman sang in Cool Hand Luke—"I don't care if it rains or freezes, 'long as I've got my plastic Jesus, sitting on the dashboard of my car"—the way Robert Duvall sang in Tender Mercies. There was a big lump in Giselle's chest. Oprah had tears in her eyes. Abraham had tears in his throat.

"Yep," Oprah said. "That was one of the songs. God you sing like an angel."

"I got good genes," Abraham said.

"Well. You have my blessing, child. Both of you," Oprah said. Her voice dripped honey the way Abraham's had when he sang. Giselle hadn't any doubts left at all. She was so in love she was going to die.

"Thanks," Abraham said. "I think my father might want to see you again. He's been talking about making amends. I think he might be dying."

"He has no amends to make with me," said Oprah.

"He might want to see you, all the same."

"I have no interest in seeing him."

"That might not make any difference," Abraham said.

Oprah didn't say anything else. Neither did Abraham. They'd both gotten touchy as hell—kind of prickly, like lightning about to strike on a muggy summer day. It made the hair on the back of Giselle's neck stand up. She didn't even think about saying anything else. Hm. That was unusual. She almost always got the last word somehow or other. There'd been any number of firsts so far that day; there'd been firsts starting from last night. There'd been more firsts in the last twenty-four hours than there'd been in the last thirty-seven years. She was overwhelmed by all the firsts there'd been. She was speechless. Ha!

Chapter Twenty

The interior of the Firebird was quieter than Tutankhamen's tomb. Oprah and Abraham were fuming. About what? Giselle wasn't sure. That his father was dying? That Oprah didn't give a shit? Why should she? She hadn't seen the guy in, what? Giselle did some quick calculations on her fingers. Thirty-four years?

She started hearing little things, then. The sudden quiet exacerbated the whine of her steel-belted radials on the pavement, made them sound like mosquitoes in her ears. She hated the sound of mosquitoes in her ears. There was a faint crackling of static electricity from the fabric of Oprah's pants when she crossed her legs. What was going on between Abraham and Oprah was like that, like electricity, like their brains were shooting little lightning bolts of electricity at each other, back and forth over the tops of the bucket seats.

The idea of seeing Abraham's father again had started sparks flying. "That might not make any difference," he'd said. It had sounded sinister. Giselle didn't get it. It wasn't any of her business; she knew that, but still...who doesn't like a little familial discord here and there? It was like gossip. Who didn't like gossip? Oprah made a living off of gossip. Even some famous writer said good things about gossip. Proust, maybe. "All literature is gossip," someone had said?or so she'd read. Maybe it had been Anthony Trollope. Truman Capote? Sue Grafton? Giselle didn't know.

Abraham made a sound like he was sucking on a sore tooth. Giselle moved the tips of her fingers across the top of the car seat and touched the back of his neck under his hair. He didn't seem to notice. She took her hand away.

Neon lights tried to lure Giselle off the Interstate to buy gas and fast food. Gas she could do without, but what had she eaten since she'd stopped at Woo's Friday after school? Quiche and a salad Saturday night and a chichi little croissant sandwich at Starbucks? That was it? And now it was what? Sunday night? A lot had happened in the meantime, too. No wonder she was starving. Holy Guacamole! Had Oprah really said that? Was that something she'd ever really say? Giselle wished she'd watched Oprah's show more often. She wished Oprah hadn't kept having that dumb-ass baldheaded shrink on all the time. He drove Giselle nuts. What the hell kind of a shrink drives a person nuts? Not a very good one, that's for sure. Giselle wondered if she should mention to Oprah that the baldheaded shrink drove her nuts. Nah. Oprah had enough on her mind.

The advertising was doing its job. Taco Bell, yes! One Big Beef Burrito Supreme, please. Oh, and an order of cinnamon twists. Mmmm. Her mouth was watering. She felt like Homer Simpson, like she was about to drool on her silk shirt.

"You've never had a child, Giselle?" Oprah asked, after a long silence.

"Nope." Giselle glanced at Oprah but still couldn't see her very well. "I was married for, oh my gosh, twelve years? But the timing was never right."

"The timing's never right." Oprah's voice seemed to have sadness in it.

"Teaching makes me feel like I have kids," Giselle said.

"Is that what you do? You're a teacher?"

"Yeah. I teach high school Algebra and Geometry," Giselle said. It felt like she should say more, like she should give Oprah a chance to get to know her better. "Mostly to freshmen and sophomores. It's not very exciting, but I like it. I like it a lot. I get along with the kids. We joke around. I get to be the sort of...teacher...I always wanted to have." Giselle had almost said "mother" instead of "teacher." She changed the subject. "Hey, aren't people gonna wonder about you?" she blurted.

"Yep. There's going to be some serious wondering going on," Oprah said. "I expect people are probably gonna think I've been kidnapped."

"There wasn't any other way to do it, Ma. Sorry," Abraham said.

"They'll get over it," Oprah said. "Hey, is anyone else hungry?"

"Me! Me! I am!" Giselle raised her hand. "I'm starving."

"See if you can find us a news station," Abraham said.

Giselle pushed the scan button on her radio. All she got was music and static for a minute, then she locked in a CNN news affiliate. It sounded like Wolf Blitzer:

"We have early, unconfirmed bulletins being called in to a Chicago radio station that talk show host Oprah Winfrey has quote 'gone missing' unquote. A reporter on the scene at the Woodfield Shopping Center, in Schaumburg, Illinois, is on the phone to her producer. We're monitoring it, here in our studios in Atlanta."

"Whoop-dee-doo, Wolfie," Oprah said. "More matter, less art."

"Shhh," Abraham said.

"I want to stress that this is a very preliminary report. We have yet to receive independent confirmation. We've dispatched reporters to the scene, but what we have now indicates that authorities are not calling it a kidnapping. I repeat, authorities are not treating Ms. Winfrey's disappearance as a kidnapping, nor is there indication of terrorist involvement. Authorities, according to the reporter on the scene, are saying simply that there is some question as to the current whereabouts of Ms. Winfrey..."

"Get something local, if you can," Abraham said.

"Get something local, my ass. Are you nuts? They're calling me a terrorist!"

"No they're not," Abraham said with an amused smile.

"Oh, because they say they're not?" she asked in her favorite tone of mock hysteria. "Don't you listen between the lines? Everybody in the whole god damn country knows for a fact that Oprah Winfrey has just been snatched from the Woodfield Shopping Mall by Osama bin Laden, personally. Like he flew over from Afghanistan, drove his camel up to the back door of Waldenbooks and rode off into the sunset with Oprah slung over his saddlebags."

"I'll find something," Abraham said, with the same amused smile. He thought she was funny. Giselle knew that. She liked it. She was funny. Ha!

"I'm probably gonna have to fire some folks over this." Oprah sighed.

Abraham kept turning the radio dial. There was an agitated man's voice saying, "There wasn't nothing we could have done more..."

"Hey, hey, that's Marcus, leave him on," Oprah said.

"...if it was anybody's fault it was my fault. I didn't do my job. Ms. Winfrey was in the bathroom. I was standin' outside the door like I'm 'spose to. I heard a ruckus. An African-American gentleman in a Armani suit was causin' some kind of stir out by where she'd been helpin' out with one of the books of her book club. I went to take a look. Security had the situation took care of, so I went back to my post. Then Ms. Winfrey just never come out again. I waited and waited. We finally sent somebody in to get her and she was gone. Vanished in thin air."

"I walked out right under your nose, you big dummy," Oprah muttered.

"Are you saying, sir," a voice on the radio asked. "Are you telling us that Oprah Winfrey has been kidnapped?"

"Well, kidnapped, I can't say. Abducted, maybe. She ain't here is all I know and she's definitely 'spose to be here. The proper people has all been notified. The FBI, the county sheriff, security here to the mall. We're tellin' 'em everything we know. She might of just gone out the back door all on her own."

The reporter jumped all over that. "Sir, are you saying that Oprah might be unstable in some way?" It sounded like he was doing one-handed cartwheels, like he was holding the microphone in one hand and hopping up and down on a trampoline, doing backflips and asking questions at the same time. "That she may simply have...walked off? Disappeared all on her own?" the reporter asked.

Marcus seemed to wait for the reporter to settle down some, then said, "Ms. Winfrey does things we don't know she's apt to do. But I wouldn't say unstable. No way. She maybe just got tired of talking to people."

"Hey, Marcus, you jughead, dig us both a big deep hole why don't you? Tell everyone I'm sick of people. Watch my ratings drop below Yan Can Cook."

"Your ratings are going to go through the roof," Abraham said.

"Weren't we talking about getting food? Some ribs, maybe?" Oprah twinkled. "I could sure go for some ribs."

"We really can't stop anywhere," Abraham said.

"Hey, do you like Chinese?" Giselle asked.

"I'd like most anything right now, honey child."

"I know this Chinese Restaurant. We could get take out. Woo Fat's. He kicks Yan Can Cook's ass. He's got a barbecue pork dish that's better than any ribs you ever tasted."

"Fuck," Abraham said. "Take the next exit. This one. Now."

"Okay, okay, what's the big whoop?" she asked, pulling onto the off ramp.

"Looks like they're setting up some kind of road block," Abraham said.

"Road block! Motherfuck!" Giselle bit her lip.

"Can you find your way home on surface streets from here?"

"I just bit my lip," she said. "Ow. I have blood on my tongue. I can taste it."

"I'll kiss it and make it better when we get home," Abraham said.

"You will? Promise?"

"Yep," he said.

"So, I guess you don't want me to call Woo, right?" Giselle asked.

"How about we take a vote," Oprah said.

"Fine." Abraham threw up his hands. "Go ahead. Knock yourselfs out."

They voted. The women won, two to one. Ha! They tried to do a high-five over the backs of the bucket seats, but missed. Abraham Lincoln shook his head.

Once they were off the Interstate, everyone seemed to unwind. Abraham put his hand onto Giselle's right knee, just laid it there, his knuckles resting against where the fabric of her stockings was stretched the tightest. Oprah said something that sounded like, "Oh, boy." Her shoulders relaxed. She blew into the hair across her forehead, put both hands under her eyes and rubbed the muscles of her face.

Giselle knew exactly how to get to Woo's from where they were, sure. She could've found Woo's from Afghanistan?on a camel. Her mouth was watering again. They were on a blacktop country road with nothing but flat farmland all around. Off in the distance behind them, Giselle saw cars beginning to back up, one set of taillights behind another in an increasingly long line, as drivers were herded one at a time through a makeshift inspection station. There was no mention of road blocks on the radio, but she assumed the backup on the highway had something to do with the fact that they had Oprah Winfrey stashed in the back seat.

The more she thought about stopping at Woo's, the hungrier Giselle got. Being hungry was taking her mind off wondering how Abraham was going to get Oprah back where she belonged without anyone being any the wiser. He'd figured everything else out so far. What was she supposed to do? Go with the flow, Kokomo Joe. Thy will not mine. Giselle pictured a large, succulent shrimp, dripping red sauce, hovering in the air between a pair of throwaway chopsticks, inching toward her salivating mouth. Wait! They could eat in the dining room! She'd dish up everything on plates, get out the good chopsticks, swirl the shrimp in steamed rice and soy sauce, take a bite of an egg roll, sip at a cup of Jasmine Tea.

"Better than ribs, you say?" Oprah asked.

"Way. Imagine ribs with no bones. They just melt, and the sauce..."

"Okay, okay, enough already. I want it, I want it." Oprah balled up her fists like a little baby shaking a rattle in each hand.

"Make no bones about it," Giselle blurted.

"Make no mistake about it!" Oprah stabbed the air like George Bush.

"How can you buy into all that jingoistic claptrap, Ma?"

"Buy into it? Are you kidding me? I don't buy into it. I make it."

"No shit," Abraham said. Some of the static electricity crept back into his voice. "But don't you have to draw the line at Bush?"

"George W. Bush is our president, son. Like it or like it."

"Bush is a moron," Abraham said in a bored tone of voice.

"Morons rule the world, Boychik."

"But isn't it...I don't know." Abraham stopped. "Embarrassing?"

"Nah. I do my share of thoughtful stuff. Madeline Albright wasn't a moron. She made sense. I give people what they want."

"I want Kung Pao Shrimp." Giselle raised her hand.

"Yeah?" Oprah said. "They make a decent Kung Pao Shrimp?"

"The best. Like you've never tasted better in your life. I'm going to order you something special, too, a surprise. I can't even describe it...these scrumptious little bundles of...God only knows what." Giselle tried to describe how Woo might have made the scrumptious little bundles by pressing the tips of her fingers around little bits of imaginary dough. "Woo just made it for me. He's like this happy little Buddha. I felt like Frosty the Snowman. 'There must have been some magic in that Chinese food I ate, for when I put it in my mouth, I began to dance around.'"

"Giselle, you're a hoot," Oprah said.

"A hoot and a holler. My dad used to say that. Ha!" Giselle laughed. She knew that when she was hungry she got extra loquacious—idiotic, carefree, bubbly.

"Make sure to tell him no MSG," Oprah said.

"Oh, he knows. MSG makes my hair stand on end, absolutely kills my head. Hey, you know what? I used to have migraine headaches?every day. I've had a migraine headache every day for twenty years, now I don't. Ever since I met your son, my headaches went away. What do you think about that?"

"I believe it," Oprah said. "Good things have been happening to me ever since he was born. Oh, oh, look, there's a phone."

Oprah pointed to a phone booth. She must have been sold on the idea of stopping for Chinese food. The phone booth was secluded in a clump of birch trees by some cottages which once had been a motel. Giselle slowed down.

"Is it okay to stop here?" she asked Abraham.

He looked in his rearview mirror and said, "Sure. Make it as quick as you can."

She pulled up to the phone booth, got out of the car and dialed Woo's number. Nothing happened. She'd forgotten it was a pay phone. "Pfssh," she said. Then she dug around in her purse for change and dialed the number again. Woo was happy to hear from her. He was always happy to hear from her. She told him everything she needed. He thought she was having a party. He was excited for her. She was excited for him. She was excited for herself.

When she climbed back into the car, things had changed. Abraham and Oprah had that static electricity shooting out of their brains at each other again. Giselle had caught them in the middle of some kind of argument, but they both clammed up when she opened the door.

"Did I miss something?" Giselle asked.

"Nope." Abraham pointed his index finger toward the front windshield and said, "Just drive," like maybe he thought he was Jean-Luc Picard.

"You can be kind of a jerk sometimes, you know," Giselle said.

"His mama didn't raise him right," Oprah said.

"My mama's not thinking clearly at the moment," Abraham said. "Exactly what, pray tell, do you think he means by terrorism?"

"Bad guys. Kooks. People who purposely target innocent civilians," she said.

"Oh, so it's all right to kill people as long as it's not your specific intent? That's how you distinguish the innocent dead people in Afghanistan and Iraq and Palestine from the innocent dead people in New York and Washington and Israel? Terrorists intend to kill innocent civilians. Terrorists are evil. Us and Israel, we only kill innocent civilians by accident. We're good. Is that it? Collateral damage? When it becomes public how many people we've killed—if it ever becomes public—we say what? Oops, sorry? They don't? Is that it? Dead is dead, the last I heard."

"We have to protect ourselves," Oprah said.

"Of course we do. Might makes right. Kill all the towelheads you can, bunkerbust their brains out before any of 'em can toss another rock. Them rocks, they're dangerous, some poor American might get a booboo on his or her nose. They're terrorists. We're not. We kill a hundred times more people than got killed in the World Trade Center, but we only kill 'em with sophisticated weapons, smart bombs, laser guided this and that, so it's not terrorism. Plus we could use us a pipeline through Afghanistan from the Caspian Sea. We can do whatever we want. Who's gonna stop us? Some towelheads tossing rocks?"

"Look, son," Oprah said. "I know you and your father have your beliefs. I share them for the most part, but this is America. Right or wrong. An atrocity took place. It was an act of war. I'm not gonna buck the whole system for you or your father or Giselle or your child or anyone. I couldn't. They wouldn't let me."


"The network. ABC. Walt Disney Company. Michael Eisner. They'd say I was coming off as anti-Semitic."

"Anti-Semitic." Abraham rolled his eyes. "Jesus. It's okay to come off as anti-Arab, right? Anti-Muslim? Anti-anything-but-Semitic, is that how it is?"

"Pretty much, yep," Oprah said. "Or anti-American."

"It's getting so there's no difference. As Israel goes, so goes America. The tail wagging the dog. Kill and maim and starve and exploit and enslave anyone you want anywhere you want, as long as no Jews or Americans get hurt everything's hunky-dory...as long as Jews and Americans make a little profit along the way, everything's a-okay...kill, maim, starve, exploit, enslave away. I'm not asking you to buck anything. Just tell the truth."

"It's not Jews anyone's worried about, it's Zionists," Oprah said.

"Okay, you're right, but the distinctions get blurred."

"Besides, I don't have that much say, anyway."

"Sure, you do. You have plenty of say. And after tonight you're going to have even more say than ever."

"What exactly are you talking about, son?" Oprah asked calmly.

"Publicity. Propaganda. Changing minds. Not lying," Abraham said.

"I generate a fair amount of publicity as it is, and as for the truth, you don't know the truth anymore than anyone else does."

"Not publicity like this, you don't. Nobody does. Not even your boy Bush."

"He's not my boy," Oprah said.

"Do you know what a meaningless pawn he is? What a...creation? What a consensus of some fucking focus group? What a cretin? What a walking, talking advertisement? A propaganda slogan? And a pretty lame one at that...how he bows like a smirky little Howdy Doody puppet to the perceptions of everyday housewives and guys who sell insurance? Who makes those perceptions? You. Martha Stewart..."

"The Simpsons," Giselle said.

"...Rupert Murdoch. Sumner Redstone." Abraham ignored her. He was on a roll. "You know what's turned you into a billion dollar corporation. Advertising. Propaganda. Who buys advertising? Business. Budweiser. Philip Morris. Pfizer. This whole country is conceived and dedicated to the sole proposition of making a buck."

"Yeah? And? So? What?" Oprah articulated each word slowly, correctly.

"Yeah, and, so—where your treasure is there your heart will be also," he said.

"So someone else would've been a better president?"

"No. God. Politics is superfulous and you know it. Politics is just another kind of entertainment, sport, a distraction...something their owners came up with to keep slaves thinking it's a treat to beat their feet on the Mississippi mud."

"Like me? I'm a distraction?"

"Sure. Are you kidding? Aren't you?"

"What's he talking about, Giselle? Do you know?"

"Love. Letting it show? Not hiding stuff under a barrel?" Giselle asked.

"Yep," Abraham said. "The way Matthew said it was: 'Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.' I can't explain it better than that, Ma. My father wants to talk to you. That's all. Just see what he has to say."

"I don't have a huge problem with that," Oprah said.

The car got quiet again. Abraham was still looking at her. She'd messed up that bushel thing; bushel, barrel, what the fuck—but he'd liked the way she'd talked. She could tell. It was like that Sling Blade movie:

"I like the way you talk."

"I like the way you talk, too."


Giselle looked back at Abraham. He smiled. His eyes smiled. Then he checked the rearview mirror. Giselle thought about shrimp, hot succulent, tangy, Kung Pao Shrimp, dripping with Woo's yummy sauce. She thought about it and thought about it, and before she knew it, they were in the parking lot, about to give Yan Can Cook a run for his yuan.

Chapter Twenty-one

"Hey, Oprah, you want to meet the remarkable Mr. Woo?" Giselle asked as an afterthought, sticking her head back into the interior of the car. The dome light was on. She knew it was a dumb question but used it as an excuse to get another look at Oprah now that they'd gotten to know each other a little better and the light was on.

"That's probably not a good idea," Abraham said.

Oprah turned her hands palms up on the lynx jacket in her lap, shrugged, screwed up her mouth and opened her amazing eyes imperceptibly wider as if to say yeah, sure, absolutely, she'd love to, but the universe was conspiring against her, so, unfortunately, no, she was going to have to pass. Wow, were her eyes expressive.

"Yeah, right," Giselle said to Abraham out the side of her mouth. "Silly me. We haven't done anything wrong, exactly, there's only that one tiny little road block."

"Oh, here, you need your coat." Oprah offered it to Giselle.

"Nah. I'm tough," Giselle said.

On her way across the parking lot in nothing but her short, jersey skirt, flimsy silk shirt and five-inch Gucci's, Giselle decided she wasn't so tough after all. Motherfuck. How did those little crack whores on street corners manage night after night? Oprah let people know about crack whores on street corners; she let people know about all sorts of things that were worth knowing about: child abuse, women's rights, learning disabilities, AIDS, bad hamburger, health, wealth, wisdom, books to read, movies to see. People paid attention to her.

What the hell Abraham was trying to get her to do, Giselle did not know. Get people to pay attention to what? Peace on earth? Goodwill toward men? Ha! Fat fucking chance of that ever happening—at least not while a guy like Bill Gates had twice as much money as all twenty-six million people in Afghanistan put together. Those poor starving buggers. No wonder they were pissed.

Goose bumps bumped up on her legs as she pushed through the double doors into Woo's. His familiar bell jingled.

"Missy Gee!" Woo came out from the kitchen and greeted Giselle with his shiny, gold-toothed smile. "Almost ready. Come see TV. Big happenings."

He motioned her to follow him into the kitchen. Giselle hesitated. She'd never dreamed of going back there. It had always seemed so off limits to customers, so like an inner sanctum where he performed his feats of secret Chinese magic. He'd invited her though. So. You know. What the heck.

She made her way around the counter, through the swinging doors and was overcome with sizzling smells and suffocated by the heat from four gas burners scorching like so many blowtorches against the undersides of woks. Woo looked like a short, fat, bald sorcerer's apprentice, madly conducting a quartet of kettle drums.

"Terrorist evildoers steal Ophra Wimsfree!" Woo poked a pair of long chopsticks at the small color TV blaring from the top of an apartment-sized refrigerator by the back door. "Right around here they think maybe." He went back to tending his steaming, sizzling woks. Giselle became absorbed by Wolf Blitzer reading the latest news on CNN.

"To recap the story we've been following since it broke at around six-thirty this evening..." He looked away from his teleprompter, glanced down at his watch, then peered back into the camera again. "It has now been confirmed by the FBI that Oprah Winfrey has been kidnapped. There has been no communication from her abductors. No individual or group has claimed responsibility, although authorities are now not ruling out the possibility of terrorist involvement. Local, state and federal officials are on the highest possible alert in all areas immediately surrounding the City of Chicago and the public is being urged to cooperate, but thus far there is still no solid information regarding the whereabouts of Ms. Winfrey."

"What you think, Missy Gee? Sad news, no? People love her everywhere." Woo was artfully filling a row of white take-out cartons with what she'd ordered.

"I don't know, Woo. It might turn out all right."

"How can steal sweet lady turn out good?"

"Christ died for our sins," Giselle heard herself saying. It sent a chill up the back of her neck. Her face got hot. Her face was already hot from the fires leaping from the burners of Woo's stove, but her face got even hotter still.

"You Christian lady, Missy Gee? I Buddha man."

"I don't know much about Buddha. You ever hear of Spinoza, though?"

"No. He Christian man?"

"Well, actually he was a Jew, but mainly he was a philosopher. I had a teacher in college who told me that Spinoza said, 'To understand something is to be delivered of it.' Then the teacher explained how that was something Buddha might have said. That's the sum total of my knowledge of Buddhism. Ha!"

"Buddha man say more simple like. 'People have pain. So what?' Buddha man say."

"Sorry, Woo. I'm rambling. I'm not any kind of lady, really."

"You good lady. Suffer too much. You like red envelope surprise. Order again. Many time. Only for best customer. Hard to make. Sorry so take long," he said while he was arranging the cartons into three thick white carryout bags.

"Oh my gosh, yes! I wanted to thank you. That was the best surprise ever!"

"You like?" He beamed happily, nodding and nodding and nodding.

"I love!"

Woo bowed his head, then looked up at her. "Make me feel shy when you say so," he said. "Make me happy. Very happy." He was trying to show with his shiny gold smile and plump pink cheeks that he meant some more exuberant word than just happy, but happy was all he could think of to say in English.

They went back out of the kitchen, then. Woo insisted with a jerk of his perspiring chin that she go through the swinging doors ahead of him. He sat the bags on the glass counter, then prepared the check in Chinese, but with the prices in dollars and cents. The total was $47.50. Giselle gave him three twenty dollar bills.

"Keep the change, Woo," she said. "You've totally saved my life."

"Thank you, Missy Gee. You save my life all time. I put in tip jar for good luck," he said and pushed three manual keys on his dusty silver cash register. At the same time the cash register rang up the sale, the bell on Woo's front door jingled. He and Giselle both looked up.

"Hey, Giselle, having a party, are you?" Officer Harley's voice boomed with its typical snide bravado—which she knew disguised his underlying jealousy, insecurity and endless affection. He was in street clothes; a pair of cowboy boots, Levi's, a green plaid flannel shirt and a Lee jacket with sheepskin lining—but was still wearing his Winnebago County Sheriff's hat. She wondered what kind of underwear he might have on. Boxers, no doubt—the big goon. White polyester, probably, with big red hearts on them that his feisty little born-again Christian wife bought him for Valentine's Day. Ha! Ron's wife was perfect for him. Giselle liked her. She kept him on a short leash, especially after they'd had two daughters.

"What's going on, Ron? You sleep in that hat?" Giselle asked as nonchalantly as she could manage.

"Not much. And no, I don't sleep in this hat." He reached up quickly and took his hat off. "I forgot I had it on." Ron Harley held the hat at his side, then, rubbing the brim between his thumb and index finger. There was a deep pink wrinkle like a scar all the way around his scalp. His thinning, greasy, mousy-brown hair was sticking up in clumps of oddly swirling curls. "You got company in your car, I see. Hot date is it?" he asked.

"He's one of the other teachers. We had a conference to go to," Giselle said.

"Yeah? What teacher's that? Don't think I ever seen him before."

"He's new this year. He doesn't know many people. I'm surprised you haven't arrested him yet."

"Order almost ready now, Officer Harley. Be only one minute. Have seat, please. Want tea while wait?" Woo asked with a polite bow.

"No, I don't believe so, Woo, thanks just the same. I believe I'll help Giselle out to her car with all this food she's taking to the big party she's got going on."

"No problem," Woo said and disappeared back into the kitchen.

"Giselle won't be needing any help, thanks," Giselle said.

"Yeah? Why's that?"

"Giselle's a big girl. She can take care of herself."

Then Ron took a good look at her for the first time and said, "God dang!" His head reared back, then forward again, like a cobra being lured from its basket. "What the heck kind of conference you been at? Victorian Secrets? That's some outfit."

He took a step closer to her. She got a whiff of fresh Old Spice. He might have been thinking of having something of a hot date, himself, when he got home. Giselle had it all pictured. He and his wife would say grace, finish dinner, watch a G-Rated Blockbuster movie, snuggle some, get the kids tucked into bed, then Katie bar the door, it was going to be a hot time in the Harley house tonight, yes siree.

"Mmm, mmm, mmm," he said, moving his head like a snake.

"You know, that sounds to me like an inappropriate and unwanted sexual remark, Ron. You ever heard of sexual harassment?" She lifted her eyebrows gently.

"There ain't nothing wrong with looking at a pretty woman, Giselle."

"No? You think Sheriff Wittingham or my uncle would agree?"

"Heck yeah, they'd agree. If they seen you in a outfit like that, you bet. I'm the law around here, Giselle. Don't you know that by now?"

"You're the law in your own mind, Officer Harley. Your boss, Sheriff Wittingham, my father's good friend, is the law. My Uncle Norman, the Superior Court Judge, is the law. Your wife and your daughters might have a little something to say about it, too. Don't fuck with me tonight, Ron. I'm not in the mood."

"Okay, okay, Jiminy Crickets. What kind of bee got in your bonnet?"

"No bee. I get sick of you dicking with me."

"We been kidding around with each other forever, Giselle. What's the big deal all of a sudden? Sexual harassing you, my butt. If that's true I've been sexual harassing you since you were sixteen. Then you go threatening to tell your uncle and the sheriff? Talking about my wife and my little girls like that? Them's kind of low blows, ain't they?"

"Low blow it out your ass," Giselle said with a little smile as she gathered the bags into her arms.

"There. Now. That's more like it. Sure you don't want no help?"

"Positive." She gave him the most bored, withering, menacing look she could manage at the moment.

"So this ain't a date you're out on with this new guy, right?"

"No, Ron. We don't go out on dates. I just fuck him a lot. I fuck him in math class. I fuck him everywhere. I fucked him in the back seat of your cop car when you were at IHOP last week. Ever since you got married I can't help myself. Trying to get over the way you broke my heart so bad turned me into a nymphomaniac."

"Ha! I knew it was like that all along. Think there's any way I can ever make it up to you?" Officer Harley smiled the goofiest smile Giselle had ever seen him smile before in her life—and she'd seen him smile some pretty goofy smiles.

"Make it up to me in your dreams, Ron," she said and batted her eyelashes and pushed through the jingling door with the bags of Chinese food in her arms.

It was colder in the parking lot by then, but Giselle hardly noticed. The bags were warm against her chest and she was still flushed from her run-in with the law. Abraham reached over and opened her door. Giselle pushed the seat back with her shoulder, put the bags on the floor beside Oprah's sturdy black shoes, looked up and directly into her face for a second, then waved mischievously and said, "Hi."

Oprah shot her a tiny Oprah-like frown with her huge brown eyes. Giselle hopped in the car and closed her door. Thank God for tinted windows. Officer Harley couldn't have seen much.

The engine was still running to keep the heater on. She worked the gear shift into reverse, wheeled around, slipped the Firebird into drive and pulled out of the parking lot. Then she noticed the prickly stuff was back between Abraham and Oprah. They must have been going at it again, whatever the hell it was. Giselle didn't ask any questions and neither of them answered any of the questions she didn't ask. They were almost home. It would sort itself out.

"What took so long?" Abraham asked, cocking his head, frowning.

"Come over here and I'll whisper in your ear," she said.

"I don't like whispering."

"Okay, come over here and I'll tell you in your ear. I just want you to come over here. I missed you."

Abraham leaned toward Giselle. She sniffed at his hair, smelled his neck, touched his cheek, felt his beard. Not the slightest hint of Old Spice, thank God, she thought. But what was it? Pine sap, perhaps, tar paper? She couldn't tell. Brown rice, maybe. Fresh lettuce leaves. Mustard seed. Cumin? Nah. Cumin makes everything smell like canned chili. What had he smelled like last night, though? Sweat? Musk? Semen. Maybe that was it. Not Old Spice, no, nor Aramis or any of that other Helfiger, Polo horsepiss. She felt a puff of breath escape between her lips.

"Okay, so what took so long?" Abraham whispered into her ear.

"Spinoza," Giselle said out loud.

"Gesundheit," Oprah said, then chuckled as if she liked cracking herself up as much as the next person.

"The guy who went in there was Spinoza?" Abraham asked, moving back into an upright position, adjusting his seat belt.

"Yeah. Didn't you see the silver buckles on his shoes?" She tried to gauge what sort of education he might have gotten on this mountain top in Tennessee.

"Giselle." He turned toward her, caught her eye and said, "Who was he?"

"You don't want to know," she said.

"Yep, actually, I do," Abraham said. "He was nosing around the car."

"Really? That motherfucker." She narrowed her eyes. "Oops, sorry, Oprah." Giselle glanced in the mirror. Oprah let her know not to worry—kind of like with a wink of her eye and a nod of her head, she soon gave Giselle to know she had nothing to dread. "He ticks me off, is all," Giselle went on. "He's a Winnebago County Deputy Sheriff. We go way back."

"Oh, great," Abraham said. "Okay, we need to get home."

Giselle loved it that Abraham thought of her house as his "home," that he seemed to think it was the most natural thing in the world that they'd be on their way home and that his mother was going to have dinner with them. It was like they'd been living with each other all their lives, like he was her one true love, forsaking all others, forever and ever, like they were meant for each other, made for each other, like they'd found each other at last! And it was all still so new!

The smell of Woo's food had momentarily supplanted Oprah's cloying perfume. Giselle heard the bags rustling. She noticed her headlights illuminating the woods on either side of the Old River Road, then dissipating into the stars between big cumulus clouds in the black sky straight ahead.

"Hope nobody minds if I open some of this food. Smells delicious," Oprah said. "I could use a bathroom pretty soon, too."

"Almost there," Giselle said. "The barbecue's in the bag closest to the door."

"So, what'd the guy say? Anything?"

"I told him you were a new teacher. That we'd been to a conference."

"Did he say anything about seeing anyone else in the car?"

"Nope. He was sort of jealous, though."

"He has every right to be jealous," Abraham put his hand on Giselle's knee.

"I could get totally fucked, you know."

"Yep. I know. You could."

"No, I'm serious."

"So am I," he slipped his hand up her skirt and squeezed the inside of her right thigh. Giselle concentrated on the long white lines dividing the road, keeping her left front tire just inside them as the trees whizzed by, as the moon stayed suspended among the clouds, as her heart fluttered like a motherfucker.

"Okay, guys, I know all about young love, but I'm trying to enjoy some of this scrumptious food in peace back here," Oprah said. Giselle could barely make her out again—well sometimes she could, like when they were passing under one of the intermittent streetlights, but Oprah's image faded in and out.

"They've got it all over the TV," Giselle said. "There's a big manhunt going on. They're comparing it to the Lindbergh baby, saying it's an act of war, calling out the National Guard. They've already shut down O'Hare."

"So, the cop, he act suspicious at all?" Abraham asked.

"He always acts suspicious. It was hard to tell. I don't think so, though. Nothing out of the ordinary."

"We could do without the local constabulary. Hey, when we get to the house, pull up around in back if you can."

"Sure," Giselle said. Her heart sunk when he said, "the house," but that was understandable, she supposed. The reality was that they'd only know each other not much more than a day. It was going to take a little getting used to. For both of them. She knew that. She wasn't stupid.

"I don't think we have to worry about Officer Harley," Giselle went on after a minute. "He was getting take-out for his family. He's wearing extra Old Spice. He'll probably stop at Blockbuster. Plus I've had him wrapped around my little finger since we were in high school."

"If they've closed O'Hare, they're going to call him and every other cop in the area back on duty. He probably just hasn't heard yet."

"Whoa. He's gonna be pissed. He'll get excited when he hears they think it's terrorists, though. There's nothing he'd like better in this world than to catch himself an honest to goodness terrorist."

"Do I look like a terrorist?" Abraham asked.

"Sort of. Sure," Giselle said. "What the hell does a terrorist look like?"

"That's part of the point. Hey, you hear that, Ma? Fathers and teachers, I ponder, what the hell exactly is a terrorist?"

"Yeah, yeah, I heard," Oprah said.

"No, Giselle, we're not terrorists," Abraham went on. "You think I'd let any harm come to my mother? She knows why we're doing this. Don't you, Ma?"

"I know why you think I should do it, yep," Oprah said. It sounded to Giselle like she had more to say, but her mouth had in it a few too many slices of barbecue pork. She wiped her lips with a napkin, then, and went on, "But I never said for sure I would, one way or the other. I'll talk to your father. That's all I've agreed to. I might should probably talk to my attorney, too."

"Doing what!" Giselle said, removing her hands momentarily from the steering wheel.

"Doing us a big favor," Abraham said. "Doing you a favor. Doing me a favor. Doing my father a favor. Doing us all a big favor. Everybody."

"What kind of favor?" Giselle asked.

"Whatever they come up with, the two of them, Oprah and my father. Probably something pretty slick," Abraham said breezily, then burst immediately into singing:

"Come on people now,
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together,
Try and love one another, right now."

He stopped singing as suddenly as he'd started, then said, "Oh, we need to find a phone card, too."

"There's a Stop-N-Go in Machesney Park."

"Cool. Let's stop there," Abraham said, brushing the bare skin above her stockings under her skirt. Giselle melted. Again. Still. Whatever. She couldn't tell anymore. She was nothing but a big puddle of constant mush.

Previous, Part Four

Next, Part Six


Copyright 2002-2016
Gerard Jones
All Rights Reserved