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Part Six

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

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

(Part Eleven), (Part Twelve)

Ginny Good, A Mostly True Story:

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Chapter Twenty-two

"Forty bucks! Are you nuts?" Giselle said to the clerk at Stop-N-Go. "I can get the same card at Wal-Mart for $18.75."

"Wal-Mart's closed, Mrs. Winters," the clerk said.

He was a goofy-looking, freckly-faced, gangly kid with a chipped front tooth and horn-rimmed glasses. Giselle only vaguely recognized him as someone she'd seen wandering the hallways at school a few years back. He'd never been in one of her classes, so she wasn't obligated to remember his name. Phew. She had enough names to remember. He had on a black wool White Sox watch cap and a floor-length herringbone overcoat that looked like it might have belonged to his dead grandfather. The owners kept the temperature below freezing...to save money, she supposed.

"Yeah, yeah, rob me blind, go ahead, I deserve it." She smiled.

"That's $42.90, actually. With tax." The gangly guy cringed. "Sorry."

"It's not your fault," Giselle said.

"I know," the kid said. "Nothing's ever anybody's fault."

Where the fuck did he come up with that, Giselle wondered. The kid must be psychic. She pushed another three crisp twenty dollar bills across the counter, slipped the phone card into her wallet and said, "Thanks." Then she asked, "Hey, what's going on with all that Oprah business?"

"You got me." He glanced up at the TV above the beer cooler over against the far wall. "Somebody supposubly snatched her is all anyone seems to know."

"So, they don't know who did it yet?" Giselle asked. She was careful not to sound too curious or correct his pronunciation.

"No. It's probably some publicity thing," he said.

"You think?"

"Maybe. Sure. I don't know. I can't keep track." He looked down. He shook his head. He was shivering.

"I guess we'll find out. See you," Giselle said and turned and walked away.

"Don't forget your change, Mrs. Winters," the kid said.

"Keep it." Giselle waved her hand as she went out the glass door.

When she got to her house, Giselle remembered to pull around in back. Ketchum wagged his tail and loped over toward the car. Then he saw she wasn't alone. His tail stopped wagging. He barked and jumped up against Abraham's window and pawed at the glass and bared his canine teeth.

"Whoa. Nice doggy," Abraham said.

"He won't bother you. He's a big pussy," Giselle said. Then she felt her face flush. Would the word "pussy" offend Oprah? She didn't know. They still barely knew each other, she and Oprah Winfrey. Ha! Holy fuck. How weird was that?

Giselle switched off the ignition and turned out the lights. The moon was behind a cloud. She put her keys into her purse and got out of the car. She didn't need her keys. She always left the back door unlocked.

"Come on, Doofus, knock it off," she yelled to her big dog still pawing at Abraham's window. "Ketch! Come here, baby," she called.

Her breath, when she exhaled, was thick and white as cigarette smoke. Then she whistled. That did the trick. Ketchum came tearing around the back of the car and bounded up, pawing his forelegs into the air in front of her like a stallion rearing up. She caught his paws and held them, steadying him until he got used to walking on his hind legs. It was like they were dancing. The full moon came then, abruptly, out from behind the big cloud and shimmered the yard in silver moonlight. Giselle felt nostalgia and love and regret sweep over her, like it came from behind the same cloud that had been covering the moon and her heart was wide open again, gushing, alive, new. She couldn't have explained it. She wouldn't have wanted to try.

Abraham got out of the car and looked indulgently down at Oprah. She had extended her arm and was waiting for him to help her out from the back seat. He took her hand. She smiled. They liked each other, Giselle could tell—well, underneath the prickly stuff that seemed to happen whenever the two of them found themselves alone together. They'd gotten prickly with each other again while she'd been giving away all her money at the Stop-N-Go—but what kid doesn't sometimes get prickly with his or her parents? What parent don't sometimes get prickly with their kid? It seemed pretty natural, all in all.

Giselle pushed Ketchum away, told him to sit. "Sit," she said. Then she told him to stay. "Stay," she said and pointed a finger at him. Ketchum cocked his head and wondered, with a pitiable little whine, why he had to sit, why he had to stay?

Giselle got the takeout bags. Oprah, still clutching Giselle's lynx jacket to her chest, followed Abraham in through the back door. Giselle turned on the light in the kitchen, then grabbed a giant Milk Bone from the stash she kept on the windowsill and tossed it out to her big obedient dog.

Ketchum looked abandoned and forlorn next to the Firebird. The Milk Bone, which he caught in midair as he almost always did, seemed to cheer him up some, as it almost always did.

"Beautiful dog," Oprah said.

"Thanks. I'll dish up dinner. You guys go ahead and make yourselves at home. The bathroom's upstairs."

Just then the four little Pekes came scrabbling across the linoleum in the kitchen, barking their brains out, leaping into the air, falling onto each other and clawing at Giselle's stockings. "Shut up, all of you!" Giselle commanded.

"Awww," Oprah cooed. "They're sooo cute!"

Giselle was proud.

"Um...Giselle. Don't do anything elaborate, okay? We're not going to have much time," Abraham said.

"Are you crazy? I'm starving!" Giselle said, looking toward Oprah to see if she might set her son straight about the importance of eating a nutritious meal now and then.

"We need to make a couple phone calls, then that's it," he said. "We're going to have to be going right back out again."

"Not so fast, Sir Galahad, I haven't made up my mind to do anything yet." Oprah stifled a smile. They were like such a mother and son. Giselle knew Abraham had already won—whatever the hell that meant.

"What about all this food?" Giselle threw up her hands.

"Grab something while we're on the phone," he said.

"I have to feed the dogs, too."

"So feed them, my darling. We have some time. Just not all the time in the world, you know what I mean, jelly bean?" He twinkled his eyes at her.

"Yeah, yeah," she said. "'Had we but world enough...'"

"All I need is a bathroom," Oprah said, keeping her knees tightly together.

"Come on, I'll show you." Abraham took his mother gently by the elbow.

That left Giselle stuck doing stuff in the kitchen, but she didn't mind. She kind of liked it in fact. Washing dishes the night before passed briefly through her mind, yet again. Ha! Whoa. How slick had that been? Very slick, indeed.

She cut a can of Mighty Dog into quarters and put each quarter, along with a handful of dry food into the little dogs' dishes. Why they had separate dishes, she did not know. They all ate out of each other's dishes anyway. It crossed her mind that Oprah and Abraham were alone together again, getting prickly with one another, no doubt. Fuck it, she said. They knew what they were doing. There was still so much Giselle didn't know. There was always so much Giselle didn't know. She tried, halfheartedly, to turn her lips inside out, then said, "La la-la."

She unpacked the bags from Woo's onto the counter, took out a carton of shrimp and ate a few with her fingers. They were more like prawns—scampi, even, but she and Woo called them shrimp. Her feet were about to fall off. She went over to the laundry room and kicked the ridiculous Gucci's into a pile of dirty clothes. She flexed her aching arches, wiggled her toes, all ten of them, one at a time, like This Little Piggy Went to Market, and slipped into a pair of green and white Nike running shoes. She left the Nikes untied and went back to eating shrimp.

"Giselle!" Abraham called in to her.

"Yeah!" she yelled back, as best she could with her mouth full.

"Find us a heavy coat for Oprah, if you could."

Giselle didn't answer. She bit the meat off two more of the shrimp, tossed the tails into the garbage, then went down to the basement and dug around in a hamper until she found an old wool army overcoat that had been Dennis's father's. He'd been a colonel in the Korean War. One heavy coat for Oprah, coming up, she thought. "God help me," she said.

Trust me, he'd said. Yeah, well, what the hell else could she do? The coat weighed a ton. It was dark and green and...itchy. If she ever got new dogs, she'd name them Itchy and Scratchy. She lugged the coat up the stairs, dropped it onto the back of the chair by her desk just as Abraham showed up at the door.

"Okay, everything's set." He clenched his fists. "Bring some food." He pointed to the takeout cartons. "Throw in some forks, too, if you could. We're not going to have time for chopsticks."

"Oh, I found a coat." Giselle pointed.

"You're perfect. You're an angel," Abraham said. He stopped for a minute and went over to her. He put his arms around her from behind, parted her hair with his face, kissed the back of her neck, ran his teeth gingerly along the tendon behind her left ear, squeezed her tits through the silk shirt, ran his hands up the sides of her throat, touched her mouth. She kissed his fingers. "This will all be over pretty soon," he said.

She felt his breath, felt his tongue touch the inside of her ear as he spoke. Then he let go, grabbed the coat off the chair and left her there all lost and forlorn. She had to support herself with her forearms against the top of the counter in order to stay standing. She felt in the most sensitive parts of her the absence of his hands and touched herself with the index finger of her right hand, ran tender circles around the erect nipple of her left breast, felt her heart flutter, felt her clit swell. Nothing like what was happening to her had ever happened to her ever before in her life. Holy shit, was that ever an understatement!

When she returned to her senses, Giselle put forks, some of the napkins and three containers of Chinese food into one of Woo's white carryout bags put the rest of the containers into the refrigerator. She was ready for anything. She could hardly wait until Abraham and Oprah got a taste of Woo's scrumptious red envelope surprise. They would die of total happiness.

Abraham showed up again, this time with Oprah in tow. The wool overcoat went down so far past her feet she had to stick her hands deeply into its pockets and pull it up off the floor in order to walk without tripping. She looked goofy and shy and slow, sort of dimwitted, maybe. Giselle took one look at her and laughed.

"Okay, that's it," Oprah said. "You know how many reporters there are going to be? How many cameras? And here I am looking like a gosh darn bag lady!"

"I need to make one more quick call," Abraham said and left the room.

"Where are all these reporters and cameras supposed to be?" Giselle asked.

"Oh, they want to leave me at a nuclear plant somewhere, then get the press out there like it's some big security breach," Oprah said.

Giselle frowned. "Who? Why? Are you nuts?"

"That's what I said." She raised her eyebrows, then brushed a wisp of hair away from her forehead with the back of her hand.

"Yeah, and?" Giselle asked, turning her hands toward the ceiling.

"I'm doing it," Oprah said. She sounded determined, resigned.

Giselle looked at Oprah. Wow. She really was Oprah. Except for a few glimpses now and then, Oprah hadn't been much more than a disembodied voice and a vague silhouette in the back seat of the car, but now Oprah Winfrey was in Giselle's kitchen, standing right in front of her. The ceiling light reflected among the highlights in Oprah's hair. Her makeup wasn't as rich and creamy as it appeared to be on TV. She'd bitten off some of her lipstick. There were wrinkles in the pants of her purple suit. Her white blouse wasn't completely tucked in all the way around her waist. Giselle finally had a chance to see who Oprah Winfrey really was, the person she was...and now Oprah didn't even look like Oprah anymore. She looked shaky. She looked stunned, drained, vulnerable; not at all like the quick, doe-eyed, self-confident, impeccably dressed woman Giselle was accustomed to watching on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

"I don't get it. What the heck for?" Giselle asked.

"I'm not sure. To cause the biggest fuss they can cause, I reckon," Oprah said. "I've just had the most...frightening...emotionally fraught...psychologically illuminating...telephone conversation I've ever had in my life." Her shoulders sagged.

"With Abraham's father?" Giselle asked.

"Yep," Oprah said. "Looks like you guys are gonna be in on it too. We're all going to have to do some shows together."

"What guys?" She looked around. It was just her and Oprah. "Me?" Giselle asked. "Go on your show? Ha! Gimme a break."

"I cannot believe what just happened to me," Oprah said in the same dazed, bedazzled tone of voice. "I'm gonna need all the help I can get."

"What happened?" Giselle asked.

"I feel like I've been wrung out like a dishrag." She sat emphatically down onto the chair in front of Giselle's computer. Tears puddled up along the undersides of Oprah's eyes. It was the first time Giselle noticed she'd been crying. She handed Oprah a napkin from what was left of the pile of napkins that had come with the Chinese food. Two big blobs of new, clear tears trickled simultaneously out from each of her sparkly eyes and down her chubby, still little-girlish cheeks. Both women laughed.

"Crack me up," Giselle said at the end of an abbreviated horse laugh.

"Sorry," Oprah said, with tears plopping down her face.

"No, no, cry if you want to." Giselle grabbed the rest of the pile of napkins, shoved them into Oprah's hand, then patted her and said, "Oh, you sweet woman."

"I can't help it." Oprah sobbed.

"I know, I know," Giselle said. She didn't know what she was saying she knew, of course, but she figured Oprah might think she did.

"Do you know that there's a single heart in every human being?" Oprah asked.

"Yeah. I know." Giselle realized it was probably a rhetorical question.

"Little babies?" Oprah looked at her. "Old ladies? Jews? Gentiles? Muslims? Dave Letterman?" She laughed a little, then sobbed again. "One. That's it. That's all you get. Every mother's child has nothing but one heart her whole life."

"I know," Giselle said. Now probably wasn't a good time to talk about heart transplants—not to mention pig hearts and plastic hearts and all that.

"One isn't much different from another." Oprah sounded more pensive, somehow, less weepy, like she was beginning to regain some of her composure.

"I know," Giselle said.

"There's no difference, really. They all do the same thing. Beat. Pump blood. Day and night, night and day, asleep or awake. I have no idea what words he said; I just got a picture of a heart in my head the whole time we were talking. One heart. Mine, yours, his, God knows. They're all the same. They ache. They bleed. It's love and love only and only love. That's all it is. That's all anything is."

Giselle couldn't even say, "I know," anymore. She didn't know anymore. She felt herself start to cry, too. "We're a couple of kooks," she said.

"I know." Oprah laughed. She dabbed the napkins at her eyes. "I'm snotting up the whole universe," she said. She blew her nose, wadded up all the napkins she'd used and laughed again. Then she said, "Hey, maybe that's what we'll call our first show. A Couple of Kooks. What do you think?"

"Ha!" Giselle laughed her big horse laugh. "I like it. I'll be there. With bells on. Hey, let's get Letterman on with us, too."

"No way." Oprah made a face like she'd sucked a lemon.

"Come on, he's got a little gap-toothed heart in him somewhere, don't he?"

"Yeah. Shoot. I suppose he does. Wow. I feel better."

Abraham came in. His palms were clasped. He said, "We are so together."

Giselle looked into his eyes. He had his mind on other things, she could tell, but, fuck it, she held his hands in hers and said, "I love you."

"Aw," Oprah said.

"Hey, you know something?" Giselle took her hands away and clasped her hands together the way Abraham's had been and said, "If you hold your hands like this, that's how big your heart is. Did you know that?"

Oprah tried it and said, "Dang. I got a scrawny little heart."

"No you don't. You've got the biggest heart of all," Giselle said.

Abraham looked at his clasped hands and said, "I don't think so."

"Pfssh. You don't count. You're a guy," Giselle said.

"So? I can't have a heart?" He looked hurt.

"It's different," Giselle said. Then she turned to Oprah and asked, "Hey, did you talk to your lawyer, though?"

"Nope," Oprah said. "Didn't need to."

"You know, I was married to a lawyer. For twelve years..."

"Giselle..." Abraham put his hand up.

"What? I'm just saying..."

"I know what you're saying. Don't say it. Everything's cool."

"Okay, okay. Sheesh."

"You look just fine," Abraham said to Oprah. Then he handed Giselle the lynx jacket, looked at her feet and said, "Cute shoes."

Giselle looked down at herself. The short, taupe jersey skirt and sheer black stockings definitely didn't go well with untied green and white running shoes.

"Do I have time to change?" she asked. "Please, please, please?"

"Nope," Abraham said. "Wait a second, though. Where'd you get the coat?"

"It's my ex-husband's father's coat. I don't remember how it got here."

"Where'd he get it?" Abraham narrowed his eyes.

"From the army. About a million years ago."

"Damn. That won't work."

"Praise Jesus," Oprah said, looking up at the ceiling and slipping her arms out of the huge overcoat at the same time.

"Where'd you get your jacket?" Abraham asked Giselle.

"Some Salvation Army. When I was in law school."

"Okay, that's fine," Abraham said. "You guys switch."

"I'm not wearing that dork thing," Giselle laughed.

"See!" Oprah said. "Here. You guys deal with it." She dropped the coat onto the kitchen floor, put on Giselle's lynx jacket and said, "There. Much better."

"Giselle. Trust me. You're going to freeze your ass off," Abraham said and stooped to pick up the coat. "I'll wear the thing. A colonel, was he?"

"Yep," Giselle said. "He was supposedly the highest ranking Jewish officer in the whole Korean War—well, according to Dennis anyway."

"You really should wear something, honey."

"Yeah, yeah," she said. "I will."

Giselle shooed the little dogs out of the kitchen, grabbed an old zip-up, hooded, pink Winnie-the-Pooh sweatshirt off a nail in the laundry room, and the three of them went out the back door again like a band of neighborhood kids in Halloween costumes.

Chapter Twenty-three

So they were back on their merry way—Abraham Lincoln wearing a Jewish Colonel's Korean War coat, Oprah Winfrey wearing a Salvation Army jacket over her rumpled purple suit, and Giselle Winters wearing an indecently short taupe skirt and still-untied green and white Nikes—all seat-belted into Giselle's white T-top '89 Firebird and headed toward the Godforsaken little prairie town of Byron, Illinois.

Abraham had one of the cartons of Chinese food in his lap. Giselle reached over and plucked one of the morsels of Woo's red envelope surprise off the end of Abraham's fork and popped it into her mouth.

"Mmm," she said. "Are these god damn delicious, or what?"

Abraham didn't say anything.

"What's the matter? You don't like it?" Giselle asked.

"It's fine," he said. "It's good. Yum, yum, I love it." He smacked his lips.

"Yum, yum, my ass, if you don't like it just say so."

"Giselle. Are you aware that we're on our way to break into the world's ninth largest nuclear generating plant?"

"Yeah, but...wait a minute. What?" Giselle asked, wrinkling her nose.

"Are you also aware," he went on, ignoring her question, "that Oprah is one of the most powerful, most respected, most recognized women on the planet?"

"Yes, my darling, but I don't..."

"And that every cop and FBI agent in four states is looking for us?"

"I know, but..."

"But what?" Abraham stopped his fork in midair.

"But...what do you mean break into the world's ninth largest blah, blah, blah."

"The point, my dear, is that what I'm eating is not uppermost on my mind at the moment. These really are good though," he said, popping another one of Woo's scrumptious creations into his mouth.

"Okay, hold on a second." She touched the itchy sleeve of his coat.

"Sure," Abraham said with his mouth full. "What?" He continued chewing.

"You think we're going to break into the Bryon Nuclear Generating Plant? Into the reactor building? Are you nuts? It's like Fort Knox. I've been there."

"We might. We might not," Abraham said. "We're going to give it a shot."

"Good luck, pfsssh," Giselle blew a puff of breath into her hair. "We took some science kids there on a field trip—before any of this terrorist stuff—and, I'm telling you, they've got procedures, man. There are gates. You have to have badges. There are millions of ways of stopping unauthorized people. And that's just in the intake area. Getting into one of the containment buildings is impossible. Nobody gets into the containment building of a nuclear plant when the reactor's online."

"I think we've got it covered," Abraham said. "What's the worst that could happen? Even if we don't get her into the containment building, there's still going to be a lot of curiosity about how she got into a nuke plant, period, right?"

"Then what?" Giselle asked.

"Then whatever. We're winging it. You want to hear a cool story?"

"Sure," Giselle said, glancing through her bangs toward the roof of the Firebird.

"My father knew Gary Snyder in San Francisco. Ever heard of him?"

"Yep," Giselle said. "He's some old dead beatnik like Kenneth Patchen."

"Gary Snyder died? Really? When?" Abraham frowned. He sounded like he'd been hurt.

"No, no, I don't know, honestly. I was being flip," she said. "Sorry."

"I knew him when I was a kid," Abraham said. "He came to Tennessee. He told me a story about driving down a freeway. It was a poem, I guess, but he was just talking. It wasn't even that much of a story. He's driving down this freeway, see. Then he takes one of the exits and drives along a highway for awhile. Then he takes a side road until it turns to a dirt road full of ruts and bumps that get so bad he has to stop. Then he gets out of the car and walks up a trail until the trail gets rough and fades away and he's out in the open, everywhere to go. That's how the story ends. Out in the open, everywhere to go. That's where we're going to end up, honey. Out in the open. Everywhere to go."

"Yeah, well," Giselle said, absent-mindedly checking the gas gauge. "Either that or in jail with nowhere to go."

"We know what we're doing, Giselle. This isn't a game," he said. "Well, you know, it is and it isn't. Relax."

Abraham turned, put the back of his right hand momentarily against the side of Giselle's warm neck, then looked over his shoulder and extended his arm into the back seat. He and Oprah held each other's hands in Oprah's lap. Then Abraham asked her quietly, almost in a whisper, "You all right, Ma?"

"Yep," she said. It sounded like she might have been getting weepy again. "I know what I'm doing. Whether y'all do or not doesn't really matter."

"I do. We're cool," Abraham said, still holding her hand.

Giselle sighed. Whatever was going on was way beyond anything she had any control over. She'd known that since she'd done dishes the night before. Then, softly, tentatively, from out of nowhere, she started singing, sort of half to herself and half to Oprah and half to Abraham—she knew that was too many halves, but she didn't care; she started singing anyway:

"So don't fear if you hear...
A foreign sound to your ear...
It's alright, Ma, I'm only sighing."

"You know, Giselle, I do like you," Oprah said. "Lots of times I just say that. I'm not just saying it now. You're all right."

"You're all right, too...Ma. Ha!" Giselle laughed, then said, "Holy shit."

Abraham picked up on another verse from the song Giselle had been singing and started singing, himself, all gravely and low:

"Although the masters make the rules...
For the wise men and the fools...
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to."

"You guys," Oprah said, shaking her head, still sounding a little teary-eyed.

Giselle sang some more. She had a har-ible singing voice. She knew that. She didn't care. She sang some more anyway:

"But I mean no harm, nor put fault...
On anyone that lives in a vault...
But it's all right, Ma, if I can't please him."

Oprah scooted closer to the front seat and said, in her best approximation of the way Bob Dylan's voice had sounded when she's been ten:

"Advertising signs that con you...
Into thinking you're the one...
That can do what's never been done...
That can win what's never been won..
Meantime life outside goes on...
All around you."

Then Abraham came up with a sort of grand finale:

"And if my thought-dreams could be seen...
They'd probably put my head in a guillotine...
But it's all right, Ma, it's life, and life only."

"Oh, my." Oprah was having a hard time deciding whether she was laughing or crying. "So are y'all gonna hurry up and get me into this tinhorn nuclear plant, my darlings, or what?"

"Let's roll," said Giselle.

Then she said, "Ha!"

Chapter Twenty-four

After she crossed the Union Street Bridge over the Rock River and had come to the stop sign, Giselle continued up the slight hill past Prairie View Golf Course.

"Turn in here," Abraham said.

"Into the golf course?"

"Yes, dear...don't ask."

Giselle didn't. She'd made a vow she was never going to ask another question again in her life, not about anything, ever, no matter what. She touched the small gold Russian Cross at the indentation between her clavicles and turned into the driveway. There was one other car in the parking lot, a gray, four-door, 1991 Chevy Corsica LT—the same car Dennis's parents had owned. He'd borrowed it when he'd been driving her back and forth from Evanston to Rockford to help her hunt for houses during the divorce. If someone was going to sneak into a nuclear power plant at around nine-thirty on a Sunday night, that was the car to do it in.

As soon as Giselle had pulled up next to the Corsica, Abraham undid his seat belt and jumped out. Then out of the corner of her eye, Giselle saw a small Asian woman get out of the other car. She was wearing nothing but a flimsy navy blue skirt with white specks on it and a skintight, scoop neck, black lycra tank top.

The Asian chick ran, hopping and skipping and jumping, into the headlights of the Firebird. That was where Abraham met her. She leaped into his arms so hard she almost knocked him off his feet. They hugged. She had her arms around the back of his head and was kissing little kisses all over his face and neck. Giselle heard the Asian chick squeal little peals of laughter and delight. She saw the thong of a pair of black underwear sticking up the crack of the Asian chick's cute little brown butt. Abraham put her down, but they were still holding hands and acting all buddy-buddy with each other—she was hitting him, falling into him, laughing, squirming.

The Asian chick looked to be not even five feet tall. She stretched up onto her tippytoes, kissed Abraham full on the mouth, pressed her pretty good-sized tits into his chest and pushed her twitchy, squirmy, nearly naked ass into his pelvis. He picked her up off the god damn ground again! That son of a bitch.

Giselle turned out the lights. She turned off the ignition. Abraham came back, still with the Asian chick in his arms, and shoved his door shut with one foot. Then he put her down again, and, without a word to Oprah or Giselle, walked with his arm around her over to the rear driver's side door of the Corsica.

"Motherfuck!" Giselle exclaimed out loud. With the lights off, the blacktop parking lot was plunged into the darkness of the surrounding golf course—but for stars that began appearing as her eyes adjusted, but for the moon getting brighter.

"They're weird," Oprah said.

Giselle was startled. She'd forgotten she wasn't alone. "Who?" she asked.

"Oh, that whole Tennessee contingent." Oprah waved her hand.

"You've seen that Asian woman before?"

"No. I'm just assuming. I know he's got people everywhere. They've all spent time at the retreat at one time or another."

"Where Abraham's father lives?"

"Yep. My son gets all eloquent about the place. It sounds...gorgeous."

"What's he like, anyway? His father?"

"Charismatic, I guess. He tore my heart out on the phone. His voice went way down deep inside me, places I don't even think about, places I don't even know about; scared, lonely little kid places full of puppies and ponies and balloons and cotton candy and clowns in the circus and affection like I haven't felt in...Christ, I don't know. Affection like I haven't ever felt, really. I couldn't stop bawling."

"Why does he want to leave you inside a nuclear plant?"

"To instill a little benign fear, I guess. To get some mileage out of people's uneasiness, to show what he's capable of. He wants people to pay attention."

"To what?"

"Both sides," Oprah said. "All sides. Everything." She sounded tired.

They didn't talk for awhile, then Giselle asked, "What's taking so long?"

"You got me. I'm just hoping it'll all be over soon so I can get home to my dogs." Oprah scooted down and leaned her head against the car seat.

"You and me, both," Giselle said. Then, after another lull, she said, "Well, I'm going to go see."

Oprah didn't say anything.

Giselle got out of the car and immediately felt her legs turn to solid goose bumps. She tapped against the driver's side window of the Corsica. The guy driving had to start the car in order to get the window to roll down. When she finally got a look at him, he was the guy from the mall, the guy from behind Waldenbooks, the guy with the slicked back black hair in the red and black hunting jacket.

"Hi," he said. He was still wearing the hunting jacket.

"A little nippy," Giselle said, hugging her pink sweatshirt across her chest.

"It's Chicago." The guy laughed.

"Yeah, yeah. Could someone let us know what's going on, please?"

The guy flipped on the dome light. Abraham was in the back seat with the Asian chick. The guy in the passenger seat was the security guard from the mall, the one who'd been staring at her tits in front of the kiosk.

"We've had a minor change of plans," Abraham said. "Oh, Giselle, this is Dow. Dow, Giselle. Giselle and I are getting married. We're going to have a baby."

"Wow," said Dow. Then she hit Abraham on the shoulder of Giselle's ex-husband's father's old army coat with her tiny fist and said, "Why didn't you say!"

Abraham ignored her. "That's Rocco and Davis." He pointed to the security guard and the driver, respectively.

"Yeah. We met at the mall. Hi, guys. Sorry to be rude again, but I'm freezing my ass off out here," Giselle said.

"Come sit inside with us. Get warm." Dow patted the seat next to her and moved over closer to Abraham. "Congratulations, too. You're lucky."

"I know. Thanks." Giselle worked her mouth, as best she could, into a smile.

"Get back in the car with Oprah, I'll be there in a minute," Abraham said.

Rocco rolled the window back up, then turned off the ignition again.

Get back in the car, my ass, Giselle said to herself as she was getting back into the car. She started the engine and put the heater on full blast.

"What's the plan, Stan," said Oprah.

"Hurry up and wait. How do I know?" she spoke sharply, then said, "Sorry, sorry. I just didn't know there was going to be some crtesy little big-titted Asian chick he'd be all snuggled up with in the back seat."

"They have some strange notions." Oprah sounded empathetic, like maybe she'd been in the same boat at some point or other.

"No, no, I'm fine, really," Giselle said. "I'm just so...gosh darn in love with your son I could...positively...explode. There. I just wanted to say that."

"I haven't been much of a mother," Oprah said.

"He's perfect," Giselle said. "Hey, do you think we'll hang out? Like after this is over?"

"It sure sounds that way, yep. I don't see how I'm gonna do this all by myself. I might even have to get his father on the show..."

"Hey, maybe Abraham's father can take that baldheaded shrink's place," Giselle blurted.

"Maybe. Sounds like I'm not gonna have much use for poor Dr. Phil."

"You're really going to do something about all this on your show? Me and Abraham and his father? Tell people he's your son? Talk about our baby?"

"If my show doesn't get canceled, I will. Yeah."

"Your show's not ever gonna get canceled. People adore you."

"I know," Oprah said in a confident, carefree, buoyant tone of voice. She sounded just like Abraham, there for a second. She sounded like the guy calling himself the Mayonnaise Man the first day he'd called her on the phone in her class room; proud, effusive, sure of himself—that cocky motherfucker.

"People do adore you. It's true. You should have heard Woo. Ha!" Giselle laughed. "They were talking about you being missing. 'Sad news, no?' Woo said. Then his eyes got all wide and solemn and he said, 'People love her everywhere.' And he's just a nobody little Chinese guy who can't even talk English right."

"He sure can cook. The food was delicious, Giselle."

"Thanks. I hope we do hang out," Giselle said. "I'd like that."

"I'd like that too," Oprah said.

Chapter Twenty-five

Abraham opened the passenger door, flipped the seat forward and helped Oprah from the back seat. She stamped her feet, straightened her pants, zipped up the lynx jacket and said, with a subdued, Oprah-like flourish, "Let's do this thang."

"You're a trooper, Ma," he said. "My father always said that about you."

"He don't know the half of it," Oprah said. The two of them hugged each other and walked with their arms around one another over to the other car.

While Abraham and Oprah had been saying their good-byes, the other three members of the cadre had all gotten out of the Corsica. The fresh-faced security guard, Davis, was dressed in a flight jacket from an Old Navy store, slacks and soft-soled cordovan loafers. He got the keys from what's-his-name, the guy driving, and went around to the trunk of the car.

The Asian chick, Dow—or what the fuck ever her dumb-ass name was—was jumping up and down like a little black and blue kangaroo, waiting for Davis to hurry up. He was having trouble getting the key into the lock. She must have been freezing. Ha! Good. Maybe it would teach her not to prance around half-naked in northern Illinois in the winter. The trunk popped open. Dow hopped inside and scrunched up like a fetus. Davis pushed down on the lid until it locked again.

Oprah waved a shy, sparkly little three-fingered wave over at Giselle, got into the back seat of the Corsica and closed the door behind her.

"Bye, Oprah," Giselle said softly, then waved a little wave back at her.

Abraham and the guy in the red and black hunting jacket, had been leaning against the side of the car, talking the whole time. What the hell was that hunting jacket guy's name? Fuck. Rocco! That's right. That was a good name for the guy. He looked like a Rocco, like a big, dumb as a rock, greasy-headed wop, like Rocky Marciano...or Rocky Balboa. Yeah, yeah, that's who he reminded her of. Talia Shire's boyfriend. Yo, Adrian! Ha! He probably had two pet turtles at home. Cuff and Link. Aw, Giselle thought. She was a sucker for anyone who had pets—birds, rats, dogs, turtles, tarantulas, Gila monsters, it didn't matter.

Rocco and Abraham hugged each other, then Rocco got back into the driver's seat and closed his door. Abraham went around to the other side of the car and hugged Davis. They patted each other on the back. Then Davis got into the passenger seat and closed the door. The Corsica was ready to roll.

Abraham had no doubt already done all the hugging he needed to do on the little, big-titted, thong-up-the butt Asian chick. Dow, wow, what a ridiculous name, Giselle thought. Who the fuck did she think she was, Lao-Tzu's granddaughter? And what the hell was her role supposed to be, anyway? Some sort of diversion? Maybe. That stood to reason. Abraham was no dummy; she knew that much about him.

Giselle remembered the men who worked at the plant—bald, obese, blue collar, Homer Simpson kinds of guys with wives and children and mortgage payments to make; guys living from paycheck to paycheck, dragging themselves out of bed at all hours of the morning and night; guys who watched the Bears and the Bulls and the Cubs on the TV, guys who didn't change the channel during commercials. Yeah, they would have been distracted by little Dow, all right.

"Well, all right. Okay. You win," Giselle sang quietly, jerking her head from side to side in time to some tune she barely knew she was singing.

White steam came out the exhaust when Rocco started the Corsica. Giselle already had the Firebird running. Abraham got into the passenger seat and closed the door. They were alone together again. At last. For the first time in a long, long time.

"Hey," Abraham said, then leaned over and took her warm hand and squeezed it with his cold hand in her lap and buried his face under her hair and kissed the right side of her neck. She felt her cross flutter and knew everything would be all right.

"I've been missing you," she said.

"I know. Me too. We've got one more thing to do, then we're done."

"What one more thing?"

"We've got to go to the plant. They've got a different guy working the gate."

"Won't they get a look at my car?"

"Yep. We've got to do it. There's no other way."

"Won't they be able to track us down?"

"Smoke us out?" He smiled. "If the guy at the gate's paying attention, yeah, but I don't think he will be. Undo your sweatshirt and pull up your skirt."

"I thought we were in a hurry?" Giselle smiled.

"I mean when we get to the gate."

"Oh," she said in a tone of mock disappointment, which, when she thought about it, wasn't actually all that mock.

Abraham laughed. He liked her. She knew that. She unzipped her sweatshirt while she turning the car around in the parking lot. Then she got back onto German Church Road, spread her legs apart and asked, "So, who's that little Dow chick?"

"One of my half-sisters. She lives in Tennessee with my father and her mother." Abraham absently reached his hand over into Giselle's lap, pinched the hem of her skirt between his fingers, pulled it up above the tops of her stockings, then brushed against the inside of her thigh with his thumb. "Why?"

"I got jealous," she said with what little breath she had left in her lungs.

"I know," Abraham said, fiddling with the hem of her skirt again, as if he were arranging it in her lap, as if he was trying to get her lap to look as pretty as a lap could look.

She could see the huge cooling towers, spouting gigantic plumes of white steam against the freezing-cold, crisp black sky. The moon was stark and full and bright. Where all the clouds had gone, Giselle did not know. The headlights of the Corsica were a few blocks behind her.

"What do I say when we get there?" she asked.

"Tell the guy at the gate you're trying to find a motorcycle park. Motosports. Tell him you're lost. Keep your legs spread apart. It'll only take a minute or two."

"A motorcycle park? What the hell's somebody going to be looking for a motorcycle park at 9:30 on a Sunday night for?"

"Hey, how do I know? You're the one looking for it." He laughed.

"Oh, so now's a good time to joke around?"

"No, no, you're right. That was the only thing Rocco could think of that was anywhere near here. Make up something else. Act like you're drunk."

"Are you serious?"

"Yep. I'm going to be on the floor in the back seat. You'll do fine."

The plant was surrounded by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. It didn't look all that hard to get into if someone really wanted to. Maybe the fence was electrified, Giselle couldn't tell. There was a bundled up guy in a small structure like you might find at the exit of a parking lot. She pulled the Firebird up to the gate and rolled down her window. The bundled up guy came over, blowing into his hands.

"See your badge, please," he said.

"What badge? I don't need no stinking badge." Giselle laughed.

"Don't kid around," the guy said, peering into her lap. He couldn't help but see the tops of her sheer black stockings. She squirmed down into the bucket seat. Her skirt scooted up a little higher. The guy was trying to act like he didn't notice.

"No, seriously," she said, batting her eyelashes, "I don't have a badge. I think I'm just totally lost. I'm trying to find..."

The Corsica had already pulled up behind them by then. The area was lit up bright as day by banks of lights on silver utility poles. She noticed the green wool of Abraham's coat on the floor and wondered if the guy from the gate house might have seen it too. She spread her legs wider apart and acted as if she were oblivious of the little patch of black silk panties that was visible between her legs.

In her rearview mirror, she saw Rocco making faces from the driver's seat of the Corsica. His hands were off the steering wheel, palms up, as if he were saying, hey, come on, Bozo, what's the fucking hold up?

"You're going to have to back up, ma'am."

"Can't you just tell me..."

"Sure, sure, I'll tell you anything, but you need to back up a ways."

Giselle put the Firebird into reverse and eased backwards while the Corsica drove impatiently around her. The bundled up guy opened the gate. Rocco and Davis flashed their badges and drove into the plant, shaking their heads.

"Man, this is all I need," the guard said.

"What's the matter?" Giselle asked.

"Nothing. That was my boss. Damned if I do and damned if I don't."

"Do and don't what?"

"Check the trunk. Every car. No exceptions. Of course, him he'd say, 'Not my trunk, Numbnuts.' Pardon my French, Miss. Now, where is it you want to go?"

Giselle had pulled her skirt down while the guard was letting Rocco through. That seemed to be the first thing the guy noticed. "I'm looking for a bowling alley that's supposed to be somewhere around here," she said.

"There's no bowling alley anywhere on this whole side of the river, far as I know. There's one in Byron." He pointed back the way she'd come.

"I must have taken the wrong turn." She looked sheepish. "I'm an idiot."

"No, you're not. I took a wrong turn once. Ended up how I met..."

"Thanks," she said, rolling up the tinted window.

"Don't mention it." The guy nodded as if parting were such sweet sorrow.

Giselle backed up again, turned around and got back onto the main road.

"You did good, hon," Abraham said, as he was climbing back up into the front seat again. "I'm proud of you. You're the best chick ever."

"Woo hoo!" said Giselle.

"Where'd you come up with that bowling alley business?"

"I was thinking of The Simpsons. This one where Marge was going to have an affair. Hey, Homer works in a nuclear plant. How about that?"

"How about it?" He frowned.

"I have no idea. I'm just thinking out loud. I do that sometimes. The guard said that guy Rocco was his boss. Did you hear that?"

"He is. He's chief of security. He's worked there fifteen years."

"Wow. How'd you get him to do this?"

"He was in Tennessee when he was a kid. He was doing my father a favor. My father's a...persuasive guy. People like to do things for him."

"So are you," she said.

"I know. It's a knack. Some people call it the gift of exhortation."

"Father Gregory used to talk about that. It's some Christian thing, right?"

"Yep. It comes from Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Then, right after that, the Apostle Paul says, 'Let love be without dissimulation.'"

"I still don't think you can exhort your way into a nuclear containment building."

"We'll see. Rocco rigged it up when the reactor was off-line. We've been planning this awhile. There'll be a big fuss. The whole country's gonna go apeshit, the whole world."

"That's what you want?" Giselle asked.

"Yep. It's about time the whole world went apeshit."

"I think the world went apeshit enough."

"That's their apeshit, this is our apeshit," Abraham said with one of his quirky, fidgety little enigmatic smiles.

"What the fuck am I doing here?" Giselle asked.

"I love you," he said.

"I know. I mean, wow. Me too," she said. "But how the heck did you find me? That's what I want to know."

"One of the kids in one of your classes said you were nice."

"Really? Who? What kid?"


"Ray Blovits? Ha! He's the kid who's always staring directly at Darell's testicles. The one Darrell says undresses him with his eyes. Gimme a fucking break."

"That's the one. He came out to Tennessee last summer. His mother's one of my older sisters. She used to live with us."

"Mrs. Blovits? Wow. I know her. I like her. She's beautiful. So serene and oblivious of the fact that her kid is totally whacked. I'd try to tell her. 'About Ray,' I'd say. She wouldn't listen. 'Your eyes are incredibly wise,' she'd say. 'You have the hair of a goddess.' Crack me up. I quit trying to talk to her about her kid."

"Her kid's fine," Abraham said. "He was my father's first grandchild. His grandmother's dead. He knew her in San Francisco. She was a topless dancer. They listened to Charles Ives the day his mother was conceived."

"So, he like what? Keeps track of all his children by what music was playing when they were conceived?"

"She was one of the first. She came out later to Tennessee."

"How many are there? Women he's had kids with?"

"A bunch. He's lost track of a few. Only four stayed with him the whole time. They all helped build the place. Others came and went over the years. He's got about a billion grandchildren by now. They run around like cherubs. I want our baby to run around like a cherub. I want you to come to Tennessee with me."

"Okay," Giselle said. She didn't think about it. She didn't consider the logistics of packing, of getting rid of her furniture, uprooting her dogs, putting her house on the market, quitting her job, abandoning the kids in her classes, nothing. She just said, okay.

Previous, Part Five

Next, Part Seven


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Gerard Jones
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