"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.
"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 tellwell, 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-Gobut 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 wonwhatever 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 prawnsscampi, 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 transplantsnot 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 Warwell, 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.