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Part Nine

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

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

(Part Eleven), (Part Twelve)

Ginny Good, A Mostly True Story:

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Chapter Thirty-five

There are three tidy, ivy-covered houses all made out of rocks near the path she's walking on; one to her right, one to her left and the house she's walking toward. Her feet are bare. The path is soft and warm without any twigs or stones to hurt her toes. Off through gaps in the surrounding cedars and scrub oaks, she can see five other houses, also made out of rocks and also covered with ivy mingled with morning glories. Birds are singing in the sunshine. It feels like early afternoon. Waves of dry, dreamlike heat rise up around her a mirage. She still has on her black silk bra and panties, but her belly is bigger than she ever imagined a belly could be.

Most of the rocks the houses are made out of are smooth gray granite river rocks but some are flat, pastel-colored pieces of shale cut into the shapes of hearts or stars or teardrops. The yards around the houses are overgrown with thistles and dandelions and tall grass and irises and wild rose bushes. Bumblebees and butterflies and the occasional hummingbird dart or flit or flutter through the dreamy air. A reddish-brown squirrel is holding what looks like a small nut or a large seed of some sort in his tiny hands. He's up on the slanted roof of the house to her left, squatting on his haunches next to the stone chimney. He gnaws furtively at the nut or seed or what the heck ever it is, looking up worriedly and back down again. Birds are hopping and shrieking and twittering among the leaves of trees; common birds, nothing fancy; blue jays, sparrows, a starling here and there. The blue jays are the loudest. They're also the ones looking most longingly at whatever the squirrel's got in its tiny, busy fingers. More insects show up; ladybugs and dragonflies and gnats, but no mosquitoes. A flying grasshopper whirs up from among the purple thistles and tall grass.

In front of the house to her right, there's a kid with no clothes on, a boy. He's old enough to walk, but he couldn't run very far without falling down. His hands are dirty. His mouth is dirty from eating dirt. He's touching flowers. He pushes gently down onto one of the bursting bright orange crepe paper poppies, and when he lets go...boing! The poppy pops back up again. Ha! That makes the little boy laugh and clap his hands and drool dirty drool down his chin. He touches a purple iris. Around its outer edges the iris is lavender but it gets so purple it's almost black inside. Bright fuzzy yellow stripes fly toward its center like comets in a night sky. The boy with no clothes on pushes the flower slowly down almost all the way to the ground, then lets go. Boing! The iris pops back up again and nods slowly to and fro at the naked boy like it's his newfound friend. The naked boy laughs. He claps his hands, drools more dirty drool down his chin and walks haltingly over toward a spotted tiger lily.

It's warm but not too warm, just the way Abraham said it would be. There are rocks everywhere, strewn among the thistles and long-stemmed dandelions gone to seed. Some of the rocks are covered with patches of moss the color of pistachio nuts. There are maroon specks in the moss, maroon spiders, maybe. She can't tell what the heck they are for sure; they're too small to see without a magnifying glass but the specks seem to move sometimes. Maybe it's just her imagination, some quirk in her peripheral vision that turns light green moss into maroon spiders and makes them seem to move when she's not looking. The house she's heading toward looks like the main house, somehow; it's not the biggest or the fanciest, it just looks like the one a person would go to first. Well, it's at the end of the path she's walking along, too. There's that.

As she gets closer, Giselle sees an old man in the shadows on the front porch. He's sitting with his legs crossed on a small Persian prayer rug stretched out across the gray, weather-beaten planks. He's leaning against one side of a smooth, heart-shaped, pastel pink piece of shale cemented into the front wall of granite rocks. There aren't any steps. The porch is a platform, raised a foot or two off the ground. The man is staring off into nowhere. He hasn't noticed Giselle, or if he has he hasn't given any indication that he's noticed her. Bees hover among the lilac bushes on either side of the porch, bumblebees and regular bees...and white butterflies and yellow butterflies.

There's a dog next to the old man, a golden retriever, like Mimi Crenshaw's dog, like Jasper! The dog doesn't notice Giselle either, not until she's standing right in front of the two of them, the old man and his dog. The dog looks up at her. His eyes are brown. He opens his mouth. He pants. His tongue lolls out over his lower teeth, all pink and slick with saliva. He closes his eyes lazily, then opens his eyes again, yawns a lazy yawn and lays his head back down onto his paws.

The old man's eyes are blue. His face is tan. He looks directly into her eyes and says, "Hey, Giselle."

He's old but not that old. He has on a pair of frayed, faded Levi's cut off into cutoffs. His legs are tan. He's wearing a worn out, powder blue Izod golf shirt. His hair is long and straight and thinning, partly gray, partly dirty-blond. It doesn't quite touch his shoulders. He's a pleasant enough looking old guy, even features, decent teeth, not a lot of loose skin anywhere. He's not wearing shoes or socks. His toenails could use clipping. The tall grass and the thistles and the dog and the porch and the man all smell like lilacs and new straw and warm sunshine in the woods.

"You have an alligator on your shirt," Giselle says.

"It's an old shirt," he says.

"I want to restrain an alligator some day," Giselle says.

"I heard that was something you wanted to do."

"You're Abraham's dad," she says.

"That's not what I call him. I call him..."

"Yeah, yeah." She waves her right hand.

He smiles and says, "He said you might be stopping by."

"Did he also tell you I'd be so god damn knocked-up I can hardly walk?"

He motions her closer to him. His arms are tan. The hair on them is reddish and blond and silver. "Stand over here by me a minute," he says.

Giselle steps up onto the porch. The floor boards are sturdy and smooth. She stands in front of Abraham's father, then leans slightly toward him, feeling the weight of her abdomen spread evenly through the balls of her feet against the worn, warm wood. He puts his hands on either side of her bare stomach and gradually pushes his fingers and the palms of his hands harder and harder around her abdomen. He finds the baby inside her, finds the baby's head. His hands are hot. He presses his hands against her skin, touching her, feeling the fluid inside her, feeling the child inside her.

"Wow," he says as he takes his hands away.

"He's going to have a normal name, too, by the way," she says.

"Oh, it's a boy?" the old guy asks.

"No. I mean, I don't know. He or she, either one," Giselle says. "Whether it's a boy or a girl, he or she is going to have a real name. If she's a girl her name is going to be Susan or Samantha or Jessica or Jennifer. And if he's a boy his name is going to be George or Carl or Joe. Something plain. Something simple. Nothing fancy, nothing weird. Bill or John or Tom. So, like, don't go getting ideas."

"How about Hieronymus?" Abraham's dad seems to be teasing her. "Only if he's a boy, of course," he adds quickly.

"Nope," she says.

"Hieronymus was the name of a Dutch painter. Hieronymus Bosch."

"Do tell," Giselle says with a hint of gimme-a-fucking-break in her tone of voice. "He was a cool painter, but he had a stupid name."

"Pity," the old guy says. He seems only mildly to be pleading his case but his eyes are bright and playful and persuasive all the same. "I always wanted a kid I could call Hieronymus. Why I don't have one after all these years, I do not know."

"Why would anyone want to call a kid Hieronymus?"

"Why would anyone call a kid The Mayonnaise Man?" The old guy shrugs.

"Yeah, no shit," Giselle says.

Abraham's father smiles again. He likes her. She can tell. "If it hadn't been for Hieronymus Bosch I never would have wanted to live in a place like this." He looks out across his porch to the tall grass, to the thistles and the flowers and the naked kid next door and the squirrel on the roof and the birds and the lilacs and bees and butterflies and honeysuckle and morning glories, the waves of heat rising.

Giselle follows his gaze. The whole general area does look a little like the left panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights, but without any Adam or Eve or Jesus anywhere to be found. "Hey, you wanna know what I know about Hieronymus Bosch?" she asks, looking back down into the old guy's eyes again.

"Sure," he says. "I want to know anything you want to tell me."

"Well, it's not all that much, except that he used to sneak self-portraits of himself into some of his paintings. He used to, like, hide himself under all sorts of weirdo things. When you look at some of his pictures, that's the first thing you see, him peeking out at you with a self-satisfied smirk on his face."

"Self-portraits of himself, yep, I knew that. You're all The Mayonnaise Man said you'd be. I like how your name sounds, too. You feel like a Giselle. That's the name I would have named you if it had been up to me. You know what I like about Hieronymus Bosch? Besides everything?"

"What besides everything is there?"

"A lot," he says. "The thing I mainly liked was his name, though. I'd get a kick out of being able to come up behind my grandson at the kitchen table some day and say, 'Hey, Hieronymus, how's it hanging?' Maybe you'll think it over."

"I've already thought it over. Tom. Bill. Charles. Nothing weird."

"Okay, whatever you say. I had my chances." He smiles a shy smile.

"You really called your son The Mayonnaise Man all his life?" She frowns.

"Yep. I did." He purses his lips, nods. He's clean-shaven.

"What the hell kind of a name is that?"

"It's a good sounding name. I like a good sounding name, a name that's one of a kind, a name with some mystery, a name that's gonna pique a person's curiosity. Hieronymus has an intriguing sound to it, too, don't you think?"

"No. People would just think his parents were pretentious. Why do you think your son changed his name? 'Casue he didn't wanna have a stupid name, that's why."

"So Abraham Lincoln's a smart name?"

"It was a little weird at first, but I've gotten used to it."

"You don't think you might get used to Hieronymus?"

"I'm not going to have to try. I'm telling you, Sam, John, Bill, that's it. This is all nothing but a big fat dream, anyway, right?"

"It might be. Who can say? Neither you nor I," he says then sings softly:

"Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by."

The old guy bows his head like a tree in the wind and says, "Whoa. I'm channeling Yoko Ono."

"You're also changing the subject. Am I dreaming or not? Yes or no?"

The old guy sings again:

"Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lulled by the moonlight, have all passed away!"

"Now you're channeling Stephen Foster?"

"There used to be a guy down by Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco who dressed up in an empty refrigerator box with a sign painted on it that said, 'Automatic Human Jukebox.' You put a quarter or a dollar in a slot and he'd pop open a cardboard flap and play you the tune you wanted to hear on a kazoo or a slide whistle or a trumpet. That's a job I would've liked but I couldn't play a kazoo."

"So you started a religion, instead?"

"It's not a religion. It's a place to live."

"Isn't a religion a place to live?"

"That baby in you has a place to live." He nods toward her stomach.

"So that makes me a religion?"

"In more ways than I could ever begin to explain, yep. How that kid got there was an act of God." He motions with his thumb in the general direction of Giselle's abdomen. "Life is an act of God. Love is an act of God. We all live in one great big act of God going on all the time with no beginning and no end, black holes, quasars, quantum physics, dark matter, dark energy, the whole shebang is one great big act of God. Mosquitoes being spawned on a fetid pond is an act of God. If that's a religion, fine, but it sure wasn't something I or anyone else started."

"So anything you don't know you call God?"

"More like all the things you don't even know you don't know. We mere all-too-human pea-brain dolts haven't found the surface of God let alone scratched it. The kid in you is all the angels and all the miracles and all the heavens and all the hells there's ever been or there's ever gonna be and he's not even born yet."

"Or she."


"I hate mosquitoes," Giselle says.

"Mosquitoes don't hate you."

"Yeah, no shit. They love me. They eat me up. I'm a five-star French restaurant to every mosquito ever spawned in all the fetid ponds on the planet. I was put on this earth to be eaten by mosquitoes. Thanks, God." She looks at the sky.

"When I was a kid my grandfather gave me a kaleidoscope. I ended up breaking the thing but I was fascinated with it at first. I sat out on the curb in front of my house in Michigan, twisting it up toward the sun for hours. The colors inside it shook into deep, startling, three-dimensional designs, one after another, until I started to know what was coming next. Then I scratched at the glossy red paper and peeled apart the cardboard and tore the kaleidoscope in two and scattered the pieces of plastic inside it out among the twigs and dead leaves and sand that ants had made into ant hills between cracks in the cement. The insides of a kaleidoscope weren't that interesting. All by themselves, they didn't do a thing. But the sand was piled into nice little cone shapes, and the cement was made of tiny bright pebbles and the ants glittered in the sun like glass, and the ants were alive! They climbed out from the craters of golden volcanoes, lugging crystal chunks of sand with them to add to the ant hill, then took off up the curb and spread out into the grass and found pieces of dead leaves and cracker crumbs and hoisted them over their shoulders and climbed back down into the crater to feed them to their queen, their mother, the one who gave them life. The ants were real. They had a job to do. They did it. Life went on. Life goes on. You have a job to do. You're doing it."

"Like, despite myself?" Giselle asks.

"You don't have a lot of say, either way, yeah."

"But is this a dream or not?"

"Yes," the old guy says. "Dreams are tricky. Asleep or awake, it doesn't matter. Day dreams, night dreams, fantasies, imaginings, we've all got other lives going on in our heads. The more you dream the longer you live. People are thousands of years old. There are all kinds of parallel universes bumping into each other. When you make a new human brain you're adding another layer of complexity to the ocean of consciousness, dropping another grain of sand onto the side of the anthill."

"I thought the cool thing about the anthill was it was real."

"It was, but some dreams have been even more real."

"Like surreal?"

"Sure. Call it what you want, they're all just words. I dreamed I was in the kitchen once when I was a kid, tossing an egg over my shoulder and catching it like a football," the old guy says, relaxing back against the heart-shaped stone. "Then the egg broke in my hands and I dropped the two gooey handfuls, shells and all, into water boiling in a black pot on the stove. Someone on the radio said, 'Josephine Baker has a wish. Josephine Baker wants a fish.' Pieces of egg white had turned into a white goldfish with a long flowing tail and lacy fins and I made a wish. I wished for a Pinto pony and the rest of the egg started looking like a small horse lying down, with its legs tucked under it, like it had just been born. I went over to get an empty jar from the windowsill to put the goldfish in and saw an Indian boy on a Pinto pony out the kitchen window. The pony was eating grass out beside the cherry tree. I went onto the back porch. The Indian boy had red and yellow war paint across the bridge of his nose and long black hair tied back with a strip of leather. I told him, 'Wait a minute,' and went back to put the goldfish in the jar, but it was dead. It was bloated and rolling over and over in the boiling water. I ran back out onto the porch. The pony had grown huge and bloated and old and had rolled over onto its side. Its legs were stiff and its stomach was bulging with veins about to burst. Skin had grown over its nostrils. Its lips had grown together. The Indian boy was lying next to the horse. Skin had started to grow over his eyes. His arms had grown together from the elbows. He only had one hand. His legs had grown together at the knees. He only had one foot. He opened one eye. I froze. He was trying to talk. He was trying to tell me something, but his tongue was too big for his mouth. He worked himself up onto his foot and held a spear over his head with his hand and tried to throw it at me but he tipped over onto his face and the spear fell at my feet. I picked up the spear and went back into the kitchen. My grandmother was standing in front of the stove with her hands on her hips and her hair up in pin curlers. She was guarding the pot. I couldn't get around her. 'I have to pour it out,' I said. 'I can't let you,' she said. 'It's a living thing.' She wouldn't move. I lifted the spear over my head and tried to tell her it wasn't even real, it was a dream, but my tongue was too thick to make the words and my arms felt like they were growing together from the elbows and my legs were growing together at the knees. That's it. I woke up."

"Ha!" Giselle laughs her big horse laugh. "So this all is a dream."

The old guy moves his finger back and forth and sings:

"Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream."

She hears a phone ringing. It sounds like it's coming from inside the house. She ignores it. It's not her phone and Abraham's father doesn't seem to mind whether the phone's ringing or not. Maybe he's deaf. He seems to hear her okay, though. Maybe he just doesn't answer phones. It's not her business what he does.

"Oprah told me about that rooster." She points to the base of his throat.

"Yeah, she was curious about it. Lots of chicks were curious about my little rooster back then." He touches the piece of jade on a leather thong around his neck.

The phone rings again.

Abraham's dad goes on, apparently oblivious of the ringing of the phone. "I told her the whole story about how I got it off a guy on Haight Street somewhere along about 1965 or so." He pulls it away from his chest and holds it out for Giselle to see.

"Nice," she says in the same way that she had said "nice" when Ron Harley showed her his laser-etched "United We Stand" Beretta.

"I've been wearing it ever since. The guy was from Martinique. His father was some kind of voodoo priest. The thing was supposed to have magical properties." Abraham's father looks down at the rooster again. "The guy told me his father soaked it in chicken blood and polished it with the wing of a dead vampire bat."

"Ew," Giselle says.

"Yeah, well, it used to give chicks something to talk about," the old guy says. "Now it just hangs there. I'm barely aware I have it on anymore."

The phone is still ringing.

"So you were like a hippie or whatever?" Giselle asks.

"Nah. Hippies weren't even hippies when I was a hippie."

"Is my grandmother still around?"

"She's baking us a blackberry pie. She'll be out to see you pretty soon."

"Where's Abraham?" Giselle asks.

The phone sounds like it's simply never going to stop ringing.

"Hey, how about Isaac?"

"For a name."

"A name for my child? Isaac Lincoln? Not in your wildest dreams."

"Sure, come on. I'll go along with Abraham if you go along with Isaac."

"I don't do tit for tat." Giselle makes a face.

"But maybe they'll get it right this time."

"Get what right?"

"That whole sacrifice thing. When God tells you to do something, you don't dick around. You just do it. Did the guys who drove airplanes into all those buildings dick around? No. They just did it. If Abraham hadn't dicked around on his way to killing his kid like God told him to do, God wouldn't have had to kill Jesus and no Christians and Muslims would have come along to screw things up for Jews. Yeah, yeah, let's call the kid Isaac. Come on. Abraham and Isaac, I like it."

"Are you gonna tell me where Abraham is or not?"

"That might be him on the phone." The old guy shrugs.

"Are you serious?" Giselle puts her hands on her hips, hooks her thumbs into the elastic of her panties, and relaxes her swollen abdomen.

"You can go answer it if you want." His eyes look sideways.

She opens the thick oak door and finds herself in the living room. There's a huge stone fireplace against the wall to her left and a big, old-fashioned hooked rug on the floor. The room is clogged with furniture—overstuffed chairs, knitted Afghans, funky floor lamps, footstools, end tables, bookshelves, books, records, a stereo, sports equipment, golf clubs, all kinds of clutter. The whole house is homey looking, lived in. The phone, however, is nowhere to be found. It's ringing but she can't find it. It rings and rings. She looks everywhere. She can't find it and can't find it.

"Mame!" she calls. "Do you know where they keep their god damn phone?"

Mame doesn't answer. Giselle can smell a pie baking. She goes through swinging doors into the kitchen. Nobody's there. The back door's open. Maybe Mame had to go over to one of the other houses to borrow a cup of sugar. Giselle goes back into the living room. The phone's still ringing. Ringing and ringing. The ringing is getting louder. Louder and louder. She still can't find the fucking phone anywhere. She's getting frantic. Franticer and franticer.

Chapter Thirty-six

It was dark. The phone was ringing. Van Morrison was singing:

"Stepping lightly
Just like a Ballerina..."

The Chinese rug smelled like dog hair, dog hair and maybe a little trickle of dried drool at the corner of her mouth. Giselle's arms ached. Her legs ached. Her abdomen ached. Her neck ached. Her head ached.


Her head hadn't ached in days. What the hell was up with that?

Somehow in the excitement of all those guns blazing back and forth between the Sheriff's Deputies and the FBI, Abraham must have managed to escape. She remembered picturing exactly how he could have gotten away. There was a clump of trees not ten yards from the side of the sheriff's car. He could have taken off through the woods. He must have found a phone. It had to be him calling. The phone kept ringing and ringing. Who the hell else would let the thing ring so long?

She had to answer it. She'd been wanting someone to answer the god damn phone since she first heard it ringing in her dream. How long ago had that been? Who knows how long dreams are? It felt like she'd looked for ages for the phone that kept ringing in Abraham's father's house but hadn't been able to wake up—and now that she was awake, she couldn't get her eyes open. She couldn't move. Her whole body was one great big aching, throbbing pain, and the phone was still ringing and ringing and ringing. If it wasn't Abraham, she was going to kill whoever it was.

Some convoluted combination of hope and love and longing—or a desire to wreak unending vengeance on whoever it was if it wasn't Abraham—squirted enough adrenaline through Giselle that she was able to get slowly onto her hands and knees and crawl over to the phone, still with her eyes closed. She heard her little dogs panting and whimpering. She felt them brushing against her and scooting between her legs. She inched her hand up the leg of the end table, took the phone out of its cradle, felt around for the TALK button, pushed it, put the receiver to her ear and tried to say Abraham's name, but the only sound she could make was a gurgling, guttural noise, like the only part of her mouth that still worked was her epiglottis.

"Giselle? Is that you?"

She didn't recognize the guy's voice, whoever he was.

It wasn't Abraham. That was all she knew.

"It's Ted," he said. "Hey! Come on. Say something! Talk to me."

She cleared her throat. Her voice still wasn't working. She tried again to speak, to tell Ted that she had too much going on, that she couldn't talk, but her tongue wasn't responding to what her mind was trying to get her mouth to say.

"An awk," she said, using only the back of her throat. She hoped Ted would understand that what she meant to say was that she couldn't talk, but in the event that he didn't, she demonstrated by pushing the TALK button again and putting the phone back into its cradle.

Giselle stretched out again and rolled over onto her back and still couldn't open her eyes. The Ballerina song was over. The whole Astral Weeks album was about to come to an end. The music was working its way through the beginning of the last song, Slim Slow Slider. Then she heard Van Morrison start to sing again:

"Slim slow slider
Horse you ride
Is white as snow..."

Giselle lifted her arms a few inches off the floor, then let them fall back down to her sides again. She was drained. She had a right to be drained. She'd had quite a day. Holy crap, was that ever an understatement. Her head was killing her.

Oh my gosh, no wonder. She'd been shot!

She lifted her arm again and put two fingers hesitantly up to her face. She expected to feel blood coagulated around the edges of the gaping wound in her forehead. There was no blood. There was no wound. Was she dead? No. Her head hurt like a motherfucker. She felt like she'd been shot in the forehead, but there wasn't any blood and there wasn't any wound. If she were dead, would her head still hurt? That didn't seem possible, but who was she to know?

"Saw you walking
Down by the Ladbroke Grove this morning
Catching pebbles for some sandy beach
You're out of reach..."

She had to get her eyes open. She felt her brain telling her eyelids to open themselves up, but her eyelids weren't paying any attention. Finally, she pinched her right eyebrow with her thumb and forefinger and pulled her eyelid up. Once one eye was open, the other eye caught on. She could see again. Phew. That was when she noticed her hand didn't hurt, however. She stared directly into the open palm of her right hand, the hand she'd grabbed the tear gas canister with. It wasn't burned. She made a fist. It didn't hurt to make a fist. Her hand was her normal hand. There was nothing whatsoever wrong with it. That was impossible.

She sniffed the air. There was no smell of tear gas, no smell of gunpowder. Her head hurt. Maybe the bullet had just grazed her skull. But her hand didn't hurt, and she knew for a fact that she'd burned it to blisters on that god damn tear gas canister. What the fuck?

"Saw you early this morning
With your brand new boy and your Cadillac..."

Now that her eyes could see again, Giselle looked around her parlor. Nothing was making any sense. There were no spotlights shining through her curtains. Her curtains were open. Man, if she wasn't dead, she must have been out like a light for a long, long time. Maybe Ron Harley had opened the curtains, opened the doors and windows, aired out the house—what the hell all might have happened after she'd been shot, she had no idea. But even if Ron had done all that stuff, he wouldn't have just left her there to bleed to death. He would somehow have gotten her to a hospital. Wouldn't he?

Talking to Abraham's father on the porch had been a dream, of course. She was nine months pregnant, for gosh sakes—you don't get nine months pregnant in one day. It was obviously a continuation of the dream she'd had that first night, the one where soldiers speaking Arabic were chasing her and she was hiding in a jungle and that blond Jesus guy walked by...and that pregnant black chick got bit in half by that big blue fish...the same dream she'd found herself in when she got home from looking for Abraham down by the river...the dream where Mame was picking blackberries and that Dow chick was waiting for Abraham on that rock by the swimming hole with no clothes on...the same dream she'd fallen back into again after she'd been shot, the dream where she was talking to Abraham's father on his porch and the god damn phone kept ringing and ringing.

"You're gone for something
And I know you won't be back..."


He'd been killed!

Holy Christ!

She looked toward the picture window. The window wasn't broken. She couldn't have been unconscious that long. Could some glass guys have come in and replaced the broken window? With her lying there, dying on the Chinese rug? No. Well, maybe. It made as much sense as anything else.

Giselle rolled onto her stomach again, pushed herself up onto her hands and knees, steadied herself against the sofa and stood up. Her head was throbbing with pain. The pain throbbed in her ears. The pain throbbed in her eyes, in her throat...in her heart and in her brain. Her head was murdering her with pain.

"I know you're dying, baby
And I know you know it, too..."

She opened the front door. There wasn't anyone anywhere—no police cars, no FBI, no spotlights, no guns, not the slightest trace of the smell of gun powder in the air, no tire tracks. Ketchum wasn't there, not his dead body, nothing.

"Ketch," she called. Her voice still didn't work right. She sounded like a baby bird making a squawking noise, a baby bird whose eyes hadn't opened yet, squawking to be fed. Giselle cleared her throat and tried again. "Ketchum!"

That worked. Hey, she could talk again. But Ketchum didn't come running. There was no one there. She was talking to herself. At the end of the street she could see the flicker of a TV set through the window of the only other house in her neighborhood. It was an ordinary night. There weren't any clouds, just the moon; stars, stillness, cold, quiet.

"I know you're dying
And I know you know it, too..."

Giselle hated that fucking song. It didn't end. It just stopped right in the middle of itself, like death in the middle of life. It was the saddest song she knew.

"Every time I see you
I just don't know what to do..."

That was it. The song was over. That was how it ended. It just stopped. That was the way the whole Astral Weeks album ended. Her stereo shut itself off.

Chapter Thirty-seven

The phone started ringing again. Motherfuck. It rang once, twice, three times. Giselle thought about not answering it, but what if it was Abraham? She lifted the phone from its cradle, kept her finger on the disconnect button and said, "Hello?"

"Don't hang up!" Ted yelled in her ear.

"My head," she said.

"I know, I know," Ted said more softly; soothingly, sweetly. "Something really bizarre's going on, Giselle. Stay on the phone for a minute. Talk to me."

"My head is so killed...you have no idea."

"Okay, just listen, then." Ted paused. "You called me." He paused again. "You said, 'Ted? It's Giselle.' Then you hung up. Do you remember that?"

"Vaguely." Giselle had the phone in her left hand. She made her right hand into a fist and pressed it down onto the top of her skull.

"I called you back," Ted said, still speaking precisely. "Your phone was busy. I called again. You didn't answer. I've been calling for close to an hour."

"Ketchum's dead," Giselle said.


"They shot him."


"The FBI...cocksuckers." Her voice cracked.


"An hour ago. I really can't talk."

"Giselle..." Ted sounded exasperated. "Don't screw around, okay?"

"I'm not," she said and put the phone gently back into its cradle.

Giselle knew that Ted could not ever in a million years begin to understand what the hell all had been going on for the last two days and she was in no mood to try to explain it to him. He must not have been watching TV. Besides, he'd be so jealous of Abraham he'd go into anaphylactic shock. What she did or didn't do was her own god damn business and always had been. Ted knew that. She didn't want to hear whatever the fuck he might have to say, he'd ask too many questions.

"You met this guy when?"

"How can you know you're pregnant?"

"What makes you think you're in love?"

"Oprah Winfrey is his what?"

"You smuggled her where?"

"Tennessee? Who the hell goes to live in Tennessee?"

"What are you, nuts?"

She didn't have enough answers, not even for her own questions, let alone Ted's. How could the picture window not be broken? How could her hand not be burned? How could there be no residue from the tear gas? How could she not have a gunshot wound in the middle of her forehead?

Giselle made her way tentatively out through the kitchen. She knew she was going to find nothing but Ketchum's lonely chain and his empty dog house and his frozen water dish. She knew also that that was going to break her heart, but she had to see all those things for herself. She cupped her hands like blinders at the sides of her eyes and looked out the window of the back door.

Ketchum was on his chain, lying on the frozen ground, warming the straw beneath him. He looked up at her. Tears from her heart seeped into her eyes. She smiled and swallowed and bit her lower lip to keep from crying, but that didn't stop the tears. Ketchum looked like he was smiling too. Ha!

She wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her gray Gap sweatshirt and laughed at herself at the same time. But why the hell was she wearing her Gap sweatshirt? She had on her Doc Martens, too, and her baggy Levi's—Abraham's baggy Levi's! Underneath her clothes she still had on the green flannel pajamas from Saturday morning...from when she'd bounded out of bed to go play with her dogs in the snow!

"What the fuck?" she asked aloud and squinted her eyes into a frown. That made her head ache all the more. She said, "Ow!"

Her brain was swollen. It felt like her whole head was going to crack apart like a dried up coconut dropped from the top of the Sears Tower. She pressed the heel of her right hand into the center of her forehead as if that might force the pieces momentarily back together again. Then she pulled open the unlocked back door, went down the steps, kneeled on the frozen ground, put her arms around her big, beautiful dog and hugged him and hugged him.

"Beautiful dog," Oprah had said.

Pfssh. Oprah didn't know the half of it.

Ketchum cocked his head to one side, opened his mouth and panted happily. She could see his breath. Steam rose from his tongue. Giselle unhooked his chain. Ketchum shook the thick fur under his throat, sat back on his haunches, scratched himself where his collar had been hooked to the chain and shook his whole huge white coat of fur all at once, from his massive head clear down to the tip of his tail.

Then he looked up at her nonchalantly, blinked his eyes slowly and seemed to smile again. "Whoa," Ketchum said. "That feels good."

Giselle screwed up the right side of her tiny mouth. Holy shit, she hadn't really heard what she'd heard, had she? No. Ted was right. Something too bizarre was going on. She had to let things settle for awhile. Her mind was in no fit state to come to any definitive conclusions about anything.

Ketchum followed her up the back steps. After she had turned the doorknob, but before she pulled the door open, Giselle stopped, looked down at Ketchum and asked, "What did you say?"

"Nothing," Ketchum said.

On her way through the kitchen, Giselle noticed that there were no clothes on the floor in the laundry room. She stopped, turned around and looked again, just to be sure. The trash can was empty. Woo's food containers were gone. She went back into the parlor. The phone was ringing off the god damn hook again.

She picked it up.

"God damn it, Giselle," Ted said. "Quit hanging up the fucking phone."

"Okay," she said.

"What the hell's happening?"

"Too much...I don't know what to do."

"I know, baby," Ted said. "You must have had one of your seizures. Stay on the phone with me."

"I will, but my head's totally killing me. I need an injection."

"Fine. Go do that."

"You want me to call you back?"

"No," Ted said. "I want you to keep talking to me no matter what. Got it? Do your injection, then come back and tell me what's going on."

"All right. Hang on then."

"No! Take the phone with you. I'm serious. If I hear you fall on your ass, I'm calling you an ambulance."

"Yeah, yeah," she said. "Call me an ambulance."

"Okay, okay. You're an ambulance," Ted said.

He laughed.

She laughed.

It was the only joke they both thought was funny. She wasn't exactly in the mood for funny, however. Giselle was almost always in the mood for a good joke, and the call me an ambulance joke was one of the best, but then wasn't the time. Her head hurt too much. Her dog had just talked to her, for crying out loud.

Giselle took the phone with her into the kitchen, set it down on her computer table, got an ampoule of DHE out of the refrigerator, filled a fresh syringe, injected it into the muscle of her left arm, then sat in the chair in front of her computer and got on the phone with Ted again.

"I'm back," she said.

"Oh, good," he said. "So what took you so long to answer the phone?"

"I have no idea. I was in the middle of a dream. The phone kept ringing."

"That's not really all that weird. That happens to me all the time. I do it watching the History Channel...wake up wondering how the fuck I got up to my ass in alligators on the beach at Anzio."

"Don't talk to me about alligators."

"So, did you pass out, or what?" Ted asked.

"The dog just talked to me," Giselle said.

"Yeah? What did the dog say?" Ted asked, calmly.

"What do you mean, what did he say? The god damn dog can't god damn talk. Don't fucking humor me!"

"Which dog? One of the little ones? Those rat bastards talk to me all the time. Whenever one of 'em gets me alone he says, 'Go away, asshole.'"

"No. It was Ketchum."

"I thought you said he got killed? By the FBI or some bullshit? That had to be part of the dream, right?"

"I wasn't having a dream, Dennis. He just talked to me right now. I unhooked him from his chain and he said, 'Whoa. That feels good,' like fucking James fucking Brown."

"So, did you, like, say anything back to him?"

"Yeah. I said, 'What did you say?'"

"Did he answer you?"

"Yep." Saying, "yep," reminded her of Abraham...and zing went the strings of her heart.

"What did he say?" Ted asked.

"He said, 'Nothing.'"

"That's it? Maybe you were just hearing things."

"My ass. I don't hear things," she said. But she knew that wasn't true. She had heard things. She'd heard Abraham saying, "I'm the Mayonnaise Man." That had to have been hearing things. What the hell else could it have been?

"I'm not Dennis."


"You called me 'Dennis,' I'm not Dennis, I'm Ted."

"Fuck. Did I? I'm sorry. My head's whacked."

"You just had a god damn seizure, Giselle. You've been unconscious for almost an hour. You don't know what all's going on. Brains are weird, man."

"Oh, tell me all about it, Dr. Sigmund fucking Freud. Look, Ted..." She stopped. "I'm sorry. I'm just completely infuckingsane, okay?"

"Giselle, settle down. There's a logical explanation for everything."

"Logical explanation, my ass," she said. "Listen..." She stopped again. Too many things were in her mind all at the same time. "I just can't do this right now."

"Do what, babe?"

"Talk!" she screamed. "Have this cocksucking conversation, okay!"

She pushed the disconnect button, then brought her arm back like she was going to throw the phone through the kitchen window, but stopped. Her little dogs were milling about on the floor around at her feet. Toot had his tiny paws halfway up the side of her right calf. Calm was appealing to Giselle with her tiny eyes to please not throw the phone. There had been enough excitement for one day, Calm seemed to be saying—enough broken windows and gunfire and bullhorns and tear gas; it was all the excitement a fragile, fluffy little female Pekinese could reasonably bear.

Giselle put her elbows onto the table and closed her eyes. She ran the fingers of both hands over her ears, through the thick hair on either side of her scalp, and pressed as hard as she could against the sides of her breaking skull.

Was it possible that nothing had happened, period? Not since Saturday? Not since she put the Astral Weeks album on? How the hell else could Van Morrison still have been singing? She'd called Ted right before she'd put the CD into her stereo. She'd heard Abraham's voice say, "I'm the Mayonnaise Man." Then she'd hung up the phone, had put the CD on—called Dennis and left that rambling-ass message. That must have been when Ted called back, while she'd been on the phone leaving a message for Dennis. Then she'd thought of sending Dennis an e-mail...and it had been on her way in to get on the computer that the lightning bolt had crashed her ass. Was it possible that it hadn't even been an hour since then?

No. It wasn't possible.

Was it?


If that were true, if she'd been knocked out since the lightning bolt broke her head apart, it would mean that Abraham hadn't showed up, period. It would mean that they hadn't had dinner and hadn't spent the night together. It would mean that she wasn't pregnant, that they hadn't gone to the mall, that they hadn't picked up Oprah, that she wasn't his mother, that they hadn't met up with Dow and Davis and Rocco, that they hadn't been stopped by Ron Harley, that Oprah wasn't dead, that the FBI hadn't been in her yard, that Ketchum hadn't been killed, that she hadn't been shot—holy shit, it would mean so many things. It would mean the whole last two days hadn't happened! Not at all! No. That was not possible.

But she hadn't been shot. Her hand wasn't burned. The window wasn't broken. Ketchum hadn't been killed. All those things were good things. But now Ketchum was talking to her. Wait a minute! Maybe because she was going to have Abraham's baby, she could all of a sudden talk to animals too! Like the people in Tennessee! Maybe what Dow had said was true! But if Abraham hadn't showed up, how could she be pregnant? How could she be in love? How could she be getting married to the god damn man of her god damn dreams? Because he was the man of her dreams? Was that it? No. Yes? Fuck.

Was there any evidence that Abraham had been there? There weren't any of Woo's food containers in the garbage, not the eggshells from the quiche, not the empty can of corn, nothing—but maybe Ron Harley had taken out the trash before he left. Same with the clothes she'd thrown onto the floor in the laundry room—her short taupe skirt, her stockings, the five-inch Guccis. Could Ron have put them into the clothes hamper on his way out?

Giselle thought about checking the floor of the laundry room again but remembered a definition of crazy she'd read somewhere?doing the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome, that's crazy. If you look in the same drawer again and again for the same pair of scissors, you're nuts. Giselle wasn't nuts and she wasn't crazy and she wasn't insane and she wasn't going to make a god damn fool of herself by looking on the floor of the laundry room again any more than she was going to make a fool of herself by looking into the same empty trash bag again.

The clincher was that she was still wearing the same clothes she'd been wearing two days ago. Ron Harley simply would not have undressed her and put her back in the clothes she'd been wearing two days ago. How could he possibly know what clothes she'd been wearing two days ago? He couldn't. There was no evidence that Abraham had been there. That meant that Abraham wasn't true. That meant that Abraham did not exist. So, was she crazy or not? Giselle did not know.

How could Abraham not exist? She could not bear the thought that Abraham did not exist. She would die if Abraham did not exist. It also meant that her headaches hadn't gone away. Had her headaches gone away? No. Her head ached like a motherfucker. That was a fact. Abraham didn't exist and her headache did.

Giselle didn't know what to do. She didn't know what to think. She didn't know what to feel or say. Her face twitched like she was about to sneeze but she wasn't about to sneeze. She felt like she was going to really go crazy. She wanted to go crazy. She wanted to be insane. She wanted to be out of touch with reality. Reality could go fuck itself. She wanted to be crazy. She wanted to be insane. She wanted Abraham. She didn't want her head to hurt.

The phone rang one more time. Giselle opened her eyes, took her hands out of her hair and pushed the button. "Yeah," she said.

"It's Ted." His voice was soft, calm, patient. "Do me a favor, okay?"


"Don't hang up the phone any more, okay? Seriously. Talk to me," Ted said.

"About what?"

"About whatever the fuck's going on."

"Okay. Sorry," she said. "My head hurts."

"I know. Has the injection helped?"

"A little, maybe."

She slid down a ways in her chair in front of her computer. Nothing on the table had changed since she'd stuck "Mayonnaise Man" into Google and had found Zim-Zim the Mayonnaise Man on the debate team at Brandeis University. Fuck.

"Hey, can I just ask you some questions?" Giselle said.

"Sure. Anything, man. What do you want to know?"

"Can we start with something simple? Like what day is it? Don't dick around with me. I really need to know."

"Saturday," Ted said.

"Are you sure?"


"Have you seen anything on TV about Oprah Winfrey?"


"Have you been watching TV?" Giselle frowned. She was still hoping for some kind of loophole in her logic. Somewhere. Anywhere. She didn't care.

"Yeah," Ted said. "It's been on."

"Has there been anything on TV about a terrorist attack at Byron?"

"Nope. This terrorist stuff's getting to you, Giselle. It's getting to everyone."

"My ass," she said. "Just answer the questions, okay? You haven't seen anything about Oprah Winfrey being dead? Not on the radio or on TV or anywhere?"

"Oprah's not dead. Trust me. I would have heard."

"Nothing about Byron?"

"Bryon's fine." Ted blew a little chuckle into the phone.

"Nothing about the Waldenbooks at the Woodfield Mall?"

"No. What the fuck's happening in your poor brain, Giselle?"

She was quiet for a minute. She didn't say anything. She was scared. Ted wasn't lying. She knew that. Ted didn't know how to lie. Ted was too dumb to lie. He told her the truth as best he knew it. She always liked that about him.

"I honestly do not know," Giselle said, then. Her voice was meek, mild, subdued, soft. There was a tremulous hitch in her throat. Her lower lip was quivering. "I'm more god damn screwed up in the head than I've ever been...God, help me."

"God helps them that help themselves," Ted said.

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Ow!"


"God, help me. Help me. God..."

Chapter Thirty-eight

They're on a dirt path in the woods. Her feet shuffle through blazing leaves, plowing them into furrows at either side of each of her newish fuchsia Nike's. His right arm's around her shoulders, resting under her hair and over the hooded, blue and orange Boise State Broncos sweatshirt she's got on along with a pair of gray Ole Miss sweat pants. He's hugging her close to him. Her arm's around his waist, under a frayed, fleece-lined Levi's jacket. Their ankles get tangled. They keep each other from falling, like a couple of drunk songsters off on a spree.

A buck stands still but for breathing among orange and yellow and red maple leaves on mostly bare trees, staring toward a doe and a mostly-grown fawn on the other side of the path. Giselle sees the buck's breath. She sees her own breath. She sees Abraham's breath. She sees Isaac's breath. He's toddling ahead of them in a new pair of blue denim bib-overalls and khaki Keds for kids his grandmother brought with her down from Chicago, picking up leaves and letting them go again like colorful kites with no strings. He chases one of the leaves but only briefly, then picks up another leaf, looks at it, traces the main vein leading from its stem with his finger, holds the leaf up against the sky, lets it go and chases it as it rocks through the air. The poor kid seems to have inherited Giselle's attention span, but he's got his dad's healthy head of thick black hair with pretty amber highlights shimmering in the Tennessee sun. He also seems to have inherited his Grandma Oprah's big butt, but that could just be the Huggies Pull-Ups he's got on under his overalls. God, he's adorable—waddling after a rollicking leaf! Nothing could be more beautiful than the family she's become; nobody could be happier than she is right this very minute. Her hair is tickling Abraham's nose, getting in the way of his long eyelashes when he blinks. He likes her hair tickling his nose, she knows.

"So, this is all just one big fat dream, right?"

"You could wake up and see, I suppose," Abraham says.

"Then where would I be?"

"You got me."

"I do," she says.

The path widens into a meadow filled with the remains of wild flowers gone to seed. The Great Smoky Mountains loom up in a mist over toward North Carolina, far, far beyond the trees behind Abraham's dad's house. Smoke pours from the stone chimney into the blue, blue sky. Isaac gives up on leaves and takes off, running as well as he knows how to run, toward his grandfather's front porch. They've been there before, plenty of times; winter, spring, summer and fall. Abraham sings softly through her hair, into her left ear. His voice is still deep and gravelly, still thrills her the way it did when she first heard it on the phone in math class a million years ago:

"...Every rock and rill, every distant hill,
Tells me of you, how I love you..."

Isaac pounds his pudgy fist against the oak door. Abraham's father opens it. He's got on an iridescent-bronze, brocade smoking jacket with black silk lapels and baggy black pants. There's a fire roaring in the stone fireplace. Oprah's dressed in powder-blue yoga clothes. Her hair's wet. She seems tired, drained, ordinary, just another middle-aged black woman slumped in an overstuffed chair under a brass floor lamp shortly after getting out of a hot shower. It looks to Giselle like she might be thinking about maybe getting up onto her feet to greet them, but she's too comfortable, too ensconced, and just waves the way she had in the parking lot by the golf course, instead. Giselle can't help but smile. Every time she sees Oprah, she can't help but smile. It's a complicated smile, made up of more or less equal parts of pride, disbelief, affection, curiosity and an ever-deepening concern about the viability of her own mental faculties.

His grandfather slips his hands under Isaac's arms, lifts him aloft, toward the ceiling beams, and lets go. Isaac's suspended in midair, weightless, free, giddy, giggly. His grandfather catches him under the arms and shoves him up toward the ceiling again. Isaac's ecstatic; laughing, gurgling, shrieking, glowing. Giselle would prefer that the old guy knock it off with the tossing of her kid.

"Have you gotten over being dead yet?" she asks Oprah.

"Sorry about that. Apparently nobody could know."

"Oh, it's not your fault." Giselle glances briefly at Abraham.

"It's nobody's fault," Abraham's father says, gliding Isaac through the air like Dumbo flying around, high up inside that huge circus tent.

"It'll be your fault if you drop my child on his head," Giselle says.

His grandfather hugs Isaac to his chest, sits down in the La-Z-Boy, cranks up the foot rest and lets Giselle's child do whatever he wants to do. Underneath the overalls, Isaac's wearing a blue homespun cowboy shirt with little white stars woven into the fabric. The shirt makes his eyes bluer, like his grandfather's eyes. How he got blue eyes, nobody knows—they must have skipped a generation or two. What the kid wants to do, it seems, is squirm. He straddles his grandfather's chest, grabs his nose, put his fingers into his grandfather's ears, pulls his hair gently, curiously, bonks him on the head with his tiny fist. The old guy's eating it up, remembering being a kid himself, maybe, remembering grabbing his own grandfather's nose.

Abraham bends over and kisses Oprah's forehead. She smiles, pats the back of his arm and makes a lip-smacking noise in the general vicinity of his chin. He sits down, cross-legged, on the floor beside Oprah's chair, and pulls Giselle by the hand, trying to get her to come sit beside him.

"The tea kettle's boiling." Oprah points vaguely toward the kitchen while Giselle's still standing. Then, as if that weren't quite enough, she makes a slight motion with her head toward the kitchen, which Giselle takes to mean that Oprah wouldn't mind it if someone brought in a pot of tea.

Ray Blovits and his mother, Diane, are in the kitchen. Ray's sitting in a straight-backed chair, carefully peeling a long, single peel from a Granny Smith apple with a razor-sharp pocketknife. Diane's standing with her back to Giselle in front of the stove, wearing a white apron over a red-and-white gingham dress. Her bare, skinny legs are like extensions of the straight, limp, strawberry-blond hair that reaches down almost to the drawstrings of the apron. Cupboards and drawers are open, some wider than others. There are mixing bowls and canisters of flour and raw sugar and aluminum measuring spoons and tiny bottles of vanilla extract and McCormick spice jars in a three-tiered spice rack—fennel, sweet marjoram, bay leaves, cumin, nutmeg. Giselle doesn't understand any of these things. Diane must be a genius. Besides the gently whistling copper tea kettle, two cast-iron pots and a cast-iron skillet are simmering on cast-iron gas burners. The oven's going full blast. Diane's Martha Stewart on steroids. Giselle shudders with bewildered awe.

"Hey, Mrs. Winters," Ray says. He and Isaac are both the old guy's grandchildren. That gives him and Giselle a bond they never had before.

"My little ray of sunshine!" She lifts her arms.

He smiles, finishes peeling the apple, picks up another. Diane turns toward Giselle. Her bangs and strands of her hair are stuck with sweat to her forehead and to the sides of her always-pretty face.

"Oprah seems to want some tea," Giselle says. "Although, technically, she didn't come right out and say so."

"She wouldn't come right out and ask for anything, no," Diane says in a soft, raspy, lilting, singsong sort of way, bobbing her head gently from side to side as she glances toward the tea kettle. "She tends not to want to be beholden."

"Has she always been such a prima donna?"

Ray looks toward the two of them as if they may be talking about him.

"The way I heard it, she was just a shy, normal, no-account little teenage kid when Dad got to know her but now that they've made her into an advertising icon she has to be more circumspect. People take advantage of her."

"Like locking her up in that nuke plant?" Giselle asks.

"Yeah. For starters."

"I might've asked a few more questions, myself."

"Oh, she asked all the questions she could think to ask," Diane says, dropping a handful of chopped parsley into the sizzling skillet. "It was brave of her, selfless, surprising. We were proud. If Dow hadn't gone all ninja on us, telling some news guy we had Oprah's weight in Semtex inside the containment building or whatever, things would've been fine. Well, that's what Rocco says, anyway. I wasn't there."

"I was. It was a mess. Plastered all over TV. The FBI hanging out in my god damn driveway, shooting guns everywhere, my little dogs shivering and shaking all over with fear. I still don't know how everyone got out okay."

"Neither do they. But you can see why she thinks she has to be careful."

"Does he take advantage of you?" Giselle frowns.

"Me? Nah," she wrinkles her nose. "I love doing what I do or I don't do it. 'Love doing what you do or don't do it.' Jesus said that. Well, according to my dad's bible, anyway. He didn't think much of the real bible, so he made up his own."

"Yeah, I heard. Like The Jefferson Bible. Abraham told me about it, but I've never seen it."

"Nobody has. We all just hear about it. Any time he doesn't know what else to say he comes up with a so-called quote from his so-called bible. I call it 'The Bullshit Bible.' That pisses him off. 'Bullshit, my ass,' he says." She smiles her radiant smile. "It's mostly just things he thinks Jesus might have said, or things he thinks Jesus should have said, or things he wishes Jesus would've said. The Jefferson Bible was mainly just New Testament stuff but Dad comes up with anything that comes to mind: Shakespeare, The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, The Gnostic Gospels."

"Like what?"

"Oh, God, like most anything. 'Lord, won't you buy me a colored-TV.' Like, 'Don't kid yourself, kid.' Like, 'Don't lie.' Like, 'Don't do what you hate.' Like, 'God knows when, but you're doin' it again.' Like, 'Why I do trifle thus with his despair is done to cure it.' Oprah gets off on whoring herself out for money. She didn't hang out with any of the other mothers, not even at the beginning, so she missed out on a lot. That makes her of cagey, fearful, wary. She can't help it. We all tell her, 'Hey, when you got nothin' you got nothin' to lose,' but she doesn't listen, doesn't hear, can't hear, doesn't want to hear, whatever. We tell her she should keep all her money in a big brown bag inside a zoo."

"The thing to do," Giselle says.

"Yep. But it was still cool of her to have gone along with the nuke thing."

"Isn't it gonna be harder to get her to go along with anything else?"

"Nah. Dad's pretty persuasive." Diane's wistful, at ease, matter-of-fact, resigned. She removes a strand of hair from her cheek, turns back toward what she's got cooking on the burners of the stove and sings:

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

"Is that a quote from your dad's bible, too?" Giselle asks.

"Oh, totally," Diane says.

"What does he want Oprah to go along with now?"

"Nobody knows. I think that's what this whole pot luck thing's gonna be all about, why he dragged her down from Chicago, but I'm not sure."

"I thought she came to see Isaac?"

"Oh, she did, sure, but there's always more birds than there are stones."

"What pot luck thing?"

"He's got everyone coming over. It's gonna be a hot time in the old house tonight. Dow's bringing a Pad Thai."

"I'm making apple pie." Ray looks up.

"Or maybe he just wants people around to hear him play his new piano."

"I didn't see a new piano anywhere."

"He's keeping it a secret. He keeps everything a secret. He likes secrets."

Giselle comes back into the livingroom with a pot of tea and four Chinese teacups on a bamboo tray and finds herself in the middle of an animated conversation.

"You're not dying of in the gutter of tooth decay." Oprah looks over at the old guy stretched out in his burnt-orange La-Z-Boy.

"Ah, but lots of people are," he says. "If you don't have any money, you can't get your teeth fixed. Tens of thousands of people die every day of completely curable diseases. People are dying of abscessed teeth, for Christ's sake."

"You want to be a dentist? You want to pay a couple hundred thousand dollars to go to dental school, then spend the rest of your life picking the gick out of yucky, diseased, bad-smelling teeth? Who's gonna do that for free? Not me."

"That's exactly what I've been saying. Money isn't everything it's the only thing. One man's free market is another man's slave state. If you want your teeth fixed, you've gotta work three jobs, neglect your kids and sell your soul. Dentists make a hundred billion dollars a year and give it all to their greedy wives. Who would marry a dentist if it weren't for money? Nobody. No matter how poor or old or disabled or deserving you may be, you can't get an abscessed tooth fixed to save your life 'cause the dentist's wife needs a new Rolex. In Cuba they fix your teeth for free."

"So go to Cuba," Oprah says.

"What did I miss?" Giselle asks Abraham.

"They have issues." Abraham's tongue and teeth make a sound like a snake.

"There are none so blind as those who will not see," the old guy says.

"There's no fool like an old fool," Oprah answers.

Giselle fills the cups, passes them around, and sits on the hooked rug next to Abraham. He pulls a big green beanbag pillow over for her to lean on and snuggles his arm around her shoulders, being careful not to pull her hair. Her father-in-law lifts his teacup in a kind of toast from across the room, then asks, in his smug, twinkly-eyed way, "What do you know about this?"

"The tea? It's green. It's green tea," Giselle says.

"What else?"

"What else what? Wet? Hot? I have no idea. I guess it must have been tea leaves at some point, growing in the ground somewhere. China, maybe. I didn't read the package, I just put some tea in the pot and poured boiling water on it. That's the sum total of my abilities as a cook. I can pour the water someone else has already boiled onto tea leaves in a teapot, period."

"And I'm just gonna drink it and that's just gonna be that," Oprah says.

"The leaves had to be picked and dried and packed and shipped, right?" The old guy concentrates on Giselle. "Who did all that?"



"For money?" Giselle knows Abraham's dad has a thing about money.

"Enough already about money." Oprah throws up her arms. "I'm sick of money! Money sucks. Money's mean. Money's bad. Destroy all money forever. Burn it, ban it, obliterate it—hang anyone who finds a dime on the sidewalk!"

"Then what?" The old guy ignores her.

"Then what what?"

"Take a sip. Tell me what happens."

Giselle blows across the top of the steaming Chinese teacup, purses her lips, sips a sip of tea into her mouth, feels it cool against her teeth and settle against her gums, touches the warm liquid with her tongue and says, "Pfssh, too many things happen all at the same time. There's ten trillion cells going on inside me. I couldn't begin to tell you what one cell's doing let alone in all ten trillion."

"Have you ever seen a cell divide?"

"Yeah," she says. "On TV. Not in person."

She's waiting for one of his lectures. It doesn't come. Giselle takes another sip of the tea and feels something akin to photosynthesis going on in her mouth while she tries to imagine what all those poor little green tea molecules have in store for themselves, turning into brain cells or whatever, chromosomes choosing up sides, genes splitting apart, getting back together again—attraction, affection, sex, love, lust, hunger, thirst, maternity, procreation, self-preservation—how deeply imbedded all those things are, how they have such lives of their own, such histories going back hundreds of millions of years through all the ups and down of evolution. Darwin didn't know the half of it. Nobody knows the half of it. She pictures herself as a galaxy, an evolving universe of galaxies, pictures how a skin cell in her cute little pinky toe is a mind-boggling distance away from a cell in one of the strands of her hair that grew out from her scalp before she got divorced from Dennis, how the two cells are so completely different from one another, how they haven't a clue that the other even exists, how they don't have a clue that anything besides themselves exists, and yet they're all uniquely her, her body, her brain, her heart, her soul, her infinite imagination. What holds it all together she can't begin to know.

Pictures of bees pollinating pink and white puffs of clover and purple trumpets of honeysuckle come into her head, a cascade of pictures come into her head, pictures of reindeer pawing at frozen tundra, shooting freezing, steaming breath out around the icicles dripping from their hairy nostrils, pictures of ants and snails and cockroaches and boa constrictors and sunflowers and pumpkins and people...replicating themselves in the incalculable numbers of ways they do, recreating themselves. Whoa. Recreation. What a word. Let us now all come together and recreate. What makes recreation? How do we recreate ourselves? How do snails? Sex, attraction, chemistry, what? Call it love, what the fuck. Who's gonna argue? It's got to be love that holds it all together. God is love. That must be it. There is no God but Love and Eternal Life is His Messenger. When people finally get to the bottom of everything they've been trying to get to the bottom of since being alive was born, that's what they're going to find...swimming around between atoms and electrons and quarks, hiding in the fabric of black holes, slipping and sliding in and out between the strings in string theory, keeping fractals from ever finding a beginning or end, instigating one big bang after another, moving slower than absolute zero and faster than the speed of light: love, that's what. All that dark matter astronomers can't find? It's love. The God particle physicists keep looking for? It's love, too. None of those stupid things stand much of a chance of being proven any time soon, however—least of all by her. Hm. Maybe she doesn't need a lecture, after all. Maybe the sip of tea is the lecture. Res ipsa loquitur, Dennis used to say. Saliva shoots like little squirt guns into the sides of her tongue. Maybe she's just hungry; maybe she could just use a bite to eat.

"Ray and Diane are making dinner," Abraham says.

"Yeah, I saw. Smells yummy," she says, still in a sort of daydream.

"I wish they could rustle us up some of them ribs we had back in Rockford," Oprah says with her eyes closed again. "Damn, they were good."

"Hunger's the best sauce, my dad used to say." Giselle laughs.

"Your dad's no dummy," Abraham says.

"Except that he married my mother," she says out the side of her mouth.

"And when you finally do get something to eat, mmm, mmm, mmm, does it ever taste good," Oprah says, shooting one of her big-eyed Oprah looks at Giselle. "I think I might smell me some of them ribs right now."

"I don't know what all Diane's got cooking out there. It's a lot, I know that. Apparently there's gonna be some big pot luck dinner later on."

"That's a secret," the old guy says.

"Did your Mr. Woo give anyone the recipe for them ribs?" Oprah asks.

"Diane's got a recipe for everything under the sun. I think someone gave her a magic hat like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia. She's got brooms carrying buckets of water out there and Ray peeling apples for an apple pie."

"Mmm," Oprah says. "Ribs and apple pie. I'm so starving I could die."

"Man doesn't live by bread alone," Giselle says to no one in particular.

"But by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord, yes," Abraham says. "When did you get so Biblical?"

"Oh, I'm not Biblical, I just remember Dennis saying that once when he was trying to get into my pants."

"Did it work?" Abraham sounds jealous.

"Probably," she says, knowing the effect jealousy has on him.

"Probably? What do you mean, probably? Did it or didn't it?"

"We were married for a million years."

"Now, now, kids, let's be nice," Oprah says, opening her eyes again.

"Ah, yes, let us at all costs be nice," the old guy says.

Previous, Part Eight

Next, Part Ten


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Gerard Jones
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