Kelly Christensen:
An Introduction

Ginny Good, A Mostly True Story:

Read and/or Watch

Chapter One

Little Yellow Thong Thing

I mentioned somewhere toward the end of Ginny Good that I might write a whole 'nother book someday, but that was total crap. I had no intention of ever writing another word. Don't hold your breath, I think I said. In case you haven't read it, Ginny Good was mainly about how Elliot Felton and Ginny and Melanie and me all tried living together like one big happy family back in the summer of 1972. Kelly Christensen wasn't even quite born yet. Ha! She's such a kid, so old and wise, so smart and careful, so the total love of my life. Holy Christ, is she ever cool.

Her eyes do things I can't explain. They show you who she is, how scared and shy and smart and quick to see you're telling a lie if you're ever stupid enough to try to tell her a lie. I don't try to tell her lies, no, no, no. But once you get past the suspiciousness, you can see in Kelly's eyes how quivery and young and tender and skittish she is, how full of life, like a deer, a fawn, almond-shaped, dewy, doe-like eyes. It feels like I found her a dream, curled up under a lilac bush in a warm, friendly forest in the spring, dappled in sunlight and naked except for that little yellow thong thing she wears. On her driver's license they call the color of her eyes hazel...yellow flecks, green glint, grey...but I think that hazel bullshit just means nobody could ever describe what the hell color her eyes are.

Her hair, her driver's license calls brown. Stupid driver's license, what does it know? Her hair's long and fine and shiny and mostly strawberry blond with bangs cut straight across her forehead. She sent me a lock of her hair in the mail before we met. It was two-feet long and silkier than silk. I took it out into the sunlight to see it shine and never saw more colors of hair before in my life, amber and reddish and blond and shades of lighter and darker strawberry-brown. Her hair's as endless as her eyes; everything about her is worse than eternal.

I put the strand of her hair into my mouth like she was there in the flesh out in my front yard. She was. She is. I take her by the hand through the bushes by my mother's bedroom window, up the path beside the house and into the back yard to see how her hair shines in the sun up there. We look across the valley. I put my arm around her shoulders. She's always here, not just the lock of her hair—all of her, everywhere all the time, her neat feet with clear, no-nonsense nail-polish, her tiny ankles and tomboy calves and bony knees and skinny thighs. And her ass, sheesh, I can't even think about her cute ass without wanting to hold her in my hands. Fuck.

That was how the whole thing started, right there. Kelly and I had gotten to be buddies. I was having girl trouble, she was having husband trouble. I told her I was done with this chick I was messing with and needed to get me a new chick to mess with.

"Hey, find me someone else to flirt with. Some little Polish chick, maybe, with a space between her teeth. Or an Asian chick with extra slanty eyes and an overbite like a beaver, a hint of a lisp, no one too commercially gorgeous. Mid to low self-esteem, a nice ass and vestiges of an eating disorder would be perfect."

"Shit, the only part of that I fit is the nice ass part. Damn it."

In case you didn't read Ginny Good, the four of us all living together turned out to be kind of a dumb idea. I wrote a book about it and stuck it up on the Internet. Kelly read it. She liked it. We got to be buddies in e-mails until I heard about her nice ass and we wound up in a torrid online e-mails, on the phone...that progressed pretty quickly into getting together for a week in so-called real life. We did it all. We couldn't get enough of each other...well, until we had to cool it after a year and a half or so 'cause of her marriage and the way she had it in mind that she needed to live her life.

"I'm glad you told me I could keep you with me however I needed to, because I do need you too much to bury you. Without you I'm completely alone so I pretty much have to keep you as alive and close to me as I can. I'll try to use you well. You gave me so much good stuff I can't even, fuck, I'm crying too much. I should just say good-bye. That's what we're doing with all this, right, saying good-bye? I'm trying to be brave, man, but I'm such a big baby. But, no, I'm ready whenever you are. This can be it. I know you don't care at this point, but I'll love you and keep you always."

I thought I'd never hear from her again. I did. Right around the time Ginny Good got published. Hearing from Kelly again made me want to write a whole new book, a sequel, on the off chance someone buys the first one and wants to read more. I guess to do that I'd have to pick up where Ginny Good left off. I'd need to go back to how it really all started, before Kelly mentioned her nice ass, way back, back to Melanie. But all I really want to write about is Kelly, so I'm calling this: Kelly Christensen: An Introduction. It's the only way I can trick myself into doing it.

Talk about a long time, holy mackerel, going clear back to Melanie is a really, really long time ago, somewhere around 1984 or so, I guess. Fuck. I'm old. Kelly's young. I have all these things I wrote back then that have been gathering dust in my computer, though. I can dig them out and polish them up and get rid of them once and for all. I can do all kinds of things, kill a bunch of birds with one stone—maybe even sell the sucker and get me a big advance, buff-up some and take Kelly to the Bahamas for a week or two. She's so pretty, so sweet, so seriously cute as fuck in that little yellow thong thing she wears. Wow is she ever adorable. You have no idea.

Okay, I'm stoked. Then as soon as I'm done with An Introduction, I can write a whole 'nother book, just about Kelly. She Who Needs No Introduction, I'll maybe call it...but first things first. Hope springs eternal. Ha!

Chapter Two

Melanie, Wendy and Blue

From the time Melanie and I got back together after the four years she spent shooting up heroin in Sacramento in 1978 until I fell in love with Cecelia in 1988, not much happened. Well, Elliot shot himself in the head and Ginny accidently killed herself the same day. That was something.

Melanie and Wendy had a dog with them when I got there in the U-Haul. A big dog. Blue. He followed Wendy home one day and that was that. I looked him up in an Encyclopedia of Dogs. He wasn't there. He was a strong, handsome breed unto himself, with thick coppery blond fur tufted white inside his hind legs, a massive white-tipped tail that curled over his back and eyes you could read his mind in. His mind wasn't all that inscrutable. When you opened his dog food he drooled. When you looked at his leash he barked and pranced and jumped on the couch and back to the floor again and bit the handle of the La-Z-Boy.

At night he howled along with far away fire trucks in his sleep and dreamed of sheep. Blue went nuts at the mere thought of a sheep, and when he actually saw a few stray lambs at the side of the road, oh boy. He tore the car apart. He bit the glass, chewed the seat belt. It had to be genetic. There weren't many sheep in Sacramento, however, so poor Blue had to make do mainly with rabbits and squirrels.

Wendy took advantage of his instincts. She called everything a sheep. She'd see a rabbit and say, "Go get the sheep." And Blue would take off rocking like a rocking horse with his tail bounding above the dry oats by the Sacramento River...or she'd see a squirrel and tell him, "Get the sheep! Get the sheep!" And poor, innocent, ever-trusting Blue would tear off through flocks of flapping ducks on the lawn at Sutter's Fort chasing the squirrel up the side of a tree. That always baffled him as if he also knew instinctively that sheep could not climb trees.

When Melanie, Wendy and Blue came back to San Francisco with me, there weren't even any rabbits or squirrels. Wendy had Blue chasing imaginary mice and the neighbor's big white cat. Taking advantage of Blue's instincts was the least of Wendy's troubles. She skipped school and stole cars and did way too many drugs for a thirteen-year-old kid and finally ended up in the Youth Authority facility down in Camarillo for a year or so. That was a relief. She would have been dead the way she was going. We couldn't stop her, Melanie and I. We tried, Lord knows.

In 1983, Wendy moved to Sacramento with some boyfriend or other, and took Blue with her. Melanie and I had each other all to ourselves again. We were living on Larkin Street, Tenderloin Heights we used to call it. We'd been through a lot for a long, long time—twenty years, more or less, on and off, give or take. We weren't expecting much more than for one of us to die in the other's arms.

On Saturday mornings we went around the corner and up the hill to Brother Juniper's Breadbox on Bush Street for breakfast. Melanie just had coffee while I ate scrambled eggs, wheat toast and dark crispy clumps of hashbrowns. The deal was that if you got coffee with breakfast it only cost a dime. Otherwise, separately, a cup of coffee cost seventy-five cents, and since Melanie had already eaten her usual yeasty concoction of apples, wheatgerm, Tiger's Milk and blackstrap molasses before the sun had come up, she drank the coffee that came with my breakfast and the whole thing cost less than two bucks. Oh, you could get refills, too, so we both had coffee. Melanie drank hers black. When she'd had enough, I gobbed mine up with honey and half-and-half. We were frugal. We didn't have to be, we just were.

After Brother Juniper's, we stocked up on groceries at Bob's U-Save Supermarket down on Geary. Pigeons nested in the big sheetmetal U in the U-Save sign. We always got in Mei's line. I called her the Chinese Checker. Mei ran the middle register, wore tight jeans and leg warmers and had a different tint of Easter Egg Lavender or Cotton Candy Pink in her hair every time you went there. She was a sweetheart. She took her time with the old people—the deaf, crotchety old retired fry cooks and the fuss-budget little women in Empress Eugenie hats with veils. Nobody didn't like Mei. She knew how a person felt. No matter who you were or what you looked like or how much of a bare beer belly spilled out from under your yellowing thermal undershirt, Mei always called you her darling or her dear or "Precious" or "Sugar" or "Honey" or just plain, unequivocal "Love."

Mei had a whole raft of ways to cheer a person up. Some of the regulars did their shopping one or two items at a time, three or four times a day, just to hear what Mei was going to come up with to say to them the next time. She didn't have any favorites. They were all her favorites. Even people you could barely look at, she treated like belles of the ball, like cocks of the walk—like the woman with pins in her jaw who, once she got her mouth open, couldn't get it shut again without using the back of her wrist. Or the Breugel guy with a touch of cerebral palsy who always wore what looked like a sturdy replica of a World War I aviator's cap. You couldn't look at him for long. Nor did you want to get in his way. The whole store was like a giant pinball machine the guy had been shot into. People cringed whenever they saw him making one of his great sweeping swoops over toward the plate glass window or caroming off to the left like he was about to crash his tattered biplane into a stack of egg cartons. He always seemed to catch himself just in the nick of time. There was never any harm done. And when he finally managed to limp and shuffle his way up to purchase his jar of generic peanut butter, Mei treated him like he was her friend.

She treated everyone like they were her friends. They were. They counted out whatever handful of nickels and dimes it was going to take to purchase the two flawless bananas they'd finally decided upon, and Mei lavished them with words of affection and respect and they went waltzing happily out the automatic doors like they were on their way to the opera in a top hats and pearls.

The trouble was that with such a devoted following, Mei's line was always the longest, but she made up for it by working her stubby, cut up, bandaged, newsprint blackened fingers faster than you could see without a strobe light—and the best thing of all was that sometimes she brought her baby daughter to work with her.

The kid couldn't quite walk yet, but she could sure fidget. Her father had most likely been a black guy and, all in all, given the crossbreeding left over from slavery days, the kid looked like a reasonable mix of all the races on the planet. Mei dressed her up in frilly dresses and tied her hair into bunches like broccoli with pastel ribbons and painted her fingernails and toenails to match the ribbons. She was going to grow up to be another Coming of Christ—this time as a chick for a change. Already she was a carpenter, for God's sake. She sat in the cul-de-sac at the end of her mother's chute and built walls around herself with everyone else's groceries.

The kid was particularly fond of potato chips. Whenever a bag of Laura Scudder's came skittering her way, the kid clapped it on both sides with a big, crunchy bang and lifted it aloft for all to see, smiling and gasping in long, shrill hiccups of laughter, as if she and she alone had found what everyone else had been endlessly searching for up and down the gum-stuck aisles.

Then her mother gathered all the groceries together, tore down the kid's walls, stuffed each of the items expertly into brown paper bags and gave the bags to someone neither of them even knew, bam, just like that. It was cruel. Surprise and wonder and amazement puddled up in the kid's eyes but never quite got a chance to turn into the torrents of tears they wanted to turn into before her mother rolled a can of Star-Kist Tuna her way again, a box of Premium Saltines, a four-roll pack of Charmin—and the little doll built them into walls around herself.

A loaf of bread might have been a few cents cheaper at Safeway, but Melanie and I had long since concluded that there wasn't anywhere better to do our shopping than at Bob's and we trudged happily home every Saturday with at least two big bags of groceries apiece. Sometimes we hugged each other in the kitchen and maybe went to the movies afterwards and sometimes made love after the movies and sometimes made love before the movies and often times didn't make love at all, but, either way, we never slept the whole night in the same bed because, according to Melanie, I snored like a motherfucking locomotive.

I thought that might have been an exaggeration, but kind of liked sleeping downstairs anyway. I roll around a lot. I clump up the pillows and curl up on one side and roll over and curl up on the other side and kick my feet out from under the covers. Melanie and I accommodated one another. We had deals, all sorts of deals, little deals and big deals, deals we'd hammered out over the decades.

One of our deals was that I stayed in bed until Melanie left for work in the morning. From the time her alarm went off at five-thirty until the front gate slammed at seven forty-five, with the single special dispensation that I could come up to take a leak if I had to, the upstairs was hers alone in which to do all the things she had to do to get ready for another day. All the things she had to do had to go in a certain order. She had a system. If she didn't stick to it nothing went right again until she started the whole process all over again the next morning. Wednesdays were the worst.

"Let me know when you leave, okay?" I called up to her.

Melanie didn't answer. That wasn't unusual either.

"Okay," she called back down about five minutes later.

"Are you leaving?"

"No," she hollered through a mouthful of toothpaste.

I knew I exasperated her sometimes but sometimes I made her laugh, too. That was important. "Yeah, well, let me know when you do."

She didn't answer.

"I'm leaving now," she called awhile later. "Don't forget to lock the door."

When we'd been living out in the Mission someone had come into the house and had gone through Melanie's dresser drawers and had cut the crotches out of several pairs of her prettiest panties. That was all whoever did it did but she couldn't think of anything worse a person could have done. It was chilling. And in the years it had been since then, Melanie never left the house without reminding me to lock the door. And the way she reminded me was in a sort of hypnotic chant, like if I didn't remember to lock the door, maybe some more responsible person living inside me would remember to lock the door and she wouldn't have to come home to a house full of open drawers and find all her pretty underpants in pieces.

"Yes, my dear." I answered as I always did.

"Don't forget to turn off the stove."

Similarly, on another occasion, I'd gone out without turning off the burner under the coffee pot. The heat melted the handle and it had taken a week to get the smell of burning plastic out of the place. Melanie couldn't sleep nights. All she could think about was what all the hydrocarbons and poison gasses in the air must have been doing to the delicate membranes of her lungs and liver. I didn't remind her what being strung out on heroin for four years might have done to all her god damn delicate membranes, but instead just tried my best to remember to turn off the stove before I left the house.

"Yes, my dear," I sort of sang back to her, while I heard both bolts slip into both locks as she turned each key. Then I heard the gate creak open and slam shut and Melanie was on her way once more—with her Fast Pass in her hand and her purse slung over her shoulder and a scarf trailing out from under her hair shining all red and gold and coppery in the sun.

She was alert, well dressed, nice looking; another pretty woman on the way to work with her head down. Melanie didn't rush. She took her time walking toward the bus stop by the Four-Hour Cleaners. If she missed one bus there would always be another. She waited for lights to turn green, for the signs to say WALK. She didn't take chances. They hadn't been worth it.

She worked with seven different insurance agents, all men. They liked her. She kept things on an even keel. The bus dropped her in front of the building in the morning and picked her up there at night. That was important. Her performance reports glowed. That was important. Or, hell, maybe it was all just my imagination. Maybe she didn't give a shit where she worked or where the bus dropped her or whether they liked her or not or whether I made her laugh or any of it. Maybe all she wanted was the door locked and the stove turned off. Maybe that was enough.

I'd been making good money selling computers for three or four years and in 1984 I thought I knew enough about everything in general to start a business of my own. It was a big disaster. I had the hots for this little secretary I hired. Felice. She was a cutie-pie. My business went out of business. I was bummed.

In 1985, I started writing stuff again. I hadn't written anything in twenty years. Well, except for a little here and there. I vaguely remember trying to console myself by writing stuff about Melanie falling in love with her heroin dealer while I was up in Oregon dying a thousand deaths. It started out as a novel, some kind of glitzy blockbuster, I'm sure, but it got boiled down to this:

Men stand on street corners from Singapore to Baltimore with their pants around their knees asking questions without answers. The magnolia bush has spilled brown petals onto the ground and the branches of the willow tree sweep magnolia petals into piles day and night and day and night I absolutely hate your fucking guts and always have and always will you darling sweet angel for whom my purest love will never end. Some dark morning when the moon is in Brazil and Uranus is uninhabited, unbeknownst to either of us, I'm going to climb down your throat and eat your adenoids. Creepy crawly across Chianti teeth, small as a spider spore, I'll play me a tune with a spoon on the silver fillings in your teeth, prop myself against your tongue and rape your snotty sinuses one by one, then slide down your windpipe, swing on slick vines through the smoke black jungle of your lungs, singing ape songs out your nose. And when you stir in your slumbers I'll hop an artery to the bustling terminal of your brain, pick a bunch of purple dendrites to feed the starving synapses, take a leak behind a dying axon and dive headlong into the sweet stream of your consciousness to see what swims there, to watch when slimy seven-headed envy hidden in philodendron shadows springs at pity in a pink dress gathering fallen sparrows' eggs, to be there when rage with its tongue cut out, waiting among dead mimosa blossoms tears at sorrow with steel claws walking weeping untouched and unmoved head down in her white gown, to float there myself on an inner tube with pink patches, playing a ukulele and singing merrily merrily merrily merrily, life is but a dream to show you I love you but in the meantime I never want to see your shitty face again and want you to know from the bottom of my soul that I wouldn't puke on your head if your life depended on it and find it inconceivable that the God who fashioned tarantulas and toads could have made a creature so ugly and cold-blooded as you, sweet thing, shining jewel in the crown of creation, whose breath is lilacs whose love lights the world. Yours ever faithful, I remain, groveling at your dainty feet, licking the ground you contaminate, choking on the air you breathe, ever truly in love with you, me. Oh, and p.s., everything I've ever told you is a lie.

I do have a tendency to get a little whacked when chicks dump me. If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times, the only time I've written anything in my life was to get some chick to like me or to get over some chick who didn't like me anymore. Here's something I put together when I started writing stuff again in 1985 about having had my own business in 1984, hiring Felice, the whole shebang. It's more or less autobiographical, but I call myself Alan Dunstan. Melanie I call Melanie.

Chapter Three

Slick Solutions, Inc.
(Part One)

Alan Dunstan called his business Slick Solutions, Inc., although, strictly speaking, it wasn't a corporation. He was sole proprietor. His office was in the basement of his and Melanie's apartment. A sliding glass door opened onto the patio. Huge heaps of dusty ivy growing over a weather-beaten fence formed one wall of the patio and the brick backs of buildings formed the other three walls. It was his own backyard, his own square of cement at the bottom of a small urban canyon.

Melanie stayed mostly in the upper part of the apartment. Alan picked up the used syringes, the stray beer cans and pizza wrappers that came tumbling haphazardly down from the upstairs windows and hosed off the cement every week or so. A former tenant had left an aluminum lawn chair strung with green and white webbing out on the patio and sometimes, on the few mornings it was warm in San Francisco, Alan stayed in his blue terry cloth robe, took the phone outside, stretched out in the lawn chair with his face to the sun, and made calls while pigeons puffed out their chests and nests of baby pigeons cheeped in the window wells and sparrows twittered and bright green bottle flies dodged cobwebs and landed on sprigs of dusty ivy.

Alan's business was consulting for startup companies. He wrote business plans, arranged financing and came up with marketing strategies. He sold encouragement, enthusiasm, pipe-dreams. He printed out twenty-year sales projections into the year 2004 and watched the gleam of avarice in his clients' eyes as they imagined themselves out hobnobbing with Gordon Getty and Steve Jobs. They priced polo ponies, they bought yachting caps. The way Alan saw it was that if they were going to waste hard-earned money trying to start a business, they could waste it on him as well as on anyone else. He sent out invoices. They came back with checks.

Alan liked being in business for himself. He was proud of his business plans. They were imaginative. They were fun. They worked. His clients got financing. A few of them actually didn't go bankrupt within the first six months—and most of the rest of them thanked him anyway. He was proud of himself. He made money. He was forty-two. Melanie wondered when he was going to grow up. She was thirty-five. She made money. They weren't particularly happy or unhappy and, mainly, weren't expecting much of anything very major to happen anymore.

One warm morning toward the end of January, after the sun had gone behind the building next door, Alan put on a suit and tie and took a bus downtown. He picked up a new insert for his desk calendar, read part of the introduction to a new book about some war between Microsoft and Apple, and at around two, decided to have a Cappuccino. There was a small Korean-owned coffee shop across from Macy's. He'd been going there off and on for years. The coffee shop had a big picture window facing O'Farrell Street and four or five small, black lacquered tables. All the tables were taken but there was a sign, loosely translated from the Korean, which read:


The table Alan chose to share was the one by the window that already had a young woman sitting at it. She was alone, with an empty cup stuck to a section of Chronicle want-ads, and was intently filling out an employment application. Alan couldn't see her face. Her hair was in the way. But he could see the definite impression of a perky young nipple about the circumference of a new half-dollar pressed against a grey cotton shirt. The shirt was short. It didn't reach quite to the waist of a pair of black pleated pants. Alan noticed the bumps of her spine inching down under the elastic of a pair of pink panties. Her skin was dark and shiny. Gravity tugged her breasts against the fabric of her shirt.

Alan's heart beat faster. His spoon trembled vaguely musically beside his frothy Cappuccino as he asked, in a gruff, businesslike voice, "Okay if I sit here?"

The young woman looked slowly up from the form she was filling out and her eyes were clear, direct, skeptical, Asian-looking. She was just a kid. She looked around. All the tables were taken. Alan already knew that. He had on a tan Italian suit and a pretty blue silk Armani tie. She could hardly saying no.

"Sure," she said uninterestedly, and went back to thinking about what she was going to write next. Her lips were pouty. They glistened without lipstick. She rested the end of the pen against her glistening lower lip, as if that helped her to think. Then she moved the pen slowly down toward to the employment application and filled in another space.

Alan poured a circle of sugar into the chocolate sprinkled foam until it oozed over the side of his cup. He soaked it up with three napkins and left them on the saucer. The young woman's wrist was bent at an awkward angle. She made her letters carefully, like she was trying to stay inside the lines of a coloring book, and Alan felt fleetingly parental, like he might have been looking fondly across the dining room table at a daughter doing her high school homework, remembering her dirty knees and scabby elbows and the boogers in her nose. It would have been nice to have had a daughter who did homework at the dining room table. Melanie's daughter, Wendy, never went to high school at all; well, except for the classes they forced her to go to while she was in jail in Camarillo for stealing cars when she was fourteen. She could have been in jail for a lot worse things by then.

The young woman glanced over at him. He read her name upside down. Felice. Felice Weiss. Nice. Pretty. Pretty name. Jewish, maybe. But she didn't look Jewish. She looked Asian. Jewish father, probably; probably some prematurely balding Jewish corporal who'd been too stupid to get out of going to Vietnam, who'd probably paid a pretty penny to get some saucy Saigon hooker to spend some time with him, then got her knocked up and brought her home with him because he hadn't ever had any luck with American women in the first place.

"Are you looking for a job?" Alan asked.

Felice stopped writing. Her fingernails were thick orange polish. The skin around them had recently been picked at. Her eyes came to rest on the knot in his tie. A delicate web of veins showed up at the insides of her wrists. "No. I'm planning the overthrow of the government," she said, and her voice was as clear and as direct and as skeptical as her eyes. "What are you, the FBI?"

"Yeah. You want another cup of coffee?"

She looked him up and down, cracked a quick, knowing smile, pointed to the daily special misspelled in green chalk on a small blackboard and said, as if suddenly recalling a salient piece of Mao's advice on guerrilla warfare, "How about one of those ham and cheese croissants?"

"Sure." Alan shrugged.

"...and a Cherry Coke," she said and folded the newspaper and the employment application and put them into the pink backpack on the floor next to her chair. They talked. Her lunch came. She was starving. They talked some more.

She had a job as a file clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles on Fell Street. It took her three buses to get there from her little studio in Diamond Heights. The filing cabinets were full of roaches. She had taken the day off to look for another job. It was getting late. She was getting desperate. She was nineteen. She had quit high school when it had been more fun doing drugs with her friends in East Oakland, but was taking classes in Astronomy and Afro-Haitian Dance at City College. Alan told her about his company. She wished she had her own business.

"My father had his own business. It went bankrupt." She smirked.

She didn't talk in normal sentences, Alan noticed. She blurted out words like bursts from a machine gun like she thought she was tough, like she thought she was a gang girl, like she thought she could scare people. Alan smiled. He wasn't scared.

"How come you don't just go to school full time?" he asked.

"I have to work."


"To pay rent."

"What's the matter with living at home?"

"My father's an asshole."

"Are they still married? Your parents?"

"My mother died when I was eleven," she said flatly, but one of cheeks twitched imperceptibly and she looked lost and lonely and vulnerable and forlorn.

"So, who gave you such a pretty name?"

"My father. He told me it came from Kafka's girlfriend, but, like, who wants to be named after someone dating a guy who woke up as a cockroach?"

"That's cute." Alan smiled.

"I know. I'm adorable."

She pronounced her last name, Weiss, like ice, and was half-Thai. Her parents had met in Bangkok. Her father had been stationed in Korea. Her mother had been a sixteen year-old Buddhist schoolgirl.

"What did he do in the military?" Alan asked.

"Fuck if I know. He got a purple heart for tripping over some boxes and cracking his head on a teletype machine. Now he acts like a war hero."

"Lots of people do that."

"Lots of people are assholes, too."

"What makes him such an asshole?"

"Nothing a lobotomy couldn't cure."

"What does he do?"

"He's an engineer for the government."

"Is that why you want to take it over?"

"I don't want to take it over, I want to get rid of it."

Alan reached across the table and touched the back of her hand. There was a jagged, pinkish scar between the knuckles on her right hand. He brushed across the scar and asked, "How'd you do that?"

"Washing dishes," Felice replied, casually withdrawing her hand and looking with some interest at her own knuckles. "A glass broke with my hand jammed up inside of it. It didn't hurt but I bled all over my black Van Halen T-shirt," she complained in a tinny, tremulous, whine which made Alan feel sorry for her all the more. He wanted to do something to make it better. He wanted to take her across to Macy's and buy her things. Any things. Whatever she wanted.

Then Felice stretched her arms above her head and her shirt inched up, exposing the skin across her rib cage clear down to her bare brown little slit of a belly button and Alan blurted out, "Hell, Felice, maybe I should just hire you myself."

"Are you serious?" she asked and her eyes blazed briefly, like he'd better be.

Alan thought for a second. He always had wanted someone working for him, depending on him, some cute young secretary paying her rent with the money he gave her. But now? Sure. Why not? The only problem was they'd have to get an office. Felice couldn't very well come to work down in his basement. Melanie would have gone through the fucking roof. But maybe he needed an office. Maybe it was time he got an office, anyway. Maybe he needed all kinds of new things.

"Well?" Felice asked.

"I'm thinking."

"I really have to get a job. I'd do almost anything."

"When can you start?"

"Tomorrow?" she asked flirtatiously.

"Are you serious?"


"How much are they paying you? At the DMV?"

Felice did some quick calculating, and came up with a vastly inflated amount of money. "Seven-fifty?"

"A month?" Alan asked.

"Yeah. I mean, no. An hour," she said.

"Okay, I'll give you eight bucks an hour," Alan said. "Why don't you just meet me right here." He pointed to the top of the table. "Tomorrow morning at, say, like, around eight-thirty."

"You mean, I'm hired!"

"Sure. Why not." He smiled.

"Yeaaa!" She opened her eyes as wide as her mouth. Then she added, "Can we make it more like around nine-thirty?"

"Sure. We can make it any time you want," Alan said.

"Nine-thirty's fine," she said and, as Alan got up to leave, Felice brushed her hair away from her clear, pretty forehead and smiled—and Alan presumed it was probably a little too early in the employment relationship to give her a raise, but the thought crossed his mind all the same.

Chapter Three

Slick Solutions, Inc.
(Part Two)

The next day, Karen Stanhope at the property management company was all business—dark suit, flouncy red scarf and a silver pen poised in her right hand. Make-up clung to hairs on her cheeks. The furniture smelled like chrome. She was one of those ballsy real estate women who could call a couple dumpy rooms "a small suite of offices" without batting an eye. "I have a small suite of offices in our Geary Street building we haven't had a chance to have cleaned yet, but..."

The two women faced each other across Karen's desk. Alan hung back by the brass waste basket next to the door. Felice's hair had shiny, metallic red highlights, and was blown here and there like the more she didn't give a shit what it looked like the better it looked. Karen Stanhope's hair was slicked back so tight it stretched her face like a balloon. Felice giggled some but held her own. She had on a modest, businesslike black skirt and a loose orange Esprit shirt. Her feet plumped out across the instep of a pair of grey pumps. She dismissed Karen's eager pen with a weary nod and asked, "When could we see the space?"

"Now, I suppose," Karen said, fumbling with a huge set of keys on a round silver ring. "If you don't mind showing yourselves."

"We don't mind," Felice told her.

"I think I'm going to like this job," Felice said, arranging a pile of yellow napkins in her lap. She pulled apart an Egg McMuffin, put the Canadian bacon into one side of the yellow Styrofoam box, batted her eyelashes and said, "I think you're going to be the best boss I ever had."

"You haven't had much to compare me with."

"I've had my share."

"Yeah? So, how many has it been, kiddo?"

"Are you going to call me that often?" She frowned.

"What should I call you? Employee? Ms. Weiss?"

"How about Felice? But, wait. That reminds me," she said, suddenly excitedly. "Well. It's kind of crude. But. Okay. Tarzan and Jane are just first getting to know each other, right? And they sort of stumble into each other, like, in Africa or somewhere, and Tarzan says, 'Hi. Me Tarzan, Lord-of-Jungle. Who you?" And Jane says, 'Me Jane.' And Tarzan frowns and says, 'What whole name?' Jane thinks for a second and says, 'Hole name, "cunt,"'" Felice finished by splaying her slightly scarred hand over her fully flushed face.

"That's cute," Alan smiled—and thought, wow, I've known her an hour and already we're talking cunt talk.

Felice continued on in a more professional tone of voice, "So, have you figured out why you hired me yet?"

"Yeah. Because I like you. You remind me of myself. I wish I'd run into someone like me when I was your age. I'd be some kind of hotshot by now."

"Why's that?"

"I could have used a little mentoring when I was your age. I could have used a start. I'm going to do with you all the things someone should have done with me."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Like, I can probably work you into some sort of an equity position after awhile."

"A what kind of a position?" Felice wrinkled her nose like an equity position may have been a sexual perversion, having, perhaps, something to do with a horse.

"Equity. Where you get a piece of the action. Like, this guy I do work for, John Larson. He's an asshole, but he has some kind of 3-D graphics card that outputs to fax that has some big Japanese company drooling all over themselves."

"Outputs?" Felice questioned the correctness of the term.

"Yeah. Puts out. Gets together with. Interfaces. I don't quite understand it all myself, but these bunch of Fujitsu guys are ready to buy his whole company for like around five million bucks, of which I get five percent of if they do."

"That's a quarter of a million dollars," Felice said.

"Yeah, no shit. But the bad side is if they figure it out for themselves, I don't get diddly for what I've already done."

"If what you're trying to tell me is I'm supposed to not get paid, forget it."

Alan laughed and smiled and assured her, "No. You get paid. What I'm talking about are more like bonuses, like incentives."

"I like bonuses."

They were sitting by a window across from the big brown marble Bank of America Building. The fog had about burned off. It was getting bright. They concentrated on breakfast. Alan drank coffee. He liked just watching Felice, whatever she was doing. Her mouth was genetically twisted into a dry, dread, hopeless sneer, perpetually smeared with clear Vaseline Lip Balm. With the sun coming in the way it was and her head tilted sideways to keep bacon grease from dripping into her lap, Alan could see just the faintest hint of a mustache on her upper lip that made her look like about a thirteen year-old Arab boy—the dark, pouty, petulant, unscrupulous, surly sort of kid Andre Gide would have gone nuts about.

"What are you staring at?"

"You remind me of a guy in a book," he said.

"A guy? Thanks a lot."

"A cute guy," Alan amended. "You're really pretty."

"I am not." She whined.

"What's not pretty about you?"

"My hand's all scared up. I had chicken pops." She pointed to an indentation in the middle her forehead. "My eyes are too wide apart. I'm too short. My teeth are jammed together from my father being too cheap to take me to the orthodontist."

"Do you want to be perfect?"


"You're probably already too cute for your own good."

"You should see me in the morning."

"I'd like that."

"I bet you would," she said and took a dainty bite of one of the slices of Canadian bacon. "Don't you eat breakfast?"

"On weekends, yeah. Every Saturday Melanie and I have breakfast at Brother Juniper's Breadbox. That's the highlight of our week."

"You don't talk about her much."

"Melanie? There's not much to say. We've been together a long time. Since something like 1969. She had a daughter when I met her. Wendy. You guys are pretty close to the same age. You might have known her. You probably did drugs together over in East Oakland. We've pretty much got things all worked out."

"That's sad."

"No, it's not."

"Why not?"

"I have no idea. It doesn't feel sad."

When they got to the suite of offices in the Geary Street building, Felice went in ahead of them. What light there was didn't seem to come from anywhere. The two rooms were small, one with a window overlooking Powell Street, one with a window overlooking Geary. There was a beaded bamboo curtain strung between the rooms. Some of the strings had broken. There were pieces of bamboo on the carpet. What was left in the doorway made random clicks like wooden wind chimes.

"So, what do you think?" Alan didn't want to commit himself.

Felice was hesitant, disappointed. "I don't know," she said.

"Well, we're here. We might as well take a look," Alan said and held the bamboo apart for her. Felice slipped under his outstretched arm and moved warily into the other room. Her hair brushed his face and left a scent of hairspray and perfume and deodorant and makeup in the air.

"We'd have to get rid of that." Felice stuck her thumb out at the bamboo curtain and curled up one side of her glistening upper lip like a surly dog.

"Okay," Alan said.

There was a discolored bed sheet held up by thumbtacks over the outside wall. You couldn't tell dust from shadows. The sheet billowed in a breeze. Alan pulled it down, popping the tacks like tiddlywinks across the room and exposing a rain-spattered window overlooking Powell Street. Felice shied away from the glare and said, "We'd have to get drapes."

"Or window shades," Alan said. "I like window shades. With lace curtains. We used to have a window seat in the dining room when I was a kid. In the spring all the leaves came out and the lilacs blossomed and their shadows moved in huge, pretty patterns all over everything. It made you feel good. Just sitting there. Doing nothing."

"You have a penchant for talking like a starry-eyed schoolgirl on occasion."

"A penchant? Damn! I'm not sure I even know what that means. So, how about it? Window shades? Curtains? What do you think?"

"I suppose so," she said reluctantly. Everything Felice ever did or said was reluctantly. She didn't like anything right off the bat. Things had to grow on her. Alan made a note of that. Against the far wall of the first room there was another window. "Oh, look! Come here." She motioned. "You can see down into Union Square. We can get binoculars and spy on people..."

" birds in a cage."


"That's a quote from King Lear. He loses a big battle at the end of the play and gets captured but doesn't give a shit—all he wants is for him and Cordelia to go live happily ever after in a prison somewhere. Like birds in a cage. 'And take on us the mystery of things, as if we were God's spies.'"

"Who's Cordelia?" Felice asked.

"His daughter."

"It figures," she said disparagingly. "But I wouldn't mind getting us a bird, though. Something like a canary. Or a dove. A little white dove to coo along with me while I'm slaving away all day."

"Okay. I get curtains, you get a bird. Deal?"

She looked back out the window, not quite ready to finalize anything yet, and mused, "It's close to BART. And you can take me for drinks at the St. Francis."

"It's cheap." Alan encouraged her.

"We could spend all the money we save and fix it up really nice," she said, eyeing the dingy corners as if she had a few decorative touches already in mind. "But what about your clients, though? Think they'd be comfortable coming here?"

Alan pretended to be considering the question while he pictured Felice shaking her head in wide-eyed, mock protest, feebly pushing him away as he bent her slowly across the desk they hadn't rented yet, nudged her knees apart, moved the skirt up the sides of her thighs, slipped a finger under the elastic of a pair of brand new bikini underpants he'd just bought her over at Macy's, buried his face between her breasts and felt her laughing the way a cat purrs.

"Sure," he said. "They'd love it. And if they don't, we can always just take them over to the St. Francis. I don't think it'd be all that bad, myself."

On their way to get another cup of coffee and think about it some more, Felice saw an arrow pointing up to the roof. That cinched the deal. To get to the roof, they had to climb out a window onto the fire-escape and go up an iron ladder attached precariously to the outside of the building. Felice went first. Alan languished beneath her. The ladder was painted a chalky white. Her feet slipped in and out of the backs of her shoes. There were pink calluses on her heels. Her underpants were light blue. She didn't wear pantyhose. Her bare legs were brown and shiny. The panties were on kind of crooked, a little askew, like maybe she'd been in a hurry the last time she took a leak.

About halfway up the ladder, Felice missed one of the rungs and had to clamp her thighs around one of the railings. She had no sense of her own mortality. She was nineteen. Her heart gushed with mirth and misery catching up with each other so fast neither ever got a chance to really sink in.

"I'd make kind of a big splat from up here." She giggled an infectious giggle and looked down at Alan looking up at her. He didn't answer.

When Alan finally made it up the ladder himself, Felice was in a far corner, leaning over the cap of orange tiles on the wall around the roof. Alan crunched through cinders on the blacktop and came up behind her. Wind blew her hair back from her forehead as she turned toward him and said, "In nice weather, we can come up here and work in the sun. Wouldn't that be neat? We can, like, move the whole office up here and work in our bathing suits."

"Sure," Alan said. "I'll take you bathing suit shopping one of these days. But, look what you've done," he pointed to white smudges on her skirt from where she'd clung to the ladder. Then he reached over to brush them off.

"Oh, fuck," she said, shooed his hand away, wet two fingers and rubbed at the marks, leaving dark wet spots on the front of her skirt.

"You look like you just got back from a hot date in the back of a Buick."

"That's not exactly the way it's done these days," Felice said.

"Yeah? How's it done these days?"

"Wouldn't you like to know." She twinkled.

Alan had it all pictured. They could bring a bottle of wine and the radio up there and make their own private roof garden. Cinders would stick between her tiny toes as she took mincing little Geisha steps over to a sunny, sheltered corner and spread out a big fluffy beach towel and the tendons at the backs of her legs would stretch as she smoothed it out at the corners. Then she'd lay back and fit a pair of white, mirrored Rivo sunglasses down over her eyes and would seem to doze. He'd leave her alone for awhile, let her relax. Baby oil would accumulate in dark creases across her stomach. Her forehead would glisten. Perspiration would drip slowly between her breasts. He'd come over, then, and brush a few of the cinders off her bare feet. She'd jump and say, "Alan! Come on, get away!" but she wouldn't mean it—and Alan would see himself reflected in the tiny mirrors of her sunglasses and wouldn't be able to tell whether she could see him or not as he stretched out next to her and traced the path of a drop of sweat down the front of her chest.

"So? What about it? Yes or no?"

"Sure. Why not," she said as if answering all the questions he might ever come up with all at once. Why not, indeed. There was no better answer she could have given.

Chapter Three

Slick Solutions, Inc.
(Part Three)

The next morning they went to work. Felice wore tight jeans and a red sweatshirt with small white human figures in the shapes of letters spelling out "Alvin Ailey" across her chest. Fine hair at the back of her neck dampened into soft reddish curls as the day wore on. Alan had on a pair of jeans and a blue sweatshirt that Melanie always told him made his eyes look nice. Alan and Felice filled the sheets that had been draped across the windows with piles of junk mail, broken Venetian blinds and old phone books left by the former tenant, dragged them like Santa Claus bags down the hallway and left them by the elevator. Then they washed the windows. Inside was easy but outside Alan had to hang over the sill five floors up while Felice held his legs under her arms. He poked a rag on the end of a broom handle as far into the top corners as he could reach and felt of his legs moving over her ribs and got the feeling he was falling—slowly, down toward the street, and had to catch himself, like out of the kind of dream if you don't catch yourself you die.

Over the next few days, they painted the walls. Felice brought in a Japan Airlines calendar with a different Samurai warrior on it for each month and Alan put up a picture of some apples and oranges in a bowl next to a messed-up table cloth that was supposed to be the mountain Cezanne used to see out his kitchen window. He tried to teach Felice things. He recommended books: Lolita, Morgan's Passing, Dubin's Lives —anything he could think of where some old guy got to fuck some little cutie who didn't seem to mind for awhile. Felice didn't act very interested but Alan caught her reading a paperback Tales from Shakespeare behind a copy of Cosmo. Besides it was a two-way street. Alan thought U-2 was an airplane. Felice clued him in on all kinds of useful tidbits of popular culture.

They rented a desk and a couple tables. Alan bought a new couch and brought in the down comforter off his bed at home and brought in his computer and brought the beautiful, blue, hundred year-old Chinese rug from his and Melanie's living room down to the office as well. Felice liked how the soft wool felt between her bare toes. Melanie couldn't understand why the hell he needed their living room rug.

"Clients," Alan told her.

Melanie looked up at the ceiling without moving her head and wished his idiotic, bullshit business would just hurry up and go bankrupt.

From Macy's Alan and Felice got some window shades and three sets of lace curtains and, when they had finished hanging them, the two dumpy rooms had been transformed into something that looked more like a small apartment than a suite of offices. They sat next to each other on the futon couch and watched the curtains billow in the slight breezes and, Alan had been right, it felt good.

After a few weeks, they had settled into a fairly predictable routine. Felice was due in at nine and almost always showed up before ten. As far as she could tell, so long as she was less than an hour late, Alan didn't mind. Besides, when she got there all he wanted was to drink coffee and talk anyway, and the answering service stayed on all night. They sent out letters, wrote proposals. Felice found some GQ's out by the elevator and brought them in to read behind her desk when there was nothing else to do. She liked looking at the models in their baggy pants.

Sometimes Alan looked at them with her. Felice picked out ways she thought he should get his hair cut and pointed out the models she thought had cute butts or darling eyes or an especially cocky smile. Felice especially liked an especially cocky smile. Alan practiced smiling cockily in the bathroom mirror but said no thanks to the haircuts. There were some things he wasn't prepared to do on her account. A few. Not many.

When he was around her, Alan felt like Felice was tugging his heart up into his throat like she had it on a hook. All the defenses he'd built up over the years crumbled to dust around her. He was helpless around her. His throat constricted; the things he said sounded like some jerk was saying them. He felt like a lop-eared little puppy dog who wanted nothing more in the world than just to lie on its back with its soft, pink belly exposed and lick between her tiny miniature little toes.

Toward the end of the month, Felice turned twenty. Alan bought her a pair of gold earrings. He didn't give them to her right away. He bided his time. He waited for a propitious moment. Toward the end of he day, she glanced over the top of a magazine and asked, "What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing. I'm wonderful. Are we about through?" he asked, moving around to look at the magazine over her shoulder with the earrings concealed behind his back. She had on a sleeveless green cotton shirt and no bra. It was impossible not to see the tip of a bare nipple brushing against her shirt from the inside, erect and tough and pink as an eraser on a pencil.

"Yeah. I guess. About," she said unhappily.

"Do you know what it's about time I gave you?"

"My birthday present?" Felice wrinkled up her nose.

"You're pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?"

"Shouldn't I be?"

"Yeah. You should be. What do you think it is?"

"Something really expensive?"

"Well, it wasn't cheap."

"Come on, come on, quit dicking around." She got up playfully, held onto the sleeve of his suit coat with one hand and tried to reach behind his back with the other. "Just give it to me," she said, with both arms around him, trying to snatch the package out of his trembling hands while the smell of her hair was overwhelming.

"Okay, okay. Jesus. I'll give it to you...on one condition."

"That we have an affair?"

"Are you kidding?" He frowned.

"So what's the condition?"

"I forgot. There aren't any. Here you go, kiddo—knock yourself out," Alan said and tossed the package onto her desk.

Felice used her polished nails like cat-burglars tools to undo the silver string and pick her way through the wrapping paper. Then she looked up and asked, "What does Melanie think about you buying me all these presents and things?"

"I don't know. Should we call her up and find out?"

"Well, let's see what it is, first," she said, working her way down to the earrings themselves. Then she said, "Earrings."

"Gold earrings." Alan pointed out.

"They're nice," she said without enthusiasm. Alan leaned closer to her hair, ostensibly to see if the store put the right ones in the box. She smelled steamy, like English soap, like she was fresh out of a hot bath. He could almost see the water in her eyelashes. "Would you quit it," Felice whined, slipping one of the tiny gold filaments through a pinkish hole pierced into her left ear lobe.

"Quit what?"

"Looking at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Like you're about to drool on my shirt."

"Sorry. I just adore seeing things getting slipped into your darling orifices."

"Eu, yuk!" She curled her glistening lips and laughed and said, "I don't want you even talking about my orifices."

"Felice," he said. "This is stupid. I have to tell you something. I really want to sleep with you. You know that."

"Yeah?" She curled her upper lip up another notch.


"Well, what?"

"Are we going to do that or not?"

"I don't see what good it would do."

"Unfathomable good. You cannot begin to imagine the good."

"Where do you suggest? Right here? On the floor? Right now? You want me to hike up my skirt and pull down my panties and lean over the desk? Or should we use the couch? Lock the door and turn out the lights and really get into it?"

"Don't make it like that, come on. Wouldn't it just be a hell of a lot more comfortable around here?"

"Sort of get it out of your system?"

"Yeah. Crudely, yes. It's just not that big a deal, is it?"

"Alan! How can you say such a thing?" She mocked him.

"Well, I mean it would be, but...hell, I don't know what I mean. Why don't you just give it some thought is all I'm saying."

"I have given it some thought, thanks. And here's what I think. I like you. I like working with you. I like talking to you. I really do. But if it gets too hard for you to be around me without getting between my legs—you should just fire me and get it over with. Besides, you wouldn't want it like that anyway, would you?"

"Like what?"

"Like by really heavy-handed manipulation and blackmail and coercion?"

"No, probably not."

"So, do we have to talk about this anymore?"



"I just wanted you to know it's something that's there. Something that exists. I didn't want there to be any misconceptions."

"Okay. Thanks for telling me. All men ever think about's sex."

"That's bullshit. How about if you and I go over to Macy's one of these days and maybe have you tell me what the hell all that perfume's doing over there, for example—all that display case after display case of lipstick and eye cream and bubble bath and body lotion and dilapadaries..."


"...and why there are row after row of high-heeled shoes. What possible reason could there be for wearing high heels except to make your ass look cute? They can't be comfortable. But walking around with the circulation to your brain cut off is a small price to pay for having a cute ass, right? Do you have any idea how important feet are? Feet are like a water pump in a car, they squirt the blood back up your legs and into your heart and into your brain—but women would rather have a cute ass than a functioning brain. And you! What about you! Why do you go around looking so goddamn gorgeous every minute of every day—and then complain when it works!"

"I'm not complaining."

"I'm hungry," Alan said.

"So, take me out to dinner."

"Okay," Alan shrugged. "For your birthday. What the hell."

Felice chose the Carnelian Room on top of the Bank of America Building. They started with Martinis and, lolling an olive inside his cheek, Alan asked, "So, is this a happy birthday or what?"

"Not exactly. I probably should have had a date, at least."

"What about this?"

"This isn't a date."

"Why not?"

"Get serious. We work together. You've been living with the same woman forever. You have a daughter older than me. Try and think when you were my age."

"Yeah, I guess if some old broad kept trying to pick up on me when I was twenty I would have thrown up in her lap."

"See!" Felice exclaimed.

"But, so, whatever happened to all that older man stuff?"

"I don't have anything against older men," Felice commented, glancing briefly up at their cocky young Italian waiter who had appeared with a bottle of Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc. By his expression, the waiter seemed to think Felice was probably being paid to say such things.

"So, wait a minute." Alan, while concurrently calculating the guy's tip, got back to the where they'd left off. "So, you're saying what? It's just me?"

"You know," Felice said wistfully, "I like this building. It's neat. When you get all your big bucks off of John Larson, we should get an office here."

"This building sucks. Bankamerica Corporation had a contest to come up with the biggest eyesore on the planet and this is what won." Alan raised his eyes toward one of the gaudy crystal chandeliers. "It started a trend. Then they built that, and that, and finally that," he pointed to buildings out the high window, and ended up at the Transamerica Pyramid lit up like a big isosceles crossword puzzle across California Street. "Before them all you could see against the sky was Coit Tower."

"In high school we used to call it coitus tower."

"I'll bet you did," Alan mumbled longingly.

"I wish I'd known you then."

"Okay, that settles it. First thing tomorrow morning I'm going down to City Hall and having my age changed."

"You can't change your age."

"Sure you can. You just fill out a form, pay the six bucks and you're any age you want to be. They use the money to restore old Benny Bufano statues."

"You're nuts."

"You're right. So what? When I was your age, I was a bigger pain in the ass than you are. We would have hated each other's guts."

"It's amazing you remember back that far."

"I remember all kinds of stuff. It goes in cycles. I forget whole decades then there are spurts when I remember the tiniest little niplet of everything that happened."

"What's a niplet?"

"Robert Herrick uses the word to describe his lover's breasts."

"Who's Robert Herrick?"

"Some Elizabethan poet. He had a dream he was a vine entwined around his lover's body, mingling with her hair, growing between her toes, covering her like ivy on a mossy tree, and woke up in the morning stiff as a stalk."

"Is that how you woo all your young chicks? By talking about dork poetry?"

"I don't have any young chicks. You're the first young chick I've tried wooing since I tried wooing Melanie in 1969. She was nineteen, too."

"Yeah, yeah, and she had a daughter my age. And got strung out on heroin and dumped you. What was that all about? I've never done heroin."

"She sure liked it, I know that."

"Did you ever do heroin?"

"Yeah. Once. With Melanie and her new boyfriend. All they did is fuck each other all night long right in front of my face. It almost killed me."

"So what happened? Tell me! Here, have some more wine."

"She just turned into some kind of a fuck machine on heroin."

"I get like that on cocaine," Felice said in a husky voice, doubling over slightly, imperceptibly tightening her grip on the stem of her glass.

"Don't tell me things like that, Felice. Really. It's hard on me just thinking about you..."

"Speaking figuratively, of course."

"Are you going to sleep with me or not?"

"Don't change the subject..."

"What was the subject?"

"Melanie and her new boyfriend...heroin?"

"They just fucked each other a lot."

"Why were you there?"

"I have no idea. I wanted to be with her. I couldn't believe she didn't want to be with me. I had to see for myself. I saw. I still haven't gotten over it. Which might even be why I'm out here trying to seduce my nineteen year-old secretary."

"Twenty. So just tell me the whole thing, from the beginning."

Their dinners came. They ate. They drank more wine. Alan talked. Felice asked him questions. He told her things he hadn't ever told anyone. About Melanie. Personal stuff. Sensitive things.

After awhile Alan picked up the check, added it up rather blearily, got a sour look on his face, put his Visa card down and asked, "So, are we about ready to go?"

"Go where?"

"I don't know. Home?"

"I don't want to go home."

"It's late. I should be getting back. Melanie starts asking questions."

"I thought you guys had that stuff all straightened out."

"I thought so too. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't, I guess is the answer. Melanie always thinks I'm up to something, anyway."

"Well, you are!"

"No I'm not. This is all strictly business." He smiled.

"It's not even ten. Let's go somewhere else. I know what! Let's go to Oz!"

"What the hell is Oz?"

"It's that lame, glitzy club on top of the St. Francis. We can go dancing! You'll like it. Lots of old farts go there."

"Forget it," Alan said wearily.

"Come on! Please?"

"I'm tired."

"So what? I've got some cocaine! Okay, here's the plan. We hop in a cab, stop by my apartment and do some coke and I change into my white dress—you'll love this dress, you will absolutely die when you see me in this dress. It is so slutty. I haven't ever worn it. I haven't had a chance to even wear it anywhere."

"Some other night," he said. "I'm drunk."

"So am I! You don't think I'd be saying any of this if I was sober, do you? Come on, it's still my birthday, remember."

"Yeah, I know. Happy Birthday. And I promise, on your next one, we'll do anything you want—but, for now, my dear, I gotta go before I throw up."

"I can't believe you! You tell me all this stuff about how you stay up for three days and drive ten thousand miles just to watch Melanie fuck some bald guy on heroin...and now you can't even take me dancing! On my birthday!"

"Yeah," Alan said. "That's pretty much what I'm telling you. All this talking has made me feel like shit. There'll be other nights."

"Oo-kaay," she said, dragging the word out so that it sounded like a threat.

"What's that supposed to mean? I had my chance?"

"I didn't say that," Felice pointed out, gathering up her pink backpack from beside the chair.

The waiter returned with the charge slip. Alan signed it. The waiter left. Then Alan shrugged and smiled and said, "I've had other chances."

"Yeah, and you blew them, too," she blurted.

"I know. I'll probably blow a few more before my life is through," he said. "Too much happens, Felice, really. You fuck up so many times. Everything turns to a blur."

"I don't know about that."

"I didn't know about it either. That's why I like you."

"Oh, thanks," she said. "Thanks a lot.

Chapter Three

Slick Solutions, Inc.
(Part Four)

The next day they talked some more, and the day after that and the day after that. Their conversations went on and on in long, winding convolutions—things he'd forgotten all about, he remembered clear as a bell; things Felice had never told anyone she told Alan. She didn't believe people. Especially not men. But also just people in general. Dogs, okay. People, no. They lie. They can't help it. They don't even know they're doing it. You can't trust them. You can't depend on anyone but yourself. Alan listened intently.

She was such a kid; so wide-eyed and stupid he had a hard time not laughing, but she wore loose shirts and he got glimpses of her armpits when she did her nails. She talked on the phone and chewed a yellow pencil and let it rest against her glistening lips and touched the end of the eraser to the tip of her tongue. She walked barefoot on the Chinese rug and her toenails were such tiny little slivers they were hardly worth polishing, but polish them she did, always the same bright, thick polish as her fingernails. She was just such a chick, such a girl, so the epitome of femininity, so dripping with life and creation and attraction and allure.

A few days after her birthday dinner, Alan bought a gram of cocaine from Dick Cherry after work one night. He simply did not see how they could help but stop off at the hot tubs some cold, blustery night—just a friendly expression of affection to consummate the conversations. All he wanted was to bury his face in her shiny brown belly and feel her laugh all over inside.

Finally, toward the end of March, they got Felice her bird. "I'm afraid, Mr. Dunstan, I must insist," she said, picking a piece of imaginary lint off his suit and twinkling her mischievous Asian eyes into his crinkled up old Caucasian ones.

"So let's just go get the fucker," Alan said.

"We'll have to take it out of its cage and let it fly around sometimes, too. They need that, you know. You do know that, don't you?"

The purchase of the bird was made at Robinson's on Maiden Lane. They could have found somewhere cheaper, but they were in a hurry. They got everything at the same time. Cage. Food. Gadgets the sales clerk talked them into getting. The bird never had a name. They were waiting for one to grow on her and, in the meantime, Alan and Felice mostly just called her "the bird." Or the stupid bird. Or the fucking bird. Or the stupid fucking bird. The stupid fucking bird was a bright white dove with red eyes and a scaly feet who lived in a huge silver cage suspended from the ceiling on a big black hook and cooed like a motherfucker, all the time, day and night, even after Felice was gone.

"Just come on up to my office." Alan heard Felice on the phone. "Of course it's all right, don't be silly." She laughed. "I can probably get off early." Who she was talking to said something funny. Felice laughed again. "No, not too early," she dragged out the word, laughed once more and patted the receiver after she hung it up.

"What was that about?" Alan asked.

Felice pushed her chair back, clasped her hands behind her neck and yawned and smiled at the same time and said, "I have kind of a date. Okay if I leave early?"

"What do you mean," he asked stupidly.

"Someone's coming by to pick me up. How do I look?" She struck a pose, batted her eyelashes, messed up her hair.

"Who?" Alan's heart galloped.

"A client. Dick Cherry? Don't you just love that name?"

"He's not a client. He's a smartass little coke dealer."

"Yeah, I know. I've always been attracted to guys like that. Even in high school." She reached under the desk and retrieved the hand-painted Japanese make-up purse from her big red Puma bag, made her eyes wide and looked into them.

"You've got a date with Dick Cherry?"

"Does that make you mad or something?"

"No. But Dick Cherry. Jesus. How'd you meet him?"

"Here," she said brazenly. "He was by looking for you." She put another dab of lip cream on her already shimmering lower lip, smacked it up to her upper lip as Alan remembered the little brown vial of cocaine he'd bought.

"Where are you going?" Alan asked.

"I don't know." She ran a finger across one eyebrow. "Out to dinner, he says. But he'll probably just take me to his place. So is it all right? If I leave early?"

"Yeah, sure. Go ahead."

"You're jealous, right?"

"It pisses me off a little, yeah," he said.


"It's not your fault. I've ended up just absolutely adoring you, Felice. How do you account for that?"

"Senility?" she asked, with her eyes all big and dancing.

"Most likely, yeah. I'll tell you what it feels like, though."

"I wish you wouldn't," she said.

"It feels like I'm this thick, crusted over old...barnacle or something. Like, stuck to the side of a rock somewhere, like just above where the tide ever reaches...and all of a sudden the god damn moon changed or something and for the first time in years the tide's coming in again and I've just started opening up, like the fragile little pink animal I have living inside me is coming alive again. It hasn't even any skin on it. It's just raw nerves. Nothing's holding it together. The least little whisper of air shrivels it back up inside itself."

"I thought we agreed not to talk about your little pink animal anymore." She frowned and smiled at the same time.

"It's not even that at this point. I just really like you."

"So you should be glad I finally got myself a fucking date, then."

"You can leave whenever you want," he said and went into his office and said to himself if she had any god damn brains it would be him she was going out on this big date with—but knew immediately that just simply wasn't true. If she had any brains she'd be doing exactly what she was doing, the slut fucking bitch.

There was a knock on the door to the outer office.

"It's open," Felice called without moving.

Alan watched through a crack in the door to his office.

She knew exactly the sort of first impression she wanted to make—the rug in front of her, the curtains at her back, billowing. Dick Cherry inched into the office. He was tall, with blond curly hair, nice blue eyes, pretty teeth. He had on a thin red tie, loosened at the neck, and a rumpled cotton sport coat with the sleeves pushed up his forearms. He made his way toward Felice and self-consciously shoved a small white box onto her desk. The box had a red string tied around it.

"I don't know if you're gonna like it or not," Dick Cherry said.

Alan came in from the other room.

"Oh." Felice looked up. "You know Dick, right?"

They acknowledged each other without shaking hands. Alan eyed the little box and asked, "So, what's all this?"

"I don't know yet." Felice flirted up at her guest. "It's a present. Don't you just adore unwrapping little packages?"

"I couldn't pass it up," Dick said to Alan. "Just the thing for our little Felice here." He indicated her with a thick, callused, long-nailed, yellowish thumb.

Felice unwrapped it expertly. Inside there was a single earring in the shape of a small man tied to a chair. She held it up in a shaft of sunlight coming through the window. The little man's head was bandaged. He was bleeding red paint onto the ropes that tied him to the chair.

"Oh!" Felice clucked her tongue. "Isn't he darling!" She slipped one of Alan's gold earrings out from the piercing in her ear and put the new earring in its place. The little man twisted next to her throat in obvious pain and devotion. Felice picked up her coat and said, "So? See you tomorrow?"

"Sure." Alan made a feeble attempt at coming up with some kind of smile.

"Try not to stay working too late, okay?" she said. "I don't want you all grouchy in the morning."

"I'll be all right," he said.

"See you later, Alan," Dick Cherry added cheerily.

Alan knew they were glad to get out of there. He hadn't been cordial. It must have been uncomfortable for them—the poor darlings! But what was he supposed to do? Shake the shithead's hand? Take him aside, tell him, man to man, listen, you go have yourself a hell of a time fucking the living shit out of our little Felice here, now hear? What? Like a goat. With a hundred dollar bill up her cute nose. Pulling her ass apart with those callused thumbs of his and her with her head tilted, mouth open, eyelashes fluttering, starting to drool. Semitic, churlish lips glistening around his cock in her mouth. The tip of her pink tongue. Tough nipples like erasers on pencils. Juicy, sucking sounds in and out of her pussy and her face in sneering, churlish, smiling pain. The smell of her everywhere. Sounds she couldn't help making. The way she would taste. The way she would dry on a person, thicker than sweat. You'd never want to wash it off. If you ever got her on you wouldn't want to get her off. If you ever got her in you you'd never want to get her out, you never could.

Alan locked the door, turned out the lights, put the cover over the bird cage and checked through a crack in the shades to see if he might see them—holding hands crossing over toward Union Square, hugging each other under a palm tree, laughing by the statue. But he didn't.

He quit looking, sat down on the couch and, without paying much attention, unzipped his pants and jacked-off into the down comforter. It didn't make him feel any better. He closed his eyes. Felice was bound to get bored with the guy. Dick Cherry really was just a fucking prick. He was cute. Yeah. But how long does that last. A day? He'd have to hear all about it in the morning—what a selfish fucking stupid asshole Dick Cherry had turned out to be. Alan wouldn't mind. He'd tried to tell her. Hey, don't say I didn't try to tell you. He opened his eyes. Shadows filtered through the curtains across Cezanne's apples and oranges and it dawned on Alan that it was going to cost fifteen bucks to have the comforter cleaned, then said fuck it and jacked-off again just to get his money's worth.

The next morning happened fast. Alan got in early. Felice called at ten-thirty. "I'm not going to be able to make it in, today," she said. Her voice was shaky. "Is that okay?" There was a pause. "I'm not feeling well at all."

"Where are you," he asked. He sounded calm. He wasn't.

"You got me. All I know is there's chickens and things crowing their guts out all over the place. Is that any help?"

"Well, how about if you just don't bother to come in at all then."

"Oh, thanks a lot. I knew it'd be all right. You wouldn't even want to see me today. Believe me," she said.

"Felice," he said. "Listen carefully. I mean tomorrow too. Let's just say you don't work here anymore, okay?"

There was another pause. Background noise changed in the receiver. "You mean I'm fired?" she whispered.

"Yeah. I don't have any other choice." Felice didn't say anything. "It's what I was talking about yesterday," he said. "Are you there?"

"Yeah. What am I supposed to be, some nun? God. I really don't get this."

"Sure you do," he managed to say.

"Don't you think we should at least talk about it?"

"So, talk," he said.

"Well, it's not very convenient right now."

"Okay. See you later, kid. Sorry."

"You should be."

"I am."

"I hope your shitty business goes bankrupt."

"It probably will."

"Don't mail my check. I'll pick it up."

"Okay," he said and hung up.

Alan wrote her out a check, put it in her desk and waited. The walls of his heart pounded when he saw women her size wearing sunglasses a couple blocks away. He caught up to them. It was never her. San Francisco's full of small Asian-looking women in tight pants, loose shirts and sunglasses a couple blocks away. His toes throbbed at night. They were stiff in the morning.

He turned the pages of the Samurai calendar. In April there was a picture of a warrior on a black stallion and the bird came down with a cold. She coughed and sneezed. Chills ruffled her feathers. Sometime toward the end of April she developed a rash across the bridge of her beak. It affected her appetite. She didn't do much cooing anymore. Alan went to Robinson's and got some drops to put in her water. They didn't work. By the beginning of May she'd quit eating entirely and just sat listless and fidgety at the bottom of the cage, not making any more sounds at all other than the sounds of the rustling of the newspapers on the bottom of her cage.

One night, well into the middle of the month, Alan was in the office late. It was dark. Quiet. The sounds of newspapers rustling were louder than ever. The bird wasn't any better. She was worse. She was having convulsions. He watched her for awhile. Then he got up and opened the door of her cage and reached in and pulled her out and carried her over to the window. He opened the window with one hand while the bird clung to his other hand. He petted her from the top of her head down her strong folded wings and out to the ends of the feathers in her tail. She clutched his finger with hot scaly feet.

The first time he tried to throw her out the window, she didn't let go. She just flapped her wings and held on for dear life. He talked to her. He told her, "Look, you stupid shit, you're just going to die up here. Is that what you want? You want to just fucking die up here?"

Her eyes glowed reddish in the dark. She cocked her head. Neon signs blinked and buzzed in the stillness. One by one, Alan pulled her claws from the backs of his knuckles and flung her with both hands, up and out into the night. If that didn't cure the bitch he didn't know what would.

And she actually flew for a minute or two; first over to a window ledge at the hotel across Powell Street and then down to an awning above the jewelry store. She preened herself and seemed to settle—as if into a new cage. Then she flew again, halfheartedly this time, and landed in the street and looked all around and started pecking at the pavement—like her appetite had suddenly returned, and Alan still thought she might be all right.

A slow moving cable car rolled past. People pointed at her. She was a celebrity. Tourists from all over the world clucked their tongues at the little white pigeon in the road. The running board passed right over her but she came out from under it unscathed—oblivious, serene. You poor stupid dumb fuck, Alan said. People shook their heads at her in all kinds of different languages but the poor ignorant stupid dumb fuck just kept pecking away at the cement until one of the new, blue and white DeSoto cabs ran her over. Her body sounded like a little bag of egg noodles. Felice should have been there.

(Part Two)


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Gerard Jones
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