All the Girls
My girlfriend woke up pregnant. Well, not Miranda, but Dominique. It was said that everyone had a bumper sticker and a fortune. My man Duane's bumper sticker—STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES, BUT WHIPS AND CHAINS EXCITE ME. His fortune would have been one-hundred years of good luck. Duane and I were eating breakfast at Mr. Yun's Szechwan Palace when I pulled out my phone and saw that it was her on the caller ID. I almost didn't answer. The night before, she'd smacked me in the head with a chrome toaster. "Can I spell I'm sorry on your legs in kisses?" I asked.
"We need to talk," she said.
"Duane's got a Macaw and he's trying to teach it over twenty porn synonyms for women," I said.
She sighed. "We really need to talk."
"Aren't we talking?"
"I think I'm pregnant."
"It's nine in the morning."
She sighed. "I took the test. It was blue."
"It's nine in the morning," I said.
Duane made a circle out of the thumb and index finger of his left hand. He smiled and put the index finger of his right hand through the circle, starting slow, but increasing in rhythm until his fingers just barely squeaked with the friction. He contorted his face and moaned. I kicked him under the table. Mr. Yun glared at us. "I woke up pregnant you asshole," she said.
It was a movie of the week, sans the expletive. I'd seen it on CBS. That was the last thing that went through my head before the cell phone went out in an electronic surge of divine providence. I went through the motions with the girls, but the whole baby thing was a little bit too much for me to swallow all at once. A baby's a lot of responsibility and all, and even though I was getting by in my job as a financial analyst, I didn't know if I was ready for anything like that. It was the car payments and the dry-cleaning. The money was running out. Dominique kind of imposed on the natural order of my kingdom.
The thing was, I had a routine. Every night I would come home. That was my rule—with Miranda, with Dominique. Every night I would come home and smoke a cigarette on my deck. I wouldn't sleep at any woman's. I'd come home and read Keats or Byron, or maybe just watch the planes that stacked up over LAX. I didn't want to give all that up, those moments of solitude, those flashes of serenity. "Ah, why wilt thou affright a feeble soul?" shouted the immortal Keats to my maidens.
Someone close to you needs you, my fortune read. I crumpled it up. "I think Dominique's pregnant," I told Duane.
"Sandman vs. Carl Evers" he said. "I'm putting a thousand on it."
"Evers is a wrestler's wrestler," I said.
Duane leaned forward. "A technician."
We despised gimmick wrestlers, knowing that the appeal of their kitsch would wear off eventually. Who remembered stoic Lieutenant Ferguson anymore, the flying Mountie who left that big Clydesdale tied to the turnbuckle? We liked our wrestlers old school. The sleeper, the ddt, the figure-four leg lock—those were moves that required precision. Duane pulled out his phone and called my other girl Miranda and his buddy Fernando, who went to law school at UCLA.
Poor Dominique. I thought maybe I should have gone to her, called her back on a pay phone, but I couldn't deal. She'd been through so much therapy that talking to her was like bumping your head on an open cabinet and then setting it up and doing it again. "Clarify that," she'd say. "What does that mean?" She was always saying things like that. "What's that like?" "What does that mean?" "How does that make you feel?"
Like I knew.
"Some women use their tongues; she looked a lecture," said Byron. Dominique's bumper sticker—GIRLS KICK ASS! Her fortune wasn't so much a fortune as a misfortune, and her misfortune, I'd say, was meeting me. Duane wanted me to go over to his house and watch the Evers vs. Sandman match. Then he wanted me to go to a photography show where he swore there'd be a lot of hot models.
Fernando and Miranda pulled up in the Fleetwood, the windows pulsing bass. The rims were Daytons, gold ones. Fernando was really going for it with the hip-hop Spaniard thing, even though he'd moved from Spain when he was like six.
I wasn't sure if I could handle Miranda, but she looked so hot. What I loved about her was that she just didn't care about anyone or anything. Miranda could have cared less about Dominique, for example. That and she was pretty mature for a seventeen-year-old. She wasn't exactly Madonna in the brains department, but she had a sense of humor. Her fortune, okay, would have had to have been You like Chinese Food. Her bumper sticker: SPOILED AND LOVING IT.
I climbed in and pulled my sunglasses on. I kissed Miranda on the cheek. She jumped on my lap. "I used to go out with this coke dealer in Philly," she said, to no one in particular.
"Don't talk to me about coke honey," said Duane.
Fernando, one of those Spaniards with a penchant for Izod shirts and pistachio nuts, slammed hard into a curb. The tire hissed. His fortune: Your hard work is about to pay off. His bumper sticker would have said ESPANA, or maybe just ESP in that pretentious oval shaped euro-identifier. The tire let out a last gasp.
Duane said, "If I don't meet a Brazilian girl soon I'm gonna swallow my tongue."
"You should join the CIA," said Miranda, who was looking tasty in cut off jean shorts and a vintage Stones T.
I said, "My friend Josh is drinking two fifths of Stoly a day and he's in law school."
"Don't talk to me about law school," said Fernando.
I said, "I love Dominique. I think I do Duane."
Duane sighed. "She's a dumb whore."
"Maybe you're right," I said.
"Come on. Having a kid?" Duane said. "What is she, eighteen?"
"So," I said.
"You're having a kid?" Miranda asked.
"I'm having a responsibility," I said.
"Anyways," she said.
Fernando looked upset about the tire. We were stuck there, waiting for someone to fix it. Fernando said, "I once saw Dean Biasucci, who was a place kicker for the Indianapolis Colts football team at the time, play Marc Antoni in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. In the question and answer period following the play my friend asked him how he had time to memorize his lines and lift weights."
Duane said, "Marc Antoni didn't really have many lines."
I said, "Place Kickers don't really have to lift weights."
"I believe the tire is flat," said Fernando. The color of his Izod shirt could be described as azure, or maybe jaybird blue.
"Do you even speak Spanish?" Miranda asked Duane.
Duane sneered at her. There wasn't a single AAA membership to be found between the four of us.
I needed to get out of there. I really just wanted some ribs. It was all of the thinking I was doing. It had to stop. I grabbed Miranda's hand and said, "Let's get lost baby," saw a sign and walked toward it, leaving Fernando and Duane bickering. The sign said MEMPHIS RIBS. I wanted to tear the meat from the bone, to get the seasoned shreds stuck between my teeth. Everyone behind the counter stared at me. I was Lee Marvin. I was Steve McQueen, and that there was a stick-up.
One of the women behind the counter was the kind of black woman that closed drawers and doors with her hips. "I want ribs," I said.
"I want Xanax," said Miranda.
"Did you say ribs honey?" the lady said, ignoring Miranda.
I put my hands in my pockets. "Mmmmm hmmmm," I said.
She looked around at the others in there, rubbed her hands on her apron. They were playing a Solomon Burke record and she only just swayed her shoulders. "Honey," she said, "if you want ribs you've got to call me on Tuesday."
I ended up in the Golden Lotus, eating green onion pancakes. My fortune? Your creative talents are ready to blossom. I stuffed it in my pocket.
Duane tracked me down. The way that you figured things out was to look at the traffic and wear your headphones. Everybody was hustling. That was as close as you got to the truth, I thought.
Duane licked his finger and stuck it in my ear. "Don't think about her."
"She's pregnant," I said.
He was laughing. "Those rims cost thousands and now they're fucked."
"She's pregnant," I said.
He slapped me on the back. "Shake it off. She'll do the right thing."
Miranda scowled. "They should quarantine your kind."
I didn't know if she was talking to me, or Duane, or no one in particular again.
At Duane's place, Pierre the Macaw never quit. I picked up my phone—still no signal. Pierre talked incessantly. "Sluts," he said. "Honeys, babes, squacks, pies, hootchies, trollops, tarts, quims, skanks, split-tails, holes," he said.
Miranda retreated to the kitchen.
"I'm bored," Duane said.
I nodded. "We could always talk to each other."
"Here's the thing with Miranda," he said. "She's got herself this sassy attitude. I like it. I like the girls with a little sass to em, and she's hot. I don't know what she sees in you."
"Dominique's gonna shiv me," I said, rubbing the bump from the toaster.
Pierre said, "Bitches, pixies, nymphs, twists, slatterns, tramps, ginches, chicks." Duane said, "Cars, boats, and women are three things you should lease. He stroked his chin. "There's nothing wrong with the main course, but you should always have a little side salad."
Duane had money, that was the thing. His parents were a mess, but he actually had a rich uncle die in Texas. He got millions. He was supposed to be an actor in those days, but I didn't see it. As far as I was concerned, his greatest feat as an actor was acting busy.
Duane had no heart, but me, I wasn't all that bad. I felt guilty as all hell, and decided not tell Dominique a thing about Miranda. It was the least I could do. Dominique bought me stuff. She was hot, too, but she bought me a lot of stuff. Like for my twenty-fifth birthday, she had gotten me this money clip from Tiffany's that was engraved and everything. She held me and scratched my scalp. I liked that kind of thing. I liked to bang her too, but really, she was a wreck. They knew her name in all the stores. She talked like a bike wheel. She couldn't be pregnant. I imagined the monster she and I would beget. I imagined a man baby that would look like Carl Perkins. That thing would slide out of the womb wearing white patent leather rock-and-roll shoes, smoking a cigarette, and seething with greasy contempt.
The odds were five to one against Evers. In his interview before the fight, Evers paid homage to his wrestling ancestors. He came from a whole family of wrestlers. The guy had genes, size, lineage. They showed pictures of the Evers compound in Atlanta. There was Texas Television Champion Telly Evers, bouncing his daughter Denise on his knee. There was Scott Evers, the patriarch, outside in the backyard having a peaceful chaw of tobacco and shooting skeet.
The Sandman was insulting. He was the heel to Ever's faceman. He had twenty-two inch biceps and a chain mail hood that covered everything but his chiseled features. He had this girl too, Temptress Moon, who went around crouching and throwing sand. He spat when he talked. "Sandman'll put you to sleep Mr. Evers," he said.
Duane was lucky as usual with his bet. Before I knew it, he was five thousand dollars richer. "The figure-four leg lock's so devastating," he said, jumping on his coffee table and shouting at Miranda, who had earned his contempt by rooting for the Sandman. "Twenty-two inch bis or no," he went on, "no one gets out of the figure four. Nobody. It's a goddamn Evers family secret."
By the time I got to the photography show I was feeling much better. One side of the gallery showed pictures of rotting fruit. The other side showed pictures of paint peeling off of windows. The photographer was also the owner of a high fashion boutique that sold dresses by Japanese designers made out of paper. The photographer's name, depending on what you wanted to believe, was Antonio De'Tomassi.
There were hairdressers there, waiting for the DJ to untangle himself from playing the same groove from a record over and over, for hours.
They shook my hand and talked to me at the same time. "What are you doing with Duane?" they asked.
The music was so loud it was like someone had stuffed Playdough in my ears. "I'm writing a one man show for him," I lied.
"Have you written much else?" they asked.
"Wonderful," they said.
Duane knew the bartender, and kept reminding me of it. We got free drinks anyway, but so did everybody else. I camped out in the front of the gallery, in front of a bank of computers five-feet tall. There was a white guy behind the computers with a black panther tattooed on his shoulder.
"What you up to back there?" I asked him.
"No good," he said.
He tapped some keys. "Computer sub-stations and stuff. You know."
In the bathroom there was a couple of guys doing lines.
"Put out that cigarette," one said to Duane.
The thing about those guys was their sincerity.
A woman came back there and made us disperse. She didn't need any of that, she said. She looked at Duane's Motorhead t-shirt. "Do you know Lemmy?" she asked, in a tone made it obvious she did know him.
Duane shook his head. "Do you?"
"We used to cop from the same dealer," she said. "I don't get him at all. He has a lamp shade made out of human skin and a black girlfriend."
"Now that was a graceful non-sequitur," said one of the coke guys.
I needed some air. I started stumbling towards an industrial fan but was blocked by Duane and Antonio De'Tomassi.
"Duane tells me you're an analyst," said De'Tomassi.
"NeoGex," I said. "The symbol's NEGX. They've got twenty million in cash on the books. The PE's 21. It's disgusting. Eight out of twelve patients in a phase two trial went into complete remission for malignant myloma."
"What's the catch?" asked De'Tomassi.
I could barely hear myself with that music. "Three people had digestive problems and the FDA pulled approval. They took the stock to the woodshed, but the standard waiting period's only sixty days, and rumor has it that the safety boards loaded with sympathetic oncologists."
De'Tomassi nodded knowingly.
A Brazilian girl came in there and did a pirouette.
"She'd get it," Duane said.
It was third world hot in the gallery, but Miranda stayed composed. I'd been sucking down coffee between gin and tonics and I was sweating like I was doing an hour hill set on the elliptical after a three-day bender. My hair clung to my forehead and the waistband of my boxers was soaked through. Miranda stuck her hand up the back of my shirt. Her hand was so cold that it made me twitch my shoulders. She had this thing she was doing with her fingers—circling them and kind of winding them along my spine. She was doing that and I just wanted to close my eyes and be in a dark room with her. I looked over at Duane and he was asking the Brazilian girl to spend the weekend with him.
She said, "But I do not have any clothes."
Duane dialed someone up and barked a few orders. "You do now," he said.
"But how do I know they are not your ex-girlfriend's?" she asked.
Duane put his phone away. "Baby," he said, "the tags are still on 'em."
Miranda was really hot and she didn't get flustered either. She looked at him and didn't say a thing. Dominique would have made a scene if she would have heard Duane say something like that. Miranda did the thing with her fingers on my spine. She bit her nails so her scratching had an unpredictable effect. She rubbed them on my sweaty back and I got goose bumps.
"You've got skin like a woman," Miranda whispered in my ear.
I closed my eyes but all I could hear was Duane cackling. Then I opened them and saw Dominique coming through the door. It was so like her. She always dug through my pockets and drawers. She knew my pass code, and I'd caught her a couple of times listening to my messages. She was wearing some kind of god-awful sweat suit with blue bottoms and a pink top, and her puffy eyes looked virginal or something. I imagined her holding a baby, whispering to it. I imagined her feeding it, the gentle sucking sound, the smell of baby powder, the whirl and beep of the Speak & Spin. Miranda's hand was still on my back. Dominique saw me. When she made her way through the crowd and came to where we were standing I could tell she was a little bit upset.
She glared at Miranda.
"Bonsoir," I said.
Dominique put her hands on her hips. "Get your hands off my man," she told Miranda.
Miranda said, "If he's your man, why's he here with me?"
Dominique waved her off. "Look," she said to me. "You can either come with me or never see me again. I'm not even gonna say it twice."
Miranda kissed me on the cheek. "Goodbye forever," she said.
Duane started giving the Brazilian girl a tribal tattoo on her stomach with a Sharpie marker. Right there in the gallery.
Dominique and I held hands and listened to Sarah McLachlan in the car. Dominique turned the music down. "I'll go in first," she said, "then you sneak through the window."
Too much in one day. Dominique was living on the charity of two producers in the abandoned romper room of a Brentwood mansion. Her curfew was midnight, which was a little ridiculous, but the producers were moralists.
A plastic Rotweiller named Fritz strained his muscles in the yard, as taut as Franco Columbo's. Fritz bared his teeth. I crawled through the window to her room and bumped my head, right on the sore spot. I sucked in my breath. "Shhhhh," she said, sobbing already. "Shhhh."
She was already in bed. There was a down comforter pulled up to her chin. She clutched at the edges, sobbing and shivering. The room smelled like her, like sweat and perfume. There wasn't much to say. I crawled on top of her without trying to unlock the blanket and I didn't say a thing.
She sniffled. "I hate you," she said.
I spelled I-L-O-V-E-Y-O-U in kisses on her chest, twelve kisses for each letter. I quoted Keats. "Love is a hut. With water and a crust is, love forgive us, cinders, ashes, dust."
"You should never bring anything into this world," Dominique said. "Nothing."
I pulled back the covers and held her, my hands on her thighs, my fingers caressing her little legs. My fingers were like little bugs on the back of her knees.
She kissed the bump on my head. "You're doomed."
I had to say something. I said, "Mediocre poets are the best lovers."
"All your poems are for imaginary women," she said.
"They're imaginary poems," I said. I wanted her to understand.
"I hate you," she said.
I started to massage her shoulder blades. "It would be good looking," I said. "The baby."
She kissed my cheek. "Can we name it Ashley?"
I spelled out Y-E-S in kisses on her neck.
She shoved her tongue in my mouth and kicked the rest of the blanket off. Her tongue tasted like had been marinated in sugar and salt. I pulled her shirt off. She moaned. I rubbed up against her through my jeans as hard as I could, thinking about our baby until Dominique bit my ear and I came.