A mother, a son, a boob job, a knife. Drew’s fiction is as weird and wonderful as his comics.
The talking Mercedes rested in her driveway, glittery, champagne-colored, in the occasional shade of tall palms.
In Jacqueline’s purse, the iPhone — whose screen and Jacqueline’s fingers were slowly growing intimate — rested up against her wallet, in which Enrique’s crude check still sat between bills.
Electricians had spent a few afternoons in the house, fusing the TVs, rendering all Smart, so if she watched, for instance, in her bedroom, the precious data of what she’d chosen to view would not be lost like so much spilled seed — but would instead be used to generate the fullest possible picture of her preferences.
These were her things, the things she thought of now, her most relevant material possessions. She had gone through phases, months, years, in which for instance jewelry, clothing, art, shoes, had seemed important above all objects. Now, almost without her noticing, that thing had become intelligent technology.
This and silicone breasts. Which were themselves related — as in Silicon Valley? Though she wasn’t sure they still used that in augmentation . . . or what precisely was the difference between silicone and silicon, if a difference in fact existed. Silicone, suggestive of the cone-shaped-ness of breasts. This phrase, “silly cone.”
Today she sat and watched a teary Lifetime film that her TV had thought she would like. Just before its credits, for no real reason, she had the epiphany that — duh — she could just deposit Enrique’s check into the little ATM on the side of the bank. For a week, she had cringed each time she unbuttoned her wallet, not ready to deal with depositing it at the drive-through, where there would be a camera pointed at her.
Of course, humiliating her had been Enrique’s aim. She’d pitched him a business proposal. If he gave her eight grand, she’d get breast implants, enabling her to be remarried, and his alimony would go away. But when he sat to write the check, his duck-head cane resting against his destroyed knee, on the comments line he’d written FOR BOOB JOB, and above that he’d doodled a lady with a dick in her mouth. She hadn’t noticed till later when she opened the envelope.
Now she realized they had that ATM deposit thing, you didn’t need a slip, didn’t need to drive through or see a teller. The obviousness of her epiphany and the way it undercut Enrique’s triumphal gag caused her to stand up and shout, “Wolf, I’m going to the bank, want to come?” He’d just graduated from college and was home doing nothing.
“Are they giving out money?” he asked from upstairs.
“We’ll see,” she said. “You want to come or what? It could be an activity. We’ll get lunch after.”
“I do love to have lunch,” he said from the landing.
Outside, a tribe of dragonflies had formed a hovering village around the new car.
“Jesus,” she said, “what’s this about?”
“Do they like champagne, dragonflies?”
“The beverage?” She directed toward her car a wireless signal from her keys, and she winced.
“Like bees will chase you in a yellow shirt?” Wolf said, walking to the passenger side.
“Bees in yellow shirts?”
The dragonflies partially parted as mother and son entered automobile. They strapped the belts across their chests, and she turned the ignition, and through its speakers the car asked with its British female tonality whether they should like directions to Jacqueline’s gym.
“No,” Jacqueline said, already exasperated. “I programmed the gym in here, now she can’t get it off her mind.”
“Pardon?” asked the car.
“Wachovia!” Jacqueline shouted, and after a moment repeated it, louder and more desperately: “Wachovia!” The car found the bank’s address and read it off.
“And yet — you know how to get to these places,” Wolf observed.
She pulled out of the driveway. “Talk to Suz,” Jacqueline said. They turned the corner.
“Dragonflies,” Wolf said.
“And there are horseflies.”
“That’s true,” Jacqueline said.
“Isn’t there like some horsefish? Or dragonfish?”
“Of course,” he said, “seahorse.”
“And dragon . . . horse, I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know about the dragon.”
“Do we need our sea creatures to mirror our flying creatures?”
“Who’s we?” she asked.
“We. All of us.”
She parked at the bank and told Wolf to wait in the car, she’d be a minute. She reached in her purse as she walked, removed her phone to see what was on its mind, which was at the moment nothing. At the ATM, she slipped the check from her wallet. A mirrored hemisphere hung high above her on the outside wall. She inserted the check, FOR BOOB JOB, and the whole building — this body with ATM brain and surveillance camera eyes — seemed to chuckle meanly, in league with Enrique, as it processed the blowjob drawing. She declined a receipt.
When she turned, she found the car surrounded by dragonflies. “Again?” she said. Through the windshield, Wolf made a gesture like “Who can understand it?” The gesture was very Enrique.
She thought it was not only technology she failed to understand, but also nature, animals. What did she understand?
As a girl, maybe twelve or somewhere in puberty’s earliest moments, she had this fantasy of growing up and meeting a man. This man was very handsome, very kind, very thoughtful — he was smooth, a Clark Gable quality, what you thought of when you thought of ideal man, ideal mate. As a young girl she imagined this man, this husband, the big house they would live in on Long Island or some fine suburb elsewhere. And all was so nice, they laughingly painted walls and bought furniture, he was cute with her, witty, and this fantasy had variations, but the crux of it was, one day, at some quiet moment, he stabbed her in the heart with a long knife. And she fell to her death, a slop of blood on the kitchen tile or on their King-sized bed. Always in this fantasy house. And the point was that all along he had never really loved her — all his doting, the way he seemed to worship her, idolize her little quirks, the perfect thoughtfulness of his birthday gifts — all of it was just an elaborate ploy to lull her before the kill. Maybe she would say, “Darling, I’m pregnant,” and seconds later knife would enter heart. Or she’s sitting reading with a glass of red wine, as Jacqueline’s mother sometimes did, and plunge. He does not kill her from hatred. He has no real opinion on her. He has, for whatever reason, selected her, and he is such a brilliant actor that there is literally no way to know, no telltale sign before he does it. You could not even call it betrayal. Twelve, thirteen, barely breathing in bed, and often this was proximate enough to give the man access to her dreams.
As she got older, as the realities of her body and her desires — and the bodies and desires of boys — took on three dimensions, obtained the texture of skin and smell of sweat, the fantasy’s terror lessened, even seemed silly.
It returned rarely, a few times a decade, evading words like a redolent wind.
It came to her now in that bundled way memories do, amid the hum of dragonflies, the metal car handle hot on her palm, as she pulled open the door.
At Mo’s they took a booth. The waitress waddled up and waited, pen poised at her pad like a newsie. “So?” she said.
Wolf said he’d have the Reuben. Jacqueline got turkey, benign fowl, always her answer. Lettuce, tomato, no mayo, on wheat. The waitress nodded, not at them but at some secret knowledge, and she returned the pen to her kangaroo pouch. She huffed some assent and left.
Not a Reuben but the Reuben, like some sinister thing, steaming mound of dark pink beef laminated with swiss, sauerkraut serving as vegetable, the whole thing oozing over with a beige-orange slop of Thousand Island. It glistened in her head, and she thought of Enrique ordering this, patting his mustache, patting his stomach, and she thought of lank young Wolf getting fat like him, the way of all things, and she thought of Clark Gable with his long killing knife, and they formed a dancing coven, hand in hand: fat suit son, and former husband with the head of a duck, and the murderous Clark of her youth, knife between his teeth, and the sandwich had hands and arms and wore wooden shoes, and the quartet danced around a fire whose hot light flicked on their horrible leering faces.
She realized they had not spoken, Wolf was also with his thoughts.
“So,” she said, “what’s gonna be with Greece?”
“What do you mean what’s gonna be?”
“What’s gonna be? How am I supposed to say it?”
“I don’t know, I met with Dad last week.”
“I know you know, I’m starting the story.”
“Okay. You met with Dad last week.”
“I met with him, I told him they took the grant money back and would he be willing to help me out, and he said no.” Wolf spread his hands. On his narrow face something tragic and bored.
“That’s all? Just no?”
“He didn’t say, ‘Ah coño, Jack-a-leen tuke the last of my dough!’”
Wolf lowered himself onto his straw.
“Frankly,” she said, “let me ask you. What do you want to go to Greece for? I mean, I get how you like the Odyssey, but there’s books and there’s countries.”
He said, “There’s books and there’s countries, right, of course.”
“I get that you like it, with the wooden horse, they all jump out, but I guess I’m saying I don’t entirely buy it.”
Sometimes she had to annoy him and could not stop. At some point you were a mother and stepped into this role.
“Do you hear what you’re saying? I’m saying this is something I want to do, you say you don’t buy it? That’s not in the category of reasonable responses.”
“Look, I’m not saying don’t go. Go. I’m in favor of it. I say you’re young, have fun. I’m just saying I don’t buy it. I don’t think you even want to go. So I don’t know what the secret is lurking behind. But look at you. Are you someone who wants to be in Greece?”
“Yes,” he said. “Yes.”
“Look at you.”
“Look at you.”
“Look at me what?”
“What the fuck are we talking about?” he said.
She put one hand in the air.
“Can we talk about something else? Please? I’m all depressed about this and I’m not in the fucking mood.”
“You’re depressed?” she said.
“I’m not depressed. I know I said I’m depressed, I’m not depressed. I’m just annoyed and I’m not gonna talk about it and don’t worry about it.”
“Okay,” she said. “What do you want to talk about?”
“How’s the iPhone,” he said and plucked a pickle from the wet plastic dish.
“It’s good,” she said. “I have no idea. Is it the kind of thing you like or dislike? This is what I do,” she said, “I buy this crap.”
The food arrived, the stinking Reuben and the antiseptic turkey on wheat. Jacqueline ate with three fingers. Wolf’s fingers and chin began to gleam with grease.
Every humped old man’s back was some snowbird Clark Gable, cutting his pancakes with that mythic blade, all through the room.
Jacqueline hung her key on the hook by the door and Wolf climbed the stairs clutching his stomach.
“You want a Pepto?” Jacqueline asked. He moaned and shut the bathroom door.
Electronic music pumped energetically from the family room. She thought she’d shut the thing off. She unslipped her wedges and walked on cold tile toward the auroral glow. Gray light lay across the couch from the far window, and on TV a shirtless man, rippled with lean muscle, skeleton-grinned across the room. She walked slowly toward the sofa, hearing her feet creak, and stood before the coffee table, from which she lifted the clicker, and faced the man.
“It’s about bringing it,” he said. “It’s about intensity. It’s about finding out who you are.”
The Smart TV had landed on some aerobic infomercial, and she wondered how it had come to this decision, whether it was the program’s idle shuffling or whether it had done this with some intention — even, like, malice.
She turned it off, finger to rubber button.
Upstairs, across from her bed, a woman on the TV over the dresser was doing leg lifts and educating the empty room about glucose. Jacqueline entered, and her lips parted. She turned this TV off. She removed the iPhone from her purse, attached it to its charger beside her bed, gave it a long look. She turned the TV back on and changed the channel, put on some daytime talk show. She walked downstairs to get some soda from the refrigerator. The workout thing had returned to the TV in the family room.
A flushing noise, Wolf upstairs.
Jacqueline stood again before this man who spoke to her as he did crunches. He wore a discreet headset. She changed the station, a Nickelodeon cartoon.
She went back upstairs. She saw the TV in her room had returned to this lady in the black leotard, doing lunges across a mat, and Jacqueline put her hands to her forehead and slumped backward onto the bed.
“I don’t know why it’s so hard for you to believe I want to go to Greece,” Wolf called from his room. She heard him step into the hall. “Also, what’s with the TVs? All I’m getting is this exercise shit.”
She heard him walk toward her room and waited for him to tell her that, on his TV, it would play nothing but workout programs.