"I`ll always stand by my man." Vicki sips on the crystal clear soft drink recently distributed by the Pepsi Cola company. "I would never leave him. I just can't see my children being raised by any other man. Do you know what I mean?" I know what she means and I'm not going to let her get away with that cliche, especially since I don't believe a word of it.
"Kind of like a dachshund never wanting any other breed but his own. Not some pitbull or Scottish terrier," I say as I look up at her apartment window. I thought I saw a curtain move. She nods in agreement with a puzzled look on her face. But she's told me about that front everybody puts up and I assume that her front is nodding in agreement with me. "That's a nice tan you have there. Don't you think you should try your other side?"
"You're probably right." She hesitates, then curls over like a cat. I thought I heard her hiss, and for this feline, being mad is serious business - kind of like dying. She would never laugh at a funeral but she always laughs at a joke even if it's not funny. There are times to laugh and there are times to be serious. When she is mad she is always very very serious. I look up again because the curtain has been pulled back and a little girl has emerged. Vicki's daughter Sasha stares down at us with her big black eyes for several minutes, then she disappears behind the curtain. Now all I can see is the glare of the sun reflecting off of the glass like a white hot jackknife. It's at least ninety-five degrees and the LA-aqua-pool dances before us, shimmering against the hallow waves of heat.
Vicki and I are neighbors. The windows of our apartments face each other. They're fifteen feet apart and for two years now we've been watching our own reflections in each other's kitchen window. We sit down by the pool together in the summertime. Actually, I swim laps and sometimes we end up in the same place by mistake. I`m kind of glad we get to talk though. I like Vicki. She reminds me of another place that I used to go to with my own mother in the hot summer silence of the past.
Vicki was raised by Jehovah's Witnesses and ran off with a coke dealer at the age of fifteen. Vicki told me that her mom left her dad because he never gave her mom any attention. No flowers, no chocolates, none of the nice little things that women need to let them know that the man they married loves them. That's what Vicki says. She told me that her mom got jealous of all the attention the boys started giving her when she started dating. Vicki tried to be mature and told her mom that she had every right to feel neglected by daddy and that she should date if that's what she felt like she needed to do. I don't think Vicki knew the gravity of the situation but she did think it was her fault when the shit hit the fan. Her mother left for a heroin addict named Leonard and Vicki rebelled with her mom against the big white God in the easy recliner named Daddy.
Vicki thinks it's all her fault. She grew up in Washington state in a white "Homes and Gardens" house. It had white rugs and white walls and white satin couches. This is what she told me. She also told me that her daddy is rich. I know he isn't but that's okay with me - he's rich in the deep blue eyes of his little girl.
Vicki has a body that you have to look at. When she moves we all listen. Even me and I don't put much stake in one's appearance. But this girl is gorgeous and she knows how to use it. She likes to play dress up especially for the grocery store. When I was young and hangin at the punk clubs in San Francisco the limos would haul up with their pimps and their drag queens and I'd get dizzy wallowing in their brilliance. That's how Vicki dresses up, like a drag queen. At twenty-two and after having three children she has a perfect figure. She used to be a size six and now she's a size eight with golden skin and Spanish eyes and beautiful golden hair in locks down to her waist. She told me she used to model underwear for Macy's. She has her nails done at a salon once a month. Florescent pink. Polka dotted black and white bell bottoms and high heeled sandals and hot pink mini skirts and neon yellow tank tops clash with the Florescent glare of the local Lucky's market. I enjoy it because it's all she's really got to live for and she does it well. I mean, she's more artistic in the way she moves from one end of town to the next than anybody I've ever known. And I believe she should be given credit for that.
Vicki never does laps in the pool. She sits in the sun though, and merges with it's heat right around midday. She's high with the hot summer sun in the sky and I always admire the way she lays there for hours. Every so often she gets up on her perfect florescent toes and removes her pink sunglasses to cool off with a dip in the pool. She's told me that she's worried about getting those wrinkles that old people get around their eyes so she always makes sure she doesn't squint. I notice that she takes her glasses on and off at just the right moments. Precisely, as if she is taking vitamins on a timed schedule and it will somehow help her avoid the process of aging. I like her illusions. They charm me, and somehow I have a hard time imagining her actually growing old. It's as if she'll exist forever stretched out with her arms braced up against the rays of the blinding white hot sky.
All the men watch her. Sweat drips down their jaws. They watch like wolves in lawn chairs sipping on inanimate liquids like Budweiser and Henry Weinharts. Their movements are cautious and timed with the removal of her towel as it withdraws from her body around and down. They move carefully so that they don't interrupt Vicki or trip, and miss a moment.
This is where I come in, I say "Just think about it. How much do we pay for toilet paper each year! Shit! I refuse - " Then she dives, splash, and is gone. There is nothing worse that I could possibly do to these men than this, this interruption, except perhaps deprive them of Sunday football. Dirty old men. Drunk and sloppy in their working man's ways.
They all come down to the pool to watch Vicki. Vicki and these men respond to each other like clockwork. The laugh and the hand outstretched at just the right moment resonate and show me that they have said these things over and over and over again. Vicki stands out from among them intentionally. They are aware of her and she is aware of them and they flick their tails at each other like Siamese cats. She knows exactly how they watch her. She says "All men ever think about in their dirty little minds are their dirty little thoughts. You should hear how they talk when Dell invites them over for dinner. All they ever think about is getting their paws on any girl that's under 130 pounds and under 21. And they're so rude. They order me around like - like I was a slave. `Get me a beer woman!' or `shut them kids up' as if they couldn't tell the kids to shut up by their self. They just do that to mess with me like I was some little kid. If I wanted that I could've just stayed home with Daddy. At least he wasn't always drunk with his tongue hangin out of his mouth like some old bulldog. Sometimes I have a good mind to just tell them to stick it right where it belongs. You know what I mean?" I reply, "Vicki, I would definitely go catch a flick or take a walk or something besides staying at home when those Neanderthals come around. What can I say? I'd split babe." I shrug my shoulders to show her how casually it could be done. But I know how hard it would be for her. After all, her husband is a jealous man and he would probably never let her leave. And it would seem to her as if the doors were stapled shut when she went to open them.
"I wish." She says that as if she's so disgusted. "Can you imagine them gettin their own dinner? Or their own beer? That would sure be a sight! No, Dell would never watch the kids. I'd come home and the whole house would be a mess. And I'd pay cause he'd spoil Sasha rotten. I can't leave the house for one hour without the whole place goin to pieces. But I sure would like to get out sometimes. Just to be alone, you know? Sometimes I just feel like I'm going to scream! Do you know what I really wish I could do?" She lowers her voice so nobody but me can hear. "What I'd really like to do is get a job as a cocktail waitress down at that fancy restaurant at the corner. I've heard that cocktail waitresses make good money! But can you imagine Dell? Why he'd kill me! He's so jealous. All he ever talks about is me gettin raped at night if I go out alone. As if I can't take care of myself. That makes me so mad!" I hope for Vicki that she will get fed up on one of these hot summer nights, get all dressed up and walk on down to the Lizard Lounge and find that waitress job she dreams of. I can just see her face glow with the excitement of finally taking those first steps. I encourage her whenever the circumstance lends itself. But mainly I just watch and listen to her story as it unwinds before the front door of my apartment.
"Shut up! Don't you give me any of your bullshit Dell! Get off your lazy butt or we're goin right down to the pay phone and call your parents. I didn't have three kids for you to sit on your lazy ass and lay around on the couch all day watchin TV eatin potato chip dip!" And she says potato chip dip just like a poet but she means it like a whore. And I know that Vicki has uncloaked and that her backside is showing for her family to admire. Then I hear the kids scream and the doors slam and I picture heads flying and raisins being sucked on by little children in the corners of the kitchen where nobody's watching.
I often picture Dell a hot dog. You know those funny little long dogs that bark a lot. Then I see Vicki as a beautiful, sleek white feline concealing her claws, outstretched. He barks so she scrapes him on the nose with a single favored nail and blood drips. I've heard her rip the stagnant air in the smothering hot rooms of their apartment wide open. But the doors are always closed and if it weren't for the poorly constructed walls of my apartment building I never would see anything but that coy smile. Catlike and cool, adjusting to the glare with those pink sunglasses.
The heat pushes neighbors out of their hot apartments and into the cool breeze outside and they merge together in lazy motion. They laugh and talk about their wives and their work and their children and their prospects for the future. Vicky and I sit together on the terrace between our apartments. After suppertime, When the sun calms down and the children go out to play, we cool beneath the darkening sky. We forget the time until the blackness seeps through our doorways and it's time to back in to our own apartments.
Vicki talks a lot about her children like most mothers do. Sometimes I stop listening to these sounds for they're dull and predictable and I just nod and nod and paint pictures to the music of the leaves. We sway with them. Digger, Vicki's eldest child, rides his big wheel with my daughter at his heels, their sounds of play and laughter penetrating the thunder of the wheels, roaring past us, back and forth like a pendulum.
Vicki loves her first born but she loathes the second. And as long as her third child remains an infant and doesn't start crawling it'll sleep between her and her husband cause it's so irresistible. She says "I just can't stop kissin on those teeny little hands and those tiny little toes." Good grief. She always says that like the baby is a doll. When she was pregnant with this third one Vicki confided in me that she was considering abortion. She really didn't want another child. Dell wasn't making enough money for the rent and two eviction notices had already been tacked on their door. Vicki was scared and broke. I offered to pay for an abortion. But she said Dell already told his parents that she was pregnant and that they would never forgive her. So, she had her third in July. The same month as her twenty-second birthday. Now that the baby's born she prances around as if the child were her new fur coat and she wants to make sure I see what a good choice she has made. I'm glad she thinks so. I just wish it would last. Vicki loves babies like some people like puppies. When they get too big to be cute and cuddly they become a pain in the ass. Now that she's had the baby she says "If God had meant for babies to be aborted he would have never put them there in the first place!" She always says that when she looks like she's jealous of me. Yeah, if God had meant for those babies to be wanted he sure in the hell wouldn't have handed them over to your ovaries. I don't really say that out loud though. She gives herself enough to swallow. So I say to myself God's her husband and he has an IQ of 84 and has smoked so much pot he thinks window washing is going to make him a millionaire. And that means that a stoned window washer with an IQ of eighty four is deciding whether or not these babies are meant to be or not. And she trusts him to make the decision! This must be the hell where the myth of dumb blonds was created and came alive.
And there's Sasha. Sasha has all the depth in her big black eyes that Vicki lacks. And Sasha's only a little over two years old. Sometimes Vicki tells me about Sasha like she was an annoying sloth that she keeps tied up in a closet. Vicki didn't ever want Sasha. She had considered giving her up for adoption. And now I wish that she had done it.
"It's the strangest child I have ever known. I just know something is wrong with that child. It's almost as if she was depressed. She just lays on the floor of her room all day. Who ever heard of a two year old being depressed? She does the strangest things. She won't play with none of her toys. And do you know what she's done? She's chewed all the paint off her crib. I mean right down to the wood! Have you ever heard of a child doin that? Sometimes I think that child might have lead poisoning the way she stares at the ceiling all day. She is ruining my family. Digger hates her and she won't have anything to do with Dell. I just don't know what to do. She is the strangest little girl. I am just a nervous wreck when I think of all the time I spend worrying about her."
"What exactly do you mean by strange?" I asked.
"Oh, I guess that Sasha doesn't act the way Digger did. He was always such a perfect baby. Sasha...well Sasha never felt right to me, you know? I remember the first time I felt her move inside me. I knew right off I didn't want that baby. It was the strangest thing. I knew it was all wrong. And you see, I was right."
"What were you right about?"
"Sasha looks at me as if she hates me."
"Maybe she's just looking at you the way you've always looked at her. You're the one who says that you never wanted her."
Vicki looks up at the white birch trees that we`re sitting under. September is here. And the leaves have turned yellow and fall about us like butterflies without eyes. And I think it might rain soon but Vicki shakes her head no. She starts to speak as the sun falls from the sky and her arms drape across her lap like a rag doll.
"I just can't imagine what's got into that child. I do love her with all my heart. If I only had more time. With the new baby and all... you just don't know what it's like. You know I was an only child. And my mother and I were so close."
"It's too bad you still aren't close."
"You just don't understand." She is angry. "I do the best I can!" She gets up and opens the door. "I have to get the kids in bed." Sasha is sitting on the floor in the hallway sucking on her fist as if it were a swollen breast of milk. Vicki doesn't look back at me but she slams the door hard against the wind. I hear her cry into the throat of her child. "What did I tell you! Get them little claws out of your mouth before I tie them behind your back! In your room, now!" The door slams and Sasha appears in the adjacent window of her own room. She glares at me like a little old man.
I look down to the ground and say the only words that there are left to say, "I know you do the best you can, Vicki. God, I know you do the best you can."
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