November '05 -- guest edited by Claudia Smith
“I’ll tell her.”
“Yes!” Mike threw his dishrag up at the sky. It soared and fluttered like a soiled bird before flopping back to the tarmac. “I swear, I’d go to school, I’d work so hard. I’ll become a lawyer. Or a doctor. I’d do anything for her.”
“But what about your babies?” Mike picked up the towel again, but this time he whipped it against a full trash can so violently that the can tottered. “Come on,” said Judy. “I’ll take you home.”
The next morning, Judy knocked at Bonnie’s door to go to the beach, feeling as if she were going to an execution. Bonnie was washing dishes, wearing her mother’s housedress over her bikini. From the way Bonnie slammed the plates and cups, rinsing them perfunctorily, Judy knew that Bonnie had been ordered do the dishes or she could not go to the beach. The house was furnished with the kind of cheerful china that a certain type of lonely woman buys: china flowerpot roosters, little dogs and cats with woeful eyes, and a huge, grinning pink piggy bank.
“I might as well get this over with,” she said, while Bonnie washed.
“What over with?” said Bonnie.
“Mike’s got the hots for you.” Judy picked up a pen and inserted it into a Mexican straw coaster and spun the coaster around her head disconsolately like a pinwheel.
Bonnie turned, dripping suds onto the floor. “I love him too.”
“Oh no,” said Judy, half rising. “Don’t love him.”
“Why not?” Judy had often witnessed how wicked gossip came back around like a boomerang and clobbered the speaker. But for the first time, she felt the rage of jealousy. It surged up in her like a tsunami of yellow bile, coursed through her veins, and distorted her face. Her heart pounded. Why should Bonnie get everything? Her sister hated Bonnie. The other girls hated Bonnie, and with good reason. Bonnie drove men crazy, and now she was going to cause Mike to abandon the babies he had fathered. Poor little babies, so innocent and pure. And what about Heather and Eileen, the mothers, their lives ruined just like Mrs. Chadwick’s had been! Judy had to speak out for them and nip this thing in the bud.
“He told me he wanted to fuck your lights out. Because he knows he can. It was terrible.”
“He did?” Bonnie blinked. “Maybe that’s not so bad, I mean, maybe it’s passion.” Even recoiling from herself, Judy was shocked that her lie had not delivered its intended effect. She must press onward, complete the deed. Her head swam.
“He said… he said he thought you were a slut.”
“He did? That I’m a slut?”
“He said he just wanted to fuck you. ‘Cause that’s all you deserve. Just like your mother.”
“Oh no!” Bonnie burst into tears. Like Mike, she whipped a dish towel with all her strength.
“He called you a bastard.” Bonnie was really sobbing now, and Judy felt frightened, yet intoxicated. She had crashed through the pesky gates of conscience to frolic in the brine of pure evil.
“You tell him I hate him,” sobbed Bonnie. “Tell him he’s worthless.”
“Oh I can’t tell him that.”
“If you don’t, I will. And tell him never to look at me or speak me.” At this, Judy too burst into tears.
“Bonnie, I was lying. He never said any of that.”
“It’s okay. I know what he is now. I know what people really think of me.” Well, you don’t exactly, thought Judy, but you’re getting a little closer. She had never felt so miserable in her life, even when her father left. Bonnie continued to sob, but instead of getting it off her chest and composing herself, she began to wail loudly, and launched into a fit of hysterics. She howled and screamed so fiercely that Judy realized she must have breached a very deep vein of misery within Bonnie. Fortunately, Bonnie’s mother was not at home. But an elderly lady neighbor in a bathrobe knocked at the door and asked if she should call the police or a doctor? Judy told her that Bonnie had failed a math test in summer school. The lie slid out easily and smoothly.
“Well at least she has a friend here to lean on. That means everything. My dear,” the old lady said to Bonnie, “you shouldn’t take things to heart so.” It took Judy over an hour to calm Bonnie down. Then the girls walked to the beach, but Bonnie was silent all day, gazing out at the horizon with uncomprehending, reddened eyes.
That night, when Judy confided the episode to Angela, her sister agreed that she had done wrong. But now that she had told Bonnie the truth, it was no longer her business or responsibility what went on between Bonnie and Mike, if anything.
“I want to go back to Minnesota,” said Judy. “I’ve made a mess of my life.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Angela. “This place is miles ahead of Minnesota.”
“But you’re graduating. I’m going to be all alone in school next year, and look what I’ve done. Everybody is going to hate me.”
“No they won’t. Most people have very short memories.”
But Judy was right. That Friday night, when the girls pulled into the Jack-in-the-Box in their mother’s old Chevy, the other kids clumped together like a herd of buffalo and stood staring outward at the Common Enemy. The chill was as frigid and palpable as the early February gales that surged down from Canada to turn their knees blue back in Minnesota.
Angela reached into the back seat of the car for the bottle of gin that they had stolen from under the kitchen sink where their mother stored it, along with the other household poisons. The sight of the bottle piqued a stir of interest, but the kids did not approach.
“We’re finished,” said Angela. Mike emerged from the Jack-in-the-Box and pushed through the crowd to Bonnie and defiantly put his arm around her. She clung to him and kissed him fiercely. They glared at the Chevy as if it contained Fafnir the dragon.
Angela and Judy sat in the car passing the bottle of gin back and forth. After a while, the kids dispersed for the evening to cruise and go to parties. Judy got out of the car and stood uncertainly in the middle of the drive-through lane. A couple of carloads of customers maneuvered around her to reach the order box. After they had passed through, Judy followed them and stepped on the cord as hard as she could.
“Take your order please?” came Mike’s voice.
“I’m sorry, Mike,” said Judy. She began to cry.
“It’s okay,” said Mike. “Will you get off the cord?”
“I love you, Mike,” said Judy.
“Thank you,” said Mike, “but I’ve got enough problems.”
“Okay.” Judy drooped back to the car. By this time, Angela had sobered up somewhat, and the two Minnesota girls drove home.
Like a dam bursting, the event inundated everyone for a while, then petered out in little rivulets of who said what and to whom. Later that year, Bonnie married the manager of the Hollywood Ranch Market. Mike joined the Navy and married his girlfriend, Heather, who had a little boy. Nobody knew what became of the other pregnant girlfriend. After graduation, Judy found a job working dispatch for a plumbing contractor who rented space on the second floor of Lawrence Welk’s Last Erection. From her desk, she could gaze across the street into the face of the all-knowing Jack head, onto the scene of her first love and her perfidy.