the hunger specialist

I didn’t know how I was going to cash the check. Neither one of us had opened an account in Hollywood. It felt strange sitting there with that much money and no way to get at it…”

 

by laine perry

 

Marilyn is into red these days. The reds don’t work well together. It’s better than the white stuff. When she was into white she wouldn’t let me sit on anything. “Oh, God nn-ooo!” She’d tell me. “Sit somewhere else. Sit anywhere else, please!” I’d grab a spot on her kitchen counter. “Christ Harry, that’s not exactly sanitary.” Her philosophy on cleanliness was difficult to grasp. “Are we out of plates Marilyn?” I asked. “Are you serving the chicken on the counter tonight?” She shuddered, her shoulders pulled inward, as if she wanted to disappear from what was impossibly her life. “It’s unappealing. That’s all Harry.” I grabbed Mae’s leash. We both needed some air.

“You’re back!” She said cheerfully, “Good,” she went on, she’d been into the boxed wine, hitting it hard I could tell, from the way she had loosened up in the hips. “Hey,” I said, going with the new mood, “How about a glass of that cooking wine?” “That stuff in the fridge?” she asked, a gentle admonishment coming on. “You bet!” I said, making it clear I was not going to be picky. “You don’t drink red wine Harry,” she said, lifting her brow in a challenging manner. “And besides,” she continued, “It’s not for drinking. I use it for cooking.” I cleared my throat and looked her in the eye. “Well,” I said, “Just give me the part you would use on my meat, and leave my chicken be.” She turned toward the casserole, and suddenly whipped back around to glare at me. “I told you Harry,” she said, a tired litany of ultimatums flowed from her mouth, “I am not living like this anymore.” “Like what?” I asked, remembering that mouth the way I loved it most, in a crooked- toothed grin. I hadn’t seen that in a while. “I am not eating plain, 47 cents a pound bird.” “Why the hell not?” I asked her, and I really did want to know. “I know how to cook Harry. I come from a family where we had meals together. Interesting meals, and stories were told, stories of travels to foreign places.” “Wasn’t that your teacher’s family? How long did you live with her? Wasn’t it three months?” “It doesn’t matter,” she said, disgusted with my sharp memory. “Hey, Marilyn, look, we eat together,” I said, regretting my last question. “We stand and eat, or you sit, and I stand.” “We have one chair Marilyn, and for the last month, neither one of us has been allowed to sit in it.” She gathered herself together. “I am not eating this chicken without marinating it.” She could really get stuck on a point. “Give me the fucking glass of wine,” I said, smiling, one arm reaching toward the prize. “If you touch that wine Harry, you can go find someplace else to eat.” I didn’t want things to escalate from that point. My dog gave me a look, she had had enough walking. I sat down on the floor. “There isn’t any wine left, is there?” I asked. “Not much,” she told me. “Look,” she admitted, “You have your cigarettes, and I have my wine, and without those things the chicken would barely matter.” I took in our entire apartment: our desk; the two idle typewriters; hers an electric, mine a manual. The murals we had painted on the walls in lieu of the art we could not afford. Bright orange draperies hanging dangerously close to the heater, curtains that should have been groceries or coffee. Our neighbor, we didn’t know which one, had left a pink wool blanket folded outside our door. We slept on that blanket. It was one step from the floor.

“What’s the matter with you anyway?” she asked. “I got a letter from that old prick in Portland,” I told her. “Oh?” she said, frowning. “Did they buy your story?” Asked, and answered, I thought. “Those assholes don’t know good writing from bad,” She said in a knowing tone. She turned to look at me with one of her rare smiles. She was at ease with the news of my rejection. “Okay,” she said, moving closer with those loose hips, and what she believed was insight. “I’m sorry babe,” she said. Her long brown hair fell over my shoulder as she bent down to kiss me. I did not feel like kissing her anymore. I hadn’t felt like it for a couple of weeks. When she pulled back I looked her straight in the face. “They bought it! Three hundred and seventy five bucks!”

She jumped up elated. “What? Oh my god Harry! Yes! I knew you could do it babe! God, I knew it!” She was a different woman when she smiled, a pretty woman. She dug out two wine glasses that I hadn’t known we owned. She set the box of wine on the counter and poured for us. I stood up. “Baby,” my Marilyn went on, “if you ever knew how much I love you. You are the most brilliantly talented man. I have only ever loved you.” We kissed well. She was warm and real when she wasn’t worrying about some unimportant detail of our lives. “God,” she said, “Thank God.” “Harry, let’s have a bath together okay?” That was what we did best together, bathe. “All right,” I told her, “Let’s have a bath.” “Do we have bubbles?” I asked. She nodded her head, smiling now with her eyes. I winked at her, and took my glass into the toilet to get started. I lit a cigarette and thought about ghosts.

Marilyn undressed in front of me and slid down beneath the bubbles. She could stay down there a lot longer than I could. I flushed, and crawled into the tub with her. To be able to fit in there together we had to sit a certain way. She opened her knees and sat upright spooning me. “Where’d you get that cigarette bo-ah?” she asked in a deep, husky voice. “In the Food-for-Less parking lot,” I said matter-of-factly. It was times like this that I could tell Marilyn the real story. She tightened her arms around my chest, leaning in toward me.

The year before, we had seen a ghost. We were house-sitting in Scottsdale. We had both been waked by her. The ghost had long, dark hair, and wore a long white dress. We had to go out to the pool for a swim before we could fall back to sleep. I waited at the end of the pool while Marilyn swam around, ducking in and out of the warm water. When it was time to go she swam up to me. My arms folded around her. We stayed quiet like that awhile.

I didn’t know how I was going to cash the check. Neither one of us had opened an account in Hollywood. It felt strange sitting there with that much money and no way to get at it. In a way, it felt good. When we had had enough of each other Marilyn fell asleep on the floor beside me. I went to my typer. That night in Scottsdale, she had asked me if I thought the ghost might have been my mother. I had told her I thought it was possible. The next day Marilyn drove me to the cemetery. She let me out of the car and waited, listening to a song she said she loved. My mother was the only woman who loved me. She was the one I had trusted. When she died in front of me, in her favorite chair, I was told that I wasn’t her real son. She and Bud had adopted me from Bud’s sister. Hard news: fucking hard news to a kid. These things were coming to mean less to me now though. I had sold my first story. I wasn’t worried about it anymore. I felt myself a writer. I believed. There was only the problem of the check, and how I was going to cash it. I knew we would figure it out. Marilyn was good like that.

Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Two
September 2004

 

(illustration: troy dockins)


Laine Perry grew up on the road with her mom, making music and telling stories. Many more of these stories from Laine can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

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