The stack of Pincos’s clothes were on the coffee table where Kay had put them. Kay lay down on the unruffled couch next to it, his head and ankles propped on the armrests. He folded his hands over his stomach. I could fall asleep, Kay thought. I won’t show up to class tomorrow. My students would chat for ten, fifteen minutes, then go home. The thought made Kay want to be there to see it, to hear their words and frustration. One student might remain throughout the class period, scribbling. Probably someone who isn’t always there, isn’t always on time. Someone who isn’t interested in learning to speak his or her mind in a new language. 1
“Theo smelled like you the other night.”
“What?” Pen is dumping the contents of her purse out onto the ground.
“Your perfume. Theo smelled like your perfume the other night.”
“Ack!” She pulls the single key from her skirt pocket. “Forgot I put it there,” she laughs, gathering all of her lipsticks, pennies, and tissues, and placing them back into her sack of a purse.
“Penelope, did you sleep with my husband?” I stand on the last item, a stuffed cow keychain she likes but won’t attach to her key.
“Are you fucking kidding me, Phoebe?” She looks up at me, but then turns to the cow underneath my foot. I push my boot down a little harder.
“He smelled like your perfume.”
“So you automatically assume he slept with me? You think I am the only woman who buys that perfume?”
“You are definitely one of a very few,” I retort. She pushes my boot with her fist, and pulls at the poor cow. It’s head tears off. 2
Named for Saddam’s favorite animal, the original plans called for tigers to roam the grounds and swim in the pool. Through a Chinese connection two tigers were flown in from the Shanghai Zoo. In the intense desert heat, their fur became patchy. They did nothing but sleep in the shade all day. They ate very little. Saddam was furious with his resident zoologist. He wanted powerful prowling tigers that would slink around the palace, eyes aglow, their claws clattering against the marble floor. But their skin draped off their bones like oversized mink coats. When the tigers died, the zoologist was driven out to the middle of the desert to suffer a fate similar to that of his erstwhile charges. For lack of having real-life tigers, Saddam had the palace decorated with full-size stuffed tigers, tiger hides, tiger teeth, tiger claws, tiger paintings, striped bed sheets and striped sofa covers. With the death of the tigers, the novelty of the tiger palace wore thin on Saddam, who visited it less and less. For his birthday, the Baghdad Zoo gifted their last remaining tiger to him. He appreciated the gesture but returned the animal. 3
What you wished and finally became true is dream, whereas what you never wished but eventually happened is destiny. During the passing of age and the turning of life, many years later, we raise our heads and here you are, again in front of us. 4
Used Car Lot
Once, Charlie had asked Laura what she’d do—if failure were impossible and money were no object ( and maybe if they’d saved the dope money…) And Laura had thought and thought. Finally she’d laughed and said, “I’d own a used-car dealership.”
Charlie had grinned. “Good money in that. I’ll do repairs for you. I’ll put on my best sharkskin suit and sell lots of cars for you.” They were sipping grape soda and taking turns running the bottle on their hot, summery skin. It was Thursday, Mexican night, a dollar bag of tortilla chips and a fifty cent can of salsa.
“I don’t want to sell the cars, Charlie,” Laura had said, blushing. “I just want to drive them.” 5
Friends will make fun of you in the school parking lot. After a while, they will come to accept the things you say. At worst, they may blush and look away.
Friends will encourage you to down shots of Jägermeister and cultivate crushes.
Friends will say, isn’t so and so soooooooooooo cute, and I think he likes you.
Friends will say you’re lucky when a senior linebacker invites you to prom.
Friends will say you’re psycho when you turn down the senior for a circus-tent magic show.
But you will know better.
Aren’t you the one who wants to be a trapeze artist?
Aren’t you the one who wakes up with feathers stiff around your shoulder blades?
Yes, you are the one who ties herself to the headboard so that the girl with wings can’t do anything crazy. Like maybe fly the fuck away. 6
I bought those photographs – the entire album – for 70 euros at Place du Jeu de Balle in Brussels. Roma always said I didn’t know the value of money, and he was probably right. I don’t like flea markets; I prefer new, nice stuff. Roma’s the complete opposite, though. It was his fault that I spent my only free morning in Brussels at Jeu de Balle. It was dirty; there were nasty old people and tourists snooping through boxes of used dishes and books, shabby clothes hanging in the sun – when I was a kid, my family threw such rags away. No one even considered donating them to the poor. There was so much fur there for some reason, moth-eaten fox skins with empty eye sockets – it’s beyond me why the heck anyone would sew such a thing on their coat. All that junk was dearly priced: vendors, mostly old men, pretended they didn’t speak English, so market-goers, mostly people visiting the city, ultimately had to pay the asking price. 7