I scan the personals in HomoExtra while I wait for the lesbians I co-parent with to drop off Zoe for the weekend. My boyfriend Marc is flipping through Architectural Digest as his dirty feet brown the off-white slipcover we bought last summer at The Pottery Barn in East Hampton. I had said to him: "Marc, off-white is not as practical as it could be, nor do we need a slipcover for our couch" (which we bought the week before at Ikea in Elizabeth). He insisted we needed one to protect it from our Afghan Bruno's hair and feet. So I countered, "Maybe Bruno can stay off the couch from now on," but Marc would have none of it because as he put it, Bruno had been sitting on his couch long before I was.
We get Architectural Digest because Marc had lived in Houston for six months to attend architecture school at Rice. But he quit shortly after ending an affair with a professor who was angered by Marc's misplacement of the hand-towels in his bathroom. The professor also slept in a closet, into which his bed would fold during the day, and Marc liked sleeping well-past the time the professor would need to put his bed back into the closet and get to work (being a professor sent him to school much earlier than most students). And so Marc realized that both architecture and this professor were not for him. Plus, as he always said, "The Chinese food in Texas is for shit," and apparently that professor found it simply delectable.
So Marc returned to New York, moving back in with his old boyfriend Zsolt, who was my boyfriend before Marc started in with him for the second time. And then I moved out of Zsolt's, Marc and Bruno moved in, and my lampshades blew off their bases on 8th Avenue as I was moving them in my Miata. (It was the end of the month and no movers were free, and I just had to get out of Zsolt's apartment -- It was so drably decorated to boot.) And so Marc's dream of becoming a glamorous architect fizzled, and I've never had the heart to tell him that real architects don't read Architectural Digest.
"Why do we always have to take Rebecca and Hilma's fucking devil child?" Marc asks me when I come back from the kitchen with his glass of seltzer water and shove his feet off the sofa. "Because Zoe is one-third my child too," I answer.
And then he rolls his eyes in that queeny way he knows I hate and asks again, maybe for the one-hundred and fiftieth time, "You didn't have sex with her to get the sperm in, did you?"
And then I answer for maybe the one-hundred and forty-ninth time, "No, they turkey-basted it themselves." But he still doesn't look satisfied because his legs are folded and he's picking his toes. Which he also knows I hate, because the twisted, white skin particles never end up in the waste basket, but rather on the floor, in the rug or stuck between the cracks of the wood floor.
That one time I made the mistake of saying I initially had sex with Hilma to get her pregnant, was quite a misstep on my part, and I've been paying for it ever since. Marc has subsequently asked another one-hundred and forty-nine times how I got it up, and whether it felt good. The first time he asked if I actually came, and I looked at him, giving him the opportunity to revise the question in light of the motivation behind the arranged intercourse.
"Well, I can't stay and play house," Marc says. "I'm going rollerblading on the West Side Highway." I picture him wearing a blowing chiffon skirt, weaving in and out of honking traffic.
"Now that's something we could all do together when Zoe gets here," I say.
But Marc answers, "We're not the family, hon. You are. Oh, and I think I'm going to start having sex with Ricky."
Well, this is certainly news to me, since the last I heard of it, Marc was swearing he thought Ricky was a dog and wouldn't fuck him if he were the last piece of ass in the steam room. I knew he was protesting a little too much. Then the buzzer rings while Marc's intentions still swirl in the space above his airy head, and I walk to the intercom and catch a black-and-white view of Hilma and Rebecca kissing in the monitor. Zoe screws her head up into the camera and blinks.
I can't believe Marc just throws it out there like that, but I manage to say, "Come in," though the intercom, over electronic crackling. Their three wavy, distorted figures pass through the front door; I can see the tops of their heads, and then the empty sidewalk reappears in the monitor behind them. Marc just stands there silently, waiting to defend himself the minute I say something -- anything that expresses the fact that it makes me sick when he goes on his sleeping-around binges.
"Hi, boys," Rebecca says, after she and Hilma manage to get into the apartment with all four bags of baby gear for two nights.
Zoe screams, "Video, video, video!" and points toward the entertainment center.
"Why does she always do that when she gets here?" Rebecca asks, kissing me on the face, my stubble no doubt oppressing her.
"I know, that's so weird -- " Hilma chimes in.
"Maybe it's The Little Mermaid," Marc interrupts her. "She gets to watch it sometimes." He shoots a glance my way -- not surreptitiously enough though.
Hilma catches it and says suspiciously, "Zoe, you want to see Li-ttle Mer-maid?" Zoe just stands there puzzled, looking up at all of us.
"Well, anyway," I say, "I guess you ladies better get on the road. The Hudson's usually packed by now, and Provincetown beckons." Awkward silence ensues while they decide whether The Little Mermaid issue is worth pursuing, and I pray (as though I'm a believer) that they just drop Zoe's bags and take off, so we can watch their asses retreating in the intercom monitor and wave "bye-bye" as they go.
The event in question is when Marc rented Zoe and me The Little Mermaid, but then also picked us up The Little Sperm Maid and set Zoe on the couch in front of it while I made her lunch in the kitchen. He left for the gym with Ricky (Ricky! that must've been where it started again, and I hadn't even noticed). So I came out about five minutes later with Zoe's lunch, which sprang onto the floor and caked the corner of the Oriental rug as soon as I saw some sex-pig getting fucked by two guys in a poor excuse for an under-sea scene. I snatched Zoe off that couch like she was about to be kidnapped by a dark stranger. I yelled, "What are you watching?" and when I put her down, she slipped and fell on the remnants of lunch and hit her head on the wooden magazine rack, eventually mopping up the spaghetti sauce with her hair.
She cried for an hour. I couldn't tell whether it was because I wouldn't let her watch the rest of The Little Sperm Maid or because she really hurt her head. And when Marc came home with Ricky in tow, I was giving Zoe a bath, and I screamed, "Marc, get in here. Now!" as soon as I heard his keys in the door.
When I told him what happened, he laughed and laughed, thought it was so damn funny about the Mermaid-Sperm Maid switch that he went running out to tell Ricky, who was sitting around our living room flexing his muscles and saying over and over how beautiful Bruno was, and, "Now how often do you have to get him groomed with hair like that?"
Ultimately deciding to let the mermaid be, Rebecca and Hilma finally get Zoe's bags arranged and explained, and with much ado say their good-byes to Zoe, who is climbing over the back of the couch. I'm doing everything I can to stop myself from telling her to get down until the ladies leave. And I also can't wait to light a cigarette -- I'll ventilate.
The door shuts behind them, I go to double-lock it, and Marc says, "Hi, Zoe," and packs his rollerblades into a neon-green canvas messenger bag that has "FAG!" silk-screened in orange across the back of it.
"Are you going with Ricky?" I ask, singing the "Ri" in Ricky like a teenager, and shuffling Zoe into the kitchen, where I had already set up crayons and covered the table in newspaper to avoid a repeat of last week's mishap involving drawings on the table-top. Marc bitched me out about it for ten minutes after Rebecca picked Zoe up.
"And if I am?" he yells into the kitchen, as Zoe starts rubbing her eyes, which usually means I should take her to the bathroom for a pee, or is it poop? I can't remember and really just want that cigarette. I'll wash her clothes by tomorrow, and they'll never smell the smoke on her.
"Well, if you are I'd want to know," I say back, nonchalantly, as I'm patting Zoe on the butt and directing her to the bathroom.
"Not mine!" Marc calls, indicating he doesn't want Zoe potty-training in his bathroom -- or I should say the bathroom he usually uses.
"Can't we discuss this?" I ask, but the door slams, the safety chain scraping against the door frame in a little arc.
I look at Zoe as she strains on the pot, lolling her tongue out, eyes tightened into slits. With both hands gripping the seat on either side of her, she says, "Done. Hungry," and jumps off the pot, dripping yellow drops into her training underwear.
Now I'm definitely doing wash, I think, and reach into my shirt pocket for a cigarette and light it with a match from the back of the toilet. Zoe struggles with her pants and I finally help, pulling up first the underwear, then the stretchy jeans with a scrunchy elastic waistband. She wanders around the bathroom, grabs at a bottle of ForPlay and sends it bouncing onto the floor, squirting onto the tile, glistening. Then she's off down the hall, yelling "Dada smoke, dada smoke," and she climbs back over the couch the wrong way and stands up on it, grasping the slip cover for balance like a dancing monkey.
Since Marc's not here, I don't tell her to get off. Bruno starts barking at her though, and I think of everyone else who would be upset by these acrobatics: her moms because she could fall, Marc because he thinks it weakens the furniture structurally, and Bruno's barking because he agrees with whatever Marc says. Then I decide to take Zoe down the block to Krispy Kreme and buy her a glazed donut.
On the street I see some of the boys, and Zoe looks so little being tossed into the air by their big muscles, but she seems to like the attention. I haven't been to the gym in weeks, and my arms must look like hell, but they just came from there. One of them says, "Just saw Marc at the gym spotting Ricky -- are they a thing?"
"No," I say, "Marc and I are still a thing, and we're monogamous." I must look deranged with Zoe's backpack cutting a red semicircle into the crook of my elbow and her sweater over my shoulder, and so they look at me and smile bitchily, giving my daughter back, probably thinking they've had their fill of children for the week.
I want two donuts, so that'll be three total, but should we eat them there or take them home? I know I won't run into anyone else I know in Krispy Kreme, but it's just that we have to walk by the gym on the way back, and I don't want to be holding any bag of donuts. But then they could just be for the kid, too. No, we'll eat them there.
But then Zoe will be running around to all the tables, and the sons of bitches will be staring at me like, "Get a hold of that kid you're baby-sitting for," and I'll be like, "That's my daughter," and they'll sit there thinking, "What is that queen doing with a child?"
It reminds me of the first time Rebecca and Hilma let me take Zoe alone, when I took her out to our place in the Hamptons with Marc and two of his friends. They of course drove in a separate car and snorted drugs the entire time; I took Zoe with me in the Miata. I stopped to get some gas, and this lady in a gold Mercedes (older model) pulled up beside me while I was strapping Zoe into her car seat. "Is that a 1996 or later model? Does it have driver and passenger airbags?" she asked, before going on. "I debated whether I should butt in, but a child's life is at risk here, and I think it's my business. That seat should not be facing front, because that airbag can become lethal in the event of an accident. Really mister, I don't know if you're used to being around children, but putting her in the backseat is really going to be your safest bet."
I stared at her in such disbelief that for the first time in a long time, I had nothing to say. I looked past her, where her fat old husband slouched in the passenger seat, seemingly chewing the air. Zoe squealed and kicked the Nikes I had just bought her at the outlet mall (even though her mothers are against child labor and subsequently won't let Zoe wear tennis shoes). I realized that neither Rebecca nor Hilma, nor even Zoe would remember this day and so I said, "Thank you for your help, you stupid fucking cunt," and got into the car and slammed the door. Then Marc and his friends blew by, honking and waving tan arms out the sunroof of their Saab. Bruno was sticking his head out of the back window, his hair blowing like a blonde's on a weekend business trip with her otherwise married boyfriend.
I'm still chuckling to myself about the memory of that lady's dismay when Zoe and I get back into the apartment. I light another cigarette, and Zoe runs over to the radiator, grabbing the bars like she's in a jail cell. If it was sizzling hot I'd be in a taxi on the way to St. Vincent's emergency room, but instead I say, "Zoe, don't do that -- if it was winter you'd get a severe burn."
She looks back at me while pulling and pushing the bars with all her Sapphic little strength, and I'm actually afraid she might pull the radiator right out of the fucking floor. I am so tired, my cigarette's the only thing keeping me from passing out.
"Smoke!" yells Zoe, who's obviously fascinated by the swirls of it around my head. And she can probably also tell that my head is spinning with images of Ricky's perfect dick in Marc's drooling mouth, making me dizzy with envy, green with jealousy, and quite frankly a little turned on, now that my crotch is getting warm just thinking of them. And what do I have in my mouth? Just a pencil-thin cigarette that's in the process of slowly killing my legacy, who has again located the entertainment center and is flipping through boxes of pornos chanting, "Video, video, video!" like a mantra.
©1997-1998 Blithe House Quarterly / All Rights Reserved