summer Ryan and I have been lying to girls we meet at parties. Maybe it has something
to do with the heat. Or maybe we're just bored. We're in college so we have a
lot of time on our hands. And when you go out drinking five, six nights a week
you meet a lot of girls. After a while I guess you just run out of things to say.
So we say we're astronomy majors and promise to name some remote celestial body
after them. We make up love poems on the spot, pilfering lines from Shakespeare
and Pope. We affect English accents and say we've just popped over to the States
for a few weeks on holiday. When we get really drunk we reminisce about the camel
routes of the Sahara, describing majestic hills of sand we've never seen. We even
told one girl we were gay. Ryan kissed me on the lips and said, I just love this
boy. I grinned at her and nodded. Ryan does most of the talking. And girls believe
every word that comes out of his mouth. He's so good that sometimes even I believe
When I tell Amanda about it she laughs and says I'm a terrible liar. She says she can always tell when I'm lying because of my forehead. You get these little creases right here, she says, running her pinky between my eyebrows. You can't lie to me, she says. We're just friends, but she's always copping looks at my wrists. Amanda is into wrists.
Thursday night I'm at this party with Ryan. We stop at Genna's on the way for a couple of Bombay Sapphire and Tonics, and by the time we get there the second keg's almost fried. Molly gives us cups anyway and tells us to stick around. I've got a surprise, she says, winking at Ryan and flashing me a bitchy look she'd deny if I called her on it. I swear she's got about twice as many freckles as the last time I saw her. It's like they're breeding. She whips her rusty mane of hair to one side and plants a kiss smack dab on Ryan's mouth. Her lips are an explosion waiting to happen. Sometimes I want to do her a favor and stick a sewing needle in them to let a little air out, especially when she's suffocating Ryan with them. I honestly don't know what he sees in her. But I don't know what he sees in half the girls he dates. A few weeks ago Molly said Ryan and I were like brothers, and I started thinking maybe she was okay after all. You're like twins, she said, and Ryan I just looked at each other and shrugged. Our hair's the same -- long in front, cropped in back -- and we're both skinny, but our faces don't look that much alike.
We go into the kitchen to try to milk two more beers out of the keg, but it doesn't look promising, what with the keg floating in the blue plastic tub. Plus it's at least a thousand degrees in the kitchen, even with the windows open. Everybody's sweating. The girl working the tap says the humidity's the real culprit. That's the word she uses, culprit. You can practically see it darting around the kitchen like a fruit bat.
Everywhere you look cigarettes are floating like dead guppies in half-empty cups of beer. Fragments of ramen noodles have been swept into the corners and Nitty Gritty birthday mugs crowd the countertops. The floor's like flypaper. A bright, bulbous overhead light casts its stark brand of reality on everything.
The girl working the tap says that at any given temperature air can only hold so much water vapor. It's wall-to-wall people, and everybody's more or less listening to her because she's in charge of the tap. She stands there, brandishing the little plastic gun like a terrorist. Everybody just wants one last beer. People get a little pushy when the keg starts to float. They crowd around it like paparazzi, elbowing each other and arguing over who's next.
All Ryan has to do is smile at her and she fills our cups lickety-split. I don't know what it is about Ryan, but he has a certain power over people. Everybody always pays attention to him, and when he asks you to do something you practically fall over yourself doing it. I'm always going out of my way for him. Once he told this guy to shove a perfectly good microwave out the window and the guy did it. And it was the guy's microwave! Afterward, we poked our heads out the window to look at the crumpled heap. That's pretty fucked up, I said. Holy shit, Ryan said. The guy grinned and said, Dude.
The girl just keeps filling beers and talking about isobars and units of barometric pressure, like she's majoring in meteorology. She looks like the kind of girl who'd major in something weird like meteorology. She's thin and pale with bluish-white skin that looks like it would bruise if you so much as hit her with a pillow. She's wearing a satiny white blouse buttoned all the way up to her neck, which is crooked. It's like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But the rest of her is straight. She has the kind of posture people have when they sit around thinking about their posture all day. She reminds me of my second grade teacher, Miss Seymour, right down to the prissy white bow in her hair.
It doesn't get this humid in Arizona, she says, abandoning the keg and planting herself right next to me.
I glance at her out of the corner of my eye and decide I'll leave as soon as the beer's gone.
I'm Rosalie, she says, offering me her hand. It isn't like a normal hand, but like a delicate piece of coral sheathed in skin.
Hey, I say.
And you are? she says, jerking her head from side to side.
I spot Ryan and Molly in the other room. They're standing so close together you might think they're trying to hold an egg between their stomachs without crushing it. Molly's groping Ryan, whispering something in his ear, rubbing up against his skinny body. I want to tell them to get a room. I'm disappointed in Ryan because just the other day we agreed that we're both dead set against any Public Display of Affection.
The meteorologist looks like the kind of girl who'll believe anything I say, so I tell her my name is Jake. I don't know why I pick Jake, though I guess it's better than Matthias, which is my real name and reminds me of the linoleum floor in my old Sunday school classroom.
Hi Jake, she says. She has this way of smiling at me like we've been friends since kindergarten. It's nice to meet you, she says, crouching down in what must be a curtsy.
That's when I decide I could have some fun with this girl. Not fun fun, just fun. The problem is I'm about to lose it. Any minute I'm going to crack up in her face and blow the whole thing. I'm trying to keep it all inside the way Miss Seymour taught us in second grade. Miss Seymour said it was very important to be able to laugh without drawing attention to yourself. She said it was important to blend in. During the holidays she got married and came back as Mrs Kirchner. For the rest of the year kids kept screwing up and calling her Miss Seymour, except for Michael Riesner who smelled like damp cement and used left-handed scissors and sometimes called her Mom.
So, the meteorologist says, what are you majoring in, Jake?
Wow, she says. Philosophy? That's so cool. You must be really smart. I took philosophy my freshman year. All that stuff about Kant and Hume? It just went over my head.
Every once in a while she jerks her head from side to side like there's a marble rolling around in there. Fact is I had to drop philosophy because I kept getting St Anselm and St Thomas Aquinas mixed up.
Then she starts talking about Arizona again. Apparently she's got a thing for Arizona. Have you ever been to Arizona? she says.
I shake my head, no, even though I went to Arizona for spring break in tenth grade with my friend Steve Fischer. We went to Fountain Hills with his older brother and their parents and another family, the Johnsons. The Johnsons had a son, Peter, who was the same age as Steve's brother. Mostly we sat around the pool and lay in the sun, bleaching our hair and quoting lines from Caddyshack. I remember thinking that the desert didn't look that much different from the way it did in Road Runner cartoons. One day we played golf and Peter's dad bought him a set of Browning 440s and I chipped my ball into the cup from a mound twenty-five yards from the green. Everybody applauded like it was The Masters, and Peter told me that what I got was called an eagle. Another day we went to a water park and surfed in a giant wave pool. I rode back with the Johnsons and we all joked that they'd adopted me. They said I even looked like I could be Peter's little brother. He was tall and lean and blue-eyed and never put on a shirt until the sun set. Every afternoon he watched Wheel of Fortune in his BVDs. One night we all went out into the desert by a fountain and got drunk. It was the first time I ever drank beer, and I wandered off because all I could think about was Peter in his BVDs. After a while I heard Peter asking if anybody had seen me. I liked that he was worried about me.
One minute I was alone in the desert and the next thing I know Peter's standing there with his arm around my shoulder, saying, Hey, little bro, you okay? You wanna be alone? I shook my head because I didn't want to be alone. I wanted to be with him. Just me and him in our BVDs, watching Wheel of Fortune and munching on Doritos. I started hugging him, but he peeled my arms off his body and said I was just drunk. He said sometimes drinking made you do things you wouldn't normally do. And then he leaned over and kissed my mouth. And when he stopped kissing me he said, Like that.
I've never told anyone about Arizona, not even Amanda. Instead, I tell the meteorologist that I went to Florida when I was a kid, and that I fell out of Space Mountain at Disneyworld. I tell her that my dad sued them for a million dollars, but that we lost on a technicality. I tell her that the summer before seventh grade my mom stuck her head in the oven and tried to kill herself, but that I discovered her just in time and saved her life.
The meteorologist wants to know if my mom's okay. She wants to know if I have scars.
I tell her my mom's fine. I tell her everybody's got scars.
I didn't notice it at first, what with Molly practically trying to fuck Ryan in front of everyone, but the mantel in the other room looks like something that belongs in the Smithsonian. It's framed on either side by Doric columns. I know they're Doric because in Greek mythology I had to memorize the three different orders of classical Greek architecture. At the top of each column is a cornucopia of fruit and flowers and birds and vines that flows out toward the center until it meets the fruit and flowers and birds and vines flowing from the other side. The built-in mirror is smoky with age, and the wood's been finished with a thick, glossy coat of varnish. It must've taken somebody a lifetime to carve out a mantel like that. It's a genuine work of art. It seems wrong that it should end up in a place like this, where everybody just uses it as a giant coaster.
As soon as the keg fries everybody bolts. It's like someone just called in a bomb threat. Pretty soon only five people are left in the kitchen. The music is blaring and this fat guy who's sweating all over everybody -- he must be a friend of Molly's -- takes off his shirt and starts routing around in the freezer. Eventually he produces a frosty bottle of Dr McGuillicuddy's and the meteorologist goes nuts. She starts jumping up and down like a miniature schnauzer, going on and on about how much she loves Dr McGuillicuddy's. Have you ever had Dr McGuillicuddy's? she says. She keeps saying his name -- Dr McGuillicuddy -- like he discovered the vaccine for rubella and happens to be a personal friend of the family. I can see every single capillary in her face. I can see a stark blue vein in her crooked neck that looks like a wishbone from one angle and Idaho from another.
Let's do shots of Dr McGuillicuddy's, she says in a high, breathy voice that's starting to creep up on me like a navy blue turtleneck. We used to drink Dr McGuillicuddy's all the time in Arizona, she says.
In the desert, I say, glancing at Ryan, at the way his shoulder blades shift beneath the thin fabric of his tee shirt. Out by the fountain, I say.
Yeah, she says, panting. Now she's staring at me -- her eyes are like quarters -- and I can almost read her mind. I can see the spray of the fountain and the curve of the saguaros in the moonlight. I can see a bunch of kids sitting around, passing a bottle of Dr McGuillicuddy's. It seems pathetic and sad, growing up in the desert and getting drunk next to a fountain.
Do you like Dr McGuillicuddy's? she says.
Yeah, I say, trying to remember how many lies I've told her. I can't remember -- I've lost track -- but it doesn't matter because my forehead's as smooth as a page from Leviticus. The fat guy pours the meteorologist a shot. Then he pours me one. He has tits like a girl, fleshy, pendulous things. The meteorologist tosses back the shot with flair, like she's been drinking for thirty-seven years, but I start gagging as soon as the liquor hits my throat. Bar none, Dr McGuillicuddy's is the most disgusting stuff I've ever tasted. It's clear like vodka, and cold, but minty and thick as cough syrup. It coats my entire esophagus. I can feel my entire esophagus.
I'm in the kitchen.
'Nother bump? the fat guy says.
I shake my head. A lot of people are mumbling that they wish he'd put his shirt back on, and I have to agree, but everybody shuts up when he starts passing out bottles of beer. They complain about it being Huber, but at that point nobody's in a position to be choosy.
The fat guy gives the meteorologist a bottle, even though her mouth's hanging open and her eyes are practically dangling out of her head and her blouse is all rumpled. She looks like a doll you'd find at a rummage sale, in the bottom of an oily cardboard box beneath a bunch of chewed up Nerf footballs. That, and she looks drunk.
I don't think I needed that shot, she says, groping my shoulder to steady herself. I don't know how I feel about her putting her hands all over me, but what am I going to do, throw her to the floor?
She glances at the bottle in her hand like it's a 6-lb splitting maul she's pricing. She closes one eye and screws up the other to examine the label.
In the other room, Molly loops her arms around Ryan's neck, trapping him in the snare of her body. She has no clue what's going on in her kitchen. Ryan just stands there, grinning over her shoulder. He's wasted. Everybody's wasted. Even the fat guy's wasted, which is probably why he hands me a beer, despite the fact that I'm so full of Dutch courage I'm snapping my fingers and belting out Honkey Cat along with Elton John.
Ryan grabs both of Molly's hefty butt cheeks and thrusts himself into her. Something's wrong with the picture. It's like a gazelle trying to make it with a hippopotamus. I stand there waiting for Mother Nature to sound an alarm. I wonder, briefly, what Darwin would say about this.
The meteorologist taps her bottle against mine and says, Cheers.
The bottle slips out of my hand. One minute I'm holding it, and the next thing I know it's rolling across the floor -- glug, glug, glug -- with beer pouring out all over the place. All night people have been spilling a little here and there -- the mop has even been going around -- but I'm the only one who actually drops a bottle.
Dude, the fat guy says, backing away as a little tidal wave of beer spreads across the floor.
Sorry, the meteorologist says, roaming around the spill and grabbing the mop. Her path is like a giant question mark.
The fat guy hands me another bottle and tells me to watch it. Only got two cases, he says.
This time I hook my pinky beneath the bottle the way Ryan always does. I should've done that in the first place. I step to the side so the meteorologist can mop the part of the floor where I've been standing.
Ryan and Molly haven't moved an inch all night. It's as if she wants everyone to remember them like that -- like Venus clinging to Adonis before he resumes the hunt.
It's getting late and the meteorologist won't shut up. She's making chin music. She's talking a blue streak. It's me and her mouth yapping away. Her Spanish teacher, she says, has gone the entire semester without speaking English. Not a word! The first day after class the teacher told her she was going to need a tutor. The class meets every day over lunch and she's so hungry she can't concentrate. When she was little she used to put ketchup on tacos. She can't remember when you're supposed to use the subjunctive mood. The tutor she hired had terrible BO. She's thinking about getting on the meal plan at the Union next year. Sometimes she studies at Helen C. White, but when it gets too smoky she goes to Memorial. Her roommate never buys any toilet paper, so she's resorted to hiding the toilet paper. That's what it's come to. She never thought she'd become the sort of person who hides the toilet paper. Next year she's going to live on Dayton. Her current roommate, Moira, wears tight black sweaters and sells cocaine. The problem is that in Spanish you're supposed to use ser when you're talking about a permanent condition and estar when it's just temporary. But who's to say what's permanent and what's temporary? Sometimes she hears Moira masturbating in bed. Last fall at a date party in Lodi a bunch of Theta Chis swallowed live goldfish in shots of Cuervo. Then they all went on a hayride in the moonlight. It was very romantic. She's thinking about taking a class on Africa. She doesn't know anything about Africa.
I just stand there, half-listening, while she rattles away. I've nabbed the last beer in the house and she keeps taking sips of it like she thinks we were engaged or something. I'm too messed up to care, so I even let her keep the bottle for a while.
In the other room things are getting out of hand. Molly has Ryan backed up against the wall and is suffocating him with her lips. I look around halfheartedly for a sharp object. Meanwhile, they're practically doing it through their clothes. Ryan's working his hips, grinding away with his belt cinched tight at his waist. The muscles in his skinny calves are flexing and getting all hard, and his bangs are dangling in front of his eyes. Molly's hand sits like an overstuffed pillow on his bony chest.
I know the drill. Ryan will start dating Molly and I won't see him for a few months. I'll hang out with Amanda a lot at the Union, and we'll go for walks, and I'll try not to talk about him, but I won't be able to stop myself. His name will have a way of popping up in every conversation, like a stubborn weed. I'll talk about him, but I'll never say what's really on my mind. I'll skirt the issue. I'll talk around the edges of it. But I'll never tell Amanda that I think I love him. We'll drink too much coffee and instead I'll tell her I hate him. I'll tell her I hate him and miss him at the same time. I'll say, I wish I could just forget about him.
I know, she'll say. I know exactly what you mean.
I'll lie in bed at night, wondering where he is and if he's with Molly, praying that he's safe, and that nothing bad will ever happen to him, and that he'll call me soon.
And then one day when I'm just about to give up on him he'll call. He'll say it's over with Molly and ask if I want to go out and grab a beer. I'll stand Amanda up, promising myself that I'll somehow make it up to her, which I'll never do, and she'll forgive me anyway, making me feel even worse, and Ryan and I will go back to being best friends. He'll tell me he's through with women, and I'll almost believe him. We'll get drunk and he'll drape his arm over my shoulder and I'll lean into him a little, trying not to let it mean anything. Though it'll mean the world to me, those few precious seconds. And in a roundabout way I'll bring up the time he told that girl we were gay. We'll laugh about it, and he'll say, I can't believe she fell for it. And I'll say, I think it's because you kissed me. And he'll say, God, I must've been really drunk.
A few weeks later he'll start lying to another girl at another party and she'll believe every word that comes out of his mouth. And I'll let him get away with it again. I always let him get away with it.
I turn so I don't have to look at Ryan and Molly anymore and find myself standing face to face with the meteorologist. I see powdery blue eye shadow and eyelashes like spider legs and a forehead glistening with perspiration. I see a net of purple capillaries floating in the white, tepid sea of her face. Her eyes are at half-mast.
It's hot in here, I say, stroking her back. Aren't you hot? I'm hot.
She reaches up and feels her crooked neck, like she isn't sure she'll find it below her head. She touches her throat with her fingertips. They tremble as I move my hand down her back, slowly, lovingly, pausing where her blouse disappears into her pants.
I reach up and she lets me undo the top button of her blouse. It's too hot for this blouse, I say. You must be dying.
In Arizona, she says, swallowing, it gets chilly. At night.
I can barely hear her. Shhh, I say, and she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, as if she's making a wish.
The mop is leaning against the refrigerator on the other side of the kitchen, a thousand miles away. The music has stopped and I can hear the light buzzing overhead. We're alone now. We're the last ones in the kitchen.
I gaze at the pale, blank skin of her neck and something shrinks inside my chest, shriveling up like a raisin. I tell her she's cute. I tell her there's nothing to be afraid of. I would never hurt you, I say, leaning closer so I can whisper more lies into her head.
She stumbles back and sweeps her hand through the air, losing her balance. Get your tongue out of my ear, she says.
I don't know what she's talking about. You don't understand, I say.
Now Ryan and Molly are in the doorway, staring at us. What's going on? Molly says. What happened?
The meteorologist keeps backing away from me. Then she turns and flees.
It's hot. I press the cold, wet bottle against my forehead, but it doesn't help. Nothing helps anymore. I close my eyes for a second, and when I open them Molly has disappeared. Ryan's on the other side of the kitchen, standing in the doorway, asking if I'm okay. I hate him. I want to strangle him. But I would never hurt him. I want to hold him in my arms.
My eyes are burning. I tell him I'm okay. I just need to close my eyes for a minute. Give me a minute, I say, but when I open them he's gone too. And I'm alone in the kitchen.
That's when it starts to rain. The damp, earthy smell of it blows in through the window, cooling things off. Then I'm standing at the window, watching the rain. That's all I remember. I must've left at some point, but I don't remember walking home. I couldn't possibly tell you how I found my way home that night. All I remember is Molly clinging to Ryan beside that Doric column. And I remember the way the meteorologist kept calling me Jake. Mostly I remember standing in the kitchen with the rain coming in through the window, and how I couldn't even feel it on my skin.