Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula
One. In high school Peggy Paula worked as a waitress at the Perkins. Night shifts were her favorite, kids from her school would come in after games or dances with bleary eyes and messy hair and Peggy Paula knew they’d been drinking and smoking those flimsy joints she’d see them passing, the girls with smudged makeup and rats nests in the back of their heads, proud unblinking eyes, scanning the dining room like I dare you, I dare you to guess what I just let Jared or Steve or Casey do to me, I let him and I liked it and I don’t care, and Peggy Paula honored just to be near these girls, envious, taking their orders for French fries and Ranch, keeping their secrets and the sticky lipgloss tubes they’d sometimes leave behind, watermelon and cherry and berry and once a spicy cinnamon that burned Peggy Paula’s lips for an hour, what kind of girl wanted burning lips, poison lips, Peggy Paula’s heart pounding at the thought of such a girl, of the boy who went after such a girl in the backseat of his father’s sedan, the girl stinging his lips, his neck, moving further down, burning that boy up with her mouth, Peggy Paula going into the bathroom stall and wanting to touch herself but not knowing where to begin, wanting to begin everywhere, standing with her fists clenched and breathing hard, and then needing to be out from the stall and moving and so going back to the dining room feeling every inch of her skin, her lips cherry red and raw when she saw her reflection in the toaster, and three weeks later asking the redheaded dishwasher to drive her home and directing him to the spot she knew those girls went to, her lips aflame, when he pulled up sliding over, the stick shift digging into her hip, putting her mouth on his freckled neck, it smelled like mashed potatoes and industrial soap and sweat, her hand first on his thigh and then crabcrawling to his zipper, it was already hardening under there despite him saying, Hey hey, what, and Peggy Paula saying, Just, please, and the dishwasher quiet after that, letting Peggy Paula, letting her, following her into the backseat, holding her tight when it happened, saying I’m sorry and Peggy Paula saying Shh, stinging his shoulder with her lips and his back with her nails and feeling filled up and afraid and like her heart could kick the windows out.
Two. Peggy Paula has a kidney-shaped scar on her lower back from falling out an open window backwards at a disco. She was there to meet men, but all the men at this disco seemed more interested in each other, though she couldn’t be sure, she found a place by a window so she could see the men coming and going, moving her feet side to side, the disco just a warehouse with walls of windows and colored lights with roving beams, a purple lightbeam getting her right in the eyes and Peggy Paula holding her clutch up to her eyes and backing away from it and right out the window, the music so loud and the lights so frantic that nobody noticed. She fell into the dumpster, staring up at the dark starless sky, her head nestling perfectly in the butt part of an old baby seat once it became clear she wouldn’t be getting out on her own any time soon. The DJ cycled through Jive Talkin twice before she was finally found, Peggy Paula not being able to help singing along despite her numbtoes, despite the smell of rotten apples and wet cardboard and pee, How is there pee in the dumpster, it seems real inconvenient, Peggy Paula was thinking, and I swear seconds later, she’d say, seconds later a boy in a sequin robe thing stood on some milk crates so he could pee into the dumpster, his blond head looking up, and Peggy Paula still singing to herself so instead of screaming Hey or Stop she screamed TRAGEDY, and the boy so startled that his pee shot out and piddled the empty TV box just to the left of Peggy Paula, and he couldn’t stop, him apologizing Oh God sorry, Oh my God lady, I’m so sorry, my idiot dick I can’t stop, I can’t stop, and Peggy Paula just waiting it out with her eyes closed, thinking how it smelled like warmed butter, or buttered popcorn, something comforting like that, thinking it was kind of nice, kind of intimate, and suddenly feeling grateful for the whole night—the torturous application of blue eyeshadow, then green, then back to blue; the realization that her new dance move made her armfat shudder like tapioca in the pot; the eye contact she made with a mustachioed man who squinted, getting her into focus, then turned away; the crippling barbed loneliness that drove her out into the night and all the way to this disco—it was all worth it because it boiled down to this lovely private moment with a polite blond boy, who drove her to the hospital so she could get fourteen stitches and an ankle brace, and on the drive home told Peggy Paula she had a pretty face, offered her a small white pill to take that made Peggy Paula long to be naked, and the blond boy came in and lay on the couch with Peggy Paula watching late night television, moved closer and stroked her jaw, her nape, pet her arms, her thighs, even gently pulling her knees apart and moving the back of his hand softly, lovingly, between her legs, Peggy Paula thinking I am his pet, thank God I’m his pet, Why are my clothes still on? and falling asleep during a rerun of Andy Griffith, waking up to find the blond boy gone and her wallet and breath mints missing from her purse and a note that said Thank you I’m sorry Thank you You’re special. Peggy Paula loves that kidney-shaped scar.
Three. Peggy Paula was returning a video when she met a man she would love. He took the video from her like it was delicate and valuable, touching her wrist with his thumb and smiling. The man had a dimple in his chin and a wedding ring, that thumb on her wrist like she was his and he was making it known, and Peggy Paula had him over for pot roast and ice cream two nights later and lowered herself onto him so slowly that he cried out in frustration, Peggy Paula still stunned at this man before her, wondering how exactly it happened and then when he grabbed her hips to move her the way he wanted not wondering about anything at all. It went on this way for months, the man coming for dinner and Peggy Paula bathing and perfuming herself all day and wanting to pound the walls into dust with the waiting for him, telling him over and over how much she loved him, her mouth in his neck and her voice weak, like it had been diluted, the man grunting approval and Peggy Paula breathing breathing breathing breathing him in, the sour smell of video cleaner and his aftershave and underneath it all the smell of his wife’s rose water perfume, the same Peggy Paula used, and one day the man didn’t come, and he didn’t come the next day, and the next day his wife came and Peggy Paula remained calm, invited her in, and the woman also seemed calm, going into the kitchen and Peggy Paula wondering if she felt comfortable enough to get herself something to sip, and the woman coming out with Peggy Paula’s bread knife held high in her fist and making a horrible sound with her mouth, then Peggy Paula realized the woman was sobbing with her mouth wide open, and her heart broke for the woman even as she lunged, Peggy Paula wanting to show the woman how a bread knife doesn’t have a point, is only good for sawing things, not stabbing really, but instead she moved out of the way and the woman tripped on the carpeting and stumbled toward the couch, the sobbing noise getting louder, and then the man rushed in and batted the knife out of his wife’s hands, picked her up and carried her out of there, his eyes cutting over to Peggy Paula like it was her with the knife, her with the animal noises that wouldn’t stop, and Peggy Paula so stunned that she couldn’t cry, couldn’t feel, and maybe that’s why she let the man in two nights later, had to see his eyes, had to feel again, and she kept letting the man in, she kept letting the man, his smell the hair on his chest the delicate skin above his pelvis the muscles in his thighs his calloused hands the shapes of his toes the gold in his eyes the missing molar the mole on his back the heart in his chest the breaths in and out he was alive he was another he was a man and Peggy Paula let him, she let him, because if no one is there to touch you are you even really there?
After the apocalypse, which stopped being a shock to the system after you saw them mallwalkers being vaporized over by the PF Chang’s that you used to eat with your momma at every birthday, idiots pumping they elbows like the sun wasn’t a oozing boil, one of them a hawkfaced sculpture of bone before the rapture, so the pile of ash was a improvement, and why you was so angry at these ladies you didn’t quite know, but it just seemed retarded, caring about your physical fitness while nearby four crows picked at a halved lady’s crotch, but anyway after you crawled out the basement and your momma made you eat canned beans for every meal, after your brother’s eye just one day burbled and dripped out the socket in yolky clumps that he wiped off with his shirt hem, after you found yourself prizing your goobers like the pig to the truffle, the moist dark ones you imagine having the most nutrients, after your daddy stopped wearing pants and you stopped feeling alarmed at his swinging wrinkled scrotum, after you watched your daddy’s pimpled buttcheeks rumble with fart while he was staring dumbfounded out the window, formulating a plan he said, after your daddy took off besocked but bare-assed on your brother’s bicycle, your momma making like to run after him but then shrugging and scratching herself, which is what she started to do after it was clear there wasn’t no help coming, no tanks no army man no superhero no angel no wizard no god no God, your momma took to scratching herself, your brother took to rubbing himself through his gym shorts, both of them in a daze, these were comforts, after you saw the neighbor lady wave to you from the roof and then throw herself off, the body snapping when the rope caught and then blam, it crashed through her front room window, after your momma had you and your brother cut her down and your momma said She always kept them flowers tidy and your brother said She had sweet titties for a old lady, after your brother filleted the neighbor lady and you roasted her upper arms over a trash fire and salted it with dirt and had a regular chow down and then the next night you ate her inner thighs, which to you tasted like buttered rubber, after your brother tied one of the neighbor lady’s breasts over his no-eye till it was greened and shriveled, after a priest came to the house asking could we smother him, or punch him in the throat till he was dead, or he don’t know, stomp his head into a pudding, he couldn’t do it himself, after your momma sent him down the road to the Circle K where that could be arranged, after you thought about having relations with that priest before he died because you never had and you couldn’t with your brother, what with that eye, after you nearly said it but then your daddy’s privates flashed across your brain, that arid peachfuzz desert of a nutsack, that shriveled defeated wiener, and you let the priest walk on, after you watched your brother’s baseball coach come down the road and stop to take a bite out his own arm, screaming and chewing, after your brother said He always was a fuckin pussy, your brother rubbing himself, them gym shorts no bigger than a pair of undies now, all shredded and shitted cause your brother just went wherever he was, and why not, once you nearly ate a plump turd that toppled out his shorts into the dirt cause it looked just enough like a juicy sausage link, and cause you knew it’d be nice and hot, after you woke up and saw a baldheaded lady riding your brother’s bicycle, your daddy riding the handlebars, you knew it was him cause his ass was out, after you didn’t tell no one cause what was the point, after your brother lodged a old marble he found in the neighbor’s yard in his empty eye socket, after he complained it itched his brain, said he was like to dig your momma’s eye out and use it for his own, cause she don’t do nothin with it anyway, old curdled cow, he always was embarrassed by your momma’s cellulite problems, which persisted unchecked despite there wasn’t no junk food to gnaw on, after you told him that wasn’t respectful, after you had a dream a mouth with a burger tongue and onion teeth was eating you, after a woman in a ashy pink suit came to the door trying to sell a tin of blusher, after your brother said he’d give her a nickel for it, after you saw your brother and the woman humping against the side of the garage, your momma not ten yards away in a lawn chair, ash fluttering down on it all like the opposite of snow, after you asked after the blusher and your brother said Oh yeah but didn’t hand it over, after a fire came and you saw a pack of dogs outrun it, after your momma decided to live in the shower, after your brother started eating gravel, swallowing each pebble like a difficult but necessary pill, after your brother malleted the rest of the roof off cause he was bored, after you agreed boredom was the worst, far beyond the hunger and the fear and the fat chewed up gumwad that your ear had become, after you woke to your brother curled up around a tattered stuffed elephant you didn’t know he had, after he muttered Eat your boob meat in his sleep, after you heard it before you saw it, after you thought maybe your brother wasn’t asleep, maybe it was a lit fart, after that second white sting, after that clap of light, after
My Boyfriend Del
You got a eye booger, Del tells me. I can’t look at it, it’s sick. You all gooey. A goober goo-face. This he finds funny, he laughs loud, his mouth huge, all teeth but for where a ridged half-tooth is working its way down in the front. I try but can’t get a purchase on why it was so funny, but even so I laugh too, I work out the eye booger with my fingertip and try to be demure when I wipe it on his momma’s carpet. All the magazines say it’s important to laugh together, laughter is important in any successful relationship, I laugh until Del gets distracted by his Transformer and tells me in his Transformer voice that it’s time for me to die. I die over and over, wilting into the carpet, one time I wilt onto his laser gun and he tells me to quit being a stupid dummy. This hurts, I pretend I have to use the bathroom, I run the water and cry a little. When I get back Del asks me Number one or number two? but I don’t answer, I never know how to answer that.
Later we drive to the Arby’s for milkshakes. That’s something any other woman might get agitated about, having to always be the one who drives, the one who pays, but I like that about me and Del. He’s content just being taken.
You remember when we met? I ask him. He’s playing with the radio, a preacher shouting a woman moaning an old hillbilly crooning the news the weather the traffic. Yeah, he says, you was in the library same as me. He goes rigid, then a machine-gun fart rat-a-tats out from him and he relaxes. Scuse me, he says.
That’s right, I say, we both like books about aliens. Isn’t that something?
This tastes like barf, Del says, but he keeps drinking. We are quiet for a while, which is a relief cause it can be a difficult, getting a 9-year-old to conversate. I drive around the parking lot, into the next parking lot, maybe we’ll go in to the store and look at Legos, sometimes we do that, sometimes Del lets me take him to the ladies clothes area so I can get his opinion on tops.
This is boring, Del says, and I get scared he’s talking about us, so I rev the engine and pretend like I’m going to ram into an old woman with a shopping cart. Yeah, Del screams, I want to see her guts!
Back at his house he asks if I want to play Princess Leia and I am touched, I know he’d rather have her for a girlfriend than me, It’d be an honor, I tell him, and he hands me my light saber and then knocks it out of my hand with his. You’re dead cinnamon-bun dumb-hair, he says, looking up at me through his bangs, my hand is throbbing from where his light saber hit, again I die for him, I shudder and quake and cry out and fall at his feet and die. Now I’m going to maybe spit in your hair, you don’t know, keep your fat eyes closed, he says. Okay, I whisper.
Dinner, Del’s momma calls, and I stay dead, waiting for Del to ask if I can stay and eat, but when I open my eyes a moment later he says You gotta go.
I get up on my knees and hold my arms out, Del lets me hold him, he smells like sweat and his momma’s shampoo, Herbal Essences, the pink kind, I checked. I squeeze him extra long cause I can’t get up the nerve to kiss his cheek, maybe next time. I’ll miss you, I say. Let go, he says, you acting like a butthole uglyface.
I pass his momma on the way out, standing at the stove in her housedress. You know I don’t like you coming around so much, she isn’t looking at me, just watching her own hand move the spoon around the pot. You a nice lady but my son is 9 years old and you are what? You are what? I want to say I love your boy Del but I never even said that to Del yet, so I just leave it be.
On the way home I stop and buy a can of beefaroni, me and Del can eat the same dinner even if we ain’t in the same place. Over the program I watch I can hear Del’s momma saying You are what? You are what?
Del has a new friend, this Simon child with glasses and a neon snotlip, he is over every afternoon now, the first time we meet I offer him a tissue and he tells me I should use it to wipe the old off my face. We drive to the Arby’s and Del sits in the backseat with Simon, I watch Del’s face in the rearview, I wait for him to look at me but he doesn’t, when we get to the Arby’s I tell them I don’t have no money even though I have fourteen dollars in a roll in my purse. On you? I ask Del, I am turned around and with a jovial look on my face, this is a adventure, my face is saying. Del says Huh? and Simon says We ain’t got a dime, lady, we ain’t even double digits yet. On you? I ask again. Let’s just wander the store, Del says, and my middle flutters cause I love when he is decisive.
Hold my hand in the parking lot, I say to Del, for safety. In the magazines they talk about how important touch is, affection, showing instead of just telling. In high school I held a boy’s hand at a football game, the boy’s hand rigid and cold in mine, the lights exploding around us and the air smelling like pizza and hot dogs and bubble gum, the boy got up to use the restroom and took his cup of 7-Up with him and did not return. Go on, I say to Del, holding out my hand. Not a chance in heck, he says, he has recently learned to belch, the word heck comes out in a moist growl.
In the store Del and Simon race to the drinking fountains, Simon gets a mouthful and gleeks it at my slacks, says Oh hey, pisspants, Del points and laughs. In the magazines they say men are sometimes cruel because they are testing your emotional boundaries, I want Del to know I am boundless, I am a universe, I grit out a smile and follow them to the toys, they arm themselves with swords and commence to stabbing me, Simon saying Lop off her tiddies, Simon saying I wish these blades were real, and I wish you were dying like old ladies are supposed to, Del chops me in half. A woman smiles at me, says Boys, I want to tell her Del is my man, tell her he is not a boy, but she is wearing a pink hairclip and a wooden necklace and this convinces me she would not understand.
In the video games aisle I stand behind Del as he and Simon shoot at homeless people and prostitutes, I wait while they throw basketballs at each other’s crotches, I buy them hot dogs and Simon says I knew you was lying about the money. I wait outside the bathroom while they relieve themselves, Simon comes out and says Del barfed up his hot dog, I don’t know if this is true or not. In the recreations area Simon and Del spin the wheels of the hanging bikes and dare each other to stick their fingers in the spokes, I am desperate for Del to look at me, for his gray eyes to meet mine, all I require is a single moment, it is all I need in this world, I cannot go home to the bed and the walls and the single channel on the television and the white plate on the table and the drying tulip from Del’s momma’s garden without my moment, and I know what the magazines say about jealousy being a powerful motivator when a man can’t commit, I grab for Simon and push my lips onto his, his smell like mold and ketchup and dirt, his heart beating out his whole body, his lip cold and wet, the snot, the snot, I pull away and he is wiping his mouth and gagging, the snot smeared across his cheek now, a glistening wing, his glasses fogged, Simon saying What? What?, Del emitting a high whining ewwwww, all eyes fixed on me, marbles of horror, I back away, I turn and walk through the blender aisle the baby clothes all the lotions and powders and mints and magazines asking me questions about myself, me thinking How should I know?, me wondering why they don’t say nothing about a kiss being salty as a tear.
LINDSAY HUNTER is the author of Daddy’s and DON’T KISS ME. She lives in Chicago, where she toils on a novel forthcoming on FSG Originals in the fall of 2014. Find her at lindsayhunter.com.
Adapted from Don’t Kiss Me, by Lindsay Hunter, Copyright © 2013 by Lindsay Hunter. With the permission of the publisher, FSG Originals.