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I am wearing a red dress, standing at the edge of the lake that borders Cheboygan. Shivering, just a little, because I did not bring a sweater. I am staring up at a black clear sky filled with fireworks and lights. A man has his arms around me. He stands behind me. I am too short for him, or he is too tall for me, so he has to stoop down to hug me from behind. I have known him three days. We have had sex on the carpeted floor of his apartment only once, when I was so dead blind drunk I couldn’t even hold up my own head. But other than that, I have been a perfect lady. The lake is black and shiny, like an oil slick with green and pink confetti ribbons of fireworks reflected in its black water, reflected back up at the sky. There are shooting stars, too, and constellations—Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Orion, The North Star. The Milky Way. And Venus. On the way over here, driving his maroon Monte Carlo, he had said to me, Last year a rocket went off by accident into the crowd and injured a bunch of kids real bad. So naturally, I am just a little nervous, just ever so stiff in my red dress, watching the fireworks go Boom! Bam! Poom!! while this man, this tall man with the baritone voice, places his arms around me, pulls me into his body. There are two other couples with us, couples who actually know one another, Hobie and Annie, Chad and The Blonde.
The man with his arms around me calls himself Jacques, though his name is really Duane. He changed his name a little more than a year ago, grew his short hair out in a small pony tail, started to write. He self-published his first novel, which he called From Petoskey To Prague. (This was later changed to the catchier, hipper Hiding from Hemingway. He made a few edits, published it again, and re-sold it to all the same people.) It costs him five dollars to print up each book and he sells it for ten. No one is safe; he sells them to summer tourists, friends, family, people he meets in the pub. I know because I bought one from him there, sitting at the mahogany bar under dim lights. The cover was good, a photo of two lovers silhouetted on a bench in Petoskey overlooking the water at sunset, a photo that he took himself. And, on the cover, in bold letters, his new name: Jacques (not Duane) LaMarche.
For the most part, people in town remember to call him Jacques, although a few occasionally slip up and say things like Hi, Duane when they see him. Some people—mostly the guys from the dart league—even give him shit, especially late at night, when they’ve had too much to drink, and their mean streaks leak out, but I think I understand; it’s all part of an effort to reinvent himself. When he was still Duane, he ran into trouble at the grocery store. The manager there fired him for helping to form a union. And even though the union backed him up, sent out one of their own best lawyers to sue and win him a whole year of severance pay, he does not want to be Duane anymore. He does not want to be Duane who has worked all his life in the grocery store. He does not want to be Duane from the Upper Peninsula, specifically Manistique and Escanaba. He does not want to come from a family of ten kids, of whom he was the last. He does not want to be the one whose delivery caused his mother to die, even though, as he explained it quite firmly to me, she did not die from the childbirth itself, but really from a goiter. He does not want to be the one who was adopted away to his Uncle Roy, a millwright, and to his Aunt Geraldine—although his aunt did have her own polka band (with her sister, Genvieve), which was cool. No, he wants more—much, much more. He wants to be a novelist, European—or at least from Montreal—wants to speak French, wants to be a gypsy, a traveler, a lover, a fool. He wants to drift, living on all the money he won in the lawsuit against the grocery store. Wants to spend it at the pub, and on food, and on gasoline for long car drives with a woman he’s known just three days, a woman who is me.
I am the tourist he met in the pub, where I go to get a little buzz on pretty much every night. I am here in town from Los Angeles visiting my dad, who had a heart attack but who now is sort-of-fine; we are staying at my grandmother’s old summer house, a house she usually rents out, a house she’s owned since the ‘30’s. My dad figured if he was going to die, this would be a great place to do it. There’s the lake, memories of his childhood, people who’ve known him since he was a boy. Each night I cook up a cholesterol-free, fat-free vegetarian dinner for him using the You Can Reverse Heart Disease cook book by Dean Ornish. My mother has lined index cards taped up on the kitchen wall, index cards with columns of numbers that mark the progress of my dad’s cholesterol levels and weight. This is her project, keeping track. My mother talks to me for hours on end about good cholesterol versus bad cholesterol. It’s all we seem to discuss. It’s all we have energy for. My dad’s cholesterol, my dad’s doctors, his operation, his food history, his family’s health history, daily calorie counts, his stint. I get on the cholesterol train with Mom, help out, read up, study, learn. I drive all the way to the other side of the bay so I can food shop at The Grain Train, the only health food store in our area. I learn to create protein by combining a grain with a legume. I comb the Dean Ornish book for the healthy recipes that actually taste good. My dad is relieved that such recipes exist. Like Mom, I follow the Dean Ornish diet myself, even though I don’t have heart disease, just to lend my support. We make tofu lasagna with non-fat cottage cheese instead of ricotta; burritos with yogurt instead of sour cream. In the kitchen, everywhere you look, there are bowls of beans soaking away: in the fridge, on the shelves, on the counter, in the sink. Pinto. Kidney. Navy. Azuki, Lima, Garbanzo. Black, red, white, the kind that are tan and brown. My mother has farts so bad she can actually walk clear across the living room, from one side to the other, letting out a long, extended purr that appears to propel her as she goes, like a motor. I am concerned. The smell is constant and unbearable, eggy. If heart disease doesn’t kill my dad, surely he will die from this. I buy Bean-o for all of us at Hovey’s Drug Store, and make up funny little songs, reminders for my mom: When you’re on Dean O., it’s best to take Bean-o… We’re having fun, but still, each night, about the time that Dad is scheduled to go to bed, I feel a very strong need to put on a dress and go out and sit at the end of a bar. That’s where I met Jacques, whose real name is Duane.
It’s chilly tonight in Cheboygan and Jacques asks me if I am cold, offers me his coat, wraps it around my back. It is soft, pseudo-suede, cadet blue. The fireworks are dying out, getting old. Hobie wants to know if we're ready to go, and indicates the carnival across the street. We’re ready, we say. We run across the street, all six of us, me still shivering a little, even though I’m wearing the coat. Tonight it’s crowded in downtown Cheboygan. We actually have to squeeze by people on the sidewalk. Everyone’s out for the Fourth. Many are tourists—or fudgies, as the locals say—from places like Indiana and Illinois who have invaded the area for vacation, swimming, sight-seeing, Mackinaw Island, pasties, and fudge. When we arrive at the roped-off carnival area, Hobie, Chad, and Jacques all wait in line to buy carnival tokens, while we three girls stand silently in a triangle, chewing Juicy Fruit gum from Annie and warding off the cold. Annie has her hands plunged deep into her overall pockets, while The Blonde folds her arms across her chest, looks around. Me, I just wrap the coat tight around my shoulders and stamp my feet from time to time. When the guys come back with the tokens, we head off to a ride called The Gravitron, sometimes called The Gravitator, a ride where you lie flat on your back in a little metal slot that is one spoke on a giant wheel. You get a little chain-link seat belt clamped across your waist, and when the wheel starts moving, tilting up and down, going around and around, you feel like you’re about to spin off the face of the earth. Even though you’re lying on your back, you feel like you’re constantly upside down, but with a fifty-pound weight attached to your face. The machine is loud, loud—a high-pitched, shrill whirring, like a drill—and there’s grinding and clinking, the sounds of a gearshift stripping. I get really scared. While the others are whooping and cheering, I am sure that I will fly away, fly out of my metal slot on The Gravitator, fly past the fireworks, past Cheboygan, past Michigan, past the moon. I scream out, Hold my hand! Scream to no one in particular, Please God! Please, please! Oh God someone hold my hand! And someone does. The Blonde in the metal slot next to me turns her face towards me, reaches out and grabs my hand. I can see her hair blowing, flushed cheeks, white teeth.
After we get off The Gravitron, Jacques tries to win me a teddy bear by shooting baskets through a hoop, but ends up wasting four carnival tokens instead. Sucking hard on the end of a cigarette, he says to Hobie, Aah, you know they’ve got that thing rigged, even though the wiry black man in yellow pants running the game shoots the ball in the hoop every time.
Driving back home in the maroon Monte Carlo, we don’t talk too much. It’s quiet a lot, and that’s okay. I don’t really want to talk anymore. I like looking out the window at Michigan, at the shapes of the pine trees and at the dark. I like staring at each piece of divider line in the center of the road as it goes by us, lit up in the bright headlights of the car. I like the yellow diamond signs for deer crossings that we pass every now and then, and the bumps and potholes in the imperfect two-lane highway. Jacques puts a cassette in the tape player. There’s a silent couple of moments while the tape winds its way down the leader, and then the sounds of Celtic music. Wild fiddlers saw away, happy, rowdy, insane. Think: leprechauns on ecstasy and speed. We listen, saying nothing. I’m staring out at the moon, it’s three-quarters with one edge blurred in some fog. The Monte Carlo drives smooth. The heat is blowing on me, warm. The seats are soft, couch-y. Jacques puts out the stub of his cigarette, says to me, I like Irish music. It’s like, Who gives a fuck about anything?
We keep driving.
When I walk in the back door of my grandmother’s house, all the lights are on and Mom is waiting up for me like I’m a teenager again. She is reading From Petoskey To Prague at the kitchen table, wearing her drugstore bifocals on a purple string. She has on my dad’s oversized sweatshirt instead of a nightie, with bare feet. I open the fridge door and grab some juice, taking care not to jostle all our bowls of beans. She says, You’re home so late, Lulu. This is her nickname for me. I take a swig of juice, gulp gulp, Sorry. Take a big breath of kitchen air. Mom says, How was your evening? I say, Good good, how was yours? She sniffs, looks down through her bifocals. I’ve just been reading Jacques’ book. It’s very good. I say, Oh, where are you? She says, The part where Sarah gets together with the guy, with um. What’s his name? With Chad. She doesn’t look up, but continues. So. What did you do all night? I wipe some juice off my mouth. Mm. Take another sip of juice. Me and some friends of his went to see fireworks in Cheboygan. And then there was this little carnival right there, across the street.
Oh, fun, says Mom, smiling, that sounds like fun.
Oh, Mom. It was so fun, I say.
Kerry Muir holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College. Her Creative Nonfiction has appeared in Crazyhorse. Her play for children, Befriending Bertha, won first prize at The Great Platte River Playwrights’ Festival, and second prize at The Nantucket Short Play Festival & Competition, and was published by Limelight Editions/Amadeus Press. She is the editor of two anthologies of dramatic literature for children and teens, Childsplay: A Collection of Scenes and Monologues for Young Actors and Three New Plays for Young Actors from The Young Actor's Studio.
“Weirdly, I’ve never lived in a place with a front porch. Blame it on suburbia, ranch houses, California modern architecture. But in one house in Berkeley, we had five cement stairs and a cement landing, measuring about three feet by four feet. One Saturday I donned a red boa and a silky muu-muu and posed out there, a long, black cigarette holder outstretched in one hand. When my friend Karen came by, I gave her a wide-brimmed yellow hat and a red rose to clench in her teeth. We lounged on that landing like amateur harlots, pretending not to notice when anyone turned to stare. I think I had seen one to many Tennessee Williams movies. Below us, down on the sidewalk, my younger sister roller skated in circles, wearing overalls.”