Monday, October 12, 2009

Rock/Paper/Scissors: a series of Facebook fictionettes*

Douglas always fell in love with women from the Midwest. "Plain talkers," he told himself. "Or ones who don't talk at all." Aside from being plain talkers, they also stayed put. Douglas had never met one of them, never heard from them offline, although he thought about what he might say, if it happened. Two days after his forty-second birthday, Douglas received the first postcard he had seen in years--a tiny miracle.

Her name was Barbette. At least, that was the name signed in red ink across the postcard. Douglas gripped the picture between thumb and forefinger and stared down at the woman with the creamy skin, and hair the color of sunlit wheat. She posed in the driver's seat of a luxurious car--Douglas didn't recognize the make or model--with her legs resting on the steering wheel and a flimsy silk skirt drawn up over her hips.

Sweltering. The blond was so crazy. Twice a week she strolled into the P.O. wearing cut-offs and a t-shirt. And she mailed a batch of postcards--pictures of her daughter. Troy stamped each card of the soft-focus, housewife porn. Pretty creepy, though, mailing shots of her daughter to guys in California… Then Troy realized the blond was the girl, about fifteen years, twenty pounds and twelve thousand Bloody Marys ago.

The twins were fighting in the back seat of the beat-up Civic, all the way home. Barbara didn't care. She was thinking of herself as Barbette, the way she'd been signing postcards for the past month. Nothing to look at: Roads, fields, tractors. She'd rather be in her head, humming tunes from that ballet she liked. "You two shut up now or I'll leave you right here," she told the twins, and laughed. Swan Lakes. Pretty!

1) Pretty. The blond was so young and so pretty--her legs in the air like a ballerina. 2) She didn't come to his house. 3) She wasn't asking for money. Maybe she wouldn't ask. She was a good girl. He could see it in her face, in the tender lines of her body against the firm flesh of the car seat. She looked clean and sweet and quiet. Douglas pulled on his frayed, green cardigan and stuffed the postcard in his pocket.

August. Millie. Brunette. "Buckteeth." So she said when they first met. She kept holding the back of her hand across her lips, to hide her front teeth. Where did "buck" come from? Why "buck?" Douglas couldn't see her buckteeth, not for the longest time. She hid her smile from him. She wore a necklace of glittering stones. She drank gin through a straw from a special, little glass. Small fingers, slender toes: Millie.

The twins were frying red grapes in a skillet. The kid across the street had told them, that's how to make raisins. They didn't especially like raisins, but they wanted very much to make a change take place before their eyes. Jenny watched Jackie pushing the grapes around with a broken spatula. They leaned in closer, skinny seven year olds, arms almost touching, with a look of high seriousness on their angular faces.

By the time the twins helped Barbette smash the pillows, towels, and sheets into the trunk of the Civic and they hit the road, Jenny had a temporary eye patch and Jackie wore a 4-inch square Band-Aid, across the burn from an exploding grape. They were understandably sullen for most of the drive. Boundless fields and back-arching skies were wasted on them. So Barbette sang to herself all the way to Tustin, California.

The P.O. was busy all week. By the time Troy noticed the blond was gone, she was long gone. First she missed her Wednesday pickup, then Saturday, then Wednesday again. No forwarding address, but the box was paid for another month. Only one letter arrived after the blond took off. Faint handwriting on the envelope. Troy thought the delicate hand belonged to a woman. But it was from a guy named Douglas Plate in Tustin.

While Barbette drove west and sang off-key, Jenny and Jackie killed time in the back seat. The desert freeway inspired them to create the life story of their mother. Not Barbette. Not even Barbara, her real name. Their true mother was a tall, pretty, tragically dead lady from India, Norway and England. She had expired suddenly from falling downstairs, and the twins were traveling west to inherit their family fortune.

Troy chewed on the cheeseburger, at a careful angle above the coffee table, elbows out, trying not to drip on Douglas Plate's letter. An episode of Top Chef taunted Troy with Chateaubriand. He took a ravenous bite of beef patty. Any way he looked at it, the letter was a warning--to old Barb, or young Barbette or whatever she was passing herself off as. Polite. But the guy didn't want her to visit him. That was clear.

November. Not last year. Daphne. Quaker? Mormon? Douglas had his doubts: Daphne's long neck was encircled by a tattoo of vines and symbols. She came to his door selling magazines. They always came looking for him. She was a Virgo and a truth seeker, she said. Flirting. Lips. She asked his age, and told him he had the power to do anything he really wanted. When they met, she was a vegetarian. Her mood ring was yellow.

"You better do as your dad says." Barbette glanced in the rearview mirror. The twins looked up. Jackie said: "What's his name?" "Mr. Plate." "Do we call him mister or dad?" "Be quiet 'til he tells you what to call him. I'll be back in a few days, at the most, to pick you up." Jenny asked: "Are you going off to marry the guy from TV?" Barbette shook her head. They were slow, and plain, both girls. It wasn't her fault.

February. Three years ago. Caroline. Wore a wig, but Douglas wouldn't have guessed if it hadn't slid off her head while he was cutting her throat. It was a shame. She seemed like a nice lady until she started talking. Douglas couldn't understand why they kept coming to his house, the talking women. He didn't ask them to. He felt safer online, at least before the blond. Now here she was, walking across his front yard.

Barbette held a pair of cuticle scissors in one hand, just in case. Some guys seemed easy to handle and then turned funny on her. Once she had to stab a drunk with the scissors, and right up to that moment she would have said he was the nicest guy in the world. This one was lonely. He wouldn't mind having the twins for company for a while. Once she was married she would be rich, and she would come back for the girls.

Through the back window of the car, the twins watched her cross the dirt yard. Mr. Plate's house was small and painted cake yellow. The door opened and Barbette went inside. Killing time, the twins began to play rock/paper/scissors. Startled by a shout, they looked up. But all they could see was the dry scrub, tall fences, gravel drive. High up in the sky two sparrows circled--calling crazily--and flew away together.

Images & text copyright©2009 S.P. Miskowski
*Each FB fictionette or installment contains the maximum number of characters allowed in a status update in Spring 2009.


Sandie Dent said...

Wow. This is brilliant - I love it.

S.P. Miskowski said...

Thanks, Sandie!