Read All Families Are Psychotic Online
Authors: Douglas Coupland
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas, #General
All Families Are Psychotic By Douglas Coupland
IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE
AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY
- Jenny Holzer
Janet opened her eyes — Florid a's prehistoric glare dazzled outside the motel windo w. A dog barked; a car honked; a man was singing a snatch of a Spanish song. She absentmindedly touched the scar from the bullet wound beneath her left rib cage, a scar that had healed over, bumpy and formless and hard, like a piece of gum stuck beneath a tabletop. She hadn' t expected her flesh to have healed so blandly —
What was I expecting, a scar shaped like an American flag?
Janet's forehead flushed:
My childr en — where are they?
She did a rapid-fire tally of the whereabou ts of her three childr en, a ri tual she'd enacted daily since the bir th of Wade back in 1958. Once she'd mentally placed her offspring in their geographic slots, she remembered to breathe:
They're all going to be here in Orlando today.
She looked at the motel's bedside clock: 7:03 A.M.
She took tw o capsules from her prescrip tion pill caddie and swallo wed them with tap water gone flat overnigh t, which now tasted like nickels and pennies. It registered on her that motel rooms now came equipp ed with coffee makers.
What a sensible
idea, so bloody sensible — why didn ' t they do this years ago? Why is all the good stuff happening now?
A few days back, on the phone, her daugh ter, Sarah, had said, ' Mom, at least buy Evian, OK? The tap water in that heap is probably laced with crack. I can' t
you chose to stay there.'
'But dear, I don ' t mind it here.'
'Go stay at the Peabody with the rest of the family. I've told you a hundr ed times I'll pay.' 'That's not the poin t, dear. A hotel really ough t not cost more than this.'
' Mom, NASA cuts deals with the hotels, and . . .' Sarah made a puff of air, ackno wledging defeat. 'Forget it. But I think you're too well off to be pulling your Third World rou tine.'
Sarah — so
cavalier with money! —
as were the tw o others. None had kno wn poverty, and they'd never kno wn war, but the advantage hadn' t made them golden, and Janet had never gotten over this fact. A
li fe of abundance had turned her tw o boys into an element other than gold — lead? — silicon? -bismuth?
Sarah was an element finer than gold — carbon crystallized as diamond — a bol t of ligh tning frozen in mid flash, sliced into strips, and stored in a vault.
Janet's phone rang and she answered it: Wade, calling from an Orange Coun ty lock-up facili ty. Janet
imagined Wade in a drab concrete hallway, unshaven and disheveled, yet still radiating ' the glin t ' — the spark in the eye he'd inherited from his father. Bryan didn ' t have it and Sarah didn ' t need it, but Wade had glin ted his way through li fe, and maybe it hadn' t been the best att ribu te to inherit after all.
Janet remembered being back home, and driving along Marine Drive in the morning , watching a certain type of man waiting for a bus to take him downtown. He'd be sligh tly seedy and one or tw o
notches shor t of respectabili ty; it was always patently clear he'd lost his driver's license after a DWI, but this only made him more interesting, and whenever Janet smiled at one of these men from her car, they fired a smile righ t back. And that was Wade and, in some unflossed cranny of her memory, her ex-
'Dear, aren' t you too old to be calling me from —
Even saying the word " jail " feels silly.' ' Mom, I don ' t do bad stuff any more. This was a fluke.'
'Okay then, what happened — did you accidentally drive a busload of Girl Guides into the Everglades?' 'It was a bar brawl, Mom.'
Janet repeated this:
'A bar brawl.'
'I kno w, I kno w — you think I don ' t kno w how idio tic that sounds? I'm phoning because I need a ride away from this dump. My rental car's back at the bar.'
'Where's Beth? Why doesn' t she drive you?' 'She gets in early this afternoon .'
'OK. Well, let's go back a step, dear. How exactly does one get into a bar brawl?' 'You wouldn ' t believe me if I told you.'
'You'd be amazed what I'm believing these days. Try me.'
There was a pause on the other end. 'I got in a figh t because this guy — this
was making fun of God.'
He can' t be serious.
'Yeah, well, he was.' 'In what way?'
'He was being so nasty abou t it, saying, " God's an asshole," and " God doesn' t care abou t squat," and he kept on going on and on, and I had to put a stop to it. I think he got fired that day.'
'You were defending God's honor ?' 'Yeah. I was.'
Tread carefully here, Janet.
'Wade, I kno w Beth is very religiou s. Are you becoming religiou s, too?'
' Me? Maybe. Nah. Yes. No. It depends on how you define religiou s. It keeps Beth calm, and maybe . . .' Wade paused. ' Maybe it can calm me, too.'
'So you spent the nigh t in jail, then?'
'Safely in the arms of a four-hundr ed-pound convenience store thief named Bubba.'
'Wade, I can' t pick you up. I think it 's going to be one of those no-energy days. And besides, the car I
rented smells like a carpet in a frat house — and the roads down here, they're
and the glare makes me sleepy.'
' Mom, come
on . .
'Don' t be such a baby. You're forty-tw o. Act it. You couldn ' t even get to the hotel in time yesterday.'
'I was making a quick detour to visit a friend in Tampa. I stopped for a drink . Hey — don ' t treat me like I'm Bryan. It wasn' t like I started the figh t or . . .'
'Stop! Stop righ t there. Call a cab.' 'I'm shor t on cash.'
'Simple cab fare? Then how are you paying for the hotel?' Wade was silent.
'Sarah's covering it for us until we can pay it back.' An awkward silence follo wed. ' Mom, you could pick me up if you really wanted to. I kno w you could.'
'Yes, I suppose I could. But I think you should phone your father down in ... what's that place called?' 'Kissimmee — and I already did call him.'
'He's gone marlin fishing with Nickie.'
fishing? People still do that?'
'I don ' t kno w. I guess. I though t they were extinct. They probably have a guy in a wet suit who attaches a big plastic marlin onto their line.'
' Marlins are so ugly. They remind me of basement rec rooms that people buil t in 1958 and never used again.'‘I kno w. It 's hard to imagine they ever existed in the first place.'
'So he's out marlin fishing with Nickie then?'
'Yeah. With Nickie.' 'That cheesy slut.'
'Wade, I'm not a saint. I've been holding stuff inside me for decades — girls my age were trained to do that, and it 's why we all have coli tis. Besides, a dash of spicy language is refreshing every so often. Just yesterday I was hun ting for information on vitamin D derivatives on the Internet, and suddenly,
I land in the Anal Love website. I'm looking at a cheerleader in a leather harness on the—'
how can you visit sites like that?'
'Wade, may I remind you that
are standing in a human Dumpster somewhere in Orlando, yet hearing a sixty-five-year-old woman discuss the Internet over a pay phone shocks you? You wouldn ' t believe the sites I've visited. And the chat rooms, too. I'm not
Janet Drummond , you kno w.'
' Mom, why are you telling me this?'
'Oh, forget it. And your stepmo ther, Nickie, is still a cheesy slut. Phone Howie — maybe he can come fetch you.'
'Howie's so boring he makes me almost pass out. I can' t believe Sarah married such a blank.'
'I'm the one who gave bir th to her, and I'm the one who has to drive with him to Cape Canaveral today.' 'Ooh — bummer. Ano ther NASA do?'
'Yes. And you're welcome to come along.'
'Wait a second, Mom — why aren' t you at the Peabody with everybody else? What are you staying in a
motel for? By the way, it took thir ty rings for the clerk — who, I migh t add, sounded like a kidney thief — to answer the phone.'
'Wade, you're changing the subject. Phone Howie. Oh wait -I think I hear somebody at the door.' Janet held the phone at arm's length from her head, and said,
'Knock knock knock knock.'
'Very funny, Mom.'
'I have to answer the door, Wade.' 'That's really funny. I—
The motel room made her feel sligh tly too transient, but it was a bargain, and that turned the minuses into pluses. Nonetheless, Janet missed her morning waking-up ri tuals in her own bedroom . She touched her body gently and methodically, as though she were at the bank coun ting a stack of twenties. She
gently rubbed a set of ulcers on her lips' insides, still there, same as the day before, not just a dream. Her hands probed further downward — no lumps in her breasts, not today — but then what had Sarah told her?
We've all had cancer thousands of times, Mom, but in all those thousands of times your body
removed it. It 's lazy bookkeeping to only count the cancers that stick. You and I could have cancer righ t now, but tomorro w it migh t be gone.
The motel room smelled like a li fetime of cigarettes. She looked at Sarah's pho to in the
beside the phone, a standard NASA PR crew pho to: an upper body shot against a navy ice-cream swirl background and complexion-flattering ligh ting that made one suspect a noble, scientific disdain for cosmetics. Sarah clutched a helmet underneath her righ t arm. Her left arm, handless, rested by her side:
Space knows no limi tations.
Janet sighed. She tw iddled her toes. Ten minu tes later her phone rang again: Sarah calling from the Cape. 'Hi, Mom. I just spoke to Howie. He'll go pick up Wade.'
'Good morning , Sarah. How's
'This morning we had a zero-G evacuation test, but what I really wanted to do was sit in a nice quiet
bathroom and test out a new brand of pore-cleansing strips. The humidi ty in these suits is giving me killer blackheads. They never talked abou t that in those old
magazine pho to essays. Have you eaten yet?' 'No.'
'Come eat at the Cape with me. We can have dehydrated astronaut's ice cream out of a shiny Mylar bag.' Janet sat up on her bed and pulled her legs over the side. She felt her skin — her
hanging from her bones as though it were so much water-logged clothing. She needed to pee. She began to meter her words as she eyed the bathroom door. 'I don ' t think so, dear. The only time they ever allo w me to have
with you are three seconds for a pho to op.' Sarah asked, 'Is Beth arriving today?'
Beth was Wade's wife. 'Later this afternoon . I think I'm going to dinner with the tw o of them.' 'How far along is she?'
'I think this is her four th mon th. It may even be a Christmas baby.' 'Huh. I see.'
'Something wrong, Sarah?' 'It 's just that—'
' Mom, how could Wade marry . . .
She's so priggi sh and born-again. I always though t Wade would marry Miss Roller Derby. Beth is so frigging sanctimoniou s.'
'She keeps him alive.'
'I guess she does. When does Bryan arrive?'
'He and his girl friend are already here. He called from the Peabody.'
'Girl friend? Bryan?
What's her name?' 'If I tell you, you won' t believe me.'
'It can' t be that bad. Is it one of those made-up names like DawnElle or Kerrissa or Cindajo?' 'Worse.'
'What could be worse?' 'Shw.'
'I beg your pardon?'
'Shw. That's her name:
'Spell that for me.' 'S. H. W.'
'There's no vowel, if that's what you're waiting for.'
'What — her name is
Am I pronoun cing that properly?' 'I'm afraid so.'
'That is the most. . .
name I've ever heard. Is she from Sri Lanka or Finland or something?' Janet's eye lingered on the bathroom door and the toilet beyond. 'As far as I kno w she's from Alberta. Bryan worships her, and she's also knocked up like a prom queen.'
pregnant? How come I don ' t kno w any of this?'
'I just met her last week myself, dear. She seems to rather like me, though she treats everybody else like dir t. So I don ' t mind her at all, really.'
'Bryan is such a freak. I'm not going to be able to keep a straigh t face, you kno w — when she tells me her name, that is.'
Sarah giggl ed.
'Shw! Shw! Shw! '
Sarah laughed. 'Is she pretty?'
'Sort of. She's also abou t eigh teen and an angry li tt le hornet. In the fift ies we would have called her a pixie. Nowadays we'd call her hyperthyroid. She's bug-eyed.'
'Where'd they meet?'
'Seatt le. She helped Bryan set fire — I believe — to a stack of pastel-colored waff le-kni t T-shir ts in a Gap