Authors: Lindsay Hunter
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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 rat’s 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 felt 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 farther 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 backward 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 numb toes, 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
, 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 had 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 rosewater 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 P.F. Chang’s that you used to eat at with your momma at every birthday, idiots pumping they elbows like the sun wasn’t an oozing boil, one of them a hawkfaced sculpture of bone before the rapture, so the pile of ash was an 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 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 an old lady, after your brother filleted the neighbor lady and you roasted her upper arms over a trash fire and salted them 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 an 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