White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
Molly Giles has published two award-winning collections of stories, Rough Translations (University of Georgia Press, 1993) and Creek Walk (Scribner, 1998), and a novel, Iron Shoes (Simon & Schuster, 2001). She has won numberous awards, including the Pushcart Prize and the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and has new and forthcoming stories in Cimarron Review, Epoch, Green Mountains Review, Rough Copy, Santa Monica Review and Subtropics. She also has an essay in the new anthology of grandmother stories, Eye of My Heart (Harper, 2009). She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

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Molly Giles

Tori wants to buy the house in Puerto Nuevo but Stan isn’t sure it’s a good idea. For one thing you can’t really “buy” land in Baja; you rent it, in ten year increments, and with the country as unstable as it is who knows what’s going to happen in ten years. For another thing (Stan hates to say this) Tori herself is unstable. She’s not crazy, Stan knows crazy, but she goes up and down and drinks too much and at 29 she still believes everything everyone tells her. She believes, for instance, that the bartender setting that third pitcher of margaritas before her at the restaurant tonight is not going to charge them, that he is giving her this free out of the goodness of his heart because he likes her.

“Was she always like this?” Stan’s sad eyes blur on Tori’s hips, solid in white shorts, her long brown legs on tiptoe as she rises to kiss the bartender.  “As a little girl did she believe in Santa Claus longer than the other kids?”

He is talking to Tori’s mother, Janice, who except for the same dark hair, which she dyes, does


not look a thing like her daughter; Janice wears heavy eye makeup and is so silent Stan suspects she may be deaf. Janice wishes she were. She has done nothing but listen to Stan ever since she arrived yesterday and if she had to take a test on anything he’s said, she’d flunk. She sips her diet coke, and, because Stan spits a little when he talks, turns to the window overlooking the cliffs. Tori’s last two boyfriends were losers but at least they were Tori’s age and at least they weren’t fat. “I don’t remember Tori that well as a little girl,” she admits.

Stan draws entwined figure 8’s on the tabletop. “Is it true her father invested in abandoned gold mines?” he asks, his voice flat and rapid. “Is it true he bought an old dance hall in a ghost town and told everyone Willie Nelson would come to the opening?”

Janice nods—yes, Tori’s father was a fool—and Stan leans back, satisfied, and intones something that sounds like alas the inescapable genetic neurobiological architecture of parental dysfunction. Stan uses bulky words in random order and Janice has stopped trying to sort them out. He used to be a movie director—his office in

San Diego, Tori has told her, is filled with signed photographs from Stella Stevens, Barbra Streisand, and Kris Kristofferson—but now he produces a TV series about zombie surfers. He has spent the weekend waiting for his cell phone to ring and tell him whether or not the series has been renewed; that is why, he’s explained, he’s so jumpy. Now, reaching for the chips and gouging into the guacamole, he returns to the endlessly fascinating subject of what’s wrong with Tori.

“I’m not saying BPD, all I’m saying is a definite lack of identity clarification. I mean, come on: every day a new best friend? And most of them,” he shakes his head, “men?”

Janice too shakes her head; she knows better than to ask what BPD is. Yesterday Stan talked about the differences between acronyms, initialisms, and alphabetisms for almost an hour while Tori, moving swiftly from room to room, washed and folded towels, none of which Janice could find this morning after her shower.

“I love your little girl,” Stan says, “and I don’t want to see her get hurt.”

They both watch Tori cross the crowded restaurant on her return from the bar. Tori played basketball in college and she moves like a man, every step clean and confident. You would not know she is drunk. Even with her hair yanked off her skull in spiky cornrows, she looks good, deeply tanned, slim, that splendid smile worth all the years of orthodontia. Stan’s the one, Janice thinks, who is going to get hurt. Doesn’t he know that? If it weren’t for his money, Tori would have left him months ago. As it is, though, Janice is in no position to criticize. Stan is paying for the lobster dinner the waiter is setting down before her, Stan bought her plane ticket from Denver so she could spend this Easter weekend with them, and Stan rents the house where he and Tori have lived all winter.

This is the house Tori wants to buy, although her friend the bartender, she says, as she plops back down at their table, little braids bouncing, knows of another house, farther down the coast, that is also for sale. “Rico thinks he can get me a deal,” she says. “He’s going to take me to see it tomorrow.”

“What time?” Despite the fact that he went to private schools and graduated from Harvard, Stan talks with his mouth full. “Because if it’s in the afternoon, honey,” Stan says, “I can come with you.”

“Well of course you’ll come with me. Mom too. You know, guys, I don’t think I can eat this lobster. Does it smell funny to you? It smells like a latrine to me. It smells like the latrines at camp, Mom, where you sent me every summer to get rid of me so you could drink and screw around? That work camp?” She sets her fork down and stares across the table at Janice.

Janice continues to eat. It is important to take this from Tori, she deserves it, but does it have to happen over and over again, the same speech in the same rehearsed voice? Alas the something something of parental dysfunction. Oh the chores oh the hardships oh the suffering oh the neglect. The absent father, the abusive stepfathers, the shame of having an alcoholic mother. Janice keeps her eyes on her plate as Tori starts off on the three margarita camp rant.

“I was practically raped every day by one of the counselors,” Tori, wide-eyed, is telling the attentive Stan, “and my horse stepped on my foot and broke every bone and I got food poisoning from the diarrhea they fed us and who came on Visitor Sunday, no one. Oh look, is that Deb? Hey Deb! Over here!”

Deb is wiry and petite with a crooked facelift she got for two thousand dollars in Tijuana. She and the black guy with her, Felix, work in wardrobe for Fox and did a hit series with Stan a few years ago—Stan’s last hit series, actually, though Stan is not worried, things change fast in the business and if the zombies don’t work out something else will. Tori cries “Sit down sit down!” and Stan waves to the waiter and orders another pitcher for the table, and soon Deb and Felix are joined by Sal and Deena and Meg and Gary—almost everyone in the restaurant tonight, Janice notices, is American, and most of them, like Deb and Felix, live here.

She wonders why Tori wants to live here. The ocean of course but the ocean doesn’t look that clean to her, there’s offshore oil rigs, and the hills,

even green as they are right now and bright with wild mustard, are littered with junk. The drive down to Rosarito Beach, where she and Tori went this morning, Stan yapping and flapping his hand out the window as he drove, was lined with unfinished hotels, rebars sticking out of cement blocks, burned car parts, a few villas with walls crinkle cut with shards of jagged glass. It was ugly. And Rosarito itself, where they shopped, was ugly too, a warren of shrill vendors selling cheap goods under plastic awnings. Tori led Janice to a witch woman from whom Janice obediently bought brown packets guaranteed to cure cancer, heart attacks, depression and high cholesterol, then she led her to a herbalist, from whom Janice bought vanilla, saffron, and cinnamon sticks in small firewood bundles, and then she led her to a pharmacist who filled Janice’s prescriptions for Antabuse, Xanax, and Retin A without a murmur. Tori even knew the family who ran the beach palapa where they stopped for shrimp cocktails, and she sat with her smooth brown face turned up to the sun while the family’s youngest daughter, standing on a wooden crate of Nehi, braided her hair, and Stan recited the entire history of zoning laws in Mexico, and Janice

watched a tern fly over the waves with a songbird in its beak, followed by four shrieking seagulls who wanted it.

The house Tori wants is a bright white box with a red tile roof and blue railings. The terraces are planted with African daisies, nasturtiums, roses, and freesia; there’s a swimming pool and a hot tub facing the ocean—but down the lane there’s a trailer park fenced with barbed wire and the canyons behind the house are filled with tires and trash. Young women tourists are murdered on this coast every year, robbed, raped; Tori knows this but says it’s no different from anywhere else: no different from summer camp was actually what she had said after margaritas last night.

The mariachi band, at Stan’s weary wave, approaches and plays Mexico Lindo y Querido, Tori’s favorite song. Stan smiles at her fixedly throughout the chorus but Tori ignores him and calls to Darvid, tall and white haired, who comes in with a small dog in his arms; the dog is in a body cast, its four legs sticking out like the legs of a pinata. Darvid bends down, kisses Tori, takes

the chair the waiter brings him, and pulls it close. “Your house,” he breathes to Tori, “your house.”

“My house?” Tori prompts, leaning forward, eyes shining.

“You know about Darvid?” Deb, bright-eyed, leans forward and whispers to Janice.

Janice nods. Yes. Darvid is a parapsychologist, he is from Israel, he has been the subject of a documentary, he is famous.

“I mean Darvid and Tori?” Deb whispers.

“Your house I was walking by this morning Tori and I had to stop.” Darvid picks up one of the shrimp from the platter Stan has ordered for the table, sniffs it, and tries to feed it to the dog, who turns his head away like a cat.

“Let me?” Janice takes the dog from Darvid and stands it on her lap, where it trembles as she pets its hard skull and silky ears. “Shh shh,” she soothes it.

“Watch out,” Darvid says. “It is a suicide dog. Its mother killed my cat and when I executed its mother this little one tried to run under the

wheels of the RV and get killed too. I saved it because the sins of the mother etcetera.” He winks at Janice who blinks back at him, stunned, and turns to Tori. “I had to stop outside your house because I felt the most excellent vibrations there.”

“Vibrations? Did you hear that Stan? Darvid felt excellent vibrations!”

Stan throws back his head and starts to bellow “Good Good GOOD vibrations” in his tuneless Eastern voice. He is too smart for these people but he is not too smart for Tori. He knows she is going to get him to buy the damn house. She is going to live down here with these freeloading “friends” all week and he’ll have to drive down on weekends. He can’t get a divorce because his wife has breast cancer and needs his medical insurance and his oldest stepson is in college and the youngest is autistic. His life is a shit hole and there is nothing he can do about it. His phone rings.

He clamps it to his ear and says hello in a hushed voice. But no, it’s only his 82 year-old father, who has emphysema but still lectures in physics at the university. “I trust you are having a

happy Holy Saturday,” his Dad says stiffly, as mariachi starts up again in the background.

“Yes yes,” Stan mumbles. “I’m fine. And you, Daddy?”

“Can’t complain,” his father says, far away in Connecticut. “I renewed my pilot’s license today.”

“They let you take the test?”

“Of course they let me take the test,” his father snaps, “I’m not the one who crash lands in our family.”

Stan, humbled, listens as his father reports on the progress of his new textbook and brags about winning a tennis game with an old rival at the club. He smiles; he can’t help it; he’s proud of his dad. After he says goodbye and checks his messages again, he turns to Sal, who has a brother in the mob. That’s a good contact to have, and Stan wants to ask him about it, but Sal, for some reason, is talking to Felix about giganticism. Stan has studied this as he has studied every known aberration. He moves his chair away from Janice and wedges between Sal and Felix. “Giganticism can’t work,” Stan explains. “I’ll

tell you why.” And he begins to talk.

What Janice hears is, If you take a worm and increase it one hundred per cent you are in essence multiplying the square of its circle cubed. She strokes the dog. Is it true, Janice wonders, that Stan has to have sex three times a day? She remembers last night, the sounds she heard through the guestroom wall, Stan sobbing, Tori comforting him. The dog whimpers. “He needs to pee,” Darvid says. He rises and sways. They are all so drunk.

“That’s all right,” Janice says. “I’ll take him outside.” She is glad to escape with the dog in her arms and slip through the crowd to the fresh air outside. There is a fenced strip of garden along the cliff side and she sets the dog down. Moony Mexican night: it should be beautiful but isn’t; the night air is laced with wafts of sewage from the restaurant. The dog walks stiffly toward a small cactus, tries to lift a leg, can’t, and whimpers again. It must hurt, Janice thinks and she lifts it up so it can relieve itself, then sets it down and turns her head aside to give it privacy. How much money

does Tori need for her house? And why does she need the money from Stan? Or, worse, Darvid. I could refinance my condo, Janice thinks, I could help her out. Though why? She frowns. Tori has done all right. Tori has always gotten everything she wants.

She hears a whoosh, a sharp yip, and when she turns to look the dog is gone. She circles like a dog herself, disbelieving, then steps to the fence, yes, there is a hole in it, and looks over the cliff side, yes, there is a white splotch halfway down, alive in the moonlight, for yes, it is moving.

She runs inside. Stan is busy paying the bill and Darvid is drawing something in circles on the tablecloth for Deb and Deena. She turns to the bartender. Rico will know what to do, whom to call. But Tori hears her mother stammer “dog” and “cliff” and spins toward her, eyes blazing. “You lost the dog??” she asks.

“I’m sorry,” Janice says.

Tori wheels around, cuts through the crowd, and shoots out the restaurant door. Before Janice can reach her she has found the hole in the fence,

slid through it on her stomach and is going hand over hand down the cliff.

“Hang on honey,” Stan calls, pushing Darvid out of the way as he follows and before Rico can tackle him he too has stumbled toward the fence and clambered through the hole and is groping his way down the cliff in the dark. Janice kneels at the edge and peers over. The others crowd around her, jostling each other, their drinks spilling over her hair and shoulders. At first Janice sees nothing, two bobbing blobs, then she sees Tori, dog under one arm, reaching for Stan with the other arm, and as Stan struggles up, Janice in turn leans over and grabs Stan’s hand, fat and sweaty. For a minute she almost giggles thinking how funny it would be to just let them both go, but as she braces backward, she feels Rico’s sinewy arms lock around her waist, then Deb’s arms around Rico’s waist, an entire chain of shouting friends pulling the two lovers up to solid ground, Stan’s face emerging first flushed and young looking, Tori’s next, stony as a little Aztec’s, her eyes fixed in some mysterious triumph on her mother.


Copyright © Molly Giles. White Whale Review, issue 1.2

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