Devin Walsh (Adelphi University, US)
Dinner party. Two and a half married couples. Rachel Berry is wearing blue jeans and a long-sleeved red button-up. It’s form-fitting. It’s casual. It shows to advantage her slender arms and wrists. She’s on her second glass of wine already. Mitch keeps putting his hand on her thigh, squeezing a little before it gets drafted by a word to help say, a term to help bring home, a figure of speech to augment. Then it comes back. A big hand, Mitch’s. Hairy. She loves it. She looks around the Coopers’ dining room table while Pudge relates an anecdote about Little Coop.
“He says to me, ‘Daddy, do pubes go gray?’ And I say…” he does not say yet what he says, letting everyone laugh, “And I say, ‘Son—shit—I have no idea!’”
Rachel’s blue jeans are old and comfortable. Dinner at the Coopers’ is not to be overdone. Barbecue sauce everywhere. It’s a neighborhood affair involving Bud Light. There’ll be one too few corn skewers. Dina is casual, too, in an overtaxed sundress and little green sweater. Dina’s blonde hair is big, today, but it’s been humid. Rachel’s hair is long and straight and gives the impression of whiskey poured into a glass. She’d taken a shower with Mitch, earlier. He’d lathered her breasts with patience. She’d said, “I just don’t think it’s right for people named Cooper to name their kid Cooper.”
Dina is looking at her now and Rachel realizes she’s been staring. They smile. Mitch is talking about pubes. “Well they haven’t yet, thank God. But I mean, hell, everything else does, right?”
“Does your arm hair?” Murray asks. Murray is to Rachel’s right. Before dinner he’d smelled of tobacco and mint. Now everything smells equally of pulled pork, pickles, buttered bread. Murray last year had started sporting a beard, a big bushy one like a Civil War general’s. It had been quite the sensation. Mitch, who’d once studied psychology, said a beard was antisocial. Rachel liked it. She decided it gave short Murray stature. It was shot through with gray. The same his nose hair. The same the deep, webbed furrows of his ears. Murray’s wife Rosalita is a doughy little Mexican with shiny round eyes. She is out of town—so sad—tending to her dying mother. Murray is a very important person at the bank, and given the state of things he couldn’t go tend to his dying mother-in-law.
“Would you dye it?” she blurts out, shocking herself. “Dina, would you? If it went gray?”
“My bush?” Dina cackles. “Oh Lord. Oh Lord I do not know.”
“No,” the tilt of his voice announces that Pudge Cooper is making a joke, “I would.”
Rachel joins in the laughter. Dina swats her husband on the back of his head and rises to fetch another round. She takes orders. Rachel is tempted by her reflection in the window. Her long-sleeved red shirt shows to advantage her chiseled clavicles and long neck. Her face is clear and open and distinguished, if plain. Look at my man in the window, there! Look at his heavy brown head and lambent eyes! His hand is on her thigh again. She isn’t sure if it had or hadn’t been a moment before. Murray’s legs are thick and short, white where his khaki shorts are hiked up a bit on the chair, snug around his big crotch. It amuses her that every man has junk tucked away down there. Pudge watches Dina with a shine of lust in his eyes, his head bobbing exaggeratedly, trained on the shifting of her big ass as she walks into the adjoining kitchen.
Rachel leans across the table and lowers her voice, “Do you mean because you wouldn’t want it gray? Or for the erotic aspect?”
For a fraction of a second their host’s face freezes in indecision. Oh no! A trick question! He recovers. “Why not both?” and his outsized laugh again booms through the room. It’s the laugh of someone who’s paid to sit with live studio audiences and laugh at television shows. It’s a laugh no one on the street ever hears outside of a dinner party.
Dina returns with beers for her and her husband and another bottle of the Berry’s chardonnay. Murray, who seldom gets drunk, nurses his first beer. Rosalita, rumor has it, is a notorious teetotaller. Mitch pretends to whisper in Rachel’s ear and actually just licks it. His tongue is an infant fish, curious. She giggles.
Pudge shakes his finger, “Now now, no secrets at the Cooper table.”
In the shower, Mitch had worked the loofa over her bottom and she’d said, “Everything they’ve got they name ‘Cooper.’”
“No secrets,” Mitch defends, “just—what do you call ‘em, Murray?—confidences?”
“Confidences,” says Murray. Then everyone is saying confidences. It gathers like a wave, somehow acquires an unmistakable patina of sexual innuendo, everyone laughing like hell over confidences. Rachel knows it will be something they say to each other over the next couple weeks: when Murray’s ducking into his Lexus on the way to work and Rachel jogs past, confidences; when Dina and she are both wheeling down supermarket aisles at the same time, confidences; when fucking Pudge Cooper leers at her after he’s taken his shirt off to mow the fucking lawn.
An hour later Murray begs off.
“Great havin’ you, Murray,” Pudge is saying, clapping his back. Dina pushes leftovers on him. Mitch, a gentleman, stands to shake Murray’s hand. She watches her husband’s hand engulf the little banker’s. The little banker’s hand then waves at Rachel, still in her chair, who waves back. He’s so much shorter than the other men it doesn’t seem fair. “Bye bye, Murray.”
Rachel stands to get another bottle of wine. Mitch says “Well…” as if he’s thinking of taking her temperature on leaving. She’s anticipated this. Her temperature is she’s getting another bottle of wine. She listens to everyone retake their chairs while she scrounges around for the corkscrew. Their talk isn’t idle, it’s fraught. Mitch and Pudge work together in financial consulting. Mitch works for Pudge, actually—which Rachel hates. A customary postprandial somberness and self-importance has come over their host, who deigns to fret a bit over the state of things. Pictures of Coop Cooper and Coop Cooper’s platinum report cards and Coop Cooper’s abstract art (crayon, construction paper) adorn the refrigerator. She’s rifling through drawers. Their flatware is British and their knives legitimately German. You have money but no class, Coopers. Mitch is saying, “I don’t see it as that bad, honestly, Coop…” and something in Rachel squirms at his tone. Her man is not that tone. There aren’t any coupons anywhere. No Coopons.
“What are you looking for, honey?” asks Dina.
“Corkscrew?” she says.
“Oh, it’s over here, silly!” Dina is laughing at her and indicating the table. Rachel rejoins the caucus. Her purse isn’t at her feet because it’s at Mitch’s feet because they’ve unintentionally swapped chairs. She’s across from Pudge, whose shoulders are broad in his white shirt. His irises are rocks painted for St. Patrick’s Day. His wide dark face is as comfortable and strong in its age as her blue jeans. His nose is wide. Rachel can see him ripping a huge line of coke with an enormous gun in his hand, collar open, jaunty salt-and-pepper forelock loosed over his brow. There’s something criminal about his big nostrils and muscular neck. Mitch seldom if ever discusses Pudge, which pisses Rachel off. His big legs move under the table and touch her own. She lets them. The wine is cold enough but too sweet. The air conditioner whirs and rumbles to life. Dina wonders aloud about pie.
Pudge is dumbfounded. “Jesus, Dina. We don’t have anything for dessert?”
“Well I asked before what you wanted and you didn’t know or didn’t say anything and…”
“Goddamnit! But that’s why Murray left!”
“We’re fine, Coop,” Mitch dives in. “Aren’t we fine, baby?”
“Oh yes, just fine,” Rachel says. Dina gives her a look and Rachel consolingly returns it. You’ve stopped being a woman. You’re an ornament. You are books-by-the-yard in a shelf in a hotel lobby.
Pudge takes a dramatic breath. “Better have some more beer then. If these two are gonna stick around getting drunk in Cooper Kitchen, by God we’d better get drunk too.”
Dina obliges. The conversation turns again to Little Coop. Little Coop is loving camp. Eating it up. Smart as a wolf. He won a ribbon shooting a .22. He’ll make a pile when he’s grown, however he can, whatever it takes. He’s found himself a girlfriend. And so has Pudge, now that you mention it; with the little shit gone he and Dina, sweet merciful Christ, how they’ve found each other anew. Saints be praised for the empty house. Isn’t that right, Dina? Oh yes, saints be praised.
Rachel asks Mitch for her purse because she needs lip-gloss. Pudge Cooper doesn’t apply lip-gloss, he says. The way he applies lip-gloss is he waits for Dina to and then kisses her smack on the mouth. My word, says Dina, isn’t that right. What she’d never thought of marriage was that it would be like this: Pudge’s big arms around her, pulling her in all the time. Mitch laughs softly and nods. Rachel pours more wine. Pudge has winked at her now three times.
Under the table—she can’t believe it—they are playing footsie.
Another hour or two and the issue of dessert has resurfaced. The Coopers have finished their beer and advanced to straight vodka; Mitch and Rachel are halfway through their fourth bottle. All decorum is lost. They’re moaning now for dessert. Whatever they say, they moan. When Rachel uses the restroom she almost falls. Their moaning and laughing and broken conversing is audible from the toilet. She checks her purse again, finishes and washes her hands with a brick of brown soap that says KISS MY FACE. The porcelain is immaculate, the towels are virgin, the shower curtain tasteful and clean, the mirror unspotted. Rachel hawks a loogie into the sink. She looks at herself in the mirror. She’s the color of cheap blush wine. She is gorgeous.
Mitch is assailing her the moment she opens the door. My man. My dishy man. Cowboy. “Baby, we’re about out of wine and everyone is jonesing for pie. I’m thinking of going to the store.”
“Fine,” she grabs his crotch.
“What’d she say?” Pudge hollers from offstage.
“Said fine!” Mitch reports, careening back to the dining room with her, his keys already in hand.
“Praise be to Rachel!” Pudge roars.
“Praise be to Rachel and pie!” Dina seconds.
“Praise be to Mitch!” Rachel joins in.
He is out the door with an alcoholic kiss on her cheek.
“Dina, I’m just so impressed with you,” she says, sitting back down. “This house is so clean. And you with two men!”
“Thanks, Rachel. You’re very sweet. Obviously it helps that I don’t have to work.”
“But this is work! Look at him!”
Pudge has unbuttoned most of his shirt, his hairy chest on display. The well-gnawed remains of his second pulled pork sandwich float in a pool of beer on his plate. He’s used the tablecloth to wipe his fingers. You are a better man’s boss, not his better.
After Rachel speaks he doesn’t change his expression a whit. He’s looking at her, calm and steady, drunk, a faint smile in the corners of his mouth.
“All right,” says Dina, “You’ve convinced me. Pudge, I don’t know which one’s more of a pig: the one on your plate or you your big old self.”
Rachel isn’t sure how it happens. She isn’t sure how Mitch left so quickly, and now she isn’t sure how Dina manages it, too. Dina is steamed. Dina is mad. Dina’s feelings are hurt. She says something hurt and angry and is gone in a flash. Tumult from another room. The sounds of a tantrum. Everyone’s drunk and behaving poorly. Is it because they’ve got hog in their teeth? Maybe it wasn’t a flash she was gone in. Maybe it was a protracted thing: Dina a long storm of discontent, aired. Her mad a mace swinging at Pudge. Dina, the ornament, playing tough. Dina, the cornerstone of her own home and little more, come seething to red, destroying life. But she’s gone now and they’re alone, Pudge and Rachel, exactly as she’d expected and somehow counted on all day. Ever since the shower, with Mitch’s encompassing hands all over her. She’d said Fuck them, Mitch, I don’t want to go, and he hadn’t said a word.
She puts her hands together at her face and breathes. Now. It’s time. He looks at her. Hasn’t flinched. He knows. He reaches across the table, takes her hands away, leans in and kisses her. Intruder tongue. His midnight mustache and chin stubble scrape against her. It is wet and uncontrolled. My mouth is my ear and his tongue is Mitch’s tongue. His hand is a vice on the back of her head. She lets this happen, blindly picking up her purse and setting it on Mitch’s chair. Pudge misses nothing. “Something you need in there?” he asks, winking.
“Something we both need.”
“Like the sound of that.”
“Get on the table and take off your pants.”
Pudge says something along the lines of Like the sound of that even better but it’s lost amid grunts and clatter as he pushes everything on the table to the sides. He kicks off his shoes and steps out of his pants, climbs on and lies down. He is long and strong and hard. In the reflection of the dining room windows she is Helen standing over Paris, bringing men howling full-throated into idiocy. We are behaving badly. We are bad adults. You are a bad man. You broke a plate and your wife will have to sweep it up. You spilled a beer and your wife will have to mop it up. We are bad adults together. His socks are still on. White socks. She takes off his underwear. You smell and I can smell you. He’s big. She kisses his thighs and reaches into her purse. She wraps her hand around the weapon. She spoons his testicles into its mouth. “Now what is that?” he chuckles. Trigger.
Pudge screams. Pudge has been tasered. Pudge is being tasered because Rachel’s still pulling the trigger. A wire of white-hot electrodes pulses into his scrotal sack.
I will shock them white, you piece of—
His voice is climbing into rare heights. He’s neutralized. His arms thrash in quick jerks.
I will shock it out of you, you miserable—
His big chest twists. His face is mashed beets.
Dina is there, now. For just a moment, after she’s seen and understood and before she does anything, she watches with her arms crossed over her chest.
For just a moment.
Devin Walsh is working on an MFA in Playwriting from Adelphi University in Long Island, where he lives with his wife, a poet, and two children, who are cats. His work has appeared in Pindledyboz, Edifice Wrecked, Switchback, Armageddon Buffet, and VerbSap. He’s thrilled to be published in Swamp.