Beverly is “Primary Mommy” to two cats and two dogs. Her ex-girlfriend is “Secondary Mommy” and her ex’s new girlfriend is “Tertiary”. She refers to her beagles as “Himself” and “Herself.” “Poor Himself has such a teensy weensy weenie.” “Look it, Herself has burrowed under the bedspread.” She says this too often and loudly. Her tuxedo cat she calls Four-By-Four and sings: four-by-four, four-by-four, too fat to fit through the cat door. The nineteen-year-old tabby is named Pearl. I was god-mothered in as “New Secondary Mommy” to the five animals, and remained so even after we put the butterscotch cat down.
Once I moved in with her I became aware of certain things. For instance, Bev made a lot of noise about her ergonomically incorrect chair at her new technical editing job in Silicon Valley. She made such a stink I feared she might quit her job over bad office furniture. Instead she sent haughty emails to both the department head and the Software Behemoth’s purchasing manager.
Just a week into my stay and after she got the versatile ergonomic desk, chair and keyboard; Bev suffered a partially torn rotator cuff. It happened in the park when she hurled a tennis ball at the beagles with a hot-pink plastic chucker. She screamed at me and the chucker and the beagles. Playing golf, taking out the trash, grocery shopping and diddling me right-handedly are out. Extra back scratches and massages for her are in. She marshals upwards of six pillows at bedtime; she takes the memory foam one for under her shoulder, and the rest for elevating older sports injuries.
The doctor prescribed Bev generic Vicodin and sent her home with a large blue elastic band and a paper diagram of shoulder-strengthening exercises she was to perform daily. We laugh at the dumbed-down instructions depicting an emasculated man pulling the band, complete with large directional arrows. Each morning, to my delight, I witness her executing these exercises in the buff.
“Mmm, GiGi, GiGi,” I say too salaciously, even for my own liking.
I call her “GiGi” because I am breast-obsessed and because the department store lingerie lady recently fitted Bev for G cups; after which, her daily mantra became “You really ought to get fitted too.” I watch her pinch the blue elastic band between the mirrored door and jamb. Self-obsessed, she turns and pulls the band diagonally across her ample curves. Her symmetrical, regularly-nursed G rack, with erect salmon-colored dime-sized nipple buds—which the Nordstrom’s lady surely noticed also—glides through my half sleep. This bodacious pair is Bev’s southern pride; devotedly worshipped for thirty years by many ex-girlfriends before me. Her downy pubes are the same orange of a duraflame. I never tire of watching her from bed. And when I want to see more, I use the door’s built-in mirror to view her back side.
But it’s the flaring of her nostrils and the admiring of herself and herself and her irresistible self during the pulling and releasing of ordinary prescribed elastic that really gets to me. Each morning this week is a perfect rerun of the last. I am sitting up in bed. I am rendered stupid just watching her. We are interrupted by click-clack on hardwood. A beagle has jumped down from her bed. “Well, if it isn’t Herself,” Beverly bellows. Both beagles’ tails wag at this. Bev smiles at me. Her expression inexplicably sours as she catches my gaze. “If I ever get breast cancer you’ll leave me,” Bev accuses. “If not before then. “
I go out for our coffee—order Bev a regular large French roast with extra milk and me a double cappuccino. I like to look at the people in line. There is a woman with a stroller standing in front of me and both cups are passed to me lidless over the baby’s head.
I return to the house. Beverly’s house. She bought it after her longtime ex, Secondary Mommy, bought her out of their home. So Mary kept the Edwardian and Bev got a non-descript stucco house built in the fifties but in the same neighborhood. Plus she got custody of their animals.
Beverly’s house is built on an odd-shaped lot subdivided from an old railroad right-of-way. The house is rhomboid shaped—skewed to one side so that the angles of all rooms inside are oblique. From the outside, the house is plain, adorned only with a thin wood trim around its windows. It has a tunnel entry with a black iron safety gate. She chose a Persian pink for its façade—a higher saturation of pink than she imagined from the swatch. The color vibrates against the celadon-green house next door—the harmony of the block interrupted. The original kitchen, with a deep, porcelain sink, an O’Keefe & Merritt stove, and a Frigidaire refrigerator are on the second floor. The refrigerator keeps things remarkably cool and the icebox persists. The previous owner left its manual featuring a housewife wearing pearls, an apron and long white gloves on its cover which we love to marvel over. There is no dishwasher and the countertop is too low to install one. I find I don’t mind doing the dishes.
Her cats live in the upstairs guest bedroom. Bev keeps the window cracked to help with the smell. Their plastic litter boxes sit on a wooden desk so the dogs can’t eat their shit. The beagles have their own in-law apartment downstairs. They share a queen-sized futon, a flannel-covered down comforter and a dog door which lets out onto a long wedge-shaped garden. They slobber and shed on every surface. Because her dogs and cats do not get along they’re allowed free roam of the house during alternate evenings only. Beverly has a calendar in place to give them equal time.
On my way upstairs with the coffee I hear the shower running. I open the bathroom door. There’s a circle of talc on the braided rug where she dusts her pussy with the baby powder that I’m allergic to. She slides the glass door open and peeks her shower-capped head out. Bev in a plastic elastic hair bib always reminds me of my grandmother, only without dentures on the sink.
“I got you coffee,” I say happily.
Her face twists ungratefully. “It won’t be hot when I get out,” she snarks.
She doesn’t believe in microwaves.
At work, I receive two emails from Beverly before lunch. I am fairly sure that the Software Behemoth has a pulse on the outgoing mail but Bev doesn’t care. She gets paid six figures for editing manuals. Each sentence goes through a million proper channels before approved. She finds time to write too many of these emails.
I open mail number one.
Subject: To-do list: REQUIRED! DO IT TODAY! (please.)
Call Zimmer, get contract, sign it and fax it back
Lasik surgery Dr. Dennehey, Eye & Laser Center
Dr. Linderman for teeth cleaning
Diddle your bits
I open mail two.
Subject: YOUR NEXT GIRLFRIEND
Coffee was hot… and so are you.
Attached to the email is a picture of a huge dyke sitting on a chopper, wearing not enough of a leather jacket to cover her ugly tattoos.
Wednesday, Beverly’s ex-girlfriend, Secondary Mommy, comes for dinner. Bev prepares steak, a southern salad with sunflower seeds, and corn on the cob. The salad is a favorite of mine, a family recipe passed down from her mother.
Mary arrives. I open the wine immediately to deliver us from our sobriety. Following perfunctory greetings Mary pulls out a scrap book she purchased at the book fair and we busy ourselves looking at yellowed pages filled with red wax circles impressed with family crest seals. This was not a typical vintage scrapbook with advertisements and postcards. Instead, row after row of equidistant red blobs cover the pages like a mysterious pox. We all agree wholeheartedly that it is well worth the six hundred dollars the book dealer charged her. The price seems especially agreeable now after a glass of Syrah. We come to the last page. Mary returns the prized possession to her leather satchel and we make the move to eat.
Mary sits at one head, Bev at the other. I am in the middle. Bev rotates her corn over a soft stick of butter and it leaves a toothy impression.
“Do you have corn skewers?"
“No, we don’t,” Bev says.
“If you’re going to have these special corn plates you might want to buy some skewers. Right?” Mary looks to me for my thoughts on the matter. “I mean, you have corn shaped plates for the corn. So why wouldn’t you have corn skewers?”
Mary pulled her chair in closer to the table with such veracity the chair legs dig into the hardwood. She cut roughly into her rib eye.
“Beverly, this is too rare. I can’t eat it like this. For god sakes, it’s bleeding like a menstrual teen.” She stabbed her knife down in the middle of it to prove it.
I dislike Mary. Her voice is whiny and her face is ferret-like and her IQ is off the charts. I smile and offer to sauté it on the O’Keefe & Merritt. Mary nods a yes. I shoot a small pan with cooking spray and slide her steak into its center. I press it down with a spatula to make it sear faster and it makes a sizzling noise. I sip wine and glance over at the two of them. They had been a couple for five years before they split. They shared a bed and had sex in a yellow Victorian. I’ve only been living with Bev a month. I wonder if we’ll make it to five.
“You should have sliced it in the center, Barbara.” Mary enunciated every syllable, BAR-BA-RA.
“We like it bloody,” I say. I put my arms around Bev’s shoulders in solidarity. “Who’s Barbara?”
“Barbara is what Bev’s therapist use to call her, “says Mary, “because she could never remember Beverly’s name.”
“You’re kidding? Barbara is not even close.”
“No, I’m not. Her own therapist couldn’t remember her name. “
“I complained vehemently. But she kept calling me Barbara. So I told her if she called me that again, I wouldn’t pay for the session. And then smack in the middle of a breakthrough, she did it again.”
“So you didn’t pay her?” I pour Bev a new drink.
“I did not! And I never went back after that.”
I fork Mary’s well-done steak from the pan onto her plate. I watch her bite into it and feel sullen. My steak is cold and grey. The only sound is of us cutting and chewing. I get a feeling that Mary doesn’t like me, at least not with Bev, even though it had been Mary who had ended their relationship.
“I can’t stand that,” I say after Mary leaves.
“Can’t stand what?”
“The way that Mary goes on and on and on about us not having fucking corn skewers. You don’t have corn skewers?” I mock Mary. “She makes me nauseated.”
“You mean nauseous. It’s nauseous. Not nauseated. You can’t feel nauseated,” Bev says.
I’m in no mood to be corrected. This is the fifth or sixth time she’s corrected me on this. I scrape red wax off of the table with my thumb nail. Bev leaves the room and I hear her turn on the shower. Then I wash the dishes, a chore Bev won’t touch. She would rather eat from paper plates than wash dishes. With that in mind, I break one of her mother’s crystal wine glasses. I pick up the pieces and hurriedly bury the evidence at the bottom of the garbage can.
The next day I come home with a packet of eight yellow plastic corn skewers. I tear open the packaging and imagine Mary’s stomach cramping from undercooked food. Beverley told me about a holiday they had taken where Mary got so ill with food poisoning, she could not leave their hotel room for a week. “It happened in London. All of our plans were ruined.”
No one will ever complain that we don’t have corn skewers, I mumble to myself, and toss them in the spatula drawer.
We take Wellbutrin. The doctor prescribed two 100 milligram tablets per day, but Bev says she only needs one, so she gives me the other. We take them with wine. They’re our prophylactic for depression, she says.
“Look, the book came today.” She shows me the cover with the freckled, doe-eyed kid on it.
“It came?” I say, taking a sip and swallowing my pill.
The book is The Mistress's Daughter, by A.M. Homes. Bev had ordered it before its release date. She was very excited about the prospect of reading an adoptee’s memoir. First off, because she’s a big fan of A.M. Homes and second because she now has me—an adoptee — just like A.M. Homes. I do feel odd. For the last few weeks, Bev has been overly fascinated with my biological status.
Rains have come to the Bay Area and we argue more than usual. Bev says she is unhappy with the tempur-pedic —where it conforms to her body it makes her too hot to sleep. She mourns her old, worn-out mattress and polyester pillows. We don’t make love as much, and when we do it is more or less lying side-by-side taking care of ourselves. Her breasts are magnificent, but she seems unhappy whenever I call attention to them. She wants changes which she called suggestions—that I get a new job, read more literature, kiss only within the confines of her lips, and straighten my hair with a flat iron.
Monday evening Bev’s mood is particularly sour. She pours an entire bottle of wine down the drain and complains bitterly.
“It’s too sweet,” she says. “I can’t help it. I am a wine snob.”
It is a dry Riesling which Bev had told me she liked. It is from a vintner she said she liked too. I picked it out especially, and it cost twenty-six dollars. I stare at her in disbelief. Where did her joy for me go?
I slink downstairs to the guest bathroom and stare at my face. I stay in there, leaning into the sink, an inch from the mirror examining roots and lines and scars. There is a deep frown line developing between my eyes. I rub my finger along it and think maybe I should make that appointment Bev suggested with her dermatologist to botox it out. While admiring the rust spot at the drain in the sink as dynamic art, I think of how I got here —in the pale blue tiled bathroom in Noe Valley and living with Bev. More than forty-five minutes passes in circular conversation with myself before I go back upstairs. When I enter the bedroom I find Beverly reading her new book, The Mistress's Daughter.
She places the memoir down in her lap and then looks up at me with contempt.
“Where were you?”
“Downstairs, washing my face.”
“For an hour?”
I get into bed.
She strokes the book cover.
“Now, I understand you,” Bev says, and not kindly. I touch her leg with mine but everything feels prickly. I try and remember the last time I shaved my legs but cannot. I should really floss more too. My dentist says just floss the ones you want to keep. The sheets feel scratchy – are these the new ones? The high-thread count ones? Bev moves on top of me and begins kissing my mouth half-heartedly before moving too quickly down to my nipples. They grow hard involuntarily but I don’t otherwise respond. I close my eyes. I forgot to clean the litter box. I imagine sifting clumps from litter until she rolls off of me.
“What’s the matter?” Bev asks.
“Why are you such a bitch, Bev?”
Bev flares her nostrils . “I’m not in love with you anymore.” She juts her chin out and stares me down. “Plus, I really think you should move out. I should never have asked you to move in with me in the first place.” Then she turns her back to me, picks up the book and resumes reading.
What just happened? I can’t breathe. This is where I live. I get us the coffee. I clean the litter boxes. My mail has been forwarded to this address. And what about last night? Last night, you told me that I could hang one of my paintings in your living room. And I bought you a ring and let you wear my favorite boots, even though you scrape the toes. Plus you wear down one heel and I feel like I’m crooked now when I put them on.
Reeling, I go downstairs and crawl in with the dogs on their futon. There is dog hair on the pillow case and the sheets are dank. I can feel each plank framing the cheap foam and lie in misery staring up at the ceiling. The beagles move up against me. I want to cry but no tears come. Nor sleep.
There is no clock down here to tell me the time. I rub my eyes thinking about the injustice of it all until I hear the electronic garage door open and Bev’s car pulling out. Then I stuff my belongings into trash bags and fill my Volkswagen with them. I run around the house again and again, opening closets and drawers, checking for my stuff. I decide to leave her the new sheets we bought together. I write Bev a note but destroy it after.
A few weeks later, I hear from a mutual friend that Bev said after I moved out, “At least she was good with the animals.”
It’s true, I am good with animals.
I once carried the female beagle in my arms up a cliff, her black pads were burning from the hot sand on an abnormally hot day in San Francisco. I lovingly attended to one of the cat’s eyes, weeping with infection. I puréed Bubba’s food for him when he could no longer eat it solid—for several weeks before he died. Twice daily, I scooped the cat poop. I made sure all of the animals, cats and dogs, always had clean water.
A year has passed. I find Beverly on Match.com. I click her profile and read with surprisingly sweet nostalgia: Native Southerner, ex-New Yorker, confirmed San Franciscan. Essentially content but no stranger to melancholy. Sane with mild quirks and a talent for excess in moderation. Romantically versatile (which doesn't mean bi), skeptical and hopeful, with a social conscience leavened by a trenchant wit that is cleverly disguised in this ad. Partial to realistic fiction, Greek mythology, film noir, long hikes, and smart women who flirt. Enjoy music at a reasonable volume, cooking for friends, and solving world problems over drinks.
Bev’s profile pictures are particularly good. Her eyes are so blue, her hair so blonde. There is one taken with Four-By-Four on the sofa, and another with the dogs on the back porch.
I type a short email to her. It says, Yes, I was good with the animals.
I click: notify me when this message is read.