The twisted, eccentric characters in this hilarious metaphor-stretching novel are ripped straight from today’s tabloids: a man obsessed with Spiderman, whose ir-responsibility has reached such epic proportions that he literally reverts to being a newborn; and a homecoming queen who secretly gives birth in the locker room during halftime, then claims the infant was kidnapped by aliens. Foos’s satirical genius strikes funny, bittersweet chords about women, men, and responsibility gone haywire.
The author of three novels, Laurie Foos grew upon Long Island and currently lives in Massachusetts.
|Publisher:||Coffee House Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Laurie Foos, lauded as "the unholy love-child of Kafka and Erica Jong," is the author of four previous novels: Ex Utero, Portrait of the Walrus by a Young Artist, Twinship, and Bingo Under the Crucifix. She teaches in the Lesley Seminars in Cambridge and lives just outside of Boston with her husband and her dog Jesse. Visit her website at www.lauriefoos.com.
Read an Excerpt
BINGO UNDER THE CRUCIFIXA novel
By Laurie Foos
COFFEE HOUSE PRESSCopyright © 2002 Laurie Foos
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhen Chloe got the call that her brother Irv had become an infant, she was only surprised by the fact that he hadn't become Spider-Man. For years Chloe had been waiting for the call telling her that Irv had finally succeeded, that after all of the years of comic books and costumes, web designs and spider infatuation, he'd finally managed to turn himself into his beloved superhero. He'd wanted to be Spidey ever since she could remember, but a baby was another matter entirely. This, she realized, was a stunt she'd never expected, not even from Irv.
"Your brother Irv's gone and become a baby," her mother said evenly, as if she'd been rehearsing before placing the call. "I found him on the front stoop with a note stapled to his blanket. I nearly tripped right over him."
Chloe was struck not so much by the news that her brother had transformed himself, but by the fact that her mother referred to him as "Irv," the nickname Chloe had given him in childhood for reasons she could no longer remember. Her mother had always hated the nickname and had forbidden Chloe to use it in her presence. Irv was such an ugly name-a name for a lecherous old man, her mother had always said-which was exactly what Chloe had intended.
She took a long drag onher cigarette and blew the smoke out slowly, watching the puffs drift across the table and hang suspended over the halogen lamp in the corner of the room. She tried to think of something unexpected to say, something quick and surprising that would take her mother off guard, like her mother's use of the name Irv.
"Become a baby," she repeated. "My brother Irv has become a baby."
Her mother coughed loudly into the phone, thick rasps that rang through the receiver.
"Yes, your brother," her mother said, louder this time, her voice rising as if she were speaking to someone hard of hearing. "Your brother Ralph," she said, using his proper name now, "is now an infant. A newborn, straight out of the womb. And Ruth is gone. She took off and left him behind with nothing but a note."
Chloe said nothing for a long time. She held the cigarette between her fingers and watched as the smoke wrapped around itself and floated over the newspaper she'd been reading. People had been wondering what went on inside Irv's head for years, she thought, though she had tried her best not to be one of them. He was a big baby, his wife, Ruth, forever complained whenever she had a moment alone with Chloe. All he ever wanted was his mother. Ruth was eight months pregnant, and Irv had reached the age of thirty-six without ever having learned to operate a washing machine or cut his meat with a serrated knife, preferring instead to lift a piece of steak with his hands and suck the flesh off the bone. He still had all of the Spider-Man figures from his childhood and had only stopped sleeping on superhero sheets when he'd gotten married. He managed a comic book store full of teenage boys with whiteheads and mothers who washed their damp sheets.
"How do you know it's him?" Chloe asked, thinking for a moment that some reckless teenager might have panicked after giving birth and left the baby on her mother's steps after loosing the infant in a movie theater restroom. These kinds of things happened all the time in the New York papers. In the past several months there had been a rash of what reporters called "drive-by births" on Long Island. Months earlier, a fifteen-year-old had been tried as an adult and been sentenced to fifteen years after delivering a baby girl behind a supermarket and leaving her beside an ATM machine in the shopping center. Just last week the homecoming queen at a nearby high school in an affluent Long Island suburb had delivered a ten-pound baby boy during halftime. She then took her triumphant ride across the football field in a convertible with roses in her hand, waving as the janitors sifted through bloody towels in the girls' locker room. Chloe had just finished reading the latest article about the homecoming queen and had wondered what had made her run.
She'd have liked to have spoken to these girls, to ask them how they had managed to hide their pregnancies even from their parents, and more importantly, from themselves. Both girls had said repeatedly that they'd never considered what they'd delivered as "real babies." Just years before they'd been playing with baby dolls. Maybe they'd thought these infants had been dolls, too, which was a concept that Chloe, as a dollmaker, could readily understand.
"Oh, it's Ralph, all right," her mother snorted. "A mother never forgets."
Slowly Chloe picked up the newspaper and stared at the photograph of the homecoming queen taken from her jail cell. Her thin prison uniform sagged on one side, revealing a creamy shoulder. Chloe wondered why they hadn't been able to find a uniform to fit the young girl properly. The girl's lips seemed to tighten in pain, and she looked very cold.
"Okay," Chloe said finally, stubbing out her cigarette, "what do you want me to do?"
Her mother took a deep breath and let it out in a rush.
"You've got to come," her mother said. "I can't do this alone. Your father won't even look at him, and Aunt Chickie gets in her own way. I don't even know who to call."
When Chloe didn't answer, her mother cleared her throat.
"Please, Chloe," she said. "He's your brother, for God's sake."
Chloe considered telling her mother that God had nothing to do with Irv's being her brother; she was sure of that. She thought of poor Ruth with her swollen belly, lugging her infant husband back home to Mother and then running off. Now she would be forced to give birth on her own, without Irv there to hold her hand, wipe the sweat from her brow, or perform whatever small gesture he might have been able to manage. Wherever she'd gone, Ruth had not only a baby on the way but a baby/husband to worry about. Even the homecoming queen, alone in a jail cell with her crown in tatters, seemed better off by comparison.
"I'll be there," Chloe said finally, standing up to hang the receiver on its cradle. "Wait for us to come. Nathan will know what to do."
Without waiting for her mother to answer, Chloe hung up the phone and held it down on the cradle, hard, then lifted it off the hook to make sure the dial tone had returned. She set the receiver on the table and waited for the buzzing to begin, proof that no one could get through. Slowly she shuffled down the hall to her bedroom, an unlit cigarette perched between her fingers.
Nathan sat up when he saw her. Bunches of index cards crunched beneath him as he moved to a sitting position.
"What's the matter?" he asked, stopping to cross out a line he'd written with the Cross pen Chloe had given him for his birthday several years before. He was not averse to using a good felt tip if necessary, but said the right pen afforded his words an authority that no other pen had come close to.
She sat beside him on the bed, her shoulders hunched.
"Irv's become a baby again," she sighed.
She was suddenly shocked at the calmness with which she'd taken all of this in, her mother's voice on the phone, her brother's body shrunk back to infancy. In some strange way, she realized she'd been waiting for this to happen, that he'd always had a much better chance of returning to babyhood than he'd ever had at becoming Spider-Man, no matter how hard he'd tried.
Nathan was a professional party planner, though his real love lay in writing scripts and directing. But party planning involved orchestration of the best kind-stage directions, blocking, even set designs with the added bonus of celebration. Once he'd thrown an elaborate shower for a celebrity at a posh hotel and had the chef bake a cake in the shape of a fetus with long strips of banana licorice for the umbilical cord. He'd written a monologue for the fetus which a child actor in a bonnet and matching booties delivered to the expectant mother. At a Bat Mitzvah, he hired a singer to dress as a rabbi and serenade the young girl with "It Had to Be You." For his and Chloe's wedding, he'd composed congratulatory lines for every guest on the receiving line.
"People never really know what to say at family functions," he'd said when Chloe initially balked at the idea. "Why not give them a little help?"
And in fact, the guests had appeared one by one with index cards at the ready to deliver their lines. Some had even taken bows. Her family had come to rely on Nathan's penchant for scripts at holidays, always asking that he write the specs for Easter and Christmas dinners.
"I never know how the hell to say grace, even after all those years in Catholic school," her father had once said. "At least now I can always count on Nathan to give me a good line."
Nathan shuffled through his index cards as if searching for a phrase appropriate to the situation, though Chloe knew he wouldn't find one.
"Maybe it's not him," Nathan said, dropping the index cards on the bed. "Maybe it's some abandoned kid like the one that homecoming queen just dumped. Maybe it's not Irv at all."
"No," Chloe said, "it's Irv, all right. My mother's sure it's Irv. And I promised her we'd come."
Nathan reached for a fresh packet of index cards.
"We'd better get started," he said. "We'll need to know what to say."
As she sat smoking, Nathan listed all the questions Chloe wanted to ask:
1. Had Irv shrunk down to newborn size, his gums pink with new life, the hair on his body vanished, leaving his skin smooth and smelling faintly of baby lotion?
2. Was he conscious of his newfound infancy, crying out to his mother like the shrunken man in The Fly, trapped in the web forever, his little man's head squeaking for help?
3. Were images from the womb still swirling through his mind, his eyes glazed over with film, the whole world a gauzy collage of faded colors and newness, his adult life shucked away like dead skin?
4. How had he managed it? Had he (a) willed himself back or (b) had it come upon him like a dream, his mind swimming while his chromosomes did a crazy dance, scrambling themselves into a gurgling mass of diaper rash and drool?
Nathan passed each of the index cards to Chloe and waited for her approval.
"There's a problem with the second question," she said, leaning back on the bed. "He'd certainly like the web associated with The Fly, but he'd be a spider for sure. A real bloodsucker."
Nathan made a notation on the index card and pressed the end of the pen to his chin.
"That's a good point," he said. "But I'm sure that will go right over their heads."
While he continued scribbling lines on his index cards, Chloe tried to imagine if Irv were capable of doing something quite so willful, leaving Ruth with a nursery filled with stuffed animals meant for a real baby, not a thirty-six-year-old man masquerading as an infant. Poor Ruth, Chloe thought, as she took deep drags on her cigarette. No wonder she'd run. Ruth was nine years older than Irv and had certainly babied him, but Chloe was sure that even Ruth hadn't banked on a husband who would sneak back to infancy just when she was ready to deliver.
If nothing else, Chloe told Nathan, she was sure that being a big baby was not endearing to Ruth-or to any of them, for that matter. Even her mother had sounded horrified.
"Horrified," Nathan wrote in block letters before getting up from the bed. "Good word. We may have to use that one."
As Nathan moved about the room packing their bags, Chloe took the newspaper and cigarettes into her work room where the latest in her "Bingo Lady" doll series lay half-stuffed. The doll's saggy breasts still needed to be sewn and padded; her limbs hung loosely from her polyfill-stuffed body. The Bingo Lady dolls had become extremely popular in the last year after she'd debuted the exhibit-Waiting to Wait-at an annual doll show. Four needle sculpted women huddled together at a wooden table, looking expectantly at one woman's card with just two numbers left for the jackpot. Since then, she'd been bombarded by requests from collectors and gallery owners. Her friend, Gloria Rollins, a dollmaking guru, was planning to set up an exhibit on game-playing later that year. Gloria had once weighed nearly three hundred pounds but had gotten herself down to the one-fifty range, though she still wore muu-muus that hung about her shoulders like deflated tents.
"It's important not to forget who you've been," Gloria was fond of saying. "Every dollmaker has a history."
In the doll world Chloe was known as Esther Bing, a name Nathan had come up with one night while planning the couple's entrance at a silver anniversary party with a Humphrey Bogart theme. All the guests had worn trench coats and smoked cigarettes which was what had inspired the idea of Esther Bing as a chain smoker. She liked the idea of hovering over her dolls with a cigarette pressed between her lips in her Esther Bing persona. The smoking had quickly infiltrated her normal life as Chloe, since she spent so much time working on the dolls. Still, even with the smoking, no one in her family had ever guessed that she made dolls for a living. No one knew it was Chloe who had created the Bingo Ladies.
As Esther Bing, she got herself a P.O. box and a social security card and ordered cartons of cigarettes through the mail. Esther Bing provided a kind of anonymity that being Chloe Taft had never afforded her. When they'd married, she'd decided to retain her maiden name and not take on Nathan's, which was "Whittenstone," a name too long for perfecting the signature she'd come to depend on after being asked so frequently by doll collectors to offer her autograph. Her mother had been displeased by Chloe's decision not to take Nathan's name.
"You'll get so used to being Chloe Whittenstone that you'll soon forget who Chloe Taft ever was," her mother had admonished, though Chloe thought that forgetting who she'd been was not something she aspired to do.
Since her father, the Big E, had achieved a certain degree of notoriety in the World's Strongest Man contests, Chloe had developed an uneasy relationship with fame, blushing even when Nathan's name appeared on the backs of invitations. As much as she loved dollmaking, she still hated the exposure that went along with attending conventions and doll shows. She felt much safer going as Esther Bing.
She always gave her dolls a history, and sometimes Nathan even wrote lines that he thought the Bingo Ladies might say. "Come on, O 75," or "This caller's time has come and gone." This particular doll had been a frequent jackpot winner who carried around a handful of twenty-dollar bills, which Chloe had cut from parchment paper and dyed green. Her name was Marilyn, and she'd had a run of bad luck recently, which was reflected in her tightlipped smile and the deep lines that Chloe had needle-sculpted under her eyes.
As she held the doll in her hands, she added wisps of ash-stained cotton that she used for touches of gray in the Bingo Lady's red mohair. Nylon doll skins and bits of fabric lay spread across her work table. Now that Irv had become an infant, Chloe sensed that this might be the last doll she'd be able to finish for quite some time. The smell of lint permeated the air, and the Bingo Lady's face seemed to twist in pain, as if the doll could sense the dread Chloe felt in the pit of her stomach.
Perhaps this doll was right, Chloe thought, as she sat among the pieces of cloth and thread that lay strewn over her work table. Perhaps Marilyn's luck had run out.
As if to prove this very point, she spent the rest of the evening sewing bits of red nylon to the doll's thighs, bumps of flesh that rose up her skin like a series of spider bites.
Excerpted from BINGO UNDER THE CRUCIFIX by Laurie Foos Copyright © 2002 by Laurie Foos
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.