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About the Author
Her story “I Don’t Believe This” won an O. Henry Prize. “This Is a Voice from Your Past” was included in The Best American Mystery Stories.
Her non-fiction books include a travel memoir, Botticelli Blue Skies: An American in Florence; a book of personal essays, Gut Feelings: A Writer’s Truths and Minute Inventions; and Old Mother, Little Cat: A Writer’s Reflections on Her Kitten, Her Aged Mother . . . and Life.
Gerber earned her BA in English from the University of Florida, her MA in English from Brandeis University, and was awarded a Wallace Stegner Fiction Fellowship to Stanford University. She presently teaches fiction writing at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.
Read an Excerpt
By MERRILL JOAN GERBER
Dzanc BooksCopyright © 1985 Merrill Joan Gerber
All rights reserved.
On their way out of the Bun Boy coffee shop in Baker, Rand gave Cheryl a quarter to buy a Bio-Rhythm fortune card from a vending machine. She stood in the hot desert wind, her skirt lashing about her legs like a whip, strands of hair flying into her mouth, while she laughingly read him the news that the bio-graph rated her low on luck, low on sex, and low on leisure plans, while it rated her high on health, endurance, and driving.
"So can I drive the rest of the way to Vegas now?" she asked. "It's so boring just to look out the window. There's no scenery."
"Get in the car, please," Rand said, his pants legs flapping like banners in a used-car lot, " and don't put another ding in my door."
"I didn't put the first ding in," she said, getting into his red Corvette. She automatically took a sip of water from the insulated cup hanging in a holder on the dash and made a face. "Yuck – hot."
"You just had a milkshake," Rand said. "Why do you have to drink old water?"
"I don't know," she said, shrugging. "I just saw it there. Don't worry about it."
He pulled onto the road, and up ahead of them Cheryl saw white pom-poms on a car. "I wish we could have a 'Just Married' sign," she said. "Then everyone would look in our car when they passed us."
Rand accelerated, and Cheryl peered into the car with the pompoms. The girl, a blonde like her, turned her head the other way when she saw Cheryl staring. The boy, who looked about the age of Rand's son, gave her a zany grin, friendly and lewd at the same time. Cheryl waved, giggling out loud. She turned to Rand, seeing his handsome profile against the twisted joshua trees in the distance. "How could I be low on sex and leisure plans if this is my honeymoon?" she asked. She reached over and stroked his thigh. "Anyway, I've never been low on sex."
"How do you rate on money?" Rand asked.
"They don't have money on the chart," Cheryl said, consulting the card. "But it says that today is a triple-critical day for me."
"Then stay away from the slots."
"Are you kidding? Last time we went to Vegas I got three bars twice!"
"Play blackjack," he said, "the odds are better."
"Sure, the way you do it. If I could count cards, I'd walk away with a few thousand dollars every time, too."
"Even without counting," Rand said, "the game gives you better odds than the slots."
"I always do something wrong," she said. "I hit when I should stand, I stand when I should hit ."
"Memorize the chart I gave you. It tells you exactly what to do."
"It's too hard," she said. "I can't memorize the chart. I'd rather play the slots."
"Well– at least stick around for the first hour or two to play for me. They know me in most places, but they don't know you yet."
"Do I have to play even on my honeymoon?"
"Of course," Rand said. "You don't want them to give me trouble, do you?"
They had a system. If Rand placed his chips to the left side of the circle, it meant Cheryl should hit. (Cheryl remembered this by thinking that if she was left back a grade, she was bad and should be hit.) The chips placed to the right meant she should stand and not take any cards. (She remembered this by thinking that when her answer was right, she would stand at the front of the class and everyone would applaud.) If Rand put his elbow on the table she was supposed to double down on her bet. If he reached into his pocket for his hand kerchief, it meant she should bet a hundred dollars. If he took out his wallet and looked inside it, she was to bet five hundred dollars.
She felt important, having hundred-dollar chips on the table in front of her, and she loved it when he didn't make errors and they won big. Afterward he'd be so energetic and high, swinging her around in their room, making good love instead of letting her do all the work, later taking her to Spice on Ice, or some other flashy midnight show, both of them all dressed up. She adored the glitter – the massive headdresses, the pastel doves flying across the room, the seminude ice-skating – the glory and pageantry of it all. Rand wasn't interested in the dancers – even with their breasts hanging out of the costumes with cutout fronts. He said he didn't think women marching around in circles on a stage were erotic. What he liked were the really dirty movies, which turned Cheryl on but made her feel slightly sick. She didn't need sick movies to be turned on, she was only nineteen and her blood pulsed at the slightest invitation, her dreams were lush with limbs and lips and loving whispers. But Rand said the movies were good for him; he needed to get a little charge now and then.
When she'd called home with the news, her mother had been hurt and angry. Cheryl was really surprised because her mother was tough and had always made fun of big affairs with strolling violinists and airplanes that flew by with flashing bulbs which spelled out "Congratulations on your marriage." She'd phoned from outside the Van Nuys courthouse to tell her parents she'd just been married, and her mother had said, "That's nice, I suppose," and then was absolutely silent. Cheryl almost said, You didn't really want to be there, did you? but thought better of it. Her mother didn't ask her a single question – like who was there, or what kind of ring he gave her, or which dress did she wear – so Cheryl finally volunteered into the silence that they were going to Las Vegas for their honeymoon.
"A work-play vacation?" her mother said. "How convenient for him."
"Can you put Daddy on?" Cheryl asked, wobbling in the phone booth on four-inch-high black heels. In the courthouse, she had turned her ankle coming up the stairs, wearing those heels. Rand liked her to wear that kind of shoe – he had bought her half a dozen pairs.
"Daddy's busy," her mother had said.
"Well – wish us luck," Cheryl said, wishing she didn't have to beg.
"In Vegas, or for life?" her mother asked.
"Fuck it," Cheryl had answered, hanging up the phone. Maybe she hung up the phone first and then said it, she couldn't remember, with Rand standing there impatiently in his striped suit, his hair – still thick but at least half-gray – riffling in the breeze. She didn't bother to cry. Rand had no patience with her when she acted like a baby.
"Well, that takes care of your folks. They give you a bad time?" he asked, seeing her face.
"That's okay," she said, "it doesn't matter. Don't you want to call your son now?"
"Not really," Rand said.
"Well, he's the one that had a fit that we were living together." "He'll find out," Rand said. "Let's just forget about them all right now and get this show on the road."
"Look what I got in the rest room of the coffee shop," Cheryl said as they drove along. "Mr. Hiram's Super Funbook with three free meals."
"Just what we need," Rand said. "Sirens in your ears, hookers bumping asses with you, and sexy Chinese girls patting the dollar slots, whispering 'Try this one, it's hot.'"
"At Mr. Hiram's they give you a free color photo," Cheryl said. "On one of our trips I went in there without you, and I got a picture of my face on a fake dollar bill, and a free phone call home."
"I can give you all the change you need," Rand said, "assuming you want to call home again."
"I don't. Believe me, I don't. But maybe it would be nice to get the free picture. Sort of a wedding picture."
"I've had enough of those already," Rand said. "Don't you think three is enough?"
"How about later on, maybe we can ask someone to take just one snapshot of us with my Polaroid?"
"Maybe," Rand said. "We'll see."
Cheryl stared for a while out the window at the spiky yucca plants and the knobby dwarfed trees. "I wonder if we'll have a room with a mirror this time," she said. "I wonder if we'll have fun."
"Don't we always?" Rand said.
Her best girlfriend had a job now doing word processing for ten dollars an hour. In high school they had talked about going on to junior college and studying computers, but in the end her friend got on-the-job training on a Wang and now worked in downtown LA for an engineering company.
Cheryl had taken a summer job at Saks, gift wrapping, and in the fall decided to stay with it a while until she had a clearer idea of what she wanted to do. Her mother and father seemed relieved that they weren't going to have to fork over five thousand a year to send her to some fancy college, and as long as she was paying her own gas and insurance on the '71 Ford they let her use, they didn't bother her. That is, until she met Rand – he was having a birthday present gift-wrapped for his third wife – and started seeing him every night. Then her parents started babbling all the usual stuff: "more than twice your age, after you because you're a gorgeous young girl, you ought to be dating his sons!"
What did they know? The guys her own age were nothing, invisible, scarecrows on hangers. They glugged beer and walked to some drumbeat in their heads; she was sick of faded jeans and running shoes and guys who couldn't wait to turn you on with grass or with their own throbbing bodies. They had no money, and never would. Times were getting so crazy that they all had to live with their parents, no one could afford the rent on an apartment, even sharing with two or three guys. Half of the guys she knew thought they would be famous rock stars; they couldn't even carry a tune.
Rand was a real person. He had a science degree, he had been an engineer or something for many years till he got sick of it. His kids, from his different wives, were all grown up, and he was sending his youngest son through college now. He really knew where it was at. He never told dumb jokes. He didn't play games. He said what he wanted and she liked that. Do this, do that– and she did it, because usually it was a better idea than anything she could think of herself.
Now with their luggage carried in, he tipped the bellboy and locked the door of their room.
"Call room service and order us each a big shrimp cocktail," Rand said, his body reflected a dozen times in the mirrored room as he hung up his clothes in the alcove.
"I don't know if I want that," Cheryl said. "Maybe I want a hamburger."
"Call! Call!" he said. "Hurry up. When I get out of the shower I want it to be here."
And when it came, big white shrimp with pink tails and pink veins arched in a goblet over a snowball of ice, heads swimming in luscious red cocktail sauce, she knew he was right. It was exactly what she wanted. She chewed in a luxury of wanting the shrimp, grateful to him. When he came out of the shower she had eaten half of his shrimp, too – and he looked at the bloody plate and laughed, and peeled off his damp towel and swatted her. "That's what I love about you," he said. "Your healthy appetites. All of them."
By the time they got to the casino, she was quite satisfied, and chewed her lip comfortably while she adored him. She sat two stools down from him at the blackjack table, and felt his concentration burning toward her, his eyes counting the cards, figuring out when a ten-card would come up, knowing how many aces were left to fall at his – or the dealer's– place. The dealer was "Nancy from Indiana"– a sweet-faced, red-headed girl with heavy black eye makeup. He was joking with her, and tilting his toes, and counting cards at the same time. He was really brilliant. He won three forty-dollar bets in a row and bantered with the dealer: "It's not how you play the game, but whether you win or lose." The girl didn't get it. Cheryl hadn't gotten it the first time he'd said it either, but later he explained it to her and now she thought it was a funny joke. He took his handkerchief out of his pocket now, and Cheryl bet one hundred dollars on the next hand. It came up a ten and a jack, and she didn't even watch for his signal as he slid his chips to the right; she was catching on, she knew she had to stand with a twenty, it didn't matter what the dealer had.
Bad luck! The dealer had blackjack. Nancy-from-Indiana swept the chips away, click, click, click, just like that, not caring for the narrowness of his eyes, the ugly clenching of his jaw muscles. This was what Cheryl hated, when it didn't go his way and his temper got foul.
She played the next three hands at his instruction, and twice he was wrong again. He had lost his concentration. He scooped up his remaining chips, raised an eyebrow at her, and walked to the keno lounge. After playing two token hands to establish that she was separate from him, in case the pit boss was watching, Cheryl met him there. He was adding some figures on a keno sheet, writing with thick black crayon.
"Why don't you ever play bingo with me?" she said. "I think that would be fun." The kind of look he gave her made her want to race away, to run all the way back to LA, to see her mother, even to go to junior college. She abruptly left him, saying she was going to the rest room.
A black woman in a uniform was mopping up leaks from the faucets with hotel towels. "You know how the engineers make these hotels," she said to Cheryl. "Every minute this place don't go up in flames, I thank God."
But the mirrors were perfect. They had the right kind of pink light coming down that always made her skin look especially creamy and smooth. She smiled at herself, a flash of a smile that was brilliant. Sometimes she really was gorgeous and she felt proud. When she stood at bus stops, her thick blonde hair blowing around her face, she impressed the traffic, she knew that.
"You winning, honey?" the black lady asked. Cheryl saw her white plate waiting, empty of tips.
"Yeah, I'm really lucky tonight," she said, digging in her big red nylon purse and putting a twenty-five-dollar chip on the plate. "This is my honeymoon."
"No kidding," the lady said. "How about that?"
Cheryl went out into the casino again, into the smoke and the clatter of silver dollars and the raucous shouts coming from the craps table. She saw Rand's rounded back hunched at another table; he was playing again. She wandered around to the slot carousel, got twenty silver dollars, and idly put them in a machine, three at a time, to buy all three payoff lines. The last pull she only had two to put in, and son of a gun, the three bars showed up on the bottom line and she hadn't paid for them. Shit, she hated that. It happened once before and she didn't get three hundred quarters. Things like that could make her cry. She couldn't believe she would cry over something like that. Yet she was filling up, her nose and eyes, and she wanted to say to God, How come not me? How come everyone else is so lucky, only not me? Right next to her a young couple, maybe twenty-two or twenty-three, had two ice buckets filled with silver dollars. As she watched they hit another jackpot and the girl yelled, "0-kay!" and the guy gave her a big hug. Cheryl checked to see if the girl had a wedding ring. She did, and an engagement ring, too. Cheryl looked at her own wedding band. Already she didn't like it; she had picked the wrong one this morning. They had been in too much of a hurry, trying to squeeze in a wedding and a trip to Vegas in the same day. Rand had said he would buy her a diamond if they had a big hit this weekend. The high rollers all bought their women jewelry. Sometimes the wives took half the winnings right off the table, cashed in the chips, and went straight to the jewelry store to buy gold bracelets. Cheryl would never have the nerve to scoop up half of Rand's winnings. Maybe she just hadn't been married long enough.
Now an old man on her other side hit three oranges and stood back, chewing on a cigar, while thirty coins clanged down into the tin bowl. He put three more dollars in the slot, and three bars turned up, giving him a hundred more. He looked around for something to do while the bells rang and the money arrived, and said to Cheryl, "You using this machine?"
"No, you can have it," she said, stepping back, and she felt a few tears wash over the edge of her eye.
"Hey, hey," the old man said. "You lose everything?"
"Then take a handful of mine. Go ahead, I won't feel it. I have oil wells."
"I don't think so," Cheryl said. "I have to quit now."
"Here," he insisted. "Just fill up a bucket."
"It doesn't work that way," Cheryl said. "I don't think you can use someone else's luck." She went out to the lobby to look at the waterfall. A new bride was standing there, a young Mexican girl with flowers on her wrist. Her husband, a handsome Latino with a pencil mustache, wearing a white jacket, came over to Cheryl and said, "Could you take a picture of us, please?" He handed her his camera. "Just push here."
Excerpted from Honeymoon by MERRILL JOAN GERBER. Copyright © 1985 Merrill Joan Gerber. Excerpted by permission of Dzanc Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
At the Fence,
Straight from the Deathbed,
Someone Should Know This Story,
The Mistress of Goldman's Antiques,
"I Don't Believe This",