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About the Author
Lauren Grodstein received her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. She is also the author of a short-story collection, The Best of Animals.
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The Best of Animals
By Lauren Grodstein
Persea BooksCopyright ©2004 Lauren Grodstein
All right reserved.
I dreamed last night about having Richard Gere's baby. Curious, because I've never considered myself a big Richard Gere fan. I mean, sure, I did have a few tender thoughts about him after Pretty Woman. And I remember catching a glimpse of his butt on cable when I was a little girl, and looking on with fascination until my mother caught me and sent me to bed. But it was only years later that I realized that the butt I saw was Richard Gere's and that the movie must have been An Officer and a Gentleman. And right now, thinking about it-I can't even name any other Richard Gere movies. Not a single one. Although it is true that I get him confused with Warren Beatty-I did see Ishtar and I think that might have been Richard Gere in it.
No, wait, forget it. Warren Beatty.
Anyway, in my dream, our baby didn't have a name. I'm not even sure if our baby had a specific gender. It was just a baby, with big blue eyes and a round bald head and Richard was very kind to it, very gentle. In my dream I was supposed to take Richard and the baby to my mother's house for a Passover seder, but Richard didn't want to go. It wasn't because a Passover seder conflicted with his well-publicized Buddhist beliefs; it was just that he didn't loveme enough to accompany me and our baby to my mother's house. He claimed he had some big Hollywood thing to go to and that was that. In my dream, I was very understanding.
At my mother's house people said, "Where's Richard? Where's Richard." My aunt Sylvia who's been dead for three years said, "I thought you were gonna bring the big shot Richard Gere. Here's your baby. Where's Richard?"
I said, "He didn't love me enough to come, I guess."
Aunt Sylvia said, "Always feeling sorry for yourself," and the baby started to cry in my arms.
When I woke up this morning I shook my head and tried to forget that Richard Gere had broken my heart. I walked down the street to buy a bagel and some coffee, which I buy every morning, and also Entertainment Weekly magazine, which I'd never bought before. But I thought I might find an article on Richard Gere or, if not, that the magazine might have some other news that would distract me.
"Morning, Julie," said Luis, who worked at the bodega on the corner and pronounced my name "Yoo-lee."
"Morning, Luis," I said. "The usual, and also Entertainment Weekly."
"No problem," Luis said. Luis was a very short man with slick black hair and bright brown eyes. I once thought he was in love with me, simply because it was an amusing thing to think about. My bagel and coffee and magazine came to five dollars and forty-nine cents, which was almost as much money as I had on me, and as I walked to the subway on Fourteenth Street and Seventh Avenue I thought [o myself that maybe I should see fewer movies.
In the office, Denise in the next cubicle was talking on the phone to her child. "Lucille-" she whispered sternly. "Lucille, you have to go to school today. That's it. I don't care what Nana says."
I suppose she was whispering because she didn't want our boss, Janet, to know that she was making a personal phone call, but Janet had kids of her own and was a very understanding woman. I didn't know what Denise was so afraid of.
She slammed down the phone. "That child is doing her best to drive me crazy."
"I know," I said. "Last night I dreamed I had Richard Gere's baby."
Denise gave me a queer look and sipped her coffee.
I thought that Lucille was a strange name for a child because it sounded so old-fashioned, so grandmotherly. I knew that old-fashioned names were trendy among young parents, that hip people liked to name their kids things like Charles and Lillian and Maxwell. I supposed that this was a perfectly innocent trend, except among certain people who took it too far. There was no reason, for instance, to name your child Milo or Millicent.
These were both names my sister was considering for her baby, due in April. Millicent Feinbaum. Poor kid.
I turned on my computer and adjusted the monitor so that it would face me directly. I was supposed to work on one of the projects for the new campaign, but I didn't feel like it. Instead, I looked at the picture taped to the side of my computer. It was a photo of me and Allan, taken when we were in college, looking a little bit younger and much happier. Allan left three months ago to go explore the Amazon with a backpack full of bug spray and Lonely Planet guides. He was not my boyfriend, but I liked to pretend he was.
Just before he left, I asked if I could keep one of his T-shirts and smell it when he wasn't around. He said, "Sure, if that's what you want. Take the blue one. I don't wear it all that much." I took the blue one and I also took a green one with a Jets logo on it because I knew for a fact that Allan was a Giants fan and wouldn't miss it. I've been sleeping in the blue one and wearing the Jets one to the gym. I often wonder, on the Stairmaster, if Allan is thinking about me.
When he broke up with his girlfriend Dorie, Allan called me on the phone, drunk. He said that he dialed my number because he really wanted to call Dorie but knew that he shouldn't. I said, "Sure, I understand."
Then he said he was at O'Hanlon's down by First Avenue and would I please come because he was so drunk he wasn't sure if he would make it home all right. It was almost midnight. I said of course I would, no problem, and put on my lipstick in a good shade of pink and also my high-heeled leather boots, which I bought myself for my birthday, and I brushed my hair. With my hair down I looked a little bit like Dorie, although she was taller. I thought that if I looked like Dorie, that might cheer Allan up.
When I arrived at O'Hanlon's, Allan was sitting on a stool with his head on the bar.
"Julie," he slurred when he saw me. "Thank you, thank you ..."
Allan had asked Dorie to marry him at one point, and she'd said she'd think about it. Then she never got back to him, and he was too nervous to bring up the subject again. When she dumped him, he still had a ring hidden in his sock drawer.
"You don't have to thank me, Allan," I said, and took a seat next to him at the bar, "Guinness, please," I said to the bartender. "And one for my friend here."
"I don't think your friend needs any more, lady," the bartender said. "Anyway, he's drinking scotch."
"Fine," I said. "Another scotch."
"Julie-" Allan crooned in a drunken manner. "Ju-u-u-lie ..."
"It's okay, Allan," I said. "I'm getting you another drink."
I put my purse on the bar and fished out my cigarettes, and when the bartender slid my Guinness toward me I blew a puff of smoke in his face. "Thank you, sir," I said.
"Thank you," the bartender said, not bothering to wave the smoke away.
I tapped my cigarette in the ashtray and flipped my hair around so that it would curl over my shoulder seductively. "So, Allan," I said, clinking my Guinness against his scotch glass. "Here's to you."
He didn't respond.
"Here's to you," I said again.
"I'm not drinking," he slurred. "I'm drunk. I need to go home."
"Don't be a candy-ass, Allan," I encouraged. "Don't be a fruit." His head was still down and I thought I saw a little drool escape from his lips and form a puddle on the bar. I reached in and wiped it up with a cocktail napkin. "Come on," I said. "You're not getting any younger."
Allan lifted his head and winced. "I've been drinking-" he said, and rubbed his left eye. "I've been drinking all night."
"I can tell." He looked a mess. Half his hair was matted against the side of his face and the other half was standing straight on end. His shirt was stained with sweat and beer, and his eyes, usually so clear and green, were red and mostly closed. When we were in college Allan rarely drank. He would come visit me or pick me up to go to the library and if I smelled like beer or vodka, he'd make a face. I was relieved when he finally started drinking too, so that I'd no longer have to hide my own fondness for the occasional Guinness. It was good to see him drunk.
I took a sip and said, "I think I actually saw Dorie on the subway yesterday."
Allan rubbed his left eye again and sat up a little straighter. His neck was blotchy. "You're kidding," he said. "You're kidding."
"Not kidding," I said. "I think it was her. And I hate to tell you this, Allan, but she was with some guy, and he had his ann around her."
"What?" Allan said, his eyes snapping open. "Are you sure?"
"Well, it's hard to say anything for sure," I said. "But it did look like her, you know, with the haircut. I didn't say anything because I thought it would be awkward."
"You're sure he had his arm around her?"
"What am I, blind?" I asked. "I know what I saw."
"Julie," he said, leaning in toward me. His breath was just awful. "I need you to be sure."
"Okay, then," l said, and tapped my cigarette. "I'm sure."
"Fucking bitch!" Allan exploded, slamming his fists on the bar. It was a sort of dramatic gesture coming from a man who moments before had seemed half-conscious; the other customers turned and stared at us for a moment before returning to their own business. I was embarrassed for Allan for making a scene. "Bitch," he said again, a little more softly, and put his head back down on the bar.
I had never liked Dorie all that much, although I tried. But she always seemed to have this attitude with me, and when I saw a girl who looked just like her on the subway giggling and laughing with this other guy, I thought to myself, what a bitch. What a bitch to go and do that to a great guy like Allan, to a wonderful gem of a young man like my friend Allan. On the subway, I said, "Hey, Dorie!" but she didn't look up. The subway is crowded, though. People don't always hear you.
Allan lifted up his head again and took a swig of his scotch and then started coughing loudly. "Easy there, cowboy," I said. "No need to take it down all in one shot."
"How could she-how could she ..." His neck was even blotchier, and I could tell it was hard for him to get the words out. "It hasn't even been four weeks. Not even four weeks, the fucking bitch."
"She was a bitch, Allan," I said. "I'll say it again: you're better off without her."
Allan nodded sullenly. It's hard to watch people when they're suffering from heartbreak. "You know," he said, "I never knew what she wanted. I tried to be there for her, I tried to be everything for her, but sometimes you just give and you give and she doesn't want to take it, you know? You can't force someone like Dorie to take."
"I know," I said, and touched his hand, because it was so sad to see him this way and I wanted to offer some comfort. "I know."
He finished his scotch and ordered another. He seemed to be a little bit livelier now, and even made some joke with the bartender about all women being cunts. It was a smoky bar, an old-time Irish pub like the kind they have a lot of on the east end of Fourteenth Street. It was full of people who seemed like they'd lost their jobs years ago and never found the energy to get new ones. I was one of maybe three women in the place, and certainly the only one with blown-out hair and great new boots. I was also wearing my gold chain-link bracelet and the watch my father bought me from Cartier when I got my job at the firm. At O'Hanlon's on a Wednesday night, I was a babe.
By two in the morning, Allan almost seemed alive. He had vanished to the bathroom several times, maybe to puke, which usually makes a person feel better. He had wiped his hand through his hair so that it was messy all over and not just on one side. Cute.
"Do you have to go to work tomorrow?" I asked.
"I've been calling in sick," he said. "My boss thinks I might have pneumonia."
"I'm taking the day off tomorrow myself," I said. "I just decided. There's no way I can concentrate on the dog-food campaign after all this excitement."
"You're great, Julie," Allan said. I felt hot with pride.
At four in the morning O'Hanlon's closed and the bartender kicked us out. "Where do we go now?" I asked.
The street was dark and empty except for a homeless guy lying on top of a subway grate. O'Hanlon's green-lit sign flickered and went black, and I took Allan's hand.
"I think I better go home," he said, his voice wobbly, his legs also wobbly. "I think I better find a cab. It's cold out."
"Are you going to make it by yourself?" I asked. "You seem a little unsteady."
"Yeah," he said. He didn't let go of my hand. "Yeah, I'll be fine."
"You know what?" I said. I wasn't tired and I still wanted to be helpful. "You know what? I'll put you in a cab. I'll get in a cab with you and have the cab drop you off first, just to make sure you get home all right."
"Thanks, Julie," Allan said, and wobbled on his unsteady legs. "You're the greatest."
"Oh, Allan," I said, and lifted my hand to hail us a cab. Cabs are always easy to find, even at four in the morning. You can't get a drink, but you can still score a ride.
Allan lived on Delancey Street, which was certainly out of my way, but I felt like a good person for keeping my arm around him and making sure he was okay. He fell asleep in the back of the cab, his mouth open, making faint snoring sounds. "Three twenty-five Delancey," I told the driver and straightened Allah's collar in the back seat.
Ten minutes later the cab pulled to a stop. "I think I should walk you up," I said.
"We're here?" Allan opened his eyes, but barely.
"Come on," I said. "I'm walking you up."
Allan lived on the third floor and needless to say there was no elevator, so after fumbling with his keys and finally opening the door, I had to sort of drag him up the stairs with my arm around him and my leg supporting his. It was hard work. By the third floor, I was sweaty. I fumbled through his key ring again and finally found the one that let us in.
"You go lie down," I said. Allah's apartment was a single large room, fairly neat, with a kitchenette in one corner and a colorful rug on the floor. Lots of television and stereo equipment lined the wall next to the door, and a big poster of a Vargas girl hung over his bed in the opposite corner. "I'm going to freshen up." I walked Allan over to the bed, and dropped him on it, and he fell on his face with a long, noisy groan. I threw my jacket on the bed next to him and went into the bathroom.
The bathroom was small and tiled in bright yellow. I turned on the lights and looked in the mirror and was pleased to see that my hair still hung neatly and my eye makeup wasn't too smudged.
Excerpted from The Best of Animals by Lauren Grodstein Copyright ©2004 by Lauren Grodstein. Excerpted by permission.
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