Beer, Poker, Pool
Doreen Drinks a Glacier
Doreen Drinks a Glacier
I mention Shamu in an off-hand manner just one time, and Doreen slaps water in my face. Even though it is dark, almost midnight, when she rises from the steaming tub, I can see that she is not as fat as she thinks I think she is.
“That’s it, mister. I’ll show you,” she intones, not exactly threatening but still all determined-like, and pitches the thermometer back into the spa. It falls like a slug in a wishing well. “I really will,” she adds softly. Skipper doesn’t even rise up as she moves toward the house and past the mini-trampoline he has taken to sleeping upon.
Inside and toweled off, I tell her how good she looks, but I don’t think she buys it. Though she doesn’t pursue the point, I sense that this time she really does mean for things to change. I get the first inkling how much the next day after work. When I pull up in front of the house, I see her and her two oldest girls, Willadene and Naomi, carrying pasteboard boxes full of what I later discover are sprouts, whole-grain pastas, and an array of exotic herbal supplements, nostrums, and elixirs. Two cases of guava nectar await unloading in the back of the Montero.
“I’ll get those,” I offer, noting that Doreen is also sporting a new pair of Saucony’s, each with a curling mesh toe and blue trim around the heel and sides. “Been shopping?” I ask, trying again to break the ice.
“Not really,” she answers. “Not shopping — more like investing.”
I know she’s not talking about my 401K from the garage. It’s just her cute way of saying she dropped probably close to two hundred at the Redbud Health Co-op, and, judging from the crispness of the beet tops, she did so within the hour. I tote the bottled guava past Rhonda June and Randy, her youngest, who are sitting in front of the tv as if a Pokemon might suddenly speak directly to one of them, and put the cases on the kitchen counter. I see Doreen has already erected a water crock near the fridge, a five-gallon bottle of Glacier Springs water overturned into it. I try to put on a good face, my best one, but no matter how my mind tries to rearrange them, the right-side letters on the upside jug keep spelling trouble.
“Good,” I lie. “Is any of this for supper, or did you buy a goat too?” I wish I hadn’t said the goat part, but, to my advantage, Doreen ignores the remark. The girls head off to their rooms, and Doreen pulls a large saucepan from the low cupboard and fills it with the first water from the crock. When it starts to boil, she empties a plastic bag that appears to contain horse food and trail mix into it. Minutes later the six of us are sitting at the table with bowls of bubbling gruel before us. I dig in as if it were a special treat. It’s not. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either, just a tasteless, pulpy mass that tries to harden between each spoonful.
“What do you call this?” I ask.
“I don’t call it, but apparently it called you. You’re eating it, aren’t you?” Doreen smarts back.
She’s right. And two hours later the mystery mush calls again, this time loudly, and my bowels begin to seize. I leap from the sofa and race to the toilet just before its emetic properties overwhelm me and something the size of a Nike vaults from my crankcase into the bowl. I sit astonished, empty, bewildered that the toilet has not shattered into huge porcelain splinters. Voided, I limp to bed a full hour before Leno can take his nightly shot at the President. I mention dinner’s effect to Doreen when she comes in later, but she’s not one to talk about bodily functions. She says I should drink more water, six big tumblers every day like she and the kids plan to do. Expelling me from the covers, she directs me back into the kitchen, the water crock already more than a third empty from its first few hours on the premises. But when I open the tap and big farts of air rumble to the top of the jug, I have my doubts about relief.
The next day when I get home, things are worse. Doreen has the three girls and Randy on the sofa. Some sort of family pow-wow is underway. The tv is off — that can’t be good — and through the storm door I see her gesturing excitedly to the kids. I pass through quickly on my way to the kitchen for a glass of Glacier Springs, a pre-dinner precaution against what Doreen may have dreamed up for tonight’s meal. Then I sneak into the bathroom to avoid being drawn into what’s happening in the front room. I hide out there awhile, cleaning motor oil from my cuticles and reading the sports. In time Doreen raps on the door.
“I’ve got an announcement. In fact, we all have one,” she declares. “Come into the other room.”
I wince, fearing what her formality portends.
“We’ve decided to make some changes in our lives, big changes, and to celebrate our new lives we’ve each taken a new name. From now on I want you to call me Kiva.”
If this is a joke, I am not much amused. Doreen seems serious.
“Kiva,” she says, pointing to herself as if she were being introduced to Tarzan.
“I’m Snowflake,” Rhonda June clarifies.
“That’s nice, honey,” I say about as sweetly as I can.
“I’m Sky now,” Naomi chirps.
“Call me Shawnee,” Willadene, not one to be left out, volunteers. Pow-wow may have been the right word after all. Apparently while I was at the garage, the whole family decided to become Indians, and it is still not clear how peaceful these savages are. “How about you, sport?” I ask Randy, fingering my scalp to make sure it’s still in place. “Are you in on this too? What do you want to be called?”
“Shaquille, I guess.”
“Shaquille! Don’t be an idiot. You can’t be called Shaquille!”
“Mom says I can. I can be whoever I want. She said so.”
I frown at Doreen, but she’s clearly taking Randy’s side, just like she did when he wanted to spend his entire allowance on some faggy beanbag animals you could get for free at Burger King. “I won’t call the boy Shaquille. It’s not right. He’s not even black,” I stammer. “He’s white. Or he would be if he’d wash his neck once in a while.”
“Randy can be who he wants to be, so you leave him alone. It’s not hurting anyone if he wants to be Shaquille. Why are you so negative about everything?” Doreen complains. “All right, kids,” she says, resuming her cheery rapture and discounting my protest. “Who wants to take Skipper to the park? Shawnee, find his leash while I get on my shoes.”
Naomi opens the door and calls Skipper from the yard. Evidently he has not yet changed his name. He scrambles off the mini-tramp and bounds in, his tail endangering every knee-level knickknack in the house. He rears up like Trigger several times before stopping impatiently to allow Willadene to fasten the leash to his collar.
“Hi, boy; hi, boy; hi, boy,” Rhonda June repeats, avidly patting his shoulder as if it just dawned on her that we own a dog. When Doreen returns in her gleaming Saucony’s, Skipper pushes open the storm door and barges out with Willadene holding onto the taut leash with both hands.
That night when the kids are in bed, I get Doreen into the hot tub for the first time since the Shamu incident. We sit for a while and make small talk, passing a squeeze bottle of Glacier Springs between us. Skipper, atop the trampoline, is almost asleep. Orion and the Dippers are in view despite the heady steam speeding toward the roof. When everything seems peaceful, I pull her close and coo, “You know you’ve made your point with your little health kick. You don’t really need it, Doreen. You look great just the way you are.”
“All the better reason to keep it up then,” she retorts. “It must be working. Besides, I like the way I feel. And I told you I’m Kiva now. Please call me Kiva. Everyone else does. You need to respect my new identity.”
“I do respect you, baby. That’s why I don’t want you to change. I like you just the way you are — or were — the natural you, the real you. That’s who I like.”
“So I guess Shamu was just a term of endearment then? A loving nickname for the old me you love so well?”
“I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”
“But you said it. How am I to know you mean anything you say? How do I know that you mean what you’re saying to me right now? It doesn’t really matter anyway,” she adds in afterthought. “Things are going to be different. They already are. I’ve decided.”
“Different, why?” I plead. “Same is good. It can be good too. Like this glacier water. You know it’s not really made from glaciers. Read the label. It’s bottled in Houston for Christ’s sake! It’s probably tap water. You haven’t heard of any glaciers making their way down to Houston, have you?” Then I remember something from school about that very fact, though not really to Houston because Houston wasn’t even around then but maybe to New Orleans or some other place close by. In any case that was a long time ago, so I don’t say anything to Doreen about it. I get back to my point. “If you think about it, this water is just like the water we’ve always drunk. See, same is good, only cheaper. And if it were truly glacier water, that would be bad, not just because it costs more — even though it does — but bad for the environment.” I see I’ve got her on this one. “If we drink up all the glaciers,” I argue, “we’ll have global warning, and you know things are already way too hot around here in summer as it is. Think of the environment. Think of the seals. Think of those — what are they? You know, those orange-billed birds that sit on icebergs?”
“Puffins,” she adds.
“That’s right, puffins. Think of the puffins!”
Doreen shoots me that look where she arches one eyebrow as if she’s trying to look over the rim of her glasses, only she doesn’t wear any. I don’t think she means to think of puffins at all. She throws back her head and squirts a dropper of goldenseal into her left nostril and snorts another into her right. Then she tells me what’s up tomorrow.
“Obilio says there are some classes at the co-op I would enjoy. In fact I’m going to one at five. You’ll have to feed the kids.”
I should feel a certain joy at the opportunity to avoid one of Doreen’s granola and yogurt suppers, but hearing her say that charlatan’s name short-circuits all prospects for pleasure. Though I’ve never met Obilio Rogers, everyone knows who he is — or rather what he is — a pony-tailed seed and supplement seller who profiteers in the co-op’s storefront market, a scoundrel who exploits school kids into bagging and weighing produce in exchange for spiritual guidance, a deceiver who lures disenchanted women into his rundown workout facility simply because he can fold his legs into a pretzel.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I object.
But Doreen is having none of it. “I’m not doing this for you,” she repeats. “This has nothing to do with you. This time it’s about me.”
But clearly it does have to do with me. After all, who will have to watch the kids? Why, I will. And who is going to have to feed them? Why, I am. And who will be stuck walking and feeding Skipper every time Doreen wants to traipse off to bathe in the hogwash of Obilio Rogers? Why, I will. And who am I if not me? So this isn’t about her; it’s about me. It’s about all of us — me and Sky and Shawnee and Snowflake and Shaquille and Skipper. It’s about the whole tribe. And no matter how much essence of clematis Doreen sprays into the air around here, the whole arrangement stinks to high heaven.
Sure enough, the next evening, just as she said, Doreen isn’t home. I am tempted to make chili dogs to spite her, but I don’t. I won’t take it out on the kids. It isn’t their fault their mom’s gone dingy. Instead I load them all into the car, Skipper too, and head down to Redbud. I leave Shawnee in charge in the front seat and go inside. Pushing past the teenager at the register, I move beyond the rack of balms and potions, past the Glacier Springs poster with its familiar mountains, a dozen ice-blue jugs stacked below, and through the open door to the warehouse workout room where up-tempo music blares from a boombox. The room is shabby, almost as dull as the ungainly women who bounce and recoil within it. Obilio Rogers, wearing a flannel print shirt over black leotards, leads them in their movements. His hair, pulled behind him, is secured by a rubber band. Overlooking my arrival, he barks encouragement to the women who, breathless, answer back with what sounds like coyote yips. Doreen is easy to spot in her gray workout clothes as she labors among the other women. She is sweating like Mike Tyson on Jeopardy. Taking her by the sleeve, I guide her back into the store where it is quieter. She is smiling, practically delirious, still pulsing to the bleats of Hall and Oates’ assertion that “what you need is adult education, what you need is adult education, what you need is adult education.”
“What are you doing?” I seethe.
“Painting the barn. What does it look like? You knew where I’d be.” Doreen wasn’t even trying to be droll.
“I don’t like this one bit. In fact, I don’t like this at all.”
“It’s fun. You’d like it too if you’d try. Come back in with me.”
“No-o-o-o,” I insist. “There aren’t any men in there.”
“There’s Obilio. He’s a man.”
I don’t want to debate Doreen’s premise, nor am I looking for another way to humiliate myself. I am embarrassed enough just to be inside the Redbud Health Co-op where that rogue Rogers minces daily before his beefy, glistening, thralls. “The kids — your kids — are in the car, and they’re hungry. You need to come home.”
“Give them these,” she says and pulls four energy bars from a counter display. “These will hold them until I get there.”
Gene, the counter boy, enters the purchase in a spiral notebook. Doreen apparently has already established a line of credit here, but I don’t want her indebted to that prancing prick in the back room. Who knows what else she’s signed on for, so I flip Gene a ten and leave gripping the four bars and my change. Inside the car I dispense dinner — four bars for the five of us, six counting Skipper. I wonder whom Doreen has meant to exclude. When I see Shaquille break off a piece of his bar and feed it to Skipper, I get my answer.
“I want you to promise not to go down there anymore,” I hiss to Doreen when she comes home, still sweaty from her workout.
“Well, we’ll have to talk about that,” she says.
And we do. I explain how I see things, that she has been neglecting me and the kids for a flit-by-night con man with a power juicer, and she agrees not to take any more exercise classes from him on weeknights, that is after the class in which she is already enrolled ends in two more months. It isn’t a good deal. I don’t like it, but it’s the best I can negotiate, so I am happy in the moment because it is also the first thing we have agreed upon in days.
Still, happiness can be fleeting. Doreen keeps her word about new classes, but all doesn’t go as I intend. The next week I catch Obilio Rogers in our hot tub, his scrawny arms spread wide against the upper lip of the spa and his legs stretching before him just below the surface of the water. I see his naked hairy chest and his face which bears the goofy look of complete serenity.
“What are you doing here? Where’s Doreen?” I challenge.
As if summoned from some far away place, she rises from between his legs, wriggling against his thighs as she breaks the water’s brow. She is wearing a snorkel.
“What the hell is this?” I demand.
“Obilio is rebirthing me,” she explains.
“He’s rebirthing me. It’s good for worry. I’m trying to become a child again, like Snowflake. You don’t see her worrying.”
“What has Rhonda June got to worry about? She’s only in third grade. She doesn’t pee in her pants anymore, and she knows how to cross the street by herself, so what’s her big worry?”
“You’re proving my point. It’s a great stress reliever. You should try it. Obilio will do you too, won’t you, Obilio?”
We both turn toward the soused guru who stands upon hearing his name called and offers to shake my hand. He is wearing a tiny yellow Speedo.
“I don’t think so,” I emphasize, declining.
“It’s easy. Try it, you’ll love it,” Doreen cajoles. “Look here. Let me show you.”
Doreen re-dunks herself and paddles behind the fraud who remains standing in the tub’s deep center. Seconds later she emerges again from between his legs, the snorkel stroking his groin as she rises.
“This is sick. What kind of scam are you trying to pull? Just who do you think you are going around rebirthing people in their very own homes? You’re not even a woman! He’s not even a woman, Doreen. A man can’t give birth. That’s simple biology. Come to your senses. This is insane!”
“Gender doesn’t matter in this. Just think about it for a minute and don’t be so uptight. It’s not like real birth. We don’t need a hospital or a midwife. You have no imagination.”
My problem is that I do have an imagination. I visualize what Doreen and Obilio may have been up to these past weeks, and the thought of crawling between Obilio Rogers’ legs nauseates. Bile surges into the back of my throat. I choke it back with a sip from the Glacier Springs squeeze bottle. As my lips press against the bottle’s nipple, I imagine Obilio doing the same thing to Doreen’s.
“I must leave now,” Obilio says as if reciting a line someone else had written.
“What? So soon? Another delivery in the neighborhood, doctor? Need a police escort? I’d be happy to call them,” I remark as frostily as I can.
That night after she gets off her rebirthing jag, I think about what has become of Doreen and me, and I think about how my life would be without her. Though she lies next to me in her cotton gown, in my mind I can see her naked body, her new body, toned from dieting and workouts but still curvy. I decide to buy her a present even though it is well past Christmas and Valentine’s and her birthday is still long away. The next day at the shop while I rotate tires, charge batteries, and lube the high school’s two minivans, I chew over what to get her. This won’t be easy. She has given up candy. She has little occasion for jewelry. I can’t even guess her new dress size. But I want to get her something she’ll like, something that tells her I mean to keep her after all. On the way home I swing by the co-op. Inside Gene is restocking the no-fat chip bin.
“Do me a favor,” I say.
“What kind?” he asks.
“I need a gift for Doreen.”
“Did you have something in mind?”
“I don’t know. Something special,” I say. Then I spy the ice cube key chains by the register. “I’ll take one of these for sure.” I browse through the store hoping for more inspiration. “And how about a bottle of that DHEA stuff I’ve been hearing about?” I add.
“All right,” Gene says smiling. He might be sniggering. He rings me up and then says, “Wish her a happy birthday for me.”
“I will,” I answer but do not correct him about the occasion. And with all her rebirthings, who knows how many times a year she expects to celebrate? It’s when I’m on the way out that the big idea hits me. When I get home, Doreen is at the table reading a pamphlet on Rolfing. I hand her the key ring. I can tell she is surprised.
“What’s this for?” she asks, turning the plastic cube over in her hand.
“To hold the key to our future,” I say as poetically as I know how. I couldn’t have said it better if I had practiced.
“So why is it empty?”
“Because it’s the future,” I answer. “We haven’t made it yet.” I pause a sec, then drop my voice all romantic like. “It’s really just for being you, Kiva.”
She smiles broadly. Then I tell her I have something else for her too. I take off my shirt. I can tell she is puzzled by the gauze bandage on my arm. I peel back the tape to show her what’s beneath. She sees two snowy alps, just like on the Glacier Springs jug, their frozen peaks visible through the dark red blood dried along the tattoo. Below, where a meadow might be, she reads her already-scabbing name — KIVA.
“Hot tub?” I ask.
“After you,” she beams.
For the first time in a while, I have the feeling that things are going to be all right. We doff our clothes and, forgetting the towels, move arm in arm into the back yard. Skipper hunkers below a transverse tear in the trampoline, gnawing on what appears to be the remains of a kid’s day-glo sandal. I stop to pat him as Kiva pulls back the hinged tub cover. Then I see that it’s not a shoe at all but Kiva’s snorkel which Skipper has reduced to tatters.
“Good boy, Skipper,” I praise. “Good boy.”
“You’re a good boy too sometimes, you know,” Kiva says opening her arms as if she means to embrace the whole world from inside the steaming tub.
I guess I am at that, I think, and climb in beside her. I look up, but it is too early for stars. But they will come. Kiva says everything does in time. Obilio Rogers seems as far away as the unseen constellations overhead. I lie back in the crook of her arm and turn toward her, careful to keep my throbbing shoulder just above the froth. We lie there together awhile and watch as the darkness begins to fill the sky from its dipper, and, sure enough, my head starts to fill with the future.