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Authors: Tiffanie DeBartolo

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BOOK: God-Shaped Hole
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“Do you hate me?” I said.

“I could never hate you, Trixie. Never.”

“Jacob…,” I took a deep breath and my heart started to beat in a quick rhythm, “I love you. More than I ever thought it was possible to love someone. Siamese twin lovers, identical wombs, whatever the hell you called it. All I want in life is to drive out of this horrible, soul-destroying state with you someday. Please don’t leave me for Nina.”

He smiled. “That’s the first time you ever said that.”

“I know.”

“I say it at least twice a day. You have a lot of catching up to do.”

“I know.”

“Say it again.”

“Don’t press your luck.” I picked a stray lash from his cheek and told him to make a wish. He closed his eyes tightly, then blew the tiny hair into the air. When he opened his eyes I asked him what he’d wished for.

“Trixie,” he said. “Nina just found out she’s HIV-positive. She told me yesterday when I ran into her. It kind of knocked me for a loop, you know?”

Faster than you can say “Elizabeth Taylor,” I saw both of us lying next to each other, side by side in twin cots, with IV’s sticking out of our arms and brown liquid dripping through tubes, while drug cocktails squeezed every ounce of life from our decaying veins. Jacob must have realized, by the look on my face, what I was thinking. He caught my fall.

“Oh, no. It’s not
. Don’t worry about me, I was tested months ago, long after she and I had been together. I’m fine. You’re fine. Besides, she knows where she got it, from some dealer she was living with over Christmas. He even knew he was sick, he just didn’t bother to tell her.”

“Jacob, I had no idea…”

“She’s alone right now and she doesn’t know what to do.” He paused. “I’m not going on a
with her, all right? I just need to try and convince her to get some help. That’s all.”

I felt like such an ass. “I won’t say another word about it.”

“You can say anything you want about it, just don’t think I’d ever do anything to hurt you.”

It was time to change the subject to a happier topic. I whipped out the book I bought at the museum—the Eggleston. I showed it to Jacob and told him my silly fantasy about the house and the waitress job and the grits. He didn’t think it was silly at all. Except the part about me being a waitress.

“I doubt that will be necessary,” he said.

We studied each photo as if we were looking through a family album, all the while rhapsodizing about our future.

“I want us to paint the house ourselves,” he said. “And we’ll sand the floors and plant stuff in the yard. Maybe we’ll even get a dog.”

I asked Jacob if he ever wanted to have kids. He told me about a dream he’d had years before.

“I was pushing two little girls on swings. They were laughing and calling me Dad, and nothing else mattered in the world.” He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. “I can’t believe my father didn’t feel that. I can’t believe he could just put down his kid and walk away.” Jacob shifted his head to face me. “That’s fucked-up,” he said with sympathy. I wasn’t sure if the sympathy was for himself or, oddly enough, for his father, nevertheless, I could see the clutter of years obscured inside his eyes.

“What did they look like,” I said. “Your daughters?”

“They had a mess of black hair, just like you. And they had French names. Simone and Madeline, or something like that.”


Jacob had asked Nina to meet him at our apartment. He was on the phone when the buzzer rang. I had to let her in.

“Who is it?” I said, even though I knew damn well who it was. I was sorry Jacob had ever fixed that fucking buzzer.

“It’s Nina. I’m here to see Jacob,” she said with a raspy, chain-smoker voice. I was sure, at one time, Jacob thought that voice was sexy as hell, and I immediately hated Nina for it. When she knocked on the door two minutes later, I shuffled into the kitchen, to a spot where I could still see the entryway. I pretended I was washing dishes. Jacob opened the door with the phone still on his ear.

“Hey, come on in.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “You

I wondered if that word had the same effect on Nina as it had on me.

Jacob wrapped up his call and started showing Nina around the apartment. He held her hand. I hated that, too.

Nina wasn’t at all what I’d pictured. She was demure, doe-like; not the tough, streetwise chick I expected. It was obvious she had the potential to be quite attractive, but she wore the last year of her self-destructive life like a bad car wreck. Her hair hung in stringy pieces of flaxen thread, and her eyes were dark buckets of sludge. Still, she looked more like someone with a bad case of the flu than someone strung-out on smack.

“Nina, this is Beatrice,” Jacob said when they walked into the kitchen.

“Nice to meet you,” I lied in my most welcoming voice. When I shook her hand I got a whiff of something sweet and floral. Nina smelled pretty. Like rose water.

“Nice to meet you, too,” she said. She looked at me with regret in her eyes. She thought I was the luckiest girl in the world, I could tell. I knew I was lucky. I certainly didn’t need Nina to remind me of that. But the whole scenario struck me as perversely gruesome. Basically, Nina’s loss, her downfall, was my salvation—a fateful technicality that made me strangely, unbelievably sad. It seemed cruelly unfair to me, even then, how fast your life can change before you have an opportunity to rethink your choices. We should get second chances on the big stuff. We should come equipped with erasers attached to the tops of our heads. Like pencils. We should be able to flip over and scribble away mistakes, at least once or twice during the duration of our existence, especially in matters of life and death.

I tried to think brighter thoughts: my little French daughters. They’d call me
. They’d eat escargot and not think it was weird.

I told Jacob that I was going out for a few hours, so he and Nina could talk.

“Trixie, you don’t have to leave.”

“It’s okay. I don’t want to be in the way,” I said, which was true. I left out the part about not wanting to be in the same room with someone my boyfriend fucked on a regular basis for three years. I grabbed a book, wished Nina well, and said I’d be back later.

I went to the Cow’s End, a two-story café in Venice that looked like a barn dressed up as a living room. It was like being in the house of a hippie relative. There was unpolished wood all over the walls and lots of plush couches with dingy upholstery—a perfect location to over-caffeinate myself and read all afternoon. I told the kid behind the counter, whose name tag read
, that I was going to be around for a few hours. He gave me my first latte at a discount.

“What kind of name is
?” I said.

“It’s short for Bernard.”

I think he mistook my curiosity for flirting. He asked me if I wanted to go to a keg party with him.

“How old are you?” I said.

“Eighteen. I’ll be nineteen in a week.”

“I think MTV is older than you are.”

“I like your shoes,” he said.

They were vintage Air Jordans. “I’ve had them since you were in third grade.”

Burn called me Babe. And he used the word “party” as a verb. I thanked him for the offer and graciously declined his invitation for a date.

“Are you sure? It’s gonna be a
,” he said.

I told him I had a boyfriend. Not that I would have gone with him otherwise, I was just trying to be polite. I wanted to let him down easy.

“So,” he said, “I’m not exactly looking for a wife or anything.”

I felt sorry for Burn. He had a lot to learn about women. And his remark annoyed me enough that I developed a strong, sudden desire to put him in his place.

“Bernard,” I said, “the truth is, even though you think you’re really cool, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t lick a pussy to save your life.” I waited for a retort but he didn’t say shit. “That’s what I thought,” I said.

I picked up my coffee and found a warm corner to lounge in for the next few hours. I needed a quiet place to concentrate. I’d brought along a book I wanted to pay close attention to: a novel called
Morning Glory
by Thomas Doorley.

On the surface, Thomas Doorley’s first novel was nothing more than a tale about a Vietnam vet who comes home from the war having had his right leg blown off in combat. I found the plot a bit predictable, in all likelihood because it was published in 1976, and I’d seen all the movies covering that topic. You know,
Apocalypse Now
Born on the Fourth of July
. I remembered the news clips about the way the vets were treated, about the alienation, the post-traumatic stress disorder. However, curiously enough, the book contained an interesting allegory. I found the chaos of a man who’d lost part of himself, part of his flesh, and consequently felt like a part of his soul was missing. I saw the whole thing as a metaphor for something larger than a severed limb. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but I thought Jacob should read the book. I figured it might help him understand, might urge him to make contact with a man who, it seemed to me, was much more haunted by what he’d left behind than Jacob ever gave him credit for.

Before I went home, I stopped by the salon where Sara worked. I wanted to thank her for being so nice to me the night before. She made me sit down in her chair. I told her about Nina. She felt sorry, but she wasn’t surprised.

“Are you ready for a big change?” Sara said, wielding the scissors between her fingers. She wanted to cut my hair. “Last night you said I could.”

“I was kind of inebriated then.” My hair had never been above my shoulders, not since I was a kid anyway.

“Come on, it’ll look great, I promise. And if you hate it, it will always grow back.”

“I’m scared,” I said. As soon as my brain heard that word,
, I ordered Sara to start cutting. A haircut was a stupid-ass thing to be afraid of. And Jacob said living in fear wasn’t really living. It became a metaphorical experience of growth for me, a test of courage. Just like saying “I love you.”

Sara led me to a big marble sink that practically gave me whiplash when I leaned my head into it. She shampooed my hair, then she took me back to her station and combed through my tangled mane.

“Do whatever you want,” I said.

“Sit still,” Sara begged.

I’d had way too much coffee. I couldn’t stop fidgeting.

“Keep your head down,” Sara said. “And don’t look until I’m finished.”

Big clumps of hair started dropping into my lap. Against the shocking blue color of the salon walls, the locks looked like dead crows falling out of the sky.

Almost an hour went by before Sara finally put the scissors down, but she still wouldn’t let me look. She was rubbing my head with a goopy gel that smelled like pineapples.

“This is adorable,” she said.

She shook the excess hair off of my face and lap, and had me stand up. My neck felt cold.

“Okay,” she said. “You can look now.”

My hair was maybe two inches long all over my head. Some of it stuck straight up in the air.

“What do you think?”

It was soft and fuzzy when I ran my fingers through it. And I could see my ears. “It’s cool,” I said. “I like it.”

My first inclination was to go straight to my studio and make myself a new pair of earrings to celebrate the change, but I decided that could wait. I wanted to get home and show Jacob.

I snuck into the apartment as quietly as possible and called his name.

“I’m in the bedroom,” he said.

“Is Nina gone?”

There was a pause, then he said, “
.” I couldn’t see his face, but the tone of his voice told me he’d just rolled his eyes. Like it was preposterous for me to think he’d be in the bedroom with Nina.

“Close your eyes, and keep them closed,” I said.

I tiptoed in and stood next to the bed. Jacob’s eyes were shut, he wasn’t wearing a shirt, and he had the
New York Times
on his lap. We lived in Los Angeles but every day he read the
New York Times
. I took the paper out of his hands and repositioned myself so that I was in the best possible light.

“Okay, open,” I said.

“Wow.” He smiled, a bit startled. “You cut your hair.”

“And the Nobel Prize goes to…Jacob Einstein!” I said, jumping up and down.

“You’re a smart ass, you know that?” Jacob said.

“I know you are but what am I?”

“A smart ass.”

“I know you are but what am I?”

“Trixie, did you have coffee today?” He pulled me down, rolled me over, and lay on top of me.

“Do you like my hair?” I said. “Sara did it for me.”

He petted my head. “Yeah. You look like Jean Seberg from

I didn’t know who that was. “Is she cute?” I said.

“She was beautiful. But not as beautiful as you.”

“How was your afternoon?” I said.

“Long and depressing. Want to cheer me up?”

I knew exactly what he meant by that. I had to stop him before he got carried away.

“Jacob, if you want the milk, you have to buy the cow a meal.”

“Excuse me?”

“In the last twelve hours, I’ve had three lattes and a cookie. Put a shirt on. We’re going to get dinner.”

We walked to Second Street and, after ten minutes of deliberation, decided on Thai food. I ordered us Phad-Thai noodles, a spicy eggplant and basil dish, spring rolls, and a bottle of water.

“To go,” Jacob said.

We hiked to the beach to eat and watch the sun set. Jacob wanted to tell me all about his day with Nina. Truth be told, I didn’t care to hear it, but he seemed like he needed to let it out. The gist of it was that she’d just gotten out of rehab—some kind of month-long program in a halfway house where you have to wash dishes, do laundry, scrub the bathroom floors, and somehow stay off drugs at the same time. Jacob said Nina was trying hard to kick her habit and stay healthy, and he managed to convince her to go back east, where I gathered she was from, and stay with her parents for a while. I didn’t pry any further because I wanted to seem unfazed. The last thing I needed to find out was that she’d tried to kiss him, or something that would make me jealous all over again. Besides, I had my own significant matter to discuss.

,” I said theatrically.

” he said quickly, imitating my melodrama.

“I read
Morning Glory
this afternoon.”

It took Jacob a few seconds to figure out what that was. He’d just bitten into a roll, and he paused with his mouth full to watch a wave fold onto the shore. When he finished chewing, he swallowed hard and looked back at me.

“All of it?” he said.

“No, not all of it. I have about three chapters left.”

“Well?” he said. “What’s the verdict? Did I inherit my amazing talent, or am I a big fluke?” He played it off like it was no big deal. He didn’t fool me.

“I’ll tell you what I think. I think you should read it. I think you
to read it right away.”

Jacob wanted to know why I thought it so consequential that he read the damn book. I told him my interpretation of the story, how I thought it was about him, about his father leaving him behind. He tried to be nonchalant, but I could tell he was curious. I could tell he was grappling with all the old, unresolved demons.

“I’m not sure I
read it,” he said, eyeing the blue-orange glow of the horizon. It looked like the center of a flame and was one of the only things I liked about living in Los Angeles—sunsets on the Pacific.

I bet sunsets look just as beautiful on the Mississippi.

I didn’t say anything else about the book. I knew Jacob would come around. He needed too many answers not to.

BOOK: God-Shaped Hole
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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