Midwife in the Tire Swing
Intermezzo 5—Words vs. Context
And when the woman I did
This was my every plan...
But if to man I so should come,
He would the whole devour.
—Joanna Southcott 2nd Book of Visions
Samantha is naked and waiting for the bathroom carrying a cell phone because you never knew when there might be a call. Samantha Cherry Hobart had to pee. This was the same overwhelming, insistent urge people spoke of on TV, but minus the voice-over announcer. These were cartoon people whose flesh had been cut away, peeled back to show their internal plumbing—copper tubing, all shiny with droplets of simulated urine. “What the hell,” she says and walks in.
Lately she had been afraid of the bathroom. That there might be a presence hiding in there conjured up the horrors of all the slasher films she and her stoner girlfriends hooted through.
Samantha laid the phone on the cool ceramic of the sink and admired herself in the mirror. “Great tits,” she said. She cupped them with her hands and held them out to the reflection. “The old come-hither. No, not sexy.” She made a face and stuck her tongue out at her reflection, then leaned forward to touch the mirror with the tip of her tongue. “Now, that’s sexy,” Samantha Cherry Hobart announced to Samantha Cherry Hobart’s reflected self. She wondered if there was anyone—a stranger, a voyeur—on the other side of the glass like in the TV commercials. She hoped so.
“Checking to see if you’re still here?” asked the medicine cabinet. “I’m here. I live in your brain, not to worry.”
“Oh, dear. This is unreal. You are a homunculus, like. A little me? Go away.”
“Am I real? No. I am not real. Sorry about that. You overdosed on Quaaludes is all.”
In the mirror was a camera’s-eye-view of a silent urban panorama like one of those interviews on the six o’clock news. An ambulance weaved through traffic many stories below to show the backdrop, while not real, was well-intentioned. Samantha opened the medicine cabinet’s door, watching the foreshortened cityscape, and found the same thing inside except now there was sound. She bobbed her head forward and back; the big city ambience rose and fell. She was in control.
From a window below, a head popped up in the camera’s field of focus, big and menacing with a red fright wig. “Samantha Cherry Hobart? I know you’re in there. In the camera? Make a sound or something. Honk or something.”
“Honk,” said Samantha. A taxi honked. Samantha clapped her hands like a delighted child at the circus. “Are you real? Carrot Top, Ronald McDonald?” The head waggled from side to side; spit flew and Samantha felt fear. A bus passed, spewing a cloud of diesel fumes. The cloud drifted through the medicine cabinet and into her bathroom. Samantha coughed. A toy airplane buzzed.
“Ha-ha. Gotcha! The government is zeroing their drones in on you as we speak—global positioning, you know. The plane is just a toy; you can handle it, just lean back and relax. Wanna fuck?” Samantha and the clown were now at street level, looking up at themselves.
Inside the street scene inside the medicine cabinet, a trio of Goth girls wobble-walked by on stiletto heels. They giggled, snorted, and struck a pose. The clown, Howdy Doody? scowled and made a rude noise, “Brrap!” The girls laughed and flipped a bird at the camera, perhaps at Samantha.
“We’re trying for some sex here,” shouted the clown after the departing tweenies. “You could show some respect.” His breath spoke of missed dental appointments. “See me. Notice me. Blow me?”
“No, thank you. Uh, I just ate?” The smell of rotting teeth assailed her nostrils as it floated out of the medicine cabinet. Samantha sat down on the edge of the sink. Hallucinations don’t have halitosis. “Hold on. There’s some mouth wash on the second shelf, in the back.”
The clown gargled. He now exuded a sweet heavy odor—death or overdue laundry. “Your nose,” said the clown. “You are trying to suck it shut. Won’t work. They all try it despite the best advice and end up sucking themselves inside out. That’s a joke. I live in the basement of the Brooklyn Public Library.” A heavy volume with its edges set in glue and trimmed square and true with the heft of the Yellow Pages was thrust into her hands. She weighed the book but did not look at it or at its profferer. The clown shuffled in a psychotic slump around her, pushing and pulling his hands into and out of his pockets.
“I am sure your book is very interesting,” said Samantha, her face averted. A peeping Tom, then, a stalker, a street corner psycho with a manifesto.
“No, it’s not. It’s typing, not writing. You know who they said that about? Jack Kerouac.” The clown’s voice was that of a man in middle years. “Truman Capote. Imagine.”
“I am imagining you.”
“Then one of us needs help. One of us has bad breath—a real stinker. Capote’s not here, Jack Kerouac’s dead and can’t make it; I’m the hallucination. That leaves you. Oh, and the sucking your nose shut thing? The facial muscles don’t work that way. I can do it. I practice in front of the mirror. See?” It was an invitation to believe in him.
Samantha thinks of dust. Why? She had a step-mother, a minder, a baby sitter, something like that. Foster parents never check on their kids’ digs après their leaving home—too much like incest. Samantha thinks of a succession of foster mothers and shudders. In Samantha’s small apartment cleanliness is only to the height of any guest who might be in a habit of running a finger over the lintels and the sills. Dust is to be suspected but not proven. With belated concern she looks to the television screen, now turned off.
Samantha had been first named Olive. A produce clerk picked her up from a dumpster behind the supermarket; Kalamata olives were on special that week. Presumably some young mother-to-be had evacuated her bundle of joy, not thrilled at the prospect of returning home to prying parents.
“‘There is a separate, very private place for madness.’ Jung, C.G. Jung. I must have read that,” says Samantha. She says this more than sixteen years after being found in the dumpster. “‘The baboons zoomed into the tomb; the coolies wept duly at leaving so soon.’ I must have read that, too.” Samantha did not trust her own imaginative abilities. That an unimaginative, plodding life had been laid out for her was a given.
“Samantha” was chosen from a book of popular baby names. Orphanages and foster homes drummed into their tiny charge that she was useless and abandoned.
“A dumpster baby. I don’t recall anything about that. I must have read it or dreamed it.” This had to be a secret she was keeping locked deep inside, what not to say even when she was alone with herself, a private place for madness. “I am crazy, then.” The words were comforting. She was a changeling; she was a stolen child, swapped at birth by the fairies.
The telephone rang. Chirrup chirrup, her personalized ringtone.
Chirrup chirrup. “Uh, hello?”
There was more silence then, “Miss, ah, Hobart?”
“Oh my God. I mean Jesus Christ. Who is this?” It was the guy from the other side of the mirror; it had to be. She had a stalker; he was watching her all this time and he had her cell phone number too. Samantha Cherry felt a thrill cascade up her spine. In the mirror Samantha Two’s nipples rose. “Who is this? You have a red wig, right?” She stopped to watch her burgeoning other self.
“Harry Collier. Valley Cooperative Insurance? You were rear-ended?”
Yeah, you just wish. “Oh. Oh, yeah. Yes—the car.” Samantha watched the nipples deflate. As she scrambled for a towel she dropped the phone.
“I have a fax here from the body shop. Even with using after-market parts, I am afraid we are going to have to total your claim.”
“How much is that?”
“I’m sorry, not that kind of total. That means that as his carrier, Valley Cooperative is going to pay your claim against, against...” There was a rustling of papers. “...Mister George Tugwell of Los Altos, California. Mister Tugwell acknowledges fault...”
“Damned right he does. He slammed into me at the end of the off ramp. I was stopped for the light. He did not stop. All that duct tape and it tore like cardboard. Fiberglass, I guess.”
“A resin composite, actually, Miss Hobart.”
“Fine. When do I get my car back?”
“You don’t. That’s what I am trying to tell you.”
Samantha’s heart leapt. “You are going to pay me. For the car.” She checked the mirror. Yep. “And here come the goose bumps.” Samantha said this out loud, into the phone.
“Ahhh... Yes. And you will be receiving a check for the book value. Unfortunately, when the cost of repair on an, a... an older vehicle exceeds the book value, we are not obliged go forward with the work, but we give you a payout instead.”
“$2214.28. The estimate for parts and labor came in at over five thousand dollars... even using after-market parts.”
“Can I keep the car?”
“It is valued at $50.00 for junk.”
“I’ll take it.”
This morning the face in the medicine cabinet mirror was hers.
“The last time I opened the door to the medicine cabinet it was a portal to another reality. What is it today? A medicine cabinet door? With pills and laxatives behind it? Terrific. A portal to a drugstore in a parallel universe where I am serene. Don’t need joyful. Some joy would be nice, but... Parallel universes. Huh.” Samantha decided to leave California on a whim. They say a pretty girl can always find some nice man to look after her. This includes space aliens. Samantha found many and left them puzzled.
Samantha called Jane Casmirczak, a friend from the Institute for Graphic Design night program. The phone was picked up after a single ring.
“Hi, Hon. I’m in the shower. Got oil and lotion all over. All over. Want to guess where I’m touching myself? Right now?” The call was expected, it seemed.
“Jane? That you?” asked Sammi.
“Yello... Make it fast or I’ll have to kill you. I’m naked, you should know that. I am freezing and dripping great turgid puddles of suds on the floor. I am circling the tower for one righteous screaming fit...” Jane’s rant paused; she was checking caller ID. “Oh, hiya Samantha. Just you picked a bad time to call is all. What’s up?”
“Jane...” Was this Jane? Or was this... There had been plots within plots, confusing clowns in red fright wigs, convolutions that somehow made a kind of kinetic sense in the movies. But this was real life. And she was cursed. Something had her number, why not Jane’s?
“Samantha?” Jane’s tone radiated concern. Very unlike Jane Casmirczak. She was a changeling, too. “Whuzza matter, baby? You can talk to Auntie Jane.”
“That is you...”
“And totally naked, not even a panty line. Here I’ll hold the phone up. Check out my ass.” The tiny screen flickered, rolled over, and swooped through space somewhere in a miasmic gel. Steam on the lens.
“I’m afraid to go to the bathroom.”
“No shit.” Jane erupted in whoops of laughter. The cell phone picture went wildly out of control. Like a nose camera shot from a doomed fighter plane, Sammi thought. The steam cleared and revealed Jane’s buttocks. Samantha heard a buzzing and dismissed it as interference. Janie returned the phone to her ear. The buzzing got closer; she was stroking her body without touching it, like a Theremin virtuoso demonstrating magnetic resonance, or airport security checking out a girls hockey team. The underside of a breast, an armpit, a tangle of pubic hair, the backside of a knee passed in review. “Smooth,” said Jane. In her other hand she waved a vibrator as though she were conducting an orchestra.
“You are drunk.”
“Nope, whiffed. Nail polish remover out of a bag, helium, whatever’s in the pantry. Industrial whipped cream in pressure cans—nitrous oxide, it’s a New York thing. Gotta flush away the whipped cream, though. Lost calories. A waste.”
“I have something in the medicine cabinet.”
“So do I,” Janie bubbled as she did a not ungraceful spin into her steam filled bathroom where the shower was still running. Heaps of whipped cream billowed at the sink; a litter of pressure cans filled the hamper. “Lotsa things. See...” Jane threw open the door of her medicine cabinet to reveal the usual array of patent medicines, aspirin, emollients, sprays, vibrator batteries and double-headed dildos.
“Jane, I’m afraid. I think I’ve been raped. Or not. I don’t know.” Samantha Cherry Hobart reddened with embarrassment. “What I do know is I’m afraid to go to the bathroom. I’ve gotta pee and can I stay with you for a week?”
“Huh. All that. Sure.” Jane seemed resigned to the state of things toilet- and shower-wise. “Come on up.” Jane lived six floors and a three minute elevator ride away.
“Be right there.” Samantha gently replaced the phone in its docking cradle. It had been two days since the incident with the medicine cabinet. She looked forlornly toward the bathroom where silver duct tape formed a fragile barricade. Inside were Xanax, Prozac, her toothbrush and the last three rolls of toilet paper. She liberated an overnighter from the hall closet and made a reflexive start for the bathroom only to be brought up short by her own duct tape X. She gave it up as a bad job getting worse, keyed the deadbolt behind her and headed for the elevator bank. She pushed “Up,” set down the overnighter and returned to double lock her apartment door.
Alongside the Pyrofax sign Eddie Phaneuf and DazL played unconcernedly, rolling pebbles in the dirt in a game of marbles.
“Strange—bizarre,” said Samantha. “I was raped. In my own bathroom. I was naked. An insurance adjuster lives behind the medicine cabinet mirror. I am so, so wicked. I traded the favors of my loins for an insurance payout.”
“He didn’t say, ‘Hi, guy...?’” said Sarah. “There was this commercial. On TV when I was six years old. It made quite an impression on me. The guy behind the bathroom mirror, the actor, was a host on one of those kiddies’ shows I was addicted to. You know how kids do—I was six years old. Did I tell you that?”
“Right Guard—a deodorant, the commercial. I don’t use deodorants. The aluminum hydroxide,” said Samantha. “Cancer.” “Well, armpit cancer—we wouldn’t want that. An insurance agent lives in your bathroom. Behind the mirror. A peeping Tom from next door.”
“Nope. The claims adjuster. Harry. From Valley Cooperative. He got laid; I got paid. You didn’t cause all this damage...”
“Ahh... you hit me...” The words were formed but not spoken. Sarah held her tongue. Getting this child-mother off on a tangent would have them here till nightfall.
“Far-fetched. I know it. I am always doing this: telling a complete stranger about the intimate details of my private life. But he was unusual—Harry.”
“I will admit that I have never heard anyone confess that they’ve had sex with an insurance agent who lives behind the mirror of their bathroom cabinet.”
“It was on TV; I’m not making it up. And I’m not asking you to believe it, either. A single mom... really. After all we are adults; we know where babies come from.”
“The baby place,” said Sarah.
“Precisely. I always wanted a baby. And now I’m taking him home to show and tell. I impregnated myself with a turkey baster and a stolen semen sample. I’m taking DazL to the temple for his presentation to the elders.”
“The semen sample’s parents.”
“His great-great-grandfather. Lucian Hobart.”
“Lucy.” Sarah sat abruptly down in the dirt with Samantha under the Pyrofax sign.
“See... I told you you were supple. Even as old as you are.”
“I am forty-two.”
“That’s old. You are very supple for your age, Sarah. Sometimes Harry was a black man, I mean not African-American. Not like that. I mean he was black. And steamy. Sort of. He oscillated. Like the heat waves around a mirage?—like when you come up over a hill in the desert and the road melts? Did I tell you that? He sort of dithered around, his shape did. I hate indecisiveness, don’t you? He rolled his own cigarettes.”
“The claims adjuster who didn’t get you pregnant. After someone else hit your car.”
“No, George Tugwell of Los Altos, California. It was all my fault, he told the policeman that. He hit me. Buckled the trunk and demolished the rear bumper. I won; he was more stoned than I was. I collected.”
“Lucky for you, you had full coverage. You have many arrows in that little quiver, Samantha.” Carrying a comprehensive policy doesn’t jibe with the personality being presented here, Sarah thought.
“I bought the car new—on time. And I fucked the adjuster. $2214.28—am I a good lay or what? I was already pregnant—I did it by myself. So I took the money and fixed the car myself; I stuck it together with duct tape. Red duct tape... 3M uses their stickier glue on the red rolls. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: why didn’t I just focus magnetic energy, pyramid power or some of that New Age crap. Meditation won’t work except on organic stuff, that’s why.” Samantha moved over to Little Eddie Phaneuf who was choking back his tears.
Eddie and DazL were contemplating the shattered pumpkin. “I was going to have a jack-o-lantern,” said Eddie. Samantha rolled under Sarah’s car and retrieved all the pieces she could find. “Well, this will take some doing. You guys up for a little reconstructive surgery?” DazL took a step back and watched, thumb in mouth. This was old stuff to him. She most likely makes balloon animals, thought Sarah. “Daz... my magic bag.” The toddler dived into the Neon’s back seat and came back with a zippered manicure kit.
“I saw Martha Stewart do this.” Samantha filleted the pumpkin parts with the manicure kit, sliced, diced and julienned and reassembled them into a long dragon, held together with toothpicks and red duct tape. “Martha did it with a roasted turkey, sliced and put back on a frame.”
“Wow.” After the miracle of the pumpkin, Sarah was ready for about anything. “You do body work, by any chance? Our cars are still locked together.”
“No problem. Here, sit with me and we will perform an intervention. DazL, Eddie—you kids play nice now. Eddie, look after him. You’re the older and with that comes responsibility. Sarah, sit.” Samantha’s body coiled gracefully to the ground. Like a collapsing barber pole, thought Sarah, Christ, what I’d give for her body.
Samantha’s violet eyes regarded Sarah from atop a full lotus. “Come on—you’re supple; your body just doesn’t know it yet. This takes two—I can’t do it alone. We are going to lift one of the cars.”
“Hold on.” Sarah leaned into the Volvo’s side for a series of runner’s stretches and limbering-up exercises.
In lotus position, the two women confronted the locked bumpers.
“Yaaa...” DazL and Little Eddie were now jumping together on where the cars connected. There was a keening of sundered fiberglass as Samantha’s blue Neon lurched backward a few inches and stuttered to a halt.
“Automatic transmission,” said Samantha.
Samantha looked inside the rear window of Sarah’s station wagon. There were sizeable cardboard cartons, folded flat, new. And rolls of shining foil, bright colors, reams of colored paper. A couple of wicker hampers and a camper’s backpack held her clothes. “You’re an art teacher. Primary grades? Maybe you will have DazL in one of your classes. We’ve come home to stay.”
“Those are bio-degradable coffins,” Sarah said.
“Yaaa...” Little Eddie and DazL were playing pirates, waving invisible cutlasses from the prows of their now separated brigantines.
“David. The new David,” Samantha said. “Honey, drop your pants and show Auntie Sarah your little willie. Isn’t it adorable—just like the Michelangelo statue?”
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