I dont think theres much in the world that should
surprise anyone, really. Not the murder of that six-year-old in Palisades Park, not the
huge inheritance that nurse in Sayreville got from some rich-as-a-pharaoh patient of hers,
certainly not me doing what I did with Jay Wiederman. Beneath this cute white tee from
Malice in Wonderland and these butt-loving Diesels, Im a girl who believes in
possibilities. A girl who believes anything can happen. This is what I told Nikki Rhodes
in the dressing room at Macys when she asked me how could I have.
"With Fatso, of all people," she
said. "He must be the grossest guy in Jersey." Bra off, she was pulling a light
blue Arden B. tank over her head. With the shirt covering her eyes, I could tell
shed been tanning topless in her backyard while slow-reading the books Mrs. Wacker
had assigned us over the summer: Moby Dick, This Side of Paradise, The Turn of
the Screw. She worked the blue tank over her belly button and gave herself a
frown in the mirror.
"Sometimes things just happen," I said. I
was taking off the Diesels, about to try on a pair of faded Blue Tattoos. I told her you
just never know. That one day she might get run over by her very own mother, the life
knocked out of her by that massive Land Rover as it runs a red light at Terrill and
Cooper. That Mrs. Wacker might show up to class one Monday with swollen eyes and tell us
shes cancelled our comprehension test because her husband just up and left her. That
she didnt have it in her to write up all those questions. She might even tell us all
about the other woman too. Not some pretty blond thing, but a midget who sat beside Mr.
Wacker on a flight to LA. A midget off to audition for a remake of The Wizard of
Oz. A midget who hated books and had a cute smile. Its all possible, I said.
The way things happened with Jay Wiederman is pretty simple if you look at
the big picture. People dont like to admit it, but things that happen to you today
or tomorrow have as much to do with the here and now as things that happened long ago, to
you or even to somebody else, things you might not even remember, things you might know
nothing about. This is what most people will never admit. This is what Nikki Rhodes will
never admit. That she twirls that baton of hers the way she does because of the St.
Patricks Day Parade four years ago, when her older brother said he thought the
left-most baton-twirler in the front line was the finest specimen of our species hed
ever seen. Nikki claims he never said this, not according to her ears, but I know he did,
because I was there. I also know I saw Nikki looking hard at that girl, taking it all in:
the tiny green skirt, the white cap with a chinstrap, the baton whirling high above her
head as if it were light as a pencil. But like most people, Nikki likes to think the past
cant explain a thing about her. She likes to think she was struck one fine morning
with a sudden talent, a gift having to do with a metal stick with two rubber ends. And who
am I to tell her otherwise?
But the issue at hand is Jay Wiederman. And me. How I
allowed it. How I allowed it even though he could wrestle a whale. Even though his hair
sticks to his head like its been painted on and he wears corduroy and wool when
its eighty degrees out.
It all started with my Uncle Walter dropping dead. He
was in the hospital getting his ticker worked on. Something minor, supposedly. Maybe not
minor, but definitely no emergency. A scheduled thing. Something he was supposed to be
able to walk into and out of, no problem. But when it came time to give him a blood
transfusion, which they knew hed be needing ahead of time, they accidentally gave
him the wrong kind of blood. The wrong blood type. One his body didnt
recognize and didnt much want to get to know either. And after everything began
shutting down his liver, his kidneys, his lungs, even the ticker he came in to have
serviced in the first place those doctors couldnt figure out what was wrong.
They just kept pumping that blood into him, until all of him shut down for good. And then
one of them finally figured out that the blood was supposed to have gone to the guy in the
room next door. That was a Tuesday. I got to skip school the rest of the week on account
of the mayhem. The funeral happened on Friday.
I knew the funeral was wacky because practically all
of the women there were wearing red. Some wore red dresses, some red skirts. Some had
little red scarves tied around their necks and one had on red shoes and a matching red
bag. Almost every one of them had at least something red on, which definitely
seemed very unfuneral-like to me. Meanwhile, my uncle was lying in his casket looking more
serious than ever, wearing a white shirt and a little red bow tie, an outfit my aunt had
picked out for him like shed done on all their special occasions.
Anyway, in the middle of all this, I recognized Mrs.
Wiederman, Jay Wiedermans mom. She was by herself, the only woman I could spot
without a stitch of red. She had on a black dress, pointy black high heels, and a black
hat with one of those mesh things covering her face, which I have to admit I dont
really get the purpose of, and she was dabbing at her eyes under the net with this small
off-white handkerchief. She was a lot more dressed up than I had ever seen her at any
school function including the talent show. But, recognizing her as I did, I walked up to
her and said hi and asked her how Jay was, figuring Id be polite. She got all
uncomfortable, though, glancing over her shoulder, eyes peeled for something, sticking her
handkerchief in her purse, telling me Jay was fine and that shed read about my uncle
in the newspaper and thought shed stop by and pay her respects.
Then she bolted. I didnt think much of it except
that she was just weird, which at the time made perfect sense to me since I knew she was
Jays mom and Jay was at least as weird as he was fat, with the little shivers he
always let out in class and the way he sat alone at lunch reading comic books no one ever
heard of. Then I even thought about the whole nature-nurture thing we talked about in Bio,
wondering if Jay was weird because he had his mothers weird genes or if being raised
by a weirdo mom was enough to make even someone with regular genes a weirdo.
I finally got the low-down about all that red from my
dad. My mom had gone off with my aunt in her car to console her since theyre
sisters, so it was just my dad and me together in the car, and hes the kind
whos pretty good about answering my questions without telling me everything
interesting is none of my business, like my mom usually does.
Bottom line: my aunt pulled a Sherlock Holmes on my
dead Uncle Walter. Shed suspected for a long time that hed had someone on the
side a lover, my dad called it but she never knew for sure and was
determined to find out once and for all. So she told everyone she invited to the funeral
that the women should come wearing something red. She said it was my uncles favorite
color and that he would have wanted it that way, would have wanted his funeral not to be a
somber occasion, but a celebration of his life. Then she put an obituary in the paper
giving the details about my uncle dying and the location of the funeral. She figured
shed be able to trap my uncles lover that way, assuming if my uncle really did
have one, the woman would be distraught enough to come dressed in black.
"So did it work?" I asked my dad.
"Seems like it did," he said, sounding tired
"Way to go, Aunt Netty," I said, but my dad
gave me his look that said this was no time to be kidding around.
"Sorry," I said, and I was. "So it was
Jay Wiedermans mom?"
"Yeah," my dad said. "Mrs.
"Walter had been calling Coldwell Banker a lot.
Thats where Mrs. Wiederman works."
"Oh," I said. "I guess Aunt Netty must
be pretty upset."
My dad let a silence gather, and for a while I thought
he was done wanting to explain things. Then, at a red light, he pulled the car lighter out
of its socket, looked at the burning hot rings of it, and put it back.
"Courts award millions of dollars for the sort of
mistake that happened in that hospital," he finally said. "Your Aunt
Nettys going to be a very wealthy woman. So I think shes feeling a lot of
things all at once right now, you know?"
"Yeah," I said. But I wasnt sure if I
knew or not. I was just imagining my Aunt Netty wearing a mink coat and flying a private
jet to some mansion in Aspen while my Uncle Walter decomposed underground. I tried to
think of everything in the world I ever wanted and then multiplied that by two and
imagined Aunt Netty having it all.
Saturday, the day after the funeral, at around five oclock, I got a
call from Jay Wiederman. Totally out of the blue considering we hadnt said more than
five words to each other all year. He told me he noticed Id been out of school the
whole week and offered to come over to my house to bring me all the notes and homework
assignments Id missed. Even though we only live three blocks away, Id never
been to his house and hed never been to mine and the whole idea of him coming over
felt too strange. Then I figured his wanting to come over probably had something to do
with his mom getting caught being my Uncle Walters lover and all, and its not
my way to make people uncomfortable, so I said okay, that it would be nice if hed
stop by with the notes. Jays at least as smart as he is weird, I thought, so his
notes had to be at least three times as good as Nikkis, and I couldnt be that
bad off having him over.
I took out the trash and washed the two dishes in the
sink and wiped the dust off the TV screen in the living room even though I didnt
know why. I remembered a story Jay wrote in English class the year before that our teacher
had made him read aloud. It was about a boy on the football team with lots of friends who
spent his whole life certain he was his fathers favorite kid until the old man was
about to die. In the hospital, his father could only muster enough energy to pay attention
to the boys older sister, though, a girl who didnt talk much and had a
boyfriend named "Bad John," and who refused to use the word love because she
said the word meant nothing to her. The boy kept cleaning out his fathers mouth with
Q-tips and getting him tissues, but the father still focused completely on his older
sister, saying goodbye only to her, telling her hed miss her. The teacher had
thought it was a great story and I remembered thinking it was too, even though I
hadnt said so in class.
"Hey," I said, after I opened the door to
let Jay in. His jeans looked big and stiff and too blue and his sneakers were cheap, like
something his mother had picked up on sale.
"Hey," he said back, his shoulders kind of
hunched over, and I showed him up to my room.
Jay was real quiet, busy taking all the stuff out of
his backpack, all his different-colored notebooks, placing them on my bed and explaining
all of the different assignments while I was copying as much as I could down. Every time I
asked a question about his handwriting or the handouts, I looked at his face, saw how
freckles covered it almost completely and how his big nose had these wide, long nostrils,
and then I began thinking about my Uncle Walter, who had been a plastic surgeon, and what
he would have done with nostrils like that. How he would have turned them into something
smaller and more oval and nice. Then I imagined a whole bunch of Jays and female
equivalents of Jay walking into my uncles office the following week only to learn
that he was dead. I imagined them holding on to these pictures of models and actors
theyd torn out of magazines, people theyd hoped to look like one day, and then
I began to feel sorry for everyone involved, the male Jays and the female Jays and my dead
uncle and the models and actors whose pictures were no longer in those magazines and this
Jay who was sitting on the chair next to my bed, still as a houseplant.
"Sorry about what happened to your uncle,"
Jay finally said, breaking the school-only talk wed been having. "I know what
happened with the blood and all."
"Yeah," I said. "Im still trying
to sort it all out."
"Kind of a hard thing to make sense of," Jay
said. "A mistake like that, I mean."
"No," I said. "I mean for real trying
to figure it out."
"Im not sure I understand," Jay said.
His voice was quiet and polite, as if I were explaining myself perfectly and he was the
stupid one even though his IQ is probably twice that of my whole familys combined.
"I dont get why the other guy in the
hospital isnt dead also," I said. "He got the blood that was supposed to
go to my uncle and his surgery went fine. Hes walking around in house slippers right
now while my uncles underground wearing that stupid red tie." I felt this pain
between my throat and stomach just thinking about it. Id liked my Uncle Walter.
Hed brought over stacks of movies for me to watch whenever Id been home
pretending to be sick with a virus or the flu. Whenever my parents had gotten upset about
my report cards, hed list off names of famous people whod flunked out of
"Walter mustve had type O blood," Jay
said, and we both kind of froze that hed said my uncles name even though I
hadnt mentioned it once during our conversation.
"What do you mean?" I said after a
mini-pause, after Id regained my calm.
"O is the universal donor," he said softly,
probably embarrassed about having let my uncles name slip. "Type O blood can go
to anybody, even to someone with type A or type B, but people with type O can only get
blood from their own kind."
"Oh," I said. "How do you know
He shrugged. "I just do."
I went back to looking at Jays math notebook and
asked him some questions about the problems we had due. If there was any extra credit for
Monday. If the test on Friday included the stuff in Thursdays homework. He said no
"So how long did you know my Uncle Walter?"
I finally asked. Jays parents were divorced. That much I knew.
"About two years," he said. "But I
didnt know he was married or related to you until just yesterday." He ran his
hand over the feathery collar of a sweater Id left on my desk.
"Did you get along? You and my uncle?" I was
trying to imagine my uncle and Jay together. I wondered what theyd talked about, if
they ever hung out together. I wondered what my uncle had liked about Mrs. Wiederman that
he didnt like about my aunt.
"Yeah," Jay said. "I liked him a lot. I
think he liked me, too." He picked up the sweater and looked closely into the collar
before putting it down.
"These look like little white tarantulas,"
he said quietly, as if he were talking to a ghost. Then he stood up, took the latest
school yearbook from my bookshelf, and flipped through it at my desk.
When I was done copying all his notes, I asked him if
he wanted anything to eat or drink. I ran a finger under each of my eyes to make sure none
of my eyeliner had smeared.
"Sure," he said. "What do you
"Lots of stuff," I said. "Pretzels and
potato chips and chocolate chip cookies and Coke and Sprite and lemonade. Come down with
me to the kitchen. Have a look for yourself."
When we got downstairs, I opened the fridge and then
the cupboards one by one to show him everything.
"Where are your parents?" he asked. We
werent facing each other. We were looking into the cupboard with the cereal and
Pop-tarts and these sick-delish three-layer lemon bars my mom buys from some bakery in
"At my Aunt Nettys," I said.
"I was wondering if I could ask you a
favor," he said, his voice a little shaky.
I didnt look at him. I looked inside the
Pop-tart box instead, pretending to check how many were left.
"I wanted to ask you to please not say anything
to anyone at school about my mom. About my mom and Walter."
"No problem," I said.
"Thanks," he said, and then he pointed to a
green apple sitting on the countertop and asked if it were okay if he had it. I wondered
if he really wanted it or if he were just embarrassed to let me see him eating real food
on account of his weight.
"Sure," I said, and I took the apple from
the counter and handed it to him.
"Can I borrow a knife?" he said. "I
like to remove the skin." By then he was looking at me and I was looking at him. His
eyes were the same color green as my uncles, and his lips were cracked, like someone
with a fever.
I got him a knife and a paper towel, and we both sat
at the kitchen table while I thought about my Uncle Walter. How just two weekends earlier
he and my aunt and me and my mom and dad had smushed into my uncles red Saab
convertible and gone to New York for dinner. How my uncle didnt seem all that happy
with my aunt; how she kept pestering him about the timing of his turn signals.
I looked at Jay knife-peeling the apple. How a perfect
single coil curled off and slid onto the paper towel. And I dont really know what it
was about that coil; maybe it was the perfectness of it, but watching it made me remember
something that had happened a long time ago. Something my parents had told me about, had
joked about for years, but that I hadnt remembered myself until just then. How at my
seventh birthday party, my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and how I
said, without any drama, that I wanted to be God. As if that were a choice, like being an
architect or a dentist or a librarian. Of course everyone laughed and laughed. My father
and my mother and my aunt and uncle and my grandparents. And I remembered laughing too
even though I hadnt known what was so funny. And in the middle of all the laughter,
my Uncle Walter waved a finger at me, telling me that if I did grow up and become God,
that Id better be kind to all my fellow creatures; that Id better find beauty
in every one of them.
"Jay?" I said then, and he just looked at me
as if he knew something was different. As if he knew I was thinking of something
"Yes?" he said, and he put the apple on his
plate and wiped his hands on his jeans.
"Do you think Im nice? I mean, in school,
would you consider me a nice person?"
Eyes on the apple, he inhaled and sighed. "I
think youre nice enough for a pretty girl," he said. "I think youre
nicer than Nikki Rhodes."
And thats when it started. I put my hand over
his, and after a few seconds, he laced his fingers through mine. Then he leaned into me
and we kissed, first with him in his chair and me in mine, then with me pressing up
against him on the fridge, then up in my room where he took off my clothes as if his hands
were so light you could barely feel them. As if water were taking everything off me
my shirt, my bra, my white miniskirt, my purple cotton panties.
"Youre gorgeous," Jay said to me when
we were finally both naked on my bed, after wed pushed all our notebooks onto the
floor, and he sounded as if he were about to cry.
And for a second we both stopped to catch our breaths,
lying on our sides and looking at each others bodies. At my white breasts and my tan
stomach and the small mound of hair Id shaved into the shape of a Dorito. At his
ruddy arms and his pudgy chest that had a strip of hair across it, and at the doughnut of
flesh around his waist. I ran my hand down the center of his chest, then over his belly
button, a large gaping thing that reminded me of a swimming pool, and then I moved it
lower until he closed his eyes.
"I just cant believe how gorgeous you
are," he whispered.
And then I climbed on top of him and took him inside
of me, and I felt a wave come over me, of wonder and craving, something extraordinary and
unforgettable. A feeling that told me if a ten-car collision happened right outside my
window, that it wouldnt have distracted me even one bit.
"Youre gorgeous too, Jay Wiederman," I
said. "Youre gorgeous too."