Diez, Ten

Valerie and Alexander lounged on his living room love seat. Interspersed French windows bathed the room in streetlight and supplemented the candle light. Cars on the street played an unchanging game. They stopped and started, stopped and started. At random intervals distinctive horns and squeaking brakes seeped into their private tableau.

The couple wore cartoon pajamas. Valerie had on Rugrats pajamas. Alex had opted for the more traditional Flintstones motif. The weather didn't call for them. The two donned them for fun.

Sandy auburn hair hung almost between Valerie's shoulder blades. The unkempt hair smelled of mint and cherry bark. A radiant glow conjured by her constant smiles and laughter repeatedly uplifted the spirits of her moody companion. The optimistic mood gave the conversation wings.

Alex, not the tallest person in the world, restlessly edged over the cushions until his upper body reclined across Valerie's lap. His blue eyes gazed into hers, curious and unfathomable. She toyed with a wisp of his light brown hair before smoothing it into place with the rest of Alex' bangs.

They finished a deep debate about whether or not they should toss the sole television off the balcony when Valerie tickled the young man's ribs. A full fledged wrestling match ensued. Alex braced his tan right leg under her butt and endeavored to drag her to the floor on top of him.

Valerie countered by hooking her svelte arms behind his head and her long legs in the small of his back. She then executed her special dreaded move to blind and bewilder. She forced his face into her bosom and squeezed with all her might. She heard him go, "Oomph, oomph!"

The two plummeted eight inches to a rug purchased from a Pashtun merchant. Alex forfeited control. The short fall knocked the wind out of him. Valerie's exiguous diamond earrings sparkled while she pressed the advantage. After missing and licking one plump earlobe, Valerie stuck her pink tongue directly into one of Alex's ears.

Alex regained the use of his right arm and grabbed the left side of Valerie's gluteous maximus through the pajamas. She used his maneuver against him. She threw her weight to that side and reaffixed her right leg, behind his noggin. Her belly button failed to gain any ground in the struggle though. Alex put his mouth against her stomach and blew energetically. Valerie cried aloud and started laughing.

Alex sat up with her. Valerie gracefully slid her pelvis down until both of theirs touched. They looked at each other, smiling. Valerie blew some hair out of her face. Alex hooked his arms behind her and held her closer.

"I want to hear about you, Val. I hate talking about me."

"Why are you so serious all of a sudden?"

"Because of what you said when we were at the aquarium that afternoon, that you knew more about me than I know about you. It's true. I don't know much about you at all."

"You know everything about me you need to know."

Alex pulled his arms from around her and backed up. It caused Valerie to slide all the way down to the floor. She let go of him in the process.

"I completely disagree. If you don't want to tell me about your own life, then I'll assume this is just a temporary fling for you. What kind of relationship depends on a man being ignorant and uninformed?"

"Alex, it's not like that. My life is boring. There's nothing for me to tell you. I meant to say you already know everything about me."

"I know almost nothing about you, Valerie. Nothing. I don't know what schools you went to before college. I don't even know if you have any brothers and sisters. You know oodles of details about me, and I can say little about you."

"I'm from Washington Parish, Alex. Northern Washington Parish. There are cows there. There's a lumber mill. Bogalusa is our thriving municipality."

"You sound defensive. And we were already doing so much better. Go on. I like learning about you."

"But there's nothing interesting to tell you."

"Maybe I find it interesting that you got all bothered and irritated about having to tell me."

"Do you want me to go on?"

"Did it sound like I was kidding about wanting to know more about you?"

"I have two sisters."

"Are they older or younger? Are they as gorgeous as you are, or are they hideously deformed?"

"They're older. Decades older, by a different mother. And they have warts and boils all over their faces."

"So you're not far separated in age, and they are also beautiful."

"You do know I will cut you if you ever betray me with one of my sisters?"

"The paper is in that drawer over there. Just don't try to use it on my tongue. That is ghastly. I'd rather have a paper cut almost anywhere else."

"Then almost would be where I'd do it."

"That makes no sense at all, except, oh... I would never think of even looking at your sisters. You really must trust me on this one. I need my almost, for staying alive reasons."

Valerie giggled. "I was only kidding."

"I know you were. So on this farm you had some cows, some lumber and some sows, relatives it would seem."

"I didn't grow up on an animal farm. I grew up on a fish farm. And I'm serious about that. My parents own a bunch of ponds, and they raise fish. We have subsidies from the state. People order fish from all over the place."

"Scratch the sows, then. The farm has tuna."

"Tuna is a saltwater fish." She paused for a second before adding, "You know, you aren't funny."

Underneath the western balcony a driver applied air brakes. The pressure wheeze drowned out normal traffic. An infrequent tour bus paraded through that specific district time and again.

"Let's turn on the television so we can watch Morbid Manufacture."

"You see, this is exactly what I've been referring to. Who are you, and what have you done with the clever girl I like?"

"You like me now. That's an improvement."

"I liked you before I ever asked you out. Don't change the subject. Who would want to watch people weigh the safety of their loved ones against wealth?"

"I would. It's fascinating how much danger people will put their loved ones in over finances. Imagine how much more dangerous it would be if the show was about ideals rather than money."

"The show is entirely fake, Valerie. It's so obvious. Nobody could really do the sort of things they do on that show. It would be entirely against the law."

"What if it wasn't fake? What if they plow through the vivid, ghastly content as if it's fake so everyone will assume it is?"

"It's television. Television. Nothing but smoke and mirrors."

"Now who's getting all defensive and bothered? I don't watch that show by the way. I just wanted to know how you would react. I'm studying you."

"You may be studying me from the wrong angle then. To take my personality out of context or make assumptions about my inclinations based on how other people live and react will only lead to false and/or incomplete conclusions."

"How talks like that? Who says and/or these days?"

"I do."

The couple turned in mid dialogue. They propped their backs against the divan. Alex snagged the bowl full of party mix off of the table. He tossed one piece after another into the air and caught each like a voracious mutt.

"How do you do that?" Valerie had one of those voices that always sounded cute and never shrill. It lingered in the C alto range during serious moments, but snuck into midrange B and even high B when she got excited. Alex loved it.

"I was trained by Siberian huskies after being abandoned near the Alaska pipeline."

"I can't believe we managed to make people in that dive think we were doing something sexual," the young lady blurted out.

"My parents got engaged to get married in that dive. Going there is a family tradition. I can't believe you would insult something you don't understand."

Valerie's musical laughter tapered off. An untrusting look began to creep into her eyes. She bit her lower lip.

"Now I'm just kidding. You know, I've never faked the sound of an orgasm before, considering I don't make sound when I orgasm."

"Guys. Sure God knew what He was doing. Where's the missing rib, by the way? Did you have an extra one originally, or was it replaced?

"Maybe that's what happened on the seventh day. God was like, 'I need to gloss over this whole rib thing I wrote about. It's too late to change the wording. I think I'll confuse my new creations and put a rib back. Men will be screwed in the head until the end of time. Bwa-ha-ha-ha," she mimicked spooky laughter and then giggled again.

"I think it's awesome when you laugh. That makes me happy."

"I'll add that to my list. 'Laughter improves subject's mood.' Check."

"I have something to add to my list. Fraggle Rock pajamas are particularly inappropriate on my hot girlfriend. The little girl appears to be... it's just not right."

"How did you get Fraggle Rock pajamas Alex? The show didn't come out until you were, what, 20?"

"I woke up next to a dead body. The pajamas were folded neatly at the end of the bed. I dumped the body, kept the pajamas. It's the only memento I have of that night."

"You are too twisted. Well, maybe I'm not freaked out by the idea of breast feeding an eight year old daughter." She aimed to keep a straight face. She was failing.

"Maybe I like the idea of Fred and Barney jumping up and down on my balls. How about that?" They both laughed.

"You're hogging all of the party mix. You are the worst host. First you ruthlessly attack me. I kick your ass. Then you hog the grub."

"Do you have a bruise shaped like my face between your teats?"

"Wouldn't you like to see. It'll be tomorrow before anything shows up, anyway. Pass the food, mean boy."

Alex handed Valerie the bowl. She shoved a big handful into her mouth. She crunched and ground the chips and nuts like a human wood chipper. The sound could be heard through her cheeks.

"So then I had this girlfriend. She was feminine and refined, but she ate like a horse. I'd put a bag around her neck at the end of the day and she'd be happy."

"Shut up," she said. A miniscule corner of a cereal flake went flying. She noticed it and rolled her eyes back in her head. "I guess I'm going back to starvation, since I can no longer hold my head high in this world. I'm never eating in front of you again."

"You can't not be cute. What do I look like when I eat? A visiting dignitary?"

"No. You eat like Henry VIII did in that movie."

"The one where he had the mutton?"

"That's the one."

"Thanks. It's nice to know I make a good impression. But wait, how do you know that movie wasn't real, like Morbid Manufacture? Maybe the upper echelons of the ruling class have been hiding the existence of cameras for thousands of years."

"That explains how we royal intelligentsia know about evolution. 'We have video of the commoners changing into near human lifeforms from apes.' 'Jolly good. Now we can blackmail them into giving us their glass beads and animal shaped pieces of dirt.' 'Right-o. Let's have some tea.'"

"No wonder I like you. Most girls don't mock normal people, the English and evolution all in one statement."

"Don't forget tea. Tea: It's the puss-ywillow caffeinated drink. How can anyone make a claim to revolutionary genius without drinking coffee?"

"Maybe they become revolutionary geniuses after they give up the knotted muscles in their necks and backs from drinking too much coffee, Val. Hey. You didn't respond to the Morbid dig."

Valerie smirked. "That's so twue, Chwistopher. Maybe I'm so hopped up on coffee I didn't think about your remark."

Alex batted his eyelashes imperiously. "I was wondering about that sound in the bathroom. I just thought it was a slow drip from the faucet. You were making coffee. You need treatment. You really do."

"Zowie, Alex. I didn't think you would ever be able to notice a sound that quiet. How long have you been counting the drips?"

"Long enough to know you have a problem, Valerie. Long enough to call all your fishies and get them together for an intervention."

"Now you're calling my friends fishies. What if they were mammals? What if they were sperm whales?"

"That would be enough for me to get alimony from you. My monetary woes are over, hun." Articulated that way the pet name was particularly nasty.

"Oh, you'll receive payment from me, Snuckems," she responded in mock bitterness. Her thought processes could have been mistaken for twins of his. "You'll get paid in spades."

Val looked at the small tattoo on her host's right shoulder. It was an octogram with Pi in the center. She bit her lower lip and resisted the urge to pounce on him so she could bite his shoulder. A cat in the neighbor's courtyard bawled in heat. The coincidence was not disregarded. She missed her kitties back home when she heard the sound she always associated with loneliness.

Valerie Phylicia Hamilton took her first breath in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She spent her entire life as a minor in the purlieu of Zemurray Gardens, in the near wilderness east of Folsom, Louisiana. She only told Alex she grew up in Bogalusa because she was embarrassed about how country she really was. She already regretted it as she looked at his beautiful smile. The sinking feeling she hated more than anything else descended down her throat.

Early in her college attendance, which saved her from death by boredom, in her opinion, Val encountered the boy of her dreams. The first glimpse of him set off her curiosity afterburners. She wanted to see him, lots of him. To actualize that goal she needed to know as much about that man as possible.

Alexander Edgar Patterson, she found out efficiently, was a bad boy. Going out with a bad boy had been impossible back home. She followed him discreetly a couple of times, just to see who his friends were. Getting close through those people challenged all her skill as an actress, but she prevailed.

Miss Valerie Phylicia hankered to bury the lie about her own background. She would fix it later, no matter what, she promised herself. She had faith in active positivity so she sideswiped their banter with an off topic suggestion.

"Let's go to a cemetery, Alex. There's a romantic graveyard in Lacombe. It's ancient, historic and secluded."


"Yeah. Let's do something out of the box. And then tomorrow I want to go to a museum with you. And then a library."

"That sounds like fun. What will we do at the cemetery though?"

"Nothing," she said coyly.

"I don't care what we do there. When you get that tone of voice I simply can not resist you. What should we wear?"

"Well, our pajamas, of course."

"Outstanding," Patterson pronounced, ever the stodgy troublemaker.

Before moving he started telling Valerie a story. His eyes grew sort of distant. Even his voice changed, like a cloud passed in front of his psyche.

"There was this guy in Brooklyn. All the people he ever knew either died or moved on and forgot him. He spent all his time at home, bone weary of diners and bars. He lived off of a government check.

"He started writing stories, articles and books. By that time he was so far gone a recluse that he never even tried to do anything with the stuff. He just sat around with a pen or a pencil and scrawled out thousands of words every day.

"Eventually the sense of isolation started to get to him. The guy wanted to break out of his shell and get his message out to the world. He began writing short poems on big pieces of paper and hanging them up in his window. His apartment was on a corner and the window could be seen from a great distance on the streets below.

"After a couple of months people started gathering on the street and taking pictures. The dude got really excited. He had finally broken the chains that kept him locked into literary solitude. He started covering the window in writing during all the daylit hours. The crowd even got bigger. He couldn't wait until they knocked on his door to congratulate him on his solitary accomplishment.

"One morning he woke up and the building was shaking. He jumped out of bed in a panic. The walls started to crack. He never expected an earthquake in Brooklyn.

"He wanted to save his writing, but their was no time. All he could do was grab his shoes and his hat and scoot out the door. Besides, he had become famous. He figured he could always write more.

"He ran out the front door. There were still people taking pictures. He had to climb over a barrer to get to them.

"He walked proudly up to some of the people assembled with cameras. 'Here I am,' he announced proudly. The people just looked at him like he was crazy. Somebody said, 'And here I am, you freak.'

"The guy didn't know what was going on. This was supposed to be his big moment. God even sent an earthquake to bring it on in a timely fashion. Then the guy looked back at his building. A big sign read, 'Historic Hotel Brookshire To Be Torn Down.' Off to one side a full quarter of the building collapsed beneath a wrecking ball. The guy's whole world just crumbled into cinders.

"I heard abut this a few years ago. At the time I didn't know what to think. Now I have an opinion. At least we have hurricanes. If one of us has to leave or go down, we're going out together. Brooklyn. Earthquakes. Screw that."

"Alex, I don't think they have earthquakes in Brooklyn. That story may not be true," Valerie told him gently.

"No way," Alex said. "Well, let's go."

Val wanted to slow time down. Suddenly morals and denotations intersected intentions and nuance with particle collider speed. The meaning of the story escaped only her response, but she had to add something. The feeling crept back into her stomach.

"I'm not from Bogalusa, Alex. I'm from outside of Folsom."

"That doesn't matter at all. And just so you know, I meant earthquakes as a metaphor for social ostracization -- "

An indignant sniff from Miss Hamilton perforated the pause.

" -- Our macabre destination awaits. Shall we?"
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