Dr. Dope said Minnie was sensitive and had a superior memory.
'Minnie, you have a superior memory.' Dr.'s words. 'Tell us your experience of having gills.' The way he referred to her, as if she wasn't there, no eye-to-eye, she could have been a pie chart of industrial spillage, or map of shifty political boundaries, you name the year.
'Tell us, Minnie—' the Dope winked at squirming Danny and me, Lil, on the shabby couch, '—what it was like when were we survivors of evolution washed on the shore, selected to be fit, or—' it was a Friday which meant the session would be cut short as Dr. liked his weekends long '—or in your case—' Dr. drummed his forged steel fingers on the arms of his shiny, brown chair '—or in your case have fits?' The look on his face would pass for a smile outside Beverlyland, Dr. Dope's halfway house, halfway between Looney Tunes and a cuckoo's nesting impulse. But we knew better.
Her Aunt Selma stopped by once or twice a week. 'She likes you,' I said. It wasn't envy, but an observation to help her sort things out. We knew the sessions with Dr. weren't going to help us; we were on our own. But she had Aunt Selma, as I had told her. Selma was for her, Minnie. Selma was aboveboard. Me, Lil? I'm talking about Minnie.
On the Friday Dr. Dope announced Minnie was washed up, Selma brought her two oranges and a bag of Cheetos.
'They match this rug, honey.'
And they did. Then we three left Minnie's room and went to the broken sidewalk in front of the two-story converted complex and hung out with the smokers. The cigarettes in their front pockets were charred one-quarter, one-half, three-quarters of the way down to the filter, which made for a stiff inhale I know. Selma tamped a pack of Winstons on her patent leather handbag that looked like it had air blown into it, and we described the morning session. Dr., I informed Selma, was fit to be tied, which was a joke as the waddler wasn't close to what you'd call fit.
'Your ma walked out on the day you had that fit, Min.' Selma offered Danny an unsmoked cig. He took it along with a book of matches and thanked her shoes. Selma kept talking. 'She just did. You were kicking, Min, and you were screaming. You hit the ground like a G.I. in battle and crawled to the closet.' I thought it was kind of interesting, like genealogy.
Truth is, as Minnie told me, her father buzzed off first, and then the mom. The dad returned once to wave so long. That didn't Richter any scale at Beverlyland, but Minnie's big memory Richtered Dr. Dope the next group, which was on Tuesday. Dr.'s cheeks were bright red, which meant he'd spent time on his boat. For being a physician, he didn't know jack about SPF.
Min shared Aunt Selma's recollection of her crawling to the closet. Dr. pumped for 'More, more,' his cheeks ready to ignite. She closed her eyes to swivel them to her noggin, and described the really loud noise she'd heard 16 or so billion years ago, and followed up with her feeling like a paramecium with gills, struggling to crawl onto the shore, morphing so she could walk along the beach and build a nice fire. Dr.'s eyes clouded over and he looked like that Evil Eye which got on the nerves of the narrator of Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart,' which I read in my first pass at Eleventh Grade. Poe wrote 'passion there was none' but I never believed him. Passion there is all, ask me.
'I shall alert the world of science. Farewell, oh arts of in-and de-duction.' Like Tweedledee on crab legs, Dr. moved close to Minnie's face. If she'd been a mirror, she'd have fogged over. 'Little Minnie has seen and sensed the truth.' Blah Blah, goes Dr.
'You remember the fish tank, Minnie, and—I will posit—the Big Bang. You post-cognate your Jonah days when your bobbing, floating soul was spit out and hollering, became a fish and crawled shoreward. Oh, how Darwin would have loved to have made your acquaintance.'
We've all seen photos of the Galapagos in National Geographic in this or that waiting room, I would guess. My thinking on the subject ran, the Galapagos are beautiful but chilly, and therefore Minnie is beautiful with a slight frost like a beer mug.
She shrugged. Dr. D gets carried away, as do Minnie and me; but we do it in ways compatible.
Outside with the smokers is where she met Woody Woodpecker.
He was strolling on Pico Boulevard, handing out discount coupons for a new Thrifty's Drug a few blocks away from Beverlyland. We didn't have to pay for meds, what with SSI and all, but Min thanked Woody for offering the cost-cutting opportunity. He said a 'You're welcome,' and winked. Winks made her a little weak, I knew. He smiled. She didn't smile back right away, but when he said he'd been looking for someone nice like her for a while, she blushed big. If she'd only known that soon enough he'd want to throw her back in the lake, then peer over the rim of the row boat at her treading water, she might have charred the flier advertising the cost-cutting opportunities with a lit cig, thus delivering a clear message:
It was the hot dog incident which I'll tell in a bit that searchlit Woody but what I now want to impress is the world of the soul for Woody: saved and unsaved. Remember limbo? Nuh-uh. Doesn't exist, not in Woody's world. Forget it! You're either this or that. No hedged bets. No 'give me a couple of days to turn this one over.' No wheel of life like a merry-go-round where you run and jump and hang onto a bar for a lifetime which lasts until you lose your grip and then you catch your breath and jump on and do it again. What Minnie didn't tell Woody is:
But she didn't and now Woody's in the Midwest, and comfortable, I bet, at ease, having taken a definite stand on her, Minnie, as lost and roasting. I bet bad feeling presses down on her like she is half an orange and he's a hand juicer, squeezing. But that's now, and then, then, he and Min became something.
IT: They were on the couch, eating hot dogs. On day 44 they were on the couch which was old. The springs—you could hear them uncurl. I'd visited once or twice.
TIME OUT: The day after the day she met Woody, Dr. Dope pink-slipped her because the Governor of California decided she was ready to figure it out on her own, i.e., there was a spending cut; she called Aunt Selma who invited her to stay at her place—'You're decent company, Min, and you know a thing or two.' Min sat on her aunt's couch that night, wondering if she'd ever see Woody again.
I called her. 'That coupon man asked for you,' I giggled. She asked if he was giving out the same coupons or different ones. 'The same,' I said; he'd asked Danny where she was, and Danny'd pointed to me, and I'd said my friend was at Selma's, but since Woody didn't know where Selma was, he'd asked me to phone. I think Minnie put her hand over the talk holes in the receiver and asked her aunt what she thought.
'Give the boy your address.'
The next morning, Woody went by their place, howdy-ed Selma, then he and Minnie walked all the way over to Lafayette Park and back, Woody with his coupons and her with Woody. They made a lovers' pact to pull together the money for the apartment.
'You might as well give it a try.' Selma told her the couch wasn't going anywhere, meaning Minnie could move back. Then she gave Minnie the fifty she won in a pool at the liquor store near Sears on Santa Monica. The bet was about the Bicentennial the year before, what had happened on Sunset Boulevard on the actual Fourth of July. Something. Min had her SSI check coming in regularly, and for his part of the rent money, Woody pulled a fast one. He was proud of it.
He was in his friend's car, driving at night down a side street and he saw a hit and run. A Lincoln hit a parked Chevy and drove on. So Woody followed and caught up with the guy who was nervous and old. The Oriental, Woody called him. The guy had slowed down on another dark street, pulled over, to stop a pounding heart, wouldn't you think? And Wood angled his car in such a way to prevent the Oriental guy's leaving and rapped on the window and said, 'Hey,' but the Oriental didn't speak but Woody kept rapping so finally the Oriental rolled down the window a little and Woody lied, 'That was my brother's car you hit,' and the Oriental blubbered, said Woody, who demanded, 'You better pay up or I'll call the cops,' and the Oriental's hand shook as he offered his wallet and Wood grabbed all his money.
Which is how they could rent that little apartment like a tunnel with a porch; it wasn't exactly American dream stuff. Woody announced, 'That's what I want. More than anything. A house of my own and maybe a boat, or a redwood deck.'
They moved into their abode.
IT: So they were on the settee in their deckless abode and Woody wanted a hot dog. That made three. And Minnie said, 'fine,' and had to get up to go to the kitchen, and she did, and then she sat down with a plop and a spring came through the damn upholstery like a corkscrew and got her! And she said, 'good Lord, save me,' and Woody said, 'if you believe in Jesus, you're saved,' and she said, 'what if you don't believe in Jesus?' and he said, 'then you're not saved, you are damned for eternity,' and she said, 'what about those people in Africa, or the Hindus or aborigines?' and he said, 'they're all damned to hell,' he said; 'if you accept Christ as your savior you're saved and there's nothing to worry about.'
And Woody said, 'Hon, accept Christ, or you'll be with the shits.'
What's with those people?
'What would you tell him?' she pleaded. 'What if you had openings in your body which he filled with kisses and wetness to his heart's content, glided into like a pilot? What if your life folded into his'—just 55 days—'folded like egg whites into batter and further'—man, she was hooked—'you wore a cross or a star, an ankh or ying yang pendant, what would you tell Woody?'
'Who cares.' From the Woody. 'We have fun.' That night he slunk onto the couch and whispered he didn't mind what she believed, but two days later he left.
Just like that he condemned her for eternity, forgave her, and left her. Just like that, it was farewell sweetheart. Just like that.
She felt like a frozen Krackle bar left in hot sun and oozing from its foil. She could have been trash compacted. She was empty except for her stomach fingers; they became claws.
The bus ride to Aunt Selma was only forty minutes. Echo Park to Ivar, to Hollywood, right near where she'd lived with her parents. Once.
Aunt Selma said, 'You worked out here fine the last time, gal.' Minnie moved in and the two watched TV or read the papers. They tracked the Shroud and UFOs. They found the Ouija board in the closet, cleared the coasters and ceramic elephant off the coffee table and set up. Selma wanted to know where her husband was. This was a day they invited me to visit.
'Too bad, we can't hire Jim Rockford,' Minnie said. Selma was surprised.
'She's the pipeline,' Selma explained. 'She knows our brains are stretched out all across the map. She may hurt some, but knows the brain is made of spread-everywhere putty.' Selma turned to Minnie. 'We can scout the world, honey. Forget Jim Rockford. Or his pal Angel. Let's use this sucker.'
The board spelled out DULUTH. 'Ever heard of it?' Selma asked. Minnie thought the Midwest and Selma said, 'Min, you're darn straight,' and lit up a Winston. It was my turn to ask about Woody and the board spelled out, IN THE MIDWEST. The hairs on the back of my head got light and staticky, like the Midwest is a black hole for every man her aunt or Minnie ever met. 'Do they know each other, Woody and my weird Uncle Edgar?' Minnie asked.
Selma closed one eye and raised the eyebrow opposite. 'Probably not.' Although we wondered if there was some plot, some CIA conspiracy, something someone wasn't telling us. You see such and such documented on TV and you never know when someone's going to charge in on your life like you're a watering hole in the desert and he's a thirsty rhino, why or when.
Minnie told Aunt Selma to slam the door and yank down the shades if Woody came galloping by.
Back and forth she walked from the store to buy diet Pepsis, and talked loud about all the things that made her react big. Blab. blab. blab. Who did he think he was? Blab. blab. blab. People stared which didn't bother her as she informed me she was a laser person, shrunk down from her 5-3 to about five inches, by Disney or someone, like Princess Leah, and hidden inside her ribs.
Before they lived together Woody had ripped off a home-made bell from some guy who said he got it from an Arizona bell-maker. She would ring it when the eggs were scrambled or the buns hamburgered.
'It could make him long for the good feel, him and me and me and him, hands and arms and all that flesh, incredible as you touch it and glide here and there.' Minnie had a look in her eyes, a combo of hard metal and some clown who's always crying. 'And we said things, too. In 55 days you don't get so used to each other. You keep needing to talk; listen, too.'
I imagined Woody shutting his eyes—or keeping the beady things although thick-lashed open—and her name crossing his mind like a flitting bug. All she is was some little button inside his body. The human body is small within the scope of the universe, and the word infinite gives a push to the word infinitesimal. Big world/small Minnie. We're overflowing with neurons and any one of them could do it, remind him of her. Two hours after a portion of eggplant casserole eaten, Woody is reminded of Min.
So he called. She told me all about it.
'It's him,' Aunt Selma hissed.
'I'm not supposed to tell you where I am.' His whisper smelled of sweat. Her aunt's of talc. 'But it's not a compound, just good people.' He asked her to join him. 'I miss you, babe.'
She told Woody, 'You could get on top of me and plug away like you were in training for a new season.' To Selma she said, 'he's growling.' To him she said, 'but really there isn't anything of me, me, you're part of.' To me she said, 'Concrete blocks crushed my heart small.'
She and me, we're nuts, but she took it pretty far.
'I was glad you left,' she said, knocking her fist on the table top. 'Didn't miss you.'
He bragged he was going to ask permission to fetch her.
She hung up once and then again. For the next couple days every time she passed the phone she'd pick it up and hang it up. Click. Click. Click.
I went by there. Took a break from the bin.
'I tell Minnie,' Aunt Selma lit up. 'Just don't worry about a thing,' Smoke curlicued from her nostrils, on up. A signal. Her aunt was sending signals. They stayed up up in the air; they traveled across the room to arrow Minnie guarded at Selma's.
'You remember the Obelisk,' Dr. once said to her at group. 'And all of us bowed and worshipping beside. You alone, my dear, recall human sacrifice. Indeed, Miss Minnie, you volunteer for the job to this very day—' Dr. smirked. 'Why you?'
Selma speculated on this, lowered the television's volume, turned to Minnie, on the floor, leaning against the coffee table while she shuffled cards for a game of Fish. 'You come from good stock, give or take a DWI. And if the knowledge is important, the keeper of the knowledge is probably your low-key type.'
'Who stays under the radar.'
'You got it, girl. You're under the radar, on the target, what else?' Her Winston made loops in the air.
Dr. knows that about her, and Midwest him knows about her, and that may be two too many, cause you really never know who's to trust. And yup she does recall the Obelisk and that the air was brisk and she was alive. If Woody and the Dr. would construct a pipeline connecting brain with heart they'd be obeying what I am pretty sure the Obelisk was sent here to emphasize. (Min says the message got a little hard to read because of the heavy metal, which is why containers are more important than you might think.)
See, once I met this guy who trekked across Africa on a tour where they laid their tracks ahead them. Driving old Mercedes cars, maybe busses, in the desert, they set down forty-foot lengths of metal grip to drive over, then drove over. Then walked back and lifted the metal planks, and lay them down for the next forty feet. Let's say the Sahara in the shadow of Kilimanjaro near the amazon mountains of Tibet, foothills for which would be the Rockies. Wherever. Like Minnie and, sooner or later, me, they moved. Most people do.