2017 Fiction Winner
The Man Connected to the Other Side
by Anthony Parker
“Which house is yours?” Jenny asked me.
“That one up there, on top, over on the far right,” I answered, pointing toward an Orion’s Belt of lights strung atop one of the Hollywood Hills. My driveway, tennis court and front lawn were always lit. I don’t have a pool.
“Must be nice to have a place up there,” she guessed.
“You don’t make it sound so. Why you staying here?”
“I really like hotels,” I told her.
“Excited about being on TV tomorrow?”
“You’re not nervous? Really?” Jenny asked, surprised.
Jenny wanted to hold my hand. She wasn’t sure if she could. “I love Lindsay’s show,” she said.
“Everybody does,” I answered.
Ten stories below my suite, Los Angeles twinkled our reflections into black Christmas trees pasted flat on the window. The television show provided a fancy hotel room for guests. The hotel actually calls my room the Extreme Wow Suite. Rates aren’t listed on the hotel’s website. Call the front desk and the clerk immediately refers all inquiries to the Sales Dept.
“I used to be in Lindsay’s book club,” Jenny said, sounding very far away. “I tried contacting her when I got sick. We don’t have the same mom, but we’re still sisters, you know. I wasn’t going to ask her for anything, I just—”
“She never knew you called,” I told Jenny. “No one ever talks about her family. Her staff knows better. The production company paid your hospital bills without telling her.”
“Yeah, well. That’s her choice, I guess. Does Lindsay know we’re friends?” Jenny turned toward me to ask.
Their resemblance screamed at me. Same cheekbones. Same mouth. Same hair. Same earlobes. Both wore their father’s face. Jenny had the softer voice.
“Are you going to tell her?”
“Eventually, I’ll tell her.”
We shared a long moment of silence I enjoyed more than she did. Double-paned plate glass hushed everything outside my hotel room quieter than a hand covering your mouth. Los Angeles rolled out in all directions below, its lights a prairie of electric flowers plugged in humming their pulse. In the same eyeful, I saw everything. I saw after the big earthquake spills all these buildings onto their sides. I saw mastodons roam a slow pack down where the 101 freeway blushed ten thousand bumper-to-bumper brake lights that moment Jenny shared with me at the window. Jenny wouldn’t understand if I tried explaining it to her. That’s not meant to be an insult. I still don’t understand.
“The city is beautiful at night, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yeah. Pretty. Lot more lights than Fresno,” Jenny said. After she spoke, more silence. “I liked your book, too. A lot. Read it twice.”
“Thank you,” I said. She knew I’d know if she were lying.
“Did all that stuff happen? Is it all true?” she asked.
“Mostly. I’ve got a new one coming out. Lindsay is going to make her book club read it.”
“Lindsay wouldn’t like it, right? That we’re friends, I mean.”
“No. Not really,” I answered. Jenny’s gone before my last word. Back to steam.
I took a shower and brushed my teeth before laying down to wait for sleep. I left the air conditioning on because I like the sound so much. My hotel suite had a bed large enough for me to sleep pointing my body any direction without dangling over the pillow-top edges. When I did sleep, I dreamt that one day I stopped dreaming. I was happy. But, I was bored.
* * * * * * *
Most guests of the Lindsay Corcoran Show first think the ficus tree in the corner of the green room is fake. They’ll pinch any leaf and rub it with finger pads like fabric to check. It’s very real. Seated on the overstuffed couch across the room, I can tell the ficus is real. Of course, I also know a production assistant named Aaron bought it at the Sheridan Gardens Nursery on Hollywood Way. I know a lot of things.
I know that ficus tree cost $97.41, tax included. I know Aaron bought a dozen ficus trees and paid using a credit card with the production company’s logo embossed under the raised number and expiration date. I know all the numbers on the card. I know Aaron drove a black pick-up. I know Aaron has blue eyes. I know two years from now the show will have a ratings drop and get snubbed at the Emmy nominations. I know the new Executive Producer makes immediate changes to shave ten percent from the budget. I know Aaron gets fired. I know Aaron’s parents let him move in to their new house down in Irvine while he job hunts. I know they’re nice people. I know they both have blue eyes, too.
The last time I occupied this room a small table with a large flower arrangement stood wilting there in the corner. Flowers keep dying. New ones have to be ordered. A semi-regularly watered ficus is practically unkillable.
My agent sat on a canvas-back chair and my publicist on the couch beside me. My assistant sat cross-legged on my other side, thumb-typing my schedule into her phone. I’m holding half a chilled bottle of water she opened for me. The couch made a sound like a dry finger slid down a balloon when one of us moved. Four human beings and one ficus tree breathed in and out. I got up and walked over to water the plant. I knew it was thirsty.
* * * * * * *
The hardback edition of my first book topped all the New York Times bestseller list non-fiction categories when I last guested on the show. Soft cover editions were being glued together in Dexter, MI the exact moment I sat on the cream color imitation leather couch across from Lindsay Corcoran. Each copy of my book proudly wore a gold sticker featuring Lindsay’s Book Club logo. Lindsay provided the blurb on the cover. The publishing company chose an italic typeface to visually imply its breathlessness and a large font because Lindsay Corcoran is the most famous person on television.
In the commercial everyone saw, the one her network ran for days leading up to the broadcast, Lindsay Corcoran asked me how she’s going to die and then closed her eyes to brace for my answer. The camera cut to me about to speak when the screen faded into Lindsay sitting alone in her studio asking America to join her for the most powerful hour of her life. Subtle harp music plucked under the entire thirty-one second clip.
“You’re never going to die,” is what I said to her.
* * * * * * *
Two different cast members have played Lindsay Corcoran on Saturday Night Live. The impression stayed the same. The Lindsay character wore a blonde feathered wig and purple turtleneck sweater. Lindsay’s audience brayed wild at everything she did or said. They’d pull out their own hair and hit each other with folding chairs when Lindsay gave everyone a car or a yacht. Then, Lindsay brought out Buddha or Jesus or Gandhi and the famous guest went out of their way to tell Lindsay Corcoran how much better a person she is than they were.
Twice male SNL hosts have played Lindsay’s fiancé Carson. In one sketch, Lindsay interviewed the Dalai Lama while Carson sat at her feet being stroked and fed treats. She hit him with a rolled up newspaper when he started humping the Lama’s leg. In the other sketch, she kept Carson on a studded leather leash while he held a parasol and fanned himself like an old Southern lady. Everything he said was a double-entendre, trying to get into Nelson Mandela’s khaki pants.
Lindsay kept rejecting offers to host the show. She won’t even do a cameo appearance.
* * * * * * *
Lindsay Corcoran hasn’t always been her name. She hates her real name, so I’ll keep it to myself. It’s easy to find anyway.
Lindsay’s parents met in a bar on her mother’s twentieth birthday. They weren’t together long. One day her father just stopped calling and coming over. He didn’t feel guilty because he’d made up his mind to break it off before he knew about their baby.
Her mother, Terry, still worked a checkout counter at the Safeway on North Blackstone up in Fresno. Terry’s been there long enough to have really good health insurance and a decent 401(k). Magazines at Terry’s register obsessed weekly about Lindsay’s fluctuating weight or why Lindsay still hasn’t married Carson after being engaged so long. Terry hated when they guessed at Lindsay’s sexual orientation. Or Carson’s. She turned those covers around.
It’s an open secret Lindsay Corcoran is Terry’s daughter. Tabloids did those “Lindsay Corcoran’s Mom is Poor” stories a few years ago. Terry stopped doing interviews. Now Terry lived in a small rented house with two runny-eyed poodles and used her employee discount to buy her microwave dinners and Jodi Picoult novels at the Safeway on 1st Street. She tried to not watch too much TV.
Lindsay’s father, Carl, drove an eighteen-wheeler with a pair of scuffed chrome testicles dangled under the bumper sticker forever rhetorically asking “How Is My Driving?” A decade in he settled on “Lizard Handler” for a CB handle. Truckers call women who hangout around their layover stops “Lot Lizards.” An entire common language evolved among truckers. Carl’s weakness for eye shadow and spider web nylons meant Lindsay had brothers and sisters in other states and time zones.
Six years ago Carl’s truck slid off a patch of black ice merging onto Highway 94 outside Saint Cloud, MN. It rolled down an embankment before flopping jack-knifed in the snow. Truckers call losing traction on the road “Ice Capading.” Paramedics and firemen and police left thousands of pock-mark footprints at the scene fresh powder covered by morning. Carl died thinking the flurries were stars he zoomed past in outer space.
Lindsay Corcoran didn’t know those people.
* * * * * * *
Calling it either a ficus tree or a ficus plant are both acceptable. The ficus is the official tree of Bangkok. Nine million people in Southeast Asia agree it’s a tree. The most common ficus species is named ficus benjamina. When you think of a ficus, the image is a ficus benjamina.
The ficus benjamina’s rubbery green leaves beg you to feel if they’re real. Each pointy leaf’s stem and veins bulge like the spine and rib cage of a skinny young woman who’d turn around to take her shirt off if she let you get that far.
Benjamina is a good name for a shy girl. Benjamina would be tall, and have a nice complexion. And she’d be really funny when she opens up to you.
* * * * * * *
Almost two dozen of us surrounded the pool at my uncle’s new house. Uncle Ron slurred through “Black Magic Woman” while working the barbeque, spatula in one hand and Bud Light number four in the other. Most of the kids were splashing water, black hair glued flat to their faces. I’m sitting on the diving board shaft, close to the turquoise tiles grooved along the pool’s lip. I can see my bare feet in the deep end. The rest of me was dry.
“What d’ya mean he can’t fucken swim?” Uncle Ron roared loud enough to hush the laughter and music. “Jack, get over here. Now.”
My mom said something to him I couldn’t hear. I want to say she’s telling him to leave me alone.
“Nah, he’s gotta learn,” he said to her. “Move your ass, Jack. C’mere.”
Time slurred when I walked toward him. Uncle Ron crouched down so deep lines furrowing his cheeks and forehead got near my face. Skin below his eyes sagged from all his early mornings and two pack habit, slipping off the bone under our high winter sun.
“What are you? Thirteen? You gotta learn ah swim. Everybody needs a learn howda swim,” Uncle Ron reasoned. Then he pushed me into the pool.
My nose stung with the first water rush I inhaled. Desperately thrashing wild, I tried reaching for the pool’s edge, but he used the cleaning net to push me down. “Paddle, goddammit. Paddle. Paddle,” Uncle Ron yelled at me. Our family watched. I’m actually fifteen when this happens.
Foam boiled my eyes. For a moment I got a hand around the net’s aluminum pole. Uncle Ron ripped the pole away and used it to push me down. The net poked under water like a bird hunting fish. I kept swallowing chlorine acid.
And that’s when two columns of pure white light broke the surface above. Water parted like drapes opening. A woman saved me. She had big delicate hands and long fingers, the kind someone named Benjamina would have. That’s the name I gave her in my mind: Benjamina. I remember her Benjamina hands so well. No veins. No hairs sticking out. They were dishwashing glove smooth.
Alongside me in the water, Benjamina’s arm length hair hung slack below her shoulders. It should have floated away from her head and swayed like loose seaweed. But it didn’t. Her black dress didn’t billow open or ride up her legs. Nothing affected her. Touching my face, Benjamina calmed me. I trusted her. So, I stopped struggling and followed her smile. I was dry again when we passed the surface and rose higher.
Benjamina took me far away.
I turned back to see my Uncle Frank dive into the pool fully dressed. Mom screeched through hands covering her face. Kids stayed in the shallow end. Cousin Mark helped roll my limp body onto the patio. Adults crowded around. Uncle Ron knew CPR. I started falling back toward the ground when he pinched my nose and shoved harsh air into my lungs. Second life tasted like beer and cigarette ash. I missed Benjamina. I couldn’t remember her face. I just remember her lips. That smile.
Pearly light sizzled away like my eyes were fogged up glass clearing. My new world sparkled pristine. Coughing up a full throat of water, Uncle Ron’s scared face filled my vision first. I looked into my uncle’s fat pupils, each a black olive floating in a bowl of bloody milk. His whole life rippled there, beginning to end.
I saw him carrying a snub-fingered baseball glove to watch the Angels play at Wrigley Field downtown before it got bulldozed. I saw him run from Grandma’s broom. I saw him try to sleep in a Vietnam jungle under hissing rain. I saw him drink. I saw him knock a woman’s front teeth out. I saw him push me into the pool. I saw him smoke endless Marlboro reds in a plaid recliner. I saw him flat-line in a sterile hospital bed with no one watching. I wanted to hate him, but felt something better. Complete empathy. I couldn’t ever hate him for drowning me.
Everything meant to happen did happen.
* * * * * * *
Each major television journalist took a turn interviewing me. Katie Couric made sure she got footage of us walking in a park with my mom she could pair with voice-over narration. An entire week I sat across a gray table from Larry King fielding call-in questions from viewers all over the country whose names I already knew. Four days after I told Geraldo Rivera he’d die masturbating with a bath robe belt knotted around his throat, Barbara Walters came to our house.
The network parked two trucks stacked full with video and sound equipment and a mile’s worth of fat electrical cables on our street. Then they brought in a long trailer for Barbara Walters to sit in quietly going over her notes until our agreed time to begin. Watching Barbara Walters open our front gate and walk across our yellow lawn was surreal. She’d never been to Reseda before and would never return.
Back in New York City three days after we met, Barbara Walters stood on a bone-colored masking tape X and read the broadcast’s introduction off poster sized cue cards. Barbara Walters’ most recent contractual stipulations specifically negotiated cue cards on set instead of a teleprompter. The jerky motion of words rolling up a screen unnerved her.
“Tonight, we meet Jack Franklin, a Los Angeles-area teenager who’s become quite a sensation these past few months,” Barbara Walters started, addressing America directly. She kept her hands folded while speaking. People able to maintain eye-contact with the camera while reading without their eyes constantly scanning left to right impress me. That looks hard to do.
My face projected on the screen behind Barbara Walters looked like I was trying to peak at the cue cards over her shoulder. Two rows of bare Helvetica print sliced my face into northern and southern hemispheres. It said:
The Boy Connected To The Other Side
“Jack’s story,” she continued, “has been told in numerous magazine articles and newspaper stories, as well as a string of high-profile television appearances. Details have become well-known: a freak diving accident at a family gathering changed Jack Franklin’s life forever. Knocked unconscious, Jack sank underwater and stayed there several moments. When revived, he told an amazing story. Jack, a poor swimmer, drowned. He died; or, came very close to dying. Young Jack Franklin experienced what is commonly referred to as a near death out of body experience. What Jack saw during this time he stopped breathing has been the subject of much interpretation. How this event changed him, however, is beyond interpretation. Without any rhyme or reason, he woke simply knowing everything about, well, everything.
“Jack Franklin’s talents for telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition have been documented and verified during his many media appearances. He’s passed batteries of tests, both medical and scientific. The consensus is that this young man is the first human being proven to possess extra-sensory capabilities. These abilities, many believe, have a spiritual nature; a gift from God, so to speak. Others are still skeptical. Recently, I spent some time with Jack and, honestly, our encounter was strange, wonderful, inspiring and, ultimately, transcendent. Please, join me in getting to know Jack Franklin, the boy connected to the other side.”
Weeks before, my publisher sent Barbara Walters an advanced printing of my first book she read in one day and night. That Christmas her assistant included copies in all the gift baskets Barbara Walters had sent to family, friends and acquaintances.
“Your book, The Other Side,” she said holding up her copy I signed after we were done, “is astonishing. I find choosing the correct word or words to describe what you document very difficult.”
“Me, too,” I said to Barbara Walters. We laughed together in blurry smeared focus. Her three cameramen each used a special lens filter that made us look like we were being filmed through Vaseline thick fog.
She started with some biographical questions I couldn’t answer very well. Anything before the pool is hard to remember. I apologized for being a bad interview several times.
“What exactly was that white light you saw?” she eventually inquired.
“Would you mind explaining that for me?” Barbara Walters asked without consulting any of her blue index cards.
“The universe exploded in my face. It told me everything at once.”
“Did you see heaven?”
“I saw more than that.”
“I don’t understand,” she admitted.
“I don’t really, either. Guess you kind of had to be there.”
* * * * * * *
Of course, I didn’t write my first book. The publisher wouldn’t let me and I didn’t want to. So, I stayed at the Chateau Marmont for four days in a suite next door to the one John Belushi died in and told a ghostwriter my story. We got all the details down, but he said he’d still change some. Honesty taints good stories. I liked the book. He made something a lot of people liked. Millions found their own meaning in what happened to me. I didn’t tell the ghostwriter about Benjamina. I still haven’t figured out what saint or dead family member she might be. He would’ve tried to make her the Virgin Mary for my autobiography.
A lot of people bought my book. My publisher made sure copies were available online and sold in stores the day before Thanksgiving. People gave my miracle story to each other for Christmas and Hanukah gifts. Lindsay Corcoran’s production company bought the film rights. She’d started producing spiritually-themed cable TV movies, beginning with biopics of the Dalai Lama and Eckhart Tolle. Each had “Lindsay Corcoran Presents” suspended above their scripted title.
My life story premiered Easter Sunday night with back-to-back airings on the Lifetime Channel. Filming took two weeks. The actor playing me was too tall. On the afternoon they shot the pool scene he mimed drowning for six takes with both his feet touching the pool’s floor. The movie made sure to present the white light I saw as God. A choir sang on the soundtrack when the actor playing me hovered above his body double sprawled out of focus on the patio below. I decided not to be on set that day. I didn’t get to see the crane the production used to film my death.
* * * * * * *
The ficus tree is also known as the weeping fig tree because it’s arched leaves droop and point their tips toward the ground. The leaves have a waxy sheen to them. Glossy leaves meant ficus benjamina evolved to put on happy face despite a natural proclivity to sulk. The color of a ficus is almost unnaturally green. A healthy ficus gets easily mistaken for a fake ficus. The ficus tries really hard.
Swedish botanist Carl von Linné first described the ficus benjamina in 1767 in the twelfth edition of his Systema Naturae. Linné was very fond of Benjamin Franklin’s scientific writings. Benjamin Franklin was very fond of shy girls. Benjamin Franklin prided himself on being able to make sullen women smile. Franklin would have named the plant ficus labiae. Few people earn naming a plant after them. He really did.
* * * * * * *
I shook out the last drop of water from my bottle into the ficus tree’s pot when Craig the stage manager arrived to usher me to the set. He stopped in the doorway behind me when I said hello first.
“Time to go, Mr. Franklin,” Craig announced.
My agent and publicist and assistant tucked my hair back and straightened my tie and told me not to be nervous. I followed Craig into the hall, waiting for him to ask about his mother.
“I love your book,” Craig told me. “Can’t wait to read the new one.”
Backstage, we stood side by side watching Lindsay on a monitor screen begin to introduce me when he finally gathered the courage to know.
“This is probably a terrible time, Mr. Franklin, but I have to ask you. My mom’s been—” Craig started.
“Jack. Please just call me Jack,” I stopped him mid-sentence to correct. I hate being called mister. “Don’t worry. The next round of chemo puts her into remission.”
“Thank you,” Craig sighed. He wanted to hug me. I would have let him if we had the time, but Lindsay was about to bring me out to the stage.
“Jack just turned eighteen, so he’s not a boy anymore,” Lindsay said. Her audience got loud, clapping for the birthday I had eight days before. “Please, welcome back to our show Jack Franklin: the man connected to the other side.”
* * * * * * *
Five years ago the Lindsay Corcoran Show did an episode about the adult entertainment industry. A trio of actresses on the couch opposite Lindsay told her audience about a game called “Dad or Uncle?” members of the crew would play on film sets.
“What is that?” Lindsay asked.
“Guys on set, behind the cameras, you know, the crew, they try to guess who touched each girl funny: Dad or Uncle,” an actress with two first names answered.
The actresses giggled away suppressed traumas.
“I don’t think this game is funny at all,” Lindsay said, visibly shaken, “and neither do millions like me who’ve endured sexual abuse.”
Mascara dripped out of place, Lindsay’s body clenched into a closed fist. One of the actresses went over and put a tanned arm around her. The studio audience sat very quiet while Lindsay let out a cry from her stomach that had slept there years. Then, they stood and clapped for Lindsay.
Looking up into her audience, Lindsay felt loved. She cried harder, eyes so tight they looked like knife slashes to her face. Lindsay asked for a commercial break. She needed to compose herself. And she wanted to get all that glitter off her jacket.
* * * * * * *
Lindsay Corcoran never told anyone why she chose Lindsay Corcoran for her professional name. Back when Lindsay did local news in Bakersfield she decided to save the story of how she picked her name until her Barbara Walters interview. Sharing Barbara Walters’s fog was one of the earliest career goals Lindsay set for herself.
“There’s a sign on the freeway going south leaving Fresno that says Lindsay and Corcoran with arrows under the names showing you which lane goes to which,” she got to eventually tell Barbara Walters. “L.A. is straight ahead.”
“Lindsay and Corcoran are cities?” Barbara Walters asked, amused.
“Yeah,” Lindsay laughed, “they are. Small ones. Corcoran has a prison and Lindsay is a farm town. The world’s largest olive is there.”
“You must be very proud of yourself, Lindsay. You’ve been so wildly successful since you essentially escaped Fresno.”
“I’m here,” Lindsay declared.
* * * * * * *
“Which house is yours?” Lindsay Corcoran asked me.
Lindsay held a drink with two ice cubes she specifically asked me to make that way without saying please. After inviting herself into my hotel suite, she fluttered straight over to my window. Lights of Los Angeles attract the same attention fireworks do. Security is pretty tight at the hotel I’m staying at but they let Lindsay in, past the front desk and to the elevators. No one stopped her. When the most famous woman in the world walks into the lobby, you assume she’s got a room reserved.
After our interview earlier, Lindsay did her usual wind-down routine of snorting three caterpillar-thick rails of finely ground Bolivian cocaine off an antique hand mirror. It’s the reason magazines have been shouting about her successful diet plan the past few months. She brought a brick of it into the country on her private plane each time she visited the girl’s school she founded there. Lindsay really loved sunny places. The hand mirror once belonged to Judy Garland. Two years ago Lindsay anonymously bought it at a Sotheby’s auction. I finished pouring myself a drink with the same nine dollar minibar Coke I opened to make hers.
“Come here,” she ordered. “Show me where you live.”
“Um, there, you see those three lights close in a row, up there? That’s my house,” I showed her. I touched the glass how I would touch a map thumbtacked on a wall.
“Can you see my house from here?”
Lindsay’s estate in Malibu is bigger than mine. Her mansion is on the other side of the mountains, facing the ocean. She slept alone in a garage door sized bed. Her fiance Carson has his own room across the hall. Years they’ve lived that way.
“You were great on the show today,” she complimented me.
“Happy birthday, by the way,” Lindsay said. She ran her fingers across the back of my head. I could feel Lindsay’s fearlessness. She had very good cocaine. “Eighteen,” she slithered, drawing out the e’s. “Finally.” Lindsay started laughing, too loud and for too long.
“What about Carson?”
“Come on,” Lindsay said tugging my hair. “We both know where he is, what he’s doing right now and who with.”
A mile and a half away Carson sat in a theater on Santa Monica Blvd. while a happily married junior high history teacher from Glendale performed oral sex on him impressively well. The movie projected on the wall gave enough light to see traded yes or no facial expressions. Carson kept watching the man’s Dodgers hat bob up and down. The theater smelled like a clammy palm.
“Yeah, well,” I said.
We shared a long moment of silence I did not enjoy at all. She finished her drink and held the glass up to my face. While I made her another, Lindsay wandered around my suite, humming. Without her five inch heels on Lindsay Corcoran could be mistaken for delicate.
“Tell me what’s on my mind.”
“No,” I told her. “I don’t want to do that.”
Lindsay used both hands to take her drink from me. “Fine, no magic trick,” she smirked. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”
“Plants? What do you mean?” she laughed. Lindsay tilted her head in a way that made her smile open strangely wider. She wasn’t just hunting. Cocaine made her actually interested in my answer.
“Have you noticed the plants around your office?”
“Nope; haven’t,” Lindsay answered honestly.
“Aaron, one of your production assistants, got sent out and bought a couple dozen ficus trees. They’re spread out all over your offices. One is right outside your dressing room,” I informed her.
“Yeah, I just can’t get this thought out of my head. I—I—”
“What is it?” Lindsay asked between sips.
“The ficus he bought looks like that one over there,” I pointed toward a tightly pruned example standing between matching Mark Rothko lithographs hung in the foyer.
“No, still haven’t noticed them.”
“I have. The ficus is the most popular indoor plant species in North America.”
“Good to know,” Lindsay half-whispered. “Another, sir,” she ordered in a heavier voice. Then she flicked her wrist to make ice clink together in her empty glass. Tambourine bracelets jangled half-way down her forearm. She kept screaming her thoughts at me.
“I can hear you. Come on, stop it,” I plead, taking her glass.
“Fine. Tell me more about this fucking plant.”
“It’s really a tree,” I countered. I stopped myself from telling her about Bangkok and the nine million people there who agree with me. I put fresh ice in her glass and splashed gin on the cubes before emptying the Coke can into her drink. “Here,” I handed her the glass.
“Come, sit down and tell me more,” Lindsay made her initial move. She landed on my suite's nine person wide couch and set her glass on the table. I took my drink over and settled far enough away to notice Lindsay buttoned her blouse until just about the middle of her chest. “Talk plant to me, I like how deep your voice has gotten,” Lindsay whispered, getting closer. Lindsay smelled nice despite the alcohol murdering her breath.
“The species of ficus in your office is called the benjamina. The ficus bejamina. Isn’t that pretty?”
“Sounds like a girl’s name.”
“That’s what’s been stuck in my head. Benjamina does sound like a girl’s name, right? But, Benjamina doesn’t sound like the name of a normal girl. It’s not a Jane or a Susan or—”
“That’s not what I mean, but, yeah, I guess you’re right. Benjamina isn’t a normal name. The kind of girl named Benjamina wouldn’t be an average girl.” I tried picturing the face of the woman who saved me in the pool. Still nothing.
“Benjamina . . . Sad girl name,” Lindsay piped in.
“Another name for the ficus is ‘the weeping fig.’ Botanists agree with you, I guess.”
“The weeping fig,” Lindsay repeated, managing to make unsexy words purr. I took a long drink to hush her thoughts. She kept asking for the same thing. “I like it: the weeping fig. It’s kind of pretty.”
“I do, too," I agreed. "It’s beautiful."
Lindsay smiled and bit my earlobe. She told me to keep talking and kissed my neck. I hadn’t thought about sex since Uncle Ron gave me mouth to mouth. Hearing other people’s sex thoughts made me not need my own.
“The weeping fig,” I said trying to focus, “reminds me of you. You’re a Benjamina.”
Lindsay pulled away from me. “The fuck does that mean?”
“I look at you and see a weeping fig. In living rooms and doctor’s offices and waiting areas and airports you’re sulking, there on everyone’s TV. Wardrobe and makeup cover how you’re sulking right in front of them. But, I noticed. You’re sad, but you’re trying not to be. It’s one of the things I like about watching your show,” I said.
Lindsay shoved me, knocking the high ball glass out of my hand. My drink splashed on the white rug, but the glass bounced and landed right-side up. I stared at the glass until I decided it was another thing that reminded me of Lindsay Corcoran.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry, Lindsay. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Lindsay grabbed my hair and kissed around my mouth and bit my lips shut. “You want to apologize?” she panted. “You want to fucking apologize? Apologize.” She crowded my head with begging. “You know what I want,” Lindsay groaned before laying her flat, dry tongue on mine.
“Don’t make me do that,” I plead. She straddled me and rubbed my face into her cleavage. I breathed through my nose. Lindsay kissed me again, clicking our teeth together.
“You know I know you want it,” she slurred.
I pulled Lindsay away and studied her face. Even under shadowy dimmed lights with smeared make-up, she still looked like the person on TV. Lindsay Corcoran had a camera-ready face she’ll maintain through diets and Botox and subtle face lifts and Vaseline caked camera lenses for decades.
“Do it for me,” she said. “Please.”
“Okay,” I gave in. “Okay. Just stop.”
Lindsay smiled for me and got ready. I pulled an open hand down from high above my head and slapped her left cheek hard enough to leave a red palm print behind.
“Again,” she wanted. And I did it again.
Anthony Parker is a Southern California-based fiction writer. He has a creative writing master's degree from Cal State Los Angeles.