“Guests”

I was talking with the woman I call my wife because that’s what she is most of the time. Love on, love off. Her face is too complicated to be beautiful, and her toothbrush has bad breath, but her body’s only slightly warped by age. Never mind me. We never do. Let’s just say I’m too old to dream of levitation anymore.

We were driving to the Bastards, old friends we hadn't seen in a while. My wife was behind the wheel. “I can still drive,” I explained after my license was revoked. “I just can’t be pulled over.” But my wife is so generous, always embarrassed on my behalf, that she wouldn't let me.

She checked her makeup in the rearview mirror. “What do you think the Bastards are in the mood for tonight?”

“Just drinks, and I hope their daughter’s not home.” I sucked on the insides of my cheeks. “Last time, she showed us all kinds of rude.”

“That’s because she was undergoing transformation,” my lady wifed at me. “Now I hear her boyfriend has a boyfriend.”

“Yeah, well, bisexuality doesn't actually make you twice as interesting.” What the hell did I know? We pulled into the Bastards’ gravel driveway and killed the engine.

Inside, the Bastards greeted us like long-lost idiot cousins. A back-slapping “How ya doin’?” from Ronny Bastard, and a high-pitched “Good to see ya!” from his wife, Betsy.

We started one of those conversations that backs the wallpaper of our lives: weather, health, light entertainment.

We were handed margarita-mix margaritas and motioned to a couch near a basket of stale tortilla chips. We sipped and crunched. Remember that time at Logan’s Beach? I don’t think that cop ever filed a report. Ten years ago, maybe more. Too many long-term friendships, all they have left is rehash.

After an unsuitable pause, the Bastards’ daughter came out, practically holding hands with herself. Margaret, Maggie, Peg? She’s been all of those.

She was wearing youth’s uniform, a tight top and tighter jeans. An outrageous perfume wafted over us, or maybe just the sweet stink of transgression. “So,” she grinned, “what’s new with Gina?”

Gina’s our daughter, early twenties, about the same age as Maggie. I shrugged. My wife spread her empty hands like a publicist with nothing to publicize.

But that just spurred Maggie on—splayed on her chair like a floor show that never got off the ground. She’s so shameless, it’s shameful. “Gina still out there somewhere? We all miss her.”

“Who wants to know?” My wife always says the wrong thing at parties. That’s part of her charm.

“Probably a whole bunch of us.” Maggie leered. “I remember one time . . . .”

My wife excused herself and headed to what I call the porcelain room. For some reason, I remembered taking Gina, aged five, into the men’s public bathroom. I recalled other things, too.

Gina, our bright girl: At age seven, she memorized her mother in case the poor woman ever got lost. As a teenager, she went from fundamentalism to Unitarianism to agnosticism to atheism in the space of ten months, and then didn't believe what anyone said. “If God’s omniscient, what does praying do?” she asked me. “‘I know,’ God must say. ‘I know, I know.’” Last we heard, she was apprenticed to a biophysicist, researching the half-life of mucus. The truth? We think she works in some kind of spa. She hasn't contacted us in two years.

More margaritas, less chips. I got the kind of drunk like when you try to light a cigarette with your cell phone. At least I’m not yet at the age when you misspell your own name a lot, though I know that’s coming. When my old man was seventy-five, he couldn't even find his flashlight in the dark, if you know what I mean, or even if you don’t.

“You know what?” Maggie licked her lips slowly, sex staring from every window of her soul. “Gina always tasted real good. We should've stayed in touch.”

We had a long pregnant pause. Or maybe it was stillborn.

“You’re the un in unbelievable,” I finally told that girl, and almost meant it. We departed soon after, saying goodbye to the Bastards in the driveway.

Half a block later, we stopped the car. “How about a kiss?” said my wife, unbelting herself and leaning into me. “I want you to taste me.” Lime and corn, but also something sweet and salty at her core, what I’d recognize in the dark—and have, many times.

Better than sucking, I want to tell my daughter, wherever she is, on the stone of resentment.

David Galef

About David Galef

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. He has published over a dozen books, including the novel How to Cope with Suburban Stress and the short story collection Laugh Track. His newest collection, My Date with Neanderthal Woman, winner of Dzanc Books' first short story collection contest, is coming out this November.