“Question Authority”

Amy was conceived by two irresponsible individuals, Doug and Dora, during a commercial break in Superbowl XIII. For weeks afterwards, they did nothing except nurture a sense of impending gloom. Abortion was out of the question because it was never asked.

“Biology is destiny,” muttered Doug, quoting from something he’d learned in school.

Eventually, where the bottom of Dora’s T-shirt and the top of her jeans didn’t meet was a mile of beachfront. Anticipating future growth, they moved into a slightly larger apartment. Waiting for the event was like counting to one over and over. When the infant arrived, one Tuesday at four in the morning, they called her Amy the Accident.

“She’s perfectly benign,” claimed Dora.

“Like a tumor,” said Doug.

Amy didn’t understand, but she heard, all right. She rejected the breast in favor of the bottle. She perfected an accusing stare. Evenings she spent in her high chair, flicking apple goo at the walls. Some of it stuck. Her favorite object was a bunny chew-toy that wore a look of deep concern.

At the daycare facility, she learned to get attention by tripping people. At home, she practiced what she’d learned at daycare.

As Amy grew into a toddler, Doug and Dora began to drift away from each other like two unheavenly bodies.

“Be good,” Dora told their daughter.

“Make sure someone else gets blamed,” advised Doug.

Smile and wave,” Dora whispered when Amy tried to talk to the mailman, “but don’t be too friendly. These people can’t help you.”

“Better to be pissed off than pissed on,” Doug told her after she got angry over her toilet training.

Her grandparents sent thin checks.

Doug and Dora split up when Amy was five, and she shuttled between studio apartments in Chicago and New York for the next ten years. She would lie flat on her back on the cot provided by her father in Chicago, traveling in her mind, the water stain on the ceiling the last continent before sleep. Or she would stay awake in Queens, listening to her mother on the phone, cooing to some stranger who never panned out. Another fragile day.

At ten, she looked toward cops, teachers, and doctors as authority figures who might straighten her out. One check-up with the local internist lasted a suspiciously long time. The policeman sent her home. Eventually, she became another alienated teenager, wearing a T-shirt with the message “NOT INVOLVED.” “You have an ounce of talent and a pound of brass,” declared the drama teacher, who also complimented her tits. At fifteen, in a BMW 540, she made it with three guys who called themselves lawyers and gave her a hundred-dollar bill for her pains. At sixteen, she bolted but could think of nowhere to end up. Hitching toward Vegas, she overshot to a suburb thirty miles out, populated mainly by senior citizens. The town’s main attractions were a boardwalk promenade over an artificial lake and what the oldsters called a brothel: Double Velvet, with a faded marquee sign that read, “The most delicious girls in the world!”

Amy tried to fit in, faking her age and going to work at the local industry. Her overslung figure was a metaphor for nothing but itself. The madame told her to cultivate a slightly hard‑to‑get air for better tips. So Amy learned to purse her lips and say, “I know what men like. And sometimes I give it to them.” But mostly she faced a roomful of impatient people. She specialized in vices that couldn’t be versaed. “Step on me as if you meant it,” one man told her, so she did.

It was all too, too stupid-making, though she was earning decent money. And delight needs tedium, she learned.

One night she was in that rare mood where everyone looks lovely because they’re human. An almost absurdly tall man stood drinkless at the bar. He was wearing a uniform compounded of two parts authority and one part masculine vigor, and looked like the man she’d sought in her childhood dreams. She sidled up to him, slightly tongue-tied.

“I’m.”

“You’re.”

What followed was not an important silence. His name, she eventually learned, was Daryl, and he leaned toward her like a mis-driven pole in the ground. She took him in hand.

In the bedroom, Amy knew, some men liked to talk, particularly about their wives, but Daryl was different. He was ready even before she was, his snakeskin boots off with a whuff of air that left her breathless. He put on two condoms for extra protection but seemed to be one of those men whose love goes all over the place. Long after it was time to stop, he paused.

“Sorry, you can’t have any more sex,” she told him gently. “There’s none left.” She pulled on her pair of so-tights, whereupon he began to beg.

So she did it again with him, this time without any protection, all the while wondering what the hell got into her. Was going to get into her. Had.

Zipping himself back into his uniform, he promised to return and rescue her. “From what?” she asked.

The next day, she hugged her belly before breakfast. But the hours lengthened into air as Daryl didn’t reappear. All she retained was his first name and the odor of worn boots. She tried to track him down, but her man had evaporated. Two weeks later, she began feeling nauseated. She contemplated termination but decided against it. Then she thought of her unwanted childhood and headed to the clinic for a D&C.

She still works at the Double Velvet but won’t go to bed with any man wearing boots. And when someone asks her to dress up in a uniform, she grows unaccountably shy.

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.