On a road trip with just a change of underwear, some stretch pants and an untuned guitar, she forgets her book on the nightstand and has to borrow her daughter’s toothbrush.
When I totaled my car I had, in my trunk, a large produce box full of pornographic magazines published in the the late eighties and a worn-out flannel night shirt. The box had been stowed there months before after Eric, who had got it off another cook, and Jovita brought it over to our apartment. We had dug in full of pervy mischief, running a constant stream of editorial comments about dated hairstyles and props. It was the Fourth of July weekend and Marye Margaret was with us as she always was back then. She pointed out the vegetable graphics on the cardboard and took to calling the haul “porn on the cob.” After a day or two we lost interest and I threw it in the trunk of my car next to the torn nightshirt, the origins of which, and how it came to be there, are still a mystery.
Marye Margaret had slipped so thinly into our young marriage I couldn’t have anticipated the ruckus her departure would later cause. Before we’d known her too long she was already fielding the back porch physics conversations I so dreaded while I hid in my room working on what I naively thought would be my first novel. I suppose it should have been a red flag that we needed a third person to flesh out our deficiencies. But there it was. She made me feel important and clever and ate my terrible cooking with a noisy gratitude. She laughed easily and often and she would go with me to see bands.
The afternoon I crashed Marye Margaret was riding shotgun. She was moving to Madison the next morning and we were speeding down the road in a futile effort to out-pace our pending lonesomeness when I drove head long into the broad side of the old guy’s van following his illegal left turn. When you watch a wreck like that in slow motion with the sound down there’s a sort of beautiful symmetry informed by physical laws, like a body parting water. But in real time it was a noisy and frightening mess. On the curb after the event, after we ascertained that all our parts still moved and spoke with the police, after we begged a call off the kid at the Der Weinersnitchel, we waited for my cousin Billy. He lived close enough to pick us up, though by then we were complete foreigners to one another. I could barely ever pull together two things to say to him before we fell into our routine and adamant silence, this boy with whom I’d run dirt roads and even practiced a little at kissing. He seemed knotted up in a secret rage I couldn’t access and didn’t want to anyhow. When he came for us he grunted and I climbed quietly into the cab of his pickup, my right leg pressed reassuringly along Marye’s, my face still stinging from the punch of the airbag. I tried not to think about my ruined car and banged up body. Tried not to think about how it would appear to the wrecking crew when the only things discovered in the trunk were porn and a torn nightgown. Tried not to cry about my stupid friend stupid leaving my stupid marriage that couldn’t quite gather enough momentum.
Instead, I thought about how Billy had a laminated heat-sensitive photo of a woman wearing lingerie hanging from his rearview mirror and I supposed, as the tow truck dragged my totalled car past, that if it were warm enough her underwear would just disappear. I tapped it and set it to swinging, then pressed my palms around it, but I was still too cold from all the spent adrenaline. I leaned forward and breathed long, hot breaths on her until finally her panties faded and the sob in Marye’s throat surfaced and burst into a thousand little bits of laughter.