by P. S. Ehrlich
“Hi hi hi, and thank you for that
applause, considering I haven’t done anything yet except
appear before you as my knockdown-gorgeous teenage self
[pose]. My name is Skeeter Kitefly, and
speaking of famous tennis players, I was up extremely late
last night (whoooop)—
“Actually, I was watching this old Hitchcock
movie called Strangers on a Train, about these two guys
who don’t know each other. Now that I’ve ruined
the plot for you, I’ll go on with my joke. (It will too
be a joke, a hilarious joke; Bjorn Borg laughed at it, and
he’s a famous tennis player. You don’t believe
me? You can look it up: fa-mous ten-nis
“You know who else is a hunk is Farley
Granger. That’s right! Sounds like a farmboy,
doesn’t he? Out there with the alfalfa and buckwheat and
other Little Rascals. Well, Farley’s one of the
Strangers on a Train: He plays this guy called
Guy who’s a famous tennis player and so cuuuute—he has this
dark, wavy face and these full, sensuous lips and oh! these
little white tennis shorts! To die for, and a lot
of dying goes on in this movie though none of it happens on a
train or to a tennis player.
“Actually this all happened 25 years ago, so
Farley Granger probably isn’t that much of a hunk anymore;
which only goes to show you…”
Kelly Rebecca, blue-smocked and Skeeter-nametagged,
lounged behind the register at Kleinsteins in blightiful
midtown Demortuis, killing time till college started.
Two more weeks of this meaningful ‘n’ fulfilling job at a
real-life I’m-not-kidding drugstore. And boy was this
ever one dog day afternoon.
Here because she’s here because she’s here,
three summers now; ultimately because her stepfather was the
manager and that facilitated re-entry. Which was easier
than bothering with finding something someplace else.
Skeeter’s attention span, like most of the
rest of her, was short but intense while it lasted. She
might concentrate, say, on grinning hugely at the
customers—Who Can You Freak Out? Spook this one and win
a new car! When grin-muscles start to ache, turn
to coining nicknames for the familiar irregulars:
Gunkhead, Baby Huey, Framptona, The Admiral.
“Where do you keep your sponges?” asked an old
lady all wattled and dewlapped, with bottle-bottom
spectacles. (Gertrude, maybe. Or Hortense.)
“I keep mine in Ancient Greece,”
Skeeter grinned at her, hugely.
“Oh, my! You mustn’t do that; you should
wring them out.” (Definitely Gertrude.) “What I’m
looking for is a new loofah.”
“A loofah? For your sofa? Oh, for
your bawth. Try Aisle Five. And don’t
forget: For only $1,200 more, you can get a pre-plumbed
Hot Tub delivered to your bathroom door, complete with
hydromassage booster joints!”
This last a little louder, as Definitely
Gertrude disappeared fast down Aisle Five.
Oh for a smoke. Good way to hit on
cute-guy customers: bum a fresh-bought one from them,
and if they’re truly cute—or if they smoke Pall Mall Filter
Kings and at least aren’t uggoes—try talking them into a
little something artful.
Gertrude avoided Skeeter come ring-up time,
taking her new loofah to Loretta’s register instead. Big
mistake! Too late. Served her right for coming in
at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. No escape for Gertrude
now! No need either to ask about the black-on-black
armband; Loretta would be sure to fill her in.
“Okay, show of hands—how many cried when Elvis
died? I know I did [burst out laughing].
Where I was working at the time there’s this crazy-lady
Elvis-freak who couldn’t afford to take off for Graceland
prostrate with grief, ‘cause she’d used up all her sick leave
and vacation and life savings already.
“So Loretta (not her real name—actually it
is her real name, so don’t use it when you tell this
story to your friends, okay?) so Loretta did the next best
thing, which was come to work in full mourning, and wait on
customers while singing ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ to herself.
Through her tears! Or was it ‘Love Me Tender’?
Hard to tell what she was singing, through her tears
and that big black veil; might’ve been ‘All Shook Up.’ I
know I was.
“Hey, Benjamin Franklin would’ve laughed at
that joke, and his face is on the hundred-dollar bill;
Home at last to shake the dog day blues with a
dash through the shower: hop in, hop out, drip dry, boy
howdy! Let those with eyes that can see catch a double
peepful of Skeeter Kitefly dehydrating her peachy fuzzy coif,
which unlike the rest of her was not short and which
unlike prevailing teenage fashion was only somewhat
Farrahfied. But still intense, flickering like a
flamethrower in the blowdryer while Skeeter pranced about
picking out dancin’ clothes with her free hand.
Firmly attached to bright red underwear, in
theory but not yet reality: Which to choose? Was
there a single pair she hadn’t failed to sling into the
carefully-loaded washing machine and so turn her mother’s
once-blonde hair a trifle greyer?
is my best white blouse?” her mother might demand, knowing
full well that thanks to Skeeter’s brand-new panties this best
white blouse was now blush-pink.
“Why Mother! That shade’ll look
deeLISHus on you! It’ll bring out roses in your
“I’ll put some roses in your cheeks if
it happens again!”
“That’s okay, Mom—no need to thank me.”
One of the perks of being petite was having
room to cram that much more into a standard-sized bureau
drawer. Transform it into a field of scarlet poppies,
“attractive to the eye and soothing to the smell,” each a
blossom that’ll bewitch the boys without putting them to
One a penny, two a penny: hot cross
buns. Aha! These with the pattern of tiny yellow
Tweety Pies, whose tinier-still blue eyes tawt dey taw a
puddytat. (And dey did! dey did!)
“I graduated last spring from Bonum High
School, and yes I’ve heard all the jokes, all the puns and
clever wordplay, hey: I made up a lot of ‘em myself.
“Like what’s the most popular class at Bonum
High? Advanced Voyeurism. (Lots of field
“We’re not talking extraoveractive hormones,
but over half the guys at Bonum High were named
“And yes, I dated a few of ‘em; you could even
say I dated ‘several’—(Whoooop)—that’s right! You’re
looking at a friendly ‘n’ sociable person here! I spent
4 years being a Bonum Vivant, saying ‘Hi’ to the guys in the
halls, and maybe I did jump (or pounce, more ladylike) on one
or two. I mean they had to be cute! A lady doesn’t
pounce on just any old uggo.
“My friend Tanya Totalbitch never understood
that. She’d say to me, ‘Skeeter: is there a guy in this
school you wouldn’t hit on?’ Well, that made me
indignant, so I grabbed this guy passing by that I’d never
seen before, and I told Tanya, ‘Yes! This
one! As God is my witness, I’ll never hit on this
“Then I took a closer look at him and said,
‘Oh what the hell.’
“He was a real hotshot too. His name
wasn’t Randy, it was Lank, and he liked to set things on
fire. [sing] ‘My boyfriend’s Lank and he’s
really into arson, hey la! Hey la, my boyfriend Lank!’
Made for a lot of fun dates. I’d say, ‘Let’s go out to
dinner,’ and Lank’d say, ‘Let’s BURN dinner!’…”
Dancin’ clothes: Something with a bit of
cling and slink to it, fit for the Welsh-witch dreams of
Stevie Nicks. (“Actually this dress makes Stevie look
more like me.”) Blue, no-way smocky but
marine/marine: aqua where it clung, ultra in its
wicked-twitching slink and flow. Ooh yass.
Dancin’ shoes: sandals, basically, and
not too much heel. No falling off these puppies while
doing the Hustle or Salsa or Bump and spraining somebody
else’s ankle or kneecap or thigh.
Dancin’ makeup: no big deal, what with
Jolly Dame Nature having provided so very very much.
Just keep those Winged Monkeys flying with a little touch here
and another touch there and a shpritz of Prince
Dancin’ warmup: wheel out the TGIF
circus artillery! Bring on Kiss and The Tubes!
Breathe that fire, spit that blood, special those effects,
gusto that panache! Crank it up, and check it out, that
outRAYgeeous specTACuular music; let those with bods that can
boogie go swing it! Hit it! Knock it right out of the
park! Put your hands together and thrust your chests for
tonight’s star attraction: DOLLY-GAYLE RONSTADT!
If yew just wanna hold hands
I’ll be yer friend, o’
but oh! yer love
would choke to death
“Everybody here’s seen Star Wars,
right? Okay, how many’ve seen it half-a-dozen times and
are going again next weekend? Same here! Show of
hands—how many’s favorite character is Han Solo?
Aw-reet, mine too! I always identify with smugglers.
“My sister Sadie’s into smuggling. A few
years back she had this Portugese boyfriend who took her
backpacking up down and sideways through Portugal. While
they were doing the sideways part, she got a taste of this
fancy expensive wine called Fonseca that you’re supposed to
drink with walnuts. Good crunchy wine. Had Sadie
dancing on café tabletops. Pulling all sorts of artful
“Now, you can’t get this stuff from Boone’s
Farm. So here’s Sadie in the customs line, trying to
smuggle home a couple of fancy expensive bottles of Fonseca
and acting oh-so-nonchalant but all the while absolutely
spooked with dread at the idea of ending up in a
Portugese women’s prison (yuggh).
“I wasn’t there to advise her; she didn’t have
Han Solo or Chewbacca for moral support—not even Chewbacca!—so
finally Sadie compromised. She stashed the bottles and
smuggled just the corks.
“Tried to hide ‘em down her front [coyly
demonstrate] but she had to go put on a bigger bra
God (hee hee!) Sadie would track her down and
kill her dead if she ever heard that one. Wasn’t even
all that true: Sadie was no flattie, just a
bit—wiry. But one of the perks of having a creative
license was being able to improve on reality.
Skits, spoofs, and humorous vignettes: a
shortening attention span. Intense while it
lasted. Why trudge through all the scene-blocking
line-conning unspontaneous overrehearsedness of sitdown
drama—as opposed to standup comedy! Hijinks off the top
of your head! The look of Monty Python, the feel of
Saturday Night Live, the spur-of-the-moment improv of
Second City—and the homegrown equivalent awaiting her at
college: Nilnisi’s Nothingbutt Theater, whose company
Skeeter aspired to join. Local girl makes it up good as
she goes along!
Anything for a laugh. Ad-lib skits and
spoofs, slapstick and sight gags; quick, brisk, soon over and
done with, so on to the rampaging cast party. Make the
greasepaint roar! Why “break a leg” when you can break
‘em both? Get those people grinning hugely!
“My sister Sadie’ll do just about anything to
have a good time, and that includes drug-smuggling.
Starting with those Fonseca corks, she went right on to the
hard stuff—cherry-flavored cough syrup. (My personal
favorite.) She still has trouble smuggling bottles, but
now she throws away the caps and pours the cough syrup down
her front. (Hey, try it some time; it feels so
“Sadie’s my role model, but I’m not much of a
smuggler yet. To do it right you’ve got to travel, see
other lands, big cities! Big mountains! Big
oceans! Take one of those grand tour package dealies,
and rip off the Crowned Heads of Europe.
“The only place I got to go last summer was
Mime Camp. You know, at that famous theme park Marcel
Marceauland, where on the roller coaster they all go
[pantomime scream]. I got kicked out of Mime Camp
for refusing to take off my Ray-Bans. They said aviator
shades ‘dissipated the ambiance.’ Well, they didn’t
say that, of course, they went [mime trapped in
glass box], but you could tell what they meant.
“And all along I was just trying to spare
them, like I’ve been trying to spare you [whip off
glasses] THE SCORCHING BRILLIANCE OF MY SUNSPOT-BABY-BLUE
EYES! [reel about grimacing, as though blinded by
flashbulbs]. Hey, with eyes like mine, you can see
all sorts of nasty-nasty things [peer at audience]
Hot August night, spoiling for a
thundersquall, all of Elmer’s windows cranked open driving
hither to yon. Fooling around till it got dark, till the
air got electrified by silent lightning flashes, and the wind
came wailing through the car: See you in heaven,
kid! Getting there’s half the fun!
Make that two-thirds—make that
The rush, the roar of planes trains and
automobiles, the heavy metal boffola! Excitement since
earliest childhood, right down unto the latest
va-va-varoom. Picking up the gang, hard-partiers
all, each on pleasure bent with a sixpack or bottle of Jack or
half a lid of puffy stuff: bring on the night!
And in it charged! A
windy howl, blowing up Skeeter’s Farrahfications layer by
layer into a peachy fuzzy mushroom cloud, rising, twining,
undulating: “Medusa you say!”
But Skeeter a gorgon? Just look at that
face, deeLISHus round winsome pink peeping out of the
boy-howdy cloud; how could it petrify anybody? Then look
again at the abruptly-pointed chin, the tipped-up buttony
nose, and listen to the peals of cacklelaughter—oh my God she
was a witch! Beware, lest she turn you all into
newts! Who could say a house wasn’t being dropped on her
sister at this very moment?
O sassy saucy sorcery, bringing out the Salsa
in your cheeks, the Disco-Ducking in your butt: Gonna
fly now! Getting high now! Don’t think we’re in Nilnisi
anymore—we must be up inside a cyclone, riding round and round
that dizzifying carousel as the baaaand plaaaays onnnn—
So close your eyes, my child, be in tune with
the infinite; a little touch here, another touch there, and
what do you get but one fine gold-hatted high-bouncing Winged
And why stop at one? Make that two or
three—make that three or four—
“There’s this guy (not Guy; the other
guy, Bruno you know) in Strangers on a Train who has
these wonderful theories about how you should do EVERYthing
before you die. Get into all kinds of escapades, be
terribly irresponsible; drive a car blindfolded at 150 miles
an hour. My kind of guy.
“Even if he isn’t as cute as Farley Granger,
and even though he does strangle this girl at an amusement
“Oh her glasses, did I mention her
glasses? I must tell you about her glasses. The
terribly irresponsible guy says [suave Robert Walker
voice] ‘Is your name Miriam?’ and the amusement-park girl
goes, ‘Why yes, how did you AWKKGGH—’ [throttle
self]. She drops her glasses, and you see her being
strangled in them. Now, that’s how I’d like to be choked
to death—so I wouldn’t miss any of it, and feel left out.
“Is there anything about Strangers on a
Train I haven’t given away yet? Oh, the
ending: the merry-go-round breaks down, just like in the
cartoon song. [sing] ‘You feel so
looney-tuney, with Farley in your head; anyone for tennis? I
think I’ll go to bed’…”
Déjà vu and me want-to-go home.
(I mean, what with Déjà being so
irresistibly cute and all…)
Perhaps she was a wee bit
pie-eyed—Tweety Pie-eyed, in fact (I did tee a
puddytat!)—but Skeeter had a distinct impression of having
done all this before, once upon a time. Sloshing home
through the rain to find none other than Sister Sadie on
sentinel duty, waiting up in a chair opposite the front
Sadie hadn’t done that (if she ever had) for a
long time now, not least because she hadn’t lived here for the
past 5 years. First college, then art school, with time
off trotting the globe on student-discount rates: Portugal,
Italy, Australia, the Caribbean. Back to Demortuis only
for the occasional holiday, and today wasn’t that
Could she have come back to wreak revenge for
that harmless little cork-joke Skeeter hadn’t even told
anybody yet? Possibly: There were pins and needles
in Sadie’s eyes, which seldom boded any good. So pale in
the face that her freckles seemed to hover like a granulated
aura. A Pippi Longstocking apparition: Pippi goes
to the South Seas and turns into a wire-eyed zombie!
The sisters stared at each other, pins versus
pies, till Skeeter got gigglefitty and said, “This is really
fun! Let’s do this all night!” At which point
Sadie’s wiry expression went awry; up she jumped and off she
ran toiletwards, with Skeeter wobbling after.
Not a year seemed to go by without Skeeter
catching someone in the act of upchuck. (Excuse
me: the act of upcharles.) “Is it me?” she
wondered aloud while Sadie heaved away. “My breath? body odor?
bellybutton lint?… Boy, this brings back memories.
‘Member that New Year’s Eve, Sadie, when the clock struck
midnight and you had to go puke? Or maybe that was
me. Or maybe it was both of us, taking turns at the
“Will you shut UP??” Sadie
interjected. “God, this is awful.”
“Artful,” Skeeter corrected.
“I think I’m pregnant.”
“You always think that, every time you
“Well this time I’m sure—I have reason
to believe it, okay? God (shniff) what am I going to
“You could flush it.”
“You mean abortion?”
“I mean the john. One step at a
time.” By way of demonstration, Skeeter’s aqua backside
slid off the tub-edge to go plump on the floor.
“Owwwwwww, FUH—arley Granger!… Guess I better watch my mouth,
in case I become an auntie.”
Sadie laughed, though not for long.
Laugh, then spit; look ready to retch again, but turn instead
to crawl across the tiles and be enfolded.
Role model Mercedes, Madwoman to sidekick
Skeeter’s Madgirl, crying that she couldn’t have a
baby, she was an art student, what would she do
Hey it occurred to Skeeter, maybe this
was all a really weird dream, and they’d wake up and—wait a
minute—who’d be waking? Was she a guest in Sadie’s
dream, or the other way around? Let’s find out with a
“Ow!” Sadie squealed. “Who do you think
you’re pinching, squirt?”
Both still here on the bathmat.
So this was reality.
Improve on it, then.
“What happened was my sister took this economy
cruise to the Caribbean, right? And the very first night
she jumped (excuse me, pounced) in the sack with this
Ramon-like individual who had a dark, wavy face and full,
sensuous lips that she’d never seen before or since,
and whose last name she didn’t even catch. And two
months later there were Consequences.
“Morning sickness, pickle cravings, the whole
(you should pardon the expression) enchilada.
“Then it was week after week of
should-she/shouldn’t-she, which isn’t as fun a game as Who Can
You Freak Out?, which Sadie won anyway when she told our
“She put off having an abortion till it was
too late; then she put off deciding whether to give it up for
adoption till that was too late, ‘cause she had this
beautiful little girl with a dark, wavy face and—well, you
fill in the rest.
“So now Sadie’s a Mommy, and I’m an Auntie,
and we have this permanent person to play Pong with.
She’s a smart little baby, too; knows how to have a rockin’
good time already, and cries along with The BeeGees.
“Sadie named her Desirée. I think that
is so COOwull, being named after a famous streetcar like