Chapter 8

IN SOUTH AMERICA, Land of Enchantment, we could be wading in a river where tiny fish will swim up Tyler's urethra. The fish have barbed spines that flare out and back so once they're up Tyler, the fish set up housekeeping and get ready to lay their eggs. In so many ways, how we spent Saturday night could be worse.
"It could've been worse," Tyler says, "what we did with Marla's mother."
I say, shut up.
Tyler says, the French government could've taken us to an underground complex outside of Paris where not even surgeons but semiskilled technicians would razor our eyelids off as part of toxicity testing an aerosol tanning spray.
"This stuff happens," Tyler says. "Read the newspaper."
What's worse is I knew what Tyler had been up to with Marla's mother, but for the first time since I've known him, Tyler had some oval play money. Tyler was making real bucks. Nordstrom's called and left an order for two hundred bars of Tyler's brown sugar facial soap before Christmas. At twenty bucks a bar, suggested retail price, we had money to go out on Saturday night. Money to fix the leak in the gas line. Go dancing. Without money to worry about, maybe I could quit my job.
Tyler calls himself the Paper Street Soap Company. People are saying it's the best soap ever.
"What would've been worse," Tyler says, "is if you had accidentally eaten Marla's mother."
Through a mouthful of Kung Pao Chicken, I say to just shut the hell up.
Where we are this Saturday night is the front seat of a 1968 Impala sitting on two flats in the front row of a used-car lot. Tyler and me, we're talking, drinking beer out of cans, and the front seat of this Impala is bigger than most people's sofas. The car lots up and down this part of the boulevard, in the industry they call these lots the Pot Lots where the cars all cost around two hundred dollars and during the day, the gypsy guys who run these lots stand around in their plywood offices smoking long, thin cigars.
The cars are the beater first cars kids drive in high school: Gremlins and Pacers, Mavericks and Hornets, Pintos, International Harvester pickup trucks, lowered Camaros and Dusters and Impalas. Cars that people loved and then dumped. Animals at the pound. Bridesmaid dresses at the Goodwill. With dents and gray or red or black primer quarter panels and rocker panels and lumps of body putty that nobody ever got around to sanding. Plastic wood and plastic leather and plastic chrome interiors. At night, the gypsy guys don't even lock the car doors.
The headlights on the boulevard go by behind the price painted on
the Impala-big wraparound Cinemascope windshield. See the U.S.A. The price is ninety-eight dollars. From the inside, this looks like eightynine cents. Zero, zero, decimal point, eight, nine. America is asking you to call.
Most of the cars here are about a hundred dollars, and all the cars have an "AS IS" sales agreement hanging in the driver's window.
We chose the Impala because if we have to sleep in a car on Saturday night, this car has the biggest seats.
We're eating Chinese because we can't go home. It was either sleep here, or stay up all night at an after-hours dance club. We don't go to dance clubs. Tyler says the music is so loud, especially the base tracks, that it screws with his biorhythm. The last time we went out, Tyler said the loud music made him constipated. This, and the club is too loud to talk, so after a couple of drinks, everyone feels like the center of attention but completely cutoff from participating with anyone else.
You're the corpse in an English murder mystery.
We're sleeping in a car tonight because Marla came to the house and threatened to call the police and have me arrested for cooking her mother, and then Marla slammed around the house, screaming that I was a ghoul and a cannibal and she went kicking through the piles of Reader's Digest and National Geographic, and then I left her there. In a nutshell.
After her accidental on-purpose suicide with Xanax at the Regent Hotel, I can't imagine Marla calling the police, but Tyler thought it would be good to sleep out, tonight. Just in case.
Just in case Marla burns the house down.
Just in case Marla goes out and finds a gun.
Just in case Marla is still in the house.
Just in case.
I try to get centered:

Watching white moon face The stars never feel anger Blah, blah, blah, the end
Here, with the cars going by on the boulevard and a beer in my hand in the Impala with its cold, hard Bakelite steering wheel maybe three feet in diameter and the cracked vinyl seat pinching my ass through my jeans, Tyler says, "One more time. Tell me exactly what happened."
For weeks, I ignored what Tyler had been up to. One time, I went with Tyler to the Western Union office and watched as he sent Marla's mother a telegram.
Tyler had showed the clerk Marla's library card and signed Marla's name to the telegram order, and yelled, yes, Marla can be a guy's name sometimes, and the clerk could just mind his own business.
When we were leaving the Western Union, Tyler said if I loved him, I'd trust him. This wasn't something I needed to know about, Tyler told me and he took me to Garbonzo's for hummus.
What really scared me wasn't the telegram as much as it was eating out with Tyler. Never, no, never had Tyler ever paid cash for anything. [,or clothes, Tyler goes to gyms and hotels and claims clothing out of the lost and found. This is better than Marla, who goes to Laundromats to steal jeans out of the dryers and sell them at twelve dollars a pair to those places that buy used jeans. Tyler never ate in restaurants, and Marla wasn't wrinkled.
'For no apparent reason, Tyler sent Marla's mother a fifteen-pound box of chocolates.
Another way this Saturday night could be worse, Tyler tells me in the Impala, is the brown recluse spider. When it bites you, it injects not just a venom but a digestive enzyme or acid that dissolves the tissue around the bite, literally melting your arm or your leg or your face. Tyler was hiding out tonight when this all started. Marla showed up at the house. Without even knocking, Marla leans inside the front door and shouts, "Knock, knock."
I'm reading Reader's Digest in the kitchen. I am totally nonplussed.
Marla yells, "Tyler. Can I come in? Are you home?"
I yell, Tyler's not home.
Marla yells, "Don't be mean."
By now, I'm at the front door. Marla's standing in the foyer with a Federal Express overnight package, and says, "I needed to put something in your freezer."
I dog her heels on the way to the kitchen, saying, no.
She is not going to start keeping her junk in this house.
"But Pumpkin," Marla says, "I don't have a freezer at the hotel, and you said I could."
No, I did not. The last thing I want is Marla moving in, one piece of crap at a time.
Marla has her Federal Express package ripped open on the kitchen table, and she lifts something white out of the Styrofoam packing peanuts and shakes this white thing in my face. "This is not crap," she says. "This is my mother you're talking about so just fuck off."
What Marla lifts out of the package, it's one of those sandwich bags of white stuff that Tyler rendered for tallow to make soap.
"Things would've been worse," Tyler says, "if you'd accidentally eaten what was in one of those sandwich bags. If you'd got up in the middle of the night
sometime, and squeezed out the white goo and added California onion soup mix and eaten it as a dip with potato chips. Or broccoli."
More than anything in the world right then, while Marla and I were standing in the kitchen, I didn't want Marla to open the freezer.
I asked, what was she going to do with the white stuff?
"Paris lips," Marla said. "As you get older, your lips pull inside your mouth. I'm saving for a collagen lip injection. I have almost thirty pounds of collagen in your freezer."
I asked, how big of lips did she want?
Marla said it was the operation itself that scared her.
The stuff in the Federal Express package, I tell Tyler in the Impala, that was the same stuff we made soap out of. Ever since silicone turned out to be dangerous, collagen has become the hot item to I gave injected to smooth out wrinkles or to puff up thin lips or weak chins. The way Marla had explained it, most collagen you get cheap from cow fat that's been sterilized and processed, but that kind of cheap collagen doesn't last very long in your body. Wherever you get injected, say in your lips, your body rejects it and starts to poop it out. Six months later, you have thin lips, again.
The best kind of collagen, Marla said, is your own fat, sucked out of your thighs, processed and cleaned and injected back into your lips, or wherever. This kind of collagen will last.
This stuff in the fridge at home, it was Marla's collagen trust fund. Whenever her mom grew any extra fat, she had it sucked out and packaged. Marla says the process is called gleaning. If Marla's mom doesn't need the collagen herself, she sends the packets to Marla. Marla never has any fat of her own, and her mom figures that familial collagen would be better than Marla ever having to use the cheap cow kind.
Streetlight along the boulevard comes through the sales agreement m the window and prints "AS IS" on Tyler's cheek.
"Spiders," Tyler says, "could lay their eggs and larva could tunnel, under your skin. That's how bad your life can get."
Right now, my Almond Chicken in its warm, creamy sauce tastes like something sucked out of Marla's mother's thighs.
It was right then, standing in the kitchen with Marla, that I knew what Tyler had done.
And I knew why he sent candy to Marla's mother.
I say, Marla, you don't want to look in the freezer.
Marla says, "Do what?"
"We never eat red meat," Tyler tells me in the Impala, and he can't use chicken fat or the soap won't harden into a bar. "The stuff," Tyler says, "is making us a fortune. We paid the rent with that collagen."
I say, you should've told Marla. Now she thinks I did it.
"Saponification," Tyler says, "is the chemical reaction you need to make good soap. Chicken fat won't work or any fat with too much salt.
"Listen," Tyler says. "We have a big order to fill. What we'll do is send Marla's mom some chocolates and probably some fruitcakes."
I don't think that will work, anymore.
Long story short, Marla looked in the freezer. Okay, there was a little scuffle, first. I try to stop her, and the bag she's holding gets dropped and breaks open on the linoleum and we both slip in the greasy white mess and come up gagging. I have Marla around the waist from behind, her black hair whipping my face, her arms pinned to her sides, and I'm saying over and over, it wasn't me. It wasn't me.
I didn't do it.
"My mother! You're spilling her all over!"
We needed to make soap, I say with my face pressed up behind her car. We needed to wash my pants, to pay the rent, to fix the leak in the gas line. It wasn't me.
It was Tyler.
Marla screams, "What are you talking about?" and twists out of her skirt. I'm scrambling to get up off the greased floor with an armful of Marla's India cotton print skirt, and Marla in her panties and wedgie Feels and peasant blouse throws open the freezer part of the fridge, and inside there's no collagen trust fund.
There's two old flashlight batteries, but that's all.
"Where is she?"
I'm already crawling backwards, my hands slipping, my shoes slipping on the linoleum, and my ass wiping a clean path across the dirty Moor away from Marla and the fridge. I hold up the skirt so I don't Dave to see Marla's face when I tell her.
The truth.
We made soap out of it. Her. Marla's mother.
Soap. You boil fat. You mix it with lye. You get soap.
When Marla screams, I throw the skirt in her face and run. I slip. I run.
Around and around the first floor, Marla runs after me, skidding m the corners, pushing off against the window casings for momentum. Slipping.
Leaving filthy handprints of grease and floor dirt among the wallpaper flowers. Falling and sliding into the wainscoting, getting back up, running.
Marla screaming, "You boiled my mother!"
Tyler boiled her mother.
Marla screaming, always one swipe of her fingernails behind me.
Tyler boiled her mother.
"You boiled my mother!"
The front door was still open.
And then I was out the front door with Marla screaming in the doorway behind me. My feet didn't slip against the concrete sidewalk, and I just kept running. Until I found Tyler or until Tyler found me, and I told him what happened.
With one beer each, Tyler and I spread out on the front and back seats with me in the front seat. Even now, Marla's probably still in the house, throwing magazines against the walls and screaming how I'm a prick and a monster twofaced capitalist suck-ass bastard. The miles of night between Marla and me offer insects and melanomas and flesh-eating viruses. Where I'm at isn't so bad.
"When a man is hit by lightning," Tyler says, "his head burns down to a smoldering baseball and his zipper welds itself shut."
I say, did we hit bottom, tonight?
Tyler lies back and asks, "If Marilyn Monroe was alive right now, what would she be doing?"
I say, goodnight.
The headliner hangs down in shreds from the ceiling, and Tyler says, "Clawing at the lid of her coffin."

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