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    on the 5ives




On Saturdays, Debra does her dad. This Saturday, she does him on the floor of her bedroom in front of the mirror. She watches herself do him. Readying, she pulls off her top, puts on a tie, twists the bottom of this tie in her fingers, goo-goos like the way her dad used to do when she was young.
      The television is where he used to do it. She does it in the mirror.
      She stands on her knees, shirtless, tie around her neck. "Mr. P," she says, small-like, "Mr. P, he my favorite." She shuffles her knees, tugs on this tie, pulls herself forward, toward the mirror. "Mr. P," she says. She raises the tie above her head, bends her neck, sticks out her tongue, plays dead.
      Mr. P is famous. Mr. P is cartoon cool.
      Every Saturday on the television, when Debra was four years old, her father came on and did his bit for Mr. P.
      One day, Debra's dad followed a girl, waited for her by her car. He's not on television anymore.
      Debra didn't watch that dad. Mom wouldn't let her. Instead, Debra does her dad in the mirror, and Mom loves it. "That's good, Debra," Mom says. "Do it again." Sometimes, Mom does Dad with Debra. Both of them take off their shirts, place a tie around their necks, do the bit. But not today. Today, it's Debra. Debra is her dad.
      Afterward, Mom and Debra hug. They do this for twenty minutes, counting. Debra likes this hugging time. She likes the way her mother's arms sag against her back, the way her mother's breath comes out hushed beneath her left ear, the way her mother's heels lean back then totter, step, step. Debra likes how when she is hugging she can feel the warmth of her brother Daniel's shoulders, of his body, his room, the warmth the day before he passed out in the kitchen, the day he decided to drop out of high school, work as a contractor's assistant, that warmth. In front of the mirror by herself, it is that kind of warmth.
      In front of the mirror, her mother in her arms, it is that kind of warmth. It is the light of a bedroom floor lamp warmth, and Debra hugs. Debra does her dad.
      Reason number one to feel sorry for Debra: Debra's dad did not have a couple hookers and a regular downtown hotel room. Debra's dad did not go into porn films or do heroin on the back lot of the movie Top Model. Debra's dad did not crash a motorbike into his neighbor's patio awning, stumble away drunk and unharmed. Debra's dad did not have an affair with a Salvadoran maid or shoot at a photographer with a crossbow. Debra's dad was not a crack-up. Debra's dad was a good man.
      Debra opens the closet behind the mirror, her hugging done. Inside, she finds not one, but six, silver shoes, a yellow sundress, two pastel nighties, and a box of crinkled-up tinsel. This is Debra's putrid life. This is reason number two to feel sorry for Debra.
      "Poor, Debra," her mother thinks, standing beside her at the closet. "Poor, poor, Debra."
      Debra believes that she lives a full and rewarding life, that sometime in the next six months she will have six more butterflies for her hair and a snowglobe with a replica of Mr. P's hometown chalet, where the birds mingle and hum as the sun goes down and the children gather to listen.
      "Poor Debra."
      Debra thinks the poor are those who do not have their own mirror or a father who used to have a kid's television show or those who leave their families to go to work overseas for two months and those who live off the welfare rolls. She thinks the poor have never seen the insides of a movie studio, can't afford make-up for their dolls, buy no toys for their children, and have no tulips in their garden come summer. The poor do not eat sweets. They watch no television. They live in cardboard boxes and eat potatoes with their hands.
      "Poor Debra."
      Debra doesn't know about the daily headline some thirteen years ago now. Debra doesn't know what happened to the girl at the car. Debra doesn't know why her dad's show was canceled. If someone were to ask her, she'd only nod, do her dad.
      What Debra knows is that "Happiness is a wet nose" and that people should "Hug a Teddy Bear" and "Smell a flower." What Debra knows is that the chocolate milk in the coffee cup she drinks from each morning is technically speaking Mom's. What Debra knows is that a career in home decorating sounds wonderful and that her favorite color is lavender and "wouldn't it go gorgeous with the drapes in the family room?"
      "Poor Debra," her mother says, but not aloud—no, not ever aloud.
      And there is much Debra's mother does not know either. She does not know that one-third of all women in the United States will be raped in her lifetime. She does not know that one-half of all marriages end in divorce. She does not know that less than fifteen percent of people living are virgins when they marry nor that one million teen-aged girls will become pregnant this year.
      What Debra's mother knows is that President John F. Kennedy is dead, died, has been dead, and so is Debra's dad. For this, Debra's mother thinks, "Poor Debra."
      Yet Debra's mom is happy. Not entirely, of course, because there are those deaths to deal with, and Mom is not entirely reconciled to that whole concept—of death, that is. Many are the days that Debra's mom thinks that Kennedy is still alive, and then she reads the morning paper—the 1963 morning paper—and starts to cry all over. Life is hard sometimes.
      In the world, there are many important things to contend with, things that prevent people from worrying about what happened to Debra's dad or about how exactly Kennedy died, things that prevent people from hugging Teddy Bears or rubbing wet noses or sticking butterflies in their hair. In the world, people don't do Debra's dad.
      Debra goes to meet her uncle in the garage where he is living. Debra goes to get her daddy's mail—the good daddy mail, the mail that her uncle has read through and approved. Debra doesn't know that she has nothing of value in her purse.
      Debra doesn't know that the picture of her dearly beloved pup of six weeks—now thirteen years gone, given away, that the happy-faced Mr. P pin her father gave her eight days before the end of his trial, that the pencil her brother used to sketch imaginary floor plans in his ninth grade binder, Debra doesn't know that all these things aren't worth the price she is paying for them.
      Something that doesn't happen when Debra visits her uncle is this. Debra's mom does not run into the garage from the rear, kitchen slaughter knife in hand. She does not stab Debra's uncle in the back under his right shoulder blade thirteen times while Debra screams. She does not call the police, sobbing over what she's done, over what's been done, over the whole mess that's now in their garage.
      By then, it would be too late, Debra already screaming. Debra would have already forgotten about dad's Mr. P pin in her purse, already forgotten about the feel of Daniel's body in hers, already forgotten about the kiss Daniel gave her on the right cheek before she dared upon the slide at five years old, already forgotten about the new butterflies she was to stick in her hair come Wednesday, already forgotten about the turtles in the photo of the ocean she keeps above her bed, already forgotten about the happy, happy song that rolls through her head in the morning, the song about love and joy and peace and all the stuff that goes down the throat with a buzz and a hum and little, pleasant jiggle. Teddy Bears would no longer satisfy, nor candy, nor mermaids painted on the walls, nor ties around the neck, nor six ballet slippers in the closet with silver tinsel all around. She'd want to know about her father at the car and about her brother collapsed on the kitchen floor. She'd want to know about what happens to a puppy when it goes bye-bye and why her father's television show is no longer on the air and how do you do that thing with your finger below your belly, and Mom would have to tell her.
      Another thing that doesn't happen when Debra visits her uncle is this. A black Doberman pinscher does not grab hold of Debra's uncle's left forearm and force him to the ground and growl and wrestle and roll with him. A black Doberman does not eat a hole in the door and squeeze its way through with its teeth a glaring mess. Debra does not pet the dog, say, "Good dog," or try to calm it down, nor does Debra scream when she sees the gash in her uncle's arm.
      Debra doesn't have a dog. Debra doesn't have any pets. Her mother will not let her. Sometimes, pets run into the street and have their tails rolled over by a Mercedes Benz. Sometimes, it's more than a tail. Sometimes, it's a stomach or a foot or a head. Sometimes, pets get skin conditions and their hair falls out and bleeding scabs cover their stomachs so that it hurts to pet them. Or they contract lung diseases and wheeze so loud that it is hard to eat one's chicken without gagging, without staring at the puppy or kitten or guppy and saying, "Poor creature. Poor, poor creature." Sometimes, they get into fights. Sometimes they get abscesses. Sometimes, they lose their teeth or an eye or a leg and one has to stare at them that way for years and years.
      Instead, Debra has thirteen stuffed animals, fluffy polyester animals with nonstick skin. Debra places these animals on her bed at night, lets them sleep around her. Her father gave her the stuffed bear when she was four. The stuffed raccoon came from Daniel when she was twelve, and the stuffed unicorn came from her mother just last month. Debra also has six-point-one stuffed animals that she purchased for herself, point-one being the rabbit's foot that Debra bought at the Hallmark store the day that she bought a card for Daniel on the day he passed out in the kitchen and had to go to the hospital to have his lungs pumped and pulled and stretched until there was nothing left in them at all.
      But Debra doesn't know about that part. Debra knows that her brother went toward the van with flashing lights and never came back. Debra knows that her brother is happy in the place where he is now. Debra knows that place is a place far, far away, where she will one day go, but not for a long, long time. Debra knows that her mom cries for this place, but Debra does not know why her mom does not go there. "It is too far away," her mother tells her. But if Daniel could do it, why could not they?
      It would be easy for Debra to ask such a question, but she does not. Her mother gives her too many hugs for her to ask questions, and too many barrettes and angels dangling from hoops and rings to put her fingers through and paper stuffing from leftover boxes and cloud-shaped pillows for her feet and soft pieces of luggage for her head.
      Debra has a job selling candy in the shopping mall downtown. She sells good candy and better candy, big candy and bigger candy, soft candy and softer candy, pink candy and pinker candy, candy with a little sugar and candy with a lot, candy with chocolate and candy with nuts, chewy candy, nonstick candy, free candy, and freer candy, candy, candy, candy. Debra likes this job and goes there everyday after Dad is done and did.
      If Debra's dad had sold candy, he would still be alive. But Debra doesn't know that.
      Debra goes to see her uncle and get her daddy's mail. Debra's uncle is a nice man, and no one would believe it if he were to go to jail.
      Poor Debra.
      If someone were to say something about Debra's uncle, that person would be accused of assaulting a nice man's reputation. That person would be vilified on talk shows, and news programs would include that person in exposes on famous liars. Sitcoms would poke fun at the person, and police dramas would use that person's ill-made accusation as a season-ending cliffhanger.
      Debra's uncle is a family man. Debra's uncle is a hospital-patient-visiting man. Debra's uncle is a donate-his-used-computer-to-the-public-school man. Debra's uncle is a give-his-last-dime-to-the-legless-poor-man-on-the-corner man. Debra's uncle is a spend-Easter-Sunday-handing-out-tortillas-to-the-hungry man.
      Debra's uncle stayed by his mother as she died of liver disease, took her into his garage apartment, paid her medical bills, rotated her body on the bed so that she would not get bed sores, emptied her latrine. Debra's uncle visited Daniel in the hospital when the air got sucked from his lungs, cried with him and then for him, opened the windows to let the shadows of the clouds cross Daniel's walls one last time.
      If Debra's uncle were on a news program, the anchors would talk of his work for an AIDS relief society and of his donations to the Muscular Dystrophy outpatients' clinic at Savannah Hospital and of his business—window washing—half of the profits of which go to Feed the Children. A news correspondent would interview him, but he would refuse to comment on his good deeds. Others would do so for him—the woman in the wheelchair at the entrance to Denny's; the man with a tube up his nose, sitting before the television in his home, his voice incomprehensible enough to need translation; the six-year-old girl at the homeless shelter—nine p.m.—in Oklahoma city. Pregnant teenagers in grocery store aisles would hear of Debra's uncle. Plastic surgeons pressing gauze to divorced women's bloody noses would hear of him. Fifteen movie executives looking for next summer's big-budget melodrama hit would hear of him. Dogs with run-over tails and cats with smashed spleens and children sucking on lollipops in the candy store's back room—they would all hear of him, and they would be inspired. A new movie next summer. Fifteen thousand extra dollars raised for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Three hundred more volunteers for the Salvation Army. A concert with Debra's uncle's name on it to raise funds for famine relief in the South Pacific. A new politics of liberation and freedom and love, love, love. The beginning of a new world.
      Debra's uncle is a man of feeling. Debra's uncle cries often. Debra's uncle spends Sundays in cathedrals and sanctuaries and churches, listening to the stories of people in pain. Debra's uncle talks of the horrors of life on earth and promises to do something about them, promises to, somehow, atone.
      Debra's uncle has a need to touch everything that is sad, but beautiful, and make it better.
      Debra's uncle cries every time he sees Debra, but Debra doesn't know why.
      Debra's uncle feels a need to lift his fingers to Debra's hair, readjust the butterfly that rests next to her left ear. Debra looks into her uncle's eyes. Debra's uncle's fingers run down her hair and onto her shoulder, down her shoulder and onto her belly. Debra sits down in her uncle's lap.
      Right now would be a good time for popcorn.
      Right now would be a good time for Debra's mother to bake some candied yams.
      Debra does her dad in her uncle's lap. Readying, she pulls off her top, puts on a tie, twists bottom of this tie in her fingers, oo-oos like the way her dad used to do when she was young. He did it in the bedroom. She does it in the garage.
      The bag has been pulled out of the cupboard, plopped into the microwave.
      Debra's mom has buttered the yams, is laying them out neatly on the casserole dish.
      Debra stands on her knees, shirtless, tie around her neck. "Mr. P," she says, small-like, "Mr. P, he my favorite." She shuffles her knees, tugs on the tie, pulls herself forward, toward her uncle. "Mr. P," she says. She raises the tie above her head, bends her neck, sticks out her tongue, plays dead.
      The popcorn beats against the side of the bag. The yams glisten in sweat, ready to be eaten.
      Debra's uncle cries, and another Saturday comes to an end.




debra does

jon davies