DISCLAIMER: X:WP characters are owned by Renaissance Pictures and whatever corporation they're in bed with right now. My only hope is that they're taking precautions. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit gained. The story is mine, so please ask permission before doing anything to it, unless you're just using it to line the litter box. Then you must seek your cat's permission.
SERIES/SEQUEL: This is number 5 in the White Trash Series. You should read the other stories first before proceeding here, otherwise it will be the literary equivalent of downing a Jagermeister shot before the beer: simply unnatural.
BETA THANKS: Thanks to Lela, a.k.a. Striney Spice.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Requiem for a Bitch
By Vivian Darkbloom


"She would of been a good woman," the Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

—Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

1. Stroll Around the Grounds Until You Feel at Home

It was a joke.

This was what she thought at first. The matron came in, and said that she would be released in a week. Sure, there would be meetings with the therapists, and the medical board, and all that, but it was pretty much a done deal. State cutbacks, the matron said. And you're an adult now. You don't need a waiver from your parents. You're free. Isn't it nice? You can get a job and an apartment and a boyfriend and you can wear whatever you want and do whatever you want and watch whatever you want on TV without Cindy Sue Deaver going nuts if it's not Full House and you can eat whatever you want and rest assured that there aren't behavior-modifying drugs in it—or are there? And the windows didn't have bars on them unless you ended up living in a real crappy, scary neighborhood. And nobody's telling you what to do. Right? Unless it's a boss or a government or a landlord.

Was the outside world really so different? she wondered. She would find out.

So they gave her money for the bus and food, and new clothes. She had to wear something "nice." Although how a beige skirt from Sears and an white blouse yellowed with age qualified as nice, she had no way of imagining. Maybe fashion had changed radically in the last 15 years, and Sears was now on par with Calvin Klein and Jordache.

The world was indeed a scary place.

She didn't say goodbye to anyone, and flipped the finger to the matron and wished death, famine, and endless curses among various inhabitants, including those who thought they had reformed her, had changed her somehow. They hadn't. Stupid fucking doctors. She dragged a small suitcase, filled mostly with packs of cigarettes and soap and towels and other stuff she swiped from the supply closet before leaving.

The bus stop was in front of some ghostly crafts store haunted with the remains of faddish hobbies. It was hot and in a fit of pique she ripped off the nylons she was wearing with the skirt, oblivious to the looks from the old lady in the crafts store, and tossed them in the trash. She rarely copped to emotions other than homicidal, spiteful glee, but she had to admit she just a bit curious to see home, and how everything had changed, and—most of all—how they would all react to her being back.

She shrugged in answer to this conversation in her head, and lit a cigarette. The bus lumbered to the curb, its doors opened, and she climbed in, glaring at the driver, daring the old man to say anything about "no smoking."

The bus let her out about three blocks from Bob's Garage, near the outskirts of town. She walked lazily down familiar streets—too familiar, she thought with disappointment. All this time, and nothing's really changed. Well, what the hell did you expect? So if that's true, Purdy—the damn idiot—should still be working at the garage. And if he's still there...the thought trailed off, mercifully. She just couldn't think about it all right now.

Nonetheless, curiosity won out, and she found herself at the garage, on the pretext of getting a Coke from the machine outside. Then she walked into the dark cavern of the garage. A pair of blue jean-ed legs sprawled out from under some ancient car. Before she could announce her presence, a pair of arms grabbed her from behind.

The world whirled around her, and she found herself sitting atop a metal toolchest and face to face with a grinning, gum-chewing, blue-eyed, androgynous angel wearing a baseball cap backward. "Hiya, baby," the Angel said, declaring her gender in a low but decidedly feminine purr.

Before she could say anything, the Angel devoured her mouth with a greedy kiss, resplendent with lots of rolling tongue, breath, and moistness. Frantic at being kissed by this freak (yes, a freak, and no, I'm not enjoying this, I can't be), she placed her hands on the hard shoulders facing hers and shoved violently.

Contact was broken. The Angel was momentarily thrown off her Zen High Horse. "What's wrong, baby? Don't pay no attention to Purdy." The dark head bobbed in the direction of the legs under the car.

"Don't pay no attention to me," Purdy echoed from under the vehicle.

It was then that she realized that she was now chewing the Angel's gum. "Ack!" she cried, and spat, sending the little gum projectile through the air and onto the dark, greasy floor.

The dark Angel was grinning at her again. Furious, she smacked the creature—hard—across the face.

Purdy groaned, whether from arousal or empathy, it could not be discerned.

It was like bitch-slapping a rock. The baseball chapeau didn't even budge. And the woman laughed heartily. "You're pretty feisty today, Gabrielle," she growled pleasantly, maneuvering an oily hand under the Sears skirt.

Somehow she escaped these foul attentions—she managed to worm around the tall woman and bolted for the exit. She snatched her suitcase from outside, and ran down the street.


The name reverberated like an engine gunned over and over.

My sister is a dyke now? Well, now, that's definitely new.

It was an intriguing homecoming for Hope Hockenberry.

Scant seconds after Hope's sudden departure from the garage, Purdy deemed it safe to emerge from his grimy underworld, where he had found himself getting steadily aroused. He had calmed himself with visions of Johnny Cash nude, and was now ready—and curious—to face the world. "What the hell was that about?" he remarked to Zina as he wheeled himself out from the car.

He stood up and saw the firefighter absently rubbing her tingling cheek. She shrugged, took off her cap, thus liberating the rest of her long hair. "I dunno. She gets awful fruity during this time of the month, if you know what I mean." Zina carefully avoided any blatant mention of tampons, menstruation, blood, female cycle, uterus—knowing that Purdy was indeed like all men and crumpled at the mere mention of the female reproductive cycle and its attendant paraphernalia.

"Before, during, and after, it seems like," he muttered. He sighed, and wiped his hands with a rag. "Anyway, thanks for helping me here, with this one." Purdy nodded at the car. "Appreciate it."

"No problem. I was dyin' to get under that hood for a long time."

"Bet you've used that line before."

She laughed, and straddled her Harley. "Later," she said with a kickstart.


2. The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Mane

The salon was called the "The Clip Club," its original owner being a disenchanted lesbian exile from Staten Island. But now the shop had passed into the hands of a permanently bitter middle-aged gay alcoholic who had never been out of Olympus County. Nonetheless, it was the best hairdressers' in the area, and Gabrielle had been getting her bangs and split ends trimmed there ever since she'd been out of high school and had finally wearied of Lila's jagged little cuts.

Hair freshly shampooed, the little poet waited patiently for her regular stylist while reading Redbook or, more precisely, carefully examining a photo layout of the latest lingerie styles for the fall. Finally, she felt a comb running through her damp locks.

"Shirley, I just need everything trimmed—" Gabrielle looked up, and jumped violently. Her regular hairdresser was not in front of her; rather, Natalie—she of the Shimmy Shack and dubious academic reputation—stood before her, twirling a pair of scissors. And dropping them, thus narrowly missing her own sandalled foot. Natalie hopped awkwardly, then grinned sheepishly. "Hi, Gabrielle."

"Uh, hi, Natalie." Her skin crawled. "Where's Shirley?"

"Trying to cash her girlfriend's welfare check."

"Again? Like she needs another tattoo!"

"Yeah. Anyway, she's out the rest of the day. But I just started working here!" Natalie smiled proudly.


"Yesterday, in fact. And, um, I'm free now, so I could do you." The ex-professor wiggled her eyebrows.

"I dunno, Natalie. It's been a while since I've let anyone else cut my hair." Protectively she clutched a sheaf of her blonde hair. She wouldn't even let Zina trim her hair. Especially not switchblade-enamored Zina.

"Come on, Gabrielle. I'm trying to behave myself now. I'm not stripping, I'm not harassing anyone. I mean, look at me. I'm just trying to make a living here." She pouted in a fairly effective manner. "I think everyone deserves a second chance, don't you?" she threw in plaintively.

Oh damn. Gabrielle's shrug was more of a massive, neurotic body twitch. "Yeah, I guess." Can't argue with that. It wouldn't be fair. Zina got a second chance, and a third, and a fourth, and then a lot of parole time. "Okay, Natalie," she sighed.

The former stripper grinned with delight. "Wonderful!" She walked behind Gabrielle, and gently ran her hands through the poet's wet hair. "I really appreciate this," she purred.

"No problem." Gabrielle shifted nervously in her seat. "I just want it trimmed, okay?"

"Uh-huh." The tips of Natalie's fingers gently scraped against Gabrielle's temple. Then the soft pads began working their magic in earnest, exuding a delicate, massaging pressure that made the poet's body tingle and puddle into mushy nothingness.

"Feel good?" Natalie's voice dropped an octave, and Gabrielle's flooded senses grabbed at the deep tones like a life preserver, mistaking the huskiness for Zina's own rich burr.

"Mmmm, yeah, baby." Gabrielle's own voice fell into a low Austin Powers intonation.

"I knew you'd like that." The voice burrowed into even sweeter depths.

Before Gabrielle knew it, someone sounding like Barry White was telling her that she needed a new hairstyle: "Uh-huh. Child, I bet you've had this same style since you were in middle school. And all through high school. Didn't you? You had this hairstyle when you smoked your first joint. You had this hairstyle when you flunked your first French test. You had this hairstyle when you lost your virginity to that boyfriend of yours in the bed of his pickup truck, with your head banging against the thin dirty blanket where his dog usually slept and which barely cushioned the metal, in time to the AC/DC blaring from the tape deck while you were secretly thinking of Kate Jackson. Am I right or am I right, girlfriend?"

As Gabrielle exited the salon, she couldn't stop running her hands through her hair: It was so…short. She had awakened from a brief, bleary state of unconsciousness to the sight of herself, in the mirror, with this dashing little pixie haircut. "I only know one style," Natalie had said afterward, in an attempt at an apology, and pointed feebly at her own head.

Gabrielle rushed down the sidewalk in an anxious haze. How I love your hair, Zina had mumbled the other night. It was the closest thing to poetry her taciturn lover had ever uttered, and there weren't even no metaphors or similes or even' fuckin' adjectives for Christ's sake but it's all I got, and now it's gone!

When she reached the garage, Purdy was sitting in his "office," watching baseball. "Purdy!" she shouted. He jumped, and started to rummage through a desk drawer.

"You damn idiot, I'm not a mugger," she snapped. "And if I were, you'd be dead by now."

He stared at her. "Gabrielle? What the hell happened to your hair?"

"I got it cut," she said defiantly, as if it had been a premeditated plan of action.

"Huh," Purdy mused. That was quick. She went, got her hair cut, and changed her clothes, he thought, taking in the short tresses, the baggy jeans, the Carhart jacket. "You're really goin' whole hog into the lesbian look, huh?"

"Not quite," she muttered. She had drawn a mental line in the sand at those funny sandals. "Where's Zina?"

"She's gone."

"Dammit, she was supposed to wait for me!" Gabrielle fumed. "I need her for the video store."

"For Blockbuster? Why?"

"Not Blockbuster. We don't go there. Cyrene says it's an evil corporation."

He frowned, confused. "If you don't go to Blockbuster…" he trailed off. And his eyes widened. "Oh Jesus," he whispered. "You don't go to…"

"Yes," replied Gabrielle solemnly. "We go to Him."

He was the Sarcastic Hippie Video Store Guy, who worked at the tiny video store in town which seemed to have no name (unlike the Clip Club). But it didn't matter, because everybody knew who Sarcastic Hippie Video Store Guy was and where he worked.

Gabrielle hated going to the "independent" (as Cyrene called it) video store by herself, because Sarcastic Hippie Video Store Guy always delighted in giving her a particularly hard time; however, he wouldn't dare do so when she was accompanied by Zina, who once, in a shameless show of prowess, bit the head off a cardboard display of Billy Crystal.

And now she had to face Him all alone.

Gabrielle spent several minutes working up the courage to approach Him all by her lonesome. She cruised the dusty aisles, pretending to look for something else in addition to the box she already clutched. She cast a glance at Him. His hippie head was bent and He looked engrossed in the copy of Spin on the counter, but she knew Him. She knew He was just trying to fake her out. He was watching her every move.

She stood at the counter, and carefully shoved the empty video carton in his direction. He did not look up.

"Long week, no see," He drawled.

Gabrielle said nothing.

Head still down, He continued: "Wild Things again?"

"No." She kicked herself mentally for responding to Him. Don't encourage Him, that's what Zina always said.

"Or is it a hard core night? Time for another chicks-with-dicks flick, maybe? You do seem inordinately fond of those. Or how about that Rashomon of the modern day porn, The Sapphic Schoolgirls of Sydney?"

She did not respond to this taunt, and was unsure of how much longer she could hold out.

"If I recall correctly, you've rented that one 23 times in the last three months."

Employing the use of her middle finger, she flicked the video box so that it rolled over right onto Spin, or more specifically, a big color photo of Korn.

He stared at it. "Beaches," he murmured aloud. Finally, he turned his blue eyes to her. And smiled. Was it a genuine smile? Or another smirk? It was hard to tell, his face was so obscured by the dark, shaggy beard. He leaned toward her, over the counter, as if ready to divulge a confession. "Every time I see this movie, I cry like a baby," he whispered in her ear.

She blinked, still wary of him. "Really?" she asked cautiously.

He nodded. She thought his eyes glistened with unshed tears. He was squishing his lips together and frowning like Tom Hanks. "Really."

Gabrielle was amazed. He is human after all! She laid a hand on the soft fur of his forearm. At that moment he reminded her of the cocker spaniel she had when she was 7. "Why? Tell me," she urged gently.

He sniffled a little. "I don't know if I can."

"Maybe you'll feel better if you tell me." She squeezed his arm.

He took a deep, steadying breath. "Because every time I see it, I realize how fucked up Barbara Hershey's career is."

Gabrielle saw the triumphant Gotcha! in his eyes, and she took the video box and rapped him—but not terribly hard—on the skull with it. "You asshole."

He straightened, startled. "Violence is not the way, Miss Hockenberry."

"You want violence? I'll give you violence. I'll go home and tell my girlfriend you bugged me and she'll twist you into a pretzel. How's that for violence?"

Girlfriend? Not…Her! He blurted fearfully, "You mean the Kansas City Bomber?" He had taken to calling Zina that ever since she came into the store one day wearing roller blades, which lead to a discourse upon the classic Raquel Welch vehicle and how it was the cornerstone of her career and undervalued for its campiness, which lead them to stare at him with even greater incomprehension than usual. He waved a hand of surrender at Gabrielle. "Okay, okay. I'm sorry. Jeez." He took the carton, padded into a back room, and reemerged with the videotape. After opening the black box and checking it, he handed it to her.

"Thanks," she grunted.

"Look, I'm glad you're at least renting something different, y'know?" he said. "It's a shitty movie, but who knows, maybe in good time you'll work your way up to better, more ambitious things. Like Orson Welles. Or foreign films. Stuff like that."

"Well," she hesitated. "I'd like to."

He actually looked pleased. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," she echoed brightly. Zina would hate it, but there was always NASCAR.

He scrutinized her while scratching his beard. "Hey, I tell you what. I'll make a list for you, of films I think you should see. Nothing too avant-garde or anything like that, but just some basic classics that you familiarize yourself with. And I'll give a discount card you can use for renting these movies. How does that sound?"

Gabrielle stared at him, touched. Wow, he's not so bad after all! "Thank you, Sarcastic Hippie Video Store Guy!"


His expression was something between a wince and a smirk. "Um, my name's Eli. Okay?"


3. Gabrielle: The Other Other Other White Meat

When Gabrielle entered the house, her first instinct was to bolt upstairs and hide in her study room for about a year, until her hair grew out. She was about the make a mad dash for the stairs when Zina emerged from the kitchen. "Hey," the firefighter greeted, blue eyes focused on the Rolling Rock bottle, "thought that was you."

The young poet and perennial student-teacher felt the sarcasm blooming within her, and even though something within her tried to staunch it, nothing could prevent its fleur du mal, a smart-ass remark, from emerging. "Yeah, I guess it could only be me, or the serial killer who has keys to our house."

It was a terrible mistake, for it drew Zina's attention from green bottle to green eyes. And the hair. Chewing her lip, Gabrielle braced for the worst.

"Your hair. You got it cut."

Gabrielle wondered if Zina got her talent for Stating the Obvious from watching—and listening to—TV sports announcers. She nodded, not sure how to read the paling color of the firefighter's blue eyes. Zina circled her like a farmer checking out a steer at the state fair. It'd been a long time since her girlfriend had really scoped her out like this and, she had to admit, she was having trouble breathing, in a good kind of way. "Well," she asked slowly, "do you like it?"

In lieu of a verbal response, Gabrielle found herself quite literally head over heels, flung over a shoulder, and staring, upside-down, at the disintegrating tag of Zina's Levis as she was hauled up the stairs.

"Comfy?" asked the firefighter.

Gabrielle pulled tentatively on the handcuffs which bound her wrists to the bedpost. Goddamn Minya. Why did she have to give these to Zina? "Yeah, I think I'm fine." Her lover had interrupted some promising foreplay to clap the cuffs on her.

"Good," Zina purred, then barked: "Now spread 'em!"

And Gabrielle did. The tip of the strap-on dildo lingered near her opening, like an unctuous, falsely modest houseguest who was secretly dying to stay for weeks, sleep in late, smoke all of your stash, permanently stain the sheets, and eat all the food in the house. But after much flailing of hips and shameless begging, Gabrielle welcomed the dildo with a graciousness that combined aspects of Donna Reed, Martha Stewart, and Doris Day.

She was close—extremely close—when Zina stopped thrusting for a moment. "Did you hear a car outside?"

"Huh? No, no. Baby, whoever it is, they'll go away," she panted.

The firefighter frowned. Her senses were on alert. "Maybe it's my mother...shit, she'll just come in, if she has her keys." Zina scowled at the insanely aroused Gabrielle. "Or if you left the door unlocked again."

"I did not leave the door unlocked!" Gabrielle snarled. However, she was terribly unsure of that fact. "Zina, please!"

"All right, all right." She picked up the pace once again, and Gabrielle's eager hips followed suit. The poet's orgasm began to build, but, once again, Zina was the school bully who smashed it to bits like an unwieldy Lego tower. "Dammit!" yelled Gabrielle, her body convulsing. "Now what?"

"I swear someone is in the house. I thought I heard something on the stairs!"

"Zina, it's probably just your mom and she knows better by now than to come into our bedroom!"

"No, she doesn't! She always forgets!" The last incident had been particularly bad, and left Cyrene babbling about a "primal scene."

"Oh God, who cares?" Gabrielle shouted. She grabbed Zina's mane of black hair in her teeth and gave a savage yank, forcing her lover's gaze back to her own. Releasing the hair with a pfft, she continued: "She's seen us fucking, and so have Hank, Ed, Effie, Boris, Lao Ma, Ming Tien, and even my idiot sister! Everyone has seen us fucking because of that stupid videotape!"


"What?" shrieked the poet in sheer exasperation.

"Have your parents seen us fucking?"

Gabrielle followed Zina's glance over to the bedroom door...which was now open. The doorframe held both her parents. Both squat little Hockenberrys looked stunned.

The firefighter answered her own question. "Guess they have now."

"Hi, Momma," Gabrielle offered the feeble greeting.

Zina sat morosely on the steps. Down the hall, Gabrielle was stationed outside the bathroom door. Her mother was barricaded inside said room, wailing uncontrollably. The poet's attempts at comfort and reason were lost in the maelstrom of grief for Gabrielle's presumed heterosexuality. Mrs. Hockenberry was a one-woman wake for perceived normalcy.

The firefighter resigned herself to the fact that the old lady would probably be in there all night, since she was so close to a toilet anyway, and probably left her extra pair of Depends in the pickup. So Zina ambled downstairs, in search of a beer, and curious as to what Gabrielle's laconic father was doing down there. Since his wife had locked herself in the room, he had only muttered, "For Christ's sake, Hermione," and wandered off downstairs.

Hockenberry pere had his bulk spread out comfortably in the couch, watching pro wrestling on TV. Zina saw nothing of her lovely girlfriend in either parent, and began to wonder if the lumpy couple had somehow conceived Gabrielle through a happy accident involving test tubes and Chemical X, as if she were one of the Powerpuff Girls.

Her arrival and observation of him did not go unnoticed. His eyes, actually made more attractive by the glow of the TV, studied her with awe.

Zina indulged in her usual gesture of discomfort: She rubbed the back of her neck. "Wanna beer?" she asked Mr. Hockenberry.

He nodded. She padded out to the kitchen, and returned with two Rolling Rocks. She handed him one. As he mumbled " 'preciate it," she sat down next to him.

He appraised her again. "Yer pretty," he mumbled.

"Thanks." She paused. "So's Gabrielle." But that goes without saying since you caught me boinking her, doesn't it?

"Ain't no skin off my ass," he continued. With only four more words, he would break a personal lifelong record for number of phrases spoken in one day.

She nodded.

"I still like her best," he confided. The record thus broken, the factions of his brain that encouraged language usage broke out the Asti Spumanti, peanuts, and noisemakers.

Zina smiled. "Me too."

"Lila's just dumb, like me, and Hope's plain crazy, like her ma. But Gabrielle ain't like anyone else."

So true, thought Zina. She started to raise the bottle to her lips, but stopped abruptly. Wait a damn minute. She stared at him. "Who's Hope?"

Hours passed before Mr. Hockenberry finally rolled on the couch and announced he was going home, without his hysterical wife. Then Gabrielle came downstairs and threw herself on the couch. "My mother's asleep in the bathtub."

"I bet if you run the shower, that'll wake her up."

"You're not being real helpful, Zina. This whole night has been a disaster. I didn't get to watch Beaches, my parents saw us having sex, they know I'm gay, my mom is freaked out and living in our bathroom, and to top it all off I didn't come."

"Poor baby." The firefighter smirked, then guffawed.

Gabrielle glared at her, having expected a modicum of sympathy. "What is wrong with you?"

"I'm gonna tell ya what is wrong: What we got here is a failure to communicate," Zina drawled in her best Strother Martin-Cool Hand Luke tone.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Zina chuckled, shaking her head in amazement. "This is so cool. It's great." Gabrielle looked at her, puzzled. Zina put her beer on top of coffee table, more specifically, on top of the TV Guide.

"Hey, watch it! You'll get it all wrinkly!" the poet cried. When Zina failed to react, she moved the bottle off the guide.

The firefighter ignored this. "Listen, it's like we're in one of those parallel universes, like in Star Trek. 'Cause this time you're the one with the crazy, fucked-up secret in her past, not me." She giggled again. "This is so great. This time I get to be self-righteous hag." The firefighter bit her knuckle in mock melodrama and worked up little ponds of glistening crocodile tears in both eyes. "How could you keep a secret from me, Gabrielle! After all the underwear we've shared!"

Catching on, the poet gasped. "You know about Hope," she breathed. It was her one dirty secret, aside from shoplifting at K-Mart in the 7th grade.

"Yeah, that's right, baby. Your daddy told me about your twin, Hope." Zina guzzled her beer with relish.

Gabrielle was mystified. "He did? But why? Hell, Daddy only says about three words a day, and they're usually, 'where's dinner, woman?' "

"That's why they came here tonight, Gabrielle. 'Cause of your sister. They wanted to tell you she's out of the loony bin."

"Fuck!" Gabrielle exclaimed in a panic. She bounced around on the couch nervously. "I...shit, Zina, she hates me. Is she in town? Do they know?"

"They don't know yet." Zina stroked her chin thoughtfully, the gesture a result of witnessing Artie stroke his goatee for years on end. "Did you show up at the garage today?"

"Well, yeah, but you were gone when I got there. Why?"

"Uh-huh. Was this before or after your haircut?"

"After." Gabrielle went slack-jawed. "Oh my God. She was at the garage?"

"Yep," the firefighter confirmed. "I reckon it was her."

Zina found her Nine Inch Nails t-shirt in Gabrielle's hot, angry hands. "Did you fuck around with my sister?"

"Gabrielle, knock it off! I was in the garage, for Christ's sake. Purdy was right there. Look, I just kissed her, 'cause I thought she was you." Mock indignant, she straightened her t-shirt. Sure explains the reaction I got."

"Oh boy, she must have freaked."

"She did. She smacked me."

With a squirm and a lustful growl, the poet affirmed this: "You're very smackable, you know?" Gabrielle's thwarted libido was drawing up a petition for another crack at Zina.

"Save it for after we sandblast your mother outta the bathroom." Zina picked up the Rolling Rock and took a pull on it. She rubbed the cold green bottle with her thumb. "So, uh..." She shrugged nervously. "Why'd your sister end up in the sany-tarium?"

" 'Cause she's an evil bitch, that's why," muttered Gabrielle darkly. "She..." the poet swallowed nervously, and Zina took her hand and squeezed it gently.

"C'mon, you can tell me," the firefighter encouraged her gently.

Gabrielle squirmed uncomfortably, then snuggled closer to her lover for comfort. "She...she tried to throw me in the barbecue pit when we were little. She had me trussed up to a stake and covered in sauce and everything." She shuddered at the memory. "Thank God Daddy wasn't drunk that day."

"Huh. Wow." For Zina, this explained her companion's perpetual dislike of barbecue. But how come she doesn't like coleslaw?

"That was the last straw. Up until then, it had just been minor things, things you pretend were an accident. Like shoving me in front of the school bus. Trying to sell me to a motorcycle gang. Shit like that."

A memory scratched eagerly at the back door of Zina's mind. She rubbed her jaw nervously. "Hey, what motorcycle gang was that?" Gabrielle looked at her, horrified. "It wasn't Hogs and Harlots, was it?"

Gabrielle went pale.

Zina grinned in her charmingly dopey fashion. "I coulda been your first."

"That's just great," snarled the poet sarcastically.

"Yep." She smirked proudly. "I was always head of the line."

At the near-empty counter of the town's lone diner sat Hope, picking at a ham-and-egg sandwich and ignoring a cup of coffee. A cigarette proved to be a larger temptation than the greasy items before her, and she lit up. Before long she noticed a crazy-looking woman with big crazy brown eyes and big crazy blonde hair was sitting next to her and staring. In a real crazy way.

"The brat smokes," murmured the blonde woman. "Will wonders ever cease?"

"Get outta my face," snarled Hope.

"Tough talk without your bitch girlfriend to back you up," retorted the blonde.

Hope groaned, realizing that—of course—she was being mistaken for her sister once again. "Look, I'm not Gabrielle. Okay?"

"You've been reading Sybil again, dear? Which personality are you today? The crossdressing kindergarten teacher? The kleptomaniac who bites her nails?"

The ex-mental patient flicked cigarette ash in the lap of her tormentor. Callie screeched. "Why you little—" before she could finish the sentence or lay a hand on Hope, the latter had slapped her across the face, the crack echoing in the vast mid-morning emptiness of the formica-laden diner.

The waitress, sitting alone at the other end of the counter, perked up a little.

Callie saw stars and touched her burning cheek. Wow. She blinked through the tears in her eyes. It isn't the brat! "Who are you?" she whispered in awe.

"Hope. I'm Gabrielle's sister. I've been away for a while, but I'm back." Ash dribbled onto her unappetizing breakfast, which made it look heavily peppered.

"Hope," Callie repeated. "I'm Callie." Hope. Hope is a woman named Hope. I'm hopeless about Hope.

"I'd say it's nice to meet you, but it's too early and I'm too pissed off."

"Yeah. That's okay, Hope. So...just got into town, hmm?"

Hope nodded. She stared at the dismal sandwich before her, shrugged, and took a huge bite of it.

Wow. Now here's someone who doesn't give a crap about what anyone thinks. "Got a place to stay?" asked Callie.

"No," Hope grunted sullenly. "My parents won't let me stay with them. Fucking assholes."

Is it possible to fall in love within the span of five minutes, after someone has slapped you silly and repulsed you by eating something undeniably gross? Elizabeth Taylor knew it to be true, this magnetic, sudden rush of love that overwhelmed common sense, good taste, and all concepts of decency. And Callie, off her meds, thought so as well. It's funny, the person I love most in the world and the person I hate most in the world look the same!

Idly, Callie pressed a leg against Hope's. "Well, I'd be happy to let you bunk over at my place. Um, there's only one bed, though...."

Hope, slurping coffee, nearly spat it all over the counter. "What the fuck? Is every woman in this town a lesbo now? Instead of the Stepford Wives, you're all Stepford Dykes?"

The waitress looked rather intrigued at this notion.

Callie hastily withdrew her lunging, lustful thigh. "Um, no, don't be silly!" She gulped—a Plan B would be necessary in this seduction. "I'm a minister of God, for heaven's sake!" Plan B being a good bottle of tequila and Artie.

"Fine," said Hope, finishing off the sandwich with one last large, feral bite, as Callie marveled at the capacity of her mouth. "So I'll take the bed, you take the floor."

Zina lumbered into the house and was assailed, once again, with more of Gabrielle's ongoing spiritual crises. The perpetual academic was sitting on the floor with something that, to the firefighter, resembled a giant bong.

My mother…fumed Zina. "What the hell is that?" she grunted, looming over Gabrielle and the thing.

"Hi, honey! Cool, isn't it?" Absently Gabrielle plucked a string attached to the pseudo-bong, and it made a sharp yet melodious noise. "It's a sitar. Eli lent it to me."

"Eli?" echoed Zina.

"Yeah." Gabrielle smiled proudly. "He's Sarcastic Hippie Video Store Guy."

"But…how did…?" she trailed off. Zina was dumbfounded, yet impressed at Gabrielle's accomplishment. "You made contact," she murmured, awestruck.

"Yeah. I broke the cycle of bad porn, baby. Thanks to Eli." For herself, Gabrielle too was amazed at having broken through his sarcastic veneer. Who would've guessed that Eli had a sitar collection, possessed a spiritual side, and ran his own support group for hirsute pot smokers?

"But I wanted to see Prison Pussy IV!"

"Too bad, Zina. Tonight we're watching Truffaut's The 400 Blows."

The firefighter leered. "Well, that might be okay. Especially if you blow me a couple hundred times during it."

"Oh, Zina." The poet gave both a haughty sigh and a withering look of disdain to the firefighter. "It's not that kind of film." Absently she plucked out a tune on the sitar, which sounded vaguely like "Don't Fear the Reaper" and made Zina long for a Blue Oyster Cult reunion tour.

Then Gabrielle hit a particularly harsh chord. "Honey, I hate to break it to ya, but you're not exactly George Harrison," Zina jibed.

"Sure. Fine. Go ahead and mock me. Don't be supportive. I'm trying to find my way, find some peace in this raging, violent world, and you have to be a fucking killjoy. Fine. I'll just take my sitar upstairs—" Kneeling, Gabrielle scooped up the sitar from its large round bottom and abruptly lifted it into the air. The instrument's upward mobility met with resistance punctuated by a thud and a twang that made her hands reverberate. And then another nauseating thud as Zina's unconscious body hit the floor.

Gabrielle gasped. She wasn't kidding when she said she had a glass jaw! "Oh, baby!" she squealed.

From the trailer's tiny kitchen Callie could see Hope sitting in the recliner, reading the newspaper. The minister maneuvered herself out of plain sight to practice her Slinky Walk, something she had not done since being ordained by Artie into his church.

But love had called for drastic measures. She had pulled out her Daisy Dukes, thinking that, between these and many a vodka tonic, any woman of worth would turn queer. She did not want to implement Plan B unless it were absolutely necessary—a walking penis like Artie was a dime a dozen, but a good bottle of tequila was hard to find in these parts.

Callie heard the rattling of ice cubes. "Coming, my pet!" she cried gaily. She ran to the refrigerator and pulled out the two liter bottle of Dr. Pepper, checked her hair in the toaster's greasy reflection, then dashed into the living room.

"Here you go," Callie crooned in sing-song tones as the beverage foamed and sizzled within the grape jelly glass.

Hope grunted, then pointed at an item in the newspaper. "That's her."


"That's the sick fuck that my sick fuck of a sister is screwing." Hope pointed at page 2 of the Chakram Creek Daily Independent Morning News Courier. FIREFIGHTER OF THE YEAR FOR THE SECOND TIME, bellowed the headline. The article was accompanied by a large photo of Zina, de rigueur in firefighting gear, cradling her helmet, and sitting on the back of a fire truck with an anemic looking Dalmatian who had been up for a supporting role in the live action version of 101 Dalmatians but blew its chance on becoming a celluloid hero after humping Glenn Close's leg and peeing on her handmade Italian loafers.

Thus spake the article:

    For the second year in a row, Miss Zima Amphipolitti of Chakram Cheek has won the prestigious "Firefighter of the Year" award in Olympus County.
    In a brief ceremony at the county firehouse yesterday morning, Miss Amphipollittus was presented with a plaque by the Mayor, followed by the county's newly appointed poet laureate, Gabrielle Hockenberry, reading briefly from one of her own works entitled "Ode to Tremulous Thighs." The winner also received a certificate granting her a year's supply of doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, co-sponsors of the award. The ceremony was brief.
    "Yeah, it's great," proclaimed the 52-year-old firefighter. A lifelong native of Chakram Creek, the winner attended high school at various locations in the region, including Chakram Creek High, Henabae High, Our Lady of Spamona High, and the prestigious Athens Christian Academy. She received her GED last year. Before embarking on her career as a firefighter, Miss Amphibian overcame serious drug, alcohol, and legal problems in an effort to make her life "not suck."
    "This woman is living proof that you can turn your life around 360 degrees on the right track, and that the parole system is preferable to welfare," stated the Mayor. Miss Amphigrafitti will be on parole until the year 2010.

"Ooooh." Callie bit her tongue. She needed a new picture of Zina for her scrapbook; most of the others were either stained or torn violently.

"What the hell is a poet lore-ate?" snapped Hope.


4. The Way, or The Weigh

Zina's mind was, she would gleefully admit to anyone, not of a scientific bent. However, a kind of academic curiosity inflamed her on the very first day she picked up the free doughnuts from Krispy Kreme: How many doughnuts could Gabrielle eat in one sitting? How much weight would she gain? To maintain her current weight and physique, she would have to increase her weekly can-crunching workouts to what amount? Every day? Every hour? Am I going to get to eat any of these doughnuts? she wailed to herself.

She stopped walking down through the parking lot. Hell, yes. Viciously she tore open the box and jammed a powdered creme-filled in her mouth, where it remained as she kick-started the cycle, navigated out of the lot, pulled up to the first red light, tore down the road until the second stop light, made a left, then another left, then a right, saw Cyrene's Volkswagen outside the food co-op, went past the town limits, picked up speed, wind, and the exhilarating pulse of freedom, then saw the speed limit sign, then the poorly camouflaged state trooper cruiser behind an abandoned grain shed, which reminded her of that weird ABBA song, "Super Trouper." Do they have state troopers in Sweden? Maybe they're nicer there than here…sure, they're super! Super, thanks for asking! And then she almost missed the turnoff for the farmhouse, but swerved at the last moment, made it and sped up the dirt road to the house. By the time she shut off the bike, the doughnut was soggy and denuded of its powder, most of which was congealed around Zina's mouth, as if she were a half-hearted, amateur kabuki actress.

The firefighter took a few seconds to fully devour the thing and wipe her mouth, then she burst into the house. "Hey, baby! I'm home!"

Gabrielle, studying at the dining room table, looked up expectantly. "Hi." The green eyes widened. "Oh my God. You have the doughnuts."

"Of course I have the doughnuts. It's time to eat the doughnuts!"

"I can't."

Zina stared at her in shock. "What?"

"I can't, baby, I can't." Gabrielle looked stricken, and torn. She gnawed her lip. "It's a promise I made. Eli and your mom, they want me to go macrobiotic."

"What the hell's that?"

"It's my way, Zina. It's what I was meant to be. Sugar-free, meat-free, dairy-free…"

The firefighter chuckled in disbelief. "Come on, you don't expect me to believe that. You couldn't possibly give up all those things. I know you, Gabrielle!"

"Then you know that when I've made up my mind, I've made up my mind!" retorted the angry blonde.

"Oh yeah?" Zina tossed the carton of doughnuts on the table.

She watched Gabrielle fight with herself—the young woman's nostrils flared, she sucked on her lips. Her jaw trembled. "No. I won't give in. This is the way, Zina, the only way I'm going to clear my mind and my soul from all the non-recyclable crap in it." She stood up and began to gather together her books.

"Sure," snorted Zina. "Just walk away, like a coward." She peeled off her heavy firefighting coat, its dirty fluorescent yellow stripe dull in the overhead light of the dining room. The suspenders—which held up bulky fireproof pants—were taut and flowing over the munificent bounty of her torso. Gabrielle gulped. Deprived of junk food, she was at least thankful that Eli wasn't insisting on celibacy in this new spiritual pursuit. The firefighter sauntered closer to her. "I want proof, Gabrielle. I want to see that you can really do this. I want you to prove it all night." Zina was very close to her, indeed, almost pressed against her.

Gabrielle moaned and shivered. "Oh baby, you know what you do to me when you quote the Boss," she sighed. She was ready to melt in her lover's arms. But, with panther-like swiftness, Zina pinned her on the floor and handcuffed her to the dining room table. Damn you, Minya! "Do you carry these handcuffs everywhere?" she cried, then struggled awkwardly to sit up.

"Sure. Some people just don't know the difference between a firefighter and a cop." Zina gave a sinister chuckle.

Gabrielle wasn't sure she wanted to know precisely what that statement meant.

Zina knelt before Gabrielle, whose squirming was not the result of pleasure or excitement, but dread. "I'm going to show you my way, Gabrielle." Her purring was richly obscene and slinked its way from her vocal chords to Gabrielle's heart. "Our way. The way it should be. The way it always will be."

In a burst of defiance the little poet gave the handcuffs a savage jerk. "Not fair," she whined. "I don't have any choice, you big bitch."

"Tut-tut, Grasshopper. One always has choices," intoned the semi-wise firefighter.

"Did Lao Ma say that to you? She's as bogus as the new Kung Fu."

"Silence!" Zina hissed. "No more talk. Now is the test, Gabrielle. Now we will see how true you are to your way." The sneering tone strengthened Gabrielle's resolve even further. Until she saw it. It was sudden and swift, merciless in that way Zina could be sometime. The doughnut loomed in front of her like a space station dripped in sickly sweet sticky glaze.

"Krispy Kreme," Zina drawled in a low breathy voice; for added emphasis she ground her hips seductively. Advertising executives would kill their grandmothers, sacrifice puppies to Satan, and deflower Girl Scouts for such endorsements. If they didn't already do so.

Gabrielle wanted it. She wanted it bad. More than anything in her entire life. But, clenching her teeth, she growled, "No!"

"Oooh, very good, Gabrielle. Be strong. Show me, baby. Come on. Show me what you're made of, Grasshopper." Zina unfurled her lovely, languid tongue and swirled it around the moist hole. "I'm gonna eat it, baby," she breathed heavily, "I gonna suck down every sweet drop of it and you'll just have to sit there and watch me. Watch me do it, baby. Watch me."

Gabrielle stopped jerking and panting wildly. She gulped. And she watched as Zina's flawless teeth descended upon the soft, puffy, delicate flesh of the doughnut. "No!" she screamed. With superhuman effort she lurched forward and snagged the other end of the treat in her mouth. Chewing fanatically, she groaned as sugar saturated her mouth. It pumped wildly through her veins as she worked her way to Zina's lips. Mouths crushed together and flakes of glaze exploded from the collision. The firefighter hurried to uncuff her lover, and was indeed successful. They fell to the floor in a love fueled by the Sticky Jewel in the Crown of the American South.

Cyrene, for once mindful of things that she might not want to see, opted to ring the doorbell of the farmhouse. After a few minutes Gabrielle opened it, short hair wild and sticking, clothes rumpled in a fashion that indicated hasty dressing.

The older woman sighed. "Don't you two ever stop screwing?"

"No," replied the poet automatically.

Cyrene's nose twitched as Gabrielle tried to look innocent. "I smell it on you!" the older woman accused. She jammed a crone-like finger in the fair Gabrielle's face.

"I just said we were fucking, what do you expect?" Gabrielle retorted; yet she knew that wasn't what the hippie had meant.

"Nuh-uh, honey. I smell sugar on you. I accuse you…oh man, what's that line in French? Like Zola, said to all those dudes in France: Je…je smellez vous!"

"You can't smell sugar!"

"Can too," the older woman shot back in a petulant tone.

"You can't smell anything, Cyrene. You couldn't even smell the ashtray when you set it on fire last month." Indeed, what was like to be one of Cyrene's senses? They definitely weren't working overtime; in fact, they had been given the pink slip many moons ago. They were the welfare mothers of the sensory world, every Republican's nightmare.

The older woman frowned, relenting. "All right, I can't. But I know you've broken your vow."


"You have sprinkles in your hair."

Gabrielle groaned and raked her short blonde locks with her fingers, causing a rainbow of unnatural sugar condiments to shower upon Cyrene's Birkenstocks.

Cyrene stared at her feet. "Just what have you two been doing with those doughnuts?" she asked, suspicious.

"S'all Zina's fault." It was unkind, but Gabrielle hoped her corrupt lover was itching from the powdered sugar in her nether region.

"Isn't it always?"

"As a matter of fact…"

"Aw c'mon, Gabrielle. You can't blame everything on Zina. I know it's easy to do that. When she was younger, I used to blame my lack of boyfriends on her, thinking that guys wouldn't want to be with a woman who had a kid."


"But then I realized it was my lack of deodorant. Thank goodness Tom's of Maine started making a decent one!"

"Yeah. That's great."

"Now I beat 'em off with a stick."


"You're not listening to me, are you?"

"No, not really."

"Fine, fine," carped the hippie, sailing past Gabrielle. "I'm just saying you need to take some responsibility," she added haughtily. "And I'm gonna tell Eli at our Legalize Pot Now meeting tonight!"

Gabrielle gasped. "Cyrene, don't! He'll take away my discount card!"

Cyrene heartlessly ignored this plea. "Zina!" she shouted.

The firefighter was pulling a t-shirt over her head when Cyrene entered the living room.


Zina held up a hand. "Don't say anything, Mom. I know it's my fault. I never should've tempted Gabrielle with sugar."


"Please don't be upset."

"But, honey," Cyrene gestured helplessly, "you're going prematurely gray down there."

"That's just powdered sugar."

"Powdered sugar?" repeated Cyrene.

The firefighter nodded.

The hippie pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I never thought I would say this, but I think you guys are getting too weird for me."


5. What Would Jesus Do?

Callie's half-hearted dart toss spiraled toward the ground, but just managed to snag the very edge of the corkboard, where it drooped, impotent and clinging. She sighed, and cut another look at Hope and Artie over at the bar. The little blonde was all over Artie, wriggling in his cheap chino-ed lap. She watched as Hope once again jammed her tongue into Artie's mouth.

Apparently, Callie raged, being a whorish little slut ran in the Hockenberry family.

The ex-minister finally lost it when Hope started un-buttoning Artie's shirt. She stalked over to them, still clutching a dart. She tried to clear her throat in a ladylike manner, but merely ended up sounding like Tom Waits preparing to hock a lugie.

Hope and Artie stared at her. "What the hell do you want?" spat Hope.

You, you little bitch! Callie wanted to scream. She swallowed, and composed herself, forcing a bright, fake smile. "My darlings, what do you say we retire to my place?"

"I want to be alone with my little fuzzy-wuzzy," Hope crooned to Artie.

Artie grinned in pleasure, then winced as she began plucking some chest hairs. "Yeah, Callie. Perhaps the lady and I would like to be alone for the rest of the evening."

Oh, you idiots. Your poor, senseless buffoons. "I have a bottle of tequila back at my place."

Hope paused. "Okay." She stood up.

"I'm in," chimed Artie.

Normally Artie didn't mind being passive while screwing. However, his primary objection in this particular instance—on his back in Callie's bed—was having to stare up at the photo of Charlton Heston taped to the ceiling. It was a still shot from Planet of the Apes, with Chuck dirty and resplendent in his loincloth. Perhaps it was the tequila, but, as Hope straddled him and started riding him, he swore he could hear that deep voice snarling, you damn dirty ape!But then—he smiled in fond remembrance—Zina used to call me that too.

Ah, Zina. He closed his eyes. If he focused hard enough, he could pretend that Hope's breathless panting and squeals were the deep leonine growls of Zina, that he could smell the beer she liked, that he could feel her prison ID bracelet scraping against his skin. "Oh…oh…oh…zzzzzz…." He was close, and in danger of doing something irreparably stupid. Don't say it! he warned himself. No matter how tempting it may be! He clutched the side of the bed. What is she doing? Dear Lord, it feels great!

But, despite his own self-chastisement, he moaned, shuddered, and released. With the cry of "Zina!" on his lips. Damn.

However, in the tiny moment of bliss after he came, he honestly believed that, when he opened his eyes, his beloved sister/cousin/whatever would indeed be there, with her blue eyes, her lush body, and beautiful sneer.

Instead it was just Hope, carrying an insane rage in her glassy eyes. "What the fuck?" she yelled.

The first thing Callie saw when she opened her eyes that morning were Teletubbies scampering playfully across the TV screen. Her neck felt permanently wrenched into its twisted position, courtesy of a long night on the couch. Carefully, she sat up, and tried straightening her head; but the room spun merrily, and she felt like Linda Blair. Plan B didn't work very well, she thought groggily. What the hell went wrong? She tried, slowly, to remember last night's events while rubbing her neck. Then she grew aware of the empty tequila bottle in her lap.

As Hope emerged from the bedroom, clad in t-shirt and bikini briefs, Callie shook the empty bottle and realized that she had indeed finished off the tequila last night, after Artie and Hope had crawled off to her bedroom. "Oh man, I ate the worm," she groaned aloud.

Hope flopped down on the couch, and gave her a pointed look. "Me too."

Artie straightened his tie and settled down behind his desk for another leisurely day of work at Ares Ministries. Actually, today would be busy. He was expecting a call from Pat Buchanan, and had several issues of Road and Track to catch up on. Nonetheless, the day's activities were nothing out of the ordinary, and every day that passed without some insane encounter with Hope was a blessing. He had not seen her in almost two months, since their ill-fated one night stand. Now there's a euphemism, he sneered at himself; being chased naked around a trailer by some hoochie with a butcher knife who was threatening, quite loudly, to cut off certain sated appendages was not exactly ill-fated.

The most amazing thing about the whole escapade was that Callie slept through it all.

He was organizing the condiments in his desk drawer when Hope kicked open the door.

Oh Lord! He jumped up. "Hope!"

"Hello, Worm," greeted the former mental patient. Ever since That Night, she and Callie had taken to calling him that: The Worm. It was their way of bonding. She sprawled in the chair facing his desk. "Haven't heard from you lately, Worm." She picked a paper clip from a pile of the little metal objects on his desk.

He then sat on the desk, facing her. "Hope, must you call me that?" he implored. "I've been very busy doing the Lord's work. You should understand that." He gave her the same condescending smile he used on old ladies for donations.

"Look, pussy boy, save the crap for the congregation. We have some unfinished business."

He held up his hands. "I know, my dear girl. I used you to satisfy my base cravings. It was shameful. I've been praying every day, and doing penance." It was true; giving up the Ding-Dongs had been harder than he ever imagined.

"You called me by that big bitch's name." Hope was glaring into space and twisting the paper clip so that it resembled a miniature sculpture by Giacometti. "I hate that miserable freak!"

Artie blinked in surprise. "You mean Zina?"

"Everyone in this town is obsessed with her. You, my sister, Callie...even Purdy, for God's sake. She steals Gabrielle from him, and that poor dumb idiot idolizes her."

He admitted this with a shrug. "Well, she is pretty awesome."

The sharp edge of the paper clip sculpture sank into his thigh, right through the thin, paltry J.C. Penney khakis. "Shit!" he cried, abandoning godliness for the moment.

"You pathetic fool," Hope hissed. "I don't even know why I came here."

Artie yanked the paper clip out of his leg with an unmanly squeak of pain. "Well, neither do I," he rasped, pressing his palm against the wound.

She stood up. "Actually, I did want to tell you something."

He looked at her reluctantly, expectantly.

"I'm knocked up."

Artie said nothing, but wondered if Pat's offer to set up a mission in Sarajevo was still good.

The next stop on Hope's itinerary that day was her sister's house. She had no interest in seeing dull Lila, but Gabrielle was another matter. Ever since her arrival back in the Creek, Gabrielle had been steadfast in her resistance to see her estranged twin. Chickenshit, thought Hope. Now there was nothing left but a direct confrontation. And if that meant she had to go through that big dyke to get at her sister, she would.

Sure enough, the freak answered the door. Zina leaned in the doorway, muscular arms folded over her chest. "Guess they haven't put an electronic bracelet on you yet," greeted the firefighter.

"Look, I'm not here to see you. I want my sister."

Zina hitched an eyebrow. "Really? Then we do have something in common, Hopeless. I want her too," she purred with a wink.

"Stop twisting my words, you freak. I want to see Gabrielle. Now."

"Not possible, Hope Floats. Gabrielle's teaching today." Having acquired an undergraduate degree, realizing its inherent worthlessness, and thus ascending rapidly to the graduate level, Gabrielle was now an indentured servant of the college, teaching freshman lit.

"Fine," snarled Hope. "When does she get back?"

Zina shrugged. "I dunno, could be late. You know how those college types like to sit around and yap, Chicago Hope."

"Will you fucking stop that?"

"Stop what, Ryan's Hope?"

Weaponless, she was about to take a lunge at the firefighter, but once again took note of the brawny forearms and thought better of it. "Look, you, I've got to talk to my sister. It's important."

"What about, Bob Hope?"

Hope sneered. "Why should I tell you?"

Zina sneered back. " 'Cause otherwise you don't have a hope in hell of getting past me, Hope Lange."

"Fine." She glared at the firefighter. "I'm pregnant."

Zina whistled. "Huh. Knew Artie was always lying 'bout being sterile." She looked at Hope. "You wanna come in and wait for Gabrielle?"

"My feet are killing me." Translation: Yes. Nonetheless, she hesitated.

Zina laughed. "You think I'm gonna try to seduce you or somethin'? I've already done it with pregnant women. It's kinda fun, until you get in the way when they have morning sickness." The firefighter shuddered at an unpleasant, unspoken memory, then stepped aside so that Hope could enter the farmhouse.

As she nervously crossed the threshold, Hope heard the door slam suddenly, then felt Zina's hot breath (lightly accented with Rolling Rock) in her ear. "Of course, if you misbehave and lay a finger on Gabrielle, I'll snap your neck before you can say hot pork sandwich."

Hope froze. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Although she had a sudden urge for pork. Smothered in gravy. She made a mental note to call Callie before heading back to the trailer.

"Siddown," Zina ordered. "I'm not going to hurt you."

Reluctantly, Hope did so. "Can I have a beer, at least?"

"You shouldn't be drinking. You're gonna a have a baby."

"Look, I was so upset when I found out I was knocked up that I drank all of Callie's peppermint schnapps. The damage is done."

Shit, the damage was done the minute the sperm landed on Planet Egg, thought Zina. "All the same, do your heavy drinking somewhere else, okay?" She offered Hope a can of Coke, then settled on the arm of the couch, where Hope slouched, legs sprawled and tenting her much abused skirt.

Gabrielle's sister cracked open the can and guzzled its contents quickly. She brooded, then looked at Zina. Who was staring at her with those unnerving blue eyes. "So tell me," Hope began, angry voice edged with genuine curiosity. "What is it about you...that makes everyone in this place think you're so fucking wonderful? Why does every man, woman, and child in town either want you or want to be you?"

Zina smiled coolly. The firefighter stood, and assumed a curious stance. She stretched her shoulders, and, with her legs planted apart and one hip jutted forward, holding her right arm just slightly further form her body than the left, she stared at, then through, the ex-mental patient. She looked the very picture of a gunslinger, like Alan Ladd in Shane. Except a whole lot taller.

Hope blinked, and shuddered at a sudden draft between her legs. And she saw that Zina held aloft a pair of suspiciously familiar panties, dangling in flaccid glory from her fingers. Playfully she sniffed them. Then, raising a critical eyebrow, shook her head sadly.

No. She couldn't have. It's not possible. The hysterical thoughts raced through Hope's drug-free mind.

"Now this is definitely where you and your sister part company," Zina said. "Gabrielle would never wear polyester panties." Disdainfully she let the underwear fall to the ground. "So," she addressed her stunned audience of one, "does that answer your question, Hope and Glory?"


6. Seven Months Later

The young man struggled with the straps that bound him to the hospital bed.

"Y'all just settle down there, Pedro," mumbled the male nurse.

"Fuck you, man! MY NAME IS NOT PEDRO. I know I got rights! Where's my car? Where's my CELL PHONE?"

"Sheriff'll be here soon, Pedro, and she'll straighten this all out."

"Stop calling me PEDRO, you stupid cracker!" Simply exhausted, he slumped in defeat against the uncomfortable gurney bed. His best friend had not exaggerated about what people were like outside of Manhattan! They were all inbred and dumber than dirt!

Then he saw an older woman down the hall. She was not a member of the staff, and was holding an infant so well-swaddled that the contents within the blue blanket could have been anything. The woman was dressed like a hippie, he thought, like those old 60s leftovers in the Village who got all nostalgic and mumbly about how much the neighborhood had changed.

Suddenly, he grew wildly, ridiculously hopeful. His eyes bulged. Perhaps this woman could help him get out of here! He wasn't crazy, he reminded himself, just a drama queen. How was I supposed to know that state trooper would have me committed for observation just for channeling Susan Hayward? Again, he stole a look at the middle-aged hippie, who smiled at him. The woman was the most normal-looking person he had seen since he was caught speeding by said trooper along Shakti Ridge. She might be a beacon of sanity in this white trash hell pit. "Hey!" he cried to her. "Hey, sister! C'mere!"

The woman approached him warily, lightly bouncing the baby in her arms. A motionless dark head poked out from the blankets, the face turned away.

"Hey, man, I can't sell you anything here. Like, this is a state mental hospital! It's crawling with cops and shit," Cyrene hissed to him in an undertone.

"No, no, lady, lissen, I don't want anything like that." At least not right now. "I need you to help me get outta here. I was arrested just for speeding, and they dragged me in here sayin' I was resisting arrest and I needed to be restrained for 'observation,' which is such bullshit! They won't let me call a friend or my family or nothing! Please, you gotta help me."

"Really, I wish I could, but I can't. I gotta watch the kid here." She nodded at the baby. "Look, they'll probably let you go after you spend the night, or else they'll transfer you to Shark Island Correctional…." Cyrene mused, trying to remember particulars from her own experience as the lone Vietnam War protester in the county, and conflating it with her daughter's extensive criminal record.

"What? Shit!" he shouted.

"Shhh!" Cyrene commanded. The baby started squirming and crying. "Aw, man, you woke her up!"

The child turned in Cyrene's arms, facing him.

He gulped in horror. Mami was right! "AYE, MIA MADRE!" screamed Paolo Torqemada. "ES EL CHUPACABRA!"

Hope wasn't sure if it the was the drugs, the chocolate malted balls that Callie had brought her, or the fact that the goddamn thing was out of her body, but she was happy, and she loved everybody. She smiled as she surveyed her hospital room, head lolling on the pillow, a damp drool stain tickling her cheek. Within weeks she would be back in her old room at the institution and her parents would be saddled with her spawn. Perfect revenge. Let them fuck up another child. Threatening to kill Gabrielle (yet again) was the best thing she'd ever done; it resolved all the problems that this so-called real life had inflicted upon her. Although it had been fun to be out for a while, just given the sheer amount of havoc that she wreaked upon everyone. And the experience did reveal to her that she did not belong out here, in this world, but back in the institution. It was her real home.

She looked away from the window when she heard the door open. It was Gabrielle. She smiled. "Hi, chickenshit! Decided to finally see me, huh?"

The poet lingered near the door for a fast getaway. She had not wanted to see her sister, but Zina—in a burst of wisdom—said that it was better to confront the past and put it to rest, rather than letting things fester like a wound. Not to mention that the firefighter had promised to let Gabrielle use the handcuffs on her tonight.

"Hi," Gabrielle mumbled. "How are you feeling?"

"What the hell do you care?"

"Look, at least I'm trying, Hope. Okay? I'm sorry if I ever did anything to upset you or hurt you. And I forgive you for all the stuff you tried to do to me. And the fact you still want to hurt me."

"You're lucky that your girlfriend is more of a violent psycho than me. Otherwise you'd be dead."

"I'm forgiving you as we speak." Or trying to, anyway.

"Big of you, chickenshit. Let's not pretend anymore. I did what I did because I wanted to.

I threatened you 'cause I wanted them to lock me up again. I wanted to go home. I've saddled the brat with Mom and Dad, I beat up Lila, and I scared the crap out of you. I'm feeling pretty damn good right about now." Hope exhaled triumphantly.

Oh, this is useless. Why even try? "That's pretty impressive, Hope. But just remember one thing."

Hope eyed her sister suspiciously.

"Zina still has your underwear. It's going in her trophy box." With that, Gabrielle left her sister behind. For good, she hoped.

The firefighter leaned against the wall, close to where the Hockenberrys sat. The reluctant guardians of Hope's infant had completed the requisite paperwork, and now awaited one last visit with their estranged daughter.

The door of Hope's room was flung open and Gabrielle emerged, sucking lungfuls of air as if she had just been underwater for the last two minutes.

"How'd it go?" Zina asked, although she could tell, by taking in the pained expression of her companion, that Gabrielle's conversation with her sister had been less than stellar. Handcuffs and extra doughnuts tonight, she thought. Poor baby.

"She's fucked," muttered the poet.

Zina, not a doctor and not playing one on TV, nodded sagely.

The baby squalled as Cyrene brought her around the corner, to where the Hockenberrys and Zina awaited. "It's someone else's turn," she said to them wearily. She thrust the infant at her daughter.

Much in the manner she handed a water hose, Zina took the child, then held her up. The baby silenced in the face of the intense blue stare. "I dunno," the firefighter said to Gabrielle, "how your sister and Artie could make such a damn ugly kid."

"Zina!" chastised Gabrielle, slapping her lightly on the forearm, "stop it! She'll hear you!" Then she stared at the baby and her face fell. "Well, Artie must be hairy, I guess." She looked to Zina for confirmation.

The firefighter winced in memory. "There were times…when I was surprised I just didn't cough up a giant hairball."

The poet shivered in disgust, then regarded the infant again. "Ah, poor girl."

"Don't worry about her, Gabrielle," Cyrene threw in, "Chupy's made of tougher stuff than that, aren't you, kiddo?" she cooed to the child.

The women looked at Cyrene. " 'Chupy'?" echoed Gabrielle.

"Uh, yeah, it's um, Spanish for 'fuzzy one,' " lied Cyrene. She had never gotten a straight answer—or even one in English—from the boy on the gurney, as he had babbled at her in Spanish for five minutes before passing out.

Zina made it official. "Chupy it is then," she declared.

"That's fine for a nickname, but she needs a real name," Gabrielle interjected.

Mrs. Hockenberry took a closer look at the infant and burst into tears. She ran into the bathroom.

"Jesus, somebody's gotta tell Momma that bathrooms are not exactly churches, you know?" the poet complained.

Zina was still contemplating the child. "How about Harley?" she suggested.

"Damn, Zina! You can't be serious. Naming the kid after your stupid bike?" cried Gabrielle.

"Cool!" said Cyrene.

"I like it," agreed Harold Hockenberry.

Gabrielle stared in sheer disbelief, thoroughly amazed at her father taking the energy and effort to formulate an verbal opinion. "Well! I guess I'm outgunned. Welcome to the family, Harley."

"Goin' home, now. Gab, tell your mom not to forget the kid. See y'all later." Harold Hockenberry nodded amiably at all of them, then waddled down the corridor to the exit.

"Shit, now we have to drive Momma home," Gabrielle grumbled. "Actually, first thing, we have to get her out of the bathroom."

Zina turned to Cyrene. "Hey, Mom, go get Mrs. Hockenberry outta the bathroom."

"And just how am I supposed to do that?" retorted Cyrene.

"Smoke some weed. That'll flush her out, so to speak."

With a martyr-like sigh, as if smoking marijuana were a burden akin to eating spinach, Cyrene headed for the bathroom. Zina and Gabrielle were left alone with the kid.

"Guess I'm gonna have to do some stripping again," Gabrielle said.

Zina looked at her, surprised. "Oh yeah, baby? How come? For her college fund?"

Gabrielle was pleased at the fact that Zina was thinking ahead, and thinking of the kid as well. It was a good sign. "Yeah. That and the fact she's gonna need serious electrolysis by the time she's five."

The End

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