The dentist agreed. He pulled them out on a blustery March day. “Your facial contours may change,” he said.
After the operation, Greta fed Bob tapioca pudding, his favorite, but he could barely eat it. His gums, swollen and raw, seemed to take up as much room as his teeth had before.
The next day Greta offered him ground-up roast and spinach in bed, but he couldn’t eat. Then she made him three chocolate milkshakes. He choked those down as she hovered nearby, slowly opening shutters.
Her sluggish movements translated, to Bob, as concern. Greta rarely spent more than five minutes in his room unless she was lecturing him on his failure to spend time with her, his cigarette smoking, or his laziness. She was always hustling off to church or to feed the dogs or water the garden or counsel a friend whose children had been taken away by the state.
But after the operation she even changed his sheets and sprinkled some sweet-smelling powdery stuff on the mattress. “Get up,” she said. “No point in you lying there on those sheets coated with cigarette smoke and cracker crumbs.”
For once she lavished more attention on Bob than on her nine dogs, even Samson, the Doberman Pinscher who slept in the spot next to Greta where Bob used to sleep before he started working nights. Before he moved into a different room. Before they stopped having sex.
It seemed, over the next week, like Greta might be taking more time with her wigs, too. She wore the honey blonde one Bob liked best, and she curled the ends of it even when she was only going to spend the day in the garden. She kissed him on the lips although, without teeth, his mouth was shrunken together like an old crone’s.
Greta could stand to trim down—probably forty pounds worth of trimming—but with her wig and make-up on she wasn’t bad looking for fifty-one.
Bob worked at the main North Texas mail facility, operating the mail-sorting machines, and it wasn’t so great.
Every afternoon, he drove his old Dodge Aries (“Old Unreliable,” Greta called it) twenty miles southeast—against traffic—from Denton toward Dallas-Fort Worth. The building was squat and gray. There were five or ten tiny windows.
Inside, all the rooms, from the break area to the big room where the mail sorters worked, were painted a pastel blue that reminded Bob of his altar boy days in Cincinnati, back when his mom made him wear a sissy tie that same color. Brown carpet with burn marks covered the floors. A handful of tattered energy-savings posters that must have been there since the ‘70s hung on the break room walls next to the vending machines.
At first Bob liked sorting the mail, even though the other sorters were younger guys and liked to tease him when he stopped for a rest.
“When are you gonna retire, Old Man?”
“Always picking up your slack, Saunders. You lucky I’m a nice guy.”
“Look at old Saunders, laid out like a girl just from picking up a coupla letters.”
Speaking of girls, there was only one. She’d been cute when Bob first started, but, as so often happens with women, she'd put on about eighty pounds during pregnancy and still had at least fifty extra hanging around two years later. So she wasn’t so good to look at anymore.
It was better when Bob was a mail carrier back in Miami, when his route took him by Lourdes, a private girls’ school with a large green lawn, where all the Catholic girls folded over their plaid skirts to make them shorter as school let out.
There was a little brunette who waved at him every day, her large crucifix low between her breasts.
“I like mailmen,” she told him, once. She met his eyes full on, and her slight accent—Cuban? Bob couldn’t tell for sure—lent a confident richness to her voice. But her lip quivered, and he could tell she wasn’t as bold or fast as she wanted him to think she was.
“Well, I like you,” he said.
She smiled. The lip quivered some more. “My boyfriend would kill me for talking to you.”
“How could he find out? He’s not here now,” Bob said.
“He has his ways,” she said. She winked at him, her hesitance suddenly gone, and strutted off. Her skirt swung from side to side.
After Greta got a wild hair up her ass to move back to Texas, Bob bid on a few mail carrier routes in Dallas, but his eighteen years with the Postal Service weren't enough to get him transferred. So he gave up his seniority, traded in the old route and the girls with their year-round tans, to work the mail sorter near Flower Mound, Texas, where all the young yuppie moms had big hair and drove their babies around in SUVs and wore chinos and work boots.
Now Bob carried his work home with him, dreaming of anthrax and respirators. Of the smell of sweaty men and the clanging of machines. And of the supervisors who ordered the men to keep working even as white powder spilled from packages.
None of the powder ever turned out to be anthrax, but the guys in charge couldn’t know the mail was safe. They didn’t give a shit. Come rain or hail or death of the mail sorters, the mail would go on.
Bob couldn’t remember being so pissed off at work, ever, not even back in Miami when he couldn’t get vacation time to go to his step-daughter Martha’s wedding. If he was honest with himself, Martha was the reason he’d married Greta in the first place. Skinny Martha with her shy smile, her little tan legs under her private school skirts, the way she always seemed to look twelve years old—even at twenty-seven.
“Now I know why guys go postal,” he’d told Greta after he was denied the time off.
“What a terrible thing to say,” she said. “Your bad teeth are rotting your mind.”
“Nothing wrong with my teeth.” But the truth was that they ached, they were breaking, and the dentist said the toxic buildup in Bob’s system could be deadly. They had to come out.
After his teeth were removed, Bob stayed home from work for a month. His gums hurt like a bitch, but it was bliss to be at home, near the computer, away from the guys, getting along with Greta. Sure, she picked at lint on his bedspread and acted annoyed to have him around. But she brought him milkshakes every few hours. He slurped them up and made small talk.
Then he pretended he was floating off to sleep on painkillers.
Greta left and he got online, but when he heard her heavy step returning in the hallway, he opened the black-screen screensaver and lay in bed like he was dead asleep.
His schedule had gotten all fucked up or more regular, depending on how you looked at it.
Since he wasn’t working nights, he slept like a normal person now. His days, no longer split between sleeping and Fantasy Quest, were devoted to humoring Greta (10%), gaming (60%), and porn (30%).
Bob had been playing Fantasy Quest online for four years now, since he got tired of adventure games and computer baseball. Interacting with the other characters reminded him of his days after the army, when he was back in community college and played Dungeons & Dragons with younger kids. Except, in Fantasy Quest, there were girl players. And Bob found that sometimes they would even send you their pictures.
A few months before the operation, Bob’s first character, Braveheart77, had lost all his money and all his power, everything. And then a troll had killed him.
“I'm so glad,” Greta said, when he told her. “Now maybe I can stop being a computer widow.” She paused. “But I'm sure you'll find some other la-la land way to waste your time.”
Bitch bitch bitch, Bob thought. He said nothing. He lay in bed for two days, wondering how he’d work up the energy to start over with a new character, a new Fantasy Quest life.
In the end, he’d become Braveheart159, and his former online wife, Celestina Irina, agreed to marry the new character.
Lately Celestina had been bitching so much that Bob couldn’t
remember why he used to like the game. She messaged him, sending line
after line and expecting immediate responses. Their conversations were
always the same.
Bob had arranged to meet Celestina in person one night at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas. Online she was half elf, half woman, with long brown hair and a flair for the bow and arrow. Online she was sixteen.
In real life, her name was Julie Brown. She was a systems security analyst at West Coast Video, and she was in town for a conference. Couldn’t have been taller than 4'11”, but weighed about 200 pounds. Had a nose ring and a tattoo of a dancing bear on her calf. “From my high school Deadhead days,” she explained.
It turned out the photo she’d sent, of a dark-haired waif wearing a black tank top, was taken in her last year of high school.
So Julie wasn’t much of a looker. But she couldn’t have been more than twenty-five, and the fact of her relative youth alone was enough for Bob to get it up.
They had sex, once, after Julie removed the free mints from the pillow and pushed the bedspread to the floor.
Bob thought of the Lourdes girls and their skirts, of Celestina Irena’s online portrait, of little Martha, his stepdaughter, who after she married had started turning her head away when he tried to kiss her on the lips. He thrust at Julie wildly from behind.
She was quiet until he finished. Not a moan, nothing. The moment after he came and pulled away, she said, “So what did you tell your wife?”
“I guess I should get going,” Bob said.
“Figures,” Julie said. “You creepy old man.”
But when she got back online, she acted like it never happened. And everything was fine until Braveheart77 got killed and Bob had to start over.
Occasionally the new Braveheart chatted up other humans and halflings in Harpy’s Head Tavern—divorce was weighing on his mind—but Bob was disenchanted with Fantasy Quest at the moment and wanted something more real.
At the start of his second week of recovery, Bob discovered a new way to pass the time. He found the webcam of a 14-year-old, self-professed “Korean Webslut,” Sexy Devil, who claimed to live in Hendersonville, North Carolina, not far from Bob’s mother-in-law.
It was unclear to Bob whether Sexy Devil was really Korean, since she looked more like a normal suburban schoolgirl who’d dyed her hair black and wore slanty eye makeup.
Sexy Devil wore bikini tops and hot pants, and most afternoons came home from school and got high on camera. Her bedspread, covered with dainty pink flowers, was always pulled up neatly over the pillow. Bob figured it was Sexy Devil’s mother who kept the bed made up like that.
After getting herself good and baked, Sexy Devil masturbated, sometimes with a glow-light dildo that made her black pubic hair and tanned skin glow green in faster and faster flashes until her face flushed in orgasm. Occasionally she had sex on camera with boys her own age. They were interchangeable to Bob—it didn’t matter what color their hair was, whether they were skinny or fat—the point was that they didn’t know how to touch a girl like this one, a soft, skinny whip of a girl who looked like she could hold a greased bobby pin in her for days.
At least that was what Bob thought as he hoped Greta didn’t come back to pick up his milkshake glass.
Bob had a place in the back of his junk drawer where he stored the Vietnam photos. Nothing bad, nothing from combat, but the ones of the girls. Especially one girl.
Bob and the girl were both clothed, but her skirt was hiked up. You couldn’t tell for sure if you didn’t know for sure, but Bob’s pants were open and he was inside a girl no older, no bigger, than Sexy Devil. A girl who couldn’t say his name but had sex with him for money and shared his cigarettes.
That was when Bob was twenty-two, long before he became a married man and started smoking Kools so nobody at the Miami post office would bum his smokes. Nobody liked menthol, not even Bob, until he cultivated a taste for it so he could keep his cigarettes to himself.
Bob wondered about that girl sometimes. She’d never told him her real name. “Honey,” she’d said, pointing to herself, when he asked her.
Now she was probably old and ruined, and he guessed it was partly his fault.
He’d genuinely liked the girl, her sweet smile, her long denim skirt, the diamond earrings she must’ve gotten from another GI. He didn’t mind so much her inability to speak good English. It reminded him of that book he read in high school about the boy who just wanted to live with a pretty deaf-mute girl in a trailer and be left alone.
He’d given Martha that book, The Catcher in the Rye, for her fifteenth birthday. She’d never read it. She was too busy having sex with her boyfriend, who was on her swim team at the high school, the best swim team in Miami. She and the boyfriend had sex in backyard, in the pool, in plain view of the house, even on Bob’s day off. He watched them through the blinds.
He confronted her in the hallway once after the boyfriend left. “You shouldn’t be doing that,” he said. “Your Mom--”
She rolled her eyes. “What, like you’re gonna tell her? I’ve got some things I could tell her, too, you know.”
He put his hand on her waist, tried to slip it under the back of her bikini bottom the way he used to do a few years before when he’d rubbed her back while they played computer games together. Before the day he took it too far and she realized what he was up to. “Martha, please.”
She smacked his hand away. “Get off,” she said. “Get away from me.”
After her shows, Sexy Devil had online chats with her viewers and directed them to her Amazon.com wish list.
Bob noticed that the things she wanted, even the $3000 camcorder, disappeared from the list almost as fast as she posted them there. He wondered about her bandwidth, how much it cost. Whether she was really fourteen.
He never bought her anything. He didn’t see the point, buying something for a girl he couldn’t touch.
Today was the first day of his third week at home, and the girl was up to something new. A whip. A torn black tank top and black stiletto boots—buckle after buckle after buckle all the way to her thighs. No panties.
Dear God, all those bad-girl clothes and no panties.
A man, an older man, a little older than Bob, maybe sixty, lay on the bed in his BVDs. He was blindfolded. Sexy Devil panned in close with the camera and then set it back on the shelf so Bob couldn't see the man's face clearly.
The girl’s upper body leaned off screen and returned with handcuffs. She poked her boot heel into the man’s side and said something to him.
Bob wished there were sound.
The man turned over and she slapped the handcuffs on his wrists.
Bob’s message box opened to the side of the screen,
right in front of Sexy Devil.
Sexy Devil had pulled the man’s briefs off. She smacked him on the ass. She pulled the edge of the whip gently over the back of his body and then quickly pulled it back and struck him with it. A red line appeared on his back and the girl did it again.
The message screen reappeared.
CelestinaIrena: i need
you to help me
Bob closed Instant Messenger. Celestina would bitch at him later, but he yearned to get back to the girl.
She’d turned the man back over and was riding him now, her head thrown back. She laughed, or maybe she screamed. The whip fell from her hand, forgotten, as she bobbed up and down.
Greta’s step sounded in the hall, then another. Samson's chain-link collar jingled behind her.
Bob knew he should set up the screensaver, slip under the covers to hide his erection, but he watched the girl ride on.
Greta’s steps neared the door.
The girl was screaming now, for sure. Her face was flushed. She was close.
Greta’s hand turned the knob as Bob, finally, closed Internet Explorer.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were up,” Greta said. She wore a black wig that accentuated her wrinkles, turned her green eyes muddy.
Bob hoped he looked sleepy. “Just got up,” he said.
Greta looked pointedly at his erection. “Yes, I guess you did.” Her mouth turned down in a grim frown, much like the one her mother wore permanently.
Bob lit a Kool and placed it between his drawn lips as the erection lingered for another minute and then faded away.
Maud Newton's work has appeared in Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, Story South, Eyeshot, and elsewhere. She's pursuing a graduate creative writing degree from The City College of New York. Visit her at MaudNewton.com.
© 2007 Swink, Inc.