We were a good 30 minutes into the phone conversation before the reason for our deep and abiding friendship reared its mutant head.
We take you now to my second-floor abode. The sun is shining; the birdies on the roof next door are hopping about excitedly, one of them dragging an impressive length of string; the shoutings in the park across the street have a sounds-like-baseball timbre; and the ice cream truck is about to make its third swing around the block, the loudspeaker inexplicably blaring “Love Me Tender”.
I am cradling the phone between my left shoulder and left ear, using this time to sweep the kitchen floor. Raised by a woman who never does fewer than three things at a time, I consider talking on the phone and sweeping to be a bit on the lazy side.
Perhaps I could clean the oven, too?
Eyes shift right, left, then back to the right.
My mother is almost two hours’ north.
We’ll save the oven for another phone call.
“You know what I want?” Mary’s voice is dreamy, with just a touch of whimsy.
I stop sweeping. A smile creeps across my face. I, too, have always wanted a tail.
“Mary, ya freak!” I am beyond giddy. “A tail? Really? Me, too!”
Mary laughs. “I would cut holes in the back of my pants, and everyone would be able to see my tail wag. ‘Oh, look how happy Mary is!’ people would say! And then when I was sad, or scared, you’d be able to see it just by my tail. I could be really sad and my tail would droop but then someone I like would walk into the room and WOOOP! my tail goes back up. I’m happy again!”
I consider and discard the notion of telling her that we pretty much know these things without the tail, that not only is she unafraid of saying what's on her mind but also has the benefit of exactly one pair of expressive eyes that get the point across without a word.
We laugh. Mary’s a “dog person”. Loyal, good-natured, happy on long walks and thoroughly house trained, Mary would make a lovely pet.
“What about you,” she says. “Would you cut holes in your pants?”
“Well, see…” I briefly contemplate going along with the happy, wagging tail bit; but Mary knows when I’m lying.
“Oh, no,” she says, perking up. It occurs to me that she has gone from lying down to sitting up. “What’s going on with your tail?”
I decide to come clean. “Mary, if I had a tail, I’d be the best-paid, hauntingly freaky stripper you’d ever seen.”
Even over the phone, I can hear Mary’s jaw drop, her eyes widen. She coughs. “I’m spitting out Diet Coke,” she says. “I’m sitting up, I’m spitting out my pop and I’m picturing in my head. A stripper!!”
“I’d take the stage dressed as something sweet, right?”
“Oh, ja,” Mary nods. “Everybody loves a sweet stripper…”
“Hush, you,” I say. “So it starts out all cutesy, right? Pink light. Tap shoes. Holding a cupcake. Maybe a gingham apron – I don’t have it all worked out. But it’s just to get the guys comfortable, see? Because then: BAM! Red light hits the stage! The apron disappears – ooh, think of something that would be under the apron, would you? I drop the cupcake and the music switches from whatever strippers dance to when they think they’re being cute to Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain! The horns I have tucked under my hair pop up and WHAM-O! I whip that tail out and the first four rows of gawkers clutch their chests and text their wives how much they love ‘em!”
“That’s a great idea,” Mary grins. “You should totally do that.”
We chuckle as we consider our non-existent tails.
“You’re a weirdo.” Mary is smiling.
“No, you,” I say.
Princesses of the New Age
2 hours ago