After the shopping is finished, Paul steers our car in the direction of home. My stomach grumbles.
Hungry?” Paul asks. “Where do you want to eat?
“I don’t care, you?” This is the ping pong we play on weekends, tired of the chains and the non-chains that taste like every other chain. Despite our lack of success (maybe we’re picky) I remain optimistic, certain the next restaurant will have potential. Stopped at a red light, I point to a sign in a corner strip mall. Coco Deep Fried Chicken. The restaurant is nestled incongruously between a violin store and a Source Adult Video.
We place our order at the counter and find a table to wait for our food. Both the flimsy plastic forks and the chopsticks are unmanageable so we eat with our hands. Soon, our fingers and mouths are smeared red with sticky sweet and sour sauce.
“Do you like this?”
“It’s different,” I say, pondering. “Actually I do like it.”
Paul holds up a half-gnawed chicken leg and uses it as a baton to motion next door.
“Wanna buy a dildo?”
“No!” I say, choking on my last swallow. Before he has the chance to look deflated, I add, “Maybe a vibrator.” And then I scrunch my shoulders and make a funny noise. Paul looks at me quizzically. This is an unfamiliar sound, one I haven’t heard since my friend Susie and I were twelve: it’s a full-on giggle. “Can I finish my chicken first?” and Paul nods.
The last time I was in an “adult” store was with a group of women. We were in search of irreverent gifts for a bridal shower. We’d toss anything feathery or penis shaped into our party basket.
The theme hasn’t changed much over the years. I spot several lone men wandering the aisles and reading DVD covers; a young couple scans a table of gadgets, items with silver studs and flourishes of pink marabou. Perhaps they’re creating their own party pack.
I find the vibrator wall and am mesmerized by the array, many of the toys as small as lipstick tubes and blinged out with colorful designs. I pull one from a hook – one of the “lipsticks” – and take it to the cashier.
Before we can react, the cashier pops my vibrator from its container and inserts the included battery.
“What are you doing?” I ask, not pleased that this perspiring stranger, one who’d just run her fingers through her hair and taken our money, is handling my new purchase. The vibrator buzzes and she give satisfied nod.
“I have to make sure these work ‘cause there aren’t any returns.”
“Good thing,” I say and hear that silly giggle again, now sounding more like the bleat of a sheep.
Paul whispers, “It’s not like I’m going to drive back if the battery’s dead.”
“Don’t worry,” I whisper back, touching my lips to his ear as the woman bags my purchase. “I have 99% isopropyl under the sink.”
“That won’t erase her image from my brain.”
Again the giggle. I like this fresh side of our relationship.
Back in the car, I relax against the head rest. A decade-old memory appears: my mom and I sit together on a balcony in Honolulu and my dad is taking a siesta inside the condo. I’m there to visit for a week, leaving Paul behind in Canada. Mom and I chat, and then she is quiet. I turn to her; she’s looking at her fingernails and grinning.
“What are you thinking?”
“I was going to ask if you wanted to play Scrabble and then remembered a funny story from last year.”
“I wanted your Dad to play but he wasn’t interested so I said, ‘I’ll trade you two games for sex’.”
“Mom!” I shriek. This admission gobsmacks me. An occasional raunchy joke is the most I’d ever heard from my mother. Until Scrabble. “Don’t explain, no more, or I’ll never be able to face another tile!”
She tilts back her head and lets out a belly laugh, revealing a row of strong white teeth. From her eyebrow-raised expression, I’m quite sure they carried out this sex-for-board-game barter.
“Why are you telling me this?” She shrugs and then I start to laugh. My father shuffles outside, awakened by our noise, and asks what’s up. I can’t look him in the eyes so point to my chair for him to take it, and I disappear inside. I felt oddly hopeful for my parents.
Paul glances over. “What are you grinning about, your Coco Chicken or your new vibrator?” I shrug like my mom and smile. “Can we stop at Canadian Tire for a minute?” he continues. “They have a sale on drills.”
“Sure.” We both want our toys.
I’m pickin’ up good vibrations, he’s giving me excitations. For some reason I feel like listening to the Beach Boys
Audio story music
by Silent Partner