She knows the answer. “Ice Age didn’t have hats.”
She always knows the answer. She always knows a lot of answers, taking them to Pub Quiz victory, free pitcher and platter every Wednesday night, Pete saying from behind the bar, “Let someone else have a turn, Laura,” his exasperation as staged as his call back to the kitchen, “Platter, two extra blues, extra celery!” like a hash slinger from fifty years ago.
He throws himself back-first on the bed next to her, holds the tablet at arms length and squints up. “Will it sell plush toys?”
Laura puts her head next to his, ear to ear, cheek to cheek. Squints. “Mmmm. Shorter snout. Higher forehead. More kawaii.”
“Always with the more kawaii. Tell me we’re not talking about that again.”
“Asia’s a big market.”
“Asia’s gonna buy us a real house, with a room for all your books. Soon as I finish this project.”
Laura smiles. Laura believes.
He rolls off the bed, crosses the room to his desk, sets down the tablet. “Break.” Turns to her, tumbled in the sheets, always in bed first, always waiting to sleep until he comes. “Stay like that.”
She puffs her bangs with an upward breath, then turns her face into her left arm.
“No,” he says, “like you were before.”
She brings her arm down and turns the left side of her face away from the light.
She turns her face back, the light from the bedside lamp—a knockoff of the Danish original they both love—shining on the puckered rope of flesh stretching its length from brow bone to jawline. Her right eye implores him.
“Leave it out.”
“Then it’s fake.”
“Dogs in hats are fake. Me—without—is still me.”
He sets pencil to paper and begins to rough in the ovals of her form in quick, easy strokes.
“Jeremy.” She says his name without moving, without disrupting the outline.
He looks up. She is as solemn as he has ever seen her.
“Make me pretty.”
* * *
“Nice job fixing her face. You think the doc took out her fucking personality, too?”
Jeremy heard, as maybe Pete meant him to, as the bar door swung shut. His stomach replaced emptiness with a rock. Laura teetered ahead on the silly heels she bought yesterday, more than they could afford, at least until he finished the project and the check from Pixar came. Then he’d buy her—he was going to buy her—whatever.
She turned, “Keep up, big guy! I’m not gonna walk home alone, right?”
He caught up, but just before he reached for her hand, she turned and started ahead again.
“Some dumbass contest! Who the fuck knows all that stupid book shit?”
“If you’d let me answer—”
“Yeah, you know everything, right? Not like your dumb girlfriend.” Laura turned suddenly, and he bumped into her. She clutched him to keep from falling over, pressed her breasts into his chest, her thigh into his groin. “Least I’m hot, right?”
Jeremy didn’t answer. She pressed her thigh a little harder. “Right?”
“So hot I want to draw you.”
“Ooo, kinky! Let’s do it here. Let’s do it now.” Laura let him go and wobbled toward a bench. By the time his pad was in his hands, she’d taken off her jacket, one dress strap falling over her shoulder, her face—perfect, beautiful—turned to what she knew was a flattering angle.
He braced his back against a lamppost and sketched, ignoring her little sounds, until her little sounds became little yips.
* * *
“Have a bite,” Jeremy said, holding out a cube of something—intestine? Uterus? You could never tell with cha siu, but he figured if Laura ate it, it wouldn’t kill him.
No Pixar check yet—he was so close. The project was becoming real. The day they approved the preliminaries he’d bought her a new bowl, and himself a stack of pads and pencils of every hardness, but he couldn’t get her back. The first Laura, not dumb beautiful Laura, not small smarter Laura. His Laura. He couldn’t remember the placement of the scar, the angle of her ear to her jaw. She’d never liked photos, of course, and he was too afraid to get it wrong again, to keep making it worse.
Laura whined by the door.
“Oh Lord, we’re not talking about a walk again, are we? You just had one, pretty girl!”
“Smart girl. You just had one, smart girl. Now your boyfriend’s going to take a long, hot shower, and you’re going to enjoy Iron Chef until he comes out.”
He clicked the TV on, the wide screen a benefit of drawing dogs without hats, and pressed buttons. He’d never have blown his up-front on electronics before—but he felt Laura needed “company” when he went to the studio downtown. Or spent the night walking and trying to picture her real face.
Laura yipped again.
“Yes, the original. You’re right, the American version is lame.” She was always right.
He came out of the shower to Chairman Kaga’s dubbed voice, “If memory serves me right…” He nearly slipped on a piece of paper on the floor before lifting the towel. Drifts. Fucking drifts.
Laura sits in the middle of the room, paper all around her, torn bits and tattered bits and shreds and the shards of his tablet beneath the desk, where she must have leapt up to the pile of the project…Jesus, the project…bits of dogs and squirrels and a surefire plush-toy-ready woodchuck for Brad Pitt’s voice, the carnage of their limbs and eyes and kawaii foreheads everywhere. Hours—the hours.
Laura knows. She looks up, looks please don’t be mad with brown eyes in a furry white face, and Jeremy keeps his eyes on her while he steps sideways to the desk, grabs a pencil and the biggest piece of paper left.
He starts to sketch.
This is an intersection with <lj user=i_id>, whose piece may be read here.