Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines

Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines
The Laughing Cherub

Friday, June 24, 2016

THE MOVIE STAR WHO WANTED ME, AND HOW I WAS SAVED BY COMMUNISM

THE MOVIE STAR WHO WANTED ME
(AND HOW I WAS SAVED BY COMMUNISM)
by
MARY ELIZABETH LEACH RAINES


Wow! A movie star wanted me. Me!
And yes, I mean “wanted” exactly in the sense that you’re thinking.
I had never thought anything like that could happen to me, although I’d certainly dreamt about it. All of us—at least those with normal hormones and reasonable imaginations—have entertained the fantasy of having a romantic encounter with a movie star. Even movie stars themselves sometimes get crushes on other movie stars.
     Robert Redford (you’ve heard of him, right?) tells of a time when he was a starving young artist in Rome, before becoming an actor. He spotted Ava Gardner and her entourage in a restaurant, and went a bit gaga over seeing the famous temptress. Gardner noticed, called the smitten young man to her side, and gave him a little kiss. 
     In the films he's made since that time, Redford has kissed many of the world’s most desirable actresses, and in his private life he is happily married—yet, what does he talk about with a moony smile and a far-away look? Having a crush decades ago on a movie star who acknowledged him and actually gave him a smooch! We can all fall prey to fantasies about those we see on the silver screen, you see.
     And now it was my turn.

I had become the object of desire of my very own bona-fide movie star, whom I shall call Chad. Chad was a genuine star, too, not just some minor actor who’d spoken a few lines in a B film.

     Maybe you’re thinking Chad was ugly, and thus easy to get. I’m not superficial in the least, but hey, let’s get real: being attractive increases a person’s odds. Ava Gardner would probably not have summoned an unknown Karl Malden and given him a kiss. (For those who don't know, Karl Malden was a first-rate actor, now deceased, who possessed a bulbous nose and an unfortunate face.) Not every lead actor is good-looking, especially if he’s straight.
     My movie star, however, was both beautiful and completely heterosexual. In fact, he was so handsome that there were stories of women who’d keeled over and fainted when they saw him take off his shirt on the giant screen. Maybe a few guys, too. I presume that they fainted from lust, although, to be fair, the theater might have been overheated.
     All females know Chad’s type. You usually see him on the covers of romance novels: that kind of chiseled, masculine man who makes any woman passing by want to drop both her grocery bags and her pants, fling herself down on the sidewalk, open her legs and cry, “Take me now!”
     When he fell for me (hah!), Chad was definitely not a kid any more, but still gorgeous enough to cause massive major-league drooling. His thick hair was perfect, tousled to just the right aw-shucks degree, yet fitting for the finest black-tie affair. His clothing revealed just a bit of bare chest here, just a ripple of an arm muscle there. His lips seemed designed to curl around the rim of a champagne glass, and his charming grin revealed luminous white teeth befitting a toothpaste commercial. If he chanced to glance at a woman, his bedroom eyes twinkled as if he knew all her secret fantasies—and liked them.

In Chad’s most famous film, he’d had numerous love scenes with a well-known and very beautiful actress, whom I shall call Linda.
     “Chad,” I once asked him, “what was it like kissing Linda in all those romantic scenes you had together?”
     Well, I’ll tell you,” he replied slowly, a great big likeable grin spreading over his face. “The very first scene where we were supposed to be in a clinch was when we were sitting in a car. The cameras started to roll, so I kissed her. After the director yelled ‘Cut,’ Linda looked at me, looked again, and then turned to the cameraman and hollered, ‘Retake!’”

By this point, you are probably frantic to know all the finer details of the affair I had with Chad.
The movie star.

Except that I didn’t have one.
You see, by the time I knew him, Chad was nearly 90 years old. Granted, he was the hottest nearly-90-year-old man I’d ever met, but the age difference was still daunting. He could have been my grandfather.
     He had reached the pinnacle of his stardom during the 1940s. This explains why women in the cinemas fainted when they saw him shirtless. Women tended to do that more in the 1940s than they do now. Today a shirtless man would have to be playing a guitar and screaming into a microphone to get that kind of attention.

     Chad’s Hollywood career had been cut short because he was a member of the Communist party; he had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and no one would hire him to star in any more films, or so he claimed.

     In addition to being a Communist, Chad tended be a little quirky. He was, for example, the only self-proclaimed nudist I have ever met. I personally never saw him strip down, but in his younger years, he apparently frequented nudist camps. (Which makes me wonder if Communists have nudist camps…hmm.)
     Another quirk was that Chad had once been what they called a Muscle Man. He worked out and lifted barbells long before it became popular to do so, and it certainly served him well in his senior years. His excellent physique was one of the reasons the producers wanted him to take off his shirt in the movies; he was just about the very first actor who ever did that.
I’d met Chad through our mutual friend, Bob, who happened to be my landlord in a funky little compound in Hollywood. A group of unusual film people lived in this compound, including a world-famous porn star, a professional Santa Claus, cameramen, actors, script supervisors—and me. We were all friends. There was a shared central patio where we would have picnics and parties. Chad, being Bob’s best friend, was welcome to any event we held.
     Even from inside my house, I could always tell when Chad had arrived, because I could smell the pot. Among his quirks, you see, my would-be boyfriend was what they call a stoner. An inveterate pot-smoker, he proudly grew his own marijuana and he would always light up a joint the moment he entered our patio. I personally hate illegal drugs, and am not even all that crazy about the legal ones. Everybody else in our compound pretty much stuck to booze to get their jollies.
     Except for Chad.
     Who was almost 90, remember?
He continued to smoke pot until one eventful Labor Day, when he showed up late for one of our festive outdoor potlucks. Squeezing into a seat next to me on the bench of the picnic table, he silenced everyone and then he made a dramatic announcement to the group:
     “Guess what, guys?” said Chad.
     “What?” I shouted. (Chad didn’t hear too well.)
     “I’ve stopped smoking pot!”
     “You’re kidding me!” I said.
     “Why would I be hitting you?”  he replied, confused.
     I raised my voice, shouting directly into his ear, “You really quit?”
     “Yeah, I did. I found out smoking pot is bad for my health.”
     We applauded boisterously, and everybody fawned over him for awhile. Meanwhile, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a big white handkerchief that contained a strange loaf wrapped in tinfoil. Was it some kind of weird hors d’oeuvre for the potluck? 
     While I was still wondering what this foil-wrapped goody was, Chad stuck it in his mouth and took a huge bite.
     “Yup, I stopped smoking pot,” he continued, looking very self-satisfied and chewing voraciously. “Now I eat it instead.”
     As the 13-year-olds say: Eeew.
     Perhaps Chad had misinterpreted the term POT-luck.

Chad and my landlord, Bob, were about the same age. Like Chad, Bob was a vehement Communist. The two had been friends for decades and both were deeply entrenched in the film business. Bob wasn’t a star, though. He had only done a little acting; his main job was as a script supervisor. He had been trained to do this by John Ford, and had worked with a long list of the giants of film, including John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Joan Crawford and Jimmy Stewart. And Chad, of course.
     Years ago, someone had given Bob a huge paper-mache head of the actress Bette Davis. The piece was worth a great deal of money, but Bob, being a good Communist, made a deliberate point of not paying attention to the material value of things.
     We had a metal stake in our patio garden and Bob worried that someone might trip and fall on it, so one day he brought out the huge Bette Davis head and placed it on top of the stake, kind of like a protective knob.
     “Bob,” I cried, “it looks like you’ve impaled Bette Davis’ head on a pike in the garden!”
     Bob had known the actress well. A strange smile crossed his face.
     “Good,” he said, and walked away.

Chad and Bob were quite serious about their Communism. They used to get together with a couple of other Hollywood geezers—a famous photographer and a well-known set designer—and the four old men would have meetings that involved a lot of lengthy and intense conversation, head-shaking, wine (pot for Chad), despair, and occasional yelling.
     These aging cronies, all of whom had been blacklisted to some degree or another by Hollywood, embraced Communism with the idealism of fresh-faced freckled Cub Scouts. I always suspected that if there were ever to be a Communist takeover, Chad and Bob would be among the first to be lined up against the wall and shot. Having a Communist for a landlord was very handy, however, so I didn’t complain. Communists—at least the na├»ve ones—feel guilty if they charge too much for rent, and they readily share things like appliances and household tools. I wasn’t about to rock the boat.
     Besides, it was Communism that saved me.
     Let me explain. Chad still hadn’t asked me out. He had told Bob of his lusty intentions, but I wasn’t supposed to know anything about his longings yet. I dreaded the day when he would reveal his passion to me, because then I would have to reject him. For all his quirkiness and marijuana, he was sweet and I didn’t want to hurt him.
     Chad, it turns out, had been taking prescription pills for high blood pressure. The medicine had an unfortunate side effect. It made him impotent. He confided in Bob that he was planning to discontinue his medication so that he could fulfill his manly duties with me. Unfortunately, doing so would seriously jeopardize his health. What to do? It was a dilemma.
     After Chad shared his secret with Bob, the latter naturally ran straight away to knock on the door of one of my friends in the compound and tell her the whole story. She, in turn, came right over to my house and told me.
     This is how I learned that a movie star wanted my body.

A week passed, and the day I’d been dreading finally came. Chad stopped by and asked if I would come outside and sit with him; he said that he wanted to share something with me. I walked to the patio with a sinking heart. Rejection stinks no matter which side of it you’re on. Bob was also waiting there. I sat between the two of them.
     Chad began to court me in earnest. His way of doing this was unconventional. As soon as I sat down, he grabbed a long, musty, yellowing piece of paper and thrust it under my nose.
     “Read this,”  he demanded. Then he sat back with an anxious sigh and waited.
      The paper he handed me must have been well over 50 years old. It had been painstakingly mimeographed, which is the way documents were duplicated in the days before copy machines, and it was crammed with columns of words, words and more words that had been typed in tiny crooked print extending nearly to the edges of the page. There were capital letters and exclamation marks sprinkled excessively throughout the narrow columns. I’d guess that about 2,000 words had been jammed onto that one page.
     While Chad squirmed with anticipation, I politely scanned a few of the sentences. Now, I am a good reader. I will happily read Thackeray or Sir Walter Scott, for example, and enjoy them. I have a volume of Melville on my night table. Trying to make sense of this stuff, however, made my head ache. It was incomprehensible. Typewritten letters formed shrill, ranting sentences that were both illogical and mad. The experience was as unpleasant for my nose as it was for my brain, because the paper beneath my gaze reeked of mildew.
     When I looked up, I saw with dismay that Chad had brought along a huge cardboard box full of similar decaying papers. They had been stored in his garage for years. The poor man had carried all of these tedious, tiresome manifestos to the patio in the hope of sharing his beliefs with me. He imagined that after I read them, I would be inspired to see politics in his way, and become an ardent convert to Communism.
     He was deluded, of course, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Before I could figure out how to tell Chad diplomatically that it just wasn’t going to happen, Bob reached behind me and nudged him. The two began conversing over my head as though I wasn’t even there.
      “What’s the matter with you? Are you f**king nuts?” yelled Bob, who did not endorse diplomacy in the same way that I did.
      He yelled because of Chad’s hearing loss, although Bob was somewhat prone to yelling regardless.
     “She doesn’t want to read them,” he shouted. “You’re never going to get her that way.”
     “I’m never going to get her in the hay?” replied Chad.
     Close enough.
     “She doesn’t want to read them,” repeated Bob in exasperation.
     “Need them?” asked Chad.
     “READ them. She isn’t going to READ them,” screamed Bob. “Look at her. She doesn’t like them!”
     “No?” Chad seemed surprised.
     “NO!” Bob shrieked.
     “Oh,” said Chad sorrowfully. “That’s too bad.”
     He paused to think for a moment.
     “Well,” he finally said, speaking over my head to Bob as though I weren’t present, “I can’t be with a woman who doesn’t believe in the Party.”
     As easily as I had been snagged, without even saying a word, I was off the hook. Like I said, I was saved by Communism.

Although it may have been absurd to consider having an affair with Chad, I did enjoy him. He was easy on the eyes, and he told good stories.
     Like this one. When he had been a muscle man, he used to own a gym. His clients had included the movie stars Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in the days before they became famous.
     Chad fondly recalled a time when he was giving Kirk Douglas a rubdown and, as a practical joke, applied kerosene to Douglas’ testicles. Apparently his poor victim had run naked through the gym, screaming at the top of his lungs.
     Chad laughed and laughed as he told that story. It made me wonder what would have happened to me had I been naked and at his mercy.

Fortunately, that never happened, although I confess that my heart always beats a little faster whenever I watch him take off his shirt in his old movies.

© 2010, Laughing Cherub & M. E. Raines
All rights reserved
Copying, excerpting, or recording in any form is prohibited.
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Sunday, May 22, 2016

THE TENDER HARVEST



THE TENDER HARVEST
by MARY ELIZABETH LEACH RAINES
© 2016, M. E. Raines

“Gabe, you’ve got to get your teeth fixed,” said Louise, addressing something that had been on her mind since she’d first hired him the week before. She hoped his feelings wouldn’t be hurt. “It will make a huge difference in your life. You’ll be able to get more work,” she said encouragingly.
Gabe grimaced at her words as though he’d just sucked on an unsweetened rhubarb stalk, and turned back to his task with vigorous determination. He was digging a deep pit in the yard behind her house. A pear tree stood next to him in its black plastic greenhouse container, waiting to be planted.
Stopping his work momentarily, he leaned down and picked a thick piece of bone up out of the hole, looking at it curiously.
“Oh dear,” said Louise, her forehead furrowing in dismay. “Frisky must have buried that. She was my collie. She’s been dead for a long time now. Poor Frisky.”
Gabe nodded respectfully and resumed digging. “You’re gonna get some good pears,” he said, pointing his chin towards the tree. “The soil’s real fertile.”
He was her new yard man. Louise went through laborers quickly; they seemed to disappear almost fast as she could hire them. She liked Gabe more than most of the workers who’d come to her. He had a miraculous touch with plants, and boundless energy. Some of his ideas were peculiar, but that could be overlooked, for his fees were low. Because he spent most of his days working outdoors, digging and hauling, his wiry tanned body was exceptionally strong; he could take on nearly any task she needed to have done. And, except for his reaction to her suggestion that he get dental work, he smiled almost constantly. A smile worked itself back onto his face now.
Therein lay the problem. Not only was his hair long and stringy, like that of a hippie from the early 70s; he was missing three teeth from the front of his mouth, two on the top and one on the bottom. While he was in truth a very nice and honest man, his sparsely toothed smile and messy hair made him look like a deranged psychopath.
Before she’d hired him, Louise had quizzed him cautiously, for she was particular about her laborers: “Do you do drugs? Do you drink? Do you smoke?”
“Never touch any of that stuff,” he had replied with his usual grin. “It ain’t healthy.”
No, instead Gabe drank organic kale smoothies and snacked—using his back teeth—on rice cakes while he worked. He was adamantly adverse to junk food. He stated that he never ate sugar, declaring that it was evil. She’d asked him curiously how he had lost so many of his teeth, because it obviously wasn’t due to cavities. He had told her that they’d been knocked out when he was helping someone to move a refrigerator up some stairs. He was holding the back end when the guy lifting the front end tripped.
“Really, Gabe,” persisted Louise, who herself was always impeccably groomed. “Fix your teeth.”
Gabe narrowed his eyes and, exhaling loudly, stopped digging for a moment. “Nope,” he said, leaning on the handle of the shovel. “You ain’t gonna get me into no dentist’s chair.”
“How come?”
“Because of what happens when you go to the dentist. I read about it. They tell you they have to put you out, and then, when you’re anesthetized, they harvest your body parts. They take out your organs and eyes, and sell them on the black market.”
Louise laughed and looked him up and down. “Oh Gabe, you’re 45 years old. Trust me. Nobody wants your body parts!”
He shook his head stubbornly. “I’ve got the body of a 30-year-old. My organs are prime.” He patted his lean abdomen proudly. “My left eye ain’t so good, but my right eye is perfect: 20/20 vision. What 45-year-old do you know who can say that?”
He resumed preparing the hole for the tree. Louise sighed and went into the house. When she came back out, she handed Gabe a business card.
“This is my dentist,” she said. “Go to my dentist. I’ll even help pay for it. I’ve sent lots of my workers to him. Gabe, it’s time. You’ve got to fix those teeth.”
Gabe reluctantly put the card in his pocket. It took a few weeks, but finally he confided in Louise that he had made an appointment. She beamed with approval.

When Gabe came to, he expected to find himself stretched out in the dentist’s chair. Instead, he awakened to freezing cold and enormous pain. Squinting with his only remaining eye, he saw through the door that he was in a cheap motel room. His body had been jammed into a bathtub filled with ice. Bloody ice. Ragged stitches zig-zagged across his body.
At that very moment, Louise, her dentist, and several parts of Gabe himself were already in the air, flying to an unnamed Caribbean island. They hadn’t planned on leaving quite this soon. Their sudden departure meant that she would never get to harvest any pears from her new tree, but they had no choice, for although they’d ruthlessly removed both of his kidneys, Louise had insisted that they leave Gabe with his heart intact, plus one eye (the bad one) and half of his liver. A person can live with half a liver. It was she who was responsible for packing what was left of him into the icy bathtub instead of burying him in the back yard with the other men who had worked for her. The dentist had scolded her for being so tender-hearted.
“I don't know why. I just like him,” she had explained as they dumped the last bit of ice around the comatose man before fleeing the country.
Despite failing to reap the complete set of organs from him that they had obtained from her other laborers, their sale of Gabe’s single eye, two kidneys, and half a liver fetched an obscenely high price on the black market.

Deliriously, Gabe lifted his head and looked at his hazy reflection in the full-length mirror on the bathroom wall. He opened his sore mouth and saw to his amazement that he now, thanks to Louise’s generosity, had a full set of teeth. His smile looked fantastic. His hair had also been nicely cut. After he got a patch over his missing eye, the nurses on the dialysis unit all found him quite attractive.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

TRIPLETS

TRIPLETS
by MARY ELIZABETH (LEACH) RAINES
© 2011, M. E. Raines


THE TWO NEWBORN babies, a girl and a boy, are diapered and placed side by side. One of them is me, Kevin. It is the beginning of my new life, and I am sound asleep.
The other baby, whom I shall call Muffy, startles in surprise as she becomes aware of me lying next to her.
We are, of course, unable to speak to one another in words. There is, however, a psychic connection that we babies have that is as powerful as spoken language, and our silent thought projections are exactly like dialogue.
“Kevin,” Muffy cries out. “Kevin? Is that you?! Oh, I can't believe this!
I awaken reluctantly, and open my eyes. “Huh? Where am I?” I say. “Who are you? What’s happening?”
I am upset. I cry, because that’s what we babies do when we are upset.
“Kevin! It's me, Muffy,” she says. “Your wife.”
My sobs subside. “Muffy?” I ask, confused.
“Is this freaky, or what? I know it's definitely you, Kevin, but you look just like a newborn baby!”
I find that with great effort I am able to turn my head in her direction. I gaze at her. Our eyesight is still pretty blurry, and colors are not yet concrete. All I can make out is a tiny creature in a diaper next to me…a tiny creature, but one with Muffy’s vibe.
“You seem to be a baby, too,” I say in bewilderment. “This is weird, man! I don’t like it. I’m getting up. I’ve gotta see what the hell is going on here!”
I try to move. I find that I am unable even to lift my own head, much less get up. I tentatively attempt to raise one of my little arms. All I can do is flail. I hit myself in the forehead. Next, I try to lift my legs. It’s impossible to move them in the direction I intend. They just kick out randomly. No matter how much effort I put into it, I am unable to coordinate my movements.
“Geez, it’s so hard to move my body! Nothing goes where I want it to,” I say in frustration. “That’s just not right. I mean, hell, I'm an athlete!”
“An athlete? Watching golf on TV suddenly makes you an athlete?” says the other baby. The biting tone of her thought projection confirms that it is indeed Muffy lying next to me.
“Hey, I played on Saturdays,” I retort, “and I’ll have you know I had a good swing. The golf pro even told me so once.” I sigh. “Man, this sucks!”
I cry some more. Then we lie there in silence, Muffy and I, trying to absorb it all.
Muffy had been my showpiece wife, a would-be actress without a lot of talent. She had been blonde (thanks to an excellent hairdresser), blue-eyed (thanks to contact lenses), thin (thanks to the latest fad diets and more than a touch of bulimia), busty (thanks to a good plastic surgeon), and rich (thanks to me, a successful investment broker). Before we met, she’d landed a gig on a sitcom that had lasted for one season. Her role had consisted mostly of prancing around wordlessly in a very small bikini. This brought her a little bit of fame, and aroused a decided taste for a life of privilege and partying. She married me and got the life she’d wished for. My needs were less complex. I simply wanted a stacked blonde on my arm. We both had our desires fulfilled. Our marriage was not a good one.
I am trying to piece things together.
“Hey, Muffy, what's the last thing you remember? Before us being babies?”
She thinks for a moment, and then gurgles happily, projecting a place with bright golden light, tremendous love, wisdom, warmth, and a peace that is beyond description.
“You remember that, don’t you Kevin?” she says. “The Light? All that unconditional love? Do you think it was heaven?”
I strain to think. Nope, no peace. No love. No heaven. All I can remember is zooming headlong through a tunnel. She picks up my thought. She remembers the tunnel as well.
I struggle to recall what occurred before the tunnel. I have a nagging feeling that something really important happened, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Which is a funny expression for me to be using, seeing as I can’t put my fingers anyplace…well, except for sticking my thumb into my mouth. That seems to be my one achievable task, although it takes considerable conscious effort. I decide to jam it into my mouth now, and hit the bullseye. It feels curiously soothing to suck on my thumb.
In answer to my unspoken question about what happened before the tunnel, Muffy projects a thought. Apparently we had been attending a very nice function. At least in her mind it was a very nice fuction. In our current state, our faces have pretty limited expressions: being awake, being asleep, and crying. We are not yet mature enough to smile, unless it happens accidentally when we pass gas. But if she could have smiled, she would have. It had been a party.
“Whoa! Stop! Back up,” I say. “Prior to entering the tunnel, we were at a party?”
Her would-be smile fades as her remembrance expands.
“Damn it, Kevin, I told you not to drink so much! I told you to let me drive! I told you not to get behind the wheel!”
I start to remember bits and pieces. The party had been at Arthur’s house. Arthur was my boss from the brokerage. Muffy projects a tingly glow when she thinks about Arthur, but it evaporates as soon as she turns her thoughts to me.
“You were drinking too much, Kevin. Totally sloshed as usual,” she says accusingly, “and when I tried to stop you, you called me a whore—in front of everyone, I might add—and I tried to take the car keys away, but you pushed me onto the front seat, and I couldn't go back in the house to call a cab because you had humiliated me so badly, and besides, Arthur lives out in the boonies where there are no taxis…”
She lets out a sob. Memories of that night are slowly trickling in, but they’re still pretty fuzzy.
“And then you crashed us head-on into a truck! A very big truck…”
I don’t pay attention. There is something about the kitchen that is important here. I’m trying to bring it into focus.
“…and we died,” continues Muffy bitterly. “We DIED! All because you didn't know when to stop drinking. Thank you so very much, Kevin, for killing me.”
She scrunches up her face, preparing to cry. If she could have crossed her arms and frowned at me in disapproval, she would be doing that. Muffy used to cross her arms and frown at me a lot when she was my wife…or at least she’d tried to. It’s hard to frown when your face is full of Botox.
I’m still stuck on the kitchen. There is something important that I need to remember about the kitchen. What is it?
Suddenly it hits me. Muffy had been in the kitchen. With Arthur. Embracing him.
“That’s what it was,” I gasp, as a clearer image suddenly pops into my brain. “You were in the kitchen…kissing Arthur—my boss, Arthur!”
I turn my head to the side and stare darkly at Muffy. Muffy squirms, trying to dodge my accusation.
“How can you say that?” Her thoughts reek of evasion.  “I’ll bet Arthur was kissing…um…his wife. Yeah, that's it. He was probably kissing his wife. She and I were both wearing blue. You couldn’t tell. By that time, Kevin, you were so drunk, you couldn’t see your own nose.”
“Whaddya mean I couldn't see my own nose?” I say.
She glances sideways at me to see if I have swallowed her story. I have not. I’m still stuck on that see-your-own-nose bit. I pull my thumb out of my mouth.
“Muffy, nobody can see their own nose. Unless they're cross-eyed.”
“Well, you certainly had enough martinis to accomplish that,” she crows triumphantly. A little drool spills out of the side of her mouth.
“Look, I did not even start to drink until after I saw you in the kitchen. Kissing my boss,” I counter. With mounting satisfaction. “And that's why I shoved you into the car seat, Muffy. Now I remember!”
“Kevin, I simply can't imagine how you could possibly believe that I would be kissing your boss in the kitchen,” she mumbles.
My response is vehement. “Liar! Do you deny it? Your tongue was so deep inside Arthur's mouth, I'm surprised it didn't come out his asshole!”
I project a picture.
“Don’t be so crude, Kevin,” says Muffy indignantly.
“Oh, I'm the crude one? I am not the one who was kissing Arthur in the kitchen. I've been one-hundred percent faithful to you throughout our marriage, Muffy, and, believe me, it wasn't easy. You know my clientele. I had numerous—numerous—opportunities to cheat. But I turned them all down,” I say self-righteously.
“Oh, I’m aware of all the bimbos who hit on you. But let’s be clear. You weren’t faithful because you’re noble. You would have cheated at the drop of a dime if you could have, but honey, you drank too much for certain parts of your anatomy to function. Anyway, by the end of the day, you were just too plastered to do anything but come home and pass out,” she retorted.
“Muffy, I have remained completely and absolutely loyal to you by choice,” I insist. “So tell me. What else did you and Arthur do together with your tongues, or any other appendages and orifices?”
“Would you please stop? You’re disgusting, “ she says. “This entire situation is so typical.”
“Typical?” I kick my legs helplessly. “My wife cheats on me with my boss, in my extreme distress I drink a little too much, a truck hits us—that's A TRUCK HITS US, not KEVIN HITS A TRUCK—and we die, we go through this tunnel thing, we get reborn as babies. And you’re saying that’s typical?”
“Yes. It’s typical of you, Kevin. It really is.” She clenches her little fist. “Here we are in this extraordinarily bizarre circumstance. We appear to be newborn babies. We have no idea how we got here, we are bewildered as to what's going on, but instead of calmly assessing our situation and trying to understand what's happening, you launch an attack on me! You always do this! It always winds up the same way. You twist it around so that I'm at fault. Nothing else matters except what Muffy did to poor Kevin. Let's all get angry at Muffy.
“Welcome to our marriage, day in and day out,” she continues. “Whether we’re on our honeymoon in Mexico and circumstances beyond our control force us to leave early, or whether a defective curling iron starts a fire in the bathroom, or…or…or whether we're trapped some place in a blizzard, every single time, you manage to turn it around so that it’s my fault. You’re always making me look like the bad one!”
She emits an audible sputter.
“Hey, Baby, it wasn’t me who lost a contact lens and demanded that we cut our honeymoon short because somebody we won't name balked at the idea of going to a Mexican eye doctor for a replacement,” I retort.
“Don’t call me Baby,” she says in a huff. Which is pretty amusing, considering our circumstances.
I continue my defense. “It wasn’t me who left a curling iron on high for 48 hours straight. It wasn’t me who…wait. Blizzard? What blizzard?”
Even though my memory is dim just now, I am positive that we were never trapped in a blizzard. That’s Muffy for you. Always exaggerating wildly in hopes of getting pity and attention.
Naturally Muffy picks up my thought. “And you wonder, Kevin, why  I was attracted to Arthur,” she says.
“Ah-HAH,” I cry. “So you don't deny it?”
There is a sound from around the corner.
“Shhh. Shhh. Someone's coming,” says Muffy.
A woman dressed in odd clothing enters and places another baby next to us. After chucking each of us under the chin—which, surprisingly, feels quite delightful—she scurries out, leaving us alone.
Oh, my God,” says Muffy after the woman exits.
“What now?”
“This baby lying next to us. I think I know who it is,” she says.
Our new companion opens his eyes and blinks sleepily. “Where am I?”
Muffy lies in the center of our trio. She turns her head toward the new baby. “Arthur? Is that you?” she asks.
Arthur thrashes uncomfortably. His little hands brush against the fabric of a diaper. Startled, he says in a demanding way, “What the hell is going on here? What is this on my ass? Is this a diaper?! And who are you people?”
I think it’s hilarious. Even as a newborn infant, Arthur can’t stop being the executive.
Muffy gets all mushy. “Oh, Arthur, dear, it's me…your darling Muffy.
“Who’s the other kid?
I try to wave hello, and wind up hitting myself in the forehead again.
“It’s only Kevin,” she says, screwing up her mouth as though she had just tasted something sour. “I’m afraid Kevin's present with us as well.”
“Muffy?…Kevin?” says Arthur, bewildered. “I don’t get it.”
“That’s okay, buddy,” I say consolingly. “I don’t get it  either.”
We lie there for a few minutes, adjusting to our new bodies.
Then Muffy turns her thoughts to Arthur. “So Arthur, what's the very last thing you remember?” she asks.
He thinks for a moment.
“There was a tunnel,” he says finally. “And there was this big angel-type person saying stuff like, ‘You have to return. You have important lessons to learn.’
“What about before the tunnel?” persists Muffy. “What do you remember happening before you went into the tunnel? Think!”
Pondering for a few seconds, Arthur remembers. If his face could have registered it, he would look shocked.
“Oh, God! The phone call!” he cries. “I got a phone call saying that the two of you had just been killed in a car crash. They said that Kevin hit a truck…”
“The truck hit me,” I sigh.
“…and then I got this terrible crushing pain in my chest and…oh my Lord, I must have had a heart attack!”
Arthur tries unsuccessfully to rub his chest with his little wrinkled hands. Then he screws up his eyes and cries for a while. Muffy and I join him. Why not?
When our sobfest subsides, he takes on the role of the boss again.
“All right, we need to figure this out. What’s going on? Where are we?”
“Beats the hell outta me,” I say with a shrug.
“The picture is pretty obvious. All three of us are little babies,” says Muffy.
You would have thought recognizing that he was in a diaper would have made the situation clear, but apparently our new forms hadn’t completely impressed themselves on Arthur before this point.
“Good God. We’re babies?” he exclaims, aghast. He thinks for a minute. “We've been reincarnated, then? As babies?”
“That’s what it looks like,” says Muffy.
Then I start getting a vibe. “Hey, you two,” I say, “I’m picking up a strong possibility that the three of us are related. Don’t ask me how I know this. It just feels like we are.”
“Brothers and a sister?” says Arthur. “You've gotta be kidding me! You think we've been reborn as brothers and a sister?”
“Kevin, I feel the same thing,” Muffy chimes in. “Do you know what I'm sensing? Call it women's intuition, but I am certain that we’ve come back as triplets.”
For once she and I agree on something. “Yup. We're triplets all right. How about that!” I chortle. A new thought strikes me. “Say, Muffy,” I ask slowly, “are you a girl or a boy?”
She tenses with apprehension. “I’m sure I’m a girl,” she says nervously. “I would have to come back as a girl, wouldn’t I? People don't come back as different sexes. Do they?”
“You’re asking me?” I say. “Nobody gave me the manual on reincarnation.” I burp.
“I've got to be a girl,” continues Muffy. But, oh gee, I don't know. I can't tell. How can we find out with these diapers on?”
Then Arthur pipes up and says, “Pee. We should all take a pee. Then we’ll know.” He goes for it, and with scarcely any effort at all, manages to wet his diaper.
“Huh. That’s very interesting. Seems like I've come back as a girl,” he says. He is not displeased.
“You’re saying I should pee? In a diaper? How gross!” cries Muffy. Despite her distaste, after a bit of straining, she completes the act. “Ew, I have a thingy,” she cries. “I'm a boy!”
As for me, I find out to my dismay that I’m a girl.
Can you believe it?” I grumble. “Me, a girl? Aw, man! This is not the way it’s supposed to be!”
Muffy glances sideways at me. “A-hah. You see! Look at you, Kevin. I knew it! I knew it!”
“Knew what?” I protest. “Hey, I didn’t hit the truck! The truck hit ME.”
“I always knew you were a sexist pig,” Muffy crows. “A male chauvinist sexist pig, that's what. You used to deny it, but I always suspected.”
“Wait, me? What about you? What’s with, ‘Ew, I have a thingy…’?”
She ignores me. “You regard women as inferior, don't you? You can't stand the thought of not coming back as a guy, can you?!”
Arthur chimes in. “Well, maybe Kevin doesn’t like being a girl, but not me. Personally, I find it fascinating! Just think about it, Kevin. You and I are gonna grow…” He stops and steals a look at Muffy. Then he makes an attempt to cup his hands in front of his chest. He is unsuccessful, but of course his thoughts are easy for us to translate. “Well, you know what we’re going to grow!”
This does not inspire me. I am bummed out about this uninvited sex change. Muffy is actually not wrong on that point.
“Is that all we've got to look forward to, Arthur?” I reply disconsolately. “Training bras?”
Muffy, meanwhile, is absorbed in her own sensations. “This is completely weird. I, um, have my own pair to contend with…but a lot lower this time. It feels so strange down there.”
“I don’t see why,” I retort dryly. “It’s not like having balls is going to be a new experience for you, Muffy.”
Muffy attempts to stare me down, but all she can do is emit little hiccups.
“Hey, c'mon you guys,” says Arthur. “Cut out the bickering. Let’s work on what's happening here and figure out a course of action. Obviously we've been reincarnated. Do either of you know anything about reincarnation?”
“Isn’t it like the Golden Rule in reverse: that whatever stuff you did to other people is going to happen to you?” says Muffy.
“Yeah, yeah,” he replies. “One of my clients produced a TV special about that. If you do something lousy to someone, or if you don't like each other, you keep on getting reborn with them, over and over, until you get it right.”
“Karma,” I say. “It's called karma, kids.”
Muffy tries her best to toss her head self-righteously, the way she used to when she was my wife. “Well, I'm certainly glad I'm not in your shoes, Kevin.”
I do not understand.
“God knows what your karma will be for drinking so much!” She flaps her hands in the air for emphasis.
“Excuse me, Ms. High-and-Mighty Muffin,” I say. “On the topic of karmic payback, were you or were you not cheating on me with Arthur?”
Muffy stiffens. “Our affair was an entirely different matter, Kevin. I was going to tell you, but, as you know,” she continues bitterly, “we seem to have died before I had the chance. You ran into a truck.”
If I had possessed any teeth, I would be clenching them. “A truck ran into ME!” I say.
“Anyway, Arthur and I are in love,” continues Muffy. “He was going to leave his wife for me, and as soon as he did that, I was going to get a divorce from you. Isn’t that so, Arthur?”
Arthur wiggles uncomfortably and wets his diaper a little bit more.
“You actually told her that?” I say gleefully. “Oh man, that is precious! Hah hah hah! Arthur, you sly devil, you!”
“What in the world are you talking about?” asks Muffy warily.
It is my turn to be smug. “Muffy. Dearest Muffy,” I say, “Arthur was never going to leave his wife. Not for you, not for anyone.”
“That's not true! Arthur, tell him about us. Go ahead!” she cries.
Arthur remains awkwardly silent.
Arthur?” she repeats weakly, her heart sinking.
I don’t feel sorry for her. “Now that we're dead, Arthur, and I am no longer in your employ, I can reveal this without fear of retribution. Muffy, to be blunt, my former boss, Arthur, was the kind of man who chased anything and anyone with two legs, and even then, I might be limiting him. Arthur, a successful executive, to be sure, had a teeny little failing. One of his organs was hyperactive, and it wasn’t his brain. You see, your dearest lover and my former boss nailed just about every single person in the office.”
I want to smile triumphantly. All that happens, though, is that a little bubble of saliva escapes my mouth.
Muffy turns to look fiercely at Arthur. Arthur, is that right? You had an affair with every woman in the office?”
“Listen to me carefully, Muffy,” I say, slowing down my transmission of thoughts so that she will pay careful attention. “I didn’t say every woman. I said every person.”
“I don’t understand. What do you mean, every person?”
“Tell her, Arthur,” I prompt. “Go ahead.”
Arthur tightens his lips. He is actually able to do that somewhat. I am impressed. No wonder he was the boss.
“Kevin, you're fired,” he says.
He turns to face Muffy.
“Listen, Muffy. You were great in the sack. We had some fine times together. But you were the one who started talking about getting divorces and running away together. I never promised that.”
“What do you mean, every person?” she repeats.
“You might as well know the whole truth, Muffy,” says Arthur. “I'm bi. You know. Bisexual.”
Finally! It’s out! I succeed in kicking both my arms and my legs joyously.
“What exactly do you mean?” says Muffy sternly.
“I mean that I’ve always been attracted to men just as much as women,” shrugs Arthur. “So sue me.”
“But you were married,” exclaims Muffy.
I point out to her that she was married, too. She ignores me and continues.
“And I thought it was only me you were with. How could you cheat with so many people when you were married!”
“My wife and I had an understanding,” he replies. “I made a lot of money, and she enjoyed spending it. We got along well.”
 “How could you do this to me, Arthur?” whimpers Muffy. “You were sleeping with other people? At the same time as me?”
“Feels great to have the person you love cheat on you, doesn't it, Muffy?” I crow.
Muffy continues to ignore me. As usual. “You're saying you slept with men? Men and women, both? But the promises…the lies,” she sputters. A new thought strikes her. “And the diseases! You could have caught something! You could've given it to me!”
“I don't suppose it matters what you might have given to me,” I mutter.
“First of all, Muffy,” says Arthur, “I always used protection. Secondly, anybody can have a disease. Thirdly, who cares any more? We're dead!”
“I'm really upset,” wails Muffy.
“You think you’re upset,” I say. “I just did something super disgusting in my diaper.”
Through her tears, Muffy continues her inquisition of Arthur: “You slept with everyone in the firm?”
“And then some,” I say happily.
“Well, not everyone,” responds Arthur slowly, projecting his thoughts with sudden emotion. “There was one person I could never reach…one person I loved more than anybody else. Maybe I was promiscuous because I knew I could never have that person. For him, I would have left my wife. With him, there might have been a chance to make a life together. But knowing he would never return my love, well, nothing mattered any more.”
Arthur turns and, looking across Muffy, stares longingly at me.
Oh, hey, no! No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” I say.
“Kevin,” says Arthur, still staring, “I can speak freely now. Finally. I've always loved you! I married my wife only after you married Muffy. I wanted to be accepted by you. All those affairs I had? They were meaningless.”
“Even me?!” bawls Muffy in dismay.
“Muffy, quite frankly, you were simply a way of getting closer to Kevin. If I couldn't be with him, well then, at least I could be with someone near to him.”
Her face red, crying hard, Muffy shouts, “I hate you! Both of you!”
Meanwhile, in an attempt to avoid eye contact with Arthur, I am glancing around, taking in our immediate environment.
“Hey, siblings, I don't want to bring you down from your current state of euphoria,” I say, “but have you taken a good look at our surroundings?”
“What surroundings,” sniffles Muffy. “We're in a hospital, right? I mean, we've just been born. I WANT MY MOMMY!”
Unlike Muffy, Arthur gets it. “This isn't like any hospital I've ever seen,” he says slowly. “Hospitals don’t have thatched roofs.”
“And have you noticed how hot and muggy it is?” I say.
“What are you suggesting, Kevin?” asks Muffy.
“I'm saying that I don't think we've been born into your typical upscale circumstances,” I answer. “This isn't exactly Cedars Sinai. I don't even think we're in the United States.”
“Oh, no,” gasps Muffy as a sobering thought hits her. “Kevin, what color are we? Why can't I tell? Oh boy, we'd better be Caucasian. Please, please, God! Let me be white!”
“Why, Muffy, you little bigot,” I sneer, “do you care that much what color your skin is?”
“Why of course not,” she responds indignantly. “I am not prejudiced, Kevin. Not one bit. Only, I just really, really, really, really want to be white. I need to be white! I mean, why should I have to be the socially disadvantaged one? Please, God, can't I be white?!?”
She whiffles her hands in the air and stares hard at them. Then she lets them fall back down.
“We're not white,” she moans. She stuffs one of her hands into her mouth and sucks noisily on the knuckles.
“Whatever our race, by the look of things, we've been born into extreme poverty,” says Arthur. “This is not good, kids.”
“Oh, no. We're poor, too? We're dark-skinned and we're poor? But that's so unfair!” cries Muffy. “We're just BABIES!”
“So this is how karma works,” I muse. “We three lived lives of luxury and power, and we come back as disadvantaged third-world triplets.”
“And as triplets, we’re stuck with each other,” whimpers Muffy, catching on. “I’m tied to you, Kevin. I can’t leave you and you can’t leave me. You can’t avoid facing Arthur, either; you’re stuck with him, too. And Arthur, you can't go to bed with either one of us!”
“But I can take a nap,” says Arthur with a huge yawn. “Which I’m going to do right now. I'm so tired, my eyes can’t stay open…g'night.” He closes his eyes and falls sound asleep.
And Muffy and I? We begin to cry.

***