Wild Pinx

by Heather Thomas
Wild Pinx
Heather Thomas
Feminist Studies
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On this trip we won't be taking pictures.

We must try to ignore the signs.

We will hear voices, driving.

The car is pink with purple stripes and fins, a pink vinyl top. Mother and Zera are dressed as prostitutes: looks for fall that count. Zera wears contact lenses, her eyes heavily lined in onyx kohl, the lines drawn upward into points at the outside corners, making almond shapes. Mother has glasses studded with rhine- stone dragons on the outer rims. She will put them on to read road maps, then let them dangle on gold drapery cord around her neck. She has consented, reluctantly, to come. She would rather be studying hats or home rearranging the living room furniture.

'You always cared about your looks," Mother says. 'You have to use your head and not look cheap."

They are happy in their work, though Zera is uncertain exactly where they are going. They laugh a lot. Mother wants a destina- tion, so Zera says they are going to a dance, where men will arrive in new white Cadillacs. This satisfies Mother, at least temporarily. She does not like old Cadillacs. Soon they are on the New Jersey Turnpike. Mother is fixing her lipstick and looking for a cherry Chiclet.

"I don't know why I came with you, Zera. You know I don't like to be depressed."

'Try not to worry, Mum, I'm glad you decided to come."

'Well, at least you remember your manners. I was wondering, do you still have that Vogue Book of Etiquette I gave you? I seem to have misplaced mine. You know I like to look things up, on occa- sion. It's important to do the right thing."

Feminist Studies 15, no. 1 (Spring 1989). 1989 by Heather Thomas


'Well, I wonder who does. I mean, even granting good inten- tions, the results seem to be suffering, war, dehumanization, com- mercialization."

'You're always so depressed. Look on the bright side. Play by the rules. You have to have rules, Zera. You have to protect yourself. Be able to pay. And not want boys. It only cheapens you to want them. And it won't pay the rent."

They pass long, windowless buildings, some identified by name, by large-lettered signs hard to ignore though no one seems to be paying attention: Mary Kay Cosmetics, Die-Cast, Nuk-Tech. Co- nundrums of high-voltage wire and pipe, silent odorous fields of oil tanks. Stuckey's and Sarnoset Junior High.

"A girl shot her ex-boyfriend at that school," Zera says. "I read about it."

"It's awful what people do."

"His best friend, too. Shot him. She was straight A. 'It'll be all right,' the police told her. 'No, it won't,' she said. Pointed the gun at herself, pulled the trigger."

Zera pulls into a rest area and parks. They get out of the car. There are no facilities. The ground is damp. There are redwood tables and benches. Clumps of marigolds littered with Tastykake wrappers and dirty paper cups from fast-food restaurants. No fast- food restaurants in sight. Mother does not eat fast-food; the ex- perience is so deprived, they don't even serve the food on plates. Her black patent high-heels sink in the ground, then reappear, mud-covered. This irritates her, although she likes being in the sun. Her pink leather skirt grows warm.

"I brought your favorite: curried egg and cucumber on party rye," Zera says, producing a picnic basket.

'Now, that sounds lovely."

They sit at one of the tables. Zera serves the sandwiches on Melo-mac plates.

'The papers said the boy was very, very happy," Zera says. "Fun- loving, so busy with wrestling and Boy Scouts he didn't have time to date anyone, even her. She was a nice girl, they said, who had attempted suicide before."

They eat the sandwiches while Zera heats some water in a ther- mos with a battery-operated Hot-Cup coil. They are warm now, sitting in the sun. Their skirts, short and tight, have ridden up a bit. Zera's cycle is peak. She wants sweets. She gets out some cookies for dessert. Wishes they were chocolate.

"Have some tea, Mum. Cookies. Do you know peak mucus feels slippery on the genitals and can be stretched up to ten inches be- tween the fingers?

"What an awful thing to say!"

'The three fertility changes that can be monitored occur in cer- vical mucus secretions, basal body temperature, and alterations of the cervix."

'Why do you talk like this? I don't like this body talk!" "I thought it was useful information, Mom. You could have mentioned it." "Mentioned it?" Mother sips her tea, bites a butter shortbread. 'You, Zera, were hard to talk to."

ZERA PAYS THE TOLL. Driving again. They pass processsions of trucks, several double tractor-trailers. Zera is driving too fast. Mother's foot pumps the floor mat. Zera wonders whether the truck drivers look down from their high seats at the two women fishtailing in the pink car, pink leather hiking up their thighs. She and Mother can see only the multiple wheel rigs of the trucks, the curve and endless stretch of concrete. Off to the side of the road, the alchemy of the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania-Maryland power grid. Massive transformers, smell of sulfur. Nuclear cooling towers, huge concave vessels creating new clouds from billows of steamy release, the clouds ascending from starry lights blinking around the rims. Sounds of machines, trucks and cars, sounds of breathing, air and exhaust, sounds of their bodies. Voices. Zera turns up the radio. It is a nude talk show. They say they are nude. It's the fashion to say so when one is unseen. This is what they say.

"How did you start, Lois?" Sound of male voice, saying he is unclothed. "Normally, my fantasy is, well I hate to admit, it's being gang raped, usually by two or three men I've recently met."

"Are you serious or teasing?"

"Oh, I'm totally submissive."

"Zera, can't we listen to some nice music?"

"But, Mom, we know all about nice music."

Mother sighs. Wants to be a good sport and keep up with the times. She wears a peaked Thai hat sparkling with zircons. Her swan's neck holds an undoubled chin securely, her brow vaults linelessly to an ungrayed hairline. She cranes to read a map without her glasses, then remembers them on the tasseled drapery cord. Her glasses, the thin librarian type, though decorative, rest lightly on a meager bosom covered with a black lace camisole. She sits on a stitched mound of peacock feathers, a bon voyage gift from her clients. Her legs are thin.

Commercial break. ". . .And you'll learn fifty commonly used ex- cuses that don't work and four explanations that can get your park- ing summons dismissed."

'Why rape?" It is the male again.

"It's the one that gets them into fucking. It's a way to get a lot of men to adore you and get married."

'Would you like to be gang raped or just raped?"

"Raped. I'm into force and violence."

Commercial break. ''Have you ever been envious of how doctors, professionals, and film people can park anywhere? For $50 more, you can learn how clever imitators use parking permits daily!"

"I guess," Zera says, "we're not supposed to make a connection between the talk show and the commercial. But we hear them to- gether, so I think there's a relationship."

'We're not," Mother says, "supposed to be hearing this at all. And that word, 'relationshipf- I think it's obscene."

"Not politically correct for women, is it -the show, I mean?"

"Politically correct? What's that got to do with it? It's sheer vulgarity and I refuse to listen!" Mother stabs a button on the radio. She is a strong woman. "And now, the news. A gunman burst into the VanCleef and

At-pels jewelry store on Rodeo Drive today, taking five people hostage in a hail of gunfire. He said he was upset about some mer- chandise he had purchased. The conditions of the victims are not fully known, however, we do have a tape of one woman who was interviewed by police using a telelphone:

(Police voice) Are you all right? Are you being treated well? (Desperate woman's voice) No. I'm tied up. It's hopeless. We want cameras, TV cameras. Please do whatever he says." Mother pulls the fingers on her appliqued turtle-skin gloves. One by one by one until the gloves peel off, retaining the shape of

her hand. Green skin, green air. From the glove compartment, she takes a red suede pair, inserting each finger. Red suede travels up her arms to her elbows.

Zera changes the channel.

"Shall I tell you what I want?" The radio voice low, husky, mechanical, female. "I want to be owned and controlled. I want you to pull ropes onto my body and bind gags into my mouth and I want the sight of me like that to drive you crazy so you will use your hands on me, your mouth, whatever parts of your body you use. . . . What do you want to do now?"

Zera taps her naked fingers on the steering wheel. Tap, tap, tap. She accelerates. How can she tolerate the anxiety without denying what's there? How does she open to a world like this? How does she know it's not in her when unavoidably she's in it? Saturated, soaked through, pickled in it, stuck up to her neck, through and through and yes, stuck up-the "up" gives the out. See, you're up above it, believing it's not in you, not your wicked world. See, denial again. Can't get away-driving, driving, no other place to go. Even planes have to touch down. Oh, to be a dog in space!

She fiddles with the radio. ". . . baby, what you do in your pink Cadillac . . . Raz-z-z-berry-. . . tender, plump chicken . . . Supreme Court today . . . the taste of real . . . traded the child for a new Cor- vette . . . and you've got what it takes . . . relationship banking . . . today's story by Scarlet Harlot. . . ."

Mother is looking away, out the window, her body tense, erect. Zera focuses on the road. Red suede fingers approach the radio knob. Zera sees them out of her almond corners. Before even turn- ing her head, her own hand flies out, rapping Mother's fingers. Zera catches her breath, aghast.

'You must never hit your mother! Won't take this abuse! Never hurt your mother or tell her to shut up! Have you forgotten the rules? Silly, selfish child!"

Zera is sweating all over, is breaking out in hives. Feels them creeping onto her skin. Wants to know what is what and whose thoughts they really are. She is listening to. Woman's voice. Is it her responsibility, is she somehow responsible, implicitly, being a woman herself, being here, too? Speaker, listener, producer, the name on the checks? What's the nature of the transaction, this ty- ing of knots? Who would choose to be tied up? Why? Who would take this job? Even mother's voice seems to be coming from the radio.

"Sometimes you tease me by making it more difficult and dan- gerous and I love that you become like a mean and naughty little boy. You make it harder -my arms are no longer mine to control, if they move, it's because you moved them. The soft handkerchief tightly binds my mouth and I am unable to tell you how much I adore and want you, my love. Am so thrilled anyone would be thrilled and helpless just looking at me. Thrilled that I am so fully exposed and vulnerable and that my hands are held away, help- less and meaningless. That I have been kept gagged so that what- ever I think cannot be expressed and so what I think is really unimportant -"

"Change the channel," Mother demands. She once wrote radio copy for the Mrs. Parade-of-Homes Show.

". . .disengaged from ethical thought though certainly has made a choice. Of being disconnected from herself, her body. I mean, if you approach the text strategically-"

"Off!" comes the command with a flourish of red-gloved hand.

"She must have somehow chosen this work, Mom. Agreed to contribute something to continuing the models of rational violence and erotic domination. Though maybe it's just a manufactured voice, a Max Headroom. Since we're hearing it, could be some disembodied language. Isn't it just words? Think of all the things we see that are justified merely as image."

"Maybe it's just disgusting," Mother says. "Maybe her problems are financial. Or she thinks she's free."

Zera thinks about the bondage to rebirth, wonders how to begin. She says, "As a woman's desire is, so is her destiny. For as desire is, so is her will; and as her will is, so is her deed; and as her deed is, so is her reward, whether good or bad."

"I always told you that actions speak louder than words, Zera."

"A woman acts according to the desires she clings to. After death, she goes to the next world bearing in mind the subtle im- pressions of her deeds; and, after reaping there the harvest of her deeds, she returns again to this world of action. Thus, she who has desire continues subject to rebirth."

Mother fidgets. It's hard to hear these words. And death is not her favorite subject, though she hopes to return as a bird. She hopes the papers get her obituary correct and keeps a running pasteup in a desk drawer with other instructions.

"Can we stop for tea, Zera? I have some friends near Metuchen.

It's Jane, you know, her husband was with Dow. She has a lovely house. . . ."

"But, Mom, I don't think we're really dressed for tea."

"Well, I'm getting tired. Why must we listen to this? I don't want to! Put the news back on. Now!"

"The news is war, Mom."

'Well, it's not my fault!"

Someone is going to cry.

Zera breaks the silence. "I guess I'm confused. It's just that there are so many things we didn't talk about. I mean, take the language of sex versus violence. If you take out the sex and leave in the violence, there's only the option of living in fear. If you take out the violence and leave in the sex, there's some room for responsible, ethical choice. I mean, what is the basis of morality? How do we accept and deny?"

"Morality is rules, Zera."

"Language, again. Taboo or not-taboo. I don't know, I dunno."

'What happened to the old language?" Mother asks, "To good manners?"

"Certain demographic groups were alienated. I guess everyone was. With the human subsumed in the technological, the death of individual contemplative thought, a rise in collective perversity. The language of love becoming a solipsistic dialect of self-help. I mean, no one's life compares to the excitement on TV. The bigger the gap, the harder it is to close, the easier it is to sit and watch, then say 'fuck.' Everyone says it."

"Well, I wouldn't be caught dead saying the F word. And I'd rather have a good night's sleep."

'We're not really happy in our work, just in the image of ourselves the culture projects about it. There's a vested interest in those images. Language, image, ugh!"

OFF TO THE SIDE of the road, several new white Cadillacs are nosed against a windowless building. Zera pulls in, parks the car. A pink neon palm tree glows on the roof, says Palm Paradise. Zera imagines men playing flutes and saxophones. Blue light. Patterns of palm trees and hummingbirds transforming the walls. Women dressed in sumptuous costumes quivering to music, shimmering cascades of gold and jewels.

"This is supposed to be the end," Zera says, "where the dance is really motionless, the music soundless. The annihilation of all desire, joy, and pain. But I don't know. It looks like just another nightclub to me. I think they are playing the old rules."

The two of them go inside, visit the Ladies' and leave.

Outside, Mother sits down on a stone to rest. She is growing older. Zera walks around, on shifting ground. She loses her balance. Wonders why she doesn't fall. Almost does, but stays upright as though held by an unseen force, the power of her own contradictions, a potential for multiple resources. She hears a voice, not on the radio:

"If born female, the knowledge of being female will come with intense antagonism toward the mother and intense fondness toward the father, just at the moment when sperm and egg unite. The reverse applies to males. Afterwards, you may find yourself encased in oval form, in the embryonic state, and upon emerging from the womb and opening your eyes, may find yourself trans- formed into a young dog.

"Having not feared this, you will suffer dumbness, stupidity, and miserable intellectual obscurity. This is to be avoided at all costs. Reject the feelings of attraction and repulsion, abandon jealousy, and meditate on the father-mother. This is the time when earnest- ness and pure love are necessary. Close the womb-door and remember the opposition. Should this not work, remember the pair, the father and the mother, the black rain, the storm-blasts, the clashing sounds, the terrifying apparitions and all phenomena are, in their true natures, illusions. In truth, they are unreal; they are false. Hold pointedly to the thought that, indeed, these are like dreams, like hallucinations, mirage, and mirrored forms, like the moon seen in water, not real even for a moment."

Mother is sitting on a stone. Zera walks over to her, touches her on the shoulder. She feels black lace and Mother's warm flesh. It feels real. The light is fading. Mother looks up, growing older. She has been supportive and affectionate. She has filled the house with food, filled Zera's drawers with fine clothes. She does not under- stand the gaps.

'Well," Mother says, "what do you want to know?

'Why didn't you tell me about my father?

"He had a drinking problem and couldn't make a living."

'You already told me that."

Mother tries again. "He beat me and molested you when you were a baby."

"That sounds politically correct, but I don't believe it."

Mother tries again. "I thought we should just put the past behind us. It was too painful."

"But if we don't define our losses, how can we know what's left?"

Mother clears her throat. 'Well, he put himself to sleep and I was trying to wake up, then when he woke up I couldn't stand it so I put myself to sleep and . . . then we had you."

Zera is beginning to understand. She thinks about quietly step- ping into an empty room. Mother's chin is trembling. She lies down on two flat rocks.

"Your father was charming. I thought we could be happy together. It broke my heart when it didn't work out." Mother sits up. "Don't you remember? I've told you this before. I told you when you were a little girl."

Zera remembers being at eye-level with the snow. Burying her goldfish in a shoebox. Playing a silver piano. She remembers cer- tain dresses. Photographs of herself in certain dresses. Certain books. Sandbox at the foot of the fire escape. Jumping over baskets, pretending to be a horse. Riding the train. Taking Mother's hand. She remembers that when Mother's heart was broken, she could not love her enough. She remembers only being there, getting bigger in the small apartment. She remembers nothing about her father.

Zera walks over to the car. She gets out a turquoise china teapot, Singapore Bird pattern, a pink linen cloth, two cups and saucers, a tin of Twinings Breakfast Tea, two spoons, two lumps of sugar, a plump gold satin tea cozy, the thermos of water, and the Hot-Cup coil. She carries these things over to the stone where Mother sits. She lays the cloth at Mother's feet.


"Wild Pinx" is from the novel-in-progress called ZERA by Heather Thomas. "Wild Pinx" contains citations from The nbetan Book of the Dead, ed. W.Y. Evans-Wentz (London: Oxford University, 1960).

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