Jenny shakes her head at the IMDB Parent’s Guide for Pulp Fiction.
“Too violent? No pressure,” mumbles her catfish from the opposite side of the bedroom. Jenny’s boyfriend, Craig, is a pet ventriloquist, now semi-pro.
“The ventriloquist proxy market is growing,” he once said, without moving his lips. Deep down, Craig knows that pet ventriloquism is still seen as a notch beneath puppeteering, his first love.
Jenny peruses Putlocker for a less violent movie, and patiently closes pornographic advertisements. On the other side of the room, Craig presses his lips to the fish tank. The catfish mirrors Craig from the inside. To Jenny, this is intimate. Craig closes his eyes in ecstasy, making piscatorial noises. Jenny puts away Putlocker, then tucks herself under the edamame-print comforter. The next morning, Jenny wakes up to find a few dried tears all over Craig’s cheek.
“What’s wrong,” she says to sleeping Craig.
“I’m sleeping,” says Craig.
“Alright,” says Jenny. She goes back to sleep.
At breakfast, Jenny notices Craig is taciturn for the third week in a row. She spreads margarine on his toast. Craig mumbles to himself, I can’t believe it’s not butter. His lips don’t move.
“Remember when the TV people blindfolded Paula Deen and made her taste the difference between butter and margarine?” said Jenny. “She got so mad.”
“Paula Deen is racist,” says Craig.
“Hmm,” says Jenny. She goes back to picking lint off the challah.
The next day, Jenny goes to work, which lasts from 9AM to 5PM. She thinks about the outline of dried tears on Craig’s face. It reminds her of the shape of Colorado, USA, before it ceded to Wyoming. Jenny’s watch says 5:15.
“But I don’t feel like leaving,” she replies. Nobody in the restaurant hears her. A little boy in a high chair pulls on Jenny’s pinafore pocket.
“Get me some ketchup – vintage Heinz.”
“Say please, Timmy,” says Timmy’s grandmother from the leather booth.
“Please, Timmy,” Timmy says. He tries to raise his eyebrows at Jenny, but he only has one eyebrow. Timmy’s grandmother leaves Jenny an anecdotally notable tip.
Strolling home from work, Jenny ponders the financial merits of pet ventriloquism. She passes a dark alleyway and for the first time in five years, forgets to lace her keys between her fingers. A man walks toward her, examining her face. She looks back at him, wondering if he is lost, and if she looks like the kind of friendly pedestrian who will give directions. The man walks up to her and Jenny arranges her countenance into kindness.
“I have a gun and I’m not afraid to use it,” says the man.
“I see,” Jenny says.
“Give me twenty dollars.”
Jenny reaches into the front pocket of her knapsack and finds a five-dollar bill. She unzips her thigh-high boots and pulls out a ten-dollar bill. She takes off her bangle bracelet and un-tapes a loonie from the inside. She pulls two Sacagawea dollars out of her beehive hair.
“This is all I have,” Jenny says, pouring the money into the man’s outstretched hands.
“Give me your wallet.”
Jenny shows the man her left breast: no wallet. The man shows Jenny his pistol. For the umpteenth time today, Jenny thinks of Craig’s tears. She suspects that his sadness, or perhaps subgenre of dissatisfaction, has been festering for months. What did I do wrong? Jenny imagines how much sadder Craig would be if he found her tonight, shot by another man. Jenny looks up at the side of the building, and sees Craig several floors above on the fire escape, cutting his toenails. The man watches them fall onto Jenny’s face like snowflakes. He buttons up his Barbour jacket, and slouches into the distance.
As Jenny arrives home, Craig steps off the fire escape and into the apartment through the big window.
“Look what Timmy’s grandmother left me,” says Jenny. From her pinafore pocket, she takes out a two-dollar bill.
“Wow.” Craig gazes at the little Thomas Jefferson, his second love. “What a beauty,” he whispers.
Jenny sees Craig’s lips move with the words, then curl into a smile. Jenny decides not to tell him that she nearly gave her life for these two dollars, and instead snuggles closer to him on the couch. Craig kisses Jenny’s neck, imagining it as Thomas Jefferson’s.
“What do you want,” Jenny asks aroused Craig.
“I’m aroused,” says Craig. “What do you want?”
“I want a pair of Frye boots,” Jenny says. This is the first time she has ever asked Craig for anything, excluding rent.
The next day, Jenny and Craig find the Frye leather goods store in Soho. They notice the Frye Company’s pride in its American-made products. They giggle and exchange a look that says, “marketing xenophobia.” Jenny feels a tension with Craig that is sexually intellectual. Suspecting they both just have spring fever, they enter the store. The door clicks shut behind them, leaving the store dark. Jenny gropes over to a light switch on the wall near the window, and flips it up. Strobe lights begin to flash twice a millisecond. Techno music rips through Craig’s weak eardrums, but Craig dances anyway. Jenny screams and flips the switch off, then the adjacent switch on.
The store fills with bohemian lights. Craig sniffs the leather goods. He sees the price tag on the sole of a pair of monk-strap shoes.
“I can’t do this,” Craig yells, sprinting to the exit. The door doesn’t give. He shakes it and yells Jenny’s name. Jenny tries the door. No dice. Craig bangs on the store window, but the pedestrians on the Soho sidewalk continue to fondle each other.
“Spring fever,” Craig whispers, his lips unmoving. Jenny calls out to the store to gauge the presence of Frye employees, but no one, not even the shoe-man from Connecticut who flirted with her last time, answers her call. She runs to the landline phone at the checkout counter.
“Gladys!” pants Jenny into the phone. “Craig and I–”
Jenny looks up to see Craig sprinting angularly around the store. He falls to his knees in what can only be described as retail despair. He punches the Sabrina, a burnt-leather, chunky-heeled bootie, in the tongue. Sabrina falls to her side.
“Hi Jenny,” says Gladys over the phone. “I’m starting to think our friendship won’t pass the Bechdel test.”
“We can’t get out of the Frye store.”
“Their shoes are nice but Jenny, you need a little more self-control.”
“You gotta help us out, Gladys.”
“After how much you spent last time? Jenny. C’mon. I have to pick Little Timmy up from school, anyways.”
“But it’s only eleven o clock.”
“I may be a mom, but I have a job too, you know.”
“After that snafu at Spicy Throwdown, Guy Fieri was desperate for a new publicist.”
Jenny slowly pulls the phone away from her ear. Gladys lethargically says, “Jenny? Jenny. Jenny?” Jenny lowers the phone to the receiver. Craig approaches her with a sledgehammer.
“Let’s go,” Jenny says, her face pale.
“What’s wrong?” says Craig.
“Where’d you find that?”
“In the changing room,” Craig says. “What’d Gladys say?”
“She’s Guy Fieri’s…publicist.”
“Oh,” says Craig. He rests the sledgehammer against the checkout counter.
Jenny bends over the counter and sobs into Frye’s Spring 2020 catalogue. Craig wraps his arms around Jenny’s chest, and tries not to think of Thomas Jefferson.
“Look at me, Jenny,” Craig whispers. “I’ll take this sledgehammer, and bash that Guy’s head in. He’ll never touch you, or Jemma, or Mama, or Magellan, again. Don’t worry about his TV show. Next time, it’ll just have to feature his own thigh meat. Guy Fieri’s a star. But Jenny. Stars? They’re criminals, just like us.”
“I love you, Craig,” Jenny says. “I love it when your lips move. Let’s get out of here.”
Jenny laces on the Sabrina boots. Craig shatters the front of the Frye store with the sledgehammer. They step back onto the sidewalk and take the F train home.
As they pass the dark alleyway, Jenny reaches to interlace her hands with her keys, but finds Craig’s fingers between hers instead. The man with eighteen dollars crouches in the corner, feeding pigeons. Jenny makes eye contact with him, then shrugs.
“I love you too,” the pigeons coo. “No pressure.”