Debra Jims dreams of Kool-Aid. The juice leaves a red mustache above her lip. Men around her have mustaches too, real ones, thick and masculine. Her husband Todd rolls over and tries to stoke her fire. "I'm still in my dreams," Debra Jims mumbles. Later, in the bathroom mirror, as he shaves his face clean, Todd says, "Deb, why are you so frigid?" Debra Jims' eyes go dim on her husband. She turns, walks to the window, looks out onto the street below. Today is garbage day.
The Twins are faking sick again. "God knows when you're lying," says Debra Jims. She's the only one in the family who goes to church anymore, so she brings the damnation home and doles it out herself. She fears the Twins are becoming atheists like their father. On weekends they watch Discovery Channel with him, talk dinosaurs.
For giving up the ruse first, Cammy gets to ride shotgun on the way to school. Tammy sits in back with her father. Debra Jims listens to right wing radio because it gets her dander up in the morning better than Todd's feeble coffee. She fixes her lipstick and chats on the phone while her knee pilots the Suburban. Debra Jims' knee does not respect the rules of the road. It swerves to pave a baby's shoe, a squirrel, a well-loved terrier. Children empty a crosswalk just as The Knee sweeps through.
Todd stands on the curb with his briefcase across his chest. "We got off to a bad start this morning," he says through the car window. "Let's get a babysitter tonight." Debra Jims guns the engine. The all-terrain radials spit pebbles into Todd's eyes. In the rearview, his tie swings up over his shoulder. He mouths something obscene.
At the bookstore, Debra Jims finds a copy of Anna Karenina and shows it to the clerk. "Are you sure it's supposed to be this long?" The clerk is also named Debra. So says her nametag. "What's your lastname?" Debra Jims asks. The clerk juts her hip and says, bitchily, "Why?"
Debra Jims pretends to read Anna Karenina in the blue chair at the back of the bookstore, near the bathrooms. She can't seem to get past the first line: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This reminds Debra Jims of her mustache dream, of the past, and the future once promised. What garbage, she thinks. I can be happy in my own way.
The clerk passes by, headed for the bathroom. Debra Jims follows her into the stall and knocks her out from behind with the spine of Tolstoy's huge novel. "That's why." Debra Jims rips out a page and makes paper cuts across bitchy Debra's eyelids.
The women at book club dip toast points, eat cucumber sandwiches. They discuss Anna Karenina. Debra Jims answers questions with questions. When she's on the ropes for an answer, she fills her mouth with wine until someone else chimes in. The hostess, Bev Crandle, says, "Take it easy on the merlot, Deb."Â In the bathroom, Debra Jims douses the wallpaper in rubbing alcohol, lights it with the fart-candle, bails out the window. Over her shoulder the drapes catch, smoke pours out.
On the way home, Debra Jims stops at church to sign up for the bake sale. She'll make one of those gigantic cookies that Fran Livingstone makes, only hers will be bigger, and with more chips. Debra Jims can already feel the sins peeling away.
Back home, Debra Jims drags the chair from the vanity to the bedroom window and waits for the garbage men to come down her street. They are tall Latin-seeming fellows with mustaches. The back of their truck leaves a trail of dark juice on the pavement. The juice puddles at the end of Debra Jims' driveway. She imagines their thick reeking gloves all over her body. She wants to be swallowed into the back of their truck with these men, be smushed against them, biodegrade into them.
Debra Jims prepares her famous meatloaf. When she serves it for dinner, her family seems to acknowledge their debt to her. Debra Jims wonders if the gathering aroma of a perfect meatloaf is perhaps the one way by which all happy families are made so.
The Twins are the worst soccer players Debra Jims has ever seen, but this doesn't give the referee license to expose them for it. She insults the man from the sidelines without effect, her voice lost in the din of other parents' screams. At halftime, while the Twins suck on orange slices she cut last night, Debra Jims kills the referee in the porto-let, strips him clean, and shoves his body down the hole.
Debra Jims is a pretty good referee. Behind the stripes and whistle no one knows it's her. The other parents yell the same awful things. In the end, it is impossible to make the Twins look good out there. Debra Jims feels nearly sorry for insulting the referee.
Todd comes home begging forgiveness. "I'm sorry too," says Debra Jims. "What are you sorry for?" Todd asks. Debra Jims says she just wants to forget it and have a nice dinner. She peels carrots in the sink and stares out the kitchen window. The last strings of daylight paint vulgar, thrilling colors on the puddle of garbage truck juice.
Debra Jims looks around the dinner table and tries to imagine how she'd feel right now if everyone's meatloaf was full of toilet cleaner.
The Twins are tucked in. Todd pours scotch into tumblers he keeps on the bedside table. He picks up the chair by the window and says, "Why's this always over here?" Debra Jims puts her glass to her mouth and drinks and drinks. Todd says, "I really am sorry about calling you 'frigid.'"
Debra Jims gathers her sins around the bed and makes them blush at the things she does to Todd. Who's frigid? Not Debra Jims. She is too full of love.
Middle of the Night
Debra Jims can't sleep. She can't remember exactly what Tolstoy wrote about happy families. She puts on her white robe, goes downstairs and out onto the porch. Across the lawn, her bare feet lay tracks in the dew. The moon's reflection floats like a smooth chip of ice in the black puddle. She opens her robe, lays the bare front of her body against the concrete, dips her face into the dark juice, and drinks. Happy in her own way.