I’m trying to write, and all I hear is Wanda upstairs on the phone. She’s telling Crystal how to make tuna fish sandwiches. “You need mayonnaise,” she’s saying. “Don’t you know anything?” Crystal’s her roommate. If Phil didn’t leave Wanda here, she’d be back at her apartment by now, making those stupid tuna fish sandwiches herself. “Go home, Wanda,” I yell, and she tells Crystal she has to get off the phone. Next thing I know, she’s coming downstairs in one of Phil’s shirts, asking if there’s any toast.
“We’re out of bread,” I say, watching those dumb eyes of hers.
She looks out the window, cocking her head like a pigeon. Then she’s back upstairs, wandering around, looking for her earrings. By the time she’s outside, it’s already eleven o’clock. I lock the door before she remembers something else.
I keep telling Phil to stop leaving her here. He says he can’t get her up in the morning. She needs an alarm, and Phil can’t afford one. After his wife threw him out, all he had left were two big boxes of old pennies. If Phil and Wanda don’t roll pennies, they can’t go out. Sometimes I give Phil a few bucks, even though I can’t afford it. We’re living hand to mouth here.
Wanda loves rolling those pennies. Every time Phil promises to take her to his favourite crappy Japanese restaurant, Wanda starts rolling like crazy.
“Ten dollars!” she’ll yell, jumping up and down like it’s a prize. That’ll get them a bottle of sake and two egg rolls. They came home drunk one night. There was this old sofa left on the sidewalk. Wanda flopped down on it, not realizing it was soaking wet. She jumped up and ran through the front door, pulling her jeans off in the foyer.
“Don’t do that here,” Phil yelled. She thumped upstairs, saying it wasn’t her fault the couch was wet. Phil had to go move his car to another street. His wife keeps threatening to have it repossessed. Sandy’s already garnisheeing his wages. They’ve got two kids. She needs transportation. As wives go, Sandy’s somewhere between Marge Simpson and Attila the Hun.
Phil and I used to work together. One morning I found him shaving in the company washroom. He’d been sleeping in his car. I had a spare room, so I offered that to him. He moved in the following day. Then Wanda showed up.
I got fired not long after that. The agency was downsizing. I’ve been freelancing ever since. It’s tough carrying most of the rent. Phil wishes he could pay more, but Sandy’s really putting the screws to him. She wants the car. “I keep telling her it’s a company car,” he says. Sandy doesn’t care. The kids need stuff. They’re miles from any stores. What’s he supposed to do?
Just the stress of it has Phil rolling pennies, then Wanda starts, then they figure they’ll go to that Japanese restaurant and have egg rolls and sake. “Come with us,” Wanda’s always saying to me, and I tell her to keep rolling, ’cause what little money I have, I’m not spending on egg rolls and sake. This truly astounds Wanda. She really likes egg rolls and sake.
There’s this advertising bar, not far from my old office. I go occasionally just to get out of the house. One night I’m sitting there, and who walks in but Phil, Wanda, and Crystal. Wanda and Crystal are in tight dresses, high heels, the whole garb. Crystal has her red hair pinned up, big breasts. One of her false eyelashes is already coming off. Wanda sees me sitting there.
“We’re having a night on the town,” she says. “This is Crystal. She wants to be one of those — what do you call them, Crystal?”
“Shut up, Wanda,” Crystal says. “I don’t want everyone knowing.”
She orders a glass of wine. Phil tells her she can only have beer.
“I didn’t get dressed up to drink beer,” she says.
“We’re having sake at the restaurant, Crystal,” Wanda says.
“I hate sake.”
Now her other eyelash is coming off.
Wanda’s all happy. She used to work at this bar. That’s how Phil met her. Now she thinks she’s come home the conqueror. She was fired for mixing up orders. Somehow wearing a dress still makes her a conqueror.
“Hey, come with us,” she says to me, going all wide-eyed, like this is some great idea. It’s a crappy idea. Look at Crystal, for chrissakes, Wanda. She’s trying to get an eyelash off her finger.
Crystal heads off to the washroom. Phil drinks his beer, then Crystal’s. When she comes back, she says, “Hey, what happened to my beer?” Phil shrugs, Wanda shrugs. They’re getting their coats on. Wanda’s tugging at my arm. “Come on, it’ll be fun,” she says. They drag me outside, Crystal complaining, Wanda walking like she’s going in two directions at once.
We grab a cab, all of us cramming into the back seat. Crystal’s between me and Phil, Wanda’s on Phil’s lap. Phil’s looking down Crystal’s dress. He snakes his arm around and squeezes one of her breasts. She slaps his face.
Then Wanda slaps Crystal’s face.
“He grabbed my boob,” Crystal cries.
So Wanda slaps Phil’s face. He slaps her back.
“Don’t hit my friend,” Crystal screams, slapping Phil again.
He slaps her back and then Wanda slaps him.
Crystal crawls over both them, yelling at the cabbie to stop.
She gets out, tugging away at her dress. We’re only a block from the restaurant. Wanda’s hanging onto Crystal by the coat sleeve.
“Let go, Wanda,” Crystal yells. “You promised a nice night out.”
The cabbie’s yelling for his money. Phil pays him in rolls of pennies. The cabbie drives off, swearing at all of us.
“Phil, apologize to Crystal,” Wanda says.
So Phil apologizes and we go into the restaurant. The place is practically empty and smells musty. We sit there drinking sake, eating stale egg rolls, getting loaded. Then Wanda suddenly turns and slaps Phil. “Leave Crystal’s boobs alone from now on,” she says. “What’s wrong with my boobs?”
“Yeah,” Crystal says. “Stick to Wanda’s boobs, Phil.”
“Not so loud, Crystal,” Wanda says.
“Everyone knows you’ve got boobs, Wanda.”
“Your eyelash just fell off.”
“I’m going to pieces here. Where’s the washroom?”
“I’ll show you,” Wanda says.
They walk off and Phil drinks the last of the sake. “We’d better get the bill,” he says, pulling out a few crumpled bills and more rolls of pennies. The girls come back. Wanda remembers there’s a bottle of sake under Phil’s bed. Crystal says she didn’t get all dressed up to sit around drinking sake at home.
“It’ll be fun, Crystal,” Wanda says.
“How do I know Phil won’t grab my boob again?” Crystal asks.
Phil has to promise he won’t, crossing his heart, which Crystal doesn’t think is much of a promise, since he’s grinning, and Phil’s got one of those grins that she’s sure means he’s going to grab her boob again.
Anyway, we get outside, and Crystal’s complaining about her shoes being too tight. Phil starts going through Wanda’s purse. There’s enough for subway fare, but that’s about it. Crystal hates subways. Phil tells her she won’t get any sake if she doesn’t shut up.
“Big whoop,” she says.
Back at the house, Wanda starts pulling out the boxes of pennies. Crystal’s not interested. She’s more worried about getting home.
“What’s wrong with staying here?” Wanda asks.
“My contacts are killing me, Wanda. Why can’t Phil take us home?”
Phil says he doesn’t have enough gas. Then he’s out the door again, moving his car to another street. When he comes back, Wanda and Crystal have six dollars worth of pennies rolled. Crystal figures it’ll get them home.
“That’s my lunch money for next week,” Phil says.
“God, I hate being broke,” Crystal says.
“You’re going to make money, Crystal,” Wanda tells her.
“That’s if I even get this job,” Crystal says.
“What job?” Phil says.
“She’s going to be a phone sex worker,” Wanda says.
“Tell the world, why don’t you,” Crystal says.
“You’ll be good at it.”
“Just shut up, Wanda.”
I go to bed, figuring Phil will kick them out eventually. When I get up in the morning, they’re all rolling pennies. Phil finally gives them five dollars.
“Let’s go, Wanda,” Crystal says.
They get their coats and head off to the subway.
The next day, Sandy calls. Her parents bought her a car. She wants Phil to get his old stereo and records out of the garage. Phil drives out to Oakville, grabs his stuff, then he’s back, plugging in the stereo. All these spiders come running out. Thousands of them. We have to call a fumigator. He wants us gone for twelve hours — longer if we want healthy kids.
We end up at Wanda and Crystal’s, eating spaghetti. Crystal got the phone sex job. She takes calls while we’re cleaning up. Phil admits she’s pretty good. Real smokey. We leave before he grabs Crystal’s boob again.
The following week, Wanda gets a job. It’s at a discount travel agency. Commission plus bonuses. All Wanda has to do is call people. She’s a natural. People are booking left and right. With all the money rolling in, she starts showing up with groceries. Bags and bags. If we want Chinese food or pizza, Wanda pays for everything.
We’ve never eaten so well, or had to listen to Wanda’s sales pitches, which amount to her getting all giddy, saying, “It’ll be fun,” over and over.
She still sleeps in, and keeps calling Crystal, but now they talk about pay cheques, and how they need a vacation because, God, it’s been stressful getting guys off and sending people to the Mayan Riviera.
The groceries keep coming, though. Whenever we hear a car door, we expect to see Wanda getting out of a cab, helping the driver carry bags up to the front porch. Phil’s turned into a snacker, going through chips the way he used to go through pennies. He couldn’t be happier or more flatulent.
Even those spiders turned out to be a good omen. Crystal hates spiders. She’s got a phobia. She stands on the sidewalk, refusing to come inside. She’d rather be home getting guys off. Wanda says one night off won’t hurt. “Give their dicks a rest, Crystal,” she tells her.
“Let the whole world know, why don’t you,” Crystal says.
Phil got the tubes fixed on the stereo. He plays his Sweetheart of the Rodeo album while Wanda makes dinner. Crystal yawns. Sometimes she’s on the phone till two or three in the morning. According to Wanda, it’s a hoot listening to Crystal moan and groan while she eats popcorn. They’re both getting heavier. Pretty soon they’ll need a health club, or diet pills. “I’m not getting on one of those moving thingies,” she says, meaning a treadmill.
Wanda called this morning, asking if they can tan in our backyard. Their balcony is covered in pigeon shit. Crystal’s pretty sure pigeons carry plague. I agree on condition they shut up and let me work.
“We’ll be quiet,” she promises. “Quiet as mouses.”
Now they’re out back, the two of them in lawn chairs, reading gossip magazines, spreading suntan lotion on each other’s backs.
I’m trying to write in the kitchen, but I can hear them. They’re arguing about tuna fish sandwiches again.
“It’s may-o-nnaise, Crystal,” Wanda whispers.
“That’s what I said.”
“You said may-un-nnaise.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes you did.”
I get up and open the window: “Shut up, the two of you.”
They pick up their magazines. Crystal puts on more sun tan lotion.
“I think I’d know if I said may-un-nnaise, Wanda,” Crystal whispers.
“Well, you did.”
I take a bottle of Wanda’s wine out of the fridge. It’s supposed to be for her birthday, but that’s not for another week. I write a note, telling her I’ll replace it, or Phil will. Actually, he won’t — and neither will I. She’ll just have to buy another one. She’s got money. Trips to the Mayan Riviera are flying out the door. God knows what Crystal’s making. Now they’re whispering again. Still on about mayonnaise. I go to the window and yell, “Shut up.” They cock their heads like a couple of pigeons. Then they roll over on their stomachs and undo their tops. “We have to be quiet as mouses,” Wanda says.
“Mice,” Crystal says.
“That’s what I said.”
“You said mouses.”