ISSUE 1 · FALL 2008



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Copyright © 2009

Heather Fowler

Beautiful Ape Girl Baby

HEATHER FOWLER



Beautiful Ape Girl Baby was born mad, her fetal fury unmatched even by the children in the psych ward above the Ob-Gyn, so her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Chef, both normal, could not have been more surprised as they watched her emerge from the tight, blond vagina of her mother. She came out quickly, waving her fists, with a dense thatch of hair starting at her chin and patterning into spirals at her brow. When she first opened her mouth to scream, it was piercing. Dark, wet hair covered her body, fine from nine months seeped in amniotic fluid, but even later when Beautiful Ape Girl Baby, Beautiful for short, beat the plexi-walls of her pink-ribboned box, looking for all the world like an animal transported from a zoo, her parents decided they would use their wealth to instill in her the confidence the name they picked for her implied.

 

Thus, with her pug nose and furred back, the mewling babe was raised with confidence, paid playmates to reinforce her sense of loveliness, and tutors to praise her intelligence. An entirely fabricated world was created for her on the six-mile grounds of the Chefs’ estate, replete with statuettes that mimicked her characteristics and tiny, jeweled ape-girls on her mother’s sill. After an eight year effort to have a child together, they were pleased with what they engendered since what other choice did they have? Bound to be the only fruit of their loins, Beautiful was to be spoiled and nurtured as any unique progeny of such wealth. As she grew, which she did rapidly, she became smart in the way that beautiful young rich girls often are, book-learned but naïve. She had no mental defects, yet had still not learned to fathom life’s greater mysteries.

 

Still, as she grew, doting on them as she did, her parents loved her. Her daddy was her favorite. The only trouble they habitually encountered was keeping satisfied, healthy play-mates. Often, she had been known to dislocate their arms and legs or bruise their soft, pale faces while frolicking aside the ivory seahorse sandbox—for the temper she’d shown in the crib came out, time and again, always followed by the sweet dutiful daughter her parents preferred, when Beautiful would bring lollipops and stuffed toys to friends’ hospital room beds, apologizing for careless errors, or saying, her huge, light blue eyes tearing up: “I’m sorry I’m so strong. I never meant to hurt you. Can you forgive me?”

 

 Such friends were helped to their pro-active generosity with bribes, but the prospect of keeping the young people around was still one of tenuous hope and danger. There was, for example, the friendship Beautiful enjoyed with beautiful-blond-girl Chelsea Manzan Malone. Malone began as an ideal playmate. Amazon in stature, undaunted by Beautiful’s strength, she was easily able to memorize and recite the self-effacing lines they gave her each night through a door slot. Possessing a natural straight-face, she could have become the lifelong friend they so desired for Beautiful—and best of all, she made Beautiful laugh—but all came asunder one day when Beautiful, at the tender age of eight, strong as a five year old horse, flattened Chelsea’s nose.

 

“I want you as pretty as me,” Beautiful said, stroking Chelsea’s long blond hair.

 

 ”Beautiful!” Chelsea cried, “Stop hitting me! My nose!”   Blood spilled down her face. 

 

 ”I’m trying to help,” Beautiful Ape Girl Baby said, regarding Chelsea’s new nose and tearing eyes. “You should thank me!”

 

  Chelsea squirmed. At this point, pained and incensed, she could no longer maintain the façade. “You are dumb, Beautiful Ape Girl Baby!” she said. “The ugliest, dumbest half-girl on the planet, and I don’t care what your parents want! I hate you!”

 

Beautiful Ape Girl Baby felt shocked, then magnanimous. “Chelsea,” she said. “I know you’re jealous, but I’ll share my beauty secrets with you.”

 

“Ape Girl Baby, you just don’t get it,” Chelsea hollered. “Look at your chin and your ears and that strange flat nose! That hair on your back disgusts us, and when you wear your Prada tank tops, it’s all we can do to not gag—” and Chelsea would have gone on, but by now, the cameras had caught the exchange, and security guards rushed in. Chelsea was dragged away.

 

Beautiful was then cautioned by her parents not to adjust the looks of her friends, but she was so distraught that it took twelve new playmates to stop her from moping, and still, as the months passed, she began to notice little things that bothered her, like how her parents looked nothing like her, or how her friends had odd moments of consideration when she asked certain questions, like, “If you could be anyone, would you be me?” or “Do you think that young rock star would like me if he was younger?” feeling reassured only by her posters of famous people, custom-commissioned by her parents with extra body hair and the ape statues aside the Olympic sized pool, which modeled her curling feet.

 

Sometimes, she stared at these posters and dreamt of seeking the celebrities out. “Someone like me. But famous,” she thought. “I need to meet them.” Often, she broached this topic with her daddy: “Can you get them to visit me?” she pleaded. “Any of them? Please?” Her intensity was clear as she went on, “Stella Moreno would be good. Can she come? This week?”

 

Beautiful Ape Girl Baby was an avid radio listener. She also read Dostoevsky in her spare time.

 

“No,” her father said.

 

“No,” her mother said.

 

“Listen, Beautiful,” her father said. “Those performers are too busy, but we can get you another poster.”

 

But as she grew into puberty, her breasts swelling nicely, Beautiful gave up requesting visits from famous people, gave up finding those who resembled her more, and her mind shifted, as teenagers’ minds often do, to thoughts of furious and steadfast copulation. The trouble was, she had no idea how to acquire it.

 

This launched the beginning of her rebellion. She hid in her room for days at a time. Once, she even shaved the hair from her arms and legs in a gesture of trying to look like others on the estate, remembering what Chelsea said. She missed Chelsea these days, but there was always a flurry around her. Her parents, noticing her budding shape, brought in more boys, better paid, to reinforce her fragile sense of self. Still, none engaged her romantically. Despite this, her attractions were strong. “Oh, mother,” she said, “I talk to these boys, but they don’t offer to kiss me. They don’t ask me out behind the maids’ buildings or try and get alone time with me. Do I intimidate them with my strength? Frighten them with my beauty? Why don’t they approach me?”

 

“Of course you intimidate them, precious,” her mother said, a worried look wrinkling her brow. “And your father intimidates them, too.”

 

“He does? How?”

 

“Clout. As you know, Beautiful, he has worked his way up in auto parts, wasn’t born rich, so he’s had to let people know he has the upper hand. Sometimes, the hard way. Aren’t these lovely? Look at this new figure I just got from the Smithsonian. You have diamond eyes.”

 

Watching her mother caress one of the sapphire windowsill replicas with a tenderly placed thumb, Baby was soothed, but there was a certain estate boy named John Henry Waters, whose name she wrote in her notebooks, spending hours trying to find alone time with, who ignored her entirely. Striding up beside him one afternoon, she said, “John Henry Waters, you needn’t fear my father if that is the issue. I wouldn’t repulse you if you pursued me.” She wore a yellow chiffon blouse with cap sleeves and a green pleated skirt. For the occasion, she’d worn purple chiffon panties with a lace frill.

 

John Henry paled. “You’re beautiful, Beautiful,” he said, “and it’s not your father—but my affections are otherwise engaged.”

 

“It’s Tabitha, isn’t it?” she asked.

 

“Yes,” he said.

 

Beautiful stomped her foot. “I hate Tabitha,” she said, “She’s nowhere near as pretty as I am! Why do you need her? I love you, John. I do.” A shame claimed her heart for loving him, imperfect as he was—but he was, she had decided months before, the boy she wanted. She liked his blond curling hair and soft presence. She liked his glasses, too.

 

He walked to the edge of the pool near the lacquered shed and dipped his manicured hand beneath the lion’s head spigot, letting the moisture flood through his fingers then said, without meeting her eyes, “I love Tabitha more than life, and I won’t change my mind. If that means I have to go, then I’ll go.”

 

In tears, Beautiful ran and sat in the rose garden for over an hour, ripping the petals off all of her mother’s prize roses. She threw herself a new and engaging pity party with both thoughts of Chelsea’s defection and John Henry’s defection, and was firmly in a sordid funk as she wailed, entering her mother’s room with high drama, “Mommy! Mommy! John is in love with Tabitha. Send her away.”

 

Her mother and father had already talked to John. And Tabitha. “We can’t do that, Beautiful,” they said. “Tabitha’s parents are in Europe. We agreed to watch her until September.”

 

“Fine! Fine!” Beautiful said, and she then sought out Tabitha, careening through the craft room.

 

“Tabitha. You must tell John not to love you,” she insisted. ”I am the girl for him!”

 

Tabitha, a short girl with stringy brown hair, looked up from her macramé. “Y-you c-cant b-buy everything, Beautiful,” she stuttered, “J-j-john and I are to be married. I c-can’t g-give him to y-you.”

 

“You wretch!” Beautiful said, balled her fist and then hit Tabitha as hard as she’d hit Chelsea, perhaps harder—only this time, the recipient of her blow was knocked out cold.  Beautiful was not allowed a hospital visit. A day afterward, John disappeared, so: “I told you I’m sorry, Mommy,” Beautiful said. “But can’t you bring him back?”

 

“No,” her parents said, having spent no small sum to eradicate this wrinkle. “You see, baby, he stole Mommy’s jade and ivory necklaces and had to be evicted. Mommy can’t have boys like that around.”

 

Beautiful could see this logic was sound. What a thief he was! But as another bevy of new friends arrived, she felt lonesome like never before, so often haunted her parents’ marble-topped door, sometimes entering, other times just hovering outside of it until she heard them talking. They seemed more and more tense; she was curious what had caused this stress. Late one night, she heard them talk. “Darling, I know we’re doing the right thing regarding Beautiful,” her father said. “But she has no sense of responsibility. And no remorse.”

 

“What did you expect? We’ve replaced each item she’s broken. Renewed each resource,” her mother said. “We’ve given her disposable friends. She won’t learn a thing until she loses something she can’t have back.” Her mother’s voice was tightly strung. “I think she needs to understand losing some-thing. For her growth as a person.”

 

“I don’t want that, dear,” her father said. “She has little enough to hope for.”

 

“She has our love,” her mother said. “She has always enjoyed that.”

 

“Yes, but soon that won’t be enough.” Her father sighed. Her mother sighed. 

 

Beautiful felt her world was shaking below her feet. She turned to her friends for reassurance. They still said the wonderful things they had before, but she had suspicions that many did not like her and suffered bouts of paranoia. They did not groom themselves for meetings as they once had. Also, there was no explanation of, or sympathy for, the conversation she’d overheard from her parents. Only Sandra had said, “Forget about it, Beautiful. It’s not important,” as the others chatted amongst themselves. Oh, Sandra. Thank heavens for Sandra, Beautiful thought. With those large brown eyes, and soft walnut hair, Sandra was the most genuine and sweetest of the bunch.

 

But the rest of them seemed to avoid her after 5 p.m. Also, they watched the television in the Friend Lounge together, which she was not allowed to do (“Television is for the intellectually impaired,” her tutor had said, so her parents banned it), and they often could be seen meeting after midnight at the pool, kissing, then stripping nude in a manner that offended Beautiful only because she was not included.

 

For weeks, she watched from her upstairs window, hoping for an invitation, but, “These clandestine meetings must stop,” she finally announced at the next catered picnic, “Right away.”

 

They distanced themselves further. She grew restless, demanding more reinforcement, but the more she desired, the less they gave. One day, on the night of her sixteenth birthday, after she’d been feted with an enormous strawberry and banana cake, eight dancing men, and five new swimsuits in elegant boxes, she came up with a plan. In the privacy of her room, she spritzed a fancy perfume infused with lavender and freesia in the air and walked into the settling mist, just as her mother taught her. Then she put on a pink, frilly dress and crammed her hairy, curling feet into pink high heel slippers.

 

“I will find a boyfriend, today,” she told herself. “I’ll drive myself.”

 

It bothered her momentarily that she did not have a car more incognito than the sleek black Lincoln to take for this errand, and then she recalled that Sandra had a perfectly marvelous old Pinto! It was automatic and Sandra had kindly taught her how to drive once, round and around the golf courses. She won’t mind if I borrow it, Beautiful thought, and she got in the vehicle at around ten p.m. and drove off, weaving spastically down the road. After years of confinement at the estate, she wanted to holler. She rolled down the window and marveled at the sycamores. She put her hand out the window, feeling the breeze, and oohed at the rum billboards and comforting thrum of slight traffic beside her on the road. Many cars honked, so she honked back, waving jauntily. She drove twenty miles per hour.

 

The air was sweet with honeysuckle. She sensed that this act was momentous, as if it were to be the first day of the rest of her life, so she wanted to do something new. She pulled over when she saw a small bar called The Rodeo at the side of the road, which sported a neon sign of an ugly cowgirl twirling a lasso, who had immense fake nipples illumined with spinning green stars of light.

 

The bar boasted a full lot, but she hit only one other vehicle trying to park. Striding towards the entry, Baby walked from the car, declining to leave a note or even register the dent along the length of the adjacent Camry’s driver’s side door. As she approached, every person she saw, even those smoking, began to whisper and stare. Used to such attention as she entered rooms, she smiled and waved broadly like the Miss America pageant ladies she’d seen once in a commercial clip in the maids’ kitchens. “It should be,” she said softly, “easy to find a man to make love to.”

 

“I’m Beautiful,” she told the doorman, who backed away from her without requesting ID.

 

“You’re something,” he said. 

 

She frowned at him since he wasn’t to her liking, but once in the bar, noticed more of the crowd whispering behind their hands. To put them at ease, she shouted, “I know I’m incredibly beautiful, but you don’t have to talk about it so much.”

 

They laughed and went about their business, so she scoped the room, standing completely still until she found her target. He was a new man who looked like John Henry Waters but less clean. “I’d like a Cherry Pepsi,” she told the bartender, glancing closer in the darkened interior of the bar, almost squinting to see how much the young man resembled her first love. She approached him.

 

Opening a rose-beaded purse to find a lipstick, she pushed another girl aside and eased beside him. The bar stunk of stale beer, so she kept her chiffon sleeves high. Right away, she saw he wore no wedding ring and didn’t speak with the nearby girls: “Because he’s shy,” Beautiful thought. “I’ll let him know I’m not.”

 

She sidled closer and whispered in his ear, “I want you to make love to me.”

 

He smelled like five-day sweat and motor grease. He laughed. His small eyes, blue like hers, sparkled with amusement, and a tattoo of a skull with a rippling knife spanned the top of his bulging forearm. All his friends had the same tattoo. Green light reflected onto his face from a neon beer-sign. “Ted, did you put her up to this?” he asked.

 

“Not me, Jake,” Ted said. “Wasn’t me,” another of his friends replied. One had seven gold teeth and big motorcycle books, but the other of Jake’s companions had only two rotting stumps where teeth might have been and a metal piercing between his eyes.

 

“Well, then, what do we have here?” Jake asked. “Must be some kind of joke.” He smirked then put his fingers on her thick eye-brow hair. Curious, he yanked.

 

“Stop it,” Beautiful said, wincing. “That hurts!” Having groomed this hair and gelled it into curling shapes, she felt put out.

 

“The disguise is good,” Jake said. “Who are you?”

 

He smiled nicely when he asked, so she replied, just as proud as you please, “Beautiful Ape Girl Baby Chef. Pleased to meet you.”

 

His friends gathered close until they seemed a paste of grease monkeys at her sides. “So you came up to talk to me?” Jake asked, distracting her and talking loud enough for those nearby to hear. “And say you want to make love to me?”

 

She blushed, not expecting him to act so forward, but she was not now and had never been afraid. “Yes, that’s what I said,” she replied. She glanced at his denim trousers, which were stained a variety of browns and blacks. His dark shirt looked old and frayed at the sleeves. “I know I’m beautiful and rich,” she said. “It’s true my father has clout, but don’t fear me.”

 

His friends elbowed each other. “Clout!” they repeated, snickering.

 

“Go away,” she told them, and they backed off. Beautiful glared again since she didn’t like the way they looked at her, but Jake seemed interested now. In her purse, because she would need it, she glanced down to confirm there was a condom she’d pinched from her parents’ room the night before. A sex ed teacher told her she would need this; the sight of the gold foil was reassuring that her goal could be met. With sudden bliss and renewed vigor, she mooned up at Jake, asking, “Can I call you John Henry?”

 

Some other greasers elbowed him, and, “Will you give me a minute, Beautiful?” he asked, strutting away to the bathroom.

 

When his mangy friends accompanied him, she found herself standing alone. The sixties tune “If You’re Going to San Francisco” played from the jukebox and stirred her so deeply that she stole a floating camellia from a table jar for her hair. She smiled, picturing how she and Jake would make love, smoothing the ruffled lace at the bottom hem of her dress with one elegant motion. She was still smiling as he returned, but there was something tight and funny about his voice as he told her, “Okay, let’s go to the wreck yard off Abermaine. You follow me.”

 

“To make love?” she asked.

 

“Yes,” he said, and pecked her lips lightly as if in demonstration of future acts, so this sent her swooning. “My friends’ll go get some stuff,” he went on. “But we’ll meet them up later. Come on, Baby. Let’s go.”

 

“That’s Beautiful,” she said, but he did not reply.

 

Without looking back, he walked straight to a green Chevy, got in, and revved the motor. “You drive your car,” he told her. 

 

She returned to the Pinto. As she followed him, she wondered if she could find her way home if he took her far. After a few bends and turns, this place wasn’t close, she realized, so she kept her eye out for signs and made tiny notes on a palm-pilot in the passenger seat. Finally, she entered the wreck yard just behind him, pulling onto a long dirt path that led to the increasing towers of many carcasses of cars. One atop the other, beside similar piles, the hundreds of multi-colored wrecks struck her as beautiful then, like the cumulative effect of every car crash in Albany for the last eighty years falling into a deliberate rainbow. “It’s beautiful,” Beautiful Ape Girl Baby said, but Jake could not hear her.

 

He got out of his vehicle, toting a six-pack of Shlitz and swigging from an open bottle, kicking at a blue-gray rock the size of an apple. “Come on! Come on!” he shouted back towards her.  When she caught up with him, he put his hands on her shoulders, asking, “So how rich are you?”

 

“Oh, don’t worry, not too rich,” she said, but his brows came together and twitched.  “My father won’t hurt you,” she informed him matter-of-factly. “He’s really a nice man.”

 

“Sure, but wouldn’t he be upset,” Jake asked, swaggering a bit, “to know his little girl was out with a greaser?”

 

“His little girl can take care of herself,” she said with haughty aplomb. From a distance, both heard the sound of a train. Jake leered at her, but Beautiful found his menace sexy. She liked power. “Besides, daddy will never know,” she said, smiling conspiratorially. “I snuck out.”

 

“That’s good,” Jake said. He sat on the hood of a wrecked Plymouth and finished his first beer, only to open another with his teeth. Two molars near the back of his mouth were black and fractured, which she noticed when she looked up to watch him talk.

 

“You need someone to care for your teeth,” she said. “I can send you to a good dentist.”

 

“I don’t need that,” he said, spitting.  “Besides, why’d you pick me, anyway?  Not like we have anything in common.” 

 

“You’re handsome,” she said. “I like that.”

 

He spat, pulling a cigarette from his sleeve. With his first inhale, he kicked a smashed Mustang’s side. He stood 10 feet away. He did not touch her. He did not look at her. Clicking his Zippo continuously, he chain-smoked two more cigarettes. He said nothing. 

 

Though she had been waiting for him to make his move, Beautiful was tired of waiting. And she was bored. Finally, she said, “Aren’t we going to do it? At least start doing it?” She could not explain her hurry, but there was something caged in the way he kept swinging his legs and gulping beer. She noted a scar on his left hand, a gray round strip that wrapped all the way around his palm. She tried to imagine what, other than a hot wire, might have caused it.

 

“When I feel like it,” he said, staring into the hills.

 

She stomped her foot. “You asked me out here. Don’t you like me?” she asked.

 

“I like you fine,” he said. “We’ll do something in a minute. Stop pushing.”

 

“Fine. Tell me something. What happened to your hand?” she asked.

 

He lit another cigarette and muttered, “Nothing.”

 

“That’s not nothing.  And I bet it hurt,” she said.

 

“Of course it hurt,” he said. “I had stole a car and—oh, it doesn’t matter. Fine, you wanna have sex? Take off your dress. That’s how it starts.”

 

Beautiful Ape Girl Baby blushed. “Take off your pants,” she said, attempting flirtation.

 

“No,” he said.

 

Still, proud of her cleanly smooth breasts, she wanted something more from him. “What’s the matter? You chicken?”

 

“I’m not chicken,” he said.

 

“Then, take off your pants,” she insisted.

 

“No,” he said again.

 

“Then kiss me.”

 

“Fine.” He swigged the rest of his beer in one gulp and leaned towards her.

 

She giddily pressed into his chest, moaning, “Yes. Again,” groping him, her tongue swirling in his mouth. His kiss was soft and wet, was just what she imagined, but no sooner had she started to get a good tingle, than he pulled away when his hand touched her back, saying, “Is that real hair?”

 

“Yes,” she said.

 

“Uggh,” he said. “Where else do you have it? You ever think about shaving?” He fingered his waistband, looking down.

 

“No. Why would I?” she said. “Kiss me again. I think I love you.” What she really wanted was to pretend again to finally be pressed against John Henry, but Jake wouldn’t oblige.

 

“In a minute,” he said, torching up a fifth cigarette. “I need another break.” The air smelled of rust and dew. He took a drag and held it, tapping the toes of his scuffed boots together.

 

“You can kiss me while you’re smoking,” she said. “I don’t mind that. I’m getting cold out here. I could use your arm around me.” She said this, but she lied. She wasn’t really cold. ”I don’t know why you’re being so reluctant!” she finally announced. “You don’t have a chance with a woman this beautiful every day!”

 

“Ha!” he replied. He caressed the curve of a Corvette hood then said with a sad grimace, “You really think you’re beautiful, do you? You do, right? ‘Cause you’re the ugliest girl I’ve ever seen.” As he said this, he scanned the hills again, looking again for something, and she kept her eyes on him.

 

“You’re a good liar,” she replied. “I know I am beautiful—Is this a trick?”

 

But then something new must have occurred to him since he got inches away from her and blew smoke in her eyes. “Do you really think I’d find you pretty?” he asked. “Oh balls, how could you think that? I’m tired of pretending.” His voice sounded harsh like gravel. He walked to his car to get another pack of cigarettes out of his glove box.

 

“There’s something wrong with you,” she said, hesitating only minutely, “because you’re unrefined. You’re pushing me away! You know who my father is, don’t you? You want me to turn around and drive away because I’m better than you and you know it! Or maybe, you have no taste.”

 

Jake took three paces closer again, closing the space between them. “I don’t know your father, Baby,” he said. “But if I was him, I’d hide my face. I’d shoot myself for making a monkey like you.” He kicked the Mustang’s tire, shouting, “For chrissakes!”

 

“Well, if you don’t want to make love to me, then I’ll go home,” she said, grabbing her purse. “And why did you ask me here? I told you what I wanted. This is all an elaborate game, isn’t it?” She walked away slowly at first, then turned back to stare. “Aren’t you going to stop me?” she asked. 

 

“I don’t think so,” he said.

 

“Well, I don’t need this hassle,” she shouted. “I’ll just go home and take a swim. I didn’t know I’d picked such a dumb boy. Guess it just goes to show—trash like you is everywhere. And to think I thought you were something!” She held her chin high, daring him to argue, but suddenly coached his features into a sweet smile.

 

“Come back, sugar doll,” he said. “You’re right. You’re real pretty.” He opened his last beer, chugging it before he said: “It’s just—I’m afraid of hurting you. That and your daddy. You’re a virgin, aren’t you?”

 

She nodded.

 

“I could tell,” he said softly. “Come on over here.”

 

When she drew nearer, she tilted her head toward him, almost glowing with victory, and then said, “Kiss me again” as he unzipped his pants. When he pulled off his shirt, in her mind, he was already that sweet John Waters, so instead of imagining spreading herself on the junkyard dirt for a greaser, she dreamt of lying at the poolside where John Henry whispered sweet things, like, “I never loved Tabitha. Only you.” As she reached in Jake’s pants, she had fully realized this fantasy and was at the brink of ecstasy—until she grew distracted by a new bout of empowering ideas: Sex was just a first move. Maybe she’d go to Europe. She would meet new groups of people! Her hand clenched Jake’s member exuberantly, squeezing and releasing to maintain the pretense of sexual desire, about to return her attention to the acts at hand—until she looked at him to kiss him again and came to the quiet realization that his penis was limp and his body cringed back from her, his small, blue eyes beady and fearful. “What’s the matter?” she asked. “What is it?”

 

“I can’t do this,” he said, looking nauseated.

 

“You’re a coward,” she said, but it occurred to her that perhaps this had always been the way with lower-class boys. Remembering the times she’d run to her parents in tears, uncomprehending their subtle slurs when a new crop of boys was too carelessly selected, she suddenly thought of a billboard she’d seen of a girl who looked like Chelsea. Then she thought of other billboards. Perhaps there was a real possibility that low-class men only liked ugly women.

 

Still, women like her were pop-stars and not everyone liked Beluga caviar either, she thought, then backed away, asking, “Jake, do you really think I’m not pretty?”

 

He shrugged, dipping his eyes down to his hands at the bottoms of his pockets. Though his posture mimicked bashful, meanness gleamed from him.

 

“Why did you ask me here?” she shouted.

 

“No reason,” he said.

 

“Not good enough,” she replied, pushing him. “Tell me why!”

 

He couldn’t respond quickly enough. Stale beer and cigarettes tainted his breath, along with the odor of rotting teeth. She repeated her question blindly, shaking him by the shoulders as she asked again and again, “Don’t you think I’m pretty? Aren’t I pretty? Can’t you see I’m pretty?”

 

Finally, he pushed her away, glared, and said, “We were going to kidnap and ransom you. But I couldn’t do it alone. They might have raped you, too. I can’t say. Mighta not. That’s what I’m waiting on. Them. And how do you like that?”

 

She stepped back. Fury reddened her cheeks. Tears of fury fell from her blue eyes.

 

“What’re you going to do now,” he asked, grinning. “Gonna slap me? Go ahead. You can’t run fast enough to get away.” He got closer, acting like what he thought she’d do next was scream, or at least register some perceived danger from his presence—but she did not.

 

He really did not know Beautiful Ape Girl Baby at all. And he froze as she ran at him screaming, “Tell me I’m beautiful! Tell me you love me, you dumb boy!” but perhaps he was too dull to perceive the sharp edge of desperation in her voice that was also broadcast by her clenched fists and the pale, white hue of her knuckles.  She knocked him down.

 

He laughed, but as she kicked off her heels and straddled him then grabbed at his neck, he gave no fight. Only once, after she began to slam his head on the brown, stinky dirt again and again did he put up a fight, but even then lurched up just one time with his mouth pursed like a goldfish, his arms foolishly extended in the night air at his sides, but there was no one to call.

 

She clenched his neck vigorously, and his throat felt soft like pigeon feathers on her father’s estate, so she continued to pound his head into the dank soil until his skull cracked open and a puddle of blood grew large beneath him. When all was still, when he did not breathe, she rolled her eyes and looked around.

 

Earlier, the junkyard had seemed so beautiful, but with his slack neck in her hands, she saw nothing but waste in the towering cars. High in the sky, the moon shone down. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said to his still body. “I am beautiful. You’re just a gutter boy who deserved what he got. I’m Beautiful Ape Girl Baby, you hear me?”

 

A moment later, she sat in Sandra’s Pinto, adjusting the rear-view. She yanked her skirt over her knees. There were only billboards of people like Chelsea here, she thought, stroking her face, because this neighborhood was bad and people like her were priceless like Louvre sculptures. She looked at her tangerine nails, glinting from dark, hairy fingers as she tapped them on the wheel, and then started the car with a shudder as the ignition engaged. Just as she cleared the driveway, his friends passed her, hanging from the windows of a rusty El Camino and making barking sounds. Confused, she did not look at them. “They deserve what they’ll find,” she said then. “They’re disgusting.”

 

In truth, she couldn’t wait to tell her friends about her evening out, but would hide her violent reaction as she always had for the sake of her parents. Until the incident, her evening with Jake had been fine. And it was a bad stroke of luck, she thought then as she dressed for a late-night swim, to waste her pink dress on a boy too trashy to find her attractive.

 

She stared at her nearly bare breasts, then her furred arms and legs, thinking she would have to try again later, next week perhaps, but for now, she would swim as the chlorinated water streamed pleasingly through her back hair, and the lion spigot, pouring full bore, enchanted her again, thinking as she did about John Water’s hand beneath it, dipping gracefully to cup the stream of the Chef’s wealth. He’d been thwarted from loving her only by his insane love for the ugliest girl on the grounds, so she was glad Tabitha was gone. Her stutter had been atrocious—a deformity in its own right. And where were her friends now? Wouldn’t they come out and play, Beautiful wondered?

 

Oh no, they could not, she recalled. She had banned them from here just last month. For the first time in her life, they were sleeping, and she was not, so the feeling of being awake when they weren’t was delicious, like her social life had finally surpassed theirs. She tried not to think of the conclusion of the evening’s romance. She swam low, touching the porous bottom with her hands, and then rose to surface with the rings. She pictured John Henry’s face as she tossed them out again, but when she dove to get them, somewhere in the deep-end there was a darkness that confused her, a flash of a greaser’s face, and all seemed black until she noted the bright light at the end of the pool, which seemed a beacon.

 

The statues above it at the pool’s edge seemed both gorgeous and wild. Lit by small round floodlights wedged into bunkers, the statues’ heavy fur and fangs assumed a new significance as she considered them. “I come from a fierce people,” she said aloud. “Superior people.” She recalled the nascent shock at her triumph still present in Jake’s eyes even after he’d stopped moving and dove again to arise and meet the statues’ feral glares. She congratulated herself as she pictured Jake’s head breaking open so easily, his blood like a dahlia of imperfection around his soft, ugly face.

 

Yes, she had done what was necessary. But she had no desire to leave the pool and find other company, embraced as she was by the cold comfort of the statues, how much like her they were. She thought of Darwin’s natural selection, his manuscript available in one of her tutor’s favorite primers, and decided she was indeed the fittest: she alone was warm in cold weather without additional garments. She alone could strip apart a tree should she long for shelter, and woe betide any who did her wrong.

 

With the hate-fueled recollection of Jake’s curling lip, her heart burned with shame for asking him to make love to her. But he was gone. She took one long, deep breath and swam two laps before coming up for air, pushing Jake from her mind and thinking instead of her tender love for John Henry as she dove again and again, refusing to step from the sparkling turquoise pool until her memory of Jake’s rejection, of her anger, and of what had happened next, like morning fog lifting, mercifully had cleared.