The Girl From Ipanema by Linda Lowe

In Verano, California, on a hot April Tuesday in 1964, Miranda Marcuso, 15, sits by the windowsn in detention, writing sentences. Across the aisle, two seats up, Willy Amoroso, 17, keeps glancing back at her, humming “The Girl from Ipanema." It’s a song Miranda likes, with that cool, bossa nova beat: “Tall and tan, and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking…"

When she finishes her sentences, she does a quick sketch of Willy in pencil. She writes really dark above the scribble of hair she gives him, and blue, his eyes are really blue. Below his picture she writes, 4 tardies = one hour ofdetention = Willy Amoroso is flirting with me?

“I’m calling him," Miranda says to Patty, her best friend.

“That’s too forward, Mir. He’ ll think you’re cheap."

“He sang to me."

“Hummed. Maybe."

“Hello?" His voice is music. What if Patty’s right? Miranda hangs up.

The next day Miranda’s at her locker, getting out her Spanish book.

“Te quiero." It’s Willy. His hand on her hand, barely a second, before he takes the book from her. “Know what it means?" She blushes.

“So you do. Okay if I walk you to class?... Yes! "


“Are you doing anything Friday night?"

He’s asking me out! “No."

“You are now."

By June they’re a couple. Sometimes they go to the drive in. Willy’s got a fake ID so there’s usually a six pack of Coors to drink, and Life Savers to suck on when he drives her home, just in case her step mother, Sue Lynn, is up. She never is.

July 1st, one year ago today. Sue Lynn comes into my bedroom. She’s clutching a letter. I can see she’s been crying.

Sue Lynn, crying? “Your father," she says. “He’s missing."

“Where is he?" I say, loud.

“If they knew where he is, he wouldn’t be missing," she says.

“You aren’t telling me all of it!"

“Stop shouting," she says, shouting. “He was shot down somewhere around those Oriental countries
that are full ofCommunists!"

August 1st , their three month anniversary. “Big Girls Don’t Cry" booms from the hifi on Patty’s front
porch. Patty’s the one who usually has the parties because her mom works nights waiting tables at Denny’s
and her dad died when she was nine. The front lawn’s blooming with couples as Willy and Miranda make their way across the cool, fragrant grass. He gets out his church key, pops open a Coors and hands it to her.

Miranda picks at the label’s seam a little, and it slides off in a single piece.

“Wow," Willy says. “That’s good luck."

He lights a Marlboro and hands it to her. Miranda wants to learn to French inhale. It looks so cool to have the smoke come out of your mouth and then go right up your nose, and Willy’s a pro at it. He shows her a couple of times before she tries, but she’ s hopeless; the smoke drifts off, like a ghost.

None of the other couples are close by and Miranda thinks this is good and bad. “I mean it," he whispers. "Not, 'I love ya.' I love you."

She barely feels the grass as Willy eases down her panties and Levis in one motion. They’ve done a little exploring before, but with their clothes on. This is a moving along like a train that won’t stop in time.

Yes, no, can anyone see, someone might tell, no, yes, oh, God.

At three a.m. the phone rings. “You okay?"

“I’m fine. Better than fine."

“Remember I love you?"

Sue Lynn comes slamming out of her bedroom. “No calls after ten, that’s the rule." She unplugs the phone, takes it back to bed with her. Miranda’s still awake when the sun comes up.

August 2nd, 6:26 a.m. Mama died six years ago today, to the minute.

A few days later, Miranda takes an old blanket from a pile of clothes and thread- bare linens Sue Lynn has ready to go to the Good Will. There's a field where kids play ball near her house. She hides the blanketbehind some bushes, brings it out when Willy can meet her there.

Sunday, the 16th ofAugust, Miranda’s getting ready for church. Looking for her gloves. Where are my gloves? Where is my period? My period is as reliable as the Ed Sullivan Show. She wears Kotex to church.

Just in case.

"Nothing. Where is it?"

A week later, Miranda’s hanging wash on the line. Sheets, towels, pillowcases. As she hangs the last sheet, a wave of nausea hits her. She vomits mostly on the grass, but some of it lands in the flower bed. On

Sue Lynn’s tulips. Miranda’s in the middle of hosing them off when she pulls into the driveway. She storms over and grabs the hose. “What are you doing? You’re drowning them. What’s this? My God. You threw up on my tulips? I sent to Holland for the bulbs. Do you even know how far away that is?"

“I’m sick," Miranda says.

“You don’ t say. Have you been kissing that boy?"

"It’s the flu. It must be the flu."

The following Tuesday, school’s on again, and Miranda’s running through the showers after P.E. It’s a gauntlet of shower heads, twenty or more on each side, blasting sideways. Everybody sprints through the showers; nobody’s looking, except Ma Bailey, warden of the gym, stationed at the end. The rule is you better be wet when Ma hands you a towel. The other rule is once a girl is showing, she has to leave school.

I’m fifteen. I want to be the normal fifteen again.

“Shit, Mir, shit, shit, shit," Patty says. “You need to go to the doctor. You need to A. find out for sure,M. B. If yes, tell Willy. C. If yes, get married. ASAP. What if you have a big baby? How are you going to call it premature, if it weighs eight pounds? People are going to count the months from the wedding date to the birth date. That’s just the way people are."

Another week goes by. “Juarez," Patty’s older sister Judy says. Judy’s 20, and married.

“I know a girl who had it done there. Well, she’s a woman now. She flew into El Paso, took a cab across the Rio Grande. The mighty Rio Grande. She said the doctor’s office was down at the end of an alley.

Little kids were selling gum along the way. 'Chicle, Chicle, hey pretty lady, want Chicle please?’ Five year olds, three year olds, maybe, some of them not able to talk past 'Chicle.’ The doctor gave her a shot to numb her, but there was no numbing the sound. Wrr, wrrr, like a tiny vacuum cleaner, with terror thrown in, sucking the life out of her. If you’re rich," she says, “you can get it done here, at a real doctor’s. They call it a D. and C."

"But it’s a baby. Isn’t it? ay. My mom and dad raised me right. You’re my girl," Willy says, reaching under her sweatshirt, stroking her belly. “That’s my baby."

Friday, November 6th , Miranda checks out of school. When she gets home, she’s greeted by all her belongings boxed up and sitting on the sidewalk out front. One box; rom the school banking program. She’s deposited a dollar a week since she was six. Sticking out from one of the books, in Sue Lynn’s graceful, loopy hand, is a slip of paper that says, How could you?

She glares at Miranda from the porch, arms crossed in front of her. “It’ s all there. Every single thing that’s yours. And nothing more."

“Of course you can stay here, honey," Patty’s mom tells Miranda. “But that boy better do right by you." Patty says, “It’ll all work out. Willy’s a good guy, basically. I’ll
give you a shower. We’ll do it upclassy, with a big sheet cake that says, CONGRATULATIONS. With an exclamation mark, don't you think? And I’ll serve little dishes of nuts and mints. It’s a grown up party we’ll have. You’ll get what you need, that’s the beauty of a shower."

Willy comes by afterward. He’s with his best friend, Don, who’s almost twenty. Don’s a professional musician, with a job playing the sax in a dance band. They bring in the beer, a couple of six packs.

Miranda’s only drinking coffee, with lots of sugar. “I like my women like I like my coffee," Willy says, “sweet and strong."

Willy gets on as a fry cook at King’s, working the seven-thirty to three-thirty a.m. shift. The King’sTreat is the juiciest hamburger in town, wrapped in bacon, and if you get the plate, it comes with Frenchfries and a wedge of lettuce on the side, with the best avocado dressing to boot. Willy’s going to learn how to get the bacon just right, and fry the patties anywhere from rare to well done for a dollar fifty an hour to start, and the chef’s hat and apron washed and ironed for free.

On Monday, November 16th , Sue Lynn stops by the court house to sign the papers so Miranda can marry. “Good luck," she says, to the Amorosos. “She’s all yours now."

At noon,a Justice of the Peace marries them in a room no b igger than Miranda’s old bedroom.

Benches line three of the walls. For guests, Miranda thinks. But there’s just Willy’s parents. Patty hasschool and Don has a lunch gig. He’s sprung for the wedding bands
though. “29.95 each," he tells Willy.

“You can pay me back when you’re a famous chef," he jokes. The single window behind the judge lets in some light, but not much. There’s more noise than light, as a cold November drizzle turns into a full blown thunderstorm.

The Uptowner is Mr. Amoroso’s favorite hangout. “Sweetheart," he says to the waitress. “Bring us a bottle of your best champagne. This here’s my son, Willy, and his girl. I mean wife!"

He finagles glasses for the newlyweds. “They’re married, for Christ’s sake. What’s a little bubbly hurt?"

“Understand," Mrs. Amoroso says, “We’re not happy about you kids marrying so young."

“But who doesn’t love a precious baby?" Mr. Amoroso says.

“As long as it’s Willy’s."

“Mom," Willy says. “Let it go."

“I know, I know. All right then. You can call me Jackie or Mom," she says, lighting up. She blows out the match with the first puff. “Your choice. Since you don’t have your original mom, or even your stepmom, it’s fine if you want to call me Mom. Or Mother. But Jackie? It’s kind of disrespectful, when you think about it."

I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking she’s as mean as Sue Lynn.

Willy sings “The Girl from Ipanema" to Miranda that night in his bed. His voice is a lot like Elvis’ whispery soft, and sexy in that bossa nova beat. Miranda laughs when he says, “At least we can screw without worrying that you’ll get p.g."
Willy’s chest is a mass of soft dark curls she snuggles up against. His twin bed takes up most of the space in his small bedroom. They don’t mind how narrow it is.

At seven a.m. Willy’s mom bursts in. “Rise and shine, rise and shine. Don’t forget you’ve got school, Willy." She steps sideways between the end of the bed and Willy’s dresser to get to the window, raises the shade. “It’ s a gorgeous, gorgeous day. Don’t let’s waste a minute of it."

Miranda takes a shower after Willy leaves for school. Back in the bedroom, she’s hanging up some ofher skirts and capris in Willy’s closet when Mrs. Amoroso walks in. She says, “I’m leaving for work now. We’ll have a Jell-O salad tonight. Let’s use the cherry, red is festive, and after all, we’ re going to make the best of this situation. There’ s a chicken in the freezer, thaw it and wash it in cool water. Scrub four potatoes, and grease them with a little Crisco. They’ll go in the oven at 4:30, at 400 degrees, for one hour. Set the timer which is part of the stove, as we have the u aded General Electricwith the built-in timer. We prefer mashed potatoes, but Willy told me you like baked, and after all it’s our first night together as a family, and baked will work, just not quite the taste that fried chicken with mashed potatoes supply.l get hot so that the pieces don’t get soggy and be light with the flour so the chicken’s not all bogged down with it.

“Take on the chicken while the potatoes bake. It does need constant watching, that’ll be good practice for what lies ahead, when the little guy is crawling around and there’s just no taking your eyes off him. If he’s like our Willy he will make you wish you had eyes in back of your head, ha ha, and it will be so good to come home from work and smell that chicken frying, the potatoes baking. Tomorrow night we’ll tackle the beef stew. I’ll get Willy to take you to the market before he goes to work tonight and you can pick out some carrots, you’ll get the feel for making the right produce choices. It just takes time, and that’s what you’ve got now, time! Five months, isn’t it?"

Miranda uses the fattest of her charcoal pencils to sketch Willy’s mother. Heavy, brooding slashes on the diagonal for her hair, like a rainstorm in the middle of a tornado. Her eyes, large, empty circles.Two dots for her nose. A straight line for her mouth. She titles it 'Bitch in Black and White.'

I thought last Thanksgiving took the cake for bleakness. Sue Lynn and I, at the kitchen table with Swanson frozen dinners. Turkey on tinfoil. But the Amorosos? Thanksgiving in a cafeteria. First up, some salads that didn’t look too scary. I took a little bowl of sliced peaches and pears. Then came the serious food: mounds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, and next to them the gravy, a big bowl of jiggly brown with scum on top, that Willy broke into with a spoon and sunk into his mashed potatoes. This is a family that goes for sweet potatoes too, all dolled up with marshmallow goo. His parents had their cocktails (they’re martini drinkers) at home so we got there on the late side. All that was left of the turkey was dark meat, but they all love it. Mrs. A. took a couple of wings, and Willy got a leg thigh and drumstick; same with Mr. A. who also got one of the busboys to bring him the neck! I thought at least I could keep the fruit down, but when he bit into that neck, I ran like the wind to the head. Barely made it before barfing.

Ten days before Christmas, Willy’s Uncle Ben comes to the rescue. He’s made it big as a car dealerand has a little two bedroom rental sitting empty. He buys them some furniture too, a crib for the baby, and a little white dresser. A double bed for the parents-to-be and their own dresser as well, night stands with lamps in case they want to read. In the kitchen, a table with four chairs so they can have company fordinner. For the living room, a Naugahyde couch and a couple of easy chairs, end tables with lamps, a coffeetable, and a book case with a brand new set of the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, solemn black volumes stamped with gold lettering that give the room respect. In the garage there’ s a new Kenmorewasher, and a clothes line in th e big back yard that’s completely fenced. Best of all, no rent for three months to “give you kids a chance to get on your feet."

Willy’s dad, who works at Sears, uses his discount and something called revolving credit to buy Willyand Miranda an RCA Victor television, a console, in living color.

Willy’s nuts about it all, especially the T.V. I suppose I should be grateful. Will I ever have a say in things?

Willy and Miranda buy a small tree, and name it “Hark." They’re excited about having their first Christmas together in their own place. Miranda has the art books she’d bought at the junior college last year, a thousand years ago, when she was fourteen. THE HISTORY OF IMPRESSIOISM. MOET. CEZAE. Now she takes them back to sell. Willy’s T shirts and underwear have seen better days, so with the money she buys a half dozen of each.

On Christmas morning he says, “These aren’t gifts. They’re just stuff your mom buys you when youneed it." He’s bought her an engagement ring from Zale’s Miranda takes the ring out of its black velvet box. “It’s pretty," she says. “It’s all sparkly."

“My mom says it’s important to hold onto romance. And a diamond ring is romantic. It’s half a carat, counting up all the little ones on the sides."

“But we were never engaged."

“What difference does that make?"

“How much did you pay for it?"

“You’re spoiling the whole thing."

“How much, Willy?"

“It’s none of your business, but I bought it on credit.Five bucks a week."

“For how long?"

Willy grabs the pack of cigarettes from the coffee table and lights one. “Jesus," he says.

“There’s interest, Willy. You need to read the fine print on things."

“You sure do know how to pop the romance balloon, you know that?"

“Somebody has to be realistic."

“Do you think you could at least put on some makeup? We’re supposed to go to brunch with my parents you know."

Miranda puts the ring back in the box, snaps it shut and lays it on the coffee table.

“All your T shirts have holes," she says, and stands up. “They’re disgusting."

Merry Christmas? He buys something he likes that I don’t want or need. I sell what I like for what he needs but doesn’t want. Is this the way it goes when you’re a grown up? Okay, the ring is beautiful, but the baby’s due in April, and so is the rent.

%ew Year’s Eve
Willy’s at work tonight. This night. Fabulous, fantastic, terrific. Those are words people use when they’re all dressed up and enthusiastic about things, ready to ring in the %ew Year. They’re not like me, I’m a swollen, sick person who did something that shouldn’t be shameful, but there it is. Shameful me, with my big belly and the word, that old word, quickening. A little fist is moving like sputnik across my stomach. Or maybe it’s a little foot. I wonder where it wants to go.

Right after New Year’s, Willy gets the two to ten shift, which is good because he can go right to workfrom school. Which is bad because now his friends show up nearly
every night when he gets home, ready to drink and watch a little of that glorious color T.V. When Miranda wakes up, tired and morning sick, it’s notunusual for several guys, sometimes including Willy, to be passed out on the living room floor, smelling of old beer, the sign off signal from the TV blaring like a siren. Sometimes it’ s so late in the morning that Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans are already
up,entertaining children, which means Willy will be late to school again, or not go at all.

“Have to admit, we’re glad you’re in your own place," Willy’s mom says, a few days later when she’s dropped in with more baby goods.

She’s bought fitted crib sheets with little yellow ducks on them, and a couple ofCarter’s bath towels with the built-in hoods, “so its head doesn’t get cold,-- three dozen diapers, and cute little diaper pins in yellow too. She wants a girl so badly that she won’t buy anything pink, not even diaper pins. She’s afraid she’ll jinx the outcome.

“I’m giving notice next month," she says. “I’m so sick of the pest control business," as she straightens the throw pillows on the couch. “Lucky for me, Big Willy got a big promotion. Now you’ll be able to drop off the baby on your way to work. Free babysitting," she says. “How’s that sound?"

Like it’s time to put on my Mona Lisa smile.

Almost a week later, Sunday morning, and Willy’s hung over. His parents are coming over to take them to brunch. The living room’s messy, the morning paper not folded neat the way he likes it. And the place is dusty. He writes “Dust me" on the top of the television.

“Yes sir," Miranda says. “I takes care of it right away, sir." But she folds her arms over her expanding belly and stares him down.

“What exactly is your job here, if you can’t even keep the furniture dusted?"

“We live in the desert, Willy. What do you expect?"

“Maybe I should do the dusting and you should be the bread winner. Ha! That’s a good one. Why don’t you get out that sketch book and draw us a big pot of gold?"

Miranda pulls out Volume 9 of the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, “Housemaid’s Knee" to “Jersey Shore." It zings by Willy’s head, knocks over one of the lamps, which crashes into the door just as Willy’ s mother opens it.

“You two, you two!" she yells. “Don’t you know you’ve made your bed, and now you’ve got to lie in it?"

After Willy leaves for school the next morning, Miranda gets out her sketchbook. She writes “THE POT OF GOLD" across the top of the page.

Then she divides the page into three panels, like a comic strip.

In the first panel, she draws a large pot sitting on railroad tracks in the middle of a desert. In the upper right hand corner, a child’s sun beams down. There’ not a cloud in the sky. In the second panel a freight train enters the frame, the engineer all smiles. In a bubble she writes, WHOO, WHOO . In the third panel, the engineer's leaning out the window, his cap about to fall off, shouting , OH!, OH! Peeking out of thepot is the head of a baby. Pressing down hard with the number two lead, above the little face, Miranda writes WAAAAAA!

What’s wrong with me? To draw such a picture. Afterwards I said “fuck" out loud for the first time in my life. Then I finished writing Willy’s paper for his sociology class. On traits and environment. What if we’re passing on things to the baby?

The next Monday, Willy’ s night off, and Patty’s come over with McDonald’ s for everyone. Don has the night off too, and he’ s brought the beer and his game of Monopoly. After they finish the burgers and fries, they set up the board, dole out the money. Patty’ s in charge of real estate and Miranda’s the banker.

After half an hour or so, all Willy’s got is the B&O Railroad, and a Get out ofJail Free card. Miranda’s got Baltic, but Patty’ s stopped her chance at building houses by snapping up Mediterranean. Don, meanwhile, owns the swanky Park Place.

On his next roll, he lands on Community Chest, and draws the card that says, “Take a walk on the Boardwalk."

“And I want to put four houses on each. How much do they cost, Miss Real Estate?"

“For eight houses, $1 600.00, sir," Patty says, “plus the land cost means you owe Mrs. Banker $1 950.00."

“That almost cleans me out, but okay. I’m feeling lucky."

Willy sets down his beer. “Hey wait a minute. You have to wait a turn to buy houses."
“No you don’t." Miranda says.

“Yes, you do." Willy leans back in his chair. The front legs come up, and he holds onto the table with one hand.

“I don’ t have the directions anymore, so to be honest, I’m not sure if I can or can’ t, but I think I can," Don says.

“Then you really don’ t know," Willy says.

Patty gets up from the table. “I don’t care which way we play it. Just so it’s the same rule for everybody." She opens the refrigerator.

"Anybody need another beer?"

“The rule is, you can buy houses as soon as you have a Monopoly," Miranda says. “You know what a Monopoly is, don’ t you Willy?"

Willy’s chair comes down hard on the tile floor. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be calling me ignorant."

“She wasn’t calling you ignorant, Willy," Don says. “She’s just saying…"

“Are you some kind of referee? I thought you were just a guy that wanted to buy some houses."

Don lights a cigarette. “Okay, Willy. It’s your house. Let’s play it your way. I’ll take a beer, Patty."

“My turn," Willy says. “Now look at that. I’ve landed on Park Place. What’s the rent, Don?"

“Aren’t you the lucky one?" Miranda says. “All you have to do is pay a measly $70.00 in rent, instead of $1 300.00. Now that’s lucky."

“You got something to say to me? Because it sure feels like you got something to say to me that’s not about rent."

“Let’s remember it’s just a game, you guys," Patty says.

“Games have rules," Miranda says, rolling the dice. “That’s why I like them."She lands on Chance.

“Go directly to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars."

“Poor Mrs. Banker," Don says. He reaches across the table to pat her hand. Then he squeezes it. “I’ll come visit you," he says.

They don’t speak until the next Sunday morning. Miranda gets up and fixes him bacon, crisp the way he likes it, and eggs, over easy. “Let’s try company again," she says, pouring him coffee. “I could maybe cook something."

“Don’t put me down in front of people, Mir. If you’ve got something to say to me, say it private."

“It’s a good rule," she says. “I can live with it."

“You can cook some other time. Don’s having a party tomorrow night."

The party
We’re drinking bourbon and sevens, smoking like chimneys in Don’s tiny apartment. He calls it cozy.

He’s got a girlfriend. Delilah. No lie. This one’s platinum blonde, long straight hair, parted down the middle, like a hippie. Willy says, “I thought that name stayed with the Bible." I say, “I thought only little
kids had hair that blonde." Did I say she has a baby? Girl. It crawled around and played with Don’ keys."

Practically gummed them to death. When she pooped, Don got down on the floor and changed her diaper.

Willy says, “Man, are you pussy whipped." Then he starts flirting. I remember flirting, I know flirting when I see it. “You look
familiar," he says to her, and so on. It turns out they met at camp one summer, back when he was a Boy Scout and she was a Camp Fire Girl. “You’re the first girl I ever French kissed!" Willy says, jumping up from the couch. I say, “Take me home, you son o fa bitch." We’re both drunk. The End

Oh, more. I had to pee first. Don’s waiting out in the hallway to get in. I come out bitching.

“What are you doing with that low life?"

“She’s going through a rough time," Don says.

“You’re better than that," I say. He says,
“If Willy only knew."

“Knew what?"

He wouldn’t say.

"If Willy only knew what?"

A week later, Miranda’s about to put Willy’s Levis in the wash but first goes through his
pockets. She knows the trouble things left in pockets can cause. Kleenex is the worst, but any kind ofmpaper leaves shreds. Willy doesn’ t carry Kleenex, but what he has in his front left pocket is a note with a phone number.

From someone named Shirlie, who’s dotted the two I’s in her name with hearts, who’s signed it, “Love."

That night Miranda greets him at the door. “You’re a son of a bitch, Willy." She wads up the paper and throws it at him.

“What?" He bends down to pick it up. “It’s just some girl," he says, “You don’t think I called her?"

“You saved it!" she hollers. She takes a swing at him but misses. “You’re the bitch,he yells," and slaps her hard across the face. He grabs hold of her before she falls.

“Jesus. I’m sorry. God, what you’re doing to me."

The next night Don stops by after a gig. The usual guys are there, watching TV and drinking.

Miranda’s already in bed. She’s got a shiner, and her left cheek is bruised. This night Don’s broughtin his sax, and when he starts to play, she gets up, puts on her robe, and
stands listening in thedoorway to the living room. He’s playing “Summertime,"
and Miranda thinks he sounds as good as John Coltrane. All the guys are quiet while he plays, and it occurs to Miranda that they’re a sad lot in the process of becoming a bunch
of losers, and that if they have any dreams, they’ll drift away like thesong, until all
that’s left is the echo of something passing. A chance.

In the kitchen Miranda bags up the beer bottles cluttering the counter. “Hey, good looking," Don says. He’s come to get a beer, but he takes the bag of trash from her. “I take it'll out,he says. When he sees her eye, he asks her what happened.
“Oh, you know,she says. “I ran into something."
“I don’t think so, he says, touching her cheek.

“I saw stars," she says, and tries to make a joke of it. “Natalie Wood, James Dean."

“Jimmy Dean is dead."

“I know he’s dead. Maybe I am too," she says, and starts to cry.

He drops the bag, and puts his arms around her, whispers in her ear. “IfWilly only knew what he has." He kisses her neck, her bruised cheek, her mouth.

“Oh, God," she whispers. “This is a huge no-no."

Miranda’ s still awake when Don tiptoes in. “They’ re all passed out," he says.

“Is this what you want?"

Can I draw it? Can I write it? %o…"A few nights later Willy's barely home from work when there’s a knock on the door. Loud. Miranda thinks it’s some of the guys, but it’s the police.

“Call my mom," Willy says as they cuff him.

She screamed at me. “It’s all your fault!"

The following week, three days after Valentine's Day, Patty picks Miranda up after school and they go for coffee at Kings. “You okay being here?" she asks.

“Willy’s the one who got fired, not me."

“I’m really sorry, Mir. I heard he’ll get jail time instead of Juve."

“That’s what he gets for turning eighteen."

“You doing okay?"

“Let’s talk about school. How’s school?"

“I meant to tell you. We’re moving."

Across the country. Her mom is getting married to the manager of the biggest Denny’s in Atlanta. “I’ll call you once a week at least. Or call me collect. That’s it. You can call me collect whenever you want."

Oh God. now what? Patty gone, Willy and I not speaking again. He goes to school, I read Dr. Spock.

If it weren’t for Don…but he’d barely left today when Willy’s mom showed up with a casserole. Like for a funeral.

March 18th , the sentencing. Thirty days in jail for stealing $200.00 from Kings. Will he be out beforethe baby’s born? It’ll be close…
“Let’s go to Las Vegas, Don says. “For your birthday."

“Vegas!" It’s less than a three hour bus ride, but Miranda’s never been.

“I’ve got some money saved. We’ll get a motel, see the sights."

“I’ve got money too," Miranda says. “I’ll take my bank book. Maybe we can play the slots.
They’ re on the bus" before Miranda notices that Don’s brought along his sax.

“Why’d you bring that?"

“You never know," he says. “Okay, I do know. I’ve got an audition at the Sands."

“Really? Where Frank Sinatra plays? Why didn’ t you tell me?"

“I thought, I don’t know. That maybe you’d think we really weren’t going for your birthday."

They sit toward the back. When it gets dark, Don pulls out a flask and takes a drink.

“Scotch?" Miranda asks.

“Want some?"

“It’s not like I haven’ t drunk it straight before." She takes a sip. It burns, but she doesn’t choke.

It’s almost nine when they arrive. They check into a motel downtown that’ s right across
the street from the bus depot, then go for a late dinner at the Fremont Hotel. “All you can eat for $1 .75."

Over the shrimp cocktail, Miranda says, “Don. Have you ever played "What if?"

“There’s a game called " What If?" He dips one of his shrimp into the sauce. “You need more sauce? to get some more."

“It’s a kind of thinking ahead I call it."

He scoots out of their booth. “Be right back."

“Wait." She takes his arm.


But she can’ t say it. What ifwhen Willy gets out ofjail I tell him I want a divorce?
Afterwards, they stroll hand in hand down Main Street. Miranda can’ t get over the lights.

“It’s just like day," she says. “I could live here forever."

Back in the room, Don’s practicing for the audition.

Miranda’s sitting in the one easy chair, smoking a cigarette and drinking from the flask.

“Say, Mr. Sax

Man. How long you going to toot that thing?"

Don laughs. “I make my living with this thing."

“Okey dokey. How about let’s have 'The Girl from Ipanema?’"

“That’s bossa nova. Not my scene."

“It’s a good, good song, she say"s. “And besides,"

“Besides what? Besides you’re shit faced?"

“I’m the girl from Ipanema. Too the hell bad I can’t sing."

He goes over and takes the cigarette from her and the flask too. “Time for bed."

“Wait," she says, standing up. She’s wobbly on her feet. “I gotta get ready. I brought my one good fat dress."

“Mir. It’s an audition."

“I know it’s an audition. And if you get the job, we can stay here."

“You can’t go. That’d be like taking your mother to a job interview."

“I’m not your mother. I’m your girlfriend."

“Sleep it off, Mir. I’ve got the key."

Miranda wakes when she hears him come in. “I got the job," he says.

“What time is it?"



“I got busy, signing a contract, there’s a lot to it."

“Great," she says, sitting up. She’s got a pulsing headache, but it’s Vegas. “Can we go up to the Strip now?"

“Only we leave this morning. At nine."

“Leave? For where?"

“Dallas. They’ re not a house band, Mir. They go on the road. They have gigs lined up all over the country. That’s why I have to leave today."

“Wait. You said we before. You said 'We leave.'"

“It’ s…Willy’ s a shit, but he’ s your husband."

“It’s my birthday. I’m a fucking sixteen year old girl."

“We’ll figure it out when you’re in Chicago, or Boston, or the Big Apple? Maybe we’ll figure it out while you’re taking a big bite out of the Big Apple."


“Don’t Mir’ me. Could you at least leave me your flask? I’d really like some scotch to see me home."

At eight Don walks her across the street to the bus. He’s got a cab waiting to take him out toHenderson to meet up with the band. She shrugs off his attempt to kiss her, hands
him back his flask. “I don’t want it after all," she says.

“You’re a bastard!" she shouts to the receding cab. “You’re all bastards!"

It’s nearly nine-thirty before the bus finally pulls in, almost an hour late. Miranda remembers pickingup her suitcase, taking two steps, maybe three. Before she realizes that
she’s standing in a puddle. Happy Birthday, my water’s broken.

In her own cab, on the way to the hospital, it comes to her. The right answer. Why didn’t I think of it before?

“I want to give my baby up for adoption," Miranda tells the woman in Admitting. She’s on the brink of completing a miracle, and someone rushes over to help her onto a gurney, make a speed run down the long hall to the delivery room.

“It’ s a girl," the doctor says. “She’s good size for a preemie." A human being , Miranda thinks nonsensically, as if all along she wasn’t sure, in spite of the sickness, in spite of the kicking inside her, a human being who was crying with a clear, strong voice. The nurse smiles and says, “Ten of each," when Mirana asks about the number of fingers and toes.

Later, the nurse brings the baby to Miranda’ s room. She’s wrapped like a present, a pink bow taped to her bald head. When the nurse leaves, Miranda kisses her baby’s cheeks, her nose, her mouth, her ears, her bald head. “And now," she says, “I have to tell you a few things. Will you please do me a favor and keep your eyes closed?"

“You need a mom who’ ll change your diaper right away. Who’ s got the doctor’ s number memorized, in case you get a stuffy nose or a fever crops up. She’ ll sterilize your bottles and she won’t swear when you cry in the night.

“When you go to school, she’ll buy the pictures, and the five by seven will go up on the mantle. At Christmas time she’ll hang your stocking and fill it with thoughtful gifts, even if it’ s just a sweet tangerine in the toe of it and a clip of bobby pins, and maybe a little bottle of White Shoulders when you’ re older, andMshe will never say, how could you? You’ re a human being, and you deserve your own special song to theuniverse. Maybe that’s the one thing I can gMve you."

When the nurse comes back and asks Miranda if there’s anyone she wants to call, she says, “No."

When the nurse asks her if she still wants to go through with it, she says, “Yes."

As Miranda hands over her baby, she says, “Is it all right if I name her first?"

A few days later, Miranda calls Willy’ s mother to tell her the news. “It was a girl after all."

“Oh my precious baby!" she says. Then, “Was!"

“I’m divorcing Willy too."

“What do you mean was a girl?"

“She was born on my birthday. My baby girl and I share that day."

“Where are you, god damn it. What have you done?"

What she does is stay in love with Las Vegas. This shiny place, a small town to those who live there, takes her in, gives her a chance. She goes back to the motel and gets a job cleaning rooms. From there she moves on to waitressing. After a few more birthdays, she makes the leap to gaming. Miranda loves cards.

It’s win or lose, cut and dried. There’s no wait a minute in cards. Wait a minute you bitch and she calls the pit boss. It’ s a world she feels safe in, but twenty-three years, five months, two weeks and three days will pass before she sees her daughter again.

Before they meet, they exchange letters. Miranda’ s contains the notes she’ s jotted down each year on their birthdays:
1 . Are you walking? SayingMa Ma and Da Da? To those people?
2. It’s raining here today. Can you say “rain?" Where is “here" for you?
3. Can you tie your shoes? Can you sing the ABC song?
4. I hope you don’t know the word, DRU%K. I’m drunk tonight .
5. March baby, March baby, are you in school yet?
6. Is your hair long? Does that woman know how to French braid your hair?
7. Can you swallow pills? Does she give you vitamins?
8. You should be subtracting by now. Can you play cards?
9. Does she let you have birthday parties?
10. Has she had “the talk" with you?
11 .Are you kissing boys? She better have had the talk with you.
12. Are you wearing a bra yet?
13. You’re a teenager! Can you dance? Play an instrument?
14. The whole idea was to give you advantages.
15. The whole idea was for you to be happy.
16. Are you driving? Be careful! Do you have nice friends?
17. Ofcourse you have nice friends.
18. You better be graduating in June!
19. Nineteen. And still they won’t tell me ANYTHING.
20. Please tell me you’re in college.
21. Please tell me you aren’t married.
22. You have to want to find me.
23. My birthday and yours, again, and again, separated by what? Everything .
23. and almost a half: For once the telephone brought good news. You! Today is the happiest day of my life, and I think I’m going to throw up.
Miranda waits for her daughter in the coffee shop near the Sands Hotel, where she’ s worked for years.

How do I talk to a woman with a degree in art history from Harvard? Will she understand why I named her after a song? Her voice, it’s a young woman’s voice, but there’s Willy in it. The music. There’s so much to tell her. So many stories.

She wasn't sure where to begin.

The End

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