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Wide Eyed

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Part of Dennis Cooper’s Little House on the Bowery series, this collection of stories is told by a woman compelled to divulge her secrets, fantasies, and obsessions.

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Excerpt from Wide Eyed

Extreme Sweets

The dog wakes up from a dream at the same time I do. His whimpering wakes me, so I pet his nose to calm him. We were both dreaming about cats. I dreamed that my cat had six kittens, each one a color of the rainbow. The purple one was pastel, the same lavender as the Horse of a Different Color in The Wizard of Oz movie. I looked down to see if I was wearing ruby slippers, but I wasn’t.

My dog was dreaming of eating cat food. Most of his dreams are about stealing food from other animals. When his paws twitch, that means in his dream he just grabbed some meat and is trying to outrun a pack of vicious, hungry dogs. One time, when he and I were having the same dream, the dogs were faster than him, and I watched them catch up and rip him apart. I woke up crying. I wonder where you go when you die, but mostly I wonder how it affects you when you die in your dreams, night after night. Are you dying a little each time? Your whole life, you’re dying, but I try not to think of it that way.

 

My cousin Laura collects glass animals. She dusts them like forty times per day. When I go over to her house, she constantly glances over to her armoire, making sure her animals are safe.

“What’s new?” I ask her.

“Nothing,” she says.

“Like a soda?” I ask, tossing her a can.

“Thanks,” she says, setting it on the table.

“Want to go to the beach?” I ask.

“Can’t,” she says. “I’ll burn.”

“Use sunscreen,” I say. “Maybe we’ll see dolphins.”

She walks over to her shelves and picks up her dolphin. She steams it up with her breath, and polishes it with a diaper cloth.

“Already got one,” she says.

“Jesus,” I say. “Don’t be so melodramatic.”

“You’re melodramatic, coming over here, all beached up and ready to party.”

“What?” I say. “FYI, I’m trying to cheer you up and get you into the sun.”

“I get plenty of light,” Laura says. “I got these natural lightbulbs on eBay . . .”

“Fuck eBay,” I say, then storm out.

I really don’t know what’s wrong with Laura. She buys and sells animal figurines on eBay so she doesn’t have to leave her house. We didn’t grow up together. But she’s one of my only relatives. Her mom and my mom are enemies. Laura and I are the same age. She has long brown hair, nice skin and teeth, and she keeps her nails painted. Sometimes when I go over to her house she’s in this white gauze gown that looks like it’s from Victorian times. I’m sure it’s from eBay. I’m grubbier, I shave my head, wear cutoffs, and I keep my nails short so they don’t get too much dirt under them. Riding my bike rules my life. I ride my bike around, racing past bums who push shopping carts and ladies who wheel sacks of laundry to the laundromat. Yesterday I saw a lady balancing a box of mangos on her head.

 

My mom and her sister are enemies because my mom found out that my aunt knew my dad was sick before he died, but she didn’t tell anyone. Dad died ten years ago. My mom feels my aunt was partially responsible for my father’s death, and my aunt swears that he made her promise not to tell anyone, because he knew he was sick and he would’ve died anyway. He didn’t want everybody worrying about him. But my mom says that doesn’t matter, when a man is dying and he doesn’t want his wife and kids to know, you tell them anyway. I agree. Not that she killed him, but right after he died I’d lie awake trying to convince myself that my aunt wasn’t a murderer. She didn’t stab him or shoot him, but she secretly knew he was dying and didn’t do a thing to change it. That’s pretty close to murder.

* * *

In the middle of the night, my dog and I share candy on the couch. He sits next to me with his paws crossed, staring at my bag of taffy. He’s like, I’ll eat it all even if I have to barf it up after. He’s like, Go For It. He likes the lime ones; lime is my least favorite. He freaks on sweets. I know it’s bad to feed him donuts and Jujubes, but I can’t resist. He lives for this. It makes me feel like we’re both living our dreams. Sporty, like Extreme Dreaming! I imagine myself being interviewed on network television: “I’m just doing the best I can, shedding a little light. Trying to make a difference.” Full of slogans, holding my Bit-O-Honey. It’s like, you have dreams, night after night, for years on end, they don’t make any sense, you wake up, and fuck it—you give your dog a little candy to cheer yourself up. Is that so bad? I mean, is it? I could be thinking of ways to sabotage my will-o’-the-wisp cousin, but no. I just eat candy.

 

The night after the lavender cat, Laura and I are riding through the sky in a glass elevator, a modern one, not like Willie Wonka’s. All four sides of this elevator are made of windows that you can roll down, and the strangers riding with us are hanging out, smoking cigarettes over the edges. I think of what Charlie says in the book—It’s eerie and frightening to be standing on clear glass high up in the sky. It makes you feel that you aren’t standing on anything at all. The sky feels underwater—same blue—and the elevator feels like a glass-bottom boat. It would have been just as surprising to see a hammerhead shark swim past as it is to see this red-tailed hawk flying below the smokers. Things speeding by, like in the tornado before Oz—a cow, a witch on a bike, trees with roots hanging down. Instead though, a hawk and cigarette butts.

Laura shouts, “Come stand on the edge.”

“Why don’t you stand on the edge?”

Laura lights up, and the smoke wafts into my face.

“Blow it out the window,” I tell her. As if there aren’t windows all around us.

She leans over and whispers, “You know, you could die up here and I wouldn’t tell anyone.” She gets ready to push me over.

I wake up knowing that if I stayed asleep, I would’ve died. Basically, I just saved my own life. Ha! I think, in the darkness. You can’t kill me! This applies less to my twisted cousin than it does to the universe. I roll out of bed and into the kitchen, where I pour myself a glass of chocolate milk and drink it in the light of the fridge. It’s the ultimate chocolate milk commercial—Narrowly escaping death, she reaches for the only thing that can satisfy, Milk!

 

Next day I go to Disneyland. I feel guilty for leaving the dog home alone all day. “I’ll bring you a treat,” I tell him, as I pet his head and pull the front door shut.

“He’ll be fine,” my friend Lois says, putting her sunglasses on. She’s an optimist. “Once you ride Space Mountain you’ll forget all about him.”

“That’s true,” I say, wondering what Laura’s doing. I decided yesterday to stop inviting her out, which also contributes to my guilt. I know from past experience how much it sucks to feel guilty at Disneyland. You’re twirling in a teacup at sunset remembering you told your mom you’d cook her birthday dinner; you get off the ride and find a pay phone to call and apologize, but you didn’t bring her phone number with you. Harsh.

The Haunted House reminds me of Laura, the painting of the beautiful young girl that morphs into an old hag with snakes in her hair.

“That looks like my cousin,” I say to Lois.

“Or you,” she jokes.

“Shut up,” I say, elbowing her. Still, it’s uncanny.

“It’s a ride, not a funeral,” Lois says.

I remember the glass elevator. “Don’t you love Willie Wonka?” I ask Lois.

“We’re at Disneyland,” Lois says. “Wrong fantasy.”

“Let’s get candy,” I say. When we exit the mansion, we head straight for the stand where I chomp on chocolate turtles and candy canes. I buy a Mickey Mouse Pixy Stix for the dog, after I picture his nose dusted with the sugar powder. So cute—canine cocaine. Lois’s tongue turns blue as she chews gumdrops. All I can think about is death. Laura, I’m convinced, is trying to kill me with her mind.

“I think my cousin’s psychic,” I say.

“What?” Lois says.

“Last night, in my dream, Laura was trying to kill me,” I explain. “She sits at home all day, tripping out on eBay . . . I feel like right now she’s sending me evil vibes.”

“No more candy for you,” Lois says. “Anyways, you can’t die from dreaming about death.”

“But she could be willing my demise,” I say. “Voodoo.”

“Look, Laura might shop too much on eBay, but that doesn’t make her a Voodoo priestess,” Lois says. “That’s, like, from a bad horror movie.”

“We’ll see,” I say. “I better start sleeping with Snickers under my pillow. When I go out, I want to be well stocked.”

“There’s plenty of candy in heaven,” Lois says.

 

Lois was right: I did eat too much candy at Disneyland. That night my dreams were a mess. I breast-fed a hippo. An albino man with glass teeth stalked me; every time I turned around he was Windexing his grin. My dog spoke backwards, telling me that he needed to be brushed. Hsurb em, he said. What’s worse, the glass-toothed man finally cornered me at a party, bit my arm with his jagged fangs, and I bled to death while everyone stood around drinking beer.

But Laura wasn’t responsible. She had her chance to get in there and damage me, while I was trapped in my sugary nightmares, but instead she stayed up all night haggling, pale-faced in her computer screen’s glow.



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