by Daniel McDermott
It was the vomit that ended things. I’m pretty sure. Vomit does that to people: scares them away, makes them cringe, makes them question their most recent decisions. And Bluette’s vomit was no ordinary, run-of-the-mill, I-have-the-flu-will-someone-please-hold-my-hair-back kind of vomit, nor was her regurgitation a single occurrence. No. Bluette’s vomit was the projectile kind, with a far-spewing arch normally reserved for garden hoses, rainbows, and powder-chucking snow blowers. And her nauseating episode was threefold: once in the bar on an open-toed pack of screeching coeds, once on the rust-colored cobblestone of Church Street before a cheering crowd of beer-handed onlookers, and once in the parking lot, in the car, in the driver’s seat, on my lap.
I had a hunch about that third time.
“Should I wait a little bit?” I asked, the ignition key inserted but the car not yet started. “Do you feel like you’re gonna be sick again?”
Bluette slumped her petite, 100-pound frame into the front passenger seat, her frilly yellow skirt pushed up inappropriately high, an errant bite of dirty-blond hair tucked in the left corner of her mouth, and a heaving cadence to her sour breath. She turned to me, sat upright, and leaned in across the cup holders and change console with eyes wide and mouth open, as if to say, “Yes. Thank you for asking. I do have to vomit again. Look!”
It was our second date. It was our last date. I sped down I-4, pushing the limits of my dilapidated, 4-cylinder Honda with viscous stomach bile seeping into my crotch. The scent was worse than foul-smelling things are supposed to smell, like putrid, horrifying, defecated things not of this world, like a weapons-grade version of that ubiquitous hotdog odor that lingers around deli counters and fast-food joints. It lives in my brain, this smell, tattooed into my memory. It waits for morning breakfasts and Thanksgiving dinners. It comes alive and swims to the front of my temporal lobe to say hello.
“Forget about your mother’s candied ham,” It says. “Put down that crispy bacon. Throw away that cheeseburger and remember, forever, the little French woman who threw-up in your lap.”
I thought the idea of a gym date was cool: music, raging endorphins, a pumped physique, and the knowledge that your partner is at least mildly self-respecting (if not a bit narcissistic). But I didn’t realize that Nancy’s daughter would be coming to the gym with us – I didn’t realize Nancy had a daughter at all – and I didn’t realize her daughter’s biological father was a personal trainer at the gym, and I didn’t realize her daughter was still an infant, and I didn’t realize that Nancy would be breastfeeding her infant daughter on our date, in the gym, on the exercise bike.
It’s not often that you are spectator to the suckling of your date’s nipple. And, if you are, it’s usually not on the first date, and it’s usually not in public, and it’s certainly not nourishingly so.
For some reason, I did not feel inspired to exercise while the baby fed and the breast explored the exterior of its stretchy red sports bra, despite Nancy’s pleasant assurance.
“You can go ahead and start without us. She’ll be done in a minute,” she said, peddling away, stroking the little bald head of her nipple-sucking child. But I decided, instead, to awkwardly converse with Nancy’s vascular, neck-less, cologne-and-gel-scented ex-husband.
“How’s it going there, buddy?” said the ex, with a vice-grip handshake and an arm-swinging shoulder slap. He seemed fine with the scenario – with me, and his ex-wife, and his daughter, and his ex-wife’s milk-spigot-breast – which didn’t seem normal given that, considering the baby’s fledgling age, he couldn’t be more than a year or so removed from the making of this adorable, publically breast-chomping little girl.
“How’s it going?” I said to the meaty ex. “Say, could you tell me where the restroom is?”
“Right through those doors,” he pointed, with a calloused, karate-chop hand.
“Thanks. I’ll be right back.”
The gym was relatively empty, just a gum-chewing high school kid manning the front desk and a couple spandex-clad women trolling through a rack of dumbbells. The quickening swish of my nylon track pants carried me away from Nancy, her ex, their child, and her exposed bosom. And, fortunately for me, the restroom was located near the front exit, and the front exit emptied into the parking lot, and in the parking lot I could see my vomit-scented Honda, and I drove my Honda back out onto International Drive, down Westwood Boulevard, and back to my single bedroom apartment and my single life.
She said it over pizza; that’s what’s really disturbing. It wasn’t late at night, we weren’t playing Truth or Dare, and we weren’t clinking shot glasses or licking salt from our wrists. It would have been weird regardless, but it’s just not the kind of thing I wished to associate with pizza. Before Laura, pizza was birthday parties, college late-nights, and little league victories. But now pizza is simply Laura, our third date, and her twisted past.
She was talking about her father, how he is tall, handsome, impressively athletic, a financial executive for a large credit card company who now spends most of his time in South America, and that she sort of had a relationship with him a few years ago.
“What do you mean… a relationship?” I asked.
“You know, like an actual relationship,” she said, her mouth half full of pepperoni and dough, “like a boyfriend/girlfriend kind of relationship… a sexual thing. But it’s OK; he’s not my real dad; I was adopted.”
My heart began to palpitate. The pizza tasted bitter and oniony, the cheese now infused with Laura’s rancid dysfunction.
“How old were you when you were adopted?” I asked.
“Just a baby… why?”
“What about your mother?”
“Oh, she doesn’t know. She’d kill me if she ever found out.”
“Oh no!” she raised a French-tipped hand to her mouth, still chewing. “Does it bother you?”
“I mean, it’s over now. I promise. It was just for like a year or so in my early twenties.”
“And how old are you now?” I asked, still palpitating, wanting to scream and cry and run and phone the authorities.
“And even though you’ve, uh, been with him you still call him dad?”
“Well, not really. I mean, he’ll always be my daddy–”
“–but now I mostly call him Roy.”
“I see… Roy… right.”
Laura narrowed her eyes, scrunched them between brow and cheek, tossed a nibbled chard of crust onto a plate-side stack of red and green napkins, and reclined into our wooden booth with arms folded.
“It’s not like he forced me or anything.”
I didn’t know what to say. People who have had sexual relationships with their parents should not be talking to me, or dating me, or casually eating pizza. People who have had sexual relationships with their parents should be in large gated buildings with white-collared doctors and stockpiled Lithium supplies. They should be heroin addicts, carnies, or homeless street-folk who dance on park benches and whisper to statues. And their parents should be locked up, or caned, or burned at the stake. And, yes, the same goes for someone who adopts a child and waits for her to grow up before perpetrating his sexual deviance. Moreover, a minimum $100,000 fine should be imposed on any man whose daughter refers to him as “Roy”.
I did not lecture or ridicule Laura; I pitied her. But I was not prepared to deal with her borderline reality. So I paid the bill, said goodbye to Laura, said goodbye to pizza, stepped from the crisply air-conditioned eatery into the torrid Orlando humidity, revved up the vomit-smelling, nipple-escaping, Roy-evading Honda, broke my apartment lease with eight months remaining, and drove back to New Jersey.
DANIEL MCDERMOTT is a Jersey-born writer with a fetish for words and orange tic-tacs, both of which have progressed to the point of injury. He is the Executive Editor at Bananafish Magazine and has new work currently appearing in Fray Quarterly and Monkeybicycle. He can often be found procrastinating here: danielmcdermott.net.