I. Wife says to Husband, I’m sorry I threw a bomb in the middle of our beautiful life. The bomb is a girl. A girl who got thrown: McKenna. Put in the maid’s room at the bottom of the Silver Lake contemporary. McKenna the stripper. The hooker. The whore. The sex worker, she keeps saying, but somehow no one seems to know what this means, not even the lesbian therapist with the striking acetate eyeglasses. How can it be, in Los Angeles in 2013, that no one knows what this means?
II. But the world of the Couple is car wash small. Espresso truck small. Buttery-chunk highlights small. One tweet small. Frozen soy cheese pizza small. Tasteful dainty gold necklace small. Small as a Groupon. As a Real Simple article. Jello mold small. Small as the crunchy kale salad recipe they found on a blog. So small it can be contained in a Honda Odyssey minivan, the one they probably bought when they thought they were having more kids. They did not have more kids. Just the one small one. Still, the Wife never threw out her tan nursing bra.
III. Not everyone gets to be happy, Husband scolds Wife.
IV. While the Wives work the school auction and arrange soccer pick-ups, the Husbands surf, light a bong, turn up the amp in the garage. They drink amber things in stout glasses, smoke cigarettes, play poker. They have a means for escape, and seize them.
V. McKenna is fifty-five days sober. She is twenty-two, but she says she’s nineteen. Her mom is Wiccan. She has a child’s wonder voice, and wears almost only pink. She is a full service sex worker, and she works for herself. She has clients she likes, who pay her up front and tell her she’s beautiful. She has good boundaries, and is skilled at what she does, which is to act kind and attentive, and make people feel adored.
VI. When the Wives find a moment to gather, they drink too much wine from bulky goblets and talk about their rape fantasies and their abortions and their date rapes. They feel old. They are locked in the minivans of their stripped-down desires. Everyone agrees: the scariest, worst, most coveted thing in the world is an eyes-open orgasm. Because what would we see then? Who would we be?
VII. When Wife has a cold, McKenna takes away her smart phone, then scoops up a fingerful of VapoRub and massages it into Wife’s foot, then puts on a sock and firmly pats it down. When Wife asks her to babysit for her friends’ little girls, McKenna buys shiny plastic rings and glittery nail polish to make them a princess sleepover. And when they all dick her over, treat her like shit, she gets drunk and cute and lets one of the Husbands fuck her, her menstrual blood all over the high thread-count sheets, to ensure it’s a clean break, and everyone is clear on what has happened.
VIII. Because McKenna has sex with her eyes open, they all hate her. Because she has sex at all. Because she gets paid to do it. Because she doesn’t not fuck Husbands out of a need to be sisterly to Wives. And they fear her, because she knows there is no shame, no surprise, in the fact that Husbands want to fuck her. They look down, look away from her terrycloth crotch and her black bra and her smudged eyeliner and her wad of crinkled yellow hair. Away from her witchy power. It is only at her expense—her eviction and exile and return to her proper place, installed downtown, laughing with friends in front of the club—that the Couples can hold hands again, rebuild toward a tentative happiness, the Wife’s flushed and laughing orgasm.
Just beyond this movie: another movie, one without punishable sin. A fun parlor game, a pantomime at sinning, smooth and lush as the green felt of the poker table. Everyone in this movie smiles knowingly and placidly about being bad, about fucking, about the true and restless nature of human desire. When they watch someone—even someone they love—fucking someone else, they feel only cheer, good tidings. Everyone gets to be happy. Everyone keeps their eyes open.
Arielle Greenberg is the Resident Poet at Bright Wall/Dark Room. She is the co-author of Home/Birth: A Poemic; author of My Kafka Century and Given; and co-editor of three anthologies, including Gurlesque. She lives in Maine and teaches in the community and in Oregon State University-Cascades' MFA; she is currently teaching a course in American cinema to insightful students at the Maine State Prison enrolled through the University of College at Rockland (hi, guys!). Arielle writes a regular column on contemporary poetics for the American Poetry Review.