Lizavetta calls you from a sex shop in Beaumont (it really is Liz!). Your family hasn’t heard from her in six months. Despite the tremble of excitement, you manage to hold up a finger in front of the pretty redhead who sits attentively across the diner booth from you. One second, you say.
Liz (her chirpy voice) says she’s in a porn shop in Beaumont, Texas. You imagine your lanky sister behind a yellow counter (yellow is the color of insanity your mom says) while sex toys assault the senses: plastic dildos point their heads at acrid and wet panties on clotheslines (you’re making it up, you’ve never been in a sex shop), all the while an assortment of mildewed gels and condoms grow like weeds along the base of the molding.
Your sister, Lizavetta, tells you in her chirpy voice that the shop’s nice. It’s operated out of the nook of a mall and everything’s well lit and open. There aren’t any windows for obvious reasons, but it’s sort of like the ABC store down the road from Mom’s. You’re a little relieved.
She tells you that she said something funny today. She says, Listen to this, a regular customer, a guy named Zeke, came into the shop and asked me what it’s like to be Russian. I said that being Russian’s sort of like being a lesbian, I only want to have sex with other Russians.
You guess that Zeke isn’t Russian, that he’s a Beaumont person, a Texan. You’re like him, like an American redneck. Unlike your adopted sister.
You’re about to ask Liz why she’s in Beaumont but she interrupts and says, Customers, hugs and kisses brother.
The redhead still sits in the booth with its mauve, synthetic leather seats. She runs a finger around the top button of her black blouse. When you give her the signal she continues to talk about post-structuralist theory. You absently arrange the sugar packets into towers and they slip and topple when the redhead gives you her phone number on a napkin. She thinks that you want hear more about Zizak.
Go to (1) if you call the redhead later that night. Go to (2) if you call Lizavetta instead. Go to (3) if you’re responsible and work on your thesis for the rest of the night.
The redhead answers her phone immediately and giggles when you attempt to joke about your physics thesis (weak interaction theory). You ask whether she’d come over for a beer. It’s a long shot (Come over for a beer?) but she does.
And later you lie in bed with a hand over her bare shoulder. Lizavetta’s lanky body pops into your mind surrounded by fluorescent mall lights. For some reason you need to tell the redhead about your sister.
The redhead listens with half-closed eyes about the time Mom warned you not to hit your sister. Sometimes you hit your adorable sister because she didn’t share candy or toys. You must’ve been nine or ten when you stopped. You tell the redhead (What’s her name?) that Mother still tells the story (you were six) about Lizavetta rushing into the living room with a black eye. You can vividly remember the scene. You sit on the floral print couch and see your sister with the blueberry welt around her pupil.
But your memory doesn’t make sense, you had to be in the other room where you hit your sister. Your Mother specifically won a leather couch in the divorce, not a floral print.
The redhead (What’s her name? What’s her name?) turns to you and says that memories are subjective. She fingers your bottom lip.
You realize the redhead’s name is Mary and you tell Mary that you’re so sure the couch hadn’t been leather.
Her name isn’t Mary.
Go to (2) if you call Liz after the redhead leaves. Go to (3) if you try to fall asleep on top of the warm covers.
Liz answers from the porn shop again. You recognize James Brown’s voice on the in-store speaker system and ask what song he’s playing.
Something about ‘hot butter popcorn,’ Liz says. I’m so tired of this mix. It’s all funk and techno music. Arnold claims it ‘gets people in the mood’ (Arnold’s my manager by the way) but I think we need some pop music. Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilara. What man doesn’t want to screw a pop star?
You laugh and tell her you would.
She says, I can mail a Lady Gaga blow up doll your way.
For a second you hesitate and then tell her not to bother. The description of the redhead you met bubbles quietly in the back of your throat but you fight it down and away from your lips. Instead you ask where Liza’s been the past six months.
Abruptly your sister counters with a question.
Do you think it’s safe to hang out with Zeke?
At first your brain clogs and you tell her that you can’t remember Zeke. She says that Zeke stopped in the store every single day.
He wants to bone me,” she says, but he’s not Russian, remember? Some dumb Texan redneck. But he seems genuine in a weird sort of way. What do you think?
Why does she care what you think? Go to (3) if you tell her to hang out with Zeke. Go to (4) if you tell her not to bother with him.
In the morning your phone rings rudely through the haze of sleep. Red sunlight weighs into your naked back and you turn your head to the nightstand (papers, textbooks on quantum mechanics). When you flip open the phone a rough Southern voice blares with laughter (the sound of a tobacco chewer you assume).
Haw! That’s your brother, huh?
Give it back you hick, Lizavetta says in the background.
You ask who’s speaking (Who the hell is this?). The man laughs and says, Zeke, brother. You a Russian like your sister?
Yeah, Zeke, Lizavetta says, Peasants fleeing from communist oppression, my whole fucking adopted family.
You decide to lie, even though you’re not Russian. You tell Zeke about your crazy, Vodka swilling parents and how you escaped through the iron curtain while a pack of hounds and communists nipped at your heels. You tell Zeke that the Russian words for communist pigs are ‘Boristoy Blagovich’ and it sounds Russian enough. He laughs at your stories (always laughing at things, he sounds like his belly shakes when he laughs) and Zeke hands the phone over to Liz.
Sorry to call you so early. It’s Zeke’s fault, she says.
She went to Zeke’s house last night and fell asleep on the couch. When you ask what movie they watched she replies, A new porno from the store, ‘Charles Dickings in Great Ejaculations.’ (She pronounces each accented syllable with the pomp of a victorian.) When I woke up this morning I went to the kitchen and there’s Zeke in nothing but his boxers, huge gut hanging out, big dick out of his boxer shorts. The guy pulls a beer out of the fridge, a yellow fridge, have you ever seen one of those, like, egg shaped fridges? He pulls a beer out and tells me he’ll look sexier with some alcohol, and he means alcohol in my system. I’m in the bathroom right now. Just by the way, if it gets all echo-ee.
You can hear muffled country music start up through the walls. You ask what’s wrong.
Like, I slept with him last night in his bed, didn’t get on the couch. I mean we got nasty, you know. You heard about the stuff I did in highschool. But he does have a yellow fridge. He says I should be a porn star. I don’t like the guy, but he says he’ll hook me up. It could work.
You ask what she means by that (it could work?).
Just, like, please, tell me whether I should go with the scumbag or not, Lizavetta says.
Go to (4) if you warn her against it. Go to (5) if you tell her to do what she thinks is best.
Applications for grad school lie on the table. Printing them out didn’t keep your mind from wandering through Beaumont’s porn shop. What kind of a mall? Does Lizavetta spend lunch breaks in the food court?
On your laptop you look up Beaumont malls. Two names appear on the monitor, Parkdale and Antiques of Beaumont. Parkdale doesn’t have an adult store on its directory map. Antiques of Beaumont doesn’t have a directory.
The phone rings and you snatch it up but a recorded monologue buzzes in your ear instead of Lizavetta’s chirp. You tell the recording to go to hell and it pauses.
I don’t appreciate that tone of voice, sir, the monologue says.
Goosebumps cover your arms. The monologue quickly warms up and understands that every once in a while someone assumes it’s pre-recorded. The voice tells you not to worry and then asks if you’d like a lifetime membership to Suds Digest, the premiere magazine for soap and detergent enthusiasts. You decline with only three words (No thank you) and then the voice asks if you’re interested in Esquire with a free month of Men’s Health. You press the red End button.
You stare again at the applications that clog your bed. The phone rings again and luckily the screen reads Liz.
Hello, a man’s voice says.
The voice isn’t Zeke’s. You ask who’s calling.
Milton. Are you Lizavetta’s brother? That’s what it says on the contacts list, Big Bro.
You ask why he has her phone.
She left it at the studio. I’m her co-star, we met today for her first film. You’ve got a wonderful sister, you know that? I mean, not just a sexy girl, she’s kind. I hear she’s adopted, kind of a shame because in another life you two would be lovers. She wouldn’t stop talking about her adopted brother.
So do you know where she lives? I need to return the phone.
You go to (5) to tell him to leave it at the closest porn shop. The feelings well up inside you. What feelings, disgust? Hatred? Love?
You look up the Beaumont personal ads on craigslist for both men and women. The men generally post pictures of their penises, the women post pictures of their faces. Your conscience wants to gag but the combination of penises and faces (penis plus face?) leads you deeper into the personals.
Mother had always kept you closer. And one day Liza explained sex to you in an urgently whispered conversation. During that lecture in the back of the stationwagon you didn’t mind that your sister had arrived from Russia or that Mom wouldn’t be able to conceive again. You liked the feathery touch of her breath on your ear, talking about all the things hidden in plain sight across your world.
Later, Liza dropped out of highschool and ran off with a boy, maybe several boys, and what else could be said? You were about to graduate.
(Ring ring) Lizavetta calls. She seems a little upset. You ask her whether she did the porn and she says yes but that she wants you to listen to her. You ask her what she wore for it. She pretends not to hear and you immediately feel the heat in your face. But you wanted the details.
Lizavetta tells you that a guy, some guy named Milton, came in her during the porno. She’s scared because she isn’t on birth control. She asks you what to do.
Go to (6).
Lizavetta doesn’t call again. During the night you dream a strange dream of her. You see her in a refrigerator box deep under the east Texan peat. She’s naked and her skin sticks to the cardboard. She constantly peels it away, first her freckled back and then her breasts and then a thigh but the box closes in on her.
When you awake you try to call Lizavetta but the line informs you that her phone’s been disconnected. You wonder what it’d be like if you could call her again, just one more time.
Go to (7).
Lizavetta tells you she’s going back to Russia. At first you protest and tell her to move in with you instead. She says no, she wants to move back to her real hometown.
You know it’s an eastern Siberian place named Anadyr. You ask her to describe Anadyr but she only remembers the big and barren mountains. To her three year old mind they looked like giant anthills. She remembers a fog that hides the ships in the harbor. She remembers mosquitoes in the summer, mosquitoes bigger than her hands.
You tell her it’s good to leave and that you’ll visit her one day. You try to mean it.
Go to (8). If there is no (8), it’s bed time.
Chett Tiller is a writing consultant living in Asheville, NC where he performs secret underground military tests on semi-colons. His short stories have been published locally in Metabolism, Redaction!, and Headwaters. He’s currently the writer for a comic book named Bad Moon, and beats his head against the ineffable as a form of amusement. Give him some love at: firstname.lastname@example.org.