Tuna Fish, Pennies and Phone Sex. (Fiction)

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I’m trying to write, and all I hear is my roommate’s girlfriend, Wanda, upstairs talking on the phone. “Don’t you know how to make a tuna fish sandwich, Crystal?” she’s saying. Crystal’s her roommate. If Phil didn’t leave Wanda here, she’d be back at her apartment now. “Go home, Wanda!” I yell upstairs, and then she’s telling Crystal she has to get off the phone, only they’re still talking, and I have to yell up again, and then Wanda comes downstairs in one of Phil’s shirts, asking for toast.

“There’s no toast, Wanda,” I’ll say. “Go home and have toast.”

She stands there with those long legs of hers, looking out the window, a dumb expression on her face. Then she goes back upstairs, wandering around, looking for her earrings. By the time she goes out the door, it’s already eleven o’clock, and she’s still standing on the front porch. I go and lock the front door.

I keep telling Phil to stop leaving Wanda here. He says he can’t get her up in the mornings. Wanda’s a waitress. She used to work at a bar across from our office. That’s where Phil met her. They started seeing each other right after Phil’s wife threw him out. All he managed to keep from Sandy was two boxes of old pennies. He’s been collecting for years They’re all tarnished from sitting in the basement.

Wanda loves rolling those pennies. Every time Phil promises to take her to this crappy Japanese restaurant he knows, Wanda starts rolling like crazy.

“Ten dollars!” she’ll yell, jumping up and down like there’s a prize. The prize is ten dollar sake and egg rolls. They came home drunk one night and Wanda sat on an old sofa someone left on the sidewalk. It was all wet. She ran through the front door, pulling her jeans off in the foyer.

“What are you doing?” Phil yelled at her. She gave him that dumb-eyed look and thumped upstairs. He went out again, moving his car to another street. Sandy keeps threatening to have it repossessed. She’s already garnisheeing his wages because they’ve got two kids, and she doesn’t work. So he’s got to keep moving the car because Sandy’s crazy. She doesn’t care that it’s a company car.

Phil and I used to work at the same advertising agency. One day I found him shaving in his office. He told me Sandy threw him out. He’d been sleeping in his car in the underground across the street. I had a spare room, so I offered that to him. “I can’t pay much,” he said. Sandy was already taking everything. When he moved in with me, all he had was his clothes and the pennies. One night Wanda showed up.

That’s when they started rolling pennies.

Phil still barely contributes any rent. I can’t ask him to pay me with pennies. It’s all he’s got for food and taking Wanda to that Japanese restaurant. If Wanda didn’t love rolling pennies so much, they probably wouldn’t go out at all.

I let it slide as long as I could. Only the agency fired me three weeks ago. I’ve been picking up freelance, but it’s tough carrying most of the rent. Phil keeps telling me he wishes he could pay more, only Sandy’s really putting the screws to him. She sent him a letter last week about the car. “I keep telling her it’s a company car,” he tells me. Sandy won’t listen. The kids need stuff, they’re out in Oakville, miles from any stores. So he keeps moving his car because he’s afraid Sandy isn’t bluffing. If she’s got a repo guy, he’ll get the car.

There’s this advertising bar, more a pub, not far from the office. I still go occasionally. One night I’m sitting there, and who walks in but Phil, Wanda and Crystal. They’re all dressed up, Wanda and Crystal in tight dresses, high heels, the whole garb. Crystal has her red hair pinned up, big breasts jammed into this low-cut thing. Both her and Wanda have on too much make-up. One of Crystal’s false eyelashes is already starting to come off. She keeps pushing it back in place.

Wanda sees me sitting there and comes right over with Crystal.

“We’re having a night on the town,” she says. “This is Crystal. She wants to be one of those — what do you call them, Crystal?”

“Shut up, Wanda,” Crystal says. “I don’t want everyone knowing.”

She orders a glass of wine. Phil tells her she can only have beer.

“I didn’t get dressed up to drink beer,” she says. “I don’t even like beer.”

“We’re having sake at the restaurant, Crystal,” Wanda says.

“What’s sake?”

“It’s fifty dollar champagne,” Phil says.

“It is not.”

“Hey, come with us,” Wanda says to me. “It’ll be a hoot.”

Phil tells them to drink up. Crystal goes off to the washroom and Phil finishes her beer. When she comes back, she says, “Hey, what happened to my beer?” Wanda helps her into her coat, and we go outside, grabbing a cab. Crystal’s between us, Wanda’s on Phil’s lap. I see Phil looking down Crystal’s dress. His arm’s across the back of the seat. He snakes it around and squeezes one of Crystal’s breasts. She slaps him across the face. Then Wanda slaps Crystal across the face.

“He grabbed my boob,” Crystal screams.

Wanda slaps Phil across the face and he slaps her back.

“Don’t hit my friend,” Crystal says, slapping Phil again.

He slaps her back and then Wanda slaps him.

Crystal starts crawling over both them, yelling at the cabbie to stop.

“You promised a nice night out, Wanda,” she says, her heel catching on Wanda’s coat. “All I get is my boob grabbed.”

“You’re boob’s popping out now, Crystal,” Wanda says.

“Well it wouldn’t be if your boyfriend left it alone.”

The cabbie’s telling us we’re blocking traffic. Crystal’s on the sidewalk, tugging away at her dress. We’re only a block from the restaurant. We get out and Wanda’s trying to get Crystal calmed down. She’s got her by the back of her coat.

“Let go, Wanda,” Crystal yells. “I’m upset.”

“You’re boobs are fine, Crystal,” Wanda says.

Wanda’s pulling Crystal back, saying, “Phil, apologize to Crystal. She doesn’t like people grabbing her boobs. Do you, Crystal?”

“Tell the whole world, why don’t you?” Crystal says.

So Phil apologizes and we go into this dingy Japanese restaurant. The place is practically empty and it smells musty. We sit there drinking sake, eating egg rolls, getting loaded. Then Wanda suddenly turns and slaps Phil. “Leave Crystal’s boobs alone from now on,” she says. “What’s wrong with my boobs?”

“Yeah,” Crystal says, “stick to Wanda’s boobs.”

“Not so loud, Crystal,” Wanda says.

“Everyone knows you’ve got boobs, Wanda.”

“At least they’re not hanging out like yours.”

“My boobs aren’t hanging out.”

“Yes they are.”

“Are not.”

“Your eyelash just fell off.”

“I’m going to the washroom. Come with me.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want anyone else grabbing my boobs.”

They go off and Phil drinks the last of the sake. “We’d better get the bill,” he says, and we’re doing that when the girls come back. Wanda remembers there’s a bottle of sake under Phil’s bed. Crystal says she didn’t get all dressed up to sit around drinking sake in our living room.

“It’ll be fun, Crystal,” Wanda says.

“What’s fun about drinking sake, Wanda?”

“I’ll heat it up on the stove.”

“It still tastes like turpentine.”

Anyway, we pay the bill, and Crystal’s complaining about her shoes. She wants to take a cab, but we used up all our money on sake and egg rolls. Phil starts going through Wanda’s purse. He finds enough for subway fare, and we head back, Crystal still upset she got all dressed up for nothing.

Back at the house, Wanda starts pulling out the boxes of pennies.

“Come on, Crystal,” she says. “Roll some pennies with me.”

“I’m not rolling pennies. How’re we getting home?”

“What’s wrong with staying here?”

Crystal starts complaining about her contacts, how she needs to take them out, she needs her solution. “Why can’t Phil drive us home?” she asks.

“I don’t have enough for gas,” he says.

Then he’s out the door again, moving his car to another street. When he comes back, Wanda and Crystal have fifteen dollars worth of pennies rolled.

“That’s my lunch money for next week,” Phil says.

“I hate being broke,” Crystal says.

“You’ll make money, Crystal,” Wanda says.

“That’s if I even get the job,” Crystal says.

“What job?” Phil says.

“She’s going to be a phone sex worker,” Wanda says.

“Tell the world, why don’t you,” Crystal says.

“You’ll be good at it, Crystal.”

“How much will you make?” Phil asks.

“A dollar fifty a minute,” Crystal says.

“You don’t get a dollar fifty a minute, Crystal,” Wanda says.

“Why not?”

“You get a percentage, I’m pretty sure.”

“What sort of a percentage?”

“Maybe half.”

“That sucks.”

“You’ll be lucky to get thirty percent,” Phil says.

“That’s bullshit,” Crystal says.

“No it’s not,” Wanda says.

“Thirty percent?”

I leave them shouting back and forth. I go to bed, figuring Phil will kick them out at some point. When I get up in the morning, they’re still rolling pennies.

“Just give us six dollars, Phil,” Wanda says. “We’ve been rolling all night.”

“Fine,” Phil says. “Take six dollars.”

“Let’s go, Wanda,” Crystal says. “my contacts are killing me.”

They get their coats and head off to the subway.

Sandy called later that day. Her parents bought her a car. She’s in such a good mood, she tells Phil he can have his old stereo and records. They’re out in the garage.

So he drives out to Oakville, grabbing his stuff. Everything’s dusty, the boxes all damp. Phil’s excited, anyway. He comes back and plugs in the stereo. That’s when all these spiders come running out. Thousands of them. We end up having to call a fumigator, and that means staying out of the house for twelve hours.

We end up at Wanda and Crystal’s, listening to Crystal doing her phone sex. Even Phil has to admit she’s pretty good. Crystal’s got a smokey voice.

“I told you,” Wanda says. “She’s a natural.”

The following week, Wanda gets a job at a discount travel agency. Turns out, she’s a natural, too. People like buying vacation packages from her. Commissions come in, Wanda’s flush. Next thing we know, she’s bringing groceries to the house. We’re eating steak every night, or roast chicken. If we decide to order Chinese food, Wanda pays for everything. She can’t get her money out fast enough.

Even those spiders turned out to be a good omen. Crystal hates spiders. Wanda’s not crazy about them, either, but Crystal has a phobia. The fumigator says they’re all dead, but Crystal won’t come inside unless we spray the place again.

Phil says she can stay outside.

“I’m not standing here on the sidewalk,” Crystal says.

“I don’t see any spiders, Crystal,” Wanda says.

“There’s probably eggs everywhere.”

“I don’t see any eggs, either.”

“You can’t see them, Wanda.”

“How do you know there’s eggs?”

“They’re probably hatching under your feet.”

“Don’t say that.”

“Tons of them.”

“Gross me out, why don’t you, Crystal.”

Wanda finally coaxes her in, but Crystal won’t sit on the couch. She sits on one of the kitchen chairs. She wants to go home and bring guys off. Wanda tells us Crystal’s making a fortune. “Shut up, Wanda,” Crystal says.

Phil plays his Sweetheart of the Rodeo album while Wanda makes dinner. She and Crystal both work evening shifts now. Crystal’s on the phone till two in the morning sometimes. Her clientele just keeps growing. Wanda says it’s a hoot. Crystal eats popcorn while she moans and groans. She’s putting on weight. She figures if she’s never going to meet these guys, she can put on all the weight she wants.

Wanda called this morning, asking if they can tan in our backyard. Their balcony is covered in pigeon shit. Crystal’s pretty sure pigeons carry plague. They showed up with a couple of deck chairs, gossip magazines and cans of Coke.

I’m trying to write in the kitchen. All I hear is them talking away.

Now they’re arguing about tuna fish sandwiches again.

“It’s may-o-nnaise, Crystal.”

“That’s what I said.”

“You said may-un-nnaise.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes you did.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Shut up, the two of you,” I yell out the window.

They pick up their magazines. Crystal puts on more sun tan lotion.

“I think I’d know if I said may-un-nnaise, Wanda,” Crystal whispers.

I get up and slam the window shut.

This story first appeared in Rosebud Magazine, 2008.

Robert Cormack is a novelist, short story writer, freelance copywriter and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details.

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I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.

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