Up the Fire Road (part two), fiction by Eileen Gunn

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“Was I on some kind of strange drug? Was I in the woods at all? Was I at my mom’s house, and having some kind of a psychotic episode?”

Up the Fire Road, illstration of fiction by Eileen Gunn for See the Elephant Magazine

Up the Fire Road, collage by Sophia Hermes

Read PART ONE of “Up the Fire Road” HERE.

 

Andrea

Mickey wasn’t bad in bed. He was younger than I had thought, and he gave good head. He was a lot gentler than Christy, too. Christy likes it kind of rough and fast. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but Mickey was a gentleman, and quite attractive in a way. Kind of hairy, though. Some guys are just, like, bears if they don’t wax it all off, but I’d never slept with a guy who was as hairy as Mickey.

So he was talking afterward, real quiet, the way some guys do, just trying to find out a little about you, and maybe trying to impress you a bit with who they are. He mentioned this workshop that he had. To hear him tell it, he could make anything he wanted, which I guess explains about the bowls and the cups. Well, what he said was “it” could make anything he needed, but he was a little vague about what “it” was. Didn’t trust me, I guess. But he said he’d bring me something nice, something that was useful. I wondered what he meant, because if he could have anything he needed, why would he be living in a cave?

Maybe “it” was the secret treasure that Christy told me about. I asked if it could make money. But Mickey said he didn’t need money. I guess that made sense to me: having what you need is not the same thing as having money. Because the only thing that you need about money is the ability to turn it into something else.

So the next day, Mickey gave me a silk undershirt. It was warm and light, and I could wear it without Christy wondering what it was and where it came from. It was kind of a weird color, not olive-green, not an earth-tone, but something that could be described as either of those things. Mickey said it was a wedding present, that we were now, the three of us, bound to one another.

I noticed that Christy had a new wool hat, because he’d lost his old one when we skied up to the cave. I wondered if Mickey had given it to him, also as a wedding present. I bet that was true. I wondered what else it could make.

In the days after our first night together, I didn’t see any of the other people who were there that night. It was like there wasn’t anybody in the cave but the three of us. I figured there were other caves with the other people in them, or maybe they lived further back in our cave. I asked Mickey where his neighbors went, they seemed so nice. He said something about they were “respecting our privacy.” Okay, okay. If he didn’t want to give me a straight answer, he didn’t have to.

So I thought I’d take a look further back in the cave, and just see if there was any sign of people living back there, plus maybe that was where the warehouse was. Maybe they were all together in a workshop there, making pottery and knitting hats and tie-dying shirts, like some ancient hippie cult. I mean, anything seemed possible.

I got one of the oil lamps, which are pretty bright, and I walked back in the cave, which got narrower as I went back. It wasn’t scary, as it would have been when we first came to the cave. It was a bit damp, sure, but it wasn’t dripping, and there didn’t seem to be any animals or big spiders moving around. When I got way to the back, the cave was much more like a tunnel than the big room it seemed like out near the front.

On one of the walls, I noticed some painting, right on the rock. A large group of dancing figures, one with a tall hat, just like the one Mickey had worn at our wedding. They were carrying garlands of red-orange berries with yellow casings. Bittersweet.

The figures had recognizable faces. There was Mickey, there was Christy, there was me. And there was my mother. Had my mother been there at the wedding? I didn’t remember her being there, for sure, and it seemed so unlikely that she would have just appeared there in the woods and gone away without taking me back with her.

Had Mickey come back here and painted this scene? I was touched, really. It was sweet, in a mystical sort of way. I stood there looking at the drawings for a little while, and my oil lamp started guttering. The figures had looked so lifelike, and now they started to move. My mother turned to look at me, and she seemed to be speaking. What was she saying? The oil lamp guttered more, and went out.

I stood there in the dark, not knowing which way to move, and for the first time I was afraid. I heard my mother’s voice. “Calm down, Andrea,” she said. “You never get anywhere by panicking.” I waited for a minute, and took a few deep breaths. The darkness did not seem so deep. Was my mother there with me or not?

As I stood debating the question, it became clear that there was a dull light coming from a part of the darkness, and I thought that maybe that was the direction from which I’d come. “Go ahead,” said my mother’s voice. “Trust yourself.” Well, that certainly sounded like my mother. All that new-age crap. I walked towards the dim light, and as I walked the light got stronger. Soon I was back at the front of the cave again.

Christy and Mickey weren’t anywhere to be seen. I looked out the front of the cave, and it was fucking pouring down rain. Where had they gone? Mickey’s little house was empty. I yelled out a bit, calling Christy’s name. Everything seemed so much like a dream. Was I on some kind of strange drug? Was I in the woods at all? Was I at my mom’s house, and having some kind of a psychotic episode? I thought I was past that kind of thing, really.

The fire was still going, and I lit a couple of the oil lamps from it. Just about the time I was starting to get worried, Christy and Mickey came out of the back of the cave. Christy had an oil lamp. I wondered where they had been, since I hadn’t seen any light back there at all. They looked funny, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. Christy had his hand on Mickey’s shoulder, but he moved it when he saw me.

“Andrea! There you are!” he said, as though he’s been looking for me. I know that lying tone.

“Where’d you go? I was worried,” I said.

“Everything’s fine. Just go with the flow, babe. Just go with the flow.”

That’s good advice if you’ve got a flow to go with. Christy did, Christy always did, but he wasn’t going to tell me about it.

Mickey had started poking at the fire, stirring it up, and was putting the big pot on the hook over it, and tossing stuff in the pot. I thought maybe I could help with that, and pretty soon we were working together on chopping up stuff and it was starting to smell pretty good. Christy didn’t make himself useful, but then he never does, you know?

I asked Mickey about the paintings I’d seen in the back of the cave. He said maybe we should go back there while the stew was cooking, and he squeezed my shoulder. Christy was nodding off anyway, so we slipped away easily, grabbing a lamp on the way out.

Walking towards the back of the cave, I noticed more pictures and some strange writing, like lines and circles. I asked Mickey what it meant.

“Instructions and rules, mostly. Stuff you need to know to raise your kids right.”

“Do you have kids?”

“Mmmmph.” It was a yes, I thought.

“Where are they? Are they grown up?”

He made some more noises. “Old enough. Scattered.”

Poor guy, I thought. Getting old up here in the mountains, and his kids off somewhere, probably don’t visit. I wonder if they even know he’s living in a cave now.

“That was nice, last night,” I said. “I was wondering about the pictures in the cave of us dancing.” Mickey didn’t say anything, he just kept leading me deeper into the cave. “Haven’t we already gone past the painting I was talking about?”

“It’s a circular path,” said Mickey. “We’ll come by it again.” We walked, and it did seem as though we were going uphill and around a curve.

This isn’t what I thought it was like, but I have to agree that it did look as though the picture was coming up again.

“There!” I said, “There’s the picture.” We stopped, because I made us stop. Mickey would have continued on by.

“See that?” He nodded. “That’s us there, isn’t it?” He nodded again. “And there, towards the back, that’s my mother.” He nodded again.

“Okay,” I said. “How did my mother get there?”

“Your mother is a very strong soul,” said Mickey. “Whatever has been done to her, she has fought back, and has entered the realm from which there is movement back and forth.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “Do you know my mother?”

Mickey kissed me. “And you are also a very strong soul. I am sure I am seeing your mother in you.”

“Was she here? Do you know my mother? What is she doing in the cave?”

“We need to keep walking, just past here,” said Mickey. He moved a curtain aside, as we passed, and there was a small room cut into the rock. We stopped and went inside, and he was so nice and gentle, and he has a deliciously masculine scent.

 

Christy

So we figured to stay for a few days. Seemed like the easiest thing to do. A lot pleasanter than walking down the mountain in the mud.

Mickey was totally great, and Andrea seemed to be okay with what was going down, whatever she thought. She never said a word to me about it.

Mickey and I had a lot of chances to get together, and we took advantage of them. She was a total delight. Not to say that Andrea wasn’t neat, but it’s the unexpected treat that is sweetest, isn’t it? Even Andrea would understand that.

Andrea and Mickey seem to be becoming friends too, which is more than I could have hoped for. They went off for long walks into the cave together, and they always came back hand-in-hand and smiling. I wondered sometimes if they were talking about me, but Andrea had no idea, and Mickey seemed to live on another planet when it came to fucking.

The few days became a week, and the rain continued. It was a lot of work, just to get water and roots and dry wood for fuel. I always liked to camp out, but then I had those packets of freeze-dried shit. The week became several, and then a month. But I will never complain about rainy weather again. It was the happiest time of my life, at least to date: two women, both of them great in bed, and each of them devoted to me.

Though, clearly, Mickey was a lot more devoted than Andrea. This is completely understandable, and I don’t fault Andrea for it in the least. She was much more the modern woman, with her complaints, and, let’s face it, her neurotic shit. There are consequences for that, is all. I totally support her in her struggle for getting a handle on what goes on between men and women, I just think she’s taking her own sweet time at it.

I asked Mickey a few times about the people who were there that first night. Who were they? Where are they? How come they don’t come around at all, and she said they were giving us the time we needed to create our family, our oneness. And this made sense, though I did feel I was getting the shut-up explanation. I mean, it’s no skin off my ass if her friends don’t want to come around and see us. Really. What do I care?

But they never did come around during the daytime. Or even at night, except that once. And we were there for, well, it was nearly six weeks, I think. We stayed—and I would have stayed longer, let me be clear about it—until Andrea started throwing up and said she thought she was pregnant.

I tried to convince her that this was no problem. Lots of women give birth at home, away from hospitals, but she wasn’t hearing any of this. She said she had to go home, she had to get hold of her mother, and she had to have some answers. Naturally, I thought the answers thing meant she’d finally decided that it wasn’t okay about me and Mickey, but that wasn’t what Andrea meant at all.

Turns out she’d been stewing on this wonky idea that her mother was some kind of alien or something, and that she was in like psychic communication with her. Fuck. Andrea’s mother is the least-psychic middle-aged woman I have ever met. She’s all business, she’s an accountant or something, and she always treats me as though I had a communicable disease, which I’m quite sure I don’t have, and if I did, she’d be the last person I’d give it to.

When Andrea told me she was pregnant and wanted to go home, I confess I had to think about it for a little. Not that I wouldn’t have taken her home, but I needed to think about what I would say to Mickey, and whether I would want to come back to the cave after taking Andrea home. On the other hand, Andrea and her child were my responsibility too, and it’s funny how, well, connected I felt to her, knowing it was my kid she was pregnant with.

When I talked to Mickey, it turned out she was very cool with it and didn’t seem surprised or hurt. Kind of the ideal woman.

And then she told me that she might be pregnant too. As you might imagine, this was both a pleasure and a shock. Two babies? I was always aware that unprotected sex could create a baby: I was completely with that program. But I confess I hadn’t considered the idea that unprotected sex could create two babies in a month.

Okay, okay, it was dumb of me. I hadn’t thought it through, okay? But I can tell you I was pretty proud of myself. Or at least that was my first reaction. And then I thought, well, I am going to have to get a job.

But the women, Andrea and Mickey, were so much more practical. With them, it was always, what am I going to do now? Andrea was for going home to her mother, and Mickey was for staying there in the cave and giving birth all alone by herself.

This was a little too close to the mama-bear-baby-bear thing for me, but Mickey seemed so at home with the idea, it seemed to make sense to me as a solution. Only it wasn’t one, was it?

So when Andrea told me that she wanted to go back to the city, I figured I’d take her there and then come back to be with Mickey. After all, Andrea has her mother, right? And Mickey hasn’t got anybody, since her friends — her supposed friends, the useless twats — never come around.

I tell this to Mickey, figuring it’ll make her feel better. Instead, she goes all weird on me. Like, we’ve never fought. We’ve never even disagreed. But all of a sudden, she’s like, “How could you?” As if I’m some monster because I want to stay with her.

“Andrea will need you,” she says. “How could you leave her at a time like this?”

“Her mother will take care of her,” I say, wondering what the big deal is. “Her mother will, in fact, take much better care of her than I could.”

“That old bat?” says Mickey. “She can scarcely feed herself. She can barely walk and chew gum at the same time. Look what happened to Andrea, under her care.”

“What? What happened to Andrea?”

“She was running wild, and Lord knows what all. She got involved with you.”

My feelings were hurt, but I wasn’t inclined to let her know that. “So did you.”

“That’s different. I can take care of myself. I know what I want and how to get it. But Andrea just sleepwalks though life, accepting whatever is handed to her, not taking charge. Somebody needs to take charge.”

“Excuse me for not grasping your point here, but what’s your point? If I’m such a dolt, how come you want me to take care of Andrea and the baby?”

“That’s a very good question, Christy. But I’m not going to answer it just now. You just get her out of here and get her back to Seattle safely. Can you do that?”

Yeah, I could do that, and I did. But the price of that is I was shut out of Mickey’s life. She made it clear she wanted me out, and I didn’t need to come back.

 

Andrea

As we left, I was not sure whether I was going home or leaving it, going out into a strange and dangerous world. I wasn’t anxious to go back to the city with Christy. Would he and I stay together? I didn’t want to be with him, but I had to worry about having a baby by myself and taking care of it.

I understood Christy better than I ever had before, but I didn’t like what I understood. Never had, I guess, but when it was just me, it didn’t seem so important, as long as life was interesting. Maybe I hate being bored almost as much as Christy.

We slogged down the side of the mountain, carrying our skis. It was a pleasant-enough spring day, a little overcast. The snow was long gone, and the trees were starting to bud green. There was skunk cabbage poking up in the wet places, and some little white flowers here and there. What were they? I couldn’t remember. As we walked, everything that had happened in the past six weeks seemed like an extended dream.

It was a hassle getting down to the car, because the fire road in some places was pretty soggy. When we got down to the main road and looked for our car, of course it was gone. “Forest Service towed it, babe,” said Christy. Well, duh. We started walking, and after a few miles we got a lift from a guy in a pickup truck.

“Mud skiing?” the guy says when he stops, nodding at our skis. A humorist.

Christy says, “We been up the mountain for a while.”

“Whoa,” said the guy. “Are you those two skiers vanished a month ago? You’re alive?”

“Six weeks ago,” said Christy, “but who’s counting? I think we’re alive.”

“Rescue copters were over here for three days, combing the area. How do you feel? Need water? Something to eat? You want me to drive you to a hospital?”

“I just want to get my car back, man. I need to get my girlfriend here to her mom’s house. She’s pregnant. My girlfriend, I mean.”

“I think I better take you to the sheriff’s office. They’ll know what to do. Where you been, anyway?”

“Ripvanwinkleville,” said Christy.

Great. The sheriff’s office. I hope Christy’s not packing out any of that homegrown.

 

Christy

When we got back, I figured I had to do something fast to support me and Andrea and the baby. I mean, Andrea wasn’t going to be able to bring in much from waitressing after a few months.

I figured there should be a book in there somewhere, if I could just find somebody to write it. Any real writer would jump at the chance. So I got hold of this guy I knew at The Stranger. We’d talked about doing this Hunter Thompson thing once, over a pitcher or two of margaritas, but nothing ever came of it. He wasn’t against the idea, but he said it would be easier to sell the book if it was a news story first. He said if the story had legs, it would walk, and then he’d write the book. First he had to finish a book on hiking in Peru, anyway. But he thought his friend Darla could help with the news story.

Darla was kind of a mistake — all she knew was the confession market. So the story broke in News of the World, and everybody thought it was a big joke. I guess I can’t blame them. That headline wouldn’t have been my first choice: “He fathered a bigfoot baby . . . and became a deadbeat dad.”

I got phone calls and email from all my old buddies, who basically figured I’d pulled off a scam of some kind. I mean, it’s nice to be congratulated, but if it’s your life and not a scam, it’s a little embarrassing.

It wasn’t my idea to contact Maury. That was Darla, came up with that. I had had my sights on Oprah, actually. A lovely woman, a bit matronly, but clearly someone who could converse on a higher plane, who would not judge me because I had left my little one behind with a loving parent. I could hear her: she would extend her generous hand to me, and she would say, “You sharing your story here with us today has brought us all a bit closer to an understanding of our relationship to the wilderness.” That’s how I wanted to tell my story.

But Darla couldn’t get the Oprah people to even return her calls, so she went on this website and sent my story to the Maury show. So we don’t hear from them, and we don’t hear from them, and we don’t hear from them. They are really into deadbeat dads there, which isn’t my story, in my opinion. But like Darla said, we didn’t have time to wait for them to do a show on bigfoot babies. I had to fit into the story they were doing.

So, anyway, I went to the show, and they had a woman up there and three deadbeat dads. Maury talked for a while, and the woman cried, and then the deadbeat dads talked. And then I interrupted, and I took the dads to task for not taking better care of their kids. I really pitched into them. I was like, I’d give anything to get back to my kid and take care of him or her. And this was true, or it seems true when I think about it. Anyway, I did my stuff, and pretty soon I was sitting up there with the deadbeat dads, and we were all crying and Maury was comforting us.

The part I didn’t understand was that not only did Mickey not want to spend any time with me, but neither did Andrea. She was into the whole idea of having a baby, but not into the idea of me any more.

So then, Maury kind of jumped all over me, y’know? He asked how come if I was such a good dad I wasn’t supporting my kid either?

Even the deadbeat dads joined in. I think this is the result of all those therapy programs at prisons. We’ve raised a whole generation of ex-cons who are in touch with their sensitive sides.

It was rough—Oprah, like I said, would have been a much better choice—but I stood up for myself, and Maury even said I was making a good case for parental responsibility in the abstract, if not in actuality. Eventually, we all hugged, and I got out of there alive.

The Maury people liked how I handled it, and they did a follow-up show a few weeks later, where they had me working with this psychic who said she could lead me to the cave again, but she couldn’t. We got a couple of TV shows out of it, including one where people who’ve been cheated by psychics confront the cheats. And then I met this guy that wanted to do a film script. When he finished it, he said, he was hoping they could get Ben Stiller or Luke Wilson to play me. I always liked Owen Wilson better than Luke, but apparently he wasn’t available or something.

 

Andrea

Well, it’s like I thought. Christy always lands on his feet.

We had a hard time getting along after we got back to Seattle. Before, we had mostly the same opinions about things, but now, it seemed like whatever he wanted to do was totally screwed. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t want to go along with his schemes. Me being pregnant made a difference, for sure. Christy was completely sure it’s his baby, but how could he be so sure of that? I didn’t rub his nose in it, but I think he knew there was something going on between me and Mickey. He would believe what he wanted to believe, just like he would tell the stories that get him the biggest reaction from other people, when you got right down to it, whether he believed them or not.

He wasn’t a bad dad, though. He’s very into the baby, and he doesn’t seem to care whose it is. When I was pregnant, he was always bugging me to eat right, and exercise, and all this stuff. And once little Baker arrived, Christy was all over me with baby-care advice from the shopping channel.

But, give me a break, I knew how to take care of a baby. I used to be a babysitter. It’s no big deal. Just keep them breathing and don’t drop them.

And of course my mother was delighted. She certainly didn’t think it was Christy’s baby. When Baker was born, she took one look at him, and she said, “We’ve got to talk.” And of course, when we sat down to talk, which was, with one thing and another, a month later, she wormed the whole story out of me, just as you have.

“I knew it,” she said. “I knew it. I had a dream.”

The thing that I wondered about was the story that Christy told—about him and the bigfoot baby. I mean, I’m the one that should have been on Oprah or something, technically. Mickey threw us out of the cave, after all—so didn’t that make him the deadbeat dad? I mean, really, if Mickey is Baker’s dad?

It’s kind of soon to tell, but there’s something about Baker that is so not like Christy.

So I watched the Maury show. It’s not something I’d ordinarily do, but I had to watch it, when he said he’d be on it.

It was a show on deadbeat dads, and while “deadbeat” probably does describe Christy pretty well, I didn’t figure that he was completely aware of that. So I thought there would be some acknowledgment by Christy of just where he went wrong, you know?

So I tuned in, and it wasn’t like Christy was actually on the show: Christy was in the audience. Why did I believe him, I thought. Had again.

And then, when he spoke up from the audience, and accused those young guest guys, I thought, what?! He wasn’t telling this straight. What was going on? And then I realized that he was talking about Mickey.

He even mentioned his name: he even called him Mickey. But he was talking about him like he was a girl. This I didn’t understand. Christy embroiders, you know, but he doesn’t usually tell bald-faced lies. It’s too easy to get caught, for one thing, telling bald-faced lies. Christy is smarter than that.

And he was crying like she broke his heart and stole his baby. Mickey? Hey! It’s my heart that was broken. I’m the one who got seduced and abandoned. Mickey’s the deadbeat dad, not you, I thought. And I’ve got the baby.

So after the show, I went to the Maury people. I told them Christy was taking advantage of them. They weren’t interested in that story. And why should they be? They had a good story already in Christy. But I said, you’re on a roll here. If they kept it going, maybe they could bring Mickey in too.

They liked that idea. “Do you know where she is?” the guy asked.

“He’s a he!” I said. “Mickey is a he. I ought to know. He got me pregnant. I don’t know why Christy is pretending he’s a girl. This is my story, and he swiped it!”

I would have thought they’d be surprised by this, but it turned out they’re used to this kind of a story. If it’s a love triangle, they can keep bringing people back until the cows come home. If it’s got a bi angle, they love that too.

So I met with them again, with a story doctor. Very professional, very slick. They do this hundreds of times a season. Kind of creepy, actually.

I had little Baker with me, ’cause I was nursing him, and they glommed onto him. “So this is Bigfoot’s baby?” they asked. For Pete’s sake, he’s just a baby, I said. Leave him out of this.

So the deal was, they were not going to tell Christy that I was going to be on the show, or Mickey, if they could find him. They kept calling Mickey “she.”

 

Christy

What did I look like, I wondered. Wardrobe had tried to spiff me up a bit, with a haircut and some clothes that weren’t too bad. They even shaved me, sort of, with a razor that left me with a nice even stubble.

I wasn’t expecting Andrea. They had made her up to look very wholesome and earth-mother-y, with a peasant skirt and embroidered blouse, like some sort of old-country woman headed for the market. Her hair was wound into a braid, and the braid was curled into a large round bun at the back. I felt like I’d been set up. Where was the hot babe with the welding gun who had won my heart at Burning Man? This was a mom!

They brought us out like the contestants in some old game show, sitting on chairs in front of the audience.

Then Maury came out and he introduced us, and he started asking us questions about where we live and how we met. Pretty soon we started talking, and I didn’t think it would amount to all that, or that we could talk about it in public.

Then they started showing the videos of the kid. I mean, babies are babies, and we’re hardwired to find them cute. But gee whiz, the audience went a little wild at the baby video. I admit, Baker is a cute kid. I looked a lot like that when I was a toddler. I can show you the photos.

And then they said they had photos of the other baby, but they ran videos of some bear cub instead. The audience was confused, but game. It was a tease, I thought. They don’t have any photos, because they’ve never been able to find Mickey, because I’ve never been able to find Mickey. Cute little cub, though.

And then they brought out Andrea’s mother.

 

Andrea

So my mother was on the show, which I wouldn’t have agreed to if anybody had asked me. And she and Maury, I swear, they tag-teamed me, and pretty soon I was telling the unexpurgated version.

I said, which I had never said out loud to anyone, even Christy, that I didn’t think the baby is Christy’s. My mom said, basically, that she certainly hoped not, and that Christy was an aimless good-for-nothing.

Christy acted like he was outraged, and he threw himself off the chair and onto the floor and kicked his heels a lot and yelled. Since he knows perfectly well how my mother feels about him, I felt this was a little stagy, but I think it’s something that men have to do on the Maury show.

I said that I was just a bit annoyed that my own mother would rather see me with a fatherless kid from some hookup with a grizzly half way up a volcano than for me to have a baby with Christy.

But my mom just looked at me and said, “That’s the way it is.”

Maury was still in control, though, whatever my mother thought, and he started talking to my mom about her entirely misspent youth. And she told this perfect stranger—she doesn’t even watch his show—stuff she had never told me in my entire life. My mother told Maury that she used to hike on Mt. Baker, and that she, in fact, had had her own fling with the sasquatches, way back before I was born.

She made it sound like a picnic of some kind. No long weeks in a cave. It was summer, and the weather was warm and sunny. It was like some fantasy romance. The love sasquatches. I don’t know why I got so angry about that.

But I was pretty incensed by it all. My mom had always been so tight with the details about my dad that I assumed he was some kind of criminal. And now I find out he’s a sasquatch, and on network television. If I were a typical Maury guest, I’d be jumping up and down and crying.

But I know that doesn’t work with my mom. So I just ask her: was Mickey my father?

She said, “Honey, I don’t know. It was a long time ago. Life was different then, before I took the accounting course. I didn’t always keep track of stuff.”

There was a lot of yelling from the audience, some of them laughing and some of them scolding her.

And then they brought out Mickey.

 

Christy

I don’t know how they do this stuff. I certainly didn’t have anything to do with it. They didn’t ask me for any advice or help. But somehow they found Mickey, or maybe Mickey just decided to allow herself to be found.

Either way, she walked out onto the stage at the Maury show and paused. She looked great. Elegant, all spiffed up in some kind of classy New York clothes. She looked like Candice Bergen, maybe, or that woman who lives in Connecticut and does the magazine—Martha Stewart. Older, you know, and maybe a little authoritative, but still pretty great looking. I guess I hadn’t thought about it, but maybe Mickey does that craft stuff too, like Martha—that’s how she gets all those hats and bowls and coffee cups and stuff.

They told me later that, to the studio audience, Mickey looked like a sasquatch. Some people screamed, other people laughed. But I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the audience reaction at the time.

Of course, I wanted to run to Mickey, but Maury gestured to me and Andrea to stay in our seats. He went over to her, rather cautiously, I thought, and guided her to a seat next to Andrea’s mother, who looked at Mickey speculatively.

Andrea looked at Mickey too. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she said to me and the studio audience, “He’s lost weight.”

I swear I thought at the time, she’s not even seeing the same person I’m seeing. I said, “Looks to me like she gained about ten pounds, but I figure, she had a baby, she’s going to gain a little weight.”

Andrea looked at me intently for the first time, like she was actually listening to me. “What are you talking about?”

I said, “Well, you gained weight.”

Andrea gave me the evil eye. I said, “I’m talking about Mickey, that’s who. She had the baby, and she’s still carrying a few extra pounds. But it’s nothing to me. She looks great. You look great. Jeez.”

Then Andrea said to me, right on camera in front of the TV audience, “Mickey is a man, you idiot.”

I was surprised, but I was not going to put up with being treated that way. Idiot. Huh. I said, “I understand how you could have thought that, but the fact is that she’s a girl. I found out for myself in the traditional manner.”

Of course by now, there were more people in the audience screaming and laughing. I’ve done some street theater, and this happens—people act out, and certainly on the Maury show the audience is encouraged to act out. I’ve found that the best way to deal with it is to ignore it.

And then Maury turned to me and Andrea, and he looked sort of sad. “Christy and Andrea,” he said, “Is this your friend Mickey?” We each nodded. “And you each say you’ve slept with Mickey?” We each nodded. Andrea’s mother just shrugged, and then she nodded too.

“Well, you’ve shown us here today that not everyone is seduced by Hollywood’s ideal of beauty…” I was about to object to that statement, when I saw Mickey sort of focus on Maury. He did kind of a double-take, then said, “…though of course you… you would carry it to a… new standard.” He shook his head a little, like there was something wrong with his eyes.

Then Maury pulled himself together and held up a manila envelope. “I’ve got the tests right here,” he said. The Maury Show is very supportive with the paternity-test thing, and I was looking forward to the results. Maury tore the envelope open and pulled out the lab report.

At that point, Mickey stood up and said, “I don’t think we need to hear this.” She gestured with one hand, and an opening appeared in the floor of the stage right in front of us. It looked like it led into a cave, and it sure was dark down there.

Then people started coming out of it, people with tall hats and clothing that looked like it was made from dead oak leaves. They were carrying bittersweet vines and two babies, neither of whom looked to me like a bear cub, though I’ve been told that, to the audience, they both looked like bear cubs.

The people in hats danced with Mickey and Maury and Andrea’s mother, and they handed the babies about while they danced. Maury danced, but Andrea and I did not dance. We watched, slightly paralyzed, while Mickey and Andrea’s mother entangled themselves in the bittersweet, and then entangled Maury. Then they all danced down into the trapdoor with the babies, even Maury.

But Maury looked a little worried, just a tiny bit. As he descended down into the floor, he looked right at the cameraman and said, “Keep it rolling, Anthony.” He disappeared into the cave, wrapped in bittersweet. Maury was a pro, I thought, and I respected that.

Andrea and I were left sitting on the sound stage, looking at the audience. I’m sure you’ve seen the clip on YouTube.

 

© Eileen Gunn, 2007. “Up the Fire Road” originally appeared in Eclipse One, edited by Jonathan Strahan. Reprinted by permission of author.

 

by Francesca Myman for Locus 2014 copyright Locus

by Francesca Myman for Locus 2014 ©Locus

Eileen Gunn is a short-story writer and editor. Her most recent collection, Questionable Practices, was published in March 2014 by Small Beer Press. Her fiction has received the Nebula Award in the US and the Sense of Gender Award in Japan, and has been nominated for the Hugo, Philip K. Dick, and World Fantasy awards and short-listed for the James Tiptree, Jr. award. Gunn was editor/publisher of the influential Infinite Matrix webzine from 2001-2008 and was for 22 years a member of the board of directors of the Clarion West Writers Workshop.

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