"Try saying 'open sesame,'" she offers helpfully. "Or 'open, sez ME!'"
"Oh, mother," I say, getting frustrated. "The wall slides right open, I just need to find the switch or the handle or whatever."
"Sure, you do, honey," she answers, sympathetically. "Sure, you do."
I finally give up and crumple sadly to the floor.
"I should have paid more attention," I say, more to myself than to my mother.
"In school?" my mother asks. "Or just life in general?"
She pauses, and then her mothering instinct must kick in, because she tells me, "Ana, your boyfriend, if he really does exist, seems like a nice guy for someone I never met. He is a nice guy, isn't he? He didn't molest me while I was unconscious, did he?"
"No," I assure her.
"Well, I won't hold that against him. A real gentleman would have shown me the courtesy of an enthusiastic grope. Anyway, you should go after him."
"After him?" I repeat, mulling the idea over in my mind. "You really think so, mom?"
"Of course I do. You only live once, honey. After all, we don't want you to end up like those two old drunks over there."
I look, but I don't see who she's talking about.
"Those two," she says and points across the room from us.
"That's a mirror you're looking at, mom," I tell her. "But if I go, what will you do?"
"Don't you worry about me. If there's one thing your mother knows, it's how to take care of herself. I wonder what Bill Cosby is up to? Now that guy knows how to treat a lady."
I think about the sweet time Christian and I spent in the round room, laying in each other's round arms in the round bed. Hmm... have you ever noticed how most foods are round? Round eggs, round berries, round pancakes. Waffles are round, but in a square kind of way. Cupcakes are round, muffins are round, manhole covers are round. Donuts are round.
I don't mean to make you blush, but a man's penis is long and round. Long, I guess, if you're lucky. Although I've heard that girth is more important than length. Kate told me that.
"Girth is more important than length," she said, and then reminded me to not forget the cucumbers on my way home from the grocery store. "I want to make my special salad."
Funny, in all the time we've been roommates, I've never seen her prepare anything in the kitchen, much less a salad.
A woman's vagina is long and round, too, but in a different way. It's an emptiness that goes inward, rather than a fullness that goes outward.
If you're lucky, I guess.
Just after our decadent time in the circular room of roundness, Christian fell to sleep for a few minutes. Jokingly, I took the blue ribbon I was wearing in my hair and wrapped it around his yankee doodle dandy. I tied it in a nice bow. When he woke up a few minutes later, he looked down and slyly commented, "I don't know where I've been, but it would seem I won First Place while I was there."
"Tell me about yourself," I coaxed, and he did. He told me how his first job was at McDonald's.
"I was in charge of putting the sesame seeds on their hamburger buns," he said. "I would take a tiny brush, and spread a glue-like substance on one side of the sesame seed and then stick it to the top of the bun. After that I tried a career in law enforcement. I was the head security guard at Jamba Juice. So you see, Ana, Mrs. Robinson really did save me from myself."
Uhg... there's that name again. Mrs. Robinson. I don't know why he calls her that. I guess, because I do.
I drift off, and when I come back to the surface of consciousness I hear him say, "Pope Francis, or Frankie 'Five Fingers,' as we used to call him in the old neighborhood..." I drift off again. "My father always told me I had rocks in my head," I hear from someplace far away, "and my mother always told me knowledge was more valuable than gold, ergo rocks must be more valuable than gold. That's how I made my first million. With rocks." It's like I'm floating down a river, occasionally touching the shore of consciousness, which is a lot like the surface of consciousness, except it's on the side and not on top.
"I threw the football and hit the referee square in the head," Christian's words float somewhere above me.
"Did the ref go down?" I asked, dreamily.
"I'm not taking about his private life."
"I mean, did it knock him to the ground?"
"Yes, so I flipped him over and he woke up to find his pants missing."
"I see," I said, but I didn't. Not really. I was off once again to Slumberville. That's right next to Lidsville.
"It was the saddest day of my life," I heard him say in the distance and brought myself back to the conservatory of consciousness to conscientiously hear what he was saying of consequence.
"Aren't you listening to me, Ana? You're the only one I've ever told any of this to."
"Yes. Only you. You and my bodyguard Crockett. He needs to know these kind of things."
"Just me and Crockett?"
"Yes, just you and Crockett. And Doobie. You and Crocket and Doobie, that's all. And my receptionist, she knows too. You, Crockett, Doobie, my receptionist, and my parents. As well as my maid and cook. You and Crockett and Doobie, my receptionist, my parents, my maid, and my cook."
"Yes, really. Donna, Jean, and Little Missy, I told them, too. That's everyone."
"Yes, everyone. Everyone, except for the President of the United States of America, that is. I told him back in the first chapter. That's why you saw him crying when he left my office, how sad that day was."
"How sad what day was?"
"That day, when I saw the President of the United States of America leaving your office?"
"No, I'm talking about the saddest day of my life."
"What happened what?"
"What happened on the saddest day of your life?"
"I thought we were talking about the President of the United States of America."
"You were about to tell me what happened on the saddest day of your life."
"Oh... that day. I've never told anybody about it."
"You can tell me," I suggest softly.
"I had a twin brother, Ana. His name was Billie Joe, and I say 'had,' because he committed suicide."
"Oh, my goodness."
"Goodness had nothing to do with it. It was a girl. Maybe that's why I find myself so disconnected from women and feel the need to punish them. It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty, Delta day. We were out chopping cotton and her brother was baling hay. And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat. And her mama hollered out the back door, 'Y'all remember to wipe your feet.' And then she said, 'I got some news this morning from Choctaw Ridge,' but she must have decided to break the bad news more gently, because she seemed to change the subject. She said, 'Everybody who doesn't have a brother who killed himself jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge, take a step forward.' As I was about to step forward, she held up a hand. 'Not so fast, Christian,' she told me."
"So, you go over the rainbow," my mother is telling me, "to Sugarcandy Mountain, or wherever it is you need to go, to find your boyfriend, Ana. You go, and, when you find him, you tell him, 'We believe in you, Carlton...'"
"...Christian. We believe in you."
That is all the encouragement I need, and I run off to find Carlton... I mean, Christian. I catch up with him just outside, on the airport's tarmac. He's preparing to leave.
"What the heck is that?" I ask him, my mouth agape.
"Ana!" Christian calls out, and I can see that he's surprised and actually happy to see me. "You came after me!"
It's a statement, but it sounds more like a question that's already been answered, which it has. I mean, I'm standing right there.
I'm standing, because I've stopped in my tracks. He holds out his hand to me.
I don't know. I'm not sure.
"What the heck is that?" I say again.
"It's a hot air balloon, Ana," he explains. "It's the only way to fly."