Issue 109 Fiction Poetry Nonfiction Art + Photography Film Music Books For Creators more
 Matthew Licht
 Matthew Licht
by Matthew Licht  FollowFollow
There are so many gory ghosts in the city. Ink, if nothing else, turns them a more pleasant color. The night porter gig at Hotel Kranepool more the author time to tell their stories, and draw their likenesses.
Issue 109 · fiction
realism ·  




Lisa magically reappeared after almost thirty years and asked for help. She wanted to rejuvenate her vagina. I was glad she called, but I’m not a witch gynecologist. I write film scripts for a big film studio Hollywood.

“Your vagina,” I said, “is only as old as the rest of you, Lisa. And I can assure you that us guys don’t spend much time actually looking at the vagina.”

“This is something I want to do for me,” she said.

“Do you use a mirror?”

“Don’t need to. I got flaps.”

Flaps were those parts of the airplane that make the machine go up and down through space and time. Then I saw the picture. Didn’t look too bad. “So do most women,” I said, sincerely. Quite a few if not all the women I’ve known well enough to get a good look have flaps. They’re definitely not anything that would make one say, No thanks.

“Flaps feel good,” I said. “In fact, flaps feel fantastic, if that’s not too many effs to describe something ineffable.”

In Lisa’s mind, the only scientific alternative to flaps was surgery. She had no patience for, or faith in yoga-style yoni exercises. Labia acceptance was also not her way. I understood her sentiment, but didn’t like the thought, couldn’t bear the imagery. “Knives and pussies shouldn’t ever get close enough to touch each other,” I said. “And nobody will ever convince me that a scalpel is anything but a really, really sharp knife.”

“My mind’s made up,” Lisa said. “So, are you gonna help me, or not?”

“What do you want me to do? You’ve got a husband.” I’d heard Lisa had married a cop.

“I already tried to get him in on this but he said he doesn’t even want to think about it.”

“You know, I sort of don’t want to even think about it either,” I said. “But you can count on me.”

“All I need is a driver.”

Sounded like we were planning a bank robbery. Cheap crooks in lousy movies say wheel man. I wondered how many operators were listening in. My Pop was in the automotive trade, but he’s been dead a long time. His business boomed, back in the hoary High School days, which is how far Lisa and I went back, and he supplied keys to many sparkling dreamboats. That’s why I was popular, I guess. My nickname could’ve been “Wheel Man”, if someone had bothered to stick me with one. I still love to drive, and wouldn’t want to live anywhere but Los Angeles.

“Also,” LIsa went on, “I want your opinion on the model I think I’m gonna pick.”

Graphic X-rated imagery burst a daydream of me and Lisa in the warm, dark storage area of Pop’s automobile showroom together. “The model?”

“Yeah. You know, the way I want my new pussy to look.”

“You mean there’s a catalog, with pictures?”

“You bet. You always had good taste.”

Hadn’t seen Lisa for decades, and she wanted me to look at pictures of pussies she wanted her flappy pussy to look like.

So I invited her out for lunch. I wanted to take her somewhere nice, because the motion picture studio to which I sold my soul allows me a lush expense account. Genital rejuvenation might turn out to be the stuff of bankable commissary blab, maybe even a screen treatment. But Lisa was a waitress way the hell out in El Monte. She said it was dumb for me to pay for hamburgers when she could sling a few my way for free, since I was doing her a favor.

In Lisa’s unshakable mind, lunch was burgers, and past-fifty pussies shouldn’t have flaps. There was no choice but to help an old girlfriend, who was now married to an LAPD bull, select a new pussy and have it installed. The concept had Oscar written all over it, I told myself. No drive on Earth would’ve been too long.

Lisa hadn’t changed too much. Her face had hardened, somewhat. Life hadn’t handed her anything on a silver plate, or even a silver-colored plastic tray. Life had handed her a life of handing out cheap food on heavy porcelain, and she was married to a cop. I guess I mentioned that already: married to a cop. The thought made me a shade jumpy on the way the hell out to El Monte.

First thing Lisa said was, “Hey you’re bald.”

“Hey you’ve got a big flappy pussy.”

I said it pretty loud, too, but she let out a horse laugh. There was a gold tooth lurking somewhere in her left molar area, a touch of white-ghetto glamour. The glimmer flashed me back to the first time she showed me her other dewy orifice, and I fell in love all over again. Lisa hugged hard. Her blue plastic name-tag crushed painfully into my chest.

“C’mon sit in the VIP section,” she said, and grabbed my arm in a move she must’ve learned from her flatfoot husband. This way to the cell, scumbag. “We can talk when I get my next break. In the meantime, meet my friend Myrtle. She’s a regular customer here.”

Lisa forcibly sat me down at the banquette occupied by a mature woman who looked like she must’ve once had movie star dreams. Her hair looked like soft vanilla custard freshly oozed from a clean dispenser. A bus ticket to the Santa Anita racetrack jutted conspicuously from her white pigskin purse. Instead of saying hello, Myrtle urged me to piggyback her sure thing action on a pony named Pinkock. I handed her a fifty. She goggled in stark raving disbelief.

The movie biz, if nothing else, doles out what some of the Studio snot-noses call stupid money. One major box-office hit is something you can coast on for the rest of your life, if you’re smooth. Two colossal blockbuster smashes means the checks’ll keep coming long after your grandchildren have forgotten you ever existed. Three, and you get your own parking spot on the lot. I was working on two parking spots: the other one was for my collection of cufflinks. An embryonic motion picture concept buzzed around my bald head as sexy grandma bettin’ lady Myrtle watched me chomp into my first non-Chasen’s burger in ages. I was dreaming up a film about pussy.

Not a porno. Not exactly. Something new, a story that’d earn me avant garde artist credentials. I had clout to grease the opening and push it through. Wasn’t even my grease.

A starched tit brushed my shoulder.

“Our burgers greasy enough for you?” Lisa warmed up my cup of coffee, then warmed the spot on the banquette next to Myrtle, who, it seemed, was meant to be in on the vaginal rejuvenation conference. The word infibulation flashed, another brushstroke on the film masterpiece I wanted to paint. The female lead had been mutilated in primitive surroundings.

“Good stuff,” I said. “Only, tell me they ain’t made of amputated pussy-flaps. Wait, now that you mention it, can I have seconds?”

“Sure you can, honey,” Lisa said. She turned and yelled, “Burn another one!” at the gnarled black hand that emerged from the kitchen’s porthole to ring the pick-it-up bell. She ignored the sound, lit a mentholated cigarette. Smoking in public places was already against the law, but no one in El Monte was going to complain about second-hand emphysema from a waitress married to a police chieftain.

Myrtle caught the smoke signal, fired up an unfiltered Lucky Strike from a soft pack.

Lisa blew a lungful at the old cook she’d forced into the role of waitress. He shuffled over, gently set down pussyflap-burger #2 and patted my shoulder, for some reason. Lisa blew more smoke at his back when he shuffled off again.

 “Myrtle had hers done last November,” Lisa said, as though she were talking about a new hairstyle craze for the retirement set.

Myrtle ground out her butt in a pleated wax-paper specimen cup full of fluorescent coleslaw. “Looks great,” she said. “Feels great.”

She spoke plainly, more or less offered a test drive in exchange for a lift to the track that afternoon.

“Show him the pictures,” Lisa said.

Myrtle shuffled through her purse. Instead of up-close and personal pink Polaroids, she pulled out The Brochure, and spread it open on the formica tabletop. “Betcha there’s some movie stars going incognito here,” she said. “Like, who’s gonna know?”

“Hey you’re asking a guy who’s in show biz,” Lisa said. “And he’s not married, so maybe he’s even dated some of this cooze.”

The Brochure was professional, glossy, excruciatingly graphic. Before and After, furry and shaved, flaps and progressively less flaps, straight down to the Human Barbie Doll. The dullest split beaver magazine ever, presented like the illustrations-only menu at an infernal Asian seafood restaurant.

“Which model did you choose?” I asked Myrtle.

“You mean, you don’t wanna find out on your own?”

There wasn’t a whole lot of headroom between table and banquette, but I went under, despite vistions of senior undergarments. Close-up on knees, an immaculate mid-length white skirt. Myrtle spread slow. No panties, and none of the expected snowy shag carpet. The view was Ponce de Leon mouth-wateringly youthful.

“Could you be, like, a little less obvious about it?” Lisa said.

Myrtle would’ve let me stare all afternoon.

“Hey Lisa, why don’t you give me a split-screen Before and After picture, as long as I’m down here,” I said.

“Forget it,” Lisa said. She clamped her waitress pressure-hose together and shoved my shoulder with her waitress clog. I konked my head on the non-formica underside of the table on the way up. Silverware, glass and porcelain clanked.

“See what I mean?” Lisa said.

A dazed stare was as good as an energetic affirmative nod. “When do you want to go?”

Maybe the Vaginal Rejuvenation Clinic operated on a walk-in, first-come, first-sliced basis. A picture of the place formed. The chromatic revolving door turned into a moist, ever-yearning, receptive black hole of eternity. I figured I’d wait in the car and listen to the radio while the invisible masked surgeons who lurked inside the place hacked, sliced and tucked.

There was a knock on the driver’s side window. “Keep your hands where I can see ‘em, sir, and slowly step out of the vehicle.”

Plainclothes imaginary fuzz had stealthily stolen up behind a daydreaming screenwriter. Would he pull a gun? Take me down to the station? In handcuffs? Or would he just want to know, in a matter-of-fact, off-duty-cop way, what his intimately vain waitress wife’s High School boyfriend was doing back on the scene, especially when the scene was the parking lot of a Pussy Refreshener Clinic.

Cop behavior can be unpredictable. Police work is stressful, I imagine. Flash back, to reality.

“What kind of cop is your husband, LIsa? Good cop? Bad cop? Horrible cop?” I pictured a rangy fellow. He looked reasonable and decent. He’d joined the LAPD for the right reasons, and got tossed into Nowheresville duty when he refused to play along with bad cops in higher positions. The next scene played out in a sound-proofed interrogation room. Good cops behave like bad cops, when the occasion demands.

“He’s a stand-up guy,” she said, and I understood, she loved him. “Can you, next Tuesday?”

“Wild horses couldn’t stop me,” I said.

Myrtle kicked my shin with a white slingback mule. She needed a lift to Santa Anita, and I was her knight in shining Detroit steel. Post-time for the first race don’t wait for no man or genitally rejuvenated lady.

The long ride turned into a cool grand’s worth of crooked finishes tossed into the Santa Ana winds, and a long, hot—make that unbelievably hot—date with a lady from an older generation, justifiably known as The Greatest.

On the fatal Next Tuesday, I drove Myrtle back to El Monte, and picked up Lisa, who was understandably skittish.

“Don’t fret,” I said. “The sawpussy will shoot you up with lots of sweet Novocaine.”

“Maybe I wouldn’t feel this way if we’d-a had kids.”

Lisa had a thing against seatbelts. I didn’t insist. She wasn’t dressed like a waitress, more like a woman who wishes she weren’t a waitress and would like other people to think she wasn’t, or at least convince herself that those who see her can’t tell she’s a waitress. She looked like her Mom, on her way to a shift at the local munitions plant when WW2 got rolling.

“No kids for me, neither,” I said, and it was the truth. Never even close. “But there’s no point regretting the absence of children in our lives. Human beings will continue to infest the planet long after we’re gone. Immortal souls transmigrate in the same way that solar fuel replenishes itself. Consciousness travels the universe at the speed of light, maybe even faster.”

“You talkin’ Hare Krishna blab, or is this some kinda AA lecture?”

“Us human beings oughta feel good about the lives we led, where we come from and all that shit.”

“Right now I’ll settle for my pussy looking the way it did when we were in High School,” she said.

Another flashback to the first time she showed me. “Nothing but happy memories,” I said. “Thanks. I mean it.” Lisa’s pussy was endlessly fascinating when we were going steady. She used to smack me if I stared too long. She told me to save it for Gynecollege. She was sure that I was going to go to college, and equally sure that she wasn’t. Maybe she thought I’d become a doctor or a lawyer or something good like that.

This time she caught me looking at her profile, and gently touched my face. “You’re doing us a bigger favor than you can imagine,” she said.

The clinic was an anonymous strip mall dump, a cross between a Dog & Cat Hospital, a free clinic, and a Filipino restaurant. No way in Hell I would’ve headed there for a circumcision procedure. Other invisible, long-dead doctors had taken care of that detail, but I’m cut for all the wrong reasons, in Hollywood.

Myrtle had looked awful young, in the dark. Love-life flies by, with the lights off.

LIsa and I went in together. The reception guy—nice touch—didn’t even look at me. I was dressed studio formal for the occasion, heavy on the sunglasses. Not sure why I wanted to affect incognito anonymity. The movie stars I knew would’ve considered it cool to take your High School sweetheart on a nostalgic date to the Pussy Re-Tread Station on Memory Lane Blvd. Tried to conjure an in-focus mental snapshot of Lisa’s tits the way they looked the first time she rewarded good behavior with a Drive-In movie peek. What I mainly remember is that I almost started crying. Not sure if that was because they were so unbearably lovely or because I felt sorry for her that her Calvinist parents forced her to wear hand-me-down torture bras that’d once belonged to an Okie grandma.

So the next day I drove to Hollywood, walked into Frederick’s, and spent my wad from a summer job at Pop’s car lot on sexy undies for Lisa.

She never took those eye-popping bras and panties out of the wrappers, as far as I know. She probably hid them beyond her parents’ prying eyes and thieving hands, since fancy-label sin-wear might fetch good money for Christ at the local Pawn Shop. 

Lisa had asked me a favor. I was the Wheel Man. She didn’t know it, but I was also the Deep Pockets. Pussy plastic surgery payment was strictly an up-front deal, so I flashed my diamond-studded, plutonium-plus Motion Picture Studio expense account card at the Clinic’s black, gay Boy Friday. “This rejuvenated pussy’s on me,” I said.

Lisa got angry, but not too angry. She’d brought a gangster roll of waitress cash, with the California State sales tax calculated.

“Buy your husband a new pair of handcuffs,” I said.

There was no wait, for her. A labcoated handsome guy appeared, with a clipboard. We only had time for a reassurance squeeze. She handed me her purse, which, I couldn’t help noticing, had a gun in it.

Long wait, for me. Had to stop myself from barging into the sinister operating room with Lisa’s snub-nose .38. I’d grab the masked slasher by his labcoat lapels. “Leave Lisa’s beautiful natural pussy alone, you murdering quack. Youth is a fresh pink flash, not a phony slasher-porn flick made for money.”

Back-date ladies’ fashion magazines prevented this senseless crime. I love glamour monthlies. I get ideas from them, but don’t know why. The color for fall, back East at least, was black. Black don’t go over too well, in Los Angeles. A cruise through Nickerson Gardens will prove this theory. Fall doesn’t exist here either, except in Hollywood, where The Industry keeps armies of autumn leaf-painters and -scatterers employed. Whenever a college movie was in production on the lot, I used to go for a stroll through the football weather campus set and pretend I was at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Every now and then I enter my walk-in closet just off the master bedroom, gaze at LA-useless winter woollens and wonder if maybe I should’ve gone to college after all, maybe even way out East. It’s possible that dead leaves crunch crunchier in places where it’s cold and brainy. A cruise to Malibu Beach cures such stupid thoughts.

Flipped through several years of the Clinic’s subscription to Vogue. The reception fellow wouldn’t look at me. He pretended to make phone calls, jotted bogus informaton into the logbook.

The pussy surgeons took their sweet time. I figured it’d be a tonsillectomy deal. Zip! Zap! Off with her flaps! Not a single mention of pussy rejuvenation in a whole stack of glamour mags. I slapped the last one in the stack onto the coffee table, and went to lean on the guy Friday’s work station.

“How long do these baby-hole shindigs usually take?”

Eventually he looked up from the Desk Diary of Labial Reconfiguration. He stared and tapped his ballpoint. Maybe he was a jazz drummer, nights. “All depends on the patient’s condition,” he said.

“Do you have anything to offer patient males while they wait?”

“You’re in the wrong neighborhood, mister. The nearest synagogue’s in Sylmar.”

“I meant like a cup of coffee, or a martini.”

“Oh. Excuse me. So did I. And I’m afraid not.”

“But this surgery’s supposed to be a walk-in, walk-out deal, right? No wheelchair or oxygen tent required.”

“Most of the ladies walk out bowlegged, but they can walk. Your wife looks strong, even on the tough side. You should be able to resume relations in a few months.”

“She’s not my wife,” I said. “She was my girlfriend in High School.”

“That’s not as unusual as you might suppose, sir. Many husbands run squeamish, as far as their wives’ intimate affairs are concerned.”

“Her husband’s a cop.”

Luckily, Lisa emerged from surgery before the conversation could get banal-er or inane-er. She was walking like a lonesome cowboy. “All done,” she said. “Let’s go before it really starts to hurt.”

She squirmed in her seat on the ride home. I pictured her in post-op adult undergarments, avoided chug-holes like crazy.

Her house was the standard cop-and-waitress shack. I wasn’t miffed when she didn’t invite me in for coffee and left-over Bundt cake, or a cop n’ waitress martini, which, I imagine, is either a tall-boy of bargain-brand beer, or some imported syrupy hooch presented in cut-glass kitschware. She needed a hand to get out of the car. I would’ve carried her across the threshold and upstairs to the bedroom to tuck her in, but Casa de Cop n’ Waitress was a ranch-style spread with fake-wood aluminum cladding. No steps up, anywhere.

“Thanks,” she said.

“Call me anytime.” I took her tough-pretty face in my hands, the way I did at Senior Prom, when I meant to convey, with a teenage contrivance of meaningful, romantic movie star-gaze, how much I cared for her, but still I had to go because time and ambitious dreams wait for no Fantasyland goof. Lisa had already forgotten more about real time and the real world than I could ever imagine. Her eyes flashed, all those years ago, and silently said, Listen, you moron: I’m real, I’m here, now, and if you get real here now too with me, I’ll never give you cause for regret.

The movie studios won that duel.

Hit me then that career can also mean a railroad track you can’t escape, even though there are lovely infinite meadows all around, and dramatic snow-mountains in the 360° distance, and the crazy lurching pitching yawing train you ride is bound for legal problems that will devour years, health problems that will devour flesh, and further and further, on and on until you derail into retirement and death.

The last act of this Pussy Rejuvenation blockbuster was a visit from the LAPD. Specifically, Lt. David Preston, plainclothes detective. He didn’t flash a badge when I opened up. He walked in as though he owned the place, which cops sort of do, no matter who you are or where you live. He sat in the breakfast nook and helped himself to a cup of coffee from the chrome machine.

Act natural, I thought. “How ‘bout French toast? I was gonna make some anyway.”

He didn’t bite, even though I make damn good French toast. “You used to buy dope from Bobby Parvo,” he said.

Might as well have smacked me behind the ear with his non-ordnance blackjack. Parvo was a long time ago. Ex-junkie bowels, long dormant, clenched back to loose life.

“Fourteen years clean and sober in April,” I said, and wondered if he’d make me roll up my sleeves. I used to stab my ankles to elude detection, but that was strictly hop-head paranoia. Cops can tell if you’re a junkie, and they don’t give half a fuck. Real cops never entered the movie lot unless they had off-hours security gigs, or unless they were moonlighting as extras. “The only charge that ever stuck was for possession.”

Bobby Parvo was a reliable dealer who didn’t step on his stuff too hard, a legendary snitch, and an extra-creepy human being. Weenie-wagger. Kiddie-diddler. He was also dead. I was cleared in the matter.

“You’ve got a clean sheet,” the cop said. “I just came by to say thanks, and also to get your motives.”

“My pleasure,” I said, and immediately wished I’d said you’re welcome, no sweat, no skin. Maybe no skin would’ve sounded wrong too, but in a shared-laugh way. “Since you know who I used to cop from, you must know Lisa and I were heavy together in High School.”

“She told me,” he said, betraying not a a jealous bone or atom in his sturdy cop frame.

“But it was more than that,” I said. “My folks practically adopted her. I think they would have, legally, if her family situation had ever called for it.” At home, Lisa used to have to take care of a senile grandpa, who wouldn’t keep his hands off her while she was wiping his ass or spoon-feeding his obscene, toothless mouth.

“You were kissing your sister,” he said.

“That was sort of the problem,” I said. I held off with the too young, too different horseshit.

“No point going over the past,” he said. “At least not after I arrest the parties responsible. Look, I’m here to do you a straight, since you did me—I mean, my wife—let’s say us, a favor.”

“No need,” I said. A hot date with a cool old lady was abundant payback. Myrtle was a one-night stand I planned to call up for a repeat, though I’d never take her sure-thing horse-advice again.

He shot me a cop-look that said, Here I am, offering you a favor, and you want trouble instead?

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m glad you stopped by. Really nice to meet you. You’re a lucky man, and Lisa’s lucky too. Let’s go out together sometime. In fact, why don’t you come here for dinner some night?” But I knew that was overdoing it.

Officer Preston, plainclothes, slowly reached into his chest pocket, came out with a notepad and a ballpoint. Everything clicked, the gesture, the pen, the ink on paper. “You ever have any kind of problem,” he said, “I mean, short of first-degree murder, show this to the arresting officer and everything’ll be OK.”

“I’ll try to make sure I never need it, but thanks a million.”

“You saved my porn life.” he said. Maybe he was joking. His face, rough but handsome, said as much. He was talking about The Brochure.

“Man I’m really glad I’m not a doctor,” I said. “At least, not that kind of doctor.”

“Police is a shit job,” he said. “But I’m glad I’m not a doctor too. I’d sure as Hell trade careers with you, though.”

“You’ve obviously never met any movie producers. You’d run back to the stakeout life.”

He looked around my Nukuheva Drive dream-pad. “Guess I’ll change my mind about the French toast.”

Would’ve gone down in history as the most congenial breakfast in history, but Lt. Preston gave me the confidential report, no details spared, on a killer still at large who preyed on prostitutes. He used a scalpel, apparently.





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