In every room, save Radar’s, their home was awash in black Santadom—plaster and plastic and marble and clay and wood and resin and cloth. In total, Radar’s parents owned more than twelve hundred black Santas of various sorts. As a plaque beside their front door proclaimed, Radar’s house was an officially registered Santa Landmark according to the Society for Christmas.
“You just gotta tell her, man,” I said. “You just gotta say, ‘Angela, I really like you, but there’s something you need to know: when we go to my house and hook up, we’ll be watched by the twenty-four hundred eyes of twelve hundred black Santas. ”
Radar ran a hand through his buzz cut and shook his head. “Yeah, I don’t think I’ll put it exactly like that, but I’ll deal with it. ”
I headed off to government, Ben to an elective about video game design. I watched clocks through two more classes, and then finally the relief radiated out of my chest when I was finished— the end of each day like a dry run for our graduation less than a month away.
I went home. I ate two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as an early dinner. I watched poker on TV. My parents came home at six, hugged each other, and hugged me. We ate a macaroni casserole as a proper dinner. They asked me about school. They asked me about prom. They marveled at what a wonderful job they’d done raising me. They told me about their days dealing with people who had been raised less brilliantly. They went to watch TV. I went to my room to check my email. I wrote a little bit about The Great Gatsby for English. I read some of The Federalist Papers as early prep for my government final. I IM’ed with Ben, and then Radar came online. In our conversation, he used the phrase “the world’s largest collection of black Santas” four times, and I laughed each time. I told him I was happy for him, having a girlfriend. He said it would be a great summer. I agreed. It was May fifth, but it didn’t have to be. My days had a pleasant identicalness about them. I had always liked that: I liked routine. I liked being bored. I didn’t want to, but I did. And so May fifth could have been any day—until just before midnight, when Margo Roth Spiegelman slid open my screenless bedroom window for the first time since telling me to close it nine years before.
I swiveled around when I heard the window open, and Margo’s blue eyes were staring back at me. Her eyes were all I could see at first, but as my vision adjusted, I realized she was wearing black face paint and a black hoodie. “Are you having cybersex?” she asked.
“I’m IM’ing with Ben Starling. ”
“That doesn’t answer my question, perv. ”
I laughed awkwardly, then walked over and knelt by the window, my face inches from hers. I couldn’t imagine why she was here, in my window, like this. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked. Margo and I were still friendly, I guess, but we weren’t meet-in-the-dead-of-night-wearing-black-face-paint friendly. She had friends for that, I’m sure. I just wasn’t among them.
“I need your car,” she explained.
“I don’t have a car,” I said, which was something of a sore point for me.
“Well, I need your mom’s car. ”
“You have your own car,” I pointed out.
Margo puffed out her cheeks and sighed. “Right, but the thing is that my parents have taken the keys to my car and locked them inside a safe, which they put under their bed, and Myrna Mount-weazel”— who was her dog—“is sleeping inside their room. And Myrna Mountweazel has a freaking aneurysm whenever she catches sight of me. I mean, I could totally sneak in there and steal the safe and crack it and get my keys out and drive away, but the thing is that it’s not even worth trying because Myrna Mountweazel is just going to bark like crazy if I so much as crack open the door. So like I said, I need a car. Also, I need you to drive it, because I have to do eleven things tonight, and at least five of them involve a getaway man. ”
When I let my sight unfocus, she became nothing but eyes, floating in the ether. And then I locked back on her, and I could see the outline of her face, the paint still wet against her skin. Her cheekbones triangulating into her chin, her pitch-black lips barely turned to a smile. “Any felonies?” I asked.
“Hmm,” said Margo. “Remind me if breaking and entering is a felony. ”
“No,” I answered firmly.
“No it’s not a felony or no you won’t help?”
“No I won’t help. Can’t you enlist some of your underlings to drive you around?” Lacey and/or Becca were always doing her bidding.
“They’re part of the problem, actually,” Margo said.
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“There are eleven problems,” she said somewhat impatiently.
“No felonies,” I said.
“I swear to God that you will not be asked to commit a felony. ”
And right then, the floodlights came on all around Margo’s house. In one swift motion, she somersaulted through my window, into my room, and then rolled beneath my bed. Within seconds, her dad was standing on the patio outside. “Margo!” he shouted. “I saw you!”
From beneath my bed, I heard a muffled, “Oh, Christ. ” Margo scooted out from under the bed, stood up, walked to the window, and said, “Come on, Dad. I’m just trying to have a chat with Quentin. You’re always telling me what a fantastic influence he could be on me and everything. ”
“Just chatting with Quentin?”
“Then why are you wearing black face paint?”
Margo faltered for only the briefest moment. “Dad, to answer that question would take hours of backstory, and I know that you’re probably very tired, so just go back t—”
“In the house,” he thundered. “This minute!”
Margo grabbed hold of my shirt, whispered, “Back in a minute,” in my ear, and then climbed out the window.
As soon as she left, I grabbed my car keys from my desk. The keys are mine; the car, tragically, is not. On my sixteenth birthday, my parents gave me a very small gift, and I knew the moment they handed it to me that it was a car key, and I about peed myself, because they’d said over and over again that they couldn’t afford to give me a car. But when they handed me the tiny wrapped box, I knew they’d been tricking me, that I was getting a car after all. I tore off the wrapping paper and popped open the little box. Indeed, it contained a key.
Upon close inspection, it contained a Chrysler key. A key for a Chrysler minivan. The one and the same Chrysler minivan owned by my mother.
“My present is a key to your car?” I asked my mom.
“Tom,” she said to my dad, “I told you he would get his hopes up. ”
“Oh, don’t blame me,” my dad said. “You’re just sublimating your own frustration with my income. ”
“Isn’t that snap analysis a tad passive-aggressive?” my mother asked.
“Aren’t rhetorical accusations of passive aggression inherently passive-aggressive?” my dad responded, and they went on like that for a while.
The long and short of it was this: I had access to the vehicular awesomeness that is a late-model Chrysler minivan, except for when my mom was driving it. And since she drove to work every morning, I could only use the car on weekends. Well, weekends and the middle of the goddamned night.
It took Margo more than the promised minute to return to my window, but not much more. But in the time she was gone, I’d started to waffle again. “I’ve got school tomorrow,” I told her.
“Yeah, I know,” Margo answered. “There’s school tomorrow and the day after that, and thinking about that too long could make a girl bonkers. So, yeah. It’s a school night. That’s why we’ve got to get going, because we’ve got to be back by morning. ”
“I don’t know. ”
“Q,” she said. “Q. Darling. How long have we been dear friends?”
“We’re not friends. We’re neighbors. ”
“Oh, Christ, Q. Am I not nice to you? Do I not order my various and sundry minions to be kin
d to you at school?”
“Uh-huh,” I answered dubiously, although in point of fact I’d always figured it was Margo who had stopped Chuck Parson and his ilk from screwing with us.
She blinked. She’d even painted her eyelids. “Q,” she said, “we have to go. ”
And so I went. I slid out the window, and we ran along the side of my house, heads down, until we opened the doors of the minivan. Margo whispered not to close the doors—too much noise—so with the doors open, I put it in neutral, pushed off the cement with my foot, and then let the minivan roll down the driveway. We rolled slowly past a couple houses before I turned on the engine and the headlights. We closed the doors, and then I drove through the serpentine streets of Jefferson Park’s endlessness, the houses all still new-looking and plastic, like a toy village housing tens of thousands of real people.
Margo started talking. “The thing is they don’t even really care; they just feel like my exploits make them look bad. Just now, do you know what he said? He said, ‘I don’t care if you screw up your life, but don’t embarrass us in front of the Jacobsens—they’re our friends. ’ Ridiculous. And you have no idea how hard they’ve made it to get out of that goddamned house. You know how in prison-escape movies they put bundled-up clothes under the blankets to make it look like there’s a person in there?” I nodded. “Yeah, well, Mom put a goddamned baby monitor in my room so she could hear my sleep-breathing all night. So I just had to pay Ruthie five bucks to sleep in my room, and then I put bundled-up clothes in her room. ” Ruthie is Margo’s little sister. “It’s Mission: Impossible shit now. Used to be I could just sneak out like a regular goddamned American—just climb out the window and jump off the roof. But God, these days, it’s like living in a fascist dictatorship. ”
“Are you going to tell me where we’re going?”
“Well, first we’re going to Publix. Because for reasons I’ll explain later, I need you to go grocery shopping for me. And then to Wal-Mart. ”
“What, we’re just gonna go on a grand tour of every commercial establishment in Central Florida?” I asked.
“Tonight, darling, we are going to right a lot of wrongs. And we are going to wrong some rights. The first shall be last; the last shall be first; the meek shall do some earth-inheriting. But before we can radically reshape the world, we need to shop. ” I pulled into the Publix then, the parking lot almost entirely empty, and parked.
“Listen,” she said, “how much money do you have on you right now?”
“Zero dollars and zero cents,” I answered. I turned off the ignition and looked over at her. She wriggled a hand into a pocket of her tight, dark jeans and pulled out several hundred-dollar bills. “Fortunately, the good Lord has provided,” she said.
“What the hell?” I asked.
“Bat mitzvah money, bitch. I’m not allowed to access the account, but I know my parents’ password because they use ‘myrnamountw3az3l’ for everything. So I made a withdrawal. ” I tried to blink away the awe, but she saw the way I was looking at her and smirked at me. “Basically,” she said, “this is going to be the best night of your life. ”
The thing about Margo Roth Spiegelman is that really all I could ever do was let her talk, and then when she stopped talking encourage her to go on, due to the facts that 1. I was incontestably in love with her, and 2. She was absolutely unprecedented in every way, and 3. She never really asked me any questions, so the only way to avoid silence was to keep her talking.
“What, like, before I agreed to all this?”
“Well, yes. Technically yes. Anyway, just call me if you have any questions, but with the Vaseline, you want the one that’s bigger than your fist. There’s like a Baby Vaseline, and then there’s a Mommy Vaseline, and then there’s a big fat Daddy of a Vaseline, and that’s the one you want. If they don’t have that, then get, like, three of the Mommies. ” She handed me the list and a hundred-dollar bill and said, “That should cover it. ”
3 whole Catfish, Wrapped separately
Veet (It’s for Shaving your legs Only you don’t Need A razor
It’s with all the Girly cosmetic stuff )
six-pack, Mountain Dew
One dozen Tulips
one Bottle Of water
one Can of blue Spray paint
“Interesting capitalization,” I said.
“Yeah. I’m a big believer in random capitalization. The rules of capitalization are so unfair to words in the middle. ”
Now, I’m not sure what you’re supposed to say to the checkout woman at twelve-thirty in the morning when you put thirteen pounds of catfish, Veet, the fat-daddy-size tub of Vaseline, a six-pack of Mountain Dew, a can of blue spray paint, and a dozen tulips on the conveyor belt. But here’s what I said: “This isn’t as weird as it looks. ”
The woman cleared her throat but didn’t look up. “Still weird,” she muttered.
“I really don’t want to get in any trouble,” I told Margo back in the minivan as she used the bottled water to wipe the black paint off her face with the tissues. She’d only needed the makeup, apparently, to get out of the house. “In my admission letter from Duke it actually explicitly says that they won’t take me if I get arrested. ”
“You’re a very anxious person, Q. ”