Declan is a mad scientist (though he isn't really either of those things) who performs lobotomies on people in his basement. Leon, whose friends call him Nervous Necro, helps Declan with the basement lobotomies and in exchange gets to take the leftovers home. But the two of them have had a falling out because Declan got two of his victims to make a baby and now he won't hand the mother over like he promised he would ten months ago. Zeppo, whose real name is Stephen, has had to take over for Leon even though he doesn't like it and isn't very good at it; he keeps going because he's become very protective of the baby and wants to keep her with her mother, which means he has to make it possible for Declan to keep doing awful things to people without reconciling with Leon. And also Zeppo is a cannibal, but that doesn't enter into this story.
If you could make it through all that, read on!
"No one ever dies in the ambulance," I say to the skinny white girls, and Zeppo, who is sitting to my right (their left) begins doing jazz hands at me under the table. He doesn't want me to talk about this. But I'm used to ignoring his hands and I just keep talking "You know why? Because if you die in the ambulance I have to do all this paperwork. So no one dies until we roll 'em through the doors. I told you! I told you about the doors, bro!"
The skinny white girls (one blonde and one brunette, but both really brunette) laugh at this. They don't notice Zeppo's hands. He's enough of a skinny white girl himself that they hardly ever notice him at all unless they're sad. Sad girls of every size love Zeppo and completely ignore me, and then I look over at him and bam, he has almost vanished between some sobbing fat girl's tits. Sad fat girls love Zeppo best of all, and I love sad fat girls. That's why I keep him around. That's why, when he came to my apartment saying we have to talk, it's about Declan's baby, we have to talk, we went to the Tinker's Dam. Only before we could talk, here come the skinny white girls. They can't get enough of me.
Once when we were at a bar I looked over and Zeppo was sitting across from the most forlorn-looking Jewess you ever saw, and I shit you not, he was teaching her to fold origami stars. They were both staring at his hands as he folded his little strips of paper, and then he gave her a strip and they folded together, and her lips were moving and he was nodding, and then his lips were moving and she was nodding, and I knew they were talking about the men who had broken their hearts. Forging a deep spiritual bond.
Now the fake blonde asks if I'm studying to be a doctor. These girls are boring me and I want to get rid of them so Zeppo and I can have our very important talk about Declan's baby, for whatever reason. So I say, "I'll tell you a story," and ignore his hands again.
"The first time I was ever in a hospital, it was because I kicked my father in the face and broke his nose."
They suck in their breath, identically. "On purpose?" asks the brunette.
"Well, I was nine. And I had this copy of Sleeping Beauty on VHS. You remember those tapes? The Disney ones were always a little bigger, the boxes, so you couldn't fit them on the shelf. We had a bunch of them, but Sleeping Beauty was the only one I cared about. I used to watch it, no shit, at least once a day, usually more. Three, five times some days. And my parents thought that was weird."
"Because it is weird," says Zeppo. He says it softly, the way people say things they want you to hear but somehow not to blame them for saying. Or maybe he doesn't want the blonde and the brunette to hear, but they do.
"For a boy it kind of is," says the blonde. She glances at him like she'd forgotten he was there.
"Gender is a social construct, ladies," I say, and gesture to the waitress, and punch Zeppo to make him drink faster. I don't know why but it bugs me when he won't keep up. "My parents thought it was weird, so they asked me, Leon—"
"Is that your name?"
"—Why do you like this movie so much, and not Cinderella or The Little Mermaid or whatever? And I told them it was the scene, you know, where he kisses her and she wakes up. Sometimes I'd just watch that scene. But what I wanted to know was, what if she didn't wake up when he kissed her? He'd kiss her again, maybe, but no, nope, that didn't work, so what do you figure, what else would he try?"
The tequila arrives and I knock mine back, and out of the corner of my eye I see Zeppo take a couple little dainty sips of his. "So my parents didn't like that and they said they weren't going to let me watch Sleeping Beauty anymore. So I kicked my father in the face and I don't know if you've ever kicked someone in the face but it is a unique feeling, because there's no bone in there really, just cartilage. It was like stepping on a snail, crunch. So yes, to answer your question, on purpose."
Something in there was the last straw because the skinny white girls have vanished along with their drinks and their purses. But this is a good story, a relevant story, so I tell the rest of it to Zeppo.
"My father was a nice guy, a very nice guy, he must have lost half a pint of blood and he just said, 'It's OK, Leon, I know you didn't mean it,' because he was a nice guy but not very bright, you know, and I damn well did mean it. I think maybe that's when I realized I was an unpleasant person."
He giggles and shoots the rest of his tequila, and takes a gulp of beer to get the taste out of his mouth. "Is that when you decided to be an EMT," he says, without the question mark because that's how he asks questions. He blinks hard a couple of times because he's starting to get drunk.
"Yeah. I liked the hospital, and being a doctor was too much like work. So Declan's got this baby."
He blinks hard again and nods.
"She needs her mother."
"Jesus fucking Christ. What do you care about this baby?"
He's gripping that pint glass with both hands. He says, "Nothing is her fault. She didn't do anything bad. She's just a baby."
"That son of a bitch. That—"
"He didn't send me. He didn't ask me to talk to you. Just for a few weeks."
"And a few weeks more, and a few weeks more, and I never get her. I know how it works. Let me tell you something about that woman. You see her?"
"No," he says to his beer. "Just Margaret. The baby."
"Margaret. That is exactly what he would name a baby. He says, I want a woman of childbearing age, I've got the man already. I say OK, we go out, we look around. And I'm the one who sees her and she's perfect, like perfect. She is literally in the gutter, one foot up on the curb, and there is mascara all down her face and she is puking her guts out. And her skirt. She is wearing this"—and I'm laughing because what's the point trying to explain this to Zeppo? He's looking at me like I'm speaking Arabic—"this skirt covered in pink sequins. Pink fucking sequins, OK? So I say that one and he goes hm and I say THAT ONE, DIPSHIT." I pause to drink half my beer and gesture at the waitress. "And he says hm, yes, that one will do. And she did do, and now she's done. Get it? He only got her because of me. He just wanted someone who looked fecund, but I wanted that one. I found her. I carried her too, he can't lift shit.
"He's got you playing Igor, huh?" Because he is still looking into his beer, and now he nods into it. "Have any of them died on you yet?"
"No," he whispers, and the waitress brings the next round.
"Not when I was there. Thanks," he says to her as she goes.
"It'll happen," I say. "It's not nice when they die. You have to get rid of them when they die."
He scowls at me like he doesn't appreciate my patronizing tone, Gawd. "I know," he says—to me this time, not his beer.
"And I'm happy to do it instead. You don't even know how. You're off the hook and he gets an assistant who isn't useless and all he has to do is give me the woman. Like he said he would."
"She's only two weeks old," he says, because we are apparently having two different conversations right now. "She's got no immune system."
"Immune system. And he didn't send you."
"I know what an immune system is."
"So what? So Leon, forget you and Dr. Mengele had a deal? Because the baby has no immune system? Suddenly he gives a shit about this baby? He knew last year it would have no immune system. Ten months ago when we got her. Are you telling me right now he's been planning for ten months to fuck me over this baby?"
He's doing the jazz hands again to warn me not to yell, but he doesn't say no—he can't, because this is the truth, Declan saw all of this coming. I lean closer to make up for lowering my voice. "You don't like doing his dirty work, do you? Stevie doesn't like playing Igor. But you'll do anything he tells you, and he was counting on that when he decided to screw me. You know what you are, Steve? You're a woman. You're not cut out for this shit. And it's not me making you do it, you realize that."
"I'll do it anyway," he says. "She needs her mother."
Well, it's infuriating, but I also have to laugh because you always know when Zeppo is serious, it's like how little kids are serious, he balls up his fists and scowls. Then he looks confused that I'm laughing. That's a look I know too. We go back, me and Stevie.
* * *
The thing about how no one dies in the ambulance, and in fact the phrase "I told you about the doors," comes from an actual EMT I know in real life. As far as I know he is not a necrophiliac, but I don't know him all that well, really.