Copyright 2002 by Marc Robinson
Mister Bumper Sticker

"He's your secret twin," Haley said. She was painting her toenails, wads of cotton between the toes to keep the polish from getting loose and going where it shouldn't. I was holding the bottle while she applied it. A strange color, halfway between black and purple, with some red or yellow mixed in. I was annoyed that she insisted I hold the bottle at every stoplight, but the alternative would have been for her to put it down somewhere -- she insisted on using both hands when she painted it on -- and then there would have been a risk of the polish spilling in my brand-new Lexus. The car was perfect. It smelled better than any other I'd owned.

The heap in front of us wore a bumper sticker that said, Die, yuppie scum. It was old, and when the light changed, it was slow to get started. I honked.

"Take the damn bottle," I told my girlfriend. "The light's green."

She reached for it and I started through the intersection. Mr. Bumper Sticker was halfway down the block already, slow though he was.

"Next time, be a little quicker," I said.

"What's the rush? The restaurant will still be there."

I didn't say anything. How do you explain to someone like Haley that wasting time is for people who aren't going anywhere? She took too long at everything she did. She couldn't walk by a mirror without stopping to check herself out. She always had to try on six different combinations of things before she got dressed. In the morning, she monopolized the bathroom for an hour, doing God knows what. Shampoo and conditioner and loofa sponge and makeup and mascara. And of course nail polish remover and nail polish, all the weird ugly colors she used, with their matching weird ugly names. There wasn't room for all her crap in the medicine chest and it had overflowed onto the horizontal surfaces. She had three kinds of toothbrush, all of which she used. She was obsessed with her teeth. They were the best I'd ever seen, outside the movies. The rest of her was almost up to the same quality. But she was annoying. She spent all her time taking care of herself. I could get an apartment with two bathrooms, or a house, but I didn't want to. I wanted to get rid of her and her clove cigarettes, and all the crap she owned, jamming my closet and bathroom and forcing me to live a hole-and-corner existence in the place where I paid the rent.

"So what do you think?" she asked.

"About what?"

"Haven't you been listening? I swear, you always tune me out. Next time I say you don't listen, you remember this. Okay?"

"Okay. Now what were you talking about?"

"The new programmer. At my job. Everybody has a secret twin. You know, like I've told you sometimes, but most people never get lucky enough to meet them? He looks exactly like you. Do you want to meet him?"

"Why would I want to meet him?"

The light up ahead turned yellow. Usually I would have squeezed the orange -- I could have reached the intersection just as the light turned red -- but with the new car, I didn't want to take a chance.

I stopped. A pretty girl was standing on the corner, waiting for the pedestrian light. Our eyes met, and she smiled. I always like it when that happens. It gives me hope.

Haley said, "I don't know. I thought it would be cool." She handed me the bottle.

"Why would I want to meet him?" I ignored the bottle.

"Take it," she said.


"I guess you don't care if I go into the restaurant with only five toes painted."

I took the bottle and she started working on her left big toe.

"Why would I want to meet him?" I repeated.

"He wants to meet you. I told him you look exactly alike, and he wanted to meet you. I thought you would, too. Maybe you were both adopted or something. Separated at birth. It's kind of cool."

There was that word again. "Cool." It should have been banned when Jack Kerouac died.

"Can we lose the music?" I asked. She had a new CD in the player, and the song was some far-fetched thing where the singer kept repeating detachable penis. "This sucks," I said. "I hate it. Why do you listen to such strange music?"

"I thought it was kind of cool."

If I heard that word one more time, I was going to toss her out of the car. Either that, or she wouldn't get to dinner alive.

She popped the CD out and turned off the sound system.

"Yeah, okay," I said, "If it doesn't take too much time. Maybe we can get together for coffee this weekend. I'm not going to work on Saturday."

"Good. You'll be glad. He's a really interesting guy. Really smart."

"Are you planning on boinking him?" The light changed and I handed her the bottle.

"What kind of question is that? Of course not. Why are you being such an asshole?"

"I was remembering Brucie-Poo."

"Bruce? That was before I moved in with you."

"Yeah, but we were sleeping together when you fucked him."

"Hardly. I'd only had sex with you once. Did you think I owed you a lifetime of fidelity after one screw?"

"Excuse me. I guess I'm old-fashioned."

She laughed. "I don't think so. What about those sex parties you used to go to?"

"I told you, I never did anything. I only watched."

"You were probably afraid of getting a disease."

She was right, but I wasn't about to say so. I wanted to ask her whether there had been any others since Bruce, but she would probably have said, "One," and drawn it out for half an hour before admitting that the "one" was me. Either that, or what would have been even more like her would be to pull out her cell phone and call a cab and go home. I didn't want to show up at the restaurant alone. I didn't want Greg and Maggie all concerned for me and asking whether everything was okay between Haley and me. It wasn't, but she didn't know that, and I didn't want anyone else to, either.

She did her last toenail in the restaurant parking lot and insisted on waiting a minute while it dried. Right then Greg and Maggie pulled up next to us.

"Tuna!" he boomed -- my nickname in the fraternity house. He still used it sometimes. I wouldn't have tolerated it from anyone else.

He leaned down and stuck his head in front of me to talk across the seat to Haley. "Sweetheart, is he treating you okay, or should I kick his ass?"

"Kick his ass," she said. "He's been mean all week."

"All right. So what kind of sexual favors can I get -- Ow!"

Maggie had pinched his earlobe. "Shut up, Greg. Can't you at least wait five minutes before you make a fool of yourself?" She winked at me. "Drinks were cheap at happy hour. You know he can't pass up a bargain."

I got out of the car and kissed her on the mouth, mostly to piss Greg off. "When are you going to leave this shmuck?" I asked. "We have a spare room."

"He's usually well-behaved. He's only like this when he's had more than three drinks." She grasped his arm, looked up at his face, and held out her hand. "I should have done this at the bar. Keys." He handed them over.

I watched Haley get out of the car. I had to admit, she looked great. Everyone I knew would have killed to get a date with her. They would have killed me, personally, to get a date with her. She shut the door with the heel of her hand, the way she always did. Her nails were long and she was always, every moment of the day, careful not to break them. It was annoying to watch her try to use the laptop, holding her fingers low and straight so the nails didn't touch the keys. She preferred the mouse, and never used the keyboard shortcuts I'd taught her.

I pulled up the neckline of her blouse; it had slipped, exposing a bra strap. The color of the strap and the color of the blouse matched exactly. They usually did. I kept meaning to ask how she managed that, but I always forgot to.

The food was overpriced, the service was slow, there was a stain in the carpet, and they served my white wine in a red-wine glass. Greg acted like an idiot, talking loudly about politics. And Haley kept saying little things to Maggie that were actually coded messages to me. Through the door to the bar I saw a television set playing a repeat of a World Cup match. It looked like England versus Brazil. If I'd known it was scheduled, I would have stayed home.

I manhandled Greg into the car after dinner. He rolled down the window. For some reason he'd gotten onto the topic of fucking cattle, describing in detail how it was done, and how it felt.

Maggie kissed me on the cheek. "Thanks," she said. "Most of his friends stopped tolerating this nonsense a long time ago."

"He was my best friend," I said. "I owe him. He got me out of a lot of trouble."

"He probably got you into most of it in the first place. Anyway, thanks. He isn't like this very often."

"I know. But you're a saint to put up with him."

"I have to. He's my retirement plan."

We watched them drive away. Then Haley said, "Let's go park and watch the old airport. My Mom said she used to do that in high school."

When we got there I found out that the plan wasn't to park, but to fuck. I sat in the passenger seat and she rode me until I came. Just as I did, it occurred to me that she wasn't doing this out of lust, or niceness, or for the thrill of the risk. She was taking some of the newness off the car by filling it with sex smell, and probably hoping to get a come stain on the seat. It was good the seats were leather instead of fabric. She hadn't planned very well, though -- after I wiped up the mess, I left the seat wet. She had to sit on it, all the way home.