portion of the artwork for Gail Louise Siegel's story

Gail Louise Siegel

Kate’s cousin Annie was describing her novel—about a female porn star—when Kate’s scalp flared hot with shame. She got it. In a family of writers, some famous and some failures, she, Kate, would not ever be a star. There would never be a display of her novels in any bookstore window, anywhere. In the family accounting ledger, she was entered in the failure column. Value: zilch.

Annie recited from her draft over the halibut. It was after the workday, and they were sitting in the corner of a little French restaurant. The halibut was swimming in butter sauce. Or not swimming, because it was dead. Its goose was cooked, Kate thought. Yes, it was mixed metaphor. Kate tried to steer her thoughts away from grammar and all its little punishments, and back to Annie.

Cousin Annie’s pupils expanded with glee and contracted with earnestness. “Then,” Annie narrated, “as he pulled apart the lips of her pussy, she was so excited that they glistened in the dark.”

Kate’s follicles singed her skull again, on fire with embarrassment and envy, each strand of hair a lit filament.

So, it wasn’t the short-short story cousin Eden Meckler, or the novelist cousin Baron Meckler who would finally top the bestseller list as the pride of the Meckler clan. No, it was Annie Meckler-Carlyle, the lascivious suburban housewife, who had penned the blockbuster. Kate Meckler-Addison knew they’d call it The Glistening Pussy.

But would they put Pussy on a book cover? Maybe P****?

Kate stopped listening to Annie quote her draft; she was too busy picturing The Glistening P****. It would be an aqua paperback with cherry-red lettering, stacked on every airport book table in the nation.

Annie paused, waiting for Kate to answer. There was nothing between them but floating fish bones. Annie reached over the congealing sauce and touched Kate’s arm. “I’m sorry about your dog.”

Kate pressed two fingers to her brow. “Thanks.”

“Well,” Annie cleared her throat and folded her cloth napkin. “Got to go home and watch Law & Order. Did you know I took an acting class with Stephanie March? She’s some kind of giant. Six feet ten or something. No kidding. Not much of an actor, either, until that Goodman Theater director got hold of her.”

Annie shook her head like, Amazing, isn’t it, who ends up on top in this world?

* * *

Kate knew she’d disappointed Annie. Still—the dead dog, Marston—why did Annie have to mention him?

The bill came and went; goodbyes were kissed and Kate swiped her fare-card at the corner train turnstile. The platform was chilly, so she hunkered below the heat lamp, shivering. She shed Annie’s pity like a wet animal shaking off water. Marston was old for a collie; it was his nearly his time anyway.

She shoved her hands in her pockets and rustled a handful of plastic poop bags from Marston’s last walk. She’d armed herself with fistfuls for years. Who knew dogs could have chronic loose bowels? Kate had a strategy: place one bag flat under his butt while he squatted, and then scoop up everything, watery crap and all, with a second. No, she didn’t miss that.

But how did she end up thinking about dog shit? She shook her head and groped around her mind for pleasant thoughts, the well-worn neurological paths she liked to travel.

Kate had her own story to write. It was about a genetically engineered detective. Through some kind of gene-splicing, perhaps during surgery for a deviated septum, he acquired a nose like a dog. Not that he looked like a dog, though that would be fun—she could call him Master Blood Hound—but really, that would be a children’s book. However the nose looked, he had a keen sense of smell, as powerful as a Labrador retriever. He could track anyone’s special, unique scent. He could trail a thief or a murderer from a crime scene. If the scent vanished at a bus stop, Hound would sniff out the bus terminal until he found the perp-residue. It would be a dark, greasy smell. He would ride the bus, snuffle the exits, and pinpoint the murderer’s neighborhood. In an urgent case, he might race against time and bad weather: rain or sleet. It was easier to track dry pavement—although a particular kind of dirty snow might trap odor like fat droplets congealing on a scummy kitchen wall.

OK, maybe she would give him a black, leathery nose. And a business card: B. Hound.

A black nose would be its own problem. People would distrust him, think he was some kind of Michael-Jackson-in-reverse, skin darkening mysteriously over time. The flesh would be stippled and bumpy, blackened orange rind. Hound would ring a man’s door on a tip, and the man would avert his eyes, afraid to look Hound in the eye. Mistreating the disfigured detective, that would be clue to a suspect’s character. Yes! Queasy at the look of Hound’s nose, a villain would let down his guard. Hound would smell his fear, his anxiety, his guilt. Pheromones or perfume formulae would be evident as fingerprints to Hound. In his head: a periodic table of emotional smellements.

* * *

The el rattled up, and Kate settled across from two grizzled men in wool overcoats, the city a blurry dream through the window behind them. Eyes shut, she tuned into them like a radio.

Why was eavesdropping easier than listening to Annie?

“My daughter went to Monte Carlo,” said one grizzled man. “On her honeymoon.”

“Monte Carlo,” said the other. “That’s a car.”

Kate’s eyes drifted open.

“No, no, no,” said the first. “It’s a city in Monaco. Near France.”

“So they named a city after a car?”

The first one grinned, then swiveled his head at Kate, like an owl. His grin went cruel and he hissed, “Hey, lady, it’s not polite to stare.”

Kate hustled to the door, breath short and heart pounding. The next stop was Argyle. Kate’s stop, named after socks.

Descending the steps, she clutched the railing. She blinked away the man to refocus on Mr. Blood Hound’s nose. When her husband, Joey, played college soccer on a trip to China, the pollution made him sneeze black snot. Should Hound’s snot be black as his snout? It was something to ponder.

* * *

Her mind wandered while she drove home from the train stop. So did her eyes. It was hard to keep them on the road; they wanted to follow the passersby. Who was in rhythm with the beat pumping from her radio? The runner racing his husky? The cyclist? The girl on the skateboard? Her mind was a bouncing ball, jumping over a line of lyrics on an antique television sing-along.

Like a dog, she thought. My brain’s off-leash. Like Marston, romping out of reach.

At the stop signs, she rolled through. Kate was impatient, and not just as a driver. She was Kate. Not Katie, not Kathleen. Katherine she couldn’t imagine. Too many syllables. Annie was also a nice, short name. It would look tidy in red letters on the aqua spine of The Glistening P*****.

Short names also fit well on the commemorative bricks her Grandma Helia Meckler installed on the Hayward, Wisconsin library wall whenever one of her dynasty published a book. Baron and Eden Meckler had a dozen bricks between them. Each brick had a polished brass plate pinned to its face with brass nails, and each brass plate was embossed with a book title, author’s name, and date of publication.

Kate Meckler-Addison’s brick was for “Michigander Getaways,” a bed and breakfast guide to southeast Michigan, back when she wrote a travel column for a community paper. Not that “Michigander Getaways” was a New York Times bestseller. It was more of a pamphlet, a bound insert in a summer Sunday edition of the Detroit Free Press. Fifty-four illustrated pages distributed throughout lower Michigan.

If Kate dwelled on it, the brick became a consolation prize, not an honor; by now the B&B’s in Detroit had mostly shuttered or burned.

Still, it was good enough for Grandma Helia Meckler, who sent her a photo of the brick and a congratulatory collie-in-a-box. It had been an overcast afternoon. Kate was checking the mail and the turquoise truck from Elysian Kennels at the curb was like a visitor from Oz come to storm-tinted Kansas. A gap-tooth teen in an olive jacket struggled up the walk with a carton in his arms. “Delivery for Ms. Kate Meckler-Addison?” he said. “Got here a puppy for you? From a Helia Meckler?” Everything was a question, but he didn’t want an answer. He set four boxes on the porch: Marston, a training cage, bowls and food, leash and toys.

* * *

That was what, eight years ago, when she still thought she might have children. But Joey didn’t want them.

He came from a broken home. Multiple fractures, he said—like a bad ski accident. There were generations of cruel stepparents, vengeful stepbrothers, criminal half-sisters, boozing and abusing second cousins.

Then cute little Marston nearly changed his mind. The puppy needed walking so Joey walked him. He needed a playmate, so Joey wrestled on the floor, threw him a ball, taught him to roll over.

“He’s like a trial child,” Joey laughed, and Kate’s chest went tight with yearning. But now the trial was over. Kate felt convicted. Fatal neglect, a kind of murder.

* * *

Cracking open the door, she heard the television. She hung her jacket on a peg in the hall, next to Marston’s leash and the frayed purple towel for wiping his paws. It was still gray with dried mud.

At the den entrance, she leaned against the doorframe and watched Joey in the screen’s hectic flicker: commercials. The play of light turned him alien and iconic, a neon god-let. Joey muted the sound and set his beer on a side table, made room for Kate in the oversized chair.

“Just beat you,” he said. “How’s your loony-tunes-cousin Annie?”

“OK,” Kate said. “Long day?”

“Endless,” he said.

While Joey upped the volume and cruised the channels, Kate leaned against his corduroy shoulder, inhaled piney fabric softener. She kept quiet about The Glistening P****. He was pissed enough when Kate’s writing income stalled to a trickle, then dried up completely. Why invite comparisons to Annie?

The world was already full of stories, the TV proved that. Hundreds-of-channels-worth of stories, easier to consume than books. They poured right into your brain without the print-barrier. They were practically intravenous, a direct story fix.

Who was she kidding, anyway? She wasn’t writing any book, travel or otherwise. Not if she parked herself in front of the tube every night.

As for travel, Joey was too chained to Addison Research—his product-testing empire—for leisure trips, and Kate wouldn’t go it alone. On their bygone trips, Joey was the one who talked to old timers about local attractions. At a diner or a bistro, Joey chatted up the fry cook or chef. Kate wasn’t friendly. In truth, “Michigander Getaways” was a transcript of Joey’s folksy tête-à-têtes with hoteliers and docents. Really, she didn’t even like people. Why talk to them and amplify the suffering? No, there would be no “Highways and Byways of Provence”—or even Cincinnati.

Joey jostled his arm. With a two-beat gong, the show resumed. Law & Order.

They were all at the police station, Mariska Hargitay’s butt parked on the edge of a desk, Christopher Meloni looking over gruesome photos, Richard Belzer making a wry, comic remark. B. D. Wong summed up a rapist’s profile and motives in three short sentences. “Abusive mother. Consumed with revenge. Ergo, rape and dismemberment.”

Why couldn’t real shrinks do that? From what Kate could tell, it took years of therapy to make no discernable progress in real life. Maybe she should see a police psychiatrist. They seem to work faster. Maybe it’s all the standing around on hard linoleum floors. No comfy leather chairs to slump into and get lazy. If therapists had to stand like cashiers, they’d work quicker. Like contestants in a game show, shouting out the diagnosis before the buzzer.

The shrink Kate saw after the Marston incident didn’t even seem upset about the dead dog. Sitting in the therapist’s easy chair, she could still see it, hear it all unfold. First, thunder and rain. Next, opening the kitchen door and expecting Marston to tumble inside. Scanning the empty yard. Was that him, moving in the bushes, or just leaves tossing in the storm?

She whistled and called. Marston! Nothing howled back but the wind.

She threw on a parka and her Wellies, stomped through puddles to the flapping wooden gate. She pushed and it creaked, swung wide and thudded into the neighbor’s fence. There he was: a dirty, twisted shape in the alley, appearing more a trampled, stained rug than a dog. She screamed again: Joey!

Marston’s limbs were broken and pressed deep into the mud where a car or a truck had flattened him. His head was thrown back in pain or terror. Where his eye had been, a crusty hollow oozed. Coyotes or birds had found him first. Was he alive when they tore at his body? Kate’s gut heaved and she screamed, “Joey!” again, so loud that her ears popped.

In the shrink’s office Kate sobbed, telling Dr. Klaiber about the unfastened gate shuddering open into the alley, and finding Marston’s limp body, legs snapped like broken twigs.

Joey had come running and dropped to his knees in the mud behind the garage. He wept, his shoulders bobbing up and down like a giant puppet’s. He carried Marston’s corpse inside, tracking muck through the kitchen and into the master bathtub. Joey washed the dog’s fur with the retractable shower hose and the mint-scented dog shampoo, then wrapped Marston in the maize-and-blue University of Michigan stadium blanket, covered with Joey’s commemorative soccer pins from Spanish and Haitian and Guatemalan soccer teams.

They were like tie tacks or lapel pins, fastening Joey’s memories of passes and goals and slide tackles to his blanket. Kate liked the idea of a commemorative pin, the word commemorative implying they weren’t actual pins, just the idea of pins. Blanket-jewelry.

Joey laid out Marston on the guest bed before calling the vet and asking what to do. Later that day, Kate rode in the back seat with Marston’s body, pulling the pins out of the blanket. Some had caught stray pieces of Marston’s fur. The tiny brass catch on the pin from the Tulip Tournament in Holland, Michigan, was stuck, so she left it in without telling Joey. They must have tossed it in the crematorium—a purple faux-cloisonné tulip—along with the dog and Joey’s blanket.

When they got home, Kate rinsed the pins in rubbing alcohol until her skin puckered.

Dr. Klaiber didn’t gasp or sigh or even ask questions about Kate’s guilt or sorrow, or why Joey carried the dead dog inside like Frankenstein’s monster ferrying a murdered child. He just frowned at his notebook and scribbled notes—if they were notes. When Kate explained how long it took to scrub the mud off the kitchen floor, he didn’t blink. She said there were still stains in the bathtub grout—maybe blood, maybe dirt. Klaiber doodled, or pretended to doodle.

She described the gate: a simple door, cut from stockade fencing with an ornamental thumb latch—the kind that opens from both sides. No combination, no dead bolt, no pin tumbler lock with a key. No magnets or hydraulics. Just a light metal rod that fell into a groove when she pulled the gate closed. But for years, that had been enough. They hadn’t needed Kant-slam toggles, or springs, or heavy metal gravity clamps to secure their yard.

When had the gate started slipping open? Had the wood warped or the latch loosened? Why hadn’t Kate noticed when she took out the trash or the recycling? Shouldn’t she have known an ornamental latch wasn’t a robust latch? It was commemorative, like the soccer pins. And now it was a memorial to poor dead Marston.

Dr. Klaiber said nothing. He breathed so thickly, he might have been snoring. Maybe he’d never had a dog or a cat or even a hamster. The Law & Order shrinks left him in the dust.

Law & Order. Kate liked the title. Order. Law. It was orderly. Organized. Life, like crime, was disorganized. Like socks. Law & Order tried to organize it, like pins. Kate, herself, was very methodical, in a way that wasn’t obvious to anyone but Joey.

In the morning, when she unwrapped a sweater or pair of slacks from its dry cleaning bag, she delicately extracted the safety pin from the tag—a pale grayish-pink or umber square of paper with a number printed on it. Just as carefully, she pressed the shaft of the safety pin into the foot of her mattress. The pin would keep there all day while Kate printed birth and death records at the County’s Vital Records office. She’d be folding a death certificate for a man who thought his father’s bones had been stolen by grave-robbers, or handing a birth certificate to an eighty-year-old woman getting her first passport, and all the while, the safety pin stood at attention like a mattress sentry. Then, at night, when she undressed, slowly unbuttoning her blouse so the buttons would not flip off the placket, wriggling out of her underwear and tugging on pajamas, she would lovingly peel her socks off her rough heels and line them up like little partners. She lifted the pin out of the mattress and poked it through the ankle ends of the socks, so they stuck together as a pair in the dirty laundry, and then, ultimately, in the riotous churn of the washer and dryer.

The next morning, dressing for her job at Vital Records, she knew she’d have a matched set of socks waiting.

Kate didn’t have to talk much at work. The birth and death certificates said it all: Where a person was born, if their mother was married, their ancestry. It was against the rules, but she made copies of local celebrities’ birth certificates. Eddie Vedder, Daryll Hannah, Hillary Clinton, Raquel Welch. She kept a folder in her top drawer, under her socks, along with articles about them. She liked knowing their secrets: that Rock Hudson’s (or Roy Harold Scherer Jr.’s) father was a mechanic; which black comedian’s father was twenty-nine, but whose name was “legally omitted” from the birth certificate; the name of the Albanian village where Jim Belushi’s father was born.

That’s where they got Marston’s name—from Hugh Marston Hefner. It was a private joke with Joey, back when they had private jokes. Who knew anyone named Marston? Well, maybe Mariska Hargitay. One of Kate’s articles said Hefner was arrested for publishing nude photos of Hargitay’s mother, Jayne Mansfield. Maybe Hargitay came across the name when she read about her mother’s early career: Hugh Marston Hefner.

It was odd to think of Hargitay reading the dead dog’s name. It was odd how all roads led back to Law & Order. Odd, but fitting. It felt comfortable, as if there was a pattern. Like Law & Order. The plots had a predictable pattern. Gruesome victim, obvious suspect, tawdry side-plot revealing new potential suspect, arrest, trial, titillating twist based on some show-to-show algorithm to cast suspicion on a hitherto unimpeached character. Verdict on a viewer-pleasing guilty-to-not-guilty ratio.

But no dogs. Or rarely dogs. Wouldn’t dogs be helpful, sniffing out the bad guys? They sniff out cadavers, bombs, cell phone parts. Why not on Law & Order, with those telltale bodily fluids: blood, semen, vaginal excretion, sweat, tears, vomit, mucous. Just the other day Mariska Hargitay let some young African girl spit at her tormenter, his hands chained to a table. The show was lousy with viscosity.

Kate reminded herself, it was not really Hargitay; it was Olivia Benson. The pretend Hargitay. Or Hargitay pretending. Acting. The hardest thing for Kate was remembering the lead characters’ names. She knew their real names, which made the show feel less fictional. Of course, it was simpler for the actors than the viewers. They had scripts. If only the characters wore legible name tags, it would be easier. After all, real cops wore badges and name tags. Anytime she got a ticket she would read the officer’s name, shiny and rectangular, pinned over their pocket.

She smiled to herself at the thought: there they were again, pins. So useful. Straight pins, safety pins, bobby pins, push pins and there—Elliot chasing some dealer down an alley and pinning him to a wall, like a limp pair of socks. Like a hideous giant moth.

Kate was, she knew, a little smug about her pin habit. It was a smart habit. Like one of those tips she read about in a newspaper column when she was young. Hints from Heloise. Not that Heloise thought up the pin trick. That was Kate’s idea—poking the tip of the pin through the cotton or the wool or the fabric blend, careful not to tear.

She was equally careful about her teeth, knowing her coffee habit could quickly stain them. Every morning, after brewing her daily Bustello, Kate opened the pantry and took from a box a white straw, barber-poled through with red or blue stripes. She poked the straw into the mug and sucked, avoiding liquid contact with the enamel fronting her teeth, soaking only the back and preserving her glittering, bright smile. Someday, she might be smiling into a camera for a book cover photograph. She wouldn’t want her teeth to look yellowed; people might gossip.

People could be mean; life could be messy. At work, old death records could be smudged and she couldn’t tell if they read 1909 or 1905. But then she’d pass a mirror and her clean, white teeth would smile back at her. She’d be happy that her socks matched—she wasn’t wearing one black and one blue. It was reassuring.

All those Law & Order cops, they were always drinking coffee. It was even on the commercials, Hargitay bringing Meloni a cup. But their teeth were white as Chiclets—when they smiled, which wasn’t often. They were a serious bunch. Hargitay-Benson, especially. She wore a kind of sneer. It wasn’t hard to understand. She’d seen her mother, Jayne Mansfield, decapitated in a car wreck. That would make you a serious child. Did she think about Mansfield, every time she passed a mirror? They had the same head; only the hair was different. Maybe the eyebrow sculpting. Hargitay could easily sashay into a remake of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, or that rock comedy, The Girl Can’t Help It. But Mansfield, she was more lighthearted. She didn’t suspect what was waiting for her, right around a bend in the road. She was a special victim, for sure. Ahead of her time.

Kate winced at her own bad puns. They came when she was nervous. Car accidents, decapitation provoked anxiety. Kate had speeding tickets, fender benders, but nothing limb-threatening. No injured animals. Not yet.

She was safe, for now, in the armchair with Joey. She lifted his free hand and sniffed it. His fingers smelled homey, like tomato soup. She could sleep here, she thought. Cuddling with him was like burrowing under thick comforters as a child, home from school with fever. She nestled closer into the nook of him, closed her eyes, rubbed her cheek against the corduroy. As if he was just a big stuffed animal or dog. Something she could accommodate, without having to submit. Affection without expectations of anything in return, not even sex. No need to disrobe and expose her skin to the chilly bedroom. All that work of caressing and licking and stroking and humping. It tired her out to think of it. Sex required so much exertion for such a, well, redundant outcome. How much did one orgasm differ from the next? Yes, a nap seemed just as, if not more, satisfying.

Perhaps she was done with sex, or at least the need for it. Maybe that would happen with stories, too. The itch would be scratched. She’d be rid of the impulse—coughed up and out like a hairball. Sex drive and story drive: expectorated, gone.

Not that she didn’t like sex. But she didn’t love semen. She’d read about a man whose semen dried up after a vasectomy. Semen-free sex would be clean and tidy. Of course, it would make trouble for prosecutors like Stephanie March. No evidence, no DNA to trace. Not to mention, no babies.

All in all, it was probably best to keep the semen.

She listened to the episode, eyes still shut. The soft voice spoke to the deep voice.

“Hey, Kate,” Joey elbowed her. “Arm’s falling asleep.” Kate opened her eyes and watched the scene. Hargitay was talking to Stephanie March. What was the March character’s name? Alex. It didn’t matter. Soft voice and deep voice. Hargitay’s voice was too soft for her furrowed brow. Was she thinking about her character’s rape, the one the script always mentioned? Or when she had to look pained, did she remember the real decapitation? Kate knew some actors thought about dogs dying to make themselves cry.

Hargitay narrowed her eyes at March. They were arguing. Were they friends or rivals? They didn’t do girl-things, like shop, or talk about clothes or gossip over halibut in the corner of a little French restaurant. There was no, “Hey, Alex, great suit!” You never heard, “Oh, Liv, nice highlights. Makes you look younger than Season Two.”

Hargitay wanted justice; March wanted proof. March demanded proof. With her shiny blonde mane, her perfect posture. She looked like someone who got what she wanted. The right part, the criminal conviction. Was she really six feet ten? Or just six feet?

At six feet, she’d tower over Kate. She’d tower over Joey. March’s voice was deeper than Joey’s. She was tougher than Joey. The camera angle pivoted from one to the other, Hargitay then March; March then Hargitay. Hargitay was smoking-mad, coiled to strike in one of her tight cotton shirts. Buxom. March was cool, firm, icy, tall and thin. She was in her trademark costume, too: a suit jacket. Hard to tell what was going on under that blazer. Well, if she was buxom, the director would use it. March didn’t have to be voluptuous. Hargitay got to be the curvaceous one, so March was the androgynous one with the deep voice. David Bowie in a skirt. How did she stay so thin? Wasn’t she married to a chef? Since tall girls burn more fuel, maybe tall girls eat more food.

March addressed the jury. Kate watched her stride across the courtroom, like Bowie taking the stage. Back when she met Joey Addison, they were Bowie fans. There were still Bowie albums gathering dust in the stack of vinyl records in the attic. Kate felt Joey tense at March’s gestures, the cadence of her deep, level voice.

Kate peered at him. Was Stephanie March as sexy as Kate to Joey? She was as sexy as Joey to Kate. Would sex between women be as messy, without all that semen?

* * *

By the verdict, Joey was nodding off. Yes, they’d both had long days. Joey, testing his products. Kate, testing her patience, or lack thereof, with young mothers and their double-wide strollers, upset because Marylu and Marysue’s birth times were switched on their birth records. Kate kept smiling, whether she was listening or not-listening to them, to Annie, to other commuters, to the TV dialogue. The credits rolled and Joey snored. Kate extricated herself. She liked that word because her name was hidden in it. Kate inside of extricate, just like a nesting doll.

Joey slumped over and Kate covered him with the beige Afghan that Grandma Helia Meckler had sent. Though Kate suspected it wasn’t technically an Afghan. It was a collie, spun and knit from Marston’s fur. Back when she sent the puppy to Kate, Grandma Helia had asked for his fur. For eight years Kate had groomed him, combed out his fur, and mailed a ziplock to northern Wisconsin.

Kate had no clue what Grandma Helia was doing with the fur. Using it for compost? Burning it in a witchy ritual? Once, Kate had searched the County’s archives for Helia Meckler’s birth certificate, but could not find it. Helia was born before mandatory birth filing. As far as the law knew, Helia had hatched, or appeared in a puff of smoke.

And then, just days after Marston died, a package from Grandma Helia arrived. It was a blanket, apparently knit from Marston’s fur. There was no card saying so and Joey didn’t believe it. But Kate was convinced. Yes, the fur had been washed and carded and spun and knit. But can you ever really wash the dog out of its fur? When Kate inhaled deeply, she could almost smell a faint eau de Marston.

Detective Hound would be able to smell it. If it was there. So could Stephanie March, if she had a sensitive black dog-nose.

Kate poured some red wine and returned to the television. There it was, another Law & Order: SVU. Who was writing all these stories, anyway? They seemed to replicate themselves. Sometimes, the actors were the same. A character devolved from a lawyer in one episode to a killer in the next, and finally a victim. The roles were like Legos, interchangeable parts. The scripts were, too. How hard could it be? Kate focused on the standard progression: Victim, suspect, decoy perp, indictment, real perp, trial. Add a prurient bonus and there you go, a script.

Maybe she’d watch this one, too. Take notes. She could write her own episode. Chart the scenes and just replace the names, the dialogue. She’d be a kind of script-bot. A script-app. She’d type up a treatment, contact that Goodman Theater director or her cousin Annie. Someone had to have an address for a studio or agent. She’d take her script and send it right to Stephanie March.

Kate’s pulse was gunning. She could already see it. Stephanie March’s husband, the chef, would bring in the mail one morning. He’d look at the manila envelope, thinking it was a cookbook. But it would be from Kate Meckler-Addison, her return address on Argyle Street printed in the corner. He’d walk back into the house, surrounded by two or three big dogs, yapping, drooling, and circling him in a frenzy. He’d bring the envelope to Stephanie, reading at the kitchen table in her sexy rectangular glasses. She’d turn away from that week’s script and read Kate’s instead. She’d become absorbed and her gourmet coffee would go cold. She would absently scratch a dog behind his ear. The chef-husband would ask, “Who is Kate Meckler-Addison?”

Stephanie March would find Kate’s phone numbers on the top left corner of the front page, and dial it before she even answered him.

Kate balanced her laptop on her left knee so she could watch TV and write. She waited through the ads, muting the sound while that dead, bearded pitchman pimped his cleaning solution.

She thought of Annie and Grandma Helia, and the Meckler cousins. Just wait until they saw the opening credits.

She opened a new document and hesitated only a moment. Anticipation trilled through her veins. There would be a rape. There would be pornography. She was tempted to give Stephanie March genetically or surgically enhanced powers of smell. She would at least mention it in the cover letter, if not the script. Even if there was no super-nose, there’d be dogs. Big, randy, muddy, barking, leg-humping dogs.

And nudity. It was tried and true, a foolproof formula. Kate typed up the title: “The Glistening Pussy.” She centered it on the page.

I’m not a big TV watcher. Most of the series I have seen were shows that my husband or kids were watching when I walked into the room and joined them. So I rarely see an entire show, or know the characters’ names, or whether something is a rerun. I couldn’t say which network Law & Order is on, or which day new episodes air. But my daughter and husband watched it so long that I got to know it well—although I remain confused about which characters are on which iteration. I’ve bought into their personas to where I feel betrayed when I see Sam Waterston do a commercial.

There are oddities in Viscous which are true. In my Chicago-based day job, my staff compiled a database of hometown celebrities for a local exhibit I dubbed Sweet Home Cook County—so I wanted to work in a Hargitay-Hefner connection.

Between Viscous and Sweet Home, I’m fascinated with how powerfully we feel about our stars, sports heroes, and political icons: we identify with them, pity them, love them, and hate them as if we know them, envy them, or even—if we are off-kilter enough—want them to care about us. They matter to us, and we want to matter to them.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 27 | Law & Order Issue | Winter 2010