The next evening she put some thought into her outfit for a change. After tearing apart her closet, she settled on a black silk muumuu embroidered with a life-sized silver crane. The crane looked as though it was pecking her left breast. Whenever she wore it she felt like a deranged Marlon Brando, minus the baldhead and huge gut, which was probably why she didn’t wear it often. Still, she didn’t want to overdress, as Yoko and Yoko would likely be in pajamas. She tied her long black hair in a knot and painted her lips a raisin color.
They weren’t wearing pajamas. Nigel wore a crisp white button-down and a faded pair of jeans; Shiori a fitted halter dress that showed off her chest and shoulders. “You guys look stunning,” she said, as she opened the door for them. “And more awake, somehow.”
“Thank you,” Nigel said, bowing slightly.
Shiori smiled and handed Mona a bunch of weeds. “We found these wildflowers on our hike today,” she said.
“Sweet,” Mona said. She pretended to search for a vase even though she knew she didn’t have one, and ended up sticking the weeds in an orange Tupperware cup, which she left next to the sink.
They sat at her kitchen table, which was rectangular and a little too big for the room. Nigel sat at the head of the table, Mona at the other end, and Shiori in between. While Mona poured herself wine—she offered them some, but they declined—she watched as they examined the art on her walls. They both had their eyes fixed on the Fat Fuck drawings.
“May I ask who Fat Fuck is?” Nigel asked.
“I wish I knew. These drawings were found in the trash,” she explained. “But he’s dead, apparently. Found with no hands. I imagine he died of blood loss.”
Nigel sipped his water.
“Who are they?” Shiori asked, pointing to the large black-and-white photograph on the opposite wall. It was a portrait of an Asian family, circa 1960-something, sitting on a modern and expensive-looking white leather couch. The mother wore a white Chanel-type suit with three-quarter sleeves and a matching pill-box hat, the father a tailored black business suit. Their small daughter wore a plaid dress and sat between them with a finger in her mouth and her eyes on the floor. Mom and Dad were both wearing dark sunglasses and holding cigarettes, but they seemed to be looking at the camera. No one was smiling.
“Those are my parents,” Mona said. “I was adopted, obviously.” She waited a beat, but it was pointless. They never laughed at her jokes. “I’m kidding,” she said at last. “I found it at a thrift store.”
“I like the frame,” Shiori said politely.
“Are your parents alive, Mona?” Nigel asked.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “They’re alive and leading miserable lives in California.”
“That’s sad,” Nigel said.
Mona shrugged. “What are you gonna do.”
“I bet they’d like to hear from you.”
“I sent them a letter with my phone number. The ball’s in their court.” The ball’s in their court, she repeated to herself. She’d never used that expression before and made a mental note never to use it again. “Besides, don’t be so sure they want to hear from me. I could’ve been the nightmare of their lives. Maybe I killed their pets.”
“Did you?” Nigel asked.
“No,” Mona said. “More like the other way around.”
“Your parents killed your pets?”
“So to speak,” she said. “They sent them to a farm in Idaho.”
They were silent for a minute. Mona glanced at Shiori’s chest. She was surprisingly stacked for an Asian woman.
They didn’t eat with their hands this time. Granted, they didn’t have much of a choice since the main entrée was soup. Hominy, tomatoes, and Hatch green chilies she bought from a Spanish man roasting them on the side of the road. She’d meant to make stew, but hadn’t let it stew long enough. They kept pausing between bites to mop their foreheads with their napkins.
“You’re sweating like a couple of alcoholics.” She put down her spoon. “Should I turn on the fan?”
“It’s a little spicy,” Shiori said meekly.
“Sorry,” Mona said. “I have beer—that might help.”
“Shi, would you like to share a beer?” Nigel asked.
Pussies, Mona thought. Who splits a beer?
After they finished eating, Nigel directed his gaze at Mona. “I’ve noticed something about you, Mona.”
“Uh-oh,” Mona said.
“Now, don’t be alarmed, but are you aware that you’re sanpaku?” he asked.
“San-pak-u,” he repeated. “It’s Japanese for ‘three whites.’ It refers to the whites of your eyes. Your iris should be touching the bottom lid of your eye, but instead the whites are showing at the bottom. They’re also showing on the sides, which is normal. But since they’re showing on the bottom, you are sanpaku—three whites.”
“What?” Mona said.
“Look at our eyes,” he said. “See how the iris touches both the top and bottom lids?”
“Oh yeah,” Mona said, looking back and forth between them. “You both have really big eyes. They remind me a little of an infant’s eyes.” She poured herself more wine.
“Exactly,” Nigel said. “It’s interesting you mention that. When you’re born, you’re perfectly balanced. It’s only after you’ve lived a while that things begin to…deteriorate.”
“Are you guys in a cult or something?” Mona asked.
To her surprise, Shiori giggled.
“Don’t change the subject, Mona,” Nigel said.
“Okay, Nigel, I’m willing to humor you, but first tell me what the hell you’re talking about exactly. Sometimes I think you make this shit up on the fly.”
“It’s nothing fatal,” he explained. “Being sanpaku is something you can repair. It just means you’re imbalanced.”
“Mentally, physically, sexually,” Nigel said. “It also means you’re prone to addiction and depression.” He raised an eyebrow.
“One of your shoulders is a little higher than the other,” Shiori said suddenly.
“It is?” Mona put a hand on each of her shoulders. “Which one?”
“The right one,” Shiori said. “You should drink green tea. No coffee.”
“No offense, Shiori, but how am I supposed to clean houses on green tea? Have you seen the houses around here? They’re made of dirt.”
“All you have to do is eat a macrobiotic diet for a few months,” Nigel said. “Whole grains, leafy greens. No meat, no dairy. No fat or sugar.”
“Which reminds me—I made dessert,” Mona said. She got up and opened the fridge, where a plate of lemon bars were waiting. She placed the plate on the table. “I made these last night. They should be perfect. Please, help yourselves.”
They paused, seeming to consider it. Nigel said, “Well, since you were gracious enough to make these from scratch—”
They came from a ready-mix box, Mona almost confessed.
“—Shiori and I will share one. Thank you, Mona.”
Again, she wondered if she should really be associating with these people.
Nigel talked at length about his father. Apparently, he was the son of a semi-famous chemist. He described the medicine his father was famous for having developed, but all Mona heard was static. She watched Nigel’s face while he talked and, as she concentrated on his moving lips, she felt Shiori staring at her intently. She tried to ignore it but eventually felt compelled to meet Shiori’s gaze, thinking perhaps she was trying to silently communicate something. Maybe she wanted another lemon bar or her own goddamn beer.
But as soon as Mona looked at Shiori, Shiori quickly looked at Nigel, and Nigel, still talking, glanced at Shiori before his eyes returned to Mona. Then it was back to the start, with Mona and Nigel looking at each other, until Mona was again compelled to meet Shiori’s gaze, and Shiori looked at Nigel again, and he at her.
It felt, bizarrely, like a game of pinball. Nigel controlled the flippers, Mona was the main ball in play, and Shiori was the extra ball that came out of nowhere and threw everything into chaos before disappearing. She wondered who was putting the extra ball in play. Was she inadvertently hitting a button, or was it random?
After Nigel finished his story, they sat in a comfortable silence for several minutes.
“I’ve noticed something about you guys,” Mona said after a while.
“Uh-oh,” Nigel said.
“Now, don’t be alarmed,” Mona said slowly, “but…you both have killer cheekbones.”
Nigel and Shiori looked at each other and smiled.
“Seriously,” Mona said. “You could really hurt someone with those things.”
“We enjoy your company,” Nigel said, apropos of nothing. He held his hand out for Shiori and Mona watched them clasp hands across the table. There was the three-way pinball of looks again.
“I like you guys, too,” Mona said, and felt herself blush.