Pearl’s head is drooping; is she embarrassed?
Stephen’s heart is hammering so fast he puts his hand on his chest.
“Look,” she says, “I really need a smoke to do this.”
He commandeers a wheelchair from the nurses’ station, adrenaline running through him like wine. His mother is sitting on the edge of the bed when he returns, dressing gown cinched around her waist. He’s never wheeled anyone in a chair before. One of the brakes is down, and they go in tight circles. At last they get into the hallway and down to the doors. No one else there, thank God. Pearl takes her time lighting a smoke, and he shuffles from foot to foot.
“This is a little surreal.”
She draws in a lungful of smoke. “Thing is, I can’t remember his name.”
“Well, I’m sorry. I’ve been trying.”
Stephen stares. “You don’t know his name.”
“I was eighteen.” She shifts in the chair. “Do you remember the name of everyone you’ve ever slept with?”
He thinks. “As a matter of fact I do.”
“Oh, come on.”
“I do! God, Mom – ”
“Thing is, I used to give people nicknames.” She lets smoke pour out of her nose. “So I called him Randy. But that was a joke…”
He begins pounding his forehead gently against the brick wall.
“So I’d bet his real name began with an R,” his mother’s voice comes faintly. “Robert, maybe. Or Richard. Except then I’d have called him Dick.” She starts giggling, but stops when he looks at her.
“A last name?”
Pearl smokes, squinting, he thinks, like Clint Eastwood. “Are you wanting to look this guy up?”
“I don’t fucking know!” He loses it. “But it’d be nice to have the fucking option, you know?”
She stares him down. “Well, I’m sorry. I am.”
He rubs his forehead. “Do you remember where he was from?”
“Well, we hooked up near the Thousand Islands. Gananoque. But he wasn’t from there. He’d come up for the summer, and, well, dealt pot.” She looks at the end of her cigarette like she’s trying to remember something. “He was tall. And he had brown hair.”
“I have brown hair.”
“I’m not very fucking goddamn tall, though, am I.”
“Really,” Pearl says, “you look a lot like me.” She tosses her cigarette, a tiny flare. “I never saw much of anything else in you.”