Isabelle Gilbert


Davis and I had been together for a year when he found out he had an eighteen-year-old daughter from Turlock by a woman he'd fucked in a pool. The girl's name was Ashlyn. When she found him she was a freshman at Fresno State—an ace on the women's basketball team. A Bulldog. They'd been getting to know each other since Christmas. Davis wanted me to meet her but I resisted. I was getting ready to move on.

Davis was in a wheelchair. (Truck bed. Jäger. High school.) Short guys are the best lays because they have something to prove. Davis was amazing. You have no idea how many ways you can fuck someone in a wheelchair. He belted himself in and I sat on his face for as long as it took. But it started taking a very long time. And I started to dread the click of the lap belt.

He thought we were in a dry spell and maybe we were. It was March. I was training clients from five in the morning until nine at night. Everyone wanted to look good in a swimsuit by June. I raked in the money.

Davis told me I was just tired. He said we'd bounce back when work slowed down. I hoped he was right but I knew better.


On Sunday afternoon, I made Mexican casserole that smelled like spicy crotch and drove to Davis's place. Tule fog obscured the streets. Candy pink and blue light shone from above. I couldn't see a thing. Visalia was a cheap town. Homogenous Spanish revival: cream stucco, clay tile. The smell in the air was slaughterhouse. Showerheads spewed farm runoff. Spinach poisoned us and nourished the rest of the country. Strawberries were sinister. We lived in Parkinson's Alley.


Davis's house was on a cul-de-sac, his custom van in the garage. I parked on the street. A $900 basketball hoop gleamed in the driveway. I'd played a little basketball in my day and could still win at HORSE.

Although I had a key, I rang the bell. Somber chimes echoed.

Davis opened the door. He looked like a baseball card from the waist up. Barrel chest. Huge arms. His face was tan. Deep smile lines framed his eyes. His sandy hair was handsomely thin. Everywhere he went, he was the guy.

"Hey Wendy," he said.

"Hey Baby," I said back.

I leaned over and kissed him on the forehead, then on the mouth. He tasted like onions.

"Come meet Ashlyn," he said.


She was in the kitchen, squeezing strawberry syrup into a glass of milk. She wore shiny blue shorts and a T-shirt that said WARHAWKS. I'd expected her to be tall like me but she was of average height with thick, strong legs and a high bulbous rear. Her wavy brown hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail.

"Daughter," Davis said, "meet Girlfriend." He grinned one of his grins. "Girlfriend, daughter."

Ashlyn's handshake was warm and strong. She looked me in the eye when she took my hand. She held it so long that I twisted out of her grasp. "It's really nice to meet you," I said.

"You too."

Davis rolled out of the room. I resisted the urge to grab a chair handle. I didn't want to be left alone with her.

Her eyes were flat and opaque and unflinching. The rest of her face—her freckles, pale skin, and jaunty smile—was animated. There was something of the boy in her. Something upright. Forward facing. Free of flourish and self-consciousness. She danced to no music.


Without looking, she opened a drawer and removed a spoon. It felt strange, seeing her so familiar with Davis's kitchen. She was at his house often, I realized. She knew her way around. I felt disoriented.

She put the spoon in the cup and stirred. She tasted her very pink milk.

"Sip?" she asked.

I shook my head. Her big, wide-set eyes turned down at the corners. She leaned back against the counter. "You sure?" she asked again.

"Only if there's bourbon in it. And you're a little young."

She tilted her head to the side and raised her eyebrows.

I felt her watching me.

I turned on the oven and removed the tinfoil from the casserole dish I'd brought. I found a jar of pickled jalapeño slices in the refrigerator. The door banged shut with a rubbery suck. I slopped a handful into the dish and spread them around with my fingers.

Ashlyn came over. "That looks good," she said.

"Thanks," I said. I stopped messing with the peppers and picked up the heavy thing with two hands. She opened the oven door and bowed like an obsequious waiter. I set my watch for twenty minutes.

Davis called us into the living room. He was cuing up the VCR. Ashlyn leaned back with her knees spread, one arm draped over the back of the couch. I sat at the far end. Light came from the blazing kitchen door and a lamp in the corner. The television's blue glow shone on Davis. He stared into it, his shoulders hunched, his smile gone, one hand on the arm of his chair, as though we was about to stand up. Then he turned and beamed his pleasure at us.

"I'm the luckiest man in the world." He looked at me like he did when he wanted to have sex. "I never imagined I'd be so lucky."

Said the guy in the wheelchair, I thought to myself.

Davis took a breath and pressed a button.

"This is for you, Ashlyn," he said, and sat up.

At first the screen was black, then came white text.


"Holy shit," Ashlyn said. She put her elbows on her knees. I looked for the 16 jersey and there she was.

She was amazing. She faked a pass but took it to the basket instead, she faked a shot but passed. She stole the ball and raced down the court for a lonely, effortless layup. She had, it seemed, endless ways of getting the ball, keeping the ball, shooting the ball.

I looked over at her. Her face was slack and stricken, and her mouth hung slightly open as she watched. The next round of clips happened in quick succession. Ashlyn, shooting three-pointers again and again and again. Plays, points, passes. Her athleticism was beautiful, the way she ran and the way she moved. All of her worked together so perfectly that I ached with jealousy and admiration.

In the last clip, she muscled her way through two members of the opposing team and emerged with the ball. She jumped for the basket and there the action stopped, ball perched in the palm of her right hand, arm reaching for two points that were, inevitably, hers.

The screen faded to black and Ashlyn cupped her face.

"How did you do that?" She asked Davis.

"They video every game. I called the AV department."

She dug the heels of her hands into her eye sockets. Her back shook with small sobs. I had a sudden vision of her eating limp fries and a dry hamburger in a TV-lit living room, her sweaty basketball clothes drying on her body. She'd study, then shower, then go to bed alone.

Davis rolled close to his crying daughter but didn't say anything, didn't touch her. He looked helpless. I slid toward her and pulled her hot face to my shoulder. I placed her limp hands in my lap and stroked her back as she cried into me and against me. She shook, but her crying was gentle. I breathed deeply and sat still.

Her tears dripped on my chest. Snot slid down my shirt, cooling as it traveled. I smoothed her hair from her wet, sweaty face. She smelled like the beach.

"You liked it?" I asked her.

She nodded. I looked over at Davis. "She liked it," I said. "A lot." She nodded again. "Your Dad thinks he made you sad," I said into her ear. I twisted her hair, rope-like, into one hand and pulled up the collar of her T-shirt to wipe the mucus from her nose. "You have to tell your dad you liked it."

"I will."


Ashlyn went to the bathroom. Davis interlaced his fingers with mine. He squeezed my hand so hard it hurt. I didn't recognize the look in his eyes.

"You're really good with her," he said slowly.

I shook my head.

"No, you are."

"I understand girls."

Davis positioned his chair so that we were directly across from one another. "I don't want to scare you," he said in a low voice, almost a whisper, "But I want you to know I think you're amazing."

"Oh," I said. "Davis."

I almost laughed. Then I knelt between his impotent legs and kissed him.

I told him that later I was going to suck him off so good he wouldn't be able to stand it.

Ashlyn came back and stood in the doorway like a hole.

Davis turned his chair toward her but kept his gaze on me. "I love this woman!" he yelled. He reached his hand out to her but she didn't approach. "Now I have everything I want."


Davis sat at the head of the table. Ashlyn and I sat directly across from each other. The glass tabletop balanced on pedestals that looked like double-headed dragons. I could see her thick ankles and fleshy knees through the table. She sat with her legs firmly apart, shoulders curved toward her plate.

"Mmmm," Davis said.

"I made this for Ashlyn." I said. I served them both. I watched her eat the food I made. Her fork doubled as a knife and she held it like a shovel.

I wasn't hungry.

"How is it?" I asked her. She didn't answer. I put my palm next to her plate, my fingers spread wide on the glass.

"How is it?"

She looked at my hand.

"It's good," she said.


Ashlyn watched TV after dinner. Davis and I silently cleaned the kitchen. I was sponging a few gleaming drops of strawberry syrup off the counter when I heard a sticky, suppressed gush of farts and liquid. Davis had lost control of his bowels. I looked at him. He looked at me, his eyes wide and blue and hurting, his hands frozen over his lap. Loud, ridiculous laughter blasted from the TV. He wheeled toward the bathroom. He moved fast.

I finished the counters. I soaked the casserole dish. I turned out the light and stood in the doorway, thinking of how to get her out of the house so Davis could wash himself. The back of her head was visible over the top of the couch.


"Let's play basketball," I said to the dark living room.

She didn't move or respond.

I waited. Nothing.

I went and stood behind her. I put my hand on her hair. "Come on," I said.

She got up. She palmed a ball from her duffel bag.

We were barefoot and the night was warm and dry. Yucca leaves cracked. Cactus and sage sucked small moisture from the sandy soil. The flatness, the vastness of desert beyond the stucco and tile made me think I could walk into the night, across the cat and coyote carcasses, among the packs of dogs that had once been tame, with and against hot winds, until my bones were clean and scattered.

She rolled the ball off her fingertips. It swished through the net. I caught it and threw it back to her. She took four more shots, each perfect. She threw the ball to me. I stood where she'd stood. I shot. I made it.

At the edge of the driveway, I bent my knees and guarded her. It was dark and the floodlights clicked on. Her eyes were hidden in shadow. No cars drove through the cul-de-sac. Lizards darted among fence posts and faux boulders. I spread my arms as wide as I could. I got close to her. She moved toward the street and I moved toward the street. She faked right, I moved right. She spun and ran left but I couldn't catch her. She made an effortless basket. "Good shot," I said.

It was my turn. She stood still, feet spread, hands behind her back.

"You're not even trying," I said.

I tried to take a shot but she slapped the ball from my hands. I grabbed it back and dribbled. I ran to the basket but she stepped into my path and I put my shoulder hard into her chest. I blocked with my left arm and dribbled with my right. I wheeled around but she was with me, leaning against me, throwing me off balance at every step. She leaned so hard against me I thought I was going to fall. My body pulsed hot and furious. I tried to take another shot. She smacked the ball. It bounced down the driveway and into the street.

"There goes your fucking ball." I put the tip of my finger to the soft indent of her throat. "You know why we're out here? Because your father shit himself. You think I like you?"

Ashlyn reached behind me and grabbed my hair. She pulled my head back. "You can't beat me," she said. She bit my shoulder. I didn't move, didn't flinch.

When she released me, I touched the bitten place.


The front door opened. A cone of light brightened the grass.

"Girls!" Davis called. "Girls?" His voice was high, hopeful.

Around us, the rustle and skitter of the desert.

"I've got Strawberry shortcake, I've got fresh whipped cream . . ."

A hot wind picked up.

"Ashlyn? Wendy?" He was quiet for a long time.


We didn't move. Didn't breathe. I felt the dry grass under my feet and the rough stucco of the garage behind my back. Her cunt was hot around my fingers. Her smell was everywhere.

Our bodies knew what to do.