Wenda

fiction by james pollack

Wenda knew the fleeting sense of money. Wenda knew how quickly it was made and how quickly it was spent.

Wenda was beautiful and worked in a fancy men's store selling trousers.

Wenda cut cheese at Poured Drinks. She was a feeder. You could tell it the first time you saw her. Here was a feeder.

She worked so many jobs you couldn't keep up with her. You'd walk into a nice place and look around. Maybe Wenda would be there. Behind the bar. In the kitchen. Maybe over at the make-up stand. You never knew. Wenda was everywhere. I saw her over at the Ferrari place selling Ferrari. Next week it was Maserati. She was ubiquitous.

She sold to one clientele though. That was the string that pulled it all together, the thread in the melee. He had computer money. He lived down in the valley. Usually he was wearing argyles and some form of the updated classic. Button down shirts with an extra crease in the sleeve. Penny loafer in ostrich. Shetlands that were hand knit in Hong Kong. You couldn't miss them. Go to the place where they were, and there was Wenda, ready to serve.

Wenda knew new money. Everybody said so. Lamborghini money.

On Saturdays she was off and she was down at the Cafe Portola. She was at the bar hanging with the other girls who drank Kirs. They all had make-up on back to their ears and they all tried to dress like Wenda. All forty of them I ever saw tried to look like Wenda. Wenda clones I called them. They had french bags with initials, Louie Bags, and tapered pants too short; so it made their legs look too long. You could tell a Wenda from a mile away. They all wanted those french legs.

They were all phonies though. They were all trying to copy the real thing. I never even looked one of them in the eye. I never even bought one a drink.

Wenda was California. From the top of her yellow head to the bottom of her ankle bracelet. It was California through and through. Wenda was from Chicago. That made her because she was a transplant living in San Francisco. She had that transient sensuality. A shark after the soft wear boys, a pursuer of new issues and prospectuses. A Ten D peeker. What they call a Wall Street Watcher.

She had that little Mercedes bought with all her boutique money, and it was as shiny as her skin. You couldn't separate her from the car. It was like another layer of face paint.

But why be disdainful? She was my only lover. She left me so now I call her the Wenda machine, and I look at all the girls and I think Wenda Wenda Wenda. Everybody looks like Wenda.

She sold me expensive trousers and a new car. She sold me Napa Valley. Wenda had everything. I'm thinking what do I need. A cruvinet?

I decide—if I take her down from the ankle diamonds on the bracelet, and strip off the red lacquer from the finger, wipe off the buff on the lips so it won't glow any more, strip it down to the real, layer it off until you can't find any more layers, then maybe I'll find it underneath—What's the real Wenda?

Wednesday my friend Harry says, "We go down to the Portola. We take a Wenda clone, maybe two Wenda clones, and we take them home. Then we see what's underneath, right?" I said "why not. What's it matter since they're all impostors anyway."

We got two. Wenda one and Wenda two. Harry got two and I took one. You couldn't tell them apart though. We started from the top with the hair stripper. Off with the blonde. We scrubbed down to the black. Then the face—all the way down to the pimples. Here they are, one and two Wenda, on the bed, layed out, scrubbed clean. And what. They still look alike, like all the other Wendas. Taken from their body, dismembered, if you will, on the sheets they're still identical.

Harry says, "Now what?"

"It proves to me one thing," I say.

"What's that?" Harry says. He's still got some Wenda all over him. Lipstick on the cheek that he's wiping.

"It proves that you take them apart, piece by piece, meticulous, scrub them until you can see yourself and the skin comes off, and they're still Wenda. You can't get any farther. I'm beginning to think we made a mistake."

Harry scratches his head. He was sure we were going to find something. He was sure there was something in these Wendas that would give off a clue, as to—Why Wenda! "Maybe you got to go out and find the real Wenda, bring her back here and then open her up. After all what separates the real from the fake?"

I have to agree with him. It's like the difference: image and reality, sign and signifier. "Where am I going to find her?" I throw up my hands. "We'll look," Harry says. What more can he say.

So every day I'm in the city looking. Wilkes. Saks. MacArthur Park. All the holes, water or not. I'm fishing. The real Wenda, and I'm wondering will I recognize her when I see her, now that there are so many fake ones I've been through. It's going to be a test, rigorous eye examination.

But what else do I have to do with myself. Harry says, "Go to work. Develop more machines. The season's coming. The shows in Las Vegas. You've got to have a new machine." I'm thinking how can I think of chips with Wenda on my mind.

All winter I work on the new machine to get it ready for the show and the New York guys. I hate New York guys, but without them, no Wenda. The Wendas would disappear without the New York guys.

"Maybe Wenda is in New York." Harry says.

"Very funny." Harry is the system architect and he's too fat with stock. I say, "Get serious Harry."

Harry is laughing up a storm at the key board. He's like the Bukowski of Portola Valley with his schemes and sense of humor. "You re a beatnik." I tell him.

So with the spring approaching I'm in full gear. Up to the city in the Wenda car, wearing the Wenda pants, and the Wenda horn rims. I'm in the Wenda mode. Over to the party on Pacific. I can feel it. This is going to be the night. I'm going to get lucky.

There are a million Wendas; you've got to swim through them, and I'm on an odyssey. I meet two in the bathroom tooting through two dollar bills. This is it. "You seen Wenda?" They both smile. It's that inviting Wenda smile. But I don't buy it. Impostors. 'The humor is wearing thin," I tell them.

Over near the bar there's a Wenda pouring drinks. Now that's more like it. A starting out Wenda, not an already-made-it Wenda. A Wenda of the proletariat, a proto Wenda.

"Hi. Let me have your specialty." This works with a Wenda.

Campari on the rocks, she pours. No Wenda here.

There is the pit near the barbecue where three Wandas are sunning themselves. I'm hot, I tell myself. One whiff of the perfume though and I know, no Wenda here.

I'm ready to give up and head back to the valley when I see her. Wouldn't one know it. When all the Wendas are spent the real Wenda appears.

She's an upper Wenda. No pants but a Gallagous dress. She's been with the six on dollar option man for sure. She's reeking with fresh money. I'm thinking I see him and I know it's her. Pop his head in my face and bango I know it. The Network king for the day. He used to fix laundry machines before he invented networking. It's the buzzword now. Everybody wants it. Networking. I'm passe. Where is the fiend?

"Wenda," I say, throwing caution to the wind.

"Billy?"

"Yeah."

"I can't believe it!"

It's Wenda all right; the real one. I'm thinking, what now? Harry where are you?

"MUSSHCCOOO."

Wenda machine kiss. Big with the lips. "I've been looking for ages," I say. "Now I've got to show you."

We're already walking to the car. She thinks it'll be a remembered one for our sake in the back of the Wenda machine. Networking is working and not even here. She doesn't know from nothing. Dumb Wenda as usual.

Down south we go, out of the city, to the Skyline and up to the house. We're out of the car and I'm thinking, first in the tub for the wash, then the scraping. She's kissing at my ear.

"Harry get over here," I say. I'm in the john with the john phone. "The real Wenda is here."

I entertain until Harry comes with the tools. We're undressed when he arrives and she's screaming. Typical Wenda move, the guarded life. I had enough of it years ago.

"Take her down Harry. Let's go from the top. Bathtub first."

"Christ, Wenda is saying. "I've never been this humiliated."

Harry is scrubbing. Best scrubbing I've ever seen. No follicle goes unturned.

"NONONON." She is laughing and screaming and crying. Just like a Wenda.

"This is it," Harry is saying. He's got the industrial stripper in his hand. I can see it now. We both are looking. We both are awed. The real Wenda; it's coming through. Harry is dancing. "I told you. The real Wenda would reveal herself."

Wenda has fainted now. Too overwhelmed to witness her own revealing, her own uncovering. Mystery of womankind right here, unveiled in the Wenda room in front of the valley boys. "Chipped out," Harry says. "You can't put it in words. One has to see it. No narrative can tell." It was exactly what I was thinking. I had to second.

You can't tell a Wenda by its cover. You can't tell one by its impostor. You've got to get the real Wenda and open her up to see. Then it's untranslatable, like Christ in flesh.

We're popping the champagne for the Wenda machine. Picture two guys, self-made guys, sitting around at the top of the Skyline with the secret of womankind. The Wenda secret, the reality principle.

Harry says, "Wow 0." I don't know what he's talking about. He's overwrought.

But it's profound. I sit back and feel the tears. Like Quixote after the quest. Over. I have ended the search and we have dug down to find the real Wenda. First thing I'm thinking—How to profit. Maybe give a call to Biogen and snap up the Wenda patent. Harry's got the gene right in his hand now. Just staring at it. No more fake Wenda. We've got real Wenda. He's handling it like a peach pit, rolling it in his fat little fingers and rubbing at the creases. It's a new industry—birth of the Wenda industry-two guys in a house up above the valley.

"Stop fingering the Wenda gene," I tell him. It makes me nervous. Harry is the horniest guy I !:now. He can't stop looking.

"Sorry," he says, "but I'm overwhelmed. They're never going to believe this at the club."

"You're not going to tell anyone," I say. "No squash shit bragging."

"O.K. O.K."

I can see the New York guys drooling. It's in my head. The newspaper headline, the interviews. More People press. A return to grace for two has-beens. I'll win her back from Networking. It's all in my head.

Then Wenda wakes up. A temporary lapse. She's disoriented and drunk, and she shrieks when she looks at herself in the mirror. Just lets out the meanest scream you ever heard, "MY MAKE-UP!" You'd think she was witnessing Hiroshima.

It's so deafening we have to cover our ears. She is running around the room like a new plucked chicken. It is a terrible sight, and Harry has still got the gene in his fingers. I don't want to say it was pretty. It sobered us up for sure; knocked the stuffings and the Roter out of our heads. We were split and scared. Womankind in the real. She was looking at herself, the real Wenda. Too much for her.

"Calm her down," Harry says.

It was understatement like Harry never has. She's over the balcony and falling down to the gravel before we can do a thing. Carcass and all. One look was all it took.

"Cops," Harry says. "They'll believe us." He hoists the gene.

I'm broken up and crying, leaning on the cedar pool, and letting the tears out for the first time. The real Wenda is gone and I killed her.

"All in the name of truth, Harry says, and pats my back. "Listen pal, it was in the name of science and mankind, in the name of bio-tech." Platonic ideal he even tries. Nothing works though. I'm crying over my Wenda till the cops come. My poor Wenda. And Harry has to do all the explaining.

"Genes! Genes!" he is screaming.

It was hopeless. Cuffed steel. They lead us out. The Wenda murderers. All over the valley that's what they call us. The Wenda killers. Every Wenda hates us now. But we've got the gene and we convinced the judge. He termed it suicide. It was a male verdict. The women wanted murder, not manslaughter. They wanted the full thrashings of the law on us.

Instead I'm fat with the Wenda gene, the exclusive. I'm living with our first manufacture, Wenda- sub one, and it's like beauty. Call it technology. I like to think we've replaced the need for sentiment. Now it's pure manufacture. She's user friendly like never before, my Wenda.

by James Pollack