Barbarella
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Were not I thine only nurse, I would say thou hadst suck'd wisdom from thy teat. -- William Shakespeare

I was standing in the kitchen, weighing the exertion of making my own coffee against the effort of going downstairs to Starbucks, when my phone rang. I glimpsed my sister's name on the screen and adjusted my answer accordingly: "Yo." "Yo," said Jane. "I need your help. I'm stuck here at the light, and this guy is all bent over, he's pretty much touching his toes, and his butt-crack is in my face."

"Look away," I suggested.

"I can't . It's, like, plumber's crack, and it's just there . He's still bent over. That butt-crack is in my face."

"Stop looking at it," I said, futilely.

"I can't look away; it's, like, sucking me in." I could hear the mixture of disgust and morbid fascination in my sister's voice.

Jane's job as a drug-pusher often brings her to my neighborhood. ("I'm not a drug-pusher," she argues, followed by the oft-recited soundbite, "I provide information about medication that could save lives.") My forehead throbbed, reminding me of my primary need. "You're going to need some counseling after this butt-crack trauma," I said. "Which light are you at?"

"University and Fifth," she answered. "I have a little time before my next meeting. I was thinking of grabbing a coffee. Oh, thank God, the light just changed."

"Head on over," I said, already searching for my shoes. "I'll meet you downstairs."

After ordering our usual (Jane's tall-nonfat-iced-chai-tea-latte and my tall-nonfat-double-shot-latte-with-sugar-free-caramel-syrup), we nabbed a few chairs by the window. Looking across the table at my sister was like staring into a funhouse mirror, the kind that makes you more beautiful -- in my "reflection," my long dark hair was thicker and more lustrous, my delicate features were more pronounced, and my face and neck were more slender and graceful.

"Did anyone tell you what happened to me at Target?" Jane asked. My sister shops at Target (which she pronounces tar-zhay ) at least once a week, for anything from dog food to makeup to nonperishable foodstuffs. I shook my head. The last Target story Jane had told me was the one about getting home and realizing she'd forgotten one of her bags. When she'd called to plead her case and convince the clerk that the bag was hers and had been paid for, the clerk (who had located Jane's bag) said, "You don't have to worry, ma'am. Black underwear and applesauce? Nobody would make that up." Jane fumbled her apologies to the woman and attributed her forgetfulness to the fact that she was breast-feeding. Ever since our sister Jenny cited an article that said a woman's brain shrinks 7 percent when she's pregnant and doesn't return to its normal size until she's completed breastfeeding, Jane has used her boobs as two engorged get-out-of-jail-free cards.

Now Jane eyed me suspiciously, as though gauging how her words might potentially be twisted and put to paper. "Come on," I coaxed. "What did you do this time?"

"I didn't do anything," Jane said, a little too quickly. One of my brows shot up involuntarily, revealing my doubt.

"Tell me," I said evenly.

"No."

"Come on. Tell me."

"No."

"Jane...come on. I'm going to find out anyway. You said yourself that other people already know."

"Fine." She'd put up a fight for appearance's sake, but it was obvious she was dying to share her most recent humiliation.

Jane explained how one Saturday morning, while I had been in Italy, she took her infant, Olivia, to Target. When she was in the parking lot, she noticed a shady-looking guy walking aimlessly through the lot. As he drew closer to Jane's car, she grabbed Olivia, shut the car door, and speed-walked toward the store. When she returned an hour later, her car was missing. "I thought maybe I'd grabbed the baby too quickly and didn't lock it," she told me. With a cartful of goods and a baby in tow, Jane searched desperately for her car. "I walked for 30 minutes before I called mall security."

"You thought your car was stolen and it wasn't, huh?" I said, beginning to smirk.

Jane glared at me and continued her story.

"I started freaking out, thinking of all the things I had in the car. I called Simon and told him he'd have to leave work to pick me up, but the baby seat was in my car, not his, so I called Heather and asked if she could come down from San Marcos to pick us up." Our sister Heather was on the sidelines of her son's soccer game when Jane reached her. Jane also called the police and our sister Jenny, who called her boyfriend, Brad, who is a CHP officer. Brad said he'd be on the lookout for the black minivan. All the while, as Jane hysterically dialed and wiped away her tears, the mall security guard stood by her side. "He kept asking me if I was sure I'd parked there, and I told him yes...I always park on that side of the mall." The guard insisted that protocol required that he take Jane through every row of cars on the premises before filing an official report. "I had to sit in the back of the car holding my baby à la Britney Spears."

I'd been waiting for the payoff to her story since the first mention of her missing car, and here it was: "It was on the other side of the mall, where I never park." Upon spotting her vehicle, Jane experienced a profound relief that was soon replaced by an intense shame. She called Simon first, then Heather, and then Jenny, who called Brad. Then she called the police. Finally, she thanked the security guard, got in her car, and drove away.

"But what did you tell everyone?" I asked.

"I told them I was breast-feeding." I stared at her, dumbfounded. "There was nothing to say," she said, by way of explanation. "I'm stressed, exhausted, and losing my mind, apparently. But that's not the worst of it," Jane continued. "Two days later, I left Mom's house to go to the store and my car was not in the driveway." Jane was sure someone was messing with her. When we were teenagers, my father would steal items we'd left in our cars, a lesson that if we don't lock the doors and roll the windows all the way up, we would have only ourselves to blame if something was stolen.

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