Paula
Mary Miller


“I wish I was drinking those,” the man said. He had a banana in his hand. She had watched him carefully select it. She had a box of Heineken and it wasn’t even noon. The man was in spandex, with his banana. He would eat it and bike up and down hills and he would not get leg cramps.

She went out to the car, her boyfriend waiting, and he drove them back to the campground. They sat on the bed in the air-conditioned trailer and kissed. They hadn’t seen each other in a month. Now that she was gone, Paula did his laundry. She cleaned his bathtub and unloaded his dishwasher and he paid her in quarters and pills.

He took off his shirt and walked the two steps to the other side of the trailer to rifle through the movies he’d brought.

Along with the air-conditioning, there was a 32-inch television set, a PlayStation, and a bag of DVDs, but the trailer smelled like old bread and the bed was too small for two people and they couldn’t use the bathroom, even to pee. He put in Requiem for a Dream and unfolded a chair. She stacked her pillow on top of his—dark green with safari animals—and he propped his feet on a five-gallon bucket. His toenails were too long. Maybe he should have Paula cut them, she thought. He said he didn’t even see her.. He just left a key under the mat and she came while he was at work.

“This is the most depressing movie I’ve ever seen,” she said.

“Nothing’s even happened yet.”

“I know what’s going to happen, though, and it’s fucking awful.”

“We can watch something else,” he said.

“No. I want to watch it.”

He pressed pause and opened the refrigerator that didn’t work—“the bar”—and fixed himself a whiskey and Diet Coke. Then he took his one-hitter from the drawer and restarted the movie. The trailer filled with smoke. She was afraid someone would knock, though no one was going to knock. She was afraid the police would burst in and take them to jail and she’d have to call her father and he’d have to drive the four hours to come get her and he’d be disappointed.

On screen, Harry’s mother was retrieving the television he’d pawned. Then she was eating a snow cone. She closed her eyes.

When it was over, they went outside and sat under the tent he’d erected, their “living room.” Inside, there was a table and four chairs, as if they were waiting for their friends to arrive.

“I think I’ll grill hot dogs,” he said, moving things around. He set the grill up outside the tent, where she couldn’t see him. He came back for the bag of charcoal and then disappeared again. The tent was a bad idea. She couldn’t see the sky. The sides were strung together so no breeze got in. She imagined the other campers imagined them unfriendly, which made her feel unfriendly.

He burned the hot dogs. They ate on paper plates and drank cherry Kool-Aid and then they went back inside and got in bed. He took his pants off and looked at her. He liked to be naked but he didn’t like to be naked when she was clothed. She didn’t like to be naked. She took off her clothes and set them in a pile at the end of the bed. He rolled on top of her and she thought about, how, at night, when they talked on the phone, he’d listen to her complain until she got tired of complaining and then she’d say ‘I love you’ and it was so meager, what she had to offer. Not like Paula with her ex-stripper’s body, cleaning the house and ironing his shirts while he was gone so it was like magic.




Mary Miller’s biography accompanies her story, “Little Brass House.”