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The Justification of Bad Behavior
by Stefanie Kalem

    When my mother died, we were all in the room: Daddy, my sister and niece, even my brother-in-law, who we'd nicknamed Neverthere, was there with the new baby when she passed away. I’m pretty sure that Elvis was there, too, since Mama kept mouthing his name.
    We’d been in that cramped little snatch of ICU for over a week. My sister Priscilla was swearing like a Stevedore, smoking like an open flue every chance she got. Her daughter never once took off her headphones, and Neverthere brought a flask with him most days. I even caught him resting it on the baby's head once or twice.
    But our father really went the distance.
    Daddy prayed fervently that last week, something that even the brother-in-law found a little strange. It had been my mother who was religious, who’d clung to the Judaism and Elvis fascination of her youth like two long-running hit shows that hadn’t been funny in years, but still got watched each week for sentimental reasons. But Daddy hadn’t ever been baptized or Bar Mitzvah’d, and had resented the names Priscilla Lucinda and Gladys Grace so much so that we’d been given nicknames straight out of Mama’s gate (Princess and Gigi, respectively). He was a hobby junkie, though, someone who had, over the years, thrown himself with the passion of a poet into fly-fishing, chili cooking, pedal-car construction and some twenty-odd other diversions.
    So, when my mother was dying, he had to go all-out, and up, and find Jesus.
    As for me, well … the second day in the hospital, when I realized that I hadn’t heard my mother’s voice since the day before her surgery ? and probably wouldn’t ever hear it again unless they found a way for her to live without a ventilator tube down her throat ? that second day, I found a hale intern to fool around with. It was simple enough for me to do. They really do sleep in supply closets between shifts, just like in the movies, so as soon as the idea crossed my mind to find someone to fuck, I merely started opening closet doors until I found one that was occupied.
    The third one was.
    "I was looking for the bathroom," I said, advancing. I’ve always found that if I think about sex hard enough and follow my nose, it comes to me quick, no questions asked. It’s the only psychic power I have, quite possibly my only genuine talent.
    So here was this intern, Jack Jackson; we were instantly amused by each other’s names. We’d meet in the evenings, in the hour before my family and I left the hospital for dinner. I’d open the supply closet door by just enough inches to slip through, and there he’d be on a folding cot, his pale green scrubs reflecting the fluorescent light that had been jerry-rigged, many interns ago, to illuminate the small room to only a third of its power. At first we’d sit on the edge of the cot and talk, take turns rubbing each other’s knotted shoulders before starting to kiss. The third day (the day my mother mouthed the word "pain" at me, and the nurse said, "she was just telling you to go home, you’ve been here too long") I walked into the dim closet and lay down flat on top of Jack Jackson, pinning him down, his solid bones pressed up against me through his rangy muscle and our clothes. I kissed him for the length of our 35 minutes together that day. The next day, the same thing, except that he worked his hand under the waist of my pants and spent the entire kissing session with his solid fingers resting on my vagina, coming around from behind, not moving, just pressing, not inside, just there. The fifth day was a bad one for him ? someone had accused him of lifting Percosets from the dispensary, and a six-year-old had come in with a bullet wound, all within the first three hours of his shift. When I walked into the closet, he pushed me up against the door and pulled my T-shirt up above my breasts. He knocked my glasses off, and in the dim light I couldn’t even be sure it was him until he moved his face up and began to kiss me. The next two meetings we had were spent fucking.
    Sure, it’s sleazy. But I think that becoming a Christian is a far worse way to relieve tension.
    The evening that my mother died, my father took Priscilla and her disorientated family to church; Jack Jackson took me out to fuck in his car. We had sex in the parking lot of his ex-shrink’s office, and let me tell you something: It definitely made mourning easier to take. Realizing other people are is just as screwed up as you are always does. It levels the playing fields, turns all of the supposedly traumatic turns of events that life lays out into just so much more landscape.
    "I stopped seeing her," Jack said as we pulled out of the shrink's lot, "because I got tired of justifying everything."
    "Right," I replied. The sun had set completely and the town's lights were separating the houses from the darkness, and the people in them from each other. "Why explain? Things happen all the time, no matter what you say or do afterward."