short stories ~ literary fiction ~ social commentary
copyright © 1999 - 2013
I thought Joyce was next to me. I smelled like Joyce, rich earthy cinnamon. The pain just below my brow wouldn’t allow me to open my eyes. Voices came alive in the other room.
“His father’s just like this!”
My mother ranting incoherently about my father and his failings was normal fare. She never ranted to empty air.
Crying, more like a honking goose chasing people, drown out my mother’s rant.
Fine time for the hangover of all hangovers not that I favored confrontation even on a good day.
If only people would keep their promises.
I sold Fuller Brush door-to-door the previous spring.
“Why hello!” She looked me up and down, told me she didn’t wish to buy anything and invited me in. She flipped through the catalogs, looking at her watch now and then.
I tried every pitch I had, realized she wasn’t going to buy anything and watched for a polite moment to leave. The front door opened.
She introduced Leeann and left the room.
“I was going to drop off my books and go up to Roger’s for a cherry Coke.”
My universe imploded.
Roger’s, the drug store uptown, had a lunch counter. At Leeann’s request, we got one fountain cherry Coke and two straws.
“I’ve always wanted to do this!”
Her chestnut hair parted in the middle flowed down the sides of her face catching on her John Lennon glasses, her complexion light and pure like a noon sun-washed beach. Her breasts barely teased her sweater, her arms and legs seeming too long for her lean torso.
She honked unabashed laughing often at my jokes, more like cynical observations.
She liked my tie and complimented my clean, pressed shirt. “Boys, you know.”
She and her mother didn’t see my ponytail. My district manager demanded I get a haircut. I told him about the constitution. I’d not keep the job long. Sitting in Roger’s with our foreheads touching as we pulled on the straws, I think I should have told Leeann the shirt and tie were a uniform I wore to sell Fuller Brush and the old Chevy was not my favored vehicle.
She gave me a look, not the look, when I lit a cigarette.
I walked her to her door. Stars were born and stars passed from existence. We stood close finishing our decision of cabbages, kings and sealing wax. I watched her lips wondering whether they tasted like cherry Coke, wondering whether I should, could kiss her. She put her arms under mine and we kissed, a forever moment passing much too quickly.
I wasn’t a stranger to intimate relationships. Leeann was. Our early dates were spent walking, sitting, talking and dreaming aloud like children dream. Once we hit the sheets, we consumed each other with an unrestrained enthusiasm, once dislodging the framed antiwar poster from the wall. We laughed.
School let out for the summer. Leeann was glad we could spend more time together.
I got a fulltime day job pumping gas and a cafeteria job some evenings. We had a fight. I should say she had a fight. I favor avoiding confrontation, choosing to nod and sometimes agree. To her red face, after she stamped her foot the fifth time, I promised to take her to a party Friday night, to meet people I hung with before we met.
Leeann didn’t like I was secretive. I wasn’t secretive. I know better than pouring water in acid. Over our first cherry Coke, Leeann said she hated drugs. I never brought up drugs or drinking, knowing her preference.
Friday was a wonderful day for a motorcycle ride and I considered taking Leeann down the shore instead of to the party. Leeann ignored my motorcycle like she ignored my hair.
She came to the curb. I presented the buddy helmet. She waved it off, inviting me in. “We need to talk.”
Leeann, her mother and I sat at the kitchen table. Leeann spoke.
“I want you to quit smoking, doing whatever drugs you’re doing – I know you’re doing drugs and the drinking’s gotta stop. You need to get a haircut. Really, what’s with that? Do you think you’re a hippy or a girl?”
I shrugged. “Gee, anything else?”
“Yeah. The motorcycle’s dangerous. It’s gotta go. What are you thinking? You want me to ride on that? You don’t need two jobs. Why not just work part time and enjoy the summer?”
Her mother nodded.
I stood, straddling the chair like a cowboy. I nodded back to her mother. “Thanks for all your kindness.” I didn’t bother arguing constitutional issues.
Leeann’s face burned red. “If you walk out that door now, you’ll never see me again.”
There’s that promise I mentioned.
I went to the party. Joyce was there. I wanted Leeann and Joyce to meet. We had a derogatory term for friends like Joyce and me, friends who had sex. Our relationship was not monogamous. A primeval force drew us to each other. Our sex was a celebration of the pain and disappointment in life, washed with a drug and alcohol stupor.
We left the party early. I remember watching Joyce’s coal-black eyes in deep shadow, her hips moving on my thighs, me consumed, her candy apple lips hung open, spittle dripping on my chest, Jim Morrison belting out Riders on the Storm.
“His father’s just like this!”
The goose honks.
I don’t remember how I got home.
The bedroom door slammed into the wall, my antiwar poster falling to the floor. “Are you going to come out and talk about this?”
Hadn’t planned to. “Huh, what?”
“I can’t believe I slept with you!”
That saddens me.
“You’re just like your father!” Mom yelled from the other room, pleased I met her expectations.
“One of these days you’re going to wake up and discover these animated hunks of flesh around you are actually human beings with feelings, dreams and desires.” Leeann stamped her foot one last time.
Soon, I hope.