Tag Archives: betrayal

Heavenly Dances, Heavenly Intimacies, a short story

illustration heavenly dances heavenly intimacies

Heavenly Dances, Heavenly Intimacies, a short story

“Isn’t there any heaven where old beautiful dances, old beautiful intimacies prolong themselves?”

Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier

How can I be “dead” to any of the men I once loved?  They are not “dead” to me.  Not even H.  How can I be “dead” to H.?  They — even H. — are each as alive as when I was with them; as alive as the first time they touched me, whether tentatively or with confidence; whether softly or roughly; whether with passion or mere lust.  It is shocking and appalling how H. lurched so radically to the right after 9/11.  He began that journey to the Tea-Party-Mad-Hatter-Neocon-Bill-Buckley-Wall-Street-Apologist-Fringe-Brainless-Faux-News-Right when Ronald Reagan was shot; I was with him the very night it happened.  We had a short affair, right then, because we started thinking the end of the world had arrived and we decided, like the crazy college students we were, to get married to celebrate our courage in the face of chaos!  I realized very early on (but still way too late!) I was embarrassed to be seen in public with him.  Did you ever start seeing, and marry someone whom you later realized you were embarrassed to be seen with?  Perhaps the person in question was “dorky,” “geeky,” dressed “badly,” or had questionable “taste.”  H. readily admits he was a “dork” in high school.  He was on the debate team; need I say more?  When you can’t bear to be seen in your lover’s/spouse’s/significant other’s/partner’s company, things usually don’t work out.

Still, I put in ten dutiful years, trying to make amends for my mistake in marrying H.  The second he started making the big bucks, he dumped me.  He left me for my best friend!  I guess I deserved it, not taking control of my own life & filing for divorce two weeks after we married.  And I guess I deserved how my ex-best-friend S. ruined me, as she subsequently did.  She was in charge of the whole group we had socialized with:  dictating how everyone in our “circle” should think, speak, act, or react.  H. was dead wrong about most everything, but, to his credit, he was dead right about her.  At the time I thought him merely woman-hating, but I see now, even though he did hate women, there was something more than simply being a “woman” he hated about her.  He was covering up the fact he loved her by pretending to hate her.  Now, I have no desire to see her, not ever again.  She is definitely “dead” to me.  Yes, I understand intellectually, a living death (call it shunning) can happen to anyone.

The upshot of all this boring history?  I’ve been waiting for something a long time.  I can’t blame anyone but myself for my unhappiness, not anymore.  There is something dispirited inside me, something empty, drained, and beaten — something sick, something tired, something that has surrendered.  I gave up, when?  When my first ex-husband arbitrarily said no to children, breaking his solemn vow.  When I realized I couldn’t find happiness outside myself — not with an old love, not with a new love, not with any of my subsequent husbands, my friends, my eventual children, or my family.  Yes, to casual acquaintances and virtual strangers I am “happy, happier than I’ve ever been.”  And it’s true!  I’ve never been this happy, this contented, in my life.  Yes, there are still problems.  My oldest son is still half the world away, fighting an endless war on behalf of my “country.”  My youngest son still has an ignorant, racist, rabidly conservative father.  I am getting old.  My face is melting.  My neck is turning into a wattle.  I am drooping.

Still, I cannot imagine any of them, the men I have loved or made love to, being dead to me the way my former best friend, S., is dead to me.  Yet that is how they must feel about me, the way I feel about her.  Wanting her removed from my memories.  Wanting never to have met her.  Not missing anything about her.  She wants to see me, I heard from a mutual friend I still speak to.  I don’t want to see her, or even see the mutual friend.  I don’t even want to get as close as that!  Because of reasons.  Top secret, NSA, DOD, CIA, FBI, SEC, IRS, FDLE, GPD, ACSO reasons!  No further comment!

1 Comment

Filed under artistic failures, assholes, boys, con man, con men, criminal, criminal behavior, criminals, fathers, he, health, humor, hypocrisy, idiots, jerks, karma, love, mothers, mysterious, sex, short stories, tea party mad hatters, ultra right wing loons, users

Baby Chicks and Free Speech, a short story

illustration baby chicks and free speech free_speech

Baby Chicks and Free Speech, a short story

Here I am, sitting on the long, narrow side patio of “Ye Olde Neighborhood Coffee Parlor” listening to yet another, tiresome & self-aggrandizing, homeless guy tell some adoring young female his “war stories.” So this one night, under this bridge… they usually begin, as does this one.

And then they arrive as quickly as possible (as does this one) at the “no one dares to call the police on me anymore,” stage, or is it no one dares call the state troopers, or the FBI, or the CIA, or the NSA? Whatever. Boils down to the fact that some dangerous, or just plain, old, drug-addled sociopath, is trying to pick up a drunk, defenseless-seeming chick (and I do mean chick – even her hair is fluffy like a newly hatched & dried chicken’s) on the side porch at “Ye Olde Neighborhood Coffee Parlor.” Then I hear the magic words: crazy bitch! Bingo!

So, to cut a long, boring, pointless ordeal short, I let him have it in the face with both barrels. Told him from where I sat, not even lifting my head to look, or my pencil from page of the blank composition book I was writing in, that if he could call someone a “crazy bitch” loud enough for me to hear him all the way at the opposite end of the uncovered concrete patio, then I could call him a “stupid, fucking sociopathic, prick asshole” as loud as I wanted to, from my end of the patio.

“Yes,” he said, “that’s your right of free speech.” And then he went inside to have the management call the cops on me. Ooh, he just trotted back out to tell me he works at the College of Law — he’s real important!

The poor, homeless chick I was afraid was going to end up as a body dumped by him somewhere along the nearest exit of the nearest interstate is not going with him now, she’s clutching her head and moaning how she was “just on my way to the lake, man!” She sounds like Janis Joplin after a shot of heroin and half a bottle of whiskey. I just kept telling her I loved her, over and over and over. And that he most definitely did NOT love her. Or have her best interests at heart.

I gave him a fucking piece of my mind. Maybe I didn’t save her life, but I definitely saved her poor, little, skinny ass from a predatory, muscle-bound hunk of steroidal ego-maniac-ism. With a tanning booth tan, or maybe it’s a spray tan, who gives a fuck. I think the other patrons inside this place just told him to get the hell out of here. We’re all here, some of us twice a day, almost like clockwork – since this is the first time I’ve ever seen him, I doubt he is a “regular.”

Oh, but the poor, unjustly accused, wee man-child protests plaintively he was “just trying to do somebody a favor, buying a homeless person a cup of coffee.” The “crazy bitch” he referred to outside on the patio was, drum roll please… his mother! Wow, there’s a shocker. What sociopath/serial killer/manipulator/user/con man/misogynist/racist/violent/physically or emotionally or financially abusive A-hole doesn’t blame their “crazy bitch” of a mother for everything they’ve brought on to themselves!

I told him she must really love him, his mom, especially when he calls her “crazy bitch” to her face on Mother’s Day! I thought his head would explode right there, all over the rusty, rickety, nasty tables the owner is too cheap to replace. Why I keep coming back here, I’ll never know. My nephew says it’s haunted… maybe the spirits are trying to get me here so they can tell me something I desperately need to know. What if I don’t want to listen to them? And I don’t! Not the bad ones, anyway. So I generally try to ignore them all, altogether, because trying to sort the good spirits from the bad spirits seems like tempting fate.

Miss “Chicken Little/Little Chicken/My Little Chickadee” would have paid handsomely for that “free” iced coffee drink with a priceless piece of her tiny, bony ass. Look on the bright side: maybe she would have left him with a little something infectious and/or potentially itchy to remember her by. Of course, if she had gotten pregnant, he would have denied everything, including ever having met her. And pity the poor child born of such a freak-o-zoid union!

Now the musclebound sociopath is gone, back on his expensive racing bike, continuing on his way to the neighborhood weightlifting “meat market” joint three blocks down the road, where he can peacock his spray-tanned asshole-ry around for all the other macho/macha bodybuilders. College of Law employee? We’ll just see about that. Yeah, that’s what I thought… nobody on the staff possesses his distinctive face. How considerate of the College of Law to have its own mini-facebook thing! Legal Sociopath Dude vacated the premises, and quickly. Thank you, all good spirits haunting “Ye Olde Neighborhood Coffee Parlor!”

5 Comments

Filed under boys, fathers, girls, health, humor, legal writing, love, mothers, mysterious, prose poetry, science, sex, short stories

Possessing My Daughter, section one of a short story

Possessing My Daughter, section one of a short story

illustration possessing my daughter section one

I think the human race somehow needs to evolve beyond children.  Beyond parenthood.  I certainly didn’t want to be a mama.  I resented it and I still do.  Even from the land of the dead, I still begrudge her all my time and effort.  She took so much, so much from me.  She was never grateful, never.  That’s why I’m making her write this now.

I almost had an abortion, but her father talked me out of it.  He could talk a dog off a meat wagon.  He carried me off across the desert to Las Vegas to get married.  My own father was so angry when he found out.  There I was, suddenly, on my own at 19, out of my father’s house.  My new husband and I took a small apartment in Venice Beach.

David had this asinine idea of being an artist.  He had this notion that my father should pay the bills indefinitely.  I had dropped out of college halfway through sophomore year.  I was seeing a psychiatrist.  It was 1959 – need I say more?  Freud was God.  My doctor said I hadn’t resolved my Electra complex.  That, he said, was what was making me so tired.  I slept more than 12 hours a day.  When I wasn’t sleeping, I shopped and went to parties.  The only bad part was knowing that eventually I’d have to make a decision and do something with the rest of my life.  It appeared that being deb of the year in my hometown wasn’t going to cut it much longer.

The first boy I loved broke my heart.  I vowed that it would never happen again.  So I did nothing to repair that broken heart.  I let it stay broken.  It was the only way I could think of to protect myself.  It’s been so long….

Since I’m already dead, I suppose you’re wondering what the point of all this is.  The point is this:  I don’t want anyone else to suffer what I suffered while I was alive, and especially  not what I’m suffering now that I’m dead.  Passing from life to death was supposed to bring me some sort of enlightenment, wasn’t that the fairytale?  I was supposed to experience an end to all my worldly cares – joy, peace, rest, or just plain oblivion.  Well, I didn’t get any of those things.  I’m not surprised:  why should my death be any different from my life?  I got the exact opposite of oblivion.  I got awareness and clarity of vision, a vision so merciless and sharp it would make my head hurt, if I still had a head.  Yes, I see everything  clearly, for the first time, and let me tell you, I’d settle for oblivion any day of the week.  All I want to do with my death is shake all of you by the scruff of the nectk until you get clarity of vision, too.  Then maybe, since you people are still lucky enough to be alive, you’ll do something with that vision while you still can.  Maybe you won’t end up like me.

My poor daughter, even after I died I wouldn’t let her alone.  I visited her over and over again in her dreams until she couldn’t stop thinking about me.  I took control of her heart and her mind – actually, now I see I did that the day she was born – and I never let go.  Now I can see how I really wanted her to tell my story all along – that’s why I raised her the way I did, to give her the necessary skills.  It was like heating iron in a forge and pounding it into a useful shape.  She’s writing it all down, every last bit.  I won’t let her stop until she’s done, and I’m satisfied.

Oh, she’s so much like her father.  What a mistake I made.  I’ve told so many lies since then that I’m not really sure what happened between us.  I think he could sniff out the complications I carried and wanted nothing to do with them.  He didn’t want to hear about how I’d suffered during my parents’ divorce and their custody battle over me.  He didn’t want to hear how I’d stopped eating after the judge sent me to  live with my father.  He didn’t want to hear how much I’d hated boarding school.  But I do remember wanting to have sex with him and him turning me down.  He was too fastidious to have sex with a girl he thought would make for a Problem Breakup.  That would only make the problems more problematic.  The excuse he used was that he still had a lot of schooling to get through – a year or two of college, then law school – and he couldn’t afford to get serious with anyone.  Not, he said, that I wasn’t beautiful and desirable.  The issue was I was too beautiful, too desirable, and getting serious with me was apt to derail his train, headed for success.  He’d lose sight of his goal, and so we had to stop seeing each other.

5 Comments

Filed under mysterious, short stories

A Few of My Ghosts Comment on My Recent Behavior, a poem

illustration a few of my ghosts comment on my recent behavior

A Few of My Ghosts Comment on My Recent Behavior

Bravo! says Father. It’s about time! he says.  I was beginning to

            think you’d forgotten everything I shared with you.

How could you? says Grandmother.  How could you betray me that

            way?  Everything I believed in, taught you, gone!

This is just like you, says Mother.  I knew something like this

            would happen eventually.  I knew it was just a matter of

            time.

Grandfather just looks me in the eye and shakes his head.  He

            knows exactly how such a thing can happen.

I never thought you’d have the nerve, says Father.  I thought I’d

            lost you forever, missed my chance.

I never thought you’d do such a thing, says Grandmother.  I

            thought I’d taught you better manners.

I always knew you’d do something like this, says Mother.  You’re

            so damned stubborn.

I was just hoping you’d have more sense, says Grandfather.  He

            still loves me, he always will.

Live as I would have, says Father.  Live for me.

No, live as I would have, says Grandmother.  Live for me.

Nothing I say will make any difference with you, says Mother.

            You never would agree to live for me.  I only gave birth to

            you.  I’m not someone really important, God knows.

Please be careful, says Grandfather.  Long ago, he charted the

            dangerous waters, entirely alone, no one to guide him.

You must always tell the absolute truth, says Father.  It is the

            only thing that will save you.

You must never tell the truth, says Grandmother.  It is what will

            destroy you.

You always were a liar, says Mother.  You told the truth only

            when it suited you.

Tell only the necessary elements of the story, and then only to

            the necessary people, says Grandfather.  He is secretive by

            nature, and full of legal advice.

Don’t think about things too much, says Father.  Follow your

            heart.  You know, that ugly chunk of muscle in the center of

            your chest?  It keeps you going, but for what purpose?

            Don’t ever stop listening to it, the way I did.

I want you to stop and think before you do anything else crazy,

            says Grandmother.

I know you’ve already made up your mind, says Mother.  You never

            listen to a word I say.  It’s pointless for me to try.

There’s no need for haste, for immediate action, says Grandfather. 

            Is there?  He wants only to protect me, I am

            his dear flesh and blood.  In all the family, I am the most   

            like him.

You loved me more than you ever let on, says Father.  I really

            meant something to you.  Even though you’re suffering for it

            now, I’m glad of it.

You didn’t really love me at all, says Grandmother.  Perhaps you

            didn’t understand what I meant when I spoke of love.

You only love yourself, says Mother.  You’re selfish, you’ve

            always been selfish.  You’ll never change.

Love is not always the most practical idea, says Grandfather.

            Let’s think instead in terms of happiness.  He himself was

            moderately unhappy for years — though so graceful, so

            appealing, so charming in his distress, and every inch a

            gentleman.

So, what will you do now? asks Father.  He tilts his head and

            smiles, and the knowing look in his bright blue eyes give me

            the shivers.

I don’t even want to know what you’ll do next, says Grandmother.

            Her eyes are red, and I feel myself wanting to cry with her,

            cry for her, but I can’t, and this hurts her more than

            anything.

I know exactly what’s coming, says Mother.  I’ve always known.

Whatever you decide, nothing will ever make you feel any worse

            than you feel right now, says Grandfather, and then he puts

            his arms around me and kisses me with all the feelings he

            never, ever would have permitted me to see while he was

            alive.

2 Comments

Filed under poetry

True Love, a short story

illustration true love

True Love

            Mythical, that’s how they looked — when she got up close, she experienced both hormonal lightning flashes and the peculiar sensation of having a trick knee.  The famous Gower brothers:  high foreheads, broad shoulders, meaty yet sculpted forearms.  Granted, for Amy, myth and heroism consisted of “Jason and the Argonauts,” and the Classic Comic Books version of “The Iliad and the Odyssey,” but she was on the right track.

“This is Amy,” said her friend Claudia.  She stood with her arm across Amy’s shoulders.  “This is my ex-husband, Burnett, and this is Carey — we call him Shorty.”

It was admirable the way Claudia and her ex hadn’t let their divorce get in the way of business.  Amy wondered if she were capable of such sophistication — perhaps it was bound up with the Bohemian temperament musicians were supposed to have.

“Nice to meet you,” Amy said.  “I’m enjoying your music.”

“Thanks, Amy,” said Shorty.  “That’s what we like to hear.”

“Mind if I sit here?” he asked.

“No, please,” she said.

He chewed his little red straw, stirring his drink with a finger.  The gesture was boyish, clumsy.

“How long have you been playing here?” she asked.

“Six months,” said Shorty.  “The owner is a jerk, but he’s hardly ever around.”

“Well, I’m glad the band stayed together,” said Amy.  “This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

He tossed his head, and gave her an aw-shucks-ma’am grin, showing his teeth and squinting his eyes.

“Me too,” he said, touching her arm.

“You’re just as pretty as Claudia said you were,” he said.

“Oh, I bet you say that to all your groupies,” she said, laughing.  He laughed too, squeezing her arm.  She felt his large fingers against her skin, the calluses on his fingertips.

They had another job tomorrow night, he said, over at Lazy Susan’s.  Would she like to come listen?

“A friend of mine is having a party we could go to,” he added.  “It won’t get cranking until around two a.m. — you know, a bunch of musicians.”

“Sounds great,” she said.

“Stay for the next set, won’t you?” he asked her, tipping his glass to drain it.  The lime wedge fell on his nose, and he laughed, then put it in his mouth and sucked the pulp.

She sipped her wine.  A bit drunk, she was relaxed even more by the sound that poured over her, brushing her skin like velvet.

When the music was finished, Shorty walked her out to her car, opening and closing the door of the little Datsun for her.  Squatting on his heels, he rested his elbows on the open window, leaning his chin on his hands.

“I don’t do this very often,” he said, his face dusky under the streetlight.  “Ask anybody, they’ll tell you.  I’m not a flirt.  I don’t operate that way.”

He took her hand and held it, shaking his bangs out of his eyes.  Staring at her, his eyes were sleepy-looking.

“Yes, ma’am, it’s been a real pleasure,” he said, drawling the words out, going corn-pone, laughing.

***

Shorty was sweet, honest, Claudia said, a guy who would do anything for you.  It was true, he didn’t pick up women.

“But he’s kind of involved with somebody,” she said.  “It’s a weird thing:  they’re separated right now.  I know he’ll tell you himself, so don’t say anything.”

“Separated?”  Amy said.  Gruesome visions of surgery flashed in her head, the kind used for taking apart Siamese twins.

“Well, he and Bonnie have lived together, off and on, for years,” Claudia said.  “Lately, it’s been mostly off, but neither one of them has ended it.”

“Where is she now?”  Amy asked.

“Dallas.  She manages a restaurant out there.  Some relative of hers got her the job.  Everybody thinks she’s been bad to Shorty.  He needs to get on with his life.”  Claudia shrugged.

“I don’t understand how people can live like that,” Amy said.

“I know,” Claudia said, sighing.  “So if you get close with Shorty, you better keep Bonnie in mind.  They go back a long time.”

“I’m not looking for anything serious,” Amy said, twirling her hair.  “I just want to have some fun.”

In fact, whenever she broke up with someone, she’d swear she would never get “involved” again — she would become independent, self-sufficient.  Then she’d wake up months later — as if from a trance — realizing that she had somehow ended up in another relationship.

***

The musicians were taking a break when she walked in, and Shorty was standing in the entryway talking on the phone.  He mimed delight, his eyebrows raised, and he beckoned.  She stood near him:  bending, he put his arm across her shoulder, drawing her to his side.  He pulled her tight against his body, curling his arm around her neck and looking down at her curiously from that skewed, clumsy angle.  She could smell him; fresh, clean sweat that carried the smell of his aftershave, and underneath that, the blunted tang of alcohol and bar smoke.

“You sure are a sight for sore eyes,” he said.  “I’ve been thinking about you all day.  I was starting to think you’d forgotten.”  His face was mobile, relaxed, expressing shy fascination.

He wanted to stop home and change before the party.  “You don’t mind, do you?” he asked.

“Of course not.”  She followed him in her car.

Waiting in his living room, she flipped through his magazines:  RollingStone, Time, and Omni.  He emerged from the bedroom with a clean shirt on, hair wet, combed down tight, the tooth-mark pattern of the comb pressed into it and a few wet curls on the back of his neck dripping on his shoulders.  His skin was fair; a dark mole next to his mouth stood out against the flush of color brought out by the shower.

“Let’s take my car over to the party,” he said.

His back seat was folded down, the space crammed full of guitar cases and scuffed black boxes.  He sat with his hands on the steering wheel as if he were trying to remember how to drive.  Then he fished a half-smashed pack of cigarettes out of the side pocket on the door.  He lit one, dented and pressed flat, inhaling with a sigh, thin lengths of smoke swirling about his face.  He offered the crumpled pack to Amy.  “No thanks,” she said.  “I don’t smoke.”

“Neither do I,” he said.  “I like the way it looks sometimes, how your hands feel lighting up.”

Shrugging, he pulled out the ashtray, tucking the smoldering butt into one of the grooves.  In one smooth motion, he leaned over the gear shift and kissed her, cradling her head in his hands.  Then he let go and took her hand, laying it in his lap, against the rough-sewn corduroy crotch of his jeans, and he whispered.

“See what you do to me?” he said.

***

Later that night, she discovered the shoes.  On the floor of the bathroom, tossed in front of the linen closet, she saw a pair of running shoes, women’s, size five.  She held one of them up to her bare foot.  Her own size nine looked huge next to the tiny shoe.

Carrying it back to bed with her, she lay down next to him, holding the shoe up with one arm, over her face, the laces dangling down, almost brushing her nose.

“Whose is this?” she asked.

“That’s Bonnie’s,” he said.

Amy let the shoe drop to the floor.  The room was still, quiet.  She felt a protective third eyelid go down over something vulnerable inside her.  “Is she living here?” Amy asked.

“Hell, no,” he said.  “I haven’t heard a word from her in at least six months.”

She found herself possessed by quiescent maturity, a vague memory of some letter to the editor she’d read in Playgirl.  She would handle it in that abstract way; not a whimper would come out of her.  She took the shoe and put it back in the bathroom, coming back to bed, and drawing the comforter up over her bare shoulder.  As she had known would happen — her reward for being a good girl — he reached out under the blankets, pulling her to him and curling around her, her head hooked under his chin and her feet pressed against his shins.  He was warm and soft-skinned and large and solid, all at once.  She was in a masculine sort of womb.

“You’re the only one here with me,” he said.

She could see something that looked like love, the old kiss-me-until-I-die extravaganza.  She couldn’t tell him, could she?  Her blood swelled and pounded and she imagined saying it, imagined him saying it back, falling asleep next to him at last, her mind flickering through images like the arthritic film projectors she remembered from high school:  tiny shoes, and faceless petite women wearing nothing but a mist of blue glitter as they dove into murky tropical lagoons in the dark.

***

For Shorty’s birthday, they were going to an expensive restaurant.  Almost ready to go pick him up, she was slipping into her shoes when the phone rang.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I’m not going to be able to make it tonight.  Bonnie flew in this afternoon.”  He paused; Amy said nothing.  She didn’t intend the silence to be accusatory, but that was how he seemed to take it.  “Amy, I swear,” he said.  “I had no idea she was coming.  She called from the airport and said she was here to wish me a happy birthday.”

Amy breathed in, her chest stretching until it hurt.  For a moment she didn’t know how the air would get out — some sort of one-way valve had shut down — but then her chest was empty.  She waited.

“I’m sorry,” he said, whispering now.  “She’s in the next room.  I don’t know what else to say.”

“Well, have a happy birthday,” she said.  She placed the phone in the cradle in slow motion.

***

Amy drove over to the bar.  Burnett was there, of course, and some other guy on bass, filling in for Shorty.  She had his birthday present — a gold chain — shoved in her purse.  When the band went on break, she and Burnett walked outside.  They sat in her car in the darkness.

“He’s with Bonnie,” she said.

She took the small velvet box out of her purse, handing it to Burnett.  He held it for a moment, and then put it on the dash.

“My brother doesn’t know what he’s doing,” he said.

“Neither do I,” she said.

He picked the box up and held it, his eyebrows raised, questioning.  Shaking her head, she closed his fingers over it.  “This is really nice,” he said, when he opened it.

She took the ends of the clasp and put the chain on him — his neck damp, but round and full and hard as a barrel under her fingers.  As she worked with the necklace, the tiny lever on the clasp stabbed underneath her thumbnail.  She sucked on her finger, tasting blood.  The strand of gold glinted against his skin, his long hair sweeping past it and over his shoulders, the pale blonde glow of the hair as pretty as any woman’s.

She drove home with Burnett after the bar closed.  In his living room, sitting on a sprung green brocade sofa, they drank beer in silence, the room lit by one enormous rainbow drip candle.  Putting his empty bottle down, Burnett stood and held out his hand; she didn’t hesitate, just rose to follow.  His bedroom was tiny; the double bed used up all the space.  She had to hitch her way around the nightstand and halfway there, she toppled, falling panicked, then sprawled on the bed.  Burnett looked down at her, pulling his shirt tail out of his pants.

The brothers were like two sides of the same coin.  When she closed her eyes, they had the same feel, the same weight; they even smelled the same; except she knew it wasn’t Shorty because of the way the long hair trailed over her skin when he bent over her.  It tickled her skin like a spider’s web, it was so silky.

***

When Amy phoned Shorty, a woman answered on the second ring.  She didn’t hang up the way she had planned.  She asked for him.

“Hello?” he said.  He sounded tense.

“Hi.  It’s me.  Was that Bonnie?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.  She could hear him breathing and Bonnie talking in the background.  “Who is it?”  Amy heard.  The sound got muffled; she tried but she couldn’t make out his answer.

“Listen, I’m sorry,” she said when he came back on the line, her voice low and even.  Her stomach rolled with a peculiar heaviness, making everything seem vague and faraway.  “I know you can’t talk now.  Call me when you can, okay?”

“I will,” he said.  “You take care of yourself.”  His voice was slower, his drawl back to its normal rhythm.  He sounded relieved — she was being so civilized, so unlike what he had probably expected.  Although it wasn’t Shorty’s fault — he hadn’t lied to her — somehow, she was being too nice.

***

Amy had a New Year’s Eve vision:  a slow-motion perfume ad, a fuzzy dream of sensual retribution.  Oh, how she’d make him regret what he’d passed by on the way to his dry banquet!  Her heart — the childish construct of it, the big red valentine — was beginning to resemble a checkerboard.  Amy loved New Year’s — for an hour at least, everything seemed limitless.

Claudia was equally superstitious, always serving a big Southern breakfast — beans, greens, ham hocks, cornbread — at midnight.  “Don’t tell me you didn’t know about eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s?”  Claudia asked.

“Honestly,” said Amy, “I’ve never heard of it.”

“Well, you need some luck then, girl,” said Claudia.

“Yeah,” said Amy.  “I guess I do.”

***

The very first person she saw at Claudia’s party was Shorty.  His back was to her, but she knew even that angle; no plane of his body was unfamiliar, and she realized that was about as close as she — as close as anybody — could get to a person.  Shorty was standing next to Burnett; the boundary between their bodies seemed arbitrary.

Burnett spotted her first.  Smiling and nodding, he tapped his brother and waved.  Shorty turned toward her:  both men stood, grinning in her direction.  She didn’t care; all her pretenses flamed out in one big burn.  She shocked herself and then knew — with the thigh-weakening flush of any decent sort of compulsion — it still wasn’t enough.

Shorty pressed through the crowd toward her.  When he put his arm across her shoulders, she understood; either Burnett hadn’t told him or — more likely — it didn’t matter.  Perhaps this way was better; now they were of a piece.

“I’ve missed you,” he said.  It was the truth, she knew, not just a line.  He wasn’t a flirt, he didn’t operate that way.

“I’ve missed you, too,” she said.  “How’ve you been?”

“Okay,” he said.  “Bonnie went off to Mexico for the holidays.”  Shaking his head, he frowned — as if to say, isn’t that woman a mess?  “I’m just glad to see you.”  She knew he was glad; he was as honest as they came.

Claudia floated up with Burnett, her arm around him, her thumb hooked in one of his belt loops.

“Hey, you two,” she said, smiling.  “I wanted to tell you the good news–we’re getting remarried.  Isn’t that wild?  We’re going to do it at 11:59, kind of romantic, huh?”

“That’s great,” Shorty said, pleasure warming his voice, deepening his drawl.  “I always knew you two would get back together.”

I guess I did too, Amy thought.  Burnett’s not a flirt, either.

But she said, laughing, “This way you’ll never forget when your anniversary is, right?”

“That’s right,” Burnett said.  Amy cocked her head, winking at him, so small a motion that anyone watching would have seen only her eyes flicker as she bared her teeth.  She thought she saw him wink back the same way, flinging his hair out of his face and over his shoulder with a toss of his head.

A few minutes before midnight, Claudia and Burnett exchanged their vows.  The bride’s eyes glistened, her lips red, her skin pale underneath her freckles.  As the groom kissed her she put both her hands on his buttocks and squeezed them.  Everybody hooted and laughed.  “Going to be one hell of a wedding night!” somebody shouted.

Yeah, Amy thought.  One hell of a wedding night.

“Let’s go,” Shorty said, leaning down to whisper in her ear, his breath tickling and smelling of beer.  “I’d like to get out of this crowd.”  Putting his arm around her, he slid his fingers under the waistband of her jeans, rucking up her blouse and brushing the bare skin of her hips.

Her head felt swollen, too large for the rest of her.  Who was she, now?  She felt dizzy but she didn’t stop:  she couldn’t stop.  She had known all along, hadn’t she?  Shorty was — the kind of guy who would do anything for you.

“Yes,” she said.  “Let’s go.”

7 Comments

Filed under short stories