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Dirty Dishes
short stories


Bob Cooper

    Every time I drove by her porch she looked sullen. For one so young to look that way hurt my heart. So young, so young. But how young? As you get older you can't tell anymore, they all seem like children. Fourteen? Fifteen? Sixteen? Probably not sixteen, I figured, because I'd never seen her drive a car. Maybe not fourteen, because her blond hair didn't look natural, and kids weren't dyeing their hair that young, were they? Anyway, every time I drove by, even when I gave a neighborly wave, as I usually did, she had that sullen look. Something about it bothered me.

    Something about her bothered me.

    I started dreaming about her. That made me feel funny because forty-two-year- old men shouldn't be dreaming about teenage girls. But I did. Over and over. And mostly it wasn't sex, either, it was weird stuff like seeing her on a movie screen, a famous actress like Marilyn Monroe or somebody, only with a sullen face that said she hated her fame. Weird stuff like seeing her in a place that looked like Hell, with fires blazing and little red guys dancing around her, guys sprouting horns and tails, and me not even in the picture. Weird stuff like me sitting by a mountain lake and happily daydreaming while staring at the green ripples and her face suddenly exploding up out of the water, Miss Sullen herself showering icewater all over me. In all those weird dreams she never smiled once, not a single time.

    Shouldn't young girls be happy?

    Shouldn't young girls smile?

    Her parents were new in town, over from Fairlawn I heard, and I didn't know them. I saw her dad doing yardwork sometimes and waved at him and when he saw me he waved back. Her dark-haired mother also returned my waves from the porch and even smiled at me like she meant it. But not the girl. Never the girl.

    Every time I drove by I looked for her and whenever I saw her I got this little jolt of joy. I kept gazing at her as long as I could in the rearview mirror. Once I was so intent on the mirror that I wandered off onto the shoulder of the road, grinding gravel. My stomach cramped with embarrassment. Every time I drove by and she wasn't there my heart dropped, kerplunk, and I felt bad for hours, peeking through the blinds of my front window in hopes she would come out on the porch. Some days she never showed up at all and I wondered where she was, who she was with, what she was doing. Even though I didn't know a thing about her.

    All right, I admit it, I was ashamed of myself. Getting all worked up over a fifteen year old girl. "This is totally silly," I told my bathroom mirror, "here you are a balding man who has already turned the corner into middle age and you're obsessed with a teeniebopper. And a sullen one to boot. Who wouldn't smile if her life depended on it and who would probably be the biggest party pooper in the history of the world, not to mention that if a thought entered her head it would probably appear to her like an alien from another galaxy."

    But these mental hostilities didn't do a thing to tame the obsession. Maybe they even added to it. Every time I tried to work around the house, every time I tried to read the newspaper, every time I watched TV her image popped up before my eyes, her blond hair and budding t-shirt and filled-out jeans and sullen expression. Everywhere I looked, there she was. I felt like a bull moose or or elk must feel in mating season. One thought in mind. But they only have to worry about it for a couple of weeks instead of all year long.

    When I got my inheritance people said, "You better find something to do with yourself, there's nothing in the world worse than being unoccupied. You'll be bored out of your mind." Well, I really wasn't bored. Even just hanging around the house and doing a little pottering here and there was a darn sight better than working in a finance company. It isn't exactly like a loan officer is a scientist or architect or somebody doing really interesting work, or a doctor or educator doing really useful work. I was just a glorified clerk cheating poor people out of their hard-earned money. Would you ask a grunt at McDonalds why they quit after winning the lottery? Not hardly. Not to compare my inheritance with the lottery, but even so it was enough to get me out of the finance office. By watching my spending I made ends meet. Most people are greedy for stuff they don't need, and that's why if they got the inheritance I did they'd still have to work. Personally I think they're not wrapped real tight.

    But then again maybe you can be bored without knowing you're bored. And maybe that's where my obsession came from. Maybe if you don't occupy your mind enough, it finds ways to occupy itself. Maybe it grabbed hold of that sullen face out of desperation because I wasn't giving it anything to do. But the problem is, once the mind takes control, it's too late. You can't stop it. Because when I realized my obsession might be caused by boredom I tried all kinds of stunts to get unbored. I went to the movies, I walked the malls, I visited the library, I rented documentaries on history and astronomy, I built a soundproof room in my basement to play loud music. I even took a little excursion over to the seashore. But nothing worked. During every one of those activities Miss Sullen controlled my mind. And to tell the truth, as I drove off on my trip to the seashore I was almost crazy at the thought of leaving her. And I couldn't wait to get back.

    I even tried something really extreme. I broke one of my own rules by dating a woman I know named Sally Benoit. When I got my inheritance I swore I wouldn't go out with women anymore because first off, they're too expensive, and second, most women my age haven't held up so well. Once you remove the props and supports and makeup you find that most of them are falling apart. They've lost their appeal. And another thing is that mentally they don't hold up either. They're not very interesting to talk to, they don't even keep up on the news but just want to talk about household stuff and family stuff thats even duller than the finance office. So unless you crave company just for the sake of company, women my age are pretty much a waste of time.

    Even so I was desperate enough to date Sally Benoit. She'd just turned forty and had chestnut hair and dark blue eyes and unlike most of the women around here, didn't appear to be overweight. I knew she was interested in me because a neighbor lady told me so. Sally was a divorced schoolteacher with two teenage boys who gave both her and the law a peck of trouble. I chose a schoolteacher because I figured that if nothing else she would be likely to keep up with current events. We went out to supper at a decent Italian restaurant, took in a light movie and then drove back to my house for a nightcap. The evening was not a success. For one thing, Sally had this odd habit of sucking her teeth while eating. It got on my nerves. For another thing, the movie was not only light but lightweight, and unfortunately it had a girl in it who reminded me of you-know-who, which plunged me back into my obsession. But if Sally had talked about something interesting after we left the theater, some newsworthy scandal or something, she might have taken my mind off it but no, she couldnt do that, she had to go on and on about her problems, how hard it was to raise two teenage boys without a father, and how schoolkids aren't what they used to be, and how the town is going to hell in a handbasket. My neighbor lady was dead wrong about Sally being interested in me. What Sally was really interested in was locating an EAR that she could babble into nonstop. Then things went from bad to worse because as she prattled on and on, not even noticing that I had stopped nodding and was glancing at my watch, I started imagining what she was really like beneath the flowery dress and the bra and pantyhose, and it almost scared me, it really did, because the first picture I got was stretch marks criss-crossing all over her body like someone had used her to sharpen a boxful of knives, and the second picture was the stretch marks darkening and swelling into these fat varicose veins, these plump blue worms crawling through her flesh, and that picture gradually changed into one of this nasty carcass, a big lump of rotten dead meat with these squirmy maggots wriggling all through it. Ugh! But that image actually rescued me because it literally made me sick to the stomach and I told Sally it must have been the ravioli I ate at the Italian restaurant, and I rushed her right home and got rid of her.

    What a relief!

    Back at my place I was actually content for awhile, happy to be alone again without the running mouth and the nauseating images. But then I heard a door slam across the street and naturally I had to peek through the blinds, and the instant my eyes glimpsed that porch it started all over again.

    "Well," I told myself, "thats it, I surrender. I'm just going to have to live with my obsession because the Sally cure was worse than the disease."

    Then the very next day a miracle happened.

    The very next day.

    A miracle, I swear.

    Someone rapped on the back door and I thought it was the UPS man delivering one of my mail order packages, but when I opened up who was standing there but MISS SULLEN! My God! My heart almost stopped. I was dizzy beyond belief. She looked different but it didn't matter. She was smaller than I thought, maybe five-feet-three, and her blond hair was not as glossy as I imagined but sort of dull and with some of the brown roots showing, and when she opened her mouth to speak I saw that she had a wonky front tooth. But one thing I had one hundred percent correct. Her expression was totally sullen.

    In a very confident voice she said:

    "I'm Missy Prentice from across the street."


    I hoped she couldn't hear my knees quaking.

    "I'm here to request whether youd' like to have some housework done, being a bachelor and all. For a fee of course, which we could talk about. I need to earn some money."

    I didn't know what to say. Flabbergasted, I just stood there like a tree.

    She said:

    "Can I come in and we can talk it over?"

    I stepped aside as she sailed in and gave everything the once-over while passing into the living room. She sat precisely where Sally had been sitting the night before. What a difference! I had trouble breathing.

    "Nice house," she said. "Better than mine. Ain't you going to sit down so's we can talk?"

    "Would you like something to drink?" I stammered. "A coke? Orange juice? A glass of milk?"

    She said:

    "A beer."

    I stared at her. Hesitated to speak for fear of insulting her. Had no choice:

    "Aren't you a little young to be drinking beer?"

    With a casual hand she dismissed my concern.

    "I drink beers all the time."

    When I continued to stare at her she said:

    "But don't get me one unless you want. It's up to you, Mister Stanley Bacon."

    I continued hesitating. Then:

    "Call me Stan," I said. "Ill get you a beer."

    Which I did, but my stomach was twisting. What if somebody should come by? What if the UPS man should look through the window and see her drinking a beer in my house? God!

She tilted the brew like a pro. Then:

    "Aren't you having one, Stan?"

    "It's a little early for me."

    She gazed at me for a long minute, as though trying to size me up.

    "I'm not used to drinking by myself," she said matter-of-factly. "It makes me feel kinda funny."

    So I went to the kitchen and got myself a brew. Just to keep her company. Even though I hate the taste of beer in the morning.

    She said:

    "Sit down, Stan. So's we can talk."

    I sat. On the sofa. Three feet away from her. Pretended to sip the bitter beer.

    "So Stan, who cleans your house?"

    "Me," I said. "Yours truly."

    She looked around, fixing her eyes first on the coffee table, then on the end tables, then on the TV. Finally she ran a hand along the cushion beside her and inspected her fingers.

    "Between you and me, Stan, you don't do too good."

    "Why thank you, Missy." I gave her a big smile. "Thank you very much."

    Without changing expression she said,

    "No offense, Stan. But there's a ton of dust. Its all over everything. I can see balls of it in the corners. And cobwebs on your ceiling."

    "I hate to clean house. I always put it off as long as I can."

    "I can see that, Stan." She swigged her brew, stared at me for a second. Then:

    "You don't work, do you Stan?"

    "Im retired." I was unsure whether to say it proudly or defensively because some people consider you an idler and a loafer if you don't have regular work.

    "You on a disability or something?"

    "No, nothing like that."

    "I know this guy who's on a disability. But personally I think he's faking. When he goes out in public he limps real bad, but in his house he don't limp one bit. I think hes faking."

    "Some do," I said. "But I'm not on a disability."

    She swigged the brew.

    "You win the lottery or something?"

    "Nothing like that," I said uneasily. This was a subject I didn't like to talk about.

    "So then Stan," she said without changing expression, "you must have robbed a bank or something."

    I laughed.

    "No no no, nothing like that, Missy. Nothing that exciting. I came into a little inheritance, that's all." "Little" was not the word I wanted but I couldn't think of the right one then suddenly I did. "A modest inheritance."

    She gazed at me with her pale blue eyes.

    "Well Stan, when do I start cleaning your house?

    The long and the short of it is I agreed to pay her fifty dollars a week to come in every Saturday morning. She wanted a hundred, which was highway robbery because a friend of mine across town gets it done for twenty-five, so we settled on fifty because to tell the truth, I wasn't so sure shed do it for twenty-five. It wasn't until after she left that I calculated the drain on my budget, and sweat literally popped out on my forehead when I realized I had committed to pay Missy two thousand and six hundred dollars a year to clean my house that really didn't need cleaning. I slumped on the sofa and thought about that for a long time.

    But even so I couldn't wait for the first Saturday morning. The more so, because when I drove by her porch she still stared at me like she didn't know me and refused to return my wave. I decided then and there that come hell or high water I was going to make that girl smile. One way or another she was going to smile, even if it took me a year.

    But the first Saturday I was disappointed. Almost heartbroken. Because when she came over, looking cute as a button in her work jeans and tennies and not wearing a bra under her t-shirt, she hardly said a word to me but went right to work cleaning the house from top to bottom, dusting and scrubbing and vacuuming so vigorously it was like she was angry or something, even furious. And when she was done, hair sweaty and t-shirt sticking to those beautiful buds, she just stuck out her hand for the fifty dollars. Without saying one word.

    I said:

    "You want a beer? After all that hot sweaty work you could probably use one."

    "Nah. Just my money."

    She took the fifty and ran. I was so disappointed I sat on the sofa with my head in my hands. But then I thought: "Look, Missy did exactly what you hired her to do. She lived up to her part of the bargain. Its not like she has the same weird fantasies that you do."

    That line of thinking didn't do much for me.

    The next three Saturdays, the same thing. Work work work, stick out her hand for the money, run off. But the fifth Saturday was different. After doing her cleaning, instead of grabbing the money and running she said:

    "How about that beer you offered me awhile back."

    I almost ran to the kitchen to pop her a brew. When I returned, the sight of her sitting on the sofa made my heart jump about twenty feet.

    She said:

    "Get yourself one too, Stan. I don't like to drink by myself."

    I did, and when I returned she patted the sofa to sit me down. After eying me over the bottle while swigging, she said:

    "I need to make more money, Stan. Fifty a week ain't enough. I'm saving up for college."

    This floored me because I considered fifty a week more than generous.

    Heart in my throat, I said:

    "Missy, I can't afford more than fifty. I just can't."

    "Don't you like the work I been doing?"

    "You're doing a great job, Missy. I have no complaints whatever. But I just cant afford more than fifty."

    "I need more."

    "Well look, Missy, to tell the truth fifty is above and beyond the going rate. The going rate is twenty-five."

    Swigging, she stared at me. It was difficult to keep my eyes off her chest, with the t-shirt plastered to those beautiful buds, but I did my best because I didn't want to scare her off.

    In a softer voice, almost purring, she said:

    "Really Stan, I need more than fifty. I really do."

    And as she spoke a weird expression came on her face, and she wiggled her eyebrows up and down several times, saying:

    "Maybe I can do something else for you, Stan."

    Something else? Something else?

    I was shocked.


    And excited. More than you can imagine. And worried that maybe I hadn't heard right, hadn't really seen the bouncing eyebrows, was missing her true meaning.

    I said:

    "Well I'm not sure, Missy. What do you have in mind?"

    Clicking down her bottle on the coffee table she placed her left hand on my right knee.

    "Oh come on Stan. Every bachelor has things they need."

    And she squeezed my knee. And at the same time arched her back some, like a cat stretching, the whole time carefully watching my eyes.

    "A hundred and fifty a week would do it, Stan."

    I was still in shock.


    I started to say I couldn't afford it, but my mouth couldn't get the words out. I was so shocked and so excited and so scared that I couldn't speak.

    Still massaging, she said:

    "Ain't I worth it to you, Stan?"

    I was sweating. I could feel the drops sliding down my sideburns. I was almost paralyzed. The hand on my knee seemed to pin me in place with fear and joy.

    After struggling with my feelings I finally said:

    "You're too young, Missy. I could get into trouble. I could go to jail."

    She said nothing, staring into my eyes and squeezing my knee.

    I said:

    "If only you were eighteen."

    Abruptly she removed her hand from my knee, picked up her brew and swigged, looking at me sideways. Then:

    "For your information, Stan, it don't matter that I ain't eighteen. I won't tell one soul about us."

    "But Missy."

    "You don't trust me, do you Stan?"

    "It's not that I don't trust you, Missy. It's such a risk for a man my age. After all, someone could get suspicious. Or you could get mad at me and."

    She stared at my eyes.

    "I'm mad at you right now, Stan. That you don't trust me worth spit. I really am."

    "But Missy, think of the risk. I could go to jail for life. For life!"

    "Don't you like me, Stan?"

    She arched her back again, watching my eyes.

    "I like you a lot, Missy."

    "I thought older guys always go for younger women."

    "I do, I do. You can't imagine. But it's the risk, Missy. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in jail."

    Finishing off her beer, she watched me over the bottle, and continued watching me while clinking down the empty.

    "For your information, Stan, all this worry about jail and all ain't gonna help you one tiny little bit."

    "What do you mean?"

    "What I mean is, I could send you to jail right now."

    What? This statement set off a fire alarm in my head. A screamer.

    "What are you talking about?"

    "Alls I have to do is say you tried to approach me while I was cleaning your house. That's alls I have to say. And everybody believes me, you being a horny bachelor and all. Nobody ever believes the guy. Everybody thinks the guy tried to take advantage of the young girl. You know that, Stan."

    She continued staring at me, sullen as ever, not batting an eye.

    She said:

    "The horse is already out of the barn, Stan. It's my word against yours."

    And with that she walked out, saying she'd give me a day to think it over.

    You can imagine my state of mind! Unbelievable! Suddenly my brain was full of pictures as jumpy as icons in a video game. First me in the arms of my Missy, then me watching my budget go down the drain, then me in a jailcell, then me in the arms of my Missy again, then. I had to get out of the house. Out of the town. I walked for miles and miles into the countryside. Would Missy really claim I'd tried to molest her? Would they really believe her instead of me? Would I really go to jail for the rest of my life? All the hype in recent years about child abuse, about date rape, about sexual harassment in the workplacewith a jury would I have even a ghost of a chance? Not likely. Missy was right. Not a soul would stand up for the evil middle-aged man. Id be an outcast. Molesting an innocent young thing, no more than fifteen years old. Even if she did agree to it, even if she suggested it herself, she was too young to know what she was doing, too young to be responsible for her own actions. But me, I was a grown man so I had to take responsibility for both of us. Even if she did squeeze my knee. Even if she did throw herself at me. How many men could resist such temptation? What happens, I wondered, when young groupies throw themselves on rock stars? Do the stars ever get into trouble? Probably so, but if they do get accused they have the big bucks to settle, so no skin off their back. And if the story gets out it probably just improves their image, increases their, whats the word? mystery. No, mystique. Increases their mystique. But me, a lowly ex-finance company employee with a modest inheritance that would be different story. Theyd try to hang me. On me, the ordinary citizen, theyd take out all their rage over the rock stars they can't lay a hand on. That's the way it works. I had never been so nervous in my life. Cold sweat covered my entire body. My mouth was so dry I had trouble swallowing. I lost my appetite for food and everything else.

    Talk about terror!

    That night I didn't sleep a wink. Not one wink. Just laid there tossing and turning, turning and tossing, until my sheets were so tangled I couldnt straighten them out. By morning I was exhausted. It was the first time I didn't look forward to seeing Missy. Dreaded it, in fact.

    As luck would have it she showed up bright and early. My whole body seemed jammed into my throat and my mouth was as dry as the Mojave.


    She sat in her usual spot on the sofa. This time I didn't offer her a beer.

    She said:

    "You look worried, Stan. Ain't you excited over my offer?"

    "But this is extortion!" I blurted out. "Youre blackmailing me, Missy, without me doing anything wrong. That's rotten. Rotten! What would your parents think? What would your mother say?"

    If anything, her sullen expression got even more sullen.

    "For your information, Stan, I don't have no parents."

"How can you say that? Who are those folks across the street?"

    "Foster parents. I don't have no real parents, Stan. I don't know who my real dad is, and I ran off from my mom."

    This took some of the wind out of my sails.

    "Well then, what would your foster parents think about you blackmailing me?"

    "They won't never find out unless I want them to. Anyways if they was ever to give me trouble over anything I'll just run off again, like I done before. And next time they won't never find me. If they even bother to look."

    "Thats an ugly thing to say."

    "They don't care, Stan. Thats a fact. They just want the money from the county. If I run off, theyll fake like they're looking for me and then head on down to the county and get another kid who aint as much trouble."

    I was losing my outrage. The fatigue was setting in, the effects of a sleepless night. My tongue felt thick and there was this grey fog behind my eyes. I was trying to think my way through things. If she has a history of problems, I figured, then she probably wont hesitate to accuse me, the bad publicity wouldnt bother her, she might even glory in it. On the other hand, with her history maybe nobody would believe her, maybe the verdict would go my way. But could I take that chance? If I guessed wrong life in prison. Life! I was so tired I started confusing myself. I needed to sleep it off and attack the problem with a clear mind. I stammered to Missy that I needed another day to decide.

    She wouldn't hear of it.

    "I ain't waiting, Stan. Besides, I already know your decision and so do you. Why don't you come get your reward?"

    Rising, she took my hand and led me to the stairs. I didn't even resist. Not one tug of resistance! I just followed her upstairs like a puppy and on into the south room with the queen-sized bed. And before I could catch my breath she was kissing me all over. And then one thing led to another and Ill tell you this, even though she was only fifteen she knew more about bedroom stuff than any grown woman I was ever with, by far, no comparison whatsoever. That girl knew tricks I'd not only never felt before, but never even heard of. It was like being initiated into unheard of pleasures by a mature woman of the world.


    And the odd thing is, once I made my decision I never looked back. Somewhere deep inside I just decided to quit worrying and make the most of this opportunity, because it suddenly dawned on me that I was living my fantasy. How many people have a chance to do that? Almost no one. I refused to think about the consequences, even the assault on my budget, and made up my mind to enjoy Missy to the hilt, so to speak. And my attitude paid off because those wild Saturdays were about the happiest times of my life. They were perfect. Well, not quite perfect, because the one negative was that she never smiled. No matter how much pleasure we shared, no matter how excited she got, no matter what jokes I cracked, she never smiled. Not once. That was the one negative.

    The only one.

    Our perfect Saturdays went on for nearly three months. Paradise! You can't imagine. A girl who knew all the tricks and didn't care a hoot whether or not I loved her and never asked me to pretend I did. What more could a forty-two-year-old man ask for! Pure physical pleasure, thats all she cared about. And of course collecting her hundred and fifty dollars.

    Then one Saturday instead of grabbing my hand and dragging me upstairs, she brushed by me into the living room and sat down.

    I said:

    "What's up?"

    "We have to talk, Stan."

    She seemed especially serious. Which for some reason got me more excited than ever.

    "Talk about what, Missy?"

    "About me not wanting to do this no more."

    What? What?

    I felt like a good friend had just hit me with a sledgehammer. I lost my breath. I couldnt speak.

    She said:

    "I found somebody else, Stan. He's younger."

    Younger? Younger?

    I tried to take it in, stammering, "Somebody elsesomebody youngersomebodybut who?"

    "Somebody I met. It don't matter who, Stan. Don't matter worth spit."

    Suddenly I felt like I was in a soap opera, but my part was tearing my guts out. I heard myself say:

    "But Missy what about us?"

    "Its over, Stan. Everything ends." She appeared to consider her own words for a second, her pale blue eyes staring at me. "Most everything ends."

    "But Missy but Missy"

    I still wasn't quite comprehending the reality of the situation.

    The finality.

    Then she added insult to injury by saying:

    "I still want the hundred and fifty a week, Stan."


    "The hundred and fifty. I still need it."


    "Just cause I'm with a new guy don't mean I don't need the money, Stan. I do. Big time. The new guy don't have a dime."

    "Never!" I almost screamed. "Not if you leave me. Never!"

    I was all agitated, but she stayed calm as a cucumber.

    "But Stan, I need it."

    "And I need you, Missy! No money without you!"

    She just stared at me.

    "Its over, Stan."

    She meant it.

    I was desperate. I needed to think of something. Fast. Luckily, even in my agitation I had a brainstorm.

    "Ive got it!"

    "Got what, Stan?"

    "We can share you, Missy. Me and the new guy. We can share you!"

    I felt a big hopeful smile lift my face.

    "No way, Stan."

    "Missy, please!"

    "No way. My new guy is the jealous type and mean as a snake. He don't know about us and he ain't gonna know, cause there ain't gonna be no us."

    This knocked the wind completely out of my sails. I could feel myself droop, my face and my body too. My heart ached and I felt twenty years older.

    I said:

    "There must be a way we can stay together. There must be."

    Staring at my eyes, she shook her head.

    "There ain't no way, Stan. It's over."

    Suddenly my despair sparked into anger.

    "Then I'm not giving you any money, Missy. None. Not a penny."

    "I need it, Stan."

    "You think I'm paying for another man's fun? Think again!"

    "I need the hundred and fifty, Stan. I really do."


    "You'll give it to me, Stan."


    "If you don't I'll go straight to the cops and tell them you're doing me, a fourteen year old girl."


    "Fourteen, Stan. Way underage."

    This threat had an effect. But I tried to bluff.

    "I'll deny it, Missy. And with your history they won't believe a word you say. You won't have a leg to stand on."

    I thought this would knock her back, but she just continued her icelady stare. "I have evidence, Stan."


    "Three hankies."

    "What are you saying?"

    Rising, she calmly walked toward the door.

    "I kept three hankies with your stuff all over them."

    "Don't leave, Missy. Dont leave!"

    "Put the money in an envelope and leave it on the back porch, Stan. Every Saturday morning."

    And she was gone. Out of my life. Just like that. Leaving a hole in my heart and a debt that would completely wreck my budget and maybe even drive me back to the slavery of the finance company. Handkerchiefs! DNA evidence! It came to me that she must have been planning this all along. She must have been faking pleasure while dreaming of a hundred and fifty a week for life. Maybe there wasn't even any "new guy." Maybe he was just a cover story for fleecing yours truly without giving anything in return.

    "Don't fall apart," I said to myself. "Don't fall apart. Don't fall apart."

    But how could I live without my Missy? How could I live without those crazy Saturdays? My life before her now seemed dull, boring, stupid, a kind of slow death.

    No spirit, no wildness, no fun.

    No Missy.

    What to do? What to do?

    For two straight weeks I brooded on the situation. Brooded brooded brooded. Both Saturdays I put the envelope on the back porch as Missy had specified, and peeked through the curtain as she sashayed up cool as you please to collect her unearned money. I opened the door and tried to talk to her but she ignored me, took the money and sauntered off. It was the second Saturday, as my heart sank into my shoes, that an idea came to me. Not an idea, an inspiration! Instant excitement! I could hardly wait to see her again. Within a few minutes the note was written, and all week it sat on the kitchen table waiting to go out on the porch in place of the envelope. I was so nervous I must have paced a thousand miles.

    Finally the day arrived.


    Just after sunup I started peeking through the curtain. Finally, at about 9 a.m., she showed up. Bra-less as usual, and her sweet flesh poured into tight jeans. My heart clutched as she spotted the note, frowned, hesitated, then picked it up and read it. Read it again. Then looked at the window and found my smiling face. Squinting her pale blue eyes, she hung back for a minute. Then suddenly made up her mind and pushed right into the house, almost banging my head with the door.

    She said:

    "Do you mean it, Stan?"


    "One thousand dollars?"


    "Just for this morning?"

    "That's right, Missy."

    "A thousand dollars for one morning?"

    "For one morning. That's how much I need you, Missy."

    She seemed suspicious, studying my face.

    "What's the catch?"

    "No catch, Missy."

    She didn't believe me. Not quite. But greed pushed her on.

    "Where's the thousand, Stan?"

    "In the basement, Missy."

    "The basement?"

    "That's where I keep my strongbox."

    She stared into my eyes.

    "I want to see it, Stan. Before we do anything."

    "Don't you trust me, Missy?"

    "I want to see the thousand dollars, Stan. I want to hold it in my hand."

    "No problem, Missy. Follow me."

    Which she did.

    Down into the basement.

    Where I finally made her smile.

    And she's been smiling ever since.

by Jon Boilard

I sniffed model airplane glue with Walter while his mom waited tables at the VFW. His kid sister smelled like soap. She said she was sick and stayed home from school. I gave her money from my uncle's wallet so she'd ride to the center of town on her bike with the basket to get us a family-size bag of ranch-flavored Doritos and two one-liter bottles of Pepsi. Mighty Mouse was flying over cartoon skyscrapers. We watched him on the black & white television that had rolled-up aluminum foil for an antennae. A train went by on the tracks right outside the house and from the couch we saw it pass in dark kitchen-window-size squares. When the cabinets stopped rattling Walter said Fifteen cars. When we couldn't even hear it anymore because it already went under the dry bridge past Elder Lumber I told him I counted seventeen. He said he hated that I always had to have the last word. He punched me in the shoulder and said I always had to be right. A fat black fruit fly was trying to escape through the screen part of the side door. It buzzed and bounced against the cat-scratched screen and buzzed and bounced trying like hell to get out.

     The yellow telephone erupted like a fire drill. It was on the chipped-pink tile floor of the bathroom where Walter's mom talked in a hushed whiskey voice from the edge of the clawfoot tub between cigarette drags late at night when she thought everybody was asleep. I rubbed my eyes and my head where it hurt from the glue hangover and Walter woke up too and said Don't answer it. He said It's probably the school. Then my nose started to bleed and I filled my nostrils with Kleenex. From the big-numbered clock hanging crooked from a nail on the wall I could see that it was the beginning of fourth period at the high school where we were freshmen.

        We'd left right after home room. We'd walked across the parking lot and past the weed-cracked tennis courts and through the softball field and the old Dwire Lot to the house that Walter's mom rented from Chip Patluski. Walter's kid sister was in eighth grade and she had good marks and blue ribbons from 4-H and a fancy letter from the board of education saying she could spell better than anybody in Franklin County. Walter's mom called Kayla her last hope. I heard her put the kickstand down on her bike and take hold of the plastic bag from Rogers & Brooks. I heard her come through the side door and it banged inside the frame and she jiggled it until it shut all the way. Walter went into his bedroom and came back with a pack of EZ-Wider and the Sucrets tin where he kept the dope he bought from Jimmy Warfield's father. He told Kayla to get lost, to do homework, and he licked his index fingers and thumbs and rolled a fat one in his lap. We took a few hits and ate the Doritos and I drank my Pepsi. Batman and Robin were on the television. The fruit fly was bouncing off the screen door again and the plastic clock was ticking and the wind outside was brushing a weeping willow branch against the vinyl siding of the house. The telephone rang four and a half times. Somebody on the television said We've got to get out of here. Walter was breathing through his nose and making snoring sounds and when I looked at him the ends of his fingers were Dorito-orange and all around his open mouth was Dorito-orange and the plastic one-liter Pepsi bottle was unopened between his legs.

        I heard Kayla in her room with the door mostly shut listening to Bryan Adams on Walter's old boom box and turning the pages of a magazine. I pushed the door open with my big toe and the rusty hinge creaked. She was lying face down on her bed that looked like a little girl's bed. She was wearing somebody's old Calvin Kleins from the hand-me-down store in Northampton and a three-quarter sleeve REO Speedwagon concert t-shirt. I told her that she smelled like Dove soap and she let me come in and sit on the bed with her. We made out and I took her shirt and bra off and dropped them on the sticky hardwood floor. Then she stood up and locked her door and took her jeans and panties off. She told me I made her feel beautiful and grown up and somehow unconnected to anything. I said some things that I knew she wanted to hear and after a short while she took my clothes off and said Make sure you take it out this time.

        The greenish paint was flaking off the plaster walls of her room. There were dark spots of mildew on the south one that faced out over the front yard. We smoked some old Marlboro lights that she got from the dresser in her mom's room and she said that her mom would kill her if she found out. She said her mom put too much pressure on her to be perfect. She said I was lucky not to have anybody to tell me what to do. I told her more lies about my feelings and things to shut her up and blew smoke rings that drifted up to the bowl of the dead-moth-filled ceiling light. I listened to the wind outside go around the house and from her window I watched it make mini tornadoes of raked maple leaves in the yard and dirt and driveway. The rain came straight down and then the wind turned it sideways for a while. Kayla said Oh shit the windows and put her jeans and shirt on and pushed herunderwear under the bed with her foot. She closed her window against the rain and I heard her going through all the rooms closing windows while I got dressed.

        Walter woke up and said Where the hell did you go off to? I told him it was raining. There was a game show on the television. Walter told his kid sister to leave the one in the living room open because we wanted to fire up another doobie. She looked right at me, flipped me the bird, went into her room, slammed the door. Walter said What's up her ass? and I shrugged my shoulders. We took a couple hits and tried to blow the smoke toward the window so his mom wouldn't smell it when she got home. We didnšt know any answers to the game show questions but there was only one other channel that was from Springfield and it didnšt come in during rain.

        The one good headlight lit the room up for a few seconds when Walter's mom turned into the driveway from Stage Road. Her car hiccuped and sputtered when she turned it off. I heard Kayla spray Lysol and open her bedroom door a few inches. Walter's mom came in holding a Greenfield Recorder over her head and a paper bag against her hip. She said It's coming down like cats and dogs out there. Kayla boiled water for macaroni and cheese, chopped hot dogs, buttered slices of stale white bread. Walter's mom served iceberg lettuce that was brown around the edges with a mayonnaise and ketchup dressing that I watched her mix with a fork. Then she brought our dinners on paper plates to the couch where we ate. Walter's mom took a shower and said she was going to be late. She said It's poker night. She said It could be a big tip night. She said I can't afford to be late. She jerked her thumb toward us and told Kayla to stay away from the flunkies. I don't want them rubbing off on you. Walter nudged me in the ribs and I laughed out loud.

        We drank vodka right from the bottle I took from my uncle who had temporary custody of me. Kayla smoked one of her mom's cigarettes. Walter was passed out again. Kayla told me she made an appointment with Nurse Harper for between study hall and History on Wednesday. The radio played a block of Def Leppard. She made a face when she put the bottle to her lips but tilted her head back and gargled the vodka like Listerine and eventually swallowed. She went on to say that Nurse Harper was going to give her the results of a test. She told me that she already pissed on one from the pharmacy and it was positive. Kayla was leaning on her elbow and trying to find something in my face that was not there and I took a long snort so I could close my eyes. She cried and said my name to bring me back but the wind outside was the familiar ghost of something a long time dead. Rain came down in big drops that sounded like a devil's footsteps. --Jon Boilard

A Brutally Honest Reply
Hi Glen,

OK, so I've slept on what you wrote to me.

You've written a great deal and shown me a lot of things I wasn't expecting to find out at this stage of a relationship.

And, I have to say, opened yourself up and shown more of yourself than you probably intended.

It's not really the way I like to do things. It takes a long time to get to know someone well, and it seems to me that you're in a hurry to get to know me. When in fact the only way you'll get to know me is not to push, and to be less intense. Otherwise I lose interest.

You raised a lot of points in your mail. I've added my own comments in in parenthesis:-

----- Original Message -----
From: Glen Jarvis
To: Randy
Sent: Saturday, January 19, 2002 1:24 PM
Subject: Deep feelings and fears..

We both felt something wrong last Thursday. I'd like to dig into the bottom of my heart and try to e-mail you with what I was feeling and thinking. My intent is not to hurt you. I'm not hurt In fact, I am not going to
concentrate on you, but on me. It takes two people to make a situation uncomfortable. I wasn't uncomfortable. It's easy for most of us to just allow someone else to make
us uncomfortable. But, at the end of the day, we choose how we react. Deep deep down, we choose. It may feel like we don't, but if we are deeply aware of who we are; I really do feel we allow other people to influence our
deepest moods and feelings. So, I don't want to "confess any one's else's sins", but my own. (You can't anyway. You don't know me. How can you tell me how I feel?)

I can only guess that you are uncomfortable and hurt. NO I don't really know who you are yet, but many many people tell me just how deep down goodyou are. That's what I'm attracted to. So, I have faith and really really
believe you are deep down a wonderful soul. (True - but YOU don't know that yet)

You also don't know me, but if you ask anyone in my life--any of the people who I am involved with on a daily basis--there's not a doubt that I also am deep down good. (I've no reason to not believe you. My intuition says yes.)

I know we are both good people and want the same thing. But, I don't think that either of us, myself included, showed the strongest emotional maturity on Thursday. (You CAN only talk about yourself here. I disagree.) I think we both know there is the potential for a real deep life changing experience. And, that potential can change who we
are as a person-- for the good, or for the bad. So, it is only natural to also be afraid. We never said one bad word to each other. Yet, our silence spoke volumes.

I personally know I had a terrible day. Work was still weighing on my mind. The one thing I was looking forward to was seeing you. In the previous week, you were such a source of excitement and hope for what I want in addition to my life. But, I was prevented from even doing that because I was blocked in by a double-parked car who didn't seem to be around to let me go... and, they weren't even an employee or customer of the company who owned the car park.

All of this did what I hoped it wouldn't do. It pulled at my soul and took away the happy centre I like having. All I wanted to do was just go back to the hotel and eat and sleep. This is especially true since I stayed up so much the night before and woke up so early. I wanted to eat, kiss you, cuddle and fall asleep in your arms immediately. (And that would have been alright - so why didn't you?? Would I have minded? Am I human?)

But, when I got in the door, something changed. I felt scared --something I hadn't felt in a year or so. (These are YOUR feelings, where did they come from?) And, when I'm scared in a relationship, I can't be the warm caring person I naturally am. I become very protective of my soul -- it's a defense mechanism that has kept me alive for so long (Is this not insecurity we're talking about here?). But, is also highly reactive. I think I was scared
because it felt like we had a packet of dry oatmeal for a relationship that we both expected to pour in hot water and get results. (Not BOTH. This was date #2. You CAN only talk for yuorself here, not me.) What I mean by this
is that deep down, you and I both want an intimate relationship with someone who is sexy and healthy and happy. We both saw potential in each other that
this was true. But, we both skipped the stages of getting to know one another.

When asked if we were "partners" last weekend, you said yes and I agreed with you. We both wanted it to be true. Also, neither of us were really forthcoming with how long we had been together. We enjoyed the social mileage we were getting out of it and didn't want to say, "We're on our
first date." It may have been a long date... a very very very nice date...but, it was our first date. (I KNOW that - I don't quite understand your point.)

So, with this history, I walked in and felt the expectation--not fromyou, but from me. I expected myself to say "honey I'm home", kiss you on the cheek, and plop in front of the television. Yet, the reality of the situation was there -- I barely remembered where your kitchen was, much less anything else. (Hang on a minute, I can be familiar with you but let's not forget this was date #2)

Not only is the environment unfamiliar when it was expected to be familiar. But, so was my perception of you. I suddenly thought "why am I here?" "Is this the right one?" "Is he the person I expect to spend my
life with?" These questions are valid questions in the right context. But, not on a second date. It didn't feel like a second date. It felt like we had more history. (These are your feelings. I don't share them. I don't quite know where you're coming from on this one. Why did you feel the need to ask yourself these questions on date #2?? How can it have felt like we had more history than we have? Just because we might connect well does not mean we have history.)

With all of this going on in my head, I should have been able to tell myself--I expect and am growing to be able --to still be loving and caring even when bad stuff has happened that affects one's mood. What if you weren't the right one? What if you aren't the person I'll spend my life
with? That doesn't mean I can't be loving and caring toward you -- instead of scared, cold, and wanting desperately just to sleep and cuddle. (Insecurity, lack of confidence, I don't know. Love comes from within. If we love ourselves we can love others. So, you didn't show me much love. That didn't hurt me. It didn't wound me. It just showed me that insecurity made you creep back into your shell. What did I demand of you anyway?? Did you make demands of yourself that you couldn't meet? I don't know.)
What I'm attracted to most in you is who you are deep down--not the stuff on the outside, but the deeper stuff on the inside. That's what I needed to interact with to let my fear go away. (Selfish.)
I wanted desperately to talk to you--to listen to who you were--for you to open and share with me. This would have given me enough to start releasing emotion and warming up. So, I said the only thing I could say, "Tell me a story."

Instead of opening up you wanted me to tell you a story. Now I look back, maybe you were asking me to open up to you--to share with you. Instead, I just let myself go deep inside and starting telling a mixture of stories from my childhood (Grimm fairy tails) with a mix of my own
creativity and symbolism (like the old man). During the process of telling this story, I thought it would be funny and cheeky to mix this into the famous terrible "blue brick" joke. I was proud of how I was able to creatively and seamlessly move the story into the first stage of the joke. Before now, the joke had good connotations.

But it seemed like the inciting incident of the evening. Instead of having a laugh at something so incredibly stupid, you moved to the other couch and reminded me that this is only our second date. That told me
something deep inside "I wasn't loved unconditionally" (Date #2. The L word. Alarm bells. How the hell can you expect unconditional love on date #2??.) The love I was
going to be given was based only around the conditions that it fell into what you thought was acceptable and 'normal'. (hmmmm. There's no way on earth you can possibly say that. How do you know what goes on in my head?, the amount of love i'm showing to someone else? Only I know that, and only those that love themselves will appreciate the love I'm offering them)

So, we both spiral downwards--both wanting an expression of love being given to us--neither of us giving. (Again, you can only speak for yourself here. My expectations are not the same as yours it seems.)

What makes me close to you is the emotional sharing--not sex. This is especially true when I was so tired, unhorny, and wanting you to open up to me. It felt even worse that sex was expected instead of negotiated. I
considered just doing it because it was an avenue to open up to you and have you open to me... but, somehow that felt like it was compromising my deeper beliefs. It would have felt dirty.

I wish I could have had the emotional maturity to realise my fears were silly and to just show you the love you wanted... to give from the deepest part of my soul. I take responsibility for setting the mood of the evening.
I deep down was trying to find that part of my soul I felt secure it so I could be giving again... but I needed a boost from you too. (Security/happiness comes from within, completely. Almost sounds like you're trying to pass some of the 'blame' for how you felt on to me.)

In the middle of the night--when I am the closest to someone by cuddling when we are in the deepest unconscious state--I felt pushed away. As I look back, I'm sure it was because you felt rejected. To me, it was the feelings
(fear) surrounding the situation--not a rejection of you.
(YES, you were pushed away. Very occasionally, certainly in my experience with ex-partners, there have been times where an all-night hug is exactly what's called for. But not on date #2. I had no idea what was going on in your head to make you demand cuddles ALL night. No let-up whatsoever. I go to bed to sleep primarily!! You made me angry. We were in bed for 8 hours. I slept for 3 of them. And all because you wanted to cuddle all night. I can only guess it's insecurity. I don't imagine I'm wrong.)
I was shattered the next day.
(HOW selfish was that??? Even during the night it was evident you were thinking only of your own needs and not mine when taking your cuddles. I even wonder if this has come as a surprise to you??)

Being pushed away at night hurt more than anything else. It's what I look forward to most in sharing and caring for/with someone. By morning, when I was more in the mood, it was too late. You were wounded and late for work.
When I hadn't heard back from your text, I knew that this was deeper than just an off night.

I so wanted to go back to London Fri night and was glad you went out with your friends. I wanted time to relax and have fun myself--not to go back to the strange environment that existed between us.

Please know I am a loving person. I'm not a typical American or mad as seem to be the common comments. I'm a unique person who has an incredible will. I'm not perfect, but I constantly strive to improve myself. I do want
someone who is nurturing and caring and challenging. And, I want to continue to try to be nurturing, caring, and challenging.
I won't sacrifice my beliefs, but I will open up and admit when I'm wrong. I believe intimacy comes from conflict and its resolution--and from learning to respect other people even if they are strangely different that we are. I'll give endlessly and will strive not to be lazy in a
relationship. I believe you to be special. A man can be judged by his friend's opinion of him.
We both needed a stronger inner character to let our fears go and to just love. (You can only speak for yourself here.)
But, then again, it was only one bad evening--not the end of the world. If it wasn't for our arrangements, I would have probably canceled and had an evening to myself because it was healthy and I needed it. Maybe staying in a hotel would still be a good idea until we get to know each
other better.
The real challenge of a relationship is how conflict is dealt with. Will this make us grow closer by understanding each other? Or, will we just chuck it in because the other person "isn't measuring up" to the fantasy that's been created. I can see it going either way, actually. I'm willing to admit my mistakes and keep giving it a go because I see huge potential.
The world took more time to create than the relationship we created and then damaged. Maybe we're both expecting too much too soon and aren't really looking at making ourselves happy on the "inside" first before expecting
happiness from the "outside." I'm personally going to work on "inside-out" because if I'm not happy inside, how can I make those around me happy--obviously demonstrated ;)
With lots of unconditional love,

(How can you say that?? you don't know me!! do you understand what the term means??)


(I'm not trying to patronise you but I don't know if you'll get the gist of what I'm saying here. I'm gonna be brutally honest. I think you're a very deep person, almost introverted, which is not necessarily the best of ways to be. Too much thinking can be bad for you. Words and thoughts aren't really what count. Actions DO count.
I'm not sure how happy you are. How secure you are. How selfless you can be. I think it's fair to say at this point that alarm bells are ringing. It's also fair to say I've only known you for 2 weeks.
Does that make sense to you?
A brutally honest reply would go down well here.

--A short story, sort of, by Glen Jarvis

Twenty-Six Pack
by Timothy Gager

He had just been laid-off a week and two days ago, and
was watching I Dream of Jeannie on TV Land. It was the episode that Jeannie turns Major Healy into a brick. In a way, he was happy to be laid off and not have to wear a suit on a balmy day like today. It was the middle of a hot summer afternoon during a hot summer heat wave. He sat alone in his girlfriend Melissas apartment in Charlestown waiting and watching. She returned from her waitressing job at 3:30 PM.

"Would you like to fuck for the rest of the
afternoon?" he asked her the second she arrived.

"Oh... Let's see. How about we get some beer," she

"And then can we fuck?"

"Jimmy boy, what about this? I get naked, drink beer,
and you can beat off."

"I guess half of a loaf is better than none at all."

"Especially if you're the baker," Melissa laughed.
She was glad to see him. Jimmy made her laugh.

"Yeah, the master baker," was his response. "Well
beer sounds like a good start."

"Twelve pack of Busch?" Melissa asked. "On sale,

"Is it in one of those bakers dozen packs? That would be an good omen for us bakers," Jimmy asked. "Thirteen cans for the price of twelve."

"Let's buy two," Melissa responded. "That way it'll be a twenty-six pack. Not as unlucky."

"Well that is a start."

The liquor store was directly across the street from Melissa's place. It was attached to Pat's Green
Shamrock Bar, whose wooden front was riddled with
bullets. Ah, the Shamrock, Jimmy said. "That's a
tough place."

"No kidding. I went there once cause I was bummed out that some stupid guy just dumped me. I felt like I could potentially get raped in there."

"Is that like catching you on the rebound?"

"Very funny. You're such an ass."
They crossed Pleasant Street at the Gibbs gas station.
"Do the brothers own it?" Jimmy cracked.

"No brothers own anything in Charlestown."

"I wasn't trying to be racist. The brothers. The
Brothers Gibb; the Bee-Gees."

"Oh, oh," she laughed. "Excuse my townie mentality."

"It's about par for this town. Just don't talk too loud about it, you may end up tossed in the Charles River with weights tied on your ankles."

"If I've lasted this long, I dont need to change my ways, and besides I've dated black guys before," Melissa said.

"So, I guess that leaves you protected against the accusations?"

"Forget it. You're impossible." They walked into Pat's Liquors and walked out with two Busch twelve packs plus the two extra cans. "Nothing like ice cold beer on a ninety-five degree day," Melissa stated.

"So is it better?" Jimmy asked.

"I'll feel better with a cold beer than a warm one."

"No. No. Are black guys better, you know, bigger?"

"That's just a myth. Bigger may not be better."

"May not? Is bigger better or not?"

"I can't generalize on that, so I'd have to say no.
By saying that, I'm just being nice for your benefit.
Sorry, I guess bigger is better. I was with a guy
once that was huge! Ohh my!" Melissa exclaimed.

"Damn. A man's worst fears confirmed," Jimmy joked, as Melissa let out a laugh. "That and a big vagina."

"That's good for women too."

"I can't imagine having a big vagina makes it feel better for a woman."

"Oh, not better for sex. It's better for pushing babies out."

"I can see that. I once dated a woman. I think there
was something wrong with her. I mean, I could put my
whole arm in her. Her insides were like carved out."

"Come on!"

"I can't explain it, but it was big enough to move
furniture inside and then I could sit in there."

"HA! You are too funny!"

"It was like fucking a tire swing. Houston we have a

"Too much! What am I like to fuck?"

"Like a soft, smooth, pulsing, deep, machine."

"That's good isn't it?"

"It's the best. Lets go fuck when we get home."

"It's too damned hot. I think youd better get a hobby since you're not working. She wiped the sweat from her forehead."

"You're my hobby. That and collecting twenty-six packs."

"How's this for a new hobby? We can start collecting
those commemorative state quarters."

"Wooo. That'll be better than sex and beer," James
said sarcastically.

"Maybe we can do it if it cools off later, OK babe?
My boobs are sweating and if you start touching me I
might lose it."

"Damn, I hate this heat!" Jimmy complained. They entered her place and walked up three flights of stairs, each step hotter and hotter. Jimmys shirt was drenched with sweat. "My boobs are sweating too," he joked. "Do you mind if I shower?"

"No," go ahead. Jimmy brought a beer in, undressed and walked into the cooling water. He stood there for five minutes savoring his own oasis. "Melissa!" he called. "Mel-issa!" She ran in. "What! What, are you OK?"

"I can't find the soap."

"I just put a new one in there."

"It's not there." Melissa opened the shower curtain
and saw Jimmy standing there with a big soapy hard-on.

"The soap's right there on the shower floor."

"I must have dropped the bar of soap," he laughed.
"Why don't you come in and drop it?"

"Oh my babe, you need to start working." Melissa
threw off her clothes and jumped in. He directed the
chilly water against her body and lathered her up with
soap. He rubbed the soap on the inside of her thighs, causing her breath to become heavy and hot on his neck. Moving his now cooled hand between her legs, he rubbed her inside. He sat her against the back wall and moved the showerhead so it pulsed between her legs. Lowering his head, he changed her loud breathing to quiet moaning. His warm tongue moved up and down her until he heard her yelling. After she came, he inserted himself into her, holding her against the wall, until he convulsed and released deep inside her.

They scrunched against one another, lying on the shower floor as the water splattered against them. He leaned back, drinking a beer, as the water rolled into his mouth, mixing with the beer. "You're right. I need to start working."

"Nah, I,ve changed my mind. Let's just do this everyday," Melissa purred. "We'll have our twenty-six pack and take showers."

"That makes me a prostitute."

"Ha! No just a slut." They continued on this schedule for the next four weeks. The heat wave continued. They stayed up drinking waiting for the temperature to drop even two or three degrees, in order to sleep. Usually, sleep didn't come until after 2 AM. Melissa had to get up early for work. "I can't keep up this pace," she said, upon returning from her shift. "I'm going to start working dinner shift, 3-11."

"But that's going to fuck up our routine!" added Jimmy, who was getting used to sleeping late.

"Sorry, fuck the routine, I'm just too exhausted. We'll shower when we get up instead. I talked to my boss, it's a done deal."

"Well I'm going to do some work too."


"I called my buddy Larry. He owns a landscaping business. I told him I could help him out this summer. I don't even want to do it, but I owe him a favor. Now, I'll be working 7-2, while you're on 3-11. That's gonna suck."

"Don't worry. There will be days off and rainy days
for us to get together."

The following week Jimmy started working as a landscaper. He barely saw Melissa. At first, he would rush back to Melissa's house to have a beer and shower with her. It gave them half an hour together and then he would drive back to his place for the night. Sometimes he would stay there, but Melissa's roommate started getting bothered by Jimmy hanging around. On the first rainy day, Jimmy was at his house, grateful for the chance to sleep late again.
Melissa dropped by without calling, waking him anyway. She had been crying, and he, standing in his underwear, gave her a big hug. "I think we should break up," she sobbed.

"Why are you crying? Do you want to break up?"

"I don't know what I want."

"I think you are silly. You're all wet."

"I rode my bike. Please, we should break up. I need
to improve myself."

"Why don't you call in sick today, we can hang out and
drink a twenty-six pack. It would put us back to

"No," she cried. "Please. I love you, but let's just
end it. I don't want to end it, but I have to. I'm not making any sense."

"What are you trying to say?"

"I DON'T KNOW. I DON'T KNOW. Just let me do what I need to do!" She let out a series of long wails and walked out, pushing herself out the screen door. What she was trying to say, and couldn't tell him, was that she was moving to California. When she was able to tell him, he took it hard.

"Where does that leave me?" he asked.

"Helping me have a yard sale," she laughed.


"Two weeks."

"You're leaving in two weeks?"

"No, three, but I'm not working the last one, so we
can hang out."

"That will be weird, but fun, I guess," Jimmy said

"Don't be sad. It'll be a new beginning for me."

"I'm happy for you, but sad for me. That's the
breaks, you know."

Six years ago, Boston had been like California in relative terms. Had it been that long ago since Melissa's last new beginning? Itll be different in Boston is what she had told herself. No more Minnesota winters, no needing a skyway to keep from freezing as you walked the city, and no judgmental parents. She ran from them and away from the abortion she had told them about. "You are no daughter of
mine!" her father had yelled. A point to which she had to concede, though reluctantly at first. During the next six years in Boston, she did not contact her parents so they would never find her if they wanted. Even now, if they tried to look in Boston, there would be no California forwarding address.

The day of the yard sale came quickly, the two weeks flying by. Jimmy helped move the furniture outside, and Melissa basically gave away everything she had cheap. She hardly had anything left to move across the country, but only made $109. It bought them twenty-six packs the rest of the week. Her move ended up saving him lots of money on beer. He only needed to buy thirteen packs for a while. It was a very unlucky time.
> --Timothy Gager, from the book Twenty-Six Pack

Getting Thru Life Without Assitance

I'm on the verge, the precipice, the brink. I'm eight years old, training out of Grand Central Station for Spokane, leaving an eternity of bad times behind, a midnigh-special track into the future.

Pain and isolation are teachers. Ease and grace make you soft. Serenity, when you strip it down, is a fairy tale.

It is better to walk alone than walk with fools.
--John Bennet

When Rein Falls

By T.M. Eaton, from CatHouse Red, @2001

The wind had just begun to come off the lake when he showed up, throwing gravel behind him in the sand, the gleaming black 1971 Trans Am with a gold eagle spread across the hood, wings like the thighs of the young strawberry blonde in the seat next to him. His leather jacket was unzipped, the open T-roof catching the moonlight.
All of us, some 17 or 18 years old, about the time Joe was heavy with his Mexican girlfriend when we gathered around that lake. It was our weekend getaway that every parent knew about, the lake where I would lie destitute another night, thin films of vodka poisoning streaming from my fish-gasping mouth as I lay on the beach all night, sleeping and dreaming and harvesting blood from a now empty stomach, wrapped up in an evil-smelling car blanket and left to die. But that would come later. Tonight was Rein's night. He was the man of the hour, the man with the girl and the new car, and the green line of pot in a baggie. He was the man who told us to get our asses off of his car hood, to not scratch the goddamn paint and to quit staring at his new woman.
He packed the dope into a small crystalline pipe, the lighter in his hand fighting the moonlight, and he sucked furiously on the stem, deep rope scent on the night air, sucking in his new charisma and becoming stoned on our admiration as we gathered around his car and admired the sleek blackness of it, the sleek blackness of shadowy patches on his pretty girlfriend that we imagined and the sleek blackness of our own teenage hearts, run down deeper, deep black with booze and homegrown ditchweed.
This was a new bid for romance for us boys because she wasn't from our school. We knew all of our girls, yet when she got out and stretched, it was as if we were first noticing woman, as if all of this were new. The girl, the car, the dope, but then he was Rein. We made fun of his name in school, made horse sounds as we stuttered it, laughing in grade school. We made fun of his weight and his name, his long hair before it was cool, his dream of playing Rock and Roll. He was the kid with money, the kid with dreams and that night, in my geeky clothes and teenage stupidity, I saw the car and his dreams and his rich parents and I think we all wanted to be him for that moment.
I had punched him at scout camp, he had punched me back in church camp, his heavy metal rock & roll t-shirt fuzzy beneath my bloody face. I knew I deserved it just as he had, and we both knew our mouths ran ahead of our ability to back it so we became friends in a distant sort of way.
He had invited me over to his first sleepover when we were little kids, and when I peed in my sleeping bag, my first night away from home and in this strange living room with the oval window above the landing on the stairs, he covered me in front of our friends, somehow understood my shame and kept it a secret. He showed me a cool place to throw away my pajamas and helped me tie up my sleeping bag and put it on the porch like I was getting ready to leave, acting as if nothing had happened.
He was doing it now as he handed me the smoldering jay, pretending nothing was happening. I slid against the bumper of his car and took in the hemp, reefer under moonlight in our country world, emulating the city boys we saw on TV, being cool, scared to leave the small town we grew up in. We smoked and drank and made up stories about the cars we were going to have, but Rein knew better because he was the only one who owned his parents. We dreamed and drank in the strange girl that didn't go to our school, the girl who didn't know about our panty raids, hadn't been spied naked in the locker room. She wasn't one of us or one of the girls we knew, and so she stood alongside a group of strangers that night, stared off by herself over the moonlit water. Through my haze I thought about walking down to her but Jennie was watching me, and while she didn't like me much, we grew up together and kind of naturally paired off and it was still a long school year ahead and prospects looked dim without a car like Rein's so there wasn't any point in making Jennie jealous. I smoked more, drank Goddess Vodka, slid my ass on the car, laughed and joked and wondered if I would have to fight someone tonight. Seems like wherever I went I wasn't welcome but always invited, and so it was easier to fight among people I knew. Like that girl, I would later learn that wherever I was, it would be among strangers.
Rein saw me looking, knew my focus on the new, nodded his head no and punched me hard on the arm and we drank instead of fought. She was Rein's girl, Rein's car, Rein's world, and the rest of us were dirt farmers that helped him pass the day.
The rest of that night passed some way, with fists and laughter and bubbling shrieks from our neighborhood girls who wouldn't give it up. It passed in the furtive glances of all high- school parties by lakes and rivers in America: suddenly seeing someone in a new light, some high school chum under moonlight who reminds you of one of those Greek heroes you had to learn about on late spring days when you were sleepy in English class. It happened in a glance to some high school girl who looks golden and d'angeloed, animated and beautiful and a farm boy clenches his fists and swears his love, knowing she'll be the same old girl tomorrow. But that is the way it is with alcohol and moonlight and desperation for something better. Now it was Rein's car and that was something, boys huddled around the car, girls huddled around the bonfire and Rein's new girlfriend stared out across the water and wondered what the hell she was doing there, a question always asked a little too late. I looked at her standing by herself, but Rein saw my look and stamped out his roach in the soft sand and told me to get the hell away from his car. She stood pristine and strange against the moonlight, wishing she were somewhere else and in her loneliness, being the only one of us who wouldn't admit it.
Parties fade. Years later and I'm in another town. Far from home and in love with the arts, educated as far as a man can go but unsure I've learned anything except the hope of my students. A colleague calls me and says we need to go to this poetry reading at Auntie Alberts.
Auntie's is a place a million miles from my prairie home, one of those cross-dress places where good-intentioned people go in a stifled loneliness to figure out who they aren't. The bartender wears a wig and doesn't pass half bad in bar light. My friend assures me he is straight, "it's no big deal, you write and I write so why not listen to the poets, we'll drink a few beers and maybe some stray girls will show up and we're single so what the hell."
We walk in; a deep voice from the wigged bartender asks me if I want a beer. I get an import. A disco ball floats across the ceiling. Colorful, transparent shards race along the walls and shower down and the crowd comes out to dance; guys who drive trucks during the week but want to be girls on the weekend; fresh college students who think by being there they'll shock mama and show their tolerance by going to a twist bar; wire-rimmed princes and princesses who want to talk about dead authors and the sixties and poverty while buying Zimas on their Visa. I see all of them, some of them my students, as I wend my way through tables with guys holding hands, inverted arm wrestling I tell myself as a girls' lips brush another girl and a jump of some primordial lizard shivers through my mental tree. My friend sits at a table, leaned back causal, Marlboro man wardrobe to protest his innocence, only here for the poetry his glare says. He lights a cigarette and blows forcefully while girls dance with girls and I'm watching the eros of it, knowing what kind of person made up me but not caring, because everyone who exists is staring out over some lake at some party they weren't invited to.
So the poets and the angst begin, feminine versus. masculine and all points in between, sex organs become analogy for love and violence and I listen and drink. Voices drone and a band plugs some space halfway through the reading and some 18 year-old poet calls cops pigs and I think goddammit! You weren't even around to understand the nuance of that slang.
At some point a reader changes, I hear a name that reminds me of something, an ancient bell in my head. I look up from peeling the label off of my beer and I see the reader and I realize that I know him. He begins reading, an effeminate ode, a strong element of the over-the-lake moonlight curiosity. He's trim, I mentally shed pounds from the memory in my head, take away some teenage bravado, see some smoky black muscle car. I make pictures and spill my beer, I see the hair neatly shorn and curved over to one side.
My sight moves to the poet's left, a young man sits, drumming the side of his glass, smiling with a love glint in his eye directed to the poet. I see the poet smile back and I see for that moment, a boy, heavy, with long hair, a boy becoming a man who loves like a woman and I see Rein. Fifteen years after high school but Rein somehow on the stage, lost weight and toughness, coincidentally in the same bar as me. His life and mine with separate roads. Somehow we arrived here on this late night past our childhood and as I waved the bartender over for another beer, I knew I needed to see if the boy who had everything in high school wasn't sure of what he had, or even better, if he was. So I watched and said nothing.
From his poetry I learned of his life after we left high school: his loneliness in Denver, on Pearl Street, where he first confronted his true self, left in an alley bleeding and used up by one of his own kind, jilted and confused. He faced himself, not the man we all thought he was, now in college, learning, no girl, no car, just coming out. At some point in his life he gave up his symbolic Trans Am, rubbed the joint in the dirt, left the woman by the lake, walked away from the fists of men, buried the bottle, and faced who he really was.
I listen, I drink. Remember pissing in a sleeping bag at a sleepover and remembering how he covered for me, wondering how many times, back home, when we gathered around our pickup trucks and gun racks, beer parties, raunchiness as if we had pussy on our lips, and our talk of killing what we didn't understand, how many times he pissed in fear and wondered if anyone would cover for him if we found out.
Not back home. He couldn't have told us who he really was then. We might have strung him to a fence, destroyed him as another had been destroyed so many years later, strung out on seventeen miles of Wyoming barbwire, coat flapping hugely around him as the snow and freezing wind lanced him, whimpers to the Great Grey Nothingness that marked the bloodied streaks of the pistol whipping cowboy style he got for being who he was, dying in a broken sleep, drifted by morning.
A brutal story of the unknown caught up to him, the pistol and words slashing his face, words in themselves a story of killing, a story that takes away the heart of those searching and places it somewhere grim, a railed or barbwire fence, lonely, snow-laden, where trains go by slowly and no one counts drifts or places where the wolves kill the shepherd.
Of course Rein would drive a muscle car, sport a strange and pretty woman, hoist a clear bottle in the air, and roll ditchweed with curses as a means of remembering to be cool in the face of those who might kill him if they knew otherwise.
His poetry spoke of a fantasy black man, a lover perhaps, a long story from Rein. I listen, somewhat horrified, twirling my straw on the table not wanting the details because I knew him as something different. He reads and reads and the positions in his story changes and I come to resent him because he wants me to accept this. He works his angst and verbiage, sweat and balls and rectums and it begins to grate and I don't want to hear anymore. I hear whispers and laughter at his table.
I ignore them then, all of it, as I watch my friend try to pick up on a girl who is looking past him to the bartender, longingly, not knowing if she loves the man he is or the woman he acts like in this college town where everything is worked to its rawness and I think maybe we should keep a few secrets.
I finish my drink and I look at Rein, the virtual darkness of the bar hiding my face. He's reading his poetry, doesn't know I teach here, doesn't figure that any of the farm boys he grew up with would be around to hear his confession and to see the light in his eyes as he reads to the boy in front of him. I slip out before he sees me, figuring it's my way of covering for him, burying his secret somewhere cool and rolling up his history and taking it to the porch of Aunties'. I throw down a few dollars, slip through the front door into the cold evening.
As I cross the street, a black Trans-Am rumbles up the street.

Hi.  My name is Daniel Charles Crocker and I'm an alchohohohohlic.  However, that don't much concern you none, I realize that with all my innard.  I would like to implore you however, on my own dear momma's grave, to click on this book and tell good ole Steph. Hello.  She's a dear girl, she really is, she just, well, stubborn that's all.  Stubborn as an old mule I'll tell ya.  Why I remember this one time when I wanted her to run down to Fred's store and get me a piece of candy, black licorice I do believe....well I had to wait fifteen minutes before she'd even get off the damn pot and go get me that licorice.  Fifteen minutes!  My lands.  I swear to my time, dumplin'.

very short stories


Hello my baby, Hello My Darlin'.  Hello my Ragtime Gal.

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