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At the curb in front of Lorri's house, Donnie Groeling stopped the car under a leafy tree for some shade.
A black '51 Ford convertible -- now over ten years old, but all that he could afford -- with rusted-out holes along the bottom edges of the doors and rear fenders just above the skirts. It had a nice pipe -- too bad it didn't have duals -- that would rack off when he shoved her in second, like when he would go down the hill on Center Street coming from Frank's house, and it was still sharp for an old car.
Especially with the top down -- at least if you didn't look too close.
In the bright sunlight -- because of the daylight-saving time the sun was still up though it was after eight o'clock -- he saw the stain where Lorri had spilled her malt on the dashboard the night before. It had dribbled down over the dent he had made pounding the radio with his fist to get it to work, forming gummy brown welts. Fair enough -- he had left his own dribbles on her hand often enough.
"Hell," he said to himself. He'd have to clean it off soon. With his hangover, he hadn't felt like getting up until almost supper time -- after working second shift so much he had gotten used to sleeping really late -- and then it was time to pick up Lorri, so he hadn't gotten around to it today.
He was tempted by what he knew would be a satisfying sensation if he flaked the dried malt off with his fingernail. But he didn't want to get it under the nail.
He had centered the door where Lorri would get in on the narrow sidewalk that led from the fenced-in neat yard to the street between burlap-covered squares of grass seedlings.
He hoped Lorri was ready to go. He was anxious to get to Frank's house, to drink some beer, to wash the dry taste of cigarets from his mouth and have them start tasting good again.
He hadn't put the top down because it was too much of a struggle, and he could feel with his arms and face the sun that penetrated the trees that lined the street funneling into the car through the open windows. With no breeze now that the car wasn't moving it seemed hotter than ever, and there was sweat on his forehead and burning the skin under his chin where he had just shaved. He decided if he sat motionless in the car for a moment it might cool and dry. He didn't want to go into Lorri's house looking like a sweaty fool.
He held his heavy black-rimmed glasses away from his eyes to evaporate the rim of fog that had formed.
Damn glasses, he thought, what a pain. They were in style, though, as far as glasses went, and they really must not look so bad -- Lorri never seemed to mind them. He really liked her for that. But still, he hated the way they made him look studious. Of course he was studious, in a way, or he wouldn't be going back to college in the fall, but he didn't want to look that way -- he was different enough from his old high school buddies the way it was, but otherwise he didn't look square.
With his glasses off he checked his hair in the rearview mirror and combed it again, making his eyes wide as he looked at himself. But he was careful to keep his expression blank. If anybody could see him he didn't want to look like he was conceited. He felt nervous, brittle, like he usually did after he got ready to go someplace, before the evening and the drinking started.
A lot of beer, he thought, a lot of beer is what I need. Then he'd feel more casual, he wouldn't worry about his damn haircomb, or anything.
Things would start to happen soon, though. He knew Frank would have some beer, and they would sit around the living room with the stereo playing and Frank's big green box fan drawing air from the windows that opened onto the upstairs porch above Center Street. It was great to have money.
Frank had a good job working second shift at American Motors -- if you could stand screwing on headliners in Ramblers for eight hours a day, six days a week, Donnie immediately thought. Shit. Still, it probably wasn't any worse than the can company, where Frank had gotten himself fired when they found him sleeping in a buddy's car in the parking lot, drunk, while serving his time as a Huber Law prisoner.
He shrugged. It was nice to have money, but it was nice not to have to work, too, and he was getting his Unemployment Compensation for doing nothing until the can company called his own ass back. With a wife and kids, how much did Frank have left for himself? And when did he enjoy it? Not much, and not often, Donnie figured.
Donnie was looking towards Lorri's house while he thought. It was set back from the others on the block by a deep yard, so that the back door opened right onto the alley where Lorri's brothers were usually yelling and running around, climbing garage roofs or telephone poles or tearing around on stripped-down bicycles. The youngest one, Ronnie, the one who was so skinny and had such short hair he looked like a bald rat, was always screaming at an unendurably high pitch, his upper lip a snotty mess. How could the old man stand it?
Thinking of Lorri's father, Donnie automatically studied the yard, the shaded area by the tall bushes at the side of the house, expecting to see him doing something there -- digging or painting or puttering around the way he usually was when he was home and there was any light at all, in those stiff faded army khakis he always wore, but the yard was empty.
He recognized petunias and asters and phlox at the side of the house, such as bordered his own home, planted by the landlord's wife downstairs.
A pine tree formed an almost perfect green cone in the center of a circle of earth edged by a saw-toothed row of whitewashed bricks sunk in the ground. Almost as if her dad was keeping a shrine.
Donnie figured then that the old man was already at his second job, clerking at that cut-rate Reed's drugstore on Atkinson Avenue. And after working all day at Briggs & Stratton. Jesus, what a life. Lorri had told Donnie that her father had wanted to be a pharmacist, but he got married instead. The closest he came to his ambition was this part-time job. Though what was so great about being a pharmacist, Donnie couldn't see -- though he guessed they did make good money.
Donnie was glad that the old bastard wasn't there.
Slowly and deliberately, not feeling much cooler after all, he began to press on the silvery door handle. At what exact moment would the catch release?
Musing at the same time about the old man: How he would say Hi, and the old bastard would say Hi in return, both of them nodding slowly.
And it was comic, because after the quick exchange neither one could ever think of another word to say, and the old man would ignore Donnie waiting awkwardly in the cluttered, almost oppressive living room studying one of the several parakeet cages placed around the house and jiggling the car keys in his hand like a magic talisman that would get them out of there.
And the old guy would deliver the last-minute speech to Lorri. Skinny and grim, and pathetic too, he would say something like: Be home early, don't forget you've gotta get up early for school tomorrow, and don't forget you've gotta make my sandwiches for work, your mother's sick. And so on. The old lady was always sick and having operations, hernias and hemorrhoids and whatnot.
Of course there was no school anymore for Lorri -- she was looking for some kind of clerical job -- but the general form didn't vary. And Donnie would stand there looking blank, somehow feeling as uncomfortable as if the old man had come right out and accused him of screwing his daughter. Fat chance of getting that far with her, though.
Then as he at last opened the car door, swinging out his legs and noting with pleasure the close tubular fit of his clean white Levi's, he heard Lorri's voice from the house, from the porch as the screen-door slammed:
"Bye Mom!" The porch was gray splashed with ten different colors, crazy bright swirls and splotches of paint leftovers, a whim of the mother's when they painted the house. She had said, Why shouldn't we be different from everybody else to the family, and painted the way she'd wanted. That was fine, Donnie thought, though he didn't like the old lady otherwise.
But why shouldn't she be smug? She had the house and kids, growing like a cancer out of the old man's back, and with sicknesses, pretended and real, the housework fell on Lorri who, goddamn it, didn't even protest, and even paid room and board from her diddly little job at the A & H Cleaners on Hopkins Street that she had gotten as an after-school gig.
Strange that a colored guy would own a business that far west on Hopkins Street, a white neighborhood, but Albert seemed to treat Lorri all right and didn't try anything with her, she said, even buying the help chicken dinners sometimes.
Donnie could never get through to Lorri that she could really do what she wanted, especially since she'd be seventeen for only a few months more. He knew her family would never have sent her to the reformatory at Oregon -- the usual parents' threat -- no matter what she did. What would the relatives and neighbors think? Oh well, he had to accept her like that, if he wanted her at all.
He had noticed that her voice when she said goodbye to her mother sounded falsely cheerful, quavering, and he was surprised that she was even coming out to the car. He'd like to just blow the horn when he drove up, and wait in the car, but they had a fight about it in the beginning; she said it looked terrible to the neighbors, and her parents wouldn't allow it.
She told him about the guy she used to go with, Phillip, and how because he didn't have a car -- he had been younger than Donnie and still in school, like Lorri had been -- he used to have to walk two miles from his house every day to see her. And here Donnie wouldn't even come to the door for her. She made him feel pretty ashamed, though he didn't really see what difference it made, but he guessed he was kind of ignorant about how to be polite -- and it
pissed him off that she should be superior to him in something like that, when otherwise she didn't know shit about anything.
Still, if she hated her parents and the neighbors as much as she said she did, what did she care what they thought? She was more like them than she wanted to admit, that's all. Fuck it.
And the story about Phillip bored him. What was a Phillip? He couldn't picture her with a Phillip or anybody else except himself. She loved him now, not a Phillip, and he wasn't conceited to think so. He felt the same way about her. The thought of not having her, of looking for another girl -- every cute one a possibility, but they all turned out to be married or going with someone -- the thought of listening to the records in bars or on his car radio alone or with his buddies, most of them married or engaged and enjoying, it seemed to Donnie, their nights of drinking or shooting pool or playing sheepshead so much because there was someone who cared whether they came back or not, so they felt they were getting away with something -- the thought of meeting, finally, someone -- was there anyone? -- and going through all the stages of awkwardness and fake casualness was just too depressing.
Of course, no matter how much she resented her parents, the moment he said anything against them she defended them, and he'd given up that line. Especially since he had once mused idly about moving to California and she asked how she could leave her mother. Why did he have to like such a dumb broad?
He watched her walk off the porch and towards the car, turned with his side against the wheel and one arm over the back of the seat, looking at her bare ankles above the cream-colored shoes cut low in shallow scoops as she stepped on each individual square of the long sidewalk.
He liked to look at her, especially when she was fixed up. She was the prettiest girl he had ever gone with, and tonight she had her long reddish-brown hair brushed back so that it was like a curly ponytail, only looser. She even had a cute nose, which to Donnie was one that escaped notice. Tight pants, pale lavender with a rough texture that reminded him of drapes he had seen somewhere, that were such a contrast to the soft skin underneath, surrounded and held in so tightly.
Her legs were long, and the close-fitting pants made them even look thin, but he knew when she was naked they were just right, all rounded with soft slopes . . . there was a mark, like a scar, a tiny white comma at the base of her spine . . . he wished suddenly they weren't going to Frank's house and they could be alone someplace. But there was nowhere, everybody was home at his house. Too bad Lorri wasn't baby-sitting.
But there was no telling how she would act anyway, she was so hard to figure out and he didn't want to have a lot of trouble convincing her, that spoiled everything.
And he was looking forward to sitting around at Frank's, maybe play some cards -- no, he couldn't do that, and ignore Lorri -- it wasn't often he could drink and have something to do, and if she really wanted sex they could have any other night just as well.
He reached over and pushed the door partly open for her and she slid in next to him and smiled tremulously.
A gardenia scent wafted around her, and though he associated it with old ladies he still liked it.
She had a round, babyish face, the kind that made him feel tender, and rather large cushiony lips. "Boy, am I glad to get out of there -- ."
She broke off while looking up at him expectantly until he leaned over to kiss her. It was an understood thing: Whenever he was in the car and she got in, like when he picked her up after school or waited for her until she finished work at the cleaners, he would kiss her. But not if he got out of the car to get her. Then they would just get in and drive off.
They never talked about it, it was just understood.
"Hi, Doll," she said. He was pleased inside at the way she called him Doll, and he wished he could call her something like that; once in a while he called her Honey or Baby, but that was all -- she had once asked him to call her Kitten, Phillip used to, but he couldn't bring himself to do it because someone else had thought of it and because she had asked him to. And in that same mood he said, "Hi," casually, and broke off the kiss right away though he liked the feel of her thin shoulder fragile in his hand and her hair tingling on the back of his bare arm as she moved her head in small motions of lip pressure.
She looked disappointed but didn't say anything as he reached down to twist the handbrake at the same time shifting into first and letting out the clutch in one motion. He wanted to get to Frank's house, and he didn't feel like necking all the time like she did.
Sure, he used to, in the beginning when they were new to each other. But now -- it could be great if he thought she was hot for him, really wanted it, and they were stopped only by not having anyplace to go. But not as an end in itself, necking for hours. That was childish -- but that's what she really liked. He had tried to explain once, in what he hoped was one of their more communicative moments: If I love you, I love all of you (including your cunt, he added to himself).
It was that simple for him, and he'd been pleased with the rather original way he'd expressed it. Not that it impressed her much. Once he heard her say, in a conversation with a girl friend: That's true, women can do without it. All right, but why? Why do without it? He could do without chocolate milk or playing poker if he wanted to -- but why should he want to? As long as they were easy to get.
But what was really baffling -- and every time he thought about these things he had to remember this too -- was the way she was other times. The first time they had been alone in Chuck's house, Chuck and his wife already in bed because Chuck worked half-days on Saturday, he had unfastened her bra and she quickly made him fasten it again. And there had been some really great records on the radio, like the Drifters --Spanish Harlem was a perfect song -- and she'd been passionate as hell until then.
But a few months later he had opened her flower-print blouse and lifted her already loose bra over her tits, and she calmly felt him with her hand on his brown dress pants, saying, Mmmm, it feels pretty big.
Then fumbling around and finding the small silvery zipper and unzipping him. She held him there and led him dumbfounded and smiling into the empty bedroom, and the sly lecherous foggy look she'd had on her face, he assumed from the whiskey-and-sours she'd downed, was one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen.
The drinking had a lot to do with what turned out to be an unprompted handjob, of course, though he'd gotten her drunk before.
And it turned out she'd been partially fucked standing up in a bathroom by Phillip when she was only twelve; he'd only stopped because it hurt her too much, and she'd imagined herself pregnant for a month.
But that was before I found out it was wrong, she told Donnie in one of her usual self-righteous moods after that night. Then, Are we going to get married? she asked soon after that when they were in the car on the way to visit Chuck and Donna and he'd put his hand on her warm thigh under her dress and after a while moved it higher to where he could just barely feel her hair crinkling under her panties.
He made the mistake of saying, Is this a proposal? He sort of smoothed that one over, but things were rough ever since; she was just so unpredictable about sex . . .
" -- Know what she wanted me to do?"
He realized she was still talking about her mother, whatever happened back at the house, and he didn't know and didn't give a damn. He could picture Lorri's old lady sitting in her green plastic-covered contour chair, watching television and drinking 7-Up from cans she'd send the kids running to the corner store to get, and eating candy, though she went to a diet club at the Auer Avenue Social Center, where Donnie's mother went too.
He really felt sorry for the old man, having such a fat-assed wife. He had never heard the term before, but his own step-father knew her from Laessig's Tavern as Gert, and called her a real satchel-ass.
Once as they were leaving he realized her mother had been bitching about Lorri's pants, way too tight and cut low enough in the back under the silky blouse so that you could see the beginning of her ass.
"And I suppose you like that," she confronted him, and he answered, "Well, yeah," before he could really think, realizing he shouldn't look so pleased . . .
Yet it wasn't as if the guy was pussy-whipped or anything, as far as anybody could tell. He seemed to get his own way around the house, it was just that he seemed beaten down by it all -- quiet and withdrawn, but determined to plod on with the load, to work two jobs to pay off the mortgage, taking his insignificant little pleasures by himself, in his small workshop in the basement, drinking from his own case of Pepsi-Cola (he didn't drink beer, something that irritated Donnie; when he came over when Lorri was baby-sitting, there was nothing for him to drink).
There he was, stuck with a house to pay off and a wife that outweighed him by seventy pound, and three kids, a wife who played canasta almost endlessly, it seemed to Donnie, in the kitchen with the woman from upstairs, and who kidded everybody loudly and laughed loudly and screamed, though without any real anger, at the restless kids with her fat lips in a face that looked so familiar to Donnie because it was Lorri's face in twenty years.
In fact, Lorri had a picture in her wallet with the same broad sensual features that he had thought for a moment were Lorri's until he noticed the hair was of an old-fashioned frizzy style, and Lorri had told him proudly it was her mother.
" -- So I said there's no curfew, why do I have to be in so early, but she said she didn't care but my father would be mad and I had to be home by twelve sooo -- " she took a deep breath " -- I said all right, I just got tired of arguing with her, I couldn't stand it in there any more, so I watched out the window until you came."
"Yeah," he said. "Things will be different, soon."
He could almost feel sympathetic towards the old man sometimes, as if they understood each other and could almost break the barrier of silence between them.
Though he was probably just imagining it. Still, it occurred to Donnie more than once that they acted like two guys who used to be friends who were now in love with the same girl. Not an original insight, he knew, but there it was.
Of course, Donnie couldn't blame him for being suspicious. One time he came home when they had been baby-sitting and Donnie saw later that he had been walking around with his fly open after she had finished him off into the clean white handkerchief he always brought along.
She moved in the seat, getting closer to him. "Glad I'm here?"
He frowned. "Yeah." He cleared his throat. "I mean, yeah, sure, of course I'm glad." Naturally he was glad, why did she have to ask? He felt kind of distant, but he wouldn't want to be with anybody else. It felt good, though, to have her ask things like that, it showed she really liked him, and he could be casual and distant, the way he was lots of times, and she would still care, he didn't have to act.
That was the way it should be, they should be able to count on each other as something that would be there when really needed, and he would never want anybody else.
He saw the red flash of the Pall Mall pack out of the corner of his eye as she took it from her purse and lit two cigarets from the dash lighter. He turned slightly to the side for a moment and she stuck one in his mouth.
He didn't really want it, his mouth was cottony, but it was too late, he didn't want to hurt her feelings, and it was nice of her to do it. That was how you knew you had somebody -- it was like when he used to pick her up from school, he'd park by the door where she'd come out with her girlfriends, hugging her books to her chest the way girls did, and then she'd get in the car and he'd drive off fast with the radio playing, after kissing her hello, and then she'd light two cigarets and give him one, it would be her first since lunch hour.
To himself he sometimes wished that they could go on that way, driving around in the Ford with his hand on her thigh and drinking Mission port wine and beer, or going out with his buddies. But they all grew up, and everybody got married, went to work.
Are we engaged? she asked. Sure, he'd say, thinking how they were getting like her old man and old lady who had to have been connected at one time by some form of passion when she was thinner -- probably the best the guy could do -- as the kids proved, though he couldn't picture him on top of the old cow. But domestic torpor and their feeble but opposing interests had probably killed that. Though maybe the old man didn't feel that way at all, who knew what he felt? But that's the way Donnie would feel, he knew.
There was a rattle rattle rattle from her side of the car, it kept on, bothering him until he looked and saw the gap where her door wasn't closed completely.
"Close the door," he said.
She swung the door out with difficulty against the wind and pulled it shut. The gentleness of the movement irritated him. The door didn't catch, and she tried again.
"Here," he said impatiently. Steering awkwardly with one hand reaching in front of her, pulling it solidly so that it caught.
"Why don't you fix it, it never closes. Or else get a new car, this one's falling apart anyways."
"Anyway," he corrected her. Just as he usually had to point out when she used neither instead of either.
Sure, he thought, just like that, get a new car because you don't like the way the door rattles.
"I can't fix it because it's too damn old, the threads are stripped, and I can't get a new car because I'm laid off -- you know that."
Hell, he'd had a showy '52 Cadillac convertible, a powder-blue Coupe de Ville, that got sideswiped and wiped out -- parts strewn to the end of the playground block where he had parked on a New Year's Eve to ride with Chuck and his wife after Lorri went home. Too bad he had to sell the '57 Chevy he got after that, a beauty and his gleaming possession, to get the money to go to school.
Now, most of what little Comp money he was getting was being put aside for when he started school in the fall, after paying his parents for letting him stay there, but she knew that. Sure, she said she was proud of his ambition -- her word for it, he didn't feel any particular ambition -- who could be against getting an education, he thought wryly. But he knew she was afraid they wouldn't get married, afraid he'd meet someone else. She'd had a hard time in high school, though she got good marks because she worked at it. And because, like most girls, she got credit simply because she didn't cause any trouble.
One time she asked him, What's a Communist? I keep hearing about them all the time, but I don't know what they are. Jesus Christ. His new English teacher and his wife called themselves Marxist-Humanists, and had been loaning him books and pamphlets whenever he stopped at their flat on Murray Avenue, some of them about Detroit auto workers and such. So he tried to explain, even giving her his Max Schulman paperback, Barefoot Boy With Cheek, to read, though he didn't think she ever read a novel on her own. Then, of all things, when she'd gone to her teacher with a proposal to write a paper about Communism, the teacher refused, saying she was too young and might be influenced by what she read.
Strangely enough, Donnie himself had written a report for sociology -- assigned by a refugee Latvian who hated the Communists -- based on the prolific Harry and Bonaro Overstreet's What We Must Know About Communism. It was an uncritical paper that he later learned the teaching couple, his friends the Marxist Garsons, had tolerated without comment when they read it. Not that they supported the Stalinist state.
She moved closer to him, putting her arm around his shoulders, the way she did when she felt affectionate.
"I don't care," she said.
He had been distracted, thinking how it was strange that he should he going to college, since there was nothing that he wanted to be, though he figured journalism might be a way to become a writer. He was just putting off settling down, maybe he'd find a new group, people he could talk to -- he'd always been fascinated by books by Jack Kerouac, about beatniks or bohemian college life -- to replace the friends that married and drifted away or went in the army.
He always read the school newspaper at UWM, the Post, and after writing a short story about a gas station he used to hang out at for a creative writing class he learned about the magazine with fiction and poems called Cheshire; the same teacher had passed several of the best class efforts to the editor, who called him at home to ask if they could publish it.
But as a freshman and then sophomore still living in the old neighborhood and commuting in the Ford two times a day -- three if he had night classes -- it was easier hanging around with the old gang. And then he couldn't resist staying on into the fall at the can factory to be eligible for UC the rest of year, missing two semesters and a chance to meet anyone interesting in class. East Side college bars like the Tuxedo and Hooligan's -- they even advertised in the Post -- were crowded enough, but he always felt like a loner. After second shift a few can company guys his age would always stop at workingmen's bars like Peanuts Herlitz's on 27th Street, or Frenchy's on Atkinson . . .
"Care about what? I was watching the traffic."
"About the money. Just as long as I'm with you, I don't care if we can't afford to go anyplace. It would be nice, though, if we could go dancing at the Eagles Club, or someplace," she added wistfully. "I used to go there all the time."
He turned the car onto Center Street. Who in the hell wanted to go dancing? "Don't worry, we will, sometime. Wait 'til I get some money." It was getting dark and he noticed the cars coming toward him had their lights on already and he pulled out the round knob on the dash, hearing it click twice.
Maybe he would take her. After all, she was nice about money, he never had to spend anything on her. She was happy if they just spent the night nuzzling someplace. That was the trouble -- all they would do was neck, and she'd love it, but for him it didn't seem to have much point, it didn't lead anyplace.
Sometimes there wasn't much point in taking her anyplace. He had started going to foreign films at the Times, especially when there might be some nudity, like Brigitte Bardot, and when he heard students talking about Phaedra he thought she might like it since it had Anthony Perkins in it. But she fell asleep, even through the massive organ chords of what he learned was a Bach fugue when Perkins deliberately crashed his sports car.
He had wondered then whether college could bring him an affair with an exotic older woman like Phaedra, though Mercouri herself seemed too loud and brassy. That girlish kid in the Tea and Sympathy play he read made it seem possible, and his first English instructor -- a gypsy-like Jewish chick with an uncontrolled mass of wiry black hair who talked in class about how much Lady Chatterley's Lover had meant to her -- had given him a ride to his car in her Isetta.
But he was disappointed that Mrs. Garson -- Bibiana -- though she tossed around words like fuck and liked to talk to him a lot didn't bring out the almost dumbstruck urge that filled him with longing to kiss a face all over and savor the feel of a body and expose the hidden pussy and tits the way someone young like Lorri could. In truth, the faint reddish mottling on her face was unattractive, no matter that she once let it drop that her husband knows I'm such a whore.
Still, he loved that she would talk to him: faculty gossip and segregation and the growing war in Vietnam, even encouraging the little poems he tried, modeled on her own sentence fragments and grammatical patterns that were themselves so different from the conventional meters and rhymes her husband published.
They even stopped for drinks once at the Embers jazz lounge on Capitol Drive after a discussion group that had been meeting for years at Jefferson Hall and bar on Fond du Lac Avenue -- a Milwaukee German Freethinkers tradition -- and she later showed him her poem called The Place:
jazz and smoke heat the bar
dark in here, laughing
door opens, cold white air
blows on one arriving
quiet there but for
bright snow singing
His first effort was printed with hers on the same page of Cheshire as The Thaw:
The melting night
a rippling sound
Sewer's black grating
suck the covers
from the ground
Bark of trees black
against gray sky
Japanese brush painting
with the ink not dry
He sometimes thought of the youth group leader and Sunday School teacher at St. John's Methodist Church -- long abandoned by him -- Mrs. Kalterjahn with her perfectly delineated red lips and black hat with a little black netting on her head, never really picturing a body beneath the tight-fitting skirt and jacket though he knew he foolishly worshipped what he could see, the sleek legs, though he was just a kid. Somewhat guilty, he had wished his mother was that pretty and had the perfectly smooth face with what looked its fine dusting of powder.
But Bibiana with her sort of high-hipped rangy movements and crown of piled-up hair and small eyes and thin lips with only a faintly pink, natural look made him think of the two kids she'd had that maybe were what made her look so worn -- she was somewhere in her late thirties -- probably with a hairy maw. Huge, damp, tangled -- not like the pristine dark-copper curls that Lorri always protected.
For his part he automatically rated most females:
Would I fuck her? Would I marry her? The idea of dating was in there, since he wouldn't date anybody he didn't want, and naturally old and ugly women didn't even register. But Bibiana, though she would sit close to him on her couch when he dropped off books to talk even as her kids peeked out their bedroom door, didn't bring out any real desire. He would like to see those big tits, but would have been afraid to be awkward and, especially, unexcited by her sort-of splayed-out ass in the long pleated skirts she wore a lot.
But if he couldn't have what he wanted from Lorri he'd rather forget it when there was something else to do, a chance to be with people and kid around and play cards, or just drink and talk. What could you do in a car anyway, in the city, with cops always coming around the lakefront with their lights, asking questions.
She would give him a hand job, if she were in the mood, but that was about it.
She snuggled closer to him, putting her hand on his leg.
"Where are we going tonight? Frank's again, I suppose." She didn't sound very pleased about it, and he knew he would have to be careful tonight, and pay attention to her. Oh, he'd play cards, but he'd make it up to her when he took her home.
He pulled up for a red light by North Division, where he used to go. It seemed like a long time since he'd graduated four years back. He braked to a complete stop before answering. "I guess so. Where else are we going to go? You said you didn't care if I couldn't spend any money."
"I know, but I thought you might want to get some beer, and park down at the lake," she said softly. He'd felt it coming, and there it was -- she would even pay for the beer. She was always putting herself between him and any activities that came along that didn't include her.
Once he had settled awkwardly on his bed with his mother's Smith-Corona portable on his lap on a nice Saturday afternoon to try to write another story -- wasn't he an author, after all? -- but she had called him up to get him to take her shopping at Capitol Court, and he gave up. He wrote for class, but he never felt like he had enough time to do much. Parties and bars were always there to go to, even if when he was having fun she was always dragging him off into a bedroom and getting him to kiss and fumble around, usually on a bed piled with coats.
Why go to a party for that?
But he was tempted. He could see her reflection in the windshield now that it was dark out, the two of them together like a ghostly mirage floating in the air, almost washed out in the bright patches of neon tavern signs and streetlights.
He was very familiar with what she was wearing, a thin blue sweater that he liked, with a small flappy collar, open at the throat and closing to a point between her breasts. They weren't big, not globes but perfect cones, the kind where the dark nipples pointed right out from tapered tips. Even though he had once noticed three hairs on one bull's-eye that he insisted she tweeze, but found out eventually she was too chickenshit and had been trimming them off since. Anyway, she seemed in the right mood.
"Well . . . Doll?"
The hell with it. If they could have her house to themselves and he could feed her beer until she admitted she was as horny as he was -- but not this way, not tonight. Why get worked up?
"We can't now. Frank is expecting us," he told her. "You always liked to go to Frank's, too."
Which wasn't really true, he knew, he was trying to make her think the way he thought she should. "I imagine we'll have some beer, we always do, and we'll listen to records."
"You'll probably play cards and ignore me all night. You'd better not."
What could he do if the other guys wanted to play cards? They were together, that was taken for granted, why should he sit and hold her hand all night? "Look," he said in a calm flat tone that he used, he knew, when he was trying to prove the superiority of his reasoning.
"We're going steady, so I take you every place I go, even if I'm only going to play cards. Besides, we don't always play cards. And I don't want to leave you home," he added quickly when he felt her drawing away.
He made himself sound hurt. "I could just take you out when I could afford to go someplace special, but I didn't think you were like that." And why do I have to give you all this bullshit, he wondered. Even though he really did love her he couldn't tell her the truth, she didn't understand anything.
"We'll leave early," he said. He always did what he wanted to do, then he had to pretend he was sorry. She always came back. Why couldn't they be honest about it?
"You better. I have to be home by twelve, and I want to be alone with you for a little while tonight. You're always playing cards or something if you're there at all. And you better not go out again and leave me sitting there, neither, like the last time. And the time before."
"Hell, so we go out and shoot a couple games of pool, what's wrong with that? I like to get together with the guys, you should like to get together with the girls. You like Doreen and Donna."
"Not for six hours!" She moved away from him; he found himself looking where the tight pants covered her cunt, and he wanted to put his hand there. He liked to finger her, have her come while he held her, but she usually stopped him, leaving him with a glistening finger. Maybe even with a hair sticking to it that he had to flick off.
"Last time we had to sit there and just wait, while you and Frank and Chuck were out drinking."
"We go out to shoot pool. I'd take you along, but you know you can't get served hardly anyplace. Especially since they're always going to card me, 'cause I look so damn young."
And he did want to take her along. He loved just watching her move around Frank's kitchen, when they played poker there, or sheepshead, and see her laughing and talking with his buddies' wives. She was prettier than any of them.
Absently he unscrewed and screwed tight again the round black knob on the shift lever. "And if we go out and shoot a few games of pool, what's wrong with that? Chuck and Frank do it, and leave their wives there."
"That's different, they're married."
He was silent. The outside air seemed to be cooling nicely now, and he adjusted the wing window to help it blow on him.
"Even when you're there you ignore me. You don't even sit next to me."
"I can't sit next to you when I'm playing cards."
"You know what I mean. Other times, when we're sitting in the living room. And you didn't even kiss me tonight."
"I did too, dammit, when you got in the car."
"You call that a kiss? You're so indifferent now, not the way we used to be when we were first going together." Indifferent wasn't really a very big word, but coming from her it sounded odd. Every once in a while she used a long word, often mispronounced, or a stilted phrasing, that made him smile.
She used to tell him, You're disconsolate, until he figured out she meant something like incorrigible, and told her she was labeling him inconsolable, when he wasn't really sad.
It went on like that the rest of the way to Frank's house, and she made him feel guilty, and even guiltier about telling her the lies she wanted to hear. At the same time he wondered dully how she could expect him to be affectionate any time she wanted, when he couldn't have her body the same way whenever he felt like it. Jack me off right now he wanted to say.
"We'll leave early, honey." Hell, he enjoyed parking for a while in front of her house, if he wasn't too drunk. It was just that he always seemed to get her home late. He hated to leave anything early, the card game or the tavern or a party. And she had to be home too damn early. But he would sit next to her on the couch and keep her happy, and he could do without pool, too. Chuck's wife probably wouldn't let him out anyway.
"And I don't like Donna any more, neither. I know she likes you, and you probably like her."
"Either, dammit. Look, I don't like Donna." Hell, he hadn't had anything to do with Chuck's wife since he started going with Lorri, and he didn't even get credit for that. And he knew he could lay her. What had she ever seen in Chuck, he wondered as he parked the car in front of Frank's house.
He rang the doorbell, and they walked up the stairs; Frank was waiting for them at the top. Soon the three couples were settled in the living room. Donnie and Lorri sat close together on the new black three-piece sectional with the low square back. Donnie personally liked beat-up comfortable furniture instead of this cold-looking modern crap, but it showed Frank was at least getting a lot of money for the overtime he put in.
Doreen and Frank's baby, a scrawny thing with a lumpy head and scraggly black hair sat in a special baby-chair facing the television which was on but turned low. Frank had some old Lloyd Price and Skyliners albums on the blond wood stereo. It was comfortable sitting in the breeze and drinking Pabst.
It wasn't long before Frank suggested a game. He had a still-pimply thin face and brown hair that he had darkened with water and oil and curled in the front with a curling iron after he got out of jail, the way some of the guys from the corner were doing, and often complained about soft teeth that were crumbling and would have to be yanked. Donnie never really liked him that much, but he was from the same block and they had been part of the same gang forever.
He peeled the blue label of the Pabst bottle with his thumb.
"Nah," he answered, "I don't feel like it. I can't afford it anyway." Lorri squeezed his hand.
"Your credit's good," Chuck said.
"Nah, I don't feel like it," he repeated, glancing at Lorri. "How about playin' some of those Redd Foxx party records?"
"He won't 'cause Lorri don't want him to, do you Lorri?" Chuck said to her.
"He can play cards if he wants to, I don't care," she said very sweetly. "Here, if you don't have any money, I've got some."
She reached in her purse and took out some money.
He looked at the crumpled dollar bill and the change lying on the kidney-shaped coffee table. It was covered with a mosaic of pebbles, and the copper of the pennies stood out against the bright colors of the rounded pieces of stone cemented into the gray surface.
He knew he shouldn't, but there was nothing else to do anyway, and she didn't seem to be mad. Hell, he didn't want to look like a coward. I can make everything all right later, he thought. She must like me a lot yet, the way she acted tonight. The beer was starting to give him the confidence he liked to have, and he picked up the money and smiled a little, and got up.
He stumbled as he followed Frank and Chuck into the kitchen. Take it easy, he thought. Can't get drunk again.
They started playing sheepshead, almost forgetting about the women as they told jokes and drank beer.
"Did you hear about the queer bear that laid his paw on the table?" asked Frank, putting down his trump to take a trick.
Clouds of smoke drifted around the circular
translucent-white light fixture above the table, and the refrigerator door slammed often as they rapidly opened the bottles of beer.
Stupidly Donnie picked the blinds with six trump and no aces, and Chuck on his right hit his fail suits right away by leading his own long suit. He never got to use the two big whores, the queen of clubs and spades, or his jacks, until Frank got most of his smear home. The game was lost. At 5-10-15 -- insignificant stakes and a formality only, on Donnie's account -- he lost, with no-Schneider, 20 cents. With double on the bump, it could have been worse.
"Piss," he said, and got up to go to the can. He noticed the girls were in the bedroom trying on Doreen's clothes. "Good," he said, nodding sagely to himself.
He fumbled for the light-switch; his fingers seemed thick and clumsy. He pissed, the faint aroma that reminded him of a freshly opened bag of pretzels rising up to him as he scratched his balls with satisfaction at the same time. It was great after sitting cramped on the chair in the tight white Levi's. Washing, he regarded his face in the mirror framed in the yellow-painted wood of the door to the medicine cabinet.
"Hah!" he said to himself, showing his teeth. Damn, he was pretty cute, why shouldn't any girl love him? The hell with 'em all.
As he opened the door to walk out he heard Frank's voice.
"C'mon, fucker, we're going to shoot a game of pool. I already asked Lorri if we could borrow you for a while, and she says it's all right."
He looked over at Lorri. Hell, why not? "We're going to shoot a game of pool," he told her.
"So I heard. You might as well, now."
He shrugged and turned to leave. "Just remember I've got to be home by twelve," her voice came floating after him.
"I know, or you turn into a pumpkin." Now that was clever, he thought, irritated with himself.
They went out the door and rushed down the stairs, all of them jumping down the last six steps, though Donnie couldn't see any reason for it. But it was a satisfying thump to the soles of his feet when they hit.
The tavern was only two doors down, on the corner.
"Yaiieee," Chuck yelled into the night before they opened the smooth door with one diamond-shaped window at eye level. Donnie raised his eyebrows at the scene they were making -- though he almost giggled -- and tried to look composed.
They filed sedately enough through the doorway.
It looked a cut above the average corner bar, with studded leather or an imitation on the front of the bar where all the knees rubbed and a padded ridge to keep awkward hands from sliding drinks off into space.
The owner had his name in black block letters on the BLATZ sign hanging over the sidewalks: Paul Schlempf. And that had to be he behind the bar, a short German with a paunch and a few strands of hair combed across his almost-bald head with water and a wrinkled white shirt rolled up at the sleeves.
The pool table was set diagonally in the bar room to use the available space to best advantage, but Donnie could tell they'd still be bumping the butt-ends of their cues against the wall on some of their shots. Walking in and nodding to the bartender and saying casually, "A tap beer," hoping he wouldn't get asked for his ID.
He could feel already the stick in his hands long and hard making his arm feel strong and he thought of how he was defying Lorri sitting on the couch with her soft thighs spreading under the lavender pants. The phrase phallic symbol came to him from his psych class, and he thought of other relevancies, though it was more of a mental exercise at this point than real insight: the triangular shape of the rack smashed by the pumping stroke of the stick, the urging of the body as the balls headed for the dark holes. He hated being reminded of the real thing, though Frank and Chuck could at least have both their outings and the gash.
They got their glasses of beer and started to shoot a game, eight-ball because they weren't really very good, average bar room players, and it was the easiest. They took turns sitting out because only two or four could play.
But Frank thought he was good, and Chuck, lurching a little foolishly around the table, prided himself on his bank shots and they took on two guys sitting at the bar for a buck and a drink, and Donnie sat out for good. His money was almost gone again, anyway, and he should hang on to the rest.
The juke box had some jazz that got played once in a while, as well as as bland stuff like Johnnie Tillotson and Joe Dowell and Shelley Fabares. Funny, his friend Grant -- who hung around with colored guys a lot -- liked doo-wop but said jazz sounded like everybody was playing a different song at once, though Donnie could dig it and the new jazz singles that were coming out: Jimmy Smith, Dave Brubeck, Ahmad Jamal.
But though the colored guys liked jazz bars they made him nervous when he stopped in for music and mixed drinks some nights -- he knew some were into heroin and robbing -- especially when Grant wasn't around, and he was afraid to make a play for the colored chicks, though at North Division a few had been really friendly. At the desk next to him in homeroom one girl -- part of the large Hedrick family -- always had him looking out of the corner of his eye when she reached behind her back to tug at her tight sweater and the bra strap underneath, making her ample tits rise and then bounce as they settled. But he could never talk to her; only the class leaders, the white and colored nerds, mingled at school, though he couldn't say why.
He studied one of the strange guys because he liked his style. He had a moustache and black hair combed back slickly like a movie riverboat gambler. He was sharp for a guy who probably worked in a factory, and Donnie looked sadly at Chuck who had been his best friend since high school but of whom he was actually ashamed now, with his heavy work shoes and shapeless overalls and paint-splattered blue tanker jacket. No style at all any more. Donnie was pleased with his own recent moustache growth, more Faulkner than Hemingway, he thought.
Chuck worked at a small auto-body shop for a below-union wage, breathing paint-spray and lacquer all day. He'd always looked a little like Howdy Doody, with big ears and freckles and a quick grin -- not a tough guy, but the one who had a license first and always had a car for the bunch of them to cruise in.
Can't afford a fucking thing for himself since he got married, Donnie thought, though working every goddamned day didn't seem to bother him.
That's marriage for you. Piss on it -- why should he support somebody with two arms and two legs who could probably get a job easier than he could? Sure, there was the sex part of it, but what would he ever get in bed that he wasn't giving? Or at least willing to give -- if there were still girls around who didn't know they were supposed to enjoy it, it wasn't his fault. Though he'd be willing to help them change their minds. He chuckled. Just line up on my left, one at a time. Donna, now -- but she was his buddy's wife. No, he'd stick with Lorri, if she would only learn there was nothing wrong with fucking. Then she'd be really great.
He put out his cigaret in the green glass ashtray with wicked pointed corners and ordered another beer. He hoped he could stop smoking for good, more so now than ever since he had gotten a set of weights that he worked out with in his bedroom every season he wasn't at the can company. There was an argument going on at the pool table over whether or not to bank the eight-ball, that took some time and beers all around to resolve.
So it was almost twelve-thirty when he came back up the stairs.
Chuck and Frank were still at the tavern. Lorri had her purse and was coming through the doorway at the top of the stairs. "I was just going to take the bus home," she said, and quickly brushed past him as he grinned sheepishly.
He turned to follow her hurriedly down the stair steps. You know, he thought, I guess I do this too often, leaving her alone while I go out drinking, and he tripped over his own foot and fell halfway down the stairs, ending up with his chin on the carpet on the bottom step and his hand uselessly clutching at the railing, looking at the base of the door.
"If I want to drink and fall down stairs that's my business," he muttered in the darkened hallway, but he picked himself up and limped hurriedly to the car. She was sitting inside, way over against her door, her arms folded over her breasts.
He drove as fast as he could. He was vaguely aware of doing sixty past the yellow sign of Roller's beer depot, and running before he realized it a red light on Eighth Street.
"Look," he said as he pulled up in front of her walk.
His leg hurt from the fall and his ears were buzzing and everything seemed unreal. He knew if he closed his eyes the car would spin around faster and faster . . . he was getting sick.
"Look," he said again, "Why do I have to go through with this? Why can't we be honest 'n' not have to 'pologize and kiss and make you forget it?" She should know she would come back to him, she always did. He just wasn't up to making excuses tonight. The hell with it, why not be honest?
He started again when she remained silent. "You know, and I know, that it won't make any difference, you still love me, and I love you, and so it happened again, so what? I can explain it to you and you'll forget all about it, so why should I have to bother?"
"Oh wont it make any difference? And you're not even sorry! Just don't bother coming around any more."
She shoved open the door, the hinges creaking loudly in the stillness of the now-cooler night, and got out.
Let her go, he thought. He was tired of it. She didn't care that he loved her, just that he didn't go through the proper routine. His mind whirled, his thoughts rushing by, formless dark feelings rather than thoughts, like the night-blowing wind that pushed through the trees that loomed above the car. The steady movement in the leaves he heard through the window made him think gloomily of life slipping by while he was stuck with this broad. He wouldn't walk her to the door, either. Nobody was going to jump her.
She slammed the door fiercely. "Good night!" A loud thunk.
The door hesitated, then swung open. Why in the hell couldn't she even close a door? Strangely, he had the feeling he ought to show her how, the way he ordinarily would, and he almost moved. She stepped back to it and swung it again, rattling the windows. It bounced back. He said wearily, "Oh hell," and got out stoically, automatically.
"Damn this door!" she burst out.
He was out of his side of the car. She shut it again, and it gaped a few inches. She drew back her leg to kick it.
The tight pants glimmered under the soft light of the streetlamps. He remembered as he was caught by the sight of her thighs with the clouds massing and moving overhead and the wind dragging claws through the trees how she had looked standing naked and half-smiling in front of him with only a garter belt on -- for a moment he couldn't figure out what it was, it looked so strange because she had it turned to cover her pussy -- and he pulled it aside, fascinated by the reddish-brown delta underneath, and later walking away out the bedroom door into the bathroom now without even the garter belt, while he was still flat on his back in the bed with a fresh quart of beer resting cold against his stomach, watching her back and bare ass, flashing that little tuft where her legs met.
She wouldn't fuck, but they had made each other come. That had been one of the few times they had her house to themselves and he had been able to get her drunk enough, when he had been able to convince her that it was all right being naked, they were going to be married.
He hated being reminded once again that he had never actually done it with any chick, but it was still a lot better than nothing. He couldn't help sniffing his fingers, her scent only slightly pungent, to prolong the memory.
And he remembered, as he looked at the quiet houses dark behind their screened windows on both sides of them, another big fight they'd had -- when was that one? -- and the day after when he feeling guilty picked her up, with his hangover mouth and scratchy and irritable in his black woolen suit on the warm almost-spring day, to take her to church -- yeah, it must have been Easter Sunday -- because she wanted him to go. She wouldn't listen when he tried to tell her there wasn't any God, that the Bible was fairy tales. Quoted something about holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost that she learned by rote in Sunday School.
The Lutheran service had seemed like such a combination of sham and pomp designed to obscure a lack of real relevance that he was as bored as church always left him, and all the stained glass and polished wood in the world wouldn't have impressed him. At least she wasn't Catholic, though with a French name like Lorri LaRue -- stagy enough to make most people smile -- he would have expected it.
"Isn't it beautiful," she asked, nodding at the
streaming light from the windows on their right
reflecting onto the shiny grain of the pews while an organist sent reverberations to blanket the dressed-up crowd, though it mattered not at all to him. He knew when he was being manipulated -- the church had a long time to perfect the process.
He wondered then what she thought about that time they had been lying in bed naked, covers thrown back, after she got him off, and she got chilly and waggled his dick a little bit and said slyly, Why don't you use this to keep me warm, when of course it was then too late, he was spent and limp . . .
Sitting that Easter with her in the car he had moved his finger around and around on her smooth cheek thinking how pretty she looked with the Sunday sun on the other side of her long brown hair that rested on the back of the seat as he moved his hand to the nape of her neck with her full sullen red lips that finally smiled at him while he talked to her quietly, saying, I'm sorry, Honey, and ,You know I love you, and not too much else because he didn't know how to explain about the good time he'd had the night before, and couldn't put it into words that she'd understand that he didn't want to lose her and how he felt looking at her, he'd wanted to lay his head on her lap, to have the thighs that moved under the narrow white dress against his face, his head nestled close to the belly that curved gently the way he liked, looking tender and appealing. Trying to put out of his mind any thought about how she would taste if he could ever slip his tongue through that modest clump. Even though none of the guys except Davy Olson admitted eating pussy, he bet they all tried it. They had picked up some farm girls in Palmyra, and Davy told him about going with one into the corn field and eating her out, his first time.
What was it like? Donnie asked. Like chewing on ham fat, Davy told him.
So Lorri was still Donnie's best chance for sex. Once they had gone into the bathroom together after Chuck and Donna let them use the house, naked after fooling around, and she sat down while he looked in the mirror and waited for her to finish.
He didn't have his glasses, or even a comb, but he leaned forward to check himself out -- flexing for a second his lats and pecs in the V-pose -- and he could see why with his moustache an English major at school named Cynthia had told him he looked like
Hemingway, though he thought he wasn't burly enough and had lighter hair. More like Errol Flynn -- without the glasses -- whom he had seen on Jack Paar'sTV show and earlier in the movies.
Of course he had been a little flustered when she asked him, Is that who you're being compared to, Hemingway? since he didn't think his few stories had been compared to anybody famous. She seemed to mock him, but they had ended up on some almost-dates, sitting over coffee at Mrs. McClellan's restaurant on Downer Avenue across from Mitchell Hall -- once going with some other Cheshire people to watch Henry IV on Channel 10 at her house in Shorewood -- though the chicks from the North Shore suburbs seemed too upper-class to be attracted to him, and he didn't really try for them.
But of course he learned from them all, from absorbing the correct pronunciation of classical composers to dealing with his own speech patterns: It was Jim Sverdlov who mocked his use of dese and dose -- a feature of the famous dialect called M'waukee Talk that used such terms as bubbler for drinking fountain, or where the streetcar turns the corner around, or I'm going by Schuster's for I'm going to Schuster's. Actually, conscious of it for the first time, he realized it was a kind of laziness that didn't even fully articulate dese; rather, he would start a sentence with 'At's for That's, or 'Ose 'r for Those are -- once aware, he forced himself never to mis-speak the offending sounds again. It turned out surprisingly easy to enunciate the way things were written.
But he remained too poor to date during the school year anyway. And Cynthia was always sick, twice dropping out with mysterious illnesses, though once on the last day of classes she gave him a poem of hers done in calligraphy on heavy-weight paper, titled
In the beauty of his eyes
I see the fearful, tyrant sea
Clawing at the jagged shore
And filled with perfidy
He was flattered, but even he pegged it as schoolgirl drivel that he could sing to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, though he might have made a move in spite of her stout legs and overly prominent nostrils if she had returned to classes soon enough -- and without the new boyfriend. But at least he had begun to appreciate even Shakespeare, hearing for the first time Falstaff's reading of the line after Prince Henry's I have procured thee, Jack, a charge of foot:
I would it had been of horse. Where shall I find
one that can steal well? . . . .
In the bathroom he deliberately turned to stand in front of Lorri and she kissed his dick a little on the tip -- the closest she had ever gotten to it with her mouth. Only once had this young chick Maxine sucked him off when they were all drunk and picked up the two sisters, the Burmeisters, in Chuck's Rocket 88, and he never saw her or did it again. The guys wanted to drop them off fast when they were done, and would have cut him down if he wanted her to be his girlfriend. Besides, she was too young for him, about 15.
"Thanks for not looking," Lorri said, blotting
herself with a large wad of paper as he figured that's all it was going to be this time.
And he knew he could do it again, get her back if he wanted. He moved next to her, standing by the tree that arched over the sidewalk. He had often noticed the bark on the curb side had a round bare spot -- a wound with swollen ridges around it -- and a rough growth like a fucking erect prick that you could grab.
. "It's not so hard," he said, wondering why he was so afraid of trying to find somebody else, putting his hand on the handle, holding the button in with his thumb, closing the door solidly. At the same time he slipped his arm around her waist, drawing her close. He must have been crazy, he thought, to try and tell the truth. Nobody ever did. She stood stiffly and her waist was rigid, but she was warm and he could sense her softening towards him. The sweater stuck to his palm.
"I sorry," she said in the baby-talk she liked to use.
"We can go in your hall for a few minutes --" he whispered. When his car wasn't running they used to go in her back hall to neck. In the beginning she had tricked him there sometimes, asking, You know what that tastes like? And when he would go Hmm? she said More, and kissed him again.
"-- I want to talk to you." Their legs brushed together.
They walked down her sidewalk with his arm around her, staggering when he stumbled. Looking at her he saw as the moonlight slanted across her face sleepiness and maybe smugness, too. He felt in his core her satisfaction with her life, even her mother's life, while he didn't know what he felt. Earlier he had told Chuck about a party at the end of his last semester: The creative writing teacher, George Garson, had some students over and his wife periodically swept onto the porch under the yellowish globe light as guests arrived, wearing some sort of long dress she explained to him was a hostess gown, ushering everybody together into a room with a neat dark leather couch and a table for the cheeses and sausage and crackers she served. Later, as they drank cans of beer, she read her new poem to a few who were the last to leave; at least she said it was a poem . . .
"It was, ah, like:
Chancellor Klotsche, go fuck yourself
Mayor Maier, go fuck yourself
Chief Breier, go fuck yourself
J. Edgar Hoover, go fuck yourself
President Eisenhower, go fuck yourself
While we all fuck each other
Chuck grinned. "Yeah? And did you?"
"No," Donnie admitted. "At least not then. I didn't even know most of the chicks. But still, it sounded good -- who knows what could happen sometime . . ."
With his arm around Lorri going up a few concrete steps taking care not to trip again he had this picture of himself hanging on to one rung of a ladder afraid to let go before he had a grip on the next, an image that satisfied him as literary enough for the writer he might be. That was one problem with writing -- he always had these stacks of books from the Garsons on his dresser, from Norman O. Brown to Sartre to Paul Goodman, and he plunged in and then decided that using the time to finish the one he was reading would make him a better writer, even while promising to himself to try to write just one paragraph of description as perfect as those in front of him. Maybe like Saul Bellow, or James T. Farrell, the first writer he knew -- from the Studs Lonigan paperback he had picked up in junior high -- that took youth culture seriously and wrote about it honestly. The tinge of notoriety they had added to their attraction, and sent him to the library for all of Farrell's works, and while he was at it to look for his first books on atheism. Tom Paine, Clarence Darrow, Bertrand Russell . . .
But his efforts at even one block of words like the precise jewels he wanted, a sinuous freight train of description that sparkled with originality while capturing the exact picture in his mind seemed to fall flat the few times he tried. Just commonplace attempts without the colorful aptness and originality he wanted, and sometimes mixing metaphors besides . . .
Hell, if he got that good he could find somebody for sure and could cut her loose or maybe just drift away. Even so, he had to make a move. They kept walking to her back door together past the amazing crazy-quilt porch under a bright moon.
The pleasant summer evening was really not over, either, and he could still make last call at Herlitz's on 27th Street. Hell, it was the weekend, he could even try the Tuxedo with its intriguing collegiate aspects, drunk or not and already hurting from the tumble down the stairs.