by Joni Abilene
I love the 1970s—the music, the clothes, the naivete of all things social, sexual and political—but mostly what I love is how real people were back then. They were open and honest about their lives, and everyone seemed to be on a journey of self-discovery. In The Moonflowers, Jane wants to escape a bad marriage and unlock her repressed female self, something a girl raised in the 40s-50s would have had trouble understanding. Things change when she meets injured Vietnam vet Eric Church who believes in a life unfettered. Jane’s son Keith wants something similar, except he has the disadvantage of being only fourteen. I say disadvantage because the world is a hell of a lot more confusing when you’re that age, and when it comes to sex you’re just about as dumb and mixed up as an intoxicated rabbit. Below are the first two chapters of The Moonflowers. If you like what you read, please consider purchasing the book and leaving a kind review. Thank you.
Stagnant air pooled like hot syrup in the back section of the IGA, three o’clock on a Friday afternoon. Jane, pits itchy with sweat, thumbed through magazines and paperbacks but couldn’t decide on Good Housekeeping or a copy of The Hite Report. Good Housekeeping had an article on how to keep your upholstery clean, but The Hite Report was about orgasms and all the secret stuff of life. On impulse, she threw them both into the cart, followed by a box of Ritz crackers and a discount box of Dreft. No one in town needed to know she was an idiot about orgasms.
The world, still wet from Vietnam, had discovered a new controversy to pine over: women and sex. Namely, what they thought of sex. The author, a young and blonde Shere Hite, had conducted the research by asking real women real questions, and now the world wanted to know the truth: did the average woman enjoy having sex, and did some know how to get off on their own? These were things Jane would like to know herself as up until now she’d been stumbling through the process like a damn idiot.
Married for almost fifteen years, she had yet to experience true pleasure. That meant something was wrong with her. She didn’t know what exactly. Sometimes she woke up at night and ached. Maybe she was dying. A recent visit to the doctor had uncovered a slight thyroid problem, but nothing serious. Still the pain came and went, a deep, unsatisfied pain which sometimes felt like loneliness.
Just then Jane’s best friend Suzanne came around the corner, shopping cart in one hand and the shirt collar of her son Danny clutched in the other.
“Oh hi,” Suzanne said, puffing a bit. Danny struggled to break free in an apparent need to look at comics. Suzanne lifted a hand and he shot off like a bird from an electric cage. “I raised a brat. I told him if he wants to save up to be in the Archie Fan Club then he’d better mind me more often, but is he listening?” She slapped Jane on the arm. “Hey, I missed you last night at the PTA dinner. I mean, really missed you. How come you didn’t show? Well, anyway, it was boring as hell, but I had to go because Sally signed me up to make Jell-o, and then I got shamboozled into sticking around while she talked to all her friends. I was going to let her walk home with them, but she’s been mentioning some sixteen-year-old boy she met at a dance and I figured I’d better keep an eye on her. How are things?”
“Fine.” Jane took a quick moment to make sure she’d covered The Hite Report.
“Fine,” Suzanne repeated. “You always say that. Well, when I’m fine, I’m fine, but I think when you’re fine, you’re really bummed out.”
“Not everybody can be as fine as you, Suzanne.”
“True. Do you think it’s my big raven hair or my big ass? Don’t answer that. The ass is what gets me in trouble.” Pursing her lips, and posing in a mock Marilyn, Suzanne swiveled her hips in a slow circle. It ended with a pelvic thrust much too provocative for a weekday shopping trip at the local supermarket. The two women laughed.
Unlike Suzanne, Jane had never found herself being quite so free from social conscience. It stuck to her like fly tape.
They rolled their carts to the next aisle of breads and cereals. Danny remained behind, reading his comic.
Jane scanned the grocery list she’d written, though she didn’t have to as the items never changed from week to week: coffee, bread, milk, corn flakes, Jell-o, bologna, potatoes and lots of pork and red meat. If she forgot something, her husband Grant had a small fit and sent her back.
“How’s everyone?” Suzanne asked. She took a bite of a strawberry from a little plastic crate and shoved it back in. Many of the strawberries had bites in them. Jane wondered if any inside the pack would make it to the checkout counter intact.
“Grant’s okay. Keith’s okay. They’re at the ball fields right now, for a game.”
“Grant coaching again?”
“No. He, uh, decided not to do that this year.”
Jane wanted to tell Suzanne the truth, but couldn’t. A few weeks ago, the local baseball committee had told Grant that the other parents had started a petition to keep him off the fields. He was still allowed to attend, but at a distance of two-hundred feet. It was because of all the cussing and yelling. He now watched from behind the wheel of his car using a pair of cheap binoculars, and he often took Jane along. Those were some long, hot summer evenings. Jane tried her best to endure them, using paperbacks and fans made from thrown-out fliers.
Keith had admitted to her one night how secretly happy he was and asked if it was okay if he quit playing altogether. Jane told him a boy should be sad to lose their parent as a personal coach, but Keith hadn’t looked one bit sad at all.
Keith was thirteen, almost fourteen now. The same age as her when she’d decided she hated her father.
“Grant has a lot of things on his plate,” Jane said.
“Don’t we all.” Suzanne threw a box of Fruit Loops into her cart, looked at it, then put it back in exchange for Wheat Bran. She turned to Jane. “I’ve been meaning to ask, how are things? I mean, you know what I mean. How are things?”
“Oh, they’re fine.”
“Really? Is that the truth?”
“Of course it is. We’re fine. He’s fine, I’m fine, and we’re fine.”
Suzanne let out a snort. “Of course you are, honey. I just felt like asking. But, listen, if things aren’t fine, you know you can always talk to little old Suzanne and it won’t go anywhere but right here.” She touched herself somewhere above the belly button and somewhere beneath the bosom.
They rolled their carts forward.
“Can you hand me a pumpernickel?” Jane asked. She didn’t like pumpernickel, but if it took Suzanne off the topic she’d eat it anyway.
“Sure, and listen, honey, times have changed. Damn.” Suzanne put a fingernail to her mouth, displacing a thick layer of drug store peach frost.
“I need to get me some mini-marshmallows. Will you hold on? I’ll be right back.”
“Sure, I’ll hold on.”
Suzanne hurried down the aisle in a hip-swaying swagger more familiar than show, and Jane laughed. A round spy-mirror up on the IGA ceiling turned the scene into a fisheye distortion.
It was true that her marriage to Grant had issues, but the problem wasn’t something she could go on and on about until there was an actual plan to fix it. And as far as fixing went, how was a woman supposed to fix a marriage when she already did all the work and was left with an unwilling partner? The fixing had to come in two different forms: Grant fixed himself, or she fixed a divorce. Both of those options wouldn’t come without a fight, she knew it. Pressure was building. All those hot evenings in the car had opened a space in her mind she’d never known existed—a space which had no room for good wife thoughts. It was angry, and tired. It didn’t like men. It didn’t like marriage. And it didn’t like Grant.
Jane reached under her pile of goods to retrieve the paperback. She shoved it in-between two loaves of Wonder Bread on the shelf, and after staring a moment, pulled it back out so she could flip through the contents. One woman talked about doing it with her boyfriend, another spoke of the joys of marital sex, and a third woman said she didn’t need a husband at all, or any man. She liked herself just fine.
There were graphs and diagrams.
Suzanne’s black leather flats and bright red hips came around the corner and Jane reinserted the book back into its protective pile inside her cart.
“You okay, honey? You look sort of sick.” Suzanne’s face showed genuine concern.
“It’s just hot in here.”
“Yeah, it sure is. Let’s pay for all this junk. I was going to talk to the butcher about getting a side of beef for that new freezer Sasha bought, but I need a cigarette so I think I’ll just go home real quick. You want to come over?”
“No. I need to take these things home.”
“You want me to drive you?”
“No, thanks. I can walk.” Jane walked everywhere, something people frequently teased her about since her husband owned a used car lot. She could have any car she wanted, they said, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, she liked to walk.
Suzanne yelled for Danny to put down whatever he was reading and get the hell back to the cart. He didn’t respond, so Suzanne yelled even louder. “I didn’t want to be a yeller, but sometimes I swear he doesn’t have any eardrums. Or, at least, they don’t seem to work when it comes to my voice. I probably need to get his hair cut.”
That looked like a possible contributor—his brown hair was so thick it hung down similar to a cocker spaniel’s. He came into the aisle with a sullen look, then followed them to the checkout lane in silence.
As Suzanne piled groceries on the motorized belt line, the dread built. Jane decided she didn’t want The Hite Report after all. It was too much trouble, she didn’t want anyone to see it, and when would she ever have the nerve to actually read the thing? Hesitating, she looked behind to see if she could back out of the lane. If Suzanne asked, she’d just say that she had missed an item.
A large man sullied by a multitude of tattoos stepped into the line. His hair was pulled into a loose ponytail with wisps sticking out here and there. His white T-shirt was dirty, his neck was dirty, and something about him shouted devil-may-care.
“Whoa,” he said, avoiding the shopping cart from running over his toe. “You want out, lady?”
“No, I’ll stay.”
Damn it all to hell, as her mother used to say.
She maneuvered the cart back into place and accepted that fate had intervened in her life. For some reason or the other she was meant to read about orgasms.
“You sure?” the man asked.
“Yes, I’m sure. Thank you.”
Aside from the bells and beeps of the cashier typing, things grew silent after that. The man laughed when the cashier rang up the half-eaten strawberries.
“Only a woman can get by with that,” he said.
“Or, only Suzanne,” Jane corrected.
They listened to the cashier again. The bells stopped and then there was a price check being called out on the overhead speakers.
“You read a lot?” he asked.
Jane turned around with a stomach as tight as a macramé chord. Why would he ask her that question unless he knew about the book?
“You go to the library every day. That’s why I asked. I often see you when I ride past on my way to the Laundromat.”
The chord loosened. She realized she recognized the man. He was new to town and rode his motorcycle when other people worked. A set of dog tags hung around his neck, and there was a little scar above his right collarbone. But still, she was in shock because of his question. “Well, your assumption is right. I read a lot. I read so much it’ll be bad for my eyes one day.”
“That’s sorta funny. Why worry about that right now?”
“I don’t know why. I guess I shouldn’t. I have perfect vision.”
“Then don’t worry about it. Live your life.”
“I will, thank you.”
The cashier finished and Suzanne paid. She waited for Jane with two brown paper bags balanced on her hips, like toddlers. Danny stood waiting as well.
“Why don’t you meet me outside?” Jane said. She hurried to get her items on the belt.
Suzanne shrugged. “Sounds good to me. Come on, my brat.”
Danny shoved at her arm. “But I want a bottle of RC Cola from the vending machine.”
“I said, come on!” Suzanne grabbed him by the ear—though it was mostly hair—and led him out to the parking lot.
Jane grabbed The Hite Report and plopped it on the counter with the Good Housekeeping. There, if he saw it who cared?
He placed his items down behind hers, with a few inches to show whose was whose. A package of Twinkies, pork rinds, a box of fried chicken from the deli and a couple of bars of chocolate, were his contributions.
She couldn’t help it, she had to say something. She was irritated, and it was hot in the store. The smudges on his shirt looked like oil. Jane thought to herself that he’d be a good candidate for bleach. “Oh boy, that does not look like a proper supper.”
“I ain’t interested in proper. I just want to eat.”
The cashier rang up her items and a stock boy piled them into a paper bag, book of orgasms on top. When Jane tried to shove the book down, the man snickered.
“I eat trash, and you read trash. Guess we’re even.”
Jane left without saying anything.
She was nearly run over by Suzanne’s light blue Chevelle outside. It pulled up and idled in the lot. Suzanne rolled down the driver’s side window with a lit cigarette shoved between two fingers. “Why don’t you come over so we can chat about things?”
Jane knew what kind of chat Suzanne had in mind. The marital kind. Once again, she wanted to tell her about Grant, but couldn’t. “I have to get these groceries home.”
“Well then, how about tomorrow?”
“Fine, I’ll come over tomorrow.”
They said their goodbyes and the Chevelle sped off.
The sun beat down as she stood there on the asphalt. Something about it made her stomach and crotch seize with the familiar ache. Behind her, a motorcycle roared to life. It revved on and on, choking a few times with big, explosive hiccups. That popping, raucous sound came near her, following her steady walk. Jane looked over her shoulder, through her hair, to see.
The long-haired man rode with one foot skidding along the pavement. “I’m sorry about what I said back there. How about a ride to wherever you’re going?” He didn’t wear a helmet or a jacket. It was just him and the bike, like they were one obnoxious, untamed creature.
“No, I’m all right—thank you.”
“You ever ridden before?”
Jane laughed. “Once, as a child. But I didn’t care for it. I guess I know why other people like them, though.” To be in the wind. To let loose.
“You must’ve had a bad driver. A good driver would make you want to ride again and again.”
Jane got the drift. She didn’t need The Hite Report to know what he was talking about. Something in her marveled that she was being hit on. “Oh, I see. Well, thank you, but I’m just not the type.”
“You ain’t, huh?”
He stared at her blouse. Maybe because it stuck to her with sweat. “You look over heated, and that bag sure looks heavy. You live far?”
“Just down the road.” Jane lifted her left hand to brush away a strand of hair.
“Yeah, I see you’re married. Just offering a ride, that’s all.” He revved the bike again.
She hadn’t meant to show her marital status, at least, not on a conscious level. Sometimes it came in handy. “I really am sorry,” she said. “Maybe another day.” She felt like a liar.
“Don’t worry. I’ll see you around.”
He kicked something on the bike and jetted off like a silver rocket. He didn’t even look back. No doubt he was breaking the speed limit. She could hear him all through town, until the sound of the engine faded—not died—just faded, which meant he’d left, for whatever reason, for whatever goal.
A white Spalding bullet arched across the sky toward Keith Day. He thrust his mitt up to catch it, but lost sight when its trajectory met the sun. Swearing, he backed up, but the ball hit the ground like an asteroid to the moon. That was the fifth one he’d missed today. Through a rush of blood in the ears, he heard the unmistakable sound of someone’s gravelly voice yelling from a great distance—too far to see. But he knew the voice, it could wake him from death.
Keith scrambled to retrieve the object he’d grown to hate so much in his short existence. It liked to play games with him, rolling deep into grassy crevices, flying over fences, and sinking into pits that he tripped over, over and over again. His father’s yelling grew louder. Still ball-less, Keith lifted his chin, cap partially blocking his vision, and saw the other thing he feared most in the world storm across the parking lot with uneven, furious strides.
He’d better get that Spalding and return it to home base before the old bastard reached the stands. If coach saw, shit would fly.
Keith dug into the hole and managed to grab the ball. Second and third had already made it to home, but there might be enough time to stop the fucker who’d hit it in the first place. “Why didn’t you just bunt, you asshole?”
He pitched it into a straight line. The catcher, Mike Deforest, captured the ball in no time, yet grazed the runner’s left shoulder blade a half-second too late. Mike turned to Keith with a glare and a raised finger.
Keith threw his glove down and kicked the worn-out leather. An acid sun burned through the itchy fabric of his uniform. Helpless, he watched his boiled lobster father approach the invisible territory of the stands like an American into Cuba, then saw the moment Coach Vic caught sight. He rose off the bench, flicking a newly lit Marlboro to the ground with an arc of smoke and ash. A war started.
The whole team stood in a silent paralysis of the building crossfire, consisting mostly of vulgarities. Keith knew quite a few of those himself. He muttered them in a long string, like a calming prayer.
He sucked at baseball. He hated the game so much it kept him up at night. Sometimes he lay stretched across his bed, eyes directed up to the glittery popcorn ceiling, and thought of millions of ways to tell his father how much he hated the game and all the stupid times he’d been forced to play every summer of his stupid life. But not too much talking happened when it came to his dad. You shut the fuck up and listened, that’s what talking to his dad meant.
The team surged the stands. They wanted to see a fight in close proximity; maybe catch a drop of blood should it come flying. Keith held his position in right field. Like a statue. A KISS song started up in his head. A few minutes later he saw the inevitable, his dad heading straight for him and no one doing a damn thing to stop him. “Just take your kid and get the hell out of here!” Coach Vic yelled.
Keith kept up the KISS song; it rose in volume until it was loud enough to block the screaming, belligerent voice that came straight into in his face, spitting out words and saliva like shrapnel.
Keith saw lips moving; he was being shaken, but he couldn’t hear or feel a damn thing. Something smacked hard at his ear. It was beautiful bliss, the art of a survivor. Sometimes his mother said she didn’t know what to think when his face went all blank like that. “What gets in your head, kid?”
“I don’t know, Ma. It’s like I’m a cosmic music station. Like I’m not even here at all.”
She started calling him Sony after that.
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