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Sally Gets the Nerve

A scene from Love and Lust at the Dairy Stop Cafe, available now for purchase online at Amazon.com and The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Ks.

 

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Holy shit, am I nervous. This feels like a door I’m walking through, one that’ll change the entire world. When I drive by twice without stopping, I get the feeling I might not ever do it at all, so I pull in with a screech of tires and yank up the brake.

I’m not wearing anything special, just a pair of cut off shorts, and a t-shirt with a faded picture of Mick Jagger across the front. Daddy would say it wasn’t enough clothing, but it feels fine to me. I like the way the shorts make my legs look longer. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn them. Maybe I should have put on some jeans instead. I look at my face in the Ford’s rearview mirror and waste a minute or two putting on lipstick and smoking a cigarette in the parking lot because it calms me down. I figure I’m being as yellow as a chicken, so I grab my keys and purse, and head straight to his door and knock three times, sort of quiet.

He answers without saying a word; his whole body just sort of shifts to the side to allow me in.

“Thought you wouldn’t show,” he says as I walk past.

“Then you were wrong.”

He’s rented a single occupancy. One bed. It’s tiny and there’s a suitcase on top. The windows seem to be calling me to come over, so I do. “I’ve always wanted to see what the highway looks like from this section of town,” I say looking through smudged glass. “It’s not very impressive is it? Just a big, ugly stripe of black and little cars going by. It used to be a one-lane, but after a tornado came through and knocked the bridge off, we cut up another lane and paved it with stinky asphalt. I guess that makes us a real town.”

“I guess it does,” he says from behind.

“President Kennedy stayed here once, perhaps in this very room. And Elvis too.”

“What for?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I say, watching a big-rig race by with the words PURE MILK on it. “Any reason. But they only stopped for one night each. We’re a one-night town, I guess.”

I turn and there’s almost nothing to look at but his shoulder, but I look anyway. “Is there something I can sit on besides the bed?”

He walks over and lifts a dark blue suit off the only chair in the room. Its pea-green upholstery almost matches the curtains. I sit. It’s cold near the air conditioning unit and the mist has a musty smell. The straps on my sandals are cutting into my ankles and I’d like to take them off, but the carpet looks stained.

“Would you like something to drink?” he asks, draping the suit over the bathroom door.

I’m about to say no, but a drink would do me good.

“What do you have?”

“Nothing special.” He pulls a bottle of Jim Beam from a paper sack. “I bought it today,” he says and pours us both a glass. Before I can grab mine, he holds it away. “Sure you’re old enough?”

“Of course I am. Don’t I look it?”

“Sometimes you do. But most of the time, you don’t.”

“Well, I am.” I wait for the drink, and when he gives it to me I show off by knocking it down in lightning speed.

“Have you ever let someone take your picture before?” He sits on the edge of the bed, right near me. Like, I can smell his breath. He’s not wearing any shoes. Everything about him is fresh with another white t-shirt and jeans that aren’t faded. He’s washed his hair, or put gel in it or something.

“I’m not here to have my picture taken,” I say.

“Then what are you here for.”

“Just to see what you do. I mean, I want to see the pictures. I don’t want to be in them, just see them.” But that’s a lie, because I do want to be in them. Just not the way he thinks.

“What a shame. You’d be real good, though you don’t have the model look, you have more of a natural look.”

“You make me sound like a raccoon.”

“It’s not a bad thing.”

“Am I ever going to see those pictures?”

He sips on his drink. Just when I think I might as well leave because he’s taking too much time, he gets up and starts searching through a suitcase for something. He pulls out a folder. I may be off on the numbers, but there’s a hundred or something, there’s a lot. With a grunt he hands it to me.

“I like to call it, ‘Tits Across America.’ Don’t get ‘em out of their plastic.”

Sexy girls, women, in clothes, some not in clothes. The ones not in clothes are covered with a shit-ton on makeup. He watches the entire time—to see if I’m shocked, at least it seems. But I’m not. I’ve picked through a Playboy or two before, and these aren’t even close to being as raunchy as that.

“They’re nice,” I say, even though they’re gross. Can’t believe I came here. Can’t believe I’m in the Blue Moon and nobody knows, not even my best friend. If someone saw my truck they could come save me, but then it’s not like I want anyone to see. If they did, I’d say I was here to ask for a job.

I hand him the folder and get up to leave. I got what I wanted. He does take nude pictures, lots of them. I knew he did, and now the fun is over. I didn’t see too many movie star-type girls in there, so I know he’s a liar about working in the film industry.

“Aren’t you going to stick around?” he asks.

“Not really. I just wanted to look.”

“Well, I’ll be damned, is that really all you came for?”

“Yes.” I grab my purse.

“Then, shit.” He tosses the folder across the mattress and comes around to confront me. “I feel cheated.” His hands clamp down on my shoulders. “I stayed in this shit town for you, and now you’re gonna leave. I shoulda known. Some country girl who’s too scared to have her picture taken, is that what it is? I saw you shaking when you came in. I even saw you pass by on the road twice. And I saw you smoking that cigarette out there, just to kill time. And now you’re going to act like all you came for was to look at those pictures.” He grabs the bottle of whiskey and takes a good swig. “Then get out of here, chicken. You aren’t all that pretty.”

Oh how I hate being called a coward, and he’s wrong, I am that pretty. I know, because I look just like my mother. But he’s making it sound like I did him a disservice, like I’m nothing.

I show him the middle finger and start to leave but he kicks me in the rear end toward the door, not hard, but it’s definitely his foot on my ass, and he says, “Chicken. Hick. Hillbilly baby.”

It shocks me, and I almost hate him so much that I want to turn around and serve his face with a good hit. But I don’t, I leave the motel room and head straight across to my truck and rip open the driver’s side door. Too angry to talk. He’s still chanting, and now he’s even laughing at me from the door. “Nothing but a hick chicken. I’ll be glad to leave this town.”

I’m holding onto my truck’s door handle and all I can think of is the picture I was going to give Keith, to make him love me again, and this was the only way to do it. But I’m too scared, that’s the real reason I left after looking through that book. I am chicken, just like this guy says. I’ve never been scared of anything before, not like this, and now I even hate myself.

This guy, Gerald, stands there and watches me cry. He’s still laughing but then after a few he comes to the truck and puts an arm around my shoulders. “It’s okay, honey, I was only teasing. I wanted to rile you up a little because I thought you could take it.”

“Get off me.”

Cars pass by on the road and far past on the interstate. Every car is a set of eyes.

He starts laughing. “Didn’t you know I was kidding?”

“I’m just fine.”

“Sure you are. You’re fine.” He rubs my arm and stands there until I’ve stopped being a pansy-ass crybaby. “I didn’t mean all that. I was just teasing you. Jesus. Some people can’t take a joke, and that’s what it was, only a joke.

“But you meant it,” I say.

“Oh, maybe only a little, but not really. I was mad. You jipped me and all, and listen, do you want to come back in? I don’t want to pressure you. But, honey, you really should think about having your picture done. Just for posterity. I wouldn’t even do anything with it. Just keep it.”

I look at the road, the interstate beyond, and think good and hard. I want my picture taken. But what does it mean if I do? I know what it means, and finally I decide that I don’t care. If it gets me what I want, there’s no reason to care. So we go back inside his motel room, and this time I don’t need a glass for the whiskey, I drink straight out of the bottle. “You were lying when you said I wasn’t all that pretty,” I say, placing the bottle on top of the TV set. I push the ON button because I want to see if I’ve missed any afternoon shows, but he reaches over to turn it off.

“Just like you lied to me about your age, so we’re even. Liars, both of us.”

Free

It’s free for the next few days. Amazon link.

 

CImarron-Man

This book is about MEN. The seekers, dreamers, artists, scam artists, construction workers, radio DJs, and even one lucky cadaver.

In Cimarron Man, a nomad photographer named Jack spends one night in the Badlands with a young hitchhiker amid a group of traveling misfits. In The Secret Life of Johnny Cool, a washed-up rock DJ, once part-time lover to Janis Joplin, ponders life in Joshua Tree amid an all-female cult. In Tales of Cyrus, construction worker Cyrus Kennedy battles alcoholism and rage after the suspicious death of his wife and unborn child.

Also included are flash shorts pondering some of the more quirky aspects of the human experience. A young couple is on the verge of a love-breakdown because one lives in a space world and the other in hard, cold reality. Dante is a bar hopper looking for companionship, and escape. After the death of his favorite uncle he meets a girl with a star tattoo who equates love and death with gamma ray explosions and cuttlefish. Saul is the owner of a strange contraption, The Life Wall. It gives him anything he asks for, but to keep it running he must do some downright dirty deeds.

Cimarron Man and other stories is a book about men, all kinds of men. And women. But mostly it’s about life in a sometimes crazy, always changing, world.

 

The Moonflowers, book 3

When I wrote The Moonflowers I never imagined there would be a second book much less a third, but each character that came out of that novel burrowed itself in me, each one’s spur pricklier than the last. Jane Day was a slow, happy fire. I felt compelled to recount what it would be like to exist as a housewife circa 1970-ish middle America, and I have to admit, writing what was basically marital rape made me depressed; a scene like went beyond my emotional levels. Despite that, I loved the progression of Jane’s tenacity: throughout the novel she managed to kick her husband out, find a job and a lover. Indeed, the summer I wrote The Moonflowers was incredible and fun–the novel itself set in the Bicentennial. And after its completion I thought, hmm, isn’t there something else here?

So then came Keith. His voice jumped out of my brain like a shark; his fire was a mad teenage urgency with zits and burning sexuality. I became Keith, and loved every minute of it. Perhaps I’ve always wanted to be a boy. It sure felt good. But it also felt wild and messy and suffocating. As I slipped away and this primal kid took over, everything became smoking, swearing, guitars, chicks, and trouble (not for me literally, but the essence of understanding was there). Being a domesticated refugee, that was a bit difficult to grip. So I wrote the book quick and brushed my palms together in relief.

And then came Sally. The most urgent of all. The most unwilling, bitchy, bored, cussing, fireball of womanhood in teenage form you’d ever come across. Still exhausted from the last novel, I took her in stride and kept her there in good measure. In intervals I wrote, quieting down the chaos in between. Most surprising was Gerald, the Texas conman with a camera to lure innocents in. Well, Sally wasn’t so innocent, and she went willingly. What got to me was their conversations. A high school senior and an aging divorcee shouldn’t have such compelling banter, but they did. It touched me. In the eyes of the world, both of them were social misfits, outcasts, and perhaps that’s what drew them together.

So, in this last book, perhaps my last in a good long while as I’ve decided to take a sabbatical from writing, I hope you enjoy Sally and Gerald’s conversations. Love and Lust at the Dairy Stop Café is now available on Amazon in ebook form. I hope you enjoy it, and thank you for the love.

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How do the lights shine in the halls Shambala

 

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Ooooh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Shalalalala. I  mean, really. How do they?

I don’t know what I’m talking about, only, that song was on my playlist, so . . .

Where have I been? Contemplating so much, thinking, thinking, doing, being. Not writing, unfortunately. But listen, I wrote a freakin’ ton the last few years and I guess it was time to take a break or something. Kind of disconcerting to wake up every day and not do the one thing you’ve done for years straight. The good news is I had a fabulous Christmas and New Years with my kids and no longer feel I have to make myself do something to be a valuable person on this planet. If I wanna write, I’ll write. If I don’t, I won’t. No worries.

Ahhh . . .

And, I mean, the world could end tomorrow so . . . hand me a margarita.

One thing I did for pleasure (is there such a thing?) is watch old episodes of One Day at a Time. Now listen, I know it’s cheesy, I don’t get into soap operas, or any TV show, but man that wacky mother and her two crazy teenage daughters sucked me in. McKenzie Phillips was everything in that show. So, yeah, I cleaned the kitchen, ate chocolate, and watched ODAAT. And Maude. Oh, fuck. Yes, I watched Maude. Anyway, notice how sexy her daughter is in that show? Holy shit. I don’t really swing that way, but I would. Oh yeah, one time on Facebook there was a quiz called: How Gay are You? And I took it. And it said I was 100% not gay. But see, I’m pretty sure there’s a little bit in there. Aren’t we all?

What else did I do? Yoga. Read. Listened to Janis Joplin and Arcade Fire and The Rolling Stones. Meditated.

That’s not a lot. But it’s a lot.

How about you? What’s your MO?

Thanks for stopping by.

 

Photo Credit: photo credit: KarmicDesign <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/96449318@N00/223652451″>Sunny Disposition</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

Love you, Sweet Pearl

By 1967, Janis Joplin had left Texas twice, survived a toxic relationship and debilitating addiction, and discovered a ‘voice’ unlike any other. But still, the past held on, inflicting wounds and scars from the words of her contemporaries. She was ugly, strange, wild. Her ingenuity, her looks, even her femininity were criticized. It forged her into a steel-hard singer and leader of a cultural shift. Her long hair, marred skin, bra-less repose and open mouthed antagonism, all with a longing for acceptance, opened wide a new world. The beads around her neck, those beads of the past, those invisible chords of attachment, swung as she banged on an invisible door. Release, release, joyful release. Euphoria in this bottom of the barrel gluttony. I survived, you survived. We’re all gonna make it. Hey, baby, are you as angry as me? Are you as happy as me? You been through this shit too? Then, come on, baby. Dance. Those chords, those beads. One strand breaks and falls to her feet. A crowd cheers. She bends over and picks it up. The past has been severed. Ain’t never goin’ back to Texas again. I’m free.

You know the story. Janis became famous with Big Brother and the Holding Company, quit, formed two other bands, and then died on October 4, 1970 in a California hotel room, alone. Drug paraphernalia lay hidden inside a bedside table. Damn you, insecurity. Damn you, death.

She was a child. She was timeless. She sang about a world that was hers and welcome to it. She was the 60s and the 70s. And beyond. Her sound, her voice, those mannerisms, they were real and irreplaceable. There will never be another Janis.

Gone, but never forgotten. Love you always.

In honor of her life (and death) Cimarron Man and other stories is free today.

Have a beautiful day. Enjoy your beautiful life.

CImarron-Man

Coming Soon . . .

Woodsocketusanew

My Zygotic Creation

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In My Zygotic Creation fifteen-year-old Frankie Weaver navigates life through secret-stalker love notes in the shape of origami animals, a mom in denial over looming health issues, a dad with a drinking problem, a step-mom with a needy problem, a crush with a boy who smells like bacon but has perfectly placed dimples, Syfy smashups like Calinomi and Sharktanic, cats, cats and more cats, and the ethereal world of Charlie Chaplin. It’s quirky and funny, but also serious. It’s real life: divorce, death threats at school, transgender issues, Facebook drama, and knowing that what you want isn’t always good for you in the end.

My Zygotic Creation is free today and (I think) tomorrow, and if you haven’t read it yet, please give it a try. Frankie is a funny girl. She’s based off women like Carol Burnett and Gilda Radner, whom I love madly. Also, if you enjoy silent movies and small towns and remember being fifteen and all sorts of awkward . . . you might just love this book. I truly enjoyed writing it.

Thank you. Amazon link

The Moonflowers

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.

Chapter 1

 

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.

“What?”

“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?”

“No.”

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.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

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.

“Shit!”

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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