My mother scowled as she stood in the doorway of my new bedroom in our new house in the new suburb on Macon Road. She warned me, "This room better be straightened up before your daddy gets home."
As she turned to leave I said, "Can you close the door, please?"
Her frown deepened. "Why do you always stay in here with the door closed?"
"I just do," I replied, sitting on the floor and pouting, surrounded by the artifacts and tools that I had collected during the past few months in my large room.
She closed the door, sighing impatiently. I remained on the floor and pondered how I might organize the mess around me. I had books, comics, magazines, drawing supplies, record albums, newspapers, theater magazines, brochures, copies of theatrical scripts, research papers and mementos of plays and movies. Now and then I bought a copy of the New York Sunday Times at the Union Station newsstand when I visited my godparents, as I still did almost every weekend. Several issues of the Times, with all sections intact, stood piled in one corner of the room. And there were reams of lined looseleaf paper filled with schoolwork and drama club notes and the thousands of words of novels and stories that I had begun writing since the move to the new house. Unfortunately I had only a single chest of drawers and one small two-shelf bookcase, my bed, a small table with a record player, a desk large enough only for a book and small pad, and an eight-inch knickknack shelf screwed into the wall near one of the two windows.
Knowing my stepdad would be home within the hour, I began stuffing the loose papers into a couple of cardboard boxes. I found room for the boxes in my closet, along with many other things. Even more of my keepsakes and projects were slid under the single bed, and several books were lined up along the floorboards on either side of my small desk. Just as I was looking for a place to stow the Black Lady -- my prized Underwood typewriter, with which I had typed my make-believe newspapers and my new crop of stories and novels -- I heard the kitchen door squeak and slam shut. My stepdad Tony had arrived with the familiar heavy stride that rattled the prefab windows in my room as he approached.
"You finish cleanin' this up yet?" he asked, his voice as always noisily and deeply resonant. He looked tired, overworked and impatient, his strong and darkly-haired arms bulging from the white shortsleeved shirt, his large hands parked on his hips.
Sweaty from working quickly, I was kneeling on the floor, pushing the old typewriter along the floor. I stopped and looked up at him. "Almost," I said.
"Still looks like a lot of junk left in here." He strode heavily into the room and went directly to the closet. Pulling the door open with a quick swish of air, he grunted unpleasantly at what he saw. "In the Navy they would have kicked you overboard for a mess like this. And in the Navy, we don't stuff goods under the bunks..." Stooping, he saw what I had placed under my bed.
Without pause, he glowered at me and pointed a finger at each thing he named as he spoke. "Okay, mister...all of this goes. This goes out in the trash...and this..this...and all that crap piled on the floor in that closet."
Amazed and shocked, I gulped hard. "Throw it away?"
"This ain't the Lauderdale Courts housing project," he bellowed, "and it ain't gonna look like it, either. Throw those boxes away, throw those newspapers away, and get this place straightened up. *Before* you eat!" Without another word, he stomped out of the room.
Having lived with this intractable man for half a year, I knew resistance was futile. He had mentioned earlier that my projects were junk and that sooner or later they'd have to go.
I sat on the floor for five minutes or so, looking at each article that would soon be gone. I knew I had no choice. While I was thinking about it, spending a last few minutes with my belongings, Tony growled from the doorway, "Let's MOVE it, mister! Get rid of that crap or you don't eat."
An armful at a time, I carried one load of newspapers out of my room, through the living room where my stepdad sat watching Bishop Fulton J. Sheen talk about Communists on tv, past the dining room table, through the kitchen, out the squeaking aluminum back door, down the steps and across the narrow driveway, where I dumped the load into the dark green fifty-gallon garbage drum by the carport. Then back into the house, past my stepdad who sat engrossed in Bishop Sheen's warnings about the threat of godless enemies, and into my room. Then another armload, back through the house and out the back door, without a word between the two of us, until I had emptied four armloads of my belongings into the big green can.
He stepped into the doorway to check on me as I gathered another load. Behind him, my mother peered past his broad shoulder. "All those damn record albums, too," he said. "They must be twenty years old and the seams are falling apart."
"Better keep those, Tony," my mother reminded him. "Most of them belong to his Aunt Frances."
"Then next time you go to see your Aunt Frances, take them outta here and give 'em back to her."
"Yessir," I said tonelessly, loading up an armful of brochures and magazines.
"And all that paper you got in that box over there, if ain't schoolwork, throw it away!"
I looked up at him. "That's stuff that I drew myself."
"That 'stuff' is foolishness nobody needs, and we don't have room for it."
The raw sternness of his voice and face told me there would be no compromises in my bedroom that night.
"Yessir," I said quietly.
"I don't see why you cain't be like any other boy and play ball with the rest of 'em. It ain't no good for somebody your age to just come home after school and close yourself up in this room every day. Put away that art crap away and grow up like everybody else."
"You have schoolwork to do, and that's what you're supposed to do. Not all this art crap and newspapers from I-don't-know-where."
I mumbled, "I already have an A average."
"You don't have no time for backtalk, buster. Just get rid of this mess and clean this place up."
They both left for the living room. I passed them with several more armloads, wordlessly, as they both watched Bishop Sheen and exchanged concerned whispers to each other about the Communist threat. More armsful of my history and my time and my effort tumbled into the dark green can, which began to look like a great black hole as the sun fell and the evening turned to night.
Soon I passed them with what I thought was the last armful, which I soon dumped into the top of the growing heap in the can. I stood there sweating, looking at the pile, and took a long breath. Well. I had lived through that, anyway. Perhaps they were right: there was not much future in the way I'd spent my time. I passed them once more as I went back to my room and closed my door.
After a moment my stepdad opened the door again and looked around. He pointed directly at the Black Beauty. "And get rid of that."
"That's my typewriter," I argued feebly.
"It's junk. Get rid of it!"
I said nothing. I looked directly at him, aware that I was ready to jump at him and rip his throat open. But I stubbornly concealed everything I thought and felt.
"You heard me," he said threateningly.
"Yessir," I said. I rose to my feet, pretending that I was tired rather than reveal that even my own body resisted me. I stooped down. The Black Beauty came into my arms heavily, reluctantly, and I lifted it like an overweight child to my chest, and cradled it. I walked past them into the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, silently telling myself that I had to be prepared soon for the instant when its weight and its keys and its words and memories and its secrets that I had typed out on paper would soon disappear into a barrel of trash. I banged open the kitchen door with one foot, stumbling and scuffling under the Black Beauty's heft, and moved into the cool night under the power of the obedient little boy whom I knew was not really me at all. And the real Me watched and the sadly drifting lightning bugs watched and the angrily flittering moth at the back porch light watched as another Me let the Black Beauty slip out of my arms and settle with a dull crunch, half- hidden in the paper and drawings and books and pieces of crayon. Instead of going inside to dinner I walked to our front yard and leaned on the head-high cyclone wire fence that girded our front and side yards. I listened to the sound of cars swishing past in the street and watched the automobiles full of people who did not know what had just happened and who couldn't have done anything anyway. After a moment I could not see the cars very well through the liquid gathering in my eyes.
As soon as I felt one eye overflow I brushed the wet from my cheek and whispered aloud to myself, "You have to be tougher than this."
"....Speedy, every time I call, you aren't home," Martha Jane said over the phone. "What have you been doing all this time?"
"I called a few times myself," I answered, checking in all directions to make sure no one was listening -- not because I expected an embarras- singly intimate conversation with Martha Jane, but because I had been increasing my isolation from everyone I lived with. "Your mother keeps giving me different telephone numbers."
"I know," said Martha Jane, and her breathing and sounds of movement on her side of the line told me she was talking and doing other things at once. "I am so, sooo damn busy, it's pathetic. Moving around like a chicken with my head cut off. I moved twice in one month, I had a room- mate that I didn't know hadn't paid the rent for months and we got kicked out before I was finished moving in, and now...now I'm moving AGAIN!. I don't believe it. I'm packing books in a box right now, but... Anyway, how *are* you?"
"I'm...okay," I lied. "When can I see you?"
"Oh my, I don't know, the next couple of weeks are--Oh god I wish I could just get a day off or something, I -- "
"Need some help moving? I'd be glad to help."
"Oh, Speedy, these books are so heavy, you'd break your back."
"I want to help you."
"If you'd like to spend a day together or something, that would be fine later on, but -- how are you gonna get all the way into this part of town from way out there on Macon Road?"
"I'll get there."
"Bus," I insisted.
She laughed. "*BUS*? Speedy, that'll take hours. And I can't come get you, I'm borrowing princess Evelyn's car for just a few hours."
I repeated, my voice audibly shaky with a need I couldn't subdue, "I wanna come see you and help."
She paused on the other end, then her voice sweetened with concern. "What's wrong, hon?"
"I just...I just wanna help you, you never let me help you."
"No, something's wrong."
"You're just so...far away, and I want to know I'm helping you."
"Well...I've been so busy for so long, and I really don't have anyone to help. I can't ask the guys I know, they think if they help me move I oughtta let them into my pants."
"Well," I said, making up something quickly, "I'm bored! It's so boring out here in this neighborhood. I want to do something. And you shouldn't have to move by yourself."
"Oh, you're sweet...well...you're sure this bus ride won't wear you out?"
"I can handle it."
She gave me directions. I would have to transfer to two other city buses. I would meet her after my own classes, on a Friday afternoon in the student center at the college.
"Are you sure you're all right?" she asked.
"Yes," I lied. "I'm fine."
"OK. Next Friday, then. You know where to meet me."
That Friday seemed a month away and in no great hurry to arrive on time. Days in our new prefab home started as they always did. Mom in her bathrobe and slippers would make hotcakes in the kitchen, then serve them dripping with Aunt Jemima syrup. I once remarked that such a breakfast was all empty starch and sugar, at which Mom irritably shot back, "What do you want? Steak? We have to eat what we can afford." I didn't mention my misgivings again, realizing that for some reason she seemed to be growing more irritable by the day with some sort of ailment. I would spoon away the syrup and eat what remained, watching my stepdad sit silently across from me and hurriedly sip his coffee while he tied his shoes and got ready for work. On one morning Mom had to leave the table, and soon I heard her retching in the bathroom.
"Is Mama sick?" I asked my stepdad.
He dismissed my question testily. "Aw, that female problem stuff is all in her head." He got up without another word and left for work. Mom returned shortly after he left, sitting with her coffee and staring tiredly out the window. No words passed between us until I said goodbye as I left for school.
One night during that week I awoke from my shrinking universe night- mare and found myself panting in the dark, standing confused and shaky in the middle of my room near the bed. The pillow had just slipped from the bed to the floor, telling me that I must have just then bolted from bed; my body was poised for a dash into nowhere, but I had waked almost immedi- ately. I stood deathly still, listening for signs of anyone else who might be up. Nothing and no one moved. I crept into the living room and stood near the front window, looking out at the still and empty street while I settled down. I did not understand my recurring dream of a crushing, wildly buzzing universe.
We had kept the old Philco radio, which sat on a small table near the tv. I turned it on, keeping the volume all the way off, and stared into the bright green tuning eye. What voices might that green eye be hearing now? What was life like out there, how far away was the source of the voice? What were the colors and the thoughts and the lives out there? After a while sleep overtook me again, and I went back to bed.
On Friday at precisely 2:30 PM I left my last grammar school class and broke into a full run. With my school bag flung around my shoulder and slapping against my side, I barely made it to a bus three blocks away that waited for me to dash across the main thoroughfare,
The suburbs to which my family moved lay fourteen miles directly east of the old housing project. Fourteen miles of long, straight, unbending, undifferentiated city boulevards. The trip began with four miles of gas stations, soft-serve ice cream drive-ins, barbecue restaurants, and auto dealerships. Then four miles of look-alike firebrick school complexes, look-alike shopping centers, look-alike office towers. And then five miles of look-alike, quickly built, instantly GI-mortgaged homes. I remember thinking of it as monotony raised to the level of science, made all the more bland and pointless by the terrain of this part of Tennessee, which was almost ruler-flat. Even my own neighborhood, broken at least partly by the vast open but treeless fields of an unadorned recreation area called Geisman Park, seemed a universe of its own with long curveless streets, no visible beginnings, no visible ends. Across from my new home the supermarket and the drug store, both of which were contained within a single, one-story, squared-off, plate-glassed building made from the same brick of the same colors as all the bricks in all the look-alike houses around it, looked like the same supermarket and the same drug store and the same building on mile after mile of other look-alike streets.
But as I boarded the third and last bus in the long trip, and as the gasoline engine roared under the load of passengers, a different city entered my view. It was the older Memphis, the Memphis of its heyday in the 1920's, the streets lined with elegant estates and thick, dark green trees. The Memphis in which my dead father had grown up, with old bungalows and quaint corner shops and undulating roadways. The edges of the college campus soon appeared, its magnolia trees, open pastures and Georgian buildings filling my eyes and crowding out the memory of the numbing suburbs. I knew Martha Jane lived somewhere within a block or two of the campus. As the bus rattled past the streets I wondered how she looked while strolling down the sidewalk past the cherry trees and the neat old homes on her way to class. I wondered what it might be like to be surrounded by ideas, by art, by talkers and teachers and learners. It seemed as exotic as a vision of a perfect Pacific isle.
The bus squealed to a halt at Patterson Avenue. I jumped out and walked in long stretching steps down the three blocks toward the campus center. The walkway soon became crowded with students going in all directions: yelling, chatting, or alone in a hurry with an armload of books. Again, I began to feel very, very young and childlike among these people. I caught myself staring in wonder at a man who crossed my path a few yards ahead of me, a man with a pipe and two books under one arm, a man wearing a tweed sport jacket with leathered elbows, a man frowning in thought. Why his image remained permanently in my mind, I don't know; but within a few years from that day it would come to pass that I would be in that very college and I would have several classes taught by the man that I saw that day. Perhaps, I think now, I had known that he would be one of my principal teachers in later years. Perhaps, I think now, he would have been someone whom I wanted as the father I didn't have instead of the unyielding and exacting replacement with whom I was confronted. Or perhaps he embodied an image of the person I might one day like to be.
Even though I knew my way, I felt lost. I was besieged by sights and sounds from a world that was, on that day, completely unlike anything in my daily life. The odor of pine and magnolia in the breeze almost made me feel drugged. Being surrounded by so many people was disorienting, and all of them were completely foreign to my experience of others. These were adults who could read and converse about concepts and events I knew nothing about and couldn't possibly imagine. I felt completely out of my element, and yet I felt I was in a world that I was compelled to enter and explore. I slowed my pace to a normal walk, feeling I would be less conspicuous if I adopted the ways of those who inhabited this strange new planet. But I averted my eyes from theirs, looking down at the sidewalk as I moved along.
Then I heard her voice, calling to me from the massive steps of the Administration Building. I looked up and saw Martha Jane, in a plain gray ankle-length overcoat with her pert face smiling broadly and one arm waving at me. I waved back. I smiled. I attempted to seem undaunted and casual. It struck me at that moment, as I observed my own behavior, how I was beginning to simulate a kind of calm and unaffected front-- when, in fact, I almost jumped out of my shoes at the sight of her.
She met me halfway across the driveway to the building and gave me a hug and a kiss.
"So there you are!" she said. "Right on time, too, I was afraid you might have trouble on the bus. Come on with me to the student center, we'll get coffee or something before we start."
I agreed and stayed closely at her side as we walked to the center. She noticed me staring at the many students passing everywhere.
She laughed. "You look like a tourist."
I blushed. "Martha Jane...I shouldn't be here. I mean--"
"I know what you mean, Speedy, but don't let them intimidate you -- one day you'll be here for classes every day yourself and you'll find out how dumb most of them really are."
It was late in the afternoon and the crowd in the student center was a thin one. Martha Jane led me to a long table near the middle of the vast, resonant room and sat across from me and opened her overcoat.
"What do you want, Speedy? Coffee? A coke? I don't know what you like anymore."
I deepened my voice into a macho growl. "Coffee!"
"You sure? The coffee here is more like dark brown kerosene. Has quite a kick. I *need* that kick, but you might not be used to it."
"Coffee," I repeated, and she went into the serving line to bring back two steaming cups of very dark stuff that didn't look like any coffee I had ever seen before.
She caught me looking into the cup before I took a drink.
She smirked. "Just take a deep breath, and swallow." She took a little gulp of it, sighed wearily, and settled back into her chair. "Speedy, I hope you hurry and grow up faster so you can get into school here. You'd certainly add a lot of class to the male population. Don't look now, but there's a guy behind you, walking toward us, and he's going to come over here and try to put the make on me. Watch closely, and learn how the lower classes do it."
The guy she was talking about soon appeared to my left. He was tall and brawny, well over six feet, with shoulders to match. He had a bellowing, gruffy voice and wore a blue and white wool athletic jacket whose padded shoulders made him look gigantic. He approached our table and called out heftily, "Hi, Janie, you gorgeous heifer, you!" He lifted one large thigh and planted a foot on the opposite side of the table, then lifted the other big leg to stand beside Martha Jane.
"Hello, Frank," Martha Jane said politely.
With sweeping, commanding, swaggering movements, Frank grabbed a chair and sat backwards on it, huge legs spread and massive arms draped across the chair's metal backplate.
"Hiya doin, cutie?" he bantered. He nodded toward me. "Hey, Janie, who's yer friend?"
"That's Steven," Martha Jane said. I immediately realized that she had not introduced me as "Speedy." and I gave her a half-hidden Groucho Marx raised eyebrow in return. She winked.
"Steven, huh? Hiya, big guy. You look like you're new here this year."
Before I could answer, Martha Jane told him that I was her "prize student"who was checking out the campus. Frank continued to make small talk with her, his speech as swaggering and masculine as the rest of him. Finally he asked her, "So, you goin' to the big Homecomin'? Ain't goin' by yourself are ya?"
Martha Jane told him she was swamped with work.
Frank shook his head. "Damn, Janie, you are the workin'-est heifer I ever saw. C'mon, now, you ain't accepted my invitation for three months." He looked directly at me and winked, "Is she always this hard to get, fella?"
"She's a busy girl," I answered, trying to deepen my young voice as best I could.
He made another attempt or two at getting a date with Martha Jane, persisting in calling her Janie, and Martha Jane remained politely adamant and told him that her Homecoming weekend would be spent trying to finish her final papers before the semester piled up on her. Eventually he stood up to leave.
He joked, "You sure you wanna pass up a big Homecomin' date?"
"It's tempting, Frank," she flirted, "and I'm sure I'll regret it for the rest of my days. But, really, I have a lot of work to do."
"Still doin' that student teaching, huh?"
"Yes, it's a back-breaker."
"Well, that's OK, it'll get you a nice job after graduation. But a gal like you, you won't have to put up with that teachin' racket for long, some guy'll snatch you right up before you know what happened."
"Yeah right, Frank, happens every day."
"Well, see ya, then. You, too, fella."
After he was out of hearing range Martha Jane heaved a long, relieved sigh. "See what I mean? Pride of the campus, that big ox. We could sure use all that muscle to help us move...but it's not worth it."
"He seemed nice enough," I remarked.
"Speedy, he's not nice. He tried to fuck me on the first date, strictly on the dubious merit of his membership on the football team, without so much as a word about how I might feel about it. He was so surprised when I said no! As if it's the first time in his life a girl didn't undress the minute he walked in!" She shook her head. "I hate the name Janie. And I don't like being called a 'cutie' or a 'heifer' as a sign of affection, by some good ol' boy from Arkansas who can't talk about anything but beer, football, and his daddy's money. I should have known better than to go out with him in the first place, but somebody fixed me up and I was in desperate need of a night out." Again, she winked at me. "So don't think you're going to be some kind of dummy the first day you start taking classes here, because most of your mental competition is in the form of that big palooka."
We finished our coffee and headed across the campus toward Martha Jane's apartment a few blocks away. Martha Jane said there was no big hurry; she'd spent two weeks packing and she didn't have that much gear to move. The sun was sinking near the rooftops by then, the late afternoon sky beginning to deepen in color. We strolled, and she lit a cigarette and talked. She was in her last undergraduate year now, and had spent most of it struggling to make it through in three years and qualifying for an award that might get her a Master's, and the rest of the time warding off the good ol' boys whom she described as "so eager to get me in bed you can smell the lust a mile off."
I told her, "It's because you really are very pretty, Martha Jane."
She flicked her cigarette and sent a smooth stream of smoke into the chilly air. "You have a nice way of saying that, but...in Memphis, being pretty just means you're like prey, you're some kind of prize that guys just want to show off and get their cookies with. Have their babies and cook. I don't like being so pretty sometimes. I wish I were more average...or more cosmopolitan, you know--chic, I guess, like my sister Evelyn. She looks so sophisticated, a guy looks at her and knows he has to take his time. But for some reason they see me as a sex kitten who's just waiting to get pounced upon, and I'm supposed to show my thanks by giving up everything I've worked for and sit at home continually getting pregnant out of love for their 'Prince Charming' complex...No. No, I sometimes wish I were not as pretty as they think. I'm being interviewed for teaching jobs, and the men who interview me--well, what they're thinking is written all over their faces, they're so patronizing. They see how I look, that's all. Other than that, I'm just another new special education major, nothing special, nothing unique. And not a word about the work I've done and the research I did, not a minute spent talking about new methods or the problems with abused or precocious kids or any of that. It's just 'Hi, what a pretty girl.' And it never goes beyond that."
The place she was moving from was in a small two-bedroom, typical modern apartment building with thin carpets and thinner walls. Her former roommates had been evicted, leaving only a mattress in one of the bedrooms and a painted wooden chair in the living room. All the rest of it -- some bundled clothes, an old trunk, and a few dozen boxes of books -- belonged to Martha Jane.
Puffing and heaving, we began loading Evelyn's borrowed Pontiac. Martha Jane was right: those boxed books were *really* heavy. But I was up to the task, exhilarated at finally being able to move and fling some weight around after so much torpor in the suburbs. It wasn't long before we had the car filled with a little more than half of the full load and were on our way in the car to Martha Jane's new place, several blocks away on the other side of the campus in an older part of the neighborhood.
Martha Jane drove to an old, well-kept dark red two-story house with white shutters. It stood in the middle of a deep lawn amid many large oak and birch trees. Her apartment was in back, atop the two-car garage behind the house. As I carried the first boxes up the creaky wooden stairway at the side of the garage and entered the front door, I was immediately struck by the serenity and homeliness of the interior. It had a tiny kitchen, a small but ample bedroom in the rear, and a spacious living room. The many curtained windows looked out over the main house, the trees, and the rest of the neighborhood.
"Beautiful!" I whispered as I set the box on the floor and looked around. "This is cute!"
It was furnished with keepsakes, most of it simple early-American gear having a basic, useful look. One wall had a painted wood bookshelf, another a long ancient sofa with fairly new, flowered upholstery in good shape, a big fluffy easy chair covered with the same fabric as the sofa, and an ancient writing desk with a roll-up top. The carpet had seen better days and was seamed together from several smaller pieces; but it did have a certain bohemian character that fit the circumstances.
Her brow dotted with sweat even though the air was cold, Martha Jane followed me inside and dropped the box she carried onto the floor with a thud, and the weight of it pushed her across the room and into my arms. I caught her, and she stopped to give me a hug.
"Whew! Damn, where did I get all these BOOKS!?!" She stood still and relaxed against me, catching her breath. "Speedy, you're hardly out of breath! How do you do it? Whew!"
I held her lightly, wanting to simply crush her against me. She was wearing a turtleneck sweater and jeans and loafers. The sweater clung to her light frame and slim shoulders; outwardly she appeared dainty, but my hands felt the lithe and solid body under her flesh, and the warmth and feel of her seemed to seep into every pore of my body. Her sweaty cheek was against mine, my lips near her long and elegant neck. Embarrassed by a sudden wave of affection and passion, I pulled back from her and said, "You rest, I'll go get the other stuff."
"Oh, I will not!" she protested, leaning into me and still looking for her second wind. "I can carry my own weight in this job, mister. Whew! As soon as I get my breath!" She kissed my cheek and hugged me. "I'm so glad you're helping. You've grown an inch taller, haven't you?"
"I have a long way to go before I can compete with guys like that Frank fella."
"Don't you *dare* become...whew!...another one of those bull-necked, overgrown jocks." She moved away from me and collapsed onto the sofa. "Thank goodness *everybody* isn't like him! Whew! How did I get so old so fast?"
I headed for the front door. "You stay there and I'll bring up some more stuff."
"Don't you dare, without me," she said weakly, staring at the ceiling.
But I was already on my way out the door and down the stairs, hearing her yell behind me, "Don't you dare!" Grabbing the wooden bannister, I dropped down two steps at a time and was soon into the car and grabbing another box. I was on my way up the stairs with it when Martha Jane met me on her way down. "Don't you carry this stuff by yourself!"
I insisted, "Listen, you rest a minute. I'm all right."
"Oh, you men, you always think you can do it all."
In no time at all we had emptied the car and then collapsed on the long sofa side by side, staring at the ceiling, our feet dangling toward the floor.
"Are we finished?" she asked, winded again.
"Just one more carload oughtta do it."
"Oh, God...whew!...We have to hurry, Evelyn will drop by for her car soon, and we have to get you home."
"No. Don't wanna go home."
"Don't be silly...whew!...You have to go home, Steven."
I stopped thinking for at least half a minute. She had called me Steven! She had not called me "Speedy." It was the first time she had used my proper name, and the first time in my memory that anyone had called me by Steven. I was so surprised I was speechless.
After a minute she sat up, her arms hanging limply at her sides, and looked over the half-filled room. "What a mess. Will this endless moving ever come to an end? I'm so sick of it."
I lay back into the sofa looking at her. I wondered if she realized she had called me Steven.
She rose to her feet with a groan, stretched her back and raised her arms toward the ceiling, then moved slowly and grudgingly toward the door. "Okay, cowboy. Let's get the last of it."
On the drive back to her old place she told me she was concerned about how I would get home. "Listen, I have some money. I'll get you a taxi. It shouldn't be more than ten dollars or so from here. I hate to ask Miss Evelyn to give you a ride, she's such a put-upon princess!"
"I can take the bus," I said, unworried.
"Bus! Your mother will have a fit by the time you get home. Oh, it's my fault, we shouldn't have stopped for coffee, we should have come straight here."
"Coffee was only ten minutes, that wouldn't have saved much time."
"But it's already *DARK* now!"
"Hey, take it easy, we'll be finished soon and it'll be all right. Anyway, I'm having fun."
"Yeah, fun!" she pouted. "This is all my fault, trying to do it in one quick flash like this. God knows I've done it often enough to know better by now!"
"Martha Jane, it's okay."
"It's not okay!" she came back angrily, keeping her eyes on the road. "I'll end up getting you in trouble, and it's my fault!"
I didn't reply, as I could see that continuing the conversation would only get her more riled. We had arrived at her old place again. She scurried ahead of me out of the car and into the lobby elevator. As I joined her she smacked the button for floor #3 and waited impatiently while the machine lurched upward.
"We have to hurry," she muttered nervously.
"It won't take long," I offered. But she just said again, "We have to hurry."
We did indeed hurry, even though I assured her that it was only a little after five and that we would likely be finished in less than half an hour. I talked her into lifting two boxes into my arms at once, though she protested frantically until she saw that the boxes I picked out were lighter than the others. We piled everything into the hallway near the elevator, then shoved everything into the elevator and then into the building lobby, and carried it all out to the car.
On the way to the new place for the last time, she lit a cigarette and puffed on it deeply and ran a stop sign. "Sorry," she muttered as we careened down the street. Then she let out a nervous laugh and slapped the steering wheel. "God, hon, I hope I'm not having a nervous breakdown!" She looked at me and at the road and then broke into a giggle. "Huh? You think I am?"
I muttered, "Wait until we get there, so you can park the car first and let me out."
"Okay," she laughed. "I'll wait. Then I'll let go." She looked at me and blushed, and then giggled again. "I've already gone spastic."
It didn't take long to unload the remaining goods. I again managed to carry two boxes at a time, while she made several trips with her clothes. We were on our way up the stairs with the next-to-last load when someone drove up with Martha Jane's sister Evelyn in the car. Evelyn thanked the driver, a girlfriend of hers who traded quick hello's with Martha Jane and me and who drove off when she saw that all was under way.
Evelyn followed us up the steps and into the new living room. She was dressed in a neat and expensive-looking brown business suit that seemed to somehow avoid getting a single wrinkle after a full day at the office. Evelyn herself looked perfectly groomed and unaffected by any aspect of life that I could determine.
"Well," she sniffed, looking around the place. "It's certainly homely. Where in the world did they get this rug?"
Martha Jane huffed as she dropped some clothes on the big chair. "Evelyn, the place only runs $45 a month. What's wrong with the carpet, anyway?"
"It's a little...thin, honey," Evelyn answered absently. She went into the kitchen to look it over. "I guess it's enough for one person, but two would be impossible in here."
Martha Jane rolled her eyes at that and waved at me. "C'mon," she said, "one more armful and it's over."
"Wait," Evelyn said, strolling to the door. "If you have my keys, I have to meet some important people for dinner and I'll be late if I hang around here. I see you're just about finished anyway."
"Yes," Martha Jane agreed, her hands on her hips and her temper flaring a little, "Yes, we are just about finished. I wouldn't want you to be late. Your keys are in the Pontiac."
Evelyn stopped at the door. "Speedy, is that you? I didn't recog- nize you, you're getting so grown-up. Have you been helping Jane move?"
I nodded. "Yeah, but she did most of the work."
"I'll bet," Evelyn laughed in her dry, mildly scornful, successful- lady way. "Jane, I'll come get you Sunday. We're having lunch with our Mom's boyfriend and future husband."
Martha Jane's mouth fell open. "Husband? Future husband?"
Evelyn smiled broadly. "Yes. It's going to be announced. But don't say anything yet. All right? Please? He thinks it'll be a surprise--as if we hadn't already guessed for more than a year."
Martha Jane stared into space, flabbergasted. "So she's going to marry him. She's...going...to...marry...him."
"Why not?" Evelyn said merrily, tilting her head with her purposely sexy little smile. "But don't say anything. Till after. Nice meeting you again, Speedy."
Evelyn walked out the door, careful not to snag her high heels on the old plank woodwork, and Martha Jane went to the door and yelled out, "Well, thanks for the car today, sister. I hope we didn't damage any- thing."
"It's all right, Jane," Evelyn called back, careful not to muss her immaculate shoes as she walked to her car. She looked inside briefly and, satisfied that the last of the load had been placed on the ground outside the car, she smiled and waved before backing up and driving away.
I followed Martha Jane down the steps for the last two boxes and the last plastic bag of clothing, which sat in a mild cloud of dust left behind by Evelyn's Pontiac.
"Well!" Martha Jane said. "So mama's gonna marry that guy."
I said, "They've been dating forever, haven't they? Didn't you tell me about him a long time ago?"
"Well, he's nice, and fairly wealthy, but....Oh, forget it. Let's get this stuff upstairs. I'm so tired. I'm really just running out of gas at this point."
I stood and waited while she lifted two boxes into my arms and then I turned to go up the steps. But then I heard Martha Jane yelp behind me, followed by a loud thump. She had picked up a heavy bag that pushed her backward and onto the ground under its weight.
"You all right?" I asked, and she answered with a dull, "Yeah. Sure."
"Don't pick that up, I'll come back and get it."
"No, I'll get it."
"Martha Jane..." I began impatiently. I stooped to lower the boxes to the ground, then rushed to her and grabbed the plastic-wrapped clothing. "You're getting tired, now, don't carry this. I can get it."
Her face seemed blank and her eyes glazed, her brow sweaty and smeared with a lock of auburn hair. I asked, "Did you hurt yourself?"
She mumbled, her voice slurry. "Take me up the stairs."
"Walk me up the stairs, please."
I held her by one shoulder and we started toward the stairway. "Are you all right?"
"Oh, I'm just...tired and feel a little silly after falling down like that. I should have been more careful." Holding my arm with one hand and the handrail with the other, she started up the stairs with me.
"I'm all right! Just bumped the hell out of my butt, that's all."
"It's not okay, I should have taken more time for this...and Evelyn didn't even offer you a ride."
"She had that important dinner to get to."
"Her and her damn important dinners," Martha Jane muttered.
We reached the top of the stairs. She stood in the middle of the living room, looked about, and turned to me. "I'm so tired of this," she sighed. Suddenly she squinted and then frowned hard; her eyes closed and squeezed small pearly tears that tumbled quickly down her cheeks. "I'm so tired of this," she wept, and covered her face quickly with her hands.
I went to her and held her lightly but closely. For a minute she shook and cried as I silently stroked her hair. Soon she calmed down.
"I'm so silly," she moaned, sniffling loudly.
"You're dead tired," I said. Firmly, I held her away from me and looked into her reddened, wet, tired, absolutely beautiful face. "You get right over to that sofa and relax. I'll get the other stuff."
"Oh, independent me, look at how well I'm holding up. I'm sorry, I guess all this just...hit me all at once."
"Go to that sofa, or I'll carry you over there and nail you to it."
"Oh, all right..." She whimpered like a defeated little girl and brushed the wet hair from her face and went to the sofa. I moved to the door, and by the time I turned around to look at her she had fallen onto her back on the sofa, her head against an armrest and one foot dangling onto the floor. She sniffled again.
I stood by the door and shook a warning finger at her. "Now, don't you move until I'm finished."
Three quick trips up and down the stairs, and I finished the job. I set the last box onto the floor and saw that she seemed asleep with her head nestled on a cushion against the armrest. Grabbing some paper towels from one of the boxes, I went to her and knelt on the floor beside her, and reached up to wipe her forehead.
Her eyes opened and she smiled wearily. "Oh, look at ME! I feel as if I need a nurse. No, don't--" she took the towel from my hands, folded it, and gently wiped the sweat from my face. She whispered sweetly, "Thank you, hon. You've done enough for me already. I'm sorry I organized this so badly."
"You did fine," I said. "We moved two carloads in a little over an hour."
"Stop being so nice to me. You've always been too nice to me. I wonder why you didn't just blow your stack and start yelling when I was having a stroke in the car coming over here."
"You were tired."
"You're too nice, hon. I wasn't just tired, I was overworked and disorganized. And just plain mad. This must be the fifth time I've moved my stuff in a year. I can't depend on anybody, everything I do goes wrong, I rush into things before I know what I'm doing, I worked myself to death for god knows what, I took on too many classes this semester...I'm a mess."
"Just another lady genius working her way through college."
"Stop. Be a Clark Gable and slap me around a little and bring me to my senses."
"I could never do that."
She blew her nose. "No, I guess you couldn't. I'd probably slap you back, anyway."
"You probably would. And you're bigger than me."
She wiped her nose. "Yeah, but you're catching up." She crumpled the towel and pitched it on the floor and took the fresh towel that I had in my hand. "What a big grown-up girl *I* am, right? I can't believe I broke into tears just because I fell on my rear end."
"Stop apologizing for being worn out."
"Listen...how the heck are we gonna get you home?"
"I don't wanna go home."
"I'll call a cab."
"That costs too much."
"I can afford it. Anyway, I owe you something for all this."
"No! I'll take the bus."
"But you won't get home until after ten."
I shrugged. "I wanna stay here for a while."
"And do what? You've already done enough."
"It's nice here. I like it, it's a great apartment. Right now, I just want -- " I stopped.
I didn't answer. I suddenly became aware of how, over the past few months or perhaps over the past few years, I'd become so indirect and timorous. I was thinking about that and about how to reply to her, when she laughed bashfully and blew her nose again.
"Hon, we can't...uh...I'm so embarrassed to admit this, I have never admitted this to you, but...well, we can't."
"You know. It's...I'm having my period. It started today." She suddenly hid her face with the napkin. "Oh, god, after all we've done together, why am I so embarrassed? Oh, I'm so messed up."
I said to her flatly, "That's not what I was thinking about."
"What? What do you mean, then?"
"I wasn't thinking about that, that's not what I wanted."
"Oh. I'm sorry." She laughed and rolled her eyes. "Oh, WELL! We know where Martha Jane's mind is, don't we? Oh, brother! I'm sorry, hon. What did you want, then?"
I hesitated, only briefly, wondering why I waited and why I could not be direct with this young woman. I started to say, "Well..." and rose on my knees so that I looked down at her, and stuttered, "Well, I just wanted--". I stopped, looked deeply into her questioning face, and then put my arms around her and placed my head on her chest, just below her breasts, and hugged her.
She asked, surprised, "This is what you wanted?"
I nodded against her.
I felt her fingers at my temple, stroking my hair. "That's all you wanted?"
I nodded. "Just for a while."
"You sweet." She stroked my hair for another moment and then said, "Wait a minute, hon, lemme get my shoes off." I lifted and she reached down to pull off her loafers and said, "You too, hon." I removed my tennis shoes as she stretched lengthwise on the sofa and reclined along and against the backrest. She held her arms up to me. "Come here and let's cuddle," she said.
I lay half on top of her, and she curled up closer to me and held me with my face in her neck as stroked my back and my hair.
She said after a while, "I think I'll like this place. It's so nice looking out the windows at the trees. It's the first comfortable dump I've seen since I started school."
"I like the breeze in the leaves," I said.
We talked, not moving, then rested silent for a while. Then we talked.
I did not tell her much about myself. I was uncertain about what was happening to me or who I had become. She talked about her mother and how her mom's health had gradually improved after being courted and spoiled for years by her boyfriend, Mr. Buchanan. He owned an office supply house and did well financially and had a beautiful home in East Memphis. Martha Jane said she didn't like the man very much. He was nice, very generous with his time and money and his displays of affection. And patient; he had now spent some years waiting for Martha Jane's mom to get over her fears of disappointment and her feelings of inadequacy about her ill health. But Mr. Buchanan was old-fashioned, very "Memphis" and close-minded about women. He adored her mom, but the only virtues he could see in any female were subservience and physical beauty. He gently but constantly urged her successful sister Evelyn to quit her job and find a husband. He had respect for, but meager agreement with, Martha Jane's independence or her liberal politics. He felt that a woman's place was in the home rearing babies and baking turkeys. He had helped Martha Jane in small ways financially with her schooling, but he wanted to marry her mom and he wanted Martha Jane and Evelyn to live in his home and not in their own apartments; he wanted them to stay in his home until they were cured of their career ambitions and could get themselves married and "raise a family in the proper way."
"There is no way for me to talk to him," Martha Jane said, still stroking my hair. "He agrees in word, and then disagrees in action by not supporting anything I do or believe. And if he tells me one more time how pretty I am, I think I might get very angry and do or say something stupid that I'll regret and that he probably doesn't deserve. He's been very good to my mother--and my mother, unfortunately, agrees with him. I wouldn't want to mess it up for her."
We fell silent for several minutes. We listened to the wind filter listlessly through the trees.
She said, "You haven't talked much."
I shook my head no.
"Is there anything you want to tell me?"
Again, I shook my head no.
"Hon, that light over there on the table is in my eyes. Can you turn it off?"
I rose and turned off the only lamp in the room. I stood there until our eyes became accustomed to the dim moonlight and the faint glow from the light in the kitchen.
From the sofa, she looked up at me with two small points of light in her dark eyes. "I'm sorry I'm having my period."
I shrugged. "I wasn't even thinking about it. I just wanted to spend an afternoon doing whatever it is you usually do."
She grinned. "Really?"
"Come here and lie down."
I went to the sofa expecting to lay with her as before, but she stood up and motioned for me to lie where she had been. "Go ahead, hon."
I lay down lengthwise and face up, my head against the end armrest. She knelt on the floor beside me with her head onto my chest. "It was getting a little cramped the other way."
"I'm sorry, you should have said something."
"No, no. It was nice." She lifted her head and looked at me. Her voice took on that strange, mesmerizing, throaty quality that meant she had something particularly intimate to say. "I never told you when I was having my period. That's the first time I've admitted that to you. Or to anyone. I don't know why it's so embarrassing. Every other female I know just gabs and bitches about it every time it comes around."
"Are you embarrassed when I mention it?"
"Of course not."
"It's getting late."
She lifted her head off my lap and reached up to gently part the folds covering the zipper of my jeans. She neatly held the cloth folds open with one hand, and with two fingers of the other hand she lifted the zipper latch. "You'll have to be starting for home soon."
"Yeah," I whispered, my voice getting wobbly and thick. I swallowed. "Yeah, I guess so."
Fiddling with the zipper tag, she continued: "That time a few months ago, when we had a whole week together and your folks were on their honeymoon...I had my period for three days. They don't usually last very long. But that's why I disappeared." She slowly pulled the zipper down. With two fingers she found and parted the slit in my underwear. "I was afraid to let you see me in that condition..."
She used the same two fingers to feel the contours of my rapidly expanding organ and to give it a squeeze. She deftly took hold of my tip, sending a thought-destroying tickle through my cock and into my spine, and pulled my flesh free of the clothing. My cock stood straight up, twitched, and hardened more. I could feel every blood cell in my body turn on a dime and begin a journey to and through my loins.
"Such a nice shape, " she whispered to herself, and softly curled her fingers around me. "The skin is so soft, but underneath it's so hard... so warm in my hand." She tightened her grip at my base slightly and slid her long fingers slowly up and then enclosed my tip. A bead of pre-cum greeted her fingers. She smiled and breathed, "Mmm. Yes."
I swallowed again, hearing my loud gulp echo through the room. I said, "I hadn't expected this."
"That's what makes it so exciting," she said, almost to herself. She looked at me. "I know you weren't in the mood, but...do you mind?"
I smiled and had to take a deep breath to get enough air into me to be able to answer her. "You don't expect me to make a big fuss about protecting my virtue, do you?"
She looked back at my cock and studied it, as if contemplating where to start and how to go about it. "You have such a nice dick," she said sweetly, and the next thing I knew she opened her mouth wide and leaned down to me and, her hand near my root holding me straight up, she lowered and slowly, wetly, fully took all of me into her mouth, shoved her tongue against the underside, and lightly sucked me all the way to the tip, back down, and up again. I think I heard someone gasp and I'm pretty sure it was me, since Martha Jane's mouth was occupied at the time. My own voice sounded far away. She lifted her mouth from me and wet her lips and scrunched down to make herself more comfortable, and repeated the move in the same way, once, twice, three times, sweetly and softly sucking. By the fourth suck I knew every ridge and curve and hollow in her tongue. My eyes closed and I floated somewhere else in the room and her mouth floated with me; I heard only the soft sound of Martha Jane breathing through her nose and the sound of my own irregular gasps and sighs and the wind in the leaves outside. Slowly, she repeated the long lascivious suck, her lips and mouth and tongue relaxing their grip as she moved downward, then renewing their molten hug as she sucked upward. And again. And again. My balls tightened.
I gasped, "I don't...think I'll last very long."
And as soon as I spoke the hot, itchy pleasure of a strong and remarkably easy cum obliterated all except her mouth; her rough little tongue began making tortuous circles around my immersed tip as her mouth pulled a long hot squirt from me. Undaunted, she continued without pause and another hot eruption bathed her tongue and bounced off it toward her throat. She swallowed loudly, but she didn't pause or waver. Her sucking strokes were shallow now, her lips tightening on me and her tongue circling lazily, and then I felt three warm cumshots leave me in quick succession and she swallowed them as if they were one. Continuing to siphon and swallow me, she worked her maddening tongue until my pleasure-choked body jerked slightly, once, and rose again into her, and her tongue drew one more wildly eager spurt that bounced against the roof of her mouth and which she gulped with affectionate greed and a happily surprised little "Hmmm!". The rest flowed from me in swiftly weakening trickles until her lips and tongue could find no more. With a final gulp and a contented sigh she removed her mouth and closed her fist on my cock, giving it that last long tug that she liked to give when I was finished, draining the last thick drop of me onto her extended tongue and drinking it down. Then she gently and briefly fisted me while I shrank. She grinned and giggled childishly. "I couldn't help myself. Was it good?"
Still breathless, I told her it was.
She watched my wet cock wither as she calmed it with her strokes. She licked her lips, blushing and smiling when she saw me watching her.
She chuckled, still stroking. "Look at me, licking my lips like a German shepherd! You do taste good, y'know, creamy and hot and...just slightly salty...but the part I like best," she went on, her voice dropping to a sensuous murmur as she watched her hand stroking me, "is how wicked I feel when you squirt on my tongue."
It was only then that I realized how iron-rigid my body had been, and only then that I noticed I had not been breathing during the entire orgasm. I was still breathless. My body relaxed with a sudden sag. I took a long deep breath.
Then her incredibly soft, smooth cheek touched mine and she kissed me on the neck.
She whispered, "I love the way you cum." Uncontrollably I held her to me as tightly as I could and buried by face in her hair, and she hugged back with a playful groan.
I wanted to cry: it was not so much the mind-boggling pleasure she had given me as it was the lovingly erotic nature and ways of her. But I found I somehow could not tell her so. I didn't know why.
I refused to waste her money on a taxi. I took the bus home, luckily meeting every transfer just in time. The lack of passengers at stops along the way speeded the trip. It was still later than usual when I arrived home a little after nine-thirty, but there was no argument about the late hour. When I arrived I found the tv was not on, as it usually was. At first it appeared no one was in the house; I knew that my stepdad would be working late at the grocery store and that my sister was staying at her godmother's, but it seemed my mom was gone as well.
It was not until I walked into the hallway leading to the bedrooms that I found my mother curled up on her bed and vomiting small amounts of blood ...
Mom convulsed into a tight ball on her side and retched quietly, weakly, making a small sticky red stain in the kleenex she held to her mouth. Then she relaxed with a pitiful moan.
"What's wrong?" I asked, going swiftly to her side of the bed.
She licked her lips clean and tried to catch her breath. Not getting an answer, I raised my voice fearfully. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"I'm sick, Speedy. It came on...all of a sudden."
"What's wrong? When did it start?"
"Called your daddy...but he said he had to work late."
I was incensed at her words. "Had to work late? Work late? What does he expect you to do, just stay sick?"
"Well, I don't know...maybe it'll just clear up."
"How long have you been sick?"
She shrugged, taking in a deep breath and wiping her lips again. "A couple of hours, I guess."
"You've been sick for hours and he just says he has to work late?" I threw up my hands in anger and walked in a small, confused circle in the room and looked back down at her with my eyes flaring. "What can I do?"
She shook her head. She hid her face from me and did not seem to want to tell me what was happening. "I don't know...Call your daddy, and see what he says."
I went straight to the kitchen wall phone and telephoned the grocery store. My stepdad answered the phone with a tired, bored voice.
"Mama's real sick," I said. "She's throwing up blood."
"Hell, it's one of those female things, she's been sick to her stomach and throwing up for weeks."
"But she's throwing up blood!" I insisted. "You don't throw up blood when you're just sick to your stomach."
"I told you, it's one of those female things. That kind of stuff is all in their minds, anyway."
"Well...what should I do?"
"Don't do anything," he answered, unconcerned. "I'll be home in about an hour or two. Tell her to drink some water."
"But...she's acting like it hurts really bad."
"You know how she is, she overdoes everything. Tell her to drink some water or some soda, and I'll be home later."
His indifference told me I was wasting my time. I said I would look after Mom, said goodbye and ran back into the bedroom where I stood beside the bed, helpless and frustrated.
"He said drink some water and he'll be home later."
"I can't drink water," Mom said, her breath short and labored. "I tried that, it came right up." Then she made a retching sound again, down deep in her throat, and tried to hold back. But another convulsion soon overtook her and she coiled up again, her neck stretching in a fierce heave outward, and more blood spilled onto the tissue and onto the bedspread. This time she did not simply moan and come out of it, but bent herself into a small trembling circle and grasped her stomach and began to cry and cough.
I touched her shoulder, but did not know what to do. She heaved again, and groaned, and finally relaxed.
"Mom...What can I do?"
She hid her face but reached out with one hand and grabbed my arm tightly. Her fingers trembled and her entire form shivered. She spoke with a breathless rasp, "Go down the street...to Aunt Catherine's. I tried to call her, but her line's busy...bring her here."
My Aunt Catherine was one of my stepdad's sisters. She lived in a house a few doors down from ours. Quickly, my fear for my Mom's pain giving me a bloodcurdling case of the shakes, I ran to the front door.
"Put your jacket on!" my mother yelled. "It's cold outside!"
I thought: to hell with the damn jacket! I rushed into the night and ran up the street as fast as I could. By the time I pounded on Aunt Catherine's front door I was out of breath. I tried not to panic. I told Aunt Catherine to get to my house as fast as she could, that my Mom was deathly sick and it was getting worse.
She stood in the doorway gaping at me. "Why, Speedy, what's wrong?"
"I don't know. She needs somebody. Hurry!"
"But what's the--?"
"Now! She needs somebody now!"
Quickly she grabbed her overcoat and threw it loosely over her shoulders. "You stay here," she said, trying to calm both herself and me. "Watch my baby, Speedy, I can't leave her here alone. I'm goin' down there right now, don't you worry." And she ran down the sidewalk with her loose coat flapping in the wind.
I watched Aunt Catherine's sleeping infant for over half an hour. Several times I peeked out the front door to see what might be happening down the street at my house. Then an ambulance with flashing lights pulled into our driveway. I longed to get a closer look but was afraid to leave the baby alone. Going back to check on the child I found her still sleeping, and by the time I returned to the front door, two white-uniformed attendants were shoving a loaded stretcher into ambulance. I could not see much detail. The lights began flashing again and the ambulance backed out swiftly, then screeched as it turned up the street and took off with sirens wailing.
My mother had suffered a miscarriage. I was deeply affected and spent days shuddering at the thought of how emotionally and physically painful it must have been for her. But at the same time I was angered at discovering that not one of my puritanical family or relatives would mention the details or even the word "miscarriage" in my presence -- I gathered what had happened from bits and pieces of conversation that leaked out now and then. During the few days my mom spent in the hospital I was shipped off to my maternal grandmother's house a few miles down the road and endured her endless chatter and bad jokes when she drove me to school each morning in her creaky 1950 Ford. She evaded my questions about what had happened to my mother, but I figured it out when I over-heard her telling a neighbor that "the baby died."
It was with deep concern that I came from school one day and Grandma told me she was taking me home because my mother would be out of the hospital that afternoon. As we drove and my grandma lapsed into another awful and unmemorable country joke, I felt some hope that perhaps the unfortunate incident would somehow narrow some of the distance between my family and myself. Waiting for Mom and my stepdad to show up, I paced the living room floor restlessly until I saw our tan Ford arrive shortly before sunset. Mom was in a bathrobe and overcoat and my stepdad, now treating her with more deference and attention than I had seen before, opened the car and slowly and carefully led her to our door.
Mom entered, looking tired but happy to be home again, and looked down at me and gave me a weak hug. "Well," she said, "I'm back."
"What was wrong with you?' I asked. "Are you all right now?"
She averted my eyes and turned to go to the bedroom. "Well, I was just real real...sick, Speedy."
My stepdad held her arm as she slowly and haltingly made her way into the hallway and the bedroom. He completely ignored me, which was exactly what I would have expected. I watched my mother struggle into their bedroom, bracing herself against a door or a wall as Tony guided her past the framed portraits of the Virgin and the Sacred Heart and Saint Jude in the hallway. I watched her getting farther and farther away from me. Farther than ever. I felt her pain. I felt her loss. And I felt a distance that I had little hope of breaching again.
Later in my room and I heard the two of them talking in hushed tones. Mom was crying softly.
My stepdad spoke in a consoling manner I'd never heard him use. "His soul will be protected, I know it will," he said.
"But, Tony, I was unconscious," my mother softly cried. "No one knew to baptize the child. It'll be in limbo forever."
"There, now," he kept saying.
The incident had changed the way my stepdad generally treated Mom. But it did nothing to quiet my anger nor smooth the raw feeling I had of not being part of the household I lived in. I was disgusted with the way he'd ignored her pain for weeks until the result was disaster and heart-break. I was glad he'd had a comeuppance and that he'd earned it the hard way. And I knew that my mother's rigid religious fervor meant that I would never be able to share with her my blasphemous ideas or my certainty that answers to the mysteries of the universe did not lie in fairy tales. I could have said that the hereafter didn't exist anyway. I could have fudged and said that surely their all-merciful God would not forever consign an innocent fetus to limbo. But there was no way, in that house whose furniture and walls were dotted with pictures of saintly figures and suffering martyrs and plastic figurines of Jesus, that I could communicate through their wall of myth and superstition.
I understood their pain. But I could not forgive them for leaving me alone in a world so different and so distant from theirs.
Near my thirteenth birthday, Martha Jane called and said that Mr. Buchanan's Easter present to her and her sister Evelyn would be to marry their mom soon after Easter and move all of them into his big East Memphis home. Martha Jane had mixed feelings about it.
"I'm glad for mother," she told me over the phone. "But I don't know if I can live in that house. He's nice. But he's still a redneck and I just can't seem to work past that fact."
"At least you won't have to spend the rest of your college career moving from place to place."
"True, but...one more move, actually."
"Oh no, not again!"
"Yes, but it's just a move *out* of where I am, and into that big house. Oh, well, at least this time I'm his future daughter, so he's hiring some movers."
"Being his daughter does have its advantages," I offered.
"Come over and help me pack."
"I have two weekends when I can do it, the first and second Saturdays in April. Which one would you like?"
"Both," I said.
"Both," I repeated.
Her voice on the other end of the line almost sounded as if she were winking at me. "Okay," she said. "This time we'll have longer to play. I'll have a car to use. Not Evelyn's, this time. My daddy-to-be is buying me one."
On a Saturday a few weeks later, Martha Jane showed up in a bright blue Chevrolet. But she didn't look happy behind the wheel.
I said after I got into the seat beside her and we were on our way to her place, "Wow, what a car!"
"It's not me!" she moaned. "This huge gas-burner is NOT ME! Speedy, I'm scared. Really. I should love this, but I hate it. I feel as if I'm selling out. And it takes me an hour to park it."
"Well...you can always give it back."
"But this is terrible! I feel so dishonest. I dread to think of how I'm going to be punished for this...this terrible sin! I've invested so much in claiming I was on my own and had my own ideas, and now I'm sell- ing out."
I spent the afternoon with her and helped her pack books and clothes. She was cranky the whole time. I tried to joke around and make light of Mr. Buchanan and to convince her that at least her life would be settled for a while.
"I don't know what's going to happen to me," she said at one point. "I had finally got the feeling that I was in control of my life and I could honestly be myself. Now I have to spend every day in that house pretending that I agree with everybody, when I really and truly don't."
"I know," I said ruefully. "How well I know."
"Hon, can I say something?" She was sitting on the floor with her legs under her and a pile of books in her lap.
"You can say anything you want, Miss Scarlett."
"Something's...wrong inside you, isn't it?"
"Wrong? What you mean, Red Ryder?"
"Because you're trying too hard to erase yourself and you never talk about what you think or feel anymore. You're being nice to me about anything and everything, to the total exclusion of yourself."
I laughed. "You don't like me paying attention to you? I'm having a good time, just helping you today. Really. Honest."
"How are things with your mom and your stepdad? You never mention them. I don't have the slightest idea what's up with you and them."
I didn't know what to say. My own feelings about the way I'd been living and how powerless I felt were thoroughly confused. And I didn't want to spoil my time with Martha Jane by getting into it.
I mumbled something, a careless "Nothing much going on about that," and she was quiet behind me for a while. For sometime afterwards we didn't talk much except to say that another box was packed or to ask which box to pack next. At around six o'clock she decided we should stop for the day so she could make salads for dinner.
"You sure got quiet," she said after I had been eating wordlessly in front of her at the table for five minutes.
I shrugged. "Burned out from all this packing, I guess."
"I guess," she said. She sighed. "Me too."
"So...you'll be living the life of a cool little East Memphis socialite from now on."
"Please. Don't talk about it while I eat."
I sat and chewed and tried to think of something else to say. But the only thing I could think about was that Martha Jane would not be in that college forever, that she would be teaching one day, perhaps far away. I knew better than to bring up that subject. In fact, everything that I could think of as material for discussion somehow led to the fact that the one person in whom I could place any trust was surely going to be out of the picture sooner or later. And on that particular day I wanted very much to undress her and touch her, but I had grown fearful of even saying anything or making a move in that direction.
I blinked and looked up. She stared questioningly at me.
"Were you in a trance?" she asked.
"No," I said. She eyed me skeptically. I shrugged and confessed, "Yes."
"I asked you if you have any girlfriends at school."
The question sent a chill up my spine. "No," I said.
"Someone as active as you, and you don't have some girl after you?"
I shook my head no.
"Why not, hon?"
I shrugged--a big, on-purpose, don't-give-a-damn shrug. "I'm not interested in anybody."
"I see..." She got up and poured some soda into her half-empty glass. Wordlessly she returned to the table and sat.
After a moment she looked into her glass and said slowly, "I wonder ..Speedy...oh, never mind."
I did not know what she was hinting at. I looked up to find her staring at me again. I had just taken a big bite of salad. Desperately reaching for something to talk about that had nothing to do with my thoughts or with anything else, I pointed at my face and said with a full mouth, "Nice salad. Good."
She gave me a sad little smirk. "Speedy, you're not talking to me. You're just throwing words across the table."
"I'm eating," I said, and tried to grin with lettuce sticking out one side of my lips.
"You're a miserable failure as a liar, you know that?"
"What am I lying about, Miss District Attorney?"
"The same thing I'm lying about."
"You? What are you lying about?"
She hesitated. She opened her lips to speak, but didn't.
I repeated, "What are you lying about and why?"
She took a deep breath and looked me right in the eye. "I'm not lying, really. It's just that there's something I'm not talking about."
I joked, "Well, gee, thanks for telling me that there's something you're not telling me about."
"You're doing it, too. But you won't even tell me that you're not telling me about it."
I shook my head and moved uneasily in the chair. "Miss Graham, this sounds so complicated."
"Speedy, what do I have to do to keep you from going inside yourself like that? You're so clever about it, but you're so distant when you do that, and it's something you do again and again and --"
"No," I said quickly. I gave her a tired, strained smile. "No, Martha Jane, it's...things I don't know how to talk about yet."
"Oh, goodie, I think I hit the target! What? What things?"
"No!" I insisted, verging on defensive anger. I'm sure I turned a little red, but I let it go no further than that. I was getting better at holding it all in, because I was sure that a tear would show, or I'd let slip some desperate motion or remark. But all I let out was a quiet and definite no.
"Well," she said reluctantly, "all right, then. I won't nag."
"Let's pack some more stuff," I said, brightening up.
"Martha Jane...I'm -- I guess I'm just bored and tired."
The look on her face told me she didn't believe me. But all she said was, "Will you promise not to run away while I take a shower? I'm all dusty from this work."
"Can I shower first? You really had me sweating today. What a slave-driver."
"Okay. You, then me."
I showered first, very quickly--not that I was so grungy, but I wanted to prepare a surprise for her while she washed. After I dried off, she followed. While she showered I remained undressed, cleaned up the kitchen, turned down all the lights, readied the bed, and lay naked in the bedroom face-up with my hands behind my head and my cock standing straight up in the air.
She came out of the bath toweling her hair. She stopped short in the doorway when she saw me. Her eyes widened and she laughed. "Well, well! Am I to gather from this that you are making the moves this time?"
"Isn't it my turn?"
She smirked. "Let me clean up the kitchen."
"I already did it."
"Oh," she said, impressed. "Really! My--All this, and he does dishes, too." She threw the towel aside and climbed on the bed and crawled stealthily toward me. "C'mere, you..."
Almost an hour later she lay naked under me with her knees raised while I fucked her rapidly in the soft bed in her dark bedroom. She had cum twice, once under my mouth and once with me inside her.
"Slower," she taunted, her eyes fixed on mine. "Let it build up."
"...it's so good, it's close now..."
"Let it feel good longer, honey. Look at me." She held my face gently but firmly. "Let me see your eyes."
I trained my eyes on hers.
Her hazel orbs searched mine knowingly. She stroked my face as I moved in her. I was physically close to climax, but emotionally distant -- and Martha Jane had uncanny ways of sensing it.
She said, "You've been hiding something from me for a long time."
Trying to evade her, I stared back intently. "No."
"You don't have to tell me what it is. But I don't want it holding you back from me when we fuck. Let go of it. Let it go so you can really enjoy fucking me."
Her offer melted my resistance, and I could not prevent my face and eyes from softening with gratitude -- a reaction she acknowledged with a little grin of recognition.
I stopped moving. I tried telling her, "I keep thinking...I don't know how to say it..."
"Shh. No thinking. It's so seldom that we can be together like this. I'm being very selfish: I want to give you a wonderful cum. I want you to stop thinking and cum."
I began moving in her again, but she cradled my face once more and said, "Slow, hon. Make it last until you can stop thinking so much."
I slowed my pace and lengthened my strokes so that I withdrew almost all the way out before going even deeper in her.
"Good," she said. "Yes. Take your time. Go deep."
I dreaded she would make it so good that I would forget myself com- pletely, that my fears and anger would have me crying or screaming when I came. But her eyes and voice enticed me out of myself despite all my recent conditioning to the contrary. I felt my emotions welling up to match the intense pleasure I felt inside her.
She urged me on with lusty whispers and an ingenious knack for holding me on the edge and delaying my release until the defenses that imprisoned my pleasure behind a wall of rage and isolation had been obliterated. For a long time she would not let me cum until I was so overpowered with lust that, with a helpless sob, I relinquished all control to my back and hips and allowed them to pump my cock into a mindless state of raw pleasure. Below me, she received my surrender with a sweet smile.
Everything disappeared. I yelled. I slowed and spurted.
She hissed, "Yessss...yes, hon...MMM! So MUCH!...yes, baby!...oh yes enjoy it, such a good cum..." When she felt my orgasm waning she rolled her hips in a slow arc and drew my last remnants into her clutching warmth.
As usual, she thoroughly destroyed and drained me. I fell asleep in her arms until she woke me up to drive me home. On the way she asked if I felt better. I answered, yes, I felt better. But what I did not say was that nothing had changed.