The week preceding Martha Jane's last weekend of packing before she left her charming apartment near Memphis State was a long, numbing one. As far as I knew, it would be my last chance to spend time with her before she moved to East Memphis under her new stepdad's watchful eye. Although we spoke by telephone briefly during the week and set the schedule for my Saturday visit, there was no mention of what might or might not happen after that weekend. I was too fearful of bringing it up.
When Martha Jane arrived in her Chevy (which she still didn't like), I felt distracted and dull. My feeble attempts at appearing cheerful fell flat. When I couldn't think of anything to say I sat humming an aimless tune and looking out the car window, pretending to be engrossed in the passing scenery.
At her apartment I dove into the work of packing, working so quickly and efficiently that Martha Jane was left with little more than to stand around and watch. By three o'clock that afternoon I'd packed everything and there was nothing else to do.
"Well," she said, forcing a cheerful smile through the tension that had been written on her face since we arrived. She looked around at the boxes stacked along one wall of the living room. "That's that. Good work, cowboy, we finished two hours early."
"Yep," I said, knowing that I sounded terse and sullen. But I didn't know what else to do. I walked into the kitchen to wash my hands.
"So what's next?" she called from the living room.
I sighed. "Can't play records or anything. It's all packed." I stood in the kitchen doorway drying my hands with a paper towel. "Hate to see you give up this place."
Martha Jane cleared her throat and said with an air of mystery, "Well, there is one more thing. I don't know what you'll think about this...I mean, it's kinda...silly."
I gave her a weak but indulgent smile. "Try me."
She blushed and hesitated before starting for the bedroom. "Follow me," she said.
She led me into the bedroom and then into the rear bathroom. Her toiletries were still on the floor in two small shoulder bags. She bent over the tub and turned on the water. "First, we need a warm tub..." She adjusted the water flow and then turned to me with a naughty smile. "Can you guess yet?"
"Looks an awful lot like a bathtub filling up with water, lady."
She winked and wagged a finger. "Not...quite." She reached into one of the shoulder bags and pulled out a package of blue bubble bath powder and held it up to me.
Blood rushed to my head, and to a couple of other places. I smiled, still a little unsure, and reached out for the package of bubble bath.
She jumped back playfully. "No, no, that's *my* part. I get to open the package. Your part is to get nekkid first."
I squinted. "Is this supposed to remind me of what I think it's supposed to remind me of?"
She winked. "Yes. See, I told you it was silly."
A sudden and chilling thought passed across my mind but, not wanting to kill the mood for her, I kept the question to myself: did this ritual mean that I was not going to see her again?
I unbuttoned my shirt. She came to me with a playful gleam in her eyes and helped me undress, pausing now and then to touch my neck and sides and to help me unzip my jeans.
She turned to dump the powder into the water. She watched the blue bubbles expand and rise. When she turned around again, I stood naked in the middle of the room. Seeing me, her eyes lit up and she walked over to me. Her face hovered near mine. As she watched my eyes she trailed her fingers down my tummy and onto the tip of my cock.
"Remember this, too?" she whispered.
"Yes. Like the first time."
"Hmmm. Nasty boy." Her hand continued to graze my now twitching penis. "You have no idea how often I've remembered the first time we did this." She kissed me on one eye and then the other, and whispered near my ear: "And since then, little Speedy has grown into a warm, lovable, sensitive young man. And a wonderful lover."
I managed to keep myself from breaking into tears. I resolved that this moment, if it was to be our last intimacy, would be as she wanted it. But my unvoiced questions persisted, and so far my mind was still uneasy on that score.
I put a wet, open-lipped kiss on her neck and saw and felt goose- bumps rise on her back and arms. I said, "Hey. The water's ready."
"Oh, yeah," she said. She saw that the tub was now half-filled with blue bubbles. "But we're both bigger now and we need a little more than we used to. You go in first."
I pointed at myself as if to question "Me?", and she grinned and nodded. I settled into the tub, the bubbles engulfing me with an audible hiss.
She began to undress. "Turn it off when the bubbles are high enough."
In a moment she was naked. My cock lurched under the bubbles when I saw her. She was slim and firm; her legs seemed rather long for a woman of her relatively petite stature, an illusion caused by her nineteen-inch waist, the moderately lush flair of her hips and the firm roundness of her tush. Her breasts sloped smoothly and swiftly into rounded globes with pointed, dark pink nipples. Her mound was topped with a fine, curly, almost transparent auburn fuzz that crowned her outthrust smooth-lipped vulva and extended halfway down the length of her prominent slit, which now was only slightly parted. But it was all these bound by a perfection of creamy flesh -- skin so tight and toned that it glistened along her shoulders and hips and upper thighs -- that, and her long- necked grace, gave her body an alluring mixture of woman and girl, harlot and angel.
She grinned as she approached the tub and stepped inside. "You hard under those bubbles?"
"Well," she said, settling into the nose-high foam and facing me, "hold that thought j-u-u-st a little longer." She grabbed the bar of soap and lathered her hands and then reached under the bubbles to stroke my cock with her slippery fingers.
"Ah," I gasped.
"Don't cum, hon."
"Aw, no fair."
"Shh. I'll just hold it," and she did. "I have something to tell you. New house rules."
"You'll like this one." She lowered her voice to a more serious octave. "From here on out, you're not Speedy anymore."
"No. You're Steven. You don't look like a 'Speedy' anymore. You don't think like him and you don't fuck like him. You don't have a little boy's four-inch dick anymore. You have a fine, perfectly shaped cock with soft dark brown pubic hair in just the right amount and just the right places. And a warm heart, and a good mind, and very handsome eyes. You're Steven now. Is it okay if I never call you Speedy again?"
At the end of her little speech I was a blue-bubbled blob of silly mush with a melting heart and a very hard cock. If she asked me to shoot the Pope and steal his name, I would have said yes. I reached for her, and she moved closer to me and let my arms drape over her soft wet shoulders before she said, "Wait, there's more."
"Oh. OK. More."
"From now on, I'm no longer Martha Jane. I'm Martha. I'm not a teenage doll and not a kitten and not a Southern belle, and I'm twenty-one years old. Not long from now I'll be a professional and I'll dress like a professional, not like a schoolgirl. I want everyone to call me Martha from now on. I'll use that name on my resume's and checks and on everything I sign. And I'll insist on Martha from others. But from you, Steven--I don't want to demand, I want to ask... will you call me Martha from now on?"
Too choked up to speak, I nodded slowly and firmly, and then I pulled her into a hug under the bubbles, and she hugged me back. After a moment in this humid, bubbly clinch she tapped me on the back with one finger.
"You didn't call me Martha yet."
"I will. In a minute."
"Call me Martha now. I want to hear you say it."
"Well...you have your new rules. I have one, too."
"I will call you by that name very soon, in just a little while, when the time is exactly right."
"You'll see. Soon."
We soaped and rubbed each other, adding some playful touches and tickles. She said it was the first time she'd had her nipples and cunt soaped by another's hands. Covered with bubbles, we climbed out of the tub. She stayed in the bathroom to powder and finish up, while I turned off all the lights in the apartment so that a soft, late afternoon glow filtered through the curtains.
When she entered the bedroom I was sitting on the edge of the bed, my legs under me. She stood a few inches away, fluffing her hair with a towel.
She asked, "why are you sitting on the edge of the bed like that?"
I said quietly, "C'mere. Stand by the bed," and when she dropped the towel and came to me I pulled her head close and whispered in her ear, "Remember this?"
"The first time I saw you nekkid. The first time you showed how to get you wet."
"Oh," she whispered. "Oh. Yes." She backed away one step and spread her feet so that her love-pod was more available. I whispered, "Let me fingerfuck you." As her hands found and squeezed my cock and balls, she opened her legs a little more. Between her smoothly muscled thighs was a small open alcove shaped and sized perfectly for the palm of my hand. I cupped her warm mound, which greeted me with a sliver of slippery moisture along the middle of my palm. She shifted her legs again, allowing me a little more room to slide a tantalizing finger along the slick edges of her firmly-rimmed slit. Leaning into me and lifting a nipple to my lips, she whispered, "Suck my tittie, hon."
I kissed, licked, and then she sighed pleasurably as a nipple entered my gently sucking mouth. At my fingers, her slit swelled and opened. Once more she made a fine adjustment with her feet, bending her knees a little to lift her portal upward and toward me.
She hissed, "Put it in me. Slow. Slow. Ah."
I whispered, "Squeeze my cock. Just a little. Give it a little tug."
"Like that?...Mmm. Yes. Wet."
Several years earlier when this scene was first enacted, I could hold out for hours. Now, I'd be lucky if I lasted half a minute -- and when she spread precum over my shaft and circled her fingers around me, that interval was seriously shortened.
With my free hand I held both of hers motionless at my crotch. "Wait," I whispered. "Not yet."
"Let me fuck you with my finger a minute."
She grinned and smoothed a lock of hair from her forehead so she could look down and watch my hand on her. "Okay."
For a few minutes that dripped with a seething eroticism I had not seen in her for some time, I gently stroked and primed her clit, pausing now and then to fingerfuck her slowly and deeply and properly, searching her slithery inner walls until I found that rough spot just above the curve lay that lay beyond her portal and which that made her moan and hug my finger. In a while her head drifted back and her eyes closed. She sighed to the ceiling, "Hon, that's so good." I was so turgid I felt I'd need a firearm permit if I got any harder. Soon she leaned against me, murmuring, "My legs are getting weak, it's so good."
I whispered, "Lie down." She slid naked into the bed and lay with her arms draped above her head and her thighs spread wide. She smiled languidly. She was wet and open enough to start fucking, and she appeared to think that we were going to do just that. Instead, I lay between her legs and kissed her cunt and inner thighs. Her head fell back and she closed her eyes and whispered happily, "Yes."
With one more preparatory smooch on the surface of her cunt, I whispered, "Tell me when you're close."
"When you're very close."
She crooked one knee and let her leg fall to one side. I could see her grinning toward the ceiling with her eyes closed as goosebumps rose on her legs. "Okay."
I tongued her delicately. When I found her clit she sighed, arching ever so slightly. Wetly I continued, sometimes full-mouthing her entire mound and then sucking her clit between my tongue and inner lips the way she liked. Her arms reached behind her head and grasped the edge of the headboard. A few minutes later she tightened her grip, her knuckles whitening with the effort, followed by tremors in the stretched tendons of her inner thighs. She was fully open to me then, her clit almost the size and hardness of a thin thimble, her thighs drifting apart until her knees were drawn up with her feet pulled together under my chest. She began whispering heatedly, "Suck it. Right there, yes...Soft, hon. Suck... Yes. Mm, yes." I felt the beginnings of the stiffening and trembling that signaled the onset of her orgasm; I wondered if she'd remember to tell me when she was near. I did not want to remove my tongue to remind her, for I knew she was getting dangerously close. I trusted her to be selfish, to cum whenever and however she pleased. And just as it seemed she might be ready to go over the edge, she lifted her head and looked down at me, gasping, "I'm so close!"
Immediately I rose, and the surprise on her face was matched only by the pleased widening of her eyes as I entered her quickly, deeply and smoothly, my eyes on hers. She stared at me with wild-eyed, joyful lust as I began fucking with the slow, steady rhythm I knew she preferred. She slowly whispered, "Fuucck." Then her writhing inner walls began to pulse and contract, and she stiffened, and her eyes narrowed, and her fingers dug into my arms, and she wept softly, "Hon I'm cummin'!", only for her to find, just as her entire body went into its taut muscle-lock of pleasure, that I had just jerked and squirted inside her, and her eyes saw it happening for me and for her at the same time, and she saw and heard me whisper to her, "Martha," and her eyes glazed wetly with pleasure and she sank into the undertow of her long deep cum while I squirted again in her tightening center. I slowed and lengthened my strokes to prolong the pleasure and to savor the full feel of her, another hot and very hard spurt jetting out of me with a force that made me moan, and I crooned to her between my own quickening gasps, "Cum, Martha. Cum."
As my ejaculations ebbed, she came out of her climax and settled into the bed with a childlike whimper of surrender and fatigue. Her eyes closed, and she pulled me against her and started breathing again. I kissed her ear and throat and hid my face in her neck while I made three or four last, hungry probes into her, winding down. Feeling her hand push its way between our tummies, I rose slightly to allow her to wring the last of me from my tubes, as she so much liked to do. When she finished I settled onto her, our joined lengths so hot and wet that it felt like immersion in a bubble bath again. We hugged, and breathed, and rested.
She purred, "Yes. Oh, yes."
We were dressed and it was dark outside. I sat on the bed watch- ing her brush her hair. She looked at my reflection in the dressing table mirror.
"Are you staring at me?" she joked.
"I'm asking you," I tempted.
"Asking me what?"
"Martha..." I stopped.
"Hmm, that sounded nice. And you sure do know a perfect moment when you see one."
"Will we do this again?"
Her brush slowed, and stopped, and a heavy darkness seemed to fall on her. After a moment she said, "Oh, Steven."
"I was just asking."
She sighed heavily and began brushing again. "Yes. We'll all be at my mommy's wedding next week."
Her answer and her dull manner told me the question had upset her, so I dropped the subject. I lay back into the pillow, resting. With my eyes closed, I heard her place the brush on her table, then heard the rustle of her jeans as she walked across the room, then felt the bed slant as she sat beside me and laid her head on my chest.
"Steven, the answer to that question is that I want to. But I don't know when. Or how"
"You don't have to answer."
She held her face over mine and removed the arm I'd draped over my face. Her eyes dug into mine. "Steven, there's something I've wanted to tell you for a very, very long time. And I can't right now, not right now. But I will someday. When the time is right."
"Oh, you devil..." She put my arm back over my face and pouted. "I told you, I promise. I keep promises."
"Don't say okay if you don't mean it."
I smirked. "Okay."
She sat up on the bed and said, "But I will tell you part of it at the wedding. I just should need time to find the words. Deal?"
She removed my arm, kissed my forehead, replaced my arm, and rose to get ready to drive me home. I watched as she moved about the place doing her Martha chores and touching her Martha things. I could tell she was hiding some distress from me. I sorely regretted having allowed myself to blurt out my question about us. I resolved I'd never again mention it, would never again bring that shadow into her face. Never again.
Her mother's wedding was a festive, crowded, expensive affair, as ornate as Mr. Buchanan's could afford. I attended the ceremony, watching from a front pew in the cathedral while Martha, as a member of the bridal party, stood stiff and uneasy in a pale blue, formal gown. After the ceremony she came to me during the drawn-out handshake ritual on the front steps of the church and confided, "How wasteful and barbaric." She sighed impatiently. "Hundreds of people, tens of thousands of dollars, all these clothes, all this display -- just so a man and woman can sleep together."
The huge crowd gathered that evening at the formal dinner and recep- tion at Colonial Country Club. Mr. Buchanan, finally married, showed off his bride and his two stepdaughters. "The three prettiest gals in the whole city of Memphis," he boasted during one of many pre-dinner toasts. During the evening Martha seated me beside her at a long table apart from the one where her sister and mom and stepdad were gathered. I waltzed with her once, both of us blushing as I attempted valiantly to subdue an insistent erection under my rented tuxedo. Time and again as we attempt- ed to chat at our table, we were interrupted by one request after another for Martha's hand on the dance floor. Finally, as the evening's end drew near, she and I moved outside for a quiet stroll among the cherry trees and pines in the gardens behind the reception hall. A faint breeze filtered through the cherry blossoms.
I stood near her as she leaned on the low bough of a cherry tree. I said little, distracted by the fear that as long as she was living in Mr. Buchanan's house we would not be free to see each other intimately.
"Something's on your mind, isn't it?" she asked, her eyes searching mine. Her voice -- needy, cajoling, seductive -- floated through the sweet spring air and washed over and into me. Her beauty and the perfume from the cherry blossoms and the moonlight worked on me relentlessly. She said, "It's so hard for me to tell you what I wanted to say last week, if you hide from me. It makes me feel I'm here all alone, hon."
Falteringly, my own effort at concealment almost choking off my voice, I told her that what I was feeling at that very moment, in that place, would sound strange. "Even a little weird," I said.
"Tell me. Let me decide if it's weird or not."
After beating around the bush for a while, I haltingly confessed that I wish she'd been my mother. Or my sister. But I guessed I'd have to settle for her being "my friend."
Hearing this, her eyes softened and she, too, blushed profusely. "How strange, Steven," she mused. "How so, so strange."
Girlishly, diffidently, almost guiltily, she confessed to me: "Hon, I'm shocked to admit this to you, much less to myself. But I wanted to tell you the same thing. I wish you'd been mine, too. My brother. Or even...my son. Isn't that an outrageous, wicked thing to say? Would we have slept together? I don't know. But if I ever had a son, I would want him to be like you."
Deathly afraid of revealing more, I fell silent. Deep inside me, my emotions swelled and wanted to shout themselves to the world. I was partially soothed by the sound, somewhere beyond us, of the dinner crowd singing in chorus. Muffled by distance, the sound of their voices sing- ing a plaintive waltz drifted through the trees.
The distant voices sang:
Last Saturday night I got married.
Me and my wife settled down...
"It's the last dance," she said. "The bride's choice. My mother chose that song. It's her favorite. Such a sad song. But so pretty."
I turned to her, to nod in recognition of the bittersweet lyric. At that moment our eyes met. She smiled sweetly, her eyes looking deeply into mine, poignant and yearning. I asked myself: yearning for what? Had I seen, somewhere within the warm affection in those soft, hazel eyes, an even more meaningful message? Deep inside the glistening pools of the clear whites of her eyes lay something more, something tense, enigmatic, hypnotic.
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight.
I'll see you in my dreams.
"Hon," she whispered reluctantly, "I have to go. The dance is over and they'll be looking for me."
Quickly she kissed me on the cheek and hugged me, and then left for the reception hall. I stood paralyzed, watching her disappear among the cherry blossoms. Slowly I strolled to the building, not caring whether my parents spotted me or not. Oblivious to the milling crowd that gath- ered their belongings and prepared to leave, I crossed the vast hall and strolled into the parking lot, hoping for a sight of her as she passed by in the car with her family. Perhaps I'd catch her before she left; so much was left unsaid. Perhaps I'd get up the nerve to say it.
But the moment had fled, and Martha was nowhere to be seen.
In early June of that year she graduated with honors and a Bachelor's degree in special education. The ceremony was held on a Sunday afternoon. I was staying at my godparent's restaurant in downtown Memphis at the time and was able to get a ride to Memphis State with Aunt Frances, who grumbled about having to make a special trip all the way out there.
When we arrived on the main boulevard that bounded the campus, Aunt Frances frowned in bewilderment. "Where are all the people who go to school here?"
Looking around, I saw students swarming all around us. I answered, "This whole crowd is students, Aunt Frances."
"This is what they wear to school? They don't have to wear uniforms on Sunday?"
"Aunt Frances, you don't wear uniforms in college."
"The nuns let them go to class with no uniforms?"
"Nuns don't teach the classes out here, Aunt Frances."
"Oh," she said, her eyes widening even more in shock and confusion. "Which one of these buildings do the nuns live in?"
"There aren't any nuns, Aunt Frances. No Nuns!"
"Look at the way these boys come to school. Hmp. No ties, no nice shoes. Look, that one boy over there, he's the only one with a tie!"
For over forty years she had driven down the same streets to work and Mass and home again, oblivious to growth and changes in other parts of the city; nor could she imagine an educational institution other than the Catholic elementary girls' school she had last attended in 1918. When she dropped me off near the administration building I explained to her how to get back to Central Avenue a few blocks away, a street she knew only because Immaculate Conception Cathedral was located on it, even though this was the first time she had been on that street's ten-mile eastward extension that had been built in the 1940's. I gave up trying to explain college to her.
Later, seated in the balcony of the auditorium, I spotted Martha in the procession of students in cap and gown, as well as her mother and Evelyn and another female relative who sat in the audience. I hadn't seen Martha in several weeks; she looked pleased, if not visibly ex- hausted after the crunch of her final exams. When she walked to the podium to accept a special certificate of honor, I wondered how soon she would leave Memphis State, or if she would leave the city altogether. At the end of the ceremony I found her in the audience and traded niceties with her relatives. She offered to give me a ride back to my Aunt Frances' place downtown, which I gladly accepted -- although, as she drove me in her Chevy, I found I was holding back so much of what I really wanted to say that I said little. Whether or not she noticed this, I didn't know. She seemed limp, glad that it was finally over. So far, she'd heard nothing from her applications for graduate aid.
Arriving at the restaurant on Calhoun Street, she smiled tiredly and thanked me for showing up at her graduation. I tried to be as cheerful as I could. As I got out of the car she said, "Wait a minute! Don't you dare leave me without a hug!"
She got out of the car and met me on the driver's side, where she threw her arms around me and gave me a close, long, moaning hug.
"We'll get together soon," she said. "At last, I'll have some free time."
From the street we saw my relatives inside the restaurant -- Aunt Frances and Mama Rose and a couple of visiting aunts. They waved at us through the restaurant's front window. We waved too, and as Martha got back into her car she blew me a kiss and a sympathetic smile: "Don't let 'em drive you crazy, hon!" Then she drove away, leaving me feeling rather lonely but knowing that she was leaving temporarily, and that she was headed for a well-deserved rest.
A few weeks later I was again spending Saturday afternoon at the Tremont Cafe. I was completely unprepared for her excited phone call.
"I don't believe it!" she squealed excitedly over the line. "Steven, I don't believe it! It came in the mail, just this afternoon! Columbia! Columbia University in New York! I don't believe it! New York City!"
I don't remember the rest of the telephone call. She had been award- ed a scholarship and a graduate teaching assistantship at Columbia. She had not expected it, and I even recalled her saying when she mailed her application months earlier that she doubted anything would come of it.
It was another week before she picked me up at the Tremont to spend Sunday afternoon with her. She drove into the county and into Shelby State Park, where we parked her Chevrolet in the tourist's lot and went for a stroll deep into the woods of the park. I was familiar with the area through my brief tour with the Boy Scouts at St. Michael's School. We were both rather subdued, but glad to see each other. For some time I did not ask the big question, but I finally summoned up the nerve to do so as we rested on the grass atop a heavily forested hill and snacked on some cold fried chicken I had brought along from the Tremont.
"So when will you be leaving for New York?"
She smiled at me warmly, touching my cheek and then squeezing my arm. "I don't really know, Steven, but it will have to be soon. Very soon. You have no idea, the confrontations I had with Mr. Buchanan. It happened just yesterday, when I told him I was going to leave home to take the assistantship. It was almost a shouting match. He got down to saying: how *could* you move to New York when you have a home right here in Memphis and an obligation to marry and keep the family going?"
I turned away, toward the distant valley. I had no idea she would meet with such resistance from her stepdad. It made the distance from my own family seem secondary, at least for the time being.
She went on. "He's dead set against my leaving. Especially to big, bad New York. You know how people are in Memphis, they think Memphis is the whole world, the only possible choice. Why would anyone dare run off to another city, when everything one could ever need is right here in good ol' Memphis?"
"But you can't give it up. It's what you worked for. You earned it. You broke your back for it."
"He treated me as if I were some kind of ungrateful beauty queen. I even offered to give back the Chevrolet. I never wanted it that much in the first place -- I always knew that damn car would be symbolic of trouble sooner or later."
"So, will you give it back?"
"He won't let me. Can you believe it? He wants me to keep it. He thinks he can buy me with it. He thinks that car would be as important to me as it is to him." She lowered her face and set her jaw firmly. "But it won't work. I found a friend who can sell it for whatever cash we can get. And I'll need it in a place like New York. I haven't saved a dime and Mr. Buchanan certainly isn't going to help me out. Mother offered to wheedle something out of him, but I won't let her. I know it sounds crazy, but I still want to do this on my own."
She stopped and looked at me. Her hazel eyes were sisterly and knowing. "You don't want me to go, do you?"
"I never said that."
"Steven, I know you never said it, but..." She looked down and fingered a fallen leaf. "It's just as sudden for me as it must be for you." She looked up at me. "It's not forever."
"Only for a Master's. Only two years. I'll be teaching and working, so there won't be any crash course this time. It'll take me the full two years to get through it. So...it really won't be that long. Besides -- you'll find a girlfriend, you know. You'll forget all about me."
I gave a low, wry laugh. "Right."
"You will, Steven. You're becoming a very accomplished young man. You'll be in high school then, your social life will have changed. And you'll be older and taller. You'll be different. So very different by then."
"And you'll find somebody, too," I said, avoiding her gaze.
She sighed and shook her head and looked out over the bucolic scene before us. "I don't know, hon. I don't think so. I'm not planning on it. All I'm planning on is all the hard work I'll have ahead of me. Graduate school at a first-rate place like Columbia is no pushover. It's no picnic at all, from what I hear."
She looked back at me, apparently to check my reaction to her words. I shrugged and laughed it off. I played with a long blade of grass that I pulled from the ground.
"So," she insisted, "how do you really feel, Steven?"
"It's yours," I answered stoically. "You worked for it. You should have it."
She searched my eyes and then smiled wanly, looking away. "All right, if that's really what you wanted to say. You're unnecessarily brave about this."
"How?" I asked.
"Oh, I don't know. I expected something else from you. Maybe something poetic. Or even angry. But you don't reveal much about yourself the way you used to. Do you really feel so noble and sure of yourself ..or are you just accepting it for my benefit?"
I considered my answer quickly, but carefully. I wondered if she could tell that my reply didn't exactly match my feelings. I lied: "I am this noble. I am this sure of myself." Then I partly told the truth: "And I am doing it for your benefit."
She smiled. Broadly. Lovingly. She put her hand on my arm and squeezed.
"Thank you, Steven. Thank you for that."
As we left the park and headed back to the city and the Tremont Cafe, I felt her and everything about her slipping away. My anxiety welled so violently, and I concealed it with such difficulty, that my chest and head felt physically crushed. I gazed blindly out the open window on my side of the car, afraid that if I exposed my face to her she would know everything I felt and thought. The world that passed my view at fifty miles per hour on the highway seemed to be little more than a rush of strange, alien objects that threatened to swallow me up and smother me at any moment. I was torn between needing her and letting her go to claim what was rightfully hers. And I was afraid that any open expression of my fear and helplessness would be an affront to her, would reveal that I really and truly was only thirteen years old and that I would not know what to do without her.
She didn't say much. She drove with her eyes leveled straight ahead on the highway. I wanted desperately to hold her. Then it hit me that not only was Martha on her way out of my life, but all of the places where we could have been alone and unseen had already vanished. The Lauderdale Courts was gone, her apartment was gone. I knew of no place where we could be together. I harried myself with worry over what she would think if I asked her if we could go somewhere and be together again. Would she feel that I were attempting to hold her back? In the past, we had not always had sex when we met; in the past I felt assured that it would happen again, later, when the opportunity arose. Now, suddenly, I realized that "later" was not going to happen.
I shuffled in my seat, folding my arms tightly before me in an effort to appear only mildly affected -- which, of course, I soon realized only revealed the storm inside me. It was a strange effect, to be able to stand so far away from myself and observe with embarrassment how I moved and spoke and appeared. It was something that happened to me more often and was becoming a modus operandi that left me feeling extremely uncomfortable about myself.
Eventually I asked with great effort, "Will I be able to see you again...before you leave?"
To my surprise, she smiled wickedly. "You mean...you wanna try to get together somewhere?"
She smirked. "I was wondering how long I'd have to wait for you to ask first. Well...I'll see if I can arrange something."
A few days later she called and told me that she would be leaving in two weeks. She would leave by train and move to New York. She had a college girlfriend who lived there and who would help her get settled. Going by airplane would be faster but much more expensive; the cheaper train fare and the cash from the sale of her Chevy would have to suffice until money from her award at Columbia materialized in the fall.
She relayed all this information as though it were secondary -- or perhaps too unpleasant to contemplate at the moment. Quickly she changed the subject and told me that all her college friends had left Memphis for the summer, so she knew of no one's apartment where we could hide out for a day. And it wouldn't be possible for us to spend an entire night to- gether: neither of us could think of a good excuse for my being out all night that would be acceptable to my parents or hers. So she would rent a room in a new Holiday Inn motel in southeast Memphis on Airways Boulevard in a part of town our acquaintances never frequented, and where not even her car in a motel parking lot would be recognized.
She picked me up on a Saturday afternoon at the Tremont Cafe. I didn't tell my parents about it; my isolation from them had intensified to the point where a few mumbled words at the breakfast table during the week were all that transpired between us. But I did tell my Aunt Frances and Mama Rose and the others at the restaurant that Martha and I were going on a picnic in Riverside Park and then to the movies, and that we wouldn't return until later that evening.
I slipped into her car and we both smiled and waved at onlookers in the restaurant's front window, then pulled away and headed for Airways Boulevard. For a few blocks I didn't speak.
"What's wrong?" she asked. "You're so quiet." She winked. "Afraid we'll get caught?"
"Oh, nothing," I murmured dully. For the first time in my relation- ship with her, I actually felt we were being deceptive and sneaky. In the past, our getting together had somehow seemed like a naturally occurring event, like occasional rain or a change of season.
I told her, "More and more, I'm leading a secret life that no one knows anything about."
"Steven," she said seriously, watching the road as she made the wide turn into busy Airways Boulevard, "I've been doing that with my folks for a very long time." She sighed heavily as she pressed the accelerator and merged with traffic on the road that widened into the highway to Birmingham. "I haven't had time to worry if it was the right thing to do, or not. But if I were to stay sane...it was necessary. It's not me, and it's not you. It's the world."
Soon the homes and businesses along the busy highway thinned out. We passed the airport area and then the wide expanse of land occupied by the outdoor drive-in theater district. Beyond that point, I was in a totally unfamiliar part of town. When we pulled into the parking lot of the huge Holiday Inn, I felt lost and shaky. She and I had always been alone in familiar, secluded, cozy places; the building I saw in front of me was impersonal, massive, and coldly public in the hard midday June sun.
She pulled into a parking space in the lot behind the building, shut down the engine and turned to me. She laughed. "You look scared to death."
"I'm not," I lied.
"Is this place okay? I realize it's not like home--"
"Yes," I said, opening my door and moving out bravely. "Let's go."
Our room on the second floor was neat and spacious. It smelled of cleaning fluid. It was so meticulously color-coordinated in dark browns and burnt orange that it seemed almost monochrome. Martha closed and double-locked the door behind us and motioned toward the wide bed. "Have a seat," she said. "Try it out." As I sat on the firm bed she yanked on the cord of the halfway-open drapes and pulled them shut, closing us off in a square white-walled room that was now dimly lit only by remnants of sunlight seeping around the edges of the floor-length drapes.
I had a paper bag of snacks and Cokes on my lap. I reached over to the nearby chair and placed the bag there while Martha removed the small overnight bag from around her shoulder and placed it on the desk near the wall. Sitting next to me on the bed, she caught her breath and pushed a few stray locks of hair from her face.
"Well," she breathed. "It's a little antiseptic."
"I could get used to it."
She shivered and rubbed her bare arm. "Let's turn down that air conditioner before we both become frozen peas in here."
I got up and then knelt at the air conditioner, found the controls in the dim light and turned the temperature and the fan halfway down. Standing, I turned to see her sitting on the bed and looking about the place warily. Her discomfort appeared to be similar to mine. As I watched her she looked in my direction, caught me eyeing her, and smiled apologetically.
I smiled back. "Anyway...it's quiet. Just feels a little strange."
"A little sleazy?" she asked jokingly. "What do you say we take a shower and rinse off all this summer sweat? It was so muggy in that car, I'm all clammy."
In the big reverberant bathroom we ran steaming water in the shower and got undressed, eyeing each other with a growing sense of intimacy and anticipation. The discomforts of the place and the room were soon dis- placed by our grinning and tittering and our bumping against each other under the water. We unwrapped the little bar of hotel soap and swathed each other provocatively, Martha closing her eyes and moaning as I caressed her hardening nipples with my sudsy fingertips.
She toweled off quickly, and while I dried myself she went into the main room. When I shut the light and left the bathroom I saw that she had lit a cigarette and was sitting on the bed against the headboard, her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms around her slender, shiny shins. Naked, she seemed daintily trim and diminutive, her firm breasts jiggling as I got into the bed. She exhaled a thin stream of gray smoke and gave me a sly smile. I smiled back. Before me, between her thighs and half-hidden behind her calves, was the smoothly domed swell of her furrowed conch, sparsely fuzzed with tiny auburn cilia, the rims of her narrow slit just beginning to glisten with her dew. Its primal, she- animal character presented itself in impudent contrast to the statuesque elegance of the rest of her.
She indulged in her cigarette, her voice throaty, secretive, conspiratorial.
"This is beginning to feel very naughty," she said.
"All those people driving by," I said, joining in her mood, "not knowing we're nekkid."
"Yeah," she breathed, pleased. She took another puff. "After today, you'll have to go to confession."
"I don't go to confession. I just pretend I do."
"Don't you feel strange about that?"
"A little. But it's what I have to do."
"It's a sin," she said, testing me.
"Only for everyone else."
"This...is a sin," she announced, a little amused. She reached over to the ashtray and slowly, carefully, mashed the cigarette several times against the glass until it was completely extinguished. "It's the major, most unacceptable, most outrageous...most delicious sin."
"Can I have one of those?" I asked mischievously.
"One of what?" she asked, settling against the headboard.
"One of those," I said, motioning my head at the ash tray.
"Don't you dare. It's an awful habit. One of my few vices. I'm not lazy, I'm not narrow-minded, I'm not hateful. I don't rob anyone, I don't kill anyone, I don't hate anyone. I'm not a racist, not a bigot. But I do smoke. And I'm a hypocrite. And deep inside, I'm ruthless."
I asked, surprised, thinking she was joking, "You are?"
"Yes. I am. I have such a sweet, innocent, kitten-like look. Mr. Buchanan thinks that Evelyn and I are both virgins. Saints. But Evelyn fucks. And I fuck." She looked at me, expressionless, studying me.
I gave an embarrassed laugh. "That's not so sinful."
"Oh, it is. It's a sin because I like it so much. You can't like something that much without it being a sin. It's so difficult to let someone else know how much I like it. It's so good with you, but even with you sometimes...I get a little scared of myself, it's so good and so...unexpected. Sometimes, hon, it's so much of a strain on me. Really. It's not always so easy to let you know that about me. I am a terrible sinner when I'm nekkid with you."
"Really? After all we've done?"
"Yes." She suddenly and playfully hid her eyes with one hand. "Oh, I can't believe this. Why am I so embarrassed? It's like telling you about my period. It's so silly."
I paused. "Is that the secret that you wanted to tell me about? That you think this is a sin?"
"No, hon, no. My big secret is something else, and I can't tell you that now." She uncovered her eyes and with a coy smile she leaned her head on her knees, smiling at me indulgently. "But I will tell you one day, don't worry."
"Okay," I said, disappointed.
"Do you think this is a sin?"
"Yes. Sort of."
"Well...only because everyone else says it is."
"Yes...I know what you mean."
She dropped into deep thought for a moment. She rubbed her leg and then her voice shrank into that of a hesitant little girl.
"Hon...do you like sinning with me?"
"Yes. That makes me as big a sinner as you are."
"Then there's no hope for us," she said, grinning slyly and lowering her legs, stretching out and lying naked and open. "Sin with me," she crooned. "Lick me."
As I moved over her and bent to kiss her firm inner thighs she looked down. Fastidiously, she brushed her pubic curls aside and gently parted her cuntlips for me. "Lick me, hon."
Gradually she became almost uncontrollably licentious, whispering and rasping lewdly and with an abandon I hadn't seen since our nights in the Lauderdale Courts. I have no idea what incited this effusion of raw lust; I could only guess that, like me, she was grasping at something that would soon end. She seemed to have somehow reached back to her sixteenth or seventeenth years, when it was all new and unimpaired by change or necessity. I realized that I was not the only one in that room who felt afraid and threatened.
As I mouthed her cunt she moved my body around so that my knees straddled her head and my cock fit easily into her mouth. She sucked me slowly and lecherously, her hips jerking now and then when I sucked her clit. Soon I rose and stretched over her, entered deeply, and fucked in long deep strokes. Her head raised and resting against the headboard, she grinned and watched me fuck her. Soon she stiffened and climaxed, wrenching her head back and to one side. She finished with a lurch of her hips, gasping and sighing, "Fuck...oh, fuck." Raising her knees, she reached between us to touch my shaft and feel the spurts hurtling into her. She watched with salacious glee while I finished cumming.
We napped, waking in mid-afternoon. Whispering sultrily she leaned over me and quickly jerked me off, entreating me as I came, "C'mon, hon. C'mon. Ah. Those hot little squirts. Yes." We rested again and then drove to the Howard Johnson's down the street and ate like cave people, giggling and spilling things. Martha would grin and say something stupid like "Pass me the salt, hon -- " and then lean close to me over the table and whisper laughingly, "-- and squirt on my tits!" We squealed and sniggered and I would reply with something like "Cum on my ear," which threw her into a squirming fit. She said, "Mr. Buchanan would have a stroke. Haha, Evelyn would have a stroke. The walls of the First Baptist Church of Memphis would come tumblin' down, and the doors of the temple would be rent asunder."
We returned to the room. Dusk found us sinning and lusting like animals, me licking her slowly, her spread thighs taut and trembling as I made her cum, and then we fucked and I made her cum again, then again. Each orgasm for her was deeper, harder, more paralyzing than the one before. Each time she would clench my shoulders and with her lips near my ear she would moan, "Again. Again, Steven. Fuck." Until finally her fourth cum was a long pleasure-drenched struggle, and when it finally arrived I felt my own orgasm creep slowly from my strained back and then into the tip of my cock, on whose length her clinging cunt fed greedily and invoked yet another hot jet from my balls. I yelled and then groaned, straining on outstretched arms and quaking knees, as I watched her long body writhe in ecstatic lust with our last prolonged, exhausting, excruciating release.
For almost an hour afterward, we held each other silently. I lay on her for a while, then rolled over and lay with her head on my shoulder. Soon we changed positions again, me lying on her breast before we curled up spoon-style. At one point she sat up, leaned back against her pillow, and lit a cigarette. I watched her inhale and then slowly exhale.
After a moment she whispered, "Steven."
I looked at her and waited.
She paused and took another puff. She shook her head no, once. She whispered, "Nothing."
Finally, it was time to dress and leave.
She drove me back to my Mama Rose's house. We arrived at eleven, an hour after the Tremont had closed.
"You be good to your Mama Rose," Martha told me from her car window. "she's so sweet."
"I'll come to Union Station next Saturday and see you off."
"You don't have to," she said quietly. "You sure?"
"I'll be there," I said, winking -- not knowing if I were really up to it, but letting her think I believed I was.
She winked back. Unsmiling, she stepped on the gas. She and the car raced down the street and grew smaller. I stood on the curb and watched, wondering what the hell I was going to do.
Of all the weeks Martha and I had spent apart, that week of waiting for her departure was the longest that I remember. The only memory I have of that week was of standing in our front yard one sultry afternoon with the cloying humidity hanging in the air as I stared into the vast suburban sameness around me. As in an underexposed, bleached-out still photograph, nothing seemed distinct. Nothing moved. But I felt the earth move; and I felt time move, slowly and relentlessly.
During breakfast on Friday morning my mother told me, "This coming weekend will be the last week for you to have nothing to do while school's out. Your daddy wants you to work at the grocery during the week, starting Monday."
"You have to learn the value of a dollar," my stepdad grunted as he came to the table for his coffee. He took a quick sip and then bent over to tie his shoes. "Learn about runnin' a business," he went on. "Sackin' groceries. Trim the produce. Then we'll get you on the big bikes with the delivery crew, and you can make some money. Ten cents for every order you deliver in the Lauderdale Courts. The work ain't that hard, but it'll help put some muscle on you, get you out in the sunshine and the open air."
I mentioned that a new play was going to start soon at St. Michael's and that I had been assigned a role. I would have to leave the store by five to get a bus in time for rehearsals.
Unfazed, he continued. "That school dramatics crap will just have to wait. The store stays open 'til seven during the week and 'til nine on Saturday. So your games at school can wait until September."
"You just tell them at school that you're sorry, but your time belongs to the Liberty Cash Grocery Number 23 until school starts again."
"That dramatics shit is a lot of foolin' around anyway."
"The money you earn will be yours. I'll keep it in a checkin' account for you, at Union Planters, just like a regular checkin' account. I'll keep tabs on it. You can spend it, but get somethin' you need and can use at school. Don't spend it on crap."
The conversation ended. It was perhaps one of the longest exchanges I'd had with my parents in several months. For the rest of the day I moped in my room. Near dusk I drove my squeaky kid-sized bicycle to Gaisman Park. The bike was an undersized blue machine that Aunt Frances had given me for Christmas when I was nine years old. The thought that I'd be able to earn my own money for a sparkling new bike was a comfort, at least. At thirteen, going on fourteen, I needed more mobility; for the time being I was limited to city buses and my own two feet. The idea of buying a full-sized bike gave me something to look forward to. And, hopefully, a few months of hard work at the supermarket in my old neigh- borhood would get me back into the heart of the city and give me something to think about other than Martha's absence.
By sunset I returned home and told Mom I didn't want dinner. I boarded a bus and made the long trip into old Memphis and the home of my Mama Rose and Daddy Joe Ricci, my deceased father's parents. Usually I alternated my weekends between them or Aunt Francis and Uncle Johnny.
Being with my grandparents was more subdued and folksy than weekends spent with my disoriented Aunt Frances and my tired and ailing but affec- tionate Uncle Johnny. The Ricci's lived in a newer home, a tidy 1920's brick duplex occupied on one side by my grandparents and on the other by their daughter, my Aunt Baby Sister, so called to distinguish her from several other Aunt Catherines in the clan. The Ricci's kept a living arrangement that even in my youth I considered unusual. My Uncle Johnny and Aunt Frances, with all the extra space they had in their big old Victorian home, slept together in the same room and the same bed; but Daddy Joe and Mama Rose, in their smaller duplex, kept separate rooms. Mama Rose's room was in the middle of the long hallway that led through their side of the duplex. Behind her room was the bedroom that once belonged to my Uncle Frank and my father. Frank was never around, having used his GI bill to get through Vanderbilt University in Nashville, after which he landed a job with a local bank and found an apartment elsewhere in Memphis with his recent bride, my glamorous and vivacious Aunt Leigh. Behind Frank's room, at the far end of the hall, was the small add-on that was Daddy Joe's solitary room.
Gentle, submissive and soft-spoken, Mama Rose would greet me from the front door of their corner house when I got off the bus across the street. Watching the street carefully in both directions, she would wear a frown of concern until I safely crossed the six lanes of busy Peabody Street, and then she would smile her warm motherly smile as I strode up the front steps and onto their little brick-walled, plant-lined front porch. Like her older sisters, My Aunt Frances and my sister's godmother Aunt Mary, Mama Rose had a squeaky voice: but hers was a small, serene one that matched her manner and her diminutive size. Like my deceased father, she had black hair; but her caring, madonna-like eyes were a bright blue that could be seen across a room. There was a quiet joy in her whenever she greeted me and led me into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal or some milk and cookies. When I entreated her to not go through trouble on my behalf, she would insist on waiting upon me, circling about the kitchen with her weak little walk and her bad back, looking far older than her fifty-odd years as if some great weight had attached itself to her petite frame at some point in the past. Always, there was a sweet remark about how I looked just like my daddy, Steven Senior. Always. And always she would at some point confuse me with her son Frank, whom I also resembled. And almost always she would at some point call me Steven instead of her favorite nickname Butch (and where she came up with Butch, I'll never know. She was the only person who called me by that name instead of by Speedy). And always, at some point, she would call me Frank, then give a shy little laugh and apologize, saying, "Oh, I mean Butch. I'm so sorry, sweetheart. Did you hear me say Frank? Wasn't that silly?"
After I snacked I would ask about Daddy Joe, and a shadow would fall over her face--a quick and barely visible flash of something sad and lonely in her--and she would recover and say, "Oh, he's back there in his 'man's room', where he always is. You go see him, and then we have to get to sleep and go to the Tremont in the morning. Go on, go see him. You know he loves you, Butch. He always wants to see you. You go on and I'll clean up in here."
At the end of the long unlit hallway, Daddy Joe was in his room. He was a short, kindly but fidgety man who spoke and moved suddenly, jerkily and unpredictably. I had a strange liking for him; not the same warm and comfy affection I had for the saintly Mama Rose--but an affection mixed with a wariness of his nervous style and his occasionally bitter cynicism that seemed to underlay his reactions to everything and everyone around him.
As usual, he sat in the small, chilly room with the windows wide open, he in his worn, heavy brown leather chair with his short legs propped on a matching footstool. He held a pipe in one hand, a National Geographic magazine and a newspaper in his lap. Around him were his man's trophies that graced the walls of his man's room: an oversized 1948 calendar with color photos of legendary racehorses like Citation and Sea Biscuit; a yellowed, framed, original copy of the announcement of the Wall Street crash in the New York Herald; over three decades' worth of the National Geographic; old copies of the Wall Street Journal; an ancient telegraph set from the Frisco Railroad, where he worked for many years as a youth; a battered dumbbell with two heavy, rusting weights; a photograph of Charles Atlas tugging a subway car in the 1930's; and portraits of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt.
He would greet me with a big grin and a coarse but chummy "Aaaaa!", a kind of gruffly playful reproach accompanied by a firm ruffling of my hair and a pinch on my ear. Then a quick hug, his red cheeks always scratchy and tickly against mine. And then questions: how was I? Would I grow any taller? What was I doing in school? And always, regardless of my answers, a waggish "Aaaaa!" as he unexpectedly rose from his chair and ruffled my hair again. I never quite knew when he was going to jump up and pull that frolic on me. Our conversations were more like an effort on my part to find out who he really was, while he remained roguishly elusive.
I mentioned that I had received a birthday card from my Uncle Frank and he asked, "Yeah? You ever see your Uncle Frank?". I answered no, and he dismissed it with a wave of his hand and a gruff, "Ha! Your Uncle Frank. To hell with him, Speedy-boy. Right? Never comes to see *ME*! Huh, SPeedy-boy? Sonofabitch." As usual, he immediately changed the subject and asked about my Mom. I said my mother and daddy were doing well, and he muttered, "Your 'daddy'. Hmp. Your daddy's dead," a frequent remark to which I never had a reply, and he would growl "Aaaa!" and ruffle my hair again and then confound me by cheerfully asking if Mama Rose had fed me well when I came in. "Your Mama Rose is sweet on you, Speedy-boy. You're her boy, you know that? She's sweet, your Mama Rose."
This meandering and inconclusive conversation seldom varied. Neither did it last very long, as Daddy Joe would want to spend some time going over the stock quotations in the newspaper. He would preface this by again mentioning his plans for the day when he hoped to retire from the liquor business, cash in his stocks and move to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he would play the horses all day and "live like a white man."
He sent me back into the caring hands and motherly smiles of Mama Rose, who laid out my pajamas and turned back the bedspread in Uncle Frank's room, and tucked me in with a peck on the cheek and a little sing-song about, "Oh, I love my little Butch, just like your daddy Steven." And after the lights went out I would be in that room alone with my father's ghost and the relics of my mysterious, long-absent Uncle Frank. I often wondered, if either of them had been around, how I would talk to them and what they would advise me about my situation. How would they, grown and apparently sane men, handle it? Why were they always gone? What were they really like? Was I like them? Would I be able to tell them about Martha?
Certainly, despite their affection, neither Mama Rose nor Daddy Joe nor anyone else could be someone I trusted with the story of me and Martha Jane, whom I now called Martha but whom I still pictured as the original Martha Jane, and who would be leaving the next day.
Perhaps, when I awoke groggily at my Mama Rose's house that Saturday morning, July 2, 1955, I had been dreaming of my father while asleep in that room. I had little else to hold before me as a model of what I might do and how I might behave when I went to Union Station later that day to say goodbye to Martha. I wondered how Steven Senior might handle it: he was a hero, a winner of the Air Medal, two Purple Hearts and the Silver Star. He had faced the terror of war with the Nazis twenty-two times. He had readily attempted to hold together a B-17 landing gear with little more than his bare hands. If he could do that, then as his son I could certainly hold my own at Union Station.
I rode to the Tremont Cafe with Mama Rose and ate a big breakfast there. I left just before eleven o'clock and walked two blocks to Union Station. It was a gaudy Romanesque building of massive proportions, a relic of the Gilded Age, with a vast main lobby graced with chandeliers clustered, gigantic warm-white globes. The atmosphere was so much quieter than I would have thought; I expected a noisily milling crowd and a rush of people in all directions. Instead, all was quiet and sedate, with few people waiting on the long rows of curved mahogany benches.
Martha sat in a pleated black skirt and white blouse near the newsstand in the center of the lobby. She was reading a magazine. At the sound of my footsteps she looked up and smiled, put her magazine aside, and rose to meet me halfway. She gave me a long warm hug.
She whispered a happy "Hi, hon." And I almost cried. But I showed little of it. Heros didn't cry. The sons of Silver Star winners didn't cry. In the movies, neither William Holden nor Bogart did that sort of thing.
Evelyn was there, and another girlfriend whom I didn't know but whom they introduced as Tasha. So I was unable to say much of what I wanted to say--and at any rate, I doubt I would have said anything anyway.
Martha told me she had sold her car. When she told Mr. Buchanan about it before leaving, he had been bitter and unrelenting. There had been some angry shouting. He would support her in Memphis, but not in New York. New York was golgatha, sin city, filled with queers and commies and perverts. If she wanted to teach, she could teach just as well in Memphis and then find herself a husband and raise a good Christian family. Everybody in New York was a drug addict, the mafia owned everything, and anyone who wasn't a mobster was a Puerto Rican, a wetback or a Jew. Even staid Evelyn, who now sat waiting unhappily with Martha and her friend in the station, thought her stepdad's ravings were little more than strident hysteria, and certainly she thought New York could not be nearly so awful.
My concern for my own problems vanished when I noticed that Martha herself, keeping up a good front of cheer and optimism about claiming her future, sat holding my hand hidden from the others in the folds of her pleated skirt. She held on tightly, almost frantically. Again and again she gave my hand a tight squeeze, and now and then she would rub her thumb nervously and firmly across my knuckles. At first I thought she was doing it for my comfort; after a while I could sense the tension throughout her body. But others were present, and there was little I dared to say, even in a whisper, lest they notice.
At one point Evelyn mentioned that the announcement for the train's departure would be heard soon, and she and their friend jaunted off to the ladies' room. I sat with Martha and looked around at the vast railroad station that I knew so well and where I had spent so many weekends roaming and playing. Those weekends were followed by a trip back home to the Lauderdale Courts, where Martha lived next door.
"Steven, I'm scared," I heard her say beside me.
I turned to find her looking down at my hand, which she grasped and rubbed nervously. "I'm really scared. I didn't think I would be this scared. I can't have my father here -- He's long gone. It's been so long since he died. I know Mr. Buchanan was spouting nonsense and superstition. I mever thought he'd explode that way. I sometimes think I understand why he dislikes what I'm doing...but I had no idea he would hate me so much. It scares me, somehow. I can't even let Evelyn see, she's so strong and so successful and she fits in so well. But even Evelyn had to lie to him about coming here with me. He thinks she's at her office. It scares me. I don't know why."
I whispered, levelheaded and all grown up. "I'm not scared."
She looked up at me with thankful, loving eyes.
I said, "I'm proud of you. You earned this. You deserve it. And after you leave here today, you'll be in a place where you can be yourself. Mr. Buchanan won't be around to make you feel like a criminal for being yourself."
Her eyes shuttled quickly to one side and she whispered, "Evelyn and Tasha are coming back." She gave my arm an extra squeeze and, looking down, she sent me a secret smile. "Thank you, hon."
Within five minutes the cathedral-like walls rang out with the echoes of the departure announcement. Groaning and sighing, Martha and Evelyn and Tasha grabbed the baggage and we all walked to the departure gate at one end of the lobby. Before us the trains waited noisily, hissing and steaming and whistling. It was near the end of the era of the long passenger railroads, and the line of Pullmans was not as long as I remembered from a few years earlier. But the black porters were still there, smiling and polite and spry, asking "Can I see your tickets, please ma'am? Here ya go, Miss, the porter'll take those bags for you, ma'am. George, these are for car 4111." It was still the age of tipping caps and friendly smiles.
We walked together to the start of the waiting platform, where the sun blazed down on us in the open air. Beyond that point, only ticketed passengers could venture down the platform walkway.
"'Bye, sister," Evelyn whispered tearfully as she gave Martha a close and affectionate hug.
Then her girlfriend took her hand and looked in her eyes and tried bravely to smile, saying "Martha...", only to break up angrily and sob, "I'm gonna miss the hell outta you!" They clutched each other and Martha whispered something in Tasha's ear I couldn't hear above the hissing steam of the waiting trains. In response, Tasha nodded and stepped back.
Then Martha came over to me with a courageous smile and reached out for me to come to her for a hug. I went to her and she grabbed me like a big watermelon and almost lifted me off my feet. I felt certain there was no danger at all that Martha would cry, but I still wondered if I could hold myself together so well. I was barely taller than she; her lips, as usual when we embraced, were just below my ear.
She laughed and whispered, "I won't cry if you won't."
"I won't," I said.
And then, her face on my shoulder, she started crying. Almost in terror, I wondered if the others noticed. They had, but not in the manner I feared; Evelyn gave a sad little smile and said something to the other girl and pointed to me, as if explaining about me and Martha. Reading her lips, I saw Evelyn mouth the words "grew up together", and the other girl nodded as if she understood. That, at least, is how their conversation appeared to me.
But my concern was about Martha's crying. With a deep breath and a sudden straightening, she stepped back and wiped one eye hastily with a bare hand. "Damn, I didn't think I would do this."
I gave her a kiss on the cheek, and a gentle smile that said it was okay.
"You behave, cowboy. And write to me." She kissed my cheek quickly and turned away. Unstopping, undaunted, she smiled and waved to the others and made her way down the length of the train. Two or three times she turned as she walked, one time shouting to us, "You people write to me, or I'll come back!"
The other girl shouted back, "Watch out for those New York taxi drivers!"
For a brief time I watched as she grew smaller on the path down the line of Pullmans. I did not want to see the rest of it. She was walking ahead strongly now, far past the point where any of us could be heard over the steam and the commotion of the boarding platform, so she no longer turned to yell at us. The others stood waiting, and as I turned to leave I caught their glances and motioned a polite goodbye. I felt I had to go elsewhere; I was exhausted from holding back all expression of my feelings.
I walked into the cool shade under the giant awning that covered the departure area, and into the quiet station. The noise of the trains retreated behind me, leaving me feeling less haunted by the sounds of their leaving and taking Martha away. I retreated to the area around the newsstand, stood alone and shoved my hands into the pockets of the dressy slacks I wore for the occasion. A deep breath. Another, deeper breath. I loitered, pretending to gaze at the magazines while I pulled myself together enough to pass through the station and appear perfectly normal in front of the bystanders who entered and left through the main arches. I was not really aware of anything around me. My mind went completely blank. I didn't know where I was going or what I would do. My urge was to hop on the train, ticket or no ticket, baggage or no baggage. I could not believe I was thinking such impossible thoughts.
Abruptly I felt I'd had my fill of this scene. I turned and, in one long series of movements during which I consciously fought to keep moving ahead rather turning and running for the departing train, I kept going until I was out of the station and onto the sidewalk. I made my way quickly back to the Tremont Cafe. I have no idea what kinds of sounds the train made as it left Memphis, no idea how it looked or whether Martha might be gazing out the window and back at Union Station, or what she might look like riding in the Pullman on her way out of town.
I entered the front door of the Tremont Cafe, now crowded at the height of the lunch hour with crusty old railroad men and a bunch of my aunts and grandfolks and the two middle-aged waitresses who worked there. Bill Hailey and the Comets were drumming out "Rock Around the Clock" on the light-swirling Wurlitzer. It was a record that had been on the juke box so long it had taken on a cloudy, garbled, hissy sound.
Without a word I stepped behind the lunch counter, grabbed a dish, and filled it with several round scoops of Forest Hill vanilla ice cream. Though there were no tears, I knew I was crying: I had a thick salty taste in my throat. Shuffling past the help and the dishes, I made my way through the rear kitchen where my ancient great-grandmother, Mama Nifa, smiled her toothless smile and happily stirred a huge caldron of steaming beef stew. I smiled and nodded to everyone who smiled and nodded at me, and found a seat in the fairly quiet and unpopulated rear lunch room. I sat wordlessly and poked at the ice cream, which was soothing and cool, although in my numbed state I couldn't taste it.
Wanda, a wiry little redheaded waitress who always talked out of the side of her thin mouth, came into the room on a break with a glass of iced tea and asked me, "Hi, sport, you gonna type the menus for us again today?"
Mustering my most casual smile, I answered, "Sure."
"Here," she said, grabbing a seat at the table in front of me and pulling several handwritten pages out of her apron pocket. "Here's the dishes and the prices, so you can type this up for us. I'd rather you did it anyway, I can't spell worth a damn and you do such a nice job on the typewriter." She spread the pages on the table before us. She lit a cigarette and sipped her iced tea.
I looked at her. She was in her late thirties and I knew she was divorced. She was thin, long-necked, rather attractive despite her long and slightly crooked nose. I had always felt there was something seductive about what I could see of her small tits and slender arms. High-waisted and leggy, she was always friendly and unceremonious with me from the first time I saw her. Now I sat directly across from another woman whom I knew to be sexually attractive to me in a kinky way that partook of something of the forbidden manner in which Martha had been sexually attractive. But Martha was gone. Those two facts -- Wanda's physical presence and loose manner, and Martha's complete absence -- gave me a new and undefinably odd feeling. It suddenly occurred to me that for the first time since I became a sexual person, there was no way for me to express my sexuality. I found it strangely disorienting.
Wanda puffed on her cigarette. "What's up, sport? You don't look so happy."
Brazenly I said, without a blink: "I just lost my girlfriend."
"What the hell," she said, with a disdainful smirk and a wave of her hand. "So get another one."
"I don't know any other ones."
"So what? You're young. Not like me! My last one wore me out! Made me old before my time." She stretched in a tired yawn, a motion that shoved her tiny nipples against her thin apron, and it occurred to me that she didn't appear to be wearing a bra under her uniform.
"Anyway, I gotta get back to work. Give the menus to the boss-lady, you know, your Aunt Frances, when you finish. And thanks, honey--my English ain't nearly good enough for that kind of work. I envy you, bein' smart enough at your age to do that kinda stuff."
She turned and sauntered off, with horny little thirteen-year-old me following her slim hips and long legs all the way out of the room.
I retrieved the heavy Smith Corona typewriter out of the broom closet and loaded it with paper and carbons for the day's food listing, of which I would type several carbon copies that would be slipped inside the plastic covers of the restaurant menus. As I worked I wondered what it might be like to fuck Wanda. But, then, Wanda wasn't what I wanted. I knew I was merely lonely and that what I really missed was knowing that sooner or later Martha would be around, moaning and talking and fucking. Of course, that wouldn't happen. With a new and sudden pain in my balls and in my gut, it began to hit me -- suddenly and with the force of the wind from an atomic blast -- that my needs had nowhere to go.
Restless and growing anxious and angry, I threw myself into typing the menus. The restaurant had no duplicating machine; I had to type the menus manually, one original and five carbons at a time. Aunt Frances would give me five bucks for the job. Not much, but five bucks was five bucks, in addition to a couple of bucks for a weekly allowance that she would slip to me, and another two or three bills from Mama Rose or Daddy Joe as the balance of my allowance.
My brain started adding this up. That was about nine to eleven bucks a week. If I continued to lie about my age at the movies and kept getting in on the child's ticket price, and if I kept my spending down to a reasonable level at school during the week, I could save perhaps twenty-five or thirty bucks a month. Maybe more. And I would be deliv- ering at my step-dad's grocery, which would amount to more money every week.
As I typed, I wondered:
How long would it take to save up enough money to get to New York?