Authors: John Weston
JOLLY shifted the girl to the edge of his lap, against the door, and leaned over her legs and with the sleeve of his Levi jacket wiped away the steam that had formed on the windshield. As the glass came clear the spring moon jumped forward white and black and seemed to slope from where they sat, four in the front seat of the Blue Goose, down the graveled road for perhaps fifty feet until the road curved and then straight ahead across the slight mounds, stopping to reflect on the sparse markers and the still sparser flat, bright headstones. Two hundred feet beyond, the light was broken by a wide dark strip whose shape undulated from somewhere among the pines to the left and disappeared among similar pines a long way to the right. That would be the granite wall. Peculiarly and ridiculously shaped, it swung with grim merriment along the border of the graveyard, six feet high in the middle of the swing, swooping to twelve feet at the highest points. Beyond that, unseen, lay the paved road that ran out into the country one way and back through Shaker Village and on into town the other.
His eyes swept all this and came back to rove among the mounds and markers. A shudder passed from between his shoulders to the small of his back, which could have been caused by the edge of winter around the car, or from the heat of four experimenting bodies inside, or from something that had lain below the surface of his consciousness for a long time. Jolly himself took it as a sign of relief. Although he had never before been there at night, the scene was unchanged from the way he remembered it the first time he had seen it seven years ago when he was nine. He knew that if he cleared the right-hand window beyond the girl’s shoulder, he would see the mausoleum standing nerveless and enduring as it always had. Jolly did not want to disturb the girl, whose mouth had come to rest at last with her face, against the inside curve of his arm. His eyes squinted slightly from the old habit of not wearing his glasses, and he seemed to be watching for some sign from among the markers that would be sure.
“Remember me?” The girl sat forward on his legs and leaned her head to one side in an attempt to bisect his line of vision.
“Sure, I remember you. You girl; me boy.”
“Watch the tendrils,” the girl giggled. “You shivering?”
“Well, it’s cold, isn’t it?”
Luke snorted once from the driver’s side of the coupe and then resumed his half of the duet of smothered sounds, his patiently moving hands blocked as patiently by the girl.
The other nuzzled into the space between Jolly’s shoulder and neck and fell to cracking her gum. “If you’re cold it ain’t my fault.”
“Jesus,” Jolly said in his teeth. He stretched his neck up and to the left in an attempt to escape the gum and the girl’s mussed hair, which irritated the underside of his chin. The girl wasn’t anybody special, just a friend of the girl with Luke, except younger, probably no more than fourteen. She wasn’t even pretty, although if she learned to do something with her hair she’d be OK in another three or four years, what with those legs and a bosom that other girls her age blushed at and envied and which had already earned her mention by Ben Gusperson in the showers at school.
Nearly two hours ago Jolly had coaxed her to walk a ways down the grassy hill from the car, on the off side where there were yet no graves and from where she could see no headstone caught by the moon. She had hung back when they came to the three pines, and he had laughed and pulled at her hand and then hung his arm over her shoulder so she would not be afraid of the deep shadows, but she could not have said whether it was the dark she feared or the boy two years older who watched her bosom when he talked to her and now wanted her to go under the pine limbs with him.
“Jolly?” she had said as she pulled back a little, and the timid lift to the word was enough to tell him that she was afraid and the new brass of her in the daytime was there only because she was aware that the boys talked to her breasts that she couldn’t do anything about and not to her. He had flattened the fluff of brown hair over her forehead and spoken gently, and she had, after all, gone under the pine limbs where the moon only streaked her skirt and legs and occasionally, when the wind dipped a limb, the blond head of the boy. She would have had less to fear and would have been warmer had she known what the boy knew. This was part of the game you played until you were sick in the bottom of your stomach. Sometimes you thought you’d win the game, but mostly you knew you wouldn’t before it began.
Later they had climbed back up the silken-grassed slope to the car and he had slapped her behind to brush off the pine needles, he said, and she had laughed and didn’t care now that nothing had really happened except that he knew that her breasts were not fake like that Ellen’s who thought just because she was pretty and made high grades that she could get away with it.
“Luke? Hey!” he said.
He heard a muffled grunt, which would be Luke’s response. The sound lifted at the end and implied a question.
“So let’s cut, OK?”
Luke faced Jolly over the shoulder of his girl, who was also too unpretty to be of much interest in strong light and too young to be completely adaptable to the short seat of a coupe. In the moonlight Luke’s face showed dark beneath an unkempt shock of straight black hair. Jolly knew without seeing that Luke wore his quizzical expression, one in fact that he was seldom without. Luke never took anyone at his word before first looking to see if he were serious.
“OK,” he sighed. He disengaged himself enough to reach the minimum essentials for driving. “Don’t sit on the gear-shift, honey. I can’t compete with that.”
The girl giggled. “Luke, you’re awful!” She slapped his arm and chirruped.
Jolly wondered again how Luke got by with the things he said to girls and the things he purported to do. He wasn’t particularly handsome or smart or athletic. In fact, he was somewhat on the plump side, which made his face babyish and uncomplicated, which may have been precisely where his charm lay. He never hurried, was seldom inspired by anything but his insatiable thoughts of sex, and was not truly upset by even that—not for long.
Nothing at all was said during the drive back into Cortez. Luke drove to the brown-haired girl’s house first, shut off the motor, and prepared to re-engage the interest of his lady. Jolly walked with the girl to her door. She backed against the wall, and he kissed her, but his mouth was sore, and the game was over anyway. He smoothed the fluff of hair above her eyes and watched her arm cross automatically over her chest.
At the car he walked to the driver’s side, got in and started the motor.
“That was a bit quick, friend,” Luke grumped.
“Yeh. You guys about done in for the night?” There was no answer but Jolly backed the car into the street and drove toward the second girl’s house.
When Luke and the girl got out at her house, Jolly slid away from under the wheel and hunched into the opposite corner. He watched as the girl opened her door, reached in a hand to shut off the porch light, and as the moon settled slanting across the porch, he watched absently Luke’s idea of an unforgettable parting.
“God, you sure take your time,” he said as Luke flung himself back into his old Plymouth a long time later.
“Hell, man. You gotta work at these things
“No woman’s gonna come across without you go nice and easy and cautious.” Luke spoke slowly, dawdling over his words like a child with a treat.
Jolly hooted. “At your speed you’ll be too old to do anything about it when one does come across.”
“Huh. I notice you were doing pretty well there yourself for a while. What happened down in them trees?”
“She’s too young and too scared. Besides, she’s a pig.”
Luke chuckled. “Well, like the man says, ‘If they’re old enough to bleed, they’re—’”
“Yeh, I know. I know.”
They weren’t driving anywhere in particular, just around the streets, past the courthouse square opposite Cortez’s infamous and continuous row of thirty-three taverns—one more than there were churches in town—that hung tenaciously to a time long past when the town was a famous cowboy stomping place, the revival of which occurred frantically for four days each year starting on the Fourth of July, down to the end of Montezuma Street, a U-turn in front of the colored Baptist church, back up the same street three miles to where it became a highway in front of the gaudily lighted Freddy’s.
Luke swung the car precariously in among a double row of mongrel vehicles, each different, but all bearing the unmistakable identity of their alliance. A giant neon hamburger flashed mustard over the parked cars.
Inside the drive-in (no one wanted or expected outside service until summer) Jolly squinted his eyes against the light and smoke and wished he could squint his ears against the noise. The one big room was crowded, mostly with boys, although three or four late-hour girls huddled in the back booths drawing attention like manure draws horseflies, as Jolly remarked, mainly for the incredulous expression it brought to Luke’s face.
They found room to sit at a booth already occupied by three boys in gold and purple athletic jackets who, because of their seniority, had grown lax in their training.
“You boys want burgers?” The worn waitress hazarded two more glasses of water among the debris on the table.
“Yeh. And a malt, baby,” said Luke hungrily, although precisely the direction his hunger took was uncertain.
The waitress licked the tip of her pencil. Her eyes flicked tiredly over Luke’s and came to rest on Jolly. “You?” she asked.
“Coffee and banana cream pie.”
“We don’t have no banana cream pie, and we never have had it and don’t never expect to.”
“Just coffee, then.” Jolly watched her wag toward the kitchen, squeezing between the overflowing chairs in the aisles, lifting her arms and breasts, sucking in her stomach and hunching out her behind. Her blond hair struggled from side to side in asymmetrical rhythm with her hips. He watched until she leaned toward the kitchen serve-through to shriek her order.
When his eyes roved back to the table, Jolly found Ben Gusperson smirking. Guppy was a huge and pulpy eighteen whose fondest preoccupation, it was said, was divided between his naked image in the locker-room mirror and the telling of a bottomless supply of dirty jokes.
“You’d like some a that, huh?” grinned Guppy. “I can fix it for you, baby.”
“Thanks. I can do without,” said Jolly.
“Yeh. He’s about the only guy I know can do without,” said Luke.
But Guppy’s mind had taken its tack, and now that he was launched on the topic he loved more than any, he leaned heavily over the table, drawing the two boys nearest him into secret allegiance by cupping a meaty hand over the backs of each of their necks. “Did I ever tell you guys about the time me and her was parked up at the lake?”
“No,” said Luke.
“Yes,” said Jolly.
Confused, Guppy looked from one to the other, searching for the truth, or at least for a signal to continue. “Well, do ya wanta hear about it, or not?”
“Yes,” said Luke.
“No,” said Jolly.
Jolly watched the color teeter on Guppy’s face. Here it goes again, he thought. Someday, Jolly knew, he would push Guppy too far and would be the worse for it. One of Guppy’s buddies, doubtless anxious to be relieved of the encircling hand, spoke judiciously. “Christ, Osment, do you
to blow smoke all over the place?”
Guppy seized the chance to direct any forthcoming ridicule away from himself. “Yeh, Osment, do ya hafta blow smoke all over me?”
“Yes,” answered Jolly. “What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Ya got me. But if ya don’t cut out that smoking you’ll be in a helluva shape for track.”
“I don’t remember breaking any world’s records last year.”
“That’s no shit,” sniggered Guppy. “And you won’t this year neither.” He roared his great laughter and looked about for the appreciative response he expected. He got it. “An’ besides. A guy as tall as you oughta be playin’ basketball.”
Jolly poured more sugar in his coffee, bent to meet the cup and tasted it before he answered. “Why?”
“Why!” exploded Guppy. “Well, just because anybody your height oughta play basketball. That’s why, fer chrissake.”
“I don’t see much sense spending your life bouncing balls,” said Jolly.
“Speaking of balls, Osment.” No one laughed.
Jolly smiled slowly. “You’ve been peeking through the hole in the john again, Benjy.”
Guppy grew livid. His great hands gripped the table and he looked like a swamp toad warming up to croak. Luke and the other boys appealed mutely to one another for a way to shift the topic before Guppy could get a grip on his temper and send it flying across the table in one fist. Before they could divert him, Guppy blurted, “You goddam—goddam—” The right word wouldn’t come. “You’d rather play that goddam piano than a man’s game!”
Jolly felt vaguely and carelessly that maybe this was it, finally. In a way, he would be just as glad to have it out with Guppy. Maybe they would leave each other alone after that. Yet he saw his chance to postpone the fight and took it. He leaned toward Guppy and grinned knowingly.
“What I do with my fingers and where I put them is my business,” he said. He watched the effect register on Guppy’s face. If there was an off-color connotation to be found in any remark, Guppy would find it; on this knowledge Jolly rested his defense.
It worked. Slowly a look of relief reached Guppy’s face, and then his hands and shoulders. He looked to the others to see if the same thought had registered elsewhere. He threw back his head and laughed.
Luke leaned to Jolly. “Jesus, that was close. Let’s shag before he changes his mind.”
At the door of Freddy’s, Jolly and Luke turned to listen to the howl of Guppy’s laughter and watch the purple and gold giant beat the table and shake his head like a sorrel stallion in pasture. As they paid their bill, the same blond waitress touched Jolly’s arm and leaned toward him over the counter.