Copyright © 1994, 1996
THIS DOCUMENT IS A SEXUALLY GRAPHIC STORY ABOUT AN INTENSE SEXUAL, EMOTIONAL AND INTELLECTUAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN A TEENAGE GIRL AND A YOUNG BOY AND THE COURSE OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP OVER A PERIOD OF 10 YEARS. IT IS A DRAMATIZATION ABOUT REAL PEOPLE AND THEIR CON- FLICT WITH SOCIAL EXPECTATIONS. IF THIS SUBJECTS OFFENDS YOU OR IF SEXUAL LANGUAGE UPSETS YOU, OR IF YOU DON'T WANT THIS MATERIAL SEEN BY UNDER-18 OR OTHERWISE UNQUALIFIED PERSONS, DELETE THIS DOCUMENT.
THIS DOCUMENT IS COPYRIGHTED © 1994, 1996 BY SJR. SO--HEY, YOU CAN COPY IT BUT YOU CAN'T CHANGE IT OR SELL IT UNLESS I SAY SO.
"Well," Lash LaRue said with his cocky grin, each hand perched on one of two pearl-handled .45's at his side, "that takes care of the McGraw Gang."
"Sure does," said Fuzzy St. John, nodding and spitting a wad of tobacco juice.
Lash LaRue tipped his hat to the pretty gal in the calico dress, who beamed at him admiringly from the wooden sidewalk. Lash LaRue cocked his cocky, self-assured head toward Fuzzy St. John.
"Let's get goin', Fuzzy," Lash LaRue said, and he and Fuzzy mounted their horses.
Their steeds reared up. Lash LaRue and Fuzzy spurred their horses and galloped outta town.
It was my ninth summer, pushing for my tenth year.
Things had changed. I knew it as I watched this absurdly out- dated B-grade western for the third time, the first time being with Uncle Johnny when I was five years old. At ten I bid a fond but not reluctant farewell to Lash LaRue and Tex Ritter and Roy Rogers.
Martha Jane had graduated high school, on time and with high grades. She started college immediately that summer at the largest of the local campuses, Memphis State. She was determined to get her teacher training in less than four years. My mother dated almost always on weekends, and since I spent every weekend with relatives, no one was needed to overwatch me. These were gray, uneventful days. I got bored every fifteen seconds.
Life had tragedy now. It had dire consequences, uncertainty, loneliness, nuclear warheads. Left more often to my own devices by my relatives on weekends, I searched the downtown movie houses for an intensity of experience not found with the Bowery Boys or in Gene Kelly musicals. I would hit the Main Street cinemas as soon as they opened at eleven A.M., my pockets jingling with the movie money with which my relatives bribed me into conformity. They assumed I was watching Abbott and Costello or cowboys. Instead, I sat tearfully absorbed in more than a dozen showings of the archly romantic "Cyrano de Bergerac". I was fascinated with the impressionistic Technicolor of "Moulin Rouge"; again and again I watched this moody film, empathizing strongly with Lautrec's pitiful infirmity.
My relatives, staunch stay-at-homes, had no idea these films existed until I told them what I'd seen--and at that they seemed bewildered as to why a boy would be so magnetically drawn to Bogart's sarcasm, William Holden's cynicism, or Brando's hostility. They were amazed when I told them I had spent an entire day in the same movie house watching over and over as a somber Robert Mitchum portrayed a death-obsessed army officer in "G.I. Joe."
I saw Martha Jane on our front porch once or twice in the early summer. By August she had disappeared. Once I knocked on her front door, expecting her mother to answer. But no one did. My Mom didn't mention her. It seemed Martha Jane had been swallowed up into nowhere. Knowing she was in summer classes, I assumed a break would occur soon, probably in September. But by September I'd heard nothing.
Associating with others had eroded my confidence. My impression was that other kids regarded me as a little weird; I had a fatalistic attitude toward people and events. Repression and criticism from Mom and relatives didn't help. By age ten, I was on a psychological downer.
I began to expect that life would either take people away from me, or me from them. Stepper and Uncle Robert was a case in point; Mom and all the dead of the war were others. When the Korean War started, Josephine Louise's dad, my Uncle Lawrence, was called back to active service. He paid us a farewell visit in the early Fall. He smiled and saluted me when he left our house, bound for Fort Hood, Texas. By October he was killed in action.
My future step-dad had little interest in my activities. His name was Anthony. Mom called him Tony. He was a dark-haired, virile, handsome man. I disliked him somewhat; he had a deep and relatively loud voice, very different from the softer voices of all the aunts around me, different from the breathy Italian quality of Uncle Johnny and Josephine Louise. By the end of that summer Tony started hanging around our apartment more often. He came over many mornings before opening the supermarket in our neighborhood and had breakfast with Mom and me while I prepared for school. Our interests never interlocked. He assumed I was interested in sports, in being a fireman or doctor when I grew up, in playing with other boys. When he found out I wanted to be an artist, he was taken aback. His idea of art was limited to portraits of the saints.
One morning at breakfast as I ate my milk and oatmeal, he sat at the other side of our tiny kitchen table, reading a newspaper article to my mother who was working at the sink. He was mildly agitated about a report on small business regulation. He read until he came to a word in the article that made him stop.
"What is that word?" he asked irritably, squinting at the page. "Why do they have to use words this long in newspapers?"
"Ask Speedy," Mom said, so he handed me the paper and pointed at the word. "What's that word say?" he asked me.
Chewing oatmeal, I glanced at the word quickly and announced, "Antiestablishmentarianism."
He sat back in amazement. "Well, damn," he breathed. "How'd he know a big word like that?"
"I don't know," Mom answered absently. "He just does. I think his Uncle Johnny taught him to read from the comics."
"The comics?" he echoed, dumbfounded. He reached for his coffee cup. "Damn," he breathed again.
In my isolation, movies became my life. I devoured them like popcorn and soda. I saw three or four films each weekend. If new ones hadn't opened I'd frequent the rerun joints and the art film outlets. My relatives didn't mind, as it kept me out of their hair all weekend, didn't cost much for a child's admission (twelve cents in those days), and Uncle Johnny was getting a little too old and arthritic to escort me all over town the way he did when I was younger.
Truly, I enjoyed the freedom of doing mostly as I pleased. They knew I was smart enough to find my way around town; most of the movies were a short walk from the restaurant. But the art film outlet was far out in the eastern part of town. With my usual brazenness I allowed folks to assume that I never traveled that far out of the way. But one Saturday I took the No.10 bus all the way to the Ritz theater to see "Cyrano de Bergerac." I was so affected by the film that I stayed inside and watched it again, then again, then a fourth time. The movie was longer than most, so that when I left the theater I discovered I was just in time to catch the last inbound No.10, which stopped running by ten PM.
It was nearly eleven when I arrived at Aunt Frances' house and let myself in. Entering by the long unlit front hallway, I assumed everyone was asleep. But Aunt Frances was waiting up for me in her long white nightgown on the living room sofa.
"Where the hell have *you* been?" she demanded as I walked into the room.
I knew from long experience that the best tactic for handling Aunt Frances under these circumstances was to appear unfazed and keep on grinning.
"The movies," I answered.
"You trying to give your Aunt Frances a heart attack? Huh? You want your poor old Aunt Frances to have a heart attack? What kind of movie they let you into that lasts till this time of night?"
"Cyrano de Bergerac," I said.
"Syrup what?" She squinted hard.
"Cyrano de Bergerac," I repeated. I sat sideways on one of the ornate dining chairs in the room and slipped my arm around the back of the chair. I smiled and batted my eyelids.
"Don't give me that look. What kinda movie is this, uh, Cereal di Hajiback?"
"It's what? It's fresh?"
"French, Aunt Frances. French."
We both looked up as Uncle Johnny appeared in the doorway leading to the bedrooms. His hair mussed, his eyes squinting in the light, he scratched his tummy over his pajamas.
Aunt Frances huffed, "Look, Johnny. He walks in like nothing happened. You see him, Johnny? Look at him."
"You home?" Uncle Johnny mumbled drowsily.
"I'm here, " I said. "I'm okay."
"It's late, Speedy," Uncle Johnny said.
"You okay? We were all worried about ya."
"Have any trouble?"
He yawned. "How'd you get here this time of night? Walk?"
"The Number 10 Bus."
"Oh." He yawned again. "Well, you be careful out there. You oughtta call us next time." Another yawn. "Good night, Frances." He walked back into the dark.
"That's all you have to say?" Aunt Frances called after him.
"Good night, Frances," Uncle Johnny said, disappearing.
"I'll be damn," she muttered, settling back into the sofa. "Two of a kind, you two. Listen, you're too young to be watchin' French movies at eleven o'clock at night."
"How old do I have to be?"
"Seven years old is too young!"
"I'm not seven years old, Aunt Frances, I'm ten."
"Ten? You ain't no ten years old. What kinda movie is this? Is Clark Gable in this movie?"
"No. Jose Ferrer."
"Never heard of him."
I leaned forward and peered at her. "Aunt Frances, are you sure you're not asleep?"
"Of course I'm not asleep. I look asleep?"
"Well, the things you're asking and saying to me don't make much sense."
"How'm I supposed to make sense with you talking French, or whatever it is?"
I rose from the chair and bent down to her and kissed her on the cheek--a surefire technique for calming her down. Poor Aunt Frances, who had not been anywhere except to work and church and bed since the 1920's, had no idea how the world had changed.
"You think you're gonna kiss your Aunt Frances and that's all you hafta do?"
"I just don't want you to be worried."
"You look just like your poor daddy when you do that. You love your Aunt Frances?"
"Yes, ma'am, I sure do. You're my favorite." I kissed her again. "Now you ought to go back to bed. I'm all right."
"You think you're smart, don't ya? That's what your daddy used to do. You love your Aunt Frances like your daddy did?"
"I sure do," I cooed, knowing I had her in the palm of my hand.
"Okay, then" she said, blushing childishly. She looked up at me with her big round confused eyes, as if trying to comprehend how the universe had become what it was without her knowing. It had taken me years to fathom this hysterical woman. I had learned, with coaching from Josephine Louise, that Aunt Frances had not been all there since my father's death. A couple of years before, I would not have been able to understand it. Now, after many weekends, I realized that her thoughts and feelings were stuck at a single moment in time and would go neither backward nor ahead.
"You look just like your daddy," she said wistfully, looking at me and seeing someone else. Then she scowled mildly and said, "You don't do that to me and your Uncle Johnny any more. You hear me?"
"Yes, ma'am," I said, sweetly.
"Your Uncle Johnny loves you too. You know that, don't you?"
"We don't want anything to happen to you, like what happened to your daddy."
"I know," I said gently. "Now," I began, standing up and holding her hand. "I'm gonna go to sleep, and you go back to sleep too."
"You love your Aunt Frances?"
I bent down and kissed her again. "I sure do."
With that, she was satisfied and sloughed off in her fluffy houseshoes to her bedroom. For a while I sat in the living room, breathing a long sigh of relief. I asked myself, seriously, if I would ever again find someone with whom I could communicate without the need for these convoluted tactics. Trying to follow Aunt Frances' line of thought was like working one's way through a trick maze or a hall of mirrors.
When I stayed with them I slept in the front bedroom with my Aunt Frances' mother, my great-grandmother Nifa. She was, everyone esti- mated at that time, in her nineties. She wore black. She wore a simple black dress and black shoes and black hose all day long, and she wore a black nightgown and long black stockings when she slept. She had worn nothing but black since her husband's death in 1936. She spoke no English, only a Northern Italian dialect that other Italians found difficult. Speaking with Nifa was similar to speaking with Aunt Frances; their minds were elsewhere, their words and memories and thoughts had not changed over many years. Being among them was to be among memories of loved ones never seen and long since gone, of time long since past and silenced. It was a lonely experience, like talking to the blind and deaf, who could neither hear nor see me.
Somehow I had learned to understand, pity and love these lost souls. I may not have known what they thought (no one did), but I somehow knew what they felt.
But as for me, by the summer of 1952 I didn't see a soul-mate in sight. Not anywhere.
Late that Fall I did have one baby-sitter when my Mom had a rare weeknight date. The sitter was none other than Evelyn, Martha Jane's sister.
Evelyn spent almost the entire night on the phone. She was working days at a clerical job and attending the University of Tennessee Medical Extension at night, studying for work in medical research. She was an attractive woman in her middle twenties now, tall, rather chic and long-legged. Only in her eyes and general posture did she resemble her sister. Objectively, most people would have thought Evelyn to be more beautiful: she was brunette and had a svelte, sophisticated air, with a lazy voice and large dark eyes and high cheekbones. But being among young women other than Martha Jane, which didn't happen often, taught me something about my own needs-- Evelyn, though sexy, did not appeal to me at all. I found her nice to look at, friendly, and boring. I was beginning to learn the vast difference between just any "good-looking woman" and one who has a compelling, irresistible, unsettling appeal. At that point I could be brought under the spell of only two females on the planet: the physically devastating Josephine Louise, and the warm, captivating, and equally devastating Martha Jane.
Evelyn told me that night that she was herself so busy with career and friends (she admitted she had no steady man and was tied to her work), she seldom spoke with her mother or Martha Jane. But she offered me the last phone number she had for her, an apartment somewhere near Memphis State that Martha Jane shared with two other students. I was certain Martha Jane must have found a boyfriend by then and had little time for anything except school. Evelyn also told me she last saw her sister for lunch in downtown Memphis at Woolworth's, where Martha Jane worked part-time. She was 19 now, "busy as a busy little bee." Evelyn promised that when she contacted Martha Jane again she'd ask her to give me a call.
I missed Martha Jane. I missed her sexually, of course, but at that age sex was still secondary. Mainly, I missed just her, her warmth and the ease of simply being with her. At age ten I saw her as a sexual object much more clearly than I had a few years earlier, though I still had a while to go before the full impact of sexual attraction hit home. At that point I wanted the sisterly, motherly, girl-woman of her more emotionally and intel- lectually than physically.
As soon as I could I dialed the number Evelyn had given me. No go. A young girl answered and said that Martha Jane shared a place with them but that she had moved again and they didn't know where. Besides that call, I had no idea what happened to Evelyn's promise that she would have Martha Jane call me.
That left me with the part-time job at Woolworth's. On impulse I went to find her on a Saturday afternoon one weekend when I was staying at the downtown restaurant. It was warm weather, right around my 11th birthday.
Telling my folks I was going to a movie, I took a bus down to the end of Main Street and went straight to the big three-story Woolworth's. Once inside, I had no idea where to look. It was a huge store, especially to an 11-year-old. I searched the whole place, checked at every sales counter, roamed through every aisle.
After a while I gave up and stood outside on the busy sidewalk. I thought that perhaps it was her lunch hour, or perhaps she came to work later in the day. Since I had movie money, I went to a movie nearby and feasted on a lunch of popcorn and Coke. By then it was after two, so I went back to Woolworth's.
The second search proved futile as well. She was nowhere to be found. Despite my aggressive, snoopy attitude in so many other areas, I seem to have lost all my "fight" in this situation. I wan- dered aisle to aisle, feeling dejected and lost. I walked around the waterfront area for a while, then up and down Main Street several times. By then it was 4:00. I returned to the store. It was crowded nose-to-nose with Saturday shoppers. After yet another hour of searching, I had not found her and it was near closing time.
I asked some salespeople if they knew Martha Jane Graham. They didn't. Puzzled, I thought about hanging around and asking every employee I could find, but everyone was preparing to close for the day. I asked one more worker if they had a personnel department. They did, but it was closed Saturdays. She referred me to a sales counter where she thought Martha Jane worked.
But when I arrived there, I found only a redheaded middle-aged lady who didn't look anything like her and wasn't particularly interested in helping me find my way. She eyed me suspiciously. "You have parents?" she asked, frowning. "Where are your parents? You shouldn't be here all by yourself, we're getting ready to close."
I felt odd and disoriented. The whole situation was becoming eerie, dreamlike. The redhead now confronted me with the fact that I was still only 11. Aggressive and independent though I might have been at that age, and though I was an 11-year-old kid who in many ways didn't act or think like an 11-year-old--yet I was, nevertheless, still a kid. Perhaps it was a feeling of frustration: if I were not such a kid, I thought, these people would take me seriously and give me the information I was looking for. And if I did find Martha Jane wouldn't she, like Evelyn and the redhead and everyone else, notice that I was not an adult? Had something changed, such that now she would recognize me for who I really was? And besides, she probably had a boyfriend now; she was among college students her own age at a big coed state college.
The day had such a strange effect on me that I was in its grip for months. I soon became fearful that Martha Jane would not want to see me again, as least not as she had seen me before. She was in a different world now. Effectively, she had left the project and in leaving the project she had somehow changed everything. I began to feel she was "too old" for me now.
When I went home after that weekend I mentioned Saturday's search to my Mom, but she was unconcerned. Paranoically, I didn't trust her as someone I wanted to talk to about Martha Jane, not in any way. She might want to know why I was so desperate to find her, she might suspect something was going on--especially since Martha Jane had not been around for more than a year. I didn't mention it to her again, and sulked around our apartment for most of that week.
One day several weeks later when I came home from school, Mom said Martha Jane had called and asked how I was getting along.
The first thing I asked was, "Did you get a number to call back?"
Mom shrugged. "Well, no, I didn't think it was important anymore. You haven't mentioned her in so long..."
I didn't hear the rest of what she said. I felt as if I had fallen from a high place and landed on my face. I didn't want to betray my feelings, so I said nothing more. I didn't even know what my feelings were.
As I approached and then reached twelve years, I became involved in that strange activity in grammar schools known as "dramatics," which consumed my energy and my thoughts. Because I had gleaned from movies so much about effective acting, I became very successful at it. The more successful I was, the harder I worked. Though I had no close relationships among my peers and teachers at the newly built St. Michael's School, I did find a source of attention and recognition on the stage. Being in a new school in a different part of town made me feel that I, too, had started the process of moving out of the project. By the time the thirty-minute bus ride to St. Michael's ended each morning, I had readjusted to an entirely different place; I felt almost as if I were spending those five hours a day in a different town.
Then came the day my Mom announced she would be getting married and that we'd soon be moving out of the project. That day, Martha Jane seemed to disappear for good. I made it so. I went into our bedroom the night of Mom's announcement and saw the moonlight on the window sill. And I forced Martha Jane out of my mind.
In December 1953 my Mom married and my stepfather moved into the apartment temporarily while they searched for a new house. The ceremony was little more than a small tea party in a room in the reception house at St. Mary's Church. This being my mother's second marriage, she didn't think a large wedding would be appropriate, and my conservative step-dad agreed. They took over the old bedroom, and I slept on the pullout sofa in the living room (which, I did not realize until that time, had a bed inside it!).
Problems with finding a new home caused them to postpone their honeymoon. But near Easter, 1954, they announced that a house had been found and purchased, and before moving in they were going to take their honeymoon week in St. Louis. The concept of a honeymoon was rather a vague one for me. Mom said it was just a "vacation"
take when they marry (even with my limited knowledge of the marriage state, I knew better than that! My relationship with Mom certainly had not improved).
I came home from school one day shortly afterward, on the last day before the start of the Easter school holidays. There in the kitchen with my mother sat Martha Jane, sipping coffee and chatting merrily away.
"Well, Hi!" she said as my eyes bulged out of my head.
I could tell--immediately--that her Southern accent had only thickened. It was still the same musical voice, a bit rambunctious now, a little louder and more confident. But the same eyes; a more slender neck and arms, and definitely an older and more adult figure. She was 20. Her hair was the same, maybe a little more blonde.
"Well, hotshot, are you going to speak?"
I did, but don't remember what I said. I was numbstruck. It was Martha Jane but it wasn't Martha Jane. It was the same person but it wasn't. She was not a teenager anymore. And she smoked cigarettes. One dangled lazily from her finger as she sat cross- legged at the kitchen table with Mom.
"Say hello to Martha Jane," Mom said, and laughed. "You forget about her already?"
"I did say hello, didn't I?" I asked, dazed. They both shook their heads and waited for me, amused. I said falteringly, "Well, then, uh--" I shrugged helplessly-- "Hi."
Martha Jane rose from the chair. "Oh, what kind of welcome is that?" She walked across the room--on noisy high-heeled shoes! --and came straight to me, moving the cigarette from one hand to another so she would be able to give a great big hug without burning me with the thing. I was grateful for the hug. Deeply grateful. But my feelings were so firmly entrenched, espe- cially when I was around my mother, that I denied myself the luxury of any response at all.
"Let me look at YOU!" Martha Jane exclaimed. "You're only an inch taller than me now! Can't you grow any faster than that?"
I shrugged and blushed. "I'm only 12 years old," I said.
"Well, that won't last forever, hon, don't worry." She took my hand and leaned closer to me. "How are you, Speedy? Did you forget all about me, after all I had to put up with from you?"
"I didn't forget," I smiled. I was overcome by a blush attack that I strongly resisted. She saw my problem, and immediately she gave a sympathetic "Aawwww, c'mere," and putting her arms around me she gave a stronger, more affectionate hug.
"How are you, hon? I haven't seen you in so long."
I saw my mother watching us, pleased. But not trusting myself, I pulled back and simply gave Martha Jane an appreciative nod.
My mother announced: "Martha Jane lost her job."
Martha Jane shrugged. "Laid off, hon." She shrugged. "What the heck! At least I'm still getting the GI Bill money because of my father. All I have to say is, 'Thank you, Uncle Sam!'"
My Mom went on, greatly amused. "Martha Jane showed up just in time. While your daddy and I are in St. Louis on our honeymoon next week, your Aunt Yvonne was supposed to drop by here and check up once a while so you wouldn't be here all by yourself. Well, guess who showed up just in time to take her place?"
I didn't answer. I was afraid to.
My mother nudged her head toward Martha Jane. "Your old neighbor over there."
I looked at Martha Jane.
She pointed her thumb at herself. "The old supervisor herself, honey. Yvonne got fired, I got hired. Gonna be next store again anyway, so why should she have to traipse all the way over here?" She moved closer to me again and pointed a finger into my chest. "Gonna be checkin' on you, buster. Better clean up your act."
My act, considering how little I revealed of myself at that instant, couldn't have been more antiseptic. My feelings were jumbled. She didn't seem the same. She moved and spoke with an aggressiveness I found difficult to accept. Nor was it so easy for me to switch emotional gears after two years of not seeing her, having spent that time surrounded by people in whom I had so little trust emotionally.
The next day, a Saturday, Mom and my new dad left Union Station for their honeymoon. At the grandiose Victorian building a number of people were present to see them off. Most of them were my step-dad's folks. They were friendly, earthy people, But the thought of the sheer size of his family was intimidating: he alone had fourteen brothers and sisters. The day he married my mother, I gained over three hundred new cousins and an undetermined number of uncles and aunts. I had yet to meet most of them, a task I estimated would take years.
I spent Saturday with my grandparents, the Ricci's. Grandpa Joe Ricci, my father's father, packed me into his Oldsmobile on Sunday morning to give me a ride back to the project.
As he drove he griped, "Don't see why you can't spend the rest of the week with me and your Grandma Rose."
"I have too many things to do at home, Grandpa Joe. I got a dozen library books over there to go through while my Mama and Daddy are gone."
"Your 'Daddy'!" Grandpa Joe swore mildly in his slightly gravelly voice. "He ain't your daddy. Your daddy was Steven Joseph, Senior. And he's dead."
"My step-daddy, then."
I didn't know if I really wanted to see Martha Jane or not. She called from a friend's place and told me she was packing the last of her things to move back to the project, then she had to change and go to a funeral. She said she would be job hunting all day Monday. But she'd come over tonight, Sunday, and the next night as well, and fix dinner for me. I was on Easter vacation, a dubious advantage of being in a Catholic grammar school. I had no friends and nothing I particularly wanted to do. I spent most of Sunday rummaging around the apartment, which seemed relatively large with no one home but me. Over the years I had spent so much time alone that I began to realize and appreciate that it did have certain advantages: I had absolute freedom of movement, and freedom from being hassled by the foibles and demands of others.
But as Sunday evening neared, I was considering whether or not to be home at the time Martha Jane was due to fix dinner. I did not trust my feelings at all. I could always hop a bus and go back to my godparents or grandparents for the whole week...
In my mind she had changed. She was not the primal, simple child I knew. She wore high heels. She smoked. She talked loud.
She showed up shortly before six. She greeted me with a hug, and when she saw I appeared numb she insisted that I give her cheek a hello kiss, after which she set her purse down on a table in the living room and went into the kitchen to make dinner.
I stared at her purse. It was one of the slick black patent leather purses that adult women carried around. It seemed she moved faster, too, or maybe it was an illusion created by her seemingly longer legs and the heels. From the kitchen she asked what I wanted to eat. I told her I didn't care. As she prepared to cook in that tiny kitchen with the obsolete refrigerator and the two-burner gas stove, she kept joking and seemed in fine humor.
"Won't you be tickled pink to get out of this tiny place and into that big house out on Macon Road? Got a nice big kitchen in there, I saw it. Your mom drove me out there last week."
"Last week?" I asked, confused. I didn't know she had been around for almost a whole week before seeing me.
"Yes, hon, last weekend, you know? I *missed* you, I asked them where you were, and you were at your grandmother's all weekend."
"My mom didn't call me," I muttered. Betrayed by mom again!
"Well, she couldn't, I couldn't stay long anyway. Rent Overdue, Speedy, I had to move out of that apartment. Heck, I sure collected a ton of junk in there." She was setting the table but she stopped to grin at me. "You're gonna love that house. It's new, all *new*, not a scratch on it! Even the grass is new. And three bedrooms, hon. See this?" She held up three fingers. "Three bedrooms! You'll have your own room, and to heck with that sofabed in there."
I was not overly pleased. "I guess it'll be okay," I muttered, moving to take my seat at the small table. "I could learn to like it."
She came over to me. She bent down. I became very aware of her breasts--not her pert teengirl titties, but her adult female breasts under the white blouse and under the white bra. She hugged me from one side and her voice softened. She said earnestly, "You need your own room, hon. You need your...own..room." She emphasized the last three words. She pulled back and looked at me. "My lord! How old are you now, about forty-five?"
"Umpteen," I answered blandly.
She laughed. "Does it really feel that way?"
"And you?" I asked as she sat in the chair before me.
"Umpteen," she answered, giving a muffled laugh. "Closer to twenty, really. Speedy, you look wonderful. You're getting so cute. I thought you'd be a little taller, though. Don't you eat your spinach?"
I didn't answer.
"You look like your daddy's picture."
"I know," I said.
"Bet every aunt and uncle you know tells you that at least once every fifteen minutes, don't they?"
"Yep," I said, aware of the dull tone in my voice.
"Not everybody that flew a B-17 won a Silver Star, hon." She chewed her food and swallowed, and her face and voice became more serious, more leveled. "Doesn't mean you have to win a Silver Star too, Speedy."
I didn't know what to say to her. I didn't know exactly what she meant, but I did feel that she knew so very much more about me than I did.
She said, with a mouth half full of spinach, "You didn't say you missed me."
"Well," I said, "I did. I'm not as talkative as I used to be."
"Tell me something I hadn't noticed," she chuckled. "You don't smile as much, either. Of course, you also don't clown or blush or shuffle around. Those are improvements, anyway. You're getting to be too nice-looking a young man to be that painfully shy. You're growin' up. Guess we all have to grow up sooner or later."
"So how do you like it?"
"Like what?" I asked.
"This growing-up business."
"Holy smokes, what an answer." She shook her head. "You're right, it's not all it's cracked up to be." Then she changed the subject. "I'm going out right after we eat dinner, I might buy a used typewriter from somebody across the driveway. I really need one."
"I have a typewriter," I offered.
"The old Underwood? No, Speedy, you need that. I need a small one. Portable." She chewed her food quickly and checked her wrist watch. "But I'll be back later, about eight or eight-thirty."
I swallowed. "Okay."
She would eat, chew, look at me, eat, and chew. Then look at me. She went rapidly from one subject to another. She sounded like one of my curious aunts. But her constant effort at searching me out left me feeling that she was almost as uncomfortable as I was.
She left after dinner. I sat and played with the Philco, going from one radio show to the next. Bored, I took a bath. I got all dressed again in jeans and a plaid shirt and sat listening to the records and going through the record albums. Just before 8:30, Martha Jane showed up. She looked tired now, and didn't move around as quickly. She plopped down on the sofa and gave a loud moan. "Whew! How are you, hon?"
I ignored her question. "How's your typewriter?"
"I just left it at home, next door. It'll do." She slumped into the cushions and caught her breath. She used each foot to push the high heels off. "I hate these! Hate, hate, hate."
"They make a lot of noise when you walk."
"Yeah, don't they?"
She looked at me for a long time. "What's the matter, hon? Do you just go off into nowhere when you get to be 12 years old? It is 12 now, isn't it?"
"It's 12," I said, not looking up from the records. I sighed. "Just tired, I guess."
"Your mom and your brand-new daddy won't be back until next Friday night. So you can make as big a mess as you want, you're getting too old for a baby-sitter. But I'll check in. Just be sure to clean the place up before mommy and daddy day on Friday."
"He's not my daddy," I said flatly, not looking up from the album.
"Of course he's your daddy. What do you mean?"
"My daddy's dead," I said without emotion, recalling Grandpa Joe.
"Speedy...what a morbid thing to say."
"That's what Grandpa Joe told me to say."
"I met your Grandpa Joe and he's a very nice man who's done a lot for you and your mom. But he's an unhappy man who lives in the past and likes to make others think the same way he does. You have to mind him and do as he says, but he doesn't have to tell you how to think."
"Okay," I said, paging the record album.
For a long minute she didn't say anything. I could feel her, above and behind me, looking at me from the sofa. In a moment she said, "Would you like to go to a movie with me this week? I mean, what are you gonna do all week?"
I looked up at her, rather blankly. "Okay," I said. "I like movies, I know every inch of every theater in Memphis."
"Oh, yes? You must spend a lot of time there."
She moved from the sofa and sat down on the floor next to me. She began removing bobby pins from her hair. "You still spend a lot of time alone, don't you? That hasn't changed, has it?"
"No," I said.
She leaned toward me. "Give me your face," she said.
I leaned toward her. She kissed my two eyes, lightly, and then my nose. "I've been running around like a chicken with my head cut off since six o'clock this morning. Do you promise not to run away from home while I take a bath?"
"I promise," I said.
She studied me, her face close to mine. She put an arm around my shoulder. She smiled. "What's been happening to you?"
I looked at her and asked, coldly casual, "You have a boyfriend yet?"
Her grin disappeared. "Yes," she said. After a pause, she added. "He's a schmuck. You know what a schmuck is?"
I shook my head.
She leaned back on her ankles and took out one more bobby pin. "It's some kind of Jewish word, I think. From my New York. A gal from New York who's in one of my classes keeps using that word."
"What's a schmuck?" I asked.
"A schmuck," she said slowly and distinctly, "is...a...schmuck! A creep. A jerk." She shook her head. "You'll figure it out." Then she said firmly, "Being a schmuck is what your Grandpa Joe was being when he said that horrible thing about your daddy."
She got up and kissed me on the forehead. "I'll be back. Stay here."
Into the bathroom she went. She was in there for quite a long time, bathing away. I was getting sleepy and started putting the records away. It was not so bad, I thought. She does slow down after a while, and obviously she was warming up to me like a long-lost friend. She wasn't *that* old, certainly. Not *that* different. Obviously we were still buddies. But she had a boyfriend!
A little voice in me said: of course she has a boyfriend, stupid. She's twenty years old. When you're twenty years old,
can have a girlfriend. She deserves to have a boyfriend.
I put away the record album, sat on the floor, and watched the closed bathroom door. Water running furiously in there. No change in the way she kept herself, she always hated being clammy or sweaty.
During the rest of her stay behind the door I worked up the courage to apologize. I stood waiting in the middle of the living room with my hands in my pockets. I still had my pride, of course. I didn't want to seem as dejected and desolate as I really was, that would be giving too much away.
I heard the bathroom door open, saw the light go out. She came into the doorway of the living room. She was in light pink, floppy silk pajamas. She was drying her hair with a towel and saw me standing with my hands still in my pockets.
She asked, "What are doing, just standing there?"
I asked, "Is a schmuck just being rude, or a party pooper, and stuff like that?"
"Yes, I'd say...that qualifies as fairly schmuck-like." She fluffed her head with the towel.
"Is it, like...being snotty?"
I searched for words a second. "Acting like you're always right and everybody else is wrong?"
"...like...the way I was acting today?"
"Yep. That's a schmuck, all right."
"So I was bein' a schmuck."
"That's one of a great many things that schmucks do." She put away the towel and came to me and grabbed me by the hand, leading me toward the bedroom. "C'mon. Beddy-bye. It's ten o'clock."
I resisted. "I thought this was supposed to be a vacation!"
"A vacation doesn't mean you stay up all night. Anyway, young man--my young schmuck--you've been pretty cranky all day, and if you want to have a good time with me this week and keep up with me, you better rest while you can."
I stood near the bed as she rapidly pulled back the bedclothes.
"Okay, okay, but I *am* twelve years old. I can get myself in and out of the bed."
"Right," she said. "Well, you're not all that old. Besides, I want to ask you about something before you turn in." She came to me and began removing my shirt. "Your mother told me, schmuck, that you went to Woolworth's looking for me one day and you couldn't find me."
"She told you that? Here, I can unbutton my shirt myself. Is a schmuck somebody who can't unbutton their own shirt, too?"
She stood eyeing me sternly with her hands on her hips.
"Anyway," I said, "that was months ago."
She nodded. "She told me. She said you were very disappointed. She said you were down in the dumps. All...day...long."
"Sure, I was disappointed. What's wrong with being disap- pointed?"
"No no no, schmuck. Not just disappointed. She said you were down in the dumps for a week."
I raised my eyes to the ceiling. Didn't mothers know when to shut up? I removed my shirt and started on my jeans, not saying anything, avoiding her gaze.
"It so happens," she continued, "I wasn't there that day. So was she correct about that? What's your version of the story?"
I blushed. I made a what-the-hell shrug. She started to help me with the belt. "Look," I said, "I can do this."
She stepped back. "Okay. Take charge. But get into bed. It's late."
"I thought I could just stay up all week. It's Easter vaca- tion."
She eyed me with a comic, bugeyed sternness, firmed her lips, and pointed dramatically at the bed.
I did an aw-shucks and got down to my underwear. I was taller and more developed than I was when I had last seen her. I had a little hair on my legs, not much, but visible. I also had under my jockeys a healthily burgeoning patch of pubic hair that had replaced the light blond fuzz and which, I suddenly realized, might be dimly visible through the thin cloth. Hurrying into bed, I also realized with even greater embarrassment that I had developed in another area as well, which must surely have been noticeable, not as the thimble-shaped white bulb near the slit of my jockeys that she had seen in the past, but as a definitely larger and more shapeless bulge.
Quickly, I lay on my side and pulled the sheet to my waist.
Looking officially satisfied, she reached to turn out the bedside lamp. But instead, she changed her mind. Leaving the light on, she got into bed with me and shoved me farther to the other side. She lay next to me, facing me, on her side with her head propped on one arm.
"Wanna talk?" she asked.
"I mean, seriously. Talk."
I shrugged again. "Not really."
"I do," she persisted.
So I got into the same pose as she, propped on one elbow and facing her. "All right, but I don't need a baby-sitter to put me to bed."
"I don't know what to do with you. About you. You are spoiled and too independent. I know you don't like all your fussy old aunts and uncles so much, but you have to admit they spoiled the heck out of you. And, brother, did I help! You are so strange. In so many ways you're older than me, in the ways you connect with certain things inside people, but...such a strange boy."
"Boy," I echoed dryly.
"Well, Speedy, you *are* a boy...No, no, no, you are what looks like a boy, you do boy things, you have boy habits. But you're not really a boy. Wars took your boy away from you. I did, too. I'm going to die and go to hell for it."