There they are in the window holding hands across the table. White cloth, white napkins, one red rose in a cut glass vase. Strange to see them framed by my reflection. He studies the menu, smiles, orders. She sips champagne and, achoo, sneezes. Gesundheit, darling! Is that a diamond stud in your nose or a snot? Snow white hands, Bardot mouth. How’d she look with a smashed bottle in her face? Better walk, Bets. Breath streams through my chapped lips. Freshly glossed, they taste like cherries.
Crosswalk. The little red man blinks stop. I feel empty and full at the same time. Like a broomstick’s stuck in my throat. The little green man blinks go. I squish with the crowd through slush, humming ‘Moon River.’ Not mine and Phil’s… Who was it? Steve. High School. Our song! His father’s car – a hot, new Plymouth Fury. Red leather seats. Chrome… chrome… chrome. His fingers made me wet. “Your pussy’s like a bowl of water, Bets. My fingers are wrinklin’up like a baby in a bath…”
A few weeks later my first scare. “Come on, Bets. Don’t fuck up my life. I found a doctor. Three hundred bucks.” Got my period but didn’t tell Steve. “Am I looking fatter, Hon? How ’bout Buddy for a boy, Holly for a girl?” Only one date with him after that. “Bets, I gotta see ya.” Drove to the reservoir – lovers’ lane. Unzipped himself and pushed my head to his lap. “Do it, Bets, please!” The thought of swallowing made me gag. I licked it while I used my hand. Cum spurted on his pants. “You asshole,” he said, and when he shoved my head it hit the mirror. Stumbling out of the car I saw stars. “Cunt,” he yelled and squealed away.
Crosswalk. The little red man blinks stop. Brakes squeak, slush spatters, motors buzz, trucks sigh. Diesel engines tick and fume. Talking mouths blow breath clouds. Winter makes the invisible visible. Did Phil and I have a song? ‘Lean on Me,’ BB King. Our wedding! Phil’s secretary sang with the band. “If there’s a load you have to bear that you can’t carry, I’m right up the road, I’ll share your load, just call me…” When she swayed her blouse would open and show her nipples. Small red buds, they reminded me of raspberries. I wanted to taste them.
The little green man blinks go. When Phil had trouble coming, he’d make believe that Kathy was in bed with us. We’d masturbate each other and he’d make up a story: “Kathy comes over for dinner. We eat, and smoke some grass. You’re tired and go to bed. Kathy and I stay up. She and I talk about sex. We both have always wanted to try a threesome. We go into the bedroom. It’s hot. You’re naked, lying face-up on the sheet. I hug you and kiss your lips and face. You move slowly, unconsciously humping up and down. You open your eyes and realize it’s not me licking you. You close your legs, say no and try to push us away. I lean down on you with my chest and hold your arms tight with my hands. You struggle but gradually stop as Kathy keeps licking. Relax, I say, don’t you like it? You won’t talk but soon move to the rhythm of Kathy’s tongue. I ask again. You’re silent. I say it’s okay if you like it. You nod. I tell you to open your legs more. You do as I say. How’s that? I ask. It’s good, you say. How good? I ask. I like it, you say. You like what? I ask. I like…what she’s doing to me, you say. You like what who is doing to you? What Kathy is doing. What’s Kathy doing? She’s eating me out. Tell me exactly what Kathy’s doing to you. She’s licking my clit with her tongue and fucking me with her fingers. Do you want her to stop? I ask. No, you say. Why not? I ask. Because I’m almost there, you say. Tell Kathy to keep licking your pussy, I say. Keep licking my…my pussy, you say. You hump her mouth faster and moan…uh…uh…and come, like we’re do…like we’re doing now.”
I always felt guilty afterward. As if I had done something wrong. But feeling dirty excited me... Jesus! I’m cold. Should I head home? A lot of his shit’s still there. I’ll pack it and store it in the garage. Fuck that! I’m sick of taking care of him. I wonder where he’s staying. With the girl, I bet.
She looks like a boy. Short, blond hair. Tiny tits. Slight build. First time I saw her I told Phil he was a latent homosexual. “Nah,” he laughed. “I just like young girls.”
Uncle! He must have been in his twenties. He and Auntie were dating. They’d baby sit for me on Saturday nights so Ma and Dad could go out. Uncle always put me to bed and read to me. When he leaned over to tuck me in and kiss me goodnight, he’d rest his hand on my crotch, outside my pajamas. I thought it was accidental. But then he started staying with me after he had finished reading. He’d reach under my waistband and touch me. He kept saying, “That’s a good little girl,” and he’d slowly pry my legs apart.
Uncle’s hand felt enormous. He’d put his finger inside me, but not all the way. He’d find the tiny button near the top and he’d rub in a little circle. After a while I’d say, “I have to pee.” He’d say, “It just feels that way, be a good little girl and lie still.”
Sometimes I felt a surge like I was peeing, but I learned not to worry because my bed never got wet. When Uncle finished I’d go into the bathroom and wash myself with cool water to make the itchiness go away. Auntie once knocked on the bathroom door. She must have wanted me asleep so they could have sex before my parents came home. “Bets, it’s late. What are you doing in there?”
“Brown snakes, Auntie.”
“Silly, you should have pooped before you read.”
“I’m almost done.”
“Hurry, before a snake bites your rear end.”
After a while I sort of looked forward to having Uncle touch me. It felt good and he said nice things. But I didn’t like that I liked it. Because that’s what made me feel that I was bad and that God would give me a disease down there, like making me bleed.
I must have been eight when Uncle and Auntie moved away. I didn’t see them much after that. But I remember one visit when he was helping me do flips. Each time he lifted me he held me by the crotch… And when I was a teenager we met at a family wedding. He got me alone downstairs in the hotel, on my way back from the ladies’ room. “Christ, my girlfriend’s all grownup. Blond and beautiful… But didn’t you have brown hair?”
“How ’bout a kiss? It’s been a long time.”
I thought I could get rid of him faster if I went along, so I reached up and gave him a peck on the cheek. He looked more oafish to me than he did when I was little.
“Hope you do better than that with your boyfriend,” he said. “What’s his name? Jerry? Your mother told Auntie he’s a doctor.”
“He wants to be, he’s still in school.”
“So here’s the $64,000 question. Have you had sex with him yet?”
“It’s none of your business.”
He pretended to pout, then hugged me and touched my breast.
Jerry must have wondered what was taking so long, because he came downstairs to find me. Uncle let me go at the first sound of footsteps. Jerry saw that I was upset and wanted to know what was going on. I shrugged. Uncle played dumb, excused himself and returned to the party. Jerry took me out to his car. “Bets, what’s the matter?”
After so many years, I needed to tell. “Jerry,” I said, “you have to promise to keep it a secret.”
“Sure, if that’s what you want.”
So I told him about Uncle touching me when I was little, and that he had just felt me up. Jerry ran to the banquet hall threatening to kill him. I got there just as he grabbed Uncle’s shirt. Dad jumped up from his seat and helped me get Jerry away. We brought him outside. “Jerry,” Dad said, “I ain’t no brain like you’re supposed to be but I gotta tell ya, what you just done was stupid. For starters, you ain’t showin’ respect to Bets and the family. And two, how d’ya know Bets’s uncle ain’t got a knife or somethin’. Me, I think the guy’s a nutcase. He bothers you again, ignore him. Otherwise, go home now. I don’t want no more trouble, see?”
Jerry had calmed down so my father left us alone. But I was afraid Jerry would stir up a can of worms if he came back to the party. I begged him to go home and leave me at the party. He wanted to stay. It was no use arguing. I led him to his car and got in with him. I kissed and hugged him and thanked him for caring about me so much. He was already hard when I stroked him through his pants. He held the top of his zipper while I opened his fly and then he helped me free his cock from his underwear pouch. I took it in my mouth and went up and down on it while I licked it with my tongue and turned my head side to side. It didn’t take him long. I swallowed quickly and licked him clean. He twitched and held my head still when I accidentally flicked a sensitive spot just below the hole with my tongue. We stared into each other’s eyes. He looked content, like a just nursed infant. I told him to go. He made no fuss, kissed my cheek and took off.
Back at the party Ma kept asking me why Jerry had become so mad. But I wouldn’t tell her. I loved Auntie and didn’t want to hurt her. And I knew Uncle would deny everything anyway. “It’s no big deal,” I said. “Just a misunderstanding.”
“I don’t think he’s good for you,” Ma said. “It don’t make no sense why a doctor should get so mad…What d’ya think? Al,” she asked Dad, rubbing her neck and double chin.
“Rose, he said, “how did you get to be so goddamn stupid? You think doctors don’t lose their cool? Enough about Jerry! You’re drivin’ everybody crazy. Give me another piece of that wedding cake, Rose … He lifted it from his plate and took a big bite. “Delicious!” he said, gulped down the rest and licked the frosting from his fingers. “How come the stuff you bake don’t taste this good, Rose? Hey Bets, ask your cousin who made this cake. I want a new wife – one who can cook. Right Rose! I’ll get rid of you and marry a young chick who cooks good. Huh? What d’ya say?”
Ma shifted her jaw sideways and pressed her teeth against her bottom lip, momentarily stopping its nervous twitching. “Go ahead,” she said. “Only a real sicko would go for a sleazebag like you.”
“Oh yeah,” he laughed. “So tell me, Rose, what the hell does that make you? You’re a real sicko!” he laughed again. “Congratulations kiddo, you’re finally right about somethin’.”
“Excuse me, Professor Einstein,” Ma said, “but if I remember correctly I was right at least one time before.”
“For crissake, Rose, don’t bring up ancient history.”
“You treat me like shit on the end of a stick but I shouldn’t start. You spend our money on your girlfriend’s miscarriage but I shouldn’t start!”
“Ma, please,” I said. “We’re at a wedding. Don’t ruin it for everybody.”
“Why should I care about a wedding? Did your father care about our wedding?”
“Ma, will you shutup? People are staring at us.”
Dad turned on me. “Bets, who the hell are you to tell your mother to shutup? You shutup!”
“Right, Dad,” I said. As if you treat her any better!”
“What goes on between me and your mother ain’t none of your business.”
“It is my business when you do it in front of me.”
“Keep it up wise guy and you’ll get your face slapped,” he said.
“Can’t stand it when someone else is right, can you? I’m leaving. Why don’t you kill each other when I’m gone?”
Over the next few months Jerry became obsessed with my uncle. He wanted to know all the details: “Where did he touch you? Did you get wet? Did you come? Did you do anything to him?” And sometimes when Jerry was touching me he’d say, “Pretend you’re little and that I’m your uncle.” And I would join in the fantasy:
“You’re making me wet, Uncle; put your finger in deeper, Uncle; move your finger slower, Uncle.” And I would come. But I remember thinking that I was sick … I wonder if Jerry plays doctor these days.
My lips are bleeding. The taste of blood makes me think of Vince. No job was “right” for him. He stayed home. I supported us. Selling parakeets and gold fish in a Woolworth’s. And I went to community college at night. I couldn’t get pregnant. That was the last straw. “First you turn me into a housewife,” he complained, “and now, you can’t give me a son!” He came home late one night. I figured he’d visited his old girlfriend. He was always comparing us lately, so I knew she’d been on his mind. He found me sitting at the kitchen table in my nightgown, crying, with my head buried in my arms, on top of my Norton’s Anthology of English Literature. “Shut up,” he screamed.
“Shut up yourself… You and your goddamn whore.”
He smacked me in the face. My blood tasted like the glue on a postage stamp. I ran to the sink, grabbed a knife and charged him. He grabbed my wrist, pushed my arm over my head and kneed me in the stomach, knocking me to the floor. Straddling my chest he pinned me down, crushing my arms under his knees. He pried the knife from my hand and slid it rattling across the linoleum floor. He unzipped his fly, pulled out his penis and wagged it an inch or two from my face. “Lick it,” he yelled, “lick what I’ve been fuckin’ tonight.” Then he reached behind with his free hand and squeezed my crotch hard.
He kneeled with his full weight on my breast and raised himself up. “Fuck you,” he said, distinctly pronouncing each word, and then he slammed the door and ran downstairs.
Heavy, wet snow compressed by the anonymous thumps of a thousand feet coats the sidewalk with a brittle crust that squeaks beneath my boots. From store window to store window I watch my reflection stretch like a breath-blown flame. I see a handsome woman with cropped blond hair clearing jewelry from a red velvet shelf. Caught by the movement of her bare arm, I can’t help but stare. She’s wearing a sleeveless black dress, a strange choice on such a cold day. Curlicues of hair, glowing like gold threads, peek from her armpits. A tingly sensation, almost a mild electric shock, spreads from my throat to my chest. Her eyes meet mine. She’s smiling. A look of sincere friendliness brightens her face. I want her to hold me, to mold my flesh with hers, to soak me in her warmth – and like a bath’s insistent heat, to claim body.
Late afternoon gray tints the snow a shadowy blue. Yellow streetlights flicker like stars through tress. A flake clings to my lash and pricks my eye with icy crystal. Like a child I soothe the sting with my leather-gloved finger, and breathe the subtle fecal smell as I dab tears trickling to my lips. She waves me in. No Crosswalk. No little man blinking.