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Banned for Life

Because now that I’d heard this creature speaking in tongues I wanted to know more about his—its—background.  I mean all these stories I’d been told—were they really true? 
So I said, “Hey, Bernard?  That’s your name, right?  Bernard?”  And he looked like he couldn’t believe I was speaking to him in a somewhat friendly voice, like it was all a trick to set him up for the inevitable insult. 

“Uh-huh,” he said.

“Did you really burn down your last school?”

And with that he lowered his guard a shade.

“Well,” he said, “kind of.  See, what happened was, I was smoking in the boys’ room, and instead of throwing my cigarette down the toilet I threw it in the trash.  And the bathroom caught on fire and—well, they caught it before it went too far, but it was bad enough they had to shut down the school for a couple of days.” 

“And this was in New York?”

“Brooklyn,” he nodded. 

Which meant practically nothing to me. I knew vaguely Brooklyn was close to Manhattan, but that was the extent of it.  So I asked how he’d managed to end up here, and he said that’s where his parents had sent him after burning down that bathroom.  He said his sister was a graduate student at the university and,  the way he made it sound, his folks were basically paying him a salary to live with her and away from them. 

“I’m quite a handful,” he told us proudly.

“So what do you think of this place?”

And he laughed this do-you-really-want-to-know-what-I-think laugh and said, “Does the word ‘hell’ mean anything to you?”

And it’s funny:  I thought it was hell myself but, when he said that, I almost felt like sticking up for it.  Why didn’t he just leave?  Nobody liked him here anyway.  And there were a few other things I wouldn’t have minded asking, such as why he never seemed to change his clothes, and why they didn’t fit, and what was the meaning of all those buttons he wore, and also, of course, his hair.  I knew it must be connected with rock music in some way since I’d seen pictures of David Bowie, for instance, with his hair dyed even stranger colors, but why
would anybody want to look like David Bowie?  And why did he always say such weird things in the morning?  Why?

But I’d had all I could take for the time being.  So I hobbled off with Megan and, as soon as she thought he couldn’t hear, she said, “God, he’s weird.  But he is awfully bright, don’t you think?”

“He’s a Jew,” I shrugged.  Which was all I knew about Jews:  they were really bright.  Not to mention evil.

******

That Christmas, Megan went to Kentucky to visit her father.  Her parents had recently filed for divorce after her father had run off with a woman half his age, and Megan was pretty pissed about it, while her mom sought comfort with old John Barleycorn.  Not that she barhopped.  She only drank behind closed doors, and even then she wouldn’t touch the stuff till six or seven at night, but once that rolled around she couldn’t mix the drinks fast enough.  A few times I drank with her.  I’d drop by and she’d say, “Well, Jason, can I get you a beer?”  And Megan would say, “No, Mom, you cannot.”  And Gail, her mom, would kind of laugh and say, “Oh, Megan, don’t be so naïve.  I’m sure Jason’s had a beer before.”  And I had, of course.  I’d only been going to frat parties since I was fourteen.  And Mark Powell was a pothead, and so were others in that crowd, so I’d done my share of that, too, and I thought it was really cool how Gail took that shit for granted whereas my own parents didn’t.  They were both teetotalers.  And they’d both grown up in the sticks and spoke like it, lots of Y’alls” and “ain’ts,” and I was really embarrassing by all that.  But Gail came from the Midwest, so she spoke like a regular person, and she’d traveled some and lived in different places before settling in North Carolina, whereas my own parents had hardly ever left the state.  So I thought Gail was a terrific mom, even if she was a drunk, and I could tell she liked me too.  She always talked a lot to me, so much so that Megan would get kind of jealous.  She’d say, “For God’s sake, Mom, he’s my boyfriend.”  Other times, if she didn’t like the way Gail was behaving, she’d tell her to go to bed, and I don’t mean she’d ask her, I mean she’d say, “Go to bed, Mom!  Now!”  And Gail would do it, too.  Yeah, it was a pretty weird relationship.  They were more like sisters than mother and daughter, and so far as that went, Megan was more the mom and Gail more the kid.  They even looked like sisters.  At that time, Gail would have been at least forty, but in the right light she could easily have passed for ten years younger:  blonde, like Megan, with Megan’s big tits and high forehead, but without the boxy shoulders Megan had gotten from her father who, at one time, had been the lacrosse coach at the university.  Then he met this girl at a game in Kentucky and, since he now planned to marry her, he wanted Megan to come up for Christmas so the two could finally meet. 

At first, she refused.  She was always intensely preoccupied with what people thought of her, so she found the whole affair very embarrassing.  But she was also an only child and something of a daddy’s girl who knew she’d have to bury the hatchet sooner or later, so it might as well be now.  And that was Gail’s advice and mine, too, so the night before Christmas eve I drove her to the train station, and just before she left—her last words, in fact—she said, “Jason, would you do me a favor?  If you aren’t doing anything tomorrow night, could you stop by and see my mom?  Because we’ve never spent Christmas apart, and she’s going to be all alone, and I’m a little worried about her.”  So I told her I would, and the train started moving, and I went running down the platform while she waved goodbye from the window.  And that’s my fondest memory of Megan.  She really was a nice girl, even though it was partly camouflage.  The real Megan was much more complicated than she liked to let on—in fact, I didn’t know myself how complicated she could be till a few months later, and, boy, did I find out then. 

Anyway, the next night I dropped by Gail’s, just like I’d promised, and as soon as she came to the door I could tell she’d been drinking.  Not that I cared.  I was used to it.  And I’d brought her a gift—a box of chocolates— and she seemed really pleased about that, so she invited me in for a beer.  And, again, that was par for the course, so I went inside, and she got me a beer and made herself another drink, and we sat in the living room, talking.  I remember a lot of it was about my future plans:  the schools I’d applied to, and what I should study if and when I went to one.  I’d never been too sure about that.  When I was really young I’d wanted to be an Indian, then a cement truck driver, then a professional football player, and it wasn’t looking too good for any of those, except maybe for the cement truck, and that was exactly the kind of life I was looking to escape.  So we kind of talked about all that, and Gail said, “Well, you’re young.  You’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.”  And she got me another beer, and that was not par for the course:  usually, I’d have just one.  But it was Christmas eve, and I was having a good time, and there was a really good feeling in the room.  It was like, without Megan there, we were more the way we really were, a little more natural, somehow.  And I had another beer, and another one, and Gail kept drinking herself, and I knew I should be going, I knew my parents would start to get worried, and a couple of times I said as much but somehow, I just kept sitting there.  And everything was fine, Gail seemed perfectly okay, when all of a sudden, right in the middle of a sentence, she broke down crying.  It came completely out of the blue.  One minute she seemed happy, the next it was, “Waaaaaaa.”  And I said, “What is it?  What’s wrong?”  And she went, “Waaaaaa.”  And I said, “What?”  And it looked like she was trying to explain, but it all kind of sounded like “Waaaaaa” to me.  And I had no idea what I should do or what I should say, so I just kind of put my arm around her shoulder and said, “It’s okay.  Don’t worry.  Everything’s going to be just fine.”  And she cried for quite some time on my shoulder and then, finally, she stopped—in fact, she stopped moving altogether.  I thought, since she’d had so much to drink, she must have passed out. 

So I was stuck.  I sat there with this drunken woman sleeping on my shoulder, afraid to move, otherwise she might wake up and start crying again.  And the TV was going next to the Christmas tree, and they were showing The Homecoming, that freaking Waltons Christmas special that used to come on every year.  And that ended, John Boy got his Red Chief writing tablets so he could go on to write a holiday special one day, and then the local news came on with their annual “Disadvantaged children celebrate the holiday” story.  Or maybe somebody’s house had burned down—that was the other annual Christmas story.  And, the whole time, Gail just sat there sleeping with her head on my shoulder, and I could feel her heartbeat, and I realized I had a hard-on. 

Now, in those days, I had a hard-on around the clock.  I could hardly pass a single woman without wanting to fuck her, and for that matter, I could sexualize just about anything.  I’d see a chair and think, ‘How many pussies have sat in that thing?’  Instant hard-on.  I’d pass a motel and think, ‘How much fucking is going on in there right now?’  Instant hard-on.  And I would jerk off two and three and four times a day and, boing, the goddamned thing would spring back up all over again.  It had a mind of its own!  And then I was dating Megan, who would not let me fuck her.  I could dry-hump her, I could play with her tits, once she even started giving me a hand-job, but after a few strokes she stopped and made me take her home.  More reputation paranoia.  And no way could I could break up with her, and no way was I going to fool around either, because was Megan: cheerleader, homecoming queen, queen of the junior prom.  Which made me king.  Yep.  It’s hard to believe, but I ruled the fucking prom.  And half the school got laid afterwards, but just guess what the king got?

Posted at 2pm on 10/15/2005 | comments are closed Filed Under: Fiction

"The sleep of reason
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