excerpts from the short story – fiction
I rolled away from Charles and switched on the radio broadcast of the Red Sox baseball game, while Charles examined his penis, weeping. Charles had made love to me as if he’d been writing a term paper. He was the only person I’d known to call his mother collect from his cell phone here in the middle of the western Massachusetts wilderness, the only one I’d known who still drank Tab. It didn’t look good, he and I.
It had rained earlier in the day while we’d been visiting Cassie; now it was only muggy. It was our first night sleeping together. Charles wanted to have a "serious conversation" with me. He touched my back with his moist index finger, then pulled it back and examined his cuticle. I was in no mood to tear myself away from the game. "Can’t we wait till the commercial break?" I asked.
He brushed a lone spider from his knees. "Eww," he said.
Finally, I asked him, "What on earth do you want to talk about?"
"Rub my back. Please?"
"Charles, you’re drenched with sweat and we haven’t showered yet. Do you mind?"
"My back hurts."
"Well, sorry. Go play Minesweeper on your laptop or something."
"I pulled a muscle while I was ejaculating."
I didn’t respond.
He squinted at me. "I want to talk about venereal diseases."
* * *
"Charles has sensitive ears, Cassie," I explained, earlier that day. I gathered the silverware the three of us had used for our meal. Charles had excused himself and gone upstairs to the toilet. "He’s a very sensitive man."
Cassie bent over to retrieve the dishtowel from the rack under the sink. "Lizzie, I didn’t expect you to go straight on me."
"Shush! He might hear you." I heard the toilet flush, and figured Charles would spend the next twenty minutes scrubbing his hands.
"And you’re going camping with this sappy creep? Lizzie--"
"I said, keep your voice down. He isn’t that bad."
It wasn’t long after Cassie and I had converted to "just friends" that Charles had jumped into the scene like a hypnotized deer. I had met Charles on a commuter train in Concord, near the Concord Reformatory, after I had found out that the main supply company for my future ceramics studio had gone out of business. We were both headed for Porter Square Station, he to MIT, and I to go home to Cambridge and bury my head, realizing my dream studio seemed less and less a possibility. The ride with Charles was long enough to decide we liked each other -- there was a delay up front for a half hour -- or, rather, that he liked me and he decided we should date. "I think you’re nice," he said girlishly. "You’re pretty." When word got to us that some drunk had jumped in front of the train, Charles’s face turned gray. He began to rub his hands together. He turned to me and said, "My therapist said I should do things to soothe myself when something happens that I can’t handle. I rub my hands and count to twenty. One, two, three...." He let his head nestle awkwardly onto my shoulder, still counting. Then he had the nerve to drool.
"Are you sure this guy isn’t a eunuch?" Cassie asked as she dropped scraps of meat that Charles hadn’t eaten into the dog’s bowl. "He seems more like a junior high kid than a grad student in chemistry, for god’s sake."
"He’s very nice," I said. "Loaded, too. Hey, the Sox are on tonight."
I handed the pitcher of creamer to Cassie. She rinsed it and put it in the dishwasher. "Loaded or not, he’s six years younger than you. Nothing but trouble, men are. He needs a high school cheerleader. Bet your ‘sensitive’ sample of manhood doesn’t know sh-- about ball games."
A plate slid out of Cassie’s grasp, and smashed on the floor. "Sh--," she muttered. "Hang on a sec." She left the room and returned shortly with a broom. "I told you, Lizzie, I think you should stick with women. Loaded or not."
"Cassie, please please please keep your voice down."
She swept the chards of white ceramic into the dustpan, then squeezed my butt. "Mmm," she said.
"Look, Lizzie, I have a bad feeling about Charles. Just thought I’d warn you." Cassie poured detergent into the dishwasher, about a half cup too much.
"Relax," I replied. I played with her silky hair, then gave it a soft tug. "Nice locks." I let my hand slide over to her shoulder. "No, really, I know what I’m doing."
"Doubt it. You’ve dated this jerk only two weeks, and you decide to go camping with him? What if he’s a pervert? You’re on the rebound, after all. I miss you, too. You just moved to Cambridge. Come back to Northampton and I’ll show you some very sexy broads. What do you think?"
"Cassie, he doesn’t know about us." I reached over to her breast. "I miss you too, Honeykins. You’re one right-on chick." I heard the toilet flush again. God knows what Charles was doing up there. "But if you don’t tone it down, he’ll find out about us damn quick."
Cassie pulled away from me, a "told-ya-so" grin on her face. "Good. Maybe he’ll break up with you and you’ll find someone decent." She gave me a peck on my cheek. "Just keep what I said in mind, okay?"
"Yeah, sure Babe. Anything you say."