WILLIAM KEVIN BURKE - CHAIN GIRL
The long curves of her calves always pleased Celia. When she sat on the edge of her tub and shaved them the razor slid through the thin slick of soap smoothly, the slight pressure baring her clean skin, so soft and colored a creamy tan. But what’s this? Spots of blood spattered through the lavender soap foam. That ingrown hair must have caught on the blade, she thought. I sliced through it so smoothly that I didn’t notice it. Too excited about Dad’s third wedding. Big hall and a dance after and I get to sit there all by myself. That prick. Which one? Dad or Chris or how about we go all the way back and spend the morning angry about Keith. I haven’t done that in a while. Been angry about Keith screwing up my life. At least not for a couple days. Well, it’s been at least an hour. A girl has to box up her horrors to get by in this world. That’s the way it is. Chris, you can’t really hurt me. Keith already got there before you.
Celia tore loose a piece of toilet paper, rolled it into a ball and halted the tiny trickle of blood. There. It hardly even hurt. Give it a few minutes to heal up.
Celia gazed out the window of her apartment’s bathroom. She saw the same slice of sky, blue this afternoon. Thin vapory clouds drifting way up there. Trail of a plane? No. Just clouds floating. There was the bare wall of the building across the street, the bricks a harsh dark red in this light. She looked down at the cut, noted that the blood still oozed. From her perch on the edge of the tub she reached for the magazine she had been leafing through all week. An article, Ten Things to do Until He Calls, had caught her eye when she was in line buying single serve frozen dinners, orange soda and a new bag of razors.
Number 9 – Treat yourself; after all you are your own best friend.
It says I can get a pedicure, take a walk in the park, read a book. Thanks for the permission. Do guys read magazines to get permission to do what they want to do?
Her phone went off in her bedroom. Still the same spiritless chirping that came with the phone. Must get around to changing that. It rings around people and everybody knows you didn’t even read the manual.
Number 7– Go bowling with your friends. Girls can play games too!
Women. Women can play games. No, that doesn’t sound right. Mean. Sneaky. They were right to use girls.
How do you get jobs on those magazines? College I suppose. In the articles girls, correction, women are always getting hired for their dream jobs when the phone rings in their darkest moments. He hasn’t called, the rent’s overdue. So I should have troubles and then good things will happen. Well, I’m ready. Chris is a proving more a loser every day, my job is sucking away my life and hope and today I’m getting a new stepmom. Bring on the good stuff.
Number 13 – Make a mess of something and call him to help clean it up. (Just kidding!)
That cut is almost clotted. I’ll wear the dark tights under the dress. No one will suspect a thing. My secret. But what if they stop the whole wedding. The minister’s voice full of outrage. “There! In the front row. The girl in the fuchsia low shouldered minidress, with the dark tights. A spot on her leg!
Woman. Must be the aging thing. We want to be girls forever.
Never mind. Look people in the eye. They will see what they want to see. But not this little spot under the dark tights.
There. The phone stopped and I did not move a finger or muscle. I didn’t even daydream. I am all myself. Was that something I read in a magazine? Be all yourself every minute every day. Sounds like a lot of work.
How to know if you are doing it for yourself, or doing it for him?
Write that down. It would make a good article. But why should they care what I have to say? Well, I was almost a celebrity, one of the chosen. Tell them about Keith. Maybe they’d still remember. My moment in the sun. Well, my hour in the trunk of his car. That time he wrote to you after he got out. “I hope you know I did what I did out of love.” Well Keith. I showed you.
Dear Mr. Hibber, as Keith Perkins parole officer I thought you would want to have a copy of this letter he sent me recently.
Now Chris knew how to show a girl he cared. At night anyway.
But will he show up to her Dad’s wedding!!??
Better check if that last ring was Chris.
No. No hurry.
Think about Dad for a hopeful minute. Dad when he was still Daddy, before he went away. The sound of his words in your ears. Laying your head on his chest on the shore of the lake. A sea really. Daddy used to say. They are inland seas.
She let her arm trail along her thigh, felt the delicious cool of her skin under her fingers. There.
The bloody pellet fell away onto the baby blue rug. She picked it up between two fingers and dropped it in the wastebasket. Just the smallest red speck on the leg. Not something you would notice if you didn’t know it was there.
But you know it is there.
She readied herself to check the number and message on her phone. This meant holding her mouth firm but supple, her forehead relaxed and her thoughts perfectly calm. It was important to avoid projecting anger or frustration to the empty room around her. Somewhere she had read that such tactics worked. Good things happen to good people who think good thoughts.
So what did that make her?
Dad again. Fifth time today. What now? A problem with the flowers? The caterer ran out of chairs? Just thanking me. Oh great. Drop everything to listen to him talk about how he appreciates you putting yourself aside for him for like the thousand millionth time.
Fresh dressed and ready for the street Celia scrolled through her incomings for the last eight, twelve, twenty four, seventy two hours.
I’m not obsessing, she almost said out loud. I’m not. I’m not. I’m not. It doesn’t hurt to be careful. I might have missed something. There were a bunch of calls since I started this ignoring thing.
Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Alright Dad. You have my permission to marry the bimbo. Correction the ex bimbo. What comes after bimbo? Grown up bimbo. Julie’s story. Baby, little girl, teen ager, bimbo, my Dad’s third wife. C’mon Celia, you’re not being fair. And why should I?
Ah, someone other than Dad called. It’s Payne. How special. Two crummy dates six weeks ago and he still calls, just to see if I’ve changed my answering message. How lucky can a girl get? Payne dear, I think you need to do something about being The Most Boring Guy I ever met in my life!!! God, why can’t they tell when you’re just being nice?.
Oh look! Julia called. What does she have to say. Oh lovely. She just wanted to chat, to spend some time getting to know her new daughter. The one she will be convincing Dad to disinherit. Not right away. Get a ticket on the clue train lady. I talk to my real mom twice a year whether I need to or not. And you want me to make time to get to know the real you. To have a relationship with Dad’s number three. Well I know you. You’re exactly the sort that started turning up once Dad made some money, which by the way seemed to neatly coincide with me turning eighteen and the payments stopping and my finding out that the divorce decree makes no provision for him to pay for college for his only child. Not that I’m bitter. I’m too angry to be bitter.
Man, she’s talking on and on. Julia, get a clue, You’re a trophy wife. Second place. Past your prime yet still youngish and hotish enough to seem trophyish. And old enough that Dad doesn’t feel absolutely ridiculous walking down the street next to you. He’s sensitive that way. So we’ll have a relationship. Take your Christmas present and get in line lady. Actually I liked number two. Clarissa. She was sweet. Kind of like a younger sister. But I think she was actually older than me. She just seemed…. I was back from Florida like three years? It was creepy when Clarissa got caught in the rain that time and borrowed my clothes. Dad’s hands peeling my bra and panties off her.
When was that? The trial was done. The newspapers were done with me. Working my way through my sole solitary year at Detroit State. Older than everybody around me then. No matter what their age.
No call from Chris.
Number 17 – Spend an hour wondering why your Dad married a woman who looked like she was five years younger than you.
Silly. Save yourself the hour. The answer is because he could. And maybe Clarissa got something out of it. They had what, four years? She dumped him after she finished her masters. They seemed happy. Maybe that’s the best we get. Seeming happy for a while.
No text message either. Wait. There is one.
Nothing. A group send from Carly on St. Johns. Snrklng & Sngglng. Whatever.
All the way back to Wednesday. Bastard. What did he say when I invited him? Sure. Sounds cool. Words to that effect. Then I had to remind him to write down the time and directions. How could you? Don’t crowd them. If he doesn’t call it only means he hasn’t called. Nothing less. Live with it. Live for him. That’s what good girls do.
She turned off the phone and did her last mirror check before walking out the door. She loved this dress, the way the tiny lark on her shoulder rode the edge of its neck line. Now you see it. Then you don’t. My only tattoo. That friend of Keith’s did it the week before I went to Florida. Mom was so mad. Mom was always mad though, so it hardly counted. What was it she said that time? I hate everything about you, you little slut! Everything I can see. I suppose I could have misinterpreted her, maybe she was trying to be supportive. You must always look for the subtlety in parental messages.
There girl. You are ready. Go ahead fellas, look at the bird. That’s all you get to do.
She turned the phone back on and dialed her father while trying out a few faces in the mirror. Doing ok girl. Doing ok.
“I’m leaving now.”
“Wait out front. I sent a car to get you and then Julia. It will be right there. “
“Can you at least try?”
“This is trying.’
“Then succeed. For me.”
“Sure. Great. I’ll get her.”
What the ever. If you wanted me to succeed you could have helped with college. I mean I’m sorry the court made you pay for walking out on us when I was six. Sorry you spent twelve long years writing checks and spending all those bored Sundays with me. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. We’re just a couple of sorry specimens. Of what? Unresolved yearning for parental attention? Guilt over abandonment. Memo to self -- if you can only get it together to pay for one year of college avoid the psych courses.
“This is Chris. Rock On and Leave me a Message.”
“Chris. The ceremony is at four pm at the Crofton. Downtown. Don’t dress casual. The reception is right there so you can just park anywhere.”
I can’t believe you called him! When did you dial? When you were thinking about your Dad abandoning you then wanting to come around and be loved for his mediocre choices. How subtle. But I was not going to call. I called. It happens. Live with it. You’ve lived with worse than a stuck up jerk standing you up for your Dad’s fourth wedding. No wait. Dad’s fourth won’t be for a couple more years. Today is the third.
Of course Chris will not call back. That was not what he did. He has his way doing things, of living his life. I am welcome to fit myself into it. How did he put it? So delicate and romantic. I’m not really into something that emotional. I’m more into physical relationships.
I could show him a physical relationship. Being stuffed into a car trunk not knowing if you are going to live or die. Physical enough for you? How’s about being chained to a bed? It wasn’t chains. Then why did the TV call you the chain girl? Thank god it’s been a couple years since she had to explain that one.
There had been that story. About a year after. A good long version of the story. The writer, Sam short for Samantha was her name, spent time with Celia and helped her understand what had happened, or at least find some perspective on it. Sam’s phrases still shaped the spiral of thoughts that cascaded through Celia when she thought about that summer. Sam had written Celia’s story, had given it shape and distance. She had given Celia a place to stand so she could see herself.
How did it start? When she was sixteen years old Celia Miller had the sort of flawless fragile beauty that blooms only once. Her nose was not quite right but Oakwood Heights was not the sort of town where girls got their noses fixed. She would spend her mirror hours trying different tricks to make up for her nose, playing with shadows and the angles of light glancing off her cheekbones. “A girl gets one shot at beauty,” she wrote in her diary “It has to take care of her.“
Then love happened to her. It showed up in front of her house in the form of the face and strong arms and convertible of Keith Laxton. Keith was blonde and blue eyed and had been kicked off the junior varsity football team for fighting and then out of school completely. He’d laughed at them all, shown them all up. Now he had a GED and a job testing engines and a restored vintage mustang convertible that beat every car that challenged him on The Flats, what the boys of Oakwood Heights call the slanted flat concrete banks of the Rouge River, channelized by the Corps of Engineers back in the sixties.
It was fated he would first glimpse Celia one evening after racing, blasting Zeppelin on the oldies station with the top down while driving slowly down streets not big enough to hold him. There was that first look, then a middle period of coded conversation, battles with a stubborn single mom who wanted better for her little Celia, (It could be assumed by his presence on this planet that Keith had, or at least had once had, parents somewhere. He never said. Celia never asked.) They carried on in secret until in the course of things all convention was thrown away and they ran off together into the golden future of love Celia heard about on the radio. “We’re going to Kashmir,” Celia said when their first song, their always song, came on the radio as they crossed the Ohio line on I-75 south. Keith nodded and pulled her up against him.
The end was predictable, but it was the details that made Celia famous. First, a short forever of endless nights, mornings and afternoons of love in a pay by the week motel outside Tampa. Then Keith had to report for what he called a crummy no future job in a tool and die that his cousin had hooked him into, then the job lost, the fights over who knows what. Celia’s awful loneliness when he stopped coming home, the call to her mom.
When Keith saw the number on her cell he woke Celia up by slapping her face, told her if she said one word, even one, she was a dead bitch and that she better just do what he said. What he told her to do was lie still while he tied a cloth sack over her head, handcuffed her hands behind her back and rolled her in a blanket.
“Maybe it doesn’t seem like it now, but I am doing this for us, for our love,” he said as he carried her out to the car. He drove an hour to a buddy’s fishing cabin on the Tolquammie river with Celia locked in the trunk. Celia he kept handcuffed to an old cast iron bed. It was three days later that she picked the handcuff lock with a paperclip. Keith was out trying to close the meth deal he figured would finance their trip to the west coast, once Celia’s attitude came around. When he got arrested he had three ounces on him. Bad luck for Keith. Because Celia’s mom and dad had reunited to come to town and search for their little girl, because she was missed long enough to get her cute junior year picture onto the news, because she still had the handcuffs on one wrist when she came out of the woods and most of all because there was on old dog chain on the floor of the cabin when the first wave of reporters hit the door. Celia was famous for about a week. She was the Chain Girl.
How did it feel when you were locked in that trunk? Did you fear for your life? What do you plan next? Celia learned answers to all the questions until nobody came asking any more. Keith got eight years. Celia got her own GED, did a year at Detroit State, found herself a job processing retirees’ medical claims for an industrial clinic down in Lincoln Park. This paid for an apartment and an old Toyota that broke down during the winters. Her Mom became a vague presence in Celia’s life. Dad stayed in touch, surprised everybody by making money from a software investment and then real estate. .
At first Celia was grateful to Sam the writer. After the interviews she felt alive, awake, like she could see herself without the weight of everyone’s notions about her crushing her every minute. Then the article came out. Chain Girl Speaks. It got a lot of attention and helped sell Sam’s first book. Smart Ladies, Dumb Moves, How Women Destroy Themselves. Celia was the worst case scenario for the chapter about teenagers.
The car arrived. Celia settled into the seat behind the driver. The driver just waved when she tried to tell him where to go. He already had his instructions.
Can’t see that cut through these tights. Like it never happened. How much of being a woman is getting good at hiding things? Too much. Chris doesn’t know my story. At least he has never said. Could he be that clever? Knowing all about me but waiting to see if I’ll tell him? Don’t Let Him Know You Know He Knows!
It’s probably ok. Just because everything is out there does not mean everybody cares enough to look. I’m just this month’s girl for Chris. He’s smart enough to know you don’t get the good stuff unless we can at least imagine there is a relationship blooming. Did you really let yourself think that?
As soon as the car pulled to a stop in front of her condo Julia opened the door. A small tree’s worth of garden green chiffon exploded onto the seat of the car next to Celia. Dress and shawl and some sort of veily thing around and through her hair. She looks like something growing up the wall. Oh a violet scarf bound by a leaf locket at her neck. I see. Intended. She can make it work. Takes your eyes off that nose. She’s one of those people who makes a living off her flaws. She can make anything work except her marriages. Maybe this time.
No. I don’t want to kiss you. Oh well, there on the cheek, like we’re people in some movie about people we’ll never be.
“Love your smell.”
“I’m not wearing anything.”
“Lucky one. The fresh scent of youth. You should bottle it.”
“If I only knew how.”
“Enjoy it while you can.’
“Your big day.”
“I’m just giddy. Let me lean back. This dress is puffed out all around me. What was I thinking.’
“Where’s Carol Anne?”
“She’s running things at the church. You know that girl always has to be in charge. How did I get so lucky?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where’s your young man. I’m sorry. I forgot this one’s name.”
“Chris. He’s meeting me there.”
“Oh yes. I suppose that’s how it’s done. Carol Anne is a bit more old fashioned. But your independence becomes you. I’m so glad you are on your two feet. When your father told me the story it was. Well it was overwhelming. I remember all the news stories, it just never connected. You were younger of course and you looked much heavier on TV. I’d been meaning to ask. Does Chris speak? I mean I think I’ve heard him speak. He’s the tall brooding one? Checks his phone all the time. I must say that would be very distracting at a movie or whatever. Carol Anne’s fiancé is, well I’ll grant you bit steady. Calm. Dotes on her and does he make the money! I don’t understand how they do it. Six figures under thirty. What a world. It must be hard being young and on your own. But you do have that Chris. Listen to me. Chatterboxing. My wedding day.”
“Which number is this?”
“Just three. Same as him. And I have a very good feeling about your father and I.”
You are never borrowing my underwear woman. Even if you are still my size. At forty four. I know how you do it. You just talk your food away.
“Excuse me for asking dear. But we do have a few minutes and I know you don’t want me going over and over the wedding details. I hope it was alright me assuming you would not want to be part of the wedding party. I just wanted to ask. I mean I’ve been thinking ever since your father told me and I thought back to when it was all on the news. Did he really chain you up?”
Keith. Evil bastard. That drive to the woods. I thought he was going to kill me. I peed myself in the trunk of his car. Like a horror movie and you scream and scream but your mouth is stuffed full. Years later and I still have to have a window or door open at all times.
“It was handcuffs. And he’d bind my legs with rope when he went out. The newspaper people saw his dog’s chain on the floor and got it all mixed up. It was only for a couple days. He had rented this cabin along the river. I had tried to run away from him. So he tied me up. Then I got away. While he was out. On the third day. I found a road and some people stopped and helped me. Just like on the news.”
”Did he make you....”
“I was only sixteen. First lovers. I ran away with him. He just went crazy when I tried to leave him. “
“I got away. He didn’t really hurt me. He did his time. He has to register for the rest of this life. If he ever tries to see me he will go right back.”
“Good. I hope the worst happened to him there.”
‘I’m just happy never to talk to him again.”
“Amen sister. Or should I say daughter?”
“Whatever. Thank you.”
Keith’s voice when he was locking those handcuffs. I still hear him. “Now honey I just need you to understand how much I love you. I need to show you how much I love you. Give it some time you’ll understand. You’ll love me for this.”
Don’t let him be the boss!
Why did Dad have to tell her. Now her kids.... Ughhh!
What To Do When It All Comes Out!
Forget it. Just think about Chris. Something real there. Despite what he says. Really. Well, there could be. He looks in my eyes when we do it. Most guys won’t. Who was it I overheard? Not Karl. Henry. Liked to be called Hank. The one before the one before. He didn’t know I was awake, he was talking to his brother out of dating some poor girl. Didn’t know I was listening. “Sure she’s got a hot body but do you want to spend your life watching that face come?” They never stop judging us. We have to pay attention to our image all the time. It says so, right in all the magazines. Pictures and words all saying one thing. Pay attention to how you look!
Look at her. The plant lady. Growing vines to ensnare my father. Here we are. Quality time with my Dad’s next. Ryhmes with sex and ex. Now I get to mingle with her gang. Carol Anne and her cousins and their boyfriends and etc etc. Their set. They travel in packs. Like rats or killer whales. No, rats don’t travel in packs. More like hordes.
“Oh sweetie! We’re here!. Hold my hand. My heart is racing. I’m like a schoolgirl.”
“Here you go.”
Of course Chris was quiet. It was only our third date and I brought him to meet my dad. We had those funny drinks Dad made. He remembered I liked them. Orange and lime juice, vodka and raspberry sherbert. Tropical sunset. All the best for my little girl. Chris drank his beer. It’s not like anybody but Julie got to talk anyway.
Look over there. Tweed jacket. Those shoulders. Don’t look.
Make Him Come to You!
“Is Carol Anne around?”
“Somewhere. Not here. Not right now.”
Chase, the legendary fiance’ of Julia, the one with a good job and better prospects, took the step closer than comfortable that he always took towards Celia.
“I need to check with her. See if I’m needed,” Celia said. She stared over his shoulder at the wide open double doors between the reception room and a ball room filled with rows of chairs for the ceremony. An open door. A deep breath. It was alright. The cops made her sit in a holding room. When you’re a victim you are part of the deal as far as the cops are concerned. It sucks to be a victim was a lesson you were supposed to learn. Chase was still saying something. He put a soon to be something like a brother in lawish hand on Celia’s shoulder. The touch of his fingers on her bare skin scalded a hidden place in Celia. Her breath and heart beat sped up and her eyes were sure the ballroom doors were sliding closed. She stepped away from Chase quickly and firmly.
“Are you alright?” He tried to send the hand back to her shoulder and she pivoted out of reach.
“Yes. I’m just looking for someone.”
“Where’s your boyfriend? What’s this one’s name? Karl?”
“Chris. And he’s just someone I’ve been seeing.”
“You’re so mature Celia. I could never date around with different guys like you do. I’m just a simple girl.” This came from Carol Anne, who must have been lurking, waiting for the right moment to step up to Chase’s side. She wore a tastefully less extravagant version of Julia’s dress.
Who am I. Cinderella? Cast to an evil stepmom and her vile brood? Go take a walk. Escape these two, maybe get lucky and suffer a tragic accident before the ceremony. Who could have foreseen? Impossible really to know. Each moment could be our last. Is our last really, at least for that moment. High school science. All our cells are replaced every few years. Who was it chained in the back of that car? How many times have I got to tell myself there were no actual chains in involved? Just an old pair of handcuffs belonged to his uncle the retired state trooper. Some rope. That and he was so strong. I am not the Chain Girl. She was an illusion invented to sum up a story and make it more compelling. The sin of our age. We trade endorphin hits for the nuance of what is real. What could be real. What could be marvelous if we would only accept our truth and our possibilities.
“We gotta go. Almost ready to start. Your Dad is already back stage.”
Fine. Go. Take Mr. Prefab handsome boyfriend with you. I’ll just sit here by myself. Let her stand by her mom in their ivy green dresses. I’ll just sit over her in fucshia. Give it a minute and catch Chase looking. Glare back at him. Make him feel bad about himself for a change.
Dad looks nervous. Biting his lips, shoulders hunched like he’s some old scarecrow guarding a field. Who are those guys with him? Softball buddies. Oh yeah the one on the end. What’s his name? Mac. Mac something. Tried to hit on me at the barbecue last summer. Said he could treat me right. Make me feel special. I’ll bet. Nothing makes a girl feel special like a forty five minute fuck, shower and goodbye on a Saturday afternoon when the wife and kids think he just ran out to the hardware store. Dad. What are you doing? Still, not his fault. You date, he marries. Love is all around us. Just sign here Mr. Wilkins. Your new family. We’d have liked to have you in the party Celia but Julia didn’t know if it was right. What with all and all. What all is that? And then Julia with her, oh I’m so sorry, but now there’s no time to find a dress and to be honest ever since my second divorce I always thought I would want my daughter to stand up for me. It’s just a silly fantasy I had. Really you can understand can’t you? Indulge a girl? You could be an usher. An usher? For you? I’m so honored but no thank you. No thank you very much. Well then. Alright. Even though you are not my daughter I’ll always think of you like a daughter and we’ll make sure we take extra pictures to include you. Whatever.
God the preacher is a prig. Where’d I get that word? Must be a book. A priggish prig stood before the assembled about to be blended families and pronounced the words that would forever take her father away from her. At least until the next time he called in the middle of the night to say he’d been locked out of his own house and could he come crash on her couch. Thanks a lot little girl.
Here we go. Always surprises me that weddings aren’t longer than they are. Everybody all worked up and the whole thing is over in fifteen minutes. Nice gazing up at Dad Julia. And life takes many different paths. Damn right it does. You got that right Mr. Preacher man. Almost done. Saved a seat for him. Just in case he’s the one. Chris. Right. Just in case nobody here had noticed that I was all by myself at my Father’s wedding I saved an empty seat for my latest hearthrob not to fill. What’s with the old fashioned words? Not that it is his heart that throbs. Chris. Admit it. You knew he wasn’t coming this morning when you woke from the dream about him that you let slip away and walked across the room naked. Always thrilled when you can walk into or out of any room. No chain on your leg. There was never a chain on your leg. Except every idiot who owned a TV back then thought you had been chained up. Does that mean there is an alternate universe where you were chained up? Actually it does and in fact that alternative universe has a lot more people living in it than the one you live in. In your world the central fact remains clear. Your boyfriend handcuffed you and threw you in the trunk of his car and drove you for an hour – an hour you are still living smelling your own pee, afraid if you puked into the gag you would choke, choking on fumes and the smell of oil. And I’m supposed to care if Mr. But really I do love the time we spend together doesn’t call.
Number 15 – Sit alone at your Father’s fourth wedding and make sure you look way hotter than your new evil stepsister; not that that is hard or anything.
Third. His third. Why can’t I remember that?
Are they done yet? Richard Carter and Julie Haight pledge to give it a decent shot at finding some sort of emotional sexual bond that might last more than a few years. The dress looks nice on her though. She knows something about herself, taking a chance like that and making it pay off. Hello Chase! Caught you looking! Think about that tonight when you are trying to make it happen for little miss fussy britches. Make it happen. That was Keith’s line. He did too. Made it happen for me. So I threw away my future and nearly my life because he made me come the first time. Sure felt like love to me. Why don’t they teach you this stuff in school? I mean if it’s called Sex Education teach us about sex. What to do. Why to do it. How not to get in terrible trouble because you are a human being. How to tell the truth. I knew two girls in high school got pregnant before they ever got off with a boy. What kind of educational system is that? Actually, I did throw away my life. I just got lucky and got away. Lucky. Handucuffed in a locked room in cabin and you called yourself lucky? Well. In a way. If he had been halfway nice I might still be living in that cabin. Raising his kids while he sneaks away to make some other girl feel special. What a lucky gal I am. Just spend the rest of my life afraid to be in a room with closed doors. That court counselor said it all happened because my Father wasn’t available. How can anybody say my father is not available? I’m sitting here killing time trying to get a shaming flirt going with my new stepsister’s boyfriend at my Dad’s fourth wedding. He is available.
Third. This one is the third.
When He Wants Everyone But You!
Til death do you part. Great! Almost done. Til death if you’re lucky. How depressing. No wonder so many divorces. You are marrying your own death. I only dated mine. Smart cookie. Old time thoughts. Saw that once in a graveyard Together in Death. Skeleton hands wrapped together. Nice kiss Dad! Go for it! Life beats death one more time. Of course death makes all the rules. Who cares. It’s not life or death. Even life and death aren’t life and death. Screw you
Chris. I am getting so drunk tonight. Give me a bucket for the ride home.
The cake was the traditional three white cakes of descending girth piled atop one another on miniature Greek pillars. Icing vines the nearly exact color of Julia’s dress twisted up the sides in graceful leafy curls and loops. On top were miniature manikins, handmade by Carol Anne. One mimicking her mother. The hand sewn green dress an exact duplicate in virtually every way of the actual gown swirling around the actual Julia. The red hair of the doll was real hair of Julia someone whispered to Celia as the great moment of cake cutting was awaited by the gathered circle of the nearest and dearest. This made Celia’s back of the neck hair raise and skin chill with thoughts of voodoo and black magic. The doll beside her was an average man just slightly taller than his doll wife. He wore a tuxedo and had hair of yellow and eyes of blue and a cherry colored mouth in a perfect cupid’s bow curl. This doll struck Celia as a bit odd since her father, the actual brand new husband of the actual Julia stood a full head higher than his darling vegetatively clothed bride. And his hair and eyes were brown and brown respectively.
“It’s a conceptual thing,” Carol Anne said when Celia commented on the discrepancy.
They made sure I didn’t get to talk to him before the ceremony and they couldn’t be bothered to get his hair right on the cake. That’s that. Well, I’m not coming over to sweep the cinders from their fireplace. I’ve got my own pumpkin of a life. Plenty of rats too. Where’s the booze. I’m already thinking like a drunk. I may as well be one.
Julia let go Richard’s hand and raised the knife to the highest level of the cake. Celia’s phone buzzed silently through the thin walls of the purse slung against her hip.
About time he called. She backed out of the festive group as the chatter and hum of excited expectation built to a cake cutting climax.
“How’s it going?” Chris asked.
“Oh just fine. Everything is just fine.”
“Good. Uh. Look, uh I can’t make the wedding but if you’re not doing anything later you can stop by.”
Cheers from the circled assembled blotted out Celia’s reply. It had been, “OK. Sure. What time?” Chris was good at one thing, and only one thing. At least as far as Celia could observe from her limited perspective on his life. That one thing was actually many things, it was the stroking of his just slightly calloused hands (rowing was one of his activities,) across the softness of her inner thighs. It was the way tongue and fingers worked on her until she forgot the hassles of her day, the memories of her week, the darkness and terror she had brought upon her slut bitch self, ( But those were Keith’s words following her across the years. They would follow her to her grave, in fact nearly had) Chris could make her forget and float to a clenching quivering rising moment when all life spread out around her and it all inexplicably made a kind of sense. You have to give the guy credit. Actually don’t never give a guy credit. At least not the type of guy you end up with.
Are they ever going to stop cheering? Damn. What I like about Chris is it’s all one thing. I don’t give two specks of a damn for him. He must know. We could be two different people doing the same things to each other. As long as we do those things. Oh yes. As long as he can make me feel good about it. That bit of sadness that it really doesn’t matter, that’s real too. Like spice on the cherry on top. Nothing matters. What matters is that at a time Chris is giving me permission to name, as long as it is sufficiently after tonight’s hockey playoff game to give him time to grab a burger and head home, he will take me where I long to go.
“I didn’t hear that? You coming over?”
But something’s different. Has the light in the room changed?
“That’s alright Chris. Maybe some other night. I don’t know how long I’ll be here.”
And upon saying those words she knew she would never see Chris again. Unless she did. But that wouldn’t matter either. She was free of him. They hung up friends, but she had heard heartbreak and disappointment in his sure, whatever, I’ll call you sometime voice. Celia for her part, remembered that due to the recent flourishing of her father’s business concerns this wedding’s bar was an open bar.
“Manhattan. Two Cherries.”
“Who’s the other one for?” The bartender asked. “Or is that a mystery?”
“I”ll tell you after my second one.”
Nice eyes on that one. Brown and round and soulfull. I’ll be back soon.
But when she went back it was a girl about her age pouring the drinks. Macsomebody showed up just as Celia was stuffing a bill into the tip jar.
“Come here often? How are you?” He said, rushing into the mundane comment when saw her mouth slant towards a frown at his attempt to be cute and familiar.
“I can tell. How many is that?” He pointed to the drink.
“Just my second.”
“Plenty of time.”
Nothing now was said. The band washed the air with thundering power chords. Celia smiled. Dad had won at least one battle in the long wedding planning campaign.
“I’m really sorry about hitting on you that time.”
What did you think? Chain Girl from the news was just waiting for your gentle fatherly touch to set me free from bondage to my mind demons? What did you think? Oh whatever. You didn’t think. Why should a guy think when it might get in the way of him perhaps getting lucky?
“It’s nothing. Really.”
“I just want you to know...”
And from his pleading tone and thinning hair, from the way he leaned in close smelling slightly of sweat, face red with something she probably did not want to name – from the very quality of his need Celia had an instant inspiration and reached out a finger and laid it on his lips.
“Don’t. Don’t say anything else. Ever. To me. I’ll fucking tell just for the hell of it.”
And that ends the Macsomebody problem. I’m rolling now. This drink is short. No I’m drinking fast. Mmmm. I love pulping the cherry. Dad. What’s with the second rate bourbon. Oh well. If he’s that on his game maybe he remembered to do a prenup.
“Where’s Carol Anne?”
“Cool. Want to dance.”
“It’s a slow one.”
What’s with you? Think if you talk like you’re in a magazine your life will turn out like one? Why not? Why the carefree feeling not? I want to live in the advertisements. Or at least have another one of those drinks.
“Your father picked the band? “ Chase asked.
Nice arm placement. I’m melting. I see what the wicked witch sees in him. Sure, it’s fine if our hips flow together. Just a little bit.
“Probably the last decision he will make until he picks his lawyer for the divorce.”
“Don’t you wish.”
Rendered him speechless. Nice light on his cheekbones though. And that outdoorsy smell. I am in an ad. Second Chance Perfume. When everybody in the room knows you were once cuffed to a bed in a cabin in the woods.
“It’s just that after the second it starts to feel like a routine. Like, let’s be married for a while. It’s something to do.” There. Cynicism masking a deeper yearning for romanticism. A yearning that can only be filled by....
“Did you tell him that?”
“Mostly I just listen. He thinks I’m a wonderful listener.” What am I doing? I’m talking about marriage and my Dad! We should be talking about smoky meetings in secluded romantic settings. Hints of what might come. Or not. It doesn’t matter to me. Nothing matters to me. Until. Until the passion that ripped a family apart was exposed at Julia’s Christmas party. Yeah. Right before they carve the turkey. Interrupt the toast. I’m sorry. Chase and I thought we could contain ourselves in an affair, but it has become more than that. I’m sorry Carol Anne. Sorry for your hurt feelings. Through her tears she will look pleadingly at me. Begging. Or I could just play out the fantasy in thirty seconds of dancing. Less people get hurt that way.
“He needs you.”
“He needs something.” Chase’s eyes went away. Light years. Galaxies seperated them now. He turned her one last time and there was Carol Anne with arms uncrossing to basically push Celia away.
“I’ll take my boyfriend back now.”
“Sure... I “ But they were gone. Swirling away sharing a laugh, putting rapid distance between them and Celia.
Which number is this. Four? I was going to stop at four. That makes eight cherries. I know what I should do at the next wedding. Save the stems and count them and divide by two. And whipped cream on top! But did I call? What did I tell Chris? You lousy bastard come over here and get me. Take me I mean. What did he say? Wait. I need not wonder. I can check the phone. Here. Nothing. I didn’t call yet. Thought I called. I remembered calling. Some other night. Some other girl calling some other guy.
“Daddy. At last.”
“Sorry honey, big day.”
“Daddy was I ever a big day for you?”
“Now honey. Don’t you start.”
“How would you know if I started?
“I called you all those times. You could have answered. You could have returned my calls.”
“I could have.”
“It’s my wedding day.”
“And I came to this one too. Didn’t I? You cheap ass college not paying for slime sucking bastard.”
“Celia. You have had enough.”
“Nice of you to notice.”
Well. There. Good bye for now. Handled that well. Damn. Oh look, they are coming for me. Probably already calling the car. Quick, run away. Escape. Hey. You’ll do.
Good moves on him. Damn. He’s like sixteen years old. Well got to start somewhere. Oh he probably already has. What is the world coming too. Not to me. That much is true. Got to go for it. Change the energy. Your inner will come alive!
Celia twice caught Chase looking at her as she danced. She looked to him a third time and fell right over somebody’s grandma’s leg and hit the ground. Hard. There was no blood, but quite a bit of consternation. At that point Julia arranged for Chase to put Celia in a car.
“I’m gonna throw up.”
“Hey,” said the driver.
“Here,” said Chase. Handing Celia a couple twenties.
All in good funds. Be a sport. Share the wealth. C’mon Chase help me out here. Don’t be afraid to touch me. What do I have? Amnesty? No wait. That’s not a disease. Oh well. Chase is a creep but he smells nice. No wonder he makes all that money. Now the next task is to ride home without throwing up. Life always presents a challenge. Bye bye everybody. See you next time.
You’re kind of cute Mr. Driver. And you are the type that knows it. He likes knowing that lock of hair hangs across this forehead when he checks his phone. That’s right. Shave every other day. Devil may care. C’mon guy. You’ve got a drunk hottie in the back of your car. Pay some attention.
Kids. I’m going to tell you the story of how your mother and father met. Mommy was drunk because her arrogant scuzzball boyfriend, (really we were just dating) stood her up at her Daddy, that’s grandpa’s, fourth wedding. Now mommy lost the twenty dollar bills her new almost brother in law that she had kind of been flirting with gave her to pay for the car ride home. So she had to do some sex with the driver to get back to her apartment. Now mommy was so good at sex that the driver reported his car broken down and took the rest of the night off. And that driver was your Daddy!
Make the Magic Last!
He doesn’t even look up when I laugh out of the blue. Probably afraid I’m crazy. Gets a lot of that. Girls throwing themselves at him because he’s got that little curl to his lip and oh the angle of his sideburns. He should see what I had going on when I was sixteen. Perfection of youth. Drove a boy crazy. Or at least to crime.
Oh well. Nothing for you driver boy. I’ve got these twenties somebody put in my hand. They are going in my purse. Whoever called this car is paying for it. Thanks Daddy. There. Pull out a five for you Mr. Driver. Hey. Maybe I turned a profit on the night. So goodbye Mr. too hot and too busy to make eye contact in the mirror. Take your modest tip.
“Here. Can you sit here until I get to the door? This neighborhood.”
“Sure. Whatever.” Tap. Tap. Tap. What is he doing? Writing the story of his life to some girl. I hope she appreciates it. I hope she appreciates him. I hope he appreciates her. I hope the whole world just melts into a big ball of appreciation.
“I’m over it you know. I’m over all of it.”
When there is nothing more to say!
“I’m going to go upstairs and take care of myself. For a change.”
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