John A. Ward
I am discovering things almost too late in life for them to benefit me. For instance, eternity and women are not what I thought they were. I spent most of my prepubescent life in church where I learned nothing practical. I thought it was a way to get in touch with God and eternity, to save myself. From what, I don’t know, being mortal I guess. Church has a way of convincing its members that they are eternal. By the time I was twenty-one I defected to the mortal life. It is no coincidence that I met Anne about that time.
Another reason people go to church is singing. Churches are full of singing. I had plenty of evidence that I couldn’t sing. I knew from the pained expressions on the faces of my pew mates that if I kept making my joyful noise in the ears of the faithful I was going to hell. So I left church and never sang again.
That eliminated the third reason for going to church, meeting other people. Churches are good for that, but so are dance halls, writer’s groups and bookstores. Once when I was in Bookstop with Anne, I got several stacks away and lost my bearings. I saw a hand reach for the audio book shelf and take something. I said without thinking, “Whatcha got there, Babe?” She turned and I realized it wasn’t Anne. My mind flashed, I’m in trouble. Here it is the age of liberation and I’ve called a woman I don’t know from Eve, Babe. Then she showed me what she had and smiled. Then I knew that I was in even bigger trouble than I thought.
It was such a friendly smile, I wanted to invite her to coffee at the EZ Diner next door, but how would I explain it to Anne, only a few stacks away? I said, “Oh sorry, I thought you were someone else,” and beat a hasty retreat. I found Anne and said, “Got what you want? Good. Let’s get on line.”
“I was going to look some more,” she said.
“No, let’s get out of here now,” I said.
We’ve made it a running gag. “Whatcha got there, Babe,” I say and she laughs. I like to do it in the morning when she’s brushing her hair in the mirror, fresh from the shower and naked. “Whatcha got there, Babe,” and I kiss her on the neck. If she has the hot curling iron wound in her hair, she squeals and jumps away, but if I catch her between waves, she turns her head and smiles, our lips meet and the morning fills with sunshine and birdsong.
Who would have believed anything that blatant would be effective? Anne says it’s because I look friendly and innocent. When I do something like that, it’s cute, not offensive. So I am collecting my bon mots, storing them up for the next life in case I don’t meet Anne again.
John A. Ward was born on Staten Island, attended Wagner College in the early ’60s, sold his first poem to Leatherneck magazine for $10, and became a biomedical scientist. He is now in San Antonio running, writing and living with his dance partner. E-mail: jaward04[at]sbcglobal.com.