“Jesus Christ,” is all Roz says, throwing her cigarette in my rose garden. The way she shakes her head in that helmet, I can barely see her eyes. I know I’ve disappointed her again. You don’t want to disappoint a woman like Roz. She can get so angry, kicking over chairs, throwing plates, screaming such things as Cock sucker pig and Mother fucking asshole and You want me to skin your balls. It can be a bit disturbing. All of that in your face. I didn’t grow up that way in Pleasantdale, Utah. Which is why I probably like Roz. She’s a little bit naughty. And it’s all my fault.
“Take off your fucking clothes,” she says. But it is Sunday morning. The neighbors are out, Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow in their garden, Mr. Smith with his paper and in slippers. I tell her to keep her voice down. This is the wrong thing to do.
She tears her helmet off and hurls it into my rhododendron bush calling me a Cock fucking pig. The neighbors lift their eyebrows, Mr. Smith actually holding his chest. He has heart problems.
One Sunday, after service at Sunnyside Ward, Mother and Father sat me down.
“It’s for your own good,” Father said, his hand on my shoulder.
I nodded right along with him.
Mother kept her face toward the wall because this was rather uncomfortable. A frank discussion on perverse sexuality right after lunch.
“I know,” I said, trying to smile.
The sun hit the windows of our kitchen hard. The gingham curtains were pulled back. The Wasatch Mountains had a layer of new snow on the tips.
Father kept his hand on my shoulder.
I knew not to look up into his face. I couldn’t cry anymore. “Fresh snow,” I said, but nobody turned to see.
“You look very beautiful this morning,” I say between shit eating and break your goddamn ass. My poor rhododendron bush.
Roz smiles. “Fuck you.” She can be so enchanting.
“A lovely day for brunch and beach,” I say, looking at the clear blue sky, no clouds. “Perhaps we should bring a bit of sunscreen. Ultraviolet rays can be so damaging.”
But she’s not listening. She’s staring at my face. Her eyes are slitted. “No.” She purses her lips together.
I should kiss her but I’m not a big fan of bright red lipstick. Especially in the morning. If the color gets on my teeth, I’ll have to brush again and then there are the neighbors eyeing Roz’s motorcycle in the middle of my lawn. Roz pulls off her bra and flings it overhead.
“A beautiful day,” I add. Her mouth opens wide. I get afraid. Of all the juiciness inside her. The moist tongue sponging my teeth. The dribbles, oh, the dribbles when she’s done with me. I think, Oh Jesus, give me strength, I can do this. “A lovely day,” I say.
She has lipstick on one tooth. She smells of strong coffee and Tic Tacs.
I bite my tongue.
“Come here,” Roz demands.
I know what she’ll do with me. I just know it.
“Why?” My mother had asked me, after Father had retired for the evening.
“It’s not your fault,” I said again.
But she wouldn’t hear it. She shook her head slowly in the dimness of my bedroom. “Son…” She wore the slippers I’d bought her last year, the silky tied ones in bright red, her favorite color, the color of cherries, the color of love, the color of her lipstick.
“I love you,” I told her.
“And I, you.” But she didn’t kiss me goodnight. She only held her hand against my forehead as if looking for a fever, some sign of sickness.
“Hello, Tobey!” I cry out to the teenage neighbor boy eyeing us.
Roz turns her attention to him as I back away from her lips. Tobey is six-foot-three, a football star, and his pants drag in the dirt. He never hikes them up at all.
“Yo, that a Harley?” Tobey slinks over to us in bare feet, nodding his head back and forth. His neck cracks.
“Hell right it is!” Roz shoots her fist up in the air.
“Nice.” He eyes her with a mouth that never smiles and squares his shoulders. He runs his fingers over the chrome. Back and forth, back and forth.
Roz smiles. Her lips are wide and wet.
Tobey pulls at his crotch, cupping and uncupping.
“Nice,” she says right back.
“Shoot,” I whisper. I head toward Roz, ready to kiss her. Ready to let her stick her tongue into my mouth like she likes. Ready to let her lift me up off the porch, swing me around a little. But she shoves me right out of the way.
“You want a ride, little boy?” She sticks her breasts out at Tobey.
He takes a long look. His forehead bristles.
I’m sure he’s noticing the tip of her tattoo on her large breasts, the eagle with talons rising straight up from between Big Hewie and Louie. She’s named her breasts. She loves to smash my face into them.
“Yeah,” he says, smiling finally. His braces shine in the sun, silver squares on each tooth. I know not to wonder about what all that metal tastes like.
“We have plans,” I tell Tobey.
He doesn’t even look at me.
So I walk closer to Roz and rest my hand along her shoulder, press my thumb into her thick bicep. She wants to tattoo my name, Jiggy Joe, on her skin. I told her no. I’m not Jiggy Joe. It’s just a nickname she made up for me. I’m Charles. But she thinks Charles sounds like a fag name. Which isn’t nice. But I didn’t tell her so.
“He’s my bitch,” she winks, grabbing my behind and squeezing. She watches Tobey’s face still. He has teenage chin hairs. “Hop on,” she finally says, smacking me out of the way.
“Roz, this is not a such a good plan,” I say.
But Tobey’s thumbs are already hooked around her waist.
Mother used to let me wear her stilettos on afternoons Father volunteered at Temple.
“Just for a little bit,” she’d tell me and I’d happily agree to whatever she said.
We had tea parties on the living room floor and sat on Great-Grandmother Essie’s quilt, making sure not to allow even one crumb on the interlocking wedding circles. Mother would brush my hair back from my face. Her fingers in my hair were almost as delicious as the sweetened tea and gingersnaps.
“It’s our little secret,” she said. Soon, I was wearing her silk bathrobe and putting on lipstick, Mother and I giggling as we kept the curtains closed tight and the afternoon sun out of our house on 21 Sunnyside Lane.
Roz comes back a half hour later with all that bright red lipstick gone. Tobey wipes his mouth as her Harley motorcycle rumbles, setting off all the car alarms. Tobey’s mother walks toward me with her hands on her hips. Mr. Smith is on a ladder with his binoculars. The Sparrows sit in lawn chairs with their Bible open. Everyone is frowning.
“Next party, Roz,” Tobey says.
Roz flashes him her chest. Luckily her back is turned so the neighbors don’t see those eagles.
This just doesn’t happen in this neighborhood. Especially on Sunday mornings. I guess I’ll have to make my Macadamia Double Chocolate brownies for everyone. I like to be a good neighbor.
“Get on, Jiggy Joe,” Roz says. She hands me a black helmet emblazoned with KICK ASS across the front.
I realize I can’t irritate Roz any further and I hop on. It’s against my better judgment.
Branches explode over our heads. The road rushes at my face. Rocks spin under her wheels. She’s going too fast. I’m about to die. I can’t seem to hold enough of Roz’s leather. My helmet is too large for my head. It knocks back and forth against her back. She doesn’t keep her eyes on the road. The helmet tints the world black and it reeks of sweat and blood and something feral. I have to breathe through my mouth. Which is very difficult. Because now I’m fogging up my vision. The White Mountains are one big green blur.
I close my eyes. “We’re not going to the beach, are we?”
But she can’t hear me.
“No brunch either,” I whisper to my chest.
I hope for the end. An easy death. My skin peeled from my body. Arms and legs being torn off on asphalt. Flung to the ditches covered in poison ivy and sunflowers.
Then, there’s a blast of horn. An explosion of them.
Roz and I are in a rush of dust and shredded air. It seems to be some sort of thunderstorm, a freak New Hampshire tornado. A crash is imminent, death, destruction, complete annihilation, so I scream. Right into Roz’s back as she careen/slides into a stop, Help me Jesus, don’t let me die like this, get me out of here to someplace else Jesus…
Roz screams out, “Fucking A… Holy Shit.”
“Who the hell is this?” a voice says.
I can’t see him through the dust. I think that maybe it is Jesus himself, and I’m dead, and He’s angry because I’m on a motorcycle, and I promised my dying mother that I’d never ride on a motorcycle and now here I am dead from one.
But it’s not Jesus. It’s Rocko.
There were girls. Many of them. But truly, they were my friends. We sat at lunch together at East High School and watched the parade of boys going by. The girls would whisper their secrets. Especially Beth. She was my favorite.
“I saw him with his shirt off at Liberty Park,” Beth said directly into my ear. “He has a pierced nipple.”
“No,” I said, forgetting to whisper.
“Shhh…” She pulled me closer and she smelled of baby powder and lemons. Fresh and clean like my house. “I wonder if he’s pierced his…”
“Stop.” I followed Daniel with my eyes as he loaded his lunch tray with chips and soda and pizza and three chocolate chip cookies. His shirt was untucked and hanging. When he leaned over for a brownie, there was a shadow of hair. I imagined his belly button harboring a gold hoop earring through pink skin. “Just stop.”
But she wouldn’t.
She just wouldn’t stop.
Rocko straddles a Harley. His face is like a scalpel. He is encased in ripped leather. Bald and gleaming, he’s the biggest man I’ve ever seen. I can’t say a word.
“Jiggy Joe,” Roz shouts.
I wave one small finger.
“My Mormon sexpot.”
“Shit.” Rocko’s voice is filled with charcoal, scratched and ready.
I try to take my helmet off but my fingers don’t seem to work. “Actually, it’s—” I want to say Charles, but sweat pours into my eyes. It stings so much. I can’t get my bandanna out of the back pocket of my shorts to wipe my brow. My Speedo is soaking wet underneath my Hawaiian print shorts.
Rocko’s hands come at me. He twists my neck and yanks. That helmet nearly rips the ears off of my head. There’s buzzing now. I’m a little dizzy. A bit sick to my stomach because I didn’t eat breakfast, just a glass of juice. I need water. I’m confused.
“Where are we?” I hold my ears.
But Roz is already gone, jumping on the back of some man covered in chains. That man also wears a raccoon hat.
“See this?” Rocko asks. It’s a knife. It’s serrated.
“Twelve goddamn inches.” He slides his thumb down the length of it, drawing blood. A thick red spot right next to my Topsiders.
I hold my throat. “Oh…”
He smacks me on the back. Coughs a hot laugh against my cheek. “Just fucking with you, buddy,” he says, smiling. Even his mouth is huge. He spits right on top of that blood, mixing it to pink.
I just stare and stare at it.
“Where you from?”
“Originally, from Utah, but now I’m residing—”
“Which planet, Dude?” Another smoky cough.
“Ahh…” I say. Then, “New Hampshire now.”
“He fucking needs help, don’t he?” Roz comes up behind me and runs her hands up my thighs, nearly over my scrotum and underneath my tank top. She pulls at my belly hair. Which hurts a little bit.
The morning before my appointment at the Clinic, Mother made me a full lumberjack breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, pancakes and sausage.
“It’s too much,” I said, shaking my head.
“Eat it,” Father nodded. He pushed at my fork.
I usually ate Cheerios with banana. Drank a small glass of orange juice, fresh squeezed if there was time before school. “Okay,” I said, that plate overflowing with shining links mashed together with browned potatoes, greased and ready.
Mother poured a large glass of milk for Father and as he drank it, he closed his eyes.
The egg felt spongy in my mouth. The pancakes were leaden.
“You’ll need your energy,” Father said. He had a milk mustache that Mother wiped off with the edge of her apron.
“Don’t worry,” I told him.
He folded his chin into his chest, his bald spot shining at the top of his skull, pink as baby skin.
“Roz, baby,” Rocko says, pulling both of us into his chest. My nose presses into his underarm as he shakes us left and right, up and down. Roz screeches right into my ear, which still is buzzing from the helmet fiasco. “Whatever you need, girl. You know that.”
The world spins when I’m set down. It’s a field of trampled grass and rutted paths leading to a ramshackle house. Milling dogs and goats and chickens mix with bare-breasted women dancing in circles with their arms held high. Tents and huts and motorcycles spread wide. Dust rises. There are hoarse high yelps coming from the woods nearby. Men are staring, lighting up pinched cigarettes, and staring. At me.
Roz tears the front of my shirt open and grins at Rocko.
“I’ll set him up,” he says. “Come on, man.”
When I leave, Roz sticks her hands down the raccoon hatted man’s pants.
I follow Rocko up the stairs and into the house.
“Please,” Beth had pleaded on the phone. “Please.”
That was the third time she’d called that evening and Mother was getting a bit perturbed. Again? Mother had mouthed, but Father told her to stop as he smiled over his newspaper.
“Fine,” I said. Which was a mistake.
“It’ll be fun.”
But we both knew we were playing with fire. Going to that party on the Salt Flats.
“Just for a little bit,” I told her.
“Just until I see Daniel,” she said. “And you give him my note.”
“A disaster waiting to happen,” I said, but she’d already hung up.
Mother peered over at me, “She seems to like you,” she said.
“Of course she does, June,” Father said.
I walked upstairs to my room.
I slide leather chaps over my shorts. A fringed jacket hangs over my ripped tank top. It’s Roz’s old boyfriend’s—a crane operator named Donnie who lifted cement truck tires in his spare time. They met on the site where Roz was the flag girl. They had Harleys and Maine Coon cats in common. Sadly, she caught him with the woman who rode the dumpster truck and that was it, she tried to light him on fire with her Bic lighter. She threw it right at him. That must be why one side of this jacket is charred, the skull and crossbones burnt down, barely visible. Rocko tells me this as he throws leather clothes at me.
“It’s all my fault,” I tell Rocko.
“What?” Rocko asks.
“She was a married woman and now look at her.”
Roz presses her breasts against the window glass. The raccoon man comes up behind her and nuzzled her neck.
“Take off those fucking pants, man.”
I start sliding those chaps off.
He bites a piece of his fingernail off and spits it on the floor. “You know why you’re here?” he asks.
His eyes never leave my face. I can hear the band just starting up. Someone smashes glass on the floor just outside our door. “Shit. You don’t even know.”
“This is a nice place,” I say.
“How’d you two meet?” Rocko raises his eyebrows.
“I tried to convert her.”
“A happier person.”
“Roz is happy, man.” He points to my zipper.
I unzip it slowly.
“You looking for a soulmate?”
He stares at my Speedos so I look down too. They’re still in place. That’s the good thing about Speedos. Why they cost a bit more than other brands.
“More or less, I suppose.” I twiddle my head around because Rocko comes close to me, then away, then does it again, finally leaning against the wall. It’s a little disconcerting.
“Wrong answer, man.” Rocko says.
I slide the leather up and buckle it tight across my crotch.
Rocko just shakes his head. “You ain’t got a chance in hell here.”
“Okay,” I say.
The wind had blown hard off the Salt Lake. There was a smell of dead brine shrimp and diesel pick up trucks. The bonfire was lit high with old tires and broken beer bottles. Kelly and Brenda, wearing miniskirts, danced around the flames. One girl had her shirt off. Her brassiere was bright white in the moonlight.
“We should go back,” I told Beth.
“Kiss me,” she said.
“No,” I told her but she pushed her hand inside my shirt. She gyrated to truck radio bass. Her tongue slipped in and out of my mouth.
“Stop,” I told her. “Cut it out.” Then I saw him—Daniel—watching her with me. He was leaning against his pick up. He was laughing. “He’s here,” I said between Beth’s tongue thrusts.
“I know,” she said. “Now push me away.” When I didn’t, she slammed my shoulders, and I toppled over into the crusted dirt.
I watched her walk over to Daniel.
But he was bringing a beer over to me.
“Hey.” Roz slams into the room, her vest off. Hewie and Louie are right there next to me. Those nipples are round as apples, the right one pierced with a turquoise ring. “Hey.” She jostles up close. I know I should touch them like she likes. Weigh them in my hands. But I don’t because her eyes are looking directly into Rocko’s. He sighs, grabs Hewie (or is it Louie?) and squeezes and releases. Squeezes and releases. His thumbs are wide over her skin.
“Oh, give it up, asshole,” Roz says, laughing. She looks me over, shaking her head. “He needs something.” She pokes my chest.
“Snap those chaps, dude,” Rocko tells me.
“Actually, I’m thinking the chaps are not quite right,” I say.
“He don’t know a thing,” Rocko says.
“Here. Watch this.” She turns to me and puckers her lips. They’re orange now and freshly applied.
This time I don’t wait. I open wide and let her roam around in there. Her tongue tastes like whiskey, smoke, salty mix of nuts and onion dip mixing with my Dentyne gum. It’s awful. I gasp for air and can’t help it. I dance my little jig of wiping my mouth and shaking my shoulders until I straighten all my thoughts out again. Feel wiped clean.
“See?” she says. “Jiggy Joe.”
“Maybe I do want a soulmate.” I reach for Roz’s hand but she slaps me in the face. Rather hard. She does that sometimes. I don’t especially like it.
“You’re not my soulmate. You’re a fucking prig.”
“Mrs. Wil—” I say. “Roz, I mean.” I hold my hands to my cheeks as she storms out.
“What the hell’s wrong with you, Jiggy Joe?” Rocko’s laughing as he lifts a leather flask up to his lips. “Here. It’ll take the edge off.”
I press the flask to my lips, trying not to think about the germs, of alcohol and saliva mixed. “My name’s actually Charles,” I say.
Rocko shrugs. “We give each other names here.”
I look straight ahead at Rocko’s black jelly eyes.
“I’m actually Walter.” He hands me a sweat-stained headband with EVIL written in red ink. “I teach at White Mountain Preschool.”
“Wow.” I pull my leather chaps all the way up. “I’d have never guessed that in a million years.”
“This is delightful,” I say, rubbing my chaps.
“Come on.” Rocko just pushes me out of the door. “Time for you to get on board the love train.”
Mother started to cry in the waiting room, so Father told her to go wait outside until she could calm herself. The walls were painted blue. The plastic chairs were black. There were Field and Stream, Motorcycle Racer, Gearhead, and American Cars magazines strewn across the tables. A clock ticked and a water cooler gurgled and Father cracked his neck. I didn’t dare ask to use the restroom. I was wearing my best suit and had shined my shoes right after breakfast, covering over any smudges with deep black dye.
“After this, how about Friendly’s?” Father asked in his low voice, the one he uses in Temple.
“Sounds good,” I told him.
He handed me a Field and Stream, although neither one of us are hunters.
Oh my is all I can say when we get back into the kitchen. There are naked girls everywhere. At all angles. They have sweaty shoulders and dusty knees. Roz is being passed side to side, back and forth, and her lips have changed colors, purple to pale to red to orange depending on the man she’s kissing or sitting on. She smiles over at me. The music fades in and out. I walk over to her, holding the flask. She tells me to get the hell away from her. Someone hands me a bottle of scotch and I stare at the amber liquid. I try to find my face but there’s nothing. No eyes, no mouth, no hair, nothing. I’m invisible.
“Hop on,” a woman with a large mouth says, rubbing my thigh.
“Where?” I ask and the laughter starts.
“Anywhere you want, Leatherman.”
I put the flask and scotch down.
She offers me her breasts. They look like flat platters of nipples and dimples in the florescent light. She has metallic eyelashes. Her eyes say, “I’m so very tired, so very, very tired.”
I stand there, waiting. I cross my arms. Hum a little tune and try not to look at that man sucking on Roz. “How about some pinochle?” I suggest.
“What the fuck?”
“You think you’re too good?” she asks. “Too fucking good for me?” Her eyes flare then dim.
“Oh, no.” She seems very nice. She wears a wedding band and gold earrings. Her hair is a mass of spiky gray curls. “My girlfriend is here.” But Roz is leaving. She walks around the corner with the raccoon man and she doesn’t even turn to wave goodbye. “But maybe she’s not really my girlfriend.” I can’t feel my cheeks.
“Well, you’re shit.” She walks away.
“She being a bitch?” Daniel asked.
“You want one?” He pushed a beer at my hand.
“It’s cold,” I said, shaking the bottle slightly.
“Naw, man, don’t do that.” He laughed. “It’ll spray you in the face.”
The girls and I always made fun of the football team. The way they talked. How they did their slide walks around the hallways. Out here, with the clouded moon and thick smoke, it made sense.
“It’s beautiful here,” I said. Stars surrounded Elk Mountain.
“Look,” Daniel said, pointing. “Orion.”
“The sky giant,” I added. “King of the constellations.” I took a tiny sip. Horrible, but I kept on drinking. Shadowed people passed us and slammed Daniel in the shoulder. They actually nodded their head at me.
“Thought you were square and narrow,” he said.
“Thought the same of you.” I ignored Beth making her signals. Instead, I watched Daniel wiping his chin with the back of his hand.
I’m lost. I’m drunk. I’m dancing to some sort of music with Wanda, a lady wearing leopard print stockings. When I move, the leather chaps slide up and down on my skin. It feels as if someone is stroking my leg gently and it feels wonderful. My headband soaks up any sweat I have. I’m fitting in. No one is looking at me strangely anymore. I tell Wanda that I’m not interested in a threesome with her and her girlfriend nor do I want to upzip my pants for her in the backroom and I most certainly do not to tickle her crotch. I thank her for asking though. I tell her that I want to keep dancing because I’m enjoying the music. She tells me to go to hell.
I keep dancing.
Dr. Greenley explained the process in the pleasant tone of a schoolteacher. There were photographs of his wife and seven children on the wall behind him and degrees propped up against the bookshelves. His name was embossed in gold.
I looked toward the door.
“It’s locked,” the doctor said.
Father had just recently signed all the papers and left to find Mother. The door had clicked twice when it closed.
“Okay,” I said.
“So don’t worry.”
We both looked at the chair in the corner. Large and heavily made, it had wood stained a deep brown. There were footrests with straps.
“Thank you,” I said.
A large photograph of the deer leaping over a bush, another of a pick-up truck racing through the desert. Both on the wall directly behind the headrest. The armrests were flat and long, wide at the angle where my hands would rest.
I walked over to that chair.
The lights go out. An electric guitar squeals. A man named Rascal fries moose sausage while his lady friend, Patricia, pours shots into her g-string. Rocko throws his knife up into the air, end to end, his tunneled eyes dark and infinite. He looks so sad. He hurls that sharpness to the sky not caring if he’s cut, dismembered or bleeding. He just flings it out there with one hand while the other stuffs slab after slab of chocolate brownie into his mouth. He doesn’t chew. He just swallows.
I wave at him from the dance floor in the kitchen.
He shakes his head, no, so I go over to him.
“Here,” he says. He hands me a brownie.
I eat it whole. It’s so thick, with pieces of herb baked in and it has a farm-like aroma of hay and almonds. “Chocolate helps,” I say and he nods.
He closes his eyes even as he continues to throw the knife up. He catches it every time and it truly is amazing. When he kicks the pan toward me, I allow myself a larger chunk, filling my mouth and swallowing. Roz runs through the living room completely naked. I focus on his knife again. How can he can toss it so high?
Everything seems to sparkle.
“You’re good,” I say. The blade spins in figure eights.
Rocko opens his eyes.
A double toss, a triple toss, over his head, under his leg, and it’s a magic wand as I eat another slice and another slice. I use his twelve-inch knife to cut both of us brownies and soon my head is disconnected from my body. I really don’t know how this all happened, how a head can become disconnected like this. I hear the rhythm of my veins, my blood, my heart and it is slow and melodic and very, very beautiful.
“We’ll start you out slow,” the doctor said.
“Thank you,” I said.
“This machine was first developed in Czechoslovakia to prevent draft dodgers from claiming they were homosexual to avoid military duty.” Dr. Greenley handed me the stretchable band with mercury. “Put this on, son.” His thin hand covered my own. “Costs $8,000, if you can believe that!” A drop of sweat rolled down one side of his face. It landed on the report in front of him. My name was in bold letters. Charles.
“That’s a lot of money,” I agreed.
“Just slip it on, Charles,” he said, dimming the lights.
“It’s cold,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” Dr. Greenley said. “It’ll warm up.”
The control panel buzzed as it lit up bright green.
“May I have that towel?” I reminded him.
“Sure,” Dr. Greenley said, handing me a white towel.
When he turned away to flip the first of two switches on, I covered myself. My naked skin stuck to the wooden seat.
“This is heavenly.” I break apart the last brownie, offering half to Rocko. Blue sparks and rainbows are in my hands, over my legs, even between my toenails. I hold my chest because my heart is expanding, it seems, inside my ribcage.
“The secret’s in the pre-heat.” Rocko nods solemnly as he jams the knife into the slats of the floor and I lean closer to him.
“And let the pans cool in the fridge between batches,” I wink.
There’s softness in his black eyes, behind all that blood engorged white, and there’s a loosening of the iris that makes me reach up to smooth him, wipe the oils and smells of the road off of his cheeks, tell him that love will come his way one day and to please write me a letter about it.
“Use wax paper,” he says quietly.
“Or else parchment.”
“Absolutely.” His thick fingers pick chocolate out of yellowed nails and he flicks the crumbs high into the air like chocolate rain. Feet walk past and time slows when plates shatter against the floor. There’s smoke overhead, the orange of firelight outside.
“Use a steel spatula.” I twirl my finger overhead.
Rocko suddenly pulls his hair back into a ponytail. “Roz don’t want nobody. She doesn’t bake. She hates the beach. And she’s never even seen a damn sunrise.” His fingers trace circles, rectangles, hearts in the ashy dust of the floor.
I can’t move. I truly can’t move.
“Now I’ll show you some pictures,” Dr. Greenley said.
He showed me a cow, a dog, a goat. They seemed to be from a farm. A farm with rolling hills and apple trees.
“Now I want you to think of what it reminds you of.”
“All of them.”
“They’re soft and nice,” I smiled at that doctor.
But then he showed me other pictures. Nasty pictures. Of cows with women and goats with boys and dogs with children and I did the best I could. I tried.
But still I failed that test.
Father was not pleased.
A mangled dog walks by, a bottle gets tossed, and a baby cries. We’re illuminated by candles and lit pipes. A flush settles between my ringing ears as I watch Rocko and some others hammer two-by-fours across four beat up picnic tables pulled into the smoky kitchen.
I get jostled from behind by a man in a red-and-black-checkered hunting cap, a feather taped to the brim. He wears a chain-metal jacket. He has a peel-off tattoo on his neck of skull-and-crossbones.
He notices me staring so he touches it. One of the bones fades off. “For effect,” he shrugs.
I smile, touching my headband.
“You look evil.” He nods pleasantly.
“Thank you,” I say, not knowing what is expected.
“I’m third,” he says. “How about you?”
I just shake my head. “Third?” I ask, not understanding.
“In line.” He pulls out a piece of paper with “3” on it, waves it into the air at Patricia who is now lining up shots of tequila and eating some moose meat rolled into toothpicked balls. She gives him the thumbs up and shouts, Get over here, Bonzo.
“I’m number one,” I say, looking at the paper Roz had given me a hour ago.
“Glad it’s not me,” he says as he heads toward those tequila shots. Patricia slides her hand up his metal sleeve. He stares over at me, smiling in his pink lipstick. Then he whispers something into her ear.
Rocko whispers into my ear, “Roz wants you to win the contest.”
“Yeah.” Rocko smiles. “I bet five bucks on you, Dude. Now shake your ass up there.” He points toward the stage and gives me a shove. “Do it, man.”
I get in line as the speakers thump. The crowd pounds their fists. When I look back for Rocko, he’s gone. He’s left the cabin.
“Jiggy Joe!” an announcer shouts.
Roz runs over to me with her mouth spread wide and this time I tell her no. That I don’t want it. I won’t have it. “Mrs. Williams, I just can’t.”
And up I go.
We kissed. Behind Daniel’s pick-up truck. In slow motion, we hit the ground with a force that shook the desert for miles, it seemed. One of us sighed. His lips were hard and thin. His tongue was dry and tasted of flat beer. He wore braces. He stuffed his hands down my pants.
Then a bottle smashed behind us. It was Beth. “Fucking fag,” she screamed.
The crickets churned once the trucks drove off. The Salt Lake was black, blacker than the sky. I was bleeding. The moon rose then fell behind Elk Mountain. The bonfire was an orange pit and for one moment, I thought I saw a flash of white—a bus?—flying through the desert.
They’d burned my clothes. I didn’t blame Daniel. I didn’t blame him at all. Because I thought I heard women singing lullabies.
Baby’s boat’s a silver moon
Sailing on the sea…
I’m hearing now—angelic choirs—singing Broadway tunes, Bette Midler falsetto, Rosemary Clooney, and my God, it’s heaven. Their voices send me sailing over the two-by-four planks, the burnt picnic tables of my makeshift beauty pageant stage. People are cheering for me. For me! I shake my behind. I jiggle my chains. I twist and I shout and yes, I take it all off. I take off every last stitch, pull everything down, whip it over my head, and I’m seeing my Jesus now, and he’s through the window, loose in the air. With pistons blasting, he shakes his hips to metal guitar and pounding drum solo, he’s sliding and shaking and hooting right along with everyone and his eyes are on me, nodding. He’s got attitude, this Jesus of mine, and he waves me onward, his throttle a roar.
I shake it for him. And he shakes back.
It starts up quickly, very quickly.
“You okay?” Rocko asks.
“Absolutely, ” I say, pressing my thighs together and holding on.
We take off with Rocko shouting, “Yeah, yeah, you’re driving this mothah.” We take off in our chains and leather and steel-toed boots as gravel sprays and Mrs. Williams’ Harley skids onto pavement leaving black marks. We take off almost as if we are flying right up there in the sky, over the mountains, past the pines and granite to someplace cool and smooth. No helmet, I drive this mothah over asphalt. “Yeah,” Rocko shouts, grabbing onto my leather jacket. “Yeah.”
“I know a wonderful place for brunch,” Rocko shouts in my ear.
And I let myself feel the faint pressure of his fingertips.
He smells of smoke and blacktop and I let myself lean back. Tilting over highway. Speeding toward the light. Our skin is the pale pink of coming sunrise.
“Harley” is part of a collection titled Backwoods. Peggy writes most mornings in her basement, coming occasionally up for coffee. The rest of the time, she works as a psychotherapist with angry boys and wild girls. E-mail: peggynewland[at]yahoo.com