A Backward GlanceChapter 10
Frank was making me nervous, with his hugging and worrying. I couldn't figure what I should do about it. I could see he was getting way too caught up in the foster-father thing. I didn't need an old man. I could take care of myself. He was just letting himself in for a lotta grief later.
'Course…..sometimes it made me feel good….a little bit….like when he said he liked me. And the hugging was weird…..but he meant well. So it wasn't terrible….just….it made me nervous, that's all. I couldn't see where any good could come of it.
Ruby made me nervous, too. She kissed me on the cheek when we came in the kitchen; the smell of her perfume and the touch of her lips was enough to get me started, even though it was just a dry peck, and Frank was standing right there. I sat down at the kitchen table real quick, so Frank wouldn't notice anything.
Ruby had a pot of chili simmering on the stove, and little loaves of hard crusty bread in a basket on the table. Frank was telling Ruby all about the jail while she was spooning some soup into a big bowl for me. All about the winos and the screaming and the smell and I don't know what else; I stopped listening when she put my bowl down in front of me.
I can't tell you how wonderful her cooking was……I didn't do anything but eat for several minutes…..and so I didn't realize until after I was done, before I went up to bed………that she was looking at me different. Not so amused, not so knowing, she looked at me almost like she'd never seen me before……It made me nervous again.………………….
I had a nightmare that night, the one I used to have a lot, where I'm tied to the radiator watching my mother's blood run across the floor toward me, real slow. I woke up, I always do, and after I settled down, got up to go down the hall to the bathroom. I didn't notice much of anything on the way there; it was dark, I mighta not been really awake, and I was in a hurry…….
On the way back, though, I heard the sounds coming from behind Frank's bedroom door. I guess I have to confess I stopped for a few seconds, and listened. It was kind of a shock. It knocked the nightmare right outta my head. Even though I knew Frank and Ruby were married, I must not a' thought too much about them being in bed together. Well, shit, who could be married to someone like Ruby and not wanna take her to bed? I wanted to take her to bed, and I didn't even like her much. It was stupid, I just never thought of it.
I couldn't help thinking about it after I was back in my own bed. Then I stopped picturing Frank with her. It made me feel weird.
I'd imagined her in bed before, but it was so much easier now that I knew what she sounded like. I tried to decide what her face would look like when she moaned, what she must have been doing when she made those other little noises. How she looked with her clothes off and her arms wide for her lover.
I was torturing myself and I knew it, but I couldn't seem to stop. I dreamed and sweated and wrestled with myself, till almost morning. In my dreams, the man holding her tight around the waist, giving her the reasons to make all those female sounds, wasn't Frank. It was me. And I ached for her. Ached.……………………..
I was about as confused as I've ever been in my life. She left me alone the next coupla days, and I shoulda been happy about that, but instead I spent my time wishing she'd touch me on the arm again, whisper in my ear, kiss me on the cheek. Wishing she didn't belong to anybody else, wishing I hated Frank, wishing……wishing I knew a way to get what I needed without screwing Frank, too.
It sounds kinda stupid to talk about needing it, but that's how it felt to me then. Like I was gonna starve without it. Part of the time. The rest of the time, I felt like I was gonna explode.
Couldn't sit still, couldn't concentrate; couldn't stand to be in a room with her, couldn't stand knowing she was there and not seeing her. Besides spading up one of Frank's flower beds, and daydreaming, I can't remember what I did those two days…..if I did anything. Mostly just digging, sweating, daydreaming. Keeping myself worked up.
Thursday morning, I told Frank I was going downtown to see some friends of mine, not to worry if I was late.
He handed me a $2 bill. "I want you to get a cab back if it gets past suppertime."
I almost handed it back to him, for some reason I didn't want his money, but that woulda really been a dumb thing to do. So I stuck it in my pocket. Didn't intend to waste it on a cab, though.
I rode with him as far as his office, another brick building in the part of town right between the downtown and the houses, not as big as his house, but not small, either.
"Are you OK?" he asked after he turned the key and pulled it out of the ignition. "Is there something wrong? Something that I can help you with?"
I thought about telling him about Ruby, what she was doing, what it did to me….but I didn't know how to say it. Or if I should.
I'd asked myself more than once what the hell I was so worried about. If Frank couldn't keep his wife from roaming, it shouldn'ta been my job to do it. His marriage wasn't my problem at all. If I was smart, I'd just take whatever she was offering, and figure I was lucky to get it. If things got nasty, I'd just take off. No skin off my nose. Shouldn'ta been a problem.
I was worried, though. I wasn't sure I wanted to stay, but I didn't wanna have to leave. I wanted Ruby like I'd never wanted anybody before. I didn't want Frank to find out. And I didn't know the Why of any of it.
The whole situation was a big buncha shit and I was sitting in it. I'd have to think some more how to get out of it without making a bigger mess.
He was looking at me, waiting for my answer.
"Nah, I'm OK." There wasn't anything else to say.…………………..
It was too early for Marly or any of the girls to be out, so I didn't expect to see them. What I did first was go around again looking for something to make a dollar or two. I found a coupla things; spent the morning running packages. I wasn't dumb enough to ask what was in 'em, or why the guys couldn't drop 'em off themselves. I just did it and collected my money. Ended up with a couple bucks. Plus a porkchop and a soda from Gino's girlfriend.
I can't remember her name anymore, but she always made sure I got something to eat when I was doing something for Gino. And when I left, she always gave me a slap on the back of the head and told me to be good. She was OK.
Saw Anna. She was a coupla blocks away, and I ran up to say hi.
She looked at me funny. "I ain't your girlfriend."
"I know." I didn't know that, I hadn't even thought about it one way or the other. If I had, I mighta thought maybe we'd be friends, at least. But I guess not.
She didn't say anything else.
"Sorry I bothered you." I turned around to leave.
I waited. She fidgeted, she looked all around, everywhere but at me. Finally, "I'll see you around sometime."
"Sure." And I left. I guess I knew where I stood with her. Nowhere.
I hadn't been at Frank's house very long, maybe a couple weeks. And about a week in the Home waiting. Not very long. And I'd been back on the street during that time. So it wasn't like I'd been gone a long time. It wasn't like anybody had time to forget me. Or at least it shouldn'ta been.
Some of the girls who were at their corners early called after me like I was a regular John, and a couple of 'em shoulda known me. Some of the guys just ignored me. I didn't like it much.
The only thing I could figure, it was because I was wearing the clothes Frank bought. You know, if the social workers woulda handed me clothes, I woulda taken 'em and not thought twice about it. It was stupid to be so stubborn about it just because it was Frank. So I was wearing new clothes insteada old ratty ones.
And things were different. I didn't understand it. It made me kinda mad at first. It wasn't till I walked up to Sally and her sister, who always worked the same corner, to ask if they'd seen Marly, that I realized they just didn't know me.
"Wendell!" Sally squealed. "Look at you! You come into some money, honey?" She giggled. "You look swell. You wanta spend some a' that money?" She rubbed up against me.
"Nah, Sally, I ain't got any money."
"Oh." She looked sad for a minute. "You look different. Not just the clothes. There's something different about you. I just can't put my finger on it." I shook my head. I didn't know what she was talking about. She giggled. "Well, you still look swell." Threw her arms around my neck and gave me a peck on the mouth. "For free."
Before I went to live with Frank, her stringer probably woulda been all over me by this time. He didn't believe in giving anything away, and he watched his girls pretty close. But nobody bothered us. I guess he thought I might be a paying customer. Me.
The only reason I woulda looked different woulda been because of the clothes. Right?
I felt different, too. Like I hadn't been here in a long time, didn't belong here any more. A little bit like I felt when I went to a new school. And I don't think that woulda been because of the clothes.
I couldn't figure it out. It made me feel bad. Uneasy, off-balance. Like you're sitting on a chair, and somebody kicks away one of thelegs……. ……………….
He was in my face again when I got back. It was late, he was worried, I was inconsiderate. I didn't bother to answer, I didn't listen, I shoved him outta my way, and went up to my room.
Of course he followed me. I shoulda figured he would.
My door was open, I didn't care. I was sitting on the bed. He stopped in the doorway.
"You're sitting in the dark."
"Yeah? What's it to you?"
He didn't answer me. After a couple minutes, he sat down next to me. "You want to tell me what's going on?"
I almost did. Just for a second, I had the urge to spill my guts, just tell him everything, even the stuff I didn't understand-especially the stuff I didn't understand. But it wasn't any of his business. It was my business. And I didn't need him to feel sorry for me, or give me any sappy advice.
We sat there for a while. He said, "OK." Then he rubbed my back a little. "Will you be alright?"
"Sure." I just wanted him to go away.
"Sometimes just telling somebody else helps." When I didn't say anything, he got up. "OK, I'll stop bothering you. Just remember, though, if you need to talk to somebody---"
He was disappointed. I knew it. Nothing I could do about it. I wasn't the kinda kid he wanted, and I couldn't do the things he wanted me to do.
Ruby walked on past without saying anything to me that night. My door was open; she coulda come in if she wanted. I wanted her to. Not for that…..just to, you know, say good night, and maybe……
And then I realized I was thinking of her talking to me and smiling……and laying her hand on my cheek like my mother used to do ……..Jesus Christ. As if that bitch and my mother had anything in common.
OK, I was wrong before. Now I was more confused than I'd ever been in my life.