A Backward GlanceChapter 12
I told Frank I didn't wanna go to school. I told him I didn't have to, I was gonna be 16 in a couple weeks, and anyway, I was through the eighth grade and that's all I had to have. He told me I was going anyway. I told him I wasn't, I wanted to get a job. He took a deep breath, told me he was my guardian, and if he said I was going to school, I would damn well go.
I said, "Make me."
I suppose I got a little cocky after that.
"What kind of a job are you thinking of?" he asked me one evening at supper.
"I'm pretty good with a shovel. I could always do that."
"Don't you want something better than that? Something not quite so physical?"
"Like what? Brain surgery?"
"You could certainly be a doctor if you wanted to."
"You have to be smart to be a doctor. That lets me out."
He thought about that for a minute. I don't know what there was to think about.
"Do you truly want to do nothing but run a shovel for the rest of your life?"
"I'm not talking about the rest of my life. I just wanna make some money now."
"If you need money, I can-"
"No---I don't want you to give it to me. I want some of my own."
He thought about that too.
"So, will you be offended if I help you find a job?"
I figured I could stand that.
"It might take a little while. Jobs aren't plentiful right now. And you want one you'll be happy with."
Jeez. "I just wanna make some money so I can get a car!"
Dammit. I hadn't meant to say that. I figured now he'd offer to buy me one, but he didn't. He just nodded. "OK. I'll help you. But I want you to remember, you can always go back to school if you find that you're not happy."
Right. Like school would make me happy. "Sure, Frank."
Ruby listened to our discussions about school, but she didn't say anything. She just smiled at me when Frank wasn't looking; and once she licked her lips real slow.
Sunday we all stayed home; my face hurt, and I spent part of the day just listening to the radio. Frank went back to work on Monday. Ruby made a big breakfast like she always did. I couldn't eat as much as usual. I was thinking ahead, wondering what Ruby had in mind. What she might wanna do after Frank left.
"How handy are you with a hammer?" Frank asked as he put on his jacket.
"I can handle one, I guess."
"Well, Ruby tells me there are some shelves coming loose from the wall in the pantry. Do you suppose you could brace those back up today?"
"Sure." Give me something to do besides think about Ruby with her underwear half off, which is what I'd been thinking about most of yesterday.
There were quite a few shelves in the pantry sagging from age and the weight of the cans and jars sitting on 'em. Might take me a little while.
Kinda wished I had something to do outside the house. Wondered while I gathered up the tools and stuff what Ruby was doing, what she might do, what I wanted her to do……I dropped a coupla things carrying the cans and jars stored on those shelves out to the kitchen table. I hit my thumb more than once after I got to the hammeringpart.
Nervous. Or maybe just excited.
And then Ruby stayed upstairs till almost noon. By the time I heard her shoes on the linoleum, I was just about fucking useless.
"How are you doing in here, honey?" she said when she came in the pantry. I was holding one of the shelves up, trying to reattach the brace underneath to the wall, and when she spoke, I dropped the nail. "I'll get that for you," she said, but she didn't. She walked around behind me, and bit me on the shoulder, through my shirt. I dropped the hammer. Her arms went round my waist, she pressed up against me from behind, I could feel her breasts against my back…….her hands rubbed my shirtfront, then moved on past my belt.
"Mmmm, what have you been thinking about, you naughty boy?" A little snicker…..I tried to turn around, but she said, "No, no…….you're supposed to be working," and squeezed me. "I'm just helping you. Now where is that nail? Could it be in here?"
I dropped the shelf and turned, pulling her right up next to me so I could kiss her. The hand she was putting inside my pants got shoved farther in. She turned her head and wouldn't let me have her mouth……..but grabbed hold of me and stroked……..and whispered in my ear……..her tongue followed her words……..
"Stop……" I said, and then suddenly it was too late to worry about it.
Dammit. I rested my forehead against her hair and tried to breathe. Dammit. Hadn't embarrassed myself with a woman like that since I was a kid.
She laughed. Laughed at me for something she made me do, and twined her arms around my neck. "Teenage boys are such a joy," she said. I put a hand on either side of her face and held her still, so she couldn't turn away, so she couldn't put me off. I meant to make her kiss me if I had to, but I didn't have to; she let me in.S
he tasted so good, slick and sweet, and I don't know how long I kissed her. When I realized she was kissing me back as hard as I was kissing her, I reached down and started to unfasten the buttons on the front of my trousers.
"No, no," she said, against my mouth.
She was breathing as hard as me, and her skin was hot, but she said, "No," again. "Is that Frank's car I hear?"
She was out of my arms and stumbling out into the kitchen before I realized there wasn't any car outside at all. And anyway Frank wouldn't be coming home this time of day. She knew I'd let her go if she said Frank's name.
She looked so happy. Flushed and dark-eyed and incredibly beautiful. "You surprise me, Wendell. So impetuous." She grinned. "Now tell me you didn't like it. Tell me you never want me to bother you again."
I couldn't even lie.
I couldn't finish the shelves before Frank got home either. When his car door slammed, I was sitting on the floor with my head back against the wall, wondering what the hell was wrong with me.
He looked at the mess on his way to the pantry. I couldn't see him, but I knew what he was doing. He was wondering. If Ruby came down, he'd ask her about it, and she'd say she didn't know, she hadn't seen me all day, that she'd just left me alone so I could work.
But she didn't come down. He stepped inside the door. "Wendell?" Looked around. "You didn't get very far. Did you have problems?"
Not the kind he meant.
He crouched down next to me. "You don't look well. Are you feeling sick?"
Not the way he meant. But, yeah, I was. I nodded.
He put his hand on my forehead. "You're a little hot." More than a little. "I wonder if you have a fever. Come on, get up. We'll clear this up later. Maybe we can get Ruby to start supper a little early, you'll probably feel better after you eat."
I shook my head. "Not hungry."
"You didn't have much breakfast. What did you have for lunch?"
Ruby's mouth. "Nothing."
"That doesn't seem like you. No offense, Wendell, but you eat a lot. Usually."
"Just not hungry, I guess."
"Well, look, I'm going to ask Ruby if she can throw something together quickly, anyway. You might be hungrier once you smell it cooking."
Frank went upstairs looking for Ruby. I sat in the kitchen. Waited for them to come back down. Waited. Waited some more. It took me a long time to figure it out. I went upstairs to my room. Lay on the bed and burned. More ways than one.
They were down the hall, in their bedroom…..and their door was probably shut…..but I could hear 'em. Probably 'cause I was listening for it. Or it mighta been that I couldn't actually hear them, just thought I could. 'Cause I knew what they were doing.
I don't know if somebody smarter woulda figured it out before I did. At 15, I'd never run into somebody like her before, didn't have any idea what she was after. I knew she was playing with me, but I thought she wanted me too, I thought she was just taking her own damn time getting around to it. It hadn't occurred to me that Frank would be getting all the benefits.
She was using me to get herself excited, and then giving it to Frank. I was the only one who wasn't getting much of anything. It pissed me off.
I concentrated on that feeling. It was better than the one that was waiting underneath……the one with the little voice telling me what a moron I was, what a joke……telling me that when Ruby laughed, she was laughing at me.
I thought about going downtown right then and looking for a 2 dollar whore, but I didn't do it. It was too far away, I'd be walking a long time, then finding one I thought I could do might take a while. Some of 'em weren't real attractive. Yeah, I know, what do you expect for 2 dollars?
Anyway, I didn't do that. I got up, went down to the kitchen, and made myself something to eat.…………………………
By the time Frank finally came down, I was done eating.
"I'm gonna finish the shelves before I go to bed," I said.
"Are you feeling better? I, uh, I asked Ruby about supper, but I think maybe she doesn't feel well either. Maybe it's something going around."
I shouldn'ta been pissed at Frank---he didn't know what was going on---but I was. I coulda been dying down here and he wouldn'ta known it till it was too late. Acting like he was concerned about my health, and then spending two hours getting his rod greased.
And it was probably a good thing Ruby didn't come down. I had a bunch of things rolling around in my head I coulda said to her.
I was horny and pissed. A bad combination. Probably just as well I didn't go out.
I did a lotta hammering that night instead. Frank came in after he ate his supper, and offered to help. I didn't answer him, just held up another shelf and hammered the nails in.
"OK, I can see you're upset."
I only had about 5 more to do. I didn't need any help.
"I, uh, I suppose………" Seemed like he didn't know what to say; he just stood there and watched me.
I finished another one. 4 more to do.
"OK, let's just lay it out. You weren't angry with me before I went upstairs, but now you are. So I assume from that that you know what…….." He stopped and looked down at the floor. Started over. "Married people sometimes---"
I threw the hammer down on the floor at his feet. "Your house. Your woman. You do whatever you want." There was that urge, stronger this time, just to tell him everything. Everything out in the open. Ruby'd said he didn't care, and I wanted to believe it……I just didn't have the guts to find out for sure. So I said, "Maybe I just don't like listening to it."
That surprised look again, quick this time, like somebody slapped him. Then he got really red. "I'm sorry, Wendell, I didn't think about that."
I stepped past him, out into the kitchen. "You can finish the rest of 'em yourself." And I went upstairs to my room. Shoved the chair up under the doorknob and sat down on the floor.
This shoulda been easy. Living here, with a geek like Frank, I shoulda been on easy street. Coasting. Not miserable. The only thing I could see I coulda done different was, I shouldn'ta stayed past a couple days. Shoulda grabbed what I could grab, and hit the street.
Thought about leaving now……..
Couldn't. Couldn't leave now. Lay down on the rug in the middle of the room, and stared up at the ceiling for a while before I closed my eyes.