"You don't have to give me a kiss if you don't want."
Was she crazy?
We sat in Marcia's little red car outside the school; she was dropping me off that morning. We had to get there earlier than I was used to so she wouldn't late for work. The building was dark and there was only one other car there, a dark green sedan. It wasn't one I recognized and the windows fogged so I couldn't tell who was in there. It was the last week before Christmas vacation, half of which I had to spend with Dad, but that was the part I dreaded the most. I didn't mind seeing him so much as who he might be with. I really hoped it wasn't Rita; she talked to me like I was a little dog.
I wasn't quite sure what caused the split between Mom and Dad. I just assumed it started when Dad went to live at the YMCA, but seeing them now, I suspected it was before that. Maybe when I was born; Mom always said I was a mistake. I didn't quite know how to make sense of that. Mistakes were wrong answers on a spelling test or putting mustard on your hot dog when you really wanted ketchup. People you couldn't take back, no matter how much you wanted to.
Marcia seemed to tell me only nice things, like how handsome I looked when I got my hair cut or how smart I was when I got a good grade on a paper. With Mom, it was good grades or else, and when I did get them, my encouragement came in the form of a warning.
"Just make sure they stay that way."
To be clear, I was in no way an overachiever, but too scared to consider failure an option. Dad just wanted me to do my best, but when I did, his compliments came off as hollow.
"Keep up the good work, Son."
All Marcia seemed to want was for me to be happy. She knew I could do well, knew I could do whatever I wanted, really, and trusted me to do so. Maybe that's where it all came together: trust. It was a big word, something Mom threw around like it might find a means to fly away. But trust was something less like a bird and closer to a boomerang. A thought crossed my mind that the reason she didn't trust me is she couldn't trust herself.
"Looks like the principal is here."
I snapped out of it, turning my head to find Marcia's face right next to mine.
I kissed her on the lips, like many times before, but this one was quick, not long and all mashed together the way we did when we were at her place.
"Bye. Thanks for the ride."
"Is that it?"
She frowned, the funny way, like clowns did. Then she shook her shoulders, which in turn ruffled her hair, and closed her eyes, leaning toward me puckered up red as her little coupe. For a split second all I could think was don't try so hard, but my desire to make her happy was really no different than hers for me feel the same way. The last thing I wanted to see in her face was disappointment.
I mashed my mouth against hers until I couldn't hold my breath any longer. When I pulled away, her smile was sheepish.
"All that for me?"
I know I was blushing, but I couldn't find the words so I climbed out and ran to the door without looking back, lips still tingling.
I promise to never vandalize school property ever again.
I promise to never vandalize school property ever again.
I promise to never vandalize school property ever again.
I promise to never vandalize school property ever again.
I promise to never vandalize school property ever again.
I promise to never vandalize school prop
My hand started to cramp and I put the pencil down, massaging it until there was but a dull throb. It was the third day in a row I had to sit inside at recess and fill out sheets of paper until the bell rang. Mrs. Ickelheimer wanted me to do it for a month, but Mrs. Straw talked her down to a week, a begrudging compromise. Mrs. Ickelheimer had herself convinced I wouldn’t learn without a real eye opener, but Mrs. Straw insisted I always completed my work and generally did well in class, which at the very least warranted a reduced sentence. I never thought Mrs. Straw liked me very much, but after that day, my opinion of her changed for the better. I was a rare thing when one of the teachers stuck up for me.
I checked the clock and it was less than a minute before the bell rang. By this time, Mrs. Ickelheimer usually came out of her office to collect my work, but today there was no Mrs. Ickelheimer, her door was closed, and Patsy wasn’t at her desk. I got up, taking my pages with me, and decided to try to slip them under the door so I wouldn’t be late for class. Once I was in the main office I realized the door to Mrs. Ickelheimer’s had no space underneath. When I tried to shove a paper under it crumpled up and I almost had a heart attack. I had to figure out a way to make sure Mrs. Ickelheimer knew I made a mistake and didn’t ruin the paper of purpose. I turned the handle slowly, pushing the door open just enough to slip inside, eyes on the floor, trying my best to appear defenseless. It must have worked.
“I thought I locked that.”
While still assertive, the usual hard edge to Mrs. Ickelheimer’s voice was absent.
“Why don’t you do that for me."
I knew the only hope of keeping myself out of even more trouble was to comply, and I shut the door, locking with a sharp CLICK. I kept my eyes on the floor, waiting for things to go bad.
“I have the papers. Three and a half pages. More than yesterday.”
“Put them on my desk.”
I knew I couldn’t reach from the door and look up to gauge the distance. Big mistake.
Mrs. Ickelheimer stood behind her desk, her dress jacket folded over the chair, ruffled blouse draped across it, bra tossed on her desk. She held one of her enormous breasts in both hands, massaging it with her thumbs. Or that’s what it looked like anyway. I couldn’t make sense of the sheer size of them, let alone the circumstances which led to them being exposed in front of me. Then I remembered she was probably already like that when I came in and summoned forth a shudder.
“Bet you never saw any like these before.”
Smirking. She was smirking.
I wanted to run, to hide under her desk, to gouge out my eyes and barrel screaming off the nearest cliff, but wanting so many things at once left me stone still.
“My first husband couldn’t get enough of them. Called them my Love Pontoons.”
“Calm yourself. They’re breasts. Every woman has them.”
“And not that you need to know, but I’m giving myself an exam. I ran late this morning and
didn’t have time to before coming in.”
“It’s important we do it regularly, us older women. Lumps are a very serious matter.”
I tried to scrub the image from mind, but it was one that wouldn’t go away until Mrs. Ickelheimer did. I hoped. She made a funny, thoughtful sound and nodded to herself.
“Whisker, I need your help.”
“I don’t think this-- is something I should-- see.”
“You’ll see plenty more when you’re older. Now, I need you to check this spot and tell me if you feel anything unusual.”
RUN, YOU DUMMY.
But I couldn’t. With every moment my repulsion turned to fascination and even though they were attached to a bitchy old woman who had it in for me, they were still boobs.
"Come over here."
My legs moved without my consent, with enough conviction I knew something else was at the wheel. My mind screamed all the hard boiled obscenities I'd learned from Mom and the kids at school, but it was no good; the master brain already engaged. The failsafe.
Mrs. Ickelheimer stared at me with cool expectation.
"Give me your hand."
She was surprisingly gentle for all her gruff demeanor. It reminded me of her hand on my back and how practiced it felt, like she'd done it a thousand times before. I knew at any moment I could take it back and it would all be over. I just kept telling myself that as she placed my hand at the end of her breast, on the darker part, next to a nipple that to my young brain resembled a cocktail wiener.
"There's the spot. Now squeeze and tell me what you feel."
Horrible, horrible images. The time I thought I broke my hand after smashing it in the door. Shane's kittens as I carried their shattered bodies across the garage. The bag of old marshmallows covered in ants at the back of the kitchen cupboard at home. When I left a peanut butter sandwich in a bag in the back seat of Dad's car for most of a summer.
Mrs. Ickelheimer sighed with impatience.
"Yes, yes. What I need to know is if you feel something hard-- like a marble."
Something was hard all right.
"No. N-nothing like that."
She breathed her relief.
I turned my head and looked on her desk. Papers, several pens, a picture of a boy close to my age with a bowl cut even more ridiculous than my own. He smiled like a chimpanzee, like his teeth were trying to swallow his face.
I snapped my head back around; feet, stomach, freakishly large breasts, my hand on a freakishly large breast, Mrs. Ickelheimer's scary face. I gulped.
"You can have your hand back now."
I pulled it away, but felt like I didn't want to use it to touch anything else. It was bad news, damaged goods. Images of having it chopped off crossed my mind, but it was the one I used to do everything. I put it in my pocket until I could figure out what to do with it.
"Thank you, Whisker. You've been surprisingly helpful today."
I nodded, looking nowhere in particular.
"And just so you know, what happened here is perfectly normal. It's not wrong, dirty or something to be ashamed of."
She put her finger under my chin so I had to look her in the eye.
"Do you understand me?"
"Excellent. You may go."
I backed away, afraid if I turned around something would jump on my back and bite through my brains.
"Oh, and Whisker?"
I stumbled, but she was smirking again, her scary old lady code for I wasn't in any trouble. She hoisted her bra across her chest, looking me first in the eye, then at the bump in my pants. A curt nod.
"Put that thing away before you hurt someone."
I knew I shouldn't stay up too late on a Sunday night, but there being only a week left before Christmas break gave me a nervous energy that defied sleep. Grandpa was in his chair, no doubt gobbling up every last bit of weekend premium programming. Mom and Grandma were in bed already, Mom trusting Grandpa to send me off at a reasonable hour, but ours was a conspiracy borne of unspoken mutual understanding and compulsion. In a way, Grandpa was my dealer, supplying covert defiance of Mom's authority and a steady stream of questionable viewing material. Maybe he decided I needed a father figure, what with Dad barely in the picture. I guessed that's what dads, or in this case, Grandpas did; helping grade school age boys across the land unlock the mysteries of women. At that point, my lasting impression was if two women were involved, the man usually wound up dead. To my mind, it was a mystery better left unsolved.
I looked over and saw Grandpa slouched in his chair, head back and jaw loose, at the precipice of slumber. In a way, he reminded me of a turkey the way the skin on his neck stretched taught but was loose at the same time. I wondered if I tickled it with my finger, he'd make the sound, but he hadn't shaved for a while and it was prickly, like a cactus, and the thought of touching it made me squirm.
Kalliope was on the floor in front of Grandpa's chair, legs pulled up and tucked underneath, the way good girls sit she once told me. I did my best to ignore her, but she was not one to suffer my indignities, and stared at me the entire time, smiling with only her mouth. It was Grandpa's smile, the way it turned up at the corners. On him, often after a few beers, it was funny in its own way, but on Kalliope it bordered on menacing. I patted the cushion next to me, knowing it's what she wanted. It's what she always wanted. I didn't know how to tell her other things wouldn't be the same, but she had a habit of getting them regardless of my compliance. She was a lot like Mom in that way.
Kalliope rose, gathering herself up like a marionette. Her head stayed level, staring, and always that smile. She said she didn't used to show much of anything on her face except sad. That is, until she found me. We played cowboys and Indians with the little plastic figurines which was mostly me playing and her asking me why I did the things I did. It wasn't a complex game, but having to explain everything sucked the fun right out. Then I found out I was doing it wrong, which was news to me. Nobody ever told me I played the wrong way before, but Kalliope was insistent. The cowboys and Indians scattered across the floor, scurrying under the bed, into the open closet, until the floor was bare. The door slammed shut and I jumped, goosebumps sprouting on my arms. The room got warm, humid, and the little bumps were soon covered in a fine sheen of sweat. I felt myself scooting away from her, but my back was soon against the edge of the bed and there was nowhere left to go. She crawled toward me on her hands and knees, slow, jerky, each movement exaggerated to the point of lunacy. The smile was gone, but she was doing the thing with her eyes, showing the barest pinpricks of each pupil from within the choppy seas of the iris. I found myself lost in them, but not the way I did Mrs Greer's. I was trapped, on one side a barren, frigid wasteland, the other coals from a house burned to the foundation. Her fingers were zaps from a wall outlet on my skin, my mouth wide, breaths hitched and shallow. Then I felt her voice in my head, muted, lulling.
"It will only hurt for a moment."
It all became clear: action figures and little metal cars and plastic cowboys were for babies and children with no imagination. What I thought were games, these things I did to crawl into a world away from all the awful things that never left me alone, were delusions, trickery.
A big, fat lie.
It was true, she told me. She had this way of saying things without all the cues, both verbal and physical, I was used to from people I knew and saw every day that told me I could trust them. It was a gift, what she did to my mind, erasing fear and doubt. Doing it wrong was something I couldn't help, small and broken as I was. Mom and Dad, the rest of my family and friends, were similarly lost and just as ignorant. But I wasn't some dumb animal, she told me, if equally malleable. What I needed was someone with right amount of expertise to prepare me, apply the slightest nudge, and send me forward without fear or shame or remorse. Come from misery and emptiness, with her direction I would transform. This revelation left me shuddering to the point of convulsion.
It was all I could muster.
"I will show you what to do."
Her smile returned, with just a hint of pity, and so it begun.
"You have something from the mail, picantito."
Rita wore this yellow thing that tied at the neck and left her back exposed. In December. Mom's voice was in my head spouting curses.
"Doesn't she know it's CHRISTMAS? I hope she catches cold."
It was twenty degrees outside, but a balmy eighty two with the fire going in Dad's living room. Rita told me twenty times where she comes from Christmas was warm like summer and she only ever saw snow once when she was an airline stewardess. Then she moved to the midwest and became a receptionist for Dad's physician, Dr L.G. Brotty. She didn't look like any receptionist I'd even seen; late twenties to early thirties, tall, fit, tanned golden brown and obnoxious. Her boobs were absurd, like the four-inch heels she always wore, or the things that came from her mouth.
"Is letter-- maybe from secret girlfriend?"
She grinned with her whole face; eyes, nose and teeth. I didn't have a problem setting her straight.
"I don't have a girlfriend."
Dad took a slurp from his beer, groaning at a bad play on the football game. He only got like that when he drank.
"Good thinking, Son. Girls are trouble."
Rita's eyes went wide and she grabbed a pillow, swatting him repeatedly until he stopped laughing. It was always the Two Stooges with them, and it always made me want to bury my head in the sand, especially in public. With Mom, it was a scene caused by her general displeasure with the state of the world, but with Dad and Rita it was an overabundance of pleasure with each other. I wanted them to be happy, I guess, just not sloppy wet kisses in front of God and everyone happy. I didn't think I was being selfish, but if there was one thing I learned early on, it's that kind of business belonged somewhere private with the door closed. HBO was an ever-surprising resource.
I took the letter to my room. I found no return address, only a stamp from the neighboring city. It was a standard, card sized envelope, like the ones I got for my birthday, and rigid enough I decided there must be one inside. My birthday, however, was almost three months over, and it didn't make sense I'd be getting one now.
I shut the door and flopped down on the bed, turning the card over in my hands, frustrating myself with the mystery. It was a brief discomfort, soon to be alleviated with strategic tears and unceremonious disposal. It was a card, all right, with a white background and a scene in watercolor of a boy holding his arm up, watching the string on a balloon floating just out of reach. In flowing, gold script, it read: Thinking Of You.
I opened it carefully, and a folded piece of paper fell out. I looked, but there was nothing written inside the card. When I unfolded it, the writing was a thin, tentative cursive I didn't recognize.
I suppose it has been quite some time now, but I want you to know I am well and in a good place. I am still working with children, ones I have grown quite fond of. Despite some setbacks, I have been able to move past the things that caused me to leave your life and I think you know in your heart that, under the circumstances, it was the best thing for both of us.
Please know I did everything in my power to help you, but the things you encountered, and those I did through you-- they were just too big. I am truly, deeply sorry there was not more I could do for you.
It is nice here, where I am. I get to spend a lot of time outside, with the sun and the birds. And I very rarely see it anymore, at most, once a week. It comes to me when it is just dark outside, always the same way, but it does not treat me like it used to. I figured out how to keep it happy, and it only hurts when I fail to bring it pleasure.
I want to thank you, Whisker. You have shown me things I never thought possible. I never realized how empty my life was before I met you. I mean, because of you I found it, and it showed me just how much time I wasted not being one of its willing participants. I spend a lot of time with them, you know; Damon, Chaz’s mom, all those floppy little kittens, even Haley. We get together and talk about you; how much we miss you, how much you need to be with us.
The snoopy dog says you need to be punished for quite some time yet before you are ready, but I put up the strongest argument against this. See, I know how you feel about me, the things you think about when you are alone, and I laid it all out rather matter of fact. Truth is, I know how much you want my pussy, and I can use it to make you do, well, pretty much whatever I want.
Even submit to the snoopy dog.
I can show you things that would break your little mind. Who knows? You might even like it.
I know I will.
P.S. Smell the paper. I made sure to rub it somewhere naughty.
I jumped off the bed, throwing everything on the floor and stamping on it like it was on fire and screaming curses, the ones Mom saved for when she was beyond reason. Moments later, Rita came to my door, her concern evident, but dulled by too much beer.
“Why you so loud, picantito?”
I had to come up with something quick.
Rita raised an eyebrow, unamused.
“Saw a spider. It’s dead.”
“Oh. Well. You hungry?”
Second stomach clawed at me.
“Okay. I go watch tv. You tell me when you get hungry.”
She stumbled down the hallway, mumbling something about bananas and tarantulas. I looked on the floor, the letter ripped in two and I shoved it under my mattress as far back as my arm was long, even the envelope. Then I ran into the bathroom and washed my hands three times with the stinkiest soap I could find.
I could still smell it.
It was close to two hours since we got back to Marcia's, but I hadn't watched one minute of tv. The little cars were put away and we ate before we came back. She kept telling me there was something special planned, a big event, whatever that meant. I was all for big events; things like my birthday and Christmas and even Halloween were my favorite times of year. Most of the big events in my family centered around holidays, which I supposed was true for most. Still, there was something off, and a little too much rushing around behind closed doors that happened to be, in this case, the one to her bedroom.
I'd been in there once before, when I was bored and she and Mom were talking at the kitchen table. It was pretty standard for a girl's bedroom, I guess. It had all of the usual suspects: bed, dressers, closet, clock radio, mission style vanity covered with perfume bottles and makeup cases. The color was an interesting gradient of sea green at the ceiling that faded into white at the baseboard, like the ocean turning into a beach. I remember staring at it for several minutes trying to figure out exactly where the water stopped, but then I remembered there were things like waves, which made shorelines tricky things to measure. I watched a lot of public programming, too.
I could hear music coming from inside, a man singing, maybe piano, but it was one I didn't know and just assumed it was something from the radio. I was about to go wait in front of the tv, certain there had to be something better on that waiting around outside the door while Marcia fixed her hair and whatever it was she was doing in there. I couldn't imagine she'd even need to; it always looked so perfect, like the women on the shows I watched. Then I heard her.
I put my hand on the knob, but felt overcome. Something itched in the back of my brain, something small and quiet, but insistent nevertheless. It wasn't enough to give me more than pause, and I pushed the door open.
"Make sure it's shut."
The lights were off, the room cast in shadow. Once I close the door, I couldn't see a thing.
I didn't want to move without being able to see where I was going. I only somewhat remembered the layout of the room, leaving my fear of tripping and cracking my head open acute.
"I can't see."
"Follow my voice."
It made perfect sense to me.
"Over here. That's it."
One step at a time, arms out in front of me, reaching, feeling.
"You're almost there."
The encouragement gave me confidence, which in turn made my feet shuffle faster. In several moments, I'd found the edge of the bed and followed it toward Marcia's voice. I first felt one of her slippers when I stepped on it, then her hand in mine, guiding me into a sitting position. Her hands were soft and sure, one on my leg, the other rubbing my back until my apprehension subsided.
"That was very brave of you."
"I did what you said. I followed your voice."
"I can see that. Now, do you know what today is?"
"Umm, not really."
"It's a very special day."
"What day is that?"
"Mother's Day. Do you know what happens on Mother's Day?"
I shook my head even though she probably couldn't see it. Her hand squeezed my leg in a way that made the little hairs stand up.
"You get to show me how much you love me."
"But you're not my mom."
I could hear her smile the way little girls smile at puppies and ducklings.
"You love me, right?"
It was true. In my own, overly simplistic way, both as a mother and what I thought of as a lover, I did. I nodded hard enough she could feel it.
"Then I want you to show me how much."
I leaned down and wrapped my arms around her neck, my cheek coming to rest against her neck, the edge of my lips just touching her skin. I breathed in her scent, something lightly floral and powdery. She put her arms around me, stroking my hair and the spot at the middle of my back just below the shoulders. It tranquilized me with little ripples of pleasure that felt like when I ate my favorite things or brushed up skin to bare skin with a random stranger at the mall or the doctor's office. It was a feeling I savored, held onto, never wanted to leave me. I could feel her heartbeat against my cheek and it was fast like mine. It's how I knew she felt the same way.
"That feels good."
I nodded my agreement up and down the length of her neck.
"Now what else can you do?"
I moved my hand up to her cheek, guiding her face toward me, where I searched out her lips with my own. I kissed her for as long as I could hold my breath, which after quite a bit of practice, was well over a minute. The whole time I stroked her cheek like I would a cat's whiskers, and she made a noise like she tasted something sweet. When I finished I could feel her eyes on mine.
"You're such a wonderful kisser. Have you ever thought about doing it to my neck?"
Of course not. Only unshaven men with big belt buckles did that.
"All the time."
"Would you like to show me now?"
"Only if you want me to."
"I think you know I do."
Oh silly me.
I kissed her neck much the same way I did her lips, but since there was more area to cover, I tried to move it around. I thought of drawing words in the sand and made my lips do the same as would my finger or a stick. The way I was laying, I had to change positions, and put my hand down on the bed to get a better angle.
Except it wasn't the bed.
"What are you doing?"
"It was an accident."
"Does that mean you're going to stop?"
"Umm, I-- don't know."
Marcia sat up with her back against the headboard, which meant I needed to move too. I crawled up next to her, laying against one of the pillows. I could hear her suck in a big breath before she began.
"Now honey, I need to be very clear with you. If we continue down this road, things will change between us. I won't just be your friend anymore."
My head nodded without my help.
"It will make me your secret girlfriend. Which makes you my special little boy."
It seemed like a no brainer to me. No brains whatsoever.
Marcia took my hand and placed back where it was over her left breast. It was the first one I could remember touching, and it was glorious.
"Now squeeze. Gently."
I did what she asked and the little noises she made seemed better suited for game shows or cartoons set in the jungle. She kept stroking my lips with the tip of her thumb, fingers cupping my chin. I starting rubbing it with my palm until the nipple was sharp enough to cut.
The doorbell rang.
Marcia launched herself on the bed, one arm straight to keep me from following. In seconds she was at the door and wrapped in a robe, opening it just enough to slip through.
"Ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod--"
I could hear her feet down the hall, through the living room and to the front door. Mom wouldn't be picking me up until the following morning, and she usually just announced herself with a knock and a hello and came right in, familiarity trumping courtesy. I heard the interior door first, a CLUNK and SWISH across the carpet as it opened. It was a man's voice.
"Hey, Baby Bird."
Voice hushed, Marcia didn't sound at all happy with the man's arrival.
"Not today, Louis. I have company."
"I thought it was just you and me."
A short, unenviable laugh.
"You know you shouldn't keep smoking. And you're not supposed to be here. Not today."
"But it's Mother's Day."
"Go home, Louis."
He made a sound like a car without a muffler.
"Not without a kiss."
It was several minutes before Marcia returned, slipping into the room without a word. She went to the vanity and sat, switching on a table side stem lamp with a glass shade in the shape of a flower. I stayed on the bed, searching her face through the mirror, but she wouldn't look at me.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm really upset with you right now, Whisker."
Mom was on a tear ever since she discovered some things I stashed under the bed with my art supplies. She spent a lot of time cleaning, both as a means to relieve stress and amp herself up for the next inevitable fight. As such, part of her routine included straightening up my things, which was code for going through my shit. In Mom's house, wherever she held domain, there was no such thing as privacy. Compounded by the fact I was a troubled boy with the inherent inability to make good choices, it was a necessary evil. One that included raking me over the coals for drawing pictures of naked women.
"Is this how you see women? As objects?"
"They're not objects."
"Sometimes I really fear for what kind of man you'll turn into."
I shrugged, not really seeing the harm in expressing my dreams. I drew the things I liked, in which I found beauty or happiness; at least, what I approximated as happiness. It wasn't a concrete thing for me, being happy; more like rain dripping off the leaves on a tree. I could see it, even feel it for a moment, but then it was gone. It was also a lot like eating tater tots.
"I'll be me. Just bigger."
Mom gave me the look: eyes stark, mouth a betrayed vowel.
"That's what I'm afraid of."
I tried to compartmentalize the shame, chop it up into bits so small it no longer resembled itself. Maybe that's what I had to do to keep from growing up to be whatever coarse beast kept her up at night. The only birds and bees discussion we ever had wasn't really discussion at all. It was more like an omen.
"You're not having sex until you're an adult. You have no business having babies when you can't even wipe."
"But I don't want babies."
"Is that what happens when you--"
"Stick your thing in someone? What do you think?"
She said it like a curse.
"I'm-- not sure."
Mom was to the point of hyperventilation, so great was her nuisance. I could tell in her face she had to make a decision, an important one; one that could change our lives forever. She put her hands on my arms and sat me down on the bed.
"Listen to me. Are you listening?"
I nodded my hair over my eyes.
"You don't worry about girls right now-- you worry about school and being a good boy. Your penis is for making piss, not babies."
So that's what it does.
"You hear me?"
"And I don't want to find any more of these-- drawings. They're disgusting."
"Then how can I, umm, draw them so it's not disgusting?"
Mom glared holes through me.
"With their clothes on."
Not likely. I gave the slightest nod.
"Oh, and not that you deserve to know, but Haley's coming home for Christmas. Make sure you keep this room AND the living room picked up."
"Yes. Now go get in the tub before you get your dirt all over this bed."
It took a while, but with the help of a warm washcloth, I was able to wash away where the tears ruined Marcia's makeup. We sat on the edge of the bathtub, she in her robe, me with my shoes off. She seemed better, calmer. She still sniffed a lot, but stopped crying, which I knew was a good sign.
"Not really the Mother's Day I had in mind."
Her giggle was self-conscious.
She gave me a verge of tears smile and I held it close to my heart where it would feel safe.
"You think so?"
"You're a very special little boy."
I was pretty sure that boy was never me.
"And you deserve a kiss."
Maybe I was wrong.
I puckered my face and she leaned down, pressing our lips together. I felt her tongue just before she pulled away.
"You know, Mother's Day isn't over yet."
"And I think it's time I let you in on a little secret."
I liked secrets.
We went back to the bedroom, where she turned on the radio. It had an eight-track player with a tape that said Bee Gees. She plugged it in and soft music emanated from the lone speaker.
"This is my favorite song."
It was called "Words" and she told me about the Bee Gees and how Robin was her favorite because he reminded her of a little boy, all while she helped me take my shirt off, then my pants. I only knew them from Saturday Night Fever which had the guy from Welcome Back Kotter. I told her I liked the song "Staying Alive" and this seemed to make her happy. Happier, even.
Once I was in nothing but my socks and Underoos, Marcia told me she was ready to share her secret. She had me sit next to her, on my knees, while she rubbed my bottom, the other hand stroking my hair. It felt good, and I couldn't help myself. I remembered what Mom and Mrs. Ickelheimer said, but the of bad things in my head couldn’t keep me from responding.
The weird thing was Marcia didn't seem put off by this, and it occurred to me that she was the one who saw bad behavior in little boys for what it was: a need for attention. She didn't think less of me for being who I was, and even though there was an ever-growing problem in my lower half, I felt just fine in my heart.
"It's called a lollipop."
I looked at her with half lidded eyes, my smile the only question.
"Did you know that?"
I shook my head.
"Want me to show you what I do with lollipops?"
If it means you won't stop.
She showed me what to do, put my hands on her legs and chest and bottom, made me stick my fingers in her mouth, two or three at a time. In exchange, the little shocks I felt were more-- localized. It still hurt, but like a really good poop hurt, or scraping your thing with a sharp piece of soap. She taught me all the wrong ways first, and left me little more than a puddle of sweat and jangled nerves. As the nights wore by, she showed me other ways, right ways, and my pleasure blossomed.
She was a good teacher, and in no time, I had top grades in pretty much everything. Still, it was tiring, and I lost more sleep than I could handle. It got so I slept on the ride to school, hoping it would be enough to keep me going through the day. Most times it was, but that depended entirely on Kalliope.
Sitting next to me on the couch, I could tell it would be a long night. There was just so much to remember, so many different ways to do what amounted to the same thing. I hoped I was past the punishment phase, but it was anyone's guess. She wasn't one for cues, just words; only ever words. They were the beginning and the end and I shivered when I felt her hand on mine. Most disturbing, I no longer knew what kind of shiver it was.
“It felt nice when you kissed Brett. Like the real thing.”
My hands belonged to someone else as they began to unbutton my shirt.
“I didn’t like it.”
“Well, I like him.”
“I don’t want to do it again.”
“You will do what I tell you to do.”
Or make me do. My shirt was on the floor, pants half off, not my hands still working.
I looked up, into the eyes that never matched, and I felt a last, tiny breath push through my heart and out my nose. It would be years before I realized what it meant, but in that moment, in those haunting eyes, in a face without pleasure or fear or ignominy, I found something darker than the longest night on a sunless world.
She was learning is what her smile told me, but with the words still came the tears.
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