The way she tossed clothes out of her dresser drawer, cussing and searching for her clove cigarettes, did not come off as sexy. Lindsay never tried to look sexy, though she didn’t try not to, either. Jason, now sitting on her mattress with its old and creaky springs, was always on the lookout for her to appear this way, which she sometimes did, almost by accident—a hip cocked to the side, or when she picked up and lightly petted her cat Lucy—but those moments came rarely. She was thick and strong and not very curvy. Lindsay was the only girl Jason had ever kissed or anything, so it made sense that he wanted her to be something she was not.
“My mom took them,” she said, and looked at Jason with an expression of disbelief.
“That’s stealing,” Jason said. “That makes her a thief.”
“Just one of her crimes,” she said.
Jason counted on his fingers, “She steals from her daughter. She sleeps with strange men. She can’t pay her bills. She can’t get no satisfaction.”
Lindsay shook her head. “She doesn’t know how to communicate so she sends me weird messages by stealing my stuff.”
It had been almost a month since Jason had put his hand in her pants, and vice versa, and it had been over two weeks since they’d kissed. Lindsay had told him, after the last kiss that she didn’t want to do anything anymore. She said it made things weird at school. Passing him in the halls or seeing him in the lunchroom, knowing they had kissed and would kiss again, all that slurpy sloppiness, it made things between them so weird and gross, she’d said. He had things he wanted to say about this, a protest he wanted to mount, but the best way to explain himself had not come to him yet.
In looking for the cigarettes she had tossed most of her panties onto the floor. All of her panties were white and getting threadbare, just like the window curtains in her room. The apartment where she and her mother lived was on campus, where her mom was supposedly getting a degree, though she was really just trying to hook a professor, according to Lindsay.
Jason wanted to kiss her, wanted to touch her again, but not because of love. It wasn’t love. Kissing Lindsay wasn’t great, it was more like eating the passed over remains in the Halloween bag. But Jason had just turned fifteen and he truly believed Lindsay would be the only girl he would ever kiss or touch. It was a premonition. At the moment he was five-foot-five and had acne. His voice would never deepen to an acceptable level, he assumed. Another premonition: he would die young—that was something he dreamt about. One thing he knew was that he would not see the year 2000, which was twelve years away. He was certain of this: he would never translate to this world, not now or in the future.
“You know the cure for boredom?” Lindsay said.
Jason widened his eyes thinking, sure she was about to say sex. “What?”
“There is none. You have to understand and accept that everything is boring.”
“Yeah. Everything is boring. This town is boring. But so is a big city. I know a lady who lives in New York and she said that it’s boring as hell. So many people and so many lights it makes your eyes tired. Hiking is boring. Music is boring. Smoking is boring. Cooking is the most boring.”
“Well. Okay, then.”
“Let’s call Butch,” she said.
“I forgot his number,” Jason said. “It’s been a while.”
Lindsay stepped out for a moment and came back with the phone book. “What’s his real name?”
“Calvin Ramsey. Aren’t we too old the prank call people?”
Lindsay sat on the floor flipping around in the phone book. “No. Here. 544-3847.” She picked up the phone and handed it to Jason. The spiraled cord did not reach all the way to the bed so he stood up. She dialed and stood and put her head close to the earpiece. A man with a gravelly voice answered, “Yeah, what.”
“Is Butch there?”
The man’s inhale sounded like a chainsaw firing up. “How bout I pry your head open and stuff it full of fuck-wire,” he said.
Lindsay couldn’t help it and burst out laughing. She hit the base to hang up. “Oh my God. That was hilarious. That was not boring. I think we felt another human soul with that one.” She took the phone from Jason. “Who else? Oh, let’s call what’s-her-name. Rebecca. Remember that number?”
“Yeah, I remember that one,” Jason said. “Because there are two fifteens in it. 264-1515.”
She handed him the phone again.
“No, no, I don’t want to call her,” Jason said. “The girl ran away or something.”
“Come on. We get to feel something real again. Not boring. A human soul.”
“If I call her we have to, you know, kiss,” he said. “That’s the deal.”
Lindsay looked out the window through the barely open curtain where it was quickly growing dark. She stuck her tongue out for a moment and then said, “Okay,” and dialed.
The a woman sounded like a mild southern lady, which had always been part of the thrill, hearing her drop the part and rise into hate and disgust.
“Is Rebecca there?”
There was silence on the line for a moment. The silence filled Jason, like light filling up a bulb, and he could feel this woman’s pain. It was the most intrusive, voyeuristic thing he had ever done. Linsday was right, this was real. “You know something?” the woman said. She sounded particularly calm tonight, however, even congenial. “You are going to be very, very sad in life. You are going to be alone. You won’t be able to trust anyone because you are selfish and won’t believe it is possible to trust. You’ll feel guilt and anger when you wake up and when you got to sleep—”
Lindsay hit the base to hang up. “What the shit was that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who does this woman think she is? She tries to give us the ‘You’ll be unhappy’ lecture. My mom gives that lecture in person. I don’t believe in lectures over the phone.”
Out the window, under the streetlights, were pine tree stumps and across the street the corners of houses and edges of rooftops. In the front yards of these houses were many vehicles because college students rented there. At night the students would party and Lindsay would watch them because she couldn’t sleep. She had told Jason all the stuff they did. Falling out of truck beds. Firing off crossbows. Shot-gunning beers.
“Okay ugly duckling,” Lindsay said. “Kiss me.”
Carl had taken her out to eat for the third time this week, and Arlene said she was going to jog tomorrow, but Carl protested. “You needed to gain a few pounds,” he said. “You were too thin. I didn’t tell you that earlier, but you were.” Carl was a nice guy, the nicest she had met in years. He didn’t drink. He didn’t have a bad word to say about anyone. It didn’t hurt that he had money. God. That didn’t hurt.
They ate at Gardner’s Steakhouse, each having a salad, steak, and a potato wrapped in tin foil. She put too much butter and sour cream on the potato and it was soupy. Then they went back to her place—they’d gone to Carl’s house in Oak Grove every other night after dinner, so they came here. She had mopped, dusted, and disinfected the sinks and toilets. He sat at the kitchen table while she brewed decaf coffee, and then they sat down to watch television. Three minutes into a rerun of St. Elsewhere the phone rang, and Arlene walked into the kitchen where the telephone was mounted on the wall. Some little pipsqueak asked for Rebecca. Of course he did. Probably had called a hundred times before. In fact his voice sounded familiar, even though she only ever heard it say one phrase, “Is Rebecca there?” It had been months—half a year?—since Arlene had gotten one of these little pranks. Years ago, almost five years after Becca’s death, was when it started. Who knows how it stared or by whom, but she would get a few calls a week. None of the kids ever seemed to know that her daughter had never gone by the full name, but always by “Becca.” The first time it happened Arlene cried. Then she got used to it and each new case made hardly any impression. Still, Arlene would say dreadful things to the kids because she wanted to scare them away from this kind of tormenting, but it only made them hungrier. Then she just started hanging up.
But tonight she did not hang up. Tonight she told the boy that he would be sad and alone. She was honest with him, and he couldn’t take it, so he hung up. When she walked back to the couch Carl asked who it was and Arlene said, “Salesman.”
The situation with Becca. The living nightmare. The way she left in the night, this after only a few months of slow disconnection from her mother, a sudden change in temperament and behavior that Arlene attributed to teenage stress but was really, she found out later, related to drugs and a twenty-four year old man named Marvin Jones. The next morning she was gone. Arlene called the Police. The policewoman who questioned Arlene ended up next to her on the couch, patting her leg, saying she had a daughter too. “I can’t imagine,” the woman had said. After that, over the next two days, Arlene made so many deals with God she couldn’t keep up. Arlene promised she would devote her life to prayer. That she would be celibate, if only Becca would return unharmed. She would start a charity or live in some poor country measuring out rations of donated food. On the day the body was found in the Leaf River—they eventually had to rule it a suicide—Arlene changed from agreements to threats. She said if she didn’t get a sign, some sign of Becca’s safety and contentedness in the afterlife, she would avoid joy the rest of her own life. She would never call on God again. The next day she went on a morning jog and saw a particularly beautiful sunrise, and she took this to be her sign. It was not perfect, but it would do. She stopped in the middle of her jog and sat on the curb.
Carl had his arm around her. A commercial for Tide came on the TV, a goofy jingle with kids running around getting muddy. Carl tapped his hand on her shoulder in rhythm with the song.
Jason went to bed thinking about the mother of Rebecca. She was a person who had lost everything. Then he thought about Lindsay, wondering why they didn’t love each other like they should. She didn’t like his smell and he didn’t like hers. Thinking it would be so much easier if they just loved each other.
When it came to his premonitions, Jason was partly correct. He was wrong in thinking that Lindsay would be his only lover. He would have a total of six lovers in his life, only one that could be called a girlfriend. But he was correct in thinking that he would not see the year 2000. In March of 1997 Jason would die after a night of ingesting high doses of liquor and opiods. It was too much for his body and he simply stopped breathing. He died in his sleep, in the midst of a dream. In the dream he was climbing a tree, reaching and stepping higher and higher, to dangerous heights. When his breath left him, in that moment, in his dreamworld, a world created in his mind, the sky around the tree got brighter. He looked up at the light coming through the branches.
About the author:
Andrew Rhodes is a graduate from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. His stories have appeared in A Clean, Well Lighted Place, Upstreet, The Laurel Review, and Crime Factory.