UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
P.H. MADORE

Never stopped waiting

Nobody who'd known her at the end had bothered to pay for it, so her
obituary was slim—easy to let feed on me like some timeless mental plague.

I wanted cinema and, for me, going to the movies is as intimate as sex
because I like to relax and freely gasp, laugh, groan even, and once I wept.
I wasn't sure anymore where the listings were, it'd been awhile. I came
across the notice looking for them, tucked into the bottom-left corner of
page D5.

"Connie Simpson, 26, of 193 Found St., passed away due to unrevealed causes
on July 22nd. She is survived by one aunt, Mrs. Millicent Bouchard of San
Francisco, California, and two cats. Services will not be held due to other
arrangements. The Humane Society, which has taken custody of Ms. Simpson's
pets, would like to remind our readers of the important difference one
adoption makes."

I was unbelieving. There had to be multiple Connie Simpsons, I reasoned,
and grabbed the phone directory from the pulp mess that was my dining table.
I'd been eating some eggs casually, but let them go cold as I searched for
Simpson to find three: an Alice & Arthur, and Connie. The couple were
nowhere near the neighborhood I grew up in, where Connie had spent all her
days waiting for things to run over, start anew.

Downstairs I found my paycheck in the mail. Unkempt and emotional, instead
of going to the movies I patronized a package store a block from the bank
where I deposited it. After I bought some vodka, some rum, and some cola, it
occurred to me that there is a package store a couple blocks from
everywhere. It was just the kind of thing she'd have pointed out, I realized
unlocking my door. And I smiled; committed this thought to memory and lost
myself in hers entering the apartment.

I sank buoyant and errant thoughts, all of them—until the sun rose shedding
light on countless crevices and, overcome by a peculiar desire to crawl into
a sidewalk crack, fade into an ashen alley, to join Connie in our wrecked
past forever, consciousness left me lying on the floor of my balcony porch.

Mick, my only static companion since she and I'd parted ways, was eating
cold pasta from styrofoam when I awoke many hours later, Saturday night.

"How'd you get in 'ere?" I croaked at his presence.

"Turned the doorknob, 'plied pressure to the hinges," he said hardly
glancing my way.

I became jello-weak and all but collapsed into the chair across from him.
"Gemme some water," I blurted reeling, eyes clamping shut.

"Now that's no way t—"

Airborne dust started me gagging.

I exposed my eyes to the harsh light when he set a glass of water before me,
luke-warm with exterior droplets, and drank it all at once. Feeling
stronger, I stomped leftward to the toilet in the bathroom; fell to my
knees, dry-heaved. So dehydrated was my body that it used every bit of water
for nourishment like a cracked desert plain.

He appeared in the doorway to my right and asked, "What's up?"

Struggling some, I stood; trudged past him into the kitchen; saw Connie in
my own skewed glancing window reflection the way I most remembered her:
self-assured, agelessly beautiful, forever damned.

I mixed a drink, guzzled it, took a small draw from a second, and felt more
comfortable.

Mick was worried at my table, poised to light a cigarette and pretending not
to watch me.

I took my one ashtray from a cupboard, set it on the table as he had my
water, and offered a drink.

"Sure, but make it weak," he cheered. "Lisa won't kiss me'f she smells
liquor."

"Mix it yerself, you lazy whore." I sat closer, showing I meant it. "There's
vodka 'n rum."

He hopped up, hurried to the kitchen like mine was a limited offer.

"And RC in the fridge," I called.

He didn't talk while making the drink. He returned and I was smoking a Camel
of his.

"How'd you get that smoke?"

"Removed it from the pack, applied pressure to flint," I explained in a
cloud.

He laughed his beefy mobster laugh, blinked terse eyes. In one of the many
ways there are—I forget which—he asked again what was wrong. I asked what he
meant.

"For one thing, I haven't seen you drink since your brother's wedding."

"So?" I demanded. "Feel like drinkin'.

"And so I will."

I went back to my little kitchen, poured straight rum. I noted that Bacardi
has Puerto Rican heritage and found it funny—Connie'd convinced me it was an
Italian brand when I was fifteen.

Mick started again as I sat: "Listen, I might be an asshole, maybe I weren't
there that time you got stranded out on Highway Ninety-Five. But's far's I
know I'm still your best friend." He paused for a sip, his face contracting
at its liquor. "Means I care."

I could've said that Connie Simpson's death had driven me away from myself
with no warning, but chewing those words left a rank taste. Silent a moment,
I told him that I knew he cared. Then, "Lemme have them cigarettes when you
go. I'll pay you back."

"You sure?"

"I didn't get fired or anything," I said.

He tossed the pack to me, stood with tray in hand. The folded newspaper,
open to the obituaries, was therefore revealed. He pretended not to notice,
went to the kitchen to throw the styrofoam away, and didn't leave as I
expected.

In the dream I had some time later, I was slurping a smoothie at Moore's
Diner on West Found Street, where I often spent the money I earned doing my
mostly-vacant father's laundry on burgers and fries and songs from the
jukebox there—which in the dream was still open with Connie working
part-time as a waitress for spending money.

I was studying the wallflowers when she sat across from me, and was
fascinated by the radiance of her hair's umber intersection with the wall's
pink and gold flowers. The sensation of her sweet perfume intoxicated me and
I swore, in that instant, that the roses had become actual and fragrant by
means of some magic.

"Hi," she said. "I'm Connie and you're cute."

"Me?"

She giggled. "No, him behind you."

I grinned, looked behind, and we both laughed.

"Don't you live around here? Maybe over t' Foundry Manor?"

I nodded, told her I lived in 85.

"Thought I recognized you 'cuz I live in ninety-one with my aunt," she said
pointing at her name tag. I took the opportunity to study what I could of
her breasts.

I didn't want the conversation to end but didn't know what to say next. Both
propositions were new.

She said I should walk her home, took a straw from near the wall, and jabbed
it into my smoothie without permission, bent across the table and stole a
gulp. Wiping her mouth she asked if I minded. Though it was something I
would have fought Mick or even my much-older brother Mike over, I didn't,
was elated, felt honor. It was difficult not to let this show, but then a
register rang in the vacuum of the jukebox changing, someone called her, and
in a young-womanly flash she disappeared.

Outside, in September, I stood waiting for her. She walked past me; stopped
some yards off and turned around dainty, smoking a cigarette. "I'd've taken
you for a chaser."

"Does that make me a waiter too?" I joked.

"You didn't even call after me." She moved closer.

"You didn't stop."

"Didn't wanna."

"But you wanted me to."

I blushed—she spoke true and expelled an air-thin cloud into my face; as if
to prove it.

"Well?"

I opened my mouth and she cut me off: "Arncha gonna walk me?" I started
walking and she sighed obviously loud: "You're supposta hold my arm, make me
feel safe."

We took a step forward in time, now stood in each other's eyes outside
apartment 91, weeks after our first encounter. I walked her home every night
she worked. She leaned and gently pressed her lips to mine. There was no
tongue but I could taste nicotine on her heated respiration. There was an
erection I was sure she'd notice. She pushed away from me, smirked, and
asked if it had been my first. I didn't know how to answer except with the
truth, didn't know what she was really asking. Truth felt wrong for the
occasion, which was another fresh proposition because I didn't know that in
life we are forced to swallow the truth, to say something polite.

Knowing my name's Jerry, she said, "Gerald, it could've been way worse."
Then unlocked the door and fell into her aunt's apartment, through two
months.

Then my bed, her topless at my side. Silent, we listened to my father
singing Sinatra and changing his clothes. I hadn't expected him home—it was
an unspecial December Thursday.

Hearing a violent banging on the apartment door, we embraced fearfully and
hid beneath the covers at the words of her aunt: "Where-is-she?"

"Uh, who?" my father asked innocent. "And who're you anyway?"

"Connie my niece you sonofabitch don't play games I know she's here!"

"Got no clue what you're talkin' about."

Upheaval followed which sounded like a cat getting lost in the spin cycle,
and we heard my father say, "I'll slap you bitch!" and Connie roared
laughing. Her what-have-I-done look matched my what-the-christ expression,
and not knowing what else to do we embraced tighter, kissed as though the
world were poised to end.

If only we'd known: in the bigger picture, it was.

Myself, Mick Calloway, Connie, and her friend Sally sat smoking a joint in
Mick's garage when, without prodding, Sally climbed onto Mick's lap.

It was like the girls had planned ahead.

Connie took my hand then and led me off into the post-winter woods behind
Mick's parent's house in the suburbs; asked if I loved her. I picked a
mayflower for her and she showed me what love was—something sweeter than the
wine she drank with sugar though more refined than the junk that took her
life.

Then a mad swirl of fast-paced memorial scenes:

Connie in the theater watching me, not Bond.

In her freshly-torn prom gown when we skipped to have a romantic night to
ourselves in Boston.

In my car, on my lap, screaming "fastah-Jerry-like-nutso-like-you-love-me!"

Boarding the taxi that would take her to reform school in Vermont and the
sincerity of her words: "I'm sorry Jerry...it has to be this way." And how I
was in my graduation cap when I truly realized what she meant.

In the grocery store looking tired and burned, frantic and translucent,
wearing a smile I didn't believe. With a vice I'd never understand. How my
eyes followed her momentarily outside and saw a man with empty eyes and red
hair, a mad crooked grin in a beaten white Pontiac, holler words
incomprehensible at her.

Watching her go and never losing sight.

To liquidate my assets (my car and everything of value), it took about one
week. To take the first step with a knapsack on my back and a duffel
dangling near my knees, an hour.

Each mile I walked the answer felt closer.

At a crossroad with signs for South, West, and East, I called Mick three
Sundays after my confession. He unknowingly gave me the question, which I
foolishly thought would make the answer easier to find: "Where the
motherfuck are you?"

I nearly dropped the receiver. Stared off into the sun-setting sky;
haphazardly plotted destiny until he broke my concentration with
Hello!shouts. I waited for him to calm some.

"I'm not sure yet," I said in a sordid, easy tone. "Part of me's in Connie's
coffin, I know that much."

"Oh cut it—"

"I'm taking everything in, Mick, and I'm not giving up. When I get there,
I'll call." And I hung up, blindly picked a road then realizing how
arbitrary direction had been to begin with. Walked, shuffled, traveled, and
notched America.

I reached Nevada, hollered across the desert (at time itself): I am alive,
and you won't stop me.
But it has a funny way of striking a man down, and I
realized one day gazing at Mexico that my beard was gray, so asked aloud
just how long I'd been walking. This was, I understood, a question I didn't
actually need answered. I decided to go north again from the southern border
of Texas, figured I could start over even if I hadn't found my answer;
shrugged and felt the need to leave it trapped in her undying eyes, the
image of which seemed a permanent staple on the screen of my mind.

I walked across plains; through cities like Austin and Houston and Phoenix;
over prairies and finally through the suburban communities of the
Midwest. Distance came to be equally as unimportant as time, industry,
location, society, and the future had all proven to be. I wasn't sure anymore
if it took twelve minutes or twenty-nine years to trek a given distance,
and felt no desire to be. The "x" on my treasure map had never been on it.

I read a last road sign: "Sangerville, Kansas." Veered left off the asphalt
and headed into a field lined at its edges with cloned, fabricated homes,
each having a clothesline behind it.

Losing track of these I began to stumble—a bedsheet trickled and twitched in
the fiery breeze—fell forward as a man wanting to smell earth, returned from
a long oceanic voyage.

And time quit.

"Gerald," I heard. "Took you for a chaser," she said as I turned with
finality.

"Does that make me a waiter?"

"You didn't call after me."

"No," I told her. "But dammit I never stopped waiting—always knew you'd
come.

"Where are we?" I asked her then as everything but she disappeared.

I searched her eyes for my answer. "I don't know," she said, and I wondered
if we would ever. "But yer supposta hold my arm, make me feel 'safe'."


P. H. Madore is tired of people thinking it matters how old a writer,
how old a person is. Life doesn't deal an even hand. He's father of
DISPATCH LITAREVIEW, which can be ogled via http://litdispatch.net







© 2006 Underground Voices