Appears in Other Voices #42
It was autumn and Tony Molloy was seventeen and he urged his dirt bike fast through the light through the trees, tearing it up good on the trails of the forest in the leafy section of town, where he lived. In the growing chill of late afternoon, he gunned the throttle. Kicking a flash of dirt, the earth surrendered before him. In the distance, lost in the trees, the rising and falling drone of his friend, Monk, tearing it up good himself.
Regrouping at the circular track they'd carved out with divots and jumps, Tony Molloy slumped, wasted against a tree. Monk took some nice air off a jump. Landing hard: a cloud of dust that rose up to catch the orange evening light. Tingling with a pleasing sore fatigue, Tony Molloy's eyes followed the slow waft of sun-lit dust.
Beautiful, he thought. Sleepily, he felt himself float. He found himself remembering last week, some poem his teacher had read. Bored, Tony Molloy hadn’t really listened. Then there was a last line, something about the rain not having hands as small as her. How small was she? He’d imagined her, in a miniature dress, a miniature hair bow, a perfect little person standing on his palm. Then he’d thought of the world with all its rushing and jostling, all its sound. How would she, so teeny and dainty, make it? The line hadn’t even made sense, and here he was becoming upset. But even as the teacher rapped his desk, asked, “Am I boring you, Mr. Molloy?,” even as he snapped his head up, answered, “Huh?,”in his mind he was smiling at her, curling his fingers in, sheltering her.
Tony Molloy went blank again, feeling good and invisible. Watching Monk’s dust as it began to settle, his thoughts started up again. The dust was reminding him of something he couldn’t place; he grew irritated. Finally, it came to him. How perfectly the dust mimicked the salty haze off the summer sea at dusk from the Schlosners’ overlook deck.
The Schlosners had a place by the sea, where city folks like them spent the summer season. There was Mrs. Schlosner, a writer. Tall with slender, jutting bones, she scared Tony Molloy a bit. She was quiet, but not shy; like a tree, she loomed. There was Mercy Schlosner, the daughter, fifteen, who always left a pause of silence before responding to questions, who tossed off words like fuck and bullshit to her parents, like they were all siblings. But, Tony Molloy had only ever talked to Mr. Schlosner, a painter, who hired Tony Molloy to do odd jobs around the place.
“What’s up bro?” Monk asked, squinting through the cut outs of a gorilla mask he wore.
Only then did Tony Molloy notice how hot his eyes had become, that everything had gone a bit blurry. He shook his head. “You got dirt in my eyes. You always kick your ass-end out like you’re on a bronco, you ain’t got no style to your ride, man.”
Monk cackled, revved his bike, popping a wheelie.
Night arrived. Tony Molloy idled at the T-intersection, taking a left, away from home, toward the sea. He drove slowly through the deserted country roads. On either side, wide expanses of lawn blanketed with leaves, bushes wrapped in burlap, and set far back, large summer homes. He came to a small white plaque with neat black letters: SCHLOSNER. Tony Molloy eased his bike onto the shoulder. He peered through the leafless privet bushes. In the distance, the house. Silent, waiting.
He stopped at his front door. A moth circled the yellow outdoor light. Wings fluttering, it batted, desperate, against the bulb. Tony Molloy cupped his hand over the moth; it beat against his palm. Flattening his hand he felt its cloth body go still. Taking his hand away, the moth twitched, then twirled lifeless to the ground.
Sunday dinner was family night. Tony Molloy’s five brothers all came with wives and kids to Ma and Pop’s, their hands scrubbed clean of the oils and lubes that the rest of the week, because God didn’t mind, shadowed on their skin. All the sons worked for Pop at the Molloy Auto Body Shop. Bowing, Grace. Then dinner, loud, ravenous.
“Seen that new auto shop going up in town?” asked Patty Jr., referring to the cemented center of town, where the municipalities were located. The court, the dump, the gray, humming utility plants; where the blacks lived in low, red brick apartment buildings.
Pop laughed. “They got their junk shops, sure.”
“No, Pop. This one’s bigger. Like a real kinda place.”
Ma said, “No business talk on Sunday dinner.”
“They get some kinda assistance?” Pop asked. “I swear, them people and their handouts. But, no: it’s better to work for what you got,” Pop continued thoughtfully.
“Pop, it’s big looking. Modern.”
Pop slammed his short, thick hand on the table. Everyone went quiet.
Down the long table, Tony Molloy saw two of his sister-in-laws touch two brothers, Paul and Vin. One touched a shoulder, the other a wrist. Paul and Vin silently, and just slightly, shook their heads. The wives’ hands both slid back into their laps.
Sean softly broke the silence. “Anyway, them people’ll be manning it, so you can only imagine.”
Lou, “How’re they gonna know the custom work we do? No way.”
Patty Jr., “No way, Pop. No way.”
Pop’s hand withdrew, leaving a print of perspiration that Tony Molloy watched slowly evaporate away.
Tony Molloy drove through the night in his Jeep, a sixteenth birthday present from Pop and his brothers reconstructed from different parts.
He went to the center of town where they didn’t proof. Three black guys watched him from the steps of an abandoned building, whistled as he passed.
Returning with a six-pack, the three boys were standing, blocking his way. Nearby a car idled in the street. Inside, two girls in back, one girl at the driver’s wheel.
“What you got, huh?”
“I didn’t do nothing.”
They snatched the beer from him, thanked him, got into the car.
Don’t be a dumbass. Tony Molloy heard a girl’s voice say from inside the car. Drive, a boy said. Stop messing around, give it back, the girl persisted. Why you buggin, LaTeisha, the boy said. There was silence. The window rolled down, a hand dropped the beer to the ground.
“Well? Go on,” said the girl, looking right at Tony Molloy.
He knew her. She did the Schlosners’ laundry in the summer. He stepped forward.
The car pealed out and Tony Molloy heard them whooping and laughing.
Tony Molloy muttered, drove violently. He passed a massive iron substructure of a building in progress. A sign:
Tony Molloy turned down Dune Road toward the public beach. He stopped his Jeep. A streetlight fell over his friends in a spreading column. From the distance it seemed to be holding them, figurines under a glass lid. Tony Molloy turned his Jeep around.
Parking on the Wighauer’s front yard, he drank a beer quickly. The lawn was overgrown with weeds sprouting into long-limbed bushes. Nailed to the outer wall of the house, signs. PRIVATE PROPERTY. KEEP OUT. Half the house was crumbling, black outlines showing how the flames had moved before the fire department arrived.
With the original floor of the Jeep rusted through, Pop had welded sheets of aluminum on either side. Tony Molloy pulled the sheet back: a secret stash of cassettes he kept hidden from his friends. Tom Tom Club, Cat Stevens, Pat Benatar, Maria Callas. Tony Molloy opened a second beer.
He didn’t like the Maria Callas. It was opera. All that wailing and yodeling.
He’d been working on their old tulip tree all morning, hacking off dead branches. It was afternoon, and the Schlosners were inside eating lunch. They never ate anything regular as sandwiches like normal people. They always had bowls, a tomato thing, a bean thing, a pasta thing; cutting boards and platters of bread, cheese, fruit. Tony Molloy collected the branches, bundling them with twine, moving closer to the house. Inside, he heard music. That’s what the Schlosners were like, listening to music during meals. It hadn’t sounded like music to Tony Molloy, it had seemed how air might sound if you could hear it. Then some sort of instrument came on. It was like a moaning bird, like a bird trying to talk. Tony Molloy got onto his knees, raked stray branches with his hands. He heard laughing, whistling. Mercy was up, twirling, humming to the bird instrument. The song ended, she raised her hands skyward. Motherfucker, she shouted. Later, when he was finished, Mr. Schlosner gave Tony Molloy a Coke while he fetched his wallet. Tony Molloy looked around. He sneaked into the living room. At the stereo he flipped through records, tapes. He didn’t know what he was looking at. He slipped one into his pants, Maria Callas as it turned out, and hurried back to the kitchen.
In the distance a car pealed off. Some laughter. Tony Molloy put on Cat Stevens. He fast-forwarded through to a peppy song. He slouched back, feet on the dash.
“Hey, boy,” a voice said.
Tony Molloy jumped, stabbing off the music.
LaTeisha. She was done up. Dark lipstick, gold eye shadow. “Saw your truck from the main road.”
“What’re you doing around here?” he asked.
“Sign says, keep out to you just as well.”
“It’s different,” he mumbled.
LaTeisha pursed her lips, walked toward the house. She wore tight jeans. When she stepped, the thick denim folded in, sharp lines cutting beneath each cheek, squeezing out small triangles of flesh to the side.
On the porch, LaTeisha jabbed the spike of her high heel into the decayed floorboard. She looked at Tony Molloy, raising her eyebrows impatiently. He got out of the Jeep. He lit one of the lamps the teenagers had left, for when they hung out. He threw the light on the black chamber of Mrs. Wighauer’s room.
“After Buckie—he was the son—killed himself, his mom came apart. Fell asleep drunk. Her cigarette lit the bed right up with her in it.”
The living room was still intact, wallpapered with raised, velvet roses. LaTeisha took a seat on a torn couch. Tony Molloy sat on the floor, leaned against its base. He told her how Buckie killed himself playing chicken on snow mobiles that his dad, suddenly flush with money from his seafood restaurant, had bought. Tony Molloy didn’t know the other kid. He was from the suburbs inland, went to a fancy school Buckie had just started at. Zooming right for one another, they hadn’t realized they were on the frozen lake because of the snow. “They tried to turn away, but they just—wham!” he said, slapping his hands together hard.
LaTeisha nodded vaguely, looking at the graffiti on the walls. Amongst proclamations about Rock-N-Roll and poorly rendered genitals, were statements about the dead Wighauers. Fuckie Pighauer May U Rest In Peace U Dum Fuck. For a good time call Mrs. Pighauer GO2-HELL.
“Were they really such horrible people?” LaTeisha looked at Tony Molloy.
He glanced at the walls covered in the fancy paper a buddy of his had put up just weeks before the accident, and he couldn’t really remember. He shrugged. “Thanks, for before. The beer.”
“Fool’s gotta be put in his place time to time. That’s why I just got out of the car. They started smoking their shit. I’m not gonna get wrapped around some dumbass tree.”
Tony Molloy looked at LaTeisha. He smiled, then he shook his head, laughing. The balls on this girl, he thought. He said, “Far walk way back to town.”
LaTeisha had him stop on a main road. He watched her cut down an alley. He drove off, rested his free hand on the passenger seat. It was warm with LaTeisha. He rubbed it back and forth.
During the week, since it was just him and Pop and Ma, they ate dinner at the kitchen table. The electric clock over the oven, which Tony Molloy faced, made a low and constant hum; the plastic disk protecting its face had an orange film from the years of cooking. Then there was their chewing. Sometimes Tony Molloy would chew very slowly, very quietly, to see if it would have an unconscious effect on his parents.
“Good,” Pop nodded, dragging a tear of meat through a pool of gravy.
Ma smiled. “It was on sale.”
Ma and Pop talked about meats for a while.
They went quiet. The sound of chewing returned.
Pop started making quick, sucking sounds, his head lurching forward with each suck. He had wide-gapped teeth and things often got caught there. He dislodged it. Then quiet, chewing. Tony Molloy didn’t understand how they could all sit there with all this chewing, chewing, chewing. It was like they were naked.
“It’s getting cold,” Ma said.
“That time of year,” Pop said.
“Tony, do you have enough blankets in your room? It’s getting cold.”
You just said that, Tony Molloy thought. He nodded.
“There’s extras in the hall closet,” she added.
“I’m good, Ma.”
“Got more potatoes?” Pop asked, craning his head to the oven.
Get up and look you lazy fuck, Tony Molloy thought.
Ma walked Pop’s plate to the oven. The linoleum flooring crackled beneath her feet where it blistered.
“Crunchy ones,” Pop said.
Tony Molloy wondered about Hell. He’d been playing the game since he was little and went to Sunday School, slowly furnishing Hell with things he found intolerable. Hell had been getting very cluttered recently.
Tony Molloy ran out onto the long dark beach and stopped at the water’s edge and peed. He squinted beyond the red picket fence with metal signs, NO TRESPASSING BEYOND THIS POINT. END OF PUBLIC AREA, that spanned the length of the town beach. Looming and silhouetted in the faraway distance: summerhouses. Behind, a roar of laughter and Monk’s voice. Tony Molloy turned eagerly. Monk was in Tony Molloy’s Jeep, playing his Joni Mitchell, which he’d first heard because of his eldest sister-in-law. Tony Molloy had forgotten to hide it. The other teenagers howled at the warbling female folk. Tony Molloy paced. He stumbled over an old umbrella. He ripped the fabric from the metal rods and pulled it over his waist like a tutu. He ran up the beach. He began dancing. His friends noticed him, tittered. He lit a cigarette, lighting the umbrella tutu on fire. He spun in circles, wailing and shrieking. “Oh Buckie, why’d ya have to kill yourself. Woe-is-me!” he laughed out as Mrs. Wighauer. He fell over, rolling to put out the fire, playing dead. The teenagers clapped and honked their horns and drummed their hoods.
The cracked shell lining the long driveway crunched as he drove slowly. The sound reminded him of summer. Mr. Schlosner had hired Tony Molloy to close the house down, draining pipes, fastening shutters. Tony Molloy had left one window unlocked.
Inside it was dark, cold. The low hum of wind in the chimney. A square of moonlight cut through the dark. A small picture window. Tony Molloy smiled. He remembered how the latch on the shutter had been rotting. In the months since, it had come undone. It felt like the house was sharing a secret with him. The light lit a patch of floor: bleached wood, a pale whitewash. He lay down, his face in the light looking up at the moon. He remembered the sensation of walking barefoot across it in the summertime. Smooth, cool. He remembered the way it felt returning home to floors of scratchy carpeting; dark brown to hide the filth of raising six boys, short knobby hairs for easy vacuuming.
Tony Molloy’s eyes burned. He tiptoed to the living room, taking as many tapes as he could carry.
He woke to a tapping. It was the middle of the night. He opened the window.
“Wha’cha doin’?” Monk asked, slipping his gorilla mask into his back pocket.
Tony Molloy tossed his thick comforter to the floor, flopping back to bed.
Monk waited. “Cool,” he said, climbing in, stepping over the bed, curling up on the comforter.
Tony Molloy closed his eyes, quickly fell back asleep.
“You got two pillows don’t you?”
Tony Molloy woke again. “Sorry.” He tossed Monk a pillow.
“Yeah,” Tony Molloy said. “It’s cool.”
Tuesdays, Tony Molloy got off work at 4:30. Along the boulevard the trees were already blackish-blue against the roasted sky. At the public beach, he sat on his hood. It was definitely getting colder. He fetched an extra jacket he kept in the back of his Jeep. He found the music he’d stolen, then forgotten about. It had been over a month ago. Back on his hood, he looked at one. A guy called Miles Davis. The music was all right, a bit goofy, like a comedy: guys being chased, hamming it up. The sea wind blew strong, the coming winter. He closed his eyes, listening hard. Da-la-de, da da, he imitated. He heard a revving. Opening one eye, he saw Monk on his dirt bike, tearing across the hard sand of the shore. Tony Molloy reached through the open window, turned Miles louder.
Night came fast, streetlights blinked on. They both sat on the Jeep hood.
“What’s this shit?” Monk finally asked, pulling a large hit off a joint.
“Dumbass,” Tony Molloy said. “It’s Miles Davis.”
“Boring,” Monk mumbled.
“It’s jazz.” Tony Molloy reached into the Jeep. “You wanna be another lunkhead, always listening to the same old crap.” Tony Molloy handed Monk a tape.
“Thelonious…Monk!” he said, reading the name. Monk looked up. He was smiling. “I can keep this?”
Tony Molloy smirked, thumped Monk on the chest.
Smoke dribbled out of the mouth and eye openings of Monk’s gorilla mask. He passed the joint to Tony Molloy.
“You know that mask’s not gonna save your skull,” Tony Molloy said.
Monk pulled off the mask. Trapped smoke rose off his head like a just-extinguished match. “Got a hard head.” He knocked his head with his fist, grinning.
“Next Buckie Pighauer, folks.”
Monk slumped back, closed his eyes.
Tony Molloy looked at a wide bruise across Monk’s cheek. He didn’t ask; he didn’t want to rile up Monk. Anyway, it would be some story about smashing up after a jump. Monk jumped everything: fences, outhouses, cars. But Tony Molloy took in the dimension of the bruise that approximated the 2x4s Monk’s dad, an often out-of-work carpenter, kept stacked in anticipation in the shed.
The music turned gentle. Miles let out long notes that rose up into the night.
“This’s all right,” Monk said.
Monk shrugged. “What the fuck do I know about it?”
It took a few visits before he got over the spooks and the creeps.
He opened the flue and built fires. He got to know the records, writing down names, titles. He wore their clothes, looked at their books. Books by Mrs. Schlosner. A novel by. That was cool, he’d thought. He’d flipped through them. Once he found a sex scene, and bashfully imagined Mrs. Schlosner. He thumbed the strings of Mercy’s guitar. He’d seen her through the bedroom window, on the hammock, strumming on it, real hard sometimes, hair flying crazy, sometimes soft, more like a girl, real pretty. He couldn’t make the guitar do anything, it was just six strings and a bunch of metal grooves along the neck. He drank wine from the cellar. He flipped through photo albums. He flirted with a picture of Mercy in a white bikini. He looked at pictures from trips, wide fields of purple flowers, valleys of red soil. Vineyards. Castles. White beaches, green oceans.
The sea unleashed a blast of winter cold overnight. The alarm company called, a frozen pipe at the shop exploded tripping off the system. Pop slammed around and Tony Molloy waited upstairs until he heard Pop leave. Ma was there waiting.
“Have you seen William?” she asked. “His mother called here again.”
Tony Molloy hadn’t seen Monk in days. But, Monk went off for long stretches by himself, lost in the forest.
Tony Molloy shrugged.
“Is that a yes or no, Anthony?”
Tony Molloy looked at his Ma. “You ever wanted to be something else but Pop’s wife? Like in high school, did you want to be something?”
Ma slapped him. Tony Molloy looked at her, turned, left.
On the way to school, Tony Molloy saw LaTeisha walking beside the road, holding herself, head bent into the bitter wind. He pulled over.
“Missed the bus,” she said defensively.
He could feel the cold radiating off her. As they drove, he stole glances of her.
“I’ve seen you too,” she said, looking ahead. “So you can quit staring.” Turning to him, “I know you work for the Schlosners too.”
“Mr. Schlosner’s cool. I hang out with him.”
“I do their laundry,” she said sharply. “Isn’t social hour.”
“I wasn’t saying nothing.” He looked at her. He hadn’t really meant to say that he thought he was better. A little, he liked the special, private way he’d come to know the Schlosners. But more than that, he wondered how he could make it show that he’d started thinking bigger than everyone he knew. Like all the damn parts of town: he just didn’t believe in them. Or this LaTeisha, he didn’t care what she was; she could be in his ride, no problem. “I’m just saying,” he began, unsure of how to complete the thought.
They neared the school.
“Probably just drop me here,” she said.
Tony Molloy was quiet. He nodded. “Yeah,” he said, “you’re right.”
The one thing he hadn’t done was go into Mr. Schlosner’s studio.
In the summer the studio fascinated him, intimidated him. Sometimes while fixing a hinge, or snaking a drain, he’d see Mr. Schlosner emerge from it, topless and sweaty, paint on his chest and stomach and toes. A crescent of sweat on the backside of the silk sarong he always wore. Sometimes the door would open a crack and Tony Molloy would catch a glimpse of a nude model, or a slice of the immense canvases: broad swathes of sumptuous color that left Tony Molloy breathless and titillated.
Monk had been missing for over a week when Tony Molloy received a postcard.
Bro. Couldnt take his shit. In da city wit lots o titties!! —Monk.
It had a picture of a gorilla from the city zoo.
Tony Molloy let the door swing open. The floor was resin-treated concrete, splattered with paint. He touched rows of paints, bins of brushes. In a closet, sarongs. He smelled them, oil paint, turpentine, sweat. Tony Molloy stripped, tied one on. He shivered. Pillars of white winter sun fell through skylights. He flipped through paintings of female body parts, running his hands over the grooves dug into the thick layers of pigment, pressing his cheek against the striations left by the brush bristles.
In the back of the studio, on the floor, a wooden trap door. Tony Molloy found a flashlight. It led down. An empty room. Built-in closets. He opened one. Photographs poured out. Naked models. Tony Molloy frowned. Paintings of naked ladies were fine. That was art, he knew. But photographs were different. He flipped through them. The way the models looked at the camera, like a porno magazine. Tony Molloy inhaled sharply. LaTeisha. She sat naked, frozen. Tony Molloy couldn’t move. He stared. Her expression, blank. Blank as a wall, blank as a moonless, starless overcast night. He touched her small breasts, his finger circling the dark areolas, over her skinny middle of ribs, along her thighs.
Tony Molloy felt very calm, almost dead-like. Then it rose up inside him and he felt crazy. He fled the secret basement, out of the studio, into the house. In Mercy’s room, he knocked things from shelves. A picture of her, lips puckered sassy. Liar, he thought, slamming it face down. In the study, he collected an armful of Mrs. Schlosner’s books, and in the fireplace, he lit them. Still in only Mr. Schlosner’s sarong, he crawled through the window. He stood on the deck and watched the winter sea move roughly, faded gray, curling white. The sun, a circle that gave no heat. A bitter wind blew, burning his skin. He took it as long as he could. He crawled, curled and shuddering, back through the window. Downstairs he put all the photos back, folded the sarong away, dressed. He straightened Mercy’s room, swept the fireplace, left.
At school, Tony Molloy saw LaTeisha. Ugly words lashed his brain. His hands tingled. He followed her. He moved fast. LaTeisha turned.
“Why you following me?”
Tony Molloy looked at the rounds of her breasts, the shallow hump of her crotch beneath her clothing. It was like X-ray vision, knowing how they really looked underneath. He wanted to do something, to grab her, rip her clothes.
She pushed him. He stood firm. She pushed again, harder. He let out a low laugh. With all her might, she pushed. He fell, and she ran.
Winter turned the trees sharp, skulking along the streets and forest like a cluttering of enormous eviscerated antlers left to collect snow. Tony Molloy went to the frozen lake that killed Buckie Wighauer. He knelt and touched its frozen edge. He turned on his Jeep stereo, blasted Sabbath. The music slammed, filled the forest, made him feel alive. He stepped out onto the lake. He walked. He ran. “Yee-haa!” He slid. In the name of Buckie Wighauer he shouted and ran and slid until he was flush and out of breath.
The concrete exterior of the new auto body shop was completed when the frost came, suspending construction. They covered up gaping holes for windows with heavy plastic tarps. Winter deepened. Snow soon covered the incomplete hull, the tarps tore, flapping in the wind. Small fissures developed in the cinder blocks, turning powdery and white in the moisture. Ragged and abandoned, graffiti appeared.
He thought of Monk a lot. He imagined him driving around the city on his dirt bike, jumping mailboxes, weaving through pedestrians on the crowded sidewalks. Probably he had some job, like in a fancy ice cream shop. That made him smile as he imagined all these things for Monk, all along, still wearing his gorilla mask. “Big dummie,” he’d say softly, smiling, wiping his eyes.
Spring. Buds on the trees unfolded, leaves reaching to the sky like hands, a thick green canopy. The houses by the sea needed to be readied for spring weekends, the coming summer season. Quick surge of cash for locals. Bulbs planted, leaves raked, pools uncovered, fences mended.
Tony Molloy went to the court to fill some permits for Pop. He stopped his car in the middle of the street. The tarps were gone, windows installed. The exterior bright titanium white, and he watched as men bolted a long metal sign above the tinted sliding glass door entrance. Raised red letters, MAGNUM, over a waving, checked racing flag.
Tony Molloy opened the shutters, stripped the burlap from the bushes, mowed the lawn.
He heard a car pull up. The teenage boy driving kissed her, let her out. The car pulled back, and was gone. LaTeisha looked at Tony Molloy then continued up the walkway, letting herself into the house. Watching the house, which she was now inside, a wave of panic fluttered over Tony Molloy that she’d sense how he’d roamed the house earlier. That she’d sense the absence of the stolen book, wedged in his back pocket. He walked to the house, went inside.
Tony Molloy found LaTeisha. She didn’t look up, just kept with her work. He followed her, watched her strip beds. He sat in a chair in the laundry room as she washed and dried. He followed her as she retraced her steps, and he stepped closer, reached for the edge of a sheet. Neither said a word, and together they made the beds with fresh, warm sheets. An arch of sweat darkened the handkerchief over her forehead. Tony Molloy’s mind flashed with the sweaty crescent that so often stained the backside of Mr. Schlosner’s silk sarong. In the months since, he’d summoned the photos in his mind, scrutinizing LaTeisha’s dead expression. But the expression resisted, remained impenetrable, and all he’d figured for sure was that blank didn’t mean nothing, it meant hidden. He wasn’t even sure, watching her across the bed, what he felt for her, jealous or protective.
LaTeisha scowled. “Why you looking like that for? Mr. Schlosner sent me the keys, I’m supposed to be here. Asked me to freshen everything up for them.”
Tony Molloy shook his head lamely. He pulled the book from his back pocket. He’d happened upon it a while back. He looked at LaTeisha only when he read the last line about even the rain not having such small hands. Back when he’d first heard the poem, that had made him think something, which he couldn’t now recall. But the quiet, private way it left him feeling seemed familiar. And even though the line still didn’t make any sense, Tony Molloy felt he now somehow understood it.
Tony Molloy slid the book back into his pocket. “You ever been on their deck?”
The sea was gusty, but the sun was high. He squinted into the glare off the surf.
They sat for a while quietly. LaTeisha looked at Tony Molloy.
“I don’t want you reading me that sort of stuff.”
Tony Molloy nodded, looked at the sea. “You know my friend Monk?”
“We all go to the same school, don’t we? Crazy white boy with the mask.”
Tony Molloy smiled. He liked hearing someone else remember Monk. “I think about him. He ran off.” He looked at LaTeisha. “I hope he’s alright, cause, you know, anything could be going on.”
LaTeisha stuck a piece of gum in her mouth, then a second, chewing wide and round like a camel. She held out the pack, and Tony Molloy took a stick.
“Why you think Mr. Schlosner makes those paintings?” LaTeisha asked. “All those naked ladies. Some of them, how it’s just part of a naked lady, like a family pack of chicken parts, thighs, breasts, drumsticks.” That made LaTeisha laugh, then laugh more.
Her laughing tickled the air, and soon Tony Molloy was laughing.
“Imagine that dumb shit?” LaTeisha choked through her laughing tears. Then making her voice thin and restrained and “white,” she said, “Er, hmm. A toe, I think I’ll paint a forty-foot toe.”
They howled. And LaTeisha kept it up: belly button, single butt cheek, a nostril, until Tony Molloy begged her to stop.
After, she went back inside, and he stayed in the yard, finished his work. When LaTeisha’s boyfriend picked her up, Tony Molloy glanced at her, and she at him, but they didn’t say goodbye. And after that, when school ended, he would see her rarely and never in any way that they’d ever stop, or speak. And not that he would think of it often, but he would sometimes wonder what it was like for Mr. Schlosner when he was alone, to have naked pictures of a young girl. What would it be like in ten years, twenty years, to hold them and remember back to what he’d been thinking, what he’d said, to get her to pose. Or what would it be like, all those years later, to look at the picture of a girl and realize that she was now a woman, maybe a mother, maybe with a daughter the age she was in the picture. What would that possibly feel like?
It would be seven years until he’d see Monk again. It will be weird, because by then, Monk will have become someone he hasn’t thought about for so, so long. They’ll have a drink. Monk will be thicker, built up muscle that has gone soft. He’ll be in town for a few days for his dad’s funeral. They’ll have fun remembering, but after, he will leave.
But all that wouldn’t be for a while. Now, Tony Molloy was still in the yard, and it was late afternoon as he stacked the bundles of sticks, bags of grass at the edge of the drive for pick up. Putting the tools back in the shed, he headed for his Jeep. But, he stopped, turned, walked through the freshly cut lawn, over the swept stone pathways, past the bushes freed from burlap. He’d gotten a lot done today, and he felt it in his arms, back. The place looked good, really good. Returning to his Jeep, he felt a crisp satisfaction. Sitting, he felt the slim volume of poems press stiffly against his backside. Sliding the key into the ignition, he waited. Some birds had started, calling at the setting sun, and he listened for a while to the ocean roll in from God knows where, crashing on their shore.
He shook himself out of it, turned the key, and headed home.