Originally accepted for publication in the 2012 Knickerbocker, but there was too little room and the same issue was already printing "A Welsh Affair."
I grabbed an orange and The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling and hopped the fence in the back yard into Southwind Park. There was a white oak with a bench under it to lie on and I used Tom Jones as a pillow. I rolled on my side but the wood was hard on my hip. I tried my back but the sun beamed through the branches and I covered my eyes with my forearm. The orange fell from my pocket and rolled in the dirt, and I left it there.
Something hopped on my stomach and I opened my eyes. The dog was a ball of fluff with black goop around its eyes, wagging its tail. It licked a pizza stain on my shirt and yapped at me as it retreated between my legs where it peered over my crotch.
Around the dog’s neck was a pink collar with a purple leash held by my roommate Dodge. “I thought we’d find you here,” he said. His left arm had tattoos of Heaven with trees growing on clouds and angels swinging from their roots, playing heavy metal, and his right arm showed businessmen standing in line as his image of Hell. I don’t know what they were waiting for because it was only to his elbow—he ran out of money after paying for the Celtic cross on his back and the rubber duck in a sailor’s cap on his chest.
The dog barked and I grabbed its snout, but it hid under my knee. I pinned it there but it wriggled free and hopped on my chest and kept yapping.
Dodge cradled it. “Isn’t she cute? She’s mine.” He’d recently removed his piercings so there were two holes under his lips that bubbled when he spoke. He wiped his lips. “I named her Ruby.”
“Sounds like a stripper.”
“She’s a pure-bred Maltese. She could be a show dog!” Ruby leaped from his arms and Dodge stepped on her leash so she couldn’t run off. “Did I tell you Levke’s wandering around the park? We had a bet on who could find you first.”
“This is my first time here all year.” I rolled over so I faced the back of the bench. Behind it was the oak and in a crotch was snow that hadn’t melted yet. “She’s looking for me?” I opened Tom Jones and cracked the spine but peeked over at Dodge.
“I don’t know why. I didn’t come with her or anything.” He sat on my toes.
“What’d she say? How’d she say it? Did she say she was looking for me or did she need something from me? Maybe I ought to call her.” I got up and Ruby growled until she saw my orange and pounced on it, as if it was a ball. She tried biting it but her mouth was too small. I snatched it from her and she pawed at my shins, barking for me to give it back.
“Don’t call. She’ll find you.” Dodge playfully socked me in the shoulder and Ruby barked at me.
“I didn’t do anything!” I yelled at the dog and she ran under the bench.
He popped out the black taper in his ear and tugged at the stretched lobe—a quarter could fit in it. “I can’t remember if I told you my big plan yet, but I was thinking when we get out of here, we can hike across Japan. We’ll bring a change of clothes, toothpaste and my bass. We’ll be in bars every night and you’ll get free drinks since I’ll be headlining. I’ll get a following and you can see the world. You really need to before you settle down. Think of all the cute Asian girls.”
“I’m $120,000 in debt. I can’t afford that,” I said.
Dodge cradled the pup and she licked his face. “You got over a year to save and your parents’ll help fund it. But my mom’s not paying for any more international excursions,” he said. His mom owned a law firm and made a pile of money defending corporations but Dodge had gotten kicked out of the France study abroad program for a fight. “But I’ve got twelve thousand bucks of my own. That’ll keep me while I write my songs. Listen to this one.” He warbled to the dog and spun her around, “‘You ripped open my chest, tore out my heart, and replaced it with a ticking bomb, a terrorist’s love!’ What do you think?”
“A little bloody.”
“Maybe it’s emotional, but that’s what art is! Everyone’s had that happen to them at one point.” Ruby wriggled in his arms so he set her down. Then she pawed at his shins to be picked up again. “It’s still a rough draft anyway. I wrote five songs last night because I had the itch to play my bass.” He strummed Ruby’s leash. “The RA came over around three in the morning to ask me to shut up, but when inspiration hits you just go with it. We might be getting fined though.” Though we roomed together, I was almost never in the dorm. I usually stayed with my parents in town so I could sleep at 3 a.m.
Levke walked up and shoved Dodge. “Why didn’t you tell me you found him? You know I had something to talk to him about.” Ruby lay on Levke’s shoes.
“Sorry. I couldn’t send up a rocket,” he muttered.
“You were looking for me?” I asked but she was talking to Dodge.
“You could’ve called.” Levke was born in Germany but her family moved here when she was five. Her mom used to teach German to our fifth grade class. All I remembered was that “der Po” meant “butt” and Levke had a nice one. “You still have my number, right?” she asked him.
“Naw. I left my phone at bar last Friday. I think it was the Pitt in Pittsfield.”
She cupped her hand over his mouth. “I don’t want to hear excuses. When’re you going to start dressing for the real world? You can’t always be wearing rock band T-shirts.” She pulled out the hem of one he was wearing. “Who’s ‘Bullet for My Valentine?’ They sound like the most whiny—”
Dodge licked her hand and she jerked it back like she was about to slap him. “Hey, tell T.K. he should travel the globe with me,” he said.
“I won’t do anything of the sort. He needs to decide on a career before he starts a vacation.” She stripped off her peacoat and folded it over her arms. She was wearing a pants suit.
“He has sixty years before he dies. Plenty of time for a job.” Dodge took off his stocking cap. His hair was blonde and became almost white in the summer, but he had dyed it black with red tips. When he put on the cap, the tips stuck out. “Besides, you got lucky finding a job right out of college.”
“It’s not luck,” she said. “I chose actuarial science because it’s one of the top professions.”
Dodge snatched my orange and pretended to throw it. Ruby was fooled and darted towards my house.
“Why weren’t you holding her?” Levke snapped.
Dodge dropped my orange and chased the dog.
She yelled, “Don’t chase her! She thinks you’re playing. You’ll run her into the street!”
“C’mere, Ruby-booby! Here, Rubes! Rube-a-dube-dube!” He patted his thighs and crouched but she just took off again. “Bad! Bad girl! Fine, get hit, get lost. I don’t care.” The dog snapped at a bug and hopped after it into Mrs. Scannura’s Russian Sage. Dodge sprinted after Ruby while she was cornered by the fences but she ran between his legs towards the street. “Ruby!” he pleaded then jogged towards her. He grabbed her leash when a bread truck swerved. I thought it had flattened both of them. But when it passed, she was wallowing in a puddle.
Levke was tall with blonde hair that was straight one week and curly the next, and I didn’t know which was natural—it was curly today. In high school she had modeled for Galaxy Fashion & Accessories, a local boutique. A picture of her twirling in a skirt still hung in the back corner, above the sun dresses. Since then she’d put on a little fat around the cheeks and hips. She was always complaining about it, even after I assured her she was still gorgeous. “Why did Dodge get a dog anyway?” she asked. “He can hardly take care of himself. His parents probably feed it and I bet all he does is walk it, play with it and tell his parents when it pooped in the living room.” She pulled out her compact and stretched her cheek until she could see her pores.
I picked up my orange and wiped it with my shirt.
“Why don’t you eat that?”
“It has seeds,” I said. I turned it over in my hands and the orange leaked. The juice smelled nice but tasted sour. “Did you know out of a hundred seeds, only one will grow into a tree? I learned that in a botany class last year.”
“You’re an English major. Why are you taking botany?” She hung her peacoat over the bench while she rummaged through her purse for a tissue.
“It was interesting.”
We walked through the park. She stayed on the pavement because the grass was swampy and I walked alongside, occasionally bumping into her. She grumbled at a text message on her cell phone. It was her boss asking if she could come in this weekend.
“So you were looking for me?” I nudged her with my elbow.
“Watch where you’re going.” She shoved the phone in her pocket. “What are you doing after graduation?” she asked.
“Dodge says I should travel with him.”
“Why does he never invite me to travel? I can afford it. Not that I’d want to or anything, but that boy doesn’t make any sense! If your parents had a fortune like his, it’d make sense to invite you. He just doesn’t understand that your parents work sixty hours a week and are still broke.” The wind tossed her hair around. She brushed it with her fingers while looking in her mirror. “But what are you really doing?”
I plucked some horsetail—as a kid I called it puzzle weed because you could rearrange the sections. They pulled apart with a pop! “I’m already in bankrupt. I guess I’ll just work for the highway department again. Last year they had me cleaning up road kill—deer and stray dogs and raccoons. But there’d only be one or two corpses a week so the rest of the time we just cruised through the country. Eleven bucks an hour wasn’t bad for a summer job.” I made the horsetail into a circle and handed it to Levke.
She chucked it like a Frisbee at some goldenrod. “I’m making double that with benefits and vacation time.” With her fingers she brushed her bangs, though she called it her “fringe” because that sounded more sophisticated. “Do you really want to pick up road kill the rest of your life?”
“This year they might let me hold that sign with ‘Slow’ on one side and ‘Stop’ on the other.” I pumped my fist in mock enthusiasm. “I’m just working there until I figure out my life. Dodge will be a troubadour and you’re a rate analyst—whatever that is. Everyone seems to know what they want but me.”
“Dodge thinks he’s a rock star. He might be decent if he ever practiced but he spends more time posing in the mirror and designing his next tattoo. He can’t rely on his smile to make it as a musician. He could be a lawyer like his mom or maybe teach music to kids. He’d be good at that. That way his passion would do somebody some good.” Levke closed her compact. “Did you know he got another tattoo? It’s a rubber ducky on his chest—it sounds so stupid. And he won’t show me until it’s healed. I should slap it.”
“Forget about Dodge.” On the hill was a patch of Dutchman’s breeches and I plucked one for Levke. “I’m looking for my future.”
She held the flower in her palm, unsure what to do with my gift and the wind took it. “Lying in the park all day is hardly ‘looking.’”
“It’s my first time here since autumn. It’s been too cold.” I plunged my thumb in the orange and juice squirted my eye. “Why does every marketable skill bore me?”
“Some drudges have to teach,” she said.
“I’d hate a classroom full of kids. And I hate talking in front of people. And standing. And wearing polo shirts or suits or anything but T-shirts. Why won’t anyone pay me to lie on a bench and read?” I flipped open Tom Jones—the spine was cracked so it always opened to the last page I read.
“I figured growing up broke would make you less spoiled,” she said. There was mud on the pavement and she stepped in some of it. She dug in her purse for a tissue.
Ruby charged towards Levke. The dog was still wet from wallowing in the puddle. Levke stuck out her foot so the dog rammed it.
“Don’t kick my dog!” Dodge said.
“Then hold the damn leash!”
Dodge bent over to rub Ruby’s ears but she circled Levke, sniffing her perfume. “Let’s go to the Pitt tonight and get trashed. Are you in?”
“It’s Monday. I’ve got big girl things to do tomorrow, like a job.” She picked up Ruby by the scruff and let her dangle. Her fur dripped.
Every Monday, a quartet of college kids called Indecision played at the Pitt in Pittsfield. Their repertoire was made-up of Metallica, ACDC and Bon Jovi. The customers flailed and writhed on the dance floor, bumping into tables and spilling drinks, as they squawked the lyrics.
Dodge and I sat at a round table with a two-foot diameter but I had to lean in to hear what he yelled to me. “This bass player is shit! The others are good, but god, that guy is dragging them down!” Dodge yelled.
“Maybe he just learned it.”
“Naw. He’s too busy thinking which chord comes next. He should just feel the music. I ought to show him how.”
“Why don’t you?”
Dodge chugged his strawberry daiquiri.
At a table next to ours, another of Levke’s guys was whispering in her ear. He had his hand on her back and she shook her head and shouted something that got carried away with the music. The guy chucked his napkin and left.
“I’ve always found bar conversation creepy,” Dodge yelled to me. After drinking, he always got philosophical about his observations. But he got generous when drunk and bought me drinks. I had paid for the first beer and he bought the other rest. “Either you have to yell at the girl you’re talking to or you have to whisper in their ear.” He turned to Levke and asked, “How many of those guys licked your ear?”
She stuck a pinky in it. “None!”
“And how many have you licked?”
“Just one—it was an accident. One guy didn’t get it that I didn’t want to dance. I had to yell in his ear before he left.”
“If you’re not good at miming, no one’s going to understand you.” Dodge got up from the table and drank from an invisible glass, then pointed at Levke to ask if she wanted a drink.
She shook her head and only her bangs moved. The rest of her hair was pinned in a fancy contraption and sprayed. “Buy yourself another drink—I’ve got work in the morning! I thought you wanted to get shitfaced. You’re not even tipsy yet.”
He shouted, “C’mon. What can I get you?”
Dodge left to get it.
She’d only had one drink so far. She said she came along to babysit us, but she wore a black dress that clung to her hips and hardly covered her thighs. They were smooth like she had just shaved them. “Why aren’t you drinking more?” she asked me.
“I’ve got Shakespeare in the morning. It seems childish to get drunk on a school night. I’m not a freshman anymore. And I don’t really have the cash.”
“Dodge has already spent like thirty-five bucks. Soon he’ll be too drunk to remember the tip. What does his mom think he’s spending her money on?”
“Once he tipped the guy fifty bucks.”
“He’s an idiot.” She leaned on the table and her dress drooped enough to provide a peek at her cleavage. “He should be spending that on books. Or on a haircut. He’d look better with short hair.”
Dodge came back, carrying four pitchers of sangria and biting a cup by its rim. The orange slices floated to the top of the pitchers.
“Dodge! What are you doing? I said an appletini!” Levke shouted as he handed her the cup.
He sat between me and Levke. “They had five dollar pitchers! And have you ever had sangria? When I visited Spain two summers ago, this family made me the most amazing sangria—I haven’t had it since. You like wine, right?” He set the pitchers on the table and drained his beer mug. Then he poured a glass for each of us and he didn’t notice that I had half my Guinness left so the two drinks mixed.
“I’m only having a glass,” Levke said and took a sip.
“I can’t drink four pitchers myself!” Dodge held up the end of her glass, forcing her to keep drinking until the sangria spilled down her dress. He wiped at her chest with a napkin and she lost her balance and fell backwards. He laughed like crazy about it but she punched him in the shoulder then shook her hand as if it hurt.
I couldn’t drink my Guinness and sangria cocktail so I watched Dodge and Levke worked on the pitchers. She felt like dancing after she began to feel the drink and dragged Dodge to the dance floor while “Hell’s Bells” blared—that’s not a song people normally dance to, but there were quite a few drunks trying. I stared at Levke wiggling her booty until a slower song came on. She held Dodge close then spun him around and slipped, then got angry because he hadn’t caught her.
She stomped back to the table to chug some sangria. “Dance with me,” she demanded and grabbed my wrist. It was a fast tune called “Can’t Stop” originally by the Red Hot Chili Peppers but she held me close and laid her head on my shoulder like it was a slow song. Her perfume smelled nice and even her burps smelled like oranges.
“Dodge is an idiot,” she yelled into my ear. When drunk she lost all sense of volume. “I ask him to dance and he’s holding me close and I tell him, ‘This is nice.’ But all he can talk about is how the bass player’s no good. That idiot. He spent fifty bucks on drinks and I’m drunker than he is!”
“Just don’t throw up on me.” I rubbed her back as if to soothe the nausea.
“Is that supposed to be funny? I even told him I have to work in the morning and still he gets me drunk. I’ve got to be there at seven and he bought four pitchers of something I don’t even like and he’s just like ‘Drink, drink, drink.’” She swayed too far to the left and stumbled. I held her up.
“I’ll get you both home soon.” My hand slid down her back until I could feel the outline of her thong. Then I slid a little farther and she didn’t complain. Her butt was firm.
“You know, in high school he was a real catch. If he had listened to me and never gotten that fleur de lis tattoo on his calf, he’d’ve been fine! He wouldn’t’ve gotten addicted to the ink. He wouldn’t’ve scarred his body with something he’ll regret in ten years. Half of those drawings don’t even have any meaning to him! He’s so much better looking when they’re all covered. He’s smart too! When he’s not being an idiot.”
“He failed Intro to Business twice.”
Her chest pressed against me. “So he’s not a business guy. He was always good at physics! He helped me with my homework once. Maybe he could’ve been a physicist and disproven gravity or something!” She yawned and when she closed her mouth, she bit my shirt and chewed before spitting it out.
“You’re drunk. I better get you home.”
She nuzzled her head against my shoulder. “Just one more dance. Hold me for one more song.”
And I did—I held her close and listened to her rant about Dodge.
I drove them in Dodge’s Lexus to our dorm because Levke lived with her parents and I didn’t want her mom seeing her drunk like this. I laid her on my bed and tucked her in. I set the trash can next to the bed.
Dodge slept in his own bed, sprawled across his dirty laundry, snuggling his bass.
I set three alarms for 6:00, 6:10 and 6:15 a.m. so Levke wouldn’t be late for work. Then I left to sleep at home.
The next morning in Shakespeare, we were supposed to discuss Measure for Measure Act V but the professor spent the hour encouraging us to study abroad in London. Half of us hadn’t read the play and the other half didn’t understand it.
I carried The Complete Works of Shakespeare under my arm as it didn’t fit in my pack. Back in my dorm I slammed the book on the desk to wake Dodge. If I didn’t, he’d sleep in until noon and miss his Calculus class at 11. The covers on my bed stirred. Dodge must’ve gotten up to pee and forgotten which bed was his. He had my pillow over his head.
I kicked his boxers under his bed and tossed his pants into the corner. “Get out of my bed. And please don’t be naked under there.” I threw off the covers and ripped the pillow from his face and got ready to slam it back down but Levke was holding Dodge’s head to her cleavage. She was just wearing her bra and thong. It was the first time I’d ever seen her bare ass. It was a bittersweet moment.
She pressed her hands to her face, rubbing her eyes. She spread her fingers and opened her eyes and saw me. She smacked Dodge’s head until he rolled off her.
I left, still carrying the pillow.
“T.K!” she yelled, following me into the hall.
I looked back but kept walking and ran into a door. I was lost in my own building.
“Would you come back here?” She had wrapped my towel around her waist and she held a hand to her chest, trying to cover her breasts that bounced as she jogged towards me. “Are you mad? Don’t be mad!”
I went through a swinging door into the bathroom. She followed me in. I went into a stall and locked the door. She went into the adjacent one and ripped some toilet paper to cover the seat then stood on the toilet and peered down at me.
“Are you done running?” she asked. Under the stall wall, I saw her towel fall to the grimy tile.
“I just saw my roommate’s junk for the first time!”
“You guys have roomed together for years and that was the first time you saw him naked? What about when he changes?”
“I look away!” I paced in the stall by taking one step then turning then taking another step and turning—it made me dizzy. “I just saw your ass for the first time. I’ve known you for years; why haven’t I seen it more often? Dodge got to see it—he got to grab it! Bite it probably!”
“What kind of weird sex are you into?”
“So you did have sex?” I sat on the toilet and put the pillow to my face. I could smell her perfume from last night on it, and Dodge’s BO.
“Yes.” She was always complaining about the guy. She had him in her phone as ‘Idiot.’ She never called me an idiot. I was the one who always helped with homework and she called me to cry after a break-up. “But it was an accident.”
“How do you accidentally have sex?” I yelled into my pillow.
“I mean I didn’t want it.”
“So it was rape?”
“No!” She leaned over and grabbed the pillow. “It wasn’t planned. An hour after you dropped us off, he got up to puke—”
“So you let him smooch you even after he puked?” I left the stall and rinsed my face in the sink. I could see her in the mirror. People say seeing a girl in her panties is like seeing her in her bathing suit, but no way. And her bra was frilly and pink.
“I asked if he wanted to sleep in your bed. His was so messy—he couldn’t have been comfortable.”
“So he should’ve cleaned it off!” I pressed the soap dispenser twenty times until the puddle of soap spilled over my hands. I washed my face and it stung my eyes. “Why aren’t you at work? I set three alarms for you.”
“I called in sick. I know it was stupid. But why are you upset about this?” She stood next to me and stared into the mirror. She made eye contact with my reflection.
The bra strap slid down her shoulder and the cups drooped lower. “I’m not.”
She caught me staring and fixed the strap and covered her cleavage with my pillow.
“You’re always complaining about Dodge. You know he’s an idiot, that he’s never going to change but you chase him anyway.”
“I know he was a mistake. But he’s got so much potential.”
“He’s not even interested! He doesn’t want to stay up late watching a movie and eating cold pizza. He doesn’t even want to grab that firm butt of yours. Why do you have to chase him?”
“Because I don’t see anyone else worthwhile.” She ran the sink and the water pooled in her hands. She dumped it on the edge of the sink to rinse facial hairs down the drain. “Just friends and strangers.”
I went back to my dorm room with my pillow. I promised to get Levke’s dress for her.
Dodge was awake and dressed in his clothes from yesterday. He hefted my Shakespeare book. “Hey, you mind if I borrow this? I think I could use some of this ‘Where forth art thou?’ nonsense in my next song.”
“I’ve got an essay to write.” I grabbed the book and Levke’s dress and left for the Southwind Park, where I slept using them as pillows.