“Hit me!”

Continued from Too Many Cooks…

His mind slipped back a couple of weeks when he was helping Darla set up for a wake in the main hall. It was just the two of them, so he was enjoying himself even if she was jittery and more than a little frazzled though everything was under control. He had known her since high school-sometimes very well-so he knew when to give her a wide berth. Easy to do-it was a big hall. Jimmy was setting up the serving line of sternos and chafing dishes when he heard a crash followed by a loud “MotherFUCKer!” out of the mouth of a woman who rarely said “Damn” without feeling guilty. 

He rushed into the bar area to check the carnage but it wasn’t that bad. A tray of silverware and a few plates which they had close to a million of anyway. He was helping her pick up when she fumbled one of the surviving plates which crashed again to the floor this time it’s fate sealed. “Goddammit!” she said and actually kicked the shards scattering them.

“Yo!” He raised his voice. “What the hell’s the matter with you today?” 

She sighed and straightened, her mouth a tight slash and her cheeks flushed. She stepped toward Jimmy kicking more tableware out of the way. 

“Jeeze!”, he said, at a loss.

By virtue of last names they had been in home rooms together for five years, sometimes at adjoining or back to back desks. That allowed for a virtually endless stream of consciousness conversations that teenagers are incapable of censoring. They were both popular in school and ran with their own crowds-he the jock, she the majorette-but always found themselves paired off when hubbub settled. 

Regardless of what everyone thought about them, sex, with a few notable exceptions, was not a part of their thing. Not to say they never did anything-it just never seemed to take. There was the time in her parent’s basement they were watching TV together on the couch. Darla’s folks were out to a movie and Darla felt relaxed in her own house that in a way she normally did not. 

Darla’s mother was a bit of a martinet angrily jealous of a daughter who was taller, prettier and smarter than she was. She could see that the girl would do well by herself and soon be out of the house leaving her alone with the drunken bad choice she’d made twenty years before. Her mother’s free flowing anger and frustration manifested as frequent over the knee spankings when Darla was small and graduated to bare-bottom paddlings and strappings through high school. 

It was no doubt a scandal and could very well have broken up the household had Darla not been so committed to keeping her home treatment a deep, dark secret. The idea that the head majorette regular got her butt paddled at home was more mortification than she thought she could stand. The very secret, and her need to keep it, of course made her vulnerable when she balked at her mother’s orders and was told in no uncertain terms that she’d tell her friends that she still got spanked “if you don’t bend over right now!” Even now, ten years after leaving that house for good she still felt a pull when she saw a couch in the middle of a room like the one at home to kneel on it and bend over the back ready for her weekly thrashing. 

Anyway, it was one of those relaxed times when Darla was feeling kind of hot and was trying to goad Jimmy. Which never worked when he didn’t want it to. She sat on his lap and kissed his neck. He answered every kiss but never served one up. His hands were around her waist but wouldn’t move up nor down. 

She slid off his lap and sat at the end of the couch flopping her long majorette legs over his thighs hoping he’d be interested in running his hands up and down her blue-jeaned thighs. He was, but only for a minute until the zombie mayhem on the TV pulled his attention. With a huff, she unsnapped her jeans and slid them down almost kicking him in the face as she pulled them off her feet then flopped her bare legs over his lap. She had his attention then. 

As she did now, standing in the splatter of the tray she had dropped to the floor. She ground her teeth hard for a moment then pushed the heel of her hand into her forehead exhaling. Trying to empty herself or at least diffuse the bomb she felt inside. Jimmy watched her come back thinking this little tempest had passed. Then, her eyes snapped open and she stepped toward him, almost chest bumping him.

“Hit me.” she ordered, biting the words.

“What?”

“Hit me!” she leaned closer and pushed him in the chest. Startled, he almost stumbled backwards. He’d given her a hug and kiss on the cheek at New Years and that had been the sum total of their physical contact this year. He wasn’t sure where this was coming from but from the look on her face he was pretty sure it didn’t have much to do with him. 

“No.” 

“Come on goddammit!” She stepped closer and pushed again, but Jimmy had dropped his right foot back a step and didn’t move this time. 

She was in his face closely enough that he could feel the heat rising from her cheeks. He did want to get some room between them but hadn’t seen her this wound in years and really didn’t want to lay hands on her. “Remember that time you told me how you couldn’t really get into a football game until you took the first hit? That’s what settled you down, cleared your head and got you into the flow of things?” 

“No”, he said, remembering the feeling well enough but not seeing what good it would do to agree with her. He’d always been that way. Hell, he hadn’t paid close attention to Darla today until she shoved him twice. Apparently his attention had waned again because she, without warning, leaned back and swung her open right right hand, slapping him sharply across the cheek. Completely surprised, he absorbed the blow then did step back.

“Whoa!” he fairly yelled. “That was new.”

“I told you to hit…” She swallowed her words as Jimmy slip-stepped to her side and threw his left arm roughly over her back. With a quick hip check he had her bent in half facing away and tightened his arm around her waist. “HEY!”, she cried knowing what was coming before Jimmy did. 

He was just reacting. His cheek was still numb from the slap and his quick flash of anger had passed given that it was Darla who slapped him and in his heart of hearts he knew she could do anything to him that she pleased. But in that flash, in the heat of the moment he’d grabbed her and bent her over. Now her blue jean clad bottom was pointing his way and not only was Darla not making any moves to cover up, she had grabbed his leg to brace herself. 

“Hit me!” she said harshly. 

He extended his arm fully and brought a slap down hard in the center of her right cheek. “YO!” she cried. And “WHOA!” as the second smack landed just as hard in the same place. He tightened his grip around her waist and paused to notice that she still wasn’t doing anything to avoid the blows and let fly with another to christen her untouched left cheek. She flinched with another yelp and cried out his name when another hit her squarely in the meetup spot between her legs and bottom, the deep swat sound echoing loudly through the bar. 

She was concentrating on the floor and trying unsuccessfully not to cry out at every swat. They just hurt so damn much! Finally he paused and she was trying to catch her breath, gasping as much from the hot pain in her bottom as the constricting arm around her waist. She held his leg below the knee, squeezing not knowing if it was over. And really not knowing if she wanted it to be. 

“You done?” he asked. She paused a moment too long and got another hard smack. Then one more.

“Ouch!” she said. “Done!…done!” though she wasn’t sure. 

“Good”, he said, releasing his grip and allowing her to stand. “Cause your butt was wearing out my hand.”

She had stood bolt-upright and worked hard to regain her breath-as if she’d been running. “Poor baby”, she said pulling a pouty face while she rubbed her bottom. “Don’t expect any apologies from me.” As he watched her rub her backside he saw that the fire was gone from her cheeks and the tension around her eyes and mouth had melted away. She gave him one of those smiles that his mother would have called a “shit-eating grin.”

“Is that what you had in mind?” he asked.

“I guess it was.”

Taking advantage of their sudden intimacy he did something that was always on his mind but never acted upon. He slid his hand over her bottom moving hers aside so he could rub her a bit as well.

“Good”, he said, the rub turning into a dismissive pat. “Clean up your mess and get a move on. We’ll have fifty people here in a couple of hours.

“Aye, aye Cap’n” she joked, straightening up and flashing a three-finger boy scout salute off her right eyebrow. He saw her clear eyes glistening behind the loose bangs that had fallen over her forehead and his heart caught for an instant. This can’t be good, he thought watching her walk off looking for a broom.

To be continued…

Elephant Rock

From downstream-coming up on it-
It does look like an elephant. 
Massive head and shoulders, reclining
Leisurely almost, facing the current,
Watching for what might be floating around
The upper bend and into its patch of river.

It’s watched as my old man taught us how to
Catch bait in it’s shallows and bass in
It’s channels or off it’s weed bed. 
It has sat unperturbed as generations 
Jumped from it’s head, climbed up 
It’s back and swam around it’s bulk.

My old man tried to capture it in
Water colors, oils, pencil and chalk.
It’s been photographed from the water in
Summer and from the shore when it
Sat alone, icebound and snow swept.

It looks no different today than it did
In the fifties when my old man sat me 
Up on its head and snapped away with
His Argus. 
On videos, forty years later, my daughters 
Hop and wave from its back. 

Today, as the canoe bounces gently against it,
I reach up and rub the warm, gray shoulder.
“Hey, old man”, I say-not knowing if I’m 
Talking to the rock or the man who had
First sat me upon it. 
I pushed off, passed through its shadow
And continued on-
Making one last cast into its eddy. 

Too Many Cooks…

She made the right at the light, then the left onto Peach running along the railroad tracks. Two blocks then a left up Sixth and a right into the Club’s parking lot, then around the back to the kitchen entrance. It was her third circuit of the building in the last thirty minutes. She didn’t know what time he’d get there, only that it would be early. She was glad actually to have had the time to drive around to stop crying. Jimmy didn’t need that-her crying always freaked him out-but she thought she had it under control now. Poor guy, she thought, squeezing off a sad smile which looked kind of twisted in the rear view, he didn’t know what was coming. 

Who was she kidding? Even she didn’t know what was coming. No matter how many scenarios, plans, schemes ran through her head they rarely played out as she hoped in the light of day. All she did know was that she had to pull herself back from the edge, cause that’s where she felt she was-tiptoeing along the roofline. In her dreams the last couple of weeks she was always sliding away. One night she couldn’t stop sliding down the icy hill at first street, her fingernails failing to grasp anything. Another night she was sliding down the dusty hill path above the high wall up at the dump where they’d played as kids, or down the sloped floor in the funhouse at old Rainbow Gardens. The common thread in all those dreamscapes was that the end of the slide was a fall, a fall into a void that she felt was waiting for her.  And in the dreams, the slopes kept getting steeper and slicker-the void darker.

Apparently the third time was the charm. Jimmy’s truck was parked in back, to the right of the door where Ben usually parked. She grinned knowing that Jimmy had planned to be gone by the time they got there but still, he liked to jab even when he didn’t know he was doing it. She turned off the car and sat, listening to the engine tick. “Gotta breathe”, she said aloud and did that, deep ins and outs until she thought she was ready. 

Inside, Jimmy checked the clock above the warmers. Not yet eight. He was ahead of his schedule which was well ahead of everyone else’s. This would be the second monthly dinner at the Club since the pandemic. It was takeout only but they were all surprised by the turnout last month. They had sold almost as many dinners as BC (Before Covid) when they were doing sit-down as well as takeout. So Ben and Darla expected today to be big. 

Jimmy’s job was to pre-cook fifty pounds of spaghetti; ten trays of five pounds each. Boil, drain, rinse, ice and put them in the walkin cooler. They would then finish the pasta to order throughout the day. They would. Jimmy wouldn’t be there. He would do the prep cook and be out by 10:30 when Ben and Darla showed up. He wouldn’t mind working with Darla, never minded working with Darla and would frankly like to work with her. Alone. But not with her husband.  Ben was a micromanaging complete pain in the ass and Jimmy had given up trying to work with him a few months ago. He communicated with his business partner only through Darla and was frankly still here only through his loyalty to her. If he wasn’t doing the precook, she would have to. 

The three huge pots were almost boiling and Jimmy’s Vicodin was starting to bubble a pleasant fuzziness up into his head. Cooking fifty pounds of pasta by yourself was less a culinary feat than an athletic one and all old athletes needed help now and again. The rising steam said it was time to throw down some spaghetti. He emptied a five pound package into the nearest pot and stirred hard with the long handled wooden spoon to keep it from sticking. 

The door alarm buzzed and he looked up to check the clock again. “Shit”, he thought. “I don’t want them here yet.” By them, he meant Ben. He kept stirring and looked up when he heard someone rustle in behind him. 

“What are you guys doing here this early?” he asked without turning. Darla moved swiftly through the kitchen waving him off with her right hand and headed out the other door into the dining room. “It’s just me”, she said quickly on the way through. What? , he thought. Had there been something in her voice? He looked after her noticing she was still wearing her summer attire-short shorts that she might have been just on the cusp of being too old for, but her legs didn’t follow any calendar. Nobody complained when she was waiting tables or helping in the kitchen with her apron flying behind her. 

“Whatever,” thought Jimmy. The first batch was al dente-just right. He hefted the sloshing forty pound pot over to the sink and dumped it  through the large colander allowing the water to fill another pot beneath. Then he put that pot on the stove to keep the hot water and, banging pots back and forth, proceeded to rinse the spaghetti with cold water over and over to keep it from sticking.. Again, he used the spoon to stir through the rinsing. It wasn’t until he finished rinsing that he noticed Darla was back in the kitchen. Her eyes were red but her cheeks were dry. 

He chose to let it ride for a moment and asked her for one of the aluminum pans behind her. She handed it over and he dumped the spaghetti. “Ice?” she asked. He nodded and she was off to the ice machine rustling back with a pitcher that he spread over the top of the pasta.

“One down”, he said, then turning back to Darla, “What’s up with you?”

She waved him off again but made no move to leave. She was leaning against the stainless steel prep table in the middle of the room, arms folded, face down. He wanted to see her eyes. 

“Where’s Ben?” he asked.

She didn’t change her posture except to shrug. Once. 

“Jesus Dar! What are you? Fourteen? Talk to me-we got a busy day here.”

She looked up and the tears had started to run but crying registered nowhere else on her face. She wiped her cheeks with the flat of her hand and shrugged again.

“I said some things.”

“Things…”

“About the dinner. About the club. About him…Things!”

Jimmy cut his eyes to the clock. Now he was behind schedule. “You had to say things this morning? Couldn’t wait until tomorrow…?” 

“It’ll be fine. He just won’t talk to me most of the day which will be a relief. I don’t know…”She huffed with the shrug this time. “You think this is easy for me?” Then she looked up and met his eyes and he knew exactly what she meant. “You think?”

“No”, he said, catching her eyes knowing pretty much what she was talking about. “Not for me either. But hey-if it was easy everyone would be doing it and that would be an awful shitteree”

She grinned. “It would be messy”, she said. She sighed a little too loudly for it to have been spontaneous. “You know what I need?” 

“I think I’m going to find out.”

“I could use that”, she said dryly. 

Jimmy saw she was looking at the wooden spoon. “Here”, he said absently reaching it toward her.

“No dummy”, she sniffed and half turned, cocking her hip his way almost presenting her backside.

Oh for the love of Mike, thought Jimmy. 

His mind slipped back a couple of weeks…

Continuing…

There’s a Light On…

There’s a light on in my mother’s house that I had nothing to do with. In the year plus since we found her on the kitchen floor having taken one last fall into the hereafter, anything that happened in that house had been my doing. The same could be said of the previous two decades when I pretty much took over for the old man who checked out in a rented hospital bed in the front parlor. 

The emptying of three generations of stuff from matriarchs and patriarchs who threw nothing away. Who keeps six pizzelle irons that don’t work? A stone saw from a bricklaying business that thrived during the Eisenhower years. A garage under the back apartment that once held a work truck and a Hudson Hornet now held…what the hell is all this stuff?

Then, walking the empty newly white rooms, which could recently only be navigated sideways my memories meld with theirs. Here was my great grandpa’s room (where I had Marci that night after the game) this was your Uncle Nick’s room (I hear in my grandmother’s voice, since Nick was dead before I was born). It was also later my grandfather’s then my brother’s and where Cindy and I had a memorable couple of evenings when the parents were out. The back bedroom was Amy. Jesus, she was a one and Roxanne too-who never cared that I’d been roofing all day. 

Even the basement wasn’t safe as I’d set that up with a throwaway couch that had long ago been thrown away. Down there was Marie and Colleen-God bless her, she’s dead now. Most of the people who’d crossed these thresholds are dead now-which is natural enough-but it would be nice if they’d leave and didn’t crowd me so in a house that hasn’t been this empty in seventy  years.

“I’m surprised you don’t want to hang onto this property”, said  the new owner when I met her at the inspection. Hang onto it? I’d no more be able to shed this place than a tortorice could doff it’s shell. I’ll be lumbering the rest of my life under the weight of this place, trying to avoid stopping by to trim the hedges, have a smoke on the porch or otherwise lurk. I still have a set of keys hanging by the door in case…of..what exactly? 

Maybe I’ll drive by tonight, to see if any bedroom lights are on. I could tell them about Uncle Nick’s room where one night I was sleeping with my grandfather and awoke to the sound of a nightmare’s machine guns only to find it was him snoring. 

I’m sure they wouldn’t give a shit. And to be honest, I don’t either. Just can’t get out from under any of it.