What Happened Next

Recently I’ve been reminded how much I want to tell stories. It’s not just something I want to do, it’s something that I yearn for. It seeps from my fingers and re-focuses how I view the streets I walk upon. I wish I had the focus and intensity to do this as often as I should.

I think of the artists, the storytellers, the people who do it so well. Flannery O’Connor and her stories of the grotesque. Bono and his snapshots of redemption, grace, and the fall. Anne Lamott and her real honesty. They inspire me. I know I’m miles from them, but they act like the muse, beckoning me on, and sometimes you have to give in and let it flow, let the words come and worry later about what it will be, what it will say, how bad it really is.

Taste is the enemy of art. As soon as you start tiptoeing around something you’re doing it wrong. So you just bore into it and do what you can, say what you can, and redo it later.

What happens next is something along this vein. It isn’t a story, it’s a character sketch. It’s a glimpse of two people coming together and apart. It probably drips with my vision and my truth, my condescending tone. That’s why it’s only a sketch. Merely practice. A bit racy too, considering my audience, so put the kids to bed.

What Happened Next

He turned away and blew the smoke slowly across his lips. Aleah looked down and tried to hold her breath. She counted: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, breathe. Andy looked off in a daze.

Then, snapping back to the moment, he turned to Aleah and a slow smile appeared. She looked up to catch his gaze and blushed, her eyes falling and then rising again. Andy ground his half-finished cigarette into his shoe and flicked the butt in the air.

What happened next is nothing new. They’d been building up to it all month, eyeing each other as they stocked the shelves at the grocery store. At first Andy seemed aloof and crass, but now he was just crass and there was something about him Aleah felt drawn to. In the beginning Aleah seemed like any other girl, but she hung around when others would have walked away. She sat on the bench during breaks, feeling the summer night around them, watching the solitary cars drive by and the empty parking lot.

Then there was that night. Andy had parked his crumpled Grand Am next to Aleah’s cute little Dodge. Andy swore when the driver’s door wouldn’t open, and he came around to the other side right when Aleah was coming out to her car. He stood there for a moment watching her, and she watched him. They had awkward conversation, but there was something in the air. It was electricity or nerves or hormones or something.

Finally Andy cracked a joke that made Aleah laugh and the air seemed lighter. Their hands touched for a moment and their eyes met and Andy felt a ball in his throat and a flashback from TV dramas and he wanted to get out of there. Aleah watched him go with interest, and Andy drove home confused and horny, trying to figure out this girl who didn’t seem to care that his jeans sagged and that he always wore a faded Yankees hat.

With Andy’s cigarette snuffed out the air was clear again and they moved closer, two bodies, a mere island in a secluded soccer field in a forgotten park. They sat in the middle of the green grass field, which needed to be mowed. It was surrounded by forest, a field often overlooked and needing attention. In a few moments Aleah was staring up at the blue sky and the cumulus clouds and Andy above her. He’d taken his hat off, a rare and vulnerable act.

She slipped into a daze during what happened next, a sudden flood of tingling emotion that registered so far off the scale she didn’t know what to do. She breathed in deeply and closed her eyes for a moment of blind love.

Unlike Aleah, Andy was all too aware of what was happening. His stomach was in his throat and his eyes kept flirting with the edges of the field. He had to clench every muscle in his hands to keep them from trembling as he unbuttoned her shorts.

Winnie-the-Pooh graced her underwear and he tried not to notice. Her stomach had a slight curve above the thin band of her underwear and her thighs seemed to bulge below her crotch. She was anything but fat, but she wasn’t toned and shaped like the girls in the Sears underwear ads.

The Winnie-the-Pooh’s came off and it was another jarring site, another image that didn’t measure up to his soft-focused expectations. It was too harsh, too real, the grass poking and scratching, the sun beating down, the feeling of a million eyes watching from the nearby trees. His sagging pants sagged a little farther and Aleah murmured. They tried to kiss but it was sloppy and awkward.

In a moment it was over and Andy rolled away. Two kids, lying in an empty green field, giving themselves away. It was so much, but it was not enough.

Andy zipped his pants and reached for a cigarette, leaving Aleah to take care of herself. And she lay there for a moment, wondering what just happened, wondering if anything just happened. The breeze felt cold and she could feel the grass scratching her thighs. She watched Andy take a slow drag and blow the smoke across the sky and she wondered if she’d ever be so close and so far away from anyone.

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