by Dean Marshall Tuck
She wants me to skip “boyfriend” and be her savior, somehow. Tall order. My cousin, Lane, says there’s only one way with a Christian girl like Meredith: marriage. We’re lying on her bed watching I Love Lucy. I don’t really love Lucy.
Love’s a tall order, too. She sidles up to me with her head on my chest and falls asleep, leaving me to like Lucy on my own, her hand curled into a fist, perched on my ribs, exhausted but never resigned.
She says she’s tired from lifting kids at pre-school. Her back hurts. I say, “Sit down.” She sits cross-legged looking at me, sweet and unsuspecting. I sit behind her, my legs making an open V. I massage her shoulders. With a steady rhythm, she rocks forward each time my thumbs make tiny, firm circles. Slowly they move down her back, finally resting on her hips, soft and full. This is as close as she’ll let me come, I think.
“Hands a little low,” she says like I’m going to steal something.
I start again with the shoulders, watching her neck and enjoying the way she leans and sighs.
“Duke’s playing Carolina tonight. Wanna come over?”
“What about choir practice?” I ask.
“I’ll slip out early.”
Slip out, I say over and over the entire drive to her apartment. Slip out.
Tonight she’s wearing a red sleeveless turtleneck with a long black skirt that clings to her hips. A silver cross on the smallest chain hangs awkwardly over the turtleneck, pendulum-swinging with every move. She smiles.
“We should watch the game in the bedroom. My roommate’s bringing friends over.”
I watch her from the desk. She’s talking about something. I have no idea. She turns on the TV and the Blue Devils have the lead.
“I’m going to change into something comfortable.” She closes the bathroom door.
I consider taking off my clothes and climbing into her bed. She’s not going to reappear in lingerie; don’t be a fool, I think, but I move to the bed anyway.
She returns in a white t-shirt and a pair of black sweatpants, sits on the bed with her back to me, and lifts her hair off her shoulders.
And the game continues.
Sneakers are making thumps and high-pitched squeaks on the hardwood floor, commentators droning, refs whistling fouls, buzzers and horns.
So many thwarted attempts later, she shows me in the Bible one night how love is patient and kind and does not envy. “It is not self-seeking…keeps no record of wrongs…does not delight in evil.” With a delicate touch she traces the words slowly. I want her fingers clutching the back of my neck, nestled in my hair, nails in my shoulders. Her soft, plaintive voice, “And love,” she draws a deep breath, “…always perseveres.”
This is impossible. I’m going out of my mind, here.
I tell her I can’t see her again.
I’m sitting in my car outside her apartment watching the front door. I wonder, does she think of me when she brushes her teeth tonight? When she checks the locks on the door? Turns out the lights? Does the creaking of the bedsprings make her think of late night television and my hands gently exploring? She’d never cry for me. She’s much too sensible. She’ll probably tell herself I never loved her. Nothing more than sin, lust. I’m a second from cranking my car and leaving, but the doorbell winks at me through the darkness—a round, solitary glow, remote as the Bethlehem star.
Dean Marshall Tuck is a writer of fiction, an advisory editor for Tar River Poetry, and a performing singer/songwriter: www.deantuck.com. His work has been featured in Zone 3, SmokeLong Quarterly, Night Train, Fringe Magazine, and in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine.
The term “compression” suits this story in how the narrative condenses time spanning an indefinite-but-seemingly-lengthy period of an almost-relationship between two people. Also, there’s compression in the way the two characters bottle up their carnal desires for each other, one much better than the other. Even the stodgy and restrained word,”concupiscence,” seems to embody this idea of compression.