Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Gaze (a section of a story)

Ann Finley used to have cocktails every day at five o'clock. She was a slave that way. The clock clicked from 4:59 after the second hand curved past the 12, and she'd put down the spoon, the book, the rake, always with precision, always with intention, rub her hands across each other and walk to the cabinet. First she'd get a glass, then she'd reach into the freezer for the ice tray. Sometimes it was frosted and she had to run it under water, but hardly ever. She'd drop a few cubes into the glass, clink, clink, and then she reached for the bottle. There was nothing sad or Oh, my life, how empty, I'm an alcoholic. None of that. No. It was always: Yes, yes, let's have a party. Fantastic! She loved the sound of ice in the glass once it had bourbon in it. It sounded so festive. It was musical. She'd walk out onto the porch with her packet of Salems, and ease herself into a chair, then she'd cross her legs and have a refreshing sip.

One particular day, she could see into the Humphries yard. It was just smooth grass divided into two parts by a cement walkway. Will Humphrey sat out there with a box of cars. He was seven. His hair was shaved short, so you could see his smooth skin, and he had dark eyes with long lashes. He sat there shirtless, and Mrs. Finley watched his back, the small muscles in his shoulders, the way his fingers held onto the cars. Something in the way his mouth was set, his lips pursed, reminded her of Ben Westin.

Ben was one of the first people in Ann's town to have a car. She remembered how he'd have to run along side of it to get it going, the front door open, one hand on the steering wheel; how the weight resisted at first, how he pushed with his head down like an ox and then, as it picked up speed, he'd jog and then jump in, clicking the door and grabbing the wheel with both hands. Everyone cheered. Ben.

Will's voice was high and purposeful: "Calling all cars. Calling all cars. There's a 6-4 in the mayday at Broad and South. That's a 3-1-8 officer. Wooooo-Oooooo-Woooooo-Wooooooo. Coming through!"

Ben drove Ann and her two sisters home from a church dance one night. She sat in the back by herself, she was the youngest; everyone else sat in the front, breathless and laughing. Ben adjusted the rear view mirror and they caught each other's eyes. The whole way home, he'd look back from time to time, gently holding her gaze.

Will dropped one of the cars he had been holding and slapped the back of his upper arm; he tried to look at his back shoulder but he couldn't see, so he inspected his hand instead. He really studied it, then he wiped his hand on the grass and picked the little car back up. "I said, Step back, people, step back. I have full authority".

Earlier at the church, Ann sat in a chair against the wall watching her sisters dancing. She was 14. She wanted to dance, but no one had asked her, and she was too shy to act like she didn't care. She watched her sisters holding onto each other and laughing with their mouths open.

"Can I sit here?" Ben asked her. Ann smiled and nodded. He sat and they both watched her sisters together. She noticed he was looking down at his shoes. "Why are you wearing your uniform?"

"I'm leaving tomorrow".

"Where are you going?"

"First North Carolina. Then Italy."

"I've never been there".


"Well, either of those places, I mean," Ann felt the heat rush to her face.

"Neither have I actually".


Ben nodded.

"Are you scared?"

Ben shrugged, "Nah".

"Well, you should dance with me then". She couldn't believe she had blurted out the words.

Ben let out a laugh. It was a happy one. He stood up and took her hand.

Mrs. Finley took another sip of her drink. A breeze passed through the leaves in the tree in her neighbor's yard, and for an instant a spotlight of sun seemed to shine on Will . She noticed peach fuzz on the back of his neck, how it spread up the side of his cheek. "Oh Will," she called. He looked up at her and squinted. "That light, it's just like Tuscany. It's positively glorious".


"Tuscany. The beautiful, golden Tuscan rays".

Will shrugged and looked down at his cars again.

"It's a marvel, isn't it?"

"I'm kinda busy, Mrs. Finley".

"Of course, you are sweetheart," she said happily, half to herself, "It's fine. I'm just having a party".

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