I sat on the floor in the disheveled room throwing cards at an empty beer bottle. Each card I drew from the pile sounded like a page turning in the darkness. Tshhht flap whir. Another card through the air. Tshhht flap whir. Another card through the air. A clock ticked reminding me of the silence at Grandma’s house at the wee hours of the morning when no one else was awake except me. Tick. Tick. Tick.
When I was in high school I knew a girl. She was pretty. By no means beautiful, but pretty. She walked with feigned dignity through the hallways, her chin held high, her eyes solemn. She had green eyes. I loved those green eyes. She had slept with much of the grade. A floozy by yesteryear’s standards, a whore by today’s. A strumpet, a harlotte, dirty, easy, cheap. Those were the common words used at one time or another to describe women like her. I don’t know how she held her head up in those hallways. And those green eyes. Those solemn green eyes.
When I returned from college my freshman year, worn from the transitions and illusions of university, she called me. In high school I was naïve. I granted everyone equal respect as if they all deserved to be spoken to with dignity. I wasn’t free from sin, just naïve. I spoke behind their backs and laughed about the sluts that traipsed the hallways in school. The hoes that came well groomed and high chinned. We all knew full well that at night they were busy making stories with one guy or another. They were gossip fodder for the elite. The elite that suffered the same afflictions, but with reinforced bandages to cover their blights. The elite that glided through universities with 4.0s and sound relationships. When I returned from university she had called me.
I snuck out of my house late in the evening to meet her. My parents had gone to sleep. I never slept, not without booze. The door closed softly behind me as I slipped out. I used to pretend I was James Bond sneaking around the house, memorizing the creaks in the staircase so as to avoid detection when I moved around. When I was young, I had heard that Indians could walk through a dry forest in fall without snapping a dead twig. Maybe I was an Indian not James Bond. Regardless, the door shut quietly when I left that night.
She told me to come around back. As I circled the house I wondered what I was doing there, but I arrived too quickly at the sliding door to wonder too much. She was waiting there smiling. I couldn’t see her eyes in the dim light of the kitchen, but they were fierce and I liked that. She knew exactly what would happen. I had no idea.
I didn’t know the creaks of other floorboards outside of my house. I walked gingerly, cautious of my step, scared that I would awaken some guardian that would admonish me. I think it was shame that I cared most for. James Bond was never shamed, never unconfident of his step. She took me through the dim lit kitchen and down the stairs to the furnished basement. I sat on the couch and she sat next to me. I talked. She laughed. I hadn’t joked, but she laughed anyways and waited for the inevitable silence. Then she turned to me and I saw those solemn eyes. The same ones that I saw walk through the hallways at school on the girls that walked with the stiffest backs and highest chins. She kissed me.
When she had finished with me, I had no sure footing. My fresh mind turned over the possibilities and outcomes weighing mathematics and reason against an at-bay emotion. I was sweating a bit. She sat down on an oversized chair leaving me on the sofa and turned her head towards the television. I spoke awkwardly not recognizing my exit cue. She looked at me with those green eyes, the strength in her pupils soured by inquisitiveness. Why was I still there? I don’t know. Did I owe her something? She looked to the floor and then stood up after a moment of contemplation. I don’t know what she thought about in that second, but she walked over to me, sat down on the couch, and cradled her head against my shoulder.
“Tell me a story.”
That was all she said. I proceeded to tell a story of a pirate monkey that had been orphaned by his gorilla parents. It was wild and random and sad and had a happy ending. I can’t remember it, but I remember her smiling after I finished. I remember her head nestled into my shoulder. I remember wondering if she had nestled her head against anyone else’s shoulder. I remember wondering whether anyone had bothered to tell her a story or tried to make her smile or if they had just tried to keep her from crying. I remember wondering how she held her head so high in the hallways at school those years before.
I am sitting on my floor throwing cards at an empty beer bottle. Tshhht flap whir. Tshhht flap whir. I am sitting on my floor remembering her for an instant. The memory flooded in unexpectedly. It’s like that moment when you smell pancakes and remember home or catch a room in a glimpse of light that you hadn’t seen before and remember that light in some other place that you can’t identify but know that it happened. I am almost done with the pack of cards and will fall asleep soon. And in the morning when I awake with my head against the wall and my feet spread out in front of me, I’ll pick up the beer bottle and find a card inside. And I’ll wonder how it got in there.