One of the stories from Newspaper Gypsy, available from AbsolutelyAmazingeBooks.com
Buck was sitting in the Trenton airport waiting for his flight to be called, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of America. It seemed beyond ready belief that less than twenty-four hours before he had been in a hot-sheets hotel just off the Champs-Elysees, learning the pronunciation and practice of soixante-neuf from a slender young blonde who had recently come up from Brittany to make her fortune on her back. She had been first incredulous that an American would ask for such lessons, then sweetly solicitous, and finally ardent as he got the hang of the thing.
When she invited him to meet her at a sidewalk café tomorrow, her face actually fell when he told her he would be in America tomorrow. Just his luck, to find an honest working girl his last day in Paris, unjaded enough to take pure pleasure in her work. And now he was back in the uptight United States in dress greens, waiting for a flight home for the rest of his annual leave before reporting to his new Army post. Hard not to be depressed.
He was listening to the announcers on the PA system, trying to decipher their different accents, when he realized the most foreign-sounding of the bunch had a slow Southern intonation. When he had called home, his grandmother’s voice seemed stuck on a slower RPM. He smiled remembering how impatiently he waited for her to finish a sentence, which sounded like: “How-uh come you-uh speak-in’ so fa-yust?”
The Southern accent on the PA was calling his Atlanta connection to Jacksonville. He headed for the gate, sorted out the clerk’s confusion that he wasn’t flying military standby though he was in uniform, handed her his first-class ticket, and suffered in silence through the Boeing’s take-off climb. He hated flying and was convinced every flight used up some finite pool of luck that would end some day in flaming wreckage. Takeoffs and landings were the worst. He sweated out a seemingly endless aerial promenade in thick clouds above Atlanta before the fateful plunge to earth. In less than an hour he was airborne again and in a mercifully short time Jacksonville was under the wings. It was such a smooth landing and minimal roll-out he felt like shaking the pilot’s hand. He took a taxi home to the Beaches, and when it finally turned up the palm-tree shrouded lane toward the ocean, with a sea wind blowing, his soul expanded like a balloon.
“Nice little beach house,” the cabby said as they unloaded his duffel bag and B-4 bag. “Wish I could afford one.”
The phrase stuck in Buck’s mind as his mother and grandmother came out to greet him: his home seemed to have shrunk while he was gone. His grandmother hugged him fiercely before the taxi was gone and his mother kissed him on the cheek. She looked pretty good and Buck knew the cabbie thought she was his girlfriend, when he gave her an appreciative up-and-down look. His mother had that effect on men, even when she weighed more than she did right now. When she casually hefted his duffel bag in one hand and turned for the door, he saw the cabby’s eyebrows arch.
“Slinging mail bags in the Postal Annex agrees with you,” Buck told her. “You’ve slimmed down and developed some muscle.”
“Pshaw! I always been strong.”
“Your granddaddy is waiting inside,” his grandmother said. “We made the living room into his bedroom since he cain’t climb stairs no more.”
His grandfather was sitting up in bed where Buck’s typewriter and bookshelves used to be in what suddenly looked like a tiny room the size of a cell. Buck had braced himself for what the old man would look like, and felt an incredible flood of relief, forgetting about how the house had shrunk. The old man looked like himself, tanned and grinning, showing off his perfectly even false teeth while his triceps writhed with coiled muscle as he hitched his body around to shake hands. The missing leg only evidenced itself by a depression in the bed sheet across his lap; not even diabetes and amputation had diminished him.
“You got my old room upstairs,” the old man said. “Yore mama put yore typewriter and pipes and books and all up there.”
“What’s that I smell in the kitchen?” Buck said.
“I fried a mess of shrimp earlier,” his grandmother said. “I know you like ‘em cold, and they’re ready now.”
“I made tartar sauce like they did at Strickland’s,” his mother said. “And Mama baked biscuits for you.”
“Biscuits is breakfast food but I did it,” his grandmother said. “And you know how I hate to make biscuits anymore.”
“Git out of that hot ol’ uniform and let’s eat,” his mother said. “Your clothes is upstairs in Daddy’s old room.” She eyed him with the calculating eye of a life-long calorie counter. “They’ll be loose on you now. Maybe tight in the shoulders.”
Buck hefted his B-4 bag. “I’ve got civvies in here too.” As he started for the stairs his eye fell on a framed painting above his grandfather’s head. “That’s new.”
It was a very well-done portrait of a sad carnival clown. Not an imitation of Emmet Kelly, an original; the makeup wasn’t sad, the clown was. The happy clown makeup seemed almost translucent, permitting the full weight of the wearer’s sadness to come through. Even after spending an afternoon in the Louvre a couple of days ago, the portrait was arresting and the emotion it evoked was strong.
The old man was grinning like the Cheshire cat. “Glenda bought it to me in the hospital when they cut off my leg. Said it was how she felt.”
Buck felt like he’d been punched in the heart. “Glenda?”
His grandmother put her hand on Buck’s arm. “She’s been coming out to visit a lot since you been gone. Said she must miss you almost as bad as we do.”
Buck felt dizzy. Too many changes, too fast. The shrinking house, his grandfather’s missing leg, biscuits at midday—and now Glenda.
“Guess you’re more like me than I thought,” the old man said. “Got one o’ them ‘come-back’ peckers they keep coming back for.”
Buck’s grandmother punched the old man on the arm. “Shut your foul mouth, you embarrassed him.” It was true; Buck’s ears were burning like bonfires.
The old man chuckled. “Wait till she gets out here this evenin’.”
“Wait,” Buck said. “What?”
“She said you had a date with her tonight,” his grandmother said, regarding him closely. “Was she making that up?” Buck felt like he was sixteen again, with his grandmother trying to protect him from the wiles of women.
“I didn’t think she could get away,” he said.
Not really a lie but not the truth either. A date? It was true their correspondence had become more and more intimate while he was in Europe. Equally true he’d sent her a telegram from American Express in Paris telling her when he’d be home.
His mother cocked an eye. “Oh, she’ll get away all right—for you.” She laughed. She had never shared her mother’s fear that women would take advantage of Buck. “Expect her at seven, she said. I’d put money on it.”
“No takers,” his grandfather said.
“Oh she’ll be here all right,” his grandmother grumbled.
And she was, driving up the lane in a new gray Mercury that looked big as a battleship in the narrow lane. His grandfather, out on the front stoop in his wheelchair, directed her to park in the neighbor’s yard and they were talking by the time Buck got to the front door. She planted a peck on the old man’s bald head and then here she came in that rapid heel-clicking walk of hers, dressed in a simple lime-green sleeveless shift with a nice V in the material above her perky breasts. She walked right into him and wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed, tipping her head up to give him her laughing eyes.
“Welcome home, stranger.” Buck couldn’t seem to find his voice. She went up on tiptoes and lowered her voice. “You better hug me back, you big lug. And if you don’t kiss me, your grandfather will!”
He had never hugged or kissed her in his life, but he’d been practicing in Europe. Now it seemed like this was what all the practice had been for. His head swam as her tongue invaded his mouth and found his. Their height difference was such that it took him a subjective eternity to realize the twin points of fire against his lower ribcage were her engorged nipples through the thin fabric of her summer frock.
She released him suddenly and pulled back. He dropped his arms instantly, thinking she’d been shocked by the aching bulge that swelled his pants between them. But she grabbed his hands tightly and stood back looking at him with swollen lips and sleepy eyes.
“Ready for our date?” she said.
He just nodded.
She cleared her throat. “Can we take your car? I’m in no shape to drive!” She rubbed a finger absently over her denuded lips; all her lipstick was gone.
Like I am, was Buck’s thought, but he led her to his Barracuda and handed her in, admiring the tidy way she tucked her tidy body into the passenger seat. When he pulled out down the lane, she waved gaily at the house.
“Your grandmother thinks I’m corrupting you,” she said.
“I certainly hope so,” he said. “After that kiss.”
Her laughter was a happy silvery sound. Buck drove toward Jacksonville Beach, not really knowing where he was going. When he reached Beach Boulevard his choices were to turn down onto the sand or west toward Jacksonville. Old beach-dwellers’ habits kicked in and he turned west; he had surprised too many lovers entwined in cars while beach-walking, seen too many cars taken by the returning tide when lovers were incautious. Besides, sand rusted the undercarriage. She was turned to face him, her hand resting on his thigh, her knees drawn up fetchingly. She had kicked her pumps off.
“We’re not going to make out on the beach?” She sounded disappointed.
“The tide,” he said. “Can’t risk being distracted down there.”
“Oh!” Her hand trailed gently up and down his leg. “Nice slacks. Are they European?”
“The shirt is. The slacks are PX.”
“I don’t think I like bucket seats,” she said. “I can’t get close enough.”
He reached behind the seats. “Before my brother went in the Navy, he said—ah!” He brought out a thickly rolled beach towel and pushed it down between the seats.
“Trust your brother, with his string of beach bunnies.” she swarmed across the towel to snuggle along his flank. “Your grandmother told me all about him.”
Buck drove out San Pablo Road through stands of scrub pine and cypress hammocks and turned into an ancient sand logging road, nursing the car until he felt the sand was firm. He drove slowly out toward the Intracoastal Waterway until they could see yachts passing and there was a place to turn around. When he shut off the engine and turned toward her, she came clear across the car into his lap. For a long time they kissed and held and whispered things to each other that they had only hinted at in their letters. At some remove, Buck couldn’t believe this was happening, the unattainable married beauty in his arms whispering words he had only dreamed.
When he finally palmed her breasts the nipples almost burned his hands through her frock and she groaned as if he’d hurt her. She clamped her hands over his and removed them, and pulled back to her side of the car. For an eternal moment his eyes refused to convey an image to his brain, as if he had been struck blind. In that moment she reached behind, unzipped and shucked her frock into a puddle on the floorboards, and came back into his arms stark naked. No panties, no bra. The inference almost more than the bare fact nearly made him ejaculate in his pants.
“Remember when you told me the Barracuda’s back seat folds down like a station wagon?” she said against his mouth.
He mumbled something that might have been yes.
“Show me,” she whispered.
By the time they had the seat down, the beach blanket under her hips for leverage on the uneven carpet, his shirt off and his pants around his ankles, the sometimes-hated part of his brain that stood apart from everything and kibitzed finally woke up. His philandering grandfather had advised him to always get a room; car sex with your clothes bunched up around you was for amateurs. Yet here he was in that very position with a woman he was hopelessly in love with.
Even as her bare heels dug into his rump, urging him deeper into her, lifting her hips to his while she writhed and sobbed under him—his brain recorded that the damn gas tank was half empty, and with every thrust there was a hollow boink from below the carpet. What kind of moron would design a car for fucking and put the gas tank in such a stupid place? Not that she seemed to notice. But he was alarmed when his brain short-circuited his prick and he began to soften slightly. He thrust deep, trying to increase the friction, but lack of friction was not the problem. Then he realized her sobs had become actual tears and she was clinging to him like a limpet, crying wrenchingly as if her heart were broken.
“What’s wrong?” He stopped thrusting and held her. “What is it, Glenda? What’s wrong?”
“I love you, Goddammit,” she sobbed into his shoulder. First time she’d ever said it. Before he could open his mouth she cried out like a hurt child. “I love you and I can’t come! I love you in me and I can’t come, Goddammit, what’s wrong with me!”
“Darling,” he said. First time for that too. He caressed her and held her. “Darling, stop fretting. It’s okay, love, it’s okay.” He could feel himself softening quickly now. “We just got started. It’s okay.”
“I’ve wanted you so bad and now I’ve messed it all up,” she wailed.
“Hush now,” he said. “Hush. Everything’s okay. Everything’s okay.”
The interior of the big rear window was totally steamed over from their heat. He realized he was slick with sweat, but he could still feel her scalding tears against his neck. The only thing he could think to do was keep gentling her like a spooked horse.
“You said you love me,” he said. “Do you realize you said it?”
She shifted under him. “Of course I love you, you idiot. But why didn’t you say it back?
“Oh, shit, Glenda, I’ve been in love with you since the first day I saw you back when I was a copyboy.”
She sniffled. “Really? But you never…”
“I was too afraid.”
“Oh Buck, really?”
He cupped her chin and raised her tear-wet face, a pale blur. He realized dusk had fallen somehow when he wasn’t looking. “Really,” he said. “Glenda, I love you.”
“What are we gonna do, Buck? I mean…”
Bright lights suddenly flared against the steamed-over window. Buck heard a truck engine. “Oh god!” She sounded terrified. “It’s Marcus! He followed me!” She began to emit a low wailing sound. Buck could hear voices now, Cracker voices, above the truck engine.
–Somebody rippin’ him off a piece down heah. –Sumbich blockin’ us getting’ to the houn’s. –Gonna lose that ‘possum, sure. –S’all right, let’s go take a look, maybe get a taste our own selves. –Hell, yeah!
His fright and rage were instantaneous. He never remembered later how he got out of the car, pants around his ankles, his grandfather’s Army .45 from under the front seat in his hand and braced on the rear tail-light housing. Neither of the woods-runners had even opened a door yet.
“Shut off your lights!” he rapped out. “Do it now.” He was peripherally conscious of Glenda’s pale form behind the steamed window, scuttling forward for her dress.
“Hey, nowww,” came the drawled response. “Ain’t no need…”
“Shut ‘em off or I shoot ‘em out. The next rounds are through the windshield.”
“We got shotguns in here, you asshole!” But the headlights went out.
“You’ll never get to use ‘em.” Buck had never been so coldly killing furious in his life. “Back out of here. Now.”
He heard them mutter. He didn’t care. They were already dead—all that remained was for them to go through the formality of dying.
“Aw right,” a voice came finally, a kind of aggrieved whine. The backup lights went on. “But this here is a public damn road an’ you’re blockin’ it.”
“You leave and I’ll leave and you can have the damn road,” Buck said.
The truck ground backwards slowly out of sight, one final remark—they had to get in one, he supposed, to save face—drifting through the humid dark: “Must be some piece of ass, you ready to kill for it.”
He waited a long time, pulling up and belting his pants, ears strained to the sound of the truck stopping in case they stopped and bailed into the brush with shotguns. They might get their Cracker dander up, and in the dark with shotguns, two on one, they’d have the big edge. But he heard the truck go onto San Pablo Road, tires on pavement, and then go through the gears and away. Time to get the hell out of here before they changed their mind and came back.
He safed the Colt and jammed the pistol in his belt, not bothering with his shirt, and backed the Barracuda around. He couldn’t bear to look directly at Glenda, but could see her sitting in her unzipped dress, one bare knee tucked against her breasts, hair in disarray, staring out the windshield. In the dashboard lights her eyes looked enormous and fixed. He made the pavement, still on high alert, trying to look everywhere at once, and then floored it. No pickup was going to catch the Barracuda.
He drove for a long time, taking back roads to work closer to Jacksonville before he headed east on Atlantic Boulevard, the other main route to the Beaches. All in a brooding silence from the other side of the car. He knew they couldn’t show up at home like that, so he cut off onto another road remembered from high school, and drove toward the St. John’s River. He had to stop somewhere to pee, so he parked on top of Harvey Hill where he could see traffic coming for miles from either direction.
“I didn’t know Florida even had any hills this tall,” she said, her first words since the possum hunters showed up.
“For miles around, this is the only one,” he said. “Harvey Hill. Be right back.”
While he relieved his bladder he thought now was not the time to tell her that meet me on Harvey Hill had been the challenge thrown down among warring Beach teens. Meaning let’s duke it out away from interfering grown-ups. Since he never had a car, he never participated.
When he got back in the car she gave a kind of laugh. “Men have all the advantages that way.”
“You can leave the door open and go behind it, if you need to go. I won’t look.”
She laughed again with a little more feeling. “Too late. You’ve already seen everything I got.”
He took her hand and kissed it. “I love you.”
“I was scared to death back there, Buck.”
“Just possum hunters. Probably half-drunk on ‘shine. They were scared too.”
“No wonder!” She squeezed his hand. “You moved so damn fast! And your voice when you spoke to them. I almost got chills. You always pack a gun?”
“If you ever need one, it’s usually too late to go home and get it.” He kissed her hand again. “That wasn’t the kind of chills I meant for you to have.”
She was gazing out the windshield again. “I hate being a failure as a woman.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You know what I’m talking about.”
“Glenda, we were interrupted. That’s all.”
“But before that, I couldn’t—you know.”
“We’re neither one teenagers anymore making out in a car. That damn gas tank bonking every time I…”
“Oh god!” She took her hand back and buried her face in both hands. “I wanted your homecoming to be the sweetest thing, and I ruined it completely.”
He pulled her hands away from her face and forced her to look at him. “Listen to me: you know what the most important thing is that happened tonight? For me?”
“You said you love me.”
“Oh, Buck. I do love you. I even tried not to, for a long time. But I do. And now it’s just ruined.”
He was exasperated. “Nothing is ruined.” He kissed her. She was inert for a long heartbeat and then began to kiss him back. Somehow they managed to get closer across the bucket seats even with the towel gone. They kissed and touched and squeezed together until she pulled back gently.
“What?” he said in alarm.
Her lips curved up. “I just have to say this.” He heard a return of life and humor in her tone. “I absolutely know you’re glad to see me.” She reached over and squeezed his resurgent erection, still smiling. “So can you put the pistol in your belt away? I know it’s not the classic Mae West line, but the metal hurts my boobs.”
They were both laughing when he came back into her arms from tucking the Colt back under the seat. He kissed her nipples through her dress to apologize, and they hardened instantly. She caught her breath. When his fingers worked under her rucked-up hem he found her soaking wet.
“I told you it was going to be okay,” he said, easing her back against the door and bending lower.
When his lips touched her above his slick fingers, she laced her hands in his hair and pulled him snugly into her feathery-soft pubic thatch. When her hips began the slow, intense roll toward orgasm, he lost himself utterly in her and couldn’t tell whether it was his own pulse booming, or hers, from the soft clamping of her thighs around his ears.
She came with a galvanic shudder, pressing her Mons against his upper lip so hard he knew it would leave a bruise. He closed his eyes and suckled contentedly, that remote part of his brain that refused to shut down giving silent thanks to a sweet blonde from Brittany for his recent education. For a long blissful instant, her whole body seemed to melt around him as her breathing slowed.
Then she stiffened like a board. “Oh, my God!”
He opened his eyes to a blinding white blast of light—again—and jerked upright.
Right into the beam of a big flashlight, behind which an official-sounding voice was saying: “Are you all right, Ma’am…Oh, I’m terribly sorry, Sir!”
The flashlight beam was snatched away. Between the headlights behind them and the newly rising moon, there was enough light to identify a Florida State Trooper standing by the door.
“Just great!” Buck said. He could feel her moisture on his lips and the incipient mustache he’d begun to raise the minute he was on annual leave.
The trooper actually tipped his Stetson. “My apologies, Sir. I thought the lady might be stranded alone out here…”
What was there to say to that? “Thanks,” Buck said. “But we’re fine.”
“So I see,” the trooper said drily. He evidently had seen plenty before he diverted the flashlight. “May I suggest getting a room?”
“Same thing my grandfather always told me,” Buck said.
“Wise man,” the trooper said. “Y’all take care now.” And he was gone.
“Are you okay?” Buck asked her.
“I sure was—for about a second.” She shook her head. “I don’t know what to say, Buck. We’ve wasted up just about all the time I have. I’m at an Arts Council meeting, just so you know.”
“We haven’t wasted a minute, far as I’m concerned,” he said.
“But what about you? A man gets so frustrated when he’s—uh—when he can’t…”
He took her back in his arms. “Will you relax?”
“I’m such a failure as a woman!”
“And knock that off.” Buck felt a laugh building inside. It escaped. “This isn’t you,” he said. “This is me. My fate, making fun of me. Offering with one hand, taking away with the other. Like when I got drafted just when things were going good on the Sunday Magazine.” He kissed her, gently and completely. “You honest to God love me, Glenda?”
“God help me, honest to god, I do,” she said.
“Then the rest will work out—however it works out,” he said.
“God, I don’t want to leave you! But…”
“It’s okay.” He released her and keyed the ignition. “I know an all-night gas station that keeps clean restrooms where we can get cleaned up.”
She was rearranging her dress. “That’s good,” she said briskly. “I kept my panties and bra in my handbag so they’d be clean when I went home. I had this crazy idea…”
Buck was laughing again, delighted that she had arrived stripped for action. So to speak. “Nothing crazy about that idea,” he said. “You got to admit, this has been some first date.”
She jabbed him lightly in the shoulder. “Are you okay? Truly?”
“Finer that frog’s hair.”
She finally broke out laughing too. “I love you, you nut!”
He took in a huge breath and let it out. “And I love you.”
“Somehow, someway, we’re gonna try this again before you leave,” she said. “But I will never, ever forget Harvey Hill.”