by C. Vincent Samarco
Yeah, it’s true. For a while in my teens, I wore penny loafers and button down collars, cut my hair short like early-era Beach Boys. This the best you got? This is what will discredit me? Dude, I’ve twirled my dick in front of so many people it’s a disappointment when the wang doesn’t come out of my pants. I’ve owned up to all the shitty things, all of them—the junk, abuse, distance from my kid. You name it. I’ve never hid from a goddamn thing. And you tote out stories about me in high school? Jesus.
Not only did I wear penny loafers, I actually put fucking pennies in the slits. Okay? And I came to school with memorized lines from The Beverly Hillbillies to crack up the stiffs around their lockers. For a while I was a fucking clown. Worse, I wanted in with that crowd. I slapped Aqua Velva on my cheeks and had a thing for Lesley Walker. (You know Lesley—fuzzy sweaters, hair that seemed to shampoo itself). Is that what you’re looking for?
On the one hand, I get it: If you can’t discredit the persona—and you can’t; it’s bulletproof—then go after the roots. See if authenticity questions stick out—trimmed lawns, sprinklers, club sandwiches served on a tray. So I’ll give you a fucking story, one you might even be able to use. Remember, though, that these things cut both ways.
When I was 16, a couple buddies and me started lifting shit from people’s houses. It was B & E, but with a point. We’d go to the nicer neighborhoods, to homes with two stories, space, the façade of protection. Places that begged to be disturbed. We didn’t care about what we took—TVs, stereos, little figurines the mindless left about. After we got a safe distance away, we’d usually chuck the stuff, sing songs of triumph as we rolled that detritus into some ditch. On one of those late-night missions, by accident, I found out where Lesley Walker lived. We parked in front of some big-assed house—Monticello-looking thing—and I saw Lesley run from a side door to a sedan in the driveway. Her hair was as shiny as stringed metal, a bow clipped above her ear.
I had it bad for Lesley; I already admitted that. And I thought of her the next couple days, picturing myself at her house, shaking hands with her father, drinking lemonade with her on the goddamn porch swing, sitting so there was no space between us, so our legs traded heat. Then I got it in my head to bust into Lesley’s place. It wasn’t going to be the usual break-in. I wasn’t interested in liberating her shit, or breaking the cornerstone to watch the place crumble. I wanted to be there, to smell her air, see where she slept, whether she made her bed. Pedestrian crap, sure, but I was young, not fully committed. I went by her place a couple times by myself, circled the grounds and watched, until one night the car was gone and I didn’t see any lights. It was June and hot for that time of year. The windows were all pushed up. Curtains drifted. And of course, the dumb fucks left the side door, the same one I saw Lesley coming out of, open. I found myself in a room with black leather chairs and a brick fireplace. It smelled like a law library, dusty but important, this mixture of age and polish, a bit of vanilla. I walked out of the room and down a hallway, along the dark wood of the first floor, until I saw a light coming from an almost-closed door.
Inside the room, a naked woman lying on a huge, wood-carved bed lifted a bare-assed baby up and down. Domestic bliss and low-grade calisthenics. The woman had to be Lesley’s mother—same features but older—and as she raised and lowered the baby, saying little things to it, the tot’s feet, little flesh flippers, snapped in my direction. A ceiling fan spun over their heads. Lesley’s mother was beautiful, the same milky skin as her daughter, hair nested at her neck and shoulders, wrists as thin as a wishbone.
Here’s the embarrassing part, what you could use against me if you spun it the right way. I tell you this knowing full well how it sounds. I watched Lesley’s mom, her legs propped at the knees, the baby rising and falling, and I pictured Lesley on that bed, believed the baby was ours, me just out to the kitchen for milk and returning through the hallway. And I wanted it, the whole damn thing—Lesley, house, baby. All of it. For a full thirty seconds, nothing felt more powerful to me.
Lesley’s mother sat up in bed, propped a pillow behind her, and placed the baby to her chest. With the baby upright, I could see what I couldn’t see before. The obscenity of obscenities. The baby had on its head a blonde wig, a doll’s hood. The ends of the wig curled, and Lesley’s mom brushed the plastic strands with her fingers, turning the baby this way and that. And she sang to the baby, this pitiful rhyme that came from an era less subtle about the link between brutality and survival. She sang, “Bye baby bunting, daddy’s gone a-hunting, to get a little rabbit skin to wrap his baby bunting in.” Then she cradled the child close so she could sing to its face. She repeated the lines, cooing to that continuance of the spoils system, the child oblivious but instinctively grabbing for its mother, trying, as a child should, to bridge the gap.
The house closed around me. My breath stuck in my throat. I backed out of that diseased suburban assembly line, a scream the size of Texas gathering force.