*** continuing the serialization of Tollbooth***
click here to start at the beginning
The one armed kid was at the register, sipping an orange juice in a paper jug. “Is Gena here?” I asked.
He shook his head and then retrieved my order, placed it in a bag. Special Orders are prepaid. “Oh, I thought . . . never mind.” He shrugged.
I hung around in the notebook aisle for a moment, stalling, then disgusted with myself, I left the store.
But, out there, under the shimmering light, there she was, waiting by my car. She watched me as I walked towards my Subaru.
“I was on break,” Gena offered.
“I got my order.” I said, holding up the bag. She was smaller than I remembered; short, but just as hot. The glow of the light made it worse to be there with her. Why would she be out here waiting for me if she didn’t want to get closer to me?
Closer to me?
Was she some sicko?
“This may seem kind of weird,” she said looking away, “me being here waiting for you, but I dunno.”
“I was hoping something like this would happen,” I confided.
“Why?” She looked at me, as only a girl who knows exactly who she is can look at another person. “And what do you think this is?”
“I’m not sure. I was just gonna get in my car and go home.”
“I was getting a slice over there,” she pointed at the pizzeria, “It’s good, real good. You should try it.”
“Yeah, one day.”
For a second, I thought that she wanted nothing more than to be pushed against the car, her skirt hiked, her blouse ripped by my hands, that Gena wanted the impact of another body—badly wanted it. There wasn’t an ounce of innocence in her eyes, but also awkwardness, the kind that someone projects just before suggesting something obscene.
She wanted obscenity. No problem, in my mind we’d fucked in thin air, in the dark recesses of countless dark spaces. I’d imagined her mouth and her neck, every fragrance of her. The way she’d look ass up, head down. Knee high socks. Converse All-Stars, nothing else.
“My break is almost up, Jim,” Gena said, leaning back against my Subaru. “I have five more minutes. Are you busy? Do you want to sit with me. This car have air conditioning? It’s so hot tonight.”
“Yeah, of course,” I said. We got in. I was trying to be smooth. I whacked my head hard ducking in. I played it off like it didn’t happen, starting the engine, flipping on the AC. “It will take a few minutes to kick in, but . . .”
“No, that’s better already, plus I didn’t want anybody to see me out there, might look weird.”
“Fraternizing with the patrons.”
“You got it.” She turned to me, “You’re pretty funny, and not like, immature about it or anything.”
“Uh huh,” then I thought about how old she was, and what the words, not immature meant, it meant that she definitely wanted my not so immature cock in her immature pussy, that was a definite! How could the universe be so in tune?
“You don’t think I’m weird do you?” she asked, “That I’d want to talk to you outside of the store . . .” She was playing with her hair, her lips super moist. A small green stone in her earring caught the light, “I’m not a stalker or anything.”
“Never said you were.”
“I dunno, you just seem so intense. You come into the store and you place this order, and every time I see you, I dunno, all I can do is wonder what makes you tick.”
“Me? Oh nothing.” What makes me tick? Do I tick, oh I guess I am now. Tocking. Momma take my pulse, I am ripping off the cobwebs chomping them in my werewolf fangs in the middle of silver lit field beneath the cursed moon.
The night was a disaster. It couldn’t have worked out any better or any worse than getting her young flesh in the car.
When Gena broke the silence, being brave, I couldn’t believe my luck, “Hey, do you want to come to a party with me later?” she cooed.
“I think that would be cool.”
Cool! Do kids still talk like that? FUCK!! Cool one daddy-o, now she knew I was born before punk rock was invented.
“Cool.” She said. “It’s gonna be a really big party. This girl I know.”
“Yeah, lots of cool people. It would be real great if you came.”
“Well I’m coming.”
“I’ll be off at ten,” she said. “Can you pick me up here?”
She opened the car door, stepped out, then leaned back in, “Oh, and do you mind getting some beer for the party, nobody is old enough yet to get it. I’m nineteen. Beat, huh?”
“Yeah, beat. Nineteen,” I said, “beat.”
“You don’t mind, do you?”
Get the beer, sonofabitch. Figures.
“No, not at all,” I said. She smiled, blew me a small kiss goodbye. She walked away, blushing, shaking that ass. At the doors to Officetown, she looked back again, waved goodbye one last time. What the fuck was going on? Had I slipped into an accidental tear in the fabric of the universe. Was I occupying some alternate dimension where things worked out?
I skipped around Dinosaur Liquor like a genuine lunatic, pushing the cart aggressively, throwing in case after case of beer. I wondered what kind of beer the modern underage drinker preferred. Soon I had so many cases that it seemed like some kind of backwards joke. It’d be smarter to economize, with two kegs.
It was Saturday night, it’d be a huge party. These kids knew how to party, or so I assumed.
“Not sure what I need totally,” I told the guy behind the counter, reading the sci-fi fanzine. “Let’s start with two kegs.”
“Well it’s getting late,” he warned, “after ten I can’t sell any hard alcohol.”
A law of some kind, I had heard it whispered at some earlier point in my existence, but now wanted to scream in his face, “Don’t you know, all of the rules are off. Tonight is the night that all nights have lead up to. Rules used to exist, they don’t matter anymore.”
I knew, the world would not understand the importance.
“No hard alcohol after ten? I better get cracking.” I stuffed bottle after random bottle into my cart. Gin. Whiskey. Vodka. More Gin, because I like Gin. Tonic. Coca-Cola. Rum, Coconut rum for the girls. Wine coolers for the girls and margarita mix for the girls, for the girls, to loosen whatever tightness they had wrapped around the tightness of their young bodies, or old bodies if there happened to be a stray mother present who also wanted to party her old heart out. Tequila. Peppermint Schnapps. Let this be a huge festival of a party, attended by every dripping wet friend of Gena. We’ll all just forget about our baby mama dramas and tollbooth dilemmas.
The geek at the counter did not look impressed with all my purchasing power. He rang it all up, frowning.
We both knew that while I was having the time of my life he would be home, masturbating to a still shot of princess Leia dressed in that golden outfit, while Jabba the Hutt drooled over her.
He looked me in the eye.
“Five hundred and eighteen dollars and seven cents.” he said.
“Peanuts,” I replied.
On that twisted night I was having an out of body experience, thinking that perhaps by the end of it, the whole world would be over and none of this would matter, wouldn’t matter with the bank or my wife, or myself or the police. Ha! The universe was so in tune! How could all of this be something going wrong? And if it was, why was I so happy about it?
Thank God for all of my savings, all of those trunks full of lost commuter coins! All of those salvaged coins were fistfuls of hope.
I slid him my credit card, as would have any true lover.
The parking lot was the loneliest place in the world. I waited there, alone, eating a 99 cent value menu cheeseburger from Burgerland.
I kept gazing into the bright florescent lights of Officetown for some movement in the store. No one came. The clock said 10:27. No one came. She’d said ten.
I put the cheeseburger wrapper in the bag, wiped my face with the napkin. I wanted to look good when she comes to the car. Quickly I checked my face in the mirror, I’d decided not to shave, even though I had purchased a razor and some shaving cream in the drugstore. I’d also purchased some cologne with a cowboy on the bottle.
I was going with stubble, always a good choice, I assumed. Assuming that young girls found stubble attractive, did they? In that bathroom at Burgerland, I had a small panic attack, looking in the mirror, thinking: do I shave or don’t I shave?
Then I had a brainstorm.
I walked back out of the bathroom, to the teenage girl behind the counter. I decided to ask her, as she leaned in a chair against the wall, in her purple and yellow uniform, her straight blonde hair pulled behind in a long ponytail. She was dangerously skinny. She did not eat at her place of employment. She had the same look that I have on my face in the booth: desire for death.
“Excuse me,” I said, startling her.
“Yeah.” She jumped out of her chair, thinking that I had left the place and that she was safe until the front doors opened again. I’d been a while in the bathroom, trying on my new clothes and doing the best I could to wash up with the antibacterial pump soap that they stock. Suddenly here I’d appeared, as would an apparition. It made her heart thump.
“I have a weird question for you,” I said.
“Well, I’m not alone, there are other people here.”
“No, not that kind of weird. I’m not dangerous.”
“Oh, OK.” She fixed her hat, slumped her shoulders, relaxed. As she squinted, it made me realize that she needed glasses and refused to wear them, worrying they would ruin her looks. “You remind me of my track coach,” she said.
“Coach, huh . . .” I smiled, said, “look, I have a date tonight with a much younger girl.”
“How much younger?” she said, intrigued.
“Your age I guess, how old are you?”
“Well she is like nineteen or twenty I think.”
“You think I look nineteen? That is so hot.”
“I can’t be sure under a certain age, kids grow up fast.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty four,” I said.
“Yeah?” she didn’t believe that.
“Anyway, maybe my question is weird, but I’m gonna ask it anyway, because, well because I don’t have anybody else to ask. Uhhhhhhh, do you think a young girl, your age, would think stubble is good, or should I shave. For my date.”
The doors opened and a family stormed in like a herd of hippos.
“You shouldn’t shave,” she said. “You look hot.”
I look hot?
Of course I look hot!
“Thanks,” I said.
“Have fun on your date.”
The hippos smashed past me to devour whatever they could. The girl at the counter braced herself.
The Officetown doors opened, it was that one armed kid again. He was talking on his cell phone as he walked towards route 9. I assumed he was going to catch the bus, which ran irregularly all up and down that strange sweep of highway. But, when he reached the bus stop, he bent, supporting the cellphone with his shoulder, pulled up a yellow bike that I hadn’t seen. He entered a combination, removed the chain, placed the chain back on the bike frame, stood the bike up, hopped on, still on the cellphone, still supporting it with his shoulder. Like some mad daredevil, he jumped the bike over the curb, taking his free hand off the handlebars. He pedaled hands-free across three lanes of highway traffic, cars screeching their brakes, peeling out, almost smashing into each other, while he shot across the opposing lanes of traffic! AMAZING! Then, he was gone, disappearing out of the realm of streetlights, into the last of the undeveloped land on the whole stretch from Philadelphia to the Atlantic Ocean.
My mouth hung open.
There was a knock on the window, it was Gena, she was standing there, smiling and waving.
I opened up.
“Did you see that? It was . . .”
“That’s Tony, he’s out of his mind. All his friends are like that, ‘specially Brian.”
“Yeah, crazy kids for sure,” I said as she climbed in the Subaru. “Hey, I got some beer, and other stuff for the party.” I motioned towards the backseat.
“Oh my God! Look at all of this stuff!”
“Well there’s more, I couldn’t fit it all in here, some of it I had to put in the trunk.”
“WOW!!” She leaned in, kissed my cheek, “this is gonna be the craziest party ever!”