The Homeless Ventriloquist by Jim Washburn
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Got To Get You Into My Life

Lloyd drove north on Normandie. He hadn’t called Audrey from the Chevron station, wanting to get gone from the area, and it was three miles before he found another phone booth, at least one that hadn’t been torched or vandalized beyond use. This one had what appeared to be strawberry jam smeared on the mouthpiece, but Lloyd was past caring.

He’d made sure to bring an abundance of dimes. Audrey answered on the first ring.

“Hello?”

“Audrey, it’s Lloyd.”

“Did you find Artie?”

“Not even a lead. I told you it was a long shot.”

“Then will you come find me?” She sounded plaintive, a whole other tonal palette from the brash woman who had walked in his office door four days before.

“It’ll take me at least a half hour to get there.”

“Get going then. The porch light is burning.”

He’d half hoped she’d blow the evening off. His other half was getting an erection talking to her. He got back in the MG and kept driving toward the Hollywood sign. He’d never much liked Hollywood; suddenly if felt like he was driving home, and that disturbed him.

He’d had some rough moments over the last few days, but nothing that couldn’t be resolved by punching or being punched. Audrey was a threat he wasn’t equipped for: the fear of actually caring about something.

Love was what he thought he was consumed with in the fifth grade, when he secretly worshipped a girl who wore glasses and lived in a two-story blue and white house, a richly mysterious old place in a town of cheap ranch houses. He couldn’t imagine what life was like in there, just that it had to be better than his, and he assumed things must be equally good and unknowable behind her glasses. How did she regard him? Did she laugh if he said something funny? It meant the world that she be interested in him, and he dreamed of saving her from a bobcat. But he never dared to look her in the eyes, though that was all he cared about even after she and her family moved away. She was smart and she’d giggled sometimes, and he yearned for her.

That set the pattern for the woman in his life until now. Even as an adult, coupled and entwined in bed with one, he still felt a yearning, like this was only a checkpoint to let him know how alone he was in the world. He’d nearly married in his early twenties, again enthralled by the mystery and otherness of a woman, until he realized there wasn’t one thing he liked about her.

There were aspects of Audrey that set him off, but he realized they boiled down to her being smarter and more perceptive than he was. If he lay beside her, she would know if he was feeling alone, and that might be enough to keep him from ever feeling alone. Lloyd could do alone standing on his head. He didn’t know about together.

His erection seemed to, though. “I am pointed at your North Star, idiot,” it told him. “Do not under any circumstances find some grand ethical-philosophical reason to blow this. You’ve got to be on your toes to deserve this lady.”

“Please go away before I hit Beachwood, please,” he replied. He put Audrey’s music on the radio and merged onto the Harbor Freeway off Manchester. Four pop songs and a Clearasil commercial later and he exited the Hollywood Freeway at Gower and headed up the hill.

He drove past Glen Green and continued up to the Beachwood Market, parking in its tiny lot and shutting off the MG’s ignition. He sat in the dark trying to quell the stirrings in both his pants and mind. He’d never been this nervous heading into court.

After a few moments of no great improvement, he drove down Beachwood and up Glen Green’s narrow lane. For a semblance of appearance’s sake, he parked a ways down from Audrey’s, in front of a yard with a newly-cemented tetherball pole, and hiked up the hill. That calmed him a little.

Her porch light was indeed on, an orange Japanese lantern, twisting in the Santa Ana wind. It cast a flickering, fire-like glow over her porch. He knocked once. She answered seconds later, not ushering him in but stepping onto the porch, pulling the door snug behind her. She leaned back against it while clasping Lloyd’s belt loops and pulling him to her.

Her arms went around his waist then, and she said into his ear, “Just hold me. This night.”

She’d meant to say the night was beautiful; he could tell that. It was a storybook evening, where the air felt like a warm current helping him to shore. He was sure there were stars in the sky here. From the corner of his eye, he could see bats flitting under the eaves of the ponderosa pines near her garage. Audrey’s hair was gently blowing in his face. Her breath was on his neck as her right ear rested against his cheek. His arms held her to him.

They stood like that for a time, then Audrey began gently kissing his neck as he stroked her hair. Every worry about what to say, how to work around the Artie thing, when and how to touch her, had short-circuited when she first touched him.

His heart was pounding like lunatics on an asylum door, but that was all right. Everything was. Lloyd was pressed so close to Audrey that when her dog started padding against the other side of the door, he could feel it through her.

And she had to be feeling his resurgent erection, pressing against her like he had a roll of silver dollars in his pocket. As they held each other, gently rocking and swaying against the door, Lloyd felt like he had a match head there, and she was the flint. He tried backing his pelvis up a bit, but she pulled him close again.

And eventually she had to say something.

“I see you brought Cecil along. I may not be ready for that.”

“Just because Smokey’s got a shovel it doesn’t mean he’s expecting a fire. I’m fine just where we are.”

After a moment, she said softly, “You don’t seem like someone who expects too much of anything.”

 “I’ve been of little enough good to myself that I don’t see anyone else having much use for me. How’s that for self-pity?”

“You might just snivel your way into my life like that. Come in and have a drink.”

It came out sounding like a come-on, like something someone else would say, somewhere else, and Audrey reddened. She started to say something else, but Lloyd kissed her, and they kissed for a good long time.

A fresh gust of desert wind came up the canyon, just in from Borrego Springs or Indio. The orange lantern made a fluttering sound as it spun on its mounting. He felt glued to Audrey’s warmth, and her lips were telling stories to his, about all the long years before they met.

What had she said on the Whisky dance floor that first night? “It’s recess, Lloyd.” He felt like he’d been waiting for recess his entire life. Audrey reached a hand behind her, turned the doorknob, and slowly backed her way in, leading Lloyd into her mysterious old house.

 

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Jim Washburn has written for the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the OC Weekly, various MSN sites and just about anybody else willing to trade a paycheck for a pulse.
jim@fourstory.org

Comments

mom sure remembers that tetherball,set in cement…along with her pinky!  love you

2010-11-3 by susan greenwood

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