Reggie waves to the receptionist.
Jo Jo leans through the fingerprinted Plexiglas window. “Your father came to see Dr. Dann this morning,” she says. “For his toe.”
“Is he okay?” Reggie asks.
“Yeah. It’s just swollen. And he’s, like, gained four more pounds.”
Her frizzed ponytail swings sideways. “He just keeps getting bigger and bigger. You have to talk to him, Reggie.”
The waiting room is silent with silver-haired men. They browse through day old newspapers.
“What’cha in for, this time?” Jo Jo asks.
Reggie quickly rises. “Um…an infection. I think.”
“Another one? Where this time?” She slurs on a lemon sucker.
“Let me guess. Okay…on your neck?”
“On your earlobe?” She giggles.
“Jo Jo. No…”
“On your knee?”
Reggie points to the carpet, then further, toward the devil. “Down there,” he whispers.
Jo Jo flushes. She quickly doodles on pad of paper. “Dr. Dann’ll be out soon,” she says.
The old men turn their heads like lazy oscillating fans.
Reggie falls back into his seat and begins to flick through the only remaining reader. Brides. He sees garlands and four-tiered chocolate cakes and grooms and jeweled heels and ties and vests and velvet cummerbunds. He turns front to back, pretending not to enjoy. Ten minutes stagger by.
Jo Jo calls, “Reggie?”
“The doc’s ready for you.”
“Thanks, Jo Jo.”
A pane of paper crinkles beneath Reggie. He waits, boxed by walls checked in sailboats. His body shudders.
He prays silently, “God…Please let Dr. Dann fix me up.”
I know that Reggie is riled by visions. Candy stripers, needles. Massive blue pills, caskets. Death and his eyes finally sewn shut. I am certain that Reggie views an early heaven and no chance of the world he has always imagined. The world which has yet to begin.
Dr. Dann lumbers inside the examination room. “Lauderdale,” he says.
Reggie smiles weakly. He is pinning down tears.
Dr. Dann snaps off wet latex gloves and leans against the wall. “Been runnin’ late today. Mind if I shave while we chat?”
“Oh. No. Go ahead.”
“Thanks, Reg.” He pulls an electric razor from a drawer. Dr. Dann snaps the trimmer to life. It eats off his stubble. Above the purring, he says, “I told you, you don’t have Parkinson’s and you don’t have scoliosis.”
“I know. I do believe you.”
“You’re in here, what, a couple times a month? But I have to tell you, everything’s perfectly okay. You’re a healthy guy.”
Reggie covers his face. “See…I don’t think so.”
“You’re exactly like your mom was.”
“She always knew she’d be sick.”
“Reg, your mom thought she had everything. She even came in here once terrified about polio.”
“She also thought she had cancer. And she did. And now she’s gone.”
Dr. Dann kills his waning shaver. Off. Then on. Then off. Then on again. “Alright. What’s up now?”
Reggie says, “See, I wonder if there’s like, a condition for…your privates. Like…a condition. Because, l keep having these dreams. They’re not…nice dreams. Really sinful. Big sinning in these ones. And then I wake up and there’s…”
“Um…yeah.” Reggie blanches with hot shame.
“Reg, you had an orgasm.”
“I know. I always do. I need to make it stop. There’s something wrong. I’m nineteen. I should be able to control it by now.”
“You had a wet dream. It’s natural. This happens to every young man. Especially if they don’t, you know, release.”
“Well, I can’t…release. It’s wrong. It’s bad.”
“Ever had a girlfriend?”
“No,” Reggie whispers.
Dr. Dann coughs. He searches through his cabinets, finds some Lectric Shave and slicks his pink flesh. Spice taints the atmosphere. “You need to have sex,” he finally says.
“That’s against my religion.”
“You need to…masturbate, then.”
“That’s against my religion too.”
“Who told you that, Reggie?”
“My mom. My dad,” he says. “My church.”
Dr. Dann sighs and opens the door. “I can’t help you then.”
“I’m sick! I can’t dream anymore. Please help me. Maybe give me a pill or, I don’t know, a shot?”
“The only thing you can do is…pray, I guess. Now go home. Go.”
I watch Elmer stake his sign in the balding grass.
I watch Elmer deposit his mother’s check.
I watch Elmer sing through his telephone, ordering Reggie to come by after work.
I watch Elmer contemplate a job at Wash N’ Fluff.
I watch Elmer think of Pinky’s honey-like scent.
I watch Elmer exhaling perfect, perfect smoke rings.
I watch Elmer imagine Pinky, bottomless.
I watch Elmer picture himself steering limousines toward drunken proms.
I watch Elmer gently peck his wrist, pretending it is hers.
I watch Elmer defecate and wipe himself three times.
I watch Elmer say, aloud, “I can’t wait any longer.”
Reggie tells himself that he’ll vanish just as his mother did. He longs for so many moments of joy, but he feels certain he’ll pay for all the sins. His skull rocks with more hopeless flurry.
A new disease.
Elmer is scaling up each filthy step. The sound of his clomps boomerang through the crooked stairwell. Pinky’s tiny koala bear sits inside his T-shirt pocket. He stops before her door. He raps gingerly.
Apartment three groans open. Pinky, small and soft, leans before him. Fiery ringlets waterfall from her head, pouring well beyond her shoulders. She wears a nightgown. Her two hands hide a drowsy smile.
“Hi, Pinky,” Elmer says.
“How you doin’?” he asks. “You alright?”
“Yeah,” she says, tee-heeing quietly.
Elmer pinches out the animal and kisses her cheek with its snout. “Here,” he says, smiling. “Won this for you at the arcade.”
Pinky cradles the bear as if it is an emerald. “That’s sweet, Elmer.”
“I just wanted to do something…so you’d know that I was thinking about you. I guess it’s dumb.”
“It’s not dumb. It’s terrific.”
I know that Elmer’s entire body begins to wring whenever Pinky says the word ‘terrific.’
She tells him, “I like all the animals you get for me. They fill up my entire bed.” Pinky hides another smile.
He asks, “So…what’s this about your TV?” He begins bumbling behind the dusty, black and white television set. Elmer untangles cords and stuffs in plugs.
Pinky asks, “Is it broken?”
“I can’t really tell.”
“Only one channel comes on. Seven.”
“Maybe your TV just finally shit the bed.”
“Well, my mom gave it to me when I was fifteen,” she says.
He grins. “Too old.”
Elmer brushes off his flannel shirt. It’s newly ironed. It’s an old Christmas gift from Reggie that he has never worn.
Pinky says, “At least I’ve got one channel, right?”
“You need real cable.”
She sits on the edge of the ruffled bed. Elmer eases down beside her. Stuffed elephants, cats and button-eyed puppies crowd them.
He says, “I can get you a new tube.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I think my Mom has an extra.”
“Don’t. This one’s fine,” she says, smoothing her nightgown over her lap.
“You need something better. No biggie. I’ll take care of it.”
Pinky crisscrosses her shiny, powdered legs.
I have watched Elmer tend to this girl. Only part-time at first, but then, non-stop: frozen dinners, Shasta, stuffed reindeer, phone calls, pansies, Crackerjacks, Ambisol at three in the morning. Some days, on his most marvelous days, Elmer can coax Pinky out into the world for a brief stroll down Nixon Avenue.
“How about a walk tomorrow?” he asks.
“You’ve got to get out, Pinky.”
“I know, but I like it in here.”
“Just say ‘maybe.’”
Elmer sighs and sighs.
Pinky says, “You must hate me. You must think I’m a freak.”
“No. You’re…terrific. Like you always say.”
A giraffe plummets to the floor. Carefully, Pinky scoops up the animal and places it with the rest. “Do you have cologne on?” she asks.
“No. Just new deodorant.”
“It’s called ‘Mountain Scent.’”
“Mountains don’t smell, I don’t think. Or do they?”
“Maybe they do. We should go to the mountains and find out.”
“Want to watch Jeopardy?” Pinky asks. “It’s coming on. It’s on my one channel. I have Cracker Jacks too.”
For thirty-five minutes, they sit, side by side, crunching on caramel nuggets and gazing at the snowy trivia show.
I know that there are no surprises in their boxes.
Tune in tomorrow for Part 3 of our week-long serialisation of Parade, Chapter One.
Read Michael’s exclusive essay for STORGY: ‘I’ve Learned a Thing or Two: Lessons from My First Novel’
Michael Graves is the author of the novel, Parade. He also composed Dirty One, a collection of short stories. This book was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist and an American Library Association Honoree. His fiction and poetry have been featured in numerous literary publications and anthologies. Visit his official website: www.michaelgravesauthor.com.
To purchase a copy of Parade and/or Dirty One click on the images below:
Reggie Lauderdale suffers from a crisis of faith. His cousin, Elmer Mott, dreams of becoming their hometown mayor. Both boys are stuck in suburbia trying to be adults… but they aren’t sure how to bethemselves yet. When a twist of fate sends them fleeing in a stolen limousine, the cousins escape to Florida where they meet a retired televangelist, who inspires them on a path of glitzy sermons and late night parties. But are the celebrations sincere or deceptive? And who is keeping tabs? Who is watching?
Parade is a tour-de-force, comic tale of religion and government.
Set in the 1980’s, Dirty One follows a pack of adolescent characters who live in the acid-drenched, suburban town known as Leominster, Massachusetts—the plastics capital of America, as well as the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed. In the story, “From Kissing,” a sixth-grader named Butch has his first homosexual tongue kiss during a monster truck show and, after a bout of the flu, he is convinced he has somehow contracted AIDS. With “Curls and Curls,” nine-year-old Lee hates his kinky, brown head of hair and is seemingly possessed with magic, casting spells to unfurl his evil tresses. In “A Snow Day,” eleven-year-old Cassidy longs to be the next mega-watt, teen pop star, but is forced to deal with her crazy classmates, her gay father, and her dog that continually vomits in the driveway. “Do It” follows a tween named Denise as she seeks her first sexual experience with a boyfriend who can never remain erect. Denise strives for high school greatness while her gay best friend is crowned king of all local paper routes. These selections join five more, constructing the remarkable world of Dirty One.
Read more of Michael’s fiction below:
Eclectica – ‘Black Doll’
Soft Cartel – ‘The Keepers’
Post Road Magazine – ‘Balloons’
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