Fiction - A selection from The White Crow v5, i4. More fiction, from Nathan Leslie, available in the print version.
Sweet Sixteenby Robert J Lowenherz
Just this once you'd think Sophie could cut Martha some slack. A nice girl like Martha deserves her own sixteenth birthday party. But her mom never can take a back seat for anything. She always has to stand like up front, dressed to kill. At her own daughter's birthday party, she's wearing this low-cut white blouse, no brassiere, and a tight red skirt. Everything from her frizzy blonde hair to her big boobs screams, "Look at me! Look at me!"
Man! Sophie really burns my ass. Martha told me her mom's 38. That's too old to be dressing like a goddamn go-go dancer. I gotta admit, though, Sophie has a body on her could give a guy ideas.
Maybe if Martha's dad could be here, he'd put the brakes on Sophie. At least for this special evening. But Sam died of a heart attack two years ago. He was a lot older than Sophie.
"Oh, Paul!" Martha says to me lots of times. "I miss my dad so much it feels like a big hole in my heart." And then I watch her eyes fill up with tears.
I tell you, that really gets me. I liked old Sam. And I love Martha. I take one look at her sweet face with those sad brown eyes, and I just have to love her. We've been going steady ever since we met like three years ago, during the first week of high school.
I feel sorry for Martha. I keep trying to help her.
"Why do you always wear such dark clothes?" I ask her. "You look like one of them little old Eyetalian widow ladies dressed all in black."
"I don't know, Paul. Most of the time I feel like I'm still mourning for my dad."
"Two years seems long enough," I say, slipping my arm around her shoulders to comfort her. "Also, you never put on any makeup like all the other girls. It makes you look like a plain-Jane. Would a little lipstick kill you?
At that point Martha shrugs out from under my arm.
"My mom wears enough makeup and loud lipstick for both of us. I don't need to look like her."
End of discussion. Topic closed.
So now comes Martha's big night. Her sweet-sixteen party at her home, with a bunch of the guys and girls from school and me, her boyfriend, and, of course, Sophie.
What a scene! Couples dancing to cool music. Girls and most of the guys drinking soda. A few of the guys sneaking in bottles of beer. Or like going outside to smoke a joint. And here's Sophie filling a tall wine glass with champagne and trying to get Martha to drink it. I figure Sophie already has enough champagne in her to float a battleship.
"Please, Mom," Martha says. "I don't want any. I already have a glass of soda."
"C'mon, Martha," one of the beer-drinkers calls out. "You don't want the champagne, I'll drink it for ya."
Sophie lets out a high tinkly laugh like ice cubes when you stir a drink.
"How did I ever raise such a good little girl?"
"Hey, Mrs. Benson," I say. "Give her a break, huh?"
"Ah! Le chevalier au secours!" Sophie cries out, turning on me. She likes to talk French at me. She knows I got a C-minus in French two years running, and I can't understand a damn word she says. "Allons! Dance with me."
She hands the glass of champagne to Martha and like wraps herself around me. I figure this could be one way to get Sophie off Martha's back, so I take off across the living room floor with such a tight grip on Sophie her tits practically pop out of her low-cut blouse.
With everyone staring at us, Sophie suddenly lets herself swing down and away from me in a deep dip. I grab at her to keep her butt from landing real hard on the floor. She gives a shriek of drunken delight, and her gorgeous white boobs actually do come flying out of her blouse. Man! What a scene!
I hate to admit it, but I could feel myself getting a hard-on. Sophie swings herself up again and buries her boobs in my chest. Some of the girls look down or away. Most of the guys laugh sort of nervous, and a few of them clap real loud like they're applauding a porno show.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Martha drop the glassful of champagne with a big splash all over the light gray wall-to-wall carpeting. She takes off up the stairs to her bedroom like a deer with hunters after it.
"Jesus Christ!" I gasp. "Excuse me, Mrs. Benson. I gotta go."
I leave her standing alone at the far end of the room, shoving her chest back into her blouse where it belongs. I take the stairs two at a time and race down the hall to Martha's bedroom. Lucky that Martha didn't lock the door. I would've busted it open.
Martha's lying on the bed, and her face is buried in the bedspread, and she's sobbing like her heart is gonna break into a million pieces. I sit down next to her and let the palm of my hand rest lightly on the back of her head.
"It's okay, Martha," I say. "I'm here."
She mumbles something into the bedspread.
"I can't make out what you're saying."
She turns her head towards me and says, "I feel sick to my stomach. I feel like I drank that whole glass of champagne."
"Well, you didn't."
I kiss her once on the lips. More tears roll out of her eyes and down her cheeks. To me they don't look like sad tears now. Her eyes are shining. She rolls over on her back, lifts her face to me, and kisses me back. A sweet salty kiss.
Man! I tell you, I never loved Martha as much as I do right now.
All of a sudden I hear a loud thump outside the hall. Next comes a low groan, like someone's dying out there. Then silence.
Martha lies back on the bed like she never heard a thing.
"You wait here," I say. "I'll be right back."
I leave her there in her sweet-sixteen blue-and-white party dress. Her eyes are closed and a dreamy smile drifts across her face.
I step outside. There's Sophie, sitting on the carpeted floor with her back propped up against a wall. Real quick, I close the door to Martha's bedroom.
"You okay?" I ask, bending over Sophie.
She looks at me with big blue eyes full of tears. Sophie crying? That really shakes me up. I never thought she knew how to cry.
"Oh, Paul!" she whispers to me. I bend down lower to hear her better, and she slides her arms around my neck. To keep from falling on top of her, I twist around and sit next to her. She never lets go of my neck.
"I feel so miserable," she whispers in my ear. Her breath feels warm and very close and smells like a lot of wine. "I'm a terrible mother. I'm a terrible person. I've ruined my own daughter's birthday party. Half the young people downstairs are leaving, and the other half don't know whether to stay or go. And it's all my fault! I feel sick in my heart. I want to go to bed and pull the covers over my head and never come out again as long as I live."
She lets her head roll onto my shoulders. I can smell the sweet perfume in her golden hair and feel the sobs shaking her soft body.
"I'll help you to your room," I whisper to Sophie.
I think to myself, I don't want to wake up Martha. With Sophie hanging on me like a drowning woman, I half-walk, half-carry her across the hall to her bedroom. Getting the door open with her limp body all over me is a job and a half, but I manage it.
At the bed she kicks off her red party shoes. A sob comes out like a hiccup. She falls back onto the bed, her arms still clamped around my neck. Can I help it? I tumble right down on top of her.
Both of us lie there for what seems like a long time, her bosom rising and falling, me trying to puzzle out what to do next. Sophie solves the problem by pulling my head down to her and kissing me. That's my wake-up call.
"Excuse me," I say, slipping out of Sophie's arms and rolling away from her. "I gotta go again. You get yourself some rest, Mrs. Benson."
"Why can't you call me Sophie, Paul?"
"Okay—Sophie. I still gotta go."
And I do, back to Martha's room. I remember Mr. Spencer, our world history teacher, talking about Henry Kissinger and his "shuttle diplomacy." For the first time, I catch on to what Mr. Spencer was talking about.
Martha's sitting up in bed now, and she gives me a big smile. As I walk toward her, she like pats the space next to her. Hey! That's not the old Martha.
Something else is different. Holy shit! She's wearing lipstick. And eye shadow. A little smudgy in spots, but a real dark blue eye shadow. I have to take a second hard look before I sit down beside her.
"I missed you, Paul," she says. "What were you doing out there?"
"Putting your mom to bed. She was sitting on the floor in the hall. She needed all the help she could get."
Martha moves closer to me. Am I stoned or dreaming? I smell perfume—lots of perfume. In fact, I recognize Sophie's perfume on Martha. The smell of it is getting me hot all over again, and I'm like flashing on pictures in my mind of Sophie lying on her bed with me on top of her.
"Well," Martha says with a grin full of lipstick, "You had a practice session helping my mom. But she isn't the only one who could use some help, you know."
My brain must be really bombed out or something. I can't believe what I'm hearing.
"Help?" I say lamely. "What kinda help?"
Martha giggles and turns her face away.
"All the help I can get."
I don't need a neon welcome sign to read the message. My hands turn Martha's face back to me, and we kiss again. But this time it's not a sweet salty kiss. She presses her lips against mine real hard and closes her eyes and lets out a little moan. I don't know. It seems a little early for moaning. Pretty soon I have to break the kiss just so I can breathe.
Martha sits there with an eager expression on her face. I notice that her eye shadow is more smudged than ever. And now her lipstick, which she must have laid on awful thick, is kinda smeared under her nose and a bit on her chin, too. I hate to think how I must look.
"So, Paul," she says. "Do I kiss as well as my mom?"
How in hell? I think. Was she hiding under Sophie's bed? I don't know why the thought of it makes me ashamed for Martha. But it does. I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand.
"How would I know?" I say. "I never kissed your mom."
I slide off the bed and stand there, staring past Martha at my picture of Sophie, with her perfect golden blonde hair and her perfect white breasts.
"Listen, Martha. It's late. I think everybody downstairs is gone. I gotta go home, too. You know how it is."
Martha tries to shrug her shoulders as if, whatever, but she's not much good at it.
I walk out the door, thinking maybe I should check out Sophie—see how she's doing—long as I'm passing by her bedroom anyway.
Crowright 2003 Osric Publishing. Last updated 09.28.2003