Higher Love - James Vincent McMorrow (mp3)
Presented this month is my
unfinished fiction work, tentatively titled "11seven." I offer it in
small mostly digestible doses of between 700-1,100 words. It contains
strong language and sexual situations as intended for a mature audience.
Parental discretion is advised. (I got all that from watching
"Justified"!) Each entry will come with a song from our BOTG mailbox and
discussion questions for Oprah.
PART ONE: Solitary Confinement in a Convenience Store
Stu and the Lost Male Art of Subtlety
Stu. I swear. I didn’t have to be captain of the cheerleading squad to know the minute that kid walked into my store what he was looking for. Boy looked every bit of 14 and was rolling in right before midnight. He coulda practically pushed the door open with his boner at the thought of a Penthouse if he hadn’t been so damn nervous about the whole thing.
He was cute enough, though. First stopping and looking through my aisle of automotive crap, like what he really came in to buy was some 10w-30 or a gas cap. And then he’s looking at the damn dental floss and playing cards, at the rows of candy bars and potato chips, all the while making glances over at me, and glances over at the magazine rack in the back near the beer.
A greener soul might’ve thought he was scoping the beer, but that kid was so dialed into the thought of titties he was practically projecting them onto the back wall.
I just kept on watching Johnny Carson. He and I got to be good buddies after Ralph left. I sorta secretly married the guy in my head. Not, you know, like I’m crazy. It’s not like I’m in that “Purple Rose of Cairo” movie, which sucked, by the way. But I swore to God I didn’t want to deal with men for a long time, not ‘til I got back on my own feet and had enough cash that I never needed to depend on any man with pork breath, not even my own daddy, God bless him. Johnny gave me a strong imaginary commitment. He was my televised teddy bear. Besides, he’d been married so many times, I figured he’d never even remember whether we’d actually gone and got hitched.
I was three months from 40 when Stu walked over to that magazine rack, peering at those issues of Vogue and U.S. News & World Report.
What is it with teenage boys and dirty mags? Do they all read this secret field manual on how to look pathetic in a convenience store? They all do the same damn thing, swear to God. Up and down a few aisles. Over to the rack. Peruse the other items, as if you don’t really quite know what tickles your fancy and just wanna flip through everything. Hmm, I wonder what the latest NASCAR Weekly has to say for itself. What about the latest Better Homes & Gardens? Nah. Hmm, Penthouse. Wonder what’s in that?
I’d had a couple of shots that night – don’t worry, it’s not an every night kind of thing; maybe once or twice a week, and never more than two or three, swear to God. But when you swear off men, you gotta find something to take their place, right? And just like a man, gin is wonderful in short spurts when you can put it away at your own leisure.
The guy who delivers my Dolly Madison stuff, his name’s Rodney, and we’ve got a sweet deal going where he throws in a fifth of gin with every delivery. I mentioned it to him one time, how I needed to tie one on but couldn’t get out long enough to stock up, and the next time he pulled up with his treats truck, he handed me that fifth of Gilbey’s and smiled and said it was his contribution to the cause. Maybe he thought he’d get laid, too, but I mostly think he was just being all paternal. And if you have a fifth of gin for me, I’ll allow a little condescension to go with it.
Anyway, poor Stu had me so tickled at his sad attempt at subtlety – peacocks are more subtle, seriously – that I just couldn’t help myself.
“Hey kid,” I says.
Stu just looked over at me, all doe-eyed-like, blinking.
“Come over here please,” I says.
He looks around him, back at the beer fridges, and then around the store, and then back at me and points to himself in the chest, like, Who, me?
“Yeah. C’mere please.”
Instantly, he looked like a scalded dog. His chickenshit-colored hair drooped down over his bowed head, and his hands immediately stuffed into his pockets, and his shoes barely rose above the tile enough to keep from scraping.
“Yes ma’am?” he says when he finally gets over to me.
“How old are you?”
“Um, 18?” he says. Yeah son, you’re 18 and I’m the Mata Hari. But I didn’t say that. I think I just kinda chuckled.
“Is that a question?” I says. “Sounds like you’re not too sure.”
He wasn’t scared or anything, but he was definitely ashamed. Shame and fear are different things, but on a teenage boy’s face, sometimes they look the same. Maybe he was a little scared I’d call the cops or something, but he wasn’t scared of me. Hell, he hadn’t even looked long enough at me to form any opinions at all.
“Sixteen,” he says.
“Yes ma’am,” he says.
“’Cuz you don’t look a day over 14,” I tell him.
“Yesterday was my birthday. Got my driver’s license today and everything,” he says.
“Oh really? Well congratulations.”
He didn’t say nothing back.
“So,” I says. My Johnny’s saying something to Kevin Costner on his show in the background, and our third wheel Ed is giving off that God-awful laugh of his. Poor ol’ Ed. “It’s Penthouse, ain’t it?”
His face rockets up and his eyes meet mine, “I was just lookin’ through –”
“Oh cut the shit… what’s your name?”
“Stu?” he says. Like he’s asking me permission for it to be his real name.
Discussion Questions: Is there any modern equivalent to the rite of adolescent male passage that was entering a convenience store for the chance to see boobies? Does this entire scene require a more thorough description of the actual convenience store, or is it better to leave it to the reader's own idea as to the store's layout and appearance?