Talk about draft – I caught myself in the middle of a bunch of tell not show placeholders here. Any thoughts on what’s superfluous will be openly considered.
Punting on the River Cam Back College / Sunday February 11, 1979
“Fuck off.” Cat’s glare wasn’t anything to ignore. But the asshole who’d rammed their punt was well drunk and shirtless, in February. His three friends were at least as drunk but opted for rugby striped polos and beanies.
“Fuck off yourself.” He shifted his gaze and leer to Deanna. “You’re the new one at Newnham. From the States. Everyone’s on about you. A looker and a brain.” He adopted a sculptural poetic muse, one arm across his chest, the other hand under his chin, face tilted up. “So fair her skin rivals the Queen’s China…Her hair…a tousled frame for eyes and lips that call my name —”
“She said fuck off. So just do it, asshole. Fuck. Off.” Deanna was too tired to get fiery, but totally able to be really, really pissed. Her wet, muddy punting pole hit just behind his knees, from the back by way of the side, and he crumpled onto his friends.
“Bitch…” The laughter from the boat subsided. “It was a fucking joke…” The loud bumper-car punter stayed splayed on his friends, in spite of their shoving, briskly rubbed the back of his leg. “What the fuck…” the laughter kicked back in when he stood, “You hate men or what?”
“Since you asked, yes. We’re lesbians. Very lesbian.” She tried to channel Amanda and Alix. “And very devoted.”
Cat’s face went blank, but without giveaway. Deanna had stepped down into the punt to swat the guy and it was yawing back and forth, her feet spread did no good to steady it.
“Todger dodgers!” the guy yelled, holding his punt staff between his legs. “All for naught no matter what you’ve got!” He had found a cheering section from the other punts, from the bank and a nearby bridge. “Drown like the cats you are!” He bumped Deanna and Cat’s punt again, hard, and Deanna went in the River Cam face first, lengthways, to explosions of laughter from the gallery. When she pulled herself up the punt’s side Cat kissed her, quickly, resisted the urge to spit and helped her back in the punt before she gave the shirtless punter the two fingered salute.
“Here.” Cat pulled her coat and wrapped it around Deanna. “Pull everything under topside”
“I can’t move around in here enough to —”
“Take it off. We’ll not have a pneumonia patient to deal with on top of all the other shit you bring on when you’re healthy.”
Deanna shed the coat, pulled her sweater, shirt, undershirt and bra over her head in a single, wet mass. The cheers went up again, followed by boos as she wriggled her way back into Cat’s coat. Cat, in stone silence, poled them back to the hire where her punt-by-the month resided.
The roller crew dragged Cat’s boat up, she signed form that disappeared with the roller crew. “I usually go for a drink, after.” She looked at Deanna’s shivering legs flip water from her jeans like a wet spaniel, put a finger on her lips. “The trousers could go as well.” The finger tilted toward Deanna. “The coat’s twice long enough.”
“Jesus, Cat. Maybe for y’all’s Twiggy, Fifteen years ago. So no way. Dealing with that, that, complete drunk shitspeck and all of that American Girl junk like I’m some kind of exotic prize, some magical white fucking buffalo, and the cold river, and I’m cold, so no. Just no. I thought I got rid of all that a long time ago.”
“Could I have my coat back, then?” Cat chuckled to herself, watched Deanna walk away.
“Godammit…” Deanna’s breath fogged while she talked over her shoulder, hands jabbed deep in the borrowed coat’s pockets. “Wasn’t flashing half of Cambridge and making us lesbians enough for one day?”
A thin smile crossed Cat’s face. “I suppose.” Under her breath she mumbled. “All we need is Merriam up to her mischief with Uncle Johnson when we arrive and it more than will be.”
Turning gay, even superficially, was the blessing Deanna had sought for breathing room from the gender game distractions under a crushing academic load. She could study and do her work. Be a lifeless, academic automaton. There were still the study advisors, study supervisors, study groups. Study. Day in and day out. Too busy to notice she was lonely. And beside the gay punting on the Cam day it seemed like it was going to rain, off and on, forever.
In rare moments of inactivity she’d feel the cold drafts of loneliness, colder even that the one by the kitchen sink. She knew she’d beaten the guy bullshit in high school with Jackson. He had been so perfect, she’d been so googly eye brain dead nutso for him since the A&W lunch and never quite got around to telling him that. Most of it, yeah, but not the googly eyed nutso. Now he was gone. Not outside or downstairs in his apartment gone, or playing in some awful restaurant or bar somewhere, or on his way home from a class or a practice room, or even in a fine arts studio with his neighbor the scarf wrapped dance major whore Audrey. He was gone. Unfindable gone. Along with the heart no one said she had without him. Well, that wasn’t true, exactly. Her heart was there, it was just, well…What would he think if he really knew she had sold him a lie…
Well, maybe she had made a giant head in her ass episode when she left him out of her decision, pushed him out of her life. Because her last college marathon, the one getting to Cambridge, was nothing compared to Cambridge kicking her “academic marathon stratagy” into the Olympics realm. She could use a warm leg to put her feet on, a leg attached to someone who could read her mind, listen, take her out of it for a Sunday afternoon and make it stop for awhile.
She’d tried it in a study group on the guy from Australia who was too young for the crinkles around his puppy dog eyes, but a week later two girls in their group had Syph. He claimed he got from the cosmetic counter girl at Boots, so he was out for good. Spending half an hour washing her feet didn’t help. Fucking creep. One of the girls had a boyfriend, off on a geology mountain scraping trip. What would he think? No wonder Jax thought her vacation escapades were “jive on the order of politics.”
On two consecutive sleep deprived mornings she wrote Jackson letters. One asking him to wait for her. To wait and let her explain everything, polite and apologetic. The other demanded he wait. It was full of sexy innuendo, for her, and hopefully seductive. Both mailed on the same day. The Post Office could find him. Her dad had said nobody could hide from the IRS or the Post Office.
Amanda was gone, too. That lady, God…She’d been more like her mother sometimes than her own. She was strong. Smart. Decisive. Beautiful and fearless and a real lesbian but who cares and major sailor mouth. Everything Deanna wished she was, except a lesbian, and she had and now might never be. Well, potty mouth she had in the bag, but the rest?
They’d walked or shown her the door just because she couldn’t let them know who she was? They knew, they had to. She just wanted to be better. The best, because that would erase it all, wouldn’t it? Didn’t they understand?
They were always pushing her to open up and she didn’t want to, ever, about all that. The only person she’d talked to about it, who understood, was dead. So what was their real problem? So she didn’t tell anybody about some things. She was just going to school, they could get over it. So they canceled a few things. So what? And no heart? Hot girl flunky? They were so full of it. Everything would be fine when she got home. They’d see.
The rain came again and stayed. Even the raindrops and rivulets that ran down the old windows like on her first almost date with Jax had company. Three years started to look like a long time…A loooooong time.
West Central New Mexico / Monday February 12, 1979
Jackson worked with Tony two days shy of a month. The evening he took off Tony gave him a heavy woven coat that was too small but fit Jackson like his pajama tux, a pair of fur-lined moccasins his aunt had given him that might have fit Tony when he was twelve but fit Jackson fine, and a hundred dollars folded around what looked like an over-sized business card.
Jackson pulled the card out of the bills, held it up.
“Found it in your pocket when I picked you up. It’s an English-ized Navajo prayer. You must have talked to one of the old Navajo women who makes them or the nun who gives them to walking casualties like you were.” He paused, looked at his recovering friend. “Before you were done for conversation and flat on your face breathing sand. You think you’re past seeing white buffalo?”
“Yeah.” Jackson chased that with a sardonic smile, stuffed the bills and the prayer card in his used-to-be-madras-covered wallet with the only other things in it, his one picture of Deanna and an about to expire driver’s license.
“Tell me again where you end up, star gazer?”
“Where the interstate hits the ocean by fall. I’m accepted probationary at USC until I get the rest of my transcripts in. Those places like test scores, they don’t care who I am.”
“Hardly anyone does these days. L.A. huh? Stay put a minute.” Tony disappeared into the hogan and came out with an address written on the back of a gas receipt, passed it through Jackson’s passenger window. “My daughter. Name’s Opie. She’s with her mother out there around L.A. Someplace called Ontario, but not Canada. If you see her, tell her that her dad worries about her.”
“I’ll try, man. And I mean it, about the money.”
“If you mean it, I’ll see it. If you don’t, that’s our story. Between the stripes, little brother.” He looked off down the rutted dirt road with a small snort. “Best stay in the ruts till you get to where they are.”
Jackson bent down to look out the passenger window. “You saved my life, Tony. Thanks. For real.”
“Don’t make me regret it.” Tony popped the top of Jackson’s car with his open hand and watched him roll away, kicking up a little dust in the New Mexico twilight.
Tony hadn’t had a beer since he’d put Jackson in his truck up in Taos. It was strange he hadn’t wanted one since. Almost every night, on horseback and bundled up against the cold, he and the kid would ride out under the big New Mexico sky. Tony would tell him the Navajo stories his grandfather had made him learn, and Jackson would tell him what woman of the wind had shown him in the desert outside of Taos. Tony looked up, thought about counting Jackson’s stars, but it was still early. They had wondered together on the cloudless nights what the Angels might all be watching on television that lit up their living rooms. He lifted his blanket and saddle off the porch, whistled for a horse. He was going to miss the kid. Spacey little fucker.
Deanna’s flat / Valentine’s Day, 1979
Deanna walked in out of the rain and before her coat was off her flat mates indicated she’d gotten a delivery, it was in her room. More sweaters from mom? No, mom was still maximum pissed. Another Miami Dolphins jersey from her loser brother who couldn’t have gone to help out the Niners? She opened the door to a single red rose in a small, delicate light blue floral Victorian-ish vase, listing to the right on top of her dresser. A transcribed message in a clean, longhand script on the standard florist’s card from FTD was tied around the neck of the vase with a thin, red ribbon.
Rose is for Valentine’s one. Missed CA enrollment deadline. I’m a New Mexican mess. New Messican? Florist cards too small. Next year has to be better. Hope you’re OK. – J
Deanna held the card for a long time before she took it to the kitchen to pin to the wall she and her flat mates used for a bulletin board. She hadn’t been there long enough to clutter it with new memories. The rose was unexpected, but he’d said they had five Valentine’s, let him know by then or before, and now in just over a month the first one was gone. She’d called her mom collect last week. Mom said Jax’s mom didn’t know where he was, didn’t know if he had a forwarding order on the apartment. All anyone knew was he’d called his mother from a pay phone in the desert somewhere a couple of weeks ago. A New Messican. Come on, Jax…
She stared at the nearly empty wall. The card was small but it would help. When she felt the pin push into the plaster she realized that in the midst of all her anger and defiance and justifications she’d missed the fact that her left-behind world wasn’t going to stay orderly, stashed like old pictures in a box that she could open when she returned to show them all what she’d done without them.