by Louis Gallo
THIS GOES BACK to the Pleistocene and I’m all of thirteen in the first year of junior high, a hive full of thugs and hoodlums and insane maniacs where I definitely don’t belong but my parents don’t know any better and say I need experience so you can imagine the everyday terror like when I see one kid pull a .38-revolver from his pocket and brandish it around screaming, it’s loaded . . .
. . . but there’s bliss too, in band class when I see Stacey who is so far out of my league it’s like glimpsing the edge of the universe though in fact she sits right next to me, second chair flute to my first, and she’s a fully developed woman at thirteen and everyone agrees queen of the school and head majorette and twirler and dancer and whatever her reasons and against all odds she likes me and I of course adore her and when the band director Mr. Gendarvis taps the podium with his wooden stick to start a Sousa march she presses her thigh firmly against mine and I can hardly stand it and hope Mr. Gendarvis doesn’t notice what’s happening though how could he not?
The whole class period, our thighs fused together, imagine, even with that heavy Cor Jesu senior ring glued to her finger with wax, her boyfriend, Tommy, from the Catholic school, rumored the toughest hoodlum in all Gentilly, you don’t mess with Tommy for any reason, much less his girlfriend, and yet . . .
. . . so this goes on for a few years and I’m finally sixteen with a learner’s permit and I borrow my grandfather’s golden Imperial with its legendary wings and spend five hours washing it for him and in return I can take Stacey out on a date in it so I rub every smudge from every window with Windex and scrub the white walls with Brillo pads until my fingers bleed, that’s how obsessed I am and, by the way,
Stacey has broken up with Tommy and has chosen (that’s exactly the word, chosen) a new boyfriend, Joey, and Tommy beats the hell out of him right in the school yard with everybody gathered round to watch like some Roman spectacle and Joey returns a few days later with black eyes, a broken jaw and his face swollen like a pumpkin but he doesn’t care because now he’s got Stacey and he’s a hero by default and they walk through the corridors like royalty and I wonder if he will beat the hell out of me because I’m taking her out in my grandfather’s Imperial which is really happening, despite Joey, and either he knows or doesn’t care because I don’t care, all I care about is Stacey, my first real love, my goddess . . .
. . . and I drive her out to the Point, this meager peninsular at West End that pokes out into Lake Pontchartrain and we pass the ancient light house, where the Point stops, and there’s space for about fifty cars where everybody makes out and I’ve wanted to do this for three torturous years so I slide over on the seat and wrap my arm around her shoulders and she flicks away her Salem and I press my lips onto hers and I love it but know the kiss is no good, not really a kiss, because she keeps her lips to herself, clenched, and just sort of puts up with me messing around with them with my mouth and, oh God, three torturous years, those thighs fused to mine in band, her sweet smile, her everything.
But she’s just putting up with it because she definitely does like me, I swear to that, but maybe not the way she liked Tommy or likes Joey which sort of bewilders me because I just don’t get it and I pull away and slide down low and rest my head on the seat and sigh really loud though I’m ignited inside and don’t know what to do or say and she says nothing but lights up another Salem and asks if I want one but I say no, I don’t smoke, and I didn’t then, and suddenly I feel nauseous—her lips taste like ashes, and yet I will kiss ashes, lick ashes, eat ashes, smear my face with ashes, vomit ashes for more of her.
Louis Gallo’s work has appeared or will shortly appear in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth, Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review, and many others. Chapbooks include The Truth Changes, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books: A New Orleans Review. He was awarded an NEA fellowship for fiction. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.