originally published in The Anthologist, the literary journal of Rutgers College
On Tuesday nights I have bible study class. I heard it was a good place to meet people. One Tuesday night in early October, after eating alone at the Panama Diner, and drinking alone at Murphey’s pub, I found myself staring at the face of Jesus. It appeared in the foamy head of my beer, and I continued to drink.
We sit in a circle and read passages. The group, consisting mainly of middle-age housewives or mailmen or law clerks without enough brains to get through law school and be real lawyers, was not exactly the meat market I had been promised. This is the way of the Lord. Amen.
After the reading, we’d talk about each passage, and then we’d talk about our day, and then we’d drink free coffee and sometimes eat stale donuts. We only had donuts when the clerk from Krispy Kreme would come. She was seventeen–Evelyn was my Jesus.
I sat outside the church debating whether or not I should go in. Evelyn’s car wasn’t there. Already there was the Red Tercel of Maggie, a fat, queen of secretaries who smelled like baby powder and who insisted on being my bible buddy. Balding Bob was there too. I watched him walk in with Sally So-Good. I called her So-Good because after every passage we read, she always ended with a, “Oh my gosh, that was Sooo-Good!”
At quarter after nine Evelyn pulled in. She still had the Kripsy Kreme uniform on. She had a box of stale donuts, but I was there for the uniform.
“Hi Evelyn,” I said coming over to her. We were standing in the dark shadow cast by a billboard preaching “Sunday Mass, 10 am, God is Watching.”
“Jack, aren’t you a little late?” I had told everyone at Bible group my name was Jack. My real name isn’t Jack. But the Jesus knows I didn’t want this sorry group of circus freaks and suburban pilgrims looking my name up in the phone book and calling me up whenever they had a fucking experience with God.
“So are you.”
“I just came from work.” She looked to the door. Above it hung an amber lamp–installed likely by an amateur carpenter doing penance for touching all the band saws at Home Depot and not buying any of them, or perhaps it was for having a Super Sized order of fries rather than the more traditional Large. Whatever its reasons, the lamp now hung limp and cast more light on the building than the parking lot it was meant to protect.
“I see the uniform.”
“What?” she said. “Oh yeah. I didn’t have time to change tonight. I brought some donuts though.”
I could see my breath when I exhaled.
“Chocolate and strawberry. Are you going to come inside?” she asked.
“No,” awkward pause, “I mean, I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“Its kind of stuffy in there. And Maggie smells like baby powder,”
She smiled at that. “Christ, I thought I was the only one who thought that.”
“We don’t have to go in,” I said. I stepped toward her and put my hand on her arm. I saw a moment of fear come across her face. Perhaps it was merely surprise, or better yet, intrigue. “I mean we could get coffee instead. You know, without Baby powder and So-Good.”
She smiled at So-Good, knowing immediately whom I meant.
“Do you want to smoke a cigarette first?” I asked. It was sort of condescending.
“I don’t want them to worry.”
“Evelyn? Is that you?” Balding Bob called from the doorway, outlined by the amber light. I could see light reflecting off the top of his head. He smoked five times an hour. I would have enjoyed his company, if he wasn’t so ordinarily boring.
“Coming,” Evelyn called, “Not now,” she said to me, “but I’d love a cigarette later.”
I watched her walk inside. When Bob went back in, I went and sat in my car listening to Golden Oldies. I smoked a cigarette. Some surf rock came on and I drummed in the air. Smoke. I was on the most holy of quests, searching for the most holy of virtues, and how I would love her holy tenderness.
I walked to the Quick Mart across the street and bought a cappuccino. Modern Marvels. My hands were getting cold waiting in the car and I really hate Golden Oldies. Then the car door opened and Evelyn was sitting in the passenger seat.
“Hi.” She said.
“I told them I wasn’t feeling well.”
I started the car and handed her my cappuccino and pack of cigarettes.
“Evelyn,” I said from the kitchen, “do you prefer Scotch or Rum?”
“Either is fine. And call me Eve. Jesus, my mother calls me Evelyn.”
She wandered around my apartment while I dug out a bottle of Scotch I had hidden behind the Drano and Clorox.
“What’s this picture of?” she asked.
“The Red Room. It’s by Matisse. He studied under Redon and followed the impressionists, until he started painting with Derain in 1905–”she was uninterested–”he painted a lot of crazy shit.”
She walked around the living room touching the books on the shelves and occasionally reading the titles.
“Here,” I offered.
She swallowed it all at once to prove her maturity. She coughed.
“No, I’m fine.”
She flipped through my CD’s. She found something safe: The Beatles. I knew she felt adolescent looking through the albums. Who’s The Clash, I could hear her asking. I sat down on the couch.
“Are you looking at colleges?” I asked to make conversation.
“Some,” she said.
“What for,” I asked. “I mean, what do you want to study?”
“Psychology.” She looked at me for a reaction. “Actually, I don’t know.”
I still didn’t give her a response.
She flung her arms up and shouted, “I want to work at Krispy Kreme forever!”
She threw her arms against my shoulder and jumped onto to my lap.
“What are you doing?” I asked, somewhat shocked.
“I’m trying to excite you. Is it working?”
I leaned up to kiss her pouty, impish lips and instead she jumped up and pulled me off the couch. She pulled me along into the bedroom and sat on the bed.
“Come on Jack.”
Did I say bible study wasn’t a good place to meet people?
I touched her cheek with my hand and felt its warmth and she began to unbutton her blouse. Then I heard the front door unlock and open. That will teach you to not change your locks Nathan, I thought to myself. Fuck you Jesus.
“Who is that?” Eve asked.
“I have no idea.” It could only be one person: Nancy.
“Nathan?” Nancy called. Well, so much for wishful thinking.
“Stay here,” I said, whispering into her ear.
I went into the living room where, to no surprise, I saw Nancy standing and looking beautiful–even with metal shit in her face.
“I have company,” I said.
“Well, I’m going to be quick. I just came for my things.”
“They’re in self storage. Over on JFK Blvd. You can get them tomorrow. Call me at work.”
“I really don’t think that will be possible.”
“Well it’s damned impossible to get them now because the place closes at 9, and its certainly after 9.”
“Shit. And fuck you too Nathan, the least you could do is fucking say something like, ‘It’s nice to fucking see you,’ ‘I’m so glad you aren’t dead’.”
“Truth be told Nance, I’d prefer right now if you were dead.”
“That’s a fucking sweet attitude. Didn’t you figure out why I couldn’t be with you anymore? For Christ’s sake, I bet you still jerk off to scrambled pay for porn channels.”
“Why don’t you just go back to Sandusky, Ohio or whatever middle of nowhere town you came from. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a guest–”
“What’s the matter, she have a hole and you’re afraid she won’t hold air much longer?”
“So I’ll see you at 6:30 tomorrow. We can meet at the Panama. It’s a couple of blocks from the self-storage. Do you like how I casually ignored your comment?”
“This screws up my whole fucking day. But, yeah sure. And you only ignored it because you didn’t have anything better to say.”
“Good, now would you please, for the sake of baby Jesus, leave ?”
“Fine. I need to use the bathroom though.”
“I’ll use the one off your bedroom. Like I’d use the dirty little shitter you let your little sluts piss in? I don’t need crabs Nathan.”
“You can’t go in there–” But, no. She did. She pushed her way through into the bedroom. For whatever reason, Eve had decided to turn my bedroom into the Garden of Eden and strip all her clothing and spread herself out on the bed like in cheap porn sets. But from the shot of scotch, and being a full time employee of Krispy Kreme, and a full time high school student, she had fallen asleep.
“Oh shit Nathan, you killed a girl.”
“Fuck you Nance, would you use the bathroom and get out.”
“You are such a fucking child molester.”
I stared at the naked body. I watched her chest heave up and fall down again with each breath. It actually seemed very scientific and not erotic at all. Up and down. Without fail. I thought about running my hand down her smoother undeveloped body. But instead I gently touched her cheek and woke her.
“Oh gosh,” she said, “I fell asleep?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Who was at the door?” she asked through the eyes of groggy sleep.
“My old girlfriend.”
She realized that she was naked and covered herself with the blanket at the foot of my bed.
“You are very attractive,” I said, hoping she would let the blanket slip back off beneath her breast.
“Perhaps I should go home,” she said.
“If you’d like,” I said, looking away from her uninterested.
“Why did she call you Nathan?”
“My middle name,” I said. Nope. My first name. I lied. I told you a fib. Child.
She laid back against the pillow again. The blanket pulled back a little, exposing her breast.
I reached out and touched it. I massaged it with my hand. She looked away out the window uninterested.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing.” she pushed the blanket down exposing the whole of her breasts.
Then she rolled over on her side moving herself out of my reach. She began to tear around the edges of her eyes. I could see this in the mirror, but she didn’t realize it. I pulled the blanket over her again. I left her laying on the bed.
I woke her in the morning around 6 am. It was still dark out. “You have to get up. You need to go to school, and I need to go to work.”
I gave her some of Nicole’s clothing–another of the ex-girlfriends, and Nancy’s sweater. It was brown and yellow stripes with blue and green spun in too. I had for breakfast a low fat pop tart.
“What time do you need to be at school?” I asked.
“Seven-fifteen. Just bring me to my car though. I can drive from there.”
The drive was quiet as the sun came up over JFK Boulevard spilling between buildings. She took a cigarette from my pack slipped it behind her ear. I thought only boys did that.
Her car was where she left it with a note from the church, “please don’t park in our lot overnight.” She kissed me on the cheek and left.
Unsatiated. Nancy was waiting at the diner.
“So how’s your little twelve year old doing.”
“She’s seventeen. I met her at bible study.”
“Fucking Christ. You? Bible school. I’m not sure what’s worse. You taking advantage of someone who is seventeen or the fact that she believes in Jesus.”
I lit a cigarette.
“Please don’t smoke around me,” Nancy said.
“I can pull over and get out of the car and finish the cigarette, or you can spend another five minutes sucking in second hand smoke like you did for the three years,” I said.
She sat quietly until we came to the self-storage unit. It was really new and had excellent security.
“What did you do in Ohio?”
“I met some people, we drank a lot. I took a trip to Seattle and smoked weed.” She never smoked weed with me.
I opened the door–it slid up into its little holding pen, very ingenious, very modern.
“Weed? Aren’t you a little old for experimentation?”
“Aren’t you a little old for a seventeen year old girl?”
“Where is my box?”
“The two in the corner. Please don’t touch the other ones. I’m going to have another smoke.”
Two cigarettes later and she came out.
“Who’s shit was in those other boxes.”
“Nicole’s. You didn’t touch it did you?”
“What would I do with that fucking thrift store trash anyway.”
“Hey, shut it.”
“What, she leave you for something exciting in one of those square states like Nebraska? It’s nice you’re keeping her stuff here for her until she can pick it up. I’m sure she’ll appreciate it as much as I did.”
“She was fucking hit by a fucking car.”
She paused a moment. Took my cigarette and sucked in.
“I locked it,” she said.
On the ride back to the diner she said: “I met this girl when I was out there. I loved her, and we were going to move to Colorado.”
“So why you here?” I asked.
“She ran back to this boy she fucked through college and is a lawyer now and shit.”
“Why are you sorry, you’re not a lawyer. Who would have thought?”
“Yeah,” I said, “what did you come back for anyway?”
“The New Year’s picture at Johnny’s house. You know, where you and I are sitting on the couch.”
“Yeah. I like that one too.” We had pancakes at the diner.
One of the few things I missed after a decade and half of not being in college is the ability to stay up late. Ask me to see the sunrise now, and I will scoff.
For no particularly reason one morning in August, I stayed up through the night inspired by alcohol and loneliness. I lit a cigarette and watched the dawn paint the skyline with shades of amber and purple.
I walked a few blocks through the park and sat on a bench. The Krispy Kreme across the street where Eve once peddled donuts had a glowing “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign shining in the window.
I saw Eve three years later walking around in the mall. She was toting around a blonde boy who looked about her age. I hid behind The New Yorker and my fiancee’s birthday present. I didn’t want to disturb her if she had found herself some love, even if it was only temporarily genuine.
She appeared outside my building the next night. So much for the anonymity of The New Yorker.
“Hey,” she said.
“I saw you the other day,” she said, “at the mall.”
“I know. I saw you too.”
Her seducing little eyes pointed up at me.
I told her about the fiancee. She smiled and laughed and said she was happy I wasn’t going to go through life molesting little girls.
She told me she hated psychology but had to finish it out because she didn’t have enough money to go an extra year.
“What are you going to do after?” I said.
“I don’t know,” she said, “I haven’t decided.”
I was in love with her ignorance, and jealous of her dispassion.
Before leaving we kissed for a few minutes in the shadow of my apartment building. It was nothing exceptional, but her lips were warm with interest. Then I got married to a lawyer and bought a house far away from the Panama Diner.