Chapter 11 of Heaping Stones
I arrived at work the next night tired, but in a nice mellow fucked out mood. Jimmy was already there when I arrived, sitting at the table closest to the bus stand eating some lasagne. Arturo was sitting at the table too, sipping a cup of coffee. “Hey, Rob,” said, Arturo, as I walked in the front door.
“Hey,” I said back automatically, as I approached the table.
I went into the bus stand, poured myself a cup of coffee, and then sat down at the table with Jimmy and Arturo. Right as I took my seat, Christine, the third server working that night, came in the front door, while Bob, the manager/part owner, walked up to the table from the kitchen. We then all started engaging in the usual pre-shift restaurant discussions. Would it be busy? How many reservations were there? Did the new shipment of wine come in yet, Bob? It did? Good. You know, we’ve been out of Chianti Classico for almost a week. It’s not my fault—the distributor’s been out of it too. Yeah, you can be first off tonight, Jimmy. Got a wild night planned? Oh yeah? What’s his name? It’s not Bob like you dream, boss man! Hey Arturo, how much money did you end up making last night? Not bad. Not as good as Christine last Saturday, though. Yeah, that was pretty crazy. I worked my butt off for it, though. Have you signed up for classes yet, Jimmy? Did you get into that stats class you need? I took that class. It was a nightmare. Try to get professor Ginsberg. He lets you drop your lowest test and the final is open book. Do you want some more coffee, Arturo? Grab me a cup too, Bob. Who’s the third busser tonight? Rachael. Good. Good for you anyway, Rob. She’s a good busser. Yeah, but that’s not why you’re always giving her those fatty tips! Jealous Jimmy? You couldn’t handle me and you know it! Speak of the devil. What? Why is everybody looking at me? Laughter. Smirks. Where were you last night, girl? My mom flew into town unexpectedly and we went out to dinner. Uh huh. Sure. More laughter. Smiles. Whatever. You guys are a bunch of perverts! Rachael’s gentle voice moving upward thru the din like a flock of doves taking flight on a spring morning. Warm feelings in my heart and pants … Laughter arises on the distant sea …
Rachael was a serious cutie, I’d decided, probably within the first tenth of a second after I’d met her. She was a short (she claimed to be 5’-3”, but in reality checked in at about 5’-1”) curvy little thing with an amazing hard-swinging low-slung ass, large round breasts, and a similarly rounded belly, which she sometimes tried to hide by wearing loose tops or by sucking in her gut when she caught someone looking at her in profile. She had thick curly black hair that hung just to the top of her shoulders, intense wide-set black eyes, a tiny button nose, a small delicate mouth, and dark olive skin. Her ancestors were mostly Greek on her mother’s side, she said, and Scottish and Irish on her father’s, which gave her the last name of Macgregor as well as a face full of incongruous and cute-as-hell freckles. For the first couple months I worked with her I thought she was just another cute high school girl, one of many I’d seen pass thru Martino’s over the years on their way to bigger and better things. But then one Saturday afternoon she came in before her shift lugging a huge cardboard box overflowing with books. “Look what I’ve got,” she said, setting the box down on the bus stand counter. The box was filled with all sorts of cool titles, including stuff by D.H. Lawrence, Balzac, Conrad, Thoreau, a three volume set on medieval European history, and even a tattered copy of Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days. “The Friends of the Library was having a book sale and I majorly scored,” she told me. “I only spent like five bucks for all of them!”
After that scene Rachael ceased to a be just another high school girl to me and became a human being, one with whom I could talk, one who I really began looking forward to seeing the three or four nights a week we usually worked together.
The first book she started reading out of the box was Lawrence’s The Rainbow. “How do you like it?” I asked her, the first time I saw her sitting around Martino’s reading the book before her shift started.
“I really like it,” she answered, putting the book down and effortlessly slipping from reading into conversation. “It’s all just sex. The buildings the haystacks, everything the people do. Somehow it all just ends up being about sex. It’s really weird the way he does it, but it’s cool too.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much Lawrence from what I remember,” I said, laughing a bit. “I’ve got to admit that I haven’t read too much by him, though.”
“I don’t know. I’ve always found him kind of hard to read. He’s really long winded. Plus, he’s kind of humorless and over the top.”
“Yeah, I see what your saying, but I still really like the way he writes. He just makes everything seem so alive.”
“Hmmm. I should probably try reading him again.”
“Maybe I’ll borrow your copy of The Rainbow when you’re done.”
“Maybe I’ll let you,” she answered straight-faced and staring me directly in the eye for a couple seconds, before she finally started giggling.
After that little conversation our relationship broke wide open. All thru our shifts we’d talk about books and music and movies, everything artistic under the sun. I told her that I was a writer and eventually about all the problems I was having with my profession. She encouraged me and asked if she could read something I wrote. I told that I didn’t have anything I felt really comfortable in showing anybody. I then changed the subject slightly and asked her if she wrote. “No,” she said. “I don’t have the patience. I write a sentence or two and then I can’t think of anything else to say and get bored.” She then went on to tell me how she liked to draw and paint. I told her that I messed around with watercolors, but that I didn’t think I was any good. She said that she wanted to see those too. I told her OK, but that she had to show me some of her art in exchange; and a couple days later I brought some of my paintings into work and she a big notebook full of pencil drawings she’d done, mostly of flowers, trees, and other things growing in her backyard, she told me. Her work was really good, mine wasn’t I realized, comparing it to hers. But she said she liked my paintings, praised them. She asked me again to bring in some of my writing for her to read. I tried to change the subject, but was eventually forced to promise that I’d get something to her soon.
I began realizing that I had a new friend in Rachael, a book buddy, a fellow artist with whom to commiserate. I brought her in a book, Knut Hamsun’s Pan. She read it and loved it. She then got me to reread Jack Kerouac’s On the Road for the first time in about twenty years, and I realized, really for the first time, how good it was, that it wasn’t just a cool novel of my adolescence, but a damn fine piece of literature, a gusty uncompromising book about the things in life that really matter.
In retrospect, my little work friendship with Rachael really helped me get thru my post Maggie implosions, gave me precious moments during which I could again feel innocent and clean during times when my mind and soul were being almost constantly ransacked by demons and my body pounded by alcohol and the reverberations from my emotional meltdown. It was a wonderful thing for me to see her fresh beautiful face for those twenty or so hours we worked together each week, to look into eyes brimming with enthusiasm, as she talked about what she was reading or when she would tell me about how she spent all morning sitting in her backyard drawing a bed of marigolds or the little juniper bush her dad just had planted out behind the pool filter …
All thru this, I tried to convinced myself that Rachael was just my work buddy, just someone with whom I talked about books and art in general, while grinding my way thru a job that bored me stupid and a life in general that seemed to be making me insane. I was still trying to ignore the other stuff that, in retrospect, was so obviously bubbling just beneath the surface, still maybe honestly blind to it in some ways. I mean, flirting was just flirting: we all did it to each other in one-way or another at that job. So what if most of the staff at Martino’s had commented upon the “special” relationship Rachael and I had, implying some sort of erotic underpinnings. Once again, that was just flirting, joking, just the job. But she was beautiful, I did admit. My kind of beautiful, anyway: a cute, dark, exotic, chubby little ball of fire and intelligence. And I definitely didn’t mind the little sexual innuendos we’d been exchanging either, or when we’d playfully goose each other in the bus stand, or when her breasts would rub up against me an inordinate amount of times during the course of our shifts. Yeah, she was attractive, crazy smart, and even worldly in a way for her age; but she had just turned eighteen and sometimes betrayed that fact with girlish concerns and adolescent reasoning. I couldn’t get involved with her, I told myself—it would damage us both in the end. And if I did allow myself to think along those lines for any length of time, I’d quickly counter with thoughts of what it would be like to involved with someone her age, with thoughts revolving around the general social repercussions, or sometimes with specific images of her father coming after me with a shotgun or a freshly sharpened axe. Yeah, I’ll tickle you in the bus stand, Rachael, and accept the warmth of your breasts as they drag against my back in some close-quarters “accident”—but that’s where I’ll leave you: in a safe, still fundamentally innocent place, where I can’t run aground on your youth and beauty and you cannot be lured into my difficult world by the fact that someone of your intelligence and depth must be completely bored and annoyed with the stupid boys your age who doubtlessly cannot understand your beauty, who are still searching for the skinny little blonde beach bunny nightmares the television tells them should be their life’s goal. “Read a book,” I can almost hear you saying to them, Rachael, looking over your shoulder, as you throw your arms around my neck. “Make that two, and then get back to me …”
On the surface, that night at Martino’s for Rachael and me was pretty much like all the other nights had been for the previous few months: hard work, interspersed with our usual flirty games and the excuses we’d find to touch and tickle. But something seemed to have shifted between us: the games we were playing seemed to be slightly more serious; when she goosed me to get things started she was gentler, left her finger on my stomach or under my armpit a little longer than had been typical; when she brushed her breasts up against me she was more deliberate and I often altered my position to prolong the contact; when I reached around to tickle her stomach I tickled her a little more softly than before and left my hands around her waist for longer than I had previously.
Why that night? I don’t know. I hadn’t told Rachael about Veronica, but maybe she could smell her on me and was feeling the need to mark off some territory herself; or maybe my mounting disgust with myself over Veronica was opening my eyes to other obvious options; or perhaps months of close contact and denied attraction finally just started to boil over, with Veronica playing little or no role. But whatever the reason, I was suddenly viewing Rachael as much more than my work buddy: I admitted to myself that I wanted her, badly, and I was pretty sure that she was feeling something very similar.
Late that evening, just before Rachael was about to go home, I tested this theory. I came up from behind her in the bus stand and wrapped my arms around her stomach like I was going to tickle her. But instead, I dropped my hands to her hips, left them there for a moment, and then finally pulled her back towards me. She relaxed into me, while rubbing her curls against my chest and neck. I let her go after several seconds of this and she turned around and we smiled at each other. She then went back into the office to clock out before coming back to the bus stand and saying a lengthy coy goodbye.
Chapter 12 of Heaping Stones
I drove home that night thinking of nothing but Rachael. Veronica had called me at work and asked if she could come over again. I told her no. Or more accurately, I told her that we were really busy and there was no way I’d get home before midnight and that by that point I’d be completely worked and up for nothing beyond a good night’s sleep, which was something I really needed. It was the truth and I was glad. Something had snapped in me because of Rachael that night, and I suddenly had no interest in seeing Veronica; no matter how great the sex was, it didn’t change the fact that on a gut level I found her kind of repulsive and myself equally so when I was with her. If I couldn’t be with Rachael the next best option, I decided, was being alone.
Rachael. Rachael. Rachael. Rachael. Bellflower. PCH. Park. Redondo. Cross street after cross street and I couldn’t purge her from my mind. Rachael. Rachael. Rachael … Fuck. Don’t be like this, Rob. There’s no future with her and probably a whole bunch of pain. She’s eighteen and you’re thirty-eight. Pervert pedophile Rob. Mobs chasing you thru the streets with burning torches, their faces distorted with hate and ignorance. No wait, it’s even worse than you thought, my friend—they’re nailing your ass up. Property in the Golgotha area is cheap for a reason. Laughter. Aren’t you the melodramatic bastard? I mean, think about it—she’s legal. The worst that can happen to you is what? Some ugly incident where her father bursts into the restaurant and tells you to stop fucking his daughter? Yeah right, like that’s going to happen. She’s yours for the asking. I mean, she so obviously digs you; she thinks your some sort of struggling artist. And the thing is she’s right—that’s exactly what you are! The muse is testing you at the moment, holding Rachael out and inviting you to make a decision: love or society. For a real artist the choice is obvious, beyond debate. What are you, Rob—a poet or a politician? Just fucking go for it, dude! Just go for it! …
When I got home from work I saw that my answering machine light was blinking. I had two messages—both from Veronica. In the first message she said that she’d just called to see how the rest of my night at work had gone. In the second, she asked pretty much the same thing, but also told me that if I’d changed my mind about wanting some company when I got home to just call her, no matter how late it was. I listened to the messages and then grabbed one of the left over Pacificos from the fridge, popped it open, and took a long swig. As I swallowed that first gulp of beer the phone rang. I didn’t answer it. Veronica’s voice kicked in over the answering machine speaker after two rings. She said she was just calling again to see if I’d gotten home from work yet, etc. After she left this third message, I finished my beer, unplugged the phone, and then headed into the bathroom, to take a piss and then a long hot shower.
After I got out of the shower, I went into the living room and put on some music, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme album. I then went back into the kitchen and grabbed another beer and my lighter. Then I lit all the candles in the living room, turned off the overhead light, and plopped myself down on the couch.
Coltrane, beer, and candlelight, as they so often did after a hard night at work, turned out to be a wonderful combination; and I lay my naked body back onto the couch and let all three move thru me. Outside of Rachael, it had been a stressful night: I’d really run my ass off and had to deal with a fair bunch of bullshit. But I felt tired in a good way as I lay there, and quiet inside for the first time in a long time. After a few minutes, I sat back up and took a big hit off my beer; and the icy Pacifico felt great as it hit the back of my throat, soothing, deserved. I then lay back down and began watching the flickering candlelight dance back and forth across the ceiling above me, while listening intently to what Coltrane’s tenor was trying to say, trying to say to me …
And soon I was gone.
“What’s that, John?” I asked several minutes later. “You say everything’s going to be all right, that there is a heaven and that I’m heading in its general direction? Yeah, that’s easy for you to say, though, because you’ve got a direct line to the place. I mean, you’re fucking Beethoven and Lester Young rolled into one and then lit on fire! I’m not a god like you—I’m just dumb writer Rob …”
“Chin up, Rob,” interrupted Trane. “Look into your heart and you’ll see that what I’m saying is the truth. You burn inside, burn like all the great poets have burned, like a great poet must burn … In you is heaven and hell—just like everyone else. The only difference between you and most of the people you pass on the street is that you not only see this, I mean, really see this, but are starting to stare this truth directly in the face. That’s what’s making you so crazy, my friend: you’re looking God in the eye and demanding an explanation, and at times, even an apology … You’re not just another guy who can write or just another talented painter or just another dude who can blow a horn: you’re Henry Miller during that moment he first truly understood his art; you’re van Gogh in love; you’re me, you’re John Coltrane blowing into your sax as truthfully as you possibly can until you think your heart will burst and your mind collapse—not because you’re better than anyone else, or even more courageous; you’ve just been given the gift, and because of this, you ultimately have no choice but to stand and face your god, the god who loves you, dreams you, demands everything in return, and will give all of it back to you when you finally catch your first glimpse of your true home …”
“YES! YES! YES! Scream John! Scream your tenor to the heavens and tell me more! Tell me more about beauty and art and good truthful things about myself. I’ve always been so alone, walking along the edge of a Grand Canyon of insanity since the day I was born—and I don’t think I can stand the stress for one more second! I need a friend so desperately at this moment, someone who can understand and help me give shape to my dreams. I thought I’d found this person in Maggie. One day I looked into her eyes and saw Eternity; but she then ripped out my heart, threw it against the wall, and laughed insanely as it slid to the floor in a bloody still-beating streak … How could this have happened? How can love not be when I feel it down to the very strands of my DNA? If this is a mistake, nothing more than an expertly told lie to myself, then how do I know what’s real and what’s not? Maybe this moment is too a lie, as all my moments have perhaps been … Tell me more, John. Deep down I know you’re right, but my faith is wavering … Maggie loved me and the sky is blue—of these things I am sure … but the slope is slippery and it would sure be nice to have someone to talk to more often, someone to remind me that I’m not simply crazy or a fool …”
But John was gone.
Infinity had again become just great music and my exalted understanding of myself was fading back into the reality that I was a thirty-eight year old man with a beer in his hand lying naked on a couch in a small candle-lit apartment in Long Beach, California at the beginning of the twenty-first century. But this was OK, I decided.
I still felt good, great actually, like something important and real had just happened to me. For several minutes I just lay there, listening to the spacious closing movement of A Love Supreme, not really thinking about or not thinking about what I’d just experienced. Soon, though, images of Maggie began drifting thru my head; but I was detached from them, able to let them move thru me as they pleased without feeling the least need to control their movement or understand their meaning. Veronica drifted thru my head too, as did Rachael, my mother, my sister, my dead grandparents, and strangely a couple friends from high school I hadn’t thought of years …
Eventually, though, my mind settled on Rachael, on the beauty of her face, the potential of her mind, and how good I felt whenever I was around her. As the Coltrane album came to an end, I sat up, drank the last couple swallows of my beer, and then set the empty bottle on the coffee table. I then lay back down on the couch, on my stomach this time. As soon as I was back on the couch, I began thinking about Rachael again, about how much she turned me on. I began slowly humping the couch, rubbing my now half-hard dick against its worn corduroy material, while imagining Rachael naked beneath me, her short legs wrapped around my waist and her soft belly and breasts pressed tightly up against me. Gently I moved in and out of her in my mind. While we fucked we were looking each other directly in the eyes, but without a hint of challenge: ours was a mutual gaze based entirely in love, trust, and empathy. I began pumping the couch harder, while still concentrating on the look I imagined I was seeing in Rachael’s eyes. In a minute or so I felt I was about to come. In my mind I felt Rachael suddenly wrap her legs around me as tightly as she could. Just before I came, I stopped humping the couch and slipped my hand under my waist. I shot off into my hand and then just lay there, breathing hard, until I felt that the cum was about to start seeping thru my fingers. I then got up, washed my hands in the kitchen sink, and grabbed another beer from the fridge, before heading back over to the stereo to put on some more music.
Copyright © 2005 by Rob Woodard
This work cannot be reprinted in any form or manner without the express written consent of Burning Shore Press.
ROB WOODARD was born in Anaheim, California in 1964 and raised mostly in the nearby Long Beach area. After graduating high school, he dropped in and out of various community colleges and worked mostly in restaurants in southern California, Hawaii, and Australia, while taking breaks to wander aimlessly across big swaths of the globe. During these years he wrote consistently in search of his voice as a writer. Frustrated by his lack of progress, he returned to school and eventually obtained bachelors and masters degrees in anthropology from California State University, Long Beach. After a brief stint as a college professor, he returned to working in restaurants and writing. Burning Shore Press recently published Heaping Stones, his first novel. What Love Is, his second novel, is scheduled to be released by the same house in the summer/early fall of 2006. He is currently writing poetry, book reviews, and a journal.