Monday, December 12, 2011

One More Night

Phil Collins.  One More Night.  The song always transports me.  To junior high.  The last Friday of each month.  Dances in the cafeteria.

And Sheila.

The love of my life, though she never knew it.

Tall, blonde, broad-shouldered, thin-waisted, a Nordic queen, eyes the color of ice.  She reigned over my junior high fantasies.

And the soundtrack of those fantasies was Phil Collins.  One More Night.

I hum the tune to myself in her bedroom.  She is putting her son to bed.  The steady rhythm of her voice has just stopped.  I wonder, will she fall asleep in his bed like she does sometimes.  So I pull up the song, our song, on my phone.  Put it on repeat.  Try to play it just loud enough, so she hears it but the kid doesn’t wake up.

I hear her come out of the room, walk down the hall.  She pauses at the alarm keypad.  Buttons are pressed.

She doesn’t scream when she comes in and sees me.  More of a gasp.

“Charlie?  Jesus you scared the shit out of me.”  She smiles, tilts her head.  Just like the old days.  Makes me want to cut myself open, pour my guts out to her.  “What gives?  Something on your mind?”  Always a smile and a kind word.

She hasn’t seen me in decades, but she picks up right where we left off.  Never let her beauty or popularity be a barrier to me, the ugly stammering outcast.

“You didn’t have to bring the gun,” she says.

My stutter takes a long time to say, “I’m sorry.”  But I keep the .45 in my hand.

She is beautiful still.  Lines by her eyes, by her mouth only make her more real than my fantasy.

I ask her again, like I did at that last dance of the year, finally finding the courage to say, “Will you dance with me?”  The ‘d’ in dance gets caught in my mouth.  She waits, doesn’t finish my sentence, though she must know what I’m trying to say.

“The police are on their way,” she says now.  “I hit the panic button when I heard the music.  I thought you might be Jack.”

“I don’t care,” I spit out.

“Okay,” she says, just like she did twenty five years ago.

The same kind, girlish smile.

Phil can’t wait forever.

She comes close, a game expression on her face.

Sirens accompany Phil’s crooning now.

But we’re back in the cafeteria.

She pulls me to my feet.  Something wrong with my bones growing up twisted my legs into pretzels.  I’ve always walked like Frankenstein.  Freakishly tall.  Even hunched over like I am she only comes to my chest.  Beauty and the beast.

Pounding on the door.  It reminds me of the jeering crowd that surrounded us in junior high.

“Don’t listen to them,” she said then, and she says it now.

After our dance, they were waiting in the boy’s room.  I’ve had worse beatings.  Not much worse.  Cracked rib, chipped tooth, a shiner.  Nothing permanent.  Except when Jack, her Jack, the ex-husband with the restraining order, called me Frankenstein.  That name stuck, follows me to this day.

The memory makes me shiver.

I often wish they’d killed me that night, put me out of my misery.  Because the lessons they taught me keep repeating.  Life is not for ugly people.  No beautiful moment goes unpunished.

She holds me closer.

The police invade the room, guns drawn and see this strange sight.  They watch nervously, listen to Phil.

“You smell different,” I say.

I can tell she’s smiling.  “A lot of things are different.

The song is winding down.  The gun is heavy in my hand.

She tightens her grip.  “You don’t have to do what you’re thinking of doing.”

I stop dancing.  Look into her pale eyes.  She really seems to care.  I grin.  She grins back.  It’s all I need.  One cops clears his throat, “Drop the pistol.”

“Thanks,” I say to her.

A tear squirts out of her eye.

I push her away, lift the gun.  It doesn’t get very high.