by Jane Doe
Riding home with David that night after choir practice, I couldn't stop comparing him with Johny. All the plus and minuses kept sweeping though my tired head. I only knew for sure that I felt addled, muddled and befuddled scared and confused. Poor David must have noticed something was going on with me as he was even more gentle than ever before. I almost went to sleep lying against his chest listening to his voice rumble through his rib cage. When I began sneezing he hit on the idea that perhaps I was coming down with a cold. Gratefully, I agreed that must be it. Unafraid of catching my new cold, he kissed me with concern and kindness. Kisses to keep away the cold, he called them.
"Okay, time to go in, get a cup of hot tea and into bed. I want you well by Sunday."
"So I can take you home from MYF. If you will let me." he added wistfully.
After a can of Campbell's Scotch Broth, a cold turkey sandwich and a fistful of Christmas candy, I felt strong enough to take a hot bath. After that I was nearly my old self again. I crawled into bed with paper and pen to make a list.
Handsome Plain, but nice
Smokes Tastes better
Knows how to build fires in me
Knows what he wants
Doesn't want much
Never makes me ncomfortable
In the middle of the night I woke up, put the cap on my pen and turned out the light. The next day I made more lists but they had nothing to do with yesterday. I was outlining programs for the MYF all day. My head was filled with Day of Prayer services, a Valentine's Party, coordinating the youth group's effort with the annual spring revival campaign, and such stuff. About supper time mother called me downstairs to the phone.
"Yeah, it's me. Johny is here. He wants to know if he can come out to see you or bring you to town. We'll all go ice skating, if you still can! Are you sore from yesterday?"
"Yes, everywhere. We were kind of dumb to try to go so far."
"I don't know about that. You got to meet Johny that way, didn't you? Do you like him? Do you want to come with us tonight?
"Who is "us tonight." Are you with Bryon?"
"No, Paul and Johny are also friends. Do you want to come with us?"
"I don't know if I really should."
"What do you mean `should?' You and David aren't going steady are you?"
"Goodness no. It's just that..."
"Didn't you like Johny?"
"I liked him alright, but, frankly, he moves a bit fast for me."
"Is that all? For Pete's sake, we'll just tell him to slow down. Jane please come. Paul and I want to go back to the bend by Breckworth's but it is too far to walk and we need a car to get there. It would be so nice if we could all go in Johny's car. I'm sure Johny won't do anything you don't want him to do."
"Sandra, I just don't know. The offering is tempting, though. I'll ask my mother. If she says okay, then I will go. If she says `no' then I can't. Hold on."
"Sandra, how soon will you be coming by?"
I was surprised when I asked mother if I could go to town skating again and her only question was, "How are you getting in there and back?" When I said Sandra and Paul and a friend would pick me up and bring me back later, she didn't bat an eyelash. She just added, "Not too late. They are predicting more snow." Did she care? I had fully counted on her saying no. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to be with Johny. I had let her make up mind before I understood her thoughts and motives.
The evening started off differently from what I had expected. The six miles into town created a sea of space around each of us in which we swam playfully from one to another. There was talk for all four – jokes, comments, comparisons and jibs. Gone was the clutching and heavy breathing, so I breathed easier and began to enjoy myself. We did go the bend where Sandra and I had met Bryon and Johny. I was more than relieved. I didn't want to run into David when I was with Johny. I wasn't ready to handle those kinds of situations. I marveled at Sandra, wanting to ask how she managed to switch from boy to boy in a town that seemed to be getting too small for me. She seemed to be as happy with Paul tonight as she had been last night with Bryon. Neither of them was in a hurry to begin skating.
No one else was on the river yet, so we stayed in the car. I had been sitting before the glove compartment during the ride. I was careful to keep my place even when Johny took the curves sharply. To avoid seeing what Sandra and Paul were doing I watched the lights of cars rounding bend as they swept over the broad curve in the river, drawing a wide brush stroke swipe of white shore above the gray blue of the solid water. Johny lit a cigarette. The flash of the match blotted out the outdoors out of our doors. He smoked a while. My eyes adjusted. I saw the scene as something very fragile. So fragile that a tiny match could take it all away from me. He opened the window to throw out his half-smoked cigarette. The cold air poured in like invisible water. He put his arm on the back of the car seat.
"Hey, Dreamer. What's the matter? Are you afraid of me?"
"Yeah, you are the Big Bad Wolf."
"Grooowwwlll!" He lunged at me, grabbing me with both hands, laughing and growling and pretending to attack me with bites. Laughing and struggling I was pulled into his arms and his kiss. We were kissing while pretending to fight, when the character of the kisses began to change. Fast. His open lips caught my laughing lips open. This something new came to me in passion. For me, passion was new. As I was sinking into the darkness, a scene from the movies flashed into my heart. I understood why, when the hero kissed the heroine, the scene cut to a display of fireworks. They weren't in the sky or on the screen. They were all over me. Flaring, flaming, sinking, sinking, sinking. Finally, rising, rising, rising. Like coming back from having been drowned. Then bobbing to the surface. There was Johny. Johny very lightly rubbing his lips back and forth across mine. Quietly, gently, his rocking movements assembled the exploded fragments of soul, reassembling them into two slightly different people.
Other cars were beginning to pull of the road to park like a stilled train, fastened by shadows to the fence. Johny and I didn't want to move. We tried to stuff our ears with our magic. As we tried, it began ebbing away. To avoid the pain of watching it disappear, we jumped out of the car, hunted out our skates from the tangled pile of three black pairs and one white.
After sharing kisses so deeply, I was bewildered when Johny let me put on my own skates. Before I was finished fighting with the long laces, he skated off, swinging down the open arm of river showing me he was a very good skater.
There was a different assortment of kids here at this place than at the park in town. I was surprised to see the twins from our class, Stacy and Stephen, walking down the road with new ice skates over their backs. I was thankful to see another girl my age skating. Was
"I'll never get the hang of these things. Never!"
"Don't give up Stac, I looked just like that on Saturday."
"Just Saturday you were this clumsy, and now you whizzing around like a demon? Stevie, did you hear that. Jane only started skating last week. There is hope... hoops!"
"Oh!" flop. Steve made a magnificent landing. I skated over to help him up. From others helping me up I had learned how to set my skate sideways with the ragged toe of the other skate gouging in the ice in order to stand still and not get pulled over.
Back up on his feet, Steve complimented me saying I did that like a pro. "It's too soon to give up, Steve. Skate with me so you get the hang of it. You'll realize it is worth the wear and tear on the jeans." On a patch of less bumpy ice, out of the way of the others, with Steve hanging on to me wherever he could get a grip before he tried to fall, I repaid my debt to others for their patience with me on Saturday. It felt good to be helping someone else. I didn't feel tired but Steve was puffing like a steamer. Older men had brought wood to build a fire. As we made the wide turn back toward it, Steve said, "Thanks a lot, but I think my ankles want to sit down for a spell."
I skated away as if a big burden had lifted from my heart. I could measure my progress. I was pleased and excited about my accomplishments in this one short week. Happiness carried me over the ice. I was a feather. I had no human body that was too tall, or big or fat. Outdoors, every one was one size. Rooms were the problem. They made us all relative.
I wished the moon would shine for my spot light. Then I'd be as graceful as the stars in the Ice Capades, I was sure. All alone I skated into the darkness unafraid, happy. Happy beyond the smallness I carried in my big frame. Here I was as wide as the river. No, I spread clear out over the fields. As far as snow carried my sight, I was. The ice zinged a few more times. I wasn't afraid yet, so I turned back toward the fire before I began to shrink with that fear. I let myself be as big as the oak tree scratched in a cloud reflecting the light from the bend of the river. I spread out so far there was no more of me left. There was just the winter night along a river where the wind sang to itself.
Years later I was back among the other skaters. From the crowd, Johny skated up to me, caught my arm in his, pulling me along at his speed; much faster and surer than mine.
"I've got something I want to show you."
"Come." Together we skated out of the eyes of the fire and friends. Out of view, he stopped. "What did you want to show me?"
"Me." he said with his first kisses. Hard kisses on hard ice are hard enough, but when one body pushes forcibly against another, the feet of both tend to go in opposite directions. If one concentrates on the feet, the lips suffer, and if one concentrates on the lips, both bodies are in danger of falling down. It was becoming comical, especially once when our teeth banged together. I wanted to laugh, but I held it back on the hunch that Johny was not seeing the joke of trying to kiss a Keystone cop.
"Damn." he swore as we jerked each other sideways again. "Let's go sit on the stile by the fence." I could see the shadow of the stile just ahead. As we skated for the bank, Johny made the right maneuver. He skated fast up toward the grass, jumped and ran a step or two up the bank in the brittle snow. I skated fast to the very edge and hesitated. Both feet sank out of view. Black water drank my skates with burping glubs. My weight drove the blades into the soft mud. I knew I wouldn't drown, but I wondered how much more of me would sink into the black hole. I fell forward clutching at the weedy snow.
"Oh, damn." Johny swore again as he side stepped down the steep bank to where I was.
My size and clumsiness multiplied like square roots as Johny, already exasperated with me, skidding in his insecure footing, tried to pull me loose. After a discouraging number of holds and grips that failed for one reason or another, I laid down on the snowy ground. Johny laid above on the rise on the level surface, grasped me by both wrists and began to pull with all his might. With much grunting and teeth grinding, I pulled one foot and then the other free. With much splashing and breaking of more ice, I tried to get a foothold on the icy edge. Inching ackwards, Johny pulled me up over the rise like a bloated, beached whale. Added to my own adequate pounds, was the ton of water and mud in my skates.
Panting, we lay side by side in the trampled snow. The romantic urges had slid down into the black hole where I watched the river gurgling and slobbering up on the ice. I felt big, stupid and cow-like. I wanted to moan.
Getting up, but not helping me up, Johny said under his breath, "You had better go back and change into your shoes." We started walking along side by side in the deep grassy snow – an awkward way to cover ground on skates. Without a word, Johny took a few running steps, sprang over the thin ice at the edge of the river to land gracefully as a skimming leaf on the glowing surface. Like someone who had forgotten something important, he skated toward the fire. I limped along, my ankles flipping back and forth with each step.
By the fire I created a small sensation. Stacy helped pull off my skates even though she must have gotten her hands very muddy. Some man brought me a blanket from his car and draped it around my huddled form. I was invited to move to a box on the side of the fire where the smoke was not blowing. For all these services I had to answer their questions. Carefully, I told them the story they expected to hear. I never mentioned Johny's name. That was wise. It was Sandra and Paul who took me, in Johny's car, to her house. Their biggest concern was that Paul would get caught driving without a license.
Like once before, I was standing in the Patrick's shower washing the river off of me. This time alone. This time without leeches or Sandra. She was back on the couch with Paul.
After the warmth of the shower I could hardly stand. Both ankles were swelling and scaring me with pain. I hated to go back into the darkened living room so full of Sandra and Paul. I wondered what they thought of Johny deserting me. That made my knees as well as my ankles weak.
I sat alone in the kitchen wearing someone's mismatched socks. My feet were on a chair. I wore Sandra's long coat to cover the part of me left bare because my wool pants were sizzling away on the radiator. I watched the clock. I worried about getting my shoes on again.
A car drove up in front of the house, stopped, but the engine kept running. A car door slammed, another car door slammed. One car roared away. Another engine coughed into life and with a screech of tires on the icy street, I heard Johny drive off with his magic kisses.
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010