"Oh, a romantic," she sneered, and I pulled back just enough to see her roll her eyes. "Cary Grant wants to smooch."
Still making a face, she reached between my legs with her left hand and grabbed me. Then she snapped her fingers with her right and Tennie tossed her a Trojan. She snagged it in midair, as if she’d been practicing for years. Sharon Schmidlap, Queen of the Condom Toss!I had a sudden vision of her naked on Ed Sullivan, squeezed between Herman’s Hermits and a troupe of plate-spinning, festive Rumanians. Sunday nights always made me nervous.
I wasn’t too sure what was happening, but Sharon made short work of it, keeping up the chitchat as she unwrapped the rubber. "One size fits all, lucky for you!" Right then, I remember thinking: but I thought she was a cheerleader. No time to muse, though — she was already wrapping me. "Okay, big boy, let’s get dressed for church!"
Farwell chose that moment to put on a record — Mister Schmidlap favored Perry Como — and Sharon plugged me in at the exact instant Perry asked the musical question, "How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?" I actually liked that song. My father used to whistle it. That’s how I knew when he was happy. I imagined Dad looking down from the sky, as if summoned from death by that cheery tune, watching his son fumble his way to Shameville atop the spongy Sharon.
Every Sunday my mother sent Dad out for corned beef. But one time, instead of going to the butcher he just parked at the streetcar stop. On Sundays they only run once an hour, so he got out and bought a Newsweek. Spiro Agnew was on the cover in golf togs. I know that ’cause the doctor at the hospital said they found it in his hand. One of the nurses gave it to me. Not his hand — they found that in a patch of poison oak by the tracks. If she’d have given the hand to me, I’d have probably gotten poison oak. And then what? Like Tennie said, "Slap Calamine on that rash, you’re wipin’ out the last thing your daddy left you. It’d be like killing the poor fuck all over again . . . "
Still, there was some stuff I never told anybody. Stuff that, for whatever reason, I was thinking about now. Seeing Sharon Schmidlap splayed before me, I remembered my mom, how she started flopping on the ground at my father’s funeral, how her dress split up the back when she tried to climb on the coffin. And worst of all, I remembered how she screeched, in front of everybody, that she knew I wished it was her stuffed in that casket instead of my father.
All I had to do was think about that screeching, the foam-flecked lipstick, glittery eyes, the way she stared right at me and pointed, "Walter, this child hates me . . . this child wishes I was dead in a box. Make your son happy, Walter, make me die, too . . ." All I had to do was think of it and I was right back there . . . She shrieks in my face, then she drops down in the fresh dirt beside the grave. Her stockings rip at the knees and her girdle shows. Mud splotches her funeral dress. I don’t know what else to do so I get down with her, try and budge her back up. My relatives turn away or glare at me like it’s all my fault. I can smell their hate from five feet away.
What I didn’t tell Tennie, what I never told a soul, was what I whispered to my mother when I was on my knees. With my face right next to hers, it seemed like the rest of the world had disappeared. Like there was nothing but the broken glass of her eyeballs, her clamcake skin, the tear-making stink of her White Shoulders, her hairspray and her filter-tip Kents. The big empty space where my father used to be just swallowed us up. And somewhere, inside this hollow of grief, I listened to my mother’s screams.
I listened, and then I leaned in as close as I could, and whispered, so quietly I wasn’t sure I was really talking, "You’re right, Mom. I hope you die. I hope that more than anything." After that she stopped screaming. She just stared at me. She stayed quiet long enough for the rabbi to clear his throat and proceed with the funeral.
Toad got me out of my reverie. "News flash for Bobby, you’re supposed to move. Don’t just stick it in and take a nap."
"I know," I cried back at him, adding inanely, "I’m just warming up."
More than what was happening in front, it was the action behind that had me squirming. The second Tennie spoke, I became uncomfortably aware of him staring at my ass. I had never, to the best of my knowledge, showed it to anyone before. Not, at any rate, for extended viewing. Self-consciousness burned my cheeks. I felt, with almost crippling intensity, split between two planes of reality: on one, I was timidly lunging into Sharon, poking her, or so it felt, like the fork my mother used to check if her cupcakes were done. On the other, the plane Icouldn’t see but the rest of the world could, my rear end was popping up, then popping down, popping up, then popping down again for Tennie Toad and Farwell to gawk at and mock.