“They’re mighty tough women,” Frankie warned. “They’ll cut off your balls and wear ‘em for earrings.”
I laughed dismissively. Back in the mid-fifties, he had dated both Julie and her one-year-older sister Rosie, but that was then, I figured. Now it was 1969 and I wanted my shot. Ever since the first night I saw them at Nat’s Bar, I lusted to possess them, captivated by their icy beauty and singular fashion sense, an in-your-face synthesis of late-forties film noir gun moll glamor and swinging-sixties “with-it-chick” hipness. In an era of casual bralessness, they flaunted pointy push-up bras, dangling from their stockinged toes stiletto pumps rather than ugly hippie sandals. And Ben Franklin’s lecherous ghost would be pleased to note that their micro-mini skirts proved his hypothesis that the last physical endowment retained by a woman were her legs.
“Watch this,” I bragged. “I’ll buy them drinks, then go over and feed them a little blarney, tell them the sweet lies they’re dying to hear.” I summoned the bartender and asked him to set them up with whatever they were drinking, then picked up my change and beer mug, ready to move in for the kill. “They’ll be putty in my hands,” I predicted.
Frankie lit a cigarette and chuckled. “Don’t come back cryin’ that I didn’t warn you. I’m not shittin’ you, Sean. Those two will eat you alive – they don’t take prisoners.”
I laughed again. I was twenty-two – young, dumb, and full of come, as the saying went – and loving every goddamn minute of it. The objects of my mad desire were in their late-thirties, the proverbial “older women” of horndog legend, and I intended to “get me some,” as another popular-but-ungrammatical saying put it.
Naïve enough to think that my macho strut would impress them, I swaggered around the square-shaped bar to their stools, smiling benevolently, unaware that I was about to get a crash course in just how much I didn’t know about older women, taught by a cynical brace of seasoned honky-tonk veterans eager to deliver an embarrassing comeuppance.
“Hi, ladies,” I said, sliding onto a stool next to the redhead Julie, my intended prey, “Sean’s my name and I noticed you two lovely gals sitting by your lonesome, so I figured I’d buy you drinks to cheer you up.” Smiling, I raised my mug in a toast. They coolly regarded me with matching green eyes and said nothing. Slightly discomfited, I lit a cigarette and studied my quarry at close range. Frankie had already recounted for me their history.
Reveling in their personae as “girls with bad reputations,” they had quit high school in successive years the moment they turned sixteen, matriculating instead at the local gin mills where they provoked countless barroom brawls, earning before they were old enough to legally drink the dubious renown as “women with pasts.” Unrepentant to the max, they proudly dressed the part, favoring an excess of perfume and make-up, tight skirts and tighter sweaters, and sporting upon their shapely ankles the garish trademarks of “bad girls,” rhinestone ankle bracelets. I loved their style, and hoped to be part of the sirens’ future “pasts.” My teen fantasies had been populated by younger members of Rosie and Julie’s gum-cracking, daggered-nail-tapping, heel-clacking, teased-hair bouffanted tribe, and now here before me in all of their tawdry splendor sat two of their prototypes, shod in come-fuck-me spike heels and drenched in “Obey me, slave!” perfume.
They eyed me as if they were bored shoppers examining a discontinued model of an unwanted item, exchanged “who cares?” glances, and turned away as one, disinterested. Across the smoky bar, Frankie grinned at my humiliation.
Undeterred by their indifference, I bravely pressed on, confiding with a wink, “I gotta admit that I was kinda nervous about bothering you, ladies. Frankie says that you gals have claws.”
That elicited a snort of exhaled smoke from raven-haired Rosie, a contentious hellcat whose behind-her-back nickname was “Big Mo,” presumably awarded in homage to the formidable World War II battleship, the USS Missouri.
“Hmmph! He oughta know! I kicked his drunken ass more than once.” Glaring belligerently through a cloud of smoke, she defied me to doubt her. Wisely, I didn’t.
“Look, squirt, why’d you buy us drinks?” asked Julie, whose out-of-earshot moniker – “Big Red” – was a sly referent to her fiery hair and volatile temperament. Daintily ashing her cigarette, she crossed her legs with a provocative whisper of nylon. “Do you think that’ll help you get into our pants?”
“Sure, he does,” said Rosie. “I bet he’s been playing with his little ding-a-ling for the last six months and thinking nasty thoughts about us, haven’t you, Sean?”
Man, I thought, Frankie wasn’t shitting me! These two are in a class by themselves!
Julie regarded me with the sort of disparaging look that a dominatrix might give a squirming captive beneath her booted foot. “Is that what you’ve been up to, sonny? Thinking about us all cross-eyed while you beat your meat?”
“No, goddamn it!” I blurted, losing my cool. “Christ, I just wanted to make friendly, that’s all.” I picked up my beer mug and got up. “I’m sorry I bothered you.”
“Aw, what the hell?” Rosie said in a pitying tone. “Let him hang around and keep thinking that he might score. As long as he’s buying, I ain’t complaining.”
Julie recrossed her legs and frowned. “Well, I am. Everytime I look at him, I can just picture him pulling his sorry pecker under the sheets and drooling over us.”
That did it! I kicked away my stool and let them have it. “Look here, goddamn it, I don’t need to beat my meat! I have plenty of girls to ball. Young girls,” I maliciously stressed.
Rosie glowered at my outburst, but Julie merely laughed. “Sit down, buster,” she ordered. “Where the hell do you think you’re going? We aren’t finished with you yet.”
Maybe they weren’t, but I had had enough of them. I walked away, defeated.
“Nice meeting you, sonny,” Julie taunted as I returned to Frankie. “Come back when you’ve grown up,” adding in a stage whisper designed to amuse the other customers, “If his mommy ever cuts his apron strings.”
As I cried the old pickup blues to Frankie, Rosie’s nicotine and whiskey-cured contralto called out, “And we better not find out after we leave that you were sniffing our stools, buddy-boy.”
The entire barroom howled with delight, hooting and jeering. I slammed down my empty beer mug and left, thoroughly embarrassed.
I never did get in their pants; I never came close. They preferred older men of a certain type, and I was neither. Just as I had fantasized about the “bad girl” types, their hearts melted over the “hoodlum” kinds: the pre-Army Elvises with duck-ass haircuts and sneering lips; the moody James Deans sporting black leather jackets and bad attitudes; the muscle-shirted Brandos screaming drunkenly outside their trailer bedroom windows for their “Big Mo” or “Big Red” Stellas. Predictably, they bounced from one ill-starred fling to the next – Rosie giving birth to a single daughter, Nikki – until they eventually became too shopworn to attract lovers of any age. Resigned to lives devoid of Strum und Drang, they lived together in a rural trailer park, toiling at low-paying jobs until they became old enough to collect Social Security.
By the mid-seventies, my crowd began to marry; some to each other, and others to others – within two or three years, our flaming youth flamed out. Although I was married too, I occasionally hit the local bars after work or on weekends. Now and then I ran into the ageing “riot-grrls,” and for old times’ sake bought them drinks and threw them compliments, oh-la-la! They knew I was married and merely joking, but like actors playing by rote familiar roles, we repeatedly reprised our first wary pas de trois over and over, dueling and parrying with risqué compliments and insults none of us meant. But over the years, my visits grew more infrequent, the years slipped away, Nat’s Bar changed hands and devolved into a yuppie fern bar, and one day I realized with a start that I hadn’t seen Rosie or Julie for a long time. Had they abandoned their quest for Mr. Right, or Mr. OK, or, what the hell!, Mr. He’ll-do-I-guess? Had they stared in their respective mirrors one morning to see that Time had spared their beauty at the cost of hardening it? Were they shocked to see themselves as others saw them: painted relics of artifice whose over-the-top femininity had been transmuted by age and hard wear into caricatures of their younger selves? Maybe one evening they had studied their reflections in a backbar mirror, turned to one another and asked, “What the hell are we doing here? Why are we putting ourselves on display for a bunch of losers?” And was that the night they retired from the neon circuit?
Long-divorced Frankie lived alone in a house trailer, and sometimes when I was in the area, I stopped in for a beer or two. When I asked about my old sparring mates, he told me Rosie was living in Massachusetts with her daughter, Nikki, an occasional long-ago lover of mine. (“Now that you’ve fucked me,” she had said as we were dressing, “maybe you can stop hitting on Mom. It’s embarrassing.”) Julie, he said, lived by herself in another trailer park a few miles away; occasionally she dropped by for a chat.
“Is she still as lovely as I remember?” I asked, recalling her large, green, kohl-rimmed, long-lashed eyes that dominated a perfectly oval, unblemished face.
“Oh, hell, yes! That kind of beauty doesn’t fade, Sean, maybe just hardens a little. She’s still the same knockout that I loved when we were twenty – a little grayer, maybe, but just as ornery.”
“Still has that fire in her belly, huh?”
He chuckled, “Well, the next time you run into her, proposition her and see what happens. I’d pay to watch.”
I chuckled in turn. “No thanks, pal, I like my balls just where they are.”
“Smart man,” he observed, not chuckling. “I wish I’d been half as smart when we were living together. Maybe we’d still be a couple, instead of two lonely old bastards living alone.”
I said nothing. Divorced myself, I lived alone, too, if you don’t count cats. We talked a bit of other things and other people, then I left. A month later Frankie died from a heart attack, and I lost not only a good friend, but my only source of information on all things Julie. The ensuing years hastened away like frightened minnows, leaving fond memories of “Big Mo” and especially “Big Red.” Before I knew what had happened, I was a fifty-five-year-old divorcé, and an exploited godfather to a quarrelsome legion of disrespectful felines.
One cold and windy day in March, on one of those brittle-sunned afternoons that can’t decide if it wants to be the last gasp of winter or the first breath of spring, my washer expired with a groan and a wisp of acrid smoke. I threw my dirty clothes in a wicker basket and drove five miles to the town laundromat. As I listened to the washer churn, I glanced through a pile of old magazines and read the handwritten notices taped above the sorting table. Posted inconspicuously amid the ads for used furniture (“Hardly ever set on”), secondhand appliances (“Good as new except some slite blemmishs”), and enough “unused” baby and toddler clothes (“Baby shower gifts we never wore”) to outfit several orphanages, was a poorly rendered drawing of two birds clutching in their beaks a banner that read: “We are two loveable lorries in search of a new home. Cage, etc. included.” Underneath was a phone number.
Hmm. I had always wanted to own a parrot, although I could never afford the “Long John Silver, sit-on-your-shoulder-and-swear-like-a-sailor” kind. But lorries were their much-smaller cousins, the compact cars of the Psittaciformes tribe, small enough to fit in anyone’s garage, or even my modest house trailer. What the hell?, I convinced myself – a little friendly chirping might be just the blues-killing tonic I needed. I removed the ad and went outside to the phone booth.
A woman answered on the third ring. “Are you calling about the lorries?” she inquired in a smoky contralto voice that rang a distant bell.
I affirmed that I was, asking if she still had them. She said yes, then began to describe their virtues. Suddenly, I put a face to the woman’s voice.
“Excuse me,” I interrupted. “Are you by any chance ‘Big…,’ er, Julie Evans? Your voice sounds kinda familiar.”
There was a brief pause, then a throaty laugh boomed from the receiver. “Is that you, Sean? The irritating bastard who wanted to get in my pants so bad? Your annoying voice is pretty damn distinctive, too. If you’re interested in the birds, come on over, but if you’re still hoping to get ‘lucky,’ don’t bother. I’m going to my grave a virgin, as far as you’re concerned.”
I laughed, then assured her that, alas, I only had eyes for her lorries. “Are you still living in the same trailer? If so, I’ll be over as soon as my clothes are done.”
“Yeah, the same place where Nikki used to live when you were screwing her. God, that girl never did have much taste in men!”
Good old Julie! Thank God she hadn’t changed! Chuckling over her dig, I went inside to check the machine.
I pulled into her driveway an hour later and stepped into her yard. A brisk wind rattled the storm windows and thunder-rolled the thin aluminum sides of the trailer, where windrows of empty candy wrappers and discarded cigarette packs fluttered along the corrugated iron skirting. A face peeked behind a curtained window, then withdrew.
The front door opened before I could knock, and there stood seventy-year-old Julie, regarding me with a dubious expression. In a mocking but friendly voice she asked if I still entertained delusions of bedding her.
“Aw, that was all in fun,” I said with a laugh, but she knew better. And when I looked at her still-lovely face unmarred by time, and noted that her shapely body hadn’t sagged a visible inch, I knew better too. “C’mon, let’s see these little love birds of yours,” I said, following her into her overheated home.
“They haven’t acquired a lot of naughty words, have they? I have granddaughters now, you know.”
I immediately regretted my feeble attempt at humor. I had forgotten that she was childless, and that her only niece lived in a distant state. Frowning, she closed the door.
“Hell, no, they don’t cuss. I tried to teach them, but the little buggers never learned a goddamned word. But,” she added, brightening noticeably, “they can sure sing pretty songs when they’re in the mood.”
In a large cage in the corner of the living room, I saw the feathered divas pecking at a cuttlebone, while emitting tiny chirps. They were smaller than I expected, not much bigger than parakeets, and as I watched them frolic, I asked myself if I really wanted them as pets, or as some kind of weird Freudian substitute for unattainable Julie. The thought was unsettling; the three beers I had drank while waiting at the laundromat must have discombobulated my thinking.
“Why are you getting rid of them?” I asked.
She looked away and exhaled loudly. “To be honest, Sean, I can’t afford to pay the heating bills every winter to keep them warm enough. They’re tropical birds and can get pneumonia if they get too cold. And,” she admitted with a sigh, “I have arthritis in my arms and it’s getting to be a real pain in the ass-you’d-love-to-grab to clean their damn cage.” She lit a cigarette and coughed. “You still want them?”
I did, but doubted if they would survive the next winter. I heated my home with a woodstove that sometimes went out when I forgot to feed it.
“Nah, Julie, not if I gotta live in a hothouse. Give them to someone else.”
She nodded and walked into the kitchen. “Want a cup of coffee? I don’t keep booze in the house since I quit drinking.”
“No, thanks. My back teeth are floating from the beer I drank at the laundromat. Do you mind if I use your bathroom?”
She pointed the way. “Put down the seat when you’re done, and if you’re hoping to find a pair of dirty panties to sniff, you’re shit out of luck. I did my wash yesterday.”
I had to laugh. What a woman! She’ll never change, and good for her! I threaded my way through her crowded living room, dodging a card table covered with a half-completed jigsaw puzzle of gamboling kittens. Paperback word search books and crossword omnibuses – the spoor of lonely people – lay heaped on an end table next to a sofa with a cushion indented by Julie’s shapely rear. On a double row of bookless bookshelves above a muted TV stood dozens of sun-faded photographs of Julie and Rosie in their man-eating prime, dressed to kill. Next to them, clad in jeans and tight white tee-shirts with packs of cigarettes in their rolled-up sleeves, stood their catches-of-the-month, smirking proudly. One man’s face was scratched out, his identity known only to God and Julie. In the large cage, as if imitating the photos, the lorries perched side-by-side, gently rubbing their beaks together, and I noted with amusement that their vivid green plumage matched the Kodachrome eyes of their mistress.
I found the bathroom and stood before the toilet, a bit disappointed that I hadn’t encountered a lacy screen of filmy stockings and wispy unmentionables hanging from the curtain rod. Such armor had served Julie well when she was a combatant in the war between the sexes, but now in her retirement drab flannel nightgowns and heavy woolen socks were the uniform of the day.
As I relieved myself, I opened her medicine cabinet with my free hand to find it crammed with bottles of prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies for every geriatric malady known to womankind except old age itself. “Big Red,” whose face and temperament had once launched a hundred barroom brawls, fiery Julie whose visage – yes, I admit it! – had once fueled an occasional masturbatory fantasy, was now reduced to a frail shadow of her once-formidable self, her solitary days measured out in capsules, potions, and powders, her sleepless nights populated by the ghosts of lovers past.
When I returned she was drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette at the kitchen table when I returned, her graying red hair backlit by the harsh sunlight slanting through an uncurtained jalousie window above the sink. Looking up, she asked if I had remarried.
“No, once was plenty. Maybe you and Rosie had the right idea: Love ‘em and leave ‘em.”
She snorted in disgust. “It rarely worked like that, Sean. They usually left us first. I think they just wanted to put another notch on their guns, brag to their asshole buddies that they’d ‘tamed’ us, even if it was only in their imaginations.” She butted her cigarette and coughed. “But, what the hell! We enjoyed damn near every minute of it while it lasted.” From the living room the lorries squawked their agreement.
“Yeah, those were some times,” I said with a smile. “Too bad you and I never hooked up.”
Instead of the expected verbal barrage, she flashed an inscrutable Cheshire Cat grin. “You never guessed just how close you came, did you? If you hadn’t been screwing my niece, I might have said yes. Looks like your overactive pecker cost you the best pussy you never had!”
I laughed with delight. Age hadn’t mellowed her a bit; at heart she was still the same impudent cock-teaser I had lusted for three decades ago. “I’ve been thinking, Julie,” I said with a serious expression. “What say we get married? Strictly for tax purposes, of course. Neither one of us ever gave a damn about what people think, and like they say, two can live as cheaply as one. Besides,” I added with a leer, “maybe I can keep both you and the lorries warm.”
When I got home, I threw another chunk of wood in the stove and gently fingered my fright-shriveled testicles. They seemed intact, but for a moment in Julie’s kitchen their fate had “hung” in the balance, if I may be permitted a cheap pun. Although Ben Franklin wrote that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” I’m guessing that he had never witnessed the indignation of a hellcat crudely propositioned.
“What the hell,” I said to my cat, “I guess some women just ain’t the marrying kind.”
PA DOC # HZ6518
Burl N. Corbett
P.O. Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL 33733
Born 6/9/47 in Reading, PA. Raised on a 123-acre sheep farm only three crow miles from John Updike´s famous sandstone farmhouse of “Pigeon Feathers,” The Centaur, and Of the Farm. Graduated from Daniel Boone High School in 1965. Ran away to Greenwich Village to become a beatnik in 1966 with only a Martin guitar and the clothes on my back. Lived among the counterculture for 3 years, returning disillusioned to PA for good in 1968. Worked on a mink farm; poured steel in a foundry; chased the sun as a cross-country pipeliner; drove the big rigs, baby!; picked tomatoes with migrant workers; tended bar on the old skid row Bowery; worked as a reporter, columnist, and photographer for two Southeastern Pennsylvania newspapers; drove beer truck (hic!); was a “HEY, CULLIGAN MAN!”; learned how to plaster, stucco, and lay stone; published both fiction and nonfiction in several nationally distributed magazines and literary quarterlies; got married and raised four children; got divorced and fell into the bottle; and came to prison at the age of 60 with no previous criminal offenses other than a 25 year-old DUI. The “crime”? Self-defense in my own house without financial means to hire a decent lawyer. Since becoming the “guest” of the state in 2007, I have won six PEN Prison Writing Awards (two first and four honorable mentions); the first and only prize of $500 in the 2013 Eaton Literary Agency short fiction contest; written a children/young adult book, Coon Tales; a novel of the 1967 “Summer of Love,” Dreaming of Oxen; a magic realism novel, A Redneck Ragnorak, and many short stories and memoirs. My first novel, A Haven from Violence, and Coon Tales, are available at Xlibris.com or Amazon.com.