The Education of a Young Gentleman

By Charlie Jacobson

And I eat men like air.—from Plath, Sylvia. “Lady Lazarus.” 1962.

***

“Charles!”

“Uh?”

“Richie has a flat.”

I rolled out of bed and stumbled after my mother into the kitchen. She thrust a receiver into my hand and lit a Chesterfield.

I grunted. “Richie?”

“Git your ass over here.”

The line went dead. My mother stiffened and clasped her robe.

I threw on the cleanest dirty shirt and hopped into my ’52 Pontiac—the hunk of junk that cracked up Ollie, Richie’s father.

An anxious excitement propelled me through the ghostly streets to Richie’s. We moved out of the neighborhood five years ago, but Richie and I were still best friends, going to the U and living at home. I came to a stop behind the dark shapes outside and hurried through the scattered leaves into the house.

An air of blighted camaraderie prevailed in the Sears-chic living room. Larry—the Messiah, Richie’s older brother—saddled with a welfare cheat and five kids in the projects. He had a quarterback’s arm, a damn good Elvis, an easy laugh and a cock for a résumé. Between Larry and two strangers in chinos was an individual whose boyish good looks and fine complexion hid a touch of cruelty behind an impish grin. His proclivity with young cooze earned him the nickname ‘Bunny’.

J. T. (Richie and Larry’s cousin) lit a thoughtful cigar-butt. Larry turned up the collar of his dress shirt, took a comb out of his back pocket and slicked his red duck tails. “We were drinkin’ Blue Ribbons at this bar over in Prescott when Bunny sees this 18-karat chick puttin’ away ol’-fashion’s. She had a blow-out with her old man and wouldn’t go home even, to her kids.”

Bunny took up the story with a grin and a characteristic lisp. “The little dolly’s a party girl.” Larry pointed at his feet, “She was tauntin’ us, grabbin’ dicks right in the middle of this fuck’n living room!”

I thought Larry and Bunny had done it all, but this was somethin’ else. J. T. cut Hound Dog from the Philco and shoved a beer in my hand.

From the hall came the sound of a toilet. Richie strolled in, sporting motorcycle boots and a bowling shirt. He wiped beads of sweat from his forehead and slumped onto the blue bouclé couch. “Charlie, what’s wrong?” He sniffed and cleared his throat, “You’re shaky.”

I tossed one back. “I just got here.”

Bunny took a swig and swung his beer towards Richie, “His room.” My pulse quickened. J. T. rolled a beer between his hands and tipped his white Fedora. “The bitch’ll make your tongue hard.”

The two scatty strangers laughed and nudged each other. I had no option but to flat-guzzle my beer and gravitate to the end of the hall. Richie’s bedroom door was ajar. The Virgin Mary stared down at me from the wall. My hand stuck on the knob. I pushed the door open and stared into the sacred retreat where Larry had beguiled us with lurid tales of seduction. Warm, moist air hung heavy with stale perfume and semen.

A low seraphic voice called out from the darkness, “Larry? Larry, is that you?”

My breath escaped. I leaned towards the small form sprawled across the bed and uttered, “Yes….

“Let me see.”

I shut the door behind me and moved closer. The coverlet my mother had made lay on the floor alongside women’s things. I dropped my drawers. My hand trembled as I pulled back the sweaty bedclothes. Getting even with her husband? Single for the night? She was well beyond my experience. I was not in my right mind until she spread out and splayed herself open with her fingers—no need to lick or remove anything. I shut my eyes and sank into her unguent warmth. She arched her back and let out a moan.

***

By the time I released her slim ankles, I had lost all sense of time and place. I blundered out of the room, stumbling over a pair of shoes. Only Richie remained in the avocado-green living room; the two bounders were in the kitchen, the others had vanished.

I crashed on the couch. Bishop Sheen’s Way to Happiness lay on the coffee table beside a pair of yellow gloves and a few careless pieces of jewelry. I looked to Richie who had moved to Ollie’s favorite chair by the TV. “I thought Larry was in KC.”

“J. T. hauled his ass back.”

“Oh, yeah? I didn’t see the Olds. Where’s Rose and Ollie?”

“Up north—Hanson’s ol’ place.”

Richie tossed a half-eaten bag of potato chips at me and shook his head, “Don’t go downstairs. It’s clean.”

“What were you doin’ before Larry and them showed up?”

“Sleepin,” said Richie.

“Anyone seen her before?”

“No, uh-uh. What are you using for an ID?”

“Bunny’s draft card.”

“Uh-huh. I gotta clean this place up in the morning and get over to Belmont’s.”

“Hey, I’ll go. What about that Edina chick? The one with the nice ass.”

“She says we should get together sometime.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Like maybe never.” We were still laughing when Richie went to reclaim his bed. I reclaimed the sofa, Bishop Sheen in one hand, a beer in the other.

I shrank back and put the book down when she suddenly appeared from the shadows—little more than five foot, early thirties, a blue-dyed rag around her head and a high, womanly chest cosseted in Richie’s rough flannel shirt. She stopped to gaze at the fine rain falling on the front lawn, searched her purse for a match and lit a long cigarette. After a moment, she closed the honey-colored drapes, and lowered herself next to me with half-averted eyes.

The yellowish light fell upon a face fixed with traces of care and thwarted sleep that had retained much of its girlish beauty. How pretty she’d be in a wide-brimmed hat! I took her scent and felt her breath—we were almost touching. She took a long drag and opened her mouth wide. An arabesque veil of smoke drifted into her cloudy gray-green eyes. She straightened a tangle of dusky hair with her wedding ring finger, and bumped me with her toe. Her low, angelic voice was at my throat. “How old are you?”

A hot blush came to my cheek. “Nineteen.”

She blew a jet and forced a laugh before placing her nicotine-stained fingers over my eyes. “Do I look nineteen?” I tingled. Her playful whisper demanded an answer, but I had forgotten everything but her half-parted lips. My tongue paralyzed. “I—”

“Ssshhh.” She put a finger crosswise to my mouth, inhaled deeply and stared at me from under dark lashes. What did she want? If the answer lay in her eyes, I could not find it. She placed my beer on the coffee table, loosened her top buttons and bent forward.

“Kiss me.”

She clinched my neck with her fingers and kissed back hard, tasting of tobacco and stale mint. I slid fingers to her white-velvet breasts and to her nipples; her nostrils flared, a tremor crossed her face. She lit a second cigarette with her first, took the top off her drink and led me downstairs.

I pressed the soft tip of my tongue on her c-section and the space between her thighs. “Lick me down there,” she said, taking my hand. “Yes… like that… yes… that’s it,” she murmured, breathing slow and deep. She then told me to get on top and I ground against her on the cold-hard floor; she dug her painted nails into my back until we passed out in a tangle next to our spilled drinks.

***

My blood was warm when the soft light filtering in through the casements roused me. I dressed silently, climbed the stairs in an unsteady haze to join the company in the kitchen, her perfume still clinging to me. The restless one with horn-rimmed glasses and plaid shirt spoke first, “You’re Charlie aren’t you?”

I stuck out my hand; no hand was offered. “Yeah. Richie’s friend. Is he in the bathroom?”

“No, the garage.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Friday, I carry a badge.”

I raised my eyebrows, “Friday?”

He yawned and removed his glasses, revealing pair of small eyes fixed on a rectangular face, “I’m Roger. J. T. is married to my sister.”

“And the guy makin’ the coffee is Thursday?”

Roger winked at the short fellow in the white bucks and rounded shoulders, “That’s Johnny, the Accordion King. He’s at the 2424 Club Friday nights.” Roger took quick puffs of his cigarette and crushed it in the ashtray with a half-laugh, “It’s after ten. She awake?”

I felt a flash of resentment. Before I was done in the bathroom, he was down the stairs and back up in front of me, beady-faced and pop-eyed, barely able to talk. “She ain’t breathin’.”

I flinched. “Don’t joke.”

“She ain’t movin’ neither.”

“Are you sure?”

“You had her last.”

Perspiration broke out on my forehead. I ran to the garage. Richie was taking the chain off his ’48 Indian. “Geeze, Charlie, you look like you seen a ghost.”

“The chick, Richie. The chick. Somethin’s wrong downstairs.”

“What?”

“Ya gotta listen to me. Somethin’s not right.”

Richie threw his rag across the floor, “I don’t have time for this!”

“Don’t go apeshit!”

“Somebody better. Larry’s comin’ to take her back.”

He trailed me in through the breezeway, cursing through pursed lips, and padded down the stairs in his slippers while I stared at the floor. He returned to the kitchen flushed-faced. “Why the hell you sweatin’ her down there, Charlie? Stuff’s all over the fuck’n floor. Rose’ll kill me.”

“How is she?” I said.

He rocked back and forth, wiping his nose as we stared at him from around the table. Then, in a hard little voice, “Yeah, she’s dead.”

A dull pain entered my brain. Johnny looked up from the counter, “Did you touch her eye? If it doesn’t blink—”  

Richie made fists. “What do you think—I can’t tell a stiff? I said she’s a stiff.” He pulled up a chair, sat down beside me and spun the sugar bowl and said practically in a whisper, “Jesus. Were you out of your mind?”

I had no answer.

“You did nothing wrong. It’s an accident. Definitely not murder,” said Johnny. “I know a guy who knows the court district.”

“Tell ‘em what, exactly?” replied Roger.

“Tell ‘em what happened,” said Johnny.

“That we fucked her to death? I can’t wait to hear what a jury makes of that,” said Roger, putting his glasses back on and twitching my shoulder, “Hold on, now—what are we gonna do with our lil’ sister down there?”

“Do wha—?”

Roger snapped his fingers, “The body, stupid. The stupid body.”

Johnny nodded and poured the coffee.

“Dig a hole.”

“Toss her off a bridge.”

“No, dipshit. The swamp. By the airport.”

“She’s not goin’ anywhere. Feed her to the pigs.”

 Roger stroked his chin. “Larry’s gonna blow his stack.”

“Hey, fucker. Keep my brother outta this,” Richie demanded.

Johnny took out milk and Rice Krispies. “Her spirit is in the throne room of God.”

The only thing I heard was snap-crackle-pop, the beating of my heart and the dull whir of the refrigerator. I swallowed a mouthful of coffee. Roger and Johnny looked at each other. Johnny dropped his eyes to the floor. “Is there any cotton wool?”

“What for?” said Richie.

Johnny raised his head, half-resentful. “To close her rectum.”

Richie struggled to control himself and took a short breath. His eyes raced around the table. “I’ve heard enough shit. Nobody touch her. Larry’s gonna be here. Nobody says nothing. Nobody calls nobody. Not the cops neither! An’ nobody fuck’n leave. Nowhere. We got a dead woman! Get her purse, somebody. We don’t even know her fuck’n name.”

I stood up, eyes fixed on Roger, and scrambled to locate her black leather purse. I laid it on the table in front of Richie and sank back into my seat. Richie picked through her things. He pulled out a packet of pictures and placed them on the table. “The boy’s like Corky. A little girl, too,” I said, filled with guilt.

Roger cracked his knuckles. “Jesus. Are you writin’ a book?”

“Quit lookin’ at me.” 

“Don’t bug me.”

“Corine Whitney, 1236 Quail Circle, Hudson, Wisconsin. Birthday yesterday. Thirty-one.” Richie flipped the license and the billfold to Roger.

“She sure didn’t look it.”

“A Tupperware check.” Johnny cleared the saliva from his mouth. “Tupperware?” Roger jabbed Johnny with his elbow. “Cut the gas.”

Richie held up a pill bottle. “Red devils!” “Stupid bitch!” exclaimed Roger.

Johnny started to say something and changed his mind. I got up and looked out the window. “It’s half-past ten. I don’t see Larry yet.” Roger leaned back and gritted his teeth. “She’ll be the end of us, man. Gotta get her—”

“Who the fuck is talking to you?” Richie snorted with a bitterness that almost made Roger tip over in his chair. “Nothing happened here!”

Clink.

The sound came from down below. My feet were stuck to the floor; it was Richie who flew down the stairs. A moment later he was back in the kitchen with a triumphant grin. “She’s up!”

Nobody could say exactly why.

A sidelong glance through the bathroom mirror from the curved figure in black—spike heels, cigarette in one hand, eye-liner in the other—was the last I saw.

***


“You look upset,” my mother said when I got home. “Maybe you don’t want to talk.”


Bio: Charlie Jacobson is an army veteran with an abiding interest in philosophy and the arts and a cat who doesn’t like him. He is published in Proud to Be, Pure Slush Books, Fleas on the Dog, Military Experience and the Arts, Poets Choice, Drunk Monkeys, Wingless Dreamer and The Yard.

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