Jul/Aug 2000  •   Fiction

Ground Work

by Tim Wenzell

Daddy sent me to my room for kicking Shakespeare's water bowl across the kitchen floor and yelling that it was a stupid place to feed the dog. I was marching up the stairs when I heard Mommy telling Daddy how I spit on the couch in the afternoon, but I really didn't spit the way she was telling. It was just a little drool that I didn't do on purpose, something that came out while I was watching a commercial. Mommy asked me if I was some kind of animal and said no wonder people sit on those plastic slipcovers, and then she told me to go practice my baton in the attic and then go to my room for the night. I'd rather be in the attic than in my room. I hate my room.

Lucky for me I still got a couple of Mommy's Tareytons on the window sill behind the curtain. I really had to sneak those matches off the credenza good. If they ever found my coffee can of butts at the top of the closet, I don't know what they'd do. There must be 500 butts in that can. I'd probably try to make them feel guilty and tell them it was all their fault for smoking in the first place and setting the bad example and sending me to my room where they knew I hated to go and what else could I do but take up smoking. They'd say on top of smoking it was stealing.

Sometimes I still get dizzy when I smoke. I don't know whether it's Mommy's lousy cigarettes and I just hate the taste compared to menthols, or maybe that's just the way it is with all smokers. Marta says the dizziness has nothing to do with the taste or with cigarettes at all for that matter. She says it's a sign I'm going to be bleeding soon, that she got the same spells all last summer driving around with Birddog.

Marta's going to be setting me up with a biker on Sunday night from Fergusonville. I always liked those movies of the seventies showing skinny girls in bell-bottoms leaning back on their boyfriend's sissy bars, with hair in their eyes and showing the peace sign and lighting their cigarettes like they didn't care about anything. I just hope this biker dude isn't too hairy, and I hope he doesn't smell like whisky because I might not want to kiss him.

I want to lose my virginity on Sunday.

While we were in the lavatory, I told Marta I wanted to lose my virginity, so she set me up with this guy Mort the biker. Mort talked like one of those bad guys you always see on crime shows. She told me a couple of her girlfriends lost their virginity with Mort, and they thought he was great. She said he was good at getting you to bleed. Marta told me to forget about him after the night we do it (hopefully this Sunday) and not to fall in hopeless love and get attached to him. Mort just liked to do virgins one after the other and didn't fall in love, she told me. Mort was forty.

I guess I kicked Shakespeare's bowl across the kitchen because I'm mad at everything. I'm afraid of bleeding, and I'm tired of waiting for it. I'm so tired of waiting for it that being afraid doesn't matter any more, and I just want it to come and then go away and just be a memory that I can write about in my diary. Every time I see Marta, I think about her and Birddog, and I get jealous. There's nothing worse than Marta having something on you, especially calling herself a woman.

I keep asking myself "What is it like?" I keep wondering and imagining the whole thing: how to lay and how to spread and how I'll be able to breathe. I remember the brawl in field hockey, laying at the bottom of the pile over at Bilgate, screaming at all the girls to let me up because I couldn't breathe. I hope it's not like that. If I have to scream for Mort to let me up, he just might zip up and walk off laughing and leave me alone with my spread legs. Word might get around that I screamed in his ear, and then I'd never lose my virginity.

Marta changed after she did it. Come to think of it, so did Stacey and Rita and Libby and Maureen and Sylvia. They all changed, like some of those pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers were put next to each of their beds while they were asleep. The pods took them over while virgins like me sat back and noticed.

Marta used to be my best friend. I was flipping through one of my old diaries the other day, and I noticed how we got together every single day the summer we were seven. There was an entry about the state fair and the stuffed pink panda she won, and an entry about a sleepover party on Betty's birthday where she threw up grape soda, and the entry about the time Marta went down to Point Pleasant with me in the back seat of the old station wagon. That was the day we saw the car go off the bridge and sink into the bay. We just kept going past the broken cement, and Daddy told us not to worry, that the family escaped and swam to the bay shore.

I know better now, of course. I'm not seven any more, and I've seen too many shows where the car sinks into the water and everyone drowns. Birddog was telling me about air pressure and water pressure and how people panic and scream and claw and try to open the doors. Then they roll down the windows to let the water come into the car. The force of the water hits them in such a rush that they are pinned into their seats and can't ever escape. Daddy lied to us; he didn't want us thinking about death while we were on vacation.

Mommy told me that when she was drunk off her whiskies.

Marta's changed now, though. I hardly see her any more, and when I do, she's got her boyfriend all wrapped around her with his tongue in her ear. Marta had her bellybutton pierced the other day, and she plans to get a tattoo of a clipper ship on her ass. She's been cursing a lot lately, too, imitating Birddog, I guess. Marta told me on the phone this morning that Birddog got drunk last night and burned down his old tree fort with some lighter fluid.

Sometimes I don't want to go through with the whole sex thing. Sometimes I don't want to change. Sometimes I'd rather stay in my room, move the furniture and set the dining room table in my dollhouse and just pretend. Pretending is safe, and safe feels good. Barbie is still sitting in her Camaro, and I can't remember the last time I played with her.

I wish I could freeze time, take some pages out of that old diary I found from that one summer and drop some magic dust on them or something. Then I could just close my eyes and open them to little Marta with her towel and her bathing suit. She would still be standing by the front door, waiting for Daddy to finish loading the car, waiting with me to go charging into the back. I could sprinkle some more magic dust, and that family would swim out of their sinking car. The little kids would ride piggy-back on their daddy's shoulders as he swam against the tide, and they would all make it safely to shore.

I'd better open the window this time. Last time I forgot, and the smoke got all in the room, and I was surprised Mommy didn't smell the tobacco. If I blow it out the window and straight up, they'll never know. I'd better listen, too, because Daddy could come up the stairs while I'm blowing puffs. He might rattle the door to see that it's locked. Then he would know that something was up.

Daddy's footsteps are always soft on the hall carpet. He walks in his white socks and listens along my wall. He knows I am up to something, but he doesn't know what. So he waits out there to hear something or smell something. Sometimes when I turn down the music, I can hear him breathing.

I'm going to make sure Daddy doesn't sneak up on me on Sunday.

There's a stain on my ceiling. I never noticed it before, but just above my headboard there's this ugly yellow blotch like that amoeba on the slide in Biology, dark around the middle and spreading out.

I'm going to turn into a whore.