Mike Lee

The Whenabouts

It was still dark when I woke up smelling of her, she being Rose Singletary, lying asleep curled up against my body. Her arms crooked around my neck in a gentle, but firm vise, holding me for dear life, which was understandable because she crossed the line and jumped the precipice by giving up the gift of her body and soul hours before. This scared me, because this meant we could be together like glue for the rest of our lives, or shatter to nothing by Monday. I know she was scared, too, but we were drunk. Beers,  downing sweet sugar Schlitz Malt Liquor and smoking dirt weed in this filthy hippy house in West Asheville. It just happened: Rose pulled her jeans down while we lay on the mattress alone in this dark back bedroom and it began.

I don’t remember this blue Beacon blanket. Someone must have covered us while we were asleep. Had to, because I remember everything else, how she felt, touched me, the kisses and penetration, crying muffled into my neck, biting my shoulder, clawing me with her nails, raking my back, our bodies twisting. We talked in whispers and Rose talked a lot. Too much to take comfort, declarations of forever which I knew may not last through the day. I didn’t know, this was too easy, and I said I was afraid. Being sixteen was too young to have to face forever.

Rose stirred, staring through me with pale blue eyes, her freckles dark against pale skin, her wispy blond hair stitching over her face. Wordless, but her tears welling spoke a century old novel, binding cracking with her pink lips parting, wanting to kiss, not speak. I kissed her as her hands dug into my hair, holding me and never letting go, thrusting her body against mine. I wrapped my arms around her and we lay under the blanket on top of this naked mattress, our souls seeped into the fabric.

A few cans of malt liquor and some tokes off a joint, talking endlessly about poetry. We cry about how alone we are and how much we want to get out of this shittown. She pulls out something she wrote out of her purse with me writing a poem on the back of the ruled paper, handing it back to her to read.

The blood which showed that boys always lie and I am the first, and she says the last, the only, my One, she said, declaring it when she pulled her jeans down and this hurts but I love you, Darryl.

She never did, and never was but a dreamer, reading Elric books, Shardik, Tolkein and Ursula LeGuin. Liked a little Lovecraft and dabbled in magic, showing me a book she stole from the Asheville Mall B. Dalton. Read comic books like Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth, whispering before she pulled down her jeans that I was the One, her last boy on this planet.

We sat at the window, peering through the torn mesh screen, watching the light go from the pitch black of night to a soupy gray of the pre-dawn, the color of modeling clay. We held hands, and talked of more science fiction and fantasy. The Best of Series from DAW, and a story I liked in an old copy of Fantastic Magazine I bought from a garage sale vendor at the drive-in the previous Saturday. It was cold in the house, or conjoined breath steamed the glass, and while holding hands I felt her squeeze mine tight for emphasis as she spoke of her life, and how sad she would get being alone. So when she was sad, she wrote poetry, and told me she started writing stories. I said I wanted to write a story that was longer than a page, adding I had an idea for one, based on Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. She smiled, and kissed my cheek, and then my mouth. Tongues lashing like whips, sloppy. Before tonight I hoped I would be kissed this way. Now, I expected it, and never wanted the experience to end.

At dawn the guys kicked us out of the house. We walked out with our wool coats into the winter, Rose’s hair falling past her shoulders under her cap, battered old leather riding boots stuffed into her jeans, holding my hand as we climbed the pine needle covered hill through the woods to the crest, taking the old stoner trail behind the line of houses toward the railroad track that divided her neighborhood from mine.

I told Rose I loved her. She repeated my words, and told me we had to hurry. Her parents did not know she snuck out, and the light was already gray. We climbed the hedge to the road above, by the bridge. We kissed and hugged before I watched her run across the bridge toward her home. She promised forever, and I believed her, and I wasn’t scared.

Rose, Spanish Rose. Her mother is from Madrid. The passion and poetry in telling me how she feels like she is already almost forty at sixteen.

I stood and watched her turn to wave from the midpoint of the bridge, crossing over to the hill where her house sits. She pointed it out as we walked, a white single story frame jutting out defiantly above the trees. I saw Rose reach the road at the far end of the bridge, and begin to climb through the tree and ivy-covered hill, grasping branches as she made her way up the trail to her home. I saw Rose wave before making her way to the chain link fence, climbing and disappearing inside.

Again, I whispered to myself I was no longer afraid she would be gone. We agreed to meet in the afternoon at the mall, play pinball and steal paperbacks from B. Dalton. She had a system, she revealed. I wanted to read Shardik and a novel called The Whenabouts of Burr.

Yes, we will be together. Rose and I. We will steal books and play pinball and kiss in corners and hold hands walking through the arcade and maybe sneak into a movie, and take the downtown bus and wander down to Pritchard Park or we will hang out with people, and drive around drinking up and down Tunnel Road. Or, I hoped, we will walk alone. Be home in our hearts.

I went home. After taking a bath, I pulled out my spiral and began writing the story I told her about during the night, which I was writing into the afternoon. When it was time to leave for the mall, I carried the notebook with me on the bus ride through the city, adding a few lines with my Bic. While not nearly complete, this was enough to show her.

The bus pulled into the parking lot. As it rolled closer the stop by the main entrance, I spotted Rose waiting, wearing her wool coat and riding boots, her hair under a black toboggan hat, wearing her glasses, wisps of blond hair caught by the breeze, and holding her notebook tight to her chest.

I felt like I had leaped off the bus to meet her. “And so our journey begins,” Rose said, reaching for my hand, unafraid.


Mike Lee is a writer, labor journalist and photographer based in New York City and Managing Editor of Public Employee Press, the voice of District Council 37, AFSCME.