Chapter 10 from Somewhere Upriver
Veronica was at my apartment door when I arrived home from the Queets late that Sunday night. Her long black hair was soaked and her clothes clung to her. I had just returned from a riotous adventure in the field with Peter, while she looked like she had the worst week of her life. The whites of her eyes were riddled with red and her dimples were nowhere to be found.
“Where’s your raincoat?” I asked.
She shook her head. “We need to talk,” she said.
We need to talk, the four words most feared by males. I fumbled for my keys, opened my door and flipped on the lights. The room was empty, except for unpacked boxes; the scientific papers that Peter had given me sat in a tall stack; an unwashed plate and drinking glass lay on the floor where I had eaten dinner a week ago. I didn’t have any furniture, no place for Veronica to sit, but she didn’t want to sit, she wanted to talk.
“Do you want to change out of your wet clothes?”
“I spent the week in Portland. I needed some space.”
“I was worried,” I said.
“I stayed with my friend Sam,” she said.
Ah yes, I thought. Sam, her best friend whom she also had a relationship with during her senior year in high school, who now was just a friend. Veronica had told me all about Sam. Sensitive and feeling Sam. A man who was not afraid of the phrase, we need to talk, but rather, looked forward to talking. The type of guy who makes a normal man look like an ape or even Bigfoot.
“It was not that way at all, Douglas,” she said, as if my anti-Sam sentiments were scribbled upon my face.
I nodded as the re-runs of “Sam, the Sensitive High School Sweetheart,” starring Sam Hansen and Veronica Crane played in the theater of my brain: they were cuddling on a bed with too many pillows; they were dancing at the prom—Miss Crane in a stunning red dress and Mister Hansen in a Tuxedo; and then the final episode where Veronica tearfully leaves for college and a degree in wildlife biology and a life of outdoor adventure, while Sam goes to Portland to work at his uncle’s pillow factory.
“Douglas? Are you even listening to me?”
“Of course. How’s Sam doing?”
“It has nothing to do with Sam! Douglas, we’re talking about us! Our future!
If there is one…” she trailed off, as some tears began to form, but somehow she sniffled them back in.
“I love you,” I said. It just came out, almost like a burp. Why was I
acting like this? My mind was buzzing with activity and I couldn’t slow it
down. Brain food. That was what Peter called his homemade beer. I had a
few with him after coming out of the woods and felt as though my mind
had been fed.
Veronica looked at me and squinted as though I were out of focus.
“I love you, too.”
I nodded and smiled, holding back a tear of my own.
“But,” Veronica continued.
The but is less of a conjunction and more of a warning, like the butt of a rifle, I imagined, steadying myself.
“But I’m not sure we’re ready, you know, to get married. Maybe we’re just too young?” Veronica shifted her weight from one leg to the other and then back.
I was actually glad to hear that, because I had been thinking that off
and on ever since I’d proposed to her, but …
“I love you,” I belched out once more, and again, she had a puzzled demeanor.
“I just don’t want to lose you.”
We hugged, her scent washing over me like a freshly mown lawn, while my own body odor was a stew of unwashed socks and pickled mustard greens, an essence that failed to combine with Veronica’s manicured lawn, like oil and water mingling but not mixing. At one moment I smelled a meadow after a spring rain, becoming aroused, the next moment I smelled a sewer and my arousal faded. My penis was doing push-ups like a lizard. Up, down, up, down. I leaned in for a kiss, but Veronica turned her face and my lips merely brushed her cheek.
“I could take a shower. Or better yet, we could take a shower. I have a luffa sponge.” The luffa is the inside of a gourd, a fact that Peter, the gourd-fanatic, would have explained in detail if he were there.
“Douglas,” she said, stepping back. “It’s not that, but… Well, you do stink.” Her toothpick dimples made a brief appearance. “Sam and I decided…”
My manhood retracted like the head of a frightened turtle, so far in fact, it was like the penis’ version of an inverted nipple. I could see it so clearly in my mind that it was disturbing. Again, Veronica could read my face, or maybe she heard my balls clunk onto the floor and roll away at the mention of her best friend/exlover and her making some grand decision together. Another image so clear that I believed I heard the clunking and turned my head, looking for my testicles.
“I didn’t mean it that way. This has nothing to do with Sam. What I meant to say was I realized some of my own feelings this weekend.”
“I see,” I said, shaking my head as if to contradict myself.
“We need to slow things down. Just date each other.”
I leaned in to kiss her and this time she did not turn away. I started to unbutton her wet blouse, but she gently grasped my hands.
“I’m serious, Douglas. Let’s take it slow.”
“Let’s take it slow” places a close second to “We need to talk” in the hierarchy of four word phrases that men never want to hear. In fact, “Let’s take it slow” has no real translation in the male language and men are dumbfounded by this phrase, as if the woman had just sung like a sparrow. I stood there not knowing what to do or say, and this time it was my manhood that sighed and shook its head.
“I need to look for a place of my own. I need to be by myself for a
I tried to smile.
“Sometimes I think there’s a lot more going on in your head than I realize.”
I nodded and swallowed another I-love-you belch, imagining my balls had rolled beneath a cardboard box.
“Like what are you thinking about right now?”
“Nothing,” I said, not wanting to tell her how I was too vividly imagining my balls rolling around the apartment. Why was my mind so distracted?
She sighed. “We need to get to know each other better, and I don’t want sex to complicate things.”
I nodded. My penis, fatigued from all of the push-ups, fell asleep, and Veronica looked at me as if she could hear it snoring.
This book has a Goodreads giveaway ending January 24, 2014.
Patrick Loafman is a wildlife biologist, artist and musician living on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. His fiction and poetry have been published in two chapbooks and over twenty literary journals. He edits “The Dandelion Farm Review” and his short story collection, “A Freckle Shaped like California,” is forthcoming. “Somewhere Upriver” is his first novel ans it is published by Event Horizon Press.
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