Thursday Simpson

New Aeons Still Will Not Answer

I wish I didn’t remember this river. My mother and I used to eat here, sitting against a rock with cucumber sandwiches from her garden, eating the bread she baked. The courts allowed her to spend one day a week with me. Something is better than nothing. Across the river I see a man with a small boy, probably his son. But maybe it isn’t his child. Maybe they’re just there, the older man feeding the younger. Men think they love feeding, that they understand justice.

Men think their gray hair has something to do with honor, that using foundation to cover your skin cancer and red puffiness makes you as vain as a politician. I don’t want to remember this river but I’m walking alongside it for a very specific reason. After my mother entered a permanent state of departure my father took me here to fish. I refused and there are several places in the United States of America where refusing to eat an animal means Satan is speaking to you, much like the way Satan spoke to your mother. Parents and priests will tell you they’re concerned. These are the fathers who let physicians remove their wives and daughter’s clitori and are just thankful there’s something to be done, a way to help their families.

This river mouths out at the Catholic Church my dad always took me to. Last night I saw my father, today I am going to visit another father. There is something I want to tell him, memories I want to remind him of. I’ve finally graduated from college. I left my apartment back in the Twin Cities with my degree from U Minnesota and a plane ticket to Italy. The last paper I wrote was a personal one. I used to think nothing could be worse than Haldol. Then I read about one of the earlier treatments for hysteria. Patients were put in comas with insulin treatments. Force fed nothing but red meat. This is what happened to people who enjoyed having cocks inside of their mouth.

River towns tend to have a lot in common common. My father never thought anything was wrong with our community. He thought it was a place worth living in. Old women trying to control their children by filling them full of pie and cookies. Writing my research paper on the history of insulin treatments was very triggering. I had to stop, go for runs. I would come back to my apartment and drink glass after glass of water.

Walking by the river, on my way to the church, I pass a tree. When I was fifteen dad sat me underneath it so we could talk. He said that it was good that I loved my mother but that I needed to understand, she didn’t love me. It wasn’t because she didn’t want to love me, it was because she couldn’t. She was sick. I ran from him. He tackled me and pinned me down and started yelling that I needed to listen, that I needed to understand things were different, that it was good things were different.

He told me things needed to change. We were going to go to Mass every Sunday. If I refused to go, he would take me out of public school. Tough love, like a basketball coach. There are a lot of things to hate about highschool. But my guidance counselor promised to walk me through my college applications. She told me I could apply to as many colleges as I wanted, “They can be anywhere, in any state,” she promised. She said she could get money from the school district to pay for my applications fees. The school district got money from the state if they had a high number of kids enrolled in college. My father also had the legal right to pull me from the school and enroll me in a Catholic highschool. The Catholics wouldn’t help me get to the University of Minnesota. I had to play along. But after sitting in that fucking shit church, seeing those people sucking their dead god’s cock every fucking week, I began to snap.

One Sunday I spat the communion wine in Father Michael’s face. My dad took me out behind some bushes near the church and beat the shit out of me. I could smell the River from where we were. My mother always joked about wanting to spit wine in Father Michael’s face. He was her priest, too, when she was my age. The priest’s body was stuck to our town, a rot the diocese wanted to preserve. My mother knew how to transform rot into something holy, how to grow things in compost. “When people die we should feed the Earth, not be put in a box and prayed for.” She called Jesus a corpse and they said she was ill. She liked to grow things in her garden.

My father drug me back to his car, after beating me. Father Michael was standing outside of the Church, smoking a cigarette. Everyone else had gone. The priest saw me bleeding and he told my father, “Don’t worry, Jim, it gets better.”

I don’t care when they find either of them. I can move fast. And that hurts because the smell of the river still reminds me of my mother. I want to sit with the River, I want to sit with my Mother. But I have already committed to revenge. I need to be in Italy by tomorrow night, absolute latest.

As highschool crawled on, Father Michael offered to help my dad deal with me. One night Dad came home from work early and found me fucking a girl I went to school with. Allison brought a strapon and a harness that her older sister gave her. The dildo she brought over didn’t fit with the harness so I tried to ducktape the bright purple cock onto the harness. Mostly all we did was laugh while the cock kept falling off inside of me. Allison would try to work her hips, the tape would give and she fell on top of me over and again. We gave up on the dildo and just kissed and rubbed eachother’s tits. We were having fun, the way your first time should be. After my Dad threw Allison out the first thing he did was call the priest. Father Michael was the one who gave me a black eye, all my Dad did was scream.

I met Allison at the coffee shop she worked at. She was a senior when I was a sophomore. I talk as much shit about rural, conservative areas as anyone. But there are people who live in such places who are cool. Just like there are fucking idiots who live in the most progressive spaces. When I met Allison, when we scheduled our first date, I finally thought I could survive highschool. I spent the week before our date masturbating to thoughts of her slapping a dildo against my face, making myself cum thinking about the way her cum would taste.

I’ve avoided dating Catholics. I did go out with a girl in the Twin Cities who was still Catholic after coming out. The priests on campus weren’t that bad, she told me. She thought Pope Francis was a nice man. She didn’t understand why I wanted to fuck him up with a razor. I asked her why she thought things were getting better because Francis knows better than to give bad soundbites.

Sadly, Satanists aren’t much more fun. During my Junior year in college I spent some time with a Satanic Coven. One night we walked out to a lake wearing nothing but purple robes we sewed ourselves. We had to climb over a traffic barrier on a bridge and walk down a grass hill to get there. None of the cars driving by honked, no one even seemed to notice. These girls spoke their rituals in Latin. I’ve never understood why people think Latin is so Satanic. I mean, if your rituals were written by Roman Satanists from the fourth or fifth centuries, sure. Why not. But I don’t think Satanism should be so tied up to the Roman religion. Moving away from artifice would be a good tenant for contemporary Satanism. Feeling things with your intestines, learning to read the messages encoded in your shit, that’s where truth is. But I guess it’s also okay to want to feel sexy, to let someone spread your asshole wide the way a whore in Corinth would have.

But other than the ritualized group sex there wasn’t much else going on with their coven. Eventually I told them I thought LaVey was dangerous, his antipathy towards social activism dangerous. It’s fine if you’re in love with yourself but he isn’t trying to get people to fall in love with themselves, he’s trying to get people to fall in love with him. They told me I didn’t understand so I quit having sex with them.

My Mother dated a Satanist, once. He wasn’t so bad. The three of us came out here to the

River and ate lunch together once. He made these wonderful garlic and hummus sandwiches. I think he worked in a health food store or something. I thought of him later on when I read LaVey talk shit about people who shop at health food stores in the Devil’s Notebook.

We drank tea and ate his sandwiches and then he and my Mom went off to have sex in the bushes while I watched the water. I was so mad at my mother for fucking him while I had to sit by myself and wait for them to finish. Why could she have fun and not me? Why couldn’t I take someone from school behind the bushes and investigate them?

I did know enough not to tell my Father about the different people Mom fucked. I didn’t hate Mom, I was just jealous but still knew these are all things best kept hidden. Before my father had her institutionalized, one of my Mom’s other boyfriends gave me a hammer and a screw driver. He said tools are the instruments of curiosity. I used them to pull up a couple floor boards in my room. The same boyfriend gave me tapes from his old AV collections. I kept all of the horror films in the space I created underneath my bedroom floor. Last night when I snuck into my Dad’s house I pulled up the boards and they were still there.

VHS copies of Fulci, Bava, Rollin, Franco, Argento. Cinematic guides to perversions and the right questions to ask. Under the floor was also a tape I made of my Mom having sex with one of her girlfriends. When my Mom broke up with the AV boyfriend she stole abunch equipment from his car and then I stole it all from my mom. Late at night I would practice working the cameras and manipulating video on these old tape decks.

My Dad always worked the traditional first shift. When he was at work and I was at school my Mom usually had her partners come over to our house. When I filmed her it was summer. I was probably thirteen or fourteen. I didn’t hide the wireless camera very well, and I love my Mom, but she was never the most observant person in the word.

Last night, or I guess this morning, before I left my Dad’s house I plugged in an old VCR from the closet and watched the whole tape. My Mom looks great. She is propped up, sitting in a chair while her girlfriend slurps and sucks her. My Mother’s hair is long, her partner’s hair is the color green. They kiss, the green haired one uses her fingers to make my Mother cum.

I’m close to the Church and I’m looking forward to seeing Father Michael. I’m looking forward to the look on his face when he remembers me. Dad wouldn’t let me eat breakfast if I didn’t go to confession every Saturday. I didn’t have money to buy breakfast and lunch both at school. But if I was forced to go to confession, I wanted to have fun with it.

I started confessing things that I saw in porn videos. A friend and I were hanging out after school, walking around down town. Out of no where he jumped inside of a dumpster and after a second screamed, “Holy Fuck! There are a ton of fucking porn tapes in here!” At least half of the Where the Boys Aren’t series were in that dumpster. I started telling myself the things Janine Lindemulder and Dyanna Lauren and Jenteal did with eachother were things I also did, with the community college girls that worked at Target, with the older women who worked in the garage. Sometimes when I smell bad popcorn or gasoline I still get wet.

I made sure my Father knew it was me. He was just sitting in his fucking house alone, watching television. McDonalds wrappers on his kitchen table. I thought about him realizing he was hungry, driving to McDonalds, choosing what to order. I wondered if he ate his food in his car, if he was sad when he got back home because he already ate.

Sneaking in and out of my bedroom window is the first artform I ever perfected. I took my hammer and hit him first in his right shoulder, then in his left. He screamed and I hit him in each foot. He kept screaming and looked up at me and flailed so I punched him in the chest and he fell back. I smiled. I wanted to enjoy it.

I climbed on top of him, I wanted him to smell me. I punched him in his nose. I clawed at his face with my nails. He never even knew how many times Mom was raped inside the hospital. He visited her there just to make her suffer. He told her that he loved her, that she needed to get better for my sake if not for his.

I maintained my mount on top of him. I told my father one story that my Mother told me, how the night watch would flush her medicine down the toilet and tell the doctors she spit her pills in their face. Dad was about ready to give up. I punched him in his nose, again. I saw he had a cross on the wall and decided to improvise. I told myself to stay in control. I got up and grabbed the cross, I started sucking the tip of it. I wiped my ass with the long, wooden end. I stuck it in his mouth and pissed on my father. No one would find him for at least a day.

Father Michael will be found sooner, because people will look for him when he doesn’t show up for daily mass. And unless someone finds my dad sooner than I expect, I won’t be a suspect. I didn’t tell Mom my plan. I didn’t tell her she wouldn’t see me again. That would be too hard for both of us. And at this point, things are different. Most of the girls are raped and abused by the people who work at her hospital. My mother is a veteran of this system. She teaches the new patients things they need to know. She teaches them how to communicate, how to tell doctors what they want to hear. How to find friends once they get discharged, where to find good jobs that will keep them away from home or the books they needed to read while they spent their summers alone in their room at their parent’s house.

And besides, when she hears what happens to dad and father Michael, she’ll know. She’ll be questioned and won’t tell anyone anything. She’ll play the silent, mentally ill woman. She’ll be happy for me, proud. I’m an atheist but when I was in college a miracle happened. Her doctor let her take the bus to St. Paul and she spent a few days with me, in my apartment. We cooked dinner, we made salads, we drank wine and she met my current lovers. We traded stories. One night she went out and met some lovers of her own and I hung out at a coffee shop while they used my apartment. When I got back they were all curled up on my living room floor. I started to leave again but they all insisted I stay and watch a movie with them. I made a big pot of turmeric and ginger tea and we all got underneath blankets and opened my apartment windows and breathed the Midwestern October Air and watched Mario Bava’s film, Black Sunday.

The next day we were waiting for the bus and my Mother said, “Imagine that, Black Sunday coming out of you. It’s Mario Bava’s first film. Imagine writing your first book, making your first record and making Black Sunday.” She didn’t say anything after that. I told her goodbye when the bus came and she didn’t look back at me. I had on a black sweatshirt and purple leggings. My hair was down to the small of my back, my mother’s hair fell down on her shoulders.

God doesn’t understand justice and neither does Satan. Before my Father died he started crying. He was covered in blood, sobbing, and I knelt down and looked him in the eyes and said, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long.” I told him I dreamt about killing him while I slept, thought about it while I fucked. I told him I wished he had cancer and I could have came to his hospital every day to rip out his IV and whisper in his ear all of the pain he still hadn’t experienced from his chemo. But God isn’t real, Satan doesn’t answer prayers.

Father Michael is the only one in the Church. Back behind the altar he has a little office where he keeps his robes. Once in confession I told him that I had sex while ovulating. I described making the boy I was with eat my pussy, how I refused to kiss him after he was done. Father Michael took me back to this office and beat the shit out of me himself. He told me when he was first assigned here, fresh out of seminary, my mother confessed the exact same sin to him. He told me he still hadn’t got over the disgust he felt for her then. He said we must have had the same demon in us, a generational curse. He told me his only regret was that he wasn’t able to help my father lock me away in the same hospital my mother was in. He told me he was the one who convinced the judge to sign the papers my father brought him, signed by the loving husband and concerned family priest.

I told Father Michael it’s a terrible sin for a priest to break the seal of confession. He just beat me harder. I’m glad he’s back here, that this is where I find him. He doesn’t even turn around. He just assumes I’m there to ask about the schedule for Eucharistic ministry. He tells me he’ll be right with me. I close the door behind me and lock it. I hold my hammer in my hand and think of my Mother, I think about the joy she must have felt getting fucked at a time when she really wanted it, when she really needed it.

Matthew Licht

Human Consumption

Get lost is good advice, unless you take it too far.

The man behind the drugstore counter said we were standing in Michigan. I shook my head. I was sure I was in Canada. The friendly pharmacist said nope, no doubt about it, and told me to help myself to concentrated Bunn-O-Matic coffee and the remaining day-old doughnuts on a scalloped cardboard salver, if I was hungry.

The last truck driver said he was bound for Ottawa. The idea was to roll across The Border stashed in the back of the cab, asleep. I couldn’t remember getting off, so I must’ve had some assistance. Maybe I snore, or said something offensive about truckers in my sleep. Anyway, I woke up on a bus stop bench. A bus pulled up. The driver wheezed the door open and said get on I ain’t got all day.

“No thanks.” Canadian buses looked awfully familiar.

I thought it’d be a good career move to be an American who knows how to cook Mexican in Canada.

The drugstore manager couldn’t use a Mexican cook, but if I had a degree in Pharmacy, they needed a night man. He didn’t ask to see a framed diploma, but I didn’t want to lie to him.

There were no Mexican restaurants in Sault Ste. Marie. A more entrepreneurial Joe would’ve seen an opportunity. He’d do what needed to be done to turn a new tamale joint into a hot spot. The usual process is a cakewalk through municipal offices, fees paid, hands shaken, but liquor licenses entail organized crime. I’d been there already. Couldn’t do it.

So I thought I’d walk across the Canadian border.

On the way out of the country, I passed a funeral parlor. A woman, still alive, was on her way out too. Her hair was so red it became a traffic signal.

Not her natural color, she said. Nobody alive has hair this red.

She was on her way to bed after an all-night rush-job, a tough case, a murder victim, a local big-shot. The deceased had sustained massive shotgun damage to his face, but his survivors wanted their flesh-and-blood presentable for his last ride down Michigan Avenue. She had to glue down skin-shreds, reshape scattered eyebrows, mould mangled lips. The teeth were a relative snap, she said. Remove the ruins with pliers, snap in the one-size-fits-all-more-or-less-OK dentures. Nobody examines the dead the way they do horses.

Sanitation workers keep whatever they find. Morticians excavate gold teeth. Got to be somebenefits to jobs no one else wants to do. But I didn’t know Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was infested with gangsters. “Do they run unpasteurized cheese rackets?”

The red-headed mortician asked if I was a professional comedian. When I told her my area of specialization, she said I could make myself useful in the form of huevos rancheros. She had a car.

When we got to her place she said, “Back me up,” like we were rookie cops on TV. Her boyfriend Ern was in there, she said, and she wanted him out. She’d felt this way about him for a few months, but the right moment hadn’t come till right then.

At the door, she silently counted three and we went in.

“Sorry honey but it’s time for you to find your own place and maybe even get a job. Let me know where you settle and we can arrange the transfer of your…your louse-infested garbage, you drunken Indian.”

Her shrieks awoke Ern into what you could see in his eyes was a miserable hangover. He grabbed a potato chip bowl, vomited weakly and wiped his mouth on a hairy forearm instead of his sleeve because he was dressed in a T-shirt, a drab gray number, stained. Ern was missing crucial teeth. Grabby mortician treasure-pliers clanked like alligators in fantasyland while I observed a final domestic squabble in progress.

All I could think was, how long before she throws me out. And she hadn’t even formally invited me to move in yet.

Judge Santiago Burdon

She Bleeds For Brooklyn

She lives with low rent day dreams
on no name backstreets.
Dirty sidewalks made from quicksand concrete,
There’s no yellow brick road.
In this city like desert without an oasis.
Hope a disease that breeds in places,
Where God wouldn’t go.
In the air there’s a stench the smell of desperation.
And lives are stamped with a date of expiration.
The Devil’s grip on their souls.
Night crashes down with the sound of a train wreck.
She’s on the prowl for love and everyone’s suspect,
But they just leave her cold.
She cries with a sound that no one hears.
Her eyes lost their voice
Now she can’t speak with tears
She wonders about life on the other side of the mirror.
Kneels down for one more unanswered prayer.
But there’s no one listening out there!
And she bleeds, she bleeds for Brooklyn
She’s hemorrhaging lies and alibis.
She bleeds, she bleeds for Brooklyn.
Break free Persephone
Brooklyn left the front porch light on.

John D. Robinson

Smiling and Unzipping

‘What are you doing down there?’
she asked sounding a little
‘You know what I’m doing’ I
replied feeling awkward and
‘Let me show you’ she said
and she began to masturbate,
my face just inches away,
I looked on and watched
the gentle movement of her
fingers, stroking and probing,
the closing of her eyes
and the moist sounds and
the deepening of her
breathing and the
shuddering of her body
and the frail cry she let go;
after a few moments
she said softly, grinning,
‘There we are’
‘Could you do it again?’
I asked,
smiling and unzipping.

Michael Lee Johnson

Michelangelo: Painter and Poet

with steel balls
and a wire brush
wishing he was
wearing motorcycle leathers,
going wild and crazy,
stares cross-eyed at the
Sistine Chapel ceiling-
nose touching moist paint,
body stretch out on a plank,
bones held by ropes from falling-
delirious, painting that face of Jesus
and the Prophets
with a camel hair brush;
in such a position, transition
a genie emerges as a poet-
words not paint
start writing his sonnets,
a second career is born-
nails and thorns
digging at his words,
flashing red paint:
it’s finished.

Steven Storrie

The Sins of the Leopard

I was 19 years old and not long out of school. I was working with my father in a factory downtown. He more or less ran the place and got me in with him to keep me from lying around the house and wasting my time. He was the hardest working man I’d ever met, and still is to this day. I couldn’t measure up to his prodigious work rate. I didn’t have it in me. Then, like now, all I saw was waves of scattered ass I couldn’t get with and a dead end on every road. A cruel thwarting of dreams and row of slowly closing doors. The factory was dusty and cold and owned by some brothers from Turkey who had come to this country to make good and ended up somewhere around the middle. They worked hard, too. I was a daydreamer and a loafer. All I wanted to do was write and be left alone. Not too much has changed, really. Whenever I bristled at some aspect of the job or the day that I didn’t like they just kept on saying ‘welcome to the real world’ like I’d arrived at the airport of some new destination. What the fuck did that mean, the real world? My Dad kept saying it too and it pissed me off. Where did they think I’d been living these past two decades?

So, there I was lugging boxes onto delivery trucks and trying not to let my father down. They were sex obsessed, these Turkish brothers, and that would be all they’d talk about all day long. Who they’d fucked, who they were going to fuck, and who the best fuck they’d ever had was. I was still awkward and useless around the ladies back then. Later I’d get daring and lucky. The sun even shines on a dog’s ass some days. But back then I couldn’t catch any sun ortail if I’d wanted to. And I did really want to. So, when they’d ask me who I was fucking and who I’d fucked, I’d grin in great discomfort and mutter some useless remark that trickled out of me like weak piss. I didn’t even have the flair to be a smart ass and say I’d laid Marilyn Monroe, or some shit like that, the way I would do now. I was uncomfortable in that world of men. It was a whole new language and way of being, and I neither understood nor cared to understand, how to operate in it. I was really a tragic case, looking back on it. They would just laugh and go back to talking about fucking while I slinked away to lug more boxes.

One night the younger of the brothers, Nazmi, the only man who ever came close to working as hard as my father, had me stay behind late to help him clear a large delivery out of the way before another one came the next morning. They were running out of storage space but had big ideas so were loading up on cheap stock while they could. Nazmi would work the factory most of the day and then go off to work in a pizza place they had recently bought until around 2am. Then he’d be back at the factory bright as a button, talking about who he’d fucked in between. I kinda liked Nazmi. He was the guts and the brains of the operation. Him and my father. The oldest brother, Arkun, was work shy and not too bright. The middle brother, Mohammed, was a mixture of the other two. But Nazmi was the driving force. That night Nazmi and I lugged boxes for hours; way after my father had gone, even. Every now and then he would nod at the huge walk in fridge that held all kinds of meats and trays of drinks and let me pry open a crate of cold Coca Cola, handing him one while I thirstily drained the other. We were sweating and covered in the kind of muck and dust that comes from lugging boxes around a factory floor all day. Outside it had gotten dark. The place looked different at night, all the other factories bathed in the eerie orange glow of the streetlamps. We finished our drinks and lugged some more. Eventually we were done. Either we were done or even Nazmi had finally had enough.

“Come on a-sunshine” he’d smile wearily, scooping up his keys and putting on the alarm but leaving everything else until morning, “let’s go home.” They were some of the best word I’d ever heard.

We jumped into one of the white vans I spent most of my day loading for deliveries and pulled out of the yard. Nazmi was always the life and soul of the place, very focused and smart, very driven. Alone, though, I always detected a kind of sadness in him. Could be he was just tired. Either way, he would never say much when he drove us home. It was winter and cold outside. He turned the radiator on and the heat filled the van immediately. Instead of heading home the usual route Nazmi drove a different way tonight, and I wondered aloud where we were going. Was there more work to do, I asked, trying to sound like I’d be ok if there was, but secretly hoping that there wasn’t.

“No. No more work” he said, to my relief. He looked at me. “You’re all baby batter. You’re a smart kid but we need to get some of that cum off your brains. You need to be a man, like me or your father. You need to be clear and clinical and sharp. We need to get that cum off of your brain so you can grow up.”

I dribbled another useless comment, as I was wont to do at the time. I realised we were in the seedy side streets of Union Street, next to the bus depot and the closed down auto repair shop. There were no orange streetlights around here.

“What are we doing here?” I wasn’t so much worried or confused as tired and hungry. I was off the clock and out of work. I wanted a shower and something to eat.

“Just looking a-sunshine. Just looking. Whatsamatta? You don’t wanna fuck a hot woman?”

Well, I did and I didn’t. I did, but not one of thesewomen. Plus, I really wastired and hungry. I’d worked all day. She probably wouldn’t be getting the best me I could have offered. Not that it mattered. Two pumps and a squirt would have been the best I could have mustered back then no matter what the time of day. Kids are horny bastards and eager to get started. They don’t care about performance or what their grade was. It’s only when you get older you start to care about shit like that, and then perhaps a little too much. Nazmi drove slowly around the corners and peered into the shadows.

“You a-scared a-sunshine?” he asked

“No” I replied. I actually wasn’t. Why would I have been?

Eventually he put his foot on the gas and we eased back out into the centre of town, heading for home. He hadn’t seen anything he liked.

“Don’t worry” he said with a wry smile, lightening up again. “Tomorrow we’ll go to Amanda’s.”

That had done it. I was too beat to worry about it when I got home. But once I woke up it was all over my mind;

‘What and where was ‘Amanda’s?’

All next day I thought about it and imagined it to be all manner of places, but fairly certain which one it would be. When Nazmi showed up for work he was his usual smiling self. He never mentioned anything about last night or tonight and nothing in his demeanour around me even suggested it had happened. My Dad would have killed him if he’d known. Would have killed me too, probably. I kept quiet for all concerned. Besides, I thought, Nazmi was full of talk. All three of these brothers were. They can’t have been getting as much pussy as they always said and, even if they were, now I knew where it was coming from. It didn’t count, to me. Any idiot could pay for it. It wasn’t real.

Still, that night, with my father headed home and what seemed like hundreds of wrapped kebab meat to move, Nazmi and I got to work, our hands getting greasy and stinking of donner meat, me pulling the Coke cans from the fridge. Eventually he looked at me and said

‘Are you ready?’

I shrugged, trying to play it cool. I just wanted to go home again and watch T.V, play some music and laze around.

But we were going to Amanda’s.

We didn’t drive where we had done before. Instead we headed a little way out of town, passing farms and all the rural areas I’d pass if I was helping do deliveries with Maurice, the dim-witted delivery driver who drove the vans we filled all day. After what seemed like a long time but was probably only ten minutes we came to a building with its light on. It said ‘Amanda’s’ on the window and right away you could see it was a hair salon. What the fuck are we doing now?I grumbled to myself with an empty, surly stomach.

Nazmi led the way. When we got inside, he smiled and exchanged hellos, obviously on familiar terms. Right away I saw a girl around my age, helping another woman cut an old ladies’ hair, but really just standing around ineffectual and looking bored. She looked at me and our eyes met before we both hurriedly looked away. She seemed shy and my stomach did that cart wheel flip I’ve since come to learn means you’re about to fall into a world of trouble. She gave off this confident vibe but seemed nervous and shy. She had this pretty brown hair, long and shiny, falling onto the shoulders of a grey cardigan. She had on blue denim shorts and black leggings, chipped black nail polish. She had the deepest, most exotic brown eyes I’d ever seen. I instantly felt weak and a little sick. Then another woman, older, perhaps in her mid-30’s, emerged as if by magic from behind some door I hadn’t even realised was there, and embraced Nazmi with a smile. I saw the younger girl fleetingly look at the scene before her eyes darted over me and back to what she was doing. I understood right away from the similarity between them this was her mother that was greeting Nazmi and me.

‘Come through, come through’ she smiled, ushering us both through the door she had suddenly emerged from. The girl quickly looked once more then turned away.

We were in some strange red corridor that had two rooms to it; one immediately to your left, the other up ahead on the right. The woman closed the door behind us and engaged in some pointless chit chat with Nazmi as he took off his coat and scarf. I just stood there, unsure what to do and out of place.

“Choose a room” the woman said. I had gleaned by now that this was Amanda.

I looked at a beaming Nazmi. Not wanting to walk any further in this strange place than I had to I turned to the white door immediately on my left and, swallowing hard with a dry throat, tentatively opened it. Nothing happened. I peeked nervously inside, and then Nazmi burst into laughter over my shoulder and yanked the door shut.

“It’s ok a-sunshine, we’ll take this one.” He brushed past me with a laughing Amanda, and then closed the door on me with a smile. Standing there alone and not knowing what I was meant to do, I waited a couple minutes, hearing giggling and groaning coming from the other side of the door Nazmi had went through. I looked up at the other door on the right. Was I supposed to go in there? I didn’t know. Why hadn’t he explained it to me? He’d fucking brought me here and not even explained the rules. Twice I went to step forward and changed my mind. Eventually I turned and went back through the door we’d come through, back out into the hair salon.

I felt like an idiot, embarrassed and awkward. I was pissed off at Nazmi for bringing me here and making me feel like this. Was it some game? Had he even meant for me to get laid? I went up to the young girl and, out of not knowing what to say and wanting to make her understand I was a good guy, said ‘I didn’t do anything in there.” The fact that I’d only been through there two minutes probably told her that. Or maybe it didn’t, I don’t know. I was new to all this. She looked at me blankly for a few seconds and then put her hand out and said ‘I’m Natalie.’ I took it and felt that flip in my stomach again.

“Claire” she suddenly said to the other woman, the one actually doing the hairdressing, “I’m taking my break.” Claire didn’t seem too bothered, not bothered enough even to reply. Natalie turned and began walking out of the place, out onto the street, leaving me feeling heavy footed and marooned. Then she turned around.

“Come on then” she said, looking right at me and holding open the door. Another flip. I was really in trouble now.

We walked a short way in the dark, away from the light of the shop until we reached the entrance to a grassy area. We climbed over the locked fence and stood on the gravel and mud. Natalie lit a cigarette and exhaled into the cold, damp night. My heart was beating out of my chest and my mouth was dry as cardboard.

“So, you work with that guy?” she asked, looking directly at me.

“Yeh” I replied, unsure of what to say. “Only part time, though. I’m trying to write a book. Might join a band.”

She nodded slowly and I felt like an idiot. How the fuck did I know what girls wanted to hear or thought was cool? A brief silence passed between us there in the dark.

“Do you think your dreams mean anything?” she then asked, holding the cigarette between two fingers and fiddling with her necklace with the other three.

“I, er, I dunno. I guess I’ve never really thought about it.” She nodded again and I silently cursed myself for not thinking of something better to say. Eventually she finished smoking and we headed back out of the field, back onto the street and towards the light of the shop. It hadn’t happened. I felt sick. I felt like I had just failed some sort of test.

We stopped outside the shop and sat on the roadside. She still had a few minutes of her break left.

“Do you have any gum?” she asked. I did. I always did and handed her a piece. I watched her chew it for a few seconds then take it back out of her mouth, wrapping it around her index finger. Then she leant over and began to kiss me. I kissed her back and it lingered there for a few seconds. Then it got heavier. Then she pulled away.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, nervous I had done something wrong. She stood up abruptly, ready to leave.

“You kiss like your father” she said coldly. Then she headed back inside.

I sat there a few seconds, stunned and reeling, before quickly standing up. I felt dazed and my mind was swimming. Before I could follow her inside Nazmi emerged onto the street, zipping up his fly and grinning broadly.

“You ready a-sunshine?” he said, noticeably happier than earlier, lighter in foot, heading to the drivers’ side and cheerily pulling out his keys. In the harsh light of the shop window Natalie had returned to work. Everything seemed to be going on as normal, but nothing felt the same.

We got in the van and headed for home.