It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobetide. The new teacher arrived last Thursday. He's taken over from Stig Olasson who has just retired after 34 years of teaching English at the high school. He taught me, but I don't think it shows. In the summer old Stig used to wear a white cotton-duck jacket instead of the coat of his black suit, I suppose he must have had more than one suit, but if he did he must have bought them as a job lot sometime around 1950. It was that duck jacket that sticks in my mind. He used to walk up and down between the lines of desks and as he passed, behind his back, we would flick our fountain pens - fountain pens, so long ago - and the ink would make lines of blots like action painting on the back of his jacket. He didn't seem to notice, or if he noticed he didn't seem to mind. Anyway, it made a contrast to the egg on his necktie. Well, the new teacher arrived by bus, and the first thing he did when he got into town was to buy himself a car. He went to Snorri Asthorsson's Ford dealership, but he took one look at Snorri - He isn't a child molester, at least he's never been caught child molesting, so why does he look like the quintessential (Thanks Stig, at least you taught me some vocabulary) child molester? I suppose it's partly the dog-turd mustache, and the moist eye - and went over to Arnor Sturlusson's garage and bought himself a Toyota.
Then of course he would go and insure it over at the Minnesota Life, Fire, and Auto Office and there he met Martine. Martine's getting to that age where an unattached man makes her clamp her jaw like a piranha, and the predatory look comes into her eye.
'Your problem is you just try too hard.' said Lil from the Dew-Drop-Inn caf‚é. 'It's like fishing for bluegill. You have to let them take the bait first, and then you strike and reel them in.'
So he buys his policy from Martine:
'Peter Pietro, that's 'P', 'I', 'E', 'T', 'R', 'O'?'
'You from out of state?'
She looks at him across her desk. His hair is kind of funny, grown long on one side and combed across the top to hide the bald patch; but he looks OK.
'Yep, my friends call me Rocky, literary, huh?' She fills out the forms and he pays his check. This is the moment, the final pleasantry before saying 'Have a nice day'. She makes her move.
'The bad news is I have an artificial leg.' Everybody in town knows Martine has an artificial leg, even Einar Sigfusson who's stone blind from drinking bootleg booze in the twenties can tell when Martine is passing - step, thump, step, thump ... 'The good news is I fuck, suck, and do a lot of dope. Let's sneak into the Ladies' Room and do a line to celebrate.'
Well, apart from her leg, you have to admit that Martine is a good-looking woman, if you like them big, billowy, with long red hair down to her ass. Her twin sister Justine is a big-time $50-a-trick call-girl in St Paul, which maybe isn't like a grande horizontale in Paris, France, but it sure beats the hell out of the check-out desk at the 7--11.
Well, Rocky is a bit taken aback by this, he's from New York - What's he doing in Lake Wobetide, for God's sake? Hiding out? - where the ladies are somewhat more reticent, but he goes with the flow; they do a line - It's Rocky's first but he's no dummy: he's been to the movies and knows what to do, Wow! - and Martine gets her date. They agree to meet in the evening and go for a drive in Rocky's new Toyota. She even remembers to say 'Have a nice day.' as he leaves.
Well, that evening they went for a drive in the twilight and they pulled off onto one of those forestry roads, and smoked a joint, and everything was getting mellow, and they started to neck, and Martine, she was right in there, didn't wait for him to undo her buttons, undid them herself, unhooked her bra as well and pushed it up her chest, and she looked just swell, if you like them big ... and well, compact cars may be great for the environment and all, but they're rather cramped, and pretty soon that artificial leg would be getting in the way, so she reached up under her skirt, and then the whole leg slipped off, still wearing the shoe and the stocking, and she dumped it over the back of her seat.
'I don't usually do this kind of thing on my first date.' she said unconvincingly; but it was true, more or less. Rocky, dry-mouthed, swallowed a bit and said 'I don't either', definitely didn't, and wasn't quite sure what to do next.
Then slowly her face went stiff and the tears brimmed and flowed slowly down her cheeks.
'Here I am,' she thought, 'losing everything again: 39, fat, a one-legged woman with a disappointed mouth. Even my hair' - she used to be so proud of her lovely hair, her vermilion hair - 'is fading. This isn't what I want. I've never wanted this.'
'Come on, baby, loosen up.' said Rocky doubtfully, releasing her from the embrace.
'I don't want to ...'
'That's OK.' says Rocky quickly, conscious immediately that his readiness to agree might by misconstrued, that it would be polite stick with it a little, or at least to seem to want to stick with it a little; but he is relieved, though he feels that he ought to feel disappointed or even ashamed of himself for not being red-blooded enough, and for feeling relieved. He is no longer the bubble in the torrent: he can take control. He puts his arms round her and this time it's different. This time it is just to comfort her.
'Look, why don't you fix your clothes and I'll take you home.' She fixes her clothes. He takes out his handkerchief and dries her tears. Then he holds the corner of the handkerchief up to her lips and says 'Spit.' She spits, and he carefully wipes away the smears of her eye make-up.
'There you go.' he says when he is finished, 'Good as new.' and then: 'Now let's just sit while you settle yourself.' She feels like a little girl again. She lays her head on his shoulder, and he puts his arm round hers.
'I think ... you're very attractive.' Then he chooses his words carefully, 'We're grown-up people ...' he pauses, 'We don't have to rush things like teenagers.' He drove back to Martine's little house, and pulled into the drive. There was one slight complication. Martine's leg, forgotten, was still in the back of the car. There was no-one about, so with arms clasped tightly about each other's waists, Martine half hopping, Rocky half carrying her, they made their way quickly into the house. He borrowed a coat and wrapped it round the leg in the car so that nobody would recognize what it was if they should see him carrying it into the house. When he returned he found Martine walking neatly with a single crutch tucked under her left arm. She made coffee and they sat listening to records for an hour or more. At last it was time to leave.
'Thanks for the coffee.' An awkward pause, and then in duet:
'Would you like? ...'
'I'd like ... '
'to ... ?'
' ... see you again.'
'I'd like that.'
He kisses her, just on the cheek, says goodbye, goes to his car, turns, smiling, and waves, and then drives away.