It’s a party at night, and I’m up on the roof with some guy. Tall, little goatee. He gets to reciting poetry. “‘To be thy lips is a sweet thing.’” Then, his own words, “The moon is a goddam lantern.” I stare up at him, goggle-eyed. He reaches out to hold my hand, says he can see the stars in my eyes. I prickle out in goose flesh and keep my hand in his. We sway against each other in this sweet as hell breeze that kicks up, sweeping across the roof. “Like a kitten’s sandpaper tongue,” he says. He’s got his hands all up under my shirt, and his breath sweats against my skin. He says, “It’s perfect that you’re here right now, perfect.”
Here’s some man, you know? Saying how it’s perfect to be with me. And it feels all of a sudden perfect to be seventeen, like now I finally get it, and up in the sky the moon’s bright and big as a house, and if I could just get to the end of the street, climb to the top of that hill, I know I could reach out and touch it. And it would be cool and powdery, and it would smell so nice in the night air.
“Tell me who you are,” he says, pressing closer. And I think I’d like to tell him, more than just my name. I’d like to tell him the truth, starting with something easy and moving on to the harder stuff, like we had forever to retrace the map of my life, and like this guy would actually stay interested that long.
Thing is, I can’t come up with the beginning. Do I skip over how the first thing I remember is my mom screaming my dad’s name and running away from him across a field? Riding in the back seat of his car next day, tracking her down at some friend’s house, the friend not letting us in. Dad busting in the door, dragging me tight by the arm. “Get the fuck in the car, Leann,” he tells my mom.
Her face looks like somebody whaled on it with the fucking frying pan, and she’s crying, and I’m only four years old. Dad’s gripping onto my hand so tight it feels like it’ll break off. He says how he won’t let go, but he’s not talking to me. He’s telling Mom how he won’t let me go with her; she has to come with us. Mom fights with her friend, this tall woman, brown hair down to her waist, hippie clothes, incense burning and a goddam goat in the house, butting at my shoulder. Mom fights with her friend to go with us. And that’s not the last time. And I’ve been in police stations before.
What the fuck? This goatee man, his breath smells like onions and hamburgers. He’s probably into handcuffs and whips and shit, like in those movies my dad watches when he thinks everybody else is asleep. The moon’s a goddam lantern? My ass. He’s all sweat and push now, just like any ogle-eyed man behind you in line at the grocery store.
So I tell him the truth. What difference could it make? I start with whatever comes out first. Maybe it’s the four-year-old part, or maybe it’s what Dad does when those movies he watches end and he finds out I’m awake, how he comes into my room, his eyes all glassy, and it’s the middle of the night, or just dawn, and he gets down on his knees and sobs and begs me to forgive him, but never says what for.
Goatee boy looks about ready to piss himself by now. And we’re up on the rooftop and the wind is really blowing, and my voice is so loud I can barely hear myself thinking of what to do, what to do, what to do. Goatee boy has hands all slimy and sweaty and they were up inside my shirt a minute ago, and now everything is so goddam dark, so fucking dark, and it’s always so fucking dark, you know?
Just like a fucking wuss boy. His eyes go wide and his hands go up like it’s a stick-up. He talks soft, trying to calm me down, like there’s anything he can do. “Get the fuck away from me!” All the while the moonlight is shining like crystal in his eyes, like a fucking star. He keeps saying something like he’s sorry, but I don’t know what for.
It’s Alberta, this girl I know from school, who pulls me away and ducks me back into the living room. The college guy who’s giving the party aims a look at me from under his bent up eyebrow. Nobody wants some lame-ass high schooler up on their roof screaming like a fucking hyena across their whole neighborhood. Even right now, I can see that.
Alberta holds my hand and takes me to the kitchen. She pours me a glass of ice water. I don’t say anything. My breath heaves. My throat burns from all the screaming. The ice water feels so good on my throat it stings. Alberta stands, all awestruck, holding my hand, and sometimes pushes hair out of my face, which is wet, like I’ve been crying. I think I’ve been crying. And the goatee boy shows up in the background, peeking in now and then. He thinks I can’t see him, but I’m not fucking blind. Still, I can tell he’s trying to be nice by trying to be invisible, so I don’t scream at him anymore. Truth is, I don’t want to scream anymore.
Alberta says I can sleep over at her house if I want. My folks already think I’m sleeping over at my friend Lucy’s, but Lucy doesn’t know a thing about that, hasn’t even hung out with me for about a year. But my parents are too fucked up to notice. So I say yes and Alberta takes me home in her VW Bug, the old noisy kind that squeaks and smells like gasoline. I think I can hear the muffler dragging the street under us as we drive, one slow turn at a time. She keeps looking over at me from her side of the car, like I’m a wild dog.
I wake up like it’s like any other morning. Sunlight pours in, making the white bedspreads shine too bright to look at. Alberta stretches awake in the bed across from me.
I rub my eyes and Alberta smiles. She has these very blue eyes, and I can tell she’s looking at me, testing to see if she can say anything. And she asks, “Are you okay?”
I say, “I think so.” And my voice is so quiet you can hardly hear it at all.
And I think how nice she was to me, to take me home, to give me a glass of ice water. And I think how fucking nice it would be to have a friend.
Jody Hobbs Hesler lives and writes in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her fiction, essays, book reviews, and articles appear or are forthcoming in The Rumpus, Gargoyle, Raleigh Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Streetlight Magazine, Sequestrum, The Georgia Review, [PANK], Charlottesville Family’s Bloom Magazine, and many other places. She holds an MFA in fiction from Lesley University.