The Literarian

The Manuscript: A Rough Draft

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This Novel is Dedicated To

Bev Bolen

 

“ . . . there is little doubt that [she] was quicker

thinking than the primitives and demonstrated

[her] superiority by hunting them down.”

 

From Colin McEvedy's The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History

 

 

 

(This work represents what we writers refer to as a “first draft.”  Please keep this in mind when perusing my unedited, undoubtedly rough and error-plagued manuscript . . . )

 

 

 

Chapter 0

 

            The rain fell swiftly, yet gently, from a dense, cloudy sky as shoppers rushed to and from their cars parked outside the plaza.  Occasionally, a flash of lightning bolted across the sky, and for several seconds, the air was still with nothing but the mesmorizing sound of the falling rain and the whooshing sound of tires passing by as rivulets of water parted before the heavy treaded rubber.  Then, unceremoniously, the sky would seem to crack open as a peel of thunder ravished the land below, and for a moment, it seemed as though time had stopped, and nothing but the sound and the rain and the images of spattered bodies avoiding the downpour existed.  But as the sound drew further away, so did the intensity of the scene, and things returned to their normal state, unmoved by the images which stuck in Nick's head.

            As the downpour continued, the young man stood just inches away from the large, floor-to-ceiling pane glass windows which spanned the length of the shoe store's front.  Lost in thought, Nick watched in silence as each falling drop littered the ground like tiny soldiers dropping from unseen planes above across the battlefield of his soul.  There was something certainly enticing about he rain, though what exactly that was Nick could never explain to himself, let alone anyone else.  It seemed, though , to mirror something about himself which he had caught only out of the corner of his eye, only on those few occasions where he really took the time to evaluate himself. Like a fleeting glimpse, it too was indistinguishable when seen head on, as though it was easier to make out when seen peripherally rather than in full focus, for oddly enough, when the young man would try hardest to narrow down and fully define that which her felt in side, it was at those times that he fell farthest from his goal. He sensed the same thing this morning as the rain echoed the channels of his heart's mind.  Maybe, thought Nick, if I simply stand here unmoving, inattentive, unaware of my surrounding and everything around me, I can capture it.  Yet not this morning.

            “Ah ha!” cried out a familiar voice as unseen hands poked the man in the ribs, awakening him from his only half-conscious thoughts into the world of the doing.  Startled, Nick turned around to find his boss standing behind him, his wide grin quickly deflating any irritation that Nick found in his thoughts. 

            It was hard not to like the man who had hired Nick when the latter had no job and was without any form of income after dropping out of college in his freshman year.  Nick had managed to find a couple of different jobs but his previous lack of transportation greatly limited his choices to anything within walking distance and where the public transportation ran.  Which wasn't much.  So when Ed offered him a job (Nick attended the same church as Ed did where the latter was an usher and member in good standing) at an unheard of $6.00 an hour plus commissions selling shoes at Ed's shoe store in the Riviera Plaza, Nick jumped at the opportunity.  Besides, it was only about three miles from where the young dropout lived, merely a jaunt for someone 19 years old. 

            In fact, in no time at all, Nick had bought himself a car, though it was, admittedly, only that by the strictest of definitions.  It started up, usually a, and moved a person from point a to point b on most days when the pistons weren't misfiring and the choke did not cut ff. Although the vehicle was only 14 years old, it ran like a car twice its age, yet to Nick, that first car was everything,and the rust along the bottom of the doors, bumpers and growing ever wider around each hole looked more like gold than iron oxide.  If for nothing else, Nick was grateful to Ed for that.

            “whatchya doing, buddy boy?” Ed asked him as Nick turned away from the window and drew back toward the sales floor, “slacking?”  Although Nick knew that Ed didn't really think he was “slacking,” it annoyed Nick to be associated with such a word because if anything, Nick had always envisioned himself as a hard worker, taking on that part of his father's ethics if little else. 

            While growing up in the  Caniglia household, Nick was always drilled by his father with the notion that a man must work.  If he ain't going to school, if he ain't serving in the army, if he ain't independently wealthy, then a man has got to work.  Nick felt he understood his father's admonition and took the advice not as a child being scolded for truancy but rather as an acolyte under the wing of a master.  A hard working, industrious family man most of his adult life, Nick's father had always touted the value of working hard to achieve everything one wanted in life, although it was a bit of a stretch in Nick's fond memories of his father to imagine that all his dad wanted was a lower middle class home and a used vehicle.  Nick's mother, a homemaker by trade, was the lightning rod of the family, instilling in Nick all that his father taught him and much more.  After the death of the elder Caniglia Nick found it hard to focus at times, relying heavily upon his mother for the manly advice and issues he faced as he entered this teen years.  It was one thing to get mom's help for things like bloody noses, straightening a bike tire, etc, and totally another thing to wonder about more important things such as girls and masturbation.  Ah yes, masturbation, that longest four letter word in Nick's household.  NO w there was something for which Nick longed he still had a father . . .

            Nick had only turned twelve or thirteen when he first began to notice something oddly curious about the female body.  It wasn't any longer odd, or unusual, or just plain yucky.  No, it had become for Nick – as for any young man at a similar age – sort of a Mecca of the imagination, a place where one longed to venture to and visit up close but where proximity toward brought on a great, reverence-like feeling which seemed to make one hard all over at the mere thought of.  And, like a loyal believer seeking the miracle of this mythological creator, what better way to understand God than to venture to that which is most hoy and sacred among all of his creations 0- an certainly the most profane, dirty and impure, - the human body.

            Once when about this age, Nick was watching an episode of the famous Wonder Woman starring Lindsay Wagner (?)  Feeling moved in ways that he had not remembered feeling before, Nick chose at the most inopportune moment to suddenly wolf whistle aloud – that last thing he should have done.  Moments later, he heard his mother's voice calling from downstairs,

            “Nick!  Nicholas  Come down here right now!”  He was busted.

Rising from his seat on the floor and moving down the stairs slowly, Nick turned the banister corner to face his mother standing below

            “Yeah?”

            “What did i just hear?  Did you just whistle?” she asked incredulously.

            There was no one else in the house. 

            “Yeah,” he answered solemnly, his head somewhat downcast, anticipating what was to come

            “I can't believe it,” she continued, shaking her head disapprovingly. “What were you just whistling at?”

            Not waiting to admit anything, Nick just shook his head and raised his hands palm upwards  “It was nothing.  Just a show.”

            Still shaking her head, his mother said in a low tone, “I can't believe you wold do a ting like that.  Do you know how degrading that is to a woman?”

            Nick had often been told just how men were to treat women, his father being used as the ever-prime example of just such treatment.  Women, Nick knew, were never to be treated like sex objects.  He had always to remain mindful of a woman's feelings and never treat them in a way that would make them feel uncomfortable.  So, when his mother heard him act in such a barbarous fashion, it was clear to Nick that she would not be pleased.  After receiving his lecture and admonished never to repeat such terrible behavior again, Nick flew back to his room and closed the door tight.  He turned the volume of his show down and sat atop the bed, sulky.

            It did not occur to Nick until he grew older that the fights his mother and father had as a child were often related to the amorous affairs his father had behind his mother's back.. The memory of his mother nearly flushing her wedding ring down the toilet had a chilling effect on a very young mind, and Nick always told himself that he would never treat his mother – or any woman for that matter – this way.  Nick's father had died young, when the boy was only eight years old, and in the loss there seemed to remain some gap that Nick could never fully explicate.  Would his father had been outraged by the young man's behavior?  Nick shivered just thinking about it, for the shame of having acted upon the impulses of his hormones brought only self-consciousness and embarrassment, the only constant theme running in Nick's life besides his mother.  Compared side-by-side, the two seemed like two worlds - polar opposites - yet unsettlingly close.  That was something he had never taken the time to fully puzzle out either.

            Nick picked up a couple of boxes containing pairs of shoes a previous customer had tried on an hour ago,then headed toward the thinly carpeted back room to put them away.  He had picked up the system of ordering the shoes and found in a matter of a few days at work that he had for the most part mastered all there was to know.  Hired , he knew, out of “pity” by Ed a couple of months earlier, Nick's initial responsibility had been merely organizing stock, unloading shipments, and retrieving boxes for the one or two salespeople who typically worked the sales floor.   It was a tedious, boring job, and after a few days, Nick asserted himself and expressed interest to Ed in getting out on the sales floor one day soon.  A bright, obviously eager young man, Ed sensed he had made a good choice, so he introduced Nick to the world of shoe sales.  It was like the next step on the journey to manhood.

            You see, not only did Nick take pride in being promoted so quickly to the sales floor and the chance to cake a couple of more bucks each week from commission, but the social opportunities exceed, for him, the value of the work itself.  Featuring primarily women's shoes with a smaller, more modest section for men and children, Nick soon discovered that – although mundane in comparison to astronauts and sports heroes – it offered perks of its own.  Namely, assisting women getting out of their clothes.  Or, more specifically , getting out of their shoes.  It was the closet, after all,that Nick had ever come to removing any clothing article from a female's body for the previous nineteen years of his life, so for now, shoes would have to do.

            The rain continued for the remainder of the day, letting up gradually as Nick's shift waned, so that by the time he got of of work in the afternoon – a bad time to go home since sales usually rose as the day progressed – and decided to have his late lunch at the sandwich shop just down the plaza. 

            For the three months Nick had worked at the Kinneys, it had gradually become his ritual to dine out for lunch, sometimes waiting until the end of this shift to have a bite to eat.  Normally, delis were rather expensive on the kind of money Nick made, but this one was a smaller, apparently family owned shop with an odd assortment of candies, cakes and lunch menu items.  Occasionally Nick headed down to the McDonald's on the end of the plaza for a specially greasy treat, but the extra three minutes of walk time often precluded his meal early and the need to return to work on time e drove him, by necessity, to seek solace for the stomach at a closer, more convenient place.  Thus, Nick chose the deli for most of his luncheons.  Besides, he could normally order a Spartan meal for under three dollars, a deal by most measures of the day.

            Today, though, Nick skipped the meal, choosing after he arrived at the shop and glanced at the menu board to forgo the pleasure.  His portion of rent was due soon and being on a quarter tank of gas prohibited his urge to spend.  Although consciously aware of money's value, Nick tried to force such thoughts from his mind, but the rainy, melancholic day did little to excite his appetite, so he simply walked out of the ship and got into his big Catalina, thinking to himself how many gallons of gas it would take to get him three miles home.  It was not exactly the most fuel efficient vehicle on the road.

            Pulling out of the parking spot, Nick looked carefully around before he turned into the main plaza parkway and made his way to the light at the T-intersection on the Eastern edge of the shopping center.  The bald tires, needing replacement a year or two before Nick even purchased the car for three hundred dollars, usually seemed to spin out on even the slightest of wet conditions, giving those around him the impression that he was just another teenager hell bent to increase the likelihood of giving them an accident, though it was furthest from the truth.  In the three weeks since he had bought the dark brown monstrosity called a car, he treated that machine as though it were the space shuttle Challenger, constantly checking out the engine (he had no idea what anything was under the hood), the body (weren't cars that old supposed to look like that?) and the interior (he often quipped with his roommates that he could place a mattress in the trunk and still have room for nightstands and lamps) to ensure that indeed this vehicle was his.  The pink slip was folded and unfolded so many times each day that it had begun to fade in the creases, another sure sign that he had finally “made it.”  At least that's how he felt when he sat in the spacious, yellowed leather front seat.  It was no wonder, then, that he chose to drive the car everywhere he went, even volunteering to drive to the store for people at work although it was only a minute and a half away.  For Nick, those wheels, as badly worn as they were, represented something he had never had before: freedom.

            Pulling finally into the driveway of his rented house, Nick noticed that Drew, his oldest roommate who made most of the money was already home, or had never left  Parking a few feet behind Drew's much sportier 70's Mustang GT,  the older Catalina gave off a loud backfire as he turned the ignition key off.  Nick considered it he car's way of saying , “Hello.  I'm here.”   HI roommates and neighbors likely considered it an immense irritation, but no one ever said anything different.

            The rented home sat in a quite normal, average middle class neighbor of this larger Iowa town and had likely been quite desirable property just a couple of decades earlies.  Newer construction was being built just a mile or so down the circling paved road as the location between the hills and the bluffs of the river lent itself naturally to lots of wooded land and nearby scenic views.  The demographics of the city had already begun to change, and although few noticed it, Nick and everyone else was acutely aware of just how the late 1970's and early 1980's economy drew the lifeblood from the community.  Jobs were scarce,and Drew himself had been seeking employment for several weeks now.  Their other roommate, Tim, the same age as Nick,  was actively involved in a local church youth ministry and had no real idea of life outside of Jesus and his horny girlfriend.

            Walking inside the house, the first thing Nick noticed was the music coming from Drew's bedroom near the front of the house.  It was some tune by Kiss, one of Drew's favorite bands and one he routinely emulated at least once a month by the application of black and white makeup and strumming on his cheap electric guitar.  Drew, like Tim, was musically inclined and the two had hit it off rather quickly after first meeting.  Nick, as Tim's best friend from their failed days in college, discovered Drew's friendship by default.  Nearly ten years older than either of the other two young men, Drew was an aspiring nobody.  He knew nothing, did little, and wanted even less.  He wasn't lazy by any stretch of the imagination and he wasn't cynical, as often times privileged youths can easily become having been given almost everything by their wealthy parents and never given what they needed the most: time and love.  But Drew was in a search for that within which nobody knew and which he was ill prepared to ever discuss openly with others, no matter how close they were to him.  Most young guys his age, Nick knew, had their own place, their own steady job and, more importantly, their own steady girlfriend, even a wife and kid, but Drew was an anomaly.  Not rare or even unique.  He was simply unusual.    Of course, which of us feel we aren't Nick sometimes mused silently.  H e certainly knew that he was unusual.

            Tim and Nick had met during orientation week during their first year at college. Although neither had shared a room or even lived in the same dormitory, it was evident when they first met in one of the many endless college orientation session s that they were born to be friends.  May be it was even Fate.  They had nothing in common besides being quite quirky in high school and wearing glasses.  Tim, the musical one with a rare talent for improvising lyrics into musical notes, was an intellectual who found more solace sitting alone in his room at night strumming on his guitar or other instrument and writing songs that flowed from his heart like chocolate flows from Willy Wanka's Chocolate factory.  It was natural in him. Nick, on the other hand, was about as musically inclined as a deaf mute and knew little about writing song lyrics, let alone putting them into music.  Yet Nick was an intellectual, too, who placed great value on the ridiculous and useless teenage arts of philosophy, science and religion, to name only a few  Nick was going through a terribly difficult time of life, not just in material needs and jobs, but in the more finely tuned emotional and spiritual needs which surfaced in his mind in every task he undertook. It was as though somewhere, in another life, he was a great but unknown antiquarian or philosopher or scientist whose futile rebirth generation after generation was dying now to burst out from the shells of darkness and  middle age obscurity into the brilliant light of day.  Nick had always been told as a child that he was special, was born with a purpose in mind that not even his mother could understand.  Yet for Nick, that pressure to be someone, to do something, to shine was overwhelming, as well as the darkest of secrets he held firmly in the recesses of his heart.  How could someone so worthless be anybody?

            Through mutual musically inclined friends, Drew and Tim had become close and so it was that the three buddies, Los Tres Amigos, formed.  Attending the same church later where all three were recruited by a satanic like cult, the love for Jesus – and their innocent obedience to give until it hurt as exhibited every couple of Sundays where the pastors wold beg for donations above and beyond the tithe required of God (Nick was to later wonder how God, who was omnipotent, was in need of so much money) so that routinely the three of them gave a hundred dollars a piece, not caring where the rent or food or gas money would come from – was enough to save them all from their mortal sins.  And, if there was enough love left over at the end of the month, Jesus may even reserve enough for them to pay their bills, though it was often improbable at best.  The faith of a mustard seed . . .  they were told.

            The song Drew played on his turntable was one which signaled that everything was well and god in the world of Drew.  Certain songs were played over and over when their older friend was in in different moods, and “I wanna rock and roll all night” generally signaled good things.  During his better mods, Drew was as generous as anyone alive, treating others to meals and going shipping for exotic and often quite useless items.  In his darker moods, however, Drew was at best moody and at worst frightening, though just a little.  Nick felt that somewhere in their souls there resonated a level of sorrow and anguish that made them closer than they even were with Tim.  Although their childhood had been about as opposite as two people can get, there were strings of silent harmony which Nick and Drew's soul's played in concert, like when woodwinds accompany the strings section.  Nick, as many things in his life, could never quite put it into words, but at times when both were feeling down, both never felt closer to one another.  Tim was somehow different.

            Not that Tim never become downhearted or disgusted by life.  IN fact, Tim was probably more emotional of the three friends and roommates, sulking loudly in his room alone for awhile whenever he had nasty words with his practically live-in girlfriend or when he was upset by something some of the church members did or said that hurt him or god.  He was, for lack of a better word, a bit more melodramatic and had a tendency to break or toss  things about though thankfully they were usually confined to things he himself owned.  The more you got, the more you got to lose I had once heard someone say, and by this epigraphs, I had almost nothing to lose had he broken things beyond the barrier of his room. 

            However, when both became morose, sad, or upset, both would inevitably turn to their music, Drew most likely to play a song that matched his mood, Tim more likely to attempt to write a song that fit his.  And Nick?  Well, Nick usually drove, now that he had wheels.  He would drive to remote places and hike remote trails where he felt – if even for a brief instant -that he could find communion with some god that could still his troubled heart.  And just as ultimately Drew and Tim were comforted by the sounds that hung in the air, reverberated by strings or drums or the like, Nick too was met with nothing but air, sounds upon the slight breeze that said . . . that said . . .   What did they say?  Nick never knew.

            Nick entered the hallway to the three bedroom house and found the bathroom door locked after trying the handle.  Apparently Drew had awakened recently and was getting ready for the day.  Drew usually laid awake most of the night either on his bed or on the couch, watching TV or listening to music.  If he was up before noon, it was a miracle  Tim was a bit better, usually heading off for church in the morning while Nick was ever the early riser, preferring to go to bed early rather than be tormented with the notion of others his age hanging out half the night at local clubs and bars, probably coming home with girls and getting laid.  Not that that was a bad thing in Nick's mind, but his starch, stoic, near-Puritanical upbringing compelled him to look with deep shame upon such thoughts while at the same time he burned with a nineteen-year-old's desire to partake in such pleasures.  Abstinence and carnal desire were ever bitter foes that waged endless war in the heart of the young man.

            Heading, then, for the couch, Nick untied his tie and moved toward the TV, turning it on and channel surfing before finally deciding what to watch.  He sat down heavily, half watching, half thinking.  There was really nothing on that interested him.

            Moments later, Nick heard the door to the bathroom open and a familiar face peered around the corner of the living room.

            “Hey.”

            “Hey.”

            Drew was half naked with a damp towel wrapped around his mid section, long, dark hair dripping with water still.  He squinted slightly, holding the towel with one hand while fumbling to get his glasses on with the other.  His skinny frame and lean build reminded Nick of one of the rock singers Drew idolized so much, but at this moment, Nick beheld him as something akin to a wet rat on two legs. 

            “You're home early,” Drew said, finally getting the glasses securely on his face.  “Did you take the day off?”

            Nick turned back toward the television, staring numbly at the talking furniture.  He wasn't listening to whatever it was the talk show host was saying, reminding him unconsciously of the Charlie Brown episode where the teacher says “Blah blah blah, blaah blaaah, blah blaah blah blahaaa.” 

            “Naw, just had a short shift.  It was pretty wet out this morning-” trailing off as though Drew knew why that was the reason. 

            “Yeah,” Drew replied with no particular understanding, adding, “Well, you can use the bathroom now, if that's what you wanted.”

            “Cool.”

            Nick gave his buddy a few minutes to head to his room and do whatever it was he was doing before rising from the couch and heading toward the restroom.  He didn't want to appear too eager, for reasons unknown even to himself, to get there, so that Drew wouldn't feel like he had to rush.  He had to go, certainly, but it was uncharacteristic of him to make anyone feel uncomfortable if he didn't have to.

            The morning paper sat idly next to the toilet, and Nick picked it up casually as eh sat on the stool, thumbing through unwanted ads and articles until he came to the section he was looking for: classifieds.  There was nothing in here for him, Nick knew, for he had repeated practically the same ritual each day and never found anything worth applying for.  No, he said to himself, that's not wholly accurate.  There was nothing worth applying for that he had even a snowball's chance in hell of being interviewed for.  There were, of course, many jobs that peeked his interest, even if it was only something to do for a change of scenery, yet his lack of skills (Nick was totally and irrevocably skilled at nothing except reading lots and lots of books and magazines) and his inability to hold down a job that interested him for more than three months had taken its toll in the year since he had been out of college.  And, he had no education to speak of.  His mother often told him that he was a smart boy and had a lot to offer employers, but he had tried to play the, “Hi, I'm a high school honor grad” role during what few interviews he could attain, all to no avail.  Or, if they wanted to hire him, it was for the kind of job that he saw immigrants and the poorest of the poor doing.  Were they particularly qualified of outstanding “honors graduates” too, he pondered?  Probably not.

            The best paying job Nick had managed to land was at a local packing plant about fifteen miles from where he lived.  He had to have a car, he knew, but managed to hitch rides from another church friend to and from work for just a few dollars a week for gas.  It was a sweet deal, for Nick was to earn almost $9.00 per hour, unheard of money for someone qualified for little else.  With that kind of dough, Nick imagined to himself, he'd have his own place, his own car, and his own girlfriend in no time.  There was nothing women loved more, Nick was convinced, than money and style. 

            He shared his plans and goals with his few family members and friends who seemed to wholeheartedly support his choice.  His mother even shared stories how his father had worked diligently in the local power plant until he, too, made management.  Work hard, she reminds her son, and you will be noticed.  Well, Nick thought.  I certainly work hard everywhere I've been.  Maybe I can stay long enough to “get noticed” here, like dad.

            One of the first things Nick noticed that took him by surprise during his energized, high-spirited first day of work was that practically everyone – or so it seemed to him – smoked dope at the plant.  Breaks were a matter of getting through the hazy clouds of marijuana to make it to the bathroom, and lunches were like being enveloped in a London fog.  He could hardly see the big, fluorescent lights overhead for all the smoke.  He always felt a little queezy after eating in the lunch room, and was glad to be back on the production line where his stomach and his head could settle. 

            The next thing he noticed was that to avoid the Union at work was like avoiding the wrath of God at a baptist revival.  There wasn't an hour of the day that went by when Nick wasn't solicited 0- strongly solicited – to join the Union.  It was practically impossible to walk down the crowded hallways and into the break rooms without someone pulling him aside and pitching the Union party line.  Although Nick's dad had been union before advancing within his last company, Nick had a certain distaste for unions and union activity.  Raised as he was, he believe in the motto of rugged American individualism and capitalism.  Somehow, organizing into a socialized collective bargaining unit seemed somehow un-American to Nick.  He resisted, though he was assailed increasingly every day.

            The third thing most noticeable was that which he took home every night since beginning the job: pain.  It wasn't the sort of pain one feels from prolonged periods of standing nor was it the kind of pain brought on by particularly heavy lifting or the like.  Instead, it was an excruciating pain in his right hand, the result, no doubt, of holding a keenly sharpened blade in the same hand for carcass, after carcass, after carcass.  Nick knew from his avid reading that the condition was called carpel tunnel syndrome, but knowing the name and symptoms did nothing to either describe or alleviate the pain.  After working for eight hour shifts in freezing temperatures (the beef had to be kept fresh, after all), Nick returned home each night literally unable to pull his fingers apart.  Only after soaking them for twenty or thirty minutes in a sink full of hot water could he finally gather the fortitude to bend his aching fingers from a fist into a half-opened paw, and the whole time he worked there -except for the very first night or two – he was never able to fully extend the fingers in that hand without the help of the other. 

            Those packinghouse coworkers who would actually acknowledge Nick with anything more than a stare or a grunt seemed like the kind of men he would have been embarrassed to expose his problem to, and the few friends he had at home and at church knew even less.  Their answers were simple: it'll wear off after a couple of days . . . after a couple of weeks . . .  after a few months . . .  But each  night Nick returned home from the plant, the silence in the car grew progressively longer until, almost ready to cry at the ensuing pain he knew he was about to undertake when he finally arrived home and soaked his tightly clenched, unmovable fist, he knew he could stay no longer.

            Thirty days after beginning the job that would, at least financially, turn it all around, Nick quit. 

            It was the last time he would ever make that kind of money.  But he thought, rather grimly, that if making more money meant becoming handicapped before the age of twenty, he was determined to live poor but in relative comfort.  If only he could make a living off of thinking, feeling, postulating big thoughts, big ideas, big dreams, he told himself night after night as he lay his head upon the pillow, would Nick find success.

 

* * * * *

 

            Catching himself falling asleep sometime later, Nick heard a car pulling into the driveway, its headlights flashing momentarily on the windows leaving a eerie, tooth-like shadowy smile along the walls adjacent to the couch Nick was lying upon.  The TV droned on in muted tones, and adjusting his glasses and glancing at his watch, he realized that it was almost nine o'clock at night.  He thought he imagined Drew was pulling out of the driveway instead of pulling in, but after hearing two muffled voices, a man and a woman's, and remembering belatedly that he had not yet moved his car which blocked Drew's mustang, Nick realized just what was going on.  Drew had not yet left for work; Tim and his girlfriend were home.

            Great, Nick thought to himself.  Now for a night of passionate noises barely muffled though paper-thin walls. 

            Time had annoyed Nick for quite some time now since his relationship with his long-standing girlfriend had reignited again.  Their on again, off again romance was in full swing lately, with the sounds of their goofy sexual antics barely stifled by the mere door and wall separating the two roommates abodes.  Drew never complained, Nick noticed, partly because he worked night shifts at the tannery and partly because he was such a heavy sleeper.  Nothing short of an earthquake wold waken that man from his slumber.  Nick, on the other hand, was a light sleeper, prone to waking up to, and being kept awake by, the slightest sounds.  Over the years, he had devised a simple yet elegant strategy to combat the odd, various sounds of distant train whistles, passing cars, slamming doors and barking dogs in the night by simply turning on a fan so as to drown most of the noises, thus allowing him a more restful night.  Yet lying there in bed, fan running, it was difficult for him mentally to omit and block out the sounds of his best friend and roommate engaged in woeful lovemaking with his ugly and obviously sex-starved lady.  And Tim's lack of discretion the morning after his riding partner had left left an awful taste in Nick's mouth, like brushing one's teeth in a darkened bathroom only to realize that Ben-Gay, rather than toothpaste, had been applied to the bristles.  It was painfully burning.

            The two lovers entered through the back door, giggling and laughing out loud, wrapped in one another's arms.  Though Nick didn't think they had been drinking, it wouldn't be long before the two of them were sipping beer and necking on the couch for all to see.  Only when their hands began moving beneath one another's clothes did the two finally depart for the twin-sized love nest, but that was more than enough to make Nick painfully self-conscious and very aware of what he was missing out on.  The battle between two impulses ran steadily over the battlefield of Nick's mind when this occurred  Tonight, though, Nick was more annoyed by the thought than usual, and it took more restraint than he knew he was capable of just to stomach the giddy, oblivious smiles of the two individuals.

            Nick remained on the couch, half sitting, half lying and decided to remain just so.  He controlled the two largest and most important pieces of furniture in the living room, the couch and the television, and he was not about to relinquish either on without a fight.  If it came down to it, he would choose to force them to sit on the only other comfortable chair in the room and make them watch the sports highlights, something neither Nick nor time could not stand.  It would be good for them both, Nick chucked inwardly.

            It was several minutes, it seemed to Nick, before either one of them said a word to the only other person residing in the room, and for quite awhile, both Tim and the wench stood in the entryway of the living room, kissing and necking and giggling like two fifteen year olds hiding out from their parents.  Damn the torpedoes, Nick told himself, full sports ahead.  He arose momentarily to change the PBS station to the evening news and sat back down quickly on the sofa so as not to lose his place.  He covered himself with the modest blanket slung over the back of the couch and settled in for the long night's war.

            Finally, their tongues parched, Tim suggest he get them both something to drink while Tanya or  whatever her name was (Nick thought) headed for a seat.  Glancing momentarily at the man sprawled out on the couch, she said nothing until she had taken her place on the big, 1960's flowery patterned chair and turned to look at the TV.  Nick wanted to giggle out loud himself  Serves you right, bitch, he thought.

            Finally, Tanya spoke, just as the weather report had come on. 

            “So, how you doing, Nick?”

            “Great,” he responded after a brief pause.  He considered whether he would even deign to speak to the girl but decided that the best weapon right now was feigned total ignorance that they had even arrived.  “I didn't even hear you arrive.  When did you get here?”

            “About five minutes ago,” she replied, never acknowledging the absurdity of the other's claim.

            “Is Tim here, too?”

            “Hey buddy!” he answered, entering the room with a beer in each hand.  Nick noticed that there was obviously none for him.  “How's it going?”

            Nick glanced back at the television and played it cool  No need to show my hand just yet.  He'll – they'll – figure it out after awhile. 

            “Good, good.”

            “Whatchya watching, bud?” Tim responded as he handed the girl a drink.  “Something on public television?”

            Nick sat silent a few seconds, trying to see if it had truly not dawned on them just exactly what he was indeed watching.  Sports was on soon, and he didn't want to miss the excitement on their faces as he turned it up to listen attentively.  This was getting to be quite enjoyable.

            “Well, naw.  Just the news.  I wanted to see the scores tonight and the highlights afterwards.”  Damn, eh thought too late, he had given up the game.  Why couldn't I keep my mouth shut?

            “Really?” his friend responded, genuinely taken aback.  But within seconds, Tim's demeanor changed as he shifted his attention to the girl seated on the chair  She had chosen that moment to take his hand in hers and draw him closer to her.  Seamlessly, they switched places, and Teri (or whoever, thought Nick) sat down on Tim's knee, their eyes locked.  It wasn't long before the two of them forgot about Nick and began cooing and kissing and cupping one another.

            Most annoying, Nick thought as they young lovers fondled one another was not they way that they engaged in foreplay or petting or giggling or the like.  NO, for Nick, it was the way that they kissed.  It wasn't kissing like a parent would bestow to a child nor was it kissing like you see in a porn video which the three bachelors occasionally – but not often – rented during some culmination to a preordained men's night out.  NO, it was kissing like one hears when plunging out a shit-overfilled toilet or hair-clogged sink, or perhaps when one listens to a cat or dog lapping up nasty, stale water in very slow playback.  It was a lapping, popping, wet, sucking sound that literally drove Nick nuts.  It wasn't the kind of “nuts” that made one want to hide in their room and secretly fantasize and masturbate.  It was the sort of 'nuts' one gets when they think of pounding some asshole into the ground just for glancing at them sideways.  Nick silently clenched his fists beneath the blanket.

            The kissing went on, sometimes rhythmically, sometimes not, each splurch and splooch and sluurp and slopp driving the nail deeper and deeper into Nick's consciousness until he just wanted to scream.  Fuck her, Nick yelled in his head, just fuck her and get it over with for Christ's sake.  But the kissing – if that 's what one calls it – just went on and on and on and . . .

            Finally, after what seemed to Nick an eternity, the sports came on, and with that, the young man turned up the volume considerably, though he returned quickly to his seat hoping to preserve the couch.  That's when Drew arrived unnoticed from his bedroom, apparently ready for work.

            “Hey,” he said, startling Nick.  “Can you guys do me an favor and move your cars so i can get out?”  He always asked nicely, Nick observed, no matter how early or late he was running.  Drew was always polite that way, Nick mused, and never had women over for the night though he had dated a few (or was it only one, Nick thought?) from time to time.

            Pleased to have a break from the telephonic, water-torture park, Nick rose sharply and nodded his acquiescence.  “I'll get my keys.”

            Oblivious to everyone in the room, Tim and the girl continued their amorous activity until Drew, after successive hems, haws, and progressively louder clearings of the throat, finally got their attention. 

            “Hey bud, sorry to bother you.  Can you move your car out?  I gotta get to work soon.  I'm running a little late.”

            Tim drew his girlfriend from his lap and headed for the kitchen, meeting Nick who had just located his keys.  The three men headed out the back door and each got into their respective automobiles.  Tim's Ford Pinto, though newer and quite more reliable than Nick's (although Nick would vehemently disagree should anyone ever have broached that subject), was nothing compared to the older roommates car, and once each backed out of the driveway, Drew took off down the street, consciously or unconsciously revving the engine so that both men knew who had the better vehicle.  It was an unstated fact. 

            While Nick pulled back into the driveway, Tim had already parked in the narrow parking lane just in front of their house.  By the time Nick had entered the kitchen door, Tim and the girl were already seated on the large sofa and the TV had been turned to some late night movie.  Obviously she was fast at more than one thing.  Nick's plan had been undone.

            Although they hadn't begun round two of the love match yet, Nick had already thrown in the towel.  He tried to sit for a few more minutes in the now-warm chair, but the thrill of the fight and anguish of defeat left a bitter taste in his mouth.  In a few more moments, he knew, the heat of passion would once again be on the two young lovers, and Nick decided to retire this round and head for his bedroom where he knew he would only find it marginally improved.  Before long, he instinctively realized, their mouths wouldn't be the only thing sluurping and splooching and the like.  He closed the door, undressed slowly allowing the clothes to simply lie helter-skelter on the floor, found a pair of pajama bottoms lying next to his bed, and turned the fan to its highest setting. 

            Oddly, he never even considered the mere rudeness of changing the channel and taking his seat on the sofa without asking whether or not he was OK with that.  Nick rarely thought in those terms.

            By the softly glowing, twenty watt light bulb in the tiny lamp next to his bed, Nick pulled a magazine form a stack lying atop the nightstand, propped himself up on the pillows and began to page to an article he had begun the night before.  It was entitled “Aboriginal Customs and the Links to Homo Erectus” in the journal Archeology Today.  Trying to force from his mind the sickening sounds and images of what was likely going on just feet from his door, Nick pondered whether or not Aborigines or other human species made similar sounds when sucking one another faces.  Knowing how effective blunt clubs and sharp flint tools could be, Nick thought, probably not.  At least it would offer no Darwinian benefit if your fellow cavemate clubbed you over the head a few times and may just alert the cave bears and lions and such to your exact whereabouts  No, Nick concluded, it was certainly not an evolutionary advantage. 

            Weariness finally overtaking restlessness, he dreamed that night of bravely defending some faceless cave woman from a herd of raging mastodons . . .

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