: Siren Song :

(Originally published Winter 2018)

"Rose, where'd you get that red?"  

In Memoriam (scilicet) 

By Kent H. Dixon

Siren

After the movie and cheeseburger, chocolate malt and three tilts at pinball, and the 80 proof vodka and the bellhop’s tip, David was down to $15.60 plus bus tokens and lint of unknown provenance. But the whore was asking twenty each.

            "Can't do it for less," she said.

            "Come on, lady," said Pritchard. "That's sixty bucks! Over on the Beach you can get a girl all night for fifty."

            Why didn't they trot their hot little fannies on over to Miami Beach then?

           "Because we heard about you?" said Sandy. David flinched—but the woman smiled, so he joined Sandy with keeping up the charm while Pritchard held the line, and after one more huddle with the clerk over at the desk she dropped her price. "Fuck it, what's Christmas without kids," she said.                                                                               

            They made a lopsided elevator party, the boys pressing their butts against one wall facing the woman who—despite green eye shadow and flaming pink dress subdued beneath a clear plastic raincoat—looked more like a home room teacher than any first time love. But David wasn’t thinking twice. You didn’t say no to a rite of passage.

            ("Jesus, Davidian, you’re sixteen! You wanna become a man or a faggot?" Nolan Pritchard, four hours earlier.)

            So besides her being somewhat on the mature side—David guessed thirty, maybe thirty-five—he didn't know anyone forty—besides that, their date with manhood tonight was a tad on the small side, stature-wise. Short, really, even balanced there on her black velvety high heels with the black leather ankle straps, toenail polish chipping on toes pinched mercilessly together, no stockings, blue zig-zaggy veins—David looked up.

She said her name was Rose and called them Joe College One, Two, and Three, which was nice because none of them had even thought of college yet, except Pritchard. Football at Notre Dame or hardball at Paris Island, he liked to say. Or screwball at Raeford, Sandy would mutter—the state pen.

            So you could say this team played ball, knew each other’s moves, though in fact only Pritchard started.

            Down, team… Ready set…  Yikes!  to find themselves in a dingy room replete with moldy furniture and the air all but boxed and hauled away, the whole scene jaundiced by the feeble overhead light. Sandy returning with a couple of 7-Ups from down the hall, Pritchard stepping out of the bathroom drying the glass he'd washed, David reaching gallantly for her raincoat from her shoulders, Rose laughed and pointed at them: "Ha!  My three kings, bearing gifts."

            "Well, forgive me if you don't look like no Virgin Mary, M'am," says Pritchard, David just wishing Pritchard didn't look so much like the hunchback for the Miami Hurricanes.

Rose snatched the bottle from him and herded them all out the door. "Send in red shirt first," she said. 

Oh, God, too fast, way too fast. Red alligator shirt turning icy in the dank armpits, but maybe first was best because he closed the door to scuffling in the hall, which sure as shit would bring complaints and—who knew—maybe even end it early?

            She took his arm, balancing on one high heel to unbuckle the strap on the other. On one leg she quite resembled, he thought, the flamingo whose colors she wore. She wasn’t a whole lot taller.

            "I'm a cherry," he said, hurrying down to his underwear, figuring to come right out with it, throw himself on her experience, and wondering too, whether to fold his pants or just chuck 'em. And where?

            "What, hon?" padding about in her slip to hang up her dress, grumbling about rusty coat hangers.

            "I never… you know, I'm a cherry."

            "I could tell—the red shirt. Come on over here and don't you worry none. You'll know what to do when the time comes." But she took charge of that, too, manfully whipping down the spread and pushing him onto the bed—where'd my shorts ...?—hiked up her slip to climb on top like pinning him to a mat, all in about as long as it took to say uh…

            "Unh…!" and  they rolled over, David coming out on top. Then she reached down and pulled on him hard.

            Whoa! Tucking his hips back.

            “For your good as much as mine,” she said, turning so the light favored his poor flopsome thing, and milking it once. “We don’t want no diseases, do we?”

            “No, M’am. Should I cough?”

            “You got a cold?”

            And then she pulled him back down on top of her. Very forceful woman, this Rose.

            "Come on, baby. Kiss me."

            He did, but she began chewing on his mouth and he pulled back, discretely wiped with his wrist. What had prickled?

            "Come on, hon," pulling the straps off her shoulders. "You gotta suck a little titty."

            They weren't exactly little and they were amazingly soft. If you tried to gather them up . . . more like powder than any breast he’d ever encountered—…well, one did get a peek now and then, but one imagined them as more…rubbery? He’d fondled one too many water balloons, he guessed.

            "Get the ball rolling here," she said, her hand on the back of his head, guiding. Her perfume plus the conforming flesh he was being plowed through nose first plus the stuffy room, was adding up: his allergies—he was afraid he’d soon be wheezing.

            His eyelid snagged on her belly button while her slip seemed to be peeling off all on its own. The belly, above the sparse hair line, was no less powdery than the breasts. Cats kneading their paws came to mind. They'd go nuts in this stuff.

            "Pull it off," she said and pointed her toes as he tugged. Calluses as hard as toe nails, feet all beat to hell really, but hold on—hold everything and behold—lo!, this was it and here he was, David M. Frances, Assman, home in the hills—finally!  Utterly, completely—an openly naked woman.

            "Go ahead, Red Shirt," she said.

            Oop, this naked body—it had a head. Which said, "You paid for it. Goose can take a gander."

            Well, walking around the end of the bed, as one might study the terrain for a putt—he couldn't actually see a whole hell of a lot. Mum seemed to be the word for the day. Kind of a failed beard and then it's sort of liver colored—is that right? or maybe that’s a birthmark.

            "Chee! You a doctor or something?" pulling her knees up.

            "Actually, it's interesting you'd say that, I've been thinking about that, about Med School? Maybe here at Miami, you know, or maybe Hopkins, I dunno, maybe abroad. France or England or somewhere, except their equipment’s not as good. We got the best equipment in the world, you know. So, uh, how can you tell?"

            "Bedside manner. Look, hon, fetch me the hootch in there, will you? And take a nip yourself why don't you.”

            And as he struck out into a naked parade of one, she hummed the first line of "Mr. Sandman" and when he looked back, leaning half way around the door jamb, she was stirring her legs lusciously on the sheets and looking off toward the window, pretending she didn’t see him, didn’t know he was watching—he got the idea. But he had to push the door closed to reach the fifth of Gilbey’s on the toilet tank, and there next to it lay her purse with some stuff spilling out.

            He stirred through this a little. Among the hair curlers and ratty pack of life-savers, folded kleenex, lipstick, baby hot-water bottle and gold Ronson lighter with a curlicue monogram too curly to cue, he found a curious dick-like thing, a kind of plastic hard-on but hollow with a screw-in base, grooves at the other end and little holes down the length of its indisputably penile curve.

 Boy, perversion. But what did it screw into, and who?  

Maybe next time. He sneezed and tipped the Gilbey’s straight up, blinked in the mirror and admired his tan abdominals as he worked to rinse out the opaque glass. Tum de dum dum… send her a dream…  He tensed a latissimus dorsimus. Now these were muscles that would not let a fellow down, fer crissakes.

            When he returned she was sitting on the edge of the bed hugging a pillow with the base of a small faceless phone perched on her knees, and she was giving a number to the operator. Franklin nine, two eight etc., and David set the glass in the ashtray while she turned away, half covering the mouthpiece to tell someone she'd be a little late. And hung up. Turned to him: "Now then, honey, what can we do here? Gotta get your mind on pussy. Wanna gawk some more?"

            "No, not really," forcing a smile. That must have looked terrible...

            "Want me do a little dance?"

            "Actually, I'd like, like what we were doing…? You know, talk? We were talking…?”

            "You college kids," she sighed. "I see a lot of you around this time."

            "Not much of a holiday for you, I guess?"

            "Hell, my biggest night's Christmas eve. And Easter. Them's the lonely times."

            And that was just hunky-dory, they were talking, when comes a thud from without—what were those guys doing out there, the long jump?

            She sipped from his glass and indicated the door with her chin: "I don't mean to hurry you, sugar, but my little business arrangement's with them too. You gotta open your giftie before Christmas, okay?"

"Franklin nine, two eight five three," he said, the number she'd given the operator.

It was all he could think of to say but he could see right away it wasn’t the right thing, not at all. She looked truly shocked and violently scootched away in a scramble of  sheets

toward the head of the bed.

            "You sonofabitch! You a cop or something. Fucking kids…!" and the glass missed him, skipped once on the rug and smashed against the wall underneath the bureau.

            "Was that your home?" he asked, kneeling cautiously on the foot of the bed.

            "Is that your business? You'd better not be thinking of using that number, sonny…"

            "No, M'am. I just remember things, can't help it. I can tell you everything you said tonight. On the street in front of White Castle...  In the lobby to the desk clerk... You said... You were whispering and you said..."

            "I said I'd need a good hour and we've yacked twenty minutes here. If I don't get cracking he's gonna charge me the fu'.."

            "Sounded like an older person on the phone. Or a kid. I mean, you sounded sort of condescending, like they were younger. Or older…"

            "A fucking talker!" she said to the lampshade. "First ups, I pick me a fucking sweet-talking john. It's someone I fucking con-dee-scend to, okay?"

            "You don't have to say that for me," he said.

            “Say what?”

            "You wouldn't swear to them on the phone. It was a kid, wasn't it. Hey!" He did a smart dismount from the bed—startled her—disappeared into the bathroom, returned with her purse.

            "Shit!  Give me that!"

He already had. "Pictures!” he said. “You must have a picture. Boy or girl?" He sat beside her now. But she flipped through too fast—maybe a beach party, and a little girl on a pony, and a color one of a couple sprawled on a car's red hood, oblivious of the camera, giddy with whatever; it made you feel a little sad, sort of left out.

“Wait…”  Three women on a couch, then more little girl. Sure was cute, he offered. Her daughter?

            Yeah, her daughter, what of it. This here was her niece, twenty-three in a month, how old was he, nineteen?

            He ducked that one, asked if her daughter could swim.

            "Can she swim! I really seen it all tonight. Can you, cause you sure as shit can't fuck, Clark!"

            His name was David, call him David. And what he'd meant was he could take them out in his boat. Wouldn't the little girl a kick out of a speedboat ride?  "It's an outboard but I put a canted three-blade prop on it so it'll pull a skier great. Once you get 'em up."

            "Should've brought it with you," she muttered.

            "Hey, Frances…" muffled knock at the door. Rose sighed more exasperation and draping the bedspread over her shoulders, she shuffled toward the door.

*

            Oh, that said door could have opened onto Oz, like her color photograph among the black-and-whites, the bright shiny Ford and the happy couple on its bonny red hood.  Instead, the door snapped inward like an angry surprise: Boo!, but jammed half way: crunch: and Rose, god, Rose screamed for the whole hotel to hear, the street below, never heard anything like it: she commenced hopping and clutching her foot, “You sonofabitch, ooh, ooh…!”

Sandy began hopping with her like a dance until he saw the handful of blood, Rose moaning and hopping right out of her bedspread toward the closet, grabbed her dress, then off to the bathroom, wailing like a banshee and jiggling her nudity like she was shored up with a thousand tiny springs.

 He wanted to cover her, but they had thoroughly barged in and closed the door, no room to maneuver—where’s my frigging pants anyway?—“Christ,” said Sandy. “Goddamnit!” said Pritchard. 

“Aw, hell cats, it’s broke,” Rose’s shrill lament from the bathroom.

“Way to go, asshole,” says Pritchard and David snaps around to search his face, his best pre-medical probe: can you see insanity in the eyes? David sure wanted to hit him; he sure should have.

Because then Rose comes hopping back half dressed, throws the money on the bed, collects a shoe, can’t get by them to the closet, Pritchard playing deep safety in front of it: “Whoa, there, missy,” he says, and she stops and just says, “Give me my goddamn coat.”

“You’d better let me…ow!” says David, intending to say ‘better let me treat that,’ not that he had a whole lot of bandages and tincture of mercurochrome on hand—but the scrape was nasty, skin pooched up nearly onto the top of her foot, leaving rusty paw prints where she stepped. But just as he catches himself in his zipper to exclaim ow, comes a knock and a fifth wheel opens the door: “Hey, hey, take it easy, kids, take it easy, I’m Archy.”

Sandy: “Well, hello there, Archy, I’m Jughead.”      

But Pritchard: “Say, hey, Archy, we was just getting laid here,” and catches Rose attempting to slip through the commotion—grabs her hair and grunts, nearly lifting her.          Archy pushes in and takes the high road: “Right there’s your money, kid. Take it and get the hell…”

“Down there’s the street, fuckface,” pointing at the window and dragging Rose a step to look out. “They’ll write your epigram with a hose.” Her hands clawing at his arm don’t seem to phase him. 

David glances out, it’s only two stories…if you landed on an awning…

Sandy says, “Epitaph.”

“Fuck?”

“I think it’s epitaph… that you write, with the hose.”

But Pritchard has now swelled to looming like they’d inflated a parade float while it was still indoors, giving even Archy pause.

David’s in the bathroom—there’s his shirt but it’s like the moment is all fists beating you about the head and chest; one grabs from anywhere, Rose’s Ronson for instance, lights first time just like the ad, and David brings it to brush the cheek of a faded mermaid on the shower curtain.

Remarkable effect: after the first blue wavelets quivering upward like a rip tide, the curtain hikes up into itself and begins to billow smoke so pungent you’d think you’d lit a giant tooth brush. It undulates and oily shreds of burning ectoplasm follow him back into the room. He stumbles, and beats at several strips of the molten curtain stuck to his shoulders—damn, beats at it with his favorite red alligator shirt!

Archy has traded places with Rose. She is gone. So gone he wonders was she there? They are all waving at the smoke and Pritchard lets go of Archy’s throat to wipe his eyes and David makes for the window, just to breathe, get these flames off his back; he wouldn’t really jump, to escape.

There is swearing and coughing and pushing, careening off of the cardboard walls, a lamp goes over, and a far-off siren to complete the picture. He looks up the street for it—it can’t be coming here, not that fast.  When whom should he spot below but his flamingo Rose, limping barefoot the other way, toward downtown Miami.

“Hey, Rose!” he calls down. Cups his hands and yells loud: “I’ll call you!”

 

Song

Tears are streaming toward his ears from the wind in his face and his heart is almost bouncing out of his mouth as the boat slams across the tops of the waves.  He’s singing, fairly shouting against the Mercury 40’s hearty growl and the cotton in his ears (prevents ear ache, in January), and the bouncing hull breaks up the lyrics—some good buddy pounding on his back:  ...plea’ ease turn o’on your ma’ agic bea’ eam, Mister Sand-mannn . . . will be like a homing signal, a sonar wave oscillating between his exuberance and the promise of Rose. It should lead him right to her.

He jabs the wheel sharply and looks back at the slim S of his perfect frothy wake, icing on the moment. He’s probably doing thirty-five knots, maybe thirty-eight with the wind now slipping around behind, and he’s probably on top of the world if you held it right, for he’s decided sixteen going on seventeen is probably the best year of anyone’s life because all the rest of it opens out from here in that same top-of-the-world, got-it-right, want-for-nothing, can’t-be-stopped bursts of joy, even if he is still a technical virgin.

And also despite the immense marina looming ever larger up ahead.

He pulls the throttle back and slows to harbor speed. The commercial ships moored off shore are ridiculously huge, grander than the new hotels going up on the Beach—Fountain Bleu, Eden Rock—these boats dwarfing to toys the millionaire yachts along the piers. But he knows he will find her; she'll be wearing shades and waving a straw hat and tugging her excited little girl with her free hand.

And the lunch packed and soda iced and beach ball half inflated tucked under a flange of the anchor so it won’t blow away . . . surely he’s thought of everything and sees ahead to the little girl tossing the ball in the air, up to her skinny white ankles in the foamy surf on the leeward side of the island he plans to picnic at. The one with the big monument about the captains of Miami industry, and its little swatch of unkempt beach. He’s counting on its dry driftwood, bleached as bones, for fuel, for the hotdogs.

And maybe, just maybe, after they eat and if he decides the water’s clean enough for his raw blisters, and if he can get Rose to drive the boat, he can show off for them on the small exhibition skis his parents gave him for Christmas, which all the way across the bay had been merrily shifting on the floorboards with the hull’s banging as if in a two-step to his s’song.

Pier Four. He’s a little late.

            But he’s in the wrong slip. This is Five. So which way do they count from?  He sees a sailor with a bucket looking down at him, from way up on a trawler’s rail. David revs it a little to get closer and pulls the cotton out of one ear.

            He shouts up to the man, “Which one is Four?” Pumps four fingers into the air, “Pier Four?”

             With the same exaggerated pumping motion, the guy flips him a bird!

            Well, be sure to come back by here with Rose in her Marilyn shades and womanly hips enshrined like a queen on the stern seat.

            So where is she now? She owes him. He needs her, wants to ask her—what? He couldn’t ask her if he’d been any good because he hadn’t. So… how did a nice lady like her, with a kid and all, get into a line of work like...? Was it fun for her, didn’t it get old? What was that thing in your purse?  Is this Pier Four: she’s not in this boat slip either and by the wristwatch he’d slipped over the gearshift, it’s twenty past one.

Well, shit.

            Ten times shit. He kills the motor and stands on the seat to see across the decks and through this spiky labyrinth of masts he is now completely losing himself among so she’ll never be able to see him. He doesn’t breathe, and listens for his name.

But she couldn’t be loitering around this particular slip because it served all these private sloops and schooners. Poor dear Flamingo Rose, wandering out on this privileged pier, would probably get arrested.

So he guessed she’d stood him up. Probably thought he’d stood her up and left. Or never came in the first place. Had he really thought . . . ?

He yanked his starter cord, checked the gas, and steered in among the bobbing idle armada. A man putt-putted by in his dingy, and nodded, that friendly thing on the water, all water, fellow mariners. David was never sure just what the secret was, but he really liked sharing it.

But hope had faded, hope was a hussy. What’d he expect, really? But just as his boat sank—that is, just as his dream of adult love and regard dashed itself on the rocks of recognition, just then that youthful clarion radar he hadn’t quite gotten used to, that made him think he really was maybe a shallow sex maniac, it provided: it caught a girl in a corner of his field of gloom, not a girly girl but rather a girl, young woman, shades of the Collins Avenue shiksas, which is to say a quasi-mature adolescent female, maybe high school age by her height, weight, or older, or younger—sunglasses, short blue shorts and white blouse, and my but was she exasperated, almost stamping her foot, but he couldn’t see at what, or whom. Maybe he could take her for a ride instead, away from whatever schmuck she was exasperated with.

He circled around, out from the shadow of an overhanging prow to get a better look, but he couldn’t see down the pier that far, until a gas pump glided by and what do you know, who do you think? There she was!

            “ROSE!”

            She was carrying a straw bag and waving a cap at him and stepping awkwardly out from behind a piling and over ropes and fenders in—Jesus, in high heels? She pointed at the end of the short pier that he was pointing at, and they both headed for it: he could see a floating dock tied below it. Perfect.

            Perfect? There was no ladder from the pier down to the dock so there was a seven foot hitch in things because the dock had no cleats to tie onto on his side so he couldn’t quite help her down and she was reluctant to jump—“Take your shoes off!”—frowning, squinting into the blinding sun behind her, but he sure could hear her singing out over the whole damn waterfront: “You’re so late, we almost left.”

            “I went into every wrong slip I could. I been searchin’...” 

‘We’? Was her kid up there or not?  A weariness engulfed him, like wet socks or creeping underwear, everything starting to feel mildly dreary and required. Why was he doing this again?

            He startled when a bag landed fwop on the dock, followed by a pair of brown legs that seemed born of the sun to lower themselves cautiously down over the edge into the visible shade like a dream materializing. These brown legs, they kept coming and kicked out as she dropped with a loud slap of sandal.

            Dark clouds flown. Good sixteen year old sky still of endless promise, pennies from heaven: Rose’s straw bag and now the very girl from the seawall and she is of course Rose’s niece or something—daughter?—Rose being the only one the girl could have been yelling at on the pier, and now in the dark shadow cast by the pier, unsteady for the shifting dock, she is, without his being able to study her overmuch, not bad.

 Compact. Knees bent and hands reaching hip-wise in the air for balance. White blouse its tails tied around her tummy, black hair back in a pony tail—all this perceived in three or four snatched glances because someone’s wake had just tried to heave his whole boat up onto the rocking and creaking and unforgiving dock.

            “This is Caroline,” calls Rose from above. “Somebody help me down.”

            They do. They wait for the floating dock to calm enough and then they get her down, David with the bowline between his teeth. He even steadies the boat enough to get them on board and shove off and choke the gas once and a half and get her fired up before the next wake can crunch them against the tossing platform. He’s really too busy for introductions even if they weren’t precluded by the motor’s drone bouncing brittle off the hulls of all those towering yachts.

            So without introduction, more in the middle of things, he’s pointing and explaining to Rose, with the girl included, how to tell the difference between a ketch and a yawl, the mizzen mast fore or aft, but she’s not overly interested in such distinctions, and he’s thinking about reassigning seats because the boat is riding low and listing to starboard. This will take some thought. He still feels like he’s in three places at once. Rose’s awkward dismount from the edge of the pier, impossible high heels in each hand, over-sized mirror sunglasses, la-dee-dah innocence like they’d never been naked together, never kissed (briefly), never pulled on his pud for his own good as well as hers. Like she’d never been rescued by him, David Frances, seventeen (almost), pretty good with women, at least talking to them. Pretty good at getting out of scrapes. Pretty good at getting into them, too, come to think.

            He fiddles with the oil mixture on his gas line.

            Like he hadn’t saved her from two black eyes and a fat lip—a Pritchard love-tap. And like as if these slim brown legs shooting down out of dark blue shorts, bright white shirt, black bra or bikini top under that shirt—hair tied back tight—she is really more than not bad, this daughter. Daughter?

Or was he just being used?

            “You won’t go too fast,” Rose calls above the engine, and a new thought occurs to him, that whatever’s going on, and wherever it will go, these two don’t know nuthin. He could break down the Mercury for them if he wanted to. Sneak up on a sting ray, tell the tides, red sky at morning…this was all the secret that the world’s mariners shared: simply what the landlubbers didn’t know. 

            “Too fast!” she yells.

            “Just enough to make it plane out,” he yells back, making the motion. “Better if you’d move over to that side.” He notices a band aid around her middle toe.

             The girl is eyeing him. He looks at her. “I’m David. You want to drive?”

            She shakes her head. Only then does he see the family resemblance. He seems to see all her friends at school, too. Her dinners with her mother over an oil-clothed kitchen table. Her room: the bed is made and what genus is that stuffed animal on the pillow, bunny, bear, or mouse? Or is it order: he can’t keep ‘em straight. Can’t ask either, this crowd.

            “Come on and steer,” he says.

            “Can I sit up front?”

            Sure.  He slows way down and she peels off her sandals and grips his offered hand to steady her. Climbing over the windshield onto the bow, the boat bobbing, is

not an easy maneuver.  “Hold the bow rope,” he calls after her, but she’s found it, wraps it around her wrist and her legs around the bow, her bronco. Her shirt is getting 

wet so he throttles up a little.

            She squeals, Rose frets, and a smile is sent back from Caroline. Boats make everybody smile.

            “I’ll keep it slow,” he calls to Rose and motions to the seat beside him. She comes.  So here are all my questions, Rose, scrolling down my eyes. Pick one, any one. Does she know about your night job? Was I that bad, what about my lats? She isn’t . . . professional too, is she? Could I move in, the three of us? Maybe just spend the night? How old is she? How the hell old are you?

            “Look at your hands!” she says reaching, then thinking better of touching them.

            “It doesn’t hurt. It will when the nerves come back, they say. How’s your toe? How old is Caroline?”  They have to yell this a little, and he can see by her back, by the pony tail plastered on her neck, by the way her butt lifts slightly off the bow with each wave, little pulled-away kisses, can see she’s heard her name. It’s like touching her.

            “What did you tell your mother?” Rose asks, pointing at his meaty red forearms.

            “Told my father, a Christmas tree caught fire, at a party. I ran it outside. Where did we meet?” he asks, confidential, indicating the semi-excluded Caroline with a nod.

            “I work at White Castle,” she says. “Late shift. And you’re such a talker,” she smiles, and Caroline turns half around and smiles, too, but she can’t hear, it’s a coincidence, and David wants her, more than anything he’s ever wanted, more than a motor cycle, more than having his toy soldiers come alive and do battle by themselves, more than blue eyes like Sandy’s, more than becoming a man, more than a 360 over a ski jump, he wants this Caroline to . . .

            To what?                    

He wants her to steer.

 [   ]

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