Fred’s Prenuptial Advice
From On Turtleback, a novel
Ann Spiers, 19812 87th SW, Vashon Island WA 09070 email@example.com 206 463 9858
On this afternoon before his wedding, Bob sat on the sofa in his fiancé Honey’s living room. He was brooding but comfortable in her family’s rustic lodge on a tiny island way to hell and gone off the Washington State coast. She was in the kitchen making dinner as afternoon faded to night. He planned an evening alone; Honey, being essentially non-verbal and wary of people, had no plans but to again cook him dinner. He was twenty; she was eighteen and pregnant. Her family was not arriving until the morning, shortly before the wedding.
Before the light left, a neighbor Fred came by. He let himself in and sat in the big overstuffed chair across from Bob. Fred’s intrusion didn’t surprise Bob. He had come to view the few dozen islanders as if they were domesticated animals who had license to wander at will about the landscape as well as inside any house. Here, the idea of private territory was not a well developed concept. So to have Fred arrive was peculiar but expected. Bob found that, as with stray dogs, he didn’t have to converse with uninvited humans.
Not attending to the intruder, Bob noticed, as he did each evening, that darkness was now complete in the eastern rafters. The still lighter western side of the room was filled with geometric shadows dancing off the darker backgrounds. Creaking and cracking, the house’s wood adjusted to the temperature change outside. The cool was nuzzling the warmth of day’s sun from the room, creating soft drafts.
Fred’s wife Lucille followed him in.
Fred was surprised. Bob wasn’t. Husband and wife followed each other around on the whole island. Bob had watched this behavior. He didn’t think the couple realized this habit. But then again everybody eventually had to follow each other on the island because of the limited territory and because of the few inhabitants. It was inevitable.
In the darkening and chilly room, Fred greeted Lucille with a low “Hi ya!” Lucille took a straight chair next to the large fireplace. The smells of steamed clams and heavy wheat bread pounded in from the kitchen.
Lucille spoke into the gloom. “Well, aren’t we having a grand time here?”
Fred rose to the occasion, “Indeed, Lucille. The boy and I were about to have a conversation. About things. Man to man, sorta.” Fred burrowed his bony behind further into the chair’s big pillows. He looked at Lucille and waited for her to retreat from the room, maybe into the kitchen with Honey. Lucille stayed.
Ignoring them, Bob was not thinking about the wedding. He was thinking about Beverly Hills where he had grown up. Why the clean streets and palm trees changed to dirty streets and no trees where Beverly Hills ends and Greater Los Angeles begins. Why on the Greater L.A. side of the street did the water main break and gush water for hours, even for days, down the gutter under the very posters that said: “Conserve Water”? And the other side of the street in Beverly Hills, why did water never rush out but issues forth droplet by droplet, billions of droplets over blocks of green grass, the drops delivered drop by drop by a hired person with dusky skin and black eyes, and with clothes that smelled like an ethnic restaurant?
What do Beverly Hillians themselves smell like to their water servants? Beverly Hillians smelled like mint, like chewing gun, like Chiclets.
Bob stopped remembering smells to picking out Lucille’s smell in the room. She smelled funky. She smelled like her life. She smelled like wood fire and mildew and hair, even though her hair was a moment unto itself riding high and intricately above her face, the complexity of which was barely contained under her helmet and guarded by the flounce of red poppies. Fred smelled like a racoon with a wet pelt, cornered in a house. He smelled his own body that told of his own life. He woke each morning to admire the black hairs on his legs. He was self conscious, just as he was when he was thirteen, about the telephone pole of his manly equipment bouncing about in the crotch of his sweatpants. Here on this island, he no longer smelled like chewing gum and mint, but his body smelled of sweat and oil. He could smell himself as he went through the woods. Evergreen trees smell high and spicy. And his body smells were heated and round smells. He wished these two weirdos would disappear into the night so he could think.
Fred, realizing Lucille was here to stay, tried to initiate interchange within the room. “Well, it’s dark in here.”
And Lucille added, “And cold.”
“Real cold,” Fred finished up.
The sounds in the kitchen had ceased. They all could guess that Honey was standing stark still, the bread out of the oven and the clams steamed open and, as they cooled, hardening up into small coins of grey sea stuff. She was an odd bird.
Lucille offered, “We’re keeping you from dinner?”
Bob hated to answer stupid questions so he threw a look at Lucille by twisting up his face and cocking his head. Lucille’s experience as a mother of teenagers told her he was thinking, What a stupid broad.
Fred pulled himself out of the chair and headed toward the fireplace. “How about a fire?” Showing the habit of Honey’s neat father, newspaper was stacked tidily to the right. To the left, kindling was piled next to mid_size splits and full_rounded monsters. The fireplace was a big one. Fred took it upon himself to build a fire, not too big, not too small. A center of light and warmth punctured the room.
Lucille went to the side table to the left of Bob’s couch and lifted the glass cylinder of the kerosene lamp’s chimney. She saw the glass was clouded by long_hardened smoke. She used her sleeve to wipe out the interior of the glass cover. She then twisted the nob on the lamp to crank out a piece of white wick. She shook the lamp to wet the wick. She shook it again. She caught Bob watching her.
She commented as she reassembled the lamp. “Getting a lamp tuned up is like tuning up for love. A pull here and a shake there. Needs to be extra wet here.” Then she struck the match on the underside of the table, and the glow filled her space of the room. She lit the wick. “All of a sudden, like love, there’s fire!” She replaced the glass covering onto the lamp body. Diffused by the chimney, the glow rushed passed her shape into the room’s corners. “And presto! You got light, softness, and life is good.”
Bob looked away from Lucille. Why this topic? Certainly he and Honey were not virgins, with the baby in the oven, so to speak. He liked sex, except when older people talked about it and made it cute or holy or real graphic, or the opposite, made a big metaphor of it. When he had sex, he had fun. The whole business was amazing, beyond words.
Fred turned in the arms of his overstuffed chair. He addressed Bob. “This here is an important night. You know the night before your wedding and all.”
Bob wished they both would dry up and blow away.
Sitting upright, Fred had something to say and went forward in the face of Bob’s scowling indifference. “If you’ve noticed, this island has two roads. One going one way. The other going the other way.” Fred looked toward Bob for affirmation of the obvious. Bob stared at the fire.
Fred continued. “Now when Lucille and I were out there in the world, we drove up and down Interstate-5, going north… well, maybe a little east and west where the freeway takes a turn at the Oregon_California border. But then it straightens out north.”
Adjusting his behind in the soft chair, Fred tried to make eye contact with Bob, but Bob watched the fire. Fred went on. “Whether you’re on the freeway going north at ninety miles an hour or on the island’s two roads going fifteen miles an hour, you still use up gasoline.”
At this revelation, Bob looked up and snorted, “No shit!”
Fred refused to be put down and so continued, “I mean you use up gas no matter what road you’re on. But it’s not the need to guzzle gas that gets you on the road. It’s the movement of the earth under the movement of the wheels under you perched up in the driver’s seat. I mean to say that to get the earth to move under you is what being on the road is about. Outside of a truck, you can try, but you can’t jump up long enough to let the earth turn under you. Gravity’s got you by the nuts.”
Thoroughly confused, Bob leaned into Fred’s words and asked, “So you drive and drive back and forth so mother earth can’t hold you by the nuts?”
Fred got frustrated, “No, you’re not really driving back and forth. You’re released from the earth. In a vehicle, you’re riding above the turning, the turning of the wheels, and my God, above the turning of the earth. Only on the road, only riding above the road are your nuts free.”
Bob thought the man was crazy. He grew sullen again. “So what?”
Fred rose up like a grizzly out of his spring den, full of hunger and potent sperm. “So what!” he reacted loudly. “You’re beating the earth’s turning and the earth’s gravity.”
Bob was taken aback by Fred’s spurt of energy that actually made him raise his voice and stand at the same time. Bob tried to get serious and said, “But you’re on this island going back and forth. You aren’t going anywhere.”
Fred went over and put both hands on Bob’s shoulders. “But I am. I’m rolling above the earth’s gravity. I’m beating the earth’s turn. God has given men wheels in order to transcend, and the road is the means of transcension.”
Bob got caught by Fred’s determined belief in his words’ importance. Bob tried once again, “But you’re still going back and forth.”
Fred thought for a moment, then said, “That’s what’s a woman’s vagina is for. That’s where you go back and forth. You go in and out, back and forth. That’s where you go forward! Then reverse! Marriage makes this fun.”
Bob scrunched his face up in disbelief. He would have remembered and thought about the earth’s turn and wheels rolling, but the vagina description blew him away. He laughed at Fred. “You didn’t say that, did you?”
Bob’s voice rose. “Vagina?”
Fred straightened himself up. “Yes, I did, son.” He turned toward Lucille who had heard enough of Fred’s thoughts to last for the next ten years of their marriage. Too much more revelation would upset the applecart. She rose to leave. Fred turned back to Bob. “That’s what I came to tell you. You know, on the night before your wedding. A big step.”
Bob shook his head and waved his arms as if to clear the air. “I’ll think about it, Fred. I’ll just slip my old gear into neutral and think about it.”
Fred looked at Lucille and nodded. They walked toward the door and exited.
Bob sat there, the glow of the lamp to his right and the fire sparking and taking off in front of him. Honey appeared with a large tray. On the table in front of him, she set the clams, a bowl of nectar to dip them in, loaf of steamy bread, and a well tossed bowls of dandelion greens. She took a fork and ate some clams.
Bob did the same. The fire warmed his face. The lamp let him see the clam’s siphon and ruffled edges as he poked it with his fork. Bob and Honey both gave up the forks and picked each clam body out of the shell with their fingers. They ate the bread and nibbled the greens. The room was silent.
Bob realized this was his rehearsal dinner, of sorts. He leaned back in the couch and wept. Honey sat there for a while. Kneeling on the floor, she added two big logs to the fire, working them in with some difficulty. Bob began to weep aloud. His mouth was open, and he had turned into the couch with his forehead against the arm. Bread and drool were coming out of his mouth. Honey sat next to him. She watched the fire. She fell asleep, sitting up, leaning against the sofa.
When the fire went out, Honey woke. Bob had also fallen asleep. She took a blanket from the couch and covered Bob. She crawled in next to him. Waking slightly, he held her, his arms holding her close to prevent her from slipping off the couch onto the floor.