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Edgewood

 

5 (rough draft)

 

Richard Bly was a gangly teenager, his face a bit too square, his eyes just a little too small, his hair called dirty blond. He didn’t like going to the barber, an unfortunate incident when he was a child, so he cut his hair using a mirror and dull scissors, resulting in a demented Prince Valiant look.

He liked pornography, photos of women revealing what women do not reveal as a normal matter of course, movies with nothing concealed. He passed the hours in school dreaming the girls he watched were like the women in the movies, revealing, desiring, desired, wanted.

Cherished, even coveted.

He did not like that he liked women so much. Again, an unfortunate incident internalized. At the age of nine, he took a back issue of Girls Love Anal from a two-foot stack of magazines at the back of his parent’s closet. Like a botanist investigating a new flora discovery, he examined each imagine with the fascination of a child at his first circus.

Lucy Bly, Richard’s mother, a squat, chubby woman in her late thirties, stuck in a repeated pattern of trying to please her mother, though the woman dead for some twenty years, came in to Richard’s bedroom, laundry basket on her hip.

Richard on his stomach on his bed, legs working at the air in an odd dance, flipped back a couple of pages and asked: “You and Dad like doing this?”

The basket of clean clothes fell to the floor, Lucy Bly letting loose a distorted yelp. She took her son under his left arm with her left hand, pulling him twistedly sitting up on the bed. With her right hand, she went, hard, at his face repeatedly, screaming an incoherent diatribe.

What Richard took away from the incident was that to appreciate women was dirty, even awful, corrupt.

The beating he took at the hand of his mother could not get him to hate women, dislike women or stop craving to look at women in life, magazines or movies on the Internet. His mother was a woman, after all, and he wanted to see her naked, too.

He couldn’t hate women, but he could hate himself for loving women so much, making the archetypal woman in his early life, his mother, insanely angry because of his love for women. As he examined the renderings of women, he gained an affinity for the women, and at an early age, imagined himself one of these women, a creature so loved by a man. As the mutt he thought himself to be, he knew a woman, any woman was the opposite of the hated thing he was.

Richard could read well beyond his grade level. Toward the end of 5th grade, for reasons beyond understanding, the administration decided to test reading levels in a verbal exam. Though Richard could read and read well, he could not open a book and read aloud with six administrators watching him from the other side of the table. As he stood there, sweat beaded on this forehead, his hands shook and voice cracked, the words unable to form.

No one guessed Richard was crippled with a form of posttraumatic stress syndrome.

Deemed well below grade level, Richard was required to repeat 5th grade, adding to the stigma. His father, unaware of the incident with Girls Love Anal, took a turn at shame, smacking Richard around for being stupid, being illiterate, an embarrassment.

Through the tears of frustration, he read all the articles in the magazines he secreted from his father’s collection.

“I can read.” The standardized tests stood witness, but did not trump human observation. With the passing of the year, the idea of verbal reading tests was lost and forgotten.

Richard’s classmates on the best of days ignored Richard. On bad days, they road Richard like a pony at a kid’s birthday party. He was seen as ugly and dumb. In reality, he was neither.

He didn’t want to be popular or even liked. All he wanted was a girlfriend. Like his inability to read aloud, he was unable to speak to girls, not even his mother but in short responses to direct questions.

Fear.

 

Through the years of high school, Richard watched kids hooking up all around him. He approached a handful of girls, awkwardly. His shtick was too candid, some girls backing away, other politely dismissing and worst of all, some laughing, reinforcing his anxiety disorder. The first day of senior year, he vowed to make contact. He didn’t know how.

He needed advice.

“Hey,” Richard said to Brian Fowler in the hall after last period, a boy he shared three classes with.

“Hey?” Brian answered, inquisitive. “Dick, right?”

“Richard.”

“Sure, Richard. Rat.”

“Huh? Because your mom’s a cop?”

“You’d think, huh?” He offered a sincere laugh. “Middle name. Ratner.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Should I?”

Richard shrugged, pushing open the entry door into the stairwell, allowing Rat by. “I wanted to ask you something.”

“Sure.”

“Personal.”

“I’m not gay,” Rat said, watching Richard as they descended.

“No, no, no.”

“Sorry. Go ahead.”

“This is hard.”

“I said I wasn’t gay.” He snickered. “Again, sorry, go ahead.”

Making daylight, in the flowing crowd, Richard took a chance, overcoming his fear. “I want a girlfriend and don’t know how.”

Rat gave Richard a sideways look, stopping, a hand to Richard’s arm, turning. “You think I’m a stick man?”

“A what?”

“Good with the ladies?”

Richard blushed. “You have a lot of girlfriends.”

“I know many girls, sure. What are you saying?”

“I can’t even talk to girls. I don’t even know what to ask you.”

Rat shared a knowing nod. “Shy?”

“Yeah.”

He rolled his eyes. “Girls are a bit scary.”

“They sure are!”

“A decent haircut wouldn’t hurt.”

“I hate the barber.”

Rat rolled his eyes. “Well, go to a stylist, a women’s haircut place. You know, even being shy and all, you know the women in the shop want you there, so they’ll be nice to you because you’re a customer.”

Hope shown in Richard’s eyes.

Rat glanced side-to-side, leaning close. “Keep in mind: girls are people, too. All you have to do is think what gets your attention.”

Richard nodded.

“Girls don’t care about you, so don’t go boasting about who you are or what you do. Girls care about themselves, so that’s what you talk about.”

Again, an eager nod.

With narrowed eyes, Rat said, “Gifts. Girls like getting shit.” He held a joint between them. “Many girls love getting dope.”

Richard’s eyes went wide.

“Really?”

“Ever try it?”

“No. I wouldn’t even know where to get it.”

“Take this. Try it. If you like it, we can talk.”

“Rat?” a pretty girl asked, approaching.

“Hey, Jill. Where do you get your hair done?”

“Huh, oh. Mason’s Hair Hut, down on the avenue.”

“Friendly place?”

“Sure, why not.”

“What’s that cost?” Richard asked, looking at his feet.

“Forty bucks, including the $10.00 tip.”

Turning from Richard, Rat put his arm around Jill. “See you on the flip side,” he said over his shoulder.

“What’s with that?” Jill asked as they moved off.

“Fellow man in need.”

“Of?”

“Getting laid.”

She giggled. “Age old quest. Did you give him a club and tell him to drag her back to the cave by the hair?”

“Pretty much.”

“He’s a strange one, quiet. But, I like that in a man.”

“It’s always the quiet ones.”

 

The idea of a haircut, a place where women would welcome him, be nice to him, intrigued Richard. He’d not thought of it. Even if the women didn’t like him, they’d still pretend to like him because that’s what people do with customers.

He heard his mother in the basement, the washer going. Hurrying upstairs to his parent’s bedroom closet, he fished a strongbox from under the clutter at the back of the closet, setting it on the floor, swinging the lid back.

With his ear turned toward the door, he listened for his mother, sure she was still in the basement. With careful hands, the .45 found a resting place to the left, various sized documents and letters to the right. The envelope was as remembered. He counted out four $10.00 bills, replacing everything just as they were.

 

The pot had an odd smell to it, unlike the flat odor of his father’s burning cigarettes. Richard squirrelled away in the back of the stand-alone garage, experiencing marijuana for the first time. He’d seen enough movies to know how to smoke it, surprised he didn’t cough like the characters in the movies. He gave himself room for the experience, disappointed, thinking he wasted his time.

He thought he was in the garage for ten minutes. He smirked to himself when he discovered an hour had passed. Back in the house, his mother asked, “Where have you been?”

He shrugged, dismissing her with a wave of his hand, unafraid, something he was never able to be.

I think I like pot. He got the idea that if he could get a girl to smoke enough pot, she wouldn’t dislike him so much, maybe even like him.

 

“I’m Morgan. What can we do for you today?”

“I’m Richard,” he answered, having prepared and practiced for thirty minutes pacing the street in front of Mason’s Hair Hut. “I would like my hair cut.” His response was wooden, but he felt the response okay.

“What did you have in mind?” she asked, first glancing over her shoulder, then making a note in the appointment book. “Do you have a discount card?”

He didn’t know what he had in mind, unprepared for that question. “Jill sent me.”

Morgan looked hard at Richard, sizing him up, Richard staring at the appointment book. “How about I give you the handsome cut? It’s something special just for people like you.”

“That would be great!” He looked at her, fear washing over and away, tamed to a manageable level.

She came around the desk, side-to-side, against him. “Here, let’s fill this out,” she said, placing a pen to paper. “Name.”

“Richard Bly.”

She wrote. “What a wonderful name!”

Address and phone number followed. The tag on the bottom of the slip came free, scanned and handed over. “Now you’re in our system as one of our special clients!”

Richard could have drooled. He saw Morgan like one of the women in the magazines. Her hair was black, flowing around her head and over her shoulders, eyes dark like her hair, flesh barely not white, just a hint of ochre, lips apple-red. Lush black eyelashes flirted around dark gray eye shadow. Shorter than him by a couple of inches even perched on three-inch heel black boots, the boots teasing her knees, she wore a black corset top with red appointments, her breasts arguing to escape, black flared pleated skirt riding her thighs, the hem of the skirt playing against the top of her black stockings.

“I’d like to wash your hair,” Morgan said, explaining why she put him in the chair with the sink to the back.

He was able to squelch the panic, the feeling of helplessness, tied down, out of control. All I have to do is submit, he thought, eyes closed, warm water bathing his head.

“You have really nice hair,” Morgan said, lathering.

A hot woman is rubbing my head, he thought, opening his eyes, watching her watching what she was doing. The experience ended much too quickly, Richard moved to another chair. He didn’t want to watch himself in the mirror, thinking to shut his eyes, but he wanted to drink Morgan in, the mirror allowing him the pleasure without Morgan knowing.

Scissors, a comb and delicate hands danced about his head. In moments when Morgan’s hair floated close to his face, he could smell cigarettes and pot. “Where do you work?”

Tragic question. “High school.” He thought to qualify the statement with I’m a senior, but took Rat’s warning about boasting seriously.

“Really?” She caught his eyes in the mirror. “You seem so much older, so mature.”

He wished he saved the joint as a tip for her, but he knew if he’d done that, he’d not have known she smoked pot. “I really like it so far.”

“Good.” The comb slipped from her hand, Morgan following it to the floor.

Richard gulped, watching in the mirror, the glimmer of black nylon panty. Morgan paused, catching his eye again in the mirror, smiling softly, offering a wink. He drank her like a wine taster.

Erect once more, she dipped the comb in a jar of green liquid, returning to his head. “Almost done. Jill referred you?”

“Yeah, it was Jill.”

“She’s a favorite of mine.” Morgan had no idea who Jill was.

“She’s pretty.” Richard took a huge risk. “But not as pretty as you.”

Morgan feigned a blush. “Why, thank you, honey.” She untied the bib, working a towel into the shirt collar, applying warm shaving cream to his neck and under his ears. As she worked the straight razor around, she said, “You’ll have to tell your friends.”

If I had any.

Done, unsteady on his feet as if he just woke from a nap, he followed Morgan to the register. “$18.00 today.”

“Boy, I wish I could get a haircut everyday!” He held the four $10.00 bills forward.

She cupped his hand with her left hand, removing the bills with her right. “It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much!”

Richard hesitated, lingering on the moment, watching Morgan place money in the register, some in the pocket of her skirt. She looked up, beyond him. “What can we do for you today?”

Wondering if it were all an act, Richard sunk in himself, took a step back, started to turn.

“Richard,” Morgan said.

“Huh?”

“It really was my pleasure.”

 

A stylist, half Morgan’s age, came over Morgan’s shoulder, chin in Morgan’s hair. A whisper: “How much?”

“$22.00.”

“Really?”

Morgan shrugged. “Some marks are really easy to read.”

“When you act like a slut!” Her statement, steeped in judgment.

Morgan smiled. “$22.00. I don’t care what you think I act like.”

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