Avatar Review
Issue 13

Prose: Joseph Lombo

Or Else

With each passing second my butt sank deeper into the wing backed chair’s crushed velvet seat. The hands on the bell jar clock above the TV mocked me as I wondered if Maureen’s parents were ever going to bed. As long as they were downstairs I had no shot at spending any time alone with Maureen on the big, comfy couch in the living room.

I’d been biding my time for over two hours. Her father hadn’t even gotten out of his recliner to change the channel or to take a leak. Her mother was sipping her hundredth cup of coffee while holding Maureen hostage in the kitchen. She insisted that Maureen tell her yet again how that hunk Travolta had stolen every scene in Urban Cowboy. At first, I blamed myself for taking Maureen to see that goddamned move last weekend. The more I thought about it though the more convinced I became that it was her father’s fault for refusing to take his wife to see it.

It was starting to look like her parents were going to pull an all nighter. I kept waiting for Maureen to come up with an excuse for us to sneak down the basement. I knew the conversation with her mother wasn’t going to end anytime soon when Maureen began reciting the same 500 reasons why Debra Winger wasn’t fit to spit on Johnny’s boots that she’d given me last weekend.

I tried to get interested in the horror movie her dad was staring at, but the reception sucked. He barely grunted at my lame attempts at making small talk. I was tempted to walk the hell out of the house just to see how long it would take Maureen to notice I was gone, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave if there was even the slightest chance at some couch time.

Eventually, Maureen’s mom walked into the living room. She made a big display out of telling her husband that she was going to bed. Twenty minutes later his butt was still in that chair.

Maureen hadn’t left the kitchen. She’d gotten on the phone after her mother left. Every few minutes she put her hand on the receiver to tell me she’d be right in. When I headed for the kitchen she hung up before I got there.

“Who were you talking too?” I asked.

“We need to talk.” She led me through the house by the hand. When we were in the living room she told me again that we had to talk; only this time she shouted. I figured she was repeating herself to keep her father from following us, although it didn’t look like a live grenade could pry him out of that chair.

I put my arm around her as soon as we were out on the front porch.

“Didn’t you hear me?” Maureen asked before pushing me away and taking a seat on the front steps.

I slumped into a porch rocker and waited to find out what I was supposed to apologize for this time. Heat lightning flashed behind an orange moon that had settled above the overpass at the end of the block. With my luck it’d probably be raining by the time I had to walk home.

“I’m not worth fighting over,” Maureen said.

“Is that what this is about?” I’d started lifting weights a few months ago. I felt good enough about my new physique to run my mouth at a touch football game. I bragged that I was going to throttle Maureen’s old boyfriend Phil if he didn’t stay away from her.

“It got back to him, what you said. Now he wants to fight you.”

I may have had a few more muscles, but I still hadn’t taken the karate class I needed to help me back up the tough talk. “Tell him I’m not the twerp I used to be,” I added with what I hoped was a tough guy sneer

“I’m not getting in the middle of this,” Maureen said.

“You’re my girlfriend, remember?”

Maureen tugged on the class ring I’d given her a few months ago. She wore it on a chain around her neck. I tried to sneak in a few bicep curls using a can of soda somebody had left on the porch.

“Why do you have to hang on that corner while I’m at work anyway?” I must have bagged a gazillion groceries at the Aramingo Pathmark to pay for the ring she was mindlessly running along that chain.

“My mom taught me to get along with everybody. Besides, am I supposed to sit in the house while you’re working?”

“Nobody said you had to stay in the house. Just don’t go to that corner when he’s there. People talk, you know.”

Maureen leaned the back of her newly permed hair against the brick divider that separated her porch from the neighbors’. I snuck a peak at her father through the porch window on the slim chance that I still might be able to salvage some couch time. He was snapping his hands at a fly buzzing around his chair.

“Believe me; I know how they talk around here. I’d love to go someplace where nobody looks at me and says that’s the girl who went on a crash diet because the boys wouldn’t look at her. Now because they do that makes me some kind of slut. ” Maureen pulled her ruffled blouse sleeves down until they covered the stretch marks on her upper arms.

She got emotional like this a lot lately. I tried to figure out if it happened around the same time every month, but my mind was so jumbled I couldn’t think straight.

A rickety ice cream truck broke the silence as it rumbled up the street.

“Maybe some ice cream will cheer you up,” I said.

“Oh, you’d love to fatten me up, wouldn’t you? Then I’d never want to leave the house.” Maureen’s right hand dove into her pocketbook. It came out with a picture of herself before she’d lost all that weight. “Remember her? Remember when we first started going out how you told me you would have never gone out with her?

The girl in that picture looked nothing like Maureen. Her hair was straight; her face full. Only the sad, forced smile looked familiar. “You didn’t tell me it was you,” I said.

Maureen’s misty green eyes glistened under the flickering light of a fickle street lamp. Even though I had no chance at any couch time now, I couldn’t help checking on her father anyway. His eyes were closed and a little drool dribbled out the side of his mouth.

“If we’d met four years from now all those plans of yours wouldn’t be so far off,” Maureen said.

“They’re’ not. College in the Fall. A degree in four years. Work for a year, save some money…”

“That might as well be a hundred years from now.” She began stuffing her mouth with pieces of sugarless gum. The she blew little bubbles and popped them with her teeth. It sounded like machine gun fire.

“You could go to college too, you know.”

“With my grades? Even you aren’t with me for my brains.”

I watched the tops of cars and trucks fly by on the overpass. It seemed like everybody was passing through Bridesburg on their way to someplace else.

“I just don’t see where this is headed,” Maureen said.

“Where what is headed?”

“Us. You and me. My mom says I’m too young to be seeing just one guy.”

“You should have thought of that before you took my ring,” I said.

In the smoldering silence that followed my stomach did the same slow burn it did when there was a lull in one of my parent’s heated arguments. Those cease fires were worse than the yelling because I was never sure if they were through fighting or simply reloading.

“What if I worked at the supermarket during the day and went to school at night?

“When would you find time to squeeze me in?” Maureen asked. She gazed at the flickering street lamp. I tried not to follow the curves her hips and legs made in those pasted on jeans.

“We can still see each other even if we decide to see other people too,” Maureen added softly.

“What the hell’s the point of that,” I said in a voice that sounded like my old man’s.

“If we’re still together after you finish school we’ll know it was meant to be.”

Maureen tried to loop her arm through mine, but I pulled away.

“This is about him, isn’t it?” I asked.

“It’s about us,” she whispered.

Maureen looked great even though her eyeliner was smudged and she was sniffling. I’d gotten used to the way everyone thought more of me for being with her. I couldn’t share that with anyone else.

“It’s me or else, Maureen.”

I paced around the porch like it was surrounded by steel bars. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Maureen pull the chain over her neck. Then she forced the warm, wet ring into my clenched fist, kissed me on the cheek, and burst into the house. The racket she made was what finally got her father out of that chair.

A dirty drizzle followed me home. All I could think about was the empty couch I’d give up ever sitting on again. By the time I got into bed, I’d just about convinced myself that Maureen would come crawling back in a couple of days.