I always thought she was a pretty girl—until she opened her mouth, anyway. Between those soft red lips, man, was an impressive set of ivory. When my imagination took me there, at first, I thought of a rat: protrusions pulling away from the gums and then slanting inward.
So that made it easy for me to keep things professional between us. She filed and checked in the doctor’s patients while I entered data and ran the reports. She picked up the files when I had finished with them, hugging the folders to her heartbreaking figure while she carried them.
Now, I am a particular dude with pretty unrelenting standards. I liked a lady to be college-educated, for one, just as I had been. This temp office gig was my first full time job, you see, and I needed to have one while I looked for the Real One, which would begin the Real Life with a Real Girlfriend.
Both Big Tooth and I worked the early shift at Dr. Feffapack’s Eye Clinic. Got there at 7 a.m. to open up the office and left at 3:30. We had to listen to a squawking saxophone jazz mix all day, every day, that Dr. Feffapack had personally compiled and intermixed with his recording of his wife reading humorous health tips for good eye care. You try and find romance in such a zone and with a girl with chompers like hers to boot.
But we were the only two young ones who worked there. You know how your youth can isolate you from an older person’s indignant priorities? I, at twenty-two, and B.T., at twenty-one, possessed a sanity that contrasted heavily with HR Roberta, who went to bed at 8:30 every night, and with Mrs. Feffapack, who collected expensive plates painted with angels and cherubs.
Once B.T.’s car broke down for good, I offered to give her rides. No expectations. In the mornings, she sometimes brought a freshly toasted Pop-Tart with her in each hand, one for each of us. She lived in a two-bedroom apartment with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, a part-time artist that B.T. downright hated.
One time after work, B.T. let me come upstairs to borrow a manga comic that I was curious about seeing after hearing her go on and on about it for a couple days at work. I got to see the big sis’s loafer boyfriend, too. He was just lying on the couch in pajama pants and a dirty shirt, scarfing chips, drinking Coors, and watching crap television. I mean, I know I’ve got plenty of pathetic nerdy ways in which I spend my free time, but this guy was a poser and let’s just leave it at that.
But seeing him there did make me feel for B.T.
She walked to her room to grab the book from her bookshelf. I followed her, walking lightly across the thick carpeting. I waited at the doorway of her bedroom and barely glanced inside other than to notice the tight cling of her gray wool pants on her hips.
“See, there’s this amazing drawing inside; where is it?” she came too close and I stepped back while trying to crane my neck forward and see what she was pointing out. “This is so beautiful,” she murmured. The drawing was in black ink of a warrior in long robes and an agonized expression. The emotion on his face twisted something inside my gut. An image of B.T. cuddling with this very book in the next-to-nothings I assume she must wear to bed flashed through my mind. She looked up and met my eyes.
“Y’all want a beer?” called sis’s boyfriend from the couch. “I got a 12-pack in the frig.”
“No!” she whispered to me, twisting her face up to stop up a laugh.
“Get out of here?” I mouthed, nodding at the door.
She answered me by way of a smile. God help me, I thought.
I’ll disappear from this story if I start talking too much about her.
I’ll try to boil it down for you by saying that it all happened quickly. She handed me a book of Japanese ink drawings and I put her back in my car and drove us to a Chili’s—the only place for a drink in her part of town that didn’t have bars over the windows, if that tells you anything.
“It better not be a Coors, Megan,” I told her when she hemmed and hawed over the morality of ordering a drink at 3:40 in the afternoon. Her name was Megan, by the way.
“Aw, my favorite.”
“We should have taken the 12-pack with us.”
“I’m OK with the fact that we didn’t.”
Her teeth still made me stare until a few frozen margaritas later when my tongue was bumping up against their sharp edges while we said goodnight. Twisting towards her and then away hurt so much until I worked up the nerve to get closer and stay there.
In the next two weeks, I started reading more than ever before, usually after I drove home from her place. The passages open up. I consider the fact that I may have been illiterate until this end-of-summer romance, when I read the words: “They are at the curbstone, waiting. Their eyes are going grim, sending out less light. . .They are waiting and then they go, one of them goes, a mick who shouts Geronimo.”
Like I said in the beginning, though, I couldn’t stay in that town and plug numbers into a database for the rest of my life. I majored in Political Science and I’ve got an untapped resource of righteous indignation that might work in my favor. Megan never stepped foot outside of this town and she’s scared of the college side of it. The way I felt about her flared up in a few weeks. Then, I heard back from a workers’ rights nonprofit I applied to after I graduated. I told them I’d be able to start yesterday and got excited to move to a big city.
“You’re really amazing,” I said and told her that I would be moving six hundred miles northward.
“You don’t have to say that,” she told me.
“I mean it.”
“It’s OK. You’ve been a nice friend.”
I had to grab her around the waist when she said that.
“We’ll keep in touch,” she told me.
This is my reality and you can’t make it up. The details of this story are litany of the cheap shit you get to endure in small-town America. I’m glad to be removed from that now. Really, those few weeks with Big Toothed Megan at Dr. Feffapack’s office make up my brief immersion in it.
And now I listen to music while I’m driving and it holds me. I’ve always been kind of a music snob and I know how to listen within the sound. Listening is primary. Secondary is the world outside the car. She’s a part of all that out there.
Being inside a great sound is kind of like loving someone, I find out. But that will come much later.
Love like a sunset
Here’s the second part of last week’s story, Turn Right.