by Phoebe Wilcox

It was about to rain and Mary was alone and had no plans for the weekend. As she passed by the little holographic couple that danced their endless jitterbug on a pedestal outside the science building she realized that this dancing couple made her happy, happy to be a college student without a date, with nothing to do but study on a Friday night, happy to await the needles of rain that sharpened themselves in the clouds. The nine-inch tall couple glowed in their bell jar, their bodies and clothing mostly gold with hints of orange and green that shifted around the edges. They were energetic and never ceased in their routine. He twirled her; her poodle-dog skirt flared and her pony tail swung out from her head. Mary, pausing for a minute to admire their dancing little feet, decided to name them. Let's call him Butch, she thought, and let's call her Mary. Why not? Mary smiled at the irony, adjusted her books on her hip, glanced up at the sky, and walked on to the dorms, making it in the main door just as the first few dart-like drops began to fall.

Carson, a boy whose father was a welder, sat on her roommate's bed reading a hot rod magazine. Katie, her roommate, was in the bathroom spraying a nimbus of hairspray down over a tight, docile head of hair. She came coughing out of the bathroom.

"See you later, Mary." Katie grabbed her purse to go.

"See you later."

"See ya." Carson laid the magazine down.


After they left Mary sat on her bed wondering what to do. Katie and Carson were going to the movies. She had planned on studying but now she no longer felt like it. She sat on her bed and admired her 70s-era Mick Jagger poster, especially his gypsy-bright clothing and the preternaturally elastic string of saliva that stretched across his singing mouth. Outside, the evening had taken on a dusky, windy, invigorating feel and tree branches scratched against the window like an animal that wanted in. Mary, in response to this night animal briefly reached over and traced a finger down the glass. She stared into the dark glare of the window, wishing she had a boyfriend and wondering what it would be like, all of that stuff. That first-love stuff. That getting-engaged stuff. That breaking-it-off-in-a-horrendous-fight stuff. That making-up-and-getting-sweetly-back-together stuff. Even though Katie told her all about it all the time, it was completely unfathomable to her.

She wondered if Butch and Mary were still dancing. She wondered if they danced in the rain and in the darkness. She believed that they did and this gave her comfort. Mary lay down on her bed and picked up Carson's hot rod magazine.

* * *

It was after midnight when Butch and Mary, the holographic couple, stopped dancing. They'd gotten tired of it and were curled up at the edge of their bell jar holding hands and nuzzling each other. Mary had thrown her legs up over Butch's lap, her hands laced around his neck. She'd just begun to kiss him a little in the vicinity of his ear. She loved it when the science building quieted down enough that she and Butch could do whatever they wanted.

"I want to have my way with you," he said, smiling brilliantly, goldly in the darkness.

"Okay!" she answered and squirmed obligingly beneath his nebulous, pressing hands. He felt like a sunbeam and his kisses tasted like ripe tangerines.

They accommodated each other in every possible way. At night they lost their inhibitions because there wasn't much to see outside of the bell jar. The world outside was just a streetlight with a few dozen whirling moths. They loved to watch the moths but the bland, gritty sidewalk below the pedestal, marked with a few dark, sporadic discs of chewing gum, had ceased to interest them long ago. They'd found other diversions. As fit and athletic as they were, their lovemaking would have been the awe of the campus if anyone had ever chanced to stroll fortuitously by the science building on a late night, but no one ever did. Oh, the riotous good times they'd have inspired as Mary's pony tail came undone and the poodle skirt twisted up with the jeans in a glistening gold pile off to the side. Their love had the singing of tiny stars in it and afterwards, as they fell asleep in each others arms, they slipped into the current of a shared dream in which others were privileged with the same sort of love they had. A capacious wish for the happiness of all living things filled their insular little goldfish bowl. These were two sweet little people. They didn't remember where they had come from or where they might be going. They had no idea what their lives meant or when they might end. All they really knew was that they must dance an interminable dance as soon as the sun came up. Butch made it bearable for Mary. Mary made it bearable for Butch. And the night was their well and water.

* * *

The night air against her cheek was chill and moist but the rain had stopped and the moon was up. Mary didn't care that it was one in the morning and that her campus was located in a dangerous part of the city. She didn't care that it was dark and there was no one about. She felt protected, like she had a purpose on this earth and that dying young was no part of it. Her footsteps over the sidewalks were hollow and self-absorbed; they avoided puddles and admired reflections. There were moths whirling around streetlights and she felt a little like a moth herself. She wished she knew how to do things, even, for instance, welding. Most of all though, she wanted to know how to jitterbug. She'd never had the opportunity to learn the steps of that old dance but thought that whenever she did get a boyfriend, it would be nice to have something to teach him.

The science building was ivy-covered and adept at keeping secrets.

"Hello," she called out as she approached.

Moths whirled around the globe of the streetlight. The moon smiled like an artistic rendition of itself. The bell jar was glossy and inscrutable.

Mary reached out to touch the glass of the jar but dropped her hand and covered her mouth in surprise instead, for Butch and Mary were right in the middle of making love. Mary had never seen anyone making love before. She lowered her face to the glass and almost thought Butch spied her, as her large, curious nose was just about at the level of his eyes, but no, his eyes were closed and he was hard at work. Then, toward the end, she saw his teeth; he had teensy-weensy little teeth. And Mary had tiny yellow-green breasts like opalescent lemons. When they were done, the couple fell asleep, their limbs intertwined. Butch snored. Big Mary pressed her ear against the glass and thought she heard a sound like the trilling of a cricket. She was glad that Butch had moved apart from Mary so that she could see his entire body. Mary had grown up in a clan of women and had never even seen a picture of a naked man. It had also been a very long time since she'd been to an art museum and had had the opportunity to examine the genitalia of any classical hunk rendered in marble. So she'd gotten a little confused about male anatomic details. She knew that there was a penis and testicles but she wasn't sure if there were two testes in one sack or two testes in two sacks. Whenever she was in the library at school she was so absorbed in other class work that she always forgot to research the issue. Then, when she was lying in her dorm bed at night and remembered about it, she had no resources available to her, except Katie, and she wasn't about to ask Katie such a stupid question. Butch's genitalia cleared it all up for her, with the added bonus that they happened to look like a cluster of pretty little golden currants.

Mary decided to watch the couple in their repose. She leaned her upper body against the glass for support and rested her cheek on the arched glass at the top of the jar, one arm outstretched overhead, hanging in the air. At times she slipped into an uncomfortable vertical sort of sleep. Until Little Mary came awake to sleepily kiss Butch's lips and run her hands through the corn silk of his chest hair. Then Butch awoke and moved over her like a thunderstorm.

Hours later, dawn came like a blush-colored broom and swept the morning star away over the edge of the world. The holograms awoke and began to dress. Mary smoothed her tousled hair, and hungry, headed off in the direction of the college cafeteria. When she stopped once to look back, Butch and Mary were playing tug-of-war with a bobby sock. They laughed and laughed. To Mary it seemed like the impassioned chirping of birds going on silently behind that glass. She understood all about invisible actions and silent songs. In the end, it was only the glass that had to break.

BIO: Phoebe Wilcox (www.phoebewilcox.com). lives in eastern Pennsylvania . Some of her favorite things are John Banville novels, sushi, salamanders (they have cute hands) and picking blueberries. Her novel, Angels Carry the Sun is pending publication with Lilly Press, and an excerpt from a second novel-in-progress has been published in "Wild Violet." Recent and forthcoming experiments may be found in "The Chaffey Review," "The Big Table," "Shoots and Vines," "The Battered Suitcase," "Gloom Cupboard," "Calliope Nerve," "Bartleby Snopes," "The Black Boot" and others. Her story, "Carp with Water in Their Ears," published in "River Poets Journal" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.