Ten minutes after I break up with Melon over the phone, I'm at McDonald's looking for Kat. It's just past noon, a Saturday, raining. The place is packed with fat kids and their fat parents, acne-covered adolescents, and tea-drinking old people reading newspapers and tying up the booths. Kat's at the deep fryer draining a basket of french fries, her brown ponytail sticking out of the back of that stupid cap they wear, sweating like a priest at a Boys Town overnighter. A couple of don't-give-a-shit Hispanic chicks are taking orders and looking like they'd rather be at a school shooting. When I finally push through the grease zombies and get her attention, Kat can hardly hear me.
"Lop-u-nop-cop-hop?" I shout. (Which translated means, "Lunch?")
Heads turn in my direction and I recognize the look: Oh great! What planet is this guy illegally from?
"Cop-a-nop'top!" ("Can't!") she yells back, and then holds a hand out, palm up, as if to say, Look at all these assholes.
"Wop-hop-a-top top-i-mop-e yop-o-u o-fop-fop?!" ("What time you off?")
"Top-hop-rop-e-e!" Kat tells me, holding up three fingers. Then she turns, picks up a salt shaker the size of a coffee can, and shakes it over the fries. On the lines, I think I detect people starting to drool.
So this is the story. Melon and I had been dating for just about a year. We met during freshman orientation at the community college, discovered we were both majoring in Agricultural Design, started hanging out, decided (I guess) that we were both lonely, then went one-on-one. Nice woman, Sicilian ancestry, clean and well-pressed, good head on her shoulders. The problem is a year's a year, and even English muffins in the freezer tend to go stale eventually.
Kat was this chick that Melon knew—hardly a friend—and we'd run into her at Atomic Pizza, or Frozen Yogurt Warehouse, or the mall, or on the street. Then, last May at one of those end-of-the semester parties, we finally had a chance to say more than "hey" to each other.
There were a bunch of us—Kat wasn't a student, but she was dating some guy majoring in Hospitality Services—and everybody was talking about what foreign languages they could speak. I finally said, "Oppish. Besides English, I speak fluent Oppish." I smiled and people stared at me as if I'd just phoned in a bomb threat, and then I heard Kat say, "Mop-e, top-o-o. I sop-pop-e-a-kop i-top, top-o-o." ("Me, too. I speak it, too.)
(The idea behind Oppish is simple. You just add "op" to every consonant and pronounce each vowel. It originated on some Nickelodeon kid's show around the year 2.)
We talked Oppish until everybody else got bored and drifted off, then we switched to English. It quickly dawned on me that I had chemistry with Kat that I didn't have with Melon. Kat would laugh when I was trying to be funny. She'd say, "Good point," when I was attempting to make a serious argument. Melon, bless her, basically has one reaction to whatever I say: indifference.
Then, last Fourth of July during "Fireworks over Fairfield," me and Melon ran into Kat on the football field at the high school. It's where everybody gathered for the best view. Kat'd dumped Mr.Hospitality Services and had taken up with some guy in a wheelchair wearing a Harley-Davidson t-shirt. Melon had run into some chick she knew from middle school, and while they discussed the wonderful world of being twelve, Kat and I wandered off—the dude in the wheelchair being, with all due respect, fairly easy to ditch—and wound up in my car kissing, rubbing, and fumbling around for over half-an-hour. By the time we got back, Melon was major pissed off, and wheelchair guy had driven home in his specially designed, insurance settlement van.
That was three months ago, but the experience—along with daily emailing and planned accidental encounters—led me to believe that maybe my future was with Kat, who kissed like a lamprey, as opposed to Melon who, after all this time, was beginning to kiss like masonry.
Not long past three, just after the rain stops and the October sun makes a curtain call, Kat comes out into the parking lot where I'm waiting, car window rolled down. She's changed into street clothes: tight jeans, black Rebboks, and a red hoodie that says "Vampire Killer." Sexy looking girl, this Kat. Not beautiful—not even as cute as Melon—but she knows how to work it. I beep my horn, wave, and she walks over all smiles.
"Can I tell you something?" she says.
(We generally don't talk Oppish when it's just the two of us.)
"When I saw you come in before, I wanted to jump over the counter, tear down your pants, and impale myself."
This is the game we've been playing for awhile. We've had no real sexual contact to speak of, but we pretend like we have. I tell her to hop in and let's go someplace, and within seconds she's sitting on the passenger's seat next to me.
Kat keeps her hand on my inner thigh, just above the knee, as we pull out of the lot. My plan is simple: get some alcohol into the woman, initiate full-contact sex, begin a relationship that—for all anybody knows—might turn out to be more than the facade it currently is.
When Kat asks where we're going, I tell her that since we're so close, why don't we drop by my place.
Potentially, this could be a mistake. I still live with my mother—my own bedroom "apartment" in the basement with a separate entrance—but Mom can be a daunting presence to those unfamiliar with her. She developed a "nutritional condition" when my father left a few years ago, and it caused her to "blow out." Bottom line: she's an extremely fat woman who likes to look in my ground-level window (she has to get prone to do this,) in order to "not bother" me, but "make sure things are all right."
Kat yanks down the sun visor with her free hand, leans forward, and studies herself in the mirror. "What about Melon?" she asks.
"Over," I say, and the hand on my leg is instantly removed.
Kat tells me she's sorry to hear this, then turns her head to look out the side window. I'm confused. I thought she would have greeted this news like those people in Times Square hearing the Second World War was over.
"Doesn't mean we can't all remain friends," I say.
"She was never my friend," Kat says. "I've hated her guts ever since sixth grade."
(I've heard the story from Melon. Apparently Kat was crushing on some kid in their homeroom. Melon came along and snagged him, employing whatever seductive tricks eleven-year old girls use—maybe taking a punch on the arm without flinching, or biting the head off a G.I. Joe.)
Now Kat's interested in particulars. When did we officially break-up? Are you sure it's final? What was the precipitating incident?
(Honest-to-God. That's the phrase she uses. "Precipitating incident.")
"Happened last night," I admit. "We went to see a movie and when I was driving her home, she said, 'So where are we going with this whole thing'?"
"She still lives with her folks," Kat—a woman who rooms with three other females in an apartment the size of a tool shed—scoffs. "That is so pathetic."
Before I can point out that I, like Melon, live at home, Kat presses me for more details.
"I told her I wasn't sure where the relationship was going, and she said she didn't know how it'd make me feel but she was hoping to someday have my baby."
"She said that?" Kat asks in disbelief.
I nod my head. "I told her I was tired, that I needed to process this whole thing, that I'd call her in the morning."
"Which is when you broke up."
I nod. We ride for awhile in silence after which Kat says, "Can you take me back to my car?"
"What's up?" I ask.
"I'm just not feeling so hot," she says.
I try, "Cop-o-mop-e o-nop." Come on.
"Don't do that," she tells me.
For the next week, Kat doesn't respond to my calls. When I stop in to see her at work, she either has one of the Hispanic chicks or the manager with the giant birthmark tell me she's busy. I try emailing her, but no dice.
My life, for what it is, becomes pretty desperate. I go to school during the day, work four nights a week for an industrial cleaning company called Mister Shine. I watch my mom—who seems to be getting heavier by the moment—quietly leave the house via her own entrance, down a set of wooden steps that creaks under her girth.
Finally, one Friday night when I'm too drunk to run a floor buffer and too apathetic to write an essay on "Lima Bean Farming" or some such shit, I call Melon. I've seen her around campus—if you can call two-and-a-half acres of poured concrete with some bushes in the middle a "campus"—and we're both in the same "Exploring Soil Erosion" class, but she's avoided me like buttermilk with an expired pull date.
I tell her we need to talk.
Melon being Melon goes right for the nards. "Why now?" she asks. "Is it because you've been drinking and the little head is telling the big head what to do?"
(Actually, she's not that far off. The only female flesh I've touched in a while was the back of my mom's increasingly flabby neck, and that was to remove what I thought was a Cherrio from one of the folds.)
"I just don't think we should throw away all the time we've both invested," I slur into the phone.
"And I think maybe we should wait until you're more sober."
(This is where she's the champ. Hold out a piece of liver, and when the dog snaps, yank it back.)
I lie to her. I tell her I haven't been drinking but that I'm sleep deprived due to our break-up. This hits its target. She agrees to meet me at Coffee Jolt, this place just off campus.
And it's there, after about six lattes and an equal number of trips to the men's room, that I sober up and tell her she's holding the strings. "I'll take this thing wherever you want to take it," I say.
Melon begins to glow as if she's radioactive. "I want us to get married," she says.
I tell her okay, good idea, but that it won't be anytime soon. We both have a year of community college left and no real job prospects, and Melon says that's fine, all she needs is to know that I'm serious. Serious enough that she can start telling people. Serious enough that from now on I have to start calling her by her real name—Maryellen—no more of this "Melon shit."
I agree to the conditions and she follows me back to my place—my Mom is at the community center taking a class called, "Yoga for the Flexibly Challenged"—and we take off our clothes and slide into bed, and I wish I could say magic happens, but it doesn't, it never does.
Maryellen leaves and I sit on the edge of my bed and wonder, quite frankly, what it is she sees in me. And then it hits. She really does care. In my own eyes I'm this loser, this real fucking head case, but I guess she doesn't see me that way, poor kid.
Within twenty-four hours, Maryellen has gotten on the tom-toms and told people about our "impending engagement." The next night, sitting up in bed with my laptop, I get a forwarded copy of an email she's sent out to some girl I hardly know who works at the college bookstore. "You can imagine my surprise," Maryellen wrote, "when he popped the question that had never even crossed my mind, and I responded in the positive."
In all, I get thirty-one emails containing congratulations, marital advice, sexual innuendo. But the one that grabs my attention is from Kat, its subject line reading: I'M JEALOUS!!!!!!! It says:
I'm sorry about being a bitch lately. I've been on the rag, but now I'm
back among the living.
And then she adds this:
I wish it was us getting married. Even if it was only for one night.
I almost delete the thing, but I don't. Instead, I respond:
I hit "Send," and when I glance up toward my window I'm pretty sure I see my Mom, flat on her stomach, looking in my window. Except that when I stand up and walk over, there's nothing out there but the night.
BIO: Z.Z. Boone holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College , and teaches writing at Western Connecticut State University . His fiction has appeared or is upcoming in New Ohio Review, The Roanoke Review, The MacGuffin, Potomac Review, The Adroit Journal, Smokelong Quarterly, and other terrific places.