After the Harbor
My first date with Carly was ice cream and a walk to the harbor to watch the boats and the old men fishing off the docks for no reason. All went well. She even looked at me with goo-goo eyes at one point as we parted for the afternoon near her block.
"Thank you for the ice cream and for the walk," she said with splendor.
"You are very welcome," I answered magnanimously. "Maybe we can do this again sometime."
"Or something else," she ventured bashfully.
"Perhaps we may take in a basketball game, then," I wondered brazenly, out loud so she could hear me.
"Yes," she replied hoarsely, looking curiously at her left elbow. "Call me, then," she added, with averted eyes.
"I most certainly will," I said, waving my arms histrionically. "There is a game on Wednesday night, and perhaps we can take the train."
"Oh, that sounds nice," she said soporifically. "But now I need my beauty sleep," she added with half a smirk.
"I will call you with the details," I nodded officiously. "And we will have fun, especially on the train," I added with a fake elbow jab.
"Great," she replied gigglingly.
"Why won't you stay for dinner," wondered my mother with deeply furrowed brows.
"Because I am taking Carly on a second date," I replied smoothly. "We will likely have hot dogs at the game."
"A second date and already gallivanting off to Madison Square Garden?" exclaimed my mother accusingly. "She is only eighteen and you are old enough to be her father."
"I'm nineteen, Ma," I answered with brusque correctness.
"And twenty next month," added my mother simperingly.
"Ma," I said, with rising irritation, chewing on a few Ritz crackers with restrained hunger, "she will forever be one year and three months younger than I."
"Not at this rate," blurted my mother with convoluted rationality. "What are you taking her to, the circus?"
"Of course not! The Knicks game," I answered, spitting out little cracker pieces, despite a great effort to stifle them.
"Don't say I didn't warn you," she remarked cryptically, her apron catching fire briefly on the stove.
Before our glorious train ride, I was compelled to meet Carly's parents whilst picking her up, so I rang the doorbell with ill-concealed trepidation and ventured onto their costly carpet when her youthful sister answered the door.
"Carly, it's for you!" screamed her sister, full-lunged.
Her father came out of the bathroom one beat later, and he gave me a bleary-eyed and bloated nod, or maybe, I thought with compassion, he still had to go.
I smiled toothily when her mother stuck her head out of the kitchen doorway, but withdrew in terror when she screamed up the staircase apoplectically, "You better be home by eleven, or you're dead--you hear me--dead!" Carly was at this point in time running down the stairs, and she ignored her mother and bloated father. "Let's go," she said to me moodily. Then she glanced waywardly behind herself to her mother. "We're going to the movies," she lied, with great aplomb.
On the Train
"You still owe another four dollars," the conductor informed me with ghastly eloquence.
"What do you mean?" I replied with fake stoicism.
"You don't buy at the station, it's a two dollar surcharge," he answered with real stoicism.
"But…" I looked to Carly and then back at the conductor. "I won't have any money left for hot dogs," I whispered with conspiratorial alarm.
"Four dollars," repeated the conductor with razor-sharp apathy.
Carly, noting my extreme predicament and reluctance to fork over this seemingly arbitrary penalty, reached into the miniature handbag on her lap. "I've got it," she said wearily, and handed over four dollars to the stone-faced conductor.
"Thank you for riding the Long Island Railroad," he said with a straight face.
While I purchased our costly hot dogs, Carly stood off to the side by herself. I caught a look at her delicate profile and saw myself married to her forever, even at the advanced ages of sixty and fifty-eight and nine months. Us still together into perpetuity---like Astaire and Rogers, and Bogart and Hepburn, and Bogart and Bacall, and Nicholson and Ratchett. She looked so pretty standing there that I couldn't stand it. "Wow," I said to myself in my mind disbelievingly.
After I bought our hot dogs (I'd forgotten about the tax, which precluded me from buying sodas), I took them over to her so we could romantically spread relish and mustard on them, but there was some guy standing with her. He had big white teeth and tanned skin and wore a blue suit. "Hi," I said with wary suspicion, handing the hot dog to Carly.
The guy with the white teeth shook my hand with great vigor. "Glad to meet you, my friend," he said televangelically.
I led Carly by the elbow back to our seats. The game introductions were starting. But after we'd sat down, I realized that in my haste to extricate us from the white-toothed blue- suited fellow, I'd forgotten about dressing our dogs. "I'm sorry," I said, with great mortification. "I don't have enough for sodas, and I forgot the relish. I'll be right back."
"That's all right," she said, her eyelids fluttering intermittently. "I have some." And she gave me two balled-up dollar bills.
"I'll be right back," I told her with cheerful reticence.
"All right," she said, blushing to her roots.
"W-What will it be?" said the guy behind the counter, stuttering effortlessly.
"Two small cokes," I hollered at him vehemently through the crowd noise.
On my way back to our seats, I was so hungry that I chewed gnawingly on my hot dog. But I had trouble finding my seat because I couldn't find where Carly was. Then I got an usher who looked at my ticket, brought me over to our seats--empty of Carly--and held out his palm. I thanked him effusively.
"You are welcome," he answered with a coarse gesture.
I looked all around, but Carly was nowhere. The fellows behind me were watching the game and drinking beer. A few of them looked like they knew something but wouldn't look at me.
After a few minutes of hardly watching the game, a fellow in a gray suit tried to sit down in Carly's seat. "No," I said desperately, putting her soda down on the seat. "It's taken."
"Doesn't look like it's taken," he replied with impeccable logic, but moved along.
I didn't watch the first half of the game but kept looking back for her. Finally one of the guys sitting behind me leaned over. "She left with some guy," he said darkly.
"Yeah, so face front, will ya?" added another guy insensitively.
I faced front, but then turned around to the first guy again.
"Did the guy have big white teeth?" I inquired, arching one eyebrow.
"I have no idea," the guy scoffed, tangling up his two.
In Front of the Garden
I sat poutingly for the most of the game, but at end it became very close and exciting, and even though I didn't shout with everyone else, I pumped my fist when the Knicks got to within two points with two seconds left. Then Patrick Ewing got to the foul line with a chance to tie the game. But he missed the first shot and then had to clang the second on purpose, and I bemoaningly groaned "darn" with everyone else when the Knicks lost.
I wandered outside and stood out front because I'd missed the 9:34 train and had to take the 10:16. Some guy came up to me and wanted a dollar but I told him I only had a quarter left.
"I'll take that, then," he said to me drolly.
"No, I need it," I replied alarmingly, and hurried away with his devilish laughter chasing me from behind.
The Long Ride Home
On the train I watched the dark blur outside my window until the conductor, a different guy with a maze of wrinkles on his face, asked me for my ticket. I readily proffered mine, and then remembered with great relief that Carly still had hers. But then I thought of what could've happened to her, that maybe she wasn't safe, and that maybe the guy with the white teeth kidnapped her and took her off somewhere. When the conductor made his way back up the aisle after collecting tickets, I looked at him with profuse agitation, and he looked back at me with mild bewilderment as he passed. By the time the train reached Huntington, I stared wildly out the window into the darkness, positive that Carly was dead or something. Panting with great distress, I imagined the police questioning me when I got off the train.
"There was some guy with big white teeth, talking to her," I say desperately in my mind to one officer.
"A guy with white teeth, huh?" says the officer with uninhibited scorn. "Save it for the warden."
"Yeah, save it for the judge," says another officer, correcting the first.
"Right. Save it for the warden after you save it for the judge," says the first officer, argumentatively.
Her Parents Again
After I got off the train I ran over to Carly's costly home and rapped on the door in a panic-stricken state.
The mother answered the door this time, with her mad face, and her father was right behind with his bloated one.
"Is Carly here?" I asked with trembling voice, looking all around.
"No," answered the mother with shrill exasperation.
"Because we were at the game, and then I went to get the relish, and when I came back with the usher she was gone," I said hastily.
"Game? What happened to the movies?" asked her mother shrewishly.
"I had tickets to the Knicks, but then she just disappeared. There was a guy--a guy with white teeth. I don't know what happened to her. Maybe we should call the police."
"Oh, my dear God," said the mother aghast, looking back at the father with wild unbelieving eyes. "Is this guy for real?"
And while she said this, she closed the door slowly in my face without looking.
For the first part of my walk home, I wondered which guy her mother didn't know was for real, me or the guy with the teeth. But then her words rang more sarcastically and hauntingly in my mind. Then I was mad, because maybe something really did happen to Carly, and meanwhile they were being all bloated and sarcastic about it. I tried to think about basketball instead, about that great game--except for Ewing clanging them at the end.
"I can make eighty percent of my free throws," I said ostentatiously to her parents in my mind, placing my foot in the closing door. "My record is eight-five out of a hundred free throws," I continued sneeringly. "I'll show you who's for real."
And the rest of the way home I imagined playing them all, one against four: pointing out a blue jay and stripping the ball from Carly, then elbowing that guy in his white teeth, sending them cascading onto the court, then fouling the father hard on both arms when he attempted to shoot, and finally stuffing the mother's layup back into her contorted face and giving her a facial with a vicious and for real dunk.
Ma met me at the door upon my grand entrance, and when she questioned whether I had a good time or a bad time, I asked her if there was any food.
"Where is the pin to pump up my
basketball, Ma?" I said later with
full mouth. "Because, tomorrow, Ma," I said with doleful vexation,
stabbing a fresh forkful, "I'm going out back to shoot baskets all day."
BIO: Lou Gaglia's work appears in FRiGG, Prick of the Spindle, Stymie, Breakwater Review, Rose & Thorn Journal, Blueline, and others. He teaches English in upstate New York.