To The Phillips Motel in Sheldon
When Donna Duso was nine, she and her best friend Judy Tibbets played Wedding almost every day. Single file, they solemnly clomped around Maple Park, wearing the old prom dresses of Donna’s sisters-in-law. Donna had acquired these dresses through the law of possession; they were stored in her mother’s attic, and she went up one day and took them. She wore the nice one. Made of yards and yards of billowing pink organza, it just covered the tops of her feet. Judy got stuck with the other dress. It, too, was made of organza, but it was the color of canned peas and had a big tear in the bottom of the skirt.
Only once did Judy complain about not getting to wear the pink gown. Donna replied, "Tough shit if you don't like it. They're my dresses. Besides, the bride always wears the prettiest dress because she is the most beautiful person there. Don't you know anything?"
Judy's answer came muffled by the dress she was struggling to pull over her head. "I'm going to tell your mother you said a swear word to me."
Donna pulled the dress the rest of the way off Judy and said, "You go right ahead and tell my mother. I'll never play with you again."
Judy never asked to wear the pink dress again. The next year, she was demoted to Donna's second-to-best friend, and Donna stopped playing Wedding and started playing with Barbie dolls. After her sister-in-law Janice told her the facts of life out of spite the day Donna found Janice's birth control pills and popped them out of the foil, mixing up Janice's days of the month, Barbie and Ken did nothing but screw, and Barbie was forever getting herself knocked up. Donna didn't concern herself past the eighth week of the pregnancy. The doctor having confirmed Barbie's suspicions, Donna put her away in her red plastic case. The next day, when Barbie emerged from her case, her excess baggage was gone.
When Donna was twelve, Judy secretly envied her. Judy didn't envy Donna because she was pretty. She wasn't. She had her mother's hooked nose, a long, horse-like face, bad teeth, and bushy blond hair pulled back into a messy ponytail. Judy envied her because whenever the kids played Hide-and-Go-Seek in the cool autumn twilight, the boy who was It always looked for Donna first. Then, instead of hollering, "I found Donna!" he hid too, until the other kids became tired of waiting to be found and started drifting toward the center of the park from behind their maple trees. They would talk, hands shoved into pockets, heads down, pawing at little patches of grass with their feet, mentioning Donna and the boy who was It a couple of times in passing.
The next day Donna made sure that she walked home from school with Judy, who was now her best friend again. They walked slowly without speaking, kicking up the dried yellow and red leaves on the sidewalk. Donna spoke only after she and Judy had crossed Main Street and were exactly ten feet onto the narrow sidewalk that passed by the side of the telephone building. "You know when we were playing Hide-and-Go-Seek last night?"
"What about it?"
"Did you notice that I was missing for quite a while?"
"Do you know where I was all that time?"
"Hiding, most likely."
Here, halfway between the telephone building and her aunt and uncle's house, Donna stopped and neatened her ponytail, dividing it in two and yanking each half against the rubber band. "I was with somebody. Do you know who--"
Judy said flatly, "Dwight Jacobs."
"Yes, and we kissed for twelve minutes. Without stopping. That's the longest I've ever kissed anybody. Now you have to promise you won't tell anybody. You know how my mother is."
Judy promised and she usually kept her promise because she didn't know quite what to make of Donna's confessions. Donna's delivery didn't evoke images of grand passion -- heavy breathing, moaning, and such -- but of two people standing opposite each other, eyes wide open, lips pressed together the way the back of a bureau and a wall press together, listening to the ticking of a watch.
By the time she was thirteen, Donna was letting the boys squeeze her tits. "I don't know what it does for him. You'd think he was milking a cow. Two pulls on one, two on the other, then back again. It's kind of funny, in a way." Next came hickeys, which she liked very much. "See what he did to me? See? I think next time I'll give him one."
The next step was, "He touched me, you know, down there." She didn't give as many details about this procedure.
Finally, when she was fifteen, she started doing it. The first time didn't take long. She was with Jimmy Nichols in the pasture where they'd gone sliding with the other kids the previous winter. They necked for a while, and when Jimmy took her hair down and fluffed it with his fingers, she said okay. He was inside her just long enough to hurt. After it was over and she'd gone home and taken a bath, Donna wanted to tell someone what had happened, but the more she tried to think about it, the more she knew there was nothing to say. So she called Judy and said, "Jimmy and I are going together now. I think he really cares for me. He says he likes my hair." Judy soon figured out what was going on when the only time she ever saw Donna with Jimmy Nichols, or anyone else, was after dark.
One sunny afternoon late in April, Donna and Judy were sitting on Donna's porch drinking flat Pepsi. Judy tamped a new pack of Marlboros on her thigh and offered one to Donna. She struck a match and lit both their cigarettes. Flipping the match over the porch railing, she said, "It's lucky there are only two of us. Third one on a match gets pregnant."
Donna said, "I know."
Judy reached for her Pepsi. "Do you ever worry about that?" she said.
Judy sipped her Pepsi. "Getting pregnant."
"Are you and Dale using something, then?"
"No." Donna reached for Judy's lighter on the railing and relit her cigarette.
"Well, maybe you should," Judy said.
"Donna!" Judy glanced behind her at the kitchen window and lowered her voice. "You know why."
Donna carefully trimmed the ash off her cigarette and began burning off the longest of the threads on the bottom of her frayed jeans. "Well, you know," she said, "Dale doesn't actually do it. You see, he puts his thing between my ass and the car seat, but he thinks he has it in me. And I figure what he don't know won't hurt him."
Donna went with a lot of boys her junior year -- close to twenty. She could draw a little, and each time she started going with someone she inscribed his name in red on a sheet of white paper and surrounded it with stylized birds, hearts, and flowers. Tacked to the wall beside her bed, it was the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes in the morning. When she and the boy stopped going together, she placed the paper with his name on it in her bottom bureau drawer, along with her old Barbie doll and a stick of purple eye shadow.
Meeting Gary Clark right after they started their senior year changed things for Donna, although she had no way of knowing at the beginning that he would be different from the others. Gary and Donna were in Mr. Endicott's eighth period accounting class. She wasn't good with figures, so she doodled her birds, hearts, and flowers on the cover of her blue canvas ring binder and craned her neck to watch Gary doodle Heavy Chevies and swastikas on his. When at the end of a pop quiz one Monday, Gary took a penknife out of his pocket and carved Endicott Sucks on the top of his desk, she decided she would like to go with him.
As soon as the bell rang, she leaped out of her seat and across the aisle to Gary's before he had a chance to put his knife away and get up.
She tapped a short, bony finger on the desk top. "If Endicott sees that, you'll get detention. Or suspended. Maybe expelled."
Gary frowned, plucking at the goatee clinging to his chin. "Is that right?" He pushed his hair off his forehead, hitched up his pants, adjusted his books under his arm, and brushed past her before she could think of anything else to say to him.
Tuesday she asked Gary before class, "Done any carving lately?" He answered, "No, not lately," without glancing at her. Wednesday she bummed a cigarette off him after class. Thursday she asked him for a ride in his car. He said no way. Friday she again asked him for a ride in his car. He told her to go pound sand. Saturday morning she walked overstreet and sat on the steps of the old post office building to wait. If Gary went riding around, as every high school boy in Enosburg who owned a car did on Saturday, he would sooner or later stop at the stop sign across from the steps she was sitting on. She waited patiently, serenely. She did not clutter her waiting with thinking that he might not come.
At 11:13 Gary's '65 Valiant, its sides composed of hills of Bondo and valleys of rust, slowed down for the stop sign. At 11:14 Donna had vaulted from the steps into the car before it had come to a complete stop and was waiting for him to pull out onto Main Street.
Gary was not used to being pursued by women. He sputtered, "What are you doing? How did you get in here? Get the fuck out of my car."
Donna pulled a crumpled pack of cigarettes out of her hip pocket and pushed in the dash lighter. "You promised me a ride in your car," she said, straightening a cigarette with her fingers. "Remember?"
He threw the gear shift into Park. "I did not."
"You did so." She had the cigarette poised between her fingers, waiting for the lighter.
A car horn blared behind them, Gary slammed the Valiant into Drive, and the car lurched onto Main Street.
"Feel that power," Donna said, her cigarette still poised for the lighter.
Gary allowed himself to smile. "You'll wait all day for that thing. It don't work. Here." He flipped open his lighter, a scratched chrome one with the wick pulled high, and held it out to her. She steadied his hand with hers and lit the cigarette.
"Thanks, Gary. You want one?"
He nodded, and she lit it for him off the end of hers. "I like your car, Gary. It's different. Fun."
"Yeah? You think so?" Gary drove Donna around for an hour, talking about his car. When he realized what he was doing, he drove her home.
The following Friday night, Donna and Gary started going together. Even though his car had a button that said, "Happiness Is a Warm Pussy," stuck to the dashboard, it was his first time. Donna pretended it was her first time, too. After it was over, he pulled back to look at her face. "Thank you," he whispered. He closed his eyes and pressed his face into her neck.
Gary and Donna went together after dark for two months. Every evening after supper she walked to Lincoln Park and waited on the bench next to the Ladies' Village Improvement Society fountain for him to stop for her. After she got into the car, he clapped his hand on her thigh and said, "Where to tonight, woman?"
She said, "I don't care. Wherever you want."
They always ended up on Water Tower Road. But first they rode around, sharing a Pepsi, smoking cigarettes, a joint if they had one. When Gary had a few extra dollars, they stopped at Kevin's Korner Store for a six-pack. He bought gas first, though. No way was he going to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere and have to walk back to town with Donna Duso. He'd never hear the end of it.
They rode up Main Street and down Main Street, looking for something doing. Baiting the town drunk was fun; he could usually be found under a tree in Lincoln Park, twitching and muttering to himself. "I was," he'd insist. "I really was. I was on the radio. You just ask anybody. I played my guitar on the radio, I did." Gary, snatching at the brown paper sack nestled in his lap, would say, "You did not. You're nothing but a liar and a drunk, Duncan." Donna would stand at Gary's side with her arms folded and say, "Yeah, Duncan."
Nights the town constable was out patrolling were even more fun. When Gary knew he was in town -- Buzzy actually lived in Richford, ten miles away -- he parked in front of the LVIS fountain to wait. Before ten minutes had passed, the big blue Olds, buckeye light swirling majestically, eased up alongside the Valiant. A disembodied metallic voice issued from the Olds: "Hey, you, there, boy. What are you doing? Get on home." Gary rolled down his window and said something like, "Nothing you could ever do, Buzzy." Buzzy couldn't hear him, however, because he refused to roll down his window. He just sat in his Oldsmobile with the PA on, saying, "Get on home, boy, you better get on home, boy." He could keep it up indefinitely. One night the two cars were there for well over an hour.
One evening, after one of these adventures, Gary put his arm around Donna and said, as he turned down School Street, "God, that was funny. That was so funny. Did you hear him? Did you see his face? How foolish can you get?"
Donna laid her hand on his thigh and said, "It was funny. We have good times together, don't we, Gary?"
Gary smiled at her and said, "Damn right we do."
They rode in silence for a time, listening to the radio. Sometimes Donna sang along, very quietly. Gary never sang with the radio. Even when he talked, he sounded as though someone had a hand tight around his throat.
Donna's friends didn't pay much attention to her latest romance -- they'd heard it all before. Gary's friends thought the whole affair was outrageously funny. "Donna Duso. Jesus Christ, Gary, Donna Duso! Maybe once with a bag over her head, but even you can do better than that."
At first Gary tolerated these remarks with a good-natured, "Fuck you, asswipe," and shrug of his shoulders, but one Thursday in the boys' locker room, when Stu Miller told him that Donna douched with Drano, Gary hauled back and hit him in the face. He hit him only once, but the blow knocked Stu back against the bench in front of the lockers. Stu hit his head, opening a gash that required fourteen stitches to close, in addition to the four over his eye. The three strongest boys jumped on Gary, yelling, "What's the matter with you, man?" but when he didn't resist, they let him go. He stared at Stu lying on the cement floor with blood seeping from his head. "Oh, shit," he said. "Stu." He took off his T-shirt and placed it under Stu's head. When he heard footsteps and voices in the corridor, he lowered his head and burst out the locker room door, up the stairs, and outside, running across the park and up Main Street in his gym shorts and black high-top sneakers.
Gary was suspended for two weeks and would have been expelled except that Stu told the principal in the emergency room that he had asked for it by insulting Gary's girlfriend, although he didn't tell the principal exactly what it was he'd said.
Gary's best friend Dave Kittell told Donna about it the next day in an intense whisper in study hall. "It was on account of you, Donna. Gary punched Stu out when he insulted you. And he's been suspended for two weeks. It's lucky he wasn't expelled."
Donna found herself wanting to smile, then to grin. She was able to keep it down to a smirk by biting the inside of her cheek. "It was because of me, really? I can't believe it."
"Well, believe it. It's true. I wish you'd seen all the blood. You wouldn't think it's so damn funny."
"I do not think it's funny." She leaned closer to him. "What did Stu say about me?"
"Oh, for God's sake, Donna. What do you want to know that for? You know it had to be pretty bad for him to end up in the hospital over it."
After the Stu Miller incident, Gary was committed to Donna. Although there were times he wanted to shove her out of his car without coming to a complete stop and peel out, his tires spitting gravel back into her face, he didn't. He almost yielded to the temptation one night when the two of them were parking on Water Tower Road. Donna had her jeans and panties off, when she pulled away from him and refused to let him do it until he surrendered his class ring. "After all," she said, "we are going together."
"But my parents will kill me. They paid over sixty dollars for that ring," he said, tugging on her shirt.
"What am I going to do to it?" she said. "Come on. You love me, don't you?" She grasped his penis firmly in her hand, and he twisted the ring off his finger and pressed it into her other hand.
As soon as Donna found out she was pregnant, she quit school. She had been planning to quit anyway. She didn't like school and saw no good reason why she should go. The only class she'd liked since coming to the high school was Mr. Mitchell's eleventh grade English class. Mr. Mitchell, tall, his long blond hair caught back in a ponytail, would stand in front of the class and read poetry in the deepest, most vibrating voice Donna had ever heard. Sometimes he talked about the poetry, but not very often. Donna didn't pay any attention at all to what he was reading; she just liked to listen to his voice and watch his face. This year, though, Mr. Mitchell was gone.
The week before Donna went for her first pregnancy test, her mother agreed to her quitting school. Her father was violently opposed to her quitting, but whenever he expressed strong emotion about anything, he coughed so violently he couldn't get his breath, and he lost the argument. So Donna quit school. She didn't tell her mother she was pregnant. There would be plenty of time for that later.
As it turned out, Donna didn't have to worry about it because when her mother found no Tampax applicators in the wastebasket two months in a row, she took Donna to St. Albans for a pregnancy test. After hearing the results, her mother wrote out the check in silence and didn't say anything until they were almost three miles out of town, when she said, "And what do you intend to do about this, missy?"
Donna took out a cigarette and pushed in the dash lighter. "Gary and me are getting married. We've been engaged for quite a while."
Her mother said, "You think you're so damn smart," and handed her the lighter when it popped out.
The morning of Donna's wedding, the sound of her mother's voice coming through the register in the floor of her bedroom woke her.
"...wake her up, Leonard. We have so much to do."
Her father's voice was more difficult to hear. "...people coming...quiet."
Then her mother said something she couldn't quite catch, and her father answered, "...don't want to hear it." Donna got out of bed, tiptoed to the register, and crouched next to it, looking down at her parents' gray heads. They'd stopped talking, though. Her mother moved out of sight and turned on the water in the sink. Her father's chair by the window creaked.
Donna sat on the edge of the bed and looked around her room. Her mother had taken some dishes and towels to the new apartment, but Donna hadn't packed any of her own things yet. She went to her bureau and opened the bottom drawer. She dropped the Barbie doll into the wastebasket, then the purple eye shadow. There was a ten-foot long gum wrapper chain coiled in the back of the drawer, and she dropped that in the wastebasket, too. Finding an empty shoe box under the bed, she took out the papers inscribed with the names of the boys she had gone with her junior year, folded each paper in thirds, and laid it in the box. She put the lid on, went up to the attic, and, kneeling down, wedged the shoe box between the studs, on top of the insulation.
She closed the attic door carefully and went into her parents' bedroom. Tiptoeing to the phone by the bed, she dialed Gary's number. When he answered, she said, "Hi, Gary, what are you doing?"
"What do you mean, what am I doing? We're getting married tonight."
She lay down on the bed. "But that's not till later. What are you doing now?"
"Me either." She sat up. "Let's go out and do something."
There was silence.
"Gary? When will you pick me up?"
"I can't. We have company. I'm not supposed to see you until the wedding anyway."
"Okay. What time are you going to be there?"
"I don't know! Whenever they tell me to. I've got to go."
When Donna walked into the kitchen in her nightgown and bare feet, her mother said, "Who were you calling?" Donna said, "Nobody," and her mother didn't ask again. Her father continued to stare at the floor between his feet. The smoke from the cigarette dangling between his fingers curled around his hand. Even when she was little and climbed into his lap after supper, he wouldn't give up his cigarette. He just smoked around her.
"Are you ready for breakfast?" her mother said.
Her father stood up and went out on the porch. After a few moments, Donna heard his old station wagon start up. "Where's he going?" she said to her mother, who didn't answer her.
At three o'clock, her sisters-in-law arrived, with hot rollers, platters of crustless sandwiches, kids, make-up kit, and two six-packs of beer. They fussed over Donna, while her mother watched. At five o'clock, they all set out for the Methodist church on the corner of the park, the sisters-in-law and kids giggling, the brothers lagging behind, talking with their father, and Donna's mother driving her the five hundred yards in the car so her white gown wouldn't get dirty.
Walking haltingly down the aisle on her father's arm, Donna looked towards the altar rail for Gary and then in the congregation for Judy. They were both there. Judy smiled at her. The ceremony was short. There wasn't much to it, and Gary and Donna saw no reason to add anything. They stood stiffly in front of the Reverend Adams, both staring at his untied shoelace. No one in the congregation could hear their vows, but all those who cry at weddings cried anyway.
After the reception, held downstairs in the parish hall, which still smelled of fuel oil and baked beans from the winter, Donna and Gary stood outside by the Valiant while people threw rice at them. As Gary drove out of town, he didn't speak or take his eyes off the road. Donna turned to him. "Would you drive faster, Gary?"
He looked over at her and frowned. "Why?"
"I want to get there."
He nodded and accelerated. The Valiant hesitated at first, then gradually picked up speed, its engine straining. Keeping the accelerator to the floor, Gary got the car up to ninety by Camp Mississquoi. He was biting his lips, trying to second guess the play in the steering wheel, but Donna didn't notice. She stared out her window, unable to distinguish anything, as she and Gary hurtled down 105 in the dark to their room in The Phillips Motel.
©2004 by Elizabeth Gauffreau