“The Occasional Girl,” a short story by Mark Bruce, was a short-listed entry in our recently concluded 62nd Short Fiction Contest, and is published with the consent of the author.
The Occasional Girl
by Mark Bruce
….. Chuck Berry was asking Maybelline why she couldn’t be true, something he’d been wondering for sixty-five years. Chuck was gone now, but that Cadillac still climbed that hill.
….. I sat late at breakfast with Connie at Ritchie’s, an American diner in the high desert along Route 66. Despite the legendary status of the highway, this particular stretch was drab and sedate.
….. I ate my Ozark Glazed Ham in silence. Connie stared at her avocado omelet as if it held secrets she needed to hear.
….. Our conversation pulled into the cul de sac of marriage. As in, why was I not asking Connie to enter with her into that terrifying venture.
….. Connie and I were nearly as old as Maybelline. We’d known each other, on and off, for twenty years. Yet, we never seemed to progress beyond sex and companionship.
….. Now, I know that many long marriages have been successfully based on sex and companionship. But I also knew Connie. I knew her very well. We’d lived together a few years back. By the end of those four months, I was ready to drive us both off a cliff in Maybelline, a la Thelma and Louise.
….. The diner dressed itself in vinyl aqua and tan. It sported old-fashioned booths from the Fifties, hence the Oldies playing in the background.
….. I wore a blue t-shirt with Alice’s tea party emblazoned on it, the legend: There’s plenty of room! Connie wore the red sparkly blouse and black slacks of the night before, snuggled into the large faux black furry coat she called “the bear.” One of us was overdressed for Ritchie’s.
….. The night before we engaged in our usual session of oral sex and intercourse. We’ve been doing this for years, so much so that our lovemaking devolved into a series of expected moves as rigid as ritual. Connie was bored with it. I, being a man, was grateful for whatever sex I could get.
….. The only reason Connie put up with my predictable attentions is that I would lend her $300 at the end of it. She had no job and $500 rent for her room in Vegas, so we usually met twice a month to help her out.
….. “Help her out” is what we called it to keep from calling it what it really was.
….. Despite her obvious disinterest in my physical prowess, Connie would occasionally mention that she wanted to marry again so a man could care for her. Connie had been married three times, though she would tell you that she’d only been married twice because the third marriage had been annulled. One husband was dead, another remarried and lived the high life in the Bay Area. The annulled husband practiced law somewhere in California.
….. This morning, after the young dark-haired waitress with the round rump had skated our plates onto the table, Connie set her face into serious mode.
….. “So what do you see us as?” she asked, her opening gambit.
….. “Us?” I asked in return, trying to be obtuse.
….. “What are we doing?”
….. “We’re having breakfast at Ritchie’s,” I said.
….. “You know what I mean,” she said petulantly.
….. “I never know what you mean,” I said. “You are eternally opaque.”
….. She blinked at me. When I used words like opaque, I lost her.
….. Connie was a natural blonde. She wore her hair long to emphasize her six foot, one inch frame. In her youth, she’d been stunning. Age had given her an extra fifty pounds, though men still talked to her in that flirty way beautiful women expect.
….. Let’s face it. Age had not been kind to my body fat index, either. Nor had my prostate. It had enlarged to the point that I had to take little white pills from Roman to have sex. Fortunately, the little white pills worked just fine last night.
….. I do not need a skinny woman. In fact, at least half of my lovers have been in various stages of Rubenesque. Fat women are far more enthusiastic about sex than hungry ones.
….. Unless, like Connie, they’d been having sex with me long enough to realize there was no wedding ring at the end of the rainbow. I had never been subtle about this but Connie believed she could convince me otherwise.
….. “I mean,” she continued, ignoring opaque, “are we going to get married?”
….. She knew the answer and I was enjoying my glazed ham too much to have a sour discussion.
….. “You’ve already been married,” I answered. “Three times.”
….. “Twice,” she said quickly.
….. “Three times you’ve said I do, then,” I said. “Why would you want to make that mistake a fourth time?”
….. “I need someone to support me,” she said. “I need to go in for knee surgery and I’ll be off my feet at least a month.”
….. “That’s terribly romantic,” I replied. “You don’t need a husband, you need a nurse.”
….. She looked down again at her omelet. It still had no answers for her.
….. “I thought you said you loved me,” she said, pulling out the big guns. A few months back, as I hugged her while dropping her off at her bus to Vegas, I’d slipped and said this ill-advised thing. It sort of slipped out the way you’d say take care or have a nice trip. I wondered later what devil in my heart pushed those words through my lips.
….. I looked into her green eyes. Did I love her? Or was that merely a polite thing to say after a weekend spent with her tall, naked body?
….. “We’ve known each other for years,” I said with a sigh. “If I didn’t love you on some level, that would all be wasted time.”
….. “You love someone, you marry them,” she said with the faulty logic of the single girl.
….. “You don’t love me,” I countered.
….. “Yes, I do,”
….. “No. You’ve never said it. And you are terribly bored with me. I can’t imagine why you want to torture yourself by marrying me.”
….. She looked around the café. In the next booth, a Latino man wearing a Dodgers cap talked with his short, stout mate. A small boy climbed all over the booth. At the table across from us, a thin white-haired man and his chubby white-haired wife chewed their bacon and eggs, talking in low tones. All around us were couples, probably all married. It irked her.
….. Yet she didn’t resort to the ultimate gambit of saying I love you. She held that in reserve for another time when, perhaps, I’d be weaker.
….. I finished my ham. It tasted sweet and meaty. I was about to suggest that if she was dissatisfied with our present circumstances, perhaps we should stop seeing one another. That would save me $600 per month.
….. She knew this, too. Practicality triumphed over desultory romance. She ate her omelet.
….. “I think someone might want to look at my script,” she said. She’d been shopping that script for twenty years.
….. In the background, Chuck Berry made way for The Platters crooning Only You.
….. “Only you,” the lead singer noted suavely, “can make my dreams come true.”
….. Connie rattled off a long story about a guy she’d met at a casino who was, it so happens, looking for scripts. I nodded.
….. My girl was climbing off one bad dream and onto another. Turns out, I was not the only one who could make her dreams come true.
….. Later that day I put her on the bus back to Vegas. I watched it pull into the High Desert night, then got back into my car. I switched on the radio. There was Chuck again, still pleading with Maybelline.
….. I shook my head.
….. “Chuck,” I said, “you’re better off without her.”
Mark Bruce works as a solo practitioner in San Bernardino, California. He has worked in various Public Defender offices across the state and has tried nearly 150 jury trials as well as thousands of court trials. He won the 2018 Black Orchid Novella Award for his story “Minerva James and the Goddess of Justice.” Ten Minerva James short stories have been published in magazines such as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and in three Dandelion Revolution Press anthologies. He lives in Barstow with a stuffed mermaid named Mariah and his writing support dragon Ferdinand. His only son lives in Michigan with a wife ,a child, and a Ph.D in Aerospace Engineering. That’s right. His son is a rocket scientist.
Listen to the 1955 recording of Chuck Berry performing “Maybellene” [Universal Music Group]
Click here to read “Mr. P.C.,” Jacob Schrodt’s winning story in the 62nd Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest
Click here for details about the upcoming 63rd Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest
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