Even the end is true

I looked up as I crossed the street; something had caught my eye. It was my father’s truck, turning the corner up the street to my grandmother’s house. I thought of Little Red Riding Hood, how she’d brought her grandmother tea and cookies. I thought how if I were Little Red Riding Hood, I’d have laced those cookies with arsenic.

I heard the door of my father’s truck slam.

I drew the sleeve of my jean jacket across my face, knowing it would do nothing to hide the fact that I’d been crying. I saw him walking up the street to meet me. I wanted to bolt, to run the opposite way up the street, but Da had been a track athlete and a football player and a hockey player and we used to run together and he would catch me and part of me wanted him to catch me, but I wanted him to catch me in his arms and dry my tears, not catch me in his arms to drag me back to the old battle-axe’s house to face a punishment I did not deserve for a sleight that had been utterly fabricated.

We approached each other tentatively. I think he sensed my instinct to run, and I had sensed his instinct to tread lightly. “Hey,” he said.

I said nothing.

“Want to go for a ride?” He asked.

I shrugged.

We walked together toward the house.

“She used to do that to me, you know,” he said.

“Yeah?” I asked, my voice hoarse.

“I hated it,” he said.

“It’s fucked,” I said. I was only a little shocked that that word had come out of my mouth in front of my father. He didn’t seem shocked at all; he just glanced askance at me and raised an eyebrow.

We got to the truck. “Get in,” he said.

My Da always knew when I needed to go for a drive. It’s easier to talk when you go for a drive. Something about not making eye contact but still being alone, together, just the two of you.

I got in the truck. “I’m going to go tell her where you are.”

“I don’t want to see her,” I said.

“I don’t blame you,” he said.

In a few minutes, he jogged back out to the truck. He slammed the door and let out the brake before he started the engine. The truck lurched forward. “She’s coming,” he said as he gunned the engine.

From the side mirror, I saw my grandmother, “running” in her tiny, dainty slippers, taking tiny, dainty steps, flapping a hanky. “Crap,” I groaned. “Just drive.”

He did. We drove off up the block with my grandmother standing in the driveway looking for all intents and purposes like someone had just stolen her purse, wallet, favourite kitten, uterus, and lunch.

After a few minutes, when we were on the highway with the windows open and a bag of chips on the seat between us, he said, “when I was fifteen, I used to go to the restaurant after school with my friends. She’d come in there, not all the time, but sometimes, and she’d stand at the door and shout at the Chinaman ‘you just keep an eye on my Kenny! You just watch him and you just call me when he does something bad! My Kenny shouldn’t be a bad boy!’. Christ, that embarrassed me.”

“Yeah,” I said. My heart felt lighter. My head was a bit swimmy.

“What the hell happened, anyway?”

I sighed heavily. “Well, she freaked out the other day when I invited Matt over to the house, so today he invited me to his house. I told her I was going to his house and that I’d be back for dinner, but…I dunno. Maybe she didn’t hear me.”

“No. She heard you. She just does this. She gets all in a flap when she’s not the centre of attention.”

“How could you stand it?” I asked. I pictured her taking her dainty little steps in her dainty little shoes into the restaurant and shouting at the Chinaman to keep an eye on my Da. I pictured all of his friends with smirks on their faces. I felt the flush in my own face and the sinking of my own stomach.

“I hated it,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t stay here when I was done school. I think that broke Gramps’ heart, but I couldn’t stay here. Not with her.”

“Yeah.” I said.

“Look,” he said. “I’m really sorry she did this to you.”

“Thanks,” I said. “The really stupid thing is that these are the kids that SHE introduced me to. I don’t know why she has such a problem with Matt.”

Da glanced at me askew. “She doesn’t want people talking.”

“Well what the hell would they say, other than that she’s crazy?”

He nodded. “That’s exactly it.”

“But she *is* crazy.”

“Maybe. But she’s your grandmother, and you need to follow her rules when you’re in her house.”

“I’d love to,” I exclaimed. “If I knew what they were! They keep changing!”

He sniggered. “It’s not the end of the world, though. It feels like it is, but it isn’t the end of the world.”

“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t believe him. I don’t know if I believe him now. Because at fifteen, that absolutely was the end of the world. It was the end of that world, that magical world of new things and new people and …and whatever it was that Matt was to me.

Scott didn’t call again that summer. I tried calling him, but he didn’t return my messages. I called Matt a few times, but he wasn’t home – his mum said he was out with Scott. The phone did ring every morning for the next week or so that summer, and my grandmother made sure to answer on the very first ring. It was never for me.

“Half the night I waste in sighs,
Half in dreams I sorrow after
The delight of early skies;
In a wakeful dose I sorrow
For the hand, the lips, the eyes,
For the meeting of the morrow,
The delight of happy laughter,
The delight of low replies.”
— Alfred Lord Tennyson (Maud, and other poems)

I swear, all of it is true.

Matt stood there, holding my hand, as I wrestled with ‘should’ and ‘might’ and ‘can’t’ and ‘want’ and he stared at me for a moment. Then he let go of my hand.

“You have to promise me you won’t tell anyone about this,” he said.

I couldn’t talk, so I just shook my head ‘no’. I was part of a conspiracy now. I didn’t know what the conspiracy was, but it was certainly far more exciting than sitting in my grandmother’s neighbour’s basement stitching “Gramma’s Kitchen” onto dishrags in red, blue, and yellow embroidery thread.

He walked over to the closet. It had no door, but was framed in a darkly stained wood trim. I glanced around the rest of the room. The bedstead and dresser were stained similarly dark, but the wood on these looked cheaper, lighter. The bedspread was frilly, with pink and mint green flowers that matched the lampshades on each of the bedside tables. A pair of dust-stained jeans lay piled in a heap beside the bed, and on the table above them was an ashtray full of pocket change, and a belt buckle with a deer head on it.

Matt reached up into the closet, under a bunch of blankets, and rummaged around. “Where is it?” he muttered. Then he grunted and seemed to grab hold of something, which he then lowered gingerly. It was an old shoe box. The square kind, that usually held cowboy boots, not satin pumps.

I better not be standing here having heart palpitations for a pair of snakeskin boots, I thought.

He knelt down on the ground and placed the box on the floor in front of him, then he glanced up at me. I knelt down beside him, facing the closet, like we were in some church of 70s fashion, worshipping at the altar of outdated checkered shirts with wide collars and salmon-coloured fortrel dresses. He drew the lid off the box.

I was holding my breath.

Inside the box were layers of tissue paper, which he peeled back like the skin of an onion. Within the tissue was a smaller box, this one dark brown. It looked like it was made of leather. Matt carefully took that box out of the first and placed it on his knees. The only sound in the entire house – maybe in the entire town – was the sound of Matt flipping the nickel-plated clasps up.

“Do you know what’s inside?” He asked softly.

I shook my head ‘no’, although I thought it might be a silver coronet.

The hinge on the box sighed slightly as he raised the lid.

Nestled inside the box was a gun. It lay inside the brown leather box in a bed of what looked like crushed velvet. Looking back now, it might have been foam and not velvet, but in my memory, it was cushioned on black crushed velvet in a little gun-shaped recess in the black leather box. Its barrel gleamed darkly in the yellow light; its grip was pearlescent – mother-of-pearl, maybe. Its cylinder had deep grooves, like the valleys carved by tiny glaciers. There were designs carved into the metal. It looked like the kind of six-shooter the Lone Ranger would have used.

We stared at that gun for a good long time. It was the most beautiful and the most terrible thing I’d ever seen. I’d taken hunter safety, and had shot rifles and pellet guns and compound bows, but I’d never even seen a handgun in real life before. It gave me, as Owen Meany would say, THE SHIVERS.

“It’s a Colt,” Matt said. His voice was a reverent whisper.

I figured that was impressive, since Colt was one of the names I’d heard associated with revolvers. Probably from watching Magnum, P.I..

“Single-action .38,” he said.

There was another period of reverent silence as we both watched the gun lying there in that box.

“It’s kind of illegal,” he said.

I didn’t know whether it was illegal or not, because I didn’t know much about gun laws and didn’t much care. I was fifteen, had been out shooting gophers, and that was about where my interest in hunting ended. I’d helped kill a deer once, and hated the feeling it left me. I’d been out with “the men” when they shot geese, and hated watching those birds plummet from their perfect, graceful flight, to an ignominious ‘thud’ on the cold, hard ground. I didn’t much want to think about what that single-action Colt .38 had left in a heap on the cold, hard ground.

“Want to hold it?” He asked. I glanced up at him. His eyes were shining, and he had a look on his face that made him seem about nine years old, but at the same time far older than he ought to have looked.

I didn’t know. “I don’t know,” I whispered. I thought if I held it, I would hear the voices of everyone that gun had fired at, whispering in my ears. I felt a cold draught in that hot room. I didn’t even know if it had ever been fired. I thought that if I held it, it would be like I was holding a part of him, the part of him that I really oughtn’t be holding in his parents’ bedroom.

“It’s my Dad’s. Well. My step-Dad’s. He showed it to me, and told me he wanted me to have it. You know, later, when he…when he’s not around,” he said.

“It’s beautiful,” I said. “And terrible.”

He looked at me. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s the only nice thing my step-Dad has said to me in a long time.”

“I didn’t know you had a step-Dad,” I said. I don’t know where my mind was. Somewhere in the barrel of that gun, I suppose.

“Yeah,” he said quietly. Then he didn’t say anything for a long time.

I felt like a little kid, sitting there in Matt’s parents’ bedroom, staring at Matt’s step-Dad’s single-action Colt .38. We were doing something we weren’t supposed to do, but it wasn’t the kind of thing his parents would think we were doing that we weren’t supposed to do. We were looking at something dangerous. Something incredibly, inexorably grown up. The reality of the handgun in front of us could have been as innocent as a replica or a keepsake that had never been used for anything other than for show. It could have been just a trinket, a gewgaw, a shiny bauble. But it was a shiny bauble that had the potential to rip a man’s soul from his body.

We might have sat there staring at the thing all day; we might have started making out like fiends overtop the thing had the phone not begun to ring. It startled us both, made us jump, and Matt scrambled to close the box, replace it inside the tissue paper inside the shoe box and shove it back under the blankets in his parents’ closet. I leapt to my feet and scrambled back to the living room, reclaiming my place on the couch as he ran to answer the phone.

It was my grandmother, wondering where I was and why I wasn’t back at her house and could she speak to me. Matt handed me the receiver, and my grandmother was all blubbering and wailing and crying. She said I hadn’t told her where I was going (I had) and I hadn’t been home for dinner (it wasn’t yet dinner time) and she had called my father (dear God, are you *serious*?) and the police (oh Christ) and would I please come home right now?

I was horrified. “It’s 4:30, Gram,” I said. I could feel my face was bright crimson, and I couldn’t look around to see where Matt was, or whether he saw me.

But she’d been so worried and my father didn’t know where I was and she’d called the police, well not really the police, but Sergeant Nickleson, who was an RCMP, but she didn’t call the 9-1-1, she only called him at home to see what she should do and he’d told her not to worry and that I’d show up, that I’d probably just gone to the matinee and would be home for dinner, but when I didn’t show up for dinner, she thought maybe something had happened, and …

“It’s FOUR-THIRTY, Gram,” I repeated.

But I’d been gone since eleven and I hadn’t had anything to eat and if you don’t eat you die and was I with that boy, because if something happened to me when I was with that boy she’d just never forgive herself and my father hadn’t been at the farm when she’d called so she’d just told my mother to go out to the field to get him because she didn’t know where I was and could I please just come home RIGHT NOW?

“It’s FOUR. THIRTY,” I said again.

JUST COME HOME NOW! She screamed into the phone. I knew Matt had heard her, because out of the corner of my eye, I saw him whip his head around to stare at me.

“I’ll be home in an hour,” I said. “For dinner. Like I told you earlier. Goodbye.”

I hung up the phone and leaned my head against the cool plaster of the wall. I felt Matt’s hand on my shoulder. “Is everything all right?” he asked.

“My grandmother is insane,” I said. I was mortified. “I’m mortified,” I said. She called the cops,” I said.

“What for?” He asked.

I wanted to just enjoy the feeling of his hand on my shoulder. I wanted to turn around and let him hold me, if that’s what he would do. I wanted my grandmother to drop dead and the rest of the world to melt away so that Matt and I could talk about his step-father’s gun for the rest of the afternoon. I wanted to go walk with Matt across the train bridge, and stop in the middle, hundreds of feet above the river, and hold his hand and talk about the things we were scared of, there where fear was everything.

“Because she didn’t know where I was,” I said.

“But you told her you were coming over here,” he said. “I heard you.”

“I know,” I said. I felt hot tears coming to my eyes. Not now, I cried inwardly. For the love of all that’s holy, not *now*.

His hand was still on my shoulder. He moved toward me, raising his other arm. This would be the time, then, I thought. This would be the time when he would turn me toward him, and he would hold me, and then he would kiss me, and then I would find out if his lips were cool and…

And the phone rang. I groaned.

“Hello?” He said. His hand wasn’t on my shoulder anymore. “Yeah, sure,” he said, and handed me the phone. He wouldn’t look at me.

“Hello?” I asked. It was my Da. What the hell had I said to my grandmother? And why had she called him in tears? And what the HELL was going on over there? And where the hell had I been all day?

“Da,” I said. “I told Gram I was coming over to Matt’s house. I told her I’d be back for dinner. Then she just…she flipped out.”

You’d better just leave, my Da said. You’d better just go back to the house.


Just. Just go back to the house, Da said.

I hung up. “I have to go,” I said.

“Do you want me to walk you?” he asked.

I did. I wanted him to walk me. I wanted him to hold my hand as he walked me. I wanted to wrap my fingers in between his and stroll slowly through the sun-dappled shadows of leaves and branches. It was only three or four blocks, but I wanted that more than anything.

“Nah,” I said.

“Are you sure?” He asked. “Are you in trouble because of me?”

“I’m in trouble because my grandmother is insane,” I said. I finally looked up from my feet at him. “I’m sorry,” I said.

He stood there, holding the coke bottles he’d retrieved from the living room while I talked to my Da. I wanted so much to say, ‘you know what? Yeah, why don’t you walk me?’ But my mouth was dry and the tears were close and I couldn’t look at him much longer without losing it. “Thanks for inviting me over,” I mumbled, looking back down at my feet. “I’ll see you later, I guess.”

I stomped back to my grandmother’s house, hot hot tears ripping at my cheeks. My throat pulsed and throbbed. I hated her then. I hated her with the white-hot burning passion of a zealot. I knew if I saw her, I wouldn’t be able to speak. I knew something was going to happen, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. I was a single-action Colt .38. I was the bullet.

…oh, there’s still more…

This, also, is true.

Scott phoned my grandmother’s house one evening and asked if I was interested in going to a movie. I was. Oh God, I was interested in going to a movie. I was interested in going to ALL of the movies. I would sit in every seat in that ridiculous little sticky-floored theatre, and I would watch whatever third-rate, fourth-run movie they were playing, and it would be the best movie I’d ever been to, every time I saw it because a boy…a BOY was there with me. A cute boy, nonetheless.

But it wasn’t Scott who picked me up. It was Matt. He came to my grandmother’s front door (how was he supposed to know that you weren’t to ever use the front door? She yelled at him again, and I just decided to go out the back. I told my Gram I’d be home at 11, and I probably slammed the door behind me). We met in the back yard, and he said something about Scott meeting us at the theatre. We walked in the early evening, under ‘helicopter trees’ and could hear the seed pods popping open even after the sun had begun its long descent. Matt didn’t offer an explanation for why Scott wasn’t there, and I didn’t much care.

I don’t remember the movie. I remember that Matt paid for my admission, and I fought with him over that, and over his buying me popcorn and a drink. I felt terribly guilty at letting someone who wasn’t my blood relative pay my way. Scott laughed at me. I sat between them. Neither of them tried to hold my hand, or put their arm around me. Scott would lean across me from time to time to say something to Matt, until I told him (Scott) that if he did it again, I was going to spit in his ear.

Later that night, after the movie, we went out for a ‘cruise’. You’ll know that in a small town, this can be as exciting as driving up and down the main strip enough times that you get dizzy. We drove up and down the strip twice – once to get slurpees, and once to get out of town. We drove across the bridge and onto the grid roads. Scott’s car was some kind of old-person sedan with dark maroon plush interior and a stereo Scott had put in that seemed only to play crap. We drove and drove and talked about nothing important. Well. Actually, Matt talked to me; Scott talked to Matt.

At one point, someone did something that Scott didn’t like by way of driving past him or keeping the brights on too long or, I don’t know, having a vehicle on the road at the same time. So he wheeled the car around on the highway, floored the pedal, caught up with, and then passed, the offending vehicle. A half-mile up the road, he spun the car around again and headed back toward the ‘assholes’, in the same lane, with his brights on. At the last minute, he swerved out of the way.

Scott thought it was great. Matt and I didn’t say much at all. Scott dropped me off at my grandmother’s house, and took off with Matt to go Somewhere Else. I thought about the freckles and how funny Scott could be and then realised it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to have red hair and freckles and a nice rump and a sense of humour. Matt had something Scott didn’t. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was something I enjoyed.

The next day, Matt called again, and asked if I wanted to hang out that afternoon. I told him I did. He came to the house to pick me up, and rapped on the back door this time. My grandmother shouted, “don’t you invite that boy in here!”, and said something else that I don’t remember because I was still peevish about her having shooed us out of the house before (had she told me in the *first place* she didn’t want me to invite him over, I wouldn’t have), and chased me out of the house saying “why do you invite those boys over here? That’s not proper!” So I left.

I shouted something over my shoulder about being back later and I left the house. Matt and I sat around in front of the post office for a while. We walked over to the school yard and swung on the swings. We went to the convenience store and got slurpees and ice cream sandwiches. Then he invited me back to his house. I’d only been past his house, never inside, and so I agreed. It was getting blisteringly hot and my grandmother, although she had central air conditioning, wouldn’t use it. In fact, to this day, she still turns on the furnace at night in the summer.

Matt’s house sat well back from the street, with large spruce trees in the front and a rusting, not-used-in-six-years swingset just visible in the back. The trim was brown and the siding was a dirty burnished gold colour. Inside it was cooler, and Matt offered me a coke. We sat in the living room drinking coke and talking about…well…nothing. Music, I suppose. And movies. And books. And what it was like to be fifteen or sixteen in a small town in the Saskatchewan summer. What we most hated about school. What we kind of hoped for. Then we ran out of things to say.

I wanted to kiss him. To be more specific, I wanted him to kiss me. I wanted to know if his lips would be cool and dry or hard and hot. I wanted to know if he would brush the hair away from my cheek with the side of his hand. I wanted to feel his heart hammering against his chest, the way mine was hammering in mine.

He looked over at me and said, “do you want to see something cool?”

I said, “sure”, because I was one cool cucumber.

He said, “c’mere,” and he held out his hand to me.

Suddenly, there was my mother’s voice in my head, telling me that I should always remember that once a boy becomes sexually aroused they are, and I am quoting here, “physically incapable of stopping, so you always have to be the one to say stop, and mean it”. Then I thought, what, he’s just going to drag me off to another room to show me his johnson?. Then I thought, I don’t even know this guy! What am I thinking? Then I thought, I’m thinking that I want to know what it’s like to be held by a boy who wants to hold me. Then I thought, what if he just wants to show me his saxophone?, which was followed by oh is THAT what the kids are calling it these days?, which made me laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Matt asked.

“Nothing,” I said, putting my bottle of coke on the floor and taking his hand. My hand was sweaty. My hands are *always* sweaty when it’s hot out. His was cool and dry. I felt super self-conscious over that. I still do.

He led me into, not his bedroom, but his parents’ bedroom. That was a bit intimidating. And a bit weird.

I drew on everything I personally knew first-hand of dating and sex and kissing and all of that amounted to having “dated” a fellow a year before who’d finally screwed up the courage to hold hands with me after his buddies had dared him to. Who’d then kissed me, my first “real” kiss, at a friend’s birthday party. There had been music playing and the lights were turned low, and he’d asked me to dance (yes, we did dance at house parties, as weird as that seems to me now) and I had and he’d leaned down (because he was very tall) and his lips had hovered over mine and he’d worn braces and I could feel the fuzz of the beginnings of whiskers on his cheek and he’d pushed his lips against mine and then we were kissing and I was terrified that I would hurt him if I kissed back because he wore braces but then we were kissing and all I could think about was how we were kissing and how good it felt and, briefly, how much I hated Whitney Houston (that’s the music that was playing) but how I’d forgive her this one time because he was kissing me KISSING ME! in the basement of a girl’s house who wasn’t really a friend of mine but her friend was the girlfriend of my boyfriend’s best friend and so I’d been invited and all the other girls were so much more popular than I was. They even had white stirrup pants and pink and green checkered shirts and they wore shiny pink lipgloss and they’d all had boyfriends before and I was hopelessly, hopelessly in the wrong ball park.

But he kissed me. His breath was sweet, and he tasted like root beer, and when the song was over and so was the kissing, he whispered in my ear, ‘you taste like coconut’ (I was wearing pina colada flavoured lip gloss, because the 80s was all about lip gloss, you know), and I don’t think my feet touched the ground until he phoned me up a week later and said, “let’s just be friends”. He might as well have said, “you kiss like a chicken and you’re Not Cool.”

So I was in Matt’s parents’ bedroom with sweaty palms and a mind full of fear and doubt and my belly was full of ball bearings rolling around and knocking together and part of me wanted to be far, far away from there, sitting beside my father on the tractor, watching the field turn from dusty grey dirt clods peppered with green cochia and russian thistle to, as he would sing, “straight, dark rows”, and not talking about anything but just being there with my Da; and part of me wanted to be on that bed with this lean, strong boy beside me with his hand up my shirt and his mouth covering mine.

…you’ll have to wait for it…

This is a true story

The summer I was fifteen, the very last thing I wanted to do was to live on the farm in the hot shoebox of a pull-behind trailer with my mother who chain smoked and drank beer all day with vodka chasers and my father who didn’t believe I could do the work I asked him to give me. If I was going to be denied a job, paying or not, I wanted to be on the burnt, dusty prairie in the south end of the province with my failing grandfather, caring for him and helping my aunt with my three infant cousins. I would have gladly ridden the bus the six hours to get there, but for some convoluted (and, to my fifteen-year-old brain, inexplicable) reason, my mother figured it would be better for me to stay where I was. Because she hadn’t had ENOUGH of my miserable backtalk and horrid attitude, I suppose.

Of course, there was an ‘out’. I could go and spend time with my grandmother.

Wait, no, that wasn’t an out. Unless an “out” amounts to a canvas sack full of angry cats being drawn shut with your head inside. I mean, okay. I love my grandmother. Not because she is the romantic ideal of a cute little woman who taught me how to bake and sew and did a bunch of fun things with me. To be honest, she did show me how to do a single embroidery stitch (and then got Very Upset when I spent time at her neighbour’s house learning more embroidery) and she did let me help her take dinner out to the field once, before Gramps died. And the one time, she took me to Watrous, which was fun, in spite of her nearly KILLING US ALL by conveniently forgetting that when one crosses a double highway, one really ought to look for oncoming semi trucks from *both* directions.

To recap, I’m not really all that close with my grandmother. Her house is a mausoleum museum, but with an archivist in charge who went slightly barmy after the war. Pick your war. Because every square inch of that house is full of stuff. Even under the couch. You can’t actually walk in the basement rumpus room any longer; it’s so full of used cardboard orange crates and empty detergent boxes. Everything that woman ever purchased is in that house, unless it’s the sort of thing that might rot, and then it’s in one of the three deep freezes. I don’t think my grandmother understands what ‘disposable’ means.

I watch ‘Hoarders’ sometimes, and it reminds me of my grandmother’s house.

In her cold room, you can find jello packets from the 60s, tins of …god only knows what…soup and pie filling and fruit, most likely, from the 50s, every take-away container she’s ever used…bags of flour, unopened, with Robin Hood ™ logos on them I’ve never seen. Flats of 2L plastic bottles of cola, cans of paint (lead, no doubt), and God only knows how many mouse carcasses. But. The basement of my grandmother’s house is cool, and there is an ancient pull-out bed down there, and an anachronistic television with four legs that gets basic cable if you’re lucky, and four channels (five if you speak French) if you slap it just right on the side if you’re not lucky. You could take a bag of chips and a litre of cola and sit on your bed and watch Orca all night if you’d like, as long as you turn the volume way, way down because the year you’re fifteen, your grandmother only *pretends* to be going deaf, and she certainly doesn’t like the idea of you watching television after 9pm. Certainly not something like Orca, or Star Trek, God forbid, which she proclaims is “gross. Just gross,” as she switches off the television and slaps you in the arm telling you, “nobody would want to see someone with a face like that! That’s worse than a car accident!”

And then you’d say, “but Gram! They’re Cardassians! Their faces aren’t ripped up, they’re BORN like that!”

And she’d say, “Well, it’s not nice to stare,” and then leave the room, and you’d know that there would be no more Star Trek for you if she could hear it.

But when you’re fifteen, having an entire basement to yourself, more or less, and one that isn’t 104 degrees and smelling like cigarettes and beer is pretty cool. So that’s where I chose to stay that summer. My grandmother thought it would be a good idea to introduce me to some of the local kids my own age, since she’d frowned on my hanging out with my best friend from that town ever since my best friend from that town had grown breasts and kissed a boy.

So I was introduced to the son of my grandmother’s former boss. His name was Scott, and he was a dreamboat. He had golden-red hair, amber-brown eyes, freckles, and a car. Scott was 16. I thought Scott was the be-all and end-all of young men that summer, and was Very Glad my grandmother had seen fit to introduce me to him. Scott was also a perfect gentleman, and had a job at the grocery store during the day. He would not phone after me when he was at work, and often not when he wasn’t at work either. Scott played hockey (which I forgave, because of his freckles) and baseball (which I forgave, because of his rump), but didn’t much like swimming (much more difficult to forgive, rump or not) or reading (uhhh…the hair! Yes, we’ll forgive the not reading because of his red hair!). He was polite and he smelled good.

Scott had a friend called Matt, who was lean and tall and dark-haired. Matt had a low, pensive voice, and his eyes were blue. Matt didn’t say much, and he didn’t have a car or a job, and his father wasn’t the bank manager so they didn’t live in a huge, sprawling split-level on the edge of town (they lived in a darling Victorian-style two-storey home a couple of blocks from my grandmother’s house). Matt *did* call after me, and asked me to do stuff with him, which, in a small town, amounted to loitering in front of the movie theatre, drinking coca-cola from glass bottles and watching all the stuck-up small-town girls strut by in ridiculous shoes. I invited him to my grandmother’s house once, to borrow a book he’d expressed interest in reading, but when my grandmother flew into a fit of pique and screamed at him to ‘get out! get out of my house! get out, you!’ and then at me to ‘what is WRONG with you, letting him see the mess this house is!?’, we vamoosed.

To the local high school. Where Scott met us, and owing to his having been on every school team there was to be on, he had keys, so we slunk into the stuffy stillness of a school gymnasium in midsummer. We played basketball all afternoon. Scott got most of the baskets, and made fun of Matt when he missed every lay-up. I missed a few lay-ups myself, but both of them were very encouraging. I didn’t tell them that I’d attended basketball school for two summers and had done well on my school teams, and I may have played a little on the purposely crappy side because I didn’t want the competition and I loved the encouragement.

There were afternoons we spent at Scott’s house, all three of us, hanging out in his bedroom listening to the radio (there was one particular song that had a chord progression I was in love with, and after I explained in mind-numbingly advanced musical theory detail the reason why I loved it, they would both shut up as the four-bar progression approached, and continue their discussions afterward). I hoped that Scott would notice that I was a girl, and that I liked him. I thought of what it would be like to kiss his red, full lips, to feel his muscular arms around me.

But at night, I dreamt of Matt. When I’d explained in mind-numbingly advanced musical theory detail the reason I loved that chord progression, Matt had listened raptly, and had asked pertinent questions. Scott had pointed out the puck he got from a Blades game. When I’d played a few bars of something I remembered from Jazz band on the piano in the school gymnasium, Matt told me he played Saxophone. Scott had hit him in the head with a basketball.

…to be continued…