I was twenty-eight, living in a small town in Texas with my parents, teaching English, and working toward admission to the Guinness Book as The 20th Century’s Least Socially Active Female, when a former neighbor dropped by to ask a favor: Her co-worker was worried that his son—a nice but shy young man—would take up with some scarlet woman and be ruined.
Could she give her friend my number?
Her reasoning was transparent. She knew my reputation (nice and shy), and believed the adage that English teachers reproduce by budding. The boy would be safe with me.
Well, why not?
The next day, he called. Larry Weinert.
“Weinert,” said my mother. “Some Weinert children used to throw rocks at my car every morning when I worked at Harper Seed.”
At a preliminary meeting at the old store in Staples, halfway between our homes—he was nice, shy, and careful—he asked me to a movie.
Saturday evening, my parents hid. Larry arrived. He boosted me into his pickup. (Whatever happened to running boards?)
He turned the key in the ignition. Something under the hood exploded.
We sat on the sofa while the engine cooled off or dried out or did whatever it had to do before it would start. Larry ran his palm through his burr cut. “Man, this is awful.”
I said car trouble did not matter. Having read Boy Dates Girl when I was eleven, I knew the duty of a blind datee is to make the blind dator comfortable.
I wanted this to go well. I was co-dependent.
About ten miles down the road, however, co-dependency ebbed.
“There’s a dance over in Laubach tonight,” he said. “Want to skip the movie and go there instead?”
A dance would mean three things: first, dancing, and I didn’t (I’d never learned); and second, drinking, and I wouldn’t, but he would, and he wouldn’t name a designated driver, which could be a problem if the truck started again; and third, talking.
Number Three was already giving us trouble. Larry spoke in paragraphs of one syllable.
The only small-talk I could muster was, “Did you ever throw rocks at a black 1946 Pontiac traveling in the direction of Martindale?” and that seemed best left unsaid.
Fortunately, his malfunctioning muffler filled the void.
A dance, I thought, would require me to be sociable; a movie would justify silence. Anyway, an evening of film might allow me to say, sincerely, that I’d enjoyed myself.
So I used excuse Number One.
Downtown Seguin, Texas, at night in the late ‘70s was almost deserted. We parked in a graveled lot across from the theater. When I slid out of the truck, Larry grabbed me around the waist and clamped me to his side.
This was more familiarity than I’d expected to encounter so early in the evening, or, in fact, in the entire relationship.
I set a rapid pace—sort of a three-legged goose step—and marched him inside. I hoped I appeared eager to see the movie. I also hoped I could dislodge his hand from my person.
I couldn’t. Once seated, he wrapped his arm around my shoulders and kept it there for the duration.
The next two hours did not trip by on rosy wings. I was mired in the Slough of Despond.
I wanted my body back.
I wanted a Jane Austen novel.
I wanted my mother.
We exited the theater silently; the movie had provided no topics. But Larry was an optimist.
“Want to stop and see how the dance is going?”
I said I still didn’t know how to dance. Again, the roar of the engine camouflaged twenty miles of silence.
Finally, we pulled up in front of my house and he turned off the engine.
“Would you like to go out again?” He was desperate.
Caught off guard, I blurted, “I guess you’ll just have to call and see.” That wasn’t kind, but it was better than what I was thinking.
He leaned toward me.
“How about a kiss?”
“I don’t believe so.”
Co-dependent no more, I opened the door, scrambled to the ground, and headed for sanctuary.
“Do you want me to walk you to the door?”
I don’t remember what I said, except that I managed the thank-you-for-a-lovely-evening part. I hadn’t read my grandmother’s Emily Post’s Blue Book of Social Correctness, copyright 1940, in its entirety, for nothing.
I got inside as fast as possible and closed the door behind me.
I’d kicked off my shoes and was making a Hemingway sandwich when my mother walked in, dressed in robe and slippers. She was laughing. Her bedroom windows had been open.
“Did he ask if you wanted him to walk you to the door?”
“It was a reasonable question,” I said, “considering what led up to it.” I scooped a spoonful of Jif out of the jar. “I’m too old for this.”
“No, you’re not.”
As usual, Mother was right.
In fact, I would be twenty years older when I found myself standing under a light on Lavaca Street in Austin, kissing, with (relative) abandon, a man who told me he’d read all the novels of Anthony Trollope. And who on our first date took me to the Harry Ransom Center to see Elisabet Ney’s Lady Macbeth. And who writes funny flash fiction from one-word prompts. And who asked me to marry him.
And who cannot dance.
I don’t know what happened to Larry. He was a nice man.
I hope he found a nice girl—actually, I hope he found a scarlet woman, if that’s what he wanted—to hug-dance with him to country-western music, and fill his silences with words he wanted to hear, and kiss him goodnight without his having to ask.
“The Kiss” first appeared in the 2008 True Words Anthology Online Supplement, a publication of Story Circle Network.