Sonata In Three Notch, Alabama

by Daniel Klein

She watched him — his face, up close — and said, through the space in the fence boards, “We need spoons.”

There was a young boy walking, at the end of the fifty-foot fence just come around the corner, and when the boy trailed the stick along the boards, the sound and vibration of it beat in time to Roy’s heart — short staccato beats.

Roy didn’t answer her with his voice, but his eyes held hers until the boy passed them. Roy said, “You come around here tomorrow afternoon.” That was all. She looked back at him, saw him run down a thought, catch it as if to roll it up in cigarette paper, and instead of smoking it, tucked it in his shirt pocket for later.

She wished he could see her pink striped dress — the way the belt circled her waist and the symmetry of the collar lapels, wide and flat and an invitation to the smooth-freckled skin of her throat. She swayed a little to give him more to see in the space between the boards.

He turned his body from her to leave, but left his eyes with her and she saw his eyes the rest of the day; when she lay down at night with her mother in the big bed and all the way through her dreams of carnivals and baby carriages and the butchering of animals. And in the morning, when she woke, when she rose and looked in the mirror to see what was left of herself, she saw in place of her own, the innocent, burning, loving-cruel eyes of Roy’s.

~~~

Standing there at the fence for so long, waiting, she had an old deja vu — a dream deja vu — that reminded her of the woman at the Whiteway drugstore. The woman waited on the fountain customers in her pale green and white uniform. She had made the dozens of milkshake glasses spotless and had lined them up along the back counter. Their fluted, flower-like tops were turned down, like flags at half-mast, as she waited for the burial of her last customer and the corpse-dead silence that immediately followed the cheery tinkle of the small silver bells on the door.

The waiting was made all the longer by the rows of ready glasses, their numbers doubled by their reflection in the back, counter-length mirror, and by the discovered chocolate smear on the back of the woman’s dress, revealed to that last, forgotten customer.

Through the small lit space between the fence boards, Roy saw her thin, pink lips touch the back of her hand. Roy allowed himself the thought that she held her hand to her lips like he thought a poem would sound, if he could have remembered one. He could have lived there in the space between the boards — in her wrist that carried the message of her lips and the essence of her soul. But he chose instead to light another cigarette. He was silent until she turned toward the fence to look for him.

“Roy!” she whispered loudly, her mouth leaving her hand. Roy would remember the wetness of saliva left on her hand for the first year and a half of his time in Fallridge Penitentiary.

She put her hand through the opening between the boards, the largest opening they had found in the fence that ran between the back of Three Notch High School and Suggs’ Salvage where Roy had found a big Oldsmobile station wagon to sleep in.

Roy looked around, then pulled his right hand from his back pocket and grasped her small, smooth, and unpainted fingers, looking for the back of her hand and wishing she wore lipstick, imagining a trace of it transferred from her lips. It would have been a landing zone for his own lips, but he reached down with his mouth anyway, to taste the wetness from her mouth; to sip, to savor, what he would rather have gulped down until he was dead from drowning and until she was dead from the loss of life given to him.

He stayed that way, with his head bowed down, licking, kissing, sucking up into him as much of her as the small space in the fence of fifty feet and eighty-nine boards would grant him as pardon for crimes against her, and therefore, against society.

He could feel her body talk to him, through her hand and wrist; her body moaning for clemency, for early release from the wait, from the nights lying next to her mother in the big but not big enough bed, and he became angry at her. Not angry in a way that would make him stop loving her, but angry in a way that would urge him to continue loving her, as punishment.

Still with lips touching her hand, Roy looked up the length of her arm, raising it slightly to see up into the puffed sleeve of her dress and to her shaved and smooth armpit, a bit of the round cup of her brassiere, and he saw drops of her sweat run down her soft skin to along the curve of the fabric, wetting it, darkening it. It was two feet and three hundred miles from where he could get to, and he burned with the anger.

“Dear God, we need spoons.” she moaned.

“We won’t need spoons just as soon as I get the Ford rolling.” Roy told her.

“When, Roy?” she asked, tilting her head to the side to see through the opening.

“Tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Yeah, tomorrow. I just need to get a damn battery.” Roy said.

“Tomorrow? That soon? Really, Roy?”

“All these junks got no batteries that are any good.” Roy told the junkyard behind him. He didn’t see the panic in her eyes. He only looked for the one vehicle he might have missed that might hold their — his — salvation.

She saw in her mind for the first time since speaking of leaving with Roy, the actualities of their leaving. Of what she would have to do. Really do. She didn’t notice Roy letting go of her hand as she saw herself telling her mother what she had planned, telling her that she would be gone, that she would not be sleeping in that big bed; and seeing the way her mother would stay away from that side of the bed, never even turning over toward it but looking out away from that side with her eyes open, red and tearing, through every night until when… she could not imagine. How would she say the words to her mother?

She knew she would be able to finish packing. She knew she could step into Roy’s Ford, slide along the vinyl seat until her hip found his, not look back or even into the rear-view mirror; but she was terrified that her words would turn into sobs — into unintelligible croaks, standing before her mother’s death.

“Tomorrow.” Roy commanded her. “Anytime after you’ve had your last lunch with your mother.” He turned from her first, as usual, paying attention to the long ash on his cigarette and never seeing what she held for him in the trembling of her lips, the redness of her eyelids, and the closing of her shoulders as she pulled back her hand.

She saw everything.

~~~

Tomorrow. Did not come. At least, the tomorrow she had imagined, did not come.

Roy left her with the anger that had come to him, along with his kiss left to etch his claim on her. She had walked away in her little black flats and her girlish, straight-legged schoolgirl gait, her blood drained and her emotional body floating out somewhere too near the power lines looking for either a source of energy or an electrocution.

In the morning, with her light brown hair turned dark wet, the summer of her last year on earth as a girl female, she sat with a breakfast of grits, over-easy eggs and toast in front of her made by a mother who knew everything about her, knew nothing about her she didn’t want to know. Her mother gone-to-work-til-lunch-come-back that had always been there in that apartment subsidized by the state.

The eggs were gone hard and the butter had unmelted on the toast as she read the front page article over and over five or six times until she had put each sentence after the other until it made sense to her. What she always knew would be true had been found out by almost everyone before her: Roy had been a bad thing. Not so bad as he could have, but bad enough to throw her mind into a whirlpool of thoughts smudged into a spiral that traveled down into her belly with nowhere else to go.

Roy had been caught stealing a battery from a car in the new residential section of town by a policeman living across the street. He had handcuffed Roy and taken him inside his home. And while the rest of Three Notch was still held back in the fifties, the officer who lived on this newly concrete-and-curbed street had a computer in his house, knew how to use it, and had contacted the state-wide criminal referencing center to discover that Roy was wanted by warrant for the severe beating of a young girl he had planned to marry.

The newspaper article told of the violent and sad past that Roy had brought with him to Three Notch; the past that she lived in his kisses that forced their way into her mouth and heart and dreams; the past that she could feel but not put to knowledge.

~~~

She stood when her mother came through the door at the lunchtime that was to be their last together. Her mother smiled at her, brought the bag of groceries to the gray Formica kitchen counter, and put them away, each item in its usual place.

“I see there’s a suitcase there by the bed.” she said, opening the upper cabinet that held the dry goods. “Can you talk to me about this?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Good. Well, sit down and we’ll talk. Alright?”

She sat down in the chair that blocked her mother’s view of the suitcase and watched her mother in her pale green and white uniform, moving like a normal person, until they were both sitting, her mother’s forearms laying flat on the surface with her hands together and her thumbs rubbing one another.

Her mother and she looked directly into each other’s eyes as they had always been able to do.

Her mother asked, “Are you alright?”

“I know I will be.” she answered.

Her mother said, “Good. Before we talk, I want you to know that I heard about the Roy fellow you’ve been seeing and I’ve had all sorts of thoughts about how all of this… all of us might turn out — all the possibilities.” Her mother looked into the girl’s eyes for confirmation of any of these and went on: “Are you planning to leave still? Or did you make up your suitcase after you read about him?”

“I was planning to leave with him, Mama, but I did make up my suitcase anyway, after I heard.”

Her mother caught a breath, almost like a hiccup, and straightened in her chair. She said, “I’ve been seeing the dreams you have. I never wanted to intrude in them, but at night in that big bed, I’ve seen your dreams where you go roaming. They come to me like my own, but when I saw myself in them, and Roy, I knew they were yours.

“Mama.”

“I love you, Margaret Ann, and I will try to protect you from a bad fate, if I can. Some of those dreams scared the stuffing out of me, so I’ve been getting ready.”

“Mama, I love you, too. I don’t want you to be hurt by me.” she said, seeing the tears that formed in her mother’s blue eyes and blurred by her own. Her mother took the girl’s hands in hers across the table.

“So don’t go right now,” her mother continued, “and we’ll work out a plan for you. A plan that can keep you safe and out of the trouble that I’ve seen in your dreams. I can’t keep you from where you’re going, but I can help make sure you get there and not somewhere else by anyone’s bad hand.”

Margaret Ann wept, sitting in her chair with her mother holding her hands, and knew that she would be able to stay for a while, in the big bed with her Mama, who had her dreams.

About the Author

Daniel J Klein's background includes Graduate Fiction at the Iowa Writers Workshop with the late James McPherson, along with a focus on Poetry at the Kansas City Art Institute, and other writing programs across the country. Two of his short stories have won New Letters Literary Awards and other stories have placed in various short story competitions. Daniel was recently a semi-finalist in the Final Draft Big Break screenwriting competition while living in Los Angeles. He and his wife are temporarily living in Bangkok, Thailand. Daniel once worked for the circus.