Monday, April 23, 2012

“What’s a Girl For?” by Michael Henson

He liked the way that girl swung herself down the sidewalk. Not like one of these common, cheap things that walked these streets looking all hard with their cigarettes in their hands and that fuck-you look in their eye. He leaned across the hood of his car to watch her better.

“Hey, Benny, one of the boys called from down the street. “Let’s go shoot some hoop.”

“Later, man.”

“We need a fifth man for a team.”

“Go on ahead,” Benny said. “I’ll be down.”

He heard the boy mutter to the others. It bothered him and he glared at their backs. “Your momma,” he wanted to shout. But he decided not to play that game.

In fact, he was tired of games. He had felt a change coming over him in the past few days, a growing tired of the tricks and lies, tired of wasting time, tired of the same-old, same-old. He had looked around him one day and saw that everybody he knew, from the junkies to these jocks, was playing games, joking with time. He was fed up with it. He wanted out. At eighteen, with a job and a car, he didn’t need what these streets had to offer.

“When did you get so high and mighty,” his old girl said when he tried to talk about what he was feeling.

All he had said was I’m tired of this place. All he had said was Man I want to get up out of here. And then she had to hit on her cigarette and look at him all crazy. What’s a girl for if you can’t talk to her? These girls down here, they act all crazy; they act all hard.

This one, the one he watched as she swung down the opposite side of the street, was different. She wasn’t all that pretty, but there was something about her. Something in the way she swung herself so easily, her hips and shoulders loose and relaxed. She wasn’t all huddled up and hard like these girls from down here. She wasn’t all corners and cut-at-you looks. He could tell it by the open way she looked the street up and down. She didn’t walk with a dead-ahead stare like these girls from the neighborhood, half the time with their arms folded in front of them like they were cold, with their faces all screwed up hard.

His old girl, Julie, used to walk all hard like that. Even when they were out together, he would try to hold her hand, do the kind of things people ought to when they were on a date. But she’d walk like that, all stiff, like she’d been tied up for days, like she’d been stuffed in a box and couldn’t get loose.

“Man, why you gotta walk like that?” he asked her.

She said, “What’re you talking about?” Like he’d said something crazy. She didn’t even know. How was he supposed to explain if she didn’t even know?

But this one didn’t have that hard look. She didn’t look like some stuck-up preppie either. She looked like girls he had seen at concerts, had seen in school, had seen in magazines. She looked relaxed, easy-going, not cheap, but free-moving and fun. Damn, he thought. I want to scope this out.

He didn’t know what she could be doing down here. She walked like she belonged here, but she looked so freed up.

That’s the way it ought to be, he thought. People shouldn’t have to walk around all stiff and screwed up and hard.

The girl was headed up the street and would soon be gone into the maze of traffic and pedestrians. What the hell, he thought. I might as well play this out.

As he crossed the street, he lost sight of her. Fearful she might turn a corner and be lost to him, he fretted behind an old granny pushing a shopping cart. The girl’s head bobbed ahead into the distance. He dodged right and dodged left and dodged right again before he could steer past the granny and prepare to sail up the street after the girl. B ut the sidewalks were still crowded. What was more, he didn’t want to look the fool, dogging after some girl. But he didn’t want to lose her either. So he walked faster, weaving as best he could in and out among the shoppers, the kids eating ice cream, the red-faced winos, the old men on walkers, and the hustlers leaning into doorways, watching for that mane of blonde hair, that sway in the shoulders among the other heads and shoulders of the street.

She was nowhere among them. He was sure she was lost and gone into some shop or around some corner.

But then he saw her. Coming back. She had turned around and was headed straight back toward him. If he kept up at this pace, he would run dead into her, so he slowed. She was smiling and looking out into the street. He thought to himself, What if I try to talk to her? What could I say?

Then: no. he couldn’t believe it. He slowed even more, then stopped to watch. She had stopped abruptly, pivoted, and stepped to the curb where she now leaned and smiled into the window of a car. He saw the car pull over and saw the way she brightened when the car stopped. She looked once up-street and down, then leaned closer into the window. There was no way to mistake it. She stood that way for less than a minute, he hip cocked and her purse swinging in her hand. Then, in a swift move, she slung her purse onto her shoulder, opened the door of the car, and swung herself in.

The car took off into the traffic, leaving him alone in the middle of the jostling sidewalk. Ripped up with rage, he stalked down the street, looking for something to throw, something to damage.

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