Hung Over Sunday
Stu lay curled up in bed, unable to even fall down the stairs if he wanted to, just staring at the purple rock the size and shape of a baked potato that his mother had given him as a going away present.
Wayne checked the cupboards for food, then the refrigerator. There were two hotdogs left over and a bag of potato chips that he knew he could borrow from Stu and neglect to pay back later. Wayne was beginning to get a belly on him, but he was far from seeing it.
Stu’s mom had brought it in from the garden and painted it with the purple paint that he had used for his new bedroom. He had wanted his walls to throb purple – Deep Purple was his favorite rock band – but he hadn’t known how to paint a room, so she had done it for him. He hadn’t even had to ask. She had written “Good Luck Stu” on it in careful, shaky white letters, which had been very thoughtful of her.
While the water was coming to a boil Wayne went out to check under the GTO for evidence of that pesky oil leak. He decided he would have to look at the seals later. On the way back in he adjusted the clutch out of nervous habit, and pinched his finger, screamed out in pain, and decided to wait until he wasn’t hungover. When he came in the hotdog water had boiled away and the pan was scorched. He poured in some oil and closed his eyes.
Stu had dreamed that a girl fell out a window. A man came to investigate. Maybe she was pushed. Wayne said somebody wanted her oil. The investigator asked said who want her oil? Wayne said Stu did. The investigator said Stu better watch out. They stood face to face, toe to toe. The investigator’s voice was deep and growly, and it snarled. “I’ve lived a dark life, and I’ve done a lot to brighten it up. I’ll do anything to preserve myself!” Stu didn’t like remembering this dream. And while looking at the rock that held his bedroom door shut Stu felt a wave of tiredness come over him and he wanted the courage to never move again. He wanted to curl up forever at the bottom, to accept insignificance with clarity, to allow once and for all the divorce of his desire from life, before it could invade again.
By eating hotdogs and potato chips for breakfast Wayne was able to stop thinking. He didn’t like to think two things at once. Hating the straight-laced, well-behaved Voit boys and hating Sandy the two-timer at the same time? Too much.
Stu smelled meat and his legs ached. He stretched them out. He turned onto his side, his other side, then his back, his stomach again – all Stu’s favorite sleeping positions – but his joints ached and he had to get up. He had stolen a bike that was leaning against Sandy’s house last night. Had Sandy seen him riding away? Where had he put the bike? He had gotten a ride home from Sleazy, of all people. He had told Sleazy everything. He hoped Sleazy was too drunk to remember. He admonished himself, “Never tell your life story to Sleazy!”
“Bacon,” Wayne called upstairs in a flat hungover voice.
“Ok,” Stu answered down flatly.
“Come on,” Stu pleaded with his legs, but he remained on his back, his hands limp at his sides like two rotten cabbages. He continued to lay there. He accused himself. “Wind-up toy.” He choked back tears. Wayne might come in. When Wayne wanted company he came in and got it, knocking Stu’s purple rock aside. He sat up, pulled on his clothes. The same shirt and pants he’d worn last night. The stench of embedded cigarette smoke. He yanked on his shirt without bothering to unbutton the sleeve-ends. He forced his hands through while stomping his feet like a boy with a hot temper. He saw himself doing it, but couldn’t stop himself from doing it. He stomped three extra times for good measure.
Wayne looked up at the pounding on the ceiling but didn’t expect to see anything, he just looked at noises whenever he heard them.
Stu ducked, used the wall as a brace, and came down the stairs mechanically, turning his feet at an angle. When Wayne heard Stu coming he turned the TV on and looked at it.
Wayne thought about doing something, but immediately forgot what. He felt glued down. He felt sick, to be truthful, as he brought a strip of bacon up to his mouth.
Sandy slept well and deeply, but only until four o’clock in the morning, then she suffered. She had to do something, but she couldn’t do anything until morning.
The phone rang when the sun wasn’t even up. Sandy leapt out of bed to get it. Her mother got there first.
“It’s for you, honey.”
Sandy had to talk in the kitchen where the phone was.
It was Eugene, not Randy as expected, and he was upset, crying, and said he couldn’t talk on the phone.
“Then why’d you call me?”
“I have to see you.”
“No,” she said flatly.
“I have time this afternoon before my date.”
“Why not? Please.”
“Eugene. I said no.”
“I can come into town. Pick you up. We’ll…”
“No,” she said as firmly as she could.
She couldn’t believe this was happening again.
“Why Sandy? Tell me. Why?”
Donna, rumor-crazed Donna, had said Eugene had gotten engaged, finally, after months and months of “pre-engagement” talk, to N-, his girlfriend from Clara City, whose name Sandy would not utter.
“Sandy, are you still there?”
Silence is the only language Eugene will understand, Sandy thought. But she couldn’t block her feelings, and winced. Her stomach ached.
“I can’t I see you … ever,” she whispered.
“Ever?” What do you mean?”
“You don’t mean it.”
“You mean I can’t even talk to you?”
“What do you want, Eugene? That I should I call her up and say, ‘Hey, I’m having sex your fiancé, do you mind?”
Sandy knew if she slammed down the phone now there was a chance she’d be done with him. She wanted to slam the phone down.
“Can I come over? I just want to kiss you, so bad.”
Tears and pre-dawn cold rainy autumn morning light bit into Sandy’s brown eyes.
“Don’t you like me anymore?”
“It’s not that.”
And then the feeling of love, which she’d felt under the stars while they lay naked on the hood of his Camaro in the moonlight, flooded back over her.
“You know I like you.”
“Then why don’t I drive in.”
“I don’t know, Eugene.”
The prospect of having to talk – to Eugene, Randy, Rick, and Stu, and may even Wayne – weighed on her heavily.
“Let’s just talk,” said Eugene.
“Talk – about what?” – The brutality that lay under their calm exteriors? It left her seething and feeling sick.
“Ok,” she said.
Eugene was taken aback.
“You mean it?”
“Yeah, but I’ll come out. Don’t come in.”
Eugene paced around the end of his driveway for a long time before Sandy drove up. They headed to the gravel pit with Eugene’s hand resting on Sandy’s knee, then her legs, then with great silent intensity crept to blue jean mound of her pussy. Eugene didn’t talk. He didn’t like to talk. Even though everybody said he talked too much for his own good. Sandy was anguishing, so instead of stopping at the gravel pit she drove into Dead Grass and drove around in circles. Finally, he talked.
“You’re more beautiful than N.”
“What happened, Sandy?”
“I heard. That’s what.”
Eugene pulled a batting glove out of his coat pocket and put it on, then pulled it off and began pulling the fingers out, each finger backwards, with no expression, until he had inverted the whole hand. Then he put the batting glove back into his coat pocket and slid over to the middle of the seat.
“Open your mouth, Sandy,” he said, “I want to slide my finger in your pussy. I want to fuck you. My heart is breaking, I want to fuck you.”
Eugene’s soft, solid shoulder, she wanted to lean over and bite it. She wanted to reach down and grab the denim stretched over Eugene’s hard cock. But would that make things better? She didn’t think so. So she kept a grip with both hands on the steering wheel and continued to drive in circles around Dead Grass.
Eugene began to massage a small circle, then bigger and bigger, on Sandy’s forearm. Sandy felt sick. Even Wayne had touched her there. A rancid pain in her stomach. “I don’t feel too good,” she said, and pulled over. Eugene backed off. His shoulder muscles tensed up. Sandy gagged.
“What is it?”
Eugene slid all the way back across the seat to the metal door and folded his arms.
Then he noticed she might actually be sick, so he said with some compassion, “What’s wrong, Sandy? What is it?”
At the ripe old age of twenty-two, Roger loved to sleep more than anything, and he didn’t feel guilty about his failing his father either, even though he was the oldest boy in the family. He felt like he was exerting his independence.
He looked out his bedroom window. The sun was above the trees in the grove, which meant he had overslept and missed church again. He slowly put his pants on, but before he had finished he fell back on the bed, and rolled over onto his belly and buried himself beneath the covers again.
Ah, sweet sleep. Ah, Sunday. A mellow day, which used to be filled with duty. Escorting his newly-widowed mother to eight o’clock service. He had enjoyed it had first, but then he had become embarrassed to be playing husband to his mother. He had felt their stares penetrate him.
Or had he imagined it? Did he really hate getting up early?
Roger felt like fish swimming on a soft current of warm water. It was a wonderful feeling, to be on a wavelength he was almost consciously aware of. Then the surface shifted, and the fish flopped on shore. Hot sun poured down on him and he died. A voice said, “Do as Jim Morrison did.”
Roger rolled over. It was just a dream. Just a dream. He opened his eyes and looked at the crucifix that was tacked above the doorway. Christ didn’t move, or talk, or do anything but look down in judgment on Roger and Roger was sick of it. He got up, finished putting his pants on, and walked under Christ through the doorway, yawning, out into the so-called world.
He smelled chicken pot pies baking in the oven. He checked the clock in the kitchen. It was nine. The breakfast dishes were damp in the rack. The kitchen had been swept spotless. The living room had been vacuumed. Everything stood still, obedient and bored, awaiting their return.
Roger sat in a kitchen chair near the toasty glow of the oven. He loved their absence. He heard the dogs barking outside, and thought about petting them. He went to his coat which was hanging up, and he pulled out a bag. He sat down at the kitchen table and rolled a joint.
Later, Roger’s mother lay down for her afternoon nap on the couch, while Roger’s little brothers and sisters sat in front of the TV watching, while Roger looked out the window, all in the same room.
It looked like rain all day.
Roger accepted sharing the room with them, even though he was twenty-two years old. Then it was time. He sat down loose-limbed on the floor facing the wall, and rolled another joint in his lap. He had comfortable hands.
He slipped out of the house without a word, patted the two barking, jumping dogs on their heads, and got into the old Oldsmobile. He could have pulled out of the yard, but where was there to go?
It began to rain and Roger noticed. He noticed that he had turned on the windshield wipers. He laughed. So much going on! He closed his eyes and giggled, “Raining pitchforks.”
Grass excited Roger and calmed him down. A mixed formula. He assumed grass did the same for everyone. It was natural that Roger would think that the way he thought applied to everyone. He smoked grass daily. He smoked it with the nonchalance of a person who ate food.
Teen idol Bobby Sherman came into Roberta’s room. If he hadn’t come who knows what would have got her out of bed. He was real, not on the cover a teen magazine. She went into her private bathroom. She gazed into the mirror, that evil contraption that showed her face and reflected her body. Her father had stopped begging her to wash and comb her hair. The pursuit of her soul was blocked by the false and easy reflection which always asked, ‘Am I ugly or am I beautiful? Or am in between, and if so, to what degree? And what is an image anyway?”
She dressed slowly, in the same long, loose, baggy dress she had dressed the day before, and the day before that. She rehearsed the conversation she was going to have with her father when she went out. She wanted to appear carefree, sweet, and innocent, so as to not alarm him, and to keep him off her. Her voice was barely audible as she rehearsed.
“Good morning,” she purred. Two words and she had made a mistake. It was twelve thirty, not morning anymore, and he pointed to the clock. Then he roared at the newspaper. Like he was actually going to fist-fight the President of The United States and Congress over Vietnam.
Roberta’s mother placed a white bowl of Wheaties in 2% milk in front of Roberta. She ticked at the side of the bowl with her metal spoon. She knew what Wheaties tasted like, so why eat it? Milk came from a cow – yuck. Her father stared at her. Smudges of eggs and bacon around the corners of his whiskered mouth.
“You’re a pig,” she said – beating him to it.
He pretended not to hear, and then seven younger brothers clattered through the kitchen and flew down into the basement. They were launching their after-church, gleeful shouting selves, Sunday afternoon selves.
Mrs. Voit looked at her husband, then at her daughter. She had looked so many times before she was tired. Then he went outside to the machine shed to work on the combine engine that was running rough, and her mother left the room too.
Over time Roberta’s Wheaties wilted into a milky brown mush in her white bowl. When her mother came back through the room she sighed, did the dishes, and didn’t ask Roberta to help. Roberta sat alone at the huge table and tried, on her own, without coaxing, to eat.
She gagged on a spoonful of Wheaties and her mother flew into a rage. She picked up the bowl and threw it against a wall so hard it shattered and splashed milk and Wheaties on the floor as far as the refrigerator. Roberta right away began cleaning up her mess, using a sponge, some paper towels, and a broom. While her mother went into the living room to cry while laying face-down on the couch. When Roberta was finished, she tiptoed by softly on the white carpet back to her sanctuary.
Roberta weighed ninety pounds and never left the house anymore. The oldest girl in a family of bustling boys piled two high in each of their bedrooms, Roberta had her own room – her sanctuary, but also her jail.
Her room was where she longed to be at all moments she wasn’t there, and it was, once she was in it, the place she longed to escape from. Rectangular, it was painted bright yellow like a flower, and its one window faced the highway.
Through the trees, the hired men lived. Roberta had seen their lights pop on and off many times. Occasionally she saw the one car come and go. Roberta was in love, devoutly, with no one.