Denise hadn’t even been at Maize High three months when the rumors began. I was in a mandatory physical education class, second period, the first time I saw her. She was in the class right after mine and we brushed shoulders in the hallway a few times. She was pretty enough, I’d say, with long wood-burnt hair down her back in waves and an olive complexion like a Greek. She was in the middle ground on fashion which told me all I needed to know about her life at home. I was in the same boat myself. My parents never could afford to make me a popular walkabout with their conservative clothing purchases. It’s like my dad used to say, You take what you can get. Then later, when you’re all grown-up, you’ll thank god you didn’t have enough.
It was after gym when Denise came walking by and tried talking with Joe Donnelly. Joe gave her the cold shoulder and said, Oh, wait, do I know you? Quick as machinery Denise sniffed her face into her head, sucked back her tears, washing away the few nice memories of the boy, and wiped her nose on her puke-tan cardigan. She looked suicidal, really. I tried to say something, apologize for Joe, but nothing came to me. If her head wasn’t destined for a noose, I thought, it surely is now. I felt rotten. But her hurt had no effect on Joe. In fact, he just kept walking—strutting, really. He left her in the dust, a backdrop—and, shamefully, so did I.
That was fucked, man. I had to pause a moment, process my guts. Jesus, I said, that’s just plain fucked-up, dude.
Joe laughed. Yeah, he said. It’s whatever, man. She’s old news. I banged her a week ago, right up against my dad’s T-bird. Pretty decent, but I’m through with her now—old news. He flexed his muscles, had a peek at those few smallish lumps before slinging his letter jacket up and around his shoulders. He laughed. Dude, that chick doesn’t know the first thing about grooming. Now, me, myself, I like it when it’s sheared. And usually, he said, stabbing both thumbs into his chest, in my experience, these chicks keep it that way, ready. But she doesn’t know the first thing about it. He paused, tightened some curls around his index finger, face puzzled, scrunched and abstracted by memory. It was like…like…it was like Hitler’s mustache or something. I swear to god, dude—I’ve never seen anything like it, he said. He shook his head and laughed a cold minute straight. And then he hushed into slow silence when he saw his girlfriend, Blaire Shepherd, crossing over from the bathroom to greet us.
By fifth period a third of the school knew, some of the crueler ones giving the old “Heil Hitler” salute behind Denise’s back as she passed them in the halls. All day long her eyes sought after the perpetrators of the laughter and all day the sound abruptly shifted to a fade before her stare could focus and penetrate them.
In Mrs. Jones’s class, Earth Science, seventh period, I heard about Denise’s mustache from Amelia St. Claire, which was shocking, because Amelia wasn’t the type to gossip. She was in all the clubs, including the religious one all the Episcopalians flooded on Tuesday morning. Nothing special, I guess, just shocking, coming from her.
I thought about it a lot, especially that first night. It repulsed me. I mean, I kind of had a crush on the girl for a while and then all the sudden this stuff about a “Hitler mustache” comes about and gets me thinking she’s gross.
A few weeks later Mathew Darby wrote on his Twitter feed: What a night. And yes, it’s true. #HeilHitler.
Turk Van Deeson was the only kid I talked to that year who thought the whole thing with Denise was fucked-up. Just so typical, he said. People can be so fucked-up and stupid. It’s like sociopathic behavior or something, almost, if you ask me—all these Dahmer wannabes, these Nazis and pederasts of the fucking future, walking the halls like they own the goddamn century—so fucking typical. They should be counting their prayers, really, you know, if they pray, that she didn’t come in here blasting away with her daddy’s glock. Really, man—I’m serious as a fucking heart attack. I wouldn’t have blamed her, if she had. Alright, maybe that’s a little dramatic. But what do I care? My conscience is clean.
He searched his backpack for a lighter, came up empty-handed, then looked around the school parking lot to make sure we weren’t being watched.
You got a light?
Sorry. I don’t smoke, I said, lying.
He looked at me with those strange burning eyes of his.
Really, I told him, I don’t.
He hissed, called me a fucking liar, spat on the sidewalk, and wiped his hand, with this penned-on skull near his knuckles, through a greasy clump of green hair.
All of this eventually culminated in me asking Denise to the homecoming dance after P.E. one day. I crossed my fingers and scrunched my face. I worried she’d notice the yellow pit-stains on my T-shirt, that I hadn’t showered with the jocks in the locker room because I was too scared of their manlier physiques and abundant pubic populations, but she didn’t care about all that, and, to my surprise, she said yes, and with no reluctance of voice either—just pure sweetness, a voice like candy. She had this big smile across her face and her skin looked made out of only the best things of the earth.
My mom dropped us off at the school at 8:00.
By 8:15 we were ten blocks away, at Sunrise Park, fooling around by the seesaw.
By 8:20 my fingers were lost inside her, my mouth wet and tugging at her lips and tongue, latching to her teeth and sucking in her breath by the lungful.
It’s true, by the way, what they said about her pubic foliage, the historical horizontal shape, and I took it all in, too, all I could swallow of it—and it was beautiful and righteous and everything that hadn’t been said or taught or even permitted of me to think.
We never talked to each other again.
Every time I think of Denise, my heart gurgles. I didn’t understand it for the longest time. But I think sometimes truth can only come out as gurgles, and most of the time, that’s the only way it makes any sense. Sounds like a heart with holes, taking on water. The truth of my story is my heart was already fucked and sinking, long before the rumors even began. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.
I think I’m in love.
– Troy James Weaver was born, raised, and remains in Wichita, Kansas. His work has been in Hobart, is forthcoming in Atticus Review, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere. His first book, Witchita Stories, will be published by Future Tense Books in 2015.
Copyright © 2015 by Troy James Weaver from Wichita Stories. Reprinted by permission of Future Tense Books.