Virgin Mary Grotto PHILEMON STEED:


a novel by RENEE WALKER

I loved Luzanne Sistrunk. That’s why I formed the Hate Club against her. I had to. She made me sick. Love can do that. Make you sick. Make you so gawd awful sick you wanna kill. Kill. That’s right, that’s what I said. Kill. As in murder.

But don’t think I did that. Kill her, I mean. I was only in the eighth grade. Certain sophistications were beyond my reach then. Not that me and death weren’t acquainted. I had dismantled my share of spiders, leg by leg. And I enjoyed catching those tiny moths when they landed on the red-and-orange lantana. The dust on their wings coated my hot fingers as I pinched them together like little thumb-sized books. Just slammed them shut. Closed them up tight.

For good.

In fifth grade a girl in my class died. I didn’t do it. A car did. Somebody just ran right over her. Smeared her all over the road. She might as well have been one of those moths on the lantana in the two o’clock sun. That bush was so damn hot, stuck there against the south side of the house, the white stucco ready to scrape the skin off you whenever you brushed up against it. And somehow I always managed to. Something about that rough white wall glaring at me day after day after day. Every time I had shoes on I’d kick it. And sure enough, somehow or another I’d trip or stumble or somehow manage to fall up against it. There’d go my elbow or the side of my leg or my bare shoulder. If a wall could laugh, that one would have. Seems like it was always hot and white and rough. And I was always half-naked. Because it was always hot. It was even hot the day the little girl in my class died. They scraped her up off the road. The hot black asphalt gave in like soggy flesh if you pushed hard enough with your fist. It was that hot. And I remember I was burning up on the day I decided to officially hate Luzanne Sistrunk.

I had to. I loved her. We were in the same class. And she stole Miss Williams away from me. That was our teacher. Luzanne got the Best Student Award. She was such a teacher’s pet. She always did just a little bit better than me in everything. If I got an A, she got an A-plus. If I got B-minus, she got a B. It drove me nuts.

But somehow in the midst of all that we would hang out together after school. Always at her house. A double bed and a bureau filled up the room she shared with an older sister. That’s where all the saints were. Like Mary. And Jesus. All of them standing there on top of her bureau, mute as statues, watching us writhe around on the bed. We took turns being the boy. She wanted it that way. First her on top, then me. Somehow we had silently agreed the boy was the aggressor, therefore the boy goes on top of the girl. We made out like mad, fully clothed. For the longest time, it never occurred to us to undress. There were some manual fumblings but mainly we locked into each other at the mouth. Her buck teeth would gouge my lips until they bled. But it was good sex for two kids. A friendly, fun, equitable roll in the hay. Sex was never again that simple or so full of ease. God, it was good to be thirteen and in love.

Luzanne and I carried on like that in the quiet afternoons of her empty house for another year or so. Her parents were at work. Her brothers were jocks who lived for football and rarely came home in time for supper and her sister belonged to every club there was which kept her after school every day.

And then one time for some unknown reason we decided to pretend we were married and we took off our clothes. Luzanne had brothers so it was nothing for her to see my bashful ricardo. But I had never seen a naked girl in person, just photos of nude women with gigantic tits on a calendar in my grandpa’s garage.

I liked how she felt so soft and doughy. Especially the two softer mounds on her chest with two hard little nipples. She let me feel them. And then I kissed them and she squirmed and squealed in such a way my ricardo went straight into her and we locked lips and teeth and rode away the afternoon.

Gawd, I wanted more. And all the time now. But we had to wait till no one was home, as usual. Fortunately that was almost every day of the school week. Summers were a killer with no way for us to get together. But once school resumed, we wasted no time. There was no way I could take her to my house. My screeching mother never left home because she didn’t want to leave her screeching parrot by itself.

Man, the sex was good then. I can’t believe I’m thinking about this now. We were fifteen. One day, crying, she told me her family was moving away that very weekend. Far, far away. And it was all her fault. I didn’t understand why. She wouldn’t say any more. I just wanted to be with her forever. I begged her to write me but she never did. I wonder whatever happened to her. What’s it been? Thirty years? More than that. And now I’m lying here by myself. Over my head a rich man’s jet rips open the sky. Under my head is the pillow I should have thrown out years ago. I’m so used to beating it up in the middle of the night I can’t seem to part with it. I finally got a new one last year but after the first night I kicked it out of my bed. Too non-conforming for my needs. I even slammed my fist into its vapid face but the stupid sack of stuffing never even flinched. Now it’s in the corner. A dumb lump. It leaves me alone. I leave it alone. I’m happy.

I guess I would have been a lot happier if Estrella Vespertina hadn’t called me. Well, she didn’t exactly call. She sent for me through my dreams. And when a woman sends for you that way it beats any movie-star limo pulling up to your door.

Needless to say, I went. But I thought, at the time, it was all my idea. That’s the catch. No sooner do I slip into believing I’m in charge of my destiny than this crazy lady in Del Rio throws a few cards on the table and, POW, I’ve come up The Fool.

So I found myself driving there. It’s only when I went to her door and rang the bell that I started feeling sick.

Señor Steed,” she sings, “you here on time.”

She’s built like Mr. Doughboy with a Latin twist. The eyes are cheap crystals stuck in hollow sockets. As I duck inside, I avoid the crippled hand she thrusts at me.

“Yeah, Estrella. Thought I’d drop by.”

Ten minutes later when she finishes laughing I found out why I was there. Sort of.

Read More by Renee Walker

Copyright © 2016 by Renee Walker
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.






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