valentine

Thirty minutes earlier, I’d sprinted across the dark baseball field and hurdled the homerun fence and limped downhill through Stonewall Jackson Park, my boots slipping on damp grass, stumbling in a sandbox….”

 

by matthew harrison

 

“Tim, I know you’re in a porta-potty.” Janie’s voice made the plastic walls vibrate. She was in the new red Cutlass coupe outside, using the CB radio like a megaphone. Pissed.

“You get your ass out here,” she boomed.

I squatted. The urine at the bottom of the pot stunk like the kidneys I had to eat as a kid, with a touch of formaldehyde. In some places, like Idaho, the porta-potty is dubbed a Honey Bucket. Pee likened to the bee’s business. I shut my eyes. Honey-roasted almonds, honey-baked ham, Oats’n’Honey, anything to keep from gagging.

The Cutlass hummed. “Don’t think I won’t do it,” Janie said. I imagined the black microphone in her fist, pushed against her glitter lip gloss.

She meant what she said. Thirty minutes earlier, I’d sprinted across the dark baseball field and hurdled the homerun fence and limped downhill through Stonewall Jackson Park, my boots slipping on damp grass, stumbling in a sandbox, toe kicking a kickball some kid left, then catching traction on the asphalt of Peachtree Lane as I ran between the silent bungalows and through an intersection, turned into a Shell station and ducked behind a dumpster only to see the Cutlass growling two blocks down in front of Denny’s. Janie was fed up. She was up to here with me.

The fact that I came home on Valentine’s Day shirtless, spilling a pint of Guinness I’d snuck out of Buck Mulligan’s Pub and singing Kiss-“feel my heat, taking you higher, burning heat, Heaven’s on fire”-the fact that I fell over the coffee table mid-song and broke the nice porcelain vase full of white carnations that Janie’s mom gave her: all this was just the little curl at the tip of a bad vanilla sundae, or whatever.

I’d screwed up enough. Janie meant it now. “I’ll knock you down,” she microphoned to the whole town of Southbridge after I ran into the construction site for the new high school, where four porta-potties lined the entrance. The Cutlass had some power. Janie would back the car up and gas forward until the front bumper nudged the first potty. She’d play dominoes with the Honey Buckets, driving down one, two-I was in the third.

I heard a thump and the Cutlass revving, and I knew she was doing it. I sprung open the plastic door and took off. The car shrieked as Janie turned the wheel to chase me.

“Acapulco!” I yelled, hearing the motor close in on me. I bolted left, my eyes half shut with the rush, and confronted a huge brick wall. Dead end. The headlights of the Cutlass behind me illuminated the advertisement painted on the wall: a giant woman’s hand with long pink fingernails held a wine glass over a green squirt bottle of Palmolive dish soap. The faded red text said, “Heals while it kills germs.” I turned to face Janie.

The hood bounced as the Cutlass pumped toward me. The thing not to do was to back against the Palmolive wall. I’d seen that movie. So I stepped toward Janie. She flipped the headlights to high beam and stomped the gas. The car lurched.

I raised my hands and screamed “Acapulco” again.

See, Janie wanted to go to Mexico. She wanted the honeymoon I never gave her on pretense I had to pay off the Cutlass and the TV and the couch we rented, when really I wanted to sit on the couch and watch the Falcons play on TV and now and then admire the new red Cutlass out the living room window-a much better view, in my opinion, than a big blue same ocean.

Janie punched the horn. I jumped. She let the horn ring like Gabriel’s trumpet. I thought, fine. Sand in my navel, stucco hotels, neon bikinis up butts and little umbrellas in shitty margaritas. Fine. I’d have to see Janie lean over the bathroom sink at some Pacific Paradise Inn, naked, her back muscles clenching with each heave of tequila down the drain. Fine. And I yelled it again, this time with meaning: “Acapulco!”

Janie killed the headlights. The car rumbled low. I walked forward with no small degree of hesitation, ready to dive if Janie gunned the gas. I slid my hand over the warm hood, touched the chrome side mirror. I knelt to look through the passenger window. Janie didn’t budge. I thumbed the handle of the door and opened it. The orange nub of her cigarette brightened. Smoke filled my face.

“Get in,” she said.

I slid onto the seat and pulled the door shut.

“Again,” she said, taking a drag on her cigarette.

I pushed the door open and slammed it.

Janie flipped on the heater. The vents hissed. I looked straight ahead, expecting any second to feel the bite of her cigarette on my neck. She sat there gripping the wheel, silent. The Cutlass purred. Dry bursts from the heater lifted the musk and violet from Janie’s skin and mixed these scents with her menthols. On the brick wall ahead, the Palmolive lady held her germ-free fingers above us like a pardon.

“You’d better mean it,” Janie said.

I’d sweated out my alcohol while dashing through Southbridge. Now I felt ashamed for getting drunk and singing Kiss and crushing the white carnations when I should have been with Janie on the loveseat, maybe trading those candy hearts that say “be mine” and “honey bun.” Mexico seemed okay.

“I mean it,” I said, turning to my wife. As if reading the words off a candy heart, I added, “I do.”

Janie lipped her cigarette. She put the Cutlass in reverse.

Originally published:
Issue Sixty-One
July 2011

 

(illustration: misti rainwater-lites)


Matthew Harrison grew up in several Georgia towns. He lived in Seattle and Los Angeles before heading to Massachusetts, where he’s now in the MFA program at UMass Amherst. His writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Phantom Kangaroo, At Length, and The Battered Suitcase.

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