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Post Road Magazine #32

What Guy Says No?

Jennifer Genest

Doug walked, rain spitting on his sweatshirt hood and his long hair, toward the rectory. He had never gone to confession—never had his first communion. Last night, after it had happened, he ran back to the river and dragged Carrie out, pulled her onto the bank to keep her dry, pushed the corn-silk hair from her face and tried to breathe into the lips he had been kissing just moments before. He hated himself for never being a Boy Scout, never learning how to save anyone but himself.

He knocked on the back door of the rectory and his Uncle Raphael emerged in the white collar and black clothes. "Doug! What a surprise! Come in!"

Everything in the rectory was old but pristine: an aqua-colored table from the 50s with chrome edges. Waxed floors and well-oiled cabinets. The smell of furniture polish. His uncle poured a glass of ginger ale for Doug. "I have a couple arriving soon," he said, "To talk to me about their engagement. But why don't you sit here, read the paper while you wait?"

Doug would have to do it fast. He looked his uncle in the eyes. "Can I go to confession?" he said. "I mean, right now? I don't really know how..."

"Of course," his uncle said. "But wouldn't you like another priest?"

"With you," Doug said. "It has to be with you." He hadn't seen his uncle in a year, not since his father—Uncle Raphael's brother—had gone to jail for dealing. Now Doug lived with his stepmother, Sylvia, who called Raphael a phony. She said he was not a man of God; he was a man of staring at her ass. Not that Doug could blame him.

"I'd be happy to listen if you're comfortable with me," Raphael said, "But I have this appointment in a minute, and I want to make sure we have enough time…"

"I…I killed someone," Doug blurted. "A girl. This girl. Sort of my girlfriend. Nobody knew we were dating. She didn't want anyone to know." They hadn't been dating; they'd been sneaking around drinking rum he'd stolen from Sylvia. It was the only reason Carrie liked him.

The ice popped in the ginger ale, sinking lower in the glass. Uncle Raphael blinked rapidly. "Doug," he said, "Stop."

"I didn't mean to," Doug said. He leaned forward, pushed his face into his hands. "I didn't mean to."

Raphael held his hand up. "Stop talking, please. Let's go to the confessional. This isn't the way to do this…"

But it was done. The rectory doorbell rang and Doug stood.

"Stay," his uncle said. "I'll tell this couple I need to reschedule. I'll be right back."

Before Raphael could return, Doug slipped out the back door and cut through the mini-mart parking lot. He would go to Fitzy's for now, grab a beer, get his nerve up and his temper down before going back to Sylvia's—hopefully she was alone now. He remembered what Sylvia felt like under her red satin nightie—the weight of her breasts, the softness of her belly and legs; for years he had wished for her and lately, when she was drunk, she let him into her bed, said she would teach him how to love a woman—and she had, without ever taking his pants off. In fact, she hadn't touched him at all—only kissed.

Surely she knew his secret—that there was nothing under his jeans worth seeing, that it was just a mangled little mess, that no amount of juice or protein shakes or muscles would change. He was born this way and he was used to hiding it; he had never used a urinal, always the bathroom stall at school and kids made fun of him for it. His father never spoke of it to Doug, but he probably had to Sylvia; there was no way of knowing now and he sure wasn't going to ask her.

Doug had dropped out of twelfth grade this year; he hated school, and having a job—even if it was janitor and snack bar guy at Roller Kingdom—meant he paid the rent for Sylvia, like a real man.

It was still raining out as he walked to Fitzy's and he could smell the dank amber river water—you could smell it almost everywhere in this town. The river made him replay every event last night and he cringed: he had come home from lifting weights at Fitzy's, grabbed a Pop Tart and a Diet Pepsi for Sylvia so they could watch Entertainment Tonight, and walked into her room. He opened the door to the horror of sheets and bodies humping so hard they never turned to notice him standing there; Sylvia's red toenails peeking out of the blankets, the back of a man whose face he never saw—just a tattoo of the Tasmanian Devil on his shoulder. When Doug saw this in a split second, he decided that if Sylvia could fuck around, so could he.

Carrie was fifteen. She was the only girl who had ever flirted with him and she was delicate and beautiful, like a Christmas tree angel. He knew she was using him for alcohol—she never wanted them to be seen in public together because she said he was "too old" for her—but still, it felt pretty awesome to have her wink at him every time she came to Open Skate on Friday nights. From behind the snack bar, he would smile, pour some of Sylvia's rum he had hidden in his Pepsi bottle into Carrie's blue Slush Puppy, and bring it to her while she skated. She liked to flirt with him, invited him over and even tried to kiss him—but he was too scared. But last night, after he walked in on Sylvia, he grabbed Sylvia's entire bottle and put it in the inner pocket of his jean jacket. Then he ran to Carrie's house.

Carrie lived with her Gramma, but it was easy to knock on the door without her Gramma even hearing; she was half-deaf and kept the television up so loud you couldn't think. He'd simply raised the bottle when Carrie came to the door and smirked at her. "Want to get wasted?"

They walked into the woods and down one of the dirt-bike paths, passing the bottle back and forth, as the rum put a strange, thin cloud over his anger. They both giggled. Soon they approached a sheep farm where a dozen or so black and white sheep grazed behind a crumbling rock wall. Barbed wire had been staked behind the wall to keep the sheep in. Dense packs of spruce and pine and young oaks hid them from the sheep and the farmhouse in the distance. If you paid attention, you could see that the path forked here—one led further up The Ridge, up to The Leap, and one was overgrown. Doug pushed aside the low pine branches and tall leaning weeds and led Carrie into the hidden place.

A few feet in front of them was parked a perfectly square, small, red wooden house on wheels, its hitch resting on a large rock. It had a picture window on one side with white shutters, and underneath was painted, in candy-cane-striped letters, "SANTA'S HUT." Green curtains were drawn shut inside. He wondered if Carrie was as fascinated as he had been a couple of weeks ago, when, on his way back from a Leap party, he'd spied its redness through the leaves. This was where Santa's Hut went after they took it away from town square! He felt like he was in on a huge secret. It felt like it was his because he found it.

Carrie's eyebrows were raised. His heart sped as he waited for her to laugh at him. He was so pathetic. Why didn't he have a car?

Carrie started to laugh, but she didn't seem to be laughing at Doug. "Santa's Hut!"

Doug laughed too. Should he just play it off as a joke? Was she going to go along with this?

But he didn't have to think anymore; Carrie grabbed his neck and started kissing him.

He slid the latch on the hut's door and led her in.

"I feel like I'm in a dollhouse," she said.

Santa's throne-like chair was made of plywood painted gold and white and turned out to be immovable; there was barely enough room to lie on the carpet between the throne and the picture window.

He never imagined any girl would want to kiss him at all, never mind this much. The kissing didn't stop as they sat on the throne together. She slid her cool hands under his shirt and over his chest, making him shiver. He knew his chest was hard and muscled and he hoped she'd stay there. She traced the waist of his jeans, sliding her fingertip across the band of his boxers. He held her hands, guiding them up to his neck. He sucked on her fingers. He started to feel dizzy with the rum and the intensity of wanting to get her clothes off and show her what he could do.

He removed her bra and held her breasts in his hands, surprised by how small and high and firm these fleshy parts of her were. It was all so different from Sylvia that it was almost shocking, so different that all he could do was try to block out the predictable, comfortable things his hands were used to, breasts that had substance not feather, breasts that could smother him. Not like this. Not like this at all.

But this was better, wasn't it? This was a girl who followed him here, a girl who was into him.

Hands shaking, he tried for her pants. She freed his ponytail from its band and raked his dark hair in her hands. She giggled, suddenly seeming very drunk. "No," she said, holding his hands back from her zipper. "Let me… see you." She drew her shoulders up and held them for a moment in a shy shrug.

He hid his instant of horror by bowing his head to the side and letting his hair cover his face. Nausea washed over him and his pulse quickened. He suddenly wanted to leave, wished he'd never met her, wanted more than anything for this to be Sylvia, not this stupid girl…this girl who didn't know what she was doing.

She kissed him, tugging at his pants again. He held her arms more solidly. She laughed at first. "Come on," she said. "I've never…done this, anything but kiss…I just want to look…"

"I can make you feel good, Carrie…" But when he heard his voice saying her name it sounded so unnatural that it stopped whatever had been driving him to prove this to her. He stood and pulled his tee shirt down.

"What's the matter?" She started to laugh. "What guy says no?" She began to giggle, nudging him in the hip.

"Come on," he said. "Let's get out of here."

She grabbed his hand and he yanked it away. She looked strange, standing there, her breasts so small and white and stark against the green curtain. She was so young. She was fucking with him, playing with him. He looked down at the carpet because he now felt sick looking at her. This wasn't going to work. There was no woman in the world that was going to get this. Why had he thought this could work?

"You should put your shirt on," he said. "Let's get going."

Carrie's face dropped. For a flash of a second she looked like she might cry. Then she smirked at him and held her arm across her breasts while she picked her shirt up off of Santa's chair. "What are you, gay?" she said.

He raised an eyebrow. "I'm not fuckin' gay."

"Well, I'm not some stupid kid."

"I never said..."

"I've never heard of a guy saying no before."

"I thought you said you never done this before."

"I haven't, but still. I never heard of it."

He tried to calm down. His head was blurry and he wished for a second that he were a little less drunk. She was quiet as she turned from him to pull her shirt on.

They made their way along the path. Carrie tried to hold his hand but he put them in his jacket pockets. It started to thunder and sprinkle rain as they approached the brook. He knew he ought to at least help her across because she was so drunk.

He crossed first and then held his hand out to her. She took it, smiled, and stepped carefully across the wet rocks. She hopped off the last rock and into his arms, pushing her chest against his and trying to kiss him. For a moment it didn't seem so bad and he let her, but then he knew again that there would be no way to get her to stop so he held her wrists. "Let's go," he said.

She shook her wrists free, wobbling, and then slapped him so fast he didn't even see it.

He touched his jaw; it was hot where she'd struck him but then the heat started to tighten his neck and travel to the small aching center of his chest where every breath and swallow seemed to be trapped.

She stepped back once, standing again with both of her sneakers on the last slippery rock. Her brows were knit in a combination of anger and pain, and then, again, the smirk. "You know what?" she slurred. "You're…you must be small." She snapped her fingers loosely and shook her wet hair off her shoulders. "That's it, isn't it? It must be tiny, like a little…a tiny little…"

But she didn't have time to finish. He slapped her so hard that blood flew from her lip in a string onto the leaves and mud. She fell backward into the brook with a plunging splash, her head meeting a rock with a wet cracking sound, and then she was still.

"Carrie?" he said. His hands were tense at his sides.

There was no answer, just the teasingly gentle pat-pat of raindrops on firm papery oak leaves, of the brook babbling, of what felt like his cells screaming down to the marrow.

When he looked back on this, he realized there had been time: Time to reach in and scoop Carrie out, time to rub her cheeks and wait for her to regain consciousness, time to apologize. He could have carried her to the farmhouse and said his friend had fallen in the brook and needed stitches. He could even have just knocked on the door and abandoned her like a litter of kittens, because she didn't even want anyone to know that she knew him.

Instead he just stood there. He didn't know how long he had stayed there with her but it was long enough for him to crouch down and wash his hands near her feet. He watched as her hair floated up around her sinking face and the dark water covered everything.

He walked quickly from the rectory now, toward Fitzy's. Fitzy was his only friend; they lifted in his basement—they made their own weights by filling five-pound coffee cans with concrete and sticking them on either end of an old pipe. They used this for squats and presses. Fitzy taught him how to make protein shakes and do steroids. Fitzy's parents made him go to Catholic school and he had to go to confession once a week, so Doug knew from him that a priest could not ever—under any circumstances—tell anyone what he heard in confession.

Fitzy was splitting wood in his parent's driveway. He looked up at Doug. "Hey, dumbass," he said. "You look like hell. Jesus, you almost look green."

"I've been sick."

"Yeah? Hung over?"

"Nah. Just sick. Flu." Doug watched him balance a section of log on a big stump, swing the ax, and split it in two.

"Why'd you come here then, asshole?" Fitzy said, "If you're contagious?"

"I don't think it's contagious anymore." His heart began to pound as he led up to it. "Hey remember I told you my uncle is a priest?" Doug said. "I saw him today. I even went to confession." Somehow, despite what he had confessed, this felt like a rite of passage—one he hadn't earned, but one that put him as equal with Fitzy, who had a religious education. Doug's own father was raised that way, but he never brought Doug to mass—he could remember his father claiming to be "anti-Catholic," whatever that meant. For Doug now, telling someone he had confessed felt necessary—even if he couldn't say what his sin was.

Fitzy paused and leaned the ax on the ground. "That's a sacrament. You haven't even had the Eucharist. How'd you do that?"

"I just talked to him."

"Oh, so you didn't actually go to confession-confession—in the church?"

"No, man, he's my uncle. We just talked."

"I hope you didn't tell him about shoplifting that six-pack last week," Fitzy laughed. "Don't tell him nothing illegal; he can report it if it isn't real confession."

Doug blanched. "Shut up," he said, forcing a laugh. He began to get dizzy.

"Really," Fitzy said, suddenly serious. "It has to be a ritual. This shit has to be official if you want to be Catholic. You can't just sit down and shoot the shit on someone's couch and call it confession. That's why mafia guys always go to confession. Actual confession. Then they're protected."

Doug's throat tightened. He picked up a piece of split wood. "You got a beer?" he asked. "I'll help you stack." He arranged the wood in the pile against the garage.

"Go home," Fitzy said. "Go to bed, man, you look like hell. Take some fuckin' Nyquil."

He got back to Sylvia's and let the front screen door slap to announce his arrival. The air was moist with the scent of her coconut shampoo; she had just showered. She sat in her silk robe watching The Price Is Right, combing her damp, dark red hair. "Hey dummy," she said affectionately. There was no indication that she knew he'd seen her last night. "Where ya been?"

Doug hung up his jacket. "Fitzy's."

She studied him as he sat next to her on the old denim couch they had rescued from garbage. It still smelled like the Lysol spray they had soaked it with. She rubbed his forearm admiringly. "I can see the workouts are paying off," she said sweetly. She rested her head on his shoulder, like nothing had happened. Like last night had been imagined. All at once, he forgave her.

She picked up the remote. "Want to watch the news?"

Anything but the news, he thought. He knew Carrie's grandmother was probably frantic for her by now. He took the remote from her hand and put it on the blue milk crate they used as a coffee table. "I saw my uncle today," he said.


"I don't think he's such a bad guy, do you?" Doug wanted her to tell him he was trustworthy. Loyal. More loyal to family than to the church.

"You don't know everything about your uncle," she said. "I told you he's a phony."

"Is he the kind of guy you can trust?" Doug asked, flat-out.

Sylvia coughed and grinned. "Your father didn't trust him. He does things just to impress people. He used to smoke, drink his ass off, and get tattoos, even—all to impress me, you know. I think he even became a priest to impress people, with all this holier-than-thou bullshit. But he still has an angel on one shoulder, a devil on the other—same as the rest of us."

She loosened the silken tie from her robe and brought his hand to her breast. He couldn't respond: the words "tattoo" and "devil" rang in his ears and a loud, electrical buzz filled his head. He would lose Sylvia if he was asked her who she was with last night. He fought between his gut and reason: she hated Uncle Raphael. She wouldn't do that. Things were fine. Things hadn't changed.

Sylvia took his other hand and touched his fingertips to her mouth. He closed his eyes but his face and body were rigid.

"What's wrong, baby?" she asked softly.

He began to shake. He said he thought he was getting a fever.

She stroked his hair, her red fingernails lightly scratching his scalp, and paused to turn the channel to the news. He listened to it as she bent in to kiss him. He waited for the report of a missing girl. He waited for someone to come forward or withhold. He prayed, for the first time in his life, that nobody would admit to knowing him.

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