by Vince Rogers
He gave her the slip. She held it against her body, although she knew whether it would fit mattered very little. She would never wear it. At least she would not wear it for him. She wouldn’t even want him to look at her in it. Not after what he did.
To her it was more of a symbol of obligation than a gift. An obligation to a promise made a lifetime ago that had long since been broken. She had no love left inside of her to give, there were no past chivalrous deeds left for her to honor and no new tender memories to cherish. Now all that was left of those vows pledged long ago was her yearning for the fulfillment of the promise that death one day surely would part them.
“Why does he keep giving me things???? Why won’t he just leave me alone????” the enraged voice inside of her asked. She wanted to give it back to him, but she knew that there was no way that she could. She promised to always be his loving, forgiving, sensitive, perfect wife.
He could tell by the way she looked at him that something was wrong. It wasn’t her size, for that alone he was bound to be reproached. It wasn’t the most flattering color, albeit it wasn’t an unbecoming color for her complexion. He could tell it was something much more than any of these things. “Do you like it Bunny????” he asked in earnest.
He still wanted to see her in such things. He still yearned to caress her soft skin. He didn’t notice that her eyes no longer sparkled as they once did when she looked at him. He was oblivious to the contempt for him that had built up inside of her like the cancer that they had twice beaten together. Just like the presence of those malignant cells struck her unaware, her derision for him came upon her just as stealthily.
Even though they had been married for twenty-three years, she felt that lingerie was too personal a gift from someone whose approval no longer mattered. It was too personal to come from her husband. A gift this intimate should only come from a lover.
She longed for a lover to take day trips to Tybee Island with and walk barefoot in the sand. She longed to slip notes to her lover. She wanted to leave them in his pockets inviting him to rendezvous in the middle of the work day. She longed to have a lover man, a man to make love to, to be in love with and to speak only of love. Yet all she had was a husband.
A husband to pay bills and balance accounts with. A husband to make plans with about educating sons and marrying off daughters. A husband to iron wrinkled work shirts for and pamper bruised egos. A husband to celebrate promotions and raises with and be blamed for all else that went wrong in his life.
Doug and Sarah had circled around each other’s orbits for years. Although when they were introduced that day at the pottery class they had only one previous conversation of any real significance. They first spoke to each other when they once appeared on a televised high school quiz show competing on opposite teams. When they shook hands in the receiving line after her team won, Doug said “Congratulations on your victory” to which Sarah replied “I’m sure you tried your very best”.
Maybe it was just an innocent comment, but that really bothered Doug. He knew that she obviously had to be pretty smart to get on that team. Wright Manor Prep was the defending champion, having won three out of the last five years. She had a right to be a little proud, but the truth of it was that she barely answered any questions at all.
When he eventually saw her again, it was at a party. She didn’t even remember him. He didn’t plan to let it slip that he knew who she was either. Besides, he didn’t ask her to dance because he was impressed with her brains or even because she was beautiful. At the time he simply needed a diversion to escape from the clutches of a Siren.
There was a party going on, but she had the most serious look on her face. It was the same look she had standing behind the podium at the competition. She looked like she might explode if she didn’t get a chance to answer a question. Tonight she looked like she wanted to be anywhere except at this God-awful party.
The Golden Isles Marina Club’s Young People’s Cotillion was Brunswick’s version of a coming out party for the town’s well-heeled, brightest, most attractive progeny. What bothered Sarah most about being invited was that she wasn’t quite sure of her membership in which of these categories was the reason she was there.
Her family was solidly middle class, but not upwardly mobile. Her Father made a good living selling insurance, but he was certainly not one of the town’s movers and shakers. Not even by 1967 Brunswick, Georgia standards of what could be moved or shaken. They even owned a small boat that sat in slip 69 of this very prestigious Marina Club, but it wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a yacht like those possessed by her present peerage.
She was certainly bright enough to have been invited on that basis alone. That is if she were a boy. In fact she was probably smarter than most of the tall, broad shouldered, bushy haired lads in attendance.
The girls had to be on their best behavior tonight. The boy’s would not be held to the same high standards. They were encouraged to “Whoop it up boys!!!!” as Mayor Whitman had pronounced at the end of his little opening speech as he leaped into the air. Making future business contacts, discussing politics or even choosing a potential alma mater was subordinate to satisfying what would be their growing and for some of them lifelong love affairs with imbibing massive amounts of potent potables and endlessly pursuing salacious sexcapades.
Tonight more than any other consideration, they were concerned with finding not so clever ways to sneak alcohol into the party. It seems that the best idea any of them could come up with was to stick a can or a pint bottle under each arm while holding them close to their sides. Their identical blue wool H. Stockton blazers served to conceal what was hidden under their armpits. It took very little alacrity of thought to make a lasting impression at this particular soiree. Whoever was successful at smuggling in and sharing the most “hooch” made the most lasting friendships tonight.
All in all, the behavior of the boys who were there bothered her far less than the absence of the girls who were left noticeably uninvited. There was Sally Littlefield who was just as smart as she, but hopelessly buck-toothed and a bit on the heavy side. There was the conspicuous absence of Alicia Hirsch who was smolderingly sensual, very wealthy and quite smart, yet hopelessly Jewish. Nevertheless, despite the obvious Anglophilia on display, there were certainly smarter girls in Brunswick than the ones who were at the party. That’s what bothered her most.
When it was all said and done the girls who were invited merely represented potential “breeding stock.” She could just picture the erudite, lecherous, old gentlemen on the invitation committee swilling Wild Turkey in some back room at the club, while discussing the particular’s of each little strumpet as they decided whether she qualified as a suitable “baby factory” for one of their dimwitted heirs. The very idea made her furious. She imagined that her selection probably made for the liveliest discussion of them all.
Sarah was possessed of a puzzling kind of beauty; some would even say she was exotic. Yet the total package included a challenging intellect and high spiritedness that took some getting used to. This made her a risky potential mate for these old Southern families who were solely concerned with combining their wealth and privilege through consecrating the right marriages. Their greatest fear was one day having to split up some of their ill-gotten generational wealth in a Divorce Court because they had married off their son to one of these new “Modern Women”.
She had been standing there in that same spot since she arrived. She had been visually inventoried and psychically examined by every boy in the room. Some had walked by more than once just to make sure they got a really good look. Most of them had already written her off well before this very public inspection.
These were the ones who at some point in the formative stages of building up their long enduring fragile male egos, had been bested by her in some previous physical or mental combat. Spelling bees, kick ball games, quiz bowls, dodge ball matches – you name it – she had beaten them all. These boys were too young to regard the fact that she was their equal as anything remotely positive.
It took no more to illustrate their commitment to conformity than to take a glance at the sea of homogeneity on the dance floor. They were all fair haired couples that consisted of a pretty girl who was just tall enough for her strapping young beau to bend down and give her a childlike kiss on the forehead. Each demoiselle had long blonde hair devoid of any frill or fancy. The length of her hair seemed somehow to be a measure of her fertility and virtue. Long enough to keep her husband tantalized, but not so long as to suggest that she was more concerned with vanity and pleasure than maternity and marriage. Sarah was nothing like them. Besides, anyway you sliced it she was certainly no Peggy Killingsworth.
Peggy was by any standard of beauty hands down the prettiest girl in town. Peggy and Doug’s parents had been trying to throw them together as long as he could remember. The pictures of them prodded together and posed in embrace were downright embarrassing. It seemed somewhat perverted to him that at such a young age their parents had thoughts of them kissing, hugging and holding hands.
Peggy had been insouciantly following him all night long. She was always two steps behind or holding a conversation one group away. She hoped that the separate assemblages would eventually morph into each other or revolve towards the other so that they would eventually be part of the same conversation. Having failed in her attempts to make this happen, she was now making a deliberate path across the room that would ultimately find her standing directly in front of him. He had to give her the slip.
“Would you care to dance????”
“Did you say would I care to dance????”
“Yes that’s what I said.”
“Okay sure” she said while shaking her head with a sardonic smile.
“Did I say something funny” Doug asked her as he placed his hands around her firmly athletic yet delicately feminine waist.
“Not really I suppose” she said knowing that her attempt to explain that she didn’t “Care” one way or another if she danced would be lost on him.
“Good, for a minute there I thought you were gonna make fun of me for missing that stupid question about General Oglethorpe when you guys beat us on “Southern Scholars”
She would never let it slip that she didn’t even remember him being on the other team. The entire episode was a blur to her. She was too consumed with rage after hearing those hideous words slip out of Mrs. Glynn-Carr’s mouth before they took the stage.
“Now Sarah, try to give the boys a chance before you blurt out all the answers. Sometimes it’s best you hide your light under a bushel if you want to win the real prize. You understand me don’tcha suga’????” Instead of letting Doug know she didn’t remember him from the show “Oh that was you???? You did so well on all the other questions.” She replied as demurely as she could muster.
“I don’t know about all that, but I did notice that you only answered the questions when them other fellas didn’t know the answer.”
“I knew all the answers, but our coach told me to let the boys outshine me so they could feel like “Big Men.” She was never supposed to let that little secret slip out, but she couldn’t help herself.
“I figured as much. I told Ronnie Pearsall that it didn’t make much sense to me that you knew all the hard ones and didn’t know the easy ones. You know you’re mighty smart and awful pretty too”
She smiled and started to shake her head again.
“What’d I say this time????” Doug asked pitifully.
“Nothing I just find it funny that word pretty which is a beautiful thing is so often paired up with awful which is an ugly thing. It’s just kind of funny to me.”
“You think too much.” I said you were pretty, not awful.” Doug retorted forcefully. “Pretty enough and smart enough to where I’d like to take you out sometimes if I could.”
It was at that moment that that Peggy Killingsworth tapped Sarah on the shoulder then curtsied as was the time honored tradition at this affair since its antebellum beginnings. The lady on the gentleman’s arm was obliged not to utter another word. She must simply smile and curtsy to the other lady and bid her beau adieu.
It was only after Sarah graduated from Vanderbilt and spent a few years working in Memphis did she return to the “Shrimp Capital of the World.” Brunswick had changed very little, but she had changed quite a lot. What had changed in her was that she was finally willing to become the kind of girl that the old red-faced Fathers on the Golden Isles Marina Club’s Young People’s Cotillion Invitation Committee had wanted her to be.
When she enrolled in the Singles Intro to Pottery & Ceramics adult continuing education class at the College of Coastal Georgia, she didn’t expect that she would know a soul in such a class. All of her contemporaries were twenty five years old or more now. She was certain that none of them was still single. Certainly none of the men were. They were too interested in producing heirs. They couldn’t wait to saddle some poor unsuspecting little boy with the weight and responsibility of having juniors, thirds and fourths attached to their old prestigious surnames to have remained single for very long.
“Is this seat taken” a voice inquired from behind
“No it’s not taken.” She replied
“Well I’ll be a sonofagun – Sarah – Sarah Gorman is that you.”
“Jenny —- Jenny Hightower????”
“It’s been years. Do you know my brother Doug?”
“There is something familiar about him” Sarah replied.
“She should remember me. This is the one I told you about that gave me the slip at that cotillion way back when,” said Doug
“Oh my. So you’re the one???? Since Doug and Peggy got divorced last year he always goes on and on with this story about how if some raven haired girl hadn’t let Peggy cut in on them at the ball all those years ago how he might have never ended up marrying her in the first place. Since the divorce it’s all I can do to get him out of the house now. Oh the ugly shame of being all of twenty-six years old and divorced” she announced sarcastically “You’d think we were still living in the stone ages the way this one thinks. The way he goes on and on about finding somebody to carry on his name and restoring the family fortune. I’m sure a “Thoroughly Modern Millie” like yourself hadn’t let anybody trap you into that old institution have you????”
“No I can’t say that I have” Sarah said rather matter-of-factly.
“Well I know Dougie’s my brother and I simply adore him, but if you should ever decide to rekindle the old flame that awful Peggy snuffed out, you couldn’t ask for a better one than brother-dear. Even after that dreadful Peggy started cheatin’ on him and God knows what else she was doin’ he was always faithful. Whatever God-awful thing she did he’d come to her rescue like her own personal Marine Corps – Semper Fi!!!!”
“Okay Jen that’s enough out of you for one night. Hey there Sarah. It’s awful nice seeing you here. Maybe you can keep this one from talkin’ my ear off all night” Doug said as he leaned over to give her a hug.
“….Good evening class!!!! Welcome to Singles Intro to Pottery & Ceramics. For you first timers, I’m Mr. Highsmith your instructor for the next six weeks. Tonight we’ll continue where we left off discussing the many uses of Slip in creating your handicrafts. As we learned last time, slip can be used to fix any number of mistakes. It can even be used to make a weak vessel stronger. Can anyone tell us what else we can use slip for???? Doug, maybe you can you enlighten us?????”
“Well I guess you can put it on some ugly part of a thing like that ugly pot Jen made last week and you just hope it’ll cover up how ugly it really is.” He said teasing his little sister and trying to amuse Sarah.
“You see what I mean Sarah???? He just simply does not appreciate me. We’ll just have to find him some other woman to make his life miserable” She said teasing her dear brother.
“Well little sister, maybe that’s just what I should do” Doug said with a smile, only half teasing.
Vince Rogers lives in Atlanta and is the author of “Wax Vainglorious: The Collected Works of li’l boy and Josephine’s baby boy, Volumes 1-3.” His scholarly article “The Spectre of Slavery” is featured in the Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy. His literary works were among the official inaugural selections of “I’ve Known Rivers,” the Museum of the African Diaspora story project, and his scholarly paper “The Evolution of Shawntae Harris” was presented at Vanderbilt University’s “Smoke, Lilies & Jade” lecture series. He has also contributed to Gumbo for the Soul’s Men of Honor Anthology, The Atlanta Voice Newspaper, Clean Sheets Magazine, On The Black Burner, Taj Mahal Review: Volumes 9 & 10, Chicken Bones: A Journal, TCatalyst Magazine, Pulp Magazine, Black Arts Quarterly and Amistad Journal. He is the publisher of the blog Disguised Limit.