John the Baptist
By Lindsay Parnell.
John’s dick is limp as he slips the gold band from his left hand and drops it into the breast pocket of his jacket.
Now he walks. Each stride takes him further in the opposite direction of the car park. With his steps staccato, he shoves his hands into his pockets, giving them somewhere to be. He’s cold even though the season isn’t. Because all he’s ever known are sticky gulf summers – summers when his limbs stretched long, his bones aching in growth, his flesh expanding passed his mind. But all that heat was back when his syllables tasted differently. When he was scared of the silence that came with laying in bed, sweating. Nights spent listening to his daddy’s heels click out a midnight rhythm on the floorboards as thick perfume of another stranger leaked under the door. Laying in his bed, he inhaled the whore’s scent and flicked his cock with the edge of a fingernail to make it go soft.
John gropes at his pocket for the ring Emily had given him. It’s still there. He buttons his jacket and walks – striding through aluminum cans, condoms and crumpled fliers for a tattoo removal place. Treasures as trash. Things thrown away because they’re expired.
John kissed Rose-Mason at nine, and let her fuck him at thirteen. But it was in between that she started jamming her hand into his jeans pocket, exploring, saying she was looking for a light, some change, a bottle cap. She was always looking for something. And all the while she bit her bottom lip so hard her two fleshy folds went from pink to purple. When he caught himself looking, he’d think about growing his nails longer.
Rose-Mason drank Coke from the bottle with a straw. She’d pinch it tight between her lips showing the deep debits of her dimples. Once Travis told him dimples come from a daddy’s cock poking the face in a womb of a swollen mama. John figured it was true. And Rose-Mason smoked hand-rolled cigarettes with stale packets of tobacco she’d swipe from her daddy’s Buick. She rolled long cigarettes between her fingers with battered knuckles. She had the type of hands most girls have when their daddy owns a Buick. He liked the small cuts along her fingers, the bleeding nicks, leaking skin.
But it was on the Fourth of July when John was Johnny – when his friends were rolling around drunk, mixing up which hand held a sparkler and which one a joint, spewing snuff into empty soda cans, stealing gropes with their stiff cocks pressed against the inseam of their daddy’s old jeans – then, that Rose-Mason happened to him.
You my favorite virgin, she had said.
Aint no virgin. He tried to make the warm beer settle lower in his throat. He found his drunk trying to sound like his daddy.
Then, she led him by the hand into the back seat of her daddy’s Buick while the party was still going on.
Emily had always like parties – floating from woman to man to woman to man to man, letting fingers and lips roam, bouncing fabric to flesh, drowning in champagne. The first time John watched her it was late but still dusk. Watching her loose curls uncoil in the humidity, he wanted to taste the words behind her smile.
Emily laughed when she spilled a glass of wine on him. He shook her hand gently when she offered it. He accepted whiskey when she offered it and when she pressed her hips into his, he let her. She was the bending lines in the crook of her neck when she laughed, and the faint veins inside her wrist. She was this wonderful thing – she was her body. He accepted her body, even though sometimes it was more flint than flesh. She was slender, but diamond heavy. A jeweled bulk anchored her to the ground, and to the men who had gifted them. It didn’t bother John, even when she matched the earrings he gave her with the necklace from her second fiancé. It didn’t bother him because John liked the way the light hit her. So Emily wore white when they married. She wore white because she was supposed to.
John had picked her because her tongue clicked out crisp consonants, because she went to Wellesley. Because she was the prettiest he had picked her, a woman who had been baptized. She was clean. The paint on her lips never smeared and she always went to confession. She said she’d atoned for every fuck. After Hail Mary’s and a mouthful of communion she felt fine, wonderful even, she’d said. The Body on your tongue forgives all, she had said more than once.
John watched her take a work shirt from his hamper, shove her face into it and inhale. Her middle spilled over the pinched waistband of her skirt when she tossed the shirt into the washing machine.
You’ve been smoking, she said in bed, pushing her bare ass into his side.
No. He let her press her flesh into his.
You don’t smoke. She grabbed his arm and wrapped it tight around her naked waist.
I said I haven’t been.
Your shirts reek of it. I’m not bringing a child into a home with that filth.
I said I haven’t been. He rolled away from her.
Well you’re keeping the company of someone who does. She yanked his arm back, and placed his hand down, onto her lips.
Earlier, with her lips painted pink, Emily leaned over him, setting his plate to serve him. She exhaled a stale breath onto his neck. He picked a woman who inhaled him, only to taste the smoke of other women. Emily served him in heels so tight he couldn’t help but stare at the bulging veins on the tops of her feet. Her soles must have ached something horrible.
The soles of Rose-Mason’s feet were caked in dirt. She rarely wore shoes but she always smiled real big. She was happiest smoking a joint by the creek and listening to the trains. Rose-Mason wore stained t-shirts. He always made sure to look her in the eyes and at her face first.
S’okay, she had said, normal guys spose do at shit. Her glance sat on his skin. He began sweating more.
John’s warming now, still walking, welcoming the glance of a girl – 15, 16 at most – sucking on a cigarette. He smiles, watching her blow a tight blue spiral into the air. Her mouth receives, wrapped loosely around the flaccid white body. She tosses it towards the gutter and into the bed of the sewer drain.
Sometimes, when he sees one, it’s smeared against a broken slab of concrete curb. Sometimes, it’s floating in a shallow puddle of rainwater. And when he does see one, he stops walking. He looks at it because he never saw Rose-Mason smoking until he couldn’t.
He feels for the ring Emily had given him making sure it’s still there.
She spends hundreds of her father’s money every month on lingerie. The first Tuesday of every month she dresses herself in scant silk and before he can look at her, she flicks off the lights and slinks into bed.
Go on then, she’ll say. A gentle hiss, a polite order, an easy threat while spreading herself with her fingers. What are you waiting for? Go on then. Fuck me why don’t you? Why do you smell like this? You’re disgusting.
Sometimes he can see her outline, the lumps hidden in daylight.
Your whore smokes? She leaves her scent on you. She owns you now?
Sometimes, in the dark he can see her legs. Legs that don’t know life outside of too tight black heels. Legs that never run, legs that just are.
Rose-Mason let unlit cigarettes teeter in the corner of her mouth while she ran. But John never much noticed that cigarette because all he could see were the strips of muscle under her skin when she ran through her daddy’s field. And John was too busy noticing the only time she was ever really tired was when she was drunk, smiling with her eyes closed.
They ran drunk to her daddy’s unlocked Buick all the time until they didn’t. But one time, cackling, she flicked her lighter. The lit cigarette fell into her lap after it the flame singed the lashes of her left eye. He picked up the cigarette and gently blew onto the hot, gnawed kiss of her inner thigh.
What if Im blind? Christ Im blind now.
Yaint, he said relighting the cigarette for her. He took a drag, tasting her. One drag. That’s all he needed.
I am I tell ya. N’if Im blind, aint nevr gone b’able see ya gain.
He emptied his lungs in four wet hacks and flicked the cigarette away.
Blind’n nevr see anythin evr fuckn again.
The steam on the windows got so thick he couldn’t see anything anymore but he knew it was getting dark. But he didn’t need light to see Rose-Mason. All the color he needed, she already was.
Emily was the color when he was awake. With her gently hues, he almost forgot her words. With her tones that he liked so much, came the things she taught him. It was Emily that taught him to like things he didn’t when he was a little boy: reading the travel section of the paper, black olives, backgammon, timeshares. To say thank you, John bought her jewelry every month. He showed her he could love her, thanked her for teaching him. He reminded Emily and himself, he was still there and he could love her just as much as her father did. Emily’s father owns things. Emily’s father owns some buildings and some women.
Rose-Mason’s daddy had a Buick. He had a farm littered with green and blue shards of broken beer bottles, greasy feathers and crumbling gravestones of women God had killed. Every Sunday, until they didn’t spend their Sundays together, John and Rose-Mason visited her grandmother – a pink stone.
She was real beautiful, Rose-Mason had said this one time placing a bouquet of flowers onto the ground.
Bet she was, he said.
She loved me but hate m’daddy.
Yep. She sat and leaned back onto the grave. The stone cutting into her skin. She didn’t flinch, just looked straight into the sun and rolled a cigarette. Sho’s hot today.
John knows it isn’t cold as he inhales the smoke of a woman loitering near the stop sign. She’s taking drags from a Camel like it’s her last breath on earth. And now a little boy unable to control himself. All he can do to not rub himself is think of Emily. She handed him a tumbler of whiskey, never asking if he wanted it. Emily never asks for anything.
John said no when Rose-Mason asked him. But she kept on asking anyways.
Dont wanna, he said.
Cmon, nobody know. Aint gone tell.
Do it with one’m girls ovr n’Hunters Ridge.
No – cmon, lemme. If I dont practice none, they aint hire me. Cmon Johnny.
Aint no faggot.
I wash it all off when we done. Sides, course yaint no faggot. I wouldnt fuck no faggot, would I?
Kay, he said.
Rose-Mason uncapped a bottle of plum nail polish and took his hand in hers. She painted a fresh tint onto his dead nails.
Sides, ya need know bout nails. What if have lil girl one day?
Her mama do it.
What if she dont got no mama round?
We have to have a child. Don’t you want a namesake? You’re a man, Emily said as he pulled out. His cock was limp when she slapped him across the face. You smell like your whore. You’re acting like a faggot, you know that?
He didn’t know if it was the coke or his soft dick that made Emily cry.
Rose-Mason wept for three straight days when River Phoenix died.
Just so fuckin sad, she had mumbled, choking on snot and tears.
Rose-Mason didn’t wash for three weeks after River Phoenix died. And it wasn’t until her daddy slapped her across the face one Sunday morning before church and dragged her by her hair into the bathroom that she did. He shoved her into the bathtub and opened up the spigot. The scalding faucet poured over her and she didn’t do anything about it, she just laid there. And it was then she finally had a wash.
She was still sad so John took her fishing, thinking sun and sky make her feel all right again. He balanced himself before helping her into the boat. Water lapped over the edge, brown sludge from the riverbed drowned her bare feet. He propped his rod against the side of the boat and one at a time, took each foot in his hands and wiped it clean. His finger traced the arch of her foot. She smiled.
What? he said.
Look atcha, fucking John the Baptist, she laughed. Her mouth opened so wide he counted her fillings. Nine.
Mary, he said.
Mary washed Jesus’ feet. Not John—was Mary.
Whatever, she had said popping the top off a beer bottle and tossing it into the river. Where my cigarette at?
All he needs is one spent filter with the remains of some girl’s lips. One is enough, tonight. Last night he needed six. Tonight one’s enough.
He retrieves the ring from his pocket, slips it back onto his finger, begins walking in the opposite direction – away from the concrete lip of the gutter.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lindsay Parnell has the pleasure of sharing a birthday with Meryl Streep which may or may not be her greatest accomplishment. Her fiction has appeared in Beat the Dust, Underground Voices and 4’33 Audio Magazine.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, May 4th, 2012.