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Susan Buttenwieser

Mr. O’Conner,” I say. “This isn’t a good idea.”

“Please, call me Gary.”

I am kissing my art teacher in the front-seat of his car. His arm is wedged behind my back, his beard scratches my face. He kisses deep in my mouth, not like the trembling timid lips of high-school boys.

Call me Gary, call me Gary, he always tells me but somehow I can’t. It is a joke, our joke, when I say “Mr. O’Conner” in class he smiles right through me. He is part of the triad of teachers in their early thirties who smoke out back with students, drive beat-up VW bugs, ride motorcycles, who have sloppy confident good looks--longish unkempt hair, penetrating blue eyes, rolled up sleeves and fitted blue jeans. Each year Mr. O’Conner picks one girl, and this year he is picking me.

And now I am kissing him, he is kissing me in his VW bug. His tongue glides over mine and across my teeth. He moves over on top of me. We are in the parking lot of the Cherokee Diner on Route 23. I knew this moment was coming since last Tuesday. I was alone in the art studio, painting, when Mr. O’Conner came in smelling like cigarettes and coffee. The windows were open and there was a slight breeze through the warm air. Outside, the snow was melting away in the first hot sun of the year and I could hear people shouting as they threw frisbees on the damp grass. I was painting and I knew it was him coming into the studio, even though my back was to the door. I smelled him coming in. He said “Hey,” and I felt tremors in my legs.

Almost whispering he asked me. He asked me. There was no one else in the room and it was the first warm day of spring and he came up next to me and said “There’s a Jenny Saville exhibit starting next week. Do you want to go to the opening. On Friday.” He was whispering, he was whispering and the sun was coming in through the sky-light and the windows were open. His breath was coated in coffee and his fingertips, his beard, his lips basted in burnt tobacco. Each word was a mixture of the two aromas wrapped around one another. I smiled, trying not to smile, and said “Yes”.

Now it is cold in his car and his jacket zipper grates across my throat. He kisses me while his hands slowly ease underneath my shirt, his fingers work their way up my stomach to my breasts. In class, he comes in and runs his hands through his hair several times. “Did everyone have a good week-end,” he always starts off. “Cause God knows I did.” We have art everyday at 11:10. Mondays and Tuesdays we paint still lifes: apples, vases, bowls; Wednesdays and Thursdays we look at slides and Fridays we work on our own. We spent a week talking about Picasso and his lovers. “When the relationship is ending,” he explained as we looked at contorted pictures of Olga, Marie-Therese and Jacqueline. “He turns them into monsters.” He tells us to carry a sketchbook at all times, and stop whenever we can to jot something down. “Write down your thoughts,” he says. “Practice looking at the world through a frame.”

“The parking lot is quiet except for the sound of him sucking on my neck and moaning in my ear. He stops for a moment and takes off his coat, puts it behind me, and lowers the seat back. Last week when I was painting in class, he put his hand on my shoulder. “I like the movement in this,” he said, his fingers brushing against the back of my neck. “I think the red is working well for you,” his fingertips lightly stroking me, touching my burning skin. I swallowed, trying just to keep painting, trying to still my shuddering hand.

On Thursdays, after class is over, when everyone has left the room, we sit on stools by the windows near his desk. He lights a cigarette, squints as he inhales the smoke and says “So how is everything.” He asks how I get along with my parents, how I get along with my friends, do I do drugs, do I have a boy-friend. And unlike the guidance counselor Mrs. Dreynard who has small, darting eyes and nervous teeth, he looks at me while we talk. Branches scrape at the windows while I tell him that my mind floats out the window during geometry, that the lines and numbers and letters all jumbled together make my head spin. He laughs and tells me that he failed math twice, but that everything worked out fine in the end. “Math is no marker for life” he says.

“ I am trying to concentrate on his fingers underneath my bra, his tongue sliding down my neck. I can’t move my legs. “Mr. O’Conner,” I mumble. “Mr. O’Conner.” But now he is down around my waist and he can’t hear me. Today at school, I was lingering at the end of class, taking a long time to wash my brushes by the sink. He came over pretending to do something else and said “Are we still on”. Are we still on. My knees buckled, my throat was dry. Sweat rolled down my back. “Oh, uh, yeah,” I said not looking at him, looking at the water racing through the brushes, the red and blue swirling down the sink.

We agreed to meet at the gallery and I told my mother I was going to the movies, walked three blocks to the bus stop and waited, shivering on an orange plastic seat. The First Street gallery was filled with people I had never seen before. I took a glass of white wine off a table and craned my neck, searching for him. It was crowded and the wine made my face hot. I drank some more, taking long gulps of it, and looked around. I was the only one not talking to someone. I squeezed past clutches of people, avoiding catching anyone’s eye, saying “excuse me” “excuse me” over and over, until I got to the back wall. It wasn’t as crowded and I tried to just concentrate on the paintings when he came up behind me. “These things are such bullshit, don’t you think,” he said. I turned around and he looked me up and down, at my jeans, at my black shirt. A long woman standing nearby was staring at us, staring at me. She was wearing a silver pant-suit and hints of make-up and she held her glass of wine in an outstretched hand, parallel to her shoulder. Her red lips were pursed and her short blond hair sat still on her head. “Let me say hi to a few people and then let’s get out of here.” he said and then disappeared into the crowd. I found the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. I looked in the mirror, closed my eyes, and then I made my way to the front of the gallery. “

When I got to the entrance, he was standing inside the foyer, leaning against the glass and he smiled slightly when I opened the gallery door. He smelled like cigarettes and just-washed hair and maybe even after-shave, splashed lightly on his neck. He was wearing clothes he never wore to class, a button-down white shirt and a long leather coat that hung down past his waist. We stood there, a foot away from each other, as he fumbled with the door handle.

In the car, he fumbles with the buttons on my jeans and then he pulls my pants down around my knees. It is dark and I can barely see his face. He arches up against me, leans into my face, shifts his lower body up off me and I hear him unzip his zipper. Then he is on top of me, thrusting himself inside me, his mouth sucking on my lips inhaling me. Outside the gallery it was colder than it had been in days. I crossed my arms across my chest as we walked. “Are you hungry,” he asked. “You want to get something to eat?” His car smelled musty and he apologized for the mess in the back-seat. As we drove along, I wanted to tell him that I was scared I was failing math, I had a fight with my best-friend, I sat alone in my room a lot on the week-ends. But it was hard to think in the car, it was hard to talk in the car. I looked straight ahead at the on-coming traffic and wound my fingers around my hair.

Afterwards, he pulls himself out of me, coughs slightly, zips up his pants, moves back over to the driver’s seat and sighs. “I’m starving,” he says and pats me on the head while he opens the car door and spits. Everything is tangled around my ankles and I am trying to get everything back on while he stands outside the car smoking and looking around. We sat at a booth in the front of the diner by a window that over-looked the parking lot. The waitress gave me knowing looks, two couples opposite us kept staring. I glanced around the place keeping an eye out for anyone I knew. But he was relaxed, at ease, confident. He ate a whole burger while I picked at a grilled cheese sandwich with my fork, moving it around my plate, dipping it into ketchup. It was quiet while we ate. I tried to stay focused on my food and occasionally looked up at him. Over coffee and a cigarette, I asked him a lot of questions about his work, his family, mostly questions I already knew the answers for, but something to fill up the space between us. He answered them looking past me, at a point just past my shoulders, over my head, beyond me.

The sign for the diner is a huge neon Cherokee Chief, blinking red and white, and Mr. O’Connor parks the car in its shadows. He turns and looks over at me and just keeps looking. “Well, “ he says. He reaches over a hand and runs his fingers through my hair, pulling it behind my ear and starts to caress my head. Another hand is on my face and he leans over and kisses me once on the lips, smiles at me and then kisses me again and again.

“Mr. O’Connor,” I say. “This isn’t a good idea.”

“Please, call me Gary.”


Susan Buttenwieser is a writer living in New York City.

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