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background on the excerpt

Daryl visits Sally's garage apartment for the first time in this section. We get to see how much more cozy her home is, like Bugs Bunny's rabbit hole, as Daryl puts it at one point, in comparison to his own bleak place.

The first line of this excerpt was originally the opening sentence to the novel, meant as a variation on, "It was a dark and stormy night".

Because Father Figure, among other things, is a love story, one of the reasons I wrote this scene was to try to show, not necessarily two people in the moment of falling in love, but at least two people in the moment of realizing they might soon fall in love.

These early scenes are some of Daryl and Sally's happiest times in Father Figure, so I threw in a green, peaceful backyard, some shooting stars, and even a couple of stray moose to give them an evening to remember, to think back on for strength, during the horrors they'll face as this long novel slowly unwinds.

backyard talk
excerpt from the novel Father Figure

The Alaskan night was bright and clear.

Daryl stood in front of the house where he said good-bye to Sally the previous night, brushing the broad shoulders of his black leather jacket, the taste of half a bottle of mouthwash on his tongue and gums.

He crunched down the long gravel driveway, walking on the hump between the two ruts, the cement wall of the cellar rising higher and higher on his left.

Fifty feet behind the house the driveway widened into a large, pebbly square, a garage with two closed doors on the right.

To the right of the garage, a series of flat slate steps curved up a hillock towards the rear of the roof.

At the base of the steps, a piece of typing paper flapped against the slender trunk of a crab apple tree covered in white and pink blossoms. He walked over to the thumb-tacked fluttering, hoping it was a clue.

His first name. An arrow pointing up the hillock.

He ascended the slate steps, slant of the garage roof slowly curving closer and lower. On the top step he looked down at his belt buckle to check how the front of his shirt bloused out above his waistband.

To his right stretched a long, narrow lawn bordered by tall hedges full of bird chatter.

To his left, the slates led around in a storybook curl to the garage apartment's small rear door.

He rapped lightly with one bent knuckle on the upper right pane, holding his breath.

Sally swung the door inwards, the action making one shoulder lower than the other, smiling like Miss America.

They went through the age-old doorstep ritual, she stepping back, but not enough, he moving forward, but only a little. She let go of the door, walking backwards into her home, friendly and nervous; he stepped over the doorstep.

They looked everywhere but directly at each other. Even so, he could see she was taller and slimmer than yesterday, black hair pulled up into a glossy swirl on top of her head, baring her ears and lengthening her throat. She took a pinky out from between her wide lips and stepped farther back, lowering her arms, holding them out away from her hips, inviting inspection.

Thin white sweater, tight black slacks. He brought his eyes back up to hers, which were down and rolling in their own inspection. "You look great." He held out the wrapped bottle. "I brought this for you. I thought we might have it with our meal."

She took it from him, holding it in both hands like a baby, then raised her eyebrows at him. "Gee, thanks."

At the kitchen counter she had enough trouble getting the bottle to stay upright while she unwrapped it that he realized how tense she was. He started relaxing.

"This is a really nice place." The interior was one long, sunny space with waist high wainscoting and a peaked, exposed ceiling, making it look like a clean, cozy attic. The kitchen was in front; beyond that a large living room with a bed; at the rear, a doorway leading into the bathroom.

"I fixed it up myself," she said happily. She looked around at her apartment, nodding. "I got a discount, for painting it myself." She took a breath. "Wanna hear some music?"

He sat at the kitchen table as she dragged two speakers the size of shoe boxes onto the kitchen floor. The opening bars of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?" loudened with the advance of the speakers.

From her bent-over position she shot him a shy over-the-shoulder look, then straightened up, back still to him, hands on hips, swiveling her head from speaker to speaker on the floor. "Whattaya think?" She rotated her upper body back towards him, hands still on hips, breasts in profile.

Daryl grinned. "Perfect."

They sat at the kitchen table like a couple of kids trying out adult furniture, picking up their conversation from yesterday. "I really like being here," he said at one point, looking around at the long, narrow stretch of her apartment, its soft shadows. "It's cozy and private, like Bugs Bunny's rabbit hole. Oh, I saw that asshole again today at the coffee shop."

"I ate there at eleven, like always. Thinking about you."

"He came over to my table. He did something really weird."

"That guy's a jerk. He's pretty old, you'd think he'd have better manners. You're having lobster newburg tonight, and I'm having stuffed pasta shells." Her eyebrows furrowed. "You like lobster more than Italian, right?"

"Well yeah, sure. That sounds like you went to an awful lot of trouble, though. Can I help with anything?"

"Just stay where you are, sir." Sally got up sideways, opened the freezer door of her refrigerator, vapor curling free, and pulled out two colorful boxes. She studied the pictures on the boxes on her way to the stove, then flipped each box over to read the heating instructions. She said nonchalantly, "You can cook these shells in a microwave, but I like to do them in the oven to get a nice crust around the top. It makes a difference."

"You have your own microwave?" I wonder if her TV is color.

"There's a lot about me you don't know." She thumbed the perforated side of the Newburg box down, pulling out the frozen orange square, flat on one side, rippled on the other. "Oh. This has a boiler bag." She looked up, beautiful and flustered. "I guess you're supposed to boil it."

After dinner, while Sally washed their dishes, Daryl excused himself to use the bathroom at the rear of the open space of her apartment.

It looked like a girl's bathroom. Aquamarine walls, spotless fixtures, neatly hung towels.

Except that the shower curtain, big gold fish in profile, was off its rings, laying across the floor and toilet. The puckered holes at the tops of the curtain were intact. Everything else in here was so squared-off and tidy: why did she have the shower curtain on the floor?

The back of the curtain was still wet. In the far corner of the tub, a rose wash cloth lay squeezed into a nubbly clump. Swallowing, he reached down, touching its damp texture, like touching between her legs.

I shouldn't do this.

He stood in front of the toilet, holding his cock while he pee'd, looking out the wide, sunny window at the rising stand of lodgepoles beyond the main house. She must have been naked in here earlier tonight, getting ready for him, body reddened from the hot water of the shower, mirror filled with her beautiful eyes and bare breasts, beads of moisture on the cheeks of her ass.

The thumb and index finger of his right hand moved farther away from each other to accommodate the growing swell he held between them.

After the last pulse of pee he flushed, hanging around to make sure the toilet stopped after refilling, then lowered the seat and lid. He picked the shower curtain up, draping it again over the floor and toilet.

Sally was next to the stove, hands behind her back, hair unpinned, loose around her face. "I thought we could take a walk outside, if you like. It's nice this time of day."

Although nightfall was still a while away, the yard already had an aspect of darkness to it, like the backyards of childhood.

As they walked across the lawn, two dragonflies curved like graceful planes away from the back hedge of the yard, heading towards Daryl, their brilliant colors glittering side by side in parallel formation, wide, gasoline-on-water wings flapping. As they neared him, Daryl could make out the smooth heads jutting forward, stiff as swimmers, the ebony features looming larger, antennae slicked back over their carapaced napes--

He ducked, hearing the buzz of their wings as they glided above his hair.

Sally giggled. "Sometimes they dive bomb my sweater, then they get in a real panic, all their little elbows jerking around in the wool. They're harmless though."

They're harmless. There's no connection.

She walked over to a stone wall on one side of the yard, hopping up backwards onto it.

Daryl hoisted himself up alongside her. "This is like a fairyland."

She sighed in profile. "Yeah it is, isn't it?" She turned to him, smiling, pupils widening when she saw how close he sat. He could see the fine texture of her skin, each hair pulled back from her temples, the lengths of her lashes. She talked more softly since he was so near. "'Course, no fairies allowed!" She leaned sideways towards him, sharing the joke by touching shoulders. They rolled their eyes sideways towards each other.

Daryl looked at the hedge at the opposite side of the yard. "Was it hard staying a virgin?"

"Huh? No. I had kind of a sheltered childhood, I guess. Sue says I'm very naive." Her eyes held steady in a thought. She ducked her head. "No, I don't-- I shouldn't tell you."

Daryl leaned forward, smiling, so he could see past her profile to her full face. "Tell me what?"

She gave him an embarrassed glance, tops of her cheeks reddening. "I was thinking about something. You mentioned the virgin thing, and it reminded me. If I start telling you and you don't want to hear it, tell me, okay?"


She looked down at her knees, feet starting to swing. "When I was like twelve or so, the room I slept in didn't have an air conditioner. My folks didn't have enough of 'em to go around. My dad drove a bus. So I'd sleep, like, without any pajamas on." She looked up shyly at him. "I still do, in the summer. I like the way the sheets feel. It's like doing something naughty but innocent."

Daryl shifted his ass on the stone wall, trying to give his crotch more room.

"Anyway, one morning I was waking up, I flipped the sheet off me, and there's all this red down there. And I get so scared, thinking, is that blood? My blood? It was just all over me, Daryl. Between my thighs, up on my stomach, even in my hair down there. I remember putting my finger down to touch it, to see if it was real, and holding my finger up real close to look at it, it made my fingerprints red, and I just burst into tears. I got out of bed real fast and sort of hobbled across the floor because every step I took more of the blood slid down the insides of my legs, plus there was all this tissue stuff mixed up in it. I'm sorry, I'm really grossing you out, right?"

"It takes a lot to gross out a medical examiner," Daryl said, shifting his ass again on the wall.

"I mean, you've probably seen girls without their clothes on when they're on their period, right?" She nodded to him, Daryl nodding back in the middle of her nods, her face changing through the nods from hopeful to unhappy. "Yeah, I figured. So anyway." She looked off. "So you know how much blood comes out. Anyway, my mom told me, good ol' naive Sally, to just stand in the shower and rinse it off." She stared off at the hedges, raised her eyebrows, thinking, then nodded to herself and bumped against his shoulder again. "Incidentally, I think that's good that a man has some experience." She shrugged down one corner of her mouth. "I mean, one of us has to, right? Otherwise we wouldn't ever know what to do."

Daryl smiled. "True."

"So okay, my mom told me to shower, and that then she'd show me how to use a Kotex. So I showered. I had to throw the sponge out afterwards, it got so bloody. Back then we all washed with sponges, they're kind of out of fashion now. I could get the blood off my thighs pretty easily with a little soap, but it was all clumped up in my hair so I had to keep scrubbing across them and wound up pullin' out most of 'em, but they grew back." She lowered her shoulder nearest to him, sloppy grin on her face, looking up at him, sly and shy. "Okay, Daryl Putnam, now you have to tell me a 'private moment'."


Her broad face swiveled towards him, creating a new, intimate world in the space between their breaths, his vision filled with the sly jerk of her eyes to the left, the bold slide of her jaw to the right.

Daryl dangled his hands between his thighs, looked down at his shoe tops hanging above the lawn. Does she mow it? In shorts?

"I had a lemonade stand. It was just a folding card table with a white poster board thumbtacked in front with the word 'Lemonade' written in yellow Magic Marker. I was seven or eight. I haven't thought about this in a long time. Some memories you don't want to go back to alone." He smiled at her. "On the table was a wooden cigar box and a big, frosty pitcher with ice cubes floating.

"This one day a big, fancy car pulls up to the curb, windows all rolled up. Air conditioning, back then. The driver's door opens and a man gets out, standing up past the shiny roof of the car. He takes his time walking around the rear of his car to my stand.

"He stands in front of me. I have a clean glass in my hand, I remember that, and he doesn't talk, he reaches for his wallet. But here's the thing: he doesn't reach into his back pants pocket for his wallet like my dad would, he reaches into the inside of his suit jacket. His wallet is tall and flat, like a slim paperback. When he opens it up, I see the tops of credit cards-- no one had credit cards back then, certainly not my dad-- and on the left I see the green and grey borders of money sticking out of a leather sleeve. And the webs they engrave around the corner numerals? To make it difficult for counterfeiters? There were nine-legged spiders on them. Which is an impossibility. Spiders only have eight legs. Plus of course money doesn't have engraved spiders."

Daryl looked into Sally's face, troubled. "He did something, it's too vague. It crawls just below my memory. I remember up to him standing there, the wallet falling open in his right hand, the edges of the dollars.

"My mom came running out of the house, across the lawn. Calling my name."

"Was the guy still there?"

"I think he had left by then. I think there was nothing in front of my stand then but a cloud of exhaust."

"You can't remember what he did though?" Her voice was hushed.

He shook his head lamely. "It's like trying to remember a dream hours later, at lunch. My dad called the police. He was a little drunk."

Sally's eyes grew bigger behind her knuckles. "Did he maybe molest you or something?"

"I don't-- I don't know." He arched his back to pass a shudder. "I only remember not knowing."

Darkness rose from the lawn, the sky still blue enough to make the high moon seem faint.

"I only had one real boyfriend."

"Back in high school?"

"Yeah." She alliterated disdainfully: "Jeff Jones." Her eyes settled in their sockets. "He was a real know-it-all. Captain of the debating team, captain of basketball. Every time I asked if we could go somewhere his buddies didn't hang out, he'd do this thing where he'd half turn away from me, staring back at me, then he'd reach over and flick his fingernail at the tip of my nose. Used to bug the hell out of me."

"Why'd you stay with him?"

She hung her head pensively, long black hair sliding forward. "I dunno. I met him in my sophomore year. By then, I was looking for someone new in the halls, the classrooms. He was a transfer from Florida. Florida was like, wow, exotic. Palm trees, beaches on the ocean. Miami. Even the shape of the state, that was something everybody knew. Nobody knew the shape of Arizona, except that it was some kind of big square. He was kinda cocky, always smiling sideways. I guess I liked that. He seemed so sure of himself. The other boys, the ones I grew up with, were always telling him jokes. He'd walk down the halls passing a basketball back and forth between his hands. I'd carry his books for him."

She looked at the darkening hedges across the lawn. "He broke up with me the night of the senior prom. We only stayed in the gym like half an hour, then he gets this idea in his head he has to drive. As we leave his buddies are giving him these really alert stares, rotating their fists in the air. We had been a couple for almost two and a half years by then.

"We drive and drive, with him just staring through the windshield, pushing in the cigarette lighter every once in a while. Real cold. I'm sittin' next to him, wonderin' what I did wrong. 'How come you're actin' so weird?' I ask. Nothing. So finally I just stare ahead too, feelin' unhappy because this is my senior prom night, thinkin' about drapes and my mom, and we drive and drive.

"Finally we get up to the Grand Canyon and now my heart's thumping, 'cause this is where he took me to ask me to go steady with him. I'm like this dope sitting next to him real meek now, still have my white gloves on, thinkin' maybe he's gonna ask me to marry him. Even now I can see that windshield in my mind, all that dust on it.

"He just wanted to break up with me. Yeah." She wagged her head side to side. "'You're not goin' to college and I am, maybe there's someone there I could relate to better'." She raised a wistful eyebrow.

"Did you ever see him again?"

"Spring break he came waltzing into the Taco Bell where I was Assistant Manager, with this stuck-up skinny girl on his arm. She waits until she sees me behind the counter lookin' at her, then she puts her eyebrows down really low like she can't believe a place like this exists. She looks around at everything. The tables, the napkin and condiments bar, the menu signs above the counter. All the time hangin' onto his arm, whispering all these little astonished jokes to him, callin' him Jeffery. Then she looks directly at me, and it's like she's got this string of pearls around her neck, I'm wearin' a Taco Bell uniform. I was hurtin' inside, but I'm not gonna let it show, so I tell 'em they can order anything they want, it's on me. And still hangin' on him she starts this really rude laugh, she's lookin' bug-eyed at me sayin' to him in this loud whisper, 'Do you believe this?' My face got really red. I was tryin' to be nice. Then she says, to me, 'I don't think we'll be having dinner here.' Her jaw really dropped then, like she's flabbergasted that I was offerin' them a free meal." Her jaw clenched, the first show of anger he had ever seen from her.

"They sound like real jerks."

"Yeah. He's a bank manager now, in Flagstaff. Know what he did, that night up at the Grand Canyon? He asked for his friendship ring back, the one he gave me when he asked me to go steady. It had a little diamond in it. I guess you'd call it a chip. He walked over to the rim of the Grand Canyon and threw it in. See, I still didn't know what was goin' on. I was saying things like maybe I could go to night school. I think he threw my ring into the Grand Canyon to prove that it was over." Her lips were down. "I got it back though."

"He threw your ring into the Grand Canyon and you found it?"

"Yup. Next summer, my girlfriend and me camped up there. I knew where he stood when he threw my ring over. I tied a rope around my VW bug and l lowered myself down to this little ledge with a tree growing out of it. There it was."

"What did you do with it once you found it?"

"Once I got back up and got the rope off me I thought about grinding it up, but I kept it."

"Do you still have it?"

"No." Her lower lip trembled. "I was tidying up after work tonight, gettin' ready for your visit." She humped her shoulders up to her ears, looking across at him. "And I threw it out."

"Her name was Emily Barnes. She was the music appreciation teacher at my college in Vermont. She wrote poetry. Her poems would get published in those cardboard-cover magazines they sell at book shops. She was fifty-four. I was eighteen. She kept giving me D's and F's on her exams. Everyone else in class got A's and B's. I knew my answers were as good as most of the other students, but the exams were all essay questions, so it was hard to prove.

"One day she tells me to wait after class. She tells me that unless I get straight A's for the rest of the semester, she'll have to flunk me. It's my senior year. Her course is required. I can't get a degree and go on for my medical training unless I pass this stupid course.

"I knew she was failing me deliberately. But I didn't lose my temper. I asked her very politely, what do I have to do to pass this course? She says I better get a private tutor. I ask her can she recommend anyone. She says she'll do it.

"My last class each day was at two o'clock. By three I'd be at her place. She was a real pretentious type, hair all done up in a beauty parlor style, and she'd always talk with limp wrists, like everything bored her. That first day, playing these thick records for me in her parlor and asking me questions afterwards, she decided my problem was I didn't hear the individual notes in the music. So what she'd do is she'd stand in front of me, put her lips against my ear, and hum a note. I was supposed to figure out what note she was humming.

"Each time she leaned over to put her lips against my ear, the front of her body would press right up against me. I mean--" he looked at Sally, to see if he should go on. Eyebrows together, she nodded. "-- her breasts would come right up against my chest, her stomach would touch my stomach.

"I backed up the first time. You know."


"But she tut-tutted me, said I was too self-conscious, this was the only way I was going to learn my scales. It sounds crazy now, but back then I was naive enough--"

Sally smiled.

"-- that I believed her. I mean she is fifty-four. I thought maybe it's like when you go to the dentist and they lean all over you.

"Anyway this goes on for quite a while, her stepping back each time, not really even looking at me, then leaning up into me again, humming a note into my left ear, and I have to admit--I mean she's fifty-four, she's a lot older than me, but-- I have to admit, it's sort of..."

Sally stopped chewing on her lower lip. "What'd she look like?"

He shrugged. "Tall. About my height then. Thin." He looked off. "Kind of ginger hair. Like I said, she always had it done up. She was attractive."

"Did she have a good figure?"

He shrugged again, looking at Sally, looking away. "Yeah, I'd say so. I had never really looked at her, because of her age, but she had a curvy figure. You could tell she exercised. When she went to press up against me that first time, I don't know, I guess I assumed her body was going to feel hard, because of her age, but it felt really soft. That surprised me, that it felt so soft."

Sally put her hands under her knees, swinging her calves back and forth. "Did you-- did she make you excited, like, physically excited?"

"I-- yeah."

"Could she feel it?"

"Yeah, I'm sure she could."

"Were you embarrassed?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Was she?"

"No. The thing was, I kept coming over after school each day and each day she'd do it again, like for an hour or so each time, and after awhile, I admit...I started to look forward to it." He gave Sally a sheepish glance. "I know it sounds weird, but the more she did it, the more I got to like it. I think she knew I was put off by her age, so I think she kept just patiently pressing against me day after day, putting thoughts in my head, getting me used to the idea.

"By then it was spring, the days were getting warmer, so she moved the lessons outdoors. Her back yard was fenced-in, with flower beds against the fences. She started wearing these really short shorts. I mean really short, even shorter than girls my own age did. I couldn't help it, I started looking at her legs. I knew she was fifty-four, but at the same time I kept thinking what a great pair of legs she has." He was half talking to himself by now. Sally leaned back a little, eyes blinking.

"Plus what we'd do then after each lesson is relax in chaise lounges for a while, only she'd get up out of her lounge almost as soon as I lay down and just stand to the side of my lounge really close to my head, talking to me and flexing her legs and looking off at the tree tops so I had plenty of time to look at her legs, to see how smooth the skin was, and it got to the point where I couldn't sleep at night, I wanted her so bad by then." He laughed, catching his breath. "This is-- I'm really being rude, I shouldn't--"

"No, no."

"You don't want to hear about her, not in this kind of detail."

Sally nodded, a flush across both cheekbones, black pupils tracking slowly to his eyes. "Tell me."

He glanced down at her opened collar, where a humid scarlet had risen up into the flesh of her throat. "You sure?"

She brought her eyelashes together, talking in a little voice. "Yeah."

"Can we be really honest?"

She nodded, waiting.

"By then I was-- I'm embarrassed to say this-- but I was masturbating six times a day thinking about her."


"I went over one day and she was in this tiny cherry red string bikini. I couldn't get over how great her body looked. It was so hourglass. The only place her age showed at all was in her navel, where she had a slight crease on either side of her belly button, but that only made her body sexier, because it made you realize she was fifty-four years old.

"She got me to take my shirt off. I lay on my back on a blanket while she leaned over me to hum in my ear. She kept lingering her body over me, bumping her breasts over my jaw, then slipping one of her legs between mine, and next thing I knew we were kissing, then we were out of our clothes, they were scattered on the lawn all around us, and she was sitting on top of me down at my hips, making love to me with one hand behind my neck."

Sally let out a breath, wetting her lips. "Really? And she was fifty-four? What'd it feel like?"

"It was incredible. I felt like an amateur, the way her hips moved over me.

"I had a girlfriend my own age, but it was like nothing compared to Emily. She kept making love to me over and over again, and each time I thought I couldn't do it any more, but then she'd start in on me again, touching me and rubbing her body over me, then we'd do it again.

"I started going over there all the time. I couldn't stop myself. It was like my feet just carried me to her as soon as I got out of bed. I'd get there at dawn and she'd already be sitting on the blanket, legs spread, long arms behind her, waiting to climb on top of me again. My mother couldn't understand why I was losing so much weight."

Sally held a hand up to her heart. "So what happened? How'd it end? It did end, didn't it?" She gave him a worried look.

"My girlfriend found out. I had stopped having sex with her, to save it for Emily. She followed me one day, and spied on Emily and me behind the fence. Then she came screaming into the yard, telling me to push Emily off me. Emily turned around, looking at Donna, but she kept making love to me, but even slower." Daryl fidgeted. "Donna started crying. Emily lowered one of her-- one of her breasts, still looking at Donna, and I took it in my mouth.

"Next thing, Donna's telling all her girlfriends, some of them are telling their parents, and one of the parents told my mother. She raised hell with me, then called Emily and told her off over the phone."

"And that ended it?"

"I stayed away from her place. One day I was home alone and the doorbell rang. It was her. She didn't say anything, just looked at me with this little smile on her face. I told her it was over, she had ruined my life, she was an ugly old hag. We made love right there on the hallway floor, next to the family's galoshes. As soon as I felt the floor against my back and her weight on me I knew she had me as long as she wanted me.

"After that, she'd come over every day while my mother was at work. I gave her a key. I'd wait naked in bed. She'd be naked by the time she walked through my bedroom door. We'd never talk. She'd get on me and it would start again. My mother came home sick one day. She walked in on us and went crazy, yanking Emily off, slapping her down the stairs, pushing her out the door naked. That's when it was decided I would take my internship in Maine."

Sally shook her head, wide-eyed. She took a deep breath, breasts swelling against her sweater. "Did you ever see her again?"

"No. My mother called me at the hospital in Maine one day to tell me she was dead. Somebody choked her in her bed."

Sally shivered. "Jesus. Your girlfriend?"

"No. Donna and Emily...from what my friends still in Vermont told me, Donna apparently started hanging around Emily. She apparently got into a lesbian relationship with Emily, eventually. They never figured out who killed Emily, but my mother said they knew it wasn't Donna, because she was in the town hospital at the time."

"For what?"

"Evidently whenever they went to bed together, Emily would spend the whole time playing with Donna's head. Apparently she got Donna to the point, eventually, where she enjoyed being beaten up by Emily, physically. It probably began just with face slaps, but I guess it kept getting rougher and rougher. That must have been Emily's revenge, for Donna telling."

"Wow." Sally absorbed the images behind the conversation, pupils far off, hand combing through her long black hair. When she came back, she threw an anchoring gaze at his eyes, then lowered her own. "Still think about her?"

"No," he lied. He shook his head, looked at the opposite hedges. He drew in half a normal breath. "I do still think about her."

"When you masturbate?"

Daryl ducked his head. "I have, until just recently."

"Just recently?"

He examined the backs of his hands, the right one seeming larger. "Well, since I met you..." He raised his eyes.

"Really? You think of me?" She grabbed his knee, grinning, cozily moving her hip against his. Her eyes went down, motionless. "Wow! So like what?"

Daryl gave a tense shrug, flexing his right hand. "I don't know. Your face. Body parts, kind of."

"What parts?"

"Your legs. Calves. What I've seen. So far."

Sally looked down at her black pants. "My legs?"


"Gee. Where?"

"In my bed."

"Are you nekkid?" She giggled wickedly.

"Yeah. On my back. Naked."

"So." She pushed her hair away from her forehead confidently, front of her throat bobbing over a swallow, head tilting towards him. "My legs?"

He exhaled nervously.

She rested her fingers on the front of his shirt, undoing a button while he watched, chin on chest.

He lifted his left arm awkwardly, like it had more than one elbow, maneuvering it around the back of her shoulders, their thinness evoking the soft fullness of the breasts below.

She turned her face towards his, blocking out the world, shadows sliding sideways away from her broad cheekbones, the cleft below her nostrils, lips lining up with his across the thin space between their breaths. "I haven't been kissed in a coupla years." The words rode on the spice of tomato sauce. Her large eyes went up to his, tarty, virginal, waiting.

He brought his right hand to the side of her neck, touching her flesh for the first time, feeling skin and pulse, slowly trailing four finger pads up over the bent bone of her mandible to her humid cheek.

His head tilted down. Hers tilted up. Lips docking against lips.

Hers wriggled apart against his, wet lively length of her tongue popping between the hardness of his teeth.

His right hand slipped under the neck of her sweater, sliding down the smooth, warm cleavage, fingers curling under the weight of her left swell, her hand around his wrist, pulling his palm out, planting it back on her hip.

He squeezed the inside of her polyester-covered thigh, crunching the tiny squares of the material, getting a hoist of lovely curve.

They broke for breath.

Faces both flushed, neither speaking.

They coupled again. He rubbed his chest left, right, over hers.

His right hand went up the underside of her right thigh, Sally lifting to let his hand go higher, both moaning, as he slid his palm under the soft resiliency of her right cheek.

They broke.

She lowered her forehead against his jaw, gasping. His breath ruffled the swirled crown of her head.

Her hand reached up, tenderly touching his cheek.

He put his left arm around her shoulders again, this time with a natural movement.

She snuggled the side of her face against his shirt, sweaty bangs and swollen lips.

He inclined his head in her direction.

They sat side by side on top of the stone wall, arms around each other.

The air darkened. The sun was down, the moon up. Beyond the splay of porch light they sat within, the hum of crickets oscillated.

"Look!" Her arm pointed upwards.

In the highness of the sapphire sky, a shooting star arced whitely before narrowing to nothingness.

She leaned back, looking up. Her chin shifted to the left like a kid, big black pupils rolling towards his. "Ever try to pick out the constellations?"

He leaned back beside her, elbows straight, looking at her profile, then up. "I used to look up at the night for hours when I was a boy."

"Me too. When I was a girl. I'd go out in the desert behind my house. There was this big, flat rock I'd lay on."

"It occurred to me once the blue sky was a wall. It's only at night we see the sky for what it is. What's in it."

She rolled her head in his direction. He could see the phosphorescence of forehead, cheeks. "Do you believe in God, Daryl?"

Daryl shook his head. "I always figured if there were a God, his presence in the world would be painfully obvious, like the sun in the sky. Can I ask you a question?"

She adjusted her hands behind her on the wall top. "Please do."

"I noticed you've got your shower curtain off the rings and laid out over the toilet and floor."

"Oh, that. Yeah." She rolled her lips inwards. "When I moved up here, I got this weird feeling maybe there was a, you know, monster or something creeping up on me. At first I showered with the curtains all the way open, I thought that'd be best, but then I figured, what the heck, and I just took them down altogether. I lay the curtain over everything so the tiles don't get wet."

Daryl stroked her hair, fingers passing through the black softness, tresses lifting in the moonlight, half her face, from this angle, forehead. "I have to go up to Anchorage tomorrow. To go through that dead woman's apartment. Want to come?"

"Could I?" Her eyebrows lifted. "We could go to McDonald's for lunch."

Daryl laughed. "My treat."

The hedge across from them crackled mightily, parting.

Two large shapes shambled out into the dimness of the yard.

Sally slapped a hand to her mouth. "Oh my God!"

The two moose trotted forward under the moonlight, raising their sloped heads, one antlered, one bare.

Sally clutched his forearm.

Daryl stared warily at the animals, intimidated by their tallness.

The two moose bobbed their massive heads sideways towards each other, lips sliding loosely around their teeth, then slowly moved off across the lawn towards the back hedge.

Sally grabbed her lower lip, delighted. "One with antlers, one without -- that means a male and a female, right? Like us."

The antlered moose swung his long head around to regard Daryl and Sally for a dignified moment, then unhurriedly crashed through the back hedge, mate following with bowed head.

Sally stood up on the wall, rising on tip toe, trying to follow the progress of the humped shoulders on the hedge's other side.

Daryl, still sitting, felt his body shake from the adrenaline shot into his veins when the shapes first lumbered out of the hedge.

Harmless. No connection.

He looked up, between Sally's tight pants, at her clothed crotch.