Pimp My Lent/Day 46
From my friend and cuzzin, Ron King…
“As life went on it was not necessarily what he thought it might be. Not good, not bad, just not what he expected. He thought of friends and wondered if they felt the same way. He was reminded of David Byrne, “Well, how did I get here?”
He found them at the back of his closet, the closet that used to be his, on the floor behind the table-top football game with half of its players broken or MIA. His boots, the ones he’d worn from 9th grade on, a pair of brown Tony Lama ropers. He’d worn these boots everywhere, for years. He had them on when he won his only roping competition, and when he launched himself, jeans and shorts bunched up around his ankles, on top of Sailor Shugman, so anxious to lose his virginity that he forgot to shuck his footwear until Sailor shrieked “STOP, Chipper, stop for god’s sake – you’ll punchure the waterbed!”
Chip had worn these boots to school, to work at the feed store, and to church if his mother didn’t catch him before he got out the door. Twice, the soles had worn through, and he would have gladly paid for another re-do if old Bugg Wotts hadn’t taken to drinking so bad and laid down on Highway 102 for a nap late one night. Bugg had been a legend, a craftsman who could tool anything from custom saddles and tack, to jackets and boots. Bugg could take a pair of boots and resole them, keeping them true to the owner’s step and stride. No need to break them in again. Pull them on, and go.
Chip picked up the right boot, removed the boot tree, carefully blew the dust off the toe.
“Leather is skin.” He could hear Bugg’s raspy drawl, “You blow off durt, or taken a soft cloth to it. Don’t never go brushing it off with your god-damn dirty hand. Might as well take sand paper to it.”
“Ew. Charles – what are those?” Jenny said. Chip hadn’t heard her come up the stairs. Odd, since the old wooden staircase was creaky as hell, and the fact that Jenny was wearing so many gold bangles on her arms she sounded like a wind chime when she walked.
“These’re m’ boots.” Chip said. He held them up, turned them around so she could see. “My favorite pair.”
Jenny leaned in closer and squinted. Hell would freeze over and clutch its black heart and die shitting diamonds before Jenny would admit that she needed glasses. She crinkled her nose, “Gross. They’re filthy.”
“Yup.” Chip said.
“Yup.” Jenny imitated him, and then laughed. “Oh my god, you’re back here, like, what, less than 24 hours? And you’re already talking like a Okie?”
She grinned at him, cocked her right eyebrow, and tossed her hair back over her shoulders. He’d paid something in the neighborhood of $300 for the cut-style, bleach, streaks, highlights, something more than that for the facial and eyebrow shaping, plus dropped another he didn’t know what-all for teeth whitening. Jenny’d bought new clothes for this weekend, including the dress she wore now, a white striped halter sundress with the side slit to her thigh and the porthole between the boobs. She wanted “to look totally hawt” for all of his old girlfriends. Chip had explained until he gave up explaining that he’d never had a girlfriend in high school.
“Let’s do it your old bed.” Jenny whispered, putting her leg up on the foot railing. She wasn’t wearing underwear. He wondered where her pubic hair’d gone, and how much that’d cost him.
“Come on, Chipper.” She hated his nickname, and the attempt to say it playfully came off like sarcasm. “Come on- Your parents have the TV so loud – They’ll never know – come on! Pretend I’m your girlfriend and you’ve snuck me upstairs.”
Jenny didn’t wait. She started without him. She moved and groaned, pressing towards him, enticing, inviting. His tanned, pretty, California-blonde wife who was nearly 20 years younger than him – way more woman than he’d ever imagined might be his – was doing everything but perform a lap dance for him, and all Chip could think about were the pricy gold sandals that laced halfway up her perfect legs, and the twice-weekly personal trainer sessions that shaped them.
She’d bought herself a premiere membership an expensive gym as an “after-birthday” present. Well, he’d bought it for her, after he’d came home from work one evening and found her lying prone on the deep plush floor of her walk-in closet, weeping, clutching a tape-measure. She had gotten out of the shower that morning and studied herself in the three-way mirror and was now certain that she’d developed a sag on the left side of her ass. Jenny’d dug the tape measure out his tool box in the garage, and sure enough, had measurements as proof there was a definite loss of definition on her port side. She’d been hinting ever since for a butt-lift. He wasn’t buying it.
“Oh, yes, oh, god, oh, oh, oh…” She grabbed his hand, clutching it, rocking against it, “CHARLES, YES! YES!”
Chip joined in to get her where she wanted to go, sticking his thumb in her mouth so she’d knock off with the porn noises. First of all, his parents weren’t that old or deaf, and second, he was tired. Tired of her trying so hard and tired of her bursts of insecurity, which had begun about six months after they’d married, soon after she’d turned thirty-one years old. “I’m ancient” She’d said cried that day he’d found her on the floor of her closet. If she’d said it once, she’d said it a hundred times if she’d said it once. “I am ancient!”
He’d be 48 soon – what did that make him, for god’s sake?
Chip didn’t want to be reminded of his age. And he’d never planned on coming to this reunion. Jenny, in her way, had taken it personally that he’d thrown away his invitation. He got home from work very late one night to find her sitting in the dark with the card that she’d fished out of the trash can. She had tears in her eyes. Chip explained he hadn’t gone to any of his high school reunions because he’d kept in contact with the people who’d mattered most to him. He explained that he didn’t want to spend money on airfare, flying from L.A. to Oklahoma, eating overpriced meals with people he probably wouldn’t even recognize.
These explanations did not satisfy Jenny. She had it in her head that Chip was avoiding the reunion because of some great, gaping heartbreak from his past.
Which of course, he was. Amy Lou Kerr. Light brown hair, deep blue eyes, freckles. Bump on the bridge of her nose from a line-drive she never should have gone for, but you couldn’t tell that girl anything on the ball field. When she was in the game, she was all-in. Amy Lou Kerr. The real deal, girl-next-door with the wicked fastball, friend from childhood all the way to age 16. And then one night – one – after a ballgame with a bunch of friends and a case of real beer smuggled up from Wichita Falls, getting drunk and then one thing and another, and then a pregnancy and a trip to Fort Worth “to live with a sickly, elderly aunt.” The next year, Amy was back at home, but going to a different school. They couldn’t even look at each other without causing damage. So, they didn’t.
She’d moved to Ohio after graduation, gone to school there, married there. Her parents still lived next door to his parents, and through the years their folks had become friendly again, mostly. Only twice during the years had he and Amy Lou been home at the same time. The first time, they waved across the low hedge that separated their parents’ houses and later that night, he sat up in his old window and watched Amy pace the backyard with a colicky, crying baby, singing to it “scotch and soda/mud in your eye/oh baby do I feel high/oh me oh my,” the same phrase over and over, until he wanted to shout the next bit through the window screen. The next time he glimpsed her was a few years later, at the IGA. There was a toddler asleep in the front seat of the shopping cart, a small child standing in the back of the cart, and a slightly older child running circles around her. Amy was pregnant and looked exhausted, and he started to approach, to ask if he could help somehow, but he stopped and she passed by without seeing him.
He’d heard that she’d had a bunch of kids now – five, six, maybe even seven? And- God, she had to be crazy, right, to be pregnant again at her age, at their age. Forty-eight and pregnant? That couldn’t be healthy.
What was it that Bugg had told him about how to recondition boots? Something about doctoring the leather with something, and then heating them in the oven – could that be right?
Did she know anything about their kid, about where he ended up?
“Hey.” Jenny whispered, her lips soft against his. “What are you thinking about?” She said, barely audible. Then she leaned back, her hands on either side of his face, looking into his eyes, searching.
“My boots.” Chip said. This did not set well, and soon enough he was alone.
He laid back on the bed, and exhaled hard. This unwanted, unnecessary trip, this heat, this upstairs room with its low, gabled roof and poor air circulation- obviously it was getting to him.