“He apologized afterward. He acted uncomfortable, and I felt a little bad for him. He kept saying he would marry me if . . . you know, if I got preggers. He was really upset. And I go, ‘Well, let’s not buy trouble, Teddy,’ and he goes, ‘Don’t call me that, it’s a baby name.’ I think he was surprised I did it with him. And I didn’t get preggers. There just didn’t seem to be that much to it.
“Sometimes I feel like a doll. Not really real. You know it? I fix my hair, and every now and then I have to hem a skirt, or maybe I have to baby-sit the kids when Mom and Dad go out. And it all just seems very fake. Like I could peek behind the living-room wall and it would be cardboard, with a director and a cameraman getting ready for the next scene. Like the grass and the sky were painted on canvas flats.
Fake. ” She looked at me earnestly. “Did you ever feel like that, Charlie?”
I thought about it very carefully. “No,” I said. “I can’t remember that ever crossing my mind, Sandy.”
“It crossed mine. Even more after with Ted. But I didn’t get pregnant or any-thing. I used to think every girl got pregnant the first time, without fail. I tried to imagine what it would be like, telling my parents. My father would get real mad and want to know who the son of a bee was, and my mother would cry and say, ‘I thought we raised you right.’ That would have been real. But after a while I stopped thinking about that. I couldn’t even remember exactly what it felt like, having him . . . well, inside me. So I went back to the Rollerdrome.”
The room was totally silent. Never in her wildest dreams could Mrs. Under-wood have hoped to command such attention as Sandra Cross commanded now.
“This boy picked me up. I let him pick me up. ” Her eyes had picked up a strange sparkle. “I wore my shortest skirt. My powder-blue one. And a thin blouse. Later on, we went out back. And that seemed real. He wasn’t polite at all. He was sort of . . . jerky. I didn’t know him at all. I kept thinking that maybe he was one of those sex maniacs. That he might have a knife. That he might make me take dope. Or that I might get pregnant. I felt alive. ”
Ted Jones had finally turned and was looking at Sandra with an almost woodcut expression of horror and dead revulsion. It all seemed like a dream-something out of le moyen age, a dark passion play.
“That was Saturday night, and the band was playing. You could hear it out in the parking lot, but kind of faint. The Rollerdrome doesn’t look like much from the back, just all boxes and crates piled up, and trashcans full of Coke bottles. I was scared, but I was excited, too. He was breathing really fast and holding on to my wrist tight, as if he expected me to try to get away. He . . . ”
Ted made a horrid gagging sound. It was hand to believe that anyone in my peer group could be touched so painfully by anything other than the death of a parent. Again I admired him.
“He had an old black car, and it made me think of how my mother used to tell me when I was just little that sometimes strange men want you to get in the car with them and you should never do it. That excited me too. I can remember think-ing: What if he kidnaps me and takes me to some old shack in the country and holds me for ransom? He opened the back door, and I got in. He started to kiss me. His mouth was all greasy, like he’d been eating pizza. They sell pizza inside for twenty cents a slice. He started to feel me
up, and I could see he was smudging pizza on my blouse. Then we were lying down, and I pulled my skirt up for him-”
“Shut up! ” Tedcried out with savage suddenness. He brought both fists crashing down on his desk, and everybody jumped. “You rotten whore! You can’t tell that in front of people! Shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you! You-”
“You shut up, Teddy, or I’ll knock your teeth down your fucking throat, ” Dick Keene said coldly. “You got yours, didn’t you?”
Ted gaped at him. The two of them shot a lot of pool together down at the Harlow Rec, and sometimes went cruising in Ted’s car. I wondered if they would be hanging out together when this was all over. I had my doubts.
“He didn’t smell very nice,” Sandra continued, as if there had been no inter-ruption at all. “But he was hard. And bigger than Ted. Not circumcised, either. I remember that. It looked like a plum when he pushed it out of, you know, his foreskin. I thought it might hurt even, though I wasn’t a virgin anymore. I thought the police might come and arrest us. I knew they walked through the parking lot to make sure no one was stealing hubcaps or anything.
“And a funny thing started to happen inside me, before he even got my pants down. I never felt anything so good. Or so real.” She swallowed. Her face was flushed. “He touched me with his hand, and I went.
Just like that. And the funny thing was, he didn’t even get to do it. He was trying to get it in and I was trying to help him and it kept rubbing against my leg and all of a sudden . . . you know. And he just laid there on top of me for a minute, and then he said in my ear: ‘You little bitch. You did that on purpose,’
And that was all.”
She shook her head vaguely. “But it was very real. I can remember every-thing-the music, the way he smiled, the sound his zipper made when he opened it-everything. ”
She smiled at me, that strange, dreamy smile.
“But this has been better, Charlie.”
And the strange thing was, I couldn’t tell if I felt sick or not. I didn’t think I did, but it was really too close to call. I guess when you turn off the main road, you have to be prepared to see some funny houses.
“How do people know they’re real?” I muttered.
I looked at them very carefully. They didn’t look sick, any of them. There was a healthy sheen on every eye. There was something in me (maybe it came over on the Mayflower) that wanted to know: How could she let that beyond the walls of herself? How could she say that? But there was nothing in the faces that I saw to echo that thought. There would have been in Philbrick’s face. In good old Tom’s face.
Probably not in Don Grace’s, but he would have been thinking it. Secretly, all the evening news shows notwithstanding, I’d held the belief that things change but people don’t. It was something of a horror to begin realizing that all those years I’d been playing baseball on a soccer field. Pig Pen was still studying the bitter lines of his pencil. Susan Brooks only looked sweetly sympathetic. Dick Keene had a half-interested, half-lustful expression on his face. Corky’s head was fur-rowed and frowning as he
wrestled with it. Gracie looked slightly surprised, but that was all. Irma Bates merely looked vapid. I don’t think she had recovered from seeing me shot. Were the lives of all our elders so plain that Sandy’s story would have made lurid reading for them? Or were all of theirs so strange and full of ter-rifying mental foliage that their classmate’s sexual adventure was on a level with winning a pinball replay? I didn’t want to think about it. I was in no position to be reviewing moral implications.
Only Ted looked sick and horrified, and he no longer counted.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Carol Granger said, mildly worried. She looked around. “I’m afraid all of this changes things. I don’t like it.” She looked at me accusingly. “I liked the way things were going, Charlie. I don’t want things to change after this is over. ”
“Heh,” I said.
But that kind of comment had no power over the situation. Things had gotten out of control. There was no real way that could be denied anymore. I had a sudden urge to laugh at all of them, to point out that I had started out as the main attraction and had ended up as the sideshow.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Irma Bates said suddenly.