Oh, Really?


Josh Becker

       Jim was a model of apathetic youth in the eighties.  There wasn't a single thing in the world that he really cared about.  Except possibly sex, but that was sort of a theoretical thing since, at nineteen, he had experienced this phenomenon but twice, both times with the same girl while he was still in high school.  When the young lady called the whole affair off Jim was actually rather pleased.  It's not that the sex wasn't any good; he enjoyed everything up to it and everything during it, it's just that afterward he couldn't look at the girl.  Her plainness, which never bothered him before or during, revolted him afterward.
       But high school was over and now, in his second semester of community college, Jim did not know one girl.  He didn't really know any guys.  Even if he couldn't term them "good friends," he had once had a slew of acquaintances built up throughout his many years in public school.  When high school ended they had all immediately started one of the several universities in the state, all of which were located at least an hour away.  His mother had asked, in fact, expected him to go away to school, but Jim declined.  It wasn't entirely based on the fact that his mother would have had to ask his father for the money, but that was partially it.  His dad now resided in Texas selling computers and could probably afford whatever costs sending Jim away to a University would accrue.  It's just that he knew his mother would ask in a way that would make his father like him even less than he already did.
       Intellectually Jim knew that the divorce was not his fault.  Nevertheless, deep down he still felt that he was one of the reasons.  Since his dad had moved away when he was twelve their relationship had improved quite a bit -- over the telephone.  His dad called every Tuesday no matter what.  They usually talked for fifteen or twenty minutes exchanging anecdotes about school and business and the like.  As far as his dad was concerned, at least as it sounded to Jim, he would talk all night.  Unfortunately for Jim, talking long distance was like riding in a taxi and every minute he could mentally hear the meter click.  It was just as well because after about fifteen minutes the salesman in his father always pushed its way to the forefront and all of his patter sounded
like a pitch.  He was trying to sell himself to his son.
       When high school ended his dad had asked several times if he wanted to move to Texas and live with him.  Well, live with him "and Sherry, who you'll just adore."  Jim politely declined.
        And when his mother asked him if he wanted to go away to a university he also politely declined.
"But everyone you know is going away to school," said his mother honestly mystified.  "Why don't you want to go?"
       "What, so I can join a fraternity, go to keggers, drink too much beer and throw up?"  Asked Jim derisively.
       His mother shook her head.  "I don't think that's what college is all about." 
       "I don't really care," stated Jim quite honestly.  With that he went back to reading "The Carpetbaggers."  He had a passion for junk novels.
       So Jim matriculated at the nearby community college, referred to by the university students as "high school with ashtrays."
       The only friend that Jim had at school was a fellow a year older than himself named Richard.  In actuality they weren't really friends since they never got together outside of school and didn't seem to care about the same things.  Richard seemed lost in about 1971.  He had long hair, a scraggily beard and wore a chain of Guatemalan coins around his neck.  He had picked these up several years before when he had quit school and gone out looking for God, or some such nonsense.  Richard and Jim's main connection was dope.  Everyday they would either duck out to Richard's beat up '68 VW with it's "No Nukes" bumper sticker, or to Jim's '78 Toyota, with its bondo right front fender and smoke a joint.  They generally met directly before the acting class that they both had.  Being high usually added just the right touch of humor to the acting exercises they invariably had to do.  Entire class periods were allotted for such academic endeavors as the whole class standing in a group at the end of a table while one student stands on it, closes their eyes and falls into the class's waiting arms.  This was to "strengthen your trust in your fellow actors."
       Due to his and Richard's indulging in the afternoon, Jim most often came home from school and went straight to bed.  His mother would awaken him around dinner time with such important chores as attaching the clasp of her necklace before: she went to dinner with whatever date she had that night.  This was always accompanied by a detailed list of the entire contents of the refrigerator.        Sometimes she would just leave money for him to go out.
       Presently, the main staple of Jim's diet was Stouffer's beef burgundy crepes which he prepared in the microwave oven in three minutes.
       As his mother left each night she always asked the same question.  "What are you doing tonight?"  Since Jim was never doing anything he usually replied with a smart aleck response like, "I'm going downtown to buy heroin," which his mother never responded to.
       At least not outwardly.  Inwardly her response was confusion.  Not to the smart cracks, but to the fact that her son had absolutely no social life.  "He's bright," she'd say to her date that evening over dinner, "he's a good-looking boy, he dresses nicely -- why doesn't he have any girlfriends?"  This being the eighties, she had contemplated the idea that Jim might be gay, but even if that was the case then he had no boyfriends, either.
       In fact, he was not gay.  It had been so long since he'd had sex that he no longer considered himself heterosexual.  To ease his own mind he came to the firm conclusion that he was asexual.  The only problem with that was that every time he saw a pretty girl he was in dire need of ducking into the nearest john and jerking off.
       "Jim, would you do me up?"  Asked his mother flicking on the light switch.  Jim lifted himself from bed, blinked and shook his head trying to bring himself back to life.  His mother turned around revealing her unzipped dress.
       "Who are you going out with?"  He asked in a phlegmy voice while zipping her up. 
       "Frank O'Reilly."
       "Oh, really?"
       "No, O'Reilley." 
       They both smiled.
       "You've been seeing a lot of him lately," said Jim wiping the crud from his eyes. 
       "Yes, I have.  He mentioned again last night that if you'd like he could set up something for you with MaryAnn during vacation."
       Jim lit a cigarette and coughed.  "This is the sixteen year old nun?"
       His mother waved the smoke away.  "She's not a nun, she just goes to a Catholic boarding school.  Frank's kind of religious."
       "No thanks."
       "Why, what else have you got to do?"
       "M.A.S.H. is on three times a day and I can't miss it."
       "That's a great reason," said his mother departing.  "You've only seen every one of them six times."
       "No you're wrong.  There's a new one on tonight." 
       A moment later he heard a car pull up, the front door open, his mother holler, "bye-bye," the door shut and the car pull away.
       Jim sat on his bed and sighed.  The haze of cigarette smoke hung around him like a dense gloom.

       The M.A.S.H. on at seven o'clock he had indeed seen at least six times, but he laughed anyway.  At seven-thirty he turned the TV off, read a Sidney Sheldon novel for a while, smoked a joint and ate some Stouffer's beef burgundy crepes (which he was too impatient to let cool and scalded his mouth).  He watched the new M.A.S.H. at nine o'clock and laughed again, but subliminally missed Radar.  When it was over he found himself rather upset and inexplicably on the verge of tears.  He attempted reading again but found that he was unable to comprehend the words and shut the book.  He smoked another joint, coughed until his throat hurt and got no higher than he already was.  He stubbed it out halfway and dropped it back in the bag.  The M.A.S.H. at eleven was one of his favorites, unfortunately he was way too far gone into depression to laugh at it.  A headache began creeping over his scalp.
       The phone rang and he jumped.  Taking a long breath and rolling his head around to try and ease the tension, Jim answered it.
       "Hello. "
       "Hi," said his mother sounding incredibly happy, the din of a huge crowd in the background.  "You'll never guess where I am."
       "You're right."
       Her joyous tone descended a notch.  "What's wrong?"
       "Nothing.  Where are you?"
       She brightened up again.  "Las Vegas!"
       "Las Vegas?"  Jim was stumped. "How'd you get there?"
       "We walked.  How do you think we got here?"
       "We?"  Asked Jim.  "You and Frank O'Reilly?"
       "Yeah," said his mother getting a touch tongue-tied.  "You see, ah... What happened was, um... Frank and I got married."
       Jim froze.  "You what?"
       His mother tried again, more serious this time.  "We got married, Jim.  What do you think?"
       Jim laughed humorlessly.  "What's the difference, you're already married."
       "That's true," she said a little hurt.  "But I'd still like to know what you think?"
       "Sure," she said, not really sure.
       Jim lit a cigarette.  "I don't much care."
       This seemed to sadden his mother quite a bit.  "That's not what I was hoping you'd say."
       Tonelessly.  "And what was that?"
       "I was hoping you might be happy for me."
       "All right.  I'm happy for you." 
       "No you're not." 
       "You're right," said Jim.  "I'm not." 
       "Well, then what are you feeling?"  Asked his mother getting slightly mad. 
       "I don't think anything at all. I don't care.  You wanna be married, you're married.  Have a good time in Las Vegas.  Are you coming back?" 
       Now she was upset.  "What do you mean, am I coming back?" 
       Jim blew out a long stream of smoke.  "Nothing.  Forget it."
       "We'll be back the day after tomorrow."
       There was a moment's confusion on his mother's end.  "Wait a minute..."  There was a muffled question and a muffled response.  "Jim?" 
       "Frank wants to talk to you." 
       "Oh, really?" 
       "No, O'Reilly." 
       Neither smiled. 
       "Hello, Jim?" 
       He cleared his throat.  "This is Frank O'Reilly."
       Jim smashed out his cigarette.  "Hello... Dad."
       "Look, Jim, you don't have to call me dad."
       "I know this is probably a little sudden, but... that's how things work occasionally."
       "Things'll work out just terrific, you'll see.  You and your mom'll move in with me and MaryAnn and it'll be real nice.  I've got a big house and a pool and I just know you'll like it."
       "I can't wait."
       "Yes, well..."  O'Reilly was at a loss for words.  "I love your mother, Jim."
       "I'm glad."
       "Are you?" 
       "I don't know, I have a headache.  You two have a good time and I'll see you day after tomorrow."
       "We will.  And you'll see, everything'll work out just fine." 
       "Here's your mother..."
       "Please don't be upset." 
       "I'm not.  I just have a headache." 
       "Well, take some aspirin and go to sleep." 
       "I will." 
       "I love you." 
       "I love you, too.  'Bye." 
       She hung up. 
       Jim held onto the receiver for a moment in a daze, then dropped it in its cradle.  He twisted his head around to loosen it up and it replied with loud, sharp crack!

       It was a chilly, gray day in mid-October when Mr. and Mrs. Frank O'Reilly arrived home.  Jim picked them up at the airport and on the way back Frank outlined the "new way."
       "We'll just stop at your place and pick up the things that you two consider vital and take those with us.  The rest the moving men will bring over tomorrow."
       "Fine," replied Jim dourly.
       "Cheer up," smiled Frank.  "This is a new beginning for all of us."
       Jim's mom smiled and nodded in agreement.  She looked a touch strained by the effort.
       Jim's expression remained unchanged.

       The O'Reilly residence was a sprawling, white, ultra-contemporary, box-like structure with an entire wall of mirrored glass that faced a small lake.  The other three sides of the house were surrounded by acres of dense pine trees.  Their nearest neighbor was about a quarter of a mile away across the lake.
       At the farthest end of the house, down a long, long hallway, was the kids' rooms.  The master bedroom was all the way at the other end of the house near the kitchen.
       As Jim sat in his desolate, huge bedroom, which was nearly the size of their old living room, he stared out his window at the plastic-covered swimming pool.  A little lake of rain water had built in the tarp and was filled with leaves that were presently rotting.  Beyond the pool was the woods with its few maples and birches barren, leafless and starkly accented against the slate-gray sky.

       Life continued as usual, only now Jim had to get up an extra half hour early to get to school on time.  After school he would often times stop at shopping malls and aimlessly wander, or sit in coffee shops and read.  Anything to prolong his return to "the mausoleum," as he thought of it.
       When all three of them were home at the same time an uneasiness seemed to weigh down on them like a deathly pall.  At first Jim attributed this to the fact that he and Frank were strangers with no common ground.  As time went on, however, he came to realize that the uneasiness was present before he ever arrived.  Frank and his mother didn't seem to be hitting it off too well.  They weren't arguing or anything, at least not that he heard, they just didn't seem to be communicating on the same wave-length.  The most apparent aspect of this was that they were both continually saying "what?" to each other, like neither was hearing what the other was saying.  Jim stayed as far out of it as possible and figured sooner or later they would get it together.
       But as the winter weather encroached and the rotten leaves and rain water in the pool-cover froze, the newlywed O'Reillys seemed to grow further and further apart.
       Richard, Jim's school chum, dropped out of college, packed up his back pack and left for Nova Scotia, where "it's a rough existence, but real."  Had Richard decided to go absolutely anywhere where it was warmer Jim would have assuredly accompanied him.  However, going anywhere where it was colder than it already was seemed just plain crazy, no matter how "real" it might be.
       So now Jim had no friends.
       He really did try being friendly to the people in his classes, but nobody seemed interested in anything more than perfunctory conversations.  Anything more was simply delaying them from where they had to go.
       There was one cute girl in Jim's English class whom he particularly enjoyed looking at, but she wouldn't talk to him at all.  She sounded like she hated him and he didn't even know her.  The pretty girls at the shopping malls were always in pairs or groups that seemed totally self-contained and assuredly not open to him.
       His meager little existence pulled in within itself.  Just getting through his waking hours was becoming more of a painful chore than he felt he could go on handling.  He now found himself smoking dope on his way to school, less than an hour after waking up.  By his second class he felt like going back to sleep.  Being at a community college this was not a problem, since no one cared at all what anyone else did, so many times Jim would lay his head in his arms and float off to where the pressure wasn't quite so thick.

       "Jim," said his mother awakening him to the strangeness of his alien bedroom.  "It's dinnertime." 
       "I'm not hungry," mumbled Jim.  "I'm gonna go back to sleep."
       "You sleep far too much," scolded his mother.  "Now come on, I cooked dinner."
       "Okay, okay."
       She stood there until he sat up, then turned and padded down the long, long hallway.  Jim considered falling back over when his stomach growled angrily and he realized that he was actually hungry.  He lethargically arose to his feet.  At least now that his mother wasn't dating anymore she had begun cooking again.
       Frank grinned from the dinner table.  "Hi'ya, Jim.  Taking a little nap?"
       "No, I was meditating," grumbled Jim dropping into one of the chrome and leather kitchen chairs.  He fished around in his shirt pocket, removed a mashed package of cigarettes, lit one and immediately coughed.
       "You make smoking so glamorous," said his mother.  "I'm almost sorry I quit."
       Jim pulled the crooked cigarette from his mouth and blew a long stream of smoke up to the chrome light fixture.  It spiraled back down from the ceiling and hung there plaintively.
       As they ate their dinner the oppressive pall hung around them like the smoke.  It seemed to suffocate the conversation out of them.
       "How's school?" asked Frank. 
       "Fine," replied Jim into his plate. 
       His mother looked at him and put down her fork.  "You don't seem very happy."
       "Oh, really?"
       "Yes, really.  You never go out anywhere, you never have anyone over.  All you do is sleep."
       Jim chewed his food and stared at his plate.
       "Cheer up," decreed Frank.  "Things could be a lot worse."
       Jim looked at him.  "Oh yeah?  How?"
       Frank thought for a moment.  "Well--"
       "--Oh," cut in his mother, just remembering something.  "Frank and I have decided to go away over Christmas.  We're not sure where yet, Jamaica or the Bahamas, but in either case, we both feel there are a few things we should straighten out first."
       "Like what?" asked Jim getting pissed.
       "Well," said Frank, "if there's anywhere you'd like to go over the vacation with some friends, or whatever, we'd be glad to pay for it."
       "It'll be your Christmas present," said his mom.
       Jim tossed his fork into his food and stood up.  "What the fuck are you two talking about?  I don't know anyone to go anywhere with and there's no where I want to go.  If you two want to go somewhere, then go.  I really couldn't care less."
       With that he left the kitchen and headed back to his room.  His mother called after him, but he ignored her and she didn't follow.
       "Great!" he spat dropping onto the bed.  "Now I get to rot in this fucking hell-hole all by myself.  Terrific!"

       If it had simply been a pleasurable romp in the sun the O'Reillys had been planning to go on, Jim's reaction might have made them reconsider.  Indeed they were having ample problems of their own (Jim amongst them) and the reason for their trip was more like therapy than pleasure.  They felt that they just needed a chance to get away and see they could straighten out their own lives and relationship.  While they were gone they hoped Jim might do a little straightening out himself.
       Before they left, Frank had a subscription movie station installed in the TV hoping this might help tide Jim over until their return.  Unfortunately Jim didn't particularly care.  His gloom was becoming all pervasive.

       As Jim sat at the kitchen table drinking a beer and staring out the window at the darkened woods, his mother and Frank were in their room busily packing.  The phone range, but Jim made no move to answer it -- it certainly wasn't for him.
       Jim's mother answered from her room and Jim listened without wanting to.
       "Hello? . . . Oh, hi MaryAnn, how're you? . . . Sure, he's right here."
       Frank took the phone.  "Hi, baby, how ya doing? . . . Uh-huh, uh-huh, well look, one more year and you'll be through.  You can go to any college you want."  He listened for a moment.  "We're leaving tomorrow, honey, we won't be here.  Jim'll be here."  Another pause.  "Come on, don't be like that.  You'll like him.  We'll be back before you leave, I'll see you then. . . . I love you, too, baby.  'Bye-bye."
       Jim finished his beer and opened another.

       On his way back from dropping his mother and Frank at the airport, Jim stopped at one of the giant, multi-leveled shopping malls.  It being just a week before Christmas, the place was mobbed.  Why he had stopped there he didn't know, he certainly had no friends to buy gifts for.  As soon as he got to the center of the mall and encountered all of the colorful decorations, the line of children waiting to sit on Santa's lap and the vast number of nubile young girls a flood of pain, despair, and horniness cashed over him with overwhelming force and drove him back out into the snow.  He hurt so bad inside he almost couldn't breath.

       He sat in the kitchen reading until the sun began to set and the light became too dim to see the words.  He made a bologna sandwich on white bread and sat in the dark eating it.
       Having finished his dinner, Jim helped himself to a large glass of Chivas Regal from Frank's bar.  After a couple of big, face-twisting gulps he seated himself before the television set and turned on the Subscription movies station.  A football game was on.  He absolutely despised football and quickly changed the station.  Some old, inordinately colorful Rock Hudson movie was on so he left it.  Within a few minutes he'd finished his drink and prepared another.
       A cigarette dangling from his mouth and drink in hand, he scrutinized the contents of his mother's medicine cabinet.  After a little search he found what he was looking for -- the valiums; blue ones; his mother did not kid around.  He dumped two into his palm, slapped them into his mouth and washed hem down with scotch.
       Jim continued watching the Rock Hudson movie and by the second commercial break he was floating.  Concentrating intensely, he de-seeded and de-sticked some pot and very carefully rolled beautiful joint.  This was one thing he was very good at.  He lit it up, made sure it was burning evenly and inhaled deeply.  By the third hit he was totaled, only instead of getting mellower he was tensing up.  Halfway through the joint his thoughts were exploding like firecrackers and his head felt like it was full of bees.  He stubbed out the joint, but it was too late, he was out of control.  His palms went icy cold, he broke out in a sweat and began to shake.
       Staggering from the chair he pressed himself to the wall and slid up the long, dark hallway to the bathroom next to his room.  Burning hot water pounding directly into his face sounded like the only possible recourse.

       Four sixteen year old girls in a brand new little red Honda Accord pulled up in front of the house.  They were all laughing raucously as the girl driving, attired in a blue down coat and space boots, got out.  The girl on the passenger side wearing a fur coat also got out.  As the girl in blue opened the trunk, the young lady in fur made a few wobbly, feeble attempts at joining her, then rather gracefully slipped and fell.
       "Are you okay?" asked space boots, removing a suitcase from the trunk.
       "I'm fine.  I can't stand up, but I'm fine."
       "Perfect snow wear," said the other girl helping her up.  "Four inch spike heels with open toes.  What if the car had broken down?" 
       She grinned drunkenly.  "Then you'd have gone out in your space boots and pushed us."
       "That's what I love about you, your sense of responsibility.  We've got three hundred miles to drive and ten minutes out of school you get plastered."
       "We're out on leave into the real world," said the young lady in spike heels.  "It's our job as good Christian soldiers to enjoy it."
       They kissed and said goodbye.  Space boots got back into the driver's seat and as the gleaming new Honda drove off, the wavering girl with the fur collar dragged her suitcase to the front door and let herself in.
       Inside the only light on was the strangely shifting blues and grays of the television set.  This being her natural habitat, she reached out in the dark and flicked on the hall light.
       Fully illuminated she was an astoundingly attractive girl: shoulder length, shaggy, blonde hair which she wore brushed off her face except one lock over her left eye, blue eyes the color of a clear summer sky, a pert little nose, clear, healthy skin and a cock-eyed drunken grin on her lips.  She hit another switch and lit up the long hallway.  With her suitcase as ballast and leaning against the wall she made her way to her room.
       As she passed his doorway, Jim stood completely naked drying himself with a big yellow towel.
       She got one step past the door, stopped, gave her head a shake and came back.
       Jim stood frozen wrapped in the towel, his mouth agape.
       She looked at him and squinted.  "Jim?"
       Jim grinned awkwardly.  "You must be MaryAnn."  His brain was whirling again, but it wasn't the booze.  Could this be true?  Could MaryAnn O'Reilly actually be this beautiful?
       MaryAnn leaned on the door frame and smiled.  "I can't believe it.  From the way I heard it I thought you were gonna be some fat horrible creep reject at the community college."

       "Well..." stammered Jim.  "I'll bet you say that to all the guys."
       MaryAnn laughed and Jim felt himself getting hard.  As she tossed her fur coat off onto the suitcase beside her, Jim got his first look at her svelte, young, nearly flat-chested, athletic body in tight jeans and a T-shirt.
       Jim hastily sat down on the bed and let he towel bunch up on his lap.  MaryAnn swayed around in the doorway, blinked several times and shook her head.
       "I think I have to sit down."
       Jim smoothed the sheet beside him.  "Make yourself at home."
       Her gorgeous lips parted in a little laugh.  "Thanks, I will."
       She sat down right next to him on the edge of his towel.  Jim got his first close look at her, then looked down at his towel, then looked up and laughed.
       "What are you laughing at?"
       "Come on," she said moving closer, edging the towel from his lap.
       Jim shook his head.  "I just, uh..."
       "It's just, I thought you were gonna be a nun?" 
       "A nun?"  MaryAnn was incredulous.  "I don't even like looking at nuns, and Lord knows I get enough of that."  She stopped and looked him in the eyes.  Their faces were very close.  "I thought you were going to be an ugly reject."
       Jim shrugged.  "I am."
       "You don't look like one.  You're handsome."
       "Oh, really?"
       "No, O'Reilly."
       They both smiled, then moved together and kissed for a long sensuous moment, their hands in their laps.
       MaryAnn stood up, kicked off her shoes, unzipped her jeans and wriggled out of them.
       "So, brother Jim, what do you think of the situation that is presently occurring?"
       Jim stared mesmerized as she shimmied out of her bikini underwear.  He was overcome with ecstatic stupidity.  "I guess I must be in heaven."
       Having removed her T-shirt, revealing incredibly cute, rosy little nipples, MaryAnn eased the towel from Jim's lap.  He placed his hands on her waist and pulled her to him.  They both fell rollicking back on the bed.