Nothing Against Teresa
The houses were begging for it. Across the street, they prayed on their knees for the rain to come down. The clouds lumbered by, reluctant to drop their burden, shy perhaps in the sight of such longing.
Samuel’s arms grew tingly on the windowsill, but he left them there because his chin required the cushion. Some part of him wanted to be reading a book right now, and another part was vaguely curious about the television lineup, but he could not pull himself away from his stance at the window. He felt conscripted to it, a soldier in Saturday morning’s army, held by duty to listless daydreaming and fruitless pursuit of a comfortable position for his limbs.
He’d been awake for two hours. The kitchen window during breakfast predicted rain, and reluctance to tempt the weather prompted him back to his room when the dishes were washed. His mother was in one of her self-lacerating moods, so the living room and its TV were out of the equation, and his own TV was too small to really enjoy. He was on his third run through Harry Potter and somehow finding it more of a slog than he remembered. There wasn’t much left to do but gaze at houses anticipating rain.
He noticed movement on his friend Sarah’s porch and squinted to detect the source. A twinge in his belly recognized her even before his eyes did. Her form was difficult to discern three houses down, but there were signatures: the curly hair sloppily brushed, the lithe figure in loose clothes. Her torso leaned aggressively into her thighs as her hands gripped each other around the knees and twisted. Samuel watched her writhe for a few minutes, then made the rash Saturday morning decision to run over and see what he could do.
He skipped the opportunity of informing his mother. No reason to risk refusal, especially considering the low probability she’d even remember what he told her. She certainly wouldn’t notice his absence. All she’d be noticing today was the steady diminishing of the coffee in her pot.
The saturated air was hot with strength, not even trembling under the weight of its cargo. Samuel took a slow pace to deter the passion of his sweat, which immediately prickled up through his pores when he stepped outside. He tried to marshal an opening gambit as he walked, but he was smart enough to realize by now there was no strategy he could employ that wouldn’t backfire in some way. He’d simply have to say “Hi” and hope for the best.
Half an hour later, Samuel found himself creeping, Sarah in tow, toward his best friend’s window. He lifted his hand to rap the glass but restrained himself when Greg’s eyes darted up from his Army Survival Manual. With a glance to the door, Greg raised a peremptory palm and leaned over to hoist the pane.
“What is it?”
Samuel cocked his head and said, “Can we come in?”
Greg peered over Samuel’s shoulder. “I’m grounded. I could get in trouble.”
Greg sighed. “Everything’s important.”
“We need you, Greg. We need your skills.”
Greg throated a one note laugh. “Okay. Flattery trumps good sense once again. My fatal flaw.”
Samuel and Sarah crawled in. Both were sweating and serious. Greg evaluated them cooly. Samuel settled down on the bed while Sarah leaned against the sill.
Samuel said, “What are you grounded for?”
Sarah scowled. “Sam, this is a stupid idea.”
“Wait. He can get us in. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“Get you in where?”
Samuel looked at Sarah apprehensively, then back at Greg. “Montague Funeral Home.”
“Are you kidding?”
“Look, I know it’s strange, but it’s important. They won’t let Sarah in to see Teresa.”
Greg stared at Samuel, then turned his head to stare at Sarah. “Teresa?”
Sarah stayed silent.
Samuel said, “You didn’t know? It was on TV.”
“She hit her head on a rock in the woods behind Wilson Farms. She was there for days, I guess.”
“Jesus.” Greg considered his folded hands. “That’s pathetic.”
Sarah stood and stepped toward Greg. “You fucking asshole!”
“Hey, I’m just saying. What a way to go. Nothing against Teresa.”
Samuel said, “Look, her parents won’t let her view the body. I told her you could get us in. Like at night. You can, can’t you?”
Sarah said, “He can’t do it, Sam. They’ve got to have alarms and whatever. This is stupid. I mean, thank you, but let’s just go.”
Greg held his finger up. “Wait. When I say ‘possibly,’ that’s just for effect. What I mean is, ‘Yes, I can.'”
“That’s my end, sweetie. Trust me. I have the skills.”
“I think he’s all talk, Sam.”
Samuel waved his hands across each other. “No, he does have skills. He got into the eBay store–”
“Hey! That’s on the down low! Need-to-know, you know?”
Samuel reddened. “Sorry. I was just…”
“Fine. Well, it’s up to you, Sarah. You want to try it or not? I’m game. Fifty bucks should cover it.”
He shrugged. “Expenses. Profit. I’m a professional, sweetie.”
“Stop calling me that!”
“Right. Thing is, I’m a businessman, Sarah. You can’t expect me to work for free.”
Samuel said, “I’ll take care of it, Sarah. It’s not about money. I mean, it’s your only chance to see her. Do you want to try?”
Sarah sighed and wiped at her slick forehead. “Yes.”
They were almost back to Sarah’s when the air unburdened itself. Instantly soaked, they sprinted through the drench, chased all the way by the sidewalk’s wet wrath. On the porch, the roof celebrated with firepower while Samuel and Sarah stood gasping and wiping at their faces, staring out at the street, that normally placid surface transformed into an oceanic tumult.
Samuel’s gaze soon transferred to the wet body and hair of Sarah. A moment had come upon him, hardly transcendent but unquestionably pivotal, less than a month before, in which he’d noticed a brief glint on a few strands of hair crossing her cheekbone, and his ribs had contracted against what they contained. The sensation was wrenching in a way he was unprepared to classify, and ever since he’d remembered it with both reverence and fear.
He’d been smart enough not to pursue the feeling, or at least its object. It was clear to him that nothing was yet surging in Sarah’s body. Indeed, today had marked the first time he’d witnessed her in the power of a strong emotion, and he could not see how this anger mixed with sorrow could be turned to his advantage.
Now, on the porch — her clothes stuck to her skin, her hair dripping — it occurred to Samuel for the first time to identify his feeling with the actual word lust, and the word terrified him to the extent that he felt nauseous and began to lose his balance. He searched with his hands behind him for a chair. For a few seconds he panicked at the empty space his fingers found, but then his thigh brushed an aluminum armrest, and he collapsed gratefully into the expected seat.
“Hey, don’t get the chair wet!”
Samuel couldn’t speak, but began to lift himself unsteadily.
“No, it’s all right.” Sarah shrugged and flopped into the other canvas chair. “Sorry. I’m wound up, I guess.”
Samuel relaxed and watched the rain. His turbulence was passing. He felt blessedly immobile and enjoyed the ambience of the nearby body.
Sarah’s voice cut through the roar of the rain. “‘Waterboarding mice.’ Is that bullshit?”
“I have no idea.”
“He’s an asshole, Sam. You know that?”
“Yeah. I won’t deny it.”
“Why are you friends with him?”
Samuel made a perplexed face, for his own benefit, he supposed, as Sarah was not looking at him. “I really don’t know. We’ve known each other since we were kids. Otherwise, I can’t say. He is a lot of fun, sometimes. And he’s smart.”
“Well, I think he’s an asshole.”
Samuel turned his head toward her. “Do you want to go through with it?”
Sarah breathed out slowly through her nose, peering at her drawn-up knees. “Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe I’m overdoing it. She’d dead, right? What difference will it make if I see her?”
“Well, it seems to matter to you. I think.”
Sarah looked at him and smiled blearily. “Yeah. You think. You think a lot, don’t you?”
Samuel shrugged. “I don’t know. What’s a lot?”
Her smile flared a little before fading. “If you’re even asking, then the answer’s right there.”
“Greg can get us in, Sarah. Don’t worry about that. I know he’s an asshole, but he’s still Greg.”
“All right.” After a moment, she said, “Us?”
His belly tightened. “Can I come along?”
“I don’t know why you’d want to.”
On an impulse, he reached and laid his fingers softly on her forearm. “I’ve gone this far, why wouldn’t I want to see it through?”
Sarah gently removed her arm and lodged it between her legs. “You’re a nice boy, Sam,” she said, and a sharp pain moved through Samuel’s forehead. To his relief, the rain’s muscles were already slackening, and soon the cooled breathless air rested atop the streaming rivulets and still puddles of the street. There were many hours between now and nightfall, and Samuel went home to pass them.
A cop car was parked in the Montague lot, and the trio watched from a stand of trees across the street. The dark form of the cop was visible sipping occasionally from a lidded cup.
“We might as well go home,” said Sarah.
Greg shook his head. “No, he’ll be gone soon enough.”
“We’ve been here twenty minutes. He’s not going anywhere.”
“He has to run his patrol at some point. He’s just hanging out right now. They like that spot because it’s in the shadows, and they can keep an eye on the street without being noticed.”
“And drink their coffee,” said Samuel.
“Precisely.” Greg nodded, smiling. “See how far he’s tilting it? He’s almost done.”
Sarah said, “Even when he leaves, you haven’t told us how we’re getting in.”
“The gears are already in motion, sweetie. No need for you to sweat the details. You leave that to me. Your job is to view the body.”
Sarah whacked Greg’s shoulder. “Stop calling me ‘sweetie,’ and don’t call Teresa ‘the body.’ This isn’t an operation. We’re fucking kids!”
“Such a sensitive soul, isn’t she, Samuel?”
The cop’s headlamps came on, blinding them and provoking them to their knees all at once. The car roared to life and rolled slowly into the street.
“See,” said Greg, “I told you. Come on.” He motioned them behind him and jogged blithely into the street. Exchanging a brief uncertain glance, as if in resignation, Samuel and Sarah followed him.
Behind the building, they stood on a small porch under a dim yellow light. Greg struggled in his tight jeans pocket and his hand emerged with a cell phone. He tapped quickly, then grinned and showed the phone to Samuel. Samuel mouthed the words uncomprehendingly. “Dei Gratia. What is it?”
“It’s the password.” Greg pressed the send button, flipped the phone shut, and slipped it back in his pocket. A moment later, the door opened slowly, and a pudgy face appeared. Samuel recognized it, but he didn’t know the kid’s name.
“Hello, Chris,” said Greg. He held his hand out and gently slid a twenty dollar bill into Chris’s shirt pocket. Chris immediately extracted the bill, examined it closely, then returned it to the pocket.
“All right,” said Chris. “You’ve only got five minutes, then you got to get out. I could get in big trouble for this shit.”
Sarah said, “This was your big plan?”
Greg turned his grin on her. “What did you expect?”
“Genius always goes unrecognized in its own time.”
Chris waved his hand sharply. “Come on! Five minutes, I said.”
The coffin was full sized. For some reason, Samuel had expected a child’s coffin. But they weren’t really children, were they? They were young adults, at least according to the publishers of the books they read. The lid was shut, but Chris assured them this was the one.
“Can you lift it up,” asked Sarah, her voice bland.
Samuel breathed through his mouth as Chris raised the lid. There she was. What could you say? The face was Teresa’s, but without Teresa there.
Sarah stepped forward and knelt on the padded prayer rest. She appeared to Samuel almost as motionless as Teresa. In the darkness, they both looked like girls he could love. Sarah began to sob. Samuel felt faint, and looked helplessly at Greg. Greg was smiling. He sensed Samuel’s stare and turned his head. The smile faded, and he mouthed the word, What? Samuel shook his head.
Greg returned his gaze to the tableau of Teresa and Sarah, and his expression softened. Samuel watched him glide to the coffin and kneel beside Sarah, putting his arm around her. Her head inclined immediately to his shoulder as her sobbing turned to weeping. Greg’s hand slid up and down her back. Samuel was horrified to feel an erection start as he watched, and he turned away, but looked back over his shoulder. His stomach tightened, his arms tingled. The erection only grew.
“Come on,” whispered Chris.
Sarah stood and turned. She walked toward Samuel, her face wet and pale. As she passed him, he caught her scent, fresh grass and stale sweat.
Coming behind her, Greg whispered, “That went well.”
Samuel wrapped his arms around Greg and pulled him to the floor, pummeling his head. The part of him that watched and listened was astonished, but the part of him that punched was in ecstasy.
# # #
by Yarrow Paisley