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One Handy Package
WAS AT THAT TIME a vogue for combining everything one might want in a particular
area of interest or endeavor into “one handy package,” and the cult of
miniaturization had already begun. Devotees of the backyard barbecue,
for example, instead of buying separate tongs, fork, spatula, and similar
implements could instead buy the Hand-e-Que, which combined tongs, fork,
spatula, spoon, skewer, and salt and pepper shakers in one handy package.
In the supermarket (actually, at that time, the grocery store) one could
buy Box o’ Supper, a box that held a bag of macaroni, a can of cheese sauce,
a can of peas, a can of brown bread, a small package of cookies, a moist
towelette, and a short stack of antacid tablets. The intrepid traveler
could buy an Aeronautomobile, a vehicle with folding wings and a “leakproof”
hull that could navigate the skies, the seas, and the highways. In
cynics, Diogenes would have been everything one could have wanted in one
handy package. In sexpots it would have been Patti Fiorenza.
I was, at that time, obsessed with Patti.
She was a year older than I—most of my classmates were, because I had skipped
a grade—which meant that she was fourteen. She had many admirable
qualities. I might mention her pretty face, her quick mind, her sparkling
personality, her winning smile, or the cooing voice in which she sang backup
for the Bay Tones, the Four Plays, the Half Shafts, the Glide Tones, and
the Love Notes.
I see from a quick skim of the preceding paragraph
that I neglected to mention that Patti possessed, to a degree unmatched
in the experience of Babbingtonians until that time, a quality that was
then called “sex appeal.” She had an amazing little body, tiny but
breathtaking. That tiny body was bursting with the promise of sexual
gratification. From the long view of fifty-five, I see that Patti
was the walking, talking embodiment of a hoary old fantasy, the child-woman,
sexually a woman, but in so many other ways still a child, but what I remember
from that time was the impression I had that under the right conditions
I could pick her up and put her in my pocket, hide her in a shoe box under
my bed and take her out and play with her under the covers at night.
(I was, at that time, I ask you to recall, and enter as a plea in my defense,
an adolescent boy.)
I do not have the talent to do justice to Patti’s
body here. Any description I attempted would, in the estimation of
a couple of hundred of the aging men and women who once were boys and girls
with me at Babbington High, fall laughably short of the mark.
The best I can do is try to make you understand
the effect that Patti had on us. Imagine a day in the spring, that
first warm and brilliant day that takes everyone by surprise. Let’s
say that, after school, Patti decides to take a walk downtown to get a
milk shake. Every Babbingtonian she passes pauses to watch her go
by, and in her wake they sigh, and they spend the rest of the day in wishful
thinking. She sits at the counter in the malt shop and drinks a chocolate
Old Eben Flood, just a week shy of eighty-six, finds
that he has developed an almost uncontrollable urge to lick the chocolate
from Patti’s lower lip, and to keep himself from licking her he begins
whistling “The Happy Wanderer.” He knows that he looks like an old
fool, but he doesn’t dare stop.
Mrs. Dorothy Inskip, a respectable matron, president
of the Ladies’ Village Improvement Society, finds that she can’t stop staring
at the beautiful buttocks of this girl so pertly perched on a counter stool.
To prevent herself from giving in to a desire to touch what she admires,
she rushes from the shop; outside, she collides with Harrison Barker, the
president of the First National Bank of Babbington, an old flame, a flame
that hasn’t flickered since she was Patti’s age, but a flame rekindled
on the spot, a flame that will bring to the seven quiet and wrinkled years
that Harry and Dotty still have ahead of them a warmth greater and more
perdurable than either of them could possibly have imagined when first
that flame was lit.
When Patti pays the soda jerk, young Frederick Lawson
Stillwell, his hand is shaking, and his lips move in a silent prayer that
he manage somehow not to surrender to the vast catalogue of impure thoughts
inspired by the salacious way she chews her gum, that he not be led into
temptation by the wanton way her little hips swing, that he not be made
to turn from the straight path and follow her out the door and wherever
on earth she might choose to lead him, and by dropping to his knees as
soon as she’s out the door he manages to keep himself from following her,
but he discovers in another minute to his horror that he’s praying that
she’ll come back, so to purge himself of this devilish perversion he whips
out the pocket-size discipline he carries to keep impure thoughts at bay
and spends a few satisfying moments mortifying his flagitious flesh, and
years later, when he has finally given up trying to fight the fire that
burns within him, he will found the Little Church of Perpetual Passion
at the southernmost end of Bolotomy Road, in a building that was once a
clamdigger’s shack, and on “Flagellation Fridays,” his disciples will join
him in exploring the erotic potential of the lash, flailing at themselves
and one another.
Patti, meanwhile, has left the shop and stands in
the sunlight at the corner of Bolotomy and Main. It’s such a nice
day! Who wants to be indoors? Instead of heading directly for
home as she had intended, she spends the rest of the afternoon strolling
willy-nilly, wherever fancy takes her, here and there, all over our little
town. By nightfall, the town can scarcely think of anything but her.
We are all drunk on Patti Fiorenza. Some of us are leaning against
our porch posts, smoking, yearning for her, others lying in our bedrooms,
sweating, with Patti on our minds and our hands between our legs.
As the night comes on, all Babbington falls into
one great orgy of desire for her. All over town, we pet and paw one
another, or toy with ourselves, while visions of Patti dance in our heads.
We take our pleasure from her, and in our collective fantasy we enjoy her
every which way that night, every one of us who saw her walk by, the men
and the women, the old and the young, the fit and the feeble, all of us
pushing and pulling and thrusting and slipping and sliding our way toward
a rippling wave of pleasure that shudders through us all, trembles from
one end of town to the other, a shudder strong enough for Patti to feel
it at home, in her bed, where she lies alone, and mistakes the tremor of
our pleasure for her own, for she has succumbed to her own sweet charms.
She soughs, and stretches, and sleeps, and dreams. So, at last, do
we, and we dream of her, every sort of sexual pleasure in one handy package.
Support the Work
Tip the Author
I should like to see the custom introduced of readers who are pleased
with a book sending the author some small cash token: anything between
half-a-crown and a hundred pounds. Authors would then receive what
their publishers give them as a flat rate and their “tips” from grateful
readers in addition, in the same way that waiters receive a wage from their
employers and also get what the customer leaves on the plate. Not
more than a few hundred pounds—that would be bad for my character—not less
than half-a-crown—that would do no good to yours.
Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise
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Copyright © 2001 by Eric
Inflating a Dog is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents,
dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products
of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the author.
Picador USA will publish Inflating a Dog in the summer of 2002.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio
rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail
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