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Take Me Away; Take Me with You
HER PUCKERED LIPS over the tip of her paper straw, Patti sucked up and
swallowed a mouthful of vanilla milkshake and then in a voice thick and
soft, milky and sweet, asked, “Well, Peter, did you learn anything new
I had been expecting this question since the day
when Patti had suggested another experiment. I had known that we
would meet at the malt shop the day after that experiment, when we were
playing ourselves again, to consider what we had discovered while playing
my mother and Mr. Beaker. I had, since the conclusion of the experiment,
often practiced what I wanted to say to her, and I felt fairly certain
that if I delivered my answer in the way that I had rehearsed it I could
strike just the right note—not just the right note, but the right chord,
composed of notes that might before I had so cannily combined them have
seemed discordant, a chord in which humor harmonized with high purpose,
friendship with lust, the offhanded assessment of a dispassionate investigator
with the all-but-inexpressible awe of an impressionable adolescent, a chord
like one of those complex—and, for me, unsingable—chords that ended so
many of the doo-wop songs.
“I found,” I said, drawing my words out to emphasize
the depth of thought underlying them, “that—you—have—beautiful—breasts.”
She exhaled a bit of a laugh down the straw and
it bubbled richly through her milkshake.
“I always supposed that you did have beautiful breasts,”
I went on, “but I was very—ah—pleased—to have my supposition confirmed—by
direct observation—and—ah—digital palpation.”
She pulled her straw from her glass and blew an
inch of milkshake into my face.
“Nice shot,” I said.
“Was this whole paternity experiment just a way
to get your hands on me?” she asked.
“No!” I said quickly, perhaps too quickly.
She rolled her eyes.
“It wasn’t,” I asserted. “Honest.”
She ran her tongue over her lips.
“Patti,” I said, in a tone of deepest sincerity,
“I really do have strong doubts about my paternity, and strong suspicions
about the part that Dudley Beaker might have played in my conception.
I meant what I said about conducting an experiment, and I’m grateful to
you for being willing to assist me with it.” I paused; then, with
a shrug, I added, “I never said I wouldn’t enjoy it.”
She threatened me with the loaded straw again, and
I raised my hands to suggest surrender, or at least a truce.
“I seem to recall,” she said, “that you told me
we would be investigating certain events that may or may not have occurred
in the past, between your mother and Dudley Beaker, not that we would be
considering your opinion of my breasts or any other part of my gorgeous
“You’re right,” I said. “Forgive me for straying
from the purpose of our undertaking.”
We snickered at each other.
“I learned something, too,” she said.
“Yes?” I said, hoping for a compliment.
“Assuming that you’re doing a good job of portraying
Dudley—” She paused and cocked her head.
“I think I am,” I said.
“Then I think that Ella probably did have a crush
“Yeah. He’s kind of cute—and I’m talking about
him, you know, not you—”
I hung my head.
“You’re kind of cute, too,” she said, “but I’m talking
about Dudley in the pictures you showed me. He’s good-looking, and
he’s suave—for a small-town guy, anyway—but I think that—if I’m really
being honest with myself about this—the thing that I find most attractive
about him when I’m with him might be the fact that he’s grown-up, especially
the particular way that he’s grown-up.”
I hadn’t expected this.
“He’s still young,” she explained, “and he’s got
those jazz records and that crazy sports jacket in the back of the closet,
but basically he’s a grown-up guy, a man, and it’s flattering to think
that a man is interested in me—as if I were a woman, not just a girl.”
She poked her straw at the last of her milkshake. “That’s it,” she
said. “He makes me feel like a woman: he makes me feel grown-up,
This was interesting. He had always made me
feel like a little boy, and a bumpkin.
“To tell you the honest truth,” she said, “I—Ella,
you know, when I’m being Ella—I like that feeling.”
“I like the feeling a lot. I like the feeling
more than I like him.”
“But liking the feeling is enough, I think.
Enough to make me—me, Ella—want to go back and see him again. And
I might go further than taking my blouse and bra off next time, too.
I might. Because I want to be grown-up, and do what grownups do.”
She drank the last bit of the milkshake, and then,
almost reluctantly, she said, “I learned something about myself, too.
I think it was something I already knew, but I wasn’t fully aware of it,
if that makes sense. I’ll tell it to you. It might come in
handy to you someday. You can use it to get girls. Some girls,
“What is it?”
“Girls like to hear guys say, ‘I love you’—”
“I think I knew that.”
“We like to hear, ‘I love you,’ but it doesn’t take
long before we begin to understand that the words usually mean something
“But there is something that a girl—some girls—this
girl—might rather hear, or would find more beguiling—”
Yeah. Beguiling. I would have said seductive,
but seductive sounds as if sex is the only motive, and it might not be.
Love could be. Even companionship.”
“Sorry. I’m kind of wandering among my thoughts.
What I want to say is, I discovered that I could become a hopelessly giddy
gasbag for a man who said, ‘I want to take you away from all this.’
Do you know what I mean at all? I mean somebody who could—who could
and would—take me away from my house and my family and the dark hallway
that runs down the middle of that house, with the torn carpet the color
of peas, and the smell in the morning when my little brother wets his bed,
and the heavy way my mother falls against the other side of the wall beside
my bed on nights when my father decides that a good smack will help her
sleep, and the way she wheezes in the mornings when she lights her cigarette,
and the way she asks me if I want one, with a smile that’s an invitation
to join her in regretting everything I just listed for you. I’m not
saying that Ella felt the same things I do—I just mean that she might have
felt the way I do—but for a different set of reasons. I could
be very attracted to a man who would take me away from all that, or who
seemed as if he would, even if he just seemed as if he might possibly
take me away from all that, and I could imagine that Dudley might.”
I am embarrassed to record my response to what she
said, and I confess that I thought of including here something different
from what I said, but I found my attempts at improvement more embarrassing
than the original. At least the original was honest in a way, the
way that our thoughtless responses to people are, and mine was as thoughtless—may
I say guileless—as a reflex.
Here it is.
“My dear,” I said, in Dudley’s manner, reaching
across the table to take her hands in mine, “won’t you let me take you—”
“Don’t make a joke out of it,” she said,
pulling away, getting up, scraping her chair on the floor as she did.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and I was.
“I’m going home,” she said. She walked to
the door. At the door, she turned, and, indicating with a sweep of
her arm the malt shop and everything that had transpired there, said, “Peter,
why don’t you let me take you away from all this?” and I did let her take
me away from it, and along the way to her house I tried to convince her
that I was better than I seemed, and I explained to her that making a joke
was my way of clearing the air, blowing the smell of her brother’s piss
away, and she laughed at that, and when I said goodbye at her house she
turned her face up to be kissed, and I kissed her, and for a moment she
took me very far away, but then the kiss ended, and we were still standing
on the unpaved road in front of her house, and it was time for me to go.