Tracy looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. She was disgusted. She was a big girl. It had always been that way, ever since she could remember.
The doorbell rang.
Tony Possino was 17, only a year older than Tracy, but seemed much older. They had met at the Pekin mall outside the record store. Tony had just purchased an album and Tracy was sitting by herself on an island with palm trees, listening to the fountain and waiting for her mother to come back from the bathroom. Tony smiled at her. She liked his smile, mainly because it was directed at her. He was a big, Italian looking kid, with a slight mustache. He had big hands and a big nose. He wasn’t good looking but he had a charming appeal. He walked over to her and began talking, which seemed unbelievable to Tracy. He asked her out and before she could think, she said yes.
Two months later he stood ringing her doorbell in the middle of the afternoon.
“Hi,” Tracy said, opening the door and squinting into the autumn sun. Tracy lived in a rural area outside of Glasford, Illinois. From her yard, you couldn’t see another house.
“Hi,” Tony said, stepping in. “Anybody else here?”
“No, my mom’s at work and Mark is at school,” she said. Mark was her brother, two years older than her, a senior at Glasford High, home of the Tigers.
“Did Mark like that album I lent him?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said, “he loved it. He really loved it. He said he’d like to see what else you have.”
“I could tell him about some bands.”
“Just tell me,” she said, “and I’ll tell him. It’s nice having something to talk to him about. We never had much in common.”
“Is he still dating that girl from Peoria?”
“Holly. Oh yeah, they’re together all the time. He’s been skipping school and getting mom really upset.”
“We’re skipping school right now,” he said, smiling and pulling her down onto the couch, where he had settled himself.
“I know,” Tracy said. “And if mom finds out she’ll kill me.”
“Nobody’s going to find out,” Tony said, “and if they do I’ll just have my uncle snuff ‘em out.”
“Oh, right,” Tracy said, sarcastically. “I forgot, you have an uncle who’s in the Mafia.”
“You still don’t believe me?” Tony said.
“Well, come on,” Tracy said, “whoever heard of a Mafia in Pekin?”
“They’re very low key,” he said, looking out the sliding glass doors of the living room. There was a big yard with a clothesline at the back. It sagged with laundry. There wasn’t much of a breeze. Every once in a while a shirt sleeve would move a little, like a slow wave by a ghost. Beyond the clothesline were the woods. All the trees were shedding their leaves. It was late September, getting chilly. The trees looked very hungry and naked and huddled together. And at the same time they seemed proud, and stark, and brave, bracing themselves for the winter.
“Hey,” Tracy said, stroking his leg, “If you say your uncle’s in the Mafia, then I believe you.”
“You do?” he said.
“I knew you were different from the minute I met you,” he said.
“What do you mean, different?” she said, defensively.
“I mean different in a good way,” he said, coming closer. “Different in a sexy way.”
He leaned forward and began kissing her. She let him, and kissed back, tentatively. Tony began putting his hands all over Tracy’s body. He began grabbed handfuls of fat through her sweater, kneaded it and squeezed it. Then he got under the sweater. He leaned into her and began kissing with more ferocity.
Tracy made a noise of protest. Her hands were down at her sides and she was very stiff and unyielding.
“Stop,” she said, trying to push him away.
“Why,” he muffled, kissing her fat neck.
“Because,” she said, “I can’t, I’ve never…”
“Come on Tracy,” he urged. “We’ve been dating for two months now, I think I’ve waited long enough.”
“Tony, I can’t, I can’t,” she said.
“It’s ok,” he said. He reached into her sweater and ripped her bra. You could hear it snap.
“No,” she said again, starting to cry.
He grinned at her and put his hands to her throat.
“Don’t fight me,” he said. “Be a good girl.” He tightened his grip and she closed her eyes and gasped. He turned her over and pulled her pants down. He pushed her face into the cushions of the couch. Tracy heard the sound of his zipper. His full weight was on her, and he was a big kid, very much bigger than her.
“It’s ok,” he whispered in her ear, pushing her head violently into the couch and pinning her hands behind her back with one hand. She screamed as loud as she could but there was no one around for miles.
A rock song was coming from the tape in the boom box, which was thrown on the back seat of Mark’s Dodge Airies K-car. Mark was driving and singing the words to the song. The sun was shining, a beautiful autumn day. His girlfriend Holly sat in the passenger seat smoking a cigarette and laughing at him. When the song was over she reached back and turned the volume down.
“Where’d you get that tape?” Holly asked. “It’s great.”
“My sister’s boyfriend,” Mark said.
“Tracy has a boyfriend?” she said.
“Can you believe it?” he said.
“What’s he like?” she asked. “Some kind of psycho or something?”
“Oh, no,” he said, “he’s a nice guy. The only weird thing is he claims his uncle is in the Mafia.”
“The Pekin Mafia,” he said, laughing.
“Don’t laugh,” she said. “My grandpa used to talk about a Pekin Mafia.”
“Well,” Mark said, “he’s got this Italian name so maybe it’s true. Who the hell cares? I figure the Mafia won’t bother me if I don’t bother it.”
Holly leaned over closer and with a devilish grin put her mouth to his ear. “Speaking of being bothered…” she whispered.
The little K-car groaned with fury down the country road.
Holly had, only seventeen months earlier, indoctrinated Mark into the world ofsex. Now they were in love, or at least they thought they were in love. They said the words. Holly loved to say them. I love you, I love you… It took a while for Mark to say it the first time but after that it was easy.
Holly was always very loud and vocal during sex, especially when they skipped school and went to Mark’s house, because he lived so far out in the country and there was no one around to hear anything, but this afternoon she was particularly demonstrative and encouraging. At one point she was literally screaming. Finally, an hour and half later, they lay back onto Mark’s bed, exhausted.
“My god,” Holly said, wiping her eyes. “I’m crying.” She giggled a little.
Three feet away, on the other side of the wall, Tracy lay curled on her bed, her eyes shut tight and her hands pressed hard to her ears.
Clara came home from work at 6 o’clock. She walked in with a grocery sack and put it on the counter. She noticed the refrigerator door was cracked open and she frowned. She closed it and looked around. The place seemed very quiet.“Tracy?” She called. “Mark?” She walked across to the stairs and looked down and then began to walk down. She walked over to Tracy’s door and listened. She thought she heard something move. She knocked.“Tracy?” she said.“You in there?”
“Go away,” Tracy said.
“What? Why?” Clara said, getting alarmed. “What’s wrong?” She tried the door and opened it. Tracy was sitting on her bed. Her eyes were red. She was looking off into space. She was in her bathrobe. “Are you sick, honey?” Clara said, rushing over and sitting down next to her. She reached up to feel Tracy’s forehead for fever. Tracy slapped it away. “What happened?” Clara said, “Come on, you can tell me.”
“It’s nothing,” Tracy said, “It’s just…”
“What, honey?” Clara put her arm slowly around Tracy and pulled her to her. “Something happen at school?”
“I didn’t go to school.”
“Are you sick?”
“Yes,” Tracy said, “I didn’t feel good so I stayed home. I’m sorry, I should have called you.”
“That’s ok,” Clara said, “Is there anything else? Something happen with Tony?”
Tracy shot her a look. “No,” she blurted, “No, that’s not it, it’s just, well, Mark skipped school again today.”
“That little shit,” Clara said, “I warned him, I’m going to send him to his god damned father’s if he doesn’t shape up.” She stopped and looked at Tracy. “How did you know he skipped? Did he come here?”
Tracy nodded and looked down at the bed.
“Did he come here with her?”
Tracy nodded again.
“What did they do?” Clara asked. “As if I have to ask.”
“Oh, mom,” she said, “Don’t be too hard on him, it was all her fault, she was just so loud, it was like he was hurting her, and she wanted him to hurt her.”
“Oh, honey,” Clara said, “And while you were sick and trying to sleep. That little slut, I’m going to call her mother this time. I’m really going to. This can’t go on like this.”
“Just drop it, mom, it’s ok, really.” She tried to smile and Clara smiled back.
“Oh, poor thing,” Clara said, pulling Tracy’s head to her shoulder. They sat there for a minute.
“Is that the way it is, mom?” Tracy asked her.
“What do you mean?”
“Is that what love is?”
“Some people think so,” she said.
“God no,” Clara said.
“I thought it was supposed to be nice,” Tracy said.
Tracy was trembling and it was suddenly clear to Clara how frayed her nerves really were. The two looked at each other in shock. Clara pulled her closer and hugged her again. “Oh, honey,” Clara said. “Me too.”
Clara pounded on Mark’s bedroom door, which was locked. Mark opened the door. Deep, heavy, dark music played in the background. One dim light shone from the desk in the corner. There was cigarette smoke in the air.
“Turn that fucking music off,” Clara said, walking in and flipping on a light switch. “I thought I told you not to smoke in here.” She stood for a second looking at him while he blinked his eyes to adjust them to the sudden overhead light. “How dare you bring that little whore of yours to my house, how dare you ” Clara said.
“What? How did you…”
“Tracy was home today,” Clara said, pointing to the wall that separates the bedrooms. “She was right in there the whole time you were doing your little dirty deeds.” She talked like there was some horrible taste in her mouth.
Mark sat down on the bed. “Oh,” he said. “Sorry.”
“Sorry?” his mother said, “I lived with a man just like you for twenty years and I’m not going to do it again. I’m through, I tell you, I’m through with it ”
“Everything is always dad’s fault, isn’t it mom?”
“You just keep that little slut out of my house ”
“She’s not a slut,” he said, standing up again. “And there’s nothing wrong with sex, it’s perfectly natural.”
“If you keep skipping school you’re not going to graduate and then you’re not going to go to college and then what?”
“I’ll graduate,” he said.
“And don’t get her pregnant, by god don’t get her pregnant, whatever you do.”
“We love each other,” he said.
“You don’t love her,” she said. “You only think you do.”
“What’s the fucking difference?” he said, lighting a cigarette.
“What’s the difference?” Clara said. “There’s a difference.”
“We love each other. Not everybody is as hateful as you are, mom,” he said, with a finality that sapped the strength, temporarily, out of Clara.
She waved angrily at the smoke in the air. “You don’t know anything about life, yet, mister,” she said, slightly out of breath. “It doesn’t get any easier, from here on out it gets a lot harder.”
They looked at each other.
“I’m going to have to call your father,” she said. “I can see I’m not getting through to you.”
“What’s to get through?” he said. “You’ve made your point, just leave me alone.”
“Fine, if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. You turn eighteen next month, and on that day I want you out of here, out of my house. I’m calling your father right now.”
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll fucking leave right now.” He darted to the phone and picked it up and dialed a number.
“What are you doing?” Clara said, softening and becoming alarmed.
Someone answered on the other end of the phone. “Troy?” Mark said. “You still need a roommate? Good. I’ll be there in an hour.” He hung up.
Clara’s mouth hung open. “Well,” she said, “You don’t have to go off in the middle of the night…”
“No, that’s it,” he said, going to the closet for a bag. “I’m leaving.”
“I’ll call your father, he’ll have the cops on you so fast it’ll make your…”
“I’m turning eighteen in a month, you just said it yourself.”
Clara looked at him and she wanted to cry. “Can you leave me alone please? I have to call Holly and tell her,” he said.
Clara backed out of the room and saw the door shut in her face. Then she walked slowly up the stairs.
A few minutes later Tracy walked from her bedroom to Mark’s bedroom door and stood ready to knock. Her raised hand was shaking. In her other hand she held a music tape that Tony had made for Mark. She had promised to give it to him. She stood at the door listening to Mark’s voice talking into the telephone.
“She’s so incredibly naïve,” Mark said. “She’s terrified of the world and she’s probably going to be that way forever. That fat little bitch, I wish I could just get it through her fat head that it’s ok to live a little bit and break a fucking rule once in awhile.”
Tracy lowered her hand and turned away.
“I know, I know,” Mark said into the phone, throwing some clothes into a bag. “Nobody understands us.”