Two Men in a Pickup
Note that these stories, including this one, are not an endorsement of unsafe sex. They take place many years before the appearance of AIDS and before it was standard practice to use condoms to reduce the risk of infection from sexually transmitted diseases. Remember always: that was then, this is now. Sex is precious, and so are life and health.
Chapter 25, Epilogue 4, Part 2
OK, what I was working on that morning when I discovered the hunters in the cornfield was a poem that started coming to me as I lay in bed, half-awake. I'm not a poem-writing guy, and it surprised me, but it must have been something I dreamed about during the night that got me going.
With my dick rock hard in my pajamas, I was just lying there staring at the ceiling, lifting my arms over my head, like I do, life returning to the rest of my body, a feeling like electricity singing along my skin as I stretched out under the covers.
Whatever it wasjust horny maybeI found myself already well into a poetic frame of mind, and the first words started coming to me.
How come there aren't any love songs for you and me?
I shook my head a little. This was a new development. The novel I've been working on has been coming along, slowly but surely. It's the first one I've ever written, so I don't know if that's good or bad.
Poems, I'm thinking, do I write poems? Or is this some way to keep from working on my novel? I'm guessing that writers have conversations like this with themselves, and so I take this little dilemma as a good sign.
Maybe I should write this stuff down, I say to myself, and I get out of bed.
A while later, I've been sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and writing with a ballpoint on a pad of yellow paper. And this is what I've got so far:
If there were a love song for you and me,
I'm not so sure about that "butt" line, but I couldn't think of how else to say it. I kept picturing Mike's backside in a pair of his wranglers and how nearly impossible it is for me not to touch himfirst patting one of his back pockets and then slipping my fingers into the seam between them.
"I'm warning you," he'll finally say, "Keep that up and I won't be able to control myself."
And more than once we have ended up where we werethe kitchen floor, the barn, out in a field on a summer afternoon behind a thicket of wild plumspants around our ankles, breathing hard, and spent.
How do you put all that in a line of a poem? I am gaining new respect for every poet I ever read in English class.
And I get to thinking about Walt Whitman, that great bearded American poet who loved men and surely struggled with words the same way. No wonder his poems are so long.
Read him between the linessometimes you don't have to read too farand you sense the sweaty lovemaking that went on, either for real or in his imagination. And I wish he'd been able to just say all that plainly, so I'd begin to see how to do this. Instead, it's like getting the words herded up and domesticated like wild ponies who just want to break free and run for the hills.
Well, there I go again. I've been thinking Hemingway all along as I write my novel, and there's this streak of Whitman in me wanting to get outgiving me a hard-on before I wake up and filling my head with metaphors like flowery wallpaper before Hemingway even has a chance.
You gotta be bored by now with this literary shop talk, and if you're still reading this, I give you A+ for effort and a pat on the butt for perseverance and patience.
Like I say, I keep writing until my dick relaxes and there's a big wet spot growing along the leg of my pajama bottoms, and I put down the pen to get dressed, fry up a couple eggs, butter some toast, and pour more coffee. A poet's got to eat, too.
Not long afterward, my writer's morning is interrupted by three pheasant hunters who've crawled through Mike's fence, ignoring the no-hunting signs, and you know the rest of that story.
Back in the kitchen now, I find my poem-in-progress on the kitchen table and go to work on it again.
I haven't mentioned some other things I like,
Rusty has started barking outside and won't stop. I'm trying to pay no attention. And finally there's a loud knocking on the door that brings my train of thought to an end. And those wild ponies go off in all directions.
When I go to the door, it turns out to be Ernie, our mailman. Rusty, who has never liked him, keeps on barking and Ernie has to shout to be heard.
"Morning," he says. "Got your mail here for ya." And he hands me a fistful of it.
Normal delivery is in the mailbox out by the road. I'm thinking he must have a package for one of us that won't fit into it, but I don't see anything else in his hands.
"Thought you might like to ride along on my route today," he says.
We've had a conversation like this before. Because rural mailmen, I guess, get to know all the people they deliver mail to, he's one of the first to know I've moved in with Mike. And with the stories I've sent out to magazines and got returned in SASE's (self addressed, stamped envelopes), he knows I'm here all day most days at my typewriter.
It's not from kindness or concern that he's asked whether I'd come along with him on his route. He doesn't seem to have that in him. I think he just likes company and is the kind of guy who should have some other type of job, where he can be with people he can talk to all day. And he's a talker.
If you're trying to picture this guy, I can say what Mike and I have always said about him. He reminds us of Steve Reeves, the muscleman. But he's got the personality of L'il Abner in the comic strips. And that same shock of hair, the dopey grin, and the beefy shoulders with the little butt.
"I got something I need to talk to you about," Ernie says, and when I look at him, I can see he's got kind of a worried frown.
I'm torn because I want to keep writing, but he looks so pathetic, I know Mike would find it in his heart to spare him some time.
"How long we gonna be?" I ask him.
"Can we stop in town to pick up some things?" We need some groceries, and I know Mike has been waiting for a fuel pump at the parts store.
"Yes, sure," he says, brightening. I can see now that he expected me to turn him down.
But I figure what the hell. There's always the possibility of an idea for a good story. My writing teacher at school would approve of that attitude. So I take the mail from him and say, "Gimme a minute."
"Can you call off your dog?" he says before I go.
"OK." And I tell Rusty to go sit in his dog house. Which he does, after giving me a look of disbelief.
Inside, I stack the mail neatly on the kitchen table the way Mike would do it himself, I grab my coat, and bring along the yellow pad, to write down any more lines as they come to me.
"Whatcha got there?" Ernie says right away, curious.
"Something to write on," I tell him.
"That's right. You're a writer," he says, like I'm already a famous author. And he struts along ahead of me to the mail truck. He's wearing his blue postal carrier pants, and he's squeezed into a postal carrier jacket, with shoulders so wide they must have to special order it.
He's driving his new Jeep mail carrier truck, with the left-hand drive. There's only one front seat, so I climb into the back and sit on a tool box with a bunch of parcel post packages around my feet.
I'm wondering what he wants to talk to me about, and it takes him a while of beating around the bush before he gets to it. Meanwhile, he's stopping every half-mile or so to pick up letters left in people's mailboxes and leave a batch of mail, flipping down any flags when he's done and snapping shut each door with a sharp flip of his fist.
He may look slow, but he's got this down to an art.
"How's the family," I ask him. I know he's got a bunch of little kids. His wife Emily just had their fourth or fifth. He's still young, hardly thirty, and I'm thinking it must feel like a lot of responsibility for someone his age. Maybe that's what the frown is about.
"Kids are fine," he says. "The new one's gonna be a corker. I can tell that already." He grins at me for a moment over his shoulder.
"Emily doing OK?" She's the one has to spend all day with them, and I'm wondering how on earth a person does that.
He doesn't answer my question, like he's thinking of a way to say something.
"I dunno," he finally says, shaking his head. Now the cat's out of the bag. This is what he wants to talk about.
Afterwards, I couldn't tell you why for sure he picks me to tell all this to. Maybe it's because being a writer I'm supposed to know about these things. Maybe it's because I don't know anybody he knows and he can tell me things that won't get back to them. Maybe it's because I've been to college, and that makes me some kind of expert. Maybe there's no reason.
What's happened is that Emily, who encountered motherhood before she even got out of high school, has had enough of Ernie. Raising kids, she's taken that on as a full-time job, but enough is enough. There will be no more.
Trouble is, she's Catholic and doesn't believe in birth control. No pill, no rubbers. This last one, Ernie's still not sure how it happened. He'd been pulling out before he, you know, shot his load.
A little sex education could have made a difference, but school boards in their wisdom seem to think kids are better off learning by trial and error. So Ernie chalks up another error.
Now, desperate, she's taking no chances. She won't have sex with him at all. And Ernie, in his turn, is desperate. He never expected to spend the rest of his days and nights like this.
"I wish I was in California," he says, wistfully. "They have free sex out there."
I'm trying to picture what he's thinking.
"You know, hippies and all," he explains, and then hits the steering wheel with the palm of his hand. "Aw, I'm just dreamin'."
The appeal of California, it turns out, is partly because his situation here is confounded by something else he'd like to get away from. One of his co-workers at the post office has been putting the moves on him. She's older by more than a few years and by the sounds of it pretty forward. She sneaks up behind him when he's sorting letters and pinches his butt, and she makes remarks, like asking him if he's big all over and how about showing her.
I'm wondering if he realizes that a glance at his crotch removes all doubt about the size of his dick. From the right angle, it looks like a banana in a hammock.
Lately, she's been putting the pressure on, her whispered comments having graduated into outright propositions.
"Even while Emily was expecting," he says, still shocked at the idea.
And what concerns him is that in his desperation he finds himself beginning to come around. He's been making sure that the two of them are never alone together, but he doesn't know how long he can hold out. It's starting to look like a losing battle.
"One of these times, I'm afraid I'm just gonna cave in," he says.
"There's a way to keep that from happening. Buy a Playboy and jerk off whenever you get the urge."
"Aw, I couldn't do that," he says. "For godsake, I'm a grown man with a wife and kids."
Once again I marvel at how married men manage. It all seems to get so complicated.
He has to make a stop at a farmhouse, where the widow who lives there runs some kind of business. Ernie says she buys and sells Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls"Big money in that, can you believe it?" he saysand he's got parcels to drop off.
I watch him take two packages, one under each arm, to the front door. A gray-haired, grandmotherly woman meets him with a big smile, and he goes inside. When he doesn't come back, I figure this is another female with an interest in him. She's probably got hot tea and fresh-baked cookies waiting. He wouldn't say no.
I take my yellow pad and write some more.
The milky smell of you there as I take you in my mouth.
Suddenly Ernie is opening the back door of the truck, setting down an armload of new packages. Granny is on her porch, waving warmly. Who knows, Ernie with his good looks, eager-to-please smile, and broad shoulders probably makes her day.
Soon we're back on the road again.
"What am I going to do, Danny," he's saying to me. "Help me out."
I think about the women who have found their way into and out of my life. Finding me hard to figure outgoing through the motions of romance but curiously lacking the desire to get them into bedthey eventually lost interest, one after another.
What must they have made of me when they got to comparing notes in the girl's dorm? Surely it must have occurred to at least one of them that it was all just an act. What fooled them for a while was that my act was better than a lot of other guys, who had the hormones right but the moves all wrong.
"You kinda got yourself boxed in," I say. Not a very helpful remark, but I'm trying. I decide to explore the hypothetical. "What happens if you have sex with this woman at the post office?"
"It'll be wham-bam and thank you, ma'am," he says, like the quicker it's over the better.
This gives me an idea. "And with Emily?"
"Aw, man, if she found out, she'd kill me dead."
"No, I mean what is it like with her when you two have sex?"
He spins around and glares at me like I've said something unpardonable.
"I'm just asking," I say, glad he still has both hands on the wheel and is not about to punch me. "Seems like you got to make yourself as irresistible to her as you are to this other woman."
He obviously doesn't know what I'm talking about.
"A little romance goes a long way," I say. And I imagine myself into his situationmaybe this is the writer in me he's come to for helpand I talk about flowers, an evening out away from the kids, maybe a nice little gift, her favorite perfume or some jewelry, and a whole lot of tenderness. "Show her you love her."
He ponders this and says nothing for a while. Finally, he says, "You really think that'll work?"
"It's gotta be worth a try."
"Maybe you're right," he says, and I wonder how much it's been like this for her, that big oaf climbing on and off like he jumps in and out of his mail truck. Make a quick delivery and then off and running again. I can see that getting pregnant wouldn't be much of a trade-off.
I look at the yellow pad in front of me. "Buy her a card today when you're in town and write a little poem in it."
"A poem?" he says, like I'd just asked him to swallow a dead mouse.
"A few nice words. They don't have to rhyme."
He shakes his head. This is obviously a tall order.
But by the time we get back to town, he's weighed all the pros and cons, and he stops at a drug store to look for a card. He's gone a long time, and while I sit in the truck, feeling my feet and ears go steadily numb with the cold, I work some more on my poem.
The smile in your eyes when you're happy,
You make loving you so easy.
The door rattles and Ernie is getting inside. He has a little, flat paper bag, and I'm guessing there's a card inside. But when he turns to me, I see he's still got some kind of problem.
"Danny, do me a favor, would you?" he says. He's been thinking about what I said. Maybe a Playboy would help get him through this. They sell them in the drug store, but the problem is he's too embarrassed to buy one. Would I go in and get one for him?
"Sure," I say, and he lets me out of the back of the truck. For a moment, I'm not sure what to do about the yellow pad. I don't want him looking at it for poem ideas. So I tear off the pages I've been working on and fold them into my back pocket. He's fishing some money out of his billfold to hand me and doesn't seem to notice.
Inside the drug store, I find the magazine racks, and I have to reach over a couple of junior high school boys reading "Tales From the Crypt" comic books to where the Playboys are on the top shelf. A long-haired brunette smiles back at me from the front cover, in a long-sleeved tee shirt. For a buck you get her in a fold-out, without the tee shirt, plus an article on "The Bizarre Story of an American Millionaire's Mexican Jailbreak."
In a short while, I'm thinking, these boys will graduate from what they're reading to thisnot a big jumpand what passes for literacy in this country will find its way from one generation to the next.
The cashier, a Sunday school teacher type, barely touches the magazine and asks me if I want it in a paper bag. She's looking at me like I'm some kind of pervertand I'm trying not to laugh because she's got me pegged for the wrong kindand I say, "Yes, I'll take the paper bag," figuring that Ernie would want it that way.
Back in the truck, I hand it to him, and we're on our way again.
As we're driving through town, he slips it out of the bag, opens it across his knee, and starts flipping through it. And before I know it, I can hear him making little high-pitched moaning sounds. He quickly closes the magazine, opens it to another page, and moans even louder. No mistake, this is a kind of torment for him.
Suddenly, he veers into a Mobil station, past a "clean restrooms" sign and around back, where he parks behind a big delivery van. He slips the magazine into the bag and jumps out, shoving it inside his coat.
"I'll be right back," he says. "This won't take long." And he hurries to the men's room.
I take out my yellow pad and ballpoint. I don't have a title yet for my poem and begin considering possibilities.
Suddenly, I realize he's back, sliding open the door and getting in. He just sits there for a while, kind of catching his breath. I'm thinking, "You're right, Ernie. That didn't take long at all. Maybe you oughtta do this more often."
He takes another look at the magazine, pulling it from the bag, and he lets out another moan. And then he's in motion, throwing open the door and getting out again. Without a word of explanation this time, he's headed straight back toward the men's room.
He's gone a little longermaybe three minutes. Returning to the truck this time, he's walking a little more slowly, a little dazed, like a man who's just seen a ghost or had some hair-raising, narrow escape.
"You all right?" I ask him, more than anything reminding him that I'm still there.
He nods and sets the Playboy on the letter tray beside him. The center-fold is still hanging from itI get a glimpse of a pair of bare legsand the paper bag has disappeared.
After a moment, he starts up the truck.
"You gonna be OK to drive?" I ask him. I'm beginning to have my doubts.
"Yeah," he wheezes. "I'm OK now."
Later, when he drops me off at the farm, he hasn't said more than a few words. But he manages to thank me as I get out of the truck. And he shakes my handprobably with the same hand that's getting reacquainted with his dick. Silently, I wish both of them a long and happy reunion.
"Some TLC on the homefront," I remind him, honestly hoping, for Emily's sake, that he takes my advice. "A little change, you know, can make a big difference."
He thanks me again.
Mike is home, returned from hunting, and I'm happy as anything to see him.
After I set down the groceries I got while I was in town and the fuel pump I picked up for him at the parts store, I decide to show him my little surprise.
"I wrote something for you," I say and hand him the folded-up pages with the poem.
As he reads it, concentrating on the words, I watch for his reaction, and gradually a big grin spreads across his face.
"Aw, Danny," he says when he gets to the end and looks up. I can see that his eyes have filled with feeling. "Aw, Danny," he says again and slips his hand behind my neck to pull me toward him.
I know that I'm going to get one of his bone-crushing hugs. And, by golly, I get one.
Continued . . .
© 2007 Rock Lane Cooper