by Iris N. Schwartz
Brooklyn, New York 11236; 1973
I was wearing my bell-bottomed, ass-hugging, rust-colored corduroys when we met. Ribbed turtleneck. He had on a black leather jacket, blue jeans, shirt buttoned low so I could see golden chest hair─and a very large crucifix.
We were in a bowling alley. I was there with friends. I don’t know who he was with. Probably no one. Who’d want to compete for oxygen with him? Anyway, I wouldn’t have noticed another male.
I was 15, had a 17-year-old Jewish boyfriend on his way to chiropracty school. We had parked a lot, but hadn’t gone all the way. Nor was I planning to.
This bowling-alley boy made my whole body hum. I stood there, brazenly eyeing this dark blond, beatific creature; I didn’t hear my friends’ voices, didn’t smell greasy fries, didn’t notice tufts of cigarette smoke. One hundred butterflies opened and closed their wings atop my skin.
How had I existed before this? And could I now doubt the existence of God?
The miracle spoke. “Yes,” he laughed, “it’s true.”
I remained still, hoping he would not comment on the monarchs.
“I saw you staring at my crucifix.”
I mumbled something less than erudite, after which he introduced himself as Joey Ortolano.
My mother was going to kill me.
He extended his hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Samantha Gold.”
When had I told him my name? The milkweed butterflies continued to beat their wings.
* * *
Two days later I was on the phone with him. Away from my mother. In the basement. Oh, I had it bad for Joey; the only time I dared enter that Hades of water bugs, plumbing back-ups, and mounted deer heads was when I was ordered─by my mother─to hang damp clothes in the back yard. Or to clear out buckets of waste water when the pipes periodically burst.
Now I was in the basement of my own volition, talking to someone I had no business talking to, aware of the nearness of monarchs when I felt the basso of Joey Ortolano caressing me through the telephone.
Could he hear the flapping of butterflies?
“A 17-year-old is too young for you, Samantha. What can he do for you? You need a man.”
Joey was 19, a graduate of Kingsborough Community College. The only blond man I had ever seen in person.
I agreed to meet him at the public library three days later. I knew the location of my library card would be immaterial.
Andrew, future chiropractor, called me the day before Joey and I were to meet. Andrew must have sensed my distraction. He asked me, twice, if anything was wrong. I said I was worried about an upcoming Social Studies test.
That was stupid of me. I always received 95 per cent or higher on every exam I took in that subject.
* * *
I was up half the night imagining outfits for what I couldn’t rightfully call a date. The next day I settled on a forest green, V-necked sweater. (Andrew said it brought out my eyes.) Stuffed my curvy self into the rust cords.
What would an Ortolano discuss with a Gold? I’d never spoken to, let alone made surreptitious plans with, any man outside my ‘tribe’. We could discuss Italian Renaissance artists, or, more prosaically, Neapolitan versus Sicilian pizza. I could ask what it was like to attend community college. Was he planning to transfer to a four-year school?
I arrived five minutes past our appointed time. Spotted Joey Ortolano in front of the Travel section. Again I became transfixed by his chest hair and cross. To this day I don’t recall one word of our conversation.
I found myself in Joey’s place─actually, the ground floor apartment rented out by Joseph Ortolano, Sr. and wife. A space so clean and plastic-encased that no water bug would have the cojones to invade. (Maybe my mother should call his to discuss exterminating and housekeeping options. Maybe not.)
I forgot my mother. Forgot Andy. Forgot the cautions of my friends.
Joey did things to the insides of my elbows, my outer and inner ears, my neck, my eyelids that brought the monarchs back full force. Easily two hundred black-and-orange flying insects!
I felt the blond man’s hands on my V-neck, my rust cords. Heard my heart. Then knocking. Louder. Not my heart. Ringing. Definitely not my heart.
Mrs. Something-or-Other, his mother’s friend, was looking for Joey’s mother. Apparently, Mrs. Ortolano was not upstairs. Did Joey know where she was?
In the interim, I’d rushed to the bathroom. Threw water on my cheeks. Straightened my sweater. Realigned my rust cords. Flitting butterflies? Gone.
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Iris N. Schwartz
Iris N. Schwartz is a fiction writer, as well as a Pushcart-Prize-nominated poet. Most recently, her work has appeared in Grabbing the Apple: An Anthology of Poems by New York Women Writers; and in such journals as The Gambler, Gravel, Jellyfish Review, MUSH/MUM Journal, and Siren.