“Don’t dawdle,” her mother had told Irene since childhood. It was far back in her life. Mom may have said it the day she was born. In their teenage years, Mom would come home from graduate school, usually say a quick hello to Irene, working on homework at the dinner table before moving on to the bedroom. She closed the door and stayed there early evening, even after Dad came home.
Dad had a study, off in the back, facing the garage. He went inside, usually only beyond saying, “Hi, pumpkin.” He rarely asked how his daughter’s day went—at least that was as far as she could remember, teenage memory being all that. Irene’s childhood years consisted of locked compartments.
Relationships with parents generally set the pattern for the future, or so several therapists and scuffed-up friends who meant well told her.
Meant well, for Irene, remained mixed. Being told what was wrong with her, even at its most gentle, made her mad.
Yet that would be years later. After Irene’s father closed the office door, she munched on some baby carrots while struggling with Algebra III.
Night fell. Irene turned the kitchen light. Dad left the office and went into the bedroom. He rarely says good night unless he is in a good mood. He hardly feels the latter.
Irene was used to his behavior. After finishing her Advanced English Composition homework, she covered the carrots in plastic wrap. After placing them in the fridge, she gathered her things from the desk and went to her room.
“How Soon Is Now” was playing. It was mid-October, cool enough for Irene to wear her navy sailor midi dress. The Smiths 12-inch single on the turntable and this song on the B-side is everything Irene had felt since rebellion was about dawdling. This was better than spinning about of control, which some of her friends seemed to do.
Irene was done with college. The following summer, she bussed tables at the downtown hotel and made enough money to leave the family home—closed doors and all.
The night after Irene finished her move into the house in Clarksville, she wrote in her diary that it was hard to miss people who were not there, to begin with. Yes, there were times she fondly remembered, but her parents were so distant. This was hard for Irene to explain why. She summed it up with her parents were who they were. The bills were paid, and she was well-fed.
She stopped writing to put the needle back to the song’s beginning. The cacophonic burst of the tremolo from the guitar filled her room. Her roommates, Belle and Sherry, were at a show at The Beach watching their respective boyfriends’ bands, so there was no banging on the stripped-to-bare wood walls in the frame house built into the side of the hill.
Irene wrote of where she wanted to be. The direction she should take. After college, her friends talked about living in the velvet rut. After a degree in hand, most of them step off the stage to wait tables, work in bookstores, and while away the nights at parties, see more music, dance at gay bars on ten-cent Corona nights, and do morning swims at the lake.
Tonight, Irene wrote about that. Having lives in stasis and calculated alienation. We do not suffer, she wrote, but we are not particularly happy, either.
A month later, President Reagan was reelected in a landslide. After stepping out of a bookstore across from the University campus, a stranger—a woman perhaps a year younger than herself—turned to her and shouted, “We’re all going to die in a nuclear war!”
That night, Irene wrote again in her journal and asked Sherry about the wait position opening for weekend mornings at the restaurant where that cute boy worked.
The cute boy, Eddie, was with Irene, sitting on the cinderblock wall on the side street behind the nightclub where Sherry’s boyfriend was opening for Camper Van Beethoven.
It was their first date.
It took several months of working shifts together, counting checks and money at the bar, and talking before one could ask the other out.
Eddie was kind, alternating distance with caring kindness akin to a cat. Irene could relate and felt comfortable.
Her parents remained distant; they seemed even more unapproachable now that she was out of college. They gave a whiff of preferring their daughter had returned home instead of living apart.
She wondered if she just wanted her to come into a box with them, and upon climbing in, hunkering down to her knees as her Dad closed and locked the cover, leaving them in silence and darkness.
Irene shuddered. She looked at Eddie and asked what he was doing after the shift.
They sat on the wall while the first band played. Irene was wearing a different Laura Ashley dress, white with blue flowers, and as she got comfortable, she wrapped her leg between Eddies.
Eddie put her arm around her shoulders. Irene grasped it. His fingers were long, not hard or soft, but warm, and she felt the energy within his fingers.
“It sure is hot,” Eddie said. “We didn’t need our jackets tonight.”
He talked about what made him happy, and Irene moved closer.
While Irene and Eddie spoke about what made each other mad, Irene suddenly kissed his neck with closed lips.
It felt warm and inviting. Trusting.
Irene linked her fingers with his.
He stared at her. “You have something to say.”
Irene said, “People in my life close their doors, but I’m ready to open mine—just a little.”
Eddie nodded, “I hear that. Where to?”
About the author
Mike Lee's work appears in or is forthcoming in CafeLit, Drunk Monkeys, and others. In addition, his story collection, The Northern Line, is available on online bookselling outlets
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