Lunacy by Jackie Davis Martin

 

The girl — Selena — walked down the hill in the cold, under a moon bright and full in the dark winter sky. It was a long time ago, maybe the fifties. She carried a small case, like a train case, filled with dancing shoes — tap shoes and ballet shoes and even toe shoes, although those caused her a great deal of pain since she was chunky. Chubby. She was twelve years old and knew this well, knew the fullness of her body, now wrapped in a wool stadium jacket, her head wrapped in a long plaid shawl, long enough so that the ends trailed down the back of the jacket. It was the style.

It was cold, though, as she walked down the hill, and she wrapped the shawl around a second time, keeping her neck warm. Her legs were bare, thrust out from the skirt. She wore ankle socks and loafers with pennies in them for luck. Her glasses felt like ice cubes on her cheeks, cheeks that betrayed her, when she looked in the mirror, with their eruptions. Her mother was going to take her to another doctor to see what could be done.

The loafers made a click-click sound on the barren sidewalk, the bare branches of trees overhead broke the moon into puzzle pieces which rearranged themselves at the end of the block. Her breath puffed in front of her and, under a streetlight, she deliberately made O's of it, pretending to smoke. Her father — all the men in her family — smoked. None of the women did.

Soon she would be out of this street — a street that pitched her forward in places at such a degree that she often had to take mincing steps, her weight on her heels mostly — and into the level area leading downtown.

Her dancing teacher, Didi, had asked her, privately, if she had fallen off the roof. The question came after Selena had started to execute a ballet combination but completed the sequence sluggishly, with an awkward little jump. Selena had clutched her stomach, which hurt a bit, and stepped back to the barre to watch the others. She always was called on first because she remembered everything, the others watching. The eight girls — eight, when they all showed up, like tonight — had been in the same class since they were six years old. They knew each other. Selena had frowned at the question, picturing the roofs outside on the big Victorians. "Your monthly," Didi whispered. "Do you have your visitor?"

Selena reddened and admitted, yes. She wondered if Didi — and the others — had noticed the extra bulk in her leotard. She was twelve and was embarrassed. But she liked being at the school two evenings a week, liked the independence, even, of taking the streetcar then the bus back home, a route she was on now in the dark cold, under the clear moon.

The dancing school street led down to the main street of the small town, a part where there were a line of drab row homes, two boarded-up stores, and a vacant lot of frozen grass that looked like a tundra. She had just learned that word in social studies and liked it. The world looked like a tundra. These blocks would open into more lively ones, a shoe store, a cigar store, the bar where her dad worked for her uncle. Her hands were frozen in the mittens, her pores contracted with the cold. Maybe the cold, the moon, would clear her skin.

A car was moving slowly along the street and it took a few minutes before Selena realized the car was following her. It was a big car; even in the moonlight she could see that it was rusty in spots, and two men were in the front seat. One was driving and the other, she saw frantically, was rolling down his window. "Hey!" he called, smiling. "Want a ride, sweetheart?"

Selena looked around her briefly. She was alone — they meant her. The car rode along at the pace she was walking, next to her. She was bundled up, lumpy and unattractive; they were after her.

She shook her head and walked faster, head down. The car moved with her, silent under the moon. She would be in the livelier area soon — she had to keep walking. "Hey!" the voice cried again. "Sweetheart! Why don't you come over here, huh?"

The car inched over to the curb, to the edge of the sidewalk. The door opened, Selena could see the door opening, a man placing his foot on the street, holding the door. She ran. Her shawl fell from her head and her case bumped against her bare frozen legs and she ran, the loafers hard and heavy against the sidewalk, ran three frantic blocks until she pushed open the doors of Lou's Lounge and hurled herself into it. The room was heavy with beer and smoke but her dad, in his bow tie, was behind the bar. "Daddy!" she cried out. They all turned.

He drove her home — leaving the other bartender to fend for himself for an hour. His terror seemed greater than her own. "There are lunatics out there!" he muttered. "Why does your mother let you — oh, Christ, I let you, too! You seem so capable. But it's lunacy. We'll have to make other arrangements."

The car was warm and comforting, like her Dad, and she listened to him and to the soft whir of the heater, her heart still beating thickly from the encounter, the run. What she was thinking was that a man had called her Sweetheart.

Jackie Davis Martin divides her life (so far) into thirds: childhood in Pennsylvania, parenthood in New Jersey, maturation, of sorts, in California. Her vocation of teaching literature has consistently blurred into the avocation of reading and writing. Jackie presently teaches at City College of San Francisco, a city where she and her husband pursue — almost relentlessly — the plethora of arts and scenery that the Bay Area affords. She has had stories and essays in Trillium and Midway Literary Journals, The Teacher's Voice and Can I Sit With You, and, upcoming, in Sangam.