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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Dennis Must

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Westley McCool's young life centered about the Rose Avenue block on which sat a United Presbyterian Church, a parish house, one ballfield, two dozen nondescript bungalows, and a mortuary. Church, of course, occupied most of Sunday with Bible class, the parson's lugubrious sermon, then evening worship. Saturday and after school until dusk were spent playing ball, except in winter when firemen flooded the park for ice hockey.
     Seemed as if most every week there was a church supper in the neighborhood. Long collapsible dining tables were set up in the church basement where the fathers fried kielbasa and eggs--occasionally pancakes on Saturday--and the mothers scrubbed pots and pans.
     Upstairs in the vaulted sanctuary, a procession of celebrations paraded through each year: weddings, baptisms, confirmations, calendar events like Easter, Christmas, and even secular holidays. The Fourth of July, Pastor Yates gave a flag-on-a-stick to each congregant as heavy-busted deaconesses in red, white, and blue mufti sashayed with tambourines in the nave to an abridged Tchaikovsky's Fifth performed with all its bells and whistles by the organist.
     The church was as busy as the ballfield.
     Then there was the mortuary on the periphery, virtually an afterthought to the Rose Avenue nexus. Westley's friend, Harry Edwards' father, owned the place. (Harry always had the finest outfielder's or catcher's mitt, the fullest array of football gear--shoulder pads, shin and hip guards, Wilson helmets.) The funeral home--Harry lived upstairs--appeared to be joined at the hip to the church, however. The deceased were gurneyed out of the Edwards Home and across the alleyway into the sanctuary for a pastoral "goodbye" prior to their long trek to Castlewood cemetery. Also, mortician Edwards, a deacon of the church, collected Sunday offerings and officiated at lesser occasions--like the Fourth of July service, for instance, while Pastor Yates hovered in the chancel playing Uncle Sam's doppleganger.
     Westley and his friends dismissed the symbiosis as another mystery of adulthood they couldn't fully comprehend. Until one summer day an errant softball rolled down the alleyway and into the mortuary's preparation room. The door happened to be ajar. Mrs. Ellwood, the organist, overcome by the sweltering July heat, had passed away in the choir loft several days earlier, and Jack Kelly, who was playing right field, returned with a damp softball and a mordant tale: Grace Ellwood lay on a soapstone slab without a stitch of clothes on, and Harry's father, wearing yellow rubber gloves, was hosing her down just like he did his Buick hearse. The dead always look so seraphic in the coffin thought Westley. Now how was he going to erase this picture of sweet Grace out of his head?
     Girls didn't take part in the ballfield's activities. The Bible and public school teachers forced the two sexes to participant in pageants, spelling bees, and chalkboard eraser cleaning, but as far as Westley and his friends were concerned, the young ladies stuck out there on the border of their nexus like the mortuary--until Red Rollins happened by. The Rose Avenue gang loitered at the far end of the ballfield a September Saturday, awaiting a gathering large enough to pick up sides. They all looked up to Red because he was twenty and played shortstop for the Jackson Flats All-Stars. Smoking Lucky Strikes and razing the young ones about how none of them could catch a fly ball with a collection basket, Red stood about the open fire Edwards and Kelly had made to take the chill off the morning. When suddenly he pulled out his pecker and began pissing into the embers.
     "See how red that son of a bitch is, guys?"
     All the boys stared at Red's ardent cock. Westley saw it as luminescent red, like it might have been scalded.
     "That's what happens when you fuck Slug."
     Slug, who was a couple years older than Westley and his friends, lived on Gaston Road at the squalid edge of the neighborhood.
     She spent last night at my house. My mom went away for the weekend. All of Jackson Flats team showed up. I never met a hotter cunt in my whole life. Too bad she'll either be married or an old whore by the time your puny peckers are ready."
     Red folded his back into his trousers.
     After he departed, nobody seemed to be interested in picking up sides. Moribund, the boys all agreed to meet later on in the day. Westley tramped down the street to Hanlyn's Market where his mother worked Saturdays driving a Chevy delivery van. The sight of Red's angry member continued to haunt him, but he couldn't quite understand why . . . excepting a smoldering sensation had erupted in the pit of his stomach. He didn't want to play ball either.
Ruth McCool had already gone out on her grocery route. Next door at the shoemaker's, Westley talked with his old friend Sal, when who should walk in but Slug. After a long night of servicing the Jackson Flats ball team, she looked quite normal. Like she'd just washed the dishes and tidied up her mother's house. What was the womanly equivalent to an inflamed pecker, he wondered?
     "Westley McCool. How are you this morning?" Slug chirped.
     Westley nodded, wondering how she knew his name and embarrassed for what he was thinking--her lying in Red's mother's living room, naked, "giving it" to the third baseman and catcher. He couldn't quite picture it, but it agitated the molten sensation.
     Red said she was "hot." And the rubescent penis appeared to be a truth indicator. Slug explained to Sal how she wanted new heels and cleats on her pumps. Westley couldn't help but think she was a grass fire in August standing there at the linoleum counter. Even Sal was getting hot. He flirted with Slug, just as Westley guessed all men did. Naked in the middle of the burning meadow, the heat radiating out of her seductive smile and all the neighborhood men standing at its periphery, entranced. Excepting the womenfolk weren't empathetic.
     But when Red told the story of Slug Alexander, it cracked the fragile spine of the orderly Rose Avenue calendar of events, the continuous fun at the ballpark. It shifted the church, mortuary, and ballpark's center of gravity. Episodes of greater interest now took place outside the nexus. Church suppers and the Christian cum patriotic services--Harry Edwards, the mortician's son, kept attending. Westley begged off.
     Then one Friday night walking home from a movie, he took the back alley alongside the church and the ballfield when he encountered a cluster of his friends braced against Pastor Yate's double garage doors ya hooing.
     "Goddamn it, she sure is hot!"
     Slug's husky voice erupted."Easy, Red. Take it easy!"
     "See how long you can keep it in, Rollins," Jack Kelly yelled.
     "The bitch is too hot," Red cried. "I can't!"
     "It could have been Pastor Yate's DeSota they were discussing if it were daylight, for the Reverend was always tinkering with its engine, the neighborhood youths bent over the fenders handing him tools.
     Instead, they were doing Slug again.
     Not the Jackson Flats team. But Red and Westley's ball-playing buddies. Even Harry Edwards. The mortuary was dark with no corpses in attendance that weekend.
     "Give me a try at her," Harry begged.
     "Too hot for you, boy," Red explained. AYour pecker's got to leather up first. Go do Peggy Hogsham or Becky Flansberg. (These were tenth graders.) You just can't jump in and dick the majors. Can he, Slug?"
     Westley heard Slug's derisive laughter. Red whooped and hollered some more, giving a stellar back-alley performance to Westley's teammates. Then he boasted about "Blowing the eyes out of the eagle!" Slug and Red momentarily warbled gutturally.

Westley observed later that evening in bed that his member, when erect, didn't stick out horizontally as he thought it must, but angled up off his torso at 45 degrees. How could Red push Slug against the garage doors and stick his thing in her? It doesn't make sense. Westley anxiously wrenched his into a 90 degree angle, but it hurt bad. If my cock sticks off my stomach like a checkmark, how do I go "in and out"? he asked himself.
     What intrigued him even more was Red's ranting about how fiery Slug's vagina was. Then it began to make perfect sense to him. The inside of Slug's--or any woman's--body was a combustion chamber so volcanic, a man had to move his cock in and out quickly so as not to get scalded. That's why Red's looked like a boiled frankfurter that cold, drizzily Saturday.
     "You got to leather them up first for the big time, boys!" Red admonished. "Your balls fall off your baby asses like acorns if you go straight to the top."

Somebody was lying. His father never broached the subject. Pastor Yates certainly didn't. No evidence of "sex" ever surfaced about his house on Rose Avenue. But then again nobody had the glow that Red or Slug had either--or even the scent. There was a peculiar fragrance of sex. The women in Westley's church smelled like Crisco, but Slug, well, she smelled like singed rabbit fur. It was that damn grass fire again, thought Westley. Smoldering in the woods, under all the moss and the leaves. A fire underfoot. The earth is stove hot. Slug is stove hot. And he couldn't take his mind off either of them.
     Mr. Edwards hosed down the organist. Was he making certain her grass fire was out? Incandescent in the coffin when they shut the lid? Distracting Westley. He'd drop fly balls in left field. Flub questions in class. All because of Slug.
     As cold weather returned, the boys only wanted to sit around discussing the 'in and out,' and keep on the lookout for Red, hoping he'd stop by to regale them with more exploits. They sniffed around Slug, too, whenever she was out on the street. A few tried to follow Red's consul about leathering up, but Hogsham and Flansberg weren't cooperating. The firemen didn't flood the ballpark that winter either. Even in December, the unquenched simmering that'd erupted inside Westley that Saturday morning with Red's tale, hadn't abated one bit.
     Until one February Saturday afternoon, Westley was returning home from work at the florist shop, when two classmates called out to him as he crossed the street. Other than to say hello in the school's corridors, he didn't know either of them. They lived on the south side of town, and one of them, Estelle Mestrangelo, said she had something to tell him. The girls stood under the Wetzel's Gun & Pawn Shop three-brass-ball sign.
     "Marie here has a crush on you, Westley."
     Marie Wyoming, standing alongside Estelle, was an attractive brunette, slightly overweight, who chewed gum.
     "Yeah?" Westley answered.
     "Tell him what you want to do, Marie."
Marie turned to watch her reflection in the gun shop window and began snickering.
Westley turned red.
     "She wants to take it all off for you, Westley, and show you her blushing tits . . . this very afternoon in her mother's bedroom. Nobody's home. Whadoya say?"
     The big time, thought Westley. Christ, here it is. I ain't even prepared.
     "Oh, I got to go home to supper."
     "Say you had to work late, Westley. Come on home with us. Have fun."
     The setting sun caused the buildings' shadows to angle out over the street in coal-black patches. Westley heard the quitting siren sound a mile away at the pottery where his father worked. The trio began walking toward the viaduct. Estelle walked on ahead, singing. Marie hung back, occasionally brushing up against him, ratcheting up his blood heat. Soon the pair were walking hand in hand. Estelle laughed and began skipping farther ahead until she was out of sight. On Electric Street, they spotted her sitting on Marie's porch swing waving them on.
     "Nobody's home, Marie. Hurry."
     Westley followed the girls onto the porch and into the shuttered house. The steps to the second floor were opposite the front door. Marie took Westley's hand and led him up into the narrow hallway into her mother's bedroom. Lace curtains breathed in and out the open window and oval framed portraits of a much earlier wedding couple hung askew on either side of the bureau's mirror. Estelle sat down on a straight back chair. Marie sat Westley at the foot of the bed and pulled the pale green chenille spread off the pillows. She lifted a box of nose powder off a chiffonier and, with a flesh-colored puff, slapped it onto the mattress. Puffs of apricot-scented talc exploded off the sheets. Westley watched as she pulled down the green opaque shade then undressed, standing before him in her bra and panties glowing.
     Westley thought about many things, all of them about the grass fire that now blazed out of control at the pit of his torso and haloed Marie--and how his checkmark pecker stood at military attention. Shit, he didn't know the first thing about screwing. Furthermore, he wasn't about to stand Marie up against the water-stained floral wallpaper with Estelle sitting there looking on. Until she stood and, with Marie's assistance, tenderly opened his trousers, all the time looking straight into his eyes and smiling. Marie lay on the bed with her undergarments off and her legs open. She slapped the powder puff on her triangle, turning the beard a feverish coral.
     God, thought Westley, why is this all moving so fast? The fire nimbusing her white flesh, the cloying scent of fruit, and yet he had to somehow walk through those flames, and lie on top her Jell-O body? Estelle had now lifted his trousers and dropped his shorts below his knees. She stood away and smiled at her friend, then returned to the chair, drawing her knees up to her chest, waiting.
     One on the chair, the other on the bed, and Westley standing at its foot, the checkmark pulsating like a neon light clicking on and off at a 24-hour diner. And no sound of fire trucks.
Marie got on her knees and drew Westley into the bed with her.
     "Stick it to me, " she whispered.
     He couldn't move.
     "Come on. Pussy got no teeth."
     She grasped his cock and, watching the expression on his face ice up, slowly inserted it into her body. Westley squinched his face for the scalding, the dunking of his member into her fuming caldron. Determined that he wouldn't cry out. No matter how fiery she was inside.
Estelle now hunched down on the bed beside the pair, animatedly witnessing Marie initiate Westley McCool into south side's big league. "I'll bet he ain't even leathered up, Marie!" she gushed.
     "Westley. Move. God dammit move," Marie wriggled, jerking him smartly upward.
     But Westley McCool froze.
     Both girls glared at him.
     "What's wrong, ain't it no fucking fun?"
cried Marie.
     Westley was speechless.
     "Suck her tits, you prick!" scolded Estelle, giving him a biting slap on his bare ass.
     But Westley wasnt moving. Neither in nor out. Marie, in exasperation, shoved him off. Both girls bounded out of the bed and stood over him, boiling. He had a death grip on his pecker.      
      "What the hell's wrong with you, McCool!" Estelle hissed.
     "There weren't no fire," he sighed, watching sadly as a spit of gizum arced meekly out of his cock to trickle onto the chenille spread boneash.
     He was white as a corpse.

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