God had given George an expansive imagination, one that knew no limits. And George used this imagination to pleasure women in ways that startled them, and he used this imagination to drink beer in ways that made men weep, and he used it to concoct stories of wild adventures that nearly broke his own heart. George had maintained his virginity until October 3, 1960. On that day, Maria had her way with him and stole his virginity. They had sex, coitus she called it, on Maria’s parents’ bed while her parents were shopping at Gimbels Department Store and enjoying a leisurely late afternoon lunch at the Smithfield Street Cafe. George and Maria engaged in the kind of sex that combined passion and pity, until both the woman and the man became exhausted with thinking and feeling and doing this and that to each other. Calluses formed on their fingertips. Their lips dried out and blistered. Their bodies were bloodied and bruised from misplaced elbows and knees. The act left George with a broken nose and a dislocated shoulder. Maria was left pregnant with a loose tooth, a bruised thigh, a slight concussion, and a small handful of George’s blonde hair wrapped around her fingers. For years the woman had fought off this evil desire growing inside her before finally giving into it. Now, any sense of the sacred had abandoned her. Still, she hoped that one day God and His son, Jesus, would find a way to force their holiness back into her flesh. Sometimes a boy hates a girl who gives into the shame of his desires. And George felt such a hatred rising inside him. Such a boy sees his own weakness in such a girl. There was nothing romantic or pretty about that first time; it was mostly terrifying and necessary. Before that day, George had never seen a woman naked in her flesh. He had only seen a few pictures of women wearing bras and girdles in the Sears Catalogue. And Maria had only seen her father naked a few times. Neither George nor Maria spoke of it for days afterward. Light is helpless in such darkness and violence perseveres. What they did to each other never was love. Not then. Not now. Not before. Not afterwards. When George had finished doing all that he intended to do with Maria on that day, he lifted his tan body off her pale skin, stumbled out of her parents’ bedroom into the kitchen, grabbed a beer from the fridge and walked out onto the back porch to drink and wait for rain. When the clouds finally broke open and rain fell upon the earth, he stepped out into the downpour. After an hour or so of standing in the rain, he walked back, soaking wet, into the house. “It’s raining,” he said to Maria. “Oh.” “It’s not a metaphor or some sort of hidden meaning. It’s just rain. Don’t be thinking about nothing fancy.” George feared that Maria read more into his words than he intended. “Rain is necessary,” he said as if to clarify to Maria all that she needed to know. Trapped inside a primitive urge for survival, she remained silent and stared out the window. She fought the urge to run out into the storm, rain falling on the just and the unjust alike. “Shadows do what rain can’t do,” she whispered, knowing only God would understand her words. George pretended not to hear her. He walked over to the fridge, grabbed another beer, and sat down at the kitchen table. “There’s rain on the floor over there.” He pointed at a puddle by the door. Maria sat on the opposite side of the table. The rain fell more softly. Night would come. Maria’s parents would park their car in front of the house. They would sleep in their bed terrified by the dark memories and fears that slept dormant within them. They would sleep waiting for the morning to erase their dreams. George would be home already on the other side of Pittsburgh. But he would not stay there. He would sneak out his bedroom window, cross the Birmingham Street Bridge, walk down Forbes Avenue into the darkest dark of the city. Maria would lie quietly on her bed beside her parent’s bedroom breathing evenly and softly so as not to awaken her parents. Waiting. Her dreams sharp with broken mirrors. In the morning her father would rest his hand on her shoulder and say, “Why can’t you stay like this forever.” Her mother would smile. Neither George nor Maria believed in pain that did not leave a bruise. When the day arrived that the two finally did speak of that act, Maria, light blue and yellow bruises on her pale skin, murmured sweet nothings. Words with tiny meanings. Words without flesh. She promised what little she could; her eyes filled with something just short of love, and she whispered, “We will do what needs to be done until doing so becomes impossible.” George nodded in what appeared to be agreement and downed another Iron City. All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again. She was always hopeful in a naïve sort of way, and he was always, simply, ashamed. George and Maria would marry before she gave birth to this ill-conceived, uncertain child. They would marry quickly before any rumors could spread through the neighborhood. She would not be showing on the day of their wedding, but later, when the child arrived, people would count back to the day of the wedding and then they would whisper. The only suit George owned was haunted, so he wore one that he borrowed from his older brother. His body disappeared inside his brother’s suit. The sleeves were far too long, and the pants were even more dramatically long. He looked ridiculous, but he did not trip when he walked down the aisle and out of the church. And he did not have to wear his haunted suit.
Doug Rice is the author of numerous books including Janey Quixote, Here Lies Memory, When Love Was, Between Appear and Disappear, Blood of Mugwump (selected by Kathy Acker as runner-up in the Fiction Collective First Novel Award, 1996), and others. His work has been translated into six languages.His fiction, nonfiction and photography has appeared in Avant Pop: Fiction for a Daydream Nation, Kiss the Sky, The Dirty Fabulous Anthology, Alice Redux, Phantoms of Desire, Fiction International and other journals and anthologies.