Biblical Apples

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Chapter 13: Proverbs 19:5

A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape.

When he walked into Dr. Brown’s class, Fred already was in there. Mike attempted to engage him with eye contact and then a hello, both to no avail. Fuck this guy a thousand times over, he thought, and then he selected a seat several rows to Fred’s left and nearest to the door.

On this Monday, the last day of September, Mike was prepared. He not only had a Sunday paper with him, but he had read it during breakfast, getting up extra early and eating alone, so he still didn’t have a handle on what John, Andy, and Kurt might have thought of the previous evening after having slept on it.

Dr. Brown had handpicked articles from each of the sections of the paper in order to illustrate journalistic technique and engage in constructive criticism. He tactfully initiated discussions and engaged his students, all but Mike, who although prepared, was distracted by his thoughts.

Why do I still have feelings for Carol? Donna deserves better than me. I can’t come close to what she really needs in a sexual partner, and I’m still thinking of someone else after all she has done for me. I need to stop partying so much. Donna’s right; it’s slowing me down, but she said she wants to get high with me. I don’t feel well. I don’t want to be here.

“Excuse me, Dr. Brown,” Mike took advantage of a five-minute class break, “I think I am coming down with something. I’m afraid I’m going to have to excuse myself.”

“Very well then. You do seem out-of-sorts; hopefully, it’s just a 24 hour bug, and I will see you this Thursday. Call me during my office hours, and I’ll fill you in on what you missed and need to complete.”

Very well then, out-of-sorts, 24-hour bug, why the fuck can’t old people just come out with it? Mike quietly exited the class and made his way to the Hillview Plaza where he purchased another pack of Merits. I’m breaking my rule about not smoking cigarettes during the week, but right now I don’t give a shit.

September’s will was giving way to October’s chill, and crossing the expanse of the bridge, while no more than eight feet above the pond, still exposed its pedestrians to greater forces of nature. A blustery wind made 50 degrees seem ice cold, and at 10:00 A.M., Mike braved the elements to stop in the middle, light a cigarette, rest his elbows on the railing, and once again spit into the water. Three ducks swam quickly in the direction of the spit as though it might be something to eat, and he decided to not do that anymore. He took a long drag off his Merit and purposely let his eyes go out-of-focus, so he could watch, but not really look at the people traversing the campus. His denim jacket and blue jeans were barely enough protection against the elements, but he felt numb until three glassed-over figures by the Wagner House ravine carried enough interest for him to allow his brain to rotate the dial that would restore clarity to his eyes.

There’s Patches with Water J and Little John. What’s the connection there? I’m going to ask Water next chance I get. This is the second time I’m seeing these guys talking. Is this guy going to be a regular on our floor, or does he live somewhere on campus? What’s it got to be like to do it with Carol? I don’t deserve to have Donna in my life.

Mike lit another cigarette and continued his trek to Vanover Hall. Continuing his self-destructive mode, he checked to see if the Zagnuts were re-stocked and had to settle for another Butterfinger which he opened up during the elevator ride. He got to his room, cued up Steve Miller’s ‘The Joker’, and plopped down on his bed, quietly singing the words to the title cut. He slept through lunch and chose to not attend his psychology class.

The floor meeting that night had a tight agenda. “Okay everybody, it looks like we’re all here, so let’s go over the assignments for the party this Saturday,” Carol began. Looking at a list, she rattled off who would be doing what. “Okay, John, you’ve got the most important job in putting together that party mix tape and having your system set up in the lobby. Andy, you are ordering and picking up the beer kegs and the cups. Mary and Donna, you guys are going to have a table with some sweets and a big pot of coffee in case anyone needs it later on.” She went down her full list of duties and responsibilities, including keeping the floor’s rep in a positive light, and asked if anyone had any concerns or questions.

Frank Spinelli raised his hand, and Carol’s eyebrows rose simultaneously.

“Go ahead, Frank.”

“Carol, I just want to share with the good people of the sixth floor that our study room doubles as a courtesy room for special occasions such as this. We built this into our architectural plan.”

“And what exactly does that spell for Saturday?”

“Well, we offer at our cost, beverages that are somewhat more concentrated than beer. We have housed in a lounge-like atmosphere, a full liquor cabinet with mixers for those seeking an ambiance and an effect that goes beyond the noise, belches, and farts associated with a kegger.”

A light laughter rose from the group, prompting Carol to respond. “So you’ve opened up a lounge on the sixth floor?”

“I like to think of it as an alternative or a getaway from the typical. Of course, my business partners and I will make an appearance at the floor party as well.”

“So you’ll grace us with your presence?”

“Oh no presents here, Carol. Maybe for the holiday party we’ll decorate a tree.”

Again there was somewhat louder laughter, and Carol gave in and ceased her inquiry. “Is there anyone else with anything they would like to bring to the table?” Frank again raised his hand, and as Carol’s eyebrows rejoined, she licked her lips, and looked up at the ceiling tile. “Go ahead, Frank.”

“I just want to thank voters across the state that have made it possible for all of us to drink responsibly at such a young age, and by the way Carol, what time are lights out?”

“We have to close up and clean up at 2:00 A.M.”

“Then, please allow me to let the gentlemen only of the sixth floor know that we have some after-hours’ provisions in the study room in the event that they feel the night is still young. It’s a fraternal kind of thing.”

“What do you think he means by that?” Donna asked Mike.

“I don’t know, and I’m not sure I want to know. He has to be breaking some kind of law in there. Frankie always has to push the envelope. He likes the attention.”

“Word, you going to join us tonight?” John asked after the meeting let out.

“Not tonight, Eggs. I’m still hurting from the show, and he squeezed Donna’s hand. “I think I’m going to hang out with Donna and get caught up on two classes I missed today.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that, Mike,” Donna said in a hushed tone. “Just be sure to bring your books.”

“I’m assuming you’re asking me to the party?” Donna joked during a study break.

“You’re funny. How is it going with John and Mary?”

“I was about to ask you the same question.”

“I asked you first because you told me you were going to have a girl talk. What was that about?”

“Mary’s a virgin and was planning on remaining one until she got married. Her aunt is a nun, and her older sister teaches Sunday school, so that should give you an idea about her family. Now, she and I go to the same church and grew up together, but we’re different people.”

“So John is dating the Virgin Mary?” Mike laughed

“You’re not funny. I’m serious. She thinks John is the one and feels she’s ready.”

“That’s what John was talking about when he said that he thinks this Saturday is the night!”

Hearing this, Donna’s brow creased and she bit her lower lip. “So that’s what you guys talk about during your show?” She probed. “Are you still in high school?” She raised her voice. “Please tell me you don’t talk about us.”

He could only look at her and look away, and he may as well have been looking for a shovel to start the digging.

“I cannot believe you!” she said angrily, and her face reddened.

“I’m sorry, Donna. You’re absolutely right. I had no business saying anything about us.”

She grasped both of his hands, her fingernails digging into his skin. “Look at me, Mike, and listen to me. When two people make love, it is a private moment, not the 11 o’clock news. I deserve and expect your respect. Act like a man for God’s sake!” She threw down his hands and swiped at a tear that sped down her cheek.

“You’re right. You deserve better,” he measured his words while negotiating the feeling of his heart sinking into his stomach.

His conscience flailed at him with images that magnified the guilt, her dropping to her knees to pleasure him, mortgaging her modesty, accepting his seed, awakening him. And now, she was someone else.

“Don’t try to shut me up.” She built momentum, and he simply hung his head. “How in the hell am I supposed to face your little boys’ club? Something like this doesn’t just go away. I’m so angry right now, and I’m going to say what’s on my mind before I explode! I guess I’ll have to tell them the parts you no doubt left out, the part about your being a virgin, the part about your being a two-second man. Maybe I’ll even let Carol know what a stud you are. Look at me when I talk to you!”

She got off the bed and rummaged through her dresser drawer, pulling it out, and waving it in his face. “This is what I use when I’m done with you!” She turned it on, the buzzing sound like a chainsaw in his mind, her words systematically amputating his dignity, castrating him, and she wasn’t done. “This is everything you’re not. It doesn’t talk shit, and it stays hard, and, oh yeah, I almost forgot the best part; it’s big. Don’t think size doesn’t matter. Ask any girl on this floor. Sorry if the truth hurts. Note to Carol.”

She had struck the final chord and then simply looked into his eyes. Silence, neither friend nor foe, but an ambiguous entity, waited out of courtesy. Symmetrical tears began down both sides of her face, gathering the moment in an ill-fitting frame. She placed her head in her hands, and her back heaved.

Humiliation, guilt, and sorrow, now malleable, mixed like different colors of clay in his mind. He was a little boy again, exposed to the whim of this woman. He watched as his tiny, baby-like hand reached to touch her shoulder. Her hand reached back and rested on his, swallowing it. It held no apology, no excuse for the vicious emasculation. She was hurt, and she wanted him to feel all of it, feel small, naked, and vulnerable until she at last turned around, placed her body in his arms, cried softly, and turned him back into a man.

There had been a long conversation between them afterward. She talked of leaving him at the outset but softened her stance, the words fitting the moment but distasteful in her mouth. She spoke to her expectations if they were to move forward. She set goals for him, wanting him to embrace his intellectual side, become a serious student. She asked him to slow down with his partying. She held his hand when she spoke of him as a lover, understanding his inexperience and expressing her willingness to work together, humbling him in a humane undressing. She made him cry, and she rocked him in her arms.

For several hours, he lay on his bed, arms crossed behind his head, thinking. It was what she said last, just prior to kissing him goodnight, that crowded his mind.

“You’re twenty-years-old, Mike. I want you to be a man.” There was a beseeching look in her gaze, one that spoke to her needs, one that was capable of casting him aside.

“You know, Water J, this time of year is great, I mean before your season starts, when you’re still not too important to shoot around with the common folk,” Mike initiated some side conversation during their Wednesday morning shoot-around.

“Mike, my man, we’re about two weeks away from the first official practice, at which point, you become a fan, or maybe volunteer to be the water boy, Boy.”

“Well, I kind of got me a job with the Sylvan-Northwood Times, that’s going to involve covering local high school and Hillview b-ball.

“You shitting me?”

“Nope, it’s part of my communications internship, so your ass better be nice to my ass.”

“Ros, that ain’t no problem because as I’ve said before, you ain’t got no ass to be nice to. Now, give me some skin.”

James and Mike laughed and slapped hands, and then Mike asked, “Hey, Water, I’ve been on the bridge a couple times in the past two weeks, and I’ve seen you and Little John talking to some preppy-looking dude over by Pryor and Fitz.”

“Yeah, Mike, that’s just some dude that Little John and Frankie know from one of their classes, so we ran into him just then. Motherfucker’s probably the whitest dude I’ve ever met.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, he dresses with them corduroys, Polo shirts, and likes them jackets that got the patches on the sleeves. Talks real proper and smokes a pipe, and I’m not talking about the Monster.”

“Okay,” Mike answered, “so how far do you and me go back?”

“Nothing but net,” James exclaimed as he swished a 20-footer. “Mike, we’ve been living on the same floor going all the way back to Harmon, so going on three years. Why?”

Mike retrieved the basketball and swished in a 20-footer of his own. “Because I don’t see the connection, Frankie, an ex-con, some preppy dude, and a brother from the hood. And I don’t trust Little John.”

“Little John’s cool, Ros. The preppy dude’s name is Flynn; don’t know his last name, but he’s hooked us up with some good weed and handed me a few bills, claiming he’s a big basketball fan and looking to support the team.”

“Whoa, Water, right there you’re on thin ice. You can’t be taking money from anyone. How much are you talking about?”

James bounced the ball hard, rose up, and missed badly. He squared his shoulders with Mike. “That’s easy for you to say, being a white kid from the suburbs with two parents and all. I ain’t seen my daddy in 15 years, and my moms picks up after white folks at the Holiday Inn. He gave me two-hundred, Mike. I take what I can get!”

“Did that money come with any strings?”

“Flynn ain’t said shit, so nothin’ from nothin’ means nothin’.”

“Yeah, okay, Billy Preston, but I’m asking you to be careful. I wouldn’t take any more money from that guy. You know I saw him up on our floor the other day. I saw him coming out of Carol’s room at around 11:00 this past Sunday.”

“No shit! So my man’s been tappin’ Carol?”

“I saw Carol saying goodbye to him wearing a see-through nightie.”

“Yeah, Ros,” James said as he swished another jumper, “we’ve got some fine looking white women on our floor, and Carol, sure as shit, is one of them. What that be like?”

“Yeah, I’ve often wondered the same thing, Water.”

“I’ve been lonely too long,” James broke out into song with his melodic voice and added, “I ain’t been with nobody since me and my girl broke up last spring. I won’t say this to just anyone, but that shit hurt real bad.”

“What about Toots? You’re not copping a nut with her?”

“Don’t believe half of what Frankie tells you. He might be getting some, but I’m not doing sloppy seconds with nobody. Not the kid!”

“So where are you at with all this, Water J?”

“Laying low, Ros; looking out for number one; looking to have a great season.” He swished another jumper from the corner.

The bus left Mike off at the stop in front of the full-service Sunoco station at 7:30 a.m., Friday. The prostrate form that he had seen a week ago was in the same spot and wearing the same attire to the best of his recollection. I wonder if that person might be dead, he thought, and nobody has figured that out yet. Still wish Donna was here with me. This is our town, he laughed to himself.

Mike watched as the bus pulled away and headed back to Northwood, and he took in his surroundings. The sunrise fought smoky clouds, delaying its appearance over the Jewel Theatre and casting Cunningham’s as a store front in its death throes. The last several spaces for letters had burned out bulbs, so the store was now simply ‘Cunning’. Sylvan did not do well with gray days, for it was a gray city and required color in order to pass as alive. This Friday foreshadowed a winter yet-to-come where the exhaust fumes still free to disappear in the atmosphere eventually would have their grayness temporarily memorialized in the snow.

Phil Snider’s desk was unoccupied which allowed Mike to cope with the vista afforded by Wells. This day involved making contact with high school girls’ basketball coaches in order to provide a preview of the forthcoming season. To this end, he dialed 15 numbers and had as many conversations to get names of key players, season’s prospects, and a general feel for girls’ basketball in the Hillview Township Conference. He fired up one of his Merits and enjoyed the amenity of Snider’s crystal ashtray, and figured what-the-fuck and enjoyed a Styrofoam cup of coffee. I have arrived, he thought.

After a productive day, he ventured outside and was relieved to see that there was a vacant spot on the bus stop bench. He fired up another Merit and waited for the bus, once again allowing his eyes to refuse to focus, but once again, a reason came on the horizon to seek clarity. Entering the Jewel Theatre from a side entrance was the patches dude named Flynn. I’m not too good at math, Mike thought, but this guy has to be the guy Phil Snider was talking about, so Carol is seeing a low-life in a tweed jacket.

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