After we had lived in Plainfield for two weeks, my father drove my mother and me around town. “Listen,” he said. “The worst, filthy, run-down street is called Pleasant.” He turned and gave me an expectant look. “What’s that called, Donnie?”
“Irony,” I said, and he nodded.
“Some folks confuse that with coincidence,” he said. “Keep those straight.”
I knew Carol Schueing lived on Pleasant Street. I’d watched her in class every day since I’d joined Plainfield’s ninth grade, and the next day, by coincidence, she spoke to me. She wasn’t filthy. Her clothes were like every other girl’s, nothing run-down about the blouse that had an extra button unhooked. “Hey there,” I said. And then I held my breath as she looked me over.
“Donnie the new boy,” she said. “You drink?”
“Sure,” I lied.
“If I tell my brothers you’re ok, for two dollars you get a cup you can fill until the beer’s gone at 38 Pleasant Street, Friday night.”
“Thirty-eight,” I repeated.
“You need to write it down?” Carol said.
I told my new friend Len. “You won’t go,” he said for two days, and then he was waiting for me at the corner of Maple and Pleasant Friday night. “Just checking,” he said, but when I turned down Pleasant without answering, he whispered, “This street sucks,” and followed me.
Number 38 looked vacant, the yard overgrown, the front porch sagging toward collapse. “This place looks like a house where bums live,” he said, sounding as if he’d learned English from my father’s dictionary.
“It costs money, so there’s no bums,” I said.
“I have money,” Len said.
The girl watching the door said, “Hey, babies,” but she took our money. Inside, it was almost all boys who looked like juniors and seniors who spent half the school day at the vocational training school. We walked around sipping beer for an hour. Nobody talked to us, but we both pissed in the bathtub like all the boys did, and the girls, we noticed, used an empty closet where somebody had put a red plastic bucket, their privacy protected by another girl guarding the door.
I filled my cup twice, but I didn’t think I was getting drunk. Even Len could see there weren’t any bums, no sign of old needles or empty cheap wine bottles. The one real toilet was full of vomit, both dried and fresh, and I felt sure that somewhere near the bottom of that mess was month’s old shit from way back when the water had first been turned off. And I had to imagine the furniture that had been there once from broken wooden spokes of wood and a few moldy cushions. Even a bum couldn’t live in a place like that house.
“There’s your girlfriend,” Len said as Carol came downstairs through a crowd. “I bet somebody was already fucking her.”
“Donnie Rogers and his faithful sidekick,” she said. “Having fun?”
Carol drank from the cup she was carrying and looked at Len. “I know your father,” she said, and then she turned, handed me her cup, and said, “Try this.”
Whatever it was burned the whole way down my throat, and Carol laughed, taking the cup back. “You’ve never had vodka, have you?”
“I guess not.”
“One cup makes your head spin. It’s not like beer.” She took another sip and touched my arm. “Come on upstairs, and I’ll get you some.”
We went into a small room that seemed cleaner than the rest of the house, but it was vacant except for a mattress on the floor. “This used to be a little girl’s room,” Carol said. “I used to hang out here with her before she died in third grade.” She sat down on the mattress, looking to where Len hovered behind me.
“You have to leave,” she said to Len. “This isn’t some show.”
Len punched my shoulder. “I’ll be right outside,” he said.
I sat beside Carol on the mattress and took another quick sip of the vodka while she took off her sweater. I felt like I was sweating inside my body, but I stayed fixed on Carol. Her bra had little flowers on it. Roses. “Well,” she said, and when I didn’t move, she put my hand on her breast. “There,” she said, as she unhooked the bra, and it draped over my wrist, the other breast exposed. “Look at you,” she said, reaching for my zipper. I watched as my jeans opened as if they belonged to someone else, and I came as soon as her hand brushed my penis.
“Wow,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and I reached into my jeans pocket for the handkerchief my mother made me carry, and I wiped her hand off.
“We can try this again, Donnie Rogers. My brothers won’t hate you if I tell them not to. We all live at 42.”
Len was waiting in the hall holding his plastic cup. He looked past me to where Carol was picking up her sweater and pulling it over her head. “You fuck her?” he said, and I pushed past him.
“I’m getting a beer,” I said.
“I think I’m too drunk to fuck her.”
Carol was still sitting on the mattress looking at the doorway. “She’s fat,” Len said.
“She’s not fat.”
“I can’t fuck a fat girl,” he said, but by then I was half way down the stairs.
When that house and the one next door burned down a week later, my father said, “That’s a start.” I could have told him I knew a girl named Carol Scheuing who, by coincidence, lived beside two vacant lots now, but I didn’t.
Gary Fincke’s latest story collection is The Sorrows (Stephen F. Austin, 2020). His stories have appeared in SmokeLong, Wigleaf, and Atticus Review as well as in The Kenyon Review and The Missouri Review. He is co-editor of the annual anthology series Best Microfiction.