SHORT STORY | NOTHING BUT A KISS
Won the 2004 Santa Fe Reporter Annual Short Story Contest.
Published in the Amarillo Bay Literary Magazine.
Nothing But A Kiss
The little girl is standing alone in the park beneath an oak tree in the rain. She looks about thirteen but I find out later she's not. I'm eating my lunch in my car like I always do. I work at the new Arby's that they just built out on the edge of town beside the interstate. I make sandwiches, just like the one I'm eating right now.
The little girl sees me and comes over and knocks on my window. I guess she wants to come in so I say to myself, why not, and open up the door. My mom told me never to talk to strangers, but the little girl doesn't look very strange. Just wet. The blond curls on her head look like a bird's nest and she has a pretty red mouth, but her smile is sad like a doll that doesn't want to be a doll anymore.
She's shivering so I take off my shirt and give it to her so she can dry her hair with it. She says "thanks." She's very polite. She just sits in the seat next to me in a blue dress with a white plastic purse in her lap, minding her own business. I guess she's waiting for me to finish my sandwich.
I decide not to say anything to her, because I don't want her to think I'm stupid. I never learned many words in school on account of I never learned how to add or subtract very good and I get my numbers backwards and I have trouble remembering anything and I have a paying attention problem which has a name but I can't remember what it is. That's why I got a job making sandwiches.
I need to drive a car to work because there aren't any buses that go from our house all the way out to Arby's so I had to go get a license in order to drive my mom's car to work. I knew the answers on the drivers test backwards and forwards but they made me write them all down on a piece of paper and I wasn't paying attention and got them all mixed up and they wouldn't give me a real license.
My mom wasn't happy about that and she took me right back down there to the motor vehicle division the very next morning and made them give me a learner's permit instead. They ask the questions for that test right out loud and I got almost all of them right. I'm not supposed to drive by myself because it's a restricted license, but my mom has a job dancing bare naked at a club downtown at night and she takes in laundry during the day so I have to drive my own self to work. My mom takes the bus because one goes right by where she works. I guess there must be more people that like watching people dance bare naked than there are that like going out by the interstate to Arby's to eat sandwiches. I help her load up the washer and dryer sometimes. I like being with my mom like that. I think she enjoys the company.
The rain is really pouring down now and there's big cracks of lightning in the sky and the thunder is so loud I can't hear what the little girl is trying to say to me. So she slides across the seat right next to me and she says, "I'm scared of thunder, do you mind?" She's sitting practically on top of me, but I tell her I don't mind. I'm done with my sandwich anyway. Then she takes my napkin and wipes the mayonnaise off my face and says, "I really appreciate you letting me get in your car." And then she kisses me right on the mouth.
That's when I hear the policeman bang on my window and shout at me through the window, "Roll that goddamned window down right now, or else…and I'm not kidding!" I guess he's mad because he's standing out in the rain getting wet, so I roll the window down and he says, "Ok, let's see a license, your registration and proof of insurance." I can't remember all the things he's asking me for so I just give him my permit. He says, "I told you I need to see your registration and insurance card too, aren't you paying attention?"
"Not really," I say." Besides, I've never seen those things he's asking me for before, how would I know where they are? But the little girl says she knows where they are and reaches into the glove compartment and hands them over to the policeman. I just hope she got the right ones. I don’t know how she knew they were in there. I thought that's where my mom kept her gloves.
The policeman looks at my drivers license real funny and he says, "This is a restricted learner's permit and that sure as hell don't look like your mommy sitting over there. How the hell old are you anyway?" I tell him, "Seventeen." My mom told me that when I go for a job I'm supposed to say I'm eighteen, but if I get caught doing something wrong then I'm supposed to say I'm seventeen so they'll try me as a juvenile and let me off easy. "It's ok to lie if it keeps you out of jail," she says. Unfortunately, I'm never exactly sure when I'm supposed to say I'm eighteen and when I'm supposed to say I'm seventeen and, by the way the policeman keeps looking at my learner's permit, I think I must have guessed wrong. "It says here you're eighteen, not seventeen, which makes you an adult," he says. "And, what do you think you're doing kissing a little girl like that for anyway? She looks like she can't be more than twelve. How old is she anyway?"
"I don't know how old she is," I tell him. "I just met her. She was standing in the park under an oak tree in the rain and knocked on my window so I let her in."
The policeman is looking at me now like he thinks I just went to the toilet on his shoes and he says, "why don't you step out of the car so you and me can have us a little talk, alone." I say, "Ok, but I don't know what we're going to talk about. We don’t really know each other and my mom says I'm not supposed to talk to strangers."
The policeman is really angry now and he puts his hand on top of his gun like John Wayne does in the movies, right before he takes it out and plugs somebody, and he says, "Ok you lying little shit, step out of the car, and I mean right now!"
I've never heard a policeman swear before so I get right out and he says, "Spread em, perv." I tell him my name's Pete, not Perv and he's really mad now and jams me up against my mom's Buick and goes through my pockets and takes all my stuff out. Then he puts hand cuffs around my wrists and puts me in the back of his police car and says, "Don't you even think about going anywhere." I don't know where he thinks I'm going to go with these hand cuffs on.
He makes a call to somebody on his phone and pretty soon another policeman comes and takes the little girl out of my mom's car and puts her in his police car and we all drive through the park in the rain to the police station.
When we get there the policeman tells me, "You get one phone call, Mac, and make it quick." I guess I'm not the only one who gets thing mixed up because he can't ever seem to get my name right. But I don't say anything to him about it.
I know my mom won't be happy about me getting arrested for not having her with me like it says I'm supposed to on my restricted license, so I call my boss instead and tell him that I won't be coming back to work today. But I get the numbers all forwards and backwards and don't know who the guy who finally answers the phone is. He says his name's Albert and I ask him, "Do you know my mother, Charlene?" And he says, "Sure, doesn't everybody?" I ask him if he'll call her for me and tell her where I am and he says, "Ok, I've got the number." This town is so small I guess everybody knows everybody.
After I get done talking to Albert, the policemen comes over and he puts me in a jail cell with metal bars on the door and the window just like on Kojac. About twenty minutes later my mother comes in and looks through the bars on the door at me and she says, "What did you do, honey, rob a bank?" She's smiling a lot more than usual. I think she's trying to make a joke but she doesn't look very happy. I tell her everything that happened and she starts crying and crying and she says "Poor baby, what have you done?" So I have to tell her everything I did all over again and she starts crying some more so I stop talking and she stops crying.
The policeman comes back and takes me and my mom down a long hall into a room where some lady is writing in a notebook and she tells us to sit down in front of a judge in a purple robe who’s sitting behind a big desk. He looks like Moses but he doesn't look very friendly and I keep going over everything in my mind trying to remember what I did wrong in case he asks, but I can't think of anything except for having the wrong kind of license and for driving myself to Arby's without my mom.
After awhile the judge asks me, "Ok, young man, what do you have to say for yourself?" I tell him that I'm sorry that I don't have the right kind of license but I couldn't pass the test for the regular one on account of I get numbers mixed up and don't remember anything for very long and can't seem to pay attention long enough to write the answers down right but I have to go to work so I drive anyway. That's about it I guess."
He looks at me for a long time, and then he asks me, "Is that all you have to say in your defense?"
"Defense of what?" I say. And he says, "Does kidnapping, child molestation, and inappropriate sexual contact with a minor mean anything to you?" I just make myself as small as I can and don't say anything. "Well?" the judge asks real loud. And I say, "Maybe you should ask my mom. I don't know anything about sex." The judge looks at me like I just farted and doesn't say anything. His face is red and he tells the policeman to bring the little girl and her mom in.
The little girl sits down and puts her purse in her lap just like she did in my car in the park except her hair's dry now. I don't know what she did with my shirt. I don't see it anywhere. Her mother keeps looking over at me like she's real mad at me about something but I don't know what. I wish somebody would tell me what's going on.
The judge looks at the little girl and tells her that he wants to know the truth. "Do you promise to tell the truth?" he asks her. And the little girl says, "Why would I lie? I don't have anything to lie about." The judge is talking to her like she's about four years old and he says, "Betty? That is your name isn't it, Betty?"
"Yes," she answers, "You should know. It's written down on that paper right there in front of you."
"Well yes, I can see that. Now, Betty, tell me what happened to you in the park today, ok?"
"Well, I was standing under a tree in the park in the rain thinking about what I was going to do about getting back home, and that nice boy who's sitting right over there in that chair let me in his car so I wouldn't get wet. That's about it."
The judge doesn't seem to like the answer to his question very much. He looks at the policeman that brought us here like he was the one in trouble. Then he turns back to the little girl and asks her, "Don't you know what this is all about? Didn't the officer explain to you what you're doing here?"
And the little girl just says, "No. He was more interested in knowing what kind of things that boy over there stuck up my privates."
The judge's face is really getting red now. "Well?" the judge asks.
"Well what? she says.
"What did he stick up there?" the judge asks. Did he do things to you? Sexual things?"
"For crying out loud," the little girls shouts. What do you take me for, a hooker? It's not like I charged him for sex or anything. Jesus H. Christ, it wasn't nothing but a kiss!"
The judge just stares at the little girl with his mouth open and doesn't say anything. His face is getting redder and redder, and finally he says, "just how the hell old are you anyway, little Missy."
"I'm sixteen," she says. "and my name's not Missy. It's Betty. I thought you knew that."
I can tell the judge is really angry about something because when he jumps up, he steps on his purple robe and knocks his chair over and then shouts something at the policeman that brought us here and tells him and my mom and the little girl's mom to follow him through a door into another little room. "And I mean right now," he says.
I'm still sitting here in my chair and the little girl is still sitting over there in her chair in her blue dress with her white purse in her lap just like in the car in the park in the rain.
I still don't see my shirt anywhere. After while, my mom comes out of the little room and takes my hand. "Let's go," she says. "it's time to go home."
I tell her, "Ok, but I better tell Betty goodbye."
And my mom says, "I don't think that's such a good idea, honey. Let's just get in the car and go home, ok?"
And I say, "Ok. I'll drive." My mom says, "Well, dear, maybe it's best if you don't."