“Wrong" by Todd Grimson, page 2

         My father might order anything on the menu, from pork chops with applesauce to chicken-fried steak, but all I ever wanted was a hamburger and french fries, with a Coke. I loved the hamburgers there, at Jimmy's Hut.
        On this particular night, some kind of weird negotiation was going on. My father had gotten me to admit to him that I was a virgin, and I wasn't even embarrassed – he made me feel okay about it, man-to-man. One of the waitresses or barmaids, here in the dimly-lit Elbow Room – my father knew that I liked her, she was younger than the others, and she seemed to like me too. Patti wasn't working tonight, but as I was coming to understand it she lived in the motel across the street. She could look out of her window and see the images on the screen of the Division Street Drive-In, every night. That sounded great to me.
        I was keeping my mouth shut, but I thought I knew what was going on. I didn't dare imagine it might be true, I didn't want to get too excited. This other barmaid, Claire, had called up Patti, then came back to the table and said, "Why don't you talk to her?" So my father went to the phone. Then he came by and said he was going to go see her, he'd be right back, and the way he smiled I figured it was going to come off, she wouldn't be able to resist his charm. And I knew that, although he liked to dicker, money was not a problem here. So it was just a matter of them agreeing on a price, and then I'd go over to Patti's room. I was in love with her then, a true swoon of romantic love, remembering what she looked like, her dark eye-brows and blond hair. She would have dark pubic hair, I supposed, and I was nearly beside myself with wanton visions of her smiling at me, that smile. I was in love.
        But with this love came anxiety, and as time began to pass, I began to wonder what was taking so long. Maybe she was telling him no, not under any circumstance, I was just too ugly, too repulsive to her. I found this hard to believe. I wasn't so bad.
        Then, with the notion that maybe she had some sort of idiosyncratic, perverse reaction to me ... something unreasonable, that wasn't my fault – I began to dislike her. She was, after all, a failure in life, a whore. Fat men, ugly men – she'd do anyone, for money. These men would regard her with contempt.
        You must understand, I was willing to forget all this in an instant, willing to utterly fall into selfless love in which state I would do anything for her, I would be devoted, I would save her – I went back and forth, waiting there in the Elbow Room booth.
        I had been vaguely aware, as some other customers had come in, that the bartender didn't like me being in there by myself. I could tell just from the attitude of his body, I didn't even have to look over there or really meet his gaze. It was against the law, after all. So I wasn't really taken totally by surprise when Claire came and asked me to wait out front. The real surprise was in how she looked at me as she said this. I interpreted it to mean not only that she didn't much like me, but also that I was in a humiliating position, the wait had gone on so long I was an embarrassment to everyone concerned.
        I walked out into the light of the main part of Jimmy's Hut, considered sitting on one of the stools at the counter and ordering a slice of coconut cream pie, a cup of coffee; in truth I would have been glad to have just rewound the last hour or so as if none of this other stuff had ever been contemplated, I could just wait for my dad like a kid and sooner or later he would return.
        I couldn't do it. I went outside, and it was raining, dark in the gravel parking lot. My father's midnight blue Chrysler New Yorker was still parked there, so he had to be across the street. If I had been, underneath everything, rather frightened by the prospect of being left alone with Patti, it was exciting but also very scary – now, in this unfamiliar territory, heading across the busy street, I was much more scared, and sick. I didn't want to know the precise definition of my wound, of how my manhood had been injured. I had no real curiosity. The only thing that made me cross the street was the idea of my father watching me, of him thinking I would be afraid to face up to it. I couldn't win, whatever I did I was lost, I would lose, but I had to go through the motions, I had to make it worse, the worse it was the more I had to make sure.

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