“Gilson’s Ex”

We’d been drinking and talking for an hour or so, on a Saturday night in the Dundee Brauhaus, when Lindy Gilson reached across our little table and gently massaged the back of my neck.

“Drive me home Phil, would you?” she said. “Please? I’ve had too many.” She smiled a ghost smile. It disappeared so quick I wasn’t sure I’d seen it, and her face slacked empty again. Empty as the gin and tonic glasses on the table in front of her.

It had been a bad day – always is when my father calls me – and Lindy had been telling me her sob story, so my mood was bleak, sinking toward suicidal. Now suddenly it looked like my night was breaking lucky.

“Gladly,” I said.

Right away, though, I felt a swift kick of apprehension. I hadn’t made love with a woman for so long I wasn’t sure I’d remember how to go about it. The basics are dirt simple, sure, but I try to go above and beyond. When a woman clears space in her bed for you, you want to make her glad she did.

I helped Lindy weave her way to the ladies room, then joined my friends at the bar. When I told them Lindy had asked me to drive her home they whooped and high-fived me.

“Gilson’s ex!” Jonas said. He leered in close and launched a mist of beer spit into my face when he spoke. “Grand slam, dude.”

“Fuckin’-A, she’ll clean your fuel injectors,” Arty said.

After talking to my father earlier in the day I’d been looking at my friends with new eyes that evening. Why hadn’t I noticed what a lardass Jonas had become, guzzling beer, stuffing himself with pepperoni pizza? And if I heard another word from Arty about air scoops and oversize pistons I’d have to punch him in the teeth. The two of them had become shrubs in my world, ever present but practically invisible. I’d fallen asleep in the middle of my one and only life.

My father had called to tell me his brother, my uncle out in Des Moines, Iowa, had a plumber’s apprentice job open and wanted me to call him.

“Why would I want to go there, Dad?”

“You’re unemployed, right?”

“My friends are here.”

“They’re morons. Fuckups, like you. Call your uncle.”

Lindy had looked youngish and cute in the Brauhaus, but the harsher light of her living room told a different story. She slumped onto her couch, blue hollows under her eyes, her skin too loose, too pale, razored with fine wrinkles around her eyes and mouth, like the skin of a peach you’ve waited a little too long to eat. She wore shorts, though, and her legs still looked lean and strong, like when she’d been girl’s state tennis champ her senior year in high school. I’d been a hideous freshman that year, skinny as an earthworm, big feet, bad haircuts. Lindy was the goddess I worshipped from afar. I’d watched several of her matches, and damn, she was something to see. Small and ferret quick, she’d dart toward the ball, eyes rapt, and smash a two-handed backhand past her opponent with a sharp cry, a scream cut short, as if the fate of the world depended on that one shot.

“You been sweet tonight,” she said, slurring. She’d drunk a baseball team’s worth of gin and tonics. “Come kiss me.”

I started across the room, but veered over to a wall of photographs. Every one included Steve Gilson, star slugger for the Detroit Tigers. Lindy had married him, but the marriage lasted less than two years. Wedding photos and a bunch of action shots: Gilson sliding into home plate, Gilson at the finish of his powerful swing, crushing another majestic home run. Her marriage to Gilson and the divorce had made Lindy famous in Dundee, our little Pennsylvania hometown. Now she was drinking her looks away, but every stud in town wanted to sleep with her, just to say he’d bedded Gilson’s ex, though “ex” was usually replaced with something cruder.

At the Brauhaus that evening she’d told me the whole tale: how she’d met Gilson in Florida when she was at a tennis camp and he was at spring training. How he cheated on her repeatedly and finally dumped her when she complained.

“His world’s too easy,” she’d said. “Anything he wants, he gets, you know? Thinks he’s going to hit forty home runs every year till forever. I warned him, but he didn’t listen. Big dick, no ears.”

I sat beside her on the couch and she put her arms around my neck. “You’re not going to Iowa, are you?” she murmured, her face against my chest.

“Why so many pictures of that jerk?” I asked.

“Memories,” Lindy said.

I’d met Gilson and hated him. He and Lindy stopped in at the Brauhaus one night when they came to Dundee to visit Lindy’s parents. Gilson was one of those people who don’t have much to say unless they’re talking about themselves. I disliked him for that, but when I hike into the desert sands of my heart where things bake down hard and honest, I know I hated him mostly for his stardom and his talent, his ability to launch ninety-five mile-per-hour fastballs into the ionosphere.

“Forget that asshole,” I said.

“I wish. He ruined my life.”

“Come on. You’re what, thirty-four, thirty-five? You still look fabulous.”

“Steve has his good points, Phil. He does.”

“Everybody’s got a few. Fuck him.”

“You’ve got tons of good points.” Lindy lifted her face and kissed me. “Beddy-bye?”

“You read my mind.”

“Now I’ve been known to pass out, Phil, okay? But I trust you. You go ahead and have your fun. I might not be all there, but I’ll still like it.”

True to her word, Lindy had passed out naked on the bed by the time I came out of the bathroom. I sat on the edge of the bed and took my clothes off. The room was warm, and she’d thrown the blankets aside and lay sprawled on her back, legs spread. I looked at her and blood rushed to my cock. Who wouldn’t be turned on by it, the savage power she’d handed me with her complete surrender, her permission to work my sexual will on her?

She turned on her side. She had a woman’s shape, but she looked childlike, thin and pale, paler than the moonlight angling in the window. She lay curled up like a scrap of paper. I listened to her breathe.

Who the fuck would want to go to Iowa? Cornfields, cows, tornadoes. A wasteland. Still, it would be a chance to learn something. As a kid I’d sometimes walked around the basement looking at the maze of gas and water pipes, trying to follow their angles and turns to where they rose through the ceiling into the house above or disappeared into the walls. It would be something to look at that hodgepodge and know what to do, how to take it all apart, put it back together. To be able to say for once “Yeah, I can do that.”

I ran my hand down the length of Lindy’s back, then along the curve of her butt, tracing her butt crack with my fingers, loving the shape of her, the smoothness of her skin. I took her hip, rolled her on her back again, and laid my palm between her legs, pressing lightly, so perfect, that combination of hard mound and soft warmth. She made a faint “mmmm” sound, and my cock stiffened again. How many men had she trusted like this? Pitiful, my god. And too strange for me. Like having sex with a slave, or a corpse.

I put my clothes back on. On my way out, winding through the dark house, I took a wrong turn into the kitchen. My foot collided with a table leg and something made of glass shook and rattled. I froze, waiting for whatever it was to hit the floor and shatter. Just like me to turn the night into a catastrophe. But I got lucky. All I heard was a clock ticking.

I backtracked, passed through a different doorway, and crossed the living room to the front door. I pulled it open, then stopped. The night air felt much cooler than it had earlier, and I’d left Lindy lying there naked and uncovered. I went back to her bedroom, picked up a blanket and spread it over her.

She’d wake up alone. But she wouldn’t wake up chilled.

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About Douglas Campbell

Douglas Campbell's fiction has appeared in many online and print publications, among them Smokelong Quarterly, Vestal Review, Potomac Review, Short Story America, and Fiction Southeast. His stories have won the 2007 Many Mountains Moving Flash Fiction Prize, the 2011 Able Muse Review Write Prize, and Ardor Literary Magazine's 2014 Flash Fiction Prize. Douglas lives, dreams, and writes in a challenging old house in a little town in southwestern Pennsylvania.