SHAME - PATRICIA ABBOTT
I watch Guy sleep beside me. Misery, rage, fear flood his face—like waves rushing over sand. Muted shades tint him once the guardedness he wears by day disappears.
His eyelids flutter. I gaze at the rise and fall of his chest. His foot, always the left —the one nearest me—twitches. Rustling beneath the starched sheets he insists on tucking too tight, he sighs. Now he’s turned onto his right side. It feels deliberate—this casting me aside.
No longer hypnotized by the himness of him, I slip the gun under the bed. Metaphorically, of course. The mutual shame, which binds us as tightly as lust or habit might, brings it to mind.
Guy and my sister, Shelley: the two of them that should’ve been together these years. Perhaps what they had would’ve soured by now as so often happens.
For years—seventeen of them—it was my sister Shelley and me. Side by side on her bed—our feet making toe marks on her pink wall, reading the same books, liking the same movies, music. Other girls spilled over us at school, at the pool, but never made much of a claim. Boys, even less. Less than a year separated us. She claimed she waited for me, impatient for her other half.
“I was always looking for someone.”
“You can’t remember that,” our mother said, back to us at the sink.
“I bet she can,” I said.
I liked the idea of Shelley grieving for the sister who hadn’t yet been born. Me. It felt perfect.
Our mother shook her head, finding our closeness cloying. Smiling our secret smile, we turned our faces away.
And then, there was Guy Hansen.
Or Guy Handsome behind his back. I was bewildered at how Shelley had snagged him. Shelley who’d never had a date. The one who’d waited for me hadn’t let on she’d also waited for him.
But suddenly, Guy was standing at our door. I yanked it open expecting a salesman, a Jehovah Witness, Uncle Ted.
“Shannon, right?” he said, flashing his smile.
I was speechless. She’d told him about me, but not me about him—which seemed like a betrayal, treachery. That he deserved more consideration than me. That he was privy to a deeper level of confidence. My halcyon days were at an end.
“Thanks, Shannon,” Shelley said, sidling past me, my gaping mouth. When I still didn’t move, she whispered, “I’ll take it from here.”
I’d never heard that tone before. Dismissed, I sidled off like the rodent I’d suddenly become.
And she did exactly that— took it from there—moved from being captain of the lacrosse team and president of the French Club—to dating the best catch in school. Had she taken a book out from the library telling her what to do? Listened to some talk show offering tips?
Guy was off-limits for discussion.
“So what did you and Guy do last night?”
“Nothing special.” She was fidgeting. “Do you want go in on a present for Mom for Mother’s Day? Maybe a new recording of St. Matthew’s Passion?”
So we weren’t to share Guy. I was filled with rage. Rage that Shelley was lost to me, that she made off with the school’s best offering, that she hadn’t shared her feelings.
When we lay on her bed talking about whether we’d do it with TV stars like Buffy’s Angel or Dawson Leery, she never let on her choice was Guy Hansen. If she’d confided her interest in him, things might have gone differently. If we’d shared her heart’s desire like a sweater, CDs, her deepest secrets, I might have understood.
I can’t explain why I expected Shelley to want to spend all her time with me. Why it never occurred to me that I wasn’t enough for her. That we wouldn’t go hand in hand through life. I needed preparation for such a thing—a warning.
Funny thing was, Guy and Shelley didn’t do the things—or more precisely the thing—I expected. The thing we talked about doing with Jason Priestly or James Franco.
But I knew something she didn’t know. While she read Middlemarch, I read Mom’s Harlequin romances. Knew boys wanted more than a chaste kiss at 11:30 P.M. when they were seventeen years old. That was where I’d have my in.
“The fireworks on the river are tomorrow night,” I said.
We went every year, taking a quilt our grandmother had made, a cooler with pink lemonade, lemon square cookies.
“Guy has a friend with a boat.” Shelley couldn’t even look at me. I waited for an invitation to join them that never came.
Gradually, and I don’t think I consciously planned it, I began to talk to Guy when he was waiting for Shelley, when he called and she was out.
“Oh, hi, Guy. Shelley’s working right now. Did you like What About Bob? Shelley told me you both did.” This was a patent lie. I only knew they’d seen it because I found the ticket stub in her jeans.
“Oh, yeah! Man, Bill Murray was a knockout.”
My early sullenness with Guy gave way to chattiness. He seemed relieved to have made a friend in the enemy camp where my parents treated him with wariness at best. Once my sister changed her college plans to coincide with his, there was outright hostility.
“I can’t believe you’re throwing yourself away on a nothing like him,” my father told her, looking at her for the longest time in years. “You could go to school anywhere and instead...”
My idea to get Shelley back was this: I’d put Guy in a compromising position and then threaten to expose him for what he was if he didn’t leave Shelley alone. I never doubted I could do this—that I could make Guy accept sexual favors from his girlfriend’s sister. I could detect his weaknesses and was prepared to exploit them. My father was right; she deserved better and I would provide it.
“Guy?” I was calling him from a 7-Eleven two towns away. It was a night when Shelley was babysitting and out of the picture.
“Shannon?” he said. “Hi. What’s up?”
“Wonder if you could give me a ride home. Sort of got marooned out here...”
A ride home from that convenience store, a lift from the pool. Pretty soon we shared the easy rapport of friends. But I couldn’t see what Shelley saw in him. He was ordinary, dull.
Shelley was babysitting forty plus hours a week after losing her financial aid when she switched schools in early July.
“You’ll have to come up with some of this money yourself,” Dad had told her after looking at the first tuition bill.
And then one night—when I’d asked Guy for a ride home from a graduation party—I put my head in his lap and did the down and dirty deed, the one all boys want. At first, he protested, tried to push my head away, grabbed my hair. Muttered something about Shelley.
But, in seconds, he was grabbing my hair in another way, steering me.
“That’s never going to happen again,” he said when it was over, when he’d caught his breath. “Don’t know what I was thinking.”
Strangely, he didn’t blame me, probably believing that such an act could only be a male-generated idea. When I got into my mother’s car and turned the headlights on, his face captured in the light, was filled with revulsion. A look I’d come to know well.
But it did happen again—off and on all July. Neither of us talked about it, silence seemed to be the price he demanded. My plan to expose his lechery immediately went awry as I began to be more drawn to my own awfulness, to the sinister power I wielded. Had this attracted Shelley, too?
I don’t know what I hoped for—did I hope he’d dump Shelley for me—I doubt it. I wanted to puncture the balloon of happiness that floated above her head. Wanted to force him to tell her what he’d done. Confess and take full blame as I knew he would. But not yet.
Early August. I met him at a nice spot overlooking the valley. I climbed into his car and began my routine. Our routine. There was never any kissing and he never touched me more than he had to. Never any words of love—nothing but this amazingly mechanical act. I was disgusted with myself, considering ending it because it seemed like Guy couldn’t stop. I felt shame. I didn’t know much—if anything—about boys, but apparently this could not be turned down. Why didn’t Shelley give him what he needed? Or was it I who’d created the need? Would he have been content with what she had to offer had I not come along?
Suddenly, a face loomed up behind Guy’s head.
I pulled away but not before she caught sight of the look on Guy’s upturned face, his open jeans, my damp face rising. And then, she was gone.
“Guy,” I said, sitting up.
“What?” His voice sounded like my father’s did when he’d been drinking. Groggy, indistinct, hoarse.
“I just saw Shelley.” I was whispering—as if she might be lurking nearby instead of thousands of feet away by then.
“What?” he said, trying to make sense of it now. “Shelley? Where?”
“Just outside. Looking in at us.”
Guy groaned, got himself together, opened the door, and leaped out. “Shelley?”
I climbed out the other side. Shelley’s, or rather my father’s car, was parked behind us. I ran over and pulled the door open. Empty except for her purse on the seat.
Guy’s cries of “Shelley” grew faint as he moved farther away.
I rummaged in the glove box for a flashlight. When I came up with one, the battery was dead. How like my father, I thought despite myself. Throwing it aside, I ran back to Guy’s car, found another one that worked, shed its rather anemic light into the night, and walked carefully around.
I heard Guy shouting. And shouting again—louder this time. Was he shouting for me? Did I have any place in the drama I’d created? Reluctantly, I ran toward the sound—which had become, ominously, the sound of sobbing. My flashlight picked him up finally, standing next to an outcropping just before the trees turned into sloping woods.
“Did you find her?”
He nodded and tilted his head toward the falloff. I crept over and pointed my light. She lay at the bottom of the hill.
I started scrambling down the hill with Guy right behind me. He was trying to talk, but our heavy breathing obscured his words. It took several minutes and a lot of slipping and sliding to reach bottom. We were muddy and bruised by tree limbs by the time we reached bottom.
“Tried to grab her hand and she fell,” Guy finally said. “Dry ground just gave way, dropping into the air, and she fell with it.” He was sobbing.
We could see from the angle of her neck it was broken. Neither of us needed to touch her, but we both did anyway. Tried to breathe life back into her limp body. After several minutes, we both fell silent and still.
“What’re we going to do?” Guy asked. “Call the cops?”
I thought for a minute. “Can you imagine telling anyone the whole story? Telling my parents—the cops—our friends what we were doing? That I was giving you…a blow job?” I winced, but got it out. “How she found us and ran away? How you pushed her off the ledge? Accidentally—but still.”
He was crying again and I resisted the urge to join him. “I didn’t push her, Shannon. I was trying to make her stop running—so I could tell her. Explain it didn’t—”
“And how will that sound? That it didn’t mean anything?”
I was thinking as quickly as I could, trying to come up with an idea before he confessed everything. I’d lost my sister. Suddenly, holding onto Guy seemed important. Guy was all I had of hers.
“So what should we say then?”
His voice had gone quiet, submissive. I could feel him working his way back to the idea of telling the truth. Thinking it might just be simpler.
“Look. Maybe we weren’t here at all tonight—you and me. Maybe she found out about us—maybe that we were eloping— something like that, and killed herself. Drove up to a place you’d come to with her and jumped.”
“Eloping?” Guy said, looking at me with repulsion. “What—and then we didn’t do it after all? Elope?”
“No, we’d have to do it. It’d put us miles away from here.”
“You and me—get married?”
“We wouldn’t have to stay married, Guy. Just long enough to put them off.” But then it occurred to me, if not to poor Guy, that I was only seventeen. I couldn’t get married without my parents’ consent.
“Don’t we need a license?”
“Not in Vegas. You can get one on the spot. It’s only a couple hundred miles away.”
“Drive there right now?” He looked incredulous, but inch by inch he was buying the idea. He was a follower at heart and I was—something else.
“No, we’d have to go home first and get birth certificates. ID, that sort of thing.”
“Won’t your parents wonder where she is?”
“They won’t check. They never do.” And perhaps that’s why we were standing where we were.
So the plan was made. We made sure my father’s car could not be seen from the road, and drove home. He picked me up an hour later and we drove from Bakersfield to Las Vegas, got our license in the courthouse, and got married. Guy never noticed the name on the license read Shelley Witt. Never noticed he was officially married to the girl of his dreams and not her slutty sister. Not until months later.
Only after it was all over, after Shelley’s body had been found, investigated, mourned, buried, did he home to me in our horrible little apartment over the drugstore and say, “I guess we can file for a divorce some time soon.”
It was then that I showed him the illegal marriage certificate, threatening to tell the whole story. “How you used me for an alibi after you and Shelley had a fight. How maybe you pushed her off the ledge. How you made me marry you.”
I could see a million ways he could rid himself of me, refute this sad story, but he couldn’t think of one. It was then I realized my father had been right about Guy. That there wasn’t much behind that smile.
“So you mean we’re just going to go ahead?” he asked me, probably measuring my neck against his hands. “Stick it out?”
“For now,” I said.
I’d gotten used to him and his ways. And, eventually, he to mine.
And so I watch him night after night. Waiting for the day he grows tired of it all. For the day he sends me to join my sister. Or joins her himself. Either one will do. I just can’t live with the shame. Not forever at least.
BIO: Patricia Abbott has published more than fifty stories in literary and crime fiction outlets. Check out more from Patti at Pattinase.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
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