That white fog hadn’t lifted one bit and those legs were still standing there and about fifteen minutes had passed since they’d leaped up onto the front of the VW bug. We’d waited, Jelly kind of trembling now and then, whistling when he wasn’t trembling and staring hard when the whistling and trembling weren’t happening. I was keeping one eye closed and one open, praying a little bit, wishing a lot. It felt as though I was trapped in a kid’s fantasy, but that didn’t seem right, somehow. I know how hard it is for a kid to escape a bad dream and how a fantasy sometimes morphed into just such a nightmare. I remembered how in my own life that had been the pattern until I was grown. There was one in particular that came back to me, sitting there in that tight, little front seat of the bug.
I was probably thirteen when I first thought this one up. Living with my Pa in Skokie, my Ma withmy sisters in Fort Lee, New Jersey - a long trip away from us, there was always fantasies happening in the next room to mine. Pa had his girlfriends and I had my ears and I’d seen just enough of those magazine, you know - the ones with big bare titties - to get some sort of idea about what went on in his room after midnight. But this one night he had a girl in there who was particularly vocal and I heard stuff no kid should ever hear about his own father.
I could picture it out as I listened and I got this real vivid imagination anyway. So this pretty dramatic picture took shape of him lying back and her straddling him and giving him what for and him just growing and growing and growing until he had no room to grow any more. It was a weird one, but her vocalizing, even when she hit the high note, made it seem all too real. And when they got to the climax of their sexual duet they both were singing pretty good and then she broke into a hymn: Glorious Emancipation, you know, and that was it for me.
When I dreamt about this whole thing over the next few nights it always seemed to me that color changes and shape manipulations came into it as well. I could make that happen in my mind and it was scary, just like this situation now. Two sexy legs, and in those shoes, no motion - just waiting, and me here sitting down between them and Jelly quaking like jell-o on a platter next to me, his whistling and trembling like a rhythm machine setting things in motion for me. And all that fog making it dreamlike. It was like the fantasy come to haunt me in my maturity, come back to haunt me, really. Weird.
I had all this in my mind when the sounds started. Oh, boy. Did they ever.
"What’s that?" Jelly asked me very quiet and under his breath.
"Mountain lion, maybe."
"I said, ‘Maybe,’ Jell."
"What does it want?"
"How the hell would I know?" I was pissed now. "How in the Hell - capital H - would I ever know what some dumb animal out there in the fog wanted? Who do you think I am, bro? Who in the hell - small h - do you think I am?"
"I’m beginning to wonder that question myself," he said and he turned to look at me. He had a queer look on him that said ‘trouble coming’ and I moved back as far as I could, up against the door.
"What you looking at?" I asked him. "You know me."
"I thought I did," he said in that low, under the breath voice again.
"You do!" I was reassuring him I hadn’t changed, but he knew there was a difference now between us, that he was scared and I was not.
"I thought I did," he said again. He moved a bit in my direction, but the stick shift handle got caught in his sleeve. That stopped him a moment.
Neither one of us was thinking about those legs just then. It was out of our minds as we concentrated on each other.
"It’s Steve, Jelly-Man. I’m just Steve." And I laughed. I hoped it sounded natural, but I was afraid I hadn’t made it really right.
"Steve," he said. "I thought it was you, but I wasn’t so sure for a sec."
I reached out and patted him on the shoulder, the way I do after he does a perfect lick and he smiled at me, his confidence coming back. He touched my hand with his and I could feel the sweat on his palm dripping onto the back of my own mitt. And right then was when I noticed how things around us had changed.
"Look, Jelly," I whispered, my turn to be low-key but intense. He turned to look where I was looking and he saw what I saw, or what I didn’t see. The woman’s legs were gone. It was just him, me, the bug and the white fog around us. We were alone again and that felt right. I checked the little clock on the dashboard and saw we’d been sitting there for a half an hour. Thirty minutes to come through what I hoped was the worst of the experience. Eighteen hundred beats in 4/4 time in a fox-trot tempo to safety.
Then the sounds started up and they were different this time. And they were closer.
"Can you see it?" Jelly asked me about ten minutes later, ten minutes we’d spend in total silence listening to the sounds outside.
"Almost," I said.
"I can see it."
"What do you see, then?
"See where we are, Man."
"What do you mean?"
"Road sign. Coming clear to me, white on green."
"How can that be?"
"It’s over here, on my side, on the corner, near the window, right above us."
"I don’t see it."
"I can see it."
"What’s it say, Jell?"
"Don’t quite know yet."
"Can you read it?
"I can read it."
"What’s it saying?"
"Don’t believe it."
"Where we at, Man?"
"We’re at nowhere."
"What’s that mean, Man?"
This was playing out like some old tune we should be playing on a bandstand somewhere else, I thought. Too much rhythm, too little emotion. I like my music with a depth and a heart in it, not just a toe-tapping beat. We had the beat, but not the meaning. So I changed the cadence.
"Jelly, Man, get a grip and read the words out plain."
He turned to me and smiled that wicked smile. Then he told me what he saw out there.
"Steve, we at a corner and the corner has three directions, two of them the same one."
"I don’t get that," I said to him, looking him straight in the eye, trying to read his mindset again.
"We at the corner of the same street and a different one."
"I’m not with you, Man."
"You’re with me. You can’t get out of this bug."
"But where are we?" I asked him.
"It say we are at the corner of Hemlock and Hemlock, but if you go one way on one of them Hemlocks you are on Hardy. We at Hemlock, Hemlock and Hardy, Man."
"Where in the world is that, I wonder," I said.
"Wherever we at, it be too damn remote." His words were right on. That’s my man, Jelly.