Money, Flowers, Etc.
By Joe Trinkle
When I was around fourteen or fifteen, I had a girlfriend. She was half white and half Cherokee, and all of my friends told me she was hot. I liked her. She was the first girl who took her shirt off for me. We were dating, although I hadn’t known the first thing of what that exactly entailed. All I had to go on were the other kids in my high school — guys trying to get laid, and girls trying to have the cutest boyfriend possible — those were my examples.
The day she showed me her breasts, we made plans to go the movies the following night. I don’t remember what we went to see. I’ve never cared for movies, a trait that has always made me unlikeable. I met her in front of her house at six, and we walked together to the AMC. We went to the ticket booth and I ordered two adult tickets.
“Sixteen dollars,” the attendant said.
I had forty dollars in my pocket. I gave her a twenty dollar bill. She listlessly handed me my change, and my girlfriend and I went inside the building. With the other twenty dollar bill, I purchased two extra large bags of popcorn and two large root beers. We entered our designated theatre, trying to find the most obscure seats way up near the projector. She told me that she would give me twenty dollars when she got home, that her mother had promised to give her some money towards our ‘night out.’ I told her not to worry about it, casually, as if I did this sort of thing with girls all the time, and as if I always paid. But my logic was that I had a job and she didn’t, and I was a boy and she was a girl, and I felt good paying for the tickets and the popcorn — and besides, it was just twenty dollars.
I remembered her being adamant about the money. Even as the previews were being shown, she wouldn’t let it go. “My mom is going to give me twenty dollars tonight. There’s no reason not to take it,” she kept saying.
I didn’t see what the big deal was, why she wouldn’t shut up about it. I said something like, “I don’t want your money. Just relax and watch the movie.”
“It’s my mom’s money.”
“I don’t want your mom’s money, then.”
Throughout the duration of the film, I spent less time looking at the screen and more time trying to experience the electric buzz of her. We held hands for a while. Then I put my arm around her. Then she put her hand on my leg. She went to the bathroom, and came back. We spent a couple of minutes staring at each other. She kissed my ear. I felt something profound, but I had no idea what it was — an inexplicable plunging emotion, a sense of mystery that made my armpits sweaty.
When the movie was over, we walked back to her house. It was 9:30. Her mom was home. She had a haircut that was shaped like a coonskin cap — if that’s what they’re called. Like Davy Crockett used to wear. It was a hideous hairstyle. She gave the girl twenty dollars and asked us if we were having sex yet.
“No,” we said.
Her mom indicated that she was going to bed, and told us that if she came down here and we were naked, that she was going to throw cold water on us. We all laughed. As soon as she went upstairs, my girlfriend went into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of her mother’s peach schnapps from a cabinet. She poured some into two cups and mixed it with sweetened tea from the fridge. She didn’t add any ice. We sat on the couch for a while watching Pink Floyd’s The Wall. That was the only time I’d ever seen the movie, and all I remember is my girlfriend sitting next to me on the couch, her body radiating something I’ve not felt since, the syrupy taste of the drinks, and that all the flowers looked liked vaginas. I didn’t get the point of the movie.
We went outside to smoke a cigarette. One of the kids who lived in the same apartment building was out there smoking, too. They talked for a few minutes about someone else whom I did not know. The kid made me nervous because I was shorter than him and he talked really fast. He gave me a weird smile as he walked past me and went inside.
The cigarettes were menthol because we were young.
She held the twenty dollar bill in her hand and offered it to me. I told her that I didn’t want it, that I didn’t mind taking her out because she was my girlfriend, plus I had a job, and she didn’t. She told me I was being stubborn, folded the bill into a little square and came over to kiss me. We made out for a half hour, toward the end of which she slipped the money into my jeans pocket. I pushed her away, and we both laughed, and I said that wasn’t fair. I took the bill, unfolded it, and told her that if she didn’t want it, that I was just going to burn it. She said that was the absolute stupidest thing she’d ever heard, but that she wasn’t taking the money. “Fine, burn it,” she said. “I don’t care.”
I didn’t hesitate, but took my lighter and held it to the corner of the oily, green and white rectangle. It burned quickly, but the moment was powerful and both of our faces were intent upon the flame. I held it as long as I could, until my fingers got hot. It fell onto the pavement and smoldered for a while.
“I can’t believe you did that,” she said.
I didn’t feel that I’d done anything impressive or good, or even bad. The flame was captivating, but I still felt the same afterwards. I downed the rest of my drink and quickly became buzzed. It was the third time I’d drank alcohol. We went back inside and there were still anatomically suggestive flowers copulating on the TV. I sat on the couch and she came over and laid her head on my lap. She held my hand in hers and squeezed it from time to time, as if she were intermittently overwhelmed by some sudden thought. The VHS tape ended and the living room went all blue. She reached for the remote on the floor and turned off the TV. The room went all black.
The buzz from the schnapps was wearing off, but I didn’t want any more. It was too sweet. It didn’t matter because she didn’t offer me more. She asked if I wanted to have sex, and I noticed how delicate she seemed, how elastic and soft at the same time.
“No. Not like this.”
“Not like what?”
I didn’t say anything, and then I said, “I don’t know.”
I felt false or fraudulent, although I had no reason to. My body burned for her in a literal sense, but my mind was someplace else, working desperately to find the answer to a question that I hadn’t asked it. She asked me if I thought I would turn out an unhappy person, and I don’t remember what I said.
Joe Trinkle is a fiction writer and essayist currently living in Philadelphia. He attended Kutztown University of Pennsylvania for Writing and co-founded the Allentown Writers Workshop. Previously published in The Bygone Bureau, Crack The Spine, New Fraktur Arts Journal, and Subtopian Magazine, his fiction is also forthcoming in several journals. He is 5’9″ and a half, but tells people he is 5’10”, and is the Fiction Editor and a regular contributor at WINK Pinup. Find him at www.joetrinkle.com