Gasoline

Gasoline

Georgio hated blue jeans on everyone but Mary.  On Mary they looked different.  They held her ass like a child’s cupped hands around a peach and made a zip-zip sound when she walked.  Plain Levi’s looked better than skirts, dresses, or evening gowns on her.  On Mary blue jeans obsessed him.

Mary liked Georgio.  His sharp eyes and full lips made it impossible for women to look only once as he walked, and she took pleasure in glaring at them one by one.  He always smelled of cologne and gasoline, and she liked that, too.  Riding behind him on his motorcycle made her shudder in spite of herself, and it took some effort to keep from stammering when he spoke with her at lights.  Mary wanted Georgio with her everywhere she went.

They went downtown, and an awkward girl in a yellow dress stared at Mary from across the street.  Mary saw she never looked at Georgio.  The girl looked like a dandelion in the daylight but became almost toadish as they passed.  It made Mary’s stomach uneasy.

“Fucking dyke,” said Mary.

“She’s not a dyke,” Georgio said.

“Oh, really?  How do you know?”

“Dykes only wear jeans.”

Mary laughed.

“Oh, really?”

Georgio’s hand rested on the small of her back and left faint gray smudges on her shirt.  He could never get all the grease off his fingers after working in the garage.  He guided her into a theatre ahead of him and watched the waistband of her pants sway.  His large splayed hand on her back looked to Georgio like a gear against a clutch plate.  He turned it clockwise in disengaging.

An attendant tore their tickets.  They skipped the snack bar and entered, standing by the door waiting for their eyes to adjust to the darkness.

“Where do you wanna sit?” said Mary.

“I see a couple seats midway down,” said Georgio.  “But let’s sit in front.  That’s way more fun.”

“Really?  In front?” she said, rubbing her neck.

“Hell, yeah.  Follow me.”

Georgio took Mary by the hand and edged by teenagers sitting in the third row until they came to the middle.

“Excuse us,” said Mary.

The film started with an explosion and a car chase.  The heroine looked ethnic, sexy, and vicious.  Flashes and booms filled the theatre.  The noise hurt Mary’s ears until they dulled from it.  She looked at Georgio and saw him staring upward with a careless grin, his eyes big as eggs.

“Is this your favorite kind of movie?” Mary said.

“What?”

“I said, do you always watch movies this way?”

“Yeah,” Georgio said.  “Talky movies I just watch at home while I build trannies on the coffee table, or something.”

“Oh.”

“I like to feel this kind of movie.  You know?”

Mary smiled and turned her face up at the screen.  The reflection on her skin swirled like pictures on water.  Georgio smiled, too.

About the time that the plot failed and the explosions slowed, the teenagers started making out with each other.  Georgio slid his hand up her leg and massaged her through the denim.  Mary turned to Georgio and he pretended to be watching the movie.  When he hooked his thumb under the waistband of her jeans and crept inside them, she reclined.  Mary put her head on Georgio’s shoulder and breathed into his ear.  The film quickened, plateaued, finished in a rush, and Mary sat stunned for a moment when the lights came up and Georgio stood looking down at her.

“Ready?” he said.

As they left he placed his hand on her back again but left no smudges, and kissed her hard in the street as they walked to his apartment in the twilight.

They sat next to each other on the small patio in front of his apartment smoking cigarettes and drinking domestic beer from glasses, and having what Mary called “beer talk.”  Sometimes they commented on locals that walked by, on their clothes, hair, mannerisms, things they said in passing, but more often just made lists of favorite things to love and hate.

“Top five slang words,” said Mary.

Georgio: “Fubar, fugly.  Um.  Tweaked, rocking – and, and dilligaf.”

“What’s dilligaf?” said Mary.

“Do I look like I give a fuck,” said Georgio.

She laughed.

“Your turn.”

Mary: “Cheesy, whack, phat – uh.  Bitchin’.  And bomb.”

“Bomb?  Like, ‘dat’s da bomb, yo?”

“Ha!  Yeah, da bomb-ass shiz-nit fo’ shizzle, my nizzle,” said Mary.

Georgio laughed.

“Alright, top five bands.”

Mary: “The Stones, The Verve, The Fugees, Velvet Underground, and – Him.”

“Never heard of Him before,” said Georgio.

“They’re new.  I’m really into them right now.”

“Oh.  Cool.”

“Your turn,” said Mary.

Georgio: “Dead Kennedys, Rocket from the Crypt, The Damned, X, and David fucking Bowie.”

Mary’s eyes widened.

“Wow,” she said, “the only one I’ve even heard of is David Bowie.”

“David fucking Bowie,” said Georgio, gesturing with a cigarette.

“Right.  David fucking Bowie; excuse me.”

They refilled their glasses.

“Okay, I have a fun one.  Top five things you hate on a girl,” Mary said.

“Ha-ha!  Okay.”

Georgio: “Arm fat—”

“Arm fat?”

“Well, yeah!  You know, she goes pointing at something and her arm’s all swinging around?  Gross.”

“Hah,” said Mary.  “Okay.”

“So, arm fat, guy haircuts, cankles—”

“Wait, what’s a cankle?” said Mary.

“It’s when there’s no ankle, and her calf just becomes her foot, and her legs look like tree trunks with shoes on ‘em.”

Mary laughed.

“Okay—”

“So, those three, fake tits, and,” he sighed, “blue jeans.”

“Blue jeans?”

“Yeah, I hate jeans.”

“Fuck you!” said Mary, slapping his arm and making him spill.

“No, I like them on you,” Georgio said.

“Why don’t you like jeans, of all things?”

“Everybody wears jeans.  Everybody!  I just wish people were more creative with their wardrobes.”

Mary frowned.

“I’m way creative!”

“No, I like them on you.  You’re an exception,” Georgio said.

“Gee, thanks.”

“No, really!  On you, they look – mmmmmn.  I would.”

Mary laughed, seeing his expression.  He laughed with her.

“So you seriously don’t own a pair of jeans?”

“No, of course I do, I just don’t wear them all the time.  I usually wear slacks or trousers or something with color.  Wool or polyester, cotton, fucking lots of different kinds of pants.”

“Ah,” said Mary.  “Okay, then.”

“So?  Your turn.”

“Things I hate on a guy?  Well, let me think.”

Mary: “Long hair, basketball shoes, tee-shirts with stupid things written on them, huge, beefy muscles, and – and – uh, I dunno.”

“Oh, come on,” said Georgio, sipping.

“—And gangsta’ rap,” Mary said.

“What?  That doesn’t count,” said Georgio.

“Yes it does.  Trust me, when guys listen to lots of gangsta’ rap, they wear it.”

They clutched each other and chuckled.  Just then a crowd of people walked by on the other side of the street.  Georgio stopped and pointed his finger at them.  They saw.  Georgio did not care.

“See?  Count the jeans.”

Nine out of eleven.

“Those two aren’t in jeans,” said Mary.

“Yeah, but they’re in khakis.  That’s what the boring bastards wear when their jeans run out for the week.”

“You know,” said Mary, “you’re kind of an asshole.”

Georgio was an asshole.  People had started calling Georgio “Asshole Billy” long ago.  Georgio was his last name.  It went back to when he threw some loudmouth through a retail storefront window into some mannequins.  Billy Georgio almost never reacted that way, but he had a threshold he called a personal courtesy line, and once crossed he considered it a social irresponsibility to fail to defend it.  Also, Asshole Billy possessed an uncanny ability to tell his women precisely where they stood in relation to him.  His friends said his outright honesty cut too deep, made unnecessary enemies, and complicated otherwise natural romances.  Bill did not care.

“I’m more honest than any religiofuck I ever knew,” Georgio said of himself.

People agreed, shaking their heads and smiling.

Asshole Billy had categories for the different kinds of people he called, “sheeple.”  There were religiofucks, corporate fucks, fashion fucks, politifucks, and just plain stupid fucks.  Bicyclists were Tour-de-France motherfuckers, inlanders were white-trash motherfuckers, athletes were jock-ass motherfuckers, and charmless college graduates were Phi-Beta-Kappa motherfuckers.

Women had separate categories.  Corporate women were suity bitches.  Women with money were rich bitches.  Women who could not have him were lurks.  Women who could have him were, “I would.”  Women with whom he fell in love were, “hellfire and damnation.”

Hurt, Asshole Billy turned to Mary.

“I’m not really an asshole.”

“I said, kind of.”

“Hum,” said Asshole Billy Georgio.

“Do you know you’re beautiful?” he said.

“No, I’m not,” said Mary.

Georgio rolled his eyes and sighed.

“You’re supposed to say, ‘thank you, Georgio!  Yes, I’m the most gorgeous woman in California.  When I moved in, half the population left in shame and envy.’”

Georgio’s wit came in strong, intermittent gushes.  “Two gems a day,” he would say.

Mary lowered her eyes and made a reluctant grin curve her pink mouth.

“Thank you, Georgio.”

Georgio nodded, lighting another cigarette.

“Of course, my hellfire and damnation.”

That night Georgio turned his hand on her back, imagining with the unattended part of his mind that her whole machine depended upon that one gear.  He pressed her forward, pressed her down, caused her hips to move side-to-side.  Before his eyes the gear slipped and caught her shoulder, and her drive train spasmed as he bit the sweaty nape of her neck through her hair.  Long blonde strands clung to his stubble and fell as he pulled away.  Mary’s compression leaked and spent.  Her cylinder collapsed and she broke down beneath him.  Oil seeped and ran.

Georgio thought, she’s thrown a rod.

He said, instead, “I love you, Mary.”

Mary gave sleeping Asshole Billy Georgio a kiss before leaving him.  In that moment she felt a screaming need to undress again and climb next to Billy, forgetting her intent to flee.  Then her gaze fell on the portrait of Sandra Bernhard.  Lit by gray twilight, Sandra’s shadowed sullen eyes, lidded and black with mascara, showed Mary what it meant to be called beautiful and convinced of one’s own ugliness at once.  Pain and purposeful passion drove them both, she and Sandra.  Mary’s soul swelled and stood her skeleton upright.  She would not be a beautiful thing.  She would be a powerful thing.

Mary sang in her car on the way home.

When the sunshine made Georgio turn and wake, his hand searched for Mary.  It found itself around a bottle, instead.  The bottle did not leave him until he could replace it with another.  Later in his drunkenness he thought of his favorite book, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  His dark portrait of Sandra Bernhard reminded him of the Count’s hawkish nose and aquiline features, pale and shadowy, with incisors that protruded, he imagined, over the red lower lip when she bit off the last note.

He raised the bottle to her.

“You have betrayed me, Renfield,” said Asshole Billy in a thick Slavic accent.”

My Lord! said Sandra as she hung.  I serve you!

Disgusted, Billy walked onto the patio and placed his hands on the rail, watching blue jeans and khakis march by.  He smiled at people who saw him standing there, and ignored hellos.  He smoked three packs of non-filtered Lucky Strikes and drank whiskey until he vomited.  Then he drank until he vomited again.  After an hour of this his stomach tired and he found himself able to continue.  In the morning two days later, he decided his damnation could last no more, but it endured beyond his capacity to restrain it.  When his palm bled long and flowing from a gash made by a screwdriver, Asshole Billy sobered enough to know his love had not only sunk, but had drowned him.

Georgio wrapped his hand in gauze and changed the oil in his bike, tightened the clutch cable, tested the chain, and picked a direction.

His friends knew Asshole Billy had gone when his women began calling them late at night.  His friends called and found he had reached Seattle.  The stories of Bill’s debauchery shocked his closest pals without surprising them.  When they asked about his return, he would change the subject.  When they asked what he was doing there, he would defer.  His friends knew better than to expect anything predictable from him, and so waited without awaiting news of his return.

Asshole Billy did not know he loved Mary.  The novelty of Seattle women infatuated him and wore out, woman after woman after young lady, after girl.

Noting the various qualities Billy’s dates possessed, an acquaintance called him jaded.  How could he get so tired of so many women so fast?

“They ain’t rare,” Bill would say, “so they ain’t precious.”

He found work as a mechanic and spent weekends manufacturing ways to live the fantasies of the typical American male.  He spoke as little of these exploits as a veteran does of war, and with as little interest.  Each Friday night marked the death of another whim and the birth of another triviality.  Georgio’s peers came to regard him as a romantic phantom, another Hollywood enigma walking the earth.  As young men began to idolize him, and young women vied to discover his secrets, he lost interest in society more and more.

Asshole Billy tried the boundaries of etiquette and propriety.  He began to find gentlemanly conduct unnecessary.  He stopped buying flowers, and stopped buying dinners, and stopped buying drinks.  Women paid his tabs and checks, and he soon gained a rent-free room in a woman’s house, a woman he never dated.

One night he saw a woman that all the other men at the club saw, too.

“I have a bottle of Jack at my place,” he said.  “Let’s go.”

“Oh – okay,” she said.

Georgio said goodnight to his acquaintances and left with her.

On the steps to his house she stared up into his bottomless eyes and felt limp.  He kissed her neck as though looking for something deep inside her there, and pushed open the door.

She could think of no one else when she left the following morning, like scores of women before her.  She passed her day with lunch and television, and visited the same club that night, but Georgio did not arrive.

Georgio showed up at around eleven, only a little after she had gone.  The patrons told jokes and danced, yelled, and toasted each other.  Sounds of glasses and plates resounded over the jukebox.

The children of the night, thought Georgio.  What sweet music they make.

A gravity developed around him, and others drifted unconsciously nearer wherever he stood in the club.  He seemed to suck the light from the air and reflect cold, yet everyone wanted to say some little thing to him, gain a glance, a smile, a look, if only to be recognized as another person sharing his space.  Billy Georgio’s indifference played in every move he made, frank, honest, and inoffensive, and the less he cared the more total strangers liked him.

Billy became very pale in Seattle.  He became whiter than even native city folk, because he only left the garage at night.  He came to think very little about the past or future, and his emotions regarding each daily circumstance left him expressionless.  His face lost the characteristic creases at the corners of his eyes, and the lines above his brows smoothed out.  With his skin tender and new, and his eyes stormless like those in cheap portraits of Jesus Christ, Billy Georgio seemed to grow young.

Bill spoke very little.  He often found girls waiting for him on his stoop when he came home, sometimes in pairs.  Cocktail waitresses put drinks in front of him and occasionally asked to be paid.  Sometimes he knew who bought his drinks.  His boss had broken motorcycles waiting in the garage each morning, and Bill would tighten them up without needing any direction.  His checks waited on the workbench every Friday.  Like this his life revolved around him, and like the hub of a wheel, he appeared motionless, moving through the world without touching the ground, without touching a thing.

Asshole Billy grew older.

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