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Authors: George Saunders

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BOOK: Pastoralia
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The barber was early. He liked to be early. He felt it was polite to be early, except when he was late, at which time he felt being early was anal. Where the heck was everybody? They weren’t very polite. He looked down at his special shoes. They were blocky and black and had big removable metal stays in the sides and squeaked when he walked. Well if anybody said anything about his shoes they could go to hell, he hadn’t asked to be born with no toes, and besides, the special shoes looked nice with khakis.

“Sorry we’re late!” Mr. Jenks shouted, and the Driving School group settled in around the long gnarled table.

The pretty but heavy girl hung her purse across the back of her chair. Her hair looked like her hair in the dream and her eyes looked like her eyes in the dream, and as for her body, he couldn’t tell, she was wearing a mumu. But certainly facially she was pretty. Facially she was very possibly the prettiest girl here. Was she? If aliens came down and forced each man to pick one woman to reproduce
with in a chain-link enclosure while they took notes, would he choose her, based solely on face? Here was a woman with a good rear but a doglike face, here was a woman with a nice perm but a blop at the end of her nose, here was the Buggin’ girl, who looked like a chicken, here was the white-haired woman, whose face was all wrinkled, here was the pretty but heavy girl. Was she the prettiest? Facially? He thought she very possibly was.

He regarded her fondly from across the table, waiting for her to catch him regarding her fondly, so he could quickly avert his eyes, so she’d know he was still possibly interested, and then she dropped her menu and bent to retrieve it and the barber had a chance to look briefly down her dress.

Well she definitely had something going on in the chest category. So facially she was the prettiest in the room, plus she had decent boobs. Attractive breasts. The thing was, would she want him? He was old. Oldish. When he stood up too fast his knee joints popped. Lately his gums had started to bleed. Plus he had no toes. Although why sell himself short? He owned his own small business. He had a bit of a gut, yes, and his hair was somewhat thin, but then again his shoulders and chest were broad, so that the overall effect, even with the gut, was of power, which girls liked, and at least his head was properly sized for his body, which was more than she could say, although then again he still lived with his mother.

Well, who was perfect? He wasn’t perfect and she wasn’t perfect but they obviously had some sort of special chemistry, based on what had happened at the Driving
School, and anyway, what the heck, he wasn’t proposing, he was just considering possibly trying to get to know her somewhat better.

In this way he decided to ask the pretty but heavy girl out.

How to do it, that was the thing. How to ask her. He could get her alone and say her hair looked super. While saying it looked super he could run a curl through his fingers in a professional way, as if looking for split ends. He could say he’d love a chance to cut such excellent hair, then slip her a card for One Free Cut and Coffee. That could work. That had worked in the past. It had worked with Sylvia Reynolds, a bank teller with crow’s-feet and a weird laugh who turned out to be an excellent kisser. When she’d come in for her Free Cut and Coffee, he’d claimed they were out of coffee, and taken her to Bean Men Roasters. A few dates later they’d gotten carried away, unfortunately, because of her excellent kissing, and done more, much more actually, than he ever would’ve imagined doing with someone with crow’s-feet and a weird laugh and strangely wide hips, and when he’d gotten home that night and had a good hard look at the locket she’d given him after they’d done it, he’d instantly felt bad, because wow could you ever see the crow’s-feet in that picture. As he looked at Sylvia standing in that bright sunlit meadow in the picture, her head thrown back, joyfully laughing, her crow’s-feet so very pronounced, a spontaneous image had sprung into his mind of her coming wide-hipped toward him while holding a baby, and suddenly he’d been deeply disappointed in himself for doing it with someone so unusuallooking,
and to ensure that he didn’t make matters worse by inadvertently doing it with her a second time, he’d sort of never called her again, and had even switched banks.

He glanced at the pretty but heavy girl and found her making her way toward the Ladies’.

Now was as good a time as any.

He waited a few minutes, then excused himself and stood outside the Ladies’ reading ads posted on a corkboard until the pretty but heavy girl came out.

He cleared his throat and asked was she having fun?

She said yes.

Then he said wow did her hair look great. And in terms of great hair, he knew what he was talking about, he was a professional. Where did she have it cut? He ran one of her curls through his fingers, as if looking for split ends, and said he’d love the chance to work with such dynamite hair, and took from his shirt pocket the card for One Free Cut and Coffee.

“Maybe you could stop by sometime,” he said.

“That’s nice of you,” she said, and blushed.

So she was a shy girl. Sort of cutely nerdy. Not exactly confident. That was too bad. He liked confidence. He found it sexy. On the other hand, who could blame her, he could sometimes be very intimidating. Also her lack of confidence indicated he could perhaps afford to be a little bit bold.

“Like, say, tomorrow?” he said. “Like, say, tomorrow at noon?”

“Ha,” she said. “You move quick.”

“Not too quick, I hope,” he said.

“No,” she said. “Not too quick.”

So he had her. By saying he wasn’t moving too quick, wasn’t she implicitly implying that he was moving at exactly the right speed? All he had to do now was close the deal.

“I’ll be honest,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about you since Driving School.”

“You have?” she said.

“I have,” he said.

“So you’re saying tomorrow?” she said, blushing again.

“If that’s okay for you,” he said.

“It’s okay for me,” she said.

Then she started uncertainly back to the table and the barber raced into the Men’s. Yes! Yes yes yes. It was a date. He had her. He couldn’t believe it. He’d really played that smart. What had he been worried about? He was cute, women had always considered him cute, never mind the thin hair and minor gut, there was just something about him women liked.

Wow she was pretty, he had done very very well for himself.

Back at the table Mr. Jenks was taking Polaroids. He announced his intention of taking six shots of the Driving School group, one for each member to keep, and the barber stood behind the pretty but heavy girl, with his hands on her shoulders, and she reached up and gave his wrist a little squeeze.

6.

At home old-lady cars were in the driveway and old-lady coats were piled on the couch and the house smelled like old lady and the members of the Altar and Rosary Society were gathered around the dining room table looking frail. They all looked the same to the barber, he could never keep them straight, there was a crone in a lime pantsuit and a crone in a pink pantsuit and two crones in blue pantsuits. As he came in they began asking Ma where he had been, why was he out so late, why hadn’t he been here to help, wasn’t he normally a fairly good son? And Ma said yes, he was normally a fairly good son, except he hadn’t given her any grandkids yet and often wasted water by bathing twice a day.

“My son had that problem,” said one of the blue crones. “His wife once pulled me aside.”

“Has his wife ever pulled you aside?” the pink crone said to Ma.

“He’s not married,” said Ma.

“Maybe the not-married is related to the bathing-too-often,” said the lime crone.

“Maybe he holds himself aloof from others,” said the blue crone. “My son held himself aloof from others.”

“My daughter holds herself aloof from others,” said the pink crone.

“Does she bathe too often?” said Ma.

“She doesn’t bathe too often,” said the pink crone. “She just thinks she’s smarter than everyone.”

“Do you think you’re smarter than everyone?” asked the lime crone severely, and thank God at that moment Ma reached up and pulled him down by the shirt and roughly kissed his cheek.

“Have a good time?” she said, and the group photo fell out of his pocket and into the dip.

“Very nice,” he said.

“Who are these people?” she said, wiping a bit of dip off the photo with her finger. “Are these the people you went to meet? Who is this you’re embracing? This big one.

“I’m not embracing her, Ma,” he said. “I’m just standing behind her. She’s a friend.”

“She’s big,” Ma said. “You smell like beer.”

“Did you girls see Mrs. Link last Sunday?” said the lime crone. “Mrs. Link should never wear slacks. When she wears slacks her hips look wide. Her hips are all you see.”

“They almost seem to precede her into the church,” said the pink crone.

“It’s as if she is being accompanied by her own hips,” said the lime crone.

“Some men like them big,” said one of the blue crones.

“Look at his face,” said the other blue crone. “He likes them big.”

“The cat who ate the canary,” said the lime crone.

“Actually I don’t consider her big,” said the barber, in
a tone of disinterested interest, looking down over the pink crone’s shoulder at the photo.

“Whatever you say,” said the lime crone.

“He’s been drinking,” said Ma.

Oh he didn’t care what they thought, he was happy. He jokingly snatched the photo away and dashed up to his room, taking two stairs at a time. These poor old farts, they were all superlonely, which was why they were so damn mean.

Gabby Gabby Gabby, her name was Gabby, short for Gabrielle.

Tomorrow they had a date for lunch.

Breakfast, rather. They’d moved it up to breakfast. While they’d been kissing against her car she’d said she wasn’t sure she could wait until lunch to see him again. He felt the same way. Even breakfast seemed a long time to wait. He wished she was sitting next to him on the bed right now, holding his hand, listening through the tiny vined window to the sounds of the crones cackling as they left. In his mind he stroked her hair and said he was glad he’d finally found her, and she said she was glad to have been found, she’d never dreamed that someone so distinguished, with such a broad chest and wide shoulders, could love a girl like her. Was she happy? he tenderly asked. Oh she was so happy, she said, so happy to be sitting next to this accomplished, distinguished man in this amazing house, which in his mind was not the current house, a pea-green ranch with a tilted cracked sidewalk, but a mansion, on a lake, with a smaller house nearby for Ma, down a very
very long wooded path, and he’d paid cash for the mansion with money he’d made from his international chain of barbershops, each of which was an exact copy of his current barbershop, and when he and Gabby visited his London England shop, leaving Ma behind in the little house, his English barbers would always burst into applause and say Jolly Good Jolly Good as the happy couple walked in the door.

“I’m leaving you the dishes, Romeo,” Ma shouted from the bottom of the stairs.

7.

Early next morning he sat in the bath, getting ready for his date. Here was his floating wienie, like some kind of sea creature, here were his nubs on the green tile. He danced them nervously around a bit, like Fred Astaire dancing on a wall, and swirled the washrag through the water, holding it by one corner, so that it too was like a sea creature, a blue ray, a blue monogrammed ray that now crossed the land that was his belly and attacked the sea creature that was his wienie, and remembering what Uncle Edgar had said at the wedding about his shooter not being viable, he gave his shooter a good, hard, reassuring shake, as if congratulating it for being so very viable. It was a great shooter, very good, perfectly fine, in spite of what Ann DeMann had once said about him being a bad screw, it had gotten hard quick last night and stayed hard throughout the kissing,
and as far as being queer, that was laughable, he wished Uncle Edgar could have seen that big boner.

Oh he felt good, in spite of a slight hangover he was very happy.

Flipping his unit carelessly from side to side with thumb and forefinger, he looked at the group Polaroid, which he’d placed near the sink. God, she was pretty. He was so lucky. He had a date with a pretty young girl. Those crones were nuts, she wasn’t big, no bigger than any other girl. Not much bigger anyway. How wide were her shoulders compared to, say, the shoulders of the Buggin’ girl? Well, he wasn’t going to dignify that with a response. She was perfect just the way she was. He leaned out of the tub to look closer at the photo. Well, Gabby’s shoulders were maybe a little wider than the Buggin’ girl’s shoulders. Definitely wider. Were they wider than the shoulders of the white-haired woman? Actually in the photo they were even wider than the shoulders of the country boy.

Oh, he didn’t care, he just really liked her. He liked her laugh and the way she had of raising one eyebrow when skeptical, he liked the way that, when he moved his hand to her boob as they leaned against her car, she let out a happy little sigh. He liked how, after a few minutes of kissing her while feeling her boobs, which were super, very firm, when he dropped his hand down between her legs, she said she thought that was probably enough for one night, which was good, it showed good morals, it showed she knew when to call it quits.

Ma was in her room, banging things around.

Because for a while there he’d been worried. Worried she wasn’t going to stop him. Which would have been disappointing. Because she barely knew him. He could’ve been anybody. For a few minutes there against the car he’d wondered if she wasn’t a little on the easy side. He wondered this now. Did he? Did he wonder this now? Did he want to wonder this now? Wasn’t that sort of doubting her? Wasn’t that sort of disloyal? No, no, it was fine, there was no sin in looking at things honestly. So was she? Too easy? In other words, why so sort of desperate? Why had she so quickly agreed to go out with him? Why so willing to give it away so easily to some old guy she barely knew? Well, he thought he might know why. Possibly it was due to her size. Possibly the guys her own age had passed her by, due to the big bod, and nearing thirty, she’d heard her biologic clock ticking and decided it was time to lower her standards, which, possibly, was where he came in. Possibly, seeing him at the Driving School, she’d thought: Since all old guys like young girls, big bods notwithstanding, this old pear-shaped balding guy can ergo be had no problem.

BOOK: Pastoralia
13.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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