[Editor's note: CultureCatch is going to be supplementing our usual critical fare with more new, previously unpublished creative pieces such as this. We've done a bit of this in the past, most notably with Ken Krimstein's cartoons and Dusty Wright's music; now we plan to increase our publication of this type of content. Please contact us if you would like to contribute original work.
Warning: the chapter below contains "adult situations." But our readers are adults, right?]
Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress by Roman AkLeff
"We only walk by continually beginning to fall forward." - William Gibson, Zero History
Walter Faber packed his sales case for his last weekly exercise in futility. He was looking forward to college, but for this summer, at least, it had been a giant liability. Nobody would hire him knowing that by the end of August, he'd be gone.
Then again, he hadn't been in demand even before that. He'd quit his job at the Friendly's in the mall after his hours per week had dropped into the single digits, opting for Arthur Treacher's instead. That had been an improvement for a while, hours-wise and in terms of camaraderie – the holiday party, and the night when he'd won a bet by eating a whole cup of horseradish (after secretly sucking on ice cubes in advance) – had been fun. But then, after the holidays, had come the layoff, followed by a series of store managers sadly shaking their heads at his polite, even bashful, requests for employment.
Then he'd seen the ad for a salesman, gone for the interview, which had been in a woman's apartment, and been immediately accepted as a Fuller Brush salesman.
"They're still in business? I thought they went out when the Depression ended," had said his mother, who knew about the Depression first-hand, having been born (like his father) near its beginning.
Yes, they were still in business, but at this point it seemed more like a pyramid scheme than anything else, though while in the company of the attractive woman interviewer/manager who sold him his product, he had been too distracted to figure it out.
The first day on the job had been a rude awakening. Five hours walking around in the summer sun, carrying the sample case and the carpet cleaner, with no sales and nobody even home at most houses on the route. He had quickly put in for a route change and been granted a sales area in a more genteel (and shadier, thanks to the trees) neighborhood where nice middle-aged women answered their doorbells and invited him in and even, occasionally, bought something. It was neck and neck whether his small share of the small profits would cover his gas expenses. But he been told it was character building.
Truth be told, the characters were the customers. He knew a few of them from before this job, and knew the children of a few more. One of them was even a big part of why he'd kept plugging away at this thankless job.
Before he left, Walter grabbed a few more of the potato brushes. They were the most popular item; too bad they sold for just two dollars. He wasn't going to get his money back for unsold merch, so he might as well celebrate his last day how he wanted.
He could have turned a profit, however pathetically miniscule, by walking to his route, especially since he'd given up lugging the carpet cleaner. Nobody had ever let him demo it with the little bag of dirt he'd been told to carry with him. Or especially not with the dirt. Who had honestly thought suburban housewives would let a stranger, no matter how young, earnest, clean-cut, and polite – and Walter was nothing if not all of those – throw dirt on their carpets? Anyway, even without the carpet cleaner, it was too darn hot to walk his route, unless he wanted to be all sweaty before he rang his first doorbell.
He drove to the rundown house with the old lady. Today he was only going to call on customers who had already bought from him. And the old lady had certainly bought most regularly. Not much, just one thing a week. It was a subtle exchange: he sat with her on her front porch, petting her smelly dog, drinking the lemonade she offered, and chatting with her for ten minutes or so, and she bought something so he'd return the next week. Walter didn't look forward to telling her that this would be his last week (though he definitely did eagerly anticipate never smelling her dog's hot, fetid breath again!), but he also knew he had to so she would understand why he didn't come back.
She took it well, enthusiastically wishing him luck at college. When he offered her – beyond the hair brush she had bought – a free potato brush, she had even tried to insist on paying for it. He had disarmed her by declaring it was because she was his favorite customer – very nearly true in a way – at which point, beaming with a look of joy he would long remember, she had acceded to his wish, thanking him with a soft squeeze of her flabby hand on his hand. He'd walked to his Ford Maverick with a warm glow that was due to more than just the mid-August humidity.
The next few stops were emotionally more low-key, but he still ended each one with a free potato brush, regardless of whether the lady of the house bought anything today. He sidetracked to Lisa's house, remembering picking her up there in the same car for Norman's graduation party. Afterwards he'd had to break into his own car -- using a table knife to force up the triangle-window's pathetic little latch -- because he'd been so excited by escorting her to the party that he'd forgotten to take his key out of the ignition. He also recalled the return drive, drunk on Schmidt's, with Lisa probably either scared out of her wits by his driving or else inwardly laughing at him. Anyway, as usual nobody came to the door. But it had been worth a try, even though it was slightly outside his approved sales area.
And then, backtracking, he made his way to Maria's house. She would not be home, or at least she never had been any of the other times he'd made his rounds – but Mrs. Garcia would be. And as much as Walter lusted after Maria and her abundant cleavage (so much so that he'd even volunteered to conduct her church's choir, though he'd quit after the rehearsal, in which he'd been dismayed to find that, far from the finely machined unit of his own church's choir, its members couldn't even sing in tune on a unison line, never mind harmonies), Mrs. Garcia was somehow even better fantasy material. For one thing, she wasn't a virginal born-again Christian. Oh, she was Catholic, purportedly, but from some of the complaints Maria had voiced, apparently not entirely averse to carnal sin since her divorce. And one look at her revealed from whence the genetic material for Maria's humongous breasts had come. Furthermore, Mrs. Garcia dressed casually in a way that did not entirely conceal her ripe physique.
Despite a summer spent jerking off to fantasies of Mrs. Garcia taking him upstairs and relieving him of his virginity, Walter dared not risk embarrassing himself by overtly making a move. But there was no harm, not even any risk as far as he could see, in just being available and seeing what came of it.
After he rang the doorbell, he heard a window open above him. Mrs. Garcia's head, wrapped in a white towel, poked outside and she said, "Hello Walter, the door's open. I'll be down in a minute."
"Thank you, Mrs. Garcia," he shouted up at her.
He walked inside. As usual, the living room was spotless. He could hear the whine of a hairdryer from upstairs. The grand piano sat in the corner, open and inviting. Maybe she would like to hear his music. He pulled out the bench, sat, and began improvising in his best yearning-to-be-Keith-Jarrett style. He knew full well that he was no match for Jarrett in terms of virtuosity, but he tried to compensate with interesting harmonies. Maybe the magic of music would inspire Mrs. Garcia to fulfill his fantasies.
"Why Walter, how lovely! Thank you for sharing your talent with me." He turned, smiling, to see her standing behind him, dressed in a white bathrobe. Her dark black hair framed her lightly tanned face and contrasted with the robe. In lieu of a belt, her crossed arms held the robe closed, and also pushed her breasts together, their tops peeking over the terrycloth.
"Have you got any other talents to share with me today?" As she spoke, she uncrossed her arms, and her robe parted. She wore nothing underneath. She moved closer, and he buried his face in her bosom.
"Walter! You don't just walk into someone's house and play their piano without permission!" The real Mrs. Garcia, dressed in tight Jordache jeans and a yellow halter top, stood at the foot of the stairs, her cross expression banishing the fantasy Mrs. Garcia instantly.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Garcia!" He hurriedly stood and scurried across the room to where he had left his sample case, extracted a potato brush, and extended it towards her. "Today is my last day, I'm going to college next week. Thank you for being my customer."
"Why, thank you, Walter. You're such a good boy. I'm sorry I yelled at you. Where are you going to college?"
"That's nice, you can come home on the weekends."
"Yes, my parents had me sign up for the five-day meal plan because of that."
"Maybe you can help Maria prepare for her auditions when she applies to schools next year. She says she wants to go to that damn Bible college her little church has upstate, but I want her to go to Juilliard. She should share her beautiful voice with the world, don't you agree? She sounded better singing with you on piano last month than I've ever heard her sound before."
"Thank you, Mrs. Garcia, I'll be happy to accompany her any time."
"Great! I'll tell her you dropped by. Have a nice day."
"You too, Mrs. Garcia."
Later, in the privacy of his room, Walter dwelled frantically on his last view of Mrs. Garcia, her shower-hardened nipples poking towards him through both her bra and halter top, her long cleavage warm and inviting. The physical manifestation of his longing required four tissues to mop up.
Roman AkLeff says of Music and Sex, his third attempt at a novel: "Lots of the events to be depicted in this book happened, to varying degrees. Some of it should have happened but didn't until now. Though it's mostly set in the 20th century, Music and Sex aspires to be a Bildungsroman for 21st century sensibilities, in that the main character doesn't finish coming of age until he is several decades into adulthood."