Fiction · 08/26/2009

Rocket Into A Pocket

A guy with breasts sings down at the bar, Rick becoming Richelle. She’s raising money for estrogen and to turn her “rocket into a pocket.” In Seoul, she says, they do the operation for a steal. She tells bad Bush jokes, and shares her getting-to-be-Richelle travails. Toward the end of her act, she croons her own songs about trying to trap love while making a lewd gesture with her thumb and first finger pinched together. Her guitar strap reads “Pussy,” but it’s the duet with herself on “Jackson” where she does killer June Carter and Johnny Cash that brings down the house.

Used to be, whenever our wild friends came into town, my husband, Dan, and I would hire a babysitter for our three tykes and take our guests to see Rick-getting-to-be-Richelle play. We’d never go just the two of us, or take family or co-workers, and always had to drink plenty of cheap vodka to get us loose enough, loose as marionettes. The last night we went to the bar, Rick-getting-to-be-Richelle asked everyone to call her Rikki from then on. I thought that I only imagined that she was talking straight to me, but later she cornered me in the bathroom, and told me she had a crush on me. Said she’d never liked men: not being one or doing one. I felt numb with vodka, but not numb enough. I laughed like I didn’t get that she was serious, and rushed inside the toilet cubicle.

As soon as she started singing again out in the bar, I emerged from the bathroom and put a twenty into her tip jar. When she blew me a kiss and mouthed “thanks,” I blew her a kiss right back, and mouthed “you’re welcome” with more lip action than needed.

“What are you doing?” Dan asked, his brow boasting more furrows than those British bulldogs.

I lifted his glass to his lips, and urged him to drink.

Later, Rikki invited me up with her to sing. I blushed and the crowd whooped. Our friends pushed me out of my chair. Rikki and I agreed on “Mustang Sally.” What I lacked in vocals, I tried hard to make up for with jiggling cleavage and tantalizing hip work, drawing whistles and shouts from the audience. I liked what I imagined I was doing to them all, Rikki included. So public like that, I felt sexy, but safe. When we sang the last chorus together, Rikki and I faced each other, only the silver head of the microphone separating our wet mouths. She locked me in a tortured-with-yearning look that I couldn’t hold.

When we got home, Dan wanted to have sex. I rolled over, pretending to feel too drunk. Maybe I really was too drunk, or maybe it was that all too often sex seemed too much effort with not enough pay-off. Almost asleep, I wondered again at Dan or my exes not giving me the kinds of ecstasy my girlfriends liked to giggle over and brag about. I recalled the hungry way Rikki had looked at me in the bathroom and on-stage, my chest tightening as I lay next to my frustrated husband. Sometimes, just sometimes, I wondered if a woman could love me the way I longed to be loved.

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The next time our friends came into town I wouldn’t go to see Rikki. Dan whined and coaxed, but still I wouldn’t go. They went anyway. While they were gone, I pictured the audience snapping to attention when Rikki first shifted gears from “her” high-pitched opening ballads down to “his” deep country heart of the act. It was that to-ing and fro-ing that made Rikki’s performance, but I thought it must also mess with her head so badly. The next morning, amidst the pandemonium of kids, guests, maple syrup, and blueberry pancakes, Dan mentioned that Rikki had asked after me.

Several months later, I bumped into Rikki in a downtown store: her breasts were bigger, hair longer, and skirts shorter. I had our youngest, Jimmy, with me, and his puzzled three-year-old face stared up out of his stroller at Rikki, trying to figure her out. I attempted small-talk, but Rikki was grinning at me like I was something edible, and asked if I wanted to grab a quick coffee.

My cheeks burning, I made a show of looking at my watch and apologizing, mumbling something about needing to be some place with Jimmy. Her expression dimmed. I apologized again. She searched my face, wounded: I didn’t know how to be with her here, just the two of us, sober and in the real world.

I rushed outside, hurrying up the street, Jimmy squealing “wheee.” After I’d put several blocks between us, I slowed, gasping, feeling like there were nails entering my chest.

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Ethel Rohan is a prolific writer of flash and short fiction. She has yet to place work with magazines starting with h, q, v, x, y, and z. Her blog is www.straightfromtheheartinmyhip.blogspot.com.