Pursuit of Happiness

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Fiction

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Pursuit of Happiness graphic

As he grew into young manhood, the night of the tree frogs lurked in the back room of his memory, whispering a warning whenever his gaze or his thoughts strayed into the forbidden territory. He averted his eyes even from himself. He would neither touch nor look at his body, bathing and dressing quickly, eschewing mirrors. Only in dreams, messy and embarrassing, did the beast successfully attack him.

At eighteen, his solitude ended, along with his oblivious contentment. At a senior class visit to a natural history museum, called for some reason a “field trip,” a charming, light-haired girl with a large mouth and slightly protruding upper teeth ignored his curtain of singleness and attached herself to him. She wore white tennis shoes with turned-down white socks, and as she walked she bounced happily on the balls of her feet. “Look at this!” she would exclaim, and she would take his hand, his very hand!, to drag him to some new wonder. Soon she was holding his clammy hand permanently. “Let’s go back there,” her high voice would pipe, and he would allow himself to be pulled along. He tried not to look directly at her, but he could not avoid noticing that, although she was reasonably slim, her breasts were embarrassingly large. She threw back her shoulders and pointed her chest at him before pulling his hand again. “What do you think this bug is?” she would ask, and as they would huddle over the small glass case, her hair would fall across the side of his face.

Still he could think of nothing to say. She was violating his rules, crossing his carefully built boundaries, ignoring his gauche awkwardness, attacking him, breaking into his privacy and his solemnity; and he was struck nearly dumb. But as he grew accustomed to the feel of her active little hand in his, he mumbled one of the wry comments that constituted most of his discourse and that no one ever seemed to hear or understand, and was startled by her laugh. She laughed at his little joke! With that he was thunderstruck by such a Joshua’s horn of love and gratitude that his protective wall cracked and fell into dusty rubble, leaving him defenseless.

As the class filed back toward the bus, he grew desperate. This unknown experience, this — happiness! — must not come to an end. What could he say; how could he possibly suggest anything? What if she refused, or laughed at him? But immediately, she solved that problem. “Do you like to play tennis?” she babbled.

“Well, yes. I mean no. I never — “

“That’s OK. I’m not any good either. I’ll teach you.”

As simple as that. He marveled at this aggressive, glorious, bouncing girl who liked him, who made herself his friend, who wanted to see him again. How he loved her! All the love he had held so tightly in that fortress now flooded through the crumbled wall and fastened with perverse tenacity to this lovely vision of feminine, buck-toothed perfection.

At the tennis court, she wore white shorts that displayed her incredibly long legs, slightly splayed from the knees down. She had rolled up her shirt, displaying her entire midriff, a midriff so wonderful that as he gazed at its whiteness across the net he seemed to hear tree frogs peeping.

They began sharing as much of their lives as they could.  She led him into her friendly, bouncy world of games, dances, double dates and mass dates, movies, and chatter; and in private she also helped him as they groped in confusion into increasing physical intimacy.

Still he had no idea what to do next or where it all was leading. But right in the middle of a hot day, with the sun sliced into a thousand squirming pieces under the trees, his deliberate naivete ended in a panic-stricken moment, carried off by two unexpected words that rang in his ears for months. Their friends had wandered away, and they sat alone and secluded beneath a live oak, hidden from the path. In the ensuing tentative groping, he went a step further, sure at every moment that she would be offended. He had loosened her belt and slipped his hand just slightly below the band of her jeans onto the top of that convex abdomen, when she drew a deep breath and changed his childish life. “Take me,” she said.

He snatched his hand away as if the stove were hot and looked fearfully into the menacing woods. Surely in the primordial nodes of his mind he must have expected that after a hundred more trembling steps they might one day proceed to the ultimate sin, but gee whiz! he had barely reached her belt buckle!

“They might come back,” he whispered.

“What do you think they’re doing?” she smiled, but his fear only increased. He refastened her belt and drew her to her feet. He was not ready for this.

Still she remained patient with him, and two nights later, in a dark sedan hidden in a dark wood, they became lovers.

With that, the abnormally intense desire he had locked in the attic came howling insanely out and possessed him. He wanted her continually. No longer were they the children they had been; tennis was forgotten, and friends and movies and games, all abandoned in a single-minded quest of that dark car in the dark wood.

Yet still he was not happy. He knew nothing of her needs, and in his demented rush, he could not satisfy her. As time went on, he felt her growing frustration. She tried subtly to tell him what she wanted, but he was too obtuse and too manic to hear.  Sometimes she would weep quietly when he refused her suggestions to join some of their old friends in the fun they had once had. He was no longer interested in that; and she would sigh and go with him into the solitary darkness like a lamb to slaughter.

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Burt Brodt is a retired chemical engineer living in Easton, Maryland, with his wife and several assorted animals. He is a published author, a former marathon runner, and currently a high school track coach.