"Mammals" by J. Minionby Joseph Jobbins on 09/22/19
Down the beach a few hundred yards from where the four of them were frolicking in the water, a couple of retarded boys were hitting a ball back and forth. They were holding paddles and hitting it back and forth. There weren't any rules, just the routine of hitting the ball back and forth. They were both wearing terribly oversized swim trunks that had to be held up with the hand that wasn't holding the paddle. Every time the retarded boys put their full attention into striking the ball with conviction they would let go of their trunks which would then fall around their ankles. From a distance, under the gray linoleum sky, the two graceless figures looked like a bad vaudeville act.
In the ocean, Evelyn's thighs were wrapped around Vance's neck. Her legs draped over his chest and were tucked back, secure under his arms. Sitting on his shoulders like this, when she looked straight down she could see the crown of her husband's head. She could see the dot of space on his scalp from which his blonde crew-cut hair swirled, a clockwise swirl.
Vance was splashing water onto Gary and Gary's wife, Hilda. Hilda was on top of Gary in the same way that Evelyn sat atop Vance. The two pairs faced each other, only inches apart. It was a chicken fight. Evelyn and Hilda were poised too high for either of their hands to reach the surface of the water, and yet both made splashing motions with their fingertips, ineffectual splashing motions in the air inches above the ocean water. Gary threw water onto Evelyn's sac-like one-piece bathing suit, which was already completely wet.
"I can splash you but you can't splash me back!" he said.
"You're such a boy!" said Evelyn.
"This is fun! Let's switch partners!" said Vance.
"Now?" said Hilda.
A huge wave crashed into them and all four of them somersaulted underwater like spastic trapeze artists before their heads bobbed to the surface. Evelyn and Hilda adjusted their white rubber bathing caps, Evelyn's with raised sections that were supposed to look like petals. Gary stood up in waist-high water and looked at Vance. Vance's pale skin was covered in goosebumps, less from the cold than from his usual free-floating fear. He stared back at Gary until finally Gary shrugged. They were standing in the Pacific Ocean. Only hours earlier Gary and Vance had gone to the voting booths together and had later each admitted to voting for Eisenhower. The feeling of closeness after that mutual disclosure did not last long. Later they had taken off for the beach with their wives. Vance drove. It took them three hours. On the way, they laughed in the car like animated lollipops.
"Hey, look!" Evelyn was pointing at something on the horizon. They all squinted to see it -- a yacht, passing slowly to the south.
"Yoo-hoo!" shouted Hilda, waving at a boat at least a full mile away.
Another wave rolled in, buoying the up with it and lifting their feet from the ocean floor. They dangled in the water, treading about like crabs. They looked like four people who had been on the yacht, had fallen off, and were now wondering why the yacht didn't stop and turn around so that they could be rescued. In their silence, they rhythmic "kerplunck, kerplunck" of the boys playing paddleball could be faintly heard over the din of the waves.
After a few minutes of watching the yacht sail by and disappear, they all four re-converged. Hilda hoisted herself on top of Vance this time and Gary dropped underwater to position himself under Evelyn, lifting her large frame up with his shoulders. The sun poked through, illuminating a small section of beach and ocean. When the light struck the four adults having a chicken fight it looked as though an enormous camera flash had gone off -- as though a photojournalist was standing clumsily on the sand, clicking his shutter and exposing them. They were shaped like pears of assorted sizes and had weird, unflattering freckles. The two retarded boys got bored at the same time and dropped their paddles. Then they sat down on the sand and looked into the middle distance wearing nervous grins.
Gary and Evelyn won the chicken fight and then Vance said, "Let's go." The four of them slowly trudged out of the water. They walked at different speeds.
In the evening they found a double room at the Malibu Riviera Motel. Vance was balling Hilda on the twin bed closest to the bathroom while Gary and Evelyn were balling on the bed nearest the window. Each pair wound up in the missionary position with the men's rhythms synchronized in a way that, from the doorway, looked like a pair of gigantic car pistons. They room had no radio. Besides their animal breathing the only sound was the occasional car passing on the Pacific Coast Highway. Gary started moving faster so that, for a few seconds, he and Evelyn became mirror opposites of Vance and Hilda. After his orgasm he slowed down quickly, then didn't move at all. Light from somewhere outside caught Evelyn's face, under the now prostrate Gary. The light speared her. She looked over at the undulating silhouette of her husband, merged with Hilda, then turned her head and peered over the back of Gary's neck. She could see, through the shredded curtain, the neon motel sign. She thought about an article that she hadn't finished reading a few days before in National Geographic magazine. It was about the Eskimos and their ingenious methods for extracting whale blubber. The photographs of Alaska showed vast expanses of untrodden snow.
When Vance finished with Hilda he said he was going for a drive. Evelyn said she'd go with him but Gary was still asleep on top of her and Vance and Hilda agreed it would be better not to wake him as long as Evelyn didn't mind just being pinned there for a while. Evelyn thought about trying to wriggle out so she could join Vance or just walk around a little, but finally agreed to wait. She had wound up like this some times, but not every time Gary balled her. It was awkward. Vance went out by himself, something eating at him, he said. Hilda sat across from Evelyn talking about life and the world in general in the way that the wee hours cajole people into talking philosophically. Both women sensed everything they were saying was ridiculous but it did not stop eithers of them from making vigorous contributions.
"Having a child is a thing of grace. Millie Bowers said so."
"Economists know how to make sure there's never another depression."
"Tony Curtis is going to be big."
"Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing."
"Vance gets rectal itching, too. It's salt deposits."
"Revolutions per minute, I think."
"Base 2 is the future of mathematics."
It went on like that all night. Gary slept and snored, his weight full on Evelyn, while Vance was driving around the parking lot in big circles.
The following morning they went into the main office long before checkout time to pay for the room. No one was there so they just waited without talking to each other. A television was on in an adjacent room and an announcer was broadcasting the details of the elections results and Eisenhower's victory. While they waited, Evelyn and Hilda sat on a couple of chairs spaced equidistant from a raised cylindrical ashtray. They sat there smoking, but the ashtray was too far away from the chair and each woman had to get up from her respective chair, take a step towards the ashtray, bend over and flick her cigarette. Gary leaned against the counter ringing the little bell and Vance stood shifting from foot to foot. Twice he said "I'll wait in the car" but he didn't leave. After fifteen minutes they heard a door being opened and shut in the next room just as a television commercial came on for a familiar laundry detergent. It was described in an upbeat male voice as new and improved. The commercial was interrupted mid-sentence when the television was turned off, the sudden quiet broken by Gary's persistent bell ringing.
"I was out back hosing down some stuff," said the clerk as he emerged from the back room and situated himself behind the counter. It was the same spooky little man who had registered them the night before. Half his face looked like it had been permanently smashed in by a man's fist. He took the money from Gary and then tried to give him a sample of some locally produced fertilizer before thanking them all for stopping by. Gary didn't want it.
"You sure? Guaranteed to beautify any garden!" said the clerk.
"No thank you," said Gary.
"Perhaps one of the ladies... just a little sample to use on your petunias--"
"They don't want any, okay bub?"
In the car, Hilda, sitting in the front seat, smiled mischievously and said that Vance was looking awfully tired as he speeded down the interstate. From time to time Gary offered to take the wheel but Vance told him it was all right. The four of the laughed on the way back, but not as much as they had laughed the day before. They spent most of the trip pointing at and naming things that they had missed the first time past.
"Dead collie. Over there."
They stopped for gas only once. Vance and Gary split it. After two hours of driving Vance began falling asleep at the wheel for just seconds at a time but every time he jolted awake he didn't mention that to the others.
Vance pulled open the garage door to his and Evelyn's house. He had dropped Gary and Hilda off at their two-story, then driven across the railroad tracks and down Chandler Road. Evelyn had said as they were pulling into the driveway that she was going to take a refreshing shower before doing anything. It had been a long drive back.
The garage was stacked so full of boxed merchandise that it looked like there was another garage door waiting to be opened after the first one. Vance looked up at the boxes, trying to remember what profit-making scheme was involved with all these fine, barely used appliances. It had seemed clear to him at the time he was acquiring them, mostly in shady dealings with impressive crooks, how they would advance his dreams. Now he couldn't remember. He wasn't positive that he could go to jail if he got caught selling any of the contents. Vance just turned around and faced the front of his car. He had had to start parking in on the driveway weeks before, when there was no longer enough space in the garage. Now he stood there as dumb as a box of hammers, staring into the big round headlights of his Rambler. A dead palm frond fell to the driveway directly between Vance and the Rambler.
Inside, Vance heard Evelyn turn the shower off. He walked into the kitchen and opened the metal lunchbox on the Formica table. He made himself a mustard sandwich on Wonder Bread but he ate all of it while looking for the plastic wrap in the cupboards. When he found the wrap he made another mustard sandwich and sealed that one up and stuck it in the lunchbox.
"I think I've got a cut," said Evelyn, sitting naked on the toilet. A pile of National Geographics sat on the tank behind her and another magazine, open and face down, lay at her feet. She was pressing a finger over her labia. Vance came in and asked her to part her legs so he could urinate, aiming precisely, without waiting for her to finish her business. A squirt of his piss grazed the inside of her thigh but her attention was fixed on a tiny area on her vagina. Vance bent down to look but he didn't see anything he hadn't already seen a few hundred times. He remained there squatting blankly gazing right into her. Then he straightened up and frowned.
"It hurts?" he said.
"Yeah, he fucks really hard sometimes."
Vance stood there, not really understanding if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Then his mind wandered too quickly for him to consider asking her.
"You're so soft and fat." He squeezed her belly. "My little tub."
Evelyn looked up and saw that Vance was getting aroused in his usual panicked way. She watched his penis get erect and was all ready to take it into her mouth but he pressed it up between her breasts instead. In his excitement his hand depressed the flush handle but the toilet didn't flush all the way. It kept gurgling and the familiar domestic sound of it broke the spell, for Evelyn, of yesterday's Election Day vacation. She was home, faced again with her appetites and her loss of control.
"Try the plunger," he said after he came. "I'm late."
"I'm gonna mow the lawn today," said Evelyn, wiping her neck clean with toilet paper.
"You want me to call Gary and Hilda?" she asked.
"All right, yeah, okay--" he said, halfway out the front door, calling back to his wife. "Go ahead, mow it. I don't know... yeah, mow it."
Vance backed the Rambler out onto the badly paved street. Then he threw it into forward and accelerated, passing most of the tiny bungalow houses that stretched out along the block. He reached nearly the end of the block before braking, the car lurching to a stop. He threw the car into reverse and drove backward, all the way back to his own house, then backed it into the driveway again. He got out, went into the house and came back out a moment later carrying the lunchbox with the second mustard sandwich in it. He threw the lunchbox onto the passenger seat, slammed the door and threw the car into forward again. He drove the car back out of the driveway and down the empty street, still feeling like he was forgetting something.