I Love You, Sophie Western

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I Love You, Sophie Western by Thom Jones

Dell tried to get a fix on the bathroom mirror. He was jangled
and wired still from an acid trip on Saturday night and had a wicked case

of double vision. The surface of his arms and legs tingled and deep down
in these extremities he felt his very bones buzz. All shook up. Yeah,
shook up and with his electric bones, Frankie was moving around the
bathroom only partly sure of what he was doing, partly sure of what was
going down. Barely had a clue. Getting ready for school? So it seemed.


Fifteen seconds after Frankie
dropped the acid, he knew he had made a grave error. Now, he was
drawing blanks. He couldn’t remember diddly. He would never
know the whole truth. Funny he wasn’t back in the nuthouse. Funny, he
was in his own bathroom. Like, funny-ha. He opened a medicine vial,
shook out two lithium tablets and dry-swallowed the pills. Horse-chokers.


There was a pimple in the crease of Frankie’s nostril. He took a drag on his
Marlboro and studied it. Of all the damn things. It was a hot one, too. He
felt like callin the old lady in and have her take a look at it. Call a
dermatologist or sumthin.


Frankie dabbed some Clearasil on the pimple. Needed another tube.
Well, you better put it on the pharmacy list, slim. And you better
fuckin hurry up. What time is it, anyhow? He could hear his mother
bustling around in the kitchen.


Frankie draped a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and did his cool look
with cigarette. It was definitely better with cigarette — too bad you
couldn’t smoke at school. He frowned at the thought and it made his hooded black eyes
look cruel. Bushy eyebrows, snake-dead eyes. From the front-and-center
mugshot view and from the profile, it was such a bad look he scared his own fuckin self.


“Frankie, I’m late. I gotta go,” his mother said through the door. “Don’t forget to
take your lithium. You were up prowling all night. If you start
another cycle, I’m gonna lay down and die, Frankie. Lay down and die.”

The Monday morning homeroom scene was dismal, but Darlene D’Arcel
was there, and that was unusual for a Monday. Her neck was full of
hickies and Darlene seemed proud of them. In spite of all the skin
flicks Frankie knew by heart, sex was still a mystery. God, he wanted
some of that fine stuff and Darlene D’Arcel knew it.
Hey, Frankie, whatcha doin? Checkin out my hickies aint ya? Caught
ya, ha ha. You wan’t some nookie, doncha? Ha ha. Eatcha heart out kid.


Darlene spread her legs and flashed a little white thigh meat before
she gathered up her books and twitched her hot little ass out into the
hall . . . ssst ssst boom. Patent leather Mary Jane’s, lace-fringed
anklets, slender legs, and nice, firm breasts. Humongo ! Frankie
flashed his cool look as he slung his books under his
arm and moved out behind her.


Darlene D’Arcel couldn’t have been more than fifteen but Frankie regarded her
as a grown woman. She had those kind of moves. He knew she went out
with some real bad testosterone motherfucker who drove a jet black
‘Vette, with the rear license plate framed in blue neon. It went
without saying that she was putting out. Frankie wanted to stab
himself in the heart with a dull spoon.


Following Darlene through the hall he was so entranced that
Jesse Stillman hit him like a freight train. It happened way too fast. Stillman got right up
in his face, his horny finger
thumping Frankie in the chest, a deep basso voice. “I’ll see you after
school!” And then — gone!


Shit! Frankie came down from the pink panty cloud in a hurry.
Man, why did he have to run off his mouth so much behind
Stillman’s back? He doubted that Stillman knew Frankie had

flattened his tires. He hadn’t told anyone that. He hadn’t told Altman
on LSD night. Or had he? God!


Second period math, and Mr. Harding called Frankie to the board to
do a geometry problem. Frankie glowed red as he fumbled with the chalk,
knowing he couldn’t solve the problem if he had a year. And Harding
didn’t let him off as usual.


“I can’t do it,” Frankie said, his body shifting from pose to pose.
He couldn’t do the problem but at least he could show a little attitude.
So hip. So cool. So tough. Such a bad motherfucker! Then he
thought of the pimple. He wondered if it was popping through the
blotch of Clearasil. He crinkled his nose and a little white
dust settled on his lips. Christ, if he was standing there with a
Rudolph-the red-nosed pimple he was a double fucking loser. He
said, “Ya know, Mr. Harding. I don’ get it, man.”
Frankie gave a short, chesty laugh. Embarrassment up-the-ass.


“Obviously you don’t get it, Mr. Dell,” Harding said with an air of
shrill amusement. “Perhaps tomorrow you can redeem yourself a bit by
expounding on Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle.”


“On what?”


“Heisenburg, sir. Go to the library and check it out or you’re going
to fail, my little friend.”


Half the class tittered, but a girl in the second row didn’t.
She gave him a conspiratorial wink. She was on his side. Or was she?
There was definitely eye contact, but he was so damn paranoid and
hungover he didn’t know how to interpret the look. He had never even
spoken to her before. Was it a look of compassion or of mockery and
disdain? The more he thought about it the more paranoid he got. Ever since he got out
of bed his whole life had
become a ludicrous cartoon. Frankie went to third period
feeling weak all over. He was shot. Goddamn it!
Couldn’t someone call an ambulance? Jesus Christ!


Once the halls cleared Frankie walked into the boys’ toilet and
torched a Marlboro. The smoke calmed him a little and after he flushed
the butt he stepped up to a urinal. With visions of Darlene D’Arcel’s
glossy thigh meat and her pink panties dancing through his brain, he just
had to commit an act of self abuse. It was tension reduction, pure and
simple. Get it over with and try to re-establish contact with reality.
He was so strung out, he didn’t know if that was possible.


As soon as he had his pleasure, the door to the boys’ restroom bounced
open. Frankie quickly stuffed his dissolving erection back into his blue
jeans. He tried to compose himself and casually stepped away from the
urinal as though he had just taken an everyday piss. To an astute
observer the truth would be obvious. Fortunately it was only the
janitor, a fat guy with a ton of grease in his hair.


“You feel okay?”


“Yeah, why?”


“You’re all red there, short man.”


“Naw, I’m all right. It’s hot is all.”

Frankie’s English class was studying Great Expectations. Frankie
had read it and liked it. While he was terrible at math, he was a speed
reader with something close to a photographic memory. When he was in the
nuthouse, in spite of the Haldol and lithium, Frankie could burn through

thick books, a couple a day — they were like excursions to different
worlds. Options, new possibilities for his own life occurred to him when
he read good books. But back at home, in spite of his resolves he
quickly fell into the old, bad habits as if he were in the very grip of
the devil. It seemed that he lived only to masturbate. Five times a
day? No problem. Seven? Hey, a piece of cake. How about twenty, try
that one on for size. Twenty times! Once, twenty-two! Twenty-two times
in a single day and still no peace — only monumental Catholic guilt.
Twenty-two times!


After class Frankie remembered Stillman’s threat and managed to
collect his jacket and notebooks and take them to P.E. so he wouldn’t get
caught at his locker after school. When class ended, he made a clean getaway
and went to Booker’s Pool Hall to kill the couple of hours before work.
After a dozen games of eight ball he stopped in at the Red & Black Spot
for french fries and a Coke and then walked down the hill to his job at the movie

It was “Old Oscar Week” at the Tivoli and there were only twenty-eight
people at the seven o’clock showing of Alfie. Some kind of 1960s shit.
Frankie gave the restrooms a preliminary cleaning and then went out into
the lobby to jaw with Donna Wilcox, the popcorn girl. He loved the
refreshment stand where the boxed candies were neatly arranged under the
immaculately clean
plate glass of the dark oak display counter. The Tivoli sold the
everyday cheap junk that you could get at any theater, but also
hard-to-get stuff the bohemian types liked: Holloway
Suckers, Slo Poke’s Walnetto’s, Necco Wafers and Juji Fruits. The
centerpiece of the refreshment oasis was a vintage corn popper inside a
glass display case bordered with narrow strips of green, blue and yellow
stained glass. There was a “Fresh Popcorn” sign hand painted in bright
red with a yellow border on the front of the hopper and just beneath it
was a cardboard placard painted by Wesley, the projectionist. “Our
popcorn, the finest available in the world, is organically grown in
Amana, Iowa exclusively for the Tivoli Theater. Choose between our
iodine-free coarse sea salt, harvested from the crystal shores of
Northern Morocco, or from the familiar Morton’s in the classic
‘When it rains, it pours!’ salt boxes. Farm fresh hot creamery butter is
available upon request.”


This was all a lie. The storeroom was stacked with sacks of generic
salt and shiny aluminum tubs of thick white coconut oil and rancid
margarine. Earl, the Tivoli’s manager, approved of the deception
and jacked up the price of a family bucket from three bucks to five after
Wesley produced the sign.


Like Frankie, Donna Wilcox wore a uniform reminiscent of
bygone times. She looked like a candy-striper at a hospital. As she
sliced a wedge of congealed coconut oil and dumped it into the corn
popper, she smiled at Frankie and said, “So what’s it like inside a
nuthouse, Frankie? Or is this the nuthouse, this life we have here?”


“Nuthouses are boring,” Frankie said. “Give me a box of Juji’s.”


Donna reached under the counter and Frankie saw a little cleavage.
Donna’s cotton uniform showed her figure off to a good advantage. She
had pretty skin, full lips; at certain angles she almost looked okay.
Donna handed Frankie a box of candy. “They’ll rot your teeth, but here,”

she said pushing a box of candy over the glass case. “You don’t look like
a nut case. You look like a normal guy. A cute guy.”


Frankie began to launch Juji’s up towards the ceiling and catch
them in his mouth. He got to feeling cocky. Then he winced and raised
his hand to his jaw. He flipped the box back on the corner. “Jesus!
These are too hard, man. They been aged too long. Gimme a box of Black


He got another peek at Donna’s cleavage and caught a faint whiff of
perfume. Frankie ripped open the box of Black Crows and began
catching them with his mouth. He flipped one up for Donna and
she caught it. He popped a few more up and they made a game of vying for
them. Frankie arched a long one up near the ceiling and after he caught
it, he and Donna fell together. She planted her mouth on his and kissed
him deeply pressing her soft bosom against his chest. Frankie’s cheeks
got hot and he sprung an instant boner. Donna kissed him again and then
suddenly pushed away. “Oh shit!,” she said, “Here comes Earl.”


Donna quickly dumped another chunk of grease into the corn popper
and Frankie swept around the concessions stand. By then it was
time to take tickets for the second show, Tom Jones. There was the
usual bunch of bohemian types, people with whom he felt an odd kinship.
Earl relieved him at the ticket stand and as soon as Frankie completed
cleaning the bathrooms, he got lost in the upper balcony. He turned to
leave and there she was, triple-lifesized and Panavisioned up on the
silver screen, the beatific vision of his life, Susannah York in the
role of Sophie Western. With one look Frankie knew his life had been changed
irrevocably. Sophie Western, angel, the antithesis of everything he had known. She was
radiance, a melodic birdsong on a soft summer morning. She was life.


What a great world, how unlike his own, and, oh, Jesus, God, if ever
there was a more beautiful woman than Sophie Western — well, there just
couldn’t be. Frankie walked home in a trance. What was that
poem they had done in English?

“Whenas in silks my Julia goes

Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows

That . . . ”


Liquid something. Sophie was like that poem. Refined. And that’s
what Frankie would aspire to. Culture and refinement. He had imagined
there was time, that he could reform at his leisure, but that time never
seemed to come along. It was like, wake-up, motherfucker — the time is
now! The movie was the signal he had been waiting for. He needed to change and he
knew he could do it. A photographic memory was a
gift, a terrible thing to waste. He needed to put it to good use.


After work, Frankie followed the tracks past school and on home. He
would apply himself, learn something, find himself. Forget the old
bullshit, it was definitely time to show or to go.


Frankie had a bowl of cereal and just after midnight, he went to
bed with Fielding’s novel. By dawn he was penciling out a book
report at the kitchen table when his mother crawled out of bed and
staggered into the kitchen for coffee. Frankie had plugged in the pot
and had everything ready for her. He had not taken his lithium,
but for homework that was allowed. He felt great.


This was certainly a better way to begin the day than coming down from
an acid trip. He was afraid his mother would start nagging at him for
staying up all night, but she saw him so absorbed with his homework,
she did little more than chirp a CW tune as she started

breakfast. Frankie finished the paper, redotting the i’s with a final
flourish, and then began to eat. He complimented his mother’s greasy eggs
and ate her oatmeal in spite of the fact that she had run out of
milk. “It’s no problem, Mom. I should have gotten it myself. I
should be helping you around the house more.”


Frankie thought of Sophie on the way to school. Sweet Sophie.
Things were going to be different now, there were resolutions. He
tossed a pack of Marlboros into the bushes along with his Zippo. Smoking
was over. So was jacking-off. It was nothing but sordidness and
negativity. It’s over, God, I quit! What else? What else? It
would all come to him. He whistled as he walked. It was a merry tune
from the movie. He was taking the long route to school. He paused to
smell a lilac bush. The odor was so glorious it made his eyes water.
The breeze shimmering through the scented bush sounded like
a freight train — but this was not an acid flashback — this was how it
really was.


Suddenly Frankie found himself walking next to the girl from
geometry class, Suzie Trowbridge. He was saying witty, clever
wonderful things, things he didn’t know he was capable of saying.


Her eyes were like Sophie’s, and her hair, too. She was laughing with him and he
seemed to
get funnier as he went along. His rap was inspired and it just came
rolling out with no forethought. He was telling her how he was going to
be a great actor some day, after he won the middleweight title. Hell, he
might even play second base for the Mets in between fights. He could do it, too. Susan
to be convinced of it. The way it was all coming out was incredible.
Frankie couldn’t wait for her to ask the next question, so
boss were his answers. Yeah!


When he asked her to the Saturday night school dance and she said,
“yes,” he had to turn his face away. He felt like hiding it in his
jacket and dashing away from her but she took his hand, the
hand-of-a-thousand-jerk-jobs-that-would-never-jerk-again. Numb with
ecstasy, Frankie recited the capper:

“Whenas in silks my ‘Susan’ goes

Then, then, (methinks) how sweetly flows

That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see

That brave vibration each way free;

O how that glittering taketh me!”


She kissed him on the side of the mouth as they rounded the corner
and neared school. “Christ, you know Shakespeare by heart,” she said.


“That’s Robert Herrick, not Shakespeare.”


“You gotta monster zit by your nose,” she said.


Frankie’s face blazed red. He was suddenly so embarrassed that he
found it almost impossible to move, to put one foot in front of the
other. Yet they walked together silently for a moment and then it seemed
that Susan had picked up the pace as if to get away from him. He had to
hustle to keep up with her. As they turned the corner near the Red &
Black Spot Frankie spotted Stillman and a bunch of the school wrestlers. Suzie waved
at Stillman and Frankie
waved, too, a limp passive wave, hoping Stillman would wave back.
Instead, Stillman threw his Mets cap on the ground and charged.


Frankie was paralyzed with fear and disconcerted by an already large,
forming crowd. Only at the last second was he able to move.
Side-stepping Stillman’s rush, Frankie cuffed him hard on the ear with a

right, then turned, planted his feet and pumped a doublejab in Stillman’s
face coming over the top with a right hand. The speed and placement of
Frankie’s punches stopped Stillman cold and caused his eyes to glaze over
with a milky white film. The right connected to Stillman’s chin like a
heat-seeking missile, and the jabs busted Stillman’s lip. Frankie
kicked Stillman in the balls, doubling him over, and then kneed him in
the face. Frankie lashed an
elbow out with such ferocity that he lost his balance and fell to the
ground. He quickly scrambled back to his feet and stood in front of
Stillman, hardly able to breathe. There was just enough time
to pick up a rock, inflict a disabling blow and win, but as
the tenor of the crowd shifted into Frankie’s favor, he was undone by it.
He stood there like a wooden Indian frozen with indecision, as a strong and familiar
born-to-lose vibe pulsed through his soul. And then it was too late.


The glaze cleared from Stillman’s eyes and he felt his bloody lip,
laughing. “Hey there, friends and citizens, we got us a live one
he-yuh,” Stillman said. An excited crowd huddled around the two
fighters. Stillman bashed Frankie in the face with one short punch,
breaking his nose. A small geyser of blood spurted on Stillman’s jacket,
and he began to bash Frankie’s face until
his hands began to hurt.


Susan Trowbridge tossed a forelock of hair away from her eyes. “Leave
him alone, Jess, you big asshole, you’re sixty pounds bigger than him;
he’s just a kid.”


“Fuck you,” Stillman said. “How could you be seen with a fool like
this? How could ya possibly walk with this snakey motherfucker?”


“I needed help with my English.”


“You want help with yer English? See me,” Stillman said leaning
back, easing off.


The blood from Frankie’s nose was running down his throat, choking
him. Stillman turned to him and elbowed the broken nose one final time.


“That’ll teach you to let the air out of my tires, goddamn it.”


The crowd began to chant, “Pants him! Pants him!” Frankie went crazy
trying to get away, but Stillman still got a fresh hold on him. Then in one quick jerk, he
pulled Frankie’s pants off and
then the size 28 Jockey Classic Briefs. Wriggling free, Frankie
cupped his genitals with both hands and tried to bull his way through the
crowd. As he did, he saw a big grin on Susan Trowbridge’s face. He saw her blonde
hair spilling down the front of her navy
blue car coat. It was the most beautiful hair. The next moment she shook her head back,
flipping her hair over her shoulders like the
slut that she was.


Frankie punched through the circle and ran until everyone was out of
sight. He ran all the way home naked from the waist down.


The old lady had left for work, thank God for that. Frankie took a
long shower and bawled. Jesus Christ, Susan had laughed right along with
the rest of them! After he dried off, Frankie snagged a handful of the
old lady’s Darvon and headed for the pool hall.


That night at work, high on Darvon and a quart of Bud, Frankie burst
into the projectionist’s booth and confessed the whole scene to Wesley
Lame Duck. He had to tell someone.


In rambling, slurred speech, Frankie told him all about falling in
love with Sophie Western, about the poem and the lilac bush and the sound of the
freight train. Frankie told him how much he loved Susan
Trowbridge and Wesley said, “Stop it right there,” and gave him a lecture
about how that sick-in-love, kicked-in-the stomach feeling would max out

in three days and totally peter out in two weeks. It was all brain


Alfie had the right idea, he said. Hadn’t he seen Alfie last night?
No? “Then you watched the wrong fuckin movie, Jim.”


Wesley told Frankie that he should save some money for the downstroke
on a Mustang, get a ragtop in midnight blue. The adolescent female
wasn’t looking for the real person inside — all that mattered to them
were clothes, hot cars and so on. Also, you had to radiate confidence
and self esteem. “Show them some shit, pachuco. Hey, man!”


Wesley was in an uncommonly vulgar mood. It was as if some new
demonic personality had emerged. He suggested that Frankie could quit
school and get a full-time job in a factory and keep his night gig
at the Tivoli. “Are you listening to me, Frankie, or are you completely
fucked up on pills? I must say this crybaby routine is a definite
turnoff for me.”


Then Wesley suggested the car would be there all the quicker if
Frankie went down on him. He started stroking Frankie’s thigh. “It’s
plain and simple. No big deal at all,” Wesley said, peeling off a pair
of crisp fifties — “A hundred bucks, Ace, deal? And Frankie, half
ready to puke, stared blankly into space. Everything was just sort of
spinning around; but one thing led to another and pretty soon he found
himself with his face in Wesley’s lap, staring at a fish of a dick.


The part of him that was outside of himself watched curiously as
he took Wesley’s cock and stuck it in his mouth. It didn’t actually have
a taste to it although there was a smell. He worked the organ up and
down to get it over with and forgotten as soon as possible. Wesley
sharply corrected Frankie’s essential failings and was soon
choreographing a fairly sophisticated blow job. It was a paradox, Wesley
said, giving a guy a gobble job so you can score some pussy,
but life was like that.


Wesley closed his eyes, let his head loll back and began to grind
his soft, wide hips as Frankie mechanically worked his mouth up and


The screen flashed brightly and the thwack/crackle of the old movie
snapped Frankie back into awareness. He could hear his precious
Sophie on the sound system and started to look up to her but Wesley
yanked his head down hard. “You can forget that shit, Susannah York has
got to be pushin sixty by now.”


Bleary-eyed, like a man climbing out of a well, Frankie raised up to
Sophie. But Wesley slapped Frankie across the face and pulled his head
back down. “You took the money and now I’m going to fuck your face,


He grabbed Frankie’s hair with one hand and the front of Frankie’s
uniform with the other as he bucked up. His semi-erect penis slid in and
out of Frankie’s mouth, stabbing him in and about the face.


“Watch your teeth! Quit that slobbering!” Wesley continued to bark
instructions until the very last, when his pecker engorged fully, his
head fell back, and he came in the back of the young man’s mouth. As he
pulled out, Wesley slapped Frankie so hard it snapped him sober. “Cop the
load, damn it! Or you’re not getting paid.”


Frankie looked up at Wesley with sheep eyes and swallowed.

Thom Jones