If I sense that they're going to fuck back there (after twenty-six years in the business I can usually tell at the beginning of the evening, sometimes long before either of them have any intuitions of intimacy) I'll drive them to Iwo Jima out in Virginia.
Not only is Iwo Jima beautiful at night, all lit up, but it's a good long drive away, it allows ample time for him to move to her side of the seat, to kiss her on the cheek, for her to kiss him back, for him to kiss her neck, for her to crane it, to intimate a moan, for him to touch her breasts, to mess her hours of hair, to begin to undo the preparation like winding a clock hand backward, for her to fumble with his cummerbund, for him to begin work at what is always an inconvenient dress, to look for quick ways in, of which there are never any, for her to help him help her out of the dress — the dark window between the driver and passenger compartments of the car is usually raised for all of this, but not always — for her to lick her palm before taking his cock, for him to move his hand down from her breasts, down to her belly, down to her pussy, which is usually wet, and sometimes leaves a water-soluble mark I have to take care of in the morning, for him to insert a finger or two in her pussy, two or three knuckles deep, for her to moan, for him to think about baseball, or his mother, or anything to distract the seven seconds of come knocking on the door of his existence, for her to lean over and wrap her lips around him, to take off her class ring and use her hand under her mouth, like she was trying to swallow a microphone, for him to pull back her hair to watch her suck him off, for her to sit up, to remove her panties from over her high heels, which she usually won't take off, I don't know why, for her either to spread her legs, bend her knees and pull him unto and into her, which is the most common way of accommodating to the backseat, or mount him, to use her hand to insert his cock into her from behind, to balance and torque herself with her hands against the defrost parallels of the back window, to push her chest into his face, for him to say, sometimes with a whisper into her ear, sometimes with a holler, I'm fucking you, I'm fucking you, I'm fucking you, I'm fucking you, because he's still in high school, still more aroused by the fact of his having sex than by the sex itself, for him to fuck her, to fuck her all the way to Iwo Jima, to roll down the window, which he thinks is something like a joke, and watch the city pass as they fuck, the city that I choose to give to them: the gay bars and rusting neon of Dupont Circle, the losing lottery tickets of Mount Pleasant, the fluted columns of the Tidal Basin, the baguettes and bag ladies of Georgetown, the numb yellow streetlights of the Whitehurst Freeway, the scenery that I choose for them as they fuck in my backseat.
This has been my job for twenty-six years. I drive a limousine. During most of the week I drive rich people who are used to limousines. I drive them from here to there, am never late, and never talk unless I'm spoken to. Just before the summer, in mid and late May, early June, I drive high school kids to proms. These kids have never been in a limo before, and have saved up for months to pay for this one magical night. Some will actually call it that: the one magical night. Because of this, they very often have sex in my backseat.
I may have to drive around Iwo Jima several times, waiting to be sure they're completely done, and more than done, that they're at peace, rested, happy. That's my job, if I had to state it in such a way: to make people happy. I'll circle around while they finish up. I'll see our boys' faces, their right sides, from the back. I'll watch the names at the base circle by and blur. I'll try to count the soldiers in the statue, but it's almost impossible because of the way they're climbing all over each other. Every time you look at it you think you see another arm, or another boot. All of these must connect to another soldier, you think. (There are seven of them.) It doesn't bother me to drive as long as they need back there. I've driven around the memorial for hours waiting. Sometimes they'll finish only to start again. How do I know? After twenty-six years, you learn to know. I've memorized every fold in every shirt on the boys in the memorial. I know how the helmets fit on the heads. I know how the backpacks rest, and whose hand is where on the flag that they're so eager to stab into the island. Whose hand is on top.
When they're done in the back, I always get them out of the car to see the memorial. They like it when I do this. It makes the night feel more magical, more unique, like everyone else is in a limo but only they get a tour from their driver. Usually she'll be wearing his jacket, smoking a cigarette, a complete mess as compared to how she looked at the beginning of the evening. He'll look better than he did when we picked her up, more relaxed, I guess, and will sometimes hand me a couple of bucks, although I don't know why. "This is my job," I tell him. Which is not to say that I give it back. "Iwo Jima," I say, pointing to the memorial in front of us. "One of the Volcanic Islands in the North Pacific, South of Japan. Site of the greatest battle in Marine history." They're holding hands, always, this is how it always is, they're holding hands, and his attention is elsewhere, maybe at other girls walking around, maybe off in space, maybe replaying the events of a few moments ago, but she's listening, so I talk to her.
"I've never been to Japan," she says, "but I'd like to go."
"Well it's amazing. It's an amazing place. My brother wrote me letters from there, every day."
"Every day," I'll say, and sometimes I'll feel proud of that. "We returned the island to the Japs in '68, so I don't know about since, but it used to be just beautiful. That's what he told me."
He'll kiss her. He'll put his hand on her butt, and she'll smile, as if for me. Am I happy for them? Of course I am. Who do I hate?
"It's a really pretty monument," she'll say.
And then we'll get to talking more. He isn't paying attention. He doesn't care. The farther away his mind goes — and he may even go for a walk on his own at this point — the closer we get. I've said everything I have to say for the evening, I don't want to say any more than I already have, so I let her talk. I let her tell me about how she's never been to Japan, but has been to Portugal, which is really pretty. She was there for a semester, because school was becoming too much. Home was. I let her tell me about how she doesn't usually smoke, she hardly ever smokes, she doesn't even know why she's smoking now. I let her tell me how she has a little brother with Down's Syndrome, and he can really be embarrassing sometimes, I've never said this to anyone, I'm ashamed to say it out loud, but I've been drinking, you know, God, I hope it's okay that we had a couple of drinks in your car, but, well, it's just that I love him, but. You know. But. And then I let her tell me about her first boyfriend's car, and how the alignment was so bad, you're not going to believe this, but he actually had to hold the wheel upside down to go straight. I let her tell me about where she lost her virginity, it was so long ago, I can't believe how young I once was, I don't know why I'm telling you this, you probably think I'm some kind of weirdo. She flicks the ash, and I let her tell me about her father's girlfriend, and a food called pannini, they're just little sandwiches, and how given the choice she'll always use a pencil. I let her tell me about her brother's school, which is a special school in Virginia, and the music she likes to listen to, and how her room is decorated, and her friend Tracy's night in Atlantic City when she won four hundred dollars but had to give it back when they asked for some ID. I let her tell me about what college she wants to go to, and her mom's sleeping pills. And after everything she tells me is my implicit response: "It's okay." I don't say it, I don't say anything, but it's there, hovering like the dust between the spotlights and the statue. I let her tell me again that she doesn't usually smoke. "It's okay." I really want to learn to drive a motorcycle. Do you know how to drive a motorcycle? "It's okay." All the while, she doesn't even realize that we've been walking, that I've been leading her around the memorial, around our young boys blown up huge like heroes against the night. The breeze makes her shiver, and I let her tell me about how she's allergic to peanuts, how if one touches her lips, even touches them, she could die, and I lead her to my older brother's name: HENRY J. TILLMAN, JR.
"This is my brother."
"I'm so —"
I interrupt her with my nod. I don't ask her to touch the name. Wouldn't do that. I don't tell her about how he died, or what he was like, or any of that. Not even if she asks, which she almost never does.
"That's him, anyway," I say.
By now he's usually come back from wherever he went. Sometimes he's been with us all along, and only mentally absent. Sometimes he won't let go of her hand. I've seen guys go off and take a piss in the bushes. I know that sometimes you have to take a piss after fucking, but still. "We should get going," he'll say, and I'll lead them back to the car. I won't look at her in the mirror, even if the glass is down. When I drop them off, he usually gives me another tip, this time a bit bigger, maybe a twenty. "It's my job," I tell him.
Then I drive home. The car stays with me. It's a leasing arrangement. I park it in a garage I rent from my neighbor two doors down. So no one will mess with it. I open my door, which involves four keys, and take off my jacket and pants. My apartment isn't fit for a king, but I'm not a king, so it works out fine. Two rooms. Kitchen. Bedroom. I make a good living. Since the car is with me, I can pretty much choose my own hours, which is good. I want to get up at noon. I get up at noon. I need some extra cash. Not even need. Want. I get up at the crack of dawn, or before. I'll use the car like a cab. I've got a sign I put on top. The neighbors upstairs are usually fighting, even though it's already the morning of the next day. Why do they fight so much? I wish they wouldn't fight so much. Not for me. I can take it. But. I pour myself something strong and carry it with me to my bedroom. I go to the TV, pull the video from my bag, and put it in. I sit there on my bed, in the half darkness of the approaching morning, and I watch it all again on the screen. I watch him kiss her. I watch her kiss him back. There's a little static, but it's all pretty clear. I can see almost everything. I watch him kiss her neck, watch her crane it and intimate a moan. I'm in the television's glow. I watch him touch her breasts, her fumble with his cummerbund, him begin work at what is always an inconvenient dress. I can see out of the rear window the receding rotunda of the Capitol, and the blurred image of someone crossing the street behind us. The person is looking at the car, which means maybe he can see. Who is that? What can he see? I watch her lick her palm, and I don't know why, but that part always makes me so sad. I rewind and watch it again. I watch it again. I watch it dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. She licks her palm before taking his cock. Stop. Rewind. She licks her palm. Stop. Rewind. She licks her palm. Stop. Rewind. She licks her palm. Stop. Usually that's as far as I'll watch. Sometimes I'll make it to the end. Then I take out the video, label it with date and names, and put it on the shelf with the others, none of which I ever watch after the night itself. Jenny Barnes and Mark Fisher — Friday, May 14, 1999. Beth Baxter and David Jordan — Saturday, May 15, 1999. Mary Robinson and Casey Proctor — Tuesday, May 18, 1999. Gloria Sanders and Patrick Williamson — Thursday, May 20, 1999. Leslie Modell and Ronald Brack — Friday, May 21, 1999. Chase Merrick and Glenn Cross — Saturday, May 22, 1999. I don't watch the videos to get off. I never touch myself, if that's what you're thinking. If that's what you're thinking then you haven't understood a thing.
Iwo Jima isn't real. The island is real. The battle is real. The monument is real, too. But it's based on a staged photograph. Joe Rosenthal, the Associated Press photographer who shot it, was there when our boys captured the island. There really were those seven marines. They really did grab at the flagpole. But he couldn't snap the picture in time. So he restaged it. While the smoke still hung behind the soldiers, while their foreheads were still pelleted with sweat, he arranged them for the picture. And who knows how similar it was to what actually happened. He swore it was the same. Exactly as it was, he said, right down to whose hands were where on the flagpole. The picture won Rosenthal the Pulitzer in 1945, and was the model for the memorial, as is how we have come to remember Iwo Jima. Our memories are bound to that image, which isn't even real.
If I can go to bed at this point, I go to bed. Usually I can't. They're still fighting upstairs, I wish they would stop fighting already, and I'm just not feeling good enough to go to sleep. I'll make a bowl of tomato soup from the can. Maybe a grilled cheese. I'll drink another. Morning is coming. Should I start early? I'll start early. I've got a prom at night. Bethesda. Lynn Mitchell and Ross White. Everyone, except for my neighbors upstairs, is asleep, and I can imagine the first rays pushing over the seven marines at the memorial. I can see it. I know how the sun will reveal them, how it will make them silhouettes before illuminating them. It's cold there and it's cold here. I'll go back out to the car with a rag from the cupboard and clean the backseat. n°
©1999 Henry Wren and Nerve.com, Inc.