by John Shaw
miss sylvester was angry and something to see. She pivoted on young legs and swept us with a severe gaze.
The class was creative writing: Miss Sylvester, listed in the Center's newsletter as a "volunteer facilitator," five old ladies, and me, one old man.
"At the completion of each session," she said, "I give a simple assignment. I tell you to write a short story, 1200 words. Is that true?"
"What else did I tell you?"
I spoke. "Write it from the gut."
She looked at me and said, "Exactly."
I loved her for the attention.
"And what do I get? Stories about cats who died fifty years ago, much about Arbor Days with Mom and Daddy, tales of trips to Coney Island on the Culver Line." She collapsed prettily into a chair. "Christ, hasn't anything happened to you people since 1930?"
I admired, close up, her clear skin and the way her nostrils twitched now she was angry.
"Today," she said, "I shall put an end to it. If no one has anything adult to read, I shall cancel the class immediately and forever and send you all away to the bingo room."
My story lay on the table. I pushed it forward an inch.
"What is it about?" she asked.
I said, "Hazel."
"Shit," she said. "Read it."
It was first person. I'd called Hazel "Janet." I don't know why. The man I'd named "Jeff." Jeff was me.
I wrote that Janet was a roly-poly type with stubby legs and a big bottom who had the hots for Jeff, pursuing him hungrily, and on numerous occasions, coaxed his penis to as pulsing a state as anybody previously ever had, and as anybody later ever would. Without ever touching it.
There were snickers.
The story explained that Toby, Janet's husband, had returned from World War II a paraplegic. Jeff did not feel it right to go all the way with the wife of a war hero and knew, were he handled, that control would be lost and he would do just that. So, when Janet reached, which was often, he zigzagged away.
Chuckles and loud laughs.
I included several steamy scenes, wrote of such things as Janet's sweet breath and exciting hands.
I finished the story by moving Jeff out of state, telling of a succession of letters, each blander than the last and poof…END. Pretty much as it had happened.
There was no applause. Miss Sylvester asked for constructive comments. Someone whispered, "I didn't get it."
"It's not Hemingway," Miss Sylvester said, "but it doesn't smell like cat doodoo either. I like it." She hugged me and said she had to leave early and told us to quickly make note of next week's homework.
"Expand," she said, "on the sentence, 'The discount condom lay on home plate.'"
She waited for the gasps and did a dance step when one or two came. "Twelve hundred words," she said. "From the gut."
She moved like a dragonfly...gone in a wink.
I waited for the old women to clear out. One of them, instead of moving toward the door, came slowly to me.
She pulled a chair out and sat, examining me.
"I don't recall it happening that way," she said.
I held tight to the edge of the table. Miss Sylvester breezed back into the room, scooped up some books she'd left behind, and called to us, "twelve hundred words," and was gone again.
The old lady said, "I was not roly-poly and my bottom was not all that big."
I knew I should be saying something.
"I'm Janet," the lady said.
"Hazel," I said and she nodded, "whichever."
"I made some of it up," I told her.
"It was a collection of lies from top to bottom."
I told her I had to leave. She held her arm out and with her index finger directed me to stay where I was.
"YOU chased me."
"It was so long ago."
"No matter," she said. "You chased me! "
"Almost fifty years."
"The story was yours and mine and you made a big dumb lie out of it."
I considered feinting in one direction and moving to the other side of her. Her glance told me she was not going to permit it. "What am I going to do with you?" she asked.
I sat, eyes down, and considered the wonder of the whole business. "I didn't recognize you," I said. "I've seen you in the class but never knew you were Hazel."
"Were it not for the story," she said, "I wouldn't have known you. You were bigger then…lots of brown hair and a firm jaw."
She shook her chair closer to me. "Toby died," she said. "I married again. That one died last October. I've three children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren."
I said it sounded like a full life.
"How about you?"
I told her one marriage, no kids.
She put her hand on mine. "I am not pleased."
"So long ago." It was all I could say.
"Let me tell you what I've decided to do," she said. "I am going to take the discount condom theme and write our story from my point of view and read it to the class next week."
"I meant no harm," I told her.
"I shall set things straight," she said.
She rose and took two steps towards the door, then came back and seated herself again. "Including the matter of your penis."
I told her I really had to go…and didn't move.
"You said I never touched it. You've forgotten the Emily Hunt retirement party."
Recall came slowly.
"You had me in the back seat of Al Houde's 1932 Ford and you pulled on my girdle and forced your penis into my hand. You were hot to trot but I grabbed my girdle back up and tucked your thing back in your shorts in no time flat and that was that. I stopped you in your tracks."
Something of the sort….
"You didn't put that in your dumb story," she said. "I had you right here in my hand and I closed you down." She made a 'faucet off' finger gyration.
The girdle was made of heavy elastic and when I pulled it left indentations in her baby fat. What occurred then was what kids today call a "turn-off." I thought, should I take this completely off I am going to see a belly latticed with lines and creases and I am not going to like that.
"I stopped you dead. Do you remember?"
The war hero husband had meant nothing that night. I was excited out of my skull but the marks on the belly had calmed me. Had it been flat and smooth like…say…the belly of Cyd Charisse…this stranger and I would have made love that night.
"My story then," she said, "will recreate that party in detail, including a cook's tour of your penis." She made a fist, hit my shoulder lightly, and held her hands apart, palms in. "It was about this big," she said, "and round like a cruller."
"Crullers come in all sizes," I said. A joke. I wanted her to smile. I wanted to recognize her.
She was solemn. "A good size cruller."
I estimated her hands, at one point, to be about a foot apart. They moved in and out erratically, but even at their closest were a fair distance from the other.
"I'll help you write it," I said. I laughed and stopped before it could turn to weeping.
She put her hand on mine and left it there. "You were fun," she said. "Not a heavyweight…but fun." She rose. "God forgive me. That is something neither of my husbands was."
She tumbled suddenly and fell onto my lap.
She made no effort to get up. "I wish we could have another go at it," she said.
Her arms went around my neck and I began to blubber. She told me it would be all right. The sweeper came in said he had to clear the room and rearrange chairs and tables for the Make Your Own Herbal Vinegar class. He helped untangle us and walked with us to the door. Outside she turned left and I went right.
John Shaw writes short stories and lives in Cranston, Rhode Island.
Ed. note: this story first appeared in our autumn 2001 issue.