Thought Wheel

Ann Chiappetta

On Writing, Again

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On Writing, Again

This will be a long post, over 4,400 words, as it includes a short piece I’ve been working on for a collection I one day hope will be a reality. I’ve tried to write within genre constraints, however, I often blur the boundaries a bit. Lately I feel a little frustrated with literary genre limitations. Who created them, anyway? The top echelons of the writing world? Doesn’t seem fair to me, but then, I am not one to conform unless there is a very good reason, at least in terms of my creative endeavors.

So, constant reader, here is a character short, the time and place set in the late 1970s. It could be considered a young adult story, a literary piece, or general fiction. You decide. Enjoy.
Summer 1977
By Ann Chiappetta

Shawna heard Bobby calling; he’d been out there for a long time, long enough to hear his voice grow hoarse. She tried to tune him out by turning up the volume on the TV. But she could still hear him through the open window. She wished she didn’t hear him. It took all she had to try and ignore it. A few days ago, one of the girls in her apartment complex said that Bobby was breaking up with Lauren so he could ask Shawna out. But it sure didn’t sound that way. It sounded like he still wanted to go out with Lauren.
“Lauren, come out, please, let’s talk, okay?”
Silence, then, a window slammed shut.
She snuck over to the window. He was still looking up at the third floor, his face red and sweaty. Shawna was peering at him from behind the house plants lining the sun dappled ledge, only a dozen feet above the slanted and terraced sidewalk.
He wore a faded Jethro Tull t-shirt that had once been black but was now a flat grayish color. He was barefoot; his cut-off jeans sagged on his bony hips.

Shawna leaned closer to the window for a better look.
“Hey there, Shawna,” said Bobby.
Shawna froze.
“Why don’t you come hang out?”
Shawna frowned,
“I don’t know,” She said, stepping away from the window.
“Aw, why not?”
“I don’t know,”
Bobby looked away, scratched a forearm, then squinted up at her,
“So, are you coming down or what?”
This was it, she thought, if she went downstairs it was almost a sure thing that he’d ask her to be his girlfriend. That’s the way Bobby did things. She’d watched him do it with the other eighth grade girls, like Denise, Liz, and now Lauren. They’d all gone out with Bobby and once they each broke up with him, the other boys were waiting to ask them out and Bobby went onto the next girl.
“Did you and Lauren break up?” she asked, just to be sure she wasn’t going to be the brunt of a bad joke.
Bobby nodded,
“Yeah, I guess,”
“I’ll be down in five minutes,” Said Shawna, running into her room to get dressed.
She shrugged off the faded t-shirt and put on a new pair of denim shorts and lime green halter top. The virgin white of her un-tanned belly peeked out from under it. She yanked on her shorts until they covered most of it. She slipped on her sandals and re-tied her chestnut ponytail as she left to meet Bobby.
* * *
Bobby looked over at the playground where Alan and a few other boys were hanging out. It was too hot to wait for Shawna on the sidewalk. He noticed the benches were in the shade. He went over to join them, taking a seat on the second bench by himself. The hot July sun was below the tree line and the air felt cooler there.
Bobby took out his Zippo and snapped his wrist to open and close it, the metallic sound echoing in the late July humidity.
Alan’s round freckled face was red with sunburn
“Got a smoke?” he asked Bobby, eyeing the lighter.
“Nope,” Replied Bobby, putting away the lighter.
Alan fished out a flip top box of cigarettes from the side pocket of his white carpenter’s pants and plucked out two, handing them to Bobby.
“Thanks,” Bobby said and stashed them behind his ear, covering them with a handful of blond curls. Alan always plied him with some cigarettes before pumping him for make-out questions.
“How far did you get with Lauren before she broke up with you?” asked Gary, who was too young to even ask. Bobby didn’t answer at first, hoping Gary would drop the subject. “She’s a prude.” Alan said, Right Bobby?”
Bobby shrugged, “Yeah, I guess,”
“Hey, here come Shawna. Maybe she’ll let you feel her up,” Alan made a kneading gesture with his hands accompanied by a lewd sound. The boys all laughed. Bobby didn’t join in, his attention elsewhere.
Shawna entered the playground and walked up to where Bobby sat. She noticed he wasn’t sitting with Alan and the others. That was good because Alan was a jerk and the other boys were his robots.
Hi Bobby,” She said, ignoring the other boys.
“Hi. New clothes?” he asked his eyes on her breasts. He didn’t know why Alan had convinced him that she was fat, because only her face was round. He admired her firm, tanned body, deciding he’d rather have a chance with her than with Lauren.
Shawna blushed.
Alan and the other boys snickered. Shawna turned to them,
“What’s so funny?” she demanded, then turned to Bobby, “I thought you
Were here alone,”
Bobby looked at Alan and the whispering stopped.
“Why don’t you sit down?” he said, patting the bench beside him. Shawna gave a final look at the other boys, and then sat next to Bobby. She leaned over,
“Can’t you get them to leave?” she whispered.
Bobby shrugged.
“Just ignore them,” He suggested his eyes on her cleavage.
“I have to go in soon.” She said, I have to be home when my Mom gets home or else,”
Bobby nodded, “Okay.”
He touched her hand, “I think you’re nicer than Lauren. She never wanted to do anything fun,” He frowned up at the other girl’s window.
“I like to do fun stuff,” Shawna said, mentally urging him to ask her out.
Bobby smiled; making sure his lips covered most of his teeth. They weren’t white and straight like Shawna’s and he didn’t want her to notice the discoloration. If anyone asked why his teeth weren’t white, his mother told him to say the asthma medicine turned his teeth yellow.
They talked for a few minutes, doing their best to ignore the other boys, who continued their snickering and whispered taunts.
Shawna looked at her watch.
“I got to go, Mom’s coming home soon,” She said and stood. Bobby caught her hand,
“Wait, I want to ask you something,” He said, standing up and facing her.
“Yes?” It came out as a whisper. She looked up into his light blue eyes. If there was a way for her to get into his brain and tell him what to ask, Shawna would have done it. But the best she could manage was a mental chant, ask me out, ask me out.
“Will you be my girlfriend?”
Shawna smiled and squeezed his hand, taking a breath. She hadn’t realized she was holding her breath until she tried to speak.
“Yes, Bobby, I’ll be your girlfriend,” She looked at her watch again, “But I really have to go now. I’ll be at the pool tomorrow. Are you going to be there.”
“Yeah, I’ll be there , later.”
She said goodbye and left.

“It is balloon,” Joked Alan as she walked away. The other boys guffawed and giggled. Bobby stood up, not laughing at the F-Troop jibe aimed at his new girlfriend
“No wonder you guys don’t got anyone,” He said. He plucked a cigarette from behind his ear and lit it on his way out of the playground.

* * *

Shawna stepped into the pool at the low end, the water sending a ripple of goose bumps up her legs. She went in two more steps and sat on the first step. Once used to the water’s slight chill, Shawna sat on the second step and watched the life guard skim the leaves from the pool with the long handled net.
Lauren came in and, after setting up a lounge chair, dipped a toe into the water.
“Saw you talking to Bobby last night,” She said, lifting her foot to test the water with the other toe.
“He said you broke up,” Shawna noted, not sure how she would react, remembering that Lauren had slammed the window shut on bobby yesterday.
“Yes, I broke up with him. My mother doesn’t like him, says he’s sneaky,” Said Lauren, stepping into the water.
The bikini barely covered her pubic hair and her hip bones jutted out over the bikini’s bottom straps. Shawna scooted away to the other side of the steps to give the other girl more room. She noticed Lauren’s fleshless bottom made the back of the bikini sag and gap.
“Well, he asked me out,” Said Shawna, wondering why Lauren’s skin was so white.
“Fine with me,” She said, “Want to play some backgammon when we get out?”
“Sure,” Shawna shrugged, watching Lauren’s white body glide into the water, slipping on her nose clip before she went under.

Bobby came to the pool with Alan. By the time they showed up, Shawna and Lauren had played three games of backgammon, Shawna winning two out of three. Lauren had closed up the board and started reading a book. Shawna was in her lounge chair tanning. She wore a black one piece that tied at the neck like the halter top she wore yesterday. Her entire body was brown, thanks to her Italian heritage and spending five or so hours a day outside or swimming in the pool.

She sat up, fanning her face.
“I’m going in,” she said to Lauren and instead of wading in, she walked to the deep end and dived in, coming up a few feet from where Bobby and Alan were playing cards. She flicked some pool water near them to get their attention.
“Hey, Bobby, aren’t you ready for a swim yet?” she asked
He put down his cards and looked up at the sun. Then he looked over at Shawna and smiled, careful not to show too much tooth.
I could use a swim,” He said, getting up.
Alan shrugged and began to scoop up the cards.
Shawna watched Bobby dive in, his tall, thin body shot through the water like a torpedo. Alan wasn’t as graceful and used the ladder to ease his plump body into the aquatic depths.
Shawna waited for Bobby to swim to the far side of the pool’s deep end. He swam and surfaced next to her, catching his breath.
“Want to dive for quarters?” he asked, fishing one from his tattered and sun-bleached swim trunks. He flicked it into the middle of the deep end; tracking it down into the clear bblueuntil it hit the bottom.
“Do you see it?” she asked
“Yes, I see it,” He said, sucking in a breath and dived dolphin like his momentum driving him to the bottom. Shawna whooped when his hand shot out of the water, the quarter held between his thumb and forefinger. He sidled next to her, one arm holding on to the lip of the pool.
“Wanna try it?” he asked, holding out the coin.
“I don’t know, it’s deep,” She demurred
“Won’t know if you can or not unless you try,”
She hesitated, then,
“Will you get it if I can’t”
“Sure will,”
“Okay, then, I’ll do it,”
Shawna tracked the coin and plunged down to the bottom. She came up like a bullet, the coin in hand.
Shawna shot up from the bottom on her third dive, slapping the quarter down on the pool’s edge.
“Bobby, this is getting boring, let’s do something else.”
“I bet you can’t get down there faster than I can.” He challenged
“Bet you I can.” She replied, “I beat all the other girls at it.”
“Okay, eyes open and we gotta touch the drain.” He said, “Or it won’t count.”
Shawna nodded and got in position.
“On three.” Said Bobby and bounced a little as he counted.
The two bodies exploded off the side of the pool, cleaving straight down for the drain at the bottom of the deep end. Shawna reached it first and she turned to push off to the surface nine feet above when Bobby caught her and kissed her on the lips. They popped out of the water together, Bobby was smirking and Shawna was blushing, breathless.
“What did you do that for?” she asked wiping her mouth with a hand.
“You’re my girlfriend, right?”
“That’s what girlfriends and boyfriends do, they kiss.”
Shawna dipped her head back to slick the hair from her face, and then swam out away from him.
“I don’t know if I like it,”
Bobby shrugged, and for the remainder of the afternoon, she played pool games with the other kids, careful not to let Bobby get too close.
* * *
Shawna inserted the key into the mailbox and turned it. The letters tipped out into her hand. She closed the box and turned to go back to her apartment.
“So, you’re Bobby’s girlfriend now?” asked Lauren, as she turned the corner and went to her mailbox
“I guess so.”
Lauren nodded,
“Well, when he wants to be alone with you , watch out.”
“What do you mean?” Shawna clutched the letters to her chest, crinkling them. The sound echoed in the hall.
Lauren sighed and tossed her long, frizzy hair,
“Jeez, Shawna, what do you think he wants to do with you in the dark, play cards?”
Shawna looked around,
“You mean he wants to make out …with me?”
Lauren made a not-too-nice sound and walked past her,
“Yes, with you, and not just first base, Dummy. He wants to go all the way.”
Shawna stood there, watching her leave, wondering why Lauren was being so mean. Wasn’t she the one who broke it off with Bobby? Didn’t that imply she didn’t like or want him anymore? None of her friends went all the way. That was just stupid.
“Good luck. “ Lauren called over her shoulder, “Oh, we all saw you and bobby kiss in the deep end. Gross.”
The stairway door clanged shut. Shawna waited until it was quiet again before walking to her own door. Once inside she put down the mail and thought about what Lauren said.

* * *
The water made Shawna gasp; a few days of rain and mild temperatures gave the vivid blue water a coolness that drove most of the tenants from it after only a quick dip. Not Shawna, however, she loved the cooler water when the summer heat was at its worst.
She sat on the steps in the low end, rubbing at her chilled flesh.
“Hey Shawna.”
Bobby stood on the other side of the chain link fence separating the pool and the playground.
“Bobby? Why aren’t you in the pool?” she asked.
“Got kicked out this morning for dunking Alan.”
“Shawna nodded. She’d slept late and didn’t come out to the pool until after he’d been told to leave.
“For how long?”
“Just today. Why don’t you come out and keep me company?”
“Okay.” Agreed Shawna, “Let me get my stuff and dry off.”
Her feet squelched in the damp flip-flops as they walked down the path leading to the side door of the building.
“Got anything to eat?” Bobby asked, “It’s lunchtime, right?”
“Yes, peanut butter and jelly.”
“Cool.” He said, opening the door for her.
Shawna paused before going into her apartment,
“We have to be quiet, my Mom’s on night shift this week so she’s sleeping.”
Bobby nodded and stepped inside, closing the door with a gentle push.
“I’m starving, can I make a double-decker?”
“Yes, but we can’t leave any evidence that I fed you or my Mom will kill me.”

They ate and washed out the milk glasses, dishes, and utensils’, then sat in the livingroom watching TV, the volume barely audible.
“What time does your Mom wake up?” asked Bobby, scooting closer to Shawna so that their thighs touched.
“Um. In about an hour.”
Bobby nodded and put his arm around Shawna’s sun browned shoulders. She was still wearing her bathing suit. She had tied a towel around her waist to keep the sofa from getting a wet spot.
“Kissing is quiet, you know. If we kiss a little, she won’t know, will she?”
“Um, I guess not.”
Bobby leaned in and put his lips to her ear and gave it a quick lick. Shawna closed her eyes and almost stopped breathing. Bobby whispered a laugh.
“Relax, Shawna, I won’t hurt you.”
“I know.” She said, letting him take her hand out of her lap and unclench it. They stayed like that for a few moments before Bobby placed it on his knee. He moved in again, this time kissing her neck, rewarded by Goosebumps breaking out on her upper arms and chest. Without hesitating, Bobby got in closer and kissed her half open lips. Her hand went to his chest and she tried to push him off. He probed her mouth with his tongue and she eased off, then let him put both arms around her and soon they were pressed into the couch, oblivious to everything except the mouth-to-mouth sensations.
The toilet flushed down the hall.
“Shit, that’s my Mom, Hurry, you have to leave but be quiet.” Said Shawna, squirming out from under Bobby and pulling him up with an urgent jerk on the arm. He left, slipping out the door quiet as a cat. Shawna sat back down and closed her eyes, looking as if she was napping, even though her heart felt like it would explode.
“Shawna, did I hear the front door?” asked her Mom, still in her pajamas.
“What I was sleeping.” She said, rubbing at her eyes and yawning.
“Oh, maybe it was upstairs.” She said. It sounded like someone was rolling a bowling ball in the hall in the apartment above them. Her Mom sighed,
“I miss living in a house.”
She went into the kitchen and after calming down a bit, Shawna got up to join her.
“Mom, do I have to go to Dad’s this weekend?” she asked, touching the ear Bobby had licked.
“Yes honey, I’m working doubles all weekend. Its better you stay at your Dad’s” said Mom, taking out the tuna fish and bread for her own sandwich later that night.
Shawna sighed and crossed her arms,
“But Mom, there’s been plenty of times I’ve stayed home when you work doubles. It’s not like you’re far away if something happened. “
“I know, honey, but it’s your Dad’s weekend and you know he gets upset if you cancel.”
Shawna made a dismissive sound through her nose,
“Come on, Mom, I hate going there now because of the Witch. Dad hardly knows I’m there when she’s around.”
“Shawna, that’s not polite.” Her Mom admonished, “His new wife is not a Witch.”
“Then why does she act like one Please Mom? Let me stay home. I promise I’ll call in every hour if you want and go up to Mrs. Horowitz’s for dinner, too.”
“That’s some deal, honey, but Mrs. Horowitz’s in Florida for a few weeks.”
“Please Mom? You know me and Portia just don’t get along.”
It surprised her that once admitting to it, she really did hate Dad’s new wife. It just wasn’t the same anymore. She let the frustration fuel some unshed tears and sniffed them back. Being here alone was ten times better than enduring Portia’s’ snotty remarks.
Mom finished making her sandwich and turned to Shawna,
“Okay, but you absolutely cannot bring anyone into the apartment.
Shawna unfolded her arms and gasped,
“You mean I can stay?” she asked, her voice rising with each word
“Yes, I guess so, but,” she put her hand on Shawna’s shoulder fir emphasis” No company, not even Lauren. We can’t afford to feed your friends.”
“Okay, I promise no company and no giving out food, either.”
Her Mom smiled, and then laughed when Shawna hugged and kissed both cheeks.
“Just remember absolutely no shenanigans.”
* * *
As soon as Shawna dived in the deep end, she lingered in the cool, clear water and risked a glance behind her. She smiled, releasing bubbles from the sides of her mouth. Bobby was coming; she let him catch up and try to grab a leg before stroking for the surface. They broke through together, sputtering and coughing.
He held onto the side of the pool next to her, their bodies touching.
“I didn’t know you were so ticklish.” He teased, reaching for her. Shawna giggled and moved away from him.
“Not everywhere, just my legs.”
“Oh really? Let me see.” He said, reaching for her again. She spun away, stroking for the opposite side of the pool. He followed her, catching up with long, distance eating strokes. He waited until they were almost at the wall and caught her, she came up out of the water in his arms, and then he fell back, dunking both of them. When they stood up in the low end, laughing and wiping water from eyes and noses, and the lifeguard blew his whistle,
“No dunking, bobby, remember what happened last time?” he warned.
“Come on, Tad, she wanted me to do it, right Shawna?”
“That’s right, it’s only a game.” She agreed.
Tad wasn’t impressed.
“Cut it out or you’re out, got it?”
Bobby threw up his arms, conceding.

The pool was crowded and they got out, playing cards while drying off.
“My Mom’s working late tonight.” Announced Shawna
Bobby stopped shuffling and looked up at her.
“What time do you want me to come over?”
“After dinnertime. I’ve only got enough money to get a slice of pizza. No food. Dad didn’t pay his child support this week.
“Why not?” Bobby asked, dealing out the cards for gin rummy.
“I don’t know. Maybe his new wife wants it.”
“I’ll come after we eat.”

* * *

Shawna was scrubbing out the macaroni and cheese pot when the door bell rang. She dropped the pot into the sink and went to the door, leaving the water running.
She let Bobby in and he followed her back into the kitchen. Shawna went back to finishing the dishes and he sat on the counter. “Thought you said you were getting pizza.” eyeing the leftover elbow macaroni covered in the yellowish orange powdered cheese mix.
“I found two boxes of the Mac and cheese in our cabinet so I saved the pizza money for another day.”
She placed the pot in the drying rack and wiped her hands on a dish rag. She turned from the sink and hung the dish rag on a hook.
“Don’t you ever wear shoes?” she asked, looking down at his tanned, calloused feet.
Bobby grinned without showing his teeth,
“Nah, not in the summer. It saves my folks a lot of money, not having to buy me those faggy sandals.”
He slid off the counter and took her hand, “Let’s go watch some TV.” he said, leading her from the kitchen to the living room. Shawna turned on the TV and flipped through the channels until she found something they both liked, and then sat beside Bobby. She noticed he didn’t smell like pool water and sweat and decided she liked the new smell. It reminded her of the scent that came out of the dryers in the laundry room. His hair was clean and brushed back from his face. It made his eyes look even brighter.
Your hair gets really light blond in the summer,” she said, reaching out to play with it. His blue eyes met hers,
“When I was little it was so blond it looked white.”
Shawna began running her fingers through it and he closed his eyes, leaning into her hand. Before she realized it, Bobby’s head was in her lap and she was gently stroking his entire head.
After a while, Bobby opened his eyes and licked his lips. Shawna leaned over him. He was looking at her, not staring, but like he could see inside her head
“What is it?” she asked, and was answered by his kiss. She kissed him back, then sat up, giggling.
“I never did that before.”
“Do what?” Bobby asked, sitting up.
“Playing with your hair.”
“Well, I’m sure glad you did, it felt really good.” He answered and put his arms around her. Soon they were pressed into the sofa, mouths intent on exploring not just each other’ slips and tongues but also ears, necks, and especially Shawna’s chest.
Bobby traced a hand over her breast and she jerked away, remembering Lauren’s prediction that all he wanted to do was go all the way. She sat up.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I’m thirsty. Want a drink?” She got up and waited for Bobby to answer her question.
He sighed and rubbed his palms on his ripped jeans before answering.
“No, you go ahead.” he replied.
Shawna was quiet for a long moment. Her heart raced and her cheeks burned. She waited until both feelings subsided before going into the kitchen
She really didn’t want him to go but she didn’t want him to touch her like that, either. The only thing she could think of was to get up and get a drink. It was lame but it worked.
She poured some apple juice and downed the entire glass; it cooled her flushed mind and body. Shawna finally knew what the excitement about making out was all about. Some girls thought it was gross, like Lauren, for example. Now that Shawna had a boyfriend, she realized that being alone with Bobby wasn’t such a bad thing. Shawna loved the way Bobby’s hair felt sliding between her fingers. The heat of his breath warming the skin on her thighs made her want to make him stay there. Her breasts tingled when he got near them, too. She wasn’t sure she liked it because it was as if her body and skin felt things before her brain could tell her what was happening. That’s why she stopped, it was going too fast.

Part of her, however, wanted to keep going; she wanted Bobby to kiss and touch her neck and rub her back. The need to go back in there and let him do it was so intense; however, she just had to take a break and think it over. She knew that leaving the kitchen meant taking the next step and she looked over at the threshold leading into the living room, hoping that whatever she decided, it would be a good choice.
Draining her juice glass, Shawna wiped her lips with a napkin and threw it in the trash and headed for the living room.

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