ben gwin

Jacky with a Y

        After the incident with the power washer, I was determined to get my life together. I spent December alone, looking for work in the morning, compulsively cleaning my apartment at night. I painted my walls green with white trim and replaced my Phish posters with copies of paintings by famous-sounding artists that I bought with the money I would have spent on coke.

        Every Sunday I called home, but no one answered.

        Grandma sent me a gift card for Christmas that arrived in January, and instead of trying to sell it, I went to buy some decent clothes.

        That’s how I met her. She worked in town, folding sweaters, at Jordache and Fitch. When I asked her name, she said, “Jacky with a y,” in a soft drawl that still haunts me. 

        Together we weaved through the neatly stacked and color-coded shelves, and I let her pick out shirts for me. Inspired by my new sobriety, I asked her out, hoping she was the kind of good thing that happened when you quit getting high.

        “Sure,” Jacky said, “dinner and a movie sounds good.”

        “Grand,” I said. And I’d never used that word before. Not Once.

        She lived on the edge of the nice part of town. When I picked her up, her mom came to the door and looked at me funny. Where does this white kid in his too-tight shirt think he’s taking my daughter in that car with no mirrors?

        Jacky skipped down the front steps, her hair coiled and bounced like a bouquet of watch springs. And that Carolina Blue dress was magic rolling over her thighs, past her knees, like she was on her way to church dressed as Alice, on leave from Wonderland. After dinner we watched a movie about a kid who could fly.

        On the way home she lit a joint. Our fingertips touched when she passed it.

        “Smells good,” I said.

        “Stay on the back roads.”

        Row houses gave way to farmhouses and barns. Streetlights to moonlight and stars.

        The steering wheel grew slick with my sweat.

        “Can you get this steady?” I asked.

        “As much as you want.”

        I inhaled deep and panic burned my throat, but the feeling got wrapped up in the cloud hanging in front of Jacky’s dark eyes and sucked into in the winter night. Gone as fast as she could change the music.

        “You like country?” she asked.

        “Old stuff.”

        “Me too.” My legs started to tingle.

        Jacky fingered the hem of her dress.

        On the radio a man sang of whiskey and ruin.

        Jacky invited me in. Before I could pretend to get nervous about her parents or how much noise the stairs made when we creaked into her basement bedroom, she pinned me against the wall.

        “Why?” she asked.

        Her nose nudged mine and her lips swelled against my cheek.

        “Why what?”

        “Why are you making me do this?”

        That slippery blue fabric swirled between us making TV-static sounds as she kissed the corner of my mouth with her leg wrapped around my waist at an angle I still can’t comprehend. I whispered Jesus when she pushed her foot down my hamstring, over my calf to my Achilles—pushed it hard, like
she knew exactly how it burned.

        That night we fell asleep with the light on. I watched her chest rise, terrified of what I might do.

As of 2014: Ben Gwin’s fiction has appeared in Burrow Press Review, Dark Sky Magazine, Mary: A Journal of New Writing, and others. He lives in Pittsburgh with his daughter.

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