Fire and Wanda, Chapter 3, Scene 2


The first thing I noticed was that she was sucking on a lollipop. The second thing I noticed was that the way she was sucking on that lollipop was giving me an erection that could pound Mt. Rushmore into dust. She grinned slyly, then giggled.

“So who you?” she asked.

I cleared my throat.


“Hmmm. Nice name. Not too many Altons around that I’ve met. So where you get it from?”

“The name?”

She winked, and next thing I knew the blood was fleeing my brain and rushing down south so fast that I was starting to get dizzy.

“My parents, I guess. I mean … yeah. My parents. Where else would I get my name from?”

She shrugged, kicking her little chicken legs back and forth as if she were in a swing. Hands planted firmly at both sides.

“Names come from a lotta places, shug. Just like parents.”

“What do you mean by that?”

The erotic playfulness danced around behind her eyes for another moment before she cocked her head several inquiring degrees to one side and pulled the lollipop from her mouth. The playfulness fizzled.

“I dunno. Never mind me. Sometimes I just say stupid shit just to be saying it. Conversation.”

Then the eyes flashed, like a traffic signal giving the OK to move forward.

“Is that OK?”

Before I had the chance to answer, Berve made her way up front from the back room. She was walking tenderly as if her feet hurt. As she approached the gurney Wanda was sitting on, she passed right in front of me but didn’t bother to speak. I looked at Wanda, I guess to gauge a reaction, and noticed she had shrunk several sizes to that of a young girl.

“Move over,” Berve said, and Wanda started to laugh.

“Naw,” she said playfully.

“Girl you hear what I say? I said move over. Old woman comin’ through.”

“You always sayin’ you ain’t old, gettin’ all ugly in the face every time somebody call you old, and now here you come waddlin’ up here talkin’ ‘bout how I gotta make way for you ‘cause you so old. Woman you gotta make up your mind what you wanna be!”

“I ain’t gotta make up my mind to do nothin’ I don’t wanna make up my mind to do. I said I’m old, and us old folks we do what we wanna do, when we wanna do it, if we wanna do it, how we gonna do it, and where we gonna do it. We holdin’ all the cards and we ain’t lettin’ ‘em go. Now girl you heard me I said move!”

            Wanda threw me a look with her eyes and mouth open wide in mock disgust. I had to smile.

“You see how she treats me? You see? All I ever tried to do was be this old woman’s friend and this is how she treats me!”

Berve eased herself up onto the gurney next to Wanda, then slapped her across the forearm.

“You better watch who you callin’ old!”

At that they both fell against each other and collapsed into a laughing fit.

“You know that boy probably thinks we crazy,” said Wanda. “And this his first day too? Poor child. Doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into workin’ up here with us.”

For the first time, Berve took time to give me a good long look. Eventually she allowed a slow but very warm smile, then nodded as if in answer to a question that only she had heard.

“Berve,” she said.

“Berve, meet Alton,” said Wanda. “That’s kind of a sweet name don’t you think?”

“Well, I don’t know how sweet it is, but I will say it’s a very nice name. That’s for sure. I just hope he be as nice as his name makes him sound. What you think, Wan?”

”I already said I think he’s sweet,” said Wanda, who then gave me a wink just before sliding her lollipop back between those full, pouty lips.

“I already know why you think he’s sweet, and you ain’t nothin’ but a child-molester, girl. Leave this tender young thing alone. That’s an order. You let Momma take care of this one.”

I don’t quite know how to describe the way Berve moved her body right then, but it was a combination roll/grind that seemed to ripple in slow, easy waves upward through her thickening body from the waist up. Back in her day I could only imagine the heartbreak that woman unleashed in her path. The meat hung a little looser on the bone, but you didn’t have to look real hard to see the pleasing outlines of yesteryear.

“Got you wonderin’, huh boy?” she said with a comical Mae West sexy voice.

So how was I supposed to answer something like that? I was getting tag-teamed, and the only way I knew to handle it was to sit there and smile like some kind of idiot who didn’t understand English.

Berve and Wanda went on teasing me like that for the first couple of nights, eliciting knowing grins from the other nurses who were happy to have some in-house entertainment, even if it was at my expense. But by the end of the week the initiation was over. I was ‘in’.

“You gonna do just fine, babe. Don’t you worry ‘bout nothin’ and don’t pay us no mind. We just a bunch of women and you the only man so you know where that’s gonna go. But I can tell you everybody like you, and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish with these hens lemme tell you.”

“Yeah, I bet it’s not.”

“Ain’t gotta bet. Just take Momma’s word.”

“Yes m’am.”

Berve’s smile was like springtime.

“That’s better. Now go on home. We’ll see you back here in a couple days.”

I nodded.

“Yep. Say, can I ask you a question?”

I knew I was about to take a risk, but for some reason I figured I would be OK with Berve. I hoped so anyway. For now the other nurses were in the back, and I could hear they were laughing pretty loud about something. The patients we had were so burnt up and wrapped up in pain there was no way they’d be able to hear much of what I was saying. Even if they could they weren’t in any shape to be passing along messages.

“About Wanda…?” I half-whispered.

Berve chuckled gently as she shook her head.

“What you wanna know about that old woman for?”

“Old? I thought she was like, I dunno. Maybe 30 or something. Not that old.”

This time Berve had to squeeze her palm over her mouth to keep her laughter from carrying all the way down the hall. Finally, after she collected herself somewhat, she asked, “So how old are you?”

“Me? OK, I’m 22. But 30’s not that much older, see., because…”

“Thirty-nine,” Berve said.

At first I didn’t quite process what she was saying, especially not with the calm way she tossed it out there as if she’d been naming a day of the week.


“Wanda’s age. She’s 39, boy. And she has two young daughters. One’s 12, the other’s seven. Or eight. Somewhere in there. So now you still think you ready to take a run at that? Or you think maybe you gonna be smart and play in your own yard where you know the rules?”

I gave her my best mischievous grin.

“Well, you know I’ve never been real good at staying in the yard.”


Berve’s demeanor was shifting from playful to dead serious.

“Listen, I’m not your mother, honey, and I’m definitely not Wanda’s, but …well…let me ask you; Are you really asking me what I think about you trying to make a move on a woman old enough to be your mother? Because if you’re really asking me this, I’ll really tell you what I think. So…”

“It’s OK. Don’t worry about it. You know, I shouldn’t have even asked, especially since I haven’t even known you more than a couple days. I just thought…I mean I felt like…”


“…like you might understand…”





“Now I want you to listen to me close, and then you need to head on home and think about what I’m gonna tell you because those hens in the back are gonna be back up here any minute and I don’t think it would be a good idea if they heard you and me talking about how you just fell in love with Wanda. Especially not Wanda. Agreed?”

“No question.”

“All right. I kinda thought we might see eye-to-eye on that one. So here’s the thing I want you to think about when you’re driving home tonight…”


“You don’t have a car?”

“You kidding?”

“I hear you. Anyway, look, I love Wanda almost like I love my own daughter. I do. She’s a good girl – I can call her that ‘cause I’m old – but she’s been through a lot. A whole lot. Anybody can see how beautiful she is, that’s plain, but that’s what gets her into trouble. Ain’t nothing sadder to see than a beautiful woman who’s lonely. And I don’t know why I’m tellin’ you all this so soon, except something tells me you need to know. Because I can already see in your eyes you’re not gonna listen to anybody tell you to leave it alone. So the least I can do is let you know what you’re really getting yourself in for.”

“Right. OK. Well, thanks, I guess…”

“I’m not trying to judge you, baby, or make you feel bad about anything. I understand those feelings you starting to have, and it would be wrong of me to toy with them, but you just need to know. That’s all.”

“Thanks, Berve.”

“Now go on home.”

I got out of my chair and went over to give her a quick peck on the cheek, then headed out the door. For some reason I looked over my shoulder at her just before the door closed, I guess maybe to assess the effect of the kiss, but the look on her face made me forget all about that. For that split second moment in time I caught her looking at me, and the last time I ever saw anybody looking at me with that much sadness was when my mother watched me getting on the plane heading for Chicago. She knew I might not be back for a long, long time, and she knew far better than I did where I was headed. I saw the adventure, but she saw the quicksand.



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