Fire and Wanda, Chapter 4, Scene 2


It was Wanda’s voice, but with a silky tone stirred in that I couldn’t recall having heard before. But even if I didn’t recognize the sound on a conscious level, something deeper inside me recognized it all too well and began telegraphing relevant messages to all relevant body parts about what was about to go down.


“Yeah. It’s me. You all right?”

“You got my cigarettes?”

I nodded, even though I knew she couldn’t see me. My eyes were fastened on Corinne’s, which seemed to be pleading with me, but I wasn’t sure for what reason. The door still hung partway open, and I could feel that it wasn’t much cooler inside than it was where I was standing on the porch wiping the humid night air from my brow.

“Yeah. Want me to just leave them with Corinne?”

I could hear her start to chuckle, although it sounded somewhat muffled, as if the sound were being filtered through a wet blanket.

“Naw, baby. I want you to bring ‘em here. Corinne? Tell that man to get in here and stop standing outside on that porch before somebody runs up in here and robs us.”

“OK Momma.”

I smiled at the humor, but Corinne looked solemn and tired, which I couldn’t understand. Normally when I showed up she would practically snatch me into the house and drag me into some game with her and her little sister Keena, trying to monopolize as much time as she could before Wanda and I wound up talking about whatever.

She pushed the door open wide, her eyes drifting away from mine out toward the emptiness of the street.


“Where’s Soraya?” I asked, as I walked slowly past her into the hallway.

Corinne slammed the door shut, then brushed by me to walk away toward her bedroom in the back.

“She sleep. Momma’s waitin’ for you. ‘Night.”


Most times when I entered Wanda’s bedroom it was with her kids in tow, and we’d wind up rough-housing and messing her sheets all up. Other times we’d just sit in there on the bed watching TV together. This time Wanda was laying up in bed calmly smoking a cigarette with the sheets pulled down to around her waist. I stood in the doorway looking at her, not wanting to believe what I already knew. She patted a space on the bed next to her, smiled, then purred for me to sit down. I sat down.

“Here your cigarettes,” I said, handing her the pack.

“Put ‘em over there,” she said, motioning at the nightstand next to the bed.

“So what’s wrong?” she asked, her voice sounding mock-playful. The cat to the mouse.

”You all stiff. Look at you. What you think I’m gonna do to you?”

I shrugged my shoulders, then tried to act like I had a sudden serious interest in whatever was blaring from the TV set. We sat like that for about five minutes, neither of us saying a word. Then another five minutes went by and I felt myself starting to relax. I leaned back across her legs.

“What you think you doin’?” she cooed.

“Watchin’ TV. What’s it look like?”


I felt her begin to trace obscure patterns across my back with her fingertips. I found myself wondering what pictures she was drawing, and started to ask her when her fingers changed tactics and gently seized my shoulder.

“Come here.”

“I am here.”

Come here.”

I leaned back, but only partway, and I kept watching TV, not seeing a thing.

“That where you wanna stay?”

I shrugged again, feeling suddenly both hot and stupid.

“Maybe. I don’t know, Wan.”

“OK. But take off your glasses for me.”

“Just take ‘em off, OK? You can put ‘em back on in a minute if you really want to. I just want to look at your eyes for a minute. You know, with eyes like yours you could have almost any girl you wanted if you knew how to get your approach together.”

“Gee thanks.”

“Don’t be so defensive, baby. It’s not an attack. Just an observation. You can take it or throw it out. You a man, so do what you wanna do with it. Now your glasses…”

I looked away from the TV set and tried to ignore the shortness of breath brought on by the deceptively playful grip of her gaze. She reached up and pulled off my glasses, then began to stroke the side of my face.

“Pretty eyes. Big pretty brown eyes…”

“Shouldn’t I close the door?” I said. “The kids.”

She smiled, then gave me a gentle shove.

The first time lasted about two minutes. Thing is, I got so damned excited I lost my erection before anything could happen. Wanda kept saying it was OK while she fired up three cigarettes in quick succession, but the heat of her frustration added a hungry shine to her eyes that I hadn’t seen before. She asked me if I was a virgin, and I assured her I wasn’t. I hadn’t had a lot of women like some of my buddies, but I wasn’t a deer in the headlights either – although you wouldn’t have been able to tell that from my less-than-stellar introductory performance.

“You aren’t…you know…I mean, I don’t care if…”

“ You think I’m gay?”

“Well, I mean…”
“Shit. Look, I’m sorry, all right? I mean, Jesus…”

“OK, OK. Never mind. I didn’t mean to get you upset. It’s just you being a young man and everything I figured… you know…I mean you young boys are usually…”

There was something I started to ask, that almost begged to be asked by virtue of that statement alone, but I decided against it. Instead, we just lay in bed watching TV for about an hour. After awhile I think it was a Columbo episode that came on and we both started to laugh. I’d always liked Columbo, and was glad we had the same sense of humor.

The second time went off without a hitch. Whatever I’d thought qualified as having sex up to that point hadn’t been anything of the kind. It had been fumbling around, poking here and there, trying to simulate what everybody said was supposed to be so good. And before that night with Wanda it had been good. The memories of those high school conquests in dark corners and, literally, behind bushes, had always brought on an appreciative erection in honor of times past. A raising of the flag, so to speak.

But after fucking Wanda – because it certainly wasn’t making love – I had without a doubt graduated to another level entirely. I wanted to do this every day and night for the rest of my life. Hell, I’d work two or three jobs just to support this new habit. I’d do whatever.

“You know, I could show you some things if you’d let me,” she said, as she lit up another cigarette, placed it delicately in an elephant-shaped ashtray on her bedside stand, then propped herself up on one elbow. “I mean, you could be really good, baby. Really good. If you let me teach you.”

Now there was an interesting thought. I mean, I already had my college diploma, but as I was learning each and every day, a Liberal Arts degree from a small college in Colorado hardly qualified me for what I needed just to master basic survival techniques out here. This might not be such a bad thing…

“So…like…how exactly would this teaching thing work? I get lots of homework, right? Homework is always important. I learned that in college.”

Wanda took a deep drag on her cigarette, then let the smoke creep out between her lips in a slow whistle stream. I waited for her to say something, to answer my question, but instead she continued to stare at me as her eyes transformed from those of seductress to a very tired and world-weary older woman. When she finally finished her cigarette, she fell back onto her pillow, her hair splashing against the white fabric like ropes of reddish brown paint arguing across a canvas. An apology was forming in her eyes, an apology that I wanted no part of, and I could feel the ice beginning to cramp my intestines. I glanced over my shoulder at the television, but Columbo was no longer on.

“Guess I’ll head out. Getting pretty late, and you know how it gets out here.”

“Take my car.”

“What? No. Wan, that’s…”

“Take my car, I said. Something happen to you ‘cause of me I don’t know what I’d do to myself. You take it, then you can bring it back in the morning. Make it before 11 ‘cause I got some running around I got to do.”

“You sure you don’t mind?”

She rolled over and pulled the sheets up around her shoulders tight, as if she’d suddenly become very cold.

“It’s late, Alton. Go on.”

On the way home I stopped off at an all-night liquor store and picked up a pack of Salem Lights and a bottle of Sangria. I knew there was no way I was getting any sleep that night, so I might as well stock up. Plus I knew that Max’s mother was out of town at some conference, which meant that more than likely young Max was up watching movies just because he could. And if he was up, then I had already decided he was gonna help me decompress, even if that meant contributing to the delinquency of a minor.


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