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Gary Percesepe 

GAIL 
 

In seventh grade Gail Robasco was the girl we all wanted. She was what our mothers would have called "well developed," which to us meant that she had big tits. She also had long brown hair and huge brown eyes which even too much blue eye shadow couldn't ruin. Her skin was creamy white, as though she never saw the sun, and her skinny legs were often encased in black fish-net stockings, the rage in 1967. But I liked her voice, which was uncertain, like she was afraid to let the words get too far away from her, and tiny for such a big girl. Talking to Gail was like an invitation to get closer to those tits. 

She liked me, I thought. She liked to flirt with me, especially in Mr. Cyr's history class, where I always got into trouble. I made her laugh. One day Cyr caught us passing notes. "Mr Thomas, come forward," he said in his theatrical baritone. Everything with him was such an event. I tried to remind myself as I walked up to the front of the class that this man was the eighth grade bowling coach, for Christ's sake, that I couldn't let him break my dignity. He grabbed my shoulders, squared me up, then turned me around and kicked me. It hurt, but I didn't make a sound. After, when I turned around to look at Gail she gave me this look that I wanted to save forever. 

One day at Bobby's house we practiced what we would do when we finally got Gail alone, how we aimed to kiss her and feel her up. We made up a clumsy code of words and moves that we thought might work, stuff I'd heard guys talk about in metal shop class. We had signals for when to French kiss, when to grope her tits, when to take the beaver shot. I watched Bobby squirm around on the couch, grinding his hips and kissing the pillow, and I called out the code words at what I thought were the right moments. Later, he did the same for me. We were men. 

The next week she got kipnapped and raped by a man in his thirties. When they caught him they put his picture in the paper so we could all look. There was a story under the picture, I remember, though I noticed they left out the rape part. I studied the words, the peculiar black and white pattern they formed on that awful page, the way they referred somehow to Gail: minor, undisclosed location, allegedly, protect. When Gail came back to class all she got from us was silence. She limped, and every time our eyes met I would look away, or at the white hospital gauze on her white thigh that kept slipping down her leg as Mr. Cyr talked. The stockings were gone. 

It's funny: I don't remember seeing her again after that, not in high school, not anywhere, though I'm sure I must have. We lived in a small town. How could I have missed her? 

I'm older now. I have two sons of my own. I've never told them about Gail. What would I say? When I was your age I knew this kid, a classmate. I was really hot for her, you know? We never did anything about it, though. We were kids. Then one day, she was gone. Just like that. I don't know what happened to her. I can't find any of my high school notebooks, or my notes from college, even. Yearbooks, graduation tassel, gone, all of it. At the time you thought it was important. You thought it would all be there for you, somehow. Life is like that. Things change. You don't know how or why but they do. You just look up one day and everything is gone. Cells of your skin die every minute, second by second, from the time you are born, brain cells decay, you lose what you most wanted to save, and the ghosts carry the rest away. Trust me on this. 

Now, I sit at home late at night and try to imagine what she looked like. I sit at this keyboard and try to remember her into existence. I tap her back into my life lovingly, one keystroke at a time. I'd like to think that I do this for her, but middle age tells me that I don't, not really. Gail is at our twentieth year high school reunion, drinking by herself at a corner table, and her voice hasn't changed. I still have to lean into her to hear her. 

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