The first time Fred and Gina had sex, he showed her how to make fried rice with red and yellow peppers in a real wok. Fred’s mother and sister were on vacation. It was raining outside, and Gina arrived in a taxi. The food, the rain, the jazz they found on the radio; these things colored the experience and made it more than it was. They were just kids, in a small southern California town where it never rained, where no one took cabs. But is it right to bleed color from their moment? When their bodies at 18 were holding their breaths; so eager and fit for love?
Skinny Fred had quit high school during senior year. His parents divorced and he went with the dad. Whereas Gina had graduated, then moved in with her embarrassing high school sweetheart. A republican with an adult’s mustache. Nights, he worked at a gas station. Hot as it was, he always wore a blue corduroy Future Farmers of America jacket to school.
Now Fred had returned from San Francisco. Fred had been in love with Gina since they were 12. In his mother’s bedroom, he showed her the Polaroid photo of his mother with the ball gag in her mouth, the wild look in her eyes. Well, this was interesting. Adult. Gina remembered this woman as working in the office at her elementary school. The sex was good but made fantastic by the long buildup, the aborted tries they’d made at adult lives.
The second time they had sex, Gina tried to cancel. It had been a hard day at her job answering the telephones at the Queen Mary. Then the two buses home, the second squeezed in with all the bloody-uniformed cannery workers on Terminal Island. She called Fred to say she couldn’t make it. “I’m begging you, Gee,” he said. “Okay,” she said at last, and called the town’s one taxi to bring her to Fred’s mother’s house again. Fred met her at the door with a coffee mug half-filled with crème de menthe over ice cubes in the shape of stars.
After the sex, Gina felt as though her body was humming at a low frequency. She brought an index finger down Fred’s smooth chest, then tucked her head between his chin and shoulder.
“My friends paid me a dollar each to watch them through the blinds.” Fred murmured so low and sweet he might as well have been declaring love. Gina laughed, uncertain.
Back in middle school, Fred used to pass rhyming love poems to her. He’d rhymed “steal” and “ideal.” Everybody knew this. Should have known. That it was she who was bending to him. That his role was to be dazzled.
The third time they had sex was on their wedding night. They didn’t have any money for a trip. Gina was still working at the Queen Mary. It would not have occurred to her to ask for a discounted room on the luxury ship’s hotel. They made themselves as comfortable as they could in Fred’s boyhood room. His mother and sister were in the living room with the television turned up loud. All in the Family was on. Next would be The Jeffersons, Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show and finally, Carol Burnett.
The high school classmates they’d both looked down on were all progressing toward four-year degrees in Marketing and Broadcast Communications. At work, Gina manned the phones. The restaurant workers all had to go through her if they wanted an outside line.
The marriage was the stuck kind. With a little comfort, a lot of sameness. No intriguing opportunities. No dream house. Fred’s mother seemed lost to her, and his sister never did get a job. Fred often entertained clients at restaurants in Los Angeles, arriving home late and swaying. It occurred to Gina, that the scene was a little like The Glass Menagerie, other than Gina herself. She was still riding the bus, still answering phones. In the first year of marriage she gained fifty pounds. She wasn’t yet twenty, but looked a decade older.
Now it was many years later, after Gina had moved to the East Coast and experienced a new life with a different husband, complete with a townhouse with brick steps and a shiny black door. She was blonde now, and hummed with energy. She and her husband raised three children together. A parade of pets. She heard that Fred was getting ready to retire. That now he was bloated, with gin blossoms on his nose and cheeks. He still lived with his mother and sister. He’d worked for years at Mattel. Something to do with Barbie, that strange ideal, with her weird evolution over decades.
In her late night scrollings, Gina also found another story, this one about a scientist couple visited by ghosts in Stateroom B340 at the Queen Mary Hotel. In the middle of the night, they’d had the covers yanked off of their bed. Slim dark figures staring from the bed’s foot.
Patricia Quintana Bidar is a native Californian with roots in New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. Her stories have appeared in The Pinch, SmokeLong Quarterly, Little Patuxent Review, Wigleaf, Citron Review, and Pithead Chapel. Apart from fiction, Patricia ghostwrites for progressive nonprofit organizations. She lives with her DJ husband in the San Francisco Bay Area and tweets at @patriciabidar. You can also visit her at www.pqbidar.com