Patricia Q. Bidar ~ The End in the Beginning

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