The Last Boy


Tim Stillman

Back there, last boy, last row. Sad he is and the reason for his sadness is the winter has gone and we are not to be together any longer. He will not say he loves me any longer. Spring bounces warm air in the classroom's open windows, the taste of wild onions in the air. The students wild with restless tumbled weariness, and I have to say the words and ask the questions. I too am weary of math, those numbers, columns of them, for they seem like Sanskrit from another life time, and I love him, and I love him.

Easter in a few weeks and lilies growing in my flowerbed as the sun shines hot and golden brown, time for beaches and cabanas and long days and longer still the short hot nights long as my arms can reach round my chest and pretend it is his and he in his bed pretending the arms around his own chest are mine. Soft days and soft clothes and sleeves short and perspiration on all of us, no little fan here even. By tomorrow or the next day or soon, it will be so hot it will be unbearable. I watch him thinking of our nights that will never be again, how he must forget, how I can't. How we ran in the snow and to my cabin in the woods and how his eyes danced and his legs long and how filled with each other we were.

He puts his head on his desk now. It would be time for a tummy rub and tickling and giggling and oh God I can't live without him and it is not hyperbole. For I found him that day last Autumn and he looked at me with sea blue and attempted a smile he had not thought he was allowed before and during even, though he tried. And he said he loved me the second weekend, drinking chocolate milk that Saturday morning, as we uneasily, new beginnings, as opposed to old beginnings, I suppose, is what that means, and he said the word I had never heard before, spoken to me and I reached over on the couch for him and I held him so scared, Joey and I, and he felt a hand on his shoulder. He said he had never felt another's hand before, he had never felt a touch that was kind, he said the fountaining of words that rushed through his full reddish lips, and his freckles were turned an oddly beat red, and to the cue of the Superfriends on TV that morning, we touched, for I had never likewise known the hand of anything approaching closeness. The cloth of what we were was suddenly magnanimous, the fabric of skin and faces and hair and hopes—oh we had hopes then, sure and definite and it was to be a wonderful Fall as we tipped ourselves into one another and admitted so many things, he in his big way, me in my minute way.

I look at children in their doldrums, as I consider these goddam math problems, no levy this, no pinnacle, no tower to climb, the rote of no salvation, just workaday minutes to climb up and then climb down again, no survival here. Always a partition. Always a wall of lumber and brick made of numbers to buzz us insane in our heads, to never take the faith again, to get through it by mental statistics, by trig and by clustering of fealties in children who were their own towers if they would only see it. For Joey taught me much, for he never fell down and he never said a hopeless word, and in all his lonelies, in all that little tremble of him, he was as sure as secure as a mighty oak, and adult became the teenager and the teenager became the adult, as so very many times before.

He touched my breasts that cold first morning of Superfriends, lightly and delicately and amazed as them and at the all of me, as I touched his face and his smile and asked him please to never go—and he looked into the superficiality that had always been me, though I tried to auger the other way, as his hands held mine and found his warm, mine cold, as he kissed me and he leaned into me and he held my shoulders and told me I was lovely, as I looked away and my face was as plain as the gingham dress I wore and my dark graying hair in a bun and his shoulders were too small for 16 and his hands were too large for 16 and he was a collection of boy and man and child, as he brought out a winsomeness in me always so prim and properly laced before, I would have worn knee high shoes tied with laces had I not feared being mocked for them in school, in town, shopping, in church.

He was golden and he knew so many things, he read so many books already, he told me what GRAVITY'S RAINBOW was all about and he said the explanation with such jagged clipped words, with such self-assured wit and clever insights that the shattering glass of them shown and bitterly with light refractions that touched at me as pain to my eyes as he started to feel my breasts through my dress, with more force than before, and I was so put-off by his words, by his trying to impress no one, certainly not me, with his insights that he had never been allowed to tell anyone before, for inside this laconic boy, this boy of dreamy eyes, there was something more than the almost expected melancholic, there was something so wildly afraid of itself and we were naked and he took my hand and led me into the bedroom, and I look at him now with his head on the brown desk and his eyes closed and he is sad, he developed in himself totally apart from me, this person he always was, and it came a huge burgeoning, it came so swiftly, dam-breaking through, that he seemed to develop his gangly body fast into manhood before my eyes as he and I had sex that first time.

There was then in the act no joy, no smiles, or giggles or tummy rubs, that was to come later after he established who he was and certainly who I was, and I was to touch him and we were to do all manner of things but he always at a distance from me while being so very close, as close as two humans could possibly be, as I became his mother and he became my father and we lost all sense of roles and times and distances inside ourselves and in each other, as he would cry some nights on my shoulder when he was here taking math lessons, and he would want to sit on my lap.

He wanted to be rocked and to put his arms round me and sometimes it seemed the tears of his eyes were tearing the fabric of me apart, for someone that complex, that intelligent, that scared, that oak tree assured inside all this time, all of this called for a bravery, a curious courage that would have to span leagues or maybe even galaxies of what he was, of how he had been somehow manfully put together, and his unnerving attempt to figure all the manifold steel and weeping spider webs that held him together somehow noon day sun and cold winter snow and he loved me as a woman and he loved me loving him and our roles reversed and he was always sure I knew the barricade--he could say he loved me and say it so meaningly, so endearingly, but I could say the same to him—and touch him—and he would draw back not knowing why I responded that way—not as a child, as a teen unsure of himself, for he was very sure and very frightened he did not know if he could make the march round the worlds of himself.

Thus he retreated into what he had never been allowed before, a synthetic child, and I retreated into what I had never been allowed before, a synthetic adult, and thus we helped each other not one jot, not one particle, we had had a chance maybe—but how?—that will always mock me—begin again, oh please--and then someone found out and we didn't even get the chance to say goodbye. I was allowed to serve out the school year, heavily supervised. His parents, his mother a nut case, would not press charges and I look at him no desperately and I remember how he sucked and kissed my small breasts as though he had an ineluctable hunger for them that was for far more than sexuality or nourishment of any kind, and he would reach for me and I would reach for him and we were together alone and we had a communal companionship, our own crowded world here besides, the myriad shards of him, brightening every day and night, and the growing paler body of me, long and thin and small patch of hair and not interesting or daring though we dared to do so much, both of us, neither quite believing we had conjured up the—nerve—I almost said—but safe as a roller coaster ride, with the stomach dips and the dizzy minds as we pretended we were human sexual rockets opening up worlds of the dead to live again each to his and her fashion, and bringing fictitious characters to life as well, just as my love, yes, he was, yes, said of Mr. Pynchon's novel which Joey was so enamored with. Because it was thick and complicated and beyond his years. Easy enough for the book laying there on your lap. Not easy when relegated into a real human being. He. Not I.

He got me to say the word of course and he got me hooked on him. He was in me so often I felt the print of his blood all inside, as he grinded his small white teeth, as his thick gold dark hair matted with sweat and he didn't notice I was there as I came to realize I never noticed he was there, or pretended I didn't, because that was his salvation, the days of him and me were to be short lived and that is a way of surviving, each fuck was just another way of saying goodbye and he meant it as a close friend, a neighbor giving a clutch of handshakes as he moves out of his house and leaves for another part of the world, for Joey understood that his sadness was forever tempered with reality, his longing and his love for me, and it was as real as anyone's for anyone, though perhaps that isn't saying much for it, but he was sad now for a plaything which had been taken from him, a pet who had gone away, though the boy was already anticipating another, and what he had learned from himself, he would take to someone else and then to another someone else, for that is how it's done, and he learned quickly from himself, bounced off that first I love you and our first time, all fumble and struggling, like learning how to drive a first car and he knew I loved him forever and would never forget him as he sat below my breasts and looked at me way down there and I looked at him way up there and I was a servant, an adult child toy of much worth, but then how much worth is a toy. Toys break after all.

The class ending bell shocked me, sounded ratchety scratching in my ears and the students picked themselves out of their lethargy and rushed themselves and hastily closed books and notebooks to the dark hall way carrying them to lunch. Only Joey stayed behind. He was at his desk, standing, yellow shirt which I had bought him for Christmas, jeans, blue, tight fit, already he was dating the prettiest girl in school, something impossible before, but he didn't use me, he had not touched that hand of closeness, neither had I, not with him, not with me. He comes to me.

He smiles and his dimples are unbearably cute. He looks me in the eye. I turn part away. He says, "I loved making sex with you next to your Christmas tree, and running in the snow later on and boiled custard and presents and I loved kissing you all over and how you bit your lip the first time I came in you and how you struggled not to be embarrassed your first time and I loved taking baths together and I loved you so."

He started to hug me. Then remembered. He looked at the door opened, we heard the mob in the hall, and knew there was someone looking in then or soon or in a second already and then decently turned away, and he walked away from me as I watched him then gone, as I sat wobbly in my wobbly chair and I looked round my classroom, never to be a teacher again, part of the deal, and I would remember every second of Joey and I would remember all the sex and all the happiness boundary-understood and think all the rest of my life, and this the cruelest part of all, I believe, what was it like to be loved?