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She was like a sister. He could never imagine grafting with her.
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Grafting was the term they used for the new sexual practice of the species, which differed from the old only insofar as orgasm had been virtually bioengineered out of the equation. That is to say, with a number of egregious exceptions, sexual congress was no longer seen as an act of pleasure or lust, but solely as a means of reproduction. Grafting often led to offspring. Care of offspring had been greatly simplified and streamlined. Since children no longer needed feeding—four hours in a sunny hammock a day sufficed—parents could focus on more important things than nourishment and the often laborious quest to secure that nourishment.
Wulfstan slapped on his bollocks-guards. Men were required to wear these in case primitive urges reared their ugly heads, which, as mentioned, they did with increasing frequency among adolescent males.
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The bollocks-guards nipped that in the bud, as it were. Wulfstan had felt some of these urges, or tickles, but the bollocks-guards had worked wonders. Margot entwined her arm with his as they exited the atrium and walked along a softly-lit path blanketed with leaves. It was a fine evening, the stars out, a half-moon smiling down on a healing Earth. They reeked of grog and carried metal objects in their hands.
Behind her was a sign in the window that read, Now Hiring. She looked at him, pulling a fleck of tobacco from her lip. He bussed and cooked the rest of the morning. Following the lunch rush, he stacked a sandwich for himself and strolled out back to the alley. Maddie was leaning against a wall, hip thrust out and another cigarette between two of her fingers.
Her face was highlighted by a crescent scar on her forehead above an eyebrow. That scar told him a lot. Just collecting research. Research on how long it takes to fry an egg, or how many orders me and June can serve up in an hour?
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Finishing his sandwich, he reached into his pocket and felt his silver dollar. He considered it a good luck charm. Lung cancer took his mamma a few years later. He grew up leading an untethered existence, moving from place to place, taking in what people offered and learning to survive. If it was only a few days work, that was all right. Some new opportunity always came along. Luck had a way of finding him.
When the carousel began to move, she found herself in a magical place away from childhood problems. When the ride was torn down, she had been terribly depressed. A doctor once told June she had unresolved issues, might need professional help. All she knew was she had never felt happier when astride her painted pony all those years ago.
At the end of the day, Barney asked Eddie to stay on.
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She was a doughy-eyed girl with a hopeful face and a sweeter disposition than Maddie. He waited for her as she locked up. He offered to escort her home. She accepted. Eddie felt a twinge of sympathy. Was she a pushover, or just making a onetime devil-may-care gesture? There was no timetable for moving on. Finding accommodating people had become part of his lifestyle.
Strange how opportunities turned up. He felt the shape of his silver coin through his pants pocket and followed June. She had been warned about involvement, what it might lead to, but there was something about Eddie that caused June to take the chance of letting him into her life.
He did not try to take advantage of her hospitality like most men would have done. Late at night, she listened to his heavy breathing from the sofa as she drifted on a seductive river to a place she had not known for some time. True or not, she felt the blossoming of kindred spirits, fate intervening in her rather drab life.
Only three nights passed before June suggested he would be more comfortable sleeping in her bedroom. Eddie knew June was thrilled with his companionship. Maybe more than thrilled. After a week, he promised to stay around longer than planned recognizing a good deal when she saw one. You can write your stories right here.
She had loved her carousel horse. She thought she loved Eddie. There was no reason to believe anyone or anything …. Shaun holds the door for me, but Joey shoves ahead, pulling cigarette and lighter from somewhere. I used to stand with the smokers just outside the double doors of the English building, and then, when they pushed us off campus, on the sidewalk across the street. Now when I walk near them I inhale, remembering my reasons for quitting: the burden of accoutrement, lighter and pack; amber-stained fingers and nails, the old smoke clinging smell, and regret every night for every cigarette I had smoked during the day, and guilt in the morning because I knew I would do it again.
And Shaun hates it. But I grew up with smokers, though both parents had finally quit, sort of. These days he trains habitually for a marathon he has yet to run. Last month on my way home to visit, I drove past him on an outer road as he trudged along wobbly and out of breath. He sniffs the weeds or pants next to her as she inhales and exhales luxuriously.
Other times he waits outside the bathroom, tail thumping, where my mother hides with the fan whirring and window open. But I understand. There might as well be an old, bony, yellowed finger poking at a soft spot on my brain all the time. So I have back-up: beige squares of nicotine gum, even though I get hiccups and mouth sores if I chew too fast. As we wait for the band, Shaun twists around in his chair, shooting looks back at the door, more interested in whomight show up rather than in who actually has.
I catch myself digging a thumbnail into my forearm. I stop and pick at my cuticles instead. The band wanders onto the stage so nonchalantly almost no one notices until a squatty bass player plucks a string, sending a deep, bouncy note ricocheting wall to wall just as Shaun stands up as if on cue to wave someone over. Good, I think, because he could use a girlfriend. Joey practically lives with us these days. Though he is leaving for Fort Hood in November, he apparently means to spend every afternoon until then with his legs slung over the side of our green recliner while he chain-smokes and watches game shows or thumbs through novels from my Southern fiction class.