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Peccadillos by Mary Stebbins Taitt
 

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  • This is an excerpt, which I wrote yesterday and edited today, from one of the novels I am working on, Taming Uncle Beast. Tiny, Uncle Jake, Trey, Harmon and Suze are riding Jake's raft downriver after a number of adventures. Tiny is writing a memoir of her adventures for her English teacher.

    * * * *

    Dear Mrs. Dietrich,

    A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. I got your latest and greatest group of words when we passed Elbow. Must be cell towers or wi-fi there, even though it’s a one-horse town. The “elbow” (or bend) in the river that the town’s named for was pretty cool, and has the biggest rapids we've been through on Jake’s raft, but the raft held up well. The tiller got a bit beat up on the rocks, but we pulled over and Harmon, Trey and Jake Jerry-rigged it and plan to fix it better next time we stop.

    So I read the words on your new list, guessed at their meanings, and looked them up. As usual, most of them were words I've run across somewhere in literature, but don't hear "normal" people using, especially not kids my age.

    Like
    peccadillo. I'm thinking to myself, who says peccadillo? Duh.

    So meanwhile, Suze . . . (Betty Sue) . . . (I know you said not to change characters names midstream in a narrative, but she keeps changing her own name. I can't help that. Yeah, if for some reason these words are ever published, I suppose I could delete or alter the truth.)

    Anyway, . . .
  • Suze fawns all over Harmon, shameful really, embarrassing to watch. Harmon discreetly tries to fend her off. He's half-hearted about it, which doesn't convince her he means it.

    She strokes his arm. His arm, which I look for the first time, I mean really look at, is monstrous. It’s four or five times as big around as Jake's arm, and solid. It's brown from the sun and has curling black hairs.

    I look at Trey's arm. It, too, is brown from the sun, a deep rich deep tan. But Harmon's arm almost looks like the arm of an African American person. It is so dark. Trey's arm is lean and strong and very much like Jake's. Only smoother and less bunged up. Jake has scars. Big scars. Shrapnel. Each man has a slightly different color tan. I look at my own arm—it looks faintly greenish, olive, I guess they call it.

    I look at Harmon's legs. He's wear cargo shorts. His legs are huge, hairy and dark, like his arms. But they aren't fat. He's big, but he's not fat.

    I look at Trey's legs. Like his arms, they are lean and golden brown, deep golden brown. Similar to Jake's, but less scarred.

    I never think much about Jake's scars. They horrified me when he first got home, but I've totally gotten used to them. If Trey looked like that, it wouldn't stop me from wanting to kiss him. I worried that no one would want to love Jake with his scars, and now I hardly notice that they're there. That gives me hope, for Jake. For me. For everyone.

    We drift past the end of a dock where a boy stands, blowing bubbles. The bubbles float over the raft, and we all look up and smile. The boy has long curls. The wind lifts the tendrils of hair and the boy lifts his arm and smiles and blows another long stream of bubbles. We wave back.

    The bubbles follow us downriver.
  • Suze kind of pets Harmon’s hair. She runs her fingers through it. His hair is long, curly and black. His face looks contented, like a cat being petted. I almost think I can hear him purring. Then catches himself, and brushes her hand away, very gently.

    “Suze,” he says, "Suze, listen, you don't want me. I am full of peccadilloes."

    I start laughing.

    "Huh? Peccadilloes? Does that have anything to do . . ." she blushes a deep crimson, "with peckers?"

    Everybody guffaws, more at her discomfort than at her joke, although it was kind of cute.

    Suze is no dummy. As I mentioned before, she was in some of my honors classes. But apparently, she didn't get the same word list I did, or she's distracted by her desire for Harmon.

    I'm about define peccadillo, since unbelievably, I've just Googled it, when Trey says, "Peccadilloes are half-breeds between those horny, long-nosed placental mammals that are smashed along the Texas roads and dark-haired, bristly wild pigs." It takes me a second to process what he's just alluded to, armadillos and peccaries, and I am beat later than Harmon and Jake with my laughter. Suze is half a beat behind me. Then we all groan simultaneously, and laugh again.

    Trey says, "They really are small faults, silly inconsequential faults."

    I am totally grinning. Trey rocks! (Wait, did I just say that he rocks because he used a word I said no one ever used? You are having a bad influence on me, Mrs. Dietrich!)

    Trey has a sometimes great and sometimes overly subtle sense of humor, and he loves to hear me laugh, because, as you know, I have a very loud and hearty laugh. So do Jake and Harmon. Sometimes, we tell jokes and laugh until tears run down our faces. Unfortunately, I'm better at laughing than I am at telling jokes. Their jobs are to entertain me, mine is to provide the laugh track.
  • Jake, who is sitting at the tiller, looks up and makes a face. "Harmon," he says, "what you have are not peccadilloes, they are elephantillos. You have humungous seismic faults, the kind that produce earthquakes and tidal waves." Again, everyone laughs.

    Then Harmon looks serious. "He's right, Suze," he says, soberly. “I am not a good candidate for a . . . a hook-up." Then he looks embarrassed.

    Suze holds up her two hands, palms flat, and raises them alternately up and down like a scale. "Hmm,” she says, “man who chases me down the aisle of a church brandishing a knife," she sinks one hand, "verses a minister." She raises the first hand and sinks the other and then leans over and gives Harmon a kiss on the cheek. Jake rolls his eyes.

    "What," Harmon says, "if I told you, like you told Shannon, that I didn't want you?" I laugh nervously, because he looks a little worried.

    "I wouldn't believe you," Suze said, laughing. She sounds totally confident, so I look closely at her for a shred of doubt, and see none. Then I look at Harmon. He has a half frown partly broken by a sort of shit-eating grin. He's smitten.

    I don't believe in love at first sight and it annoys me that neither of them knows much about the other, but they seem to be careening in a collision course toward each other. I have a sudden premonition that they will find some way to have sex with each other in the next twenty-four hours. The vision that fills my mind unbidden is a little bit gross (okay, disgusting) and at the same time titillating because the next image is one of Trey and me, and that one is much more interesting and definitely less disgusting.

    Kissing is sort of gross, I mean, sharing spit, and sex must be even grosser, sharing semen and other bodily fluids. But for some reason, when I look sideways at Trey who is sitting cross-legged with his knee just touching mine, I don't feel grossed out, I feel . . . excited.

    And hey, if Harmon and Suze can get laid, why not Trey and me? I reach out and stroke my finger along Trey's inner thigh toward the edge of his shorts and then slightly under the edge. Then, suddenly mortified, I pull my hand away and look down at my own legs. I am shivering, and it isn't with cold.

    * * * *
  • Images are photos by me, representing things seen along the raft trip.

    There are several other excerpts from this novel on Cowbird. Here's one of them.
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