A Bottle of Old Times
“Where’s that short skirt I got you?” Mom asked me. “The one you said makes you look like a Catholic schoolgirl?”
“Mom!” I whined.
“Take those tight jeans off.” Mom ordered me. “He needs to get to your panties.”
I slunk into the bedroom.
“And take those sneakers off,” Mom called out. “Put on some sandals or flip flops. Try the orange ones. It’s easy to slip them off.”
I came back into the living room dressed in a shirt and holding the sandals in my hand. “Mom, it’s cold outside,” I complained.
“You want to do this or do you want to live in this dump for the rest of your life? And the baby’s life too,” Mom said. “Do it Trina. We all have to make sacrifices in life.”
I dragged myself back to the bedroom.
“I’ll be home at four to take you to Burger King,” Mom called out.
When I got back to the living room, this time fully changed, she was jiggling her pile of keys.
I sulkily posed in the short skirt and sandals. She looked at me and nodded, made a circle motion with her forefinger until I did a full turn, then made her “forefinger touching thumb” OK sign. “When I drop you off at Burger King remember to make sure people see you together. You said that’s where his boys hang out?”
“Yeah,” I sullenly said.
“Good,” Mom said. “You don’t have to stay after people see you together. You can go right to his apartment and let him do you but you have to stay at Burger King until someone sees you together.”
“But Mom, suppose I’m hungry?”
She ignored my complaint and walked towards the front door. “It wouldn’t hurt if you got him to kiss you at Burger King,” she said. “Just make sure people are looking.” She’d be back at four, she reminded me again as the door closed behind her.
Grandma’s bedroom door opened. I heard the blast of her TV. The old lady had come out for her after-lunch nip. “UPS here yet?”
“No, Grandma,” I said.
“I ordered some bunny slippers from the TV show,” Grandma told me. “You should go on that show. It’s a good job. You’re pretty enough and Lord knows we need to move out of this dump.”
“Thanks Grandma for saying I’m cute enough to be on TV. I’ll let you know when your bunny slippers get here.”
No sooner had Grandma found her bottle of “Old Times” when another idea occurred to her. She looked at me and grinned. “You should find a nice boy and move in with him. Find a boy with a good job. Don’t you know some boy with civil service? Civil service is good. Good benefits and they never fire you. Don’t you know some boy in civil service?” she repeated herself.
“Grandma, I don’t even know a boy with a job, any job.”
She touched my check affectionately. “You’re a good girl,” she said before she shuffled back into her bedroom in her Barney Bear slippers. She carried the bottle of “Old Times” with her. I guess that jelly jar she used for her “nip” was still on her dresser. Did she ever wash it?
Iva came over. Good thing Grandma was in her room. I hoped she was taking a nap. She did not like Iva. She really did not like her. Grandma told me Iva was a “Hoochie Mama”. I didn’t know what that meant. I guessed it was one of those things old people said. Whatever it was, the way Grandma said it meant that it wasn’t nice. One day when Grandma went to the store to buy her bottle of “Old Times” she said she saw Iva bending over the counter. “You could see that girl’s drawers!” Grandma said. Another time she said Iva was bending over the counter and one of her breasts fell out of her tank top.
It must have been a long time ago, a really long time ago because there is no counter in that store, just a barricade in case someone comes in with a knife or a gun. A couple of times, someone did and robbed the place. Iva said it was Howie and some of his boys. Iva doesn’t always know what she’s talking about.
Grandma did not like the way Iva dressed. She said Iva’s tops were too low and her skirts were too short. “That girl is asking for it,” Grandma said. “She’s just asking for it.”
“Now Grandma…” I started to say.
She didn’t let me finish. “That girl is gonna get knocked up. I’m just surprised it hasn’t happened yet.”
I had no problem with Iva. She wasn’t my best friend but she was OK. And she knew what was what in the neighborhood. Plus she kept confidences. She knew the spot I was in and I knew she wouldn’t tell anyone.
“You should get Howie to do it to you again,” Iva said that day, as she slouched on our sofa. She wiggled around until she found just the right place to sit - that soft spot in between the springs. “Then you can tell him the baby’s his.”
“He’d feed me to the dogs,” I said.
I walked to the mirror and unbuttoned the top two buttons of the Catholic school girl shirt. Too spicy I decided.
Iva knew where we kept the plastic coasters and put her soda on the only one that wasn’t stained or torn. I was annoyed at her. She knew it was our best one. “Was Howie your first?” she asked.
“No. But he didn’t care.”
“Who was?” she asked.
“It’s not important,” I said, turning from the mirror. Maybe I should take a nip of Grandma’s gin? Naw, she’d kill me. But maybe she’d be asleep by now. Would she know if I was quiet?
“I bet it was Howie,” Iva persisted. “Did he get you in a corner and say he’d sic those dogs on you unless you did it with him?”
I crashed on the other end of the sofa and picked at the purple polish on my nails.
“So you’re gonna to pin it on Timmy?” Iva asked. “You know the guys think he’s a loser. I heard Cooter say that Timmy’s a virgin so you got to act cool. Innocent, like it’s your first time. Heck, he won’t know.”
I shrugged and kept picking at my nails.
“Get him to pour you some gin. He lives with his uncle. I know his uncle drinks “Old Times”. Make believe you’re sipping it.”
I ignored her and kept fooling with my nails.
“Don’t be quick about letting him touch you. Let him kiss you. He’ll tell you that you have nice eyes. Then you act like no one has ever said anything like that to you before.”
“No one has,” I said.
“Tell him he has strong arms, the kind of arms that will protect a girl. Tell him you like him because he knows how to respect a girl. Then you slide your sandals off and tuck your legs under your hips and move in towards him. If he unbuttons your shirt, make believe you don’t realize it’s unbuttoned. Let it stay that way.
“Boys like Timmy like hips and ass. Go to the bathroom and on your way there, bend over from the waist so he can see your drawers. That will drive him crazy. I hope you have pink panties on. Red satin thongs mean you’ve done it before. Pink is innocent.”
I checked on Grandma when Iva left. Grandma had fallen asleep so I turned off the TV. I stared at all the stuff that had to be re-boxed and returned to Quality TV, glanced at the bottle of gin and decided not to bother. But I took it to the living room, just in case I changed my mind.
I closed the door to her room and went back to the sofa. I sat in Iva’s spot, the place between the springs. I was beginning to accept what I had to do. I thought of all my choices. Did I really have any?
The doorbell rang. It was our UPS man. He grinned. I could see his teeth, yellow from all the coffee and cheap whiskey he drank, I guess. Or maybe it was the snuff folks said he used. He looked me up and down, taking in my Catholic school girl outfit and he grinned again.
I signed for Grandma’s bunny slippers and asked him in.
He saw the gin and asked if he could have a nip.
On the way to the kitchen to get him a glass, I bent from the waist, pretending there was something on the floor I needed to pick up. I heard him gasp.
“Mom won’t be back for a while,” I said. I gave him an innocent girl look. “Would you like to see her room?”
I took him by the hand and led him to Mom’s bed.
“I don’t have a condom,” he said.
“You didn’t have one the last time,” I reminded him.
“It was your first time, wasn’t it?” he asked. “Was it as good as you thought it might be?”
I left him on the bed and went into the bathroom.
I thought about Timmy waiting at Burger King, probably not having enough money to even buy me some fries. I wondered how long he would sit there.
I turned off my cell after I called my mom, then came back onto her bedroom. “Are you ready for me?” I asked Mr. UPS.
Linda Trice: "I graduated from Howard University, received a MFA from Columbia University’s Writing Division and earned a PhD in Black Studies from the Center for Minority Studies. I taught at Lincoln University and The Borough of Manhattan Community College and was a Fellow at Hambidge, Millay and VCCA and am a member of The Authors Guild and PEN. My short stories have been published in several literary journals including Papyrus, Sarasvati, Short Stories Bimonthly, Colorlines, Candlelight Journal, The Naples Review, Ink, Idiolect and Small Pond Magazine."