Evan McMurry of Brooklyn, New York has won the 44th New Millennium Fiction Prize for “Nothing Kinky.”
He will receive $1,000 and publication both online and in print.
A soldier hellbent on getting himself honorably discharged, and the waitress who changed everything when he saw the way the sun itself tried to reach her with its gaze. Nothing kinky here… just true young love up against this endless war. —NMW
by Evan McMurry
Boyle still in his fatigues screaming out of Fort Hood the moment they let him like a rubber band yanked back ninety you-can’t-believe-it straight days. Didn’t even last an hour in his barracksmate’s borrowed GMC, crunching every pothole on I-35 with disregard for tires and earth, before pulling over at a restaurant that looked as though it would contain a long bar, which huzzah it did, where his ass met barstool with a thwack remembered by every employee and patron like an onside kick. He deducted one satisfying gulp from a perspiring Lone Star when his phone danced and base said some dumb motherfucker had crashed a jeep during training and blowed hisself to the other side, and who in the nation of Texas did Boyle think was going to clean that up, get back here. Boyle moped down his beer. “Fuck,” he told it. “Can’t even enjoy a fucking four-day.”
He felt the eyes of the 2 p.m. crowd on him, caressing him, wanting the uniform, some action, anything to stir-fuck their afternoon. “Can’t even enjoy a fucking four-day!” he hollered with a slosh of the bottle that made him look drunk as he’d meant to get. And heeeeere comes the management.
Months later, well into his unsuccessful run at getting himself discharged, Boyle’d tell Yvette about the sun, how it burst through the front windows at an eager forty-five, hit the metal napkin dispenser on the far table and kept flying, banking off the mirror with the lunch specials scrawled in erasable marker above the bar, before finally brushing her cheek as she stepped nervously toward him. “That sun was after you,” Boyle’d swear. “First I was like I’m on Team Sun because moment I saw you I knew I’d hop every surface to get to you too.” He shifted in her twin bed. “But then I realized that sun was my competition.”
“You proud ‘cause you won?” Yvette moved atop him, moonlight sidling through her curtains and riding each rivulet of sweat from her temples to her torso, individual enough to be named.
Boyle stretched, long legs ending off her mattress edge. “If you’re racing the sun,” he said, “guess it helps that the sun sleeps.”
Boyle did sleep, sort of, a zonked-out wakenap during which he shook and moaned and that left him more agitated in the morning, so that his spastic days seemed trials in venting the energy his body sparked in rest. What burned up his dreams? she asked. He couldn’t remember, recalled only the panic. Yvette had terrors, too, according to anybody from her two brothers to previous boyfriends who’d had the apparent misfortune of sleeping beside her. “You angry,” Server Todd told her on the last of their several regrettable nights. Said he’d woken up to her slapping him. He no-showed for his shift that day; Yvette had to do his opening duties. Heard later he’d up and moved to Dallas, as if she’d smacked him clear out of county. Sometimes she couldn’t remember his name.
“Sir, we respect your service—” was how Yvette had started toward the tremolo soldier buzzing at her bar that Friday lunch shift. This still tickled her. She liked to repeat it when they were making love, Boyle perpendicular to her, hands grasping the back of her slick legs. “Sir, we respect your service,” she’d giggle. He’d be unable to finish and she’d have to coax him out of the corner, pledging jest.
“Sir, we respect your service, it’s just you can’t cuss in the restaurant,” she’d told him, her central Texas drawl making rest-raunt sound like the dual jingles of a shop door swinging open.
“Shit,” he’d said, which he’d meant contrite. “I’m sorry, ma’am. It’s just I was on leave and like that they’re haulin’ me back to the base.”
“How long you on leave for?”
“Four days, was supposed to be.”
“How long’s it been so far?”
“Reckon it took me about forty minutes to get here?”
“Ooh.” Now that was genuine, Boyle’d fight any soul in a hundred-mile radius said otherwise. That ooh echoed in his daydreams for the next three months until he floored it back to The Frontage Road. Thwack onto the stool. Yvette nearly sprinted over: “Would you guess it, I recognized the sound of you sitting down.”
If that ain’t love it’ll do until. Yvette had never worried about anybody’s tailbone before. She’d never thought about anybody’s tailbone. Boyle offered to drive her out to Flynn’s dancehall, six miles down a ranch road; after stepping to some five-piece that owed Bob Wills royalties they wandered outside, and even under the star-poked sky and onto a picnic bench softened by rain and use, still his bony frame’s end collided against the wood with a clap distinctive as voice. “Don’t that hurt?” she asked him. His skin-pulled face looked up at her in wide wonderment. Man had no idea how he sat or did anything else. He was what Yvette’s mother used to call an innocent. She knew to see behind force and profanity and all the rest. She divined who walked this earth meaning no crime. Boyle meant no crime.
Except literally. He wanted gone from the service, thought he’d figured a narrow opening through which he could offend enough to be booted without triggering any court martial. “War of attrition,” he told her, shaky in his boast. Yvette knew his side of this war predated her, but now he had a cause beyond his own bald freedom, which he undervalued, on account of which he’d joined the service in the first place. “I was useless,” he admitted. “That’s what I told the recruitment guy at the mall who signed me up when he asked why I was joining. Guess what he said back? ‘Knowing that makes you the smartest motherfucker in this mall and planet and whatever unit they put you in.’ Didn’t figure what he meant ‘til too late.”
Yvette’s father still drove around town in a camouflage jeep with a black POW-MIA flag drooping over him at stoplights. He loathed war, loathed its corrosion, and like so many of that type his hate boiled into devotion. He read books on battles and planes and strategy and torture, wanting war endlessly, pleading for its shaping power; if all battles on this earth ended he’d brake in the middle of an intersection, causeless. It was up to his daughter to nudge it that last step and resist it all. In high school Yvette drew peace signs on her backpack with white out and ran her only pair of jeans through the wash with food coloring to try to make them tie-dye. Now the peace sign was implied: not for nothing was she the one dispatched to quiet the serviceman raising world war three at the bar at two in the afternoon. Sir, we appreciate your service.
“Ooh,” she said when the soldier told her about his non-leave, and out of instinct ran her hand on his shoulder. He looked up and took her in, not how the lust-sodden did it down at the Gimme Three Steps but as if he, Boyle, specific knot of space and time in the great right-here-and-now, had never seen her like before and what the hell kind of world was that. Told her later he’d dreamt of her hand on his shoulder every night since, said he lulled himself to sleep by placing his own hand where hers had been.
Yvette had gone before to Flynn Hall with other guys but they stopped a couple numbers in as if having paid her entry fee and then got lousy off pitcher beer, so that she usually ended the night on some floor-mattress while sweaty hands tried to determine her breasts. Boyle, he danced all night, pausing once an hour to replenish his breath, and then he’d hear the stick-versus-stick of the drummer’s countdown and clutch her hand, boyish to resume. That night Yvette was the one who sweated. Holding her outside after the dance hall closed, Boyle said she had a river down her back. She asked him to name it. Two-Step River, he said. Shuffle River. Quick-Quick Slow-Slow River. He swooped her swaying under moonlight as he babbled. Her hands cupped his poor tailbone.
Next day she was off work and he proposed driving, who cared where. In his borrowed truck they took a highway up till dirt. Northernmost Yvette had been was Amarillo. Beyond was Canada and cold and no-thank-you. Now she closed her eyes and let him guide her. They pulled up to a promontory looking out over Texas flat. The sun bent over their perch. Boyle told her he loved her and would marry her if it killed him. “If you’re dead you can’t dance, silly,” she said, and he vowed to stay alive on behalf of their craft. They made love until exhausted and then dozed in the grass, both waking themselves with their own tremors, each rolling for solace into the other’s sleeping form. Neither spoke of this but both found it stored in that extra drawer of consciousness two people can afford when they pool all their desires.
Then Boyle had to go back to base.
Meantime Yvette had designs, as of the servers always put it when she was spotting studying a used anatomy textbook ahead of the lunch rush. Some new hostess being shown around, gawking at the textbook like it was a rock landed from space but why here. “Yvette’s got designs. All wants to be a nurse. Not local, neither.”
Guilty. Yvette had bussed down to Austin for cheer competitions junior and senior year. They didn’t place but the city’s glass buildings invited themselves into her mindscape and shone eternal. “More hospitals than you could count,” some supplies salesman told her once of the capital city as she waited to scribble his order—all the lonely dick-dragged one-tops figured she was hourly for her conversation, and if she never served them a bite of well-done T-bone with extra A1 they’d starve past rapture. Yvette informed Mr. Salesman she intended to be a nurse. He presented her with his card, advised her, with a wink, to call him. She did not. His existence, up and down I-35 hawking gadgets to countless clinics that must have existed to buy them, was enough, and soon the corridor was a Mexico-to-Minnesota highway of hospitals breathless for her. Yeah, she studied.
Yvette told Boyle her plans in letters (his phone privileges had been revoked as one rolling consequence of his discharge mission), her first letters since she’d been forced to write in careful kid script to her father’s hermetic mother in one of the two Carolinas. Now she penned pages, at the iced tea station after her sidework had been signed off on, when she awoke in the light-yellow crevice of early morning before sliding back to sleep. She filled in her fantasies with detail and certitude she’d never permitted her own imagination. Her daydreams grew bones and flesh, stood on their own hind legs and strode off to Austin, to an apartment together, a gig for him pouring concrete paying more than you’d think, the ring on her finger thin and near unnoticeable, but lord in the right summer sunray you’d have to shield your eyes from Lubbock.
Boyle’s handwriting back was as she expected, wild scratches and loops, like her dinner orders, jotted in jagged code meant for the line cooks forced to learn it. She spent hours crowbarring apart and reassembling his script. He agreed in frantic hand to all her plans and then boosted them, promising to procure two jobs at least so they could buy a by-god house out in Bastrop where there’s LAND, with three underlines indenting from alternating angles, as if he were already crisscrossing his someday acreage. Boyle begged her forgiveness for joining the service that now encased him from her and warped their future, though, his rambling letter demurred, were it not for his uniform would Yvette have even noticed him, would he have even been in The Frontage Road that afternoon hooting and hollering? Was it not this very same service, by calling him back, that called her to him? That’s a cruel loop! He wrote, though it looked like thank acwolmpl until she decrypted it.
The letters became less frequent as his discharge mission cost him additional privileges. Finally Yvette wondered at the flaw in his scheme: if he continued his mischief, wouldn’t they eventually refuse to let him off base at all? Wouldn’t the ultimate punishment be not discharge but capture? This was their sole fight, conducted via post, her side inked on the back of pink food delivery carbons, his on printer paper swiped from chaplain’s office. Was he really willing to sacrifice those few days with her? she demanded. Boyle asked if she wanted him for four days now or forever later. She wrote back: both. Ain’t no both, replied the thrice-folded page. Can only kick around here so long ‘til they ship me out. Believe it they’re shipping folk.
The surge she saw about on the TV. No thank you. Yvette began adding peace signs next to her name when she dropped the check, the way the other female servers drew hearts and the male servers drew nothing. In late bleak howl-hours she turned morose, loading troop death counts, touring the war porn some deathwish third-tours uploaded to message boards, tank marks impressed in skulls because in some streets were stacked too many bodies to move them out of the way. Yvette closed the browsers, curled up with Boyle’s letters and visions of Austin and tailbone ailments memorized from her textbook. Applications had been mailed to nursing schools down in the 512, responses maybe some day. She shook awake from nightmares, dawn’s fingers crossed in her east-facing windows, refreshed the news to see if the war had expired while her eyes had closed from it.
Finally a letter arrived. Boyle said he’d been a downright boy scout and salvaged his next four-day. Two weeks until he got loose. One week. Four days. Tomorrow.
Now that she knew he’d be coming she heard the thwack of his rear against stool before it happened, as if the two of them travelled faster than sound, the sluggish world banging and tumbling to keep up. He spun in his seat as she closed out her last tables, held her hand tenderly out the door, chauffeuring her to their together-realm so fast she forgot to run her checkout and the manager called her after midnight because the POS system wouldn’t shut down with her open tabs.
Boyle wanted her to meet his mom, mused this as he drove dance hall-bound, though he admitted in almost the same breath the woman was crabby and lotto-hung and would probably be short with her but didn’t mean it personally. “Daddy’d be obsessed with you,” Yvette countered. “He thinks soldiers are tragic. He’d salute you and at the same time be ranting about them Ivy League puppetmasters conned us into Vietnam. Seen him do it. He forgets to take his hand down from his head, sometimes. I have to move it for him.”
Boyle swerved one-handed into the hall’s sandy lot. “I’m not tragic.”
“Daddy’d say not yet.”
They won a dance competition that night, $200 prize, plus every old coot couple in the place wanted to buy them a round because they’d never seen such love since their own. Some of the men had their veteran caps on, brigades stitched in yellow. Sniffed soldier on Boyle a mile out, started right in with their stories, because why had they seen and suffered what they had if not to tell. Yvette would extract him each time for a new number. The old men, they went home early. Boyle and Yvette drank hooch with the band after last call, stumbled back along the dark road’s gravel embankment. The nightblack routed Boyle’s joy and he collapsed despondent in her bedroom. “Never want to be them guys,” he cried. “Uh-uh. Never never never.” She cradled him until he fell asleep, L-shaped on the floor against her bed, twitching.
But in the morning they had $200 and three days of self-rule. Yonder was an antique strip, doily stores piled with garden gnomes, LBJ plates, flash-bulb cameras bought at garage sales repriced for gouging. Some of those shops sold jewelry, some of that jewelry were rings, and $200 turned out to be just enough for one ruby-colored gemstone a haughty woman behind the counter warned could be soft as butter so y’all watch. Boyle slid it onto Yvette’s ring finger. “Watch this,” he murmured, just loud enough for the antique woman to hear and huff and manners these days. Yvette was already lifting her ring into the pouring sun, probably blinding some Lubbock fool.
Now they were near broke, but who needed money. They made love until noon, testing different positions, still discovering each other’s bodies, Boyle slanting her up against her white childhood dresser, Yvette blindfolding him with her single knit scarf it was never cold enough to wear, Boyle finding the exact point of his cock against her clit that solicited that ooh that had first melted him. For a euphoric cross-moment that sound and this one were joined, as if their hunger for each other was so powerful time twisted around to bear witness.
Loved out, they scrounged loose change from her lunch tips and nibbled on scones at the town’s one coffee shop, penciling in half-finished crossword puzzles left by the sugar, reading personal ads aloud from the back of the free weekly and imagining answering them. “Husband seeks man to have sex with his pregnant wife while he watches,” Yvette recited. “Nothing kinky.”
“No way it says that.”
She proved it. He howled. So pristine they booked it home and made love in roaring celebration. Yvette stuck her finger up his ass until he whooped “nothing kinky!!!!!!!!” loud enough that her downstairs neighbor banged something dense against his ceiling. Became their joke: they treated themselves to pizza on the third night, Yvette asking what he wanted on it, Boyle saying, “Pepperoni, olives. Nothing kinky.” The morning he had to drive back, Boyle asking the weather, Yvette answering, “30% change of rain, nothing kinky.”
His next four-day was three months away. “I’ll behave,” he swore, twining two fingers. “Boy scout.” Boyle asked if three months was time enough to book a venue, a gazebo in the park or something. “You, me, your dad, my mom. Who-all else. Some of your friends. I could get a couple of guys at base to drive down.”
Yvette hadn’t yet cried at his leaving, but she did now. “Don’t need no venue,” she said, choking on the words. “Just you and me.”
“And the pregnant woman’s husband. He wants to watch.”
“Forget him.” Yvette sniffled, wiped her cheeks. She pledged to be dirty as could be on their wedding night, naughtiness unheard of, so filthy they’d kick her out of the solar system. “Well don’t do that,” Boyle said, honestly concerned. “Horrible things we’ll do to each other,” she promised, twisting the ring new enough it still itched. Her eyes watered but she grinned through. “Set your clock, boy. In ninety days I’ll shock you something.”
“Okay,” Boyle agreed, sideways-grinning as though slipping through a gap in his base’s gates, “but nothing kinky.”
They shipped him out two weeks later. Yvette was mid-lunch rush, one of the line cooks having called in sick so the place a cluster, didn’t see the blinking light on her phone until hours later. He’d begged phone privileges back for this one call, said his static-y voicemail. “Plus I reckon they feel bad for me. Like, better give the cannon fodder his phone call. Ha ha.” That laugh snare-drummed over her ear. She saved the message, listened to it over the next weeks, and then months, learning to cut it off right before his death rattle.
A couple letters arrived long after they were written, about the barracks and the missions, how much he missed her, and what the fuck was he doing here. Then nothing. They never married and she wasn’t kin—she reckoned nobody at the base even knew she existed—so nobody knew to tell Yvette anything. She saw about him in the base newsletter somebody’d left behind at one of her booths, a listing of the most recent KIA. Boyle Wren of South Pass, Georgia, 21. Just long enough to read over his name in a typewriter’s tombstone print before the kitchen bell brrrringed, order up. She stuffed the notice in her apron pouch; it rode there rest of the shift, stole home with her, joining his letters, some mismatched tube socks left at her place, and her ring, all she had of him. We thank you for your service.
That night her legs kicked in her twin bed. She wanted to go dancing with him. All she’d imagined she’d feel the few times she’d allowed herself to ponder this end, not in a million had Yvette ever thought it would make her want to two-step. Felt godless, except Boyle would have loved it. This dream tricked her into sleep, where her petition for him to reconsider his discharge mission scaled her memory and charged. She started awake, sky still black, reread his letter in the lamplight, ain’t no both scrawled in warning script. She vomited onto her pillow.
At daylight she called in sick to The Frontage Road, hung up as the manager bleated about how we get our shifts covered round here. Didn’t bother phoning the next two days. One server eventually texted: How them designs?
Her father was the first other person Yvette saw, on her sixth jobless day of roving in and out of sleep on her closet floor to avoid her unwashed sheets. In his black-draped jeep he ordered her a chicken sandwich at a drive-thru, shared a basket of fries in the parking lot. He catalogued, in that gruff, weary, keep-on-keeping-on voice of his, the endless waste in Iraq, lies from official lecterns, articles he’d read of soldiers returning with whole regions of their skulls bolted together, and them the lucky ones. As usual he spoke beyond her, all the centuries of conflagration imminent in his windshield like those old wall-wide paintings in which every gun and cannon of a battle explodes at once. He didn’t ask her nothing, didn’t notice her ring, her matted hair, her hard swallow as he told of the men who came back. He offered Yvette the final handful of fries—“small things, Vette, in times like this,” he said of his gesture, “and let’s remember the ones who die for it”—then dropped her back at her apartment, where she earned an eviction that afternoon for torching her sheets in the complex’s dumpster.
Yvette moved to Austin the next week. Picked up some shifts at a diner way north on Burnet Road, enough takehome to rent a room in a too-crowded house where her training scrubs eventually earned her the nickname Nurse Ratchet from roommates who told her she shrieked in her sleep. Oranges and reds from their backyard campfires defied her curtains as she dug a fingernail into the flesh of her thumb to stay awake. In nightmares the tank rolled over Boyle’s head, Yvette screaming for them to move his body. She offered to pay more in rent for her noise; the roommates, scared of her, told her it was fine and she endured their shifting glances in the hallway.
And lord did men hit on her, at her nursing program, on the bus, hoofing down the streets she’d once dreamed of striding with Boyle. She’d exhibit her ring but it was dim and powerless, just some thrift store find. Yvette learned to slap, just as with server what’s-his-name. The boys jerked back stunned, like a prowling beast encountering an electric fence indifferent to food chain etiquette. “Bitch,” they’d squeal. Sure, she’d shrug, ring finger extended, hoped they told that part at a pub later, cunt didn’t even know which finger you gave.
Eventually the roughage did begin to scratch the stone, as the antique woman had warned.
But Yvette chased the sun’s swoop off the band. Exact angle? Sun could catch that ring, tell you what. See it out there in Lubbock. See it in the Frontage Road, it in Gimme Three Steps, at Flynn’s Dancehall, way out at Fort Hood, curse the place, see it up there in Amarillo, all the way up I-35 in Minnesota, see it in Canada and cold and no-thank-you. Exactly how Boyle had swore, testifying of first laying eyes on her. They were picnicking on that promontory he’d been told about from the same guy who’d leant him the GMC. The sun setting across a panorama laid out special reminded Boyle of that instant she’d appeared to him. “Man, that sun hit off every surface hunting for you. I counted three. At least. Would have kept going. That’s how you do,” he’d said, tremolo soldier peering up at her, meaning nothing but this worship, meaning pure. “Like the sun. Girl, every goddamn surface after you.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Evan McMurry’s fiction has been published in more than one-dozen journals, including Post Road, Euphony, Arcturus, Oddville Press, Palaver and more. His story “The Fall of Rabbi Gold” was selected as a finalist for the Al-Simāk Award for Fiction from the Chicago Review of Books.
Nothing Kinky © 2017 Evan McMurry
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