Johnny America


The Meta­mor­pho­sis of Love


Al­lie Marie stood at her kitchen sink wash­ing dish­es, think­ing of Hen­ry and his strong, rough hands. Why he had quit col­lege and left her was a mys­tery. They had been per­fect. He’d writ­ten her won­der­ful, com­pli­cat­ed po­ems and cooked her spaghet­ti din­ners. Like all col­lege stu­dents they were poor, but some­how he al­ways scraped up enough mon­ey to buy a bot­tle of de­cent red wine when she came over. And the sex was great. They had no in­hi­bi­tions back then and would of­ten share a joint and have sex for hours.

Af­ter the dish­es, she put in an hour on her ex­er­cise bike. She no longer dat­ed and her job as a desk clerk at the Rich­mond Hol­i­day Inn bored her to death, so she need­ed some­thing. Her thing was to turn on some mind­less talk show and bi­cy­cle as if her life de­pend­ed on it. She made up weird sce­nar­ios in her head, half out of bore­dom, half to mo­ti­vate her­self. Okay, say you have a kid, a son, and if you don’t do three more miles, he has to die. If you put this bike on a 50% in­cline set­ting and can last un­til the next com­mer­cial, Hen­ry Soul will call and tell you he nev­er stopped lov­ing you and wants to get mar­ried in one month. She had the kind of imag­i­na­tion that let her be­lieve these sce­nar­ios were re­al­ly re­al and so, she ped­dled away and sel­dom lost these strange bets with herself.

Mean­while, way on the oth­er side of town, Hen­ry Soul worked a speed bag mer­ci­less­ly in­side a vir­tu­al­ly un­known gym called The Gold Club. His train­er Mack Davis barked en­cour­age­ment at his box­er as he wrung his hands around an old gray tow­el. Af­ter about fif­teen min­utes he told Hen­ry it was time to jump rope, as if he did­n’t know. They had fol­lowed pret­ty much the same rou­tine for over two years. As Hen­ry turned the jump rope in­to a blur, bare­ly pick­ing his feet up, Mack told Hen­ry he was a stone cold killer and promised him he would get big­ger fights soon.

Af­ter a par­tic­u­lar­ly bad day at the Hol­i­day Inn, Al­lie Marie gave in and took out an old shoe box from the top shelf of the clos­et. She se­lect­ed one of Hen­ry’s old po­ems at ran­dom and read it over and over. She popped a cher­ry wine cool­er open and al­though she sel­dom in­dulged her­self like this for fear of wear­ing out­the mag­ic, she read every sin­gle one of Hen­ry’s po­ems and let­ters. Then cried. Then went to sleep.

Hen­ry felt more sur­prised than any­thing when he heard his jaw crack. He was spar­ring with a guy 20 pounds heav­ier than him­self, a guy named Randy Tay­lor. Randy had tat­toos up and down both arms and had al­ways seemed a bit un­strung to Hen­ry when he’d spot­ted him around the gym. But Mack thought he would be a good chal­lenge for Hen­ry, since none of his three fights had last­ed more than a sin­gle round. He’d tak­en some re­al shots, but en­durance had nev­er re­al­ly come in­to play.

The hos­pi­tal vis­it went by in a blur. Due to the sever­i­ty of his in­jury, they im­me­di­ate­ly shot Hen­ry up with De­merol. The on­ly thing he re­mem­bered was go­ing out for a milk­shake at Friend­ly’s with Mack af­ter his jaw had been wired shut. De­spite Hen­ry’s love of box­ing, train­ing was hell­ish enough that a few weeks of read­ing, tele­vi­sion and rest seemed just fine.

Al­lie Marie typed a reser­va­tion in­to the com­put­er at her desk. She half­heart­ed­ly thought of quit­ting her job for the mil­lionth time but con­sid­ered her oth­er op­tions: a wait­ress, a sales­per­son, a temp; and knew there was no es­cape. The one thing about this job was that al­though it was mind­less and de­grad­ing, at least her suf­fer­ing was private.

The first two days off from train­ing were a dream. For the first time in a long time Hen­ry bought the pa­per and leisure­ly read through it as he drank cof­fee. This is what nor­mal peo­ple feel like, he thought earnest­ly. He lazed around in his box­ers, watched movies and popped Codeines. Af­ter two days, he got des­per­ate enough to pick up an old Anne Rice nov­el his moth­er had giv­en him years ago. Af­ter a few pages he took an ex­tra Codeine and lay on the couch think­ing about boxing.

He had won all three of his fights with­in the first round. All of them had been fren­zies — he had tak­en some good shots, par­tic­u­lar­ly to his nose. Mack had told him with his hand on his heart that there were pro­fes­sion­al box­ers who would have lost their legs if they’d tak­en a shot like Hen­ry did about mid­way through his last fight. His biggest dream was to get on a ma­jor card in Ve­gas. All those lights and sleazy glam­or; he saw him­self as the tough grit­ty South­ern­er who would knock out some big city fight­er, per­haps a lo­cal, and wow them all. A shot for the mid­dleweight cham­pi­onship was a bit am­bi­tious even for his fan­tasies. He was no Sug­ar Ray Robin­son, but he had quick hands, a bet­ter-than-av­er­age jab, and a lot of heart.

On the third night, Hen­ry de­cid­ed even though he could­n’t chew, he would go out to din­ner. There was a restau­rant at­tached to the Hol­i­day Inn that had a de­cent buf­fet with three dif­fer­ent kinds of soup and ice cream. Hav­ing eat­en on­ly canned soup for the last cou­ple of days, this seemed like a novelty.

Al­lie Marie had the choice to go over and eat at the ho­tel restau­rant for half price. She sel­dom took ad­van­tage of the dis­count be­cause she felt un­com­fort­able eat­ing there, like she was still work­ing. So she usu­al­ly brought a sand­wich and a ther­mos of some­thing warm and ate right there at her desk, or if some­one else was around and she felt deca­dent — she’d go open one of the va­cant rooms and watch ca­ble T.V. as she nib­bled her sand­wich. On a Tues­day night af­ter a par­tic­u­lar­ly bor­ing week­end she de­cid­ed she re­al­ly felt like some nice hot soup. She had ran late that morn­ing and on­ly had time to grab some fruit, which just was­n’t go­ing to cut it. She told the oth­er Hol­i­day Inn em­ploy­ee, a man­ic de­pres­sive by the name of Lar­ry, that she’d be no more than 20 min­utes and head­ed for her soup, mine­strone, she de­cid­ed as she walked.

Hen­ry want­ed to laugh. He did laugh, but be­cause his jaw was wired shut, there was on­ly a gur­gle of sound as his chest shook and the lines around his eyes turned down­wards. Al­lie Marie. Wow she looked great; she car­ried that same air of qui­et, sim­ple beau­ty that had over­whelmed him back when he first saw her walk­ing by the stu­dent cen­ter. He would have yelled her name and whis­tled if he could. In­stead he walked up right be­hind her and just stood there. When she turned around, bowl of soup in one hand and a linen nap­kin in the oth­er, he no­ticed quite vivid­ly the way her face changed, not in­to a smile ex­act­ly, some­thing deep­er, it seemed to just let go, as if any stress or lone­li­ness that had ac­cu­mu­lat­ed since they broke up sim­ply flushed from her face in a sin­gle in­stant. Whoosh!

“Hen­ry? Hen­ry Soul, walk here with me and let me put down this soup so I can give you a prop­er hug.”

Hen­ry did­n’t know what to do but smile. When she saw the wiring in his mouth she gasped.

“Hghrlo, Argh­lie Muurlee,” he tried.

She stopped in her tracks, stand­ing there by the soup bar, try­ing to make sense of the situation.

Hen­ry ges­tured to a near­by ta­ble then raised one fin­ger to in­di­cate he would be a minute.

Al­lie Marie watched as Hen­ry im­i­tat­ed writ­ing with a pen to a wait­er, con­vey­ing his need for some­thing to write with. When Hen­ry re­turned, he wrote that he was box­ing now and had bro­ken his jaw spar­ring. He paused for a mo­ment, clear­ly de­lib­er­at­ing, then added:

“I was a fool to ever leave you, sor­ry. I was messed up.”

She took his hand, want­ed to say so much, mil­lions and mil­lions of words. But she could­n’t. In­stead, she got up and brought him back a big bowl of mine­strone soup. And so, with so much un­said hang­ing be­tween them like a not en­tire­ly un­pleas­ant fog, they ate soup.

On Al­lie Marie’s next day off she drove to Hen­ry’s apart­ment. He an­swered the door sleep­i­ly wear­ing box­ers and a T‑shirt. She greet­ed him with a kiss on his neck then could­n’t re­sist. She let her eyes trav­el the­atri­cal­ly down to the full-fledged hard-on Hen­ry was sporting.

“And hel­lo there Hen­ry Ju­nior, I see you are up bright and ear­ly this morning.”

Hen­ry laughed through his bro­ken jaw and pulled her in gen­tly by the arm. In­side, Al­lie Marie pro­ceed­ed to tell him a mil­lion and one things about her few years with­out him. She told him how bor­ing work at the ho­tel was and how dis­ap­point­ed she felt that her de­gree had­n’t helped her get a bet­ter job. She told him her dream of run­ning her own bed and break­fast one day. She even told him about her weird lit­tle sce­nar­ios on her ex­er­cise bike. That’s when she noticed.

“You’re think­ing about sex!” she shrieked. “Hen­ry! You were star­ing at my tits. Unbelievable!”

Hen­ry cer­tain­ly did­n’t blush. He shrugged his shoul­ders and smirked. In one smooth mo­tion, Al­lie pulled her shirt and bra over her head.

“Is this what you want to see you bad boy?” she teased.

Her C‑cup breasts were firm yet boun­cy as ever. Hen­ry felt them ador­ing­ly and re­al­ized with a pang of frus­tra­tion that he could­n’t use his tongue. Even hav­ing ac­tu­al sex was prob­a­bly not the best idea. He could hit his jaw on some­thing and lose even more train­ing time. Hen­ry point­ed to his jaw lame­ly, hop­ing Al­lie would un­der­stand. She kicked off her jeans then pulled Hen­ry’s box­ers down. Feel­ing like ab­solute teenagers, they used their hands on each oth­er. The promise of fu­ture sex charged the air so pow­er­ful­ly, they both came in no time.

“Next time in my mouth,” Al­lie in­formed him in a thick voice.

“But right now, we are go­ing to the su­per­mar­ket then to a pic­nic on the beach.”

Hen­ry con­sent­ed with a fi­nal squeeze of her ass.

The beach was breezy and open. And per­fect. There were very few peo­ple there even for a week­day. Af­ter eat­ing a lunch of fruit juice and cold soup, Hen­ry and Al­lie held hands and walked along the edge of the ocean, the cold wa­ter nip­ping play­ful­ly at their toes. From time to time Al­lie broke off to col­lect a few pret­ty shells. With­out mean­ing to she asked Hen­ry why they had ever giv­en this up. He turned pale at this un­ex­pect­ed ques­tion, squeezed Al­lie’s hand, and looked at her thought­ful­ly, con­vey­ing that he had no pen or pa­per here but would write down his thoughts lat­er. To show she was­n’t try­ing to break his balls, she bit his nip­ple light­ly through his shirt. He goosed one of her breasts quick­ly in re­sponse and they walked on.

When Al­lie re­al­ized that Hen­ry’s arms, and in­deed her own were get­ting a bit pink, she in­sist­ed they re­turn to her apartment.

There she de­liv­ered on her ear­li­er promise, tast­ing the tang of the ocean on his warm skin. Af­ter some cud­dling she brought Hen­ry pen and pa­per and asked him to write why he had left as best as he could. He sighed. Al­lie Marie stomped her foot and said his name loudly.

He wrote:

Sor­ry Al­lie, sor­ry sor­ry sor­ry. It seems weird to me now that I did too. Be­lieve it or not at the time I did­n’t feel like I was leav­ing you. I was leav­ing school and you were part of that. I re­al­ized how every­thing there was bull­shit. It sounds like an ex­cuse but I guess you could call what hap­pened to me a ner­vous break­down. I know I’m not dumb but I can’t take that kind of life. I like the sim­plic­i­ty of box­ing. I train like hell as much as I can. Then I get in the ring and have to knock out the oth­er guy. I mean yeah there’s some strat­e­gy but it comes down to one thing: win. I’m pret­ty good at it too and have a man­ag­er and every­thing. It just feels right. How I came to it, leav­ing you like that was dead wrong and what­ev­er I have to do to make that up to you just let me know. But even though it was wrong it got me to the right place. God Al­lie, God I hope you understand.

Hen­ry hand­ed the note to Al­lie and ca­ressed her cheek once with the back of his hand. Al­lie had nev­er seen him look so vul­ner­a­ble. She read his words care­ful­ly, then read them again. Then again. It near­ly over­whelmed her, how much he loved box­ing. She saw with­out a doubt how his leav­ing re­al­ly had­n’t been about her. She felt noth­ing but ado­ra­tion for him, and a gen­uine hap­pi­ness that he had found his thing in life. And she would be there right in his cor­ner to share his vic­to­ries and loss­es. Still, keep­ing in mind that he had de­sert­ed her for more than two years, she wait­ed a long time to give her re­ac­tion. Well, she want­ed to wait long time. She last­ed maybe five min­utes. Prob­a­bly longer than a round of box­ing she mused to her­self. She looked at him out of the cor­ner of her eye, his ab­solute need for her to ac­cept or at least try to un­der­stand his an­swer could­n’t be more clear. Not wish­ing to abuse this pow­er for an­oth­er sec­ond, she gave him the best yes she could. She closed each of his eye­lids gen­tly with her fin­gers, then kissed each one soft­ly, very, very softly.

Filed under Fiction on May 29th, 2007

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Reader Comments

Cindy wrote:

Like all Pe­ter Schwartz pieces, this one’s a winner!

Lenka m.manning-warder wrote:

The Meta­mor­pho­sis of love is re­al­ly fun­ny, and I en­joyed it immensely!

Lydia wrote:

Pe­ter Schwartz kicks the col­lec­tive ass of sap­py ro­mance short sto­ries with this work. A lit­er­al one-two punch: off the cuff and in­to the read­er’s mind where it will re­side and res­onate for many moons to come.
Ly­dia Breakfast

Carolyn Adams wrote:

A sweet sto­ry that rings so true, it will stay stuck in your mem­o­ry. I found my­self root­ing for these char­ac­ters, hop­ing they’d re­al­ize what they ul­ti­mate­ly did: they be­long to­geth­er. Great one, Peter!

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