[My dear friend F. James Dagg has sent along a short story of his early years. It possesses the sort of surprise punch that characterizes his short fiction. Enjoy. — FWP]
I was almost thirteen, and a contradiction. Short, still childlike at a glance, no one took me to be nearly a teenager; but I was bright beyond my years, or so the tests said (I was a year ahead in school), and, perhaps, older in ways not so easily measured. I read a lot, and, for the first time, I was in love.
Her name was Meghan, and the silent “h” enchanted me as much as her perfect Nordic face, her thick blond hair sculpted in a jaw-length bob, and the way she walked. She was a senior, and if the small college town we lived in hadn’t built the middle school and the high school nearly on top of each other I would never have known her. But then, “known” isn’t right—if Meghan was aware of any eighth-graders, I’m sure I was not among them.
My parents—I had two, according to the times—taught me the quaint values: don’t lie, don’t steal, be considerate of your neighbors. And the smaller, civilizing things—table manners, don’t shout, hold the door for a lady—even as the times changed all around us.
I wandered downtown one early autumn evening, coming as I was into a boy’s age of curiosity about things social, drawn to the ever-changing liveliness of the college. As young as I was, and a local, I was of small interest to the freshmen with their getups and their self-conscious loudness, and I was invisible to the smug upperclassmen who slummed among the newcomers. I took in the circus of the new academic year as I walked on.
The auditorium’s marquee read, “Steinem, Abzug, Tonight, 6pm.” I had heard those names, and knew a little of what they were about, and had wanted to know more. But I had missed the evening’s program. It was about nine, and time to head home—my parents would be starting to worry.
Then my eyes dropped from the marquee and fell upon…Meghan.
An electric thrill surged through my chest. She was halfway across the lobby, ahead of the crowd that poured from the lecture hall inside. She wore a tight sweater, a short, pleated kilt, and a supremely determined look, which her confident stride reinforced. She came straight toward the tall glass doors right there before me, and she was, in that moment, the world to me—past, present, future—forever. As my heart and my ancestors bade me, I opened the door and held it for her.
“Men are pigs,” she announced, loudly, as she strode through, her head high.
Three more steps in her knee-high boots, and she threw a glance over her shoulder.
“All of them.”
That was the only time our eyes ever met.
I don’t know if I looked like a pig, but I’m sure I looked like a fool as I stood there holding the door, staring, mouth half open, as the click of her heels on the sidewalk receded into the night.
It’s late in my middle years now, and my parents are gone, with most of their generation. I’m modestly successful, and don’t want for much. At the odd times I socialize with those of my age, when talk turns from business and television to children and grandchildren, among those who have them, I’m sometimes asked how it is I never married. The reasons are many, and most, perhaps, are my fault. But always, when the question arises, I remember Meghan as if it were yesterday.