issue 39: November - December 2003 

 | author bio

Where You Can’t Go Again
Nick Antosca

Now that spring semester is over and he’s back home, sex has become a sticking point again.
      Not sex, per se—since his mother is emphatically not interested in knowing the details, the how and when—but the idea of sex. Sex in her house. Because Lucy keeps appearing at the back door, day after day, like a derelict cat, and Jay’s mother has always hated Lucy for the offense of having sex with her son.

* * *

He licks sticky apple juice from his fingers, and a warm breeze teases his hair. "So if I get a place," he says, consonants wet and lazy because of the half-chewed piece of apple in his mouth, "instead of going back to the dorm, can you—and dad—help with rent?"
      She glances up from the herb garden, dirt tumbling from her gray gloves. He notices the gray in her hair, too. "Help you pay the rent?" she says.
      "Tuition would be less without room and board. So you’d pay almost the same."
      "Jay, I ought to make you pay rent to me all summer. You need a job."
      Jay, who has always been precocious—in sex, drugs, and procrastination—stares past his mother into the forest, hears it rustling. The trees are heavy and abundant. A bird screams somewhere close and he thinks about Nicole Kidman, naked. He thinks about the gray hair at his mother’s temples.
      "I’ll tell you one thing, though," his mother says, vaguely waving gnats away. " If you live in this house, you better follow my rules."
      There is a satisfying crack as Jay bites an iceberg chunk out of the apple. He chews softly while his mother returns to her weeding. "I don’t know why you have to be so damn Catholic about it," he says mildly, even though she is agnostic and liberal with regard to everything but her son’s sex life. He wonders, chewing, if his mother even remembers the last time she had sex.

* * *

He isn’t sure what woke him, but he’s covered in sweat. Maybe the dream. The dream woke him. It was about Lucy, but she was . . . old.
      Sitting up, he chases his breath. He kicks the damp sheets off, feeling a soft breeze. In the next room, his mother is asleep.
      His father is away on business, as he will be again and again this summer.
      A door connects his bedroom to the adjacent one. As a child, he was always grateful for it; nightmares sent him through that door to his mother’s bedside, where he was comforted. But as a young man, the existence of the door, which has no lock, makes him nervous and guilty. As if, through it, she can hear an erection rise. Or read his dirty mind, with its amateur-hour fantasies and acquiescent women. And he doesn’t like to think what would happen if his mom heard him and Lucy fucking. Which is why they never use his room unless the house is empty. His breath is slow and regular. He lies back down. Thinking of Lucy.
      Lucy in a dress. Lucy in jeans. Lucy in the sky with sequins. Lucy undressed.

* * *

 A breathless tapping at the back door. His mother jumps up, hurries to answer it.
      "Oh, hello again," he hears her say tonelessly. The brief silence before the greeting seemed to tremble with wariness and hostility.
      He walks into the kitchen where his mother has poor Lucy, who is only a senior in high school, cornered near the cupboard like a nervous insect that has gotten in the house and must be crushed.
      "Ready?" Jay says. "Let’s go." He knows how best to defuse these scenes: quickly.
      Before Lucy has even finished nodding, she is at the back door again, bristling to leave, backpack slung on her shoulder. Smiling at his mother in diplomatic apology, Jay follows the high school girl out. They’re going hiking, then to her house.
      That’s what he allows his mother to believe, at least. In reality, after they cross the neatly sloping yard, go into the woods a good ways, and leave the meager path—not a path, really, just matted grass—they stop. With distance from Jay’s mother, Lucy is no longer nervous. She takes a blanket from her backpack, spreads it. Afternoon shadows fall around them. Because the woods are resonant with eerily acoustic echoes—ancient, girlish voices twitter in the forest—Jay and Lucy are self-consciously quiet while they fuck, half-dressed.
      A bird caws in the distance.
      Slowly, in the blissful but exquisitely sad afterglow, Jay rolls one of her little pink nipples under his tongue and wonders what pregnancy would do to this fresh, flushed body. Stretch her breasts? Flatten her feet? He imagines Lucy holding a child; the picture seems extraordinarily, scarily correct.
      "I never want to have kids," he says suddenly, brushing a caterpillar off the blanket.
      "I’m on the pill."
      "Not just with you, I mean ever."
      "Well, that’s dumb," Lucy says, pursing her mouth. "I’m definitely having one someday. Someone, you know . . . to take care of. Who . . . always loves me."
      "Yeah," he answers doubtfully. And then: "I just love fucking you."
      Under cool, leaf-patterned shadows, they kiss, and as the afternoon fades they’re bathed in the sharp, earthy odor of wild onions, honeysuckle, and covered graves.
      Later, she asks, "You think I could come to the beach with you?"
      He has relatives in Pensacola. Every August, he and his parents vacation there.
      His face assumes a painfully opaque look, eyes darkening. "Well . . . I’d be down for it . . . I mean, if you can."
      "‘If I can?’"
      "Well . . . my mother . . . "
      "Is scared of me, yeah." Lucy smiles self-indulgently. To himself, Jay doubts it’s that simple.
      "I’ll ask," he says. "I mean, I’d definitely like it. If it ends up being just me and her—and Dad—it’ll be so . . . boring, you know?"
      Lucy sighs, worrying a dead wasp with her index finger. "Do you ever watch the, like, Discovery Channel—I mean, when you’re shrooming or something?" She props herself up, elbows askew. "It’s always about how the mother bear or lion just roars at anything that gets near her cubs. That’s what your mom reminds me of, kinda. A big jealous animal. A big, silly, stupid animal." Her giggle is a little cruel.
      "I’ll pass that on to her."
      "I bet she thinks about me all the time. She’s so jealous. . . . Should we go over to my house? My dad might be gone by now."
      "Rather fuck you again right here."
      And he does.

* * *

Again a dream awakens him. Again he is gasping in swollen darkness.
      In the dream he’s downstairs. A kind of dream-mist flows through every room, changing and unmaking things; a lamp melts into a deformed infant . . . off-white drapes become a mildewed wedding dress. He flows upstairs where his bed has sheets with dinosaurs and rocket ships. Shrinking, becoming a boy, he pads to the door that connects his room to his parents’ bedroom. He eases it open, sees that they’re awake and sitting up (his father mostly obscured by his mother’s body) and staring at him, worried. But as he starts to voice a vague terror—I couldn’t find you—a tentacle of mist uncoils from their bed and slips away, revealing a confusing, lascivious four-legged beast. Interrupted, his parents remain coupled at the hips, still thrusting, their lower bodies obscenely and impossibly entwined. He watches in nauseated fascination, clutching a bowtie-wearing teddy bear.
      But now, awake, he begins to breathe normally again. Lying back on his pillow, he tries to soothe his nerves by composing erotic vignettes about Natalie Portman, and soon he is both half-asleep and half-erect.

* * *  

It’s raining, and this is reassuring. The insulating hush of warm droplets as they fall creates a sense of lovely stasis, of a lush refuge.
      Because his mother isn’t home, and won’t be for hours, there’s time for them to lie together in the living room, noticing how languidly the rain-shadows slide over each other’s skin. Silhouetted drops caress Lucy’s breasts, slip down the whiteness of her belly and disappear into a golden tuft of pubic hair, which gives off a fading, faintly titillating scent of condom lubricant and vanilla shampoo.
      As twilight nears, they are fucking again, this time in the dining room, Lucy bent almost primly over the back of a chair and whimpering perhaps more noisily than necessary. This is the fifth or sixth time so far this afternoon and in the last four hours they’ve done it in every downstairs room.
      Afterward, the rain mumbles in a flat soliloquy while they recover. They are draped naked on the sofa, exhausted and raw, calmed by the rain.

* * *

      "She is not invited. Under any circumstances. This is a family tradition. You may be old enough to make your own decisions, and mistakes, but you don’t make mine. Or your father’s. No way."
      Nonplussed, he watches his mother turn back to her easel with what seems to him a little like petulance.
      "Don’t push me, James Anthony Toleman. I hate it when you try to push me."
      Strained sunlight comes through the ancient blinds and slats of light affix themselves to floating particles of dust. Frustrated—but vaguely entertained—by his mother, Jay stares at the canvas she has nearly completed.
      "Is it abstract?" he asks.
      "What’s it supposed to be, then? A tadpole fighting a dodge ball?"
      "I’d appreciate it if you’d not be deliberately obnoxious."
      "Mom . . . if I go to the beach with just you guys, you know we’re gonna fight the whole time."
      A dollop of red-pink paint quivers on the tip of her brush as she spins to face him so sharply that he flinches.
      "She is not invited! Don’t bring it up again."
      There’s that strange, threatened petulance again. All at once he feels intense contempt for her, with a trace of sympathy—and curiosity, as well. What must it be like, he wonders, to grow up, discover love, give birth to a son, then be so suddenly disoriented again by the rote realities of sex?

* * *

      "Nine or ten, at the earliest," he tells Lucy, two of his fingers buried in her vagina. "She’s at her arts and crafts thing. She won’t be home before then."
      "Good," she gasps, biting the pillow dramatically, "I’m gonna be so loud."
      Because they know his mother won’t be home for hours, they’re in his bedroom, sprawled naked across the crumpled sheets (which do not have dinosaurs or rocket ships, only plaid), sweating and biting. It’s dusk outside the window.
      She moves down the bed and takes his erect penis in her mouth, licking and gripping it, flicking her long light hair out of her eyes. Leaning back for a moment, she looks up at him as he tears open a condom, his erection hovering over her, and she laughs.
      "That’s a Kodak moment," she says. "You should take a picture and show it to her."
      "Yeah," Jay says humorlessly, placing the condom over the head of his swollen penis and unrolling it. "Ready?"
      "Make me cry."
      When he pushes inside her, she bares her teeth, emitting a sound that makes him think of a hissing, silver-eyed cat, and as he feels her long white legs fold around his waist, he wonders how it is that women have such a ridiculous amount of influence in his life.
      But this self-consciousness dissolves in the rough heat of fucking, in the panting rhythm which he and Lucy create; she is crying out and writhing theatrically beneath him, aroused by her own moans, crushing her little breasts into his ribs, biting at his jaw, only pausing when she realizes that he has stopped thrusting, his head to one side, his hand frozen in the air near her mouth, trembling slightly, as he listens.
      "Oh, baby, what’s—"
      He slides out of her. "Make noise," he whispers. Confused, she gives a half-hearted moan, noticing as she does that his erection has gone soft.
      Possessed by an impossible, dream-like fear, he slips off the bed, condom dangling, and a second later he’s standing by the slightly ajar door—the one that connects to his parents’ bedroom—and he throws it open. The reality of his mother hiding there, just behind the door—her face a portrait of guilty, helpless fascination—fills him with an erotic terror that he cannot describe and has never felt before. He is viscerally aware—as they lock eyes, paralyzed for a nightmarish moment—of his own nakedness and his diminishing-but-still-there erection. And of the small, red tip of his mother’s tongue protruding from between her lips like a piece of horrible candy.
      Lucy yelps, covering herself.
      Which seems to shock his mother loose. The weird, childish expression disappears from her face, which turns maternal and stern, and her eyes darken as she backs away, then turns and flees into the hallway. Jay hears her footsteps descend the stairs, hurry into the kitchen; water roars in the sink and plates clatter; she’s doing the dishes.
      He turns around, sees Lucy on the bed, her eyes large and alarmed. "Holy shit," he says, "That’s—she’s never . . . "
      He touches Lucy’s naked arm as he trails off, and she covers herself with the blanket, recoiling. Downstairs, a dish shatters. "It’s okay," he tells Lucy, getting himself together, wondering with a strange thrill if he should go downstairs, confront his mother. "It’s okay, Luce . . . calm down, it’s . . . ." But his mind is not on Lucy, not entirely. He is remembering how he used to go through that door some nights as a little boy, scared of nightmares, and lie in his mother’s arms; and he is also wondering now for the first time what his mother dreams about at night.

Nick Antosca 2003

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author bio

Nick AntoscaNick Antosca is a Pushcart Prize nominee and has had fiction and poetry published in The Antietam Review, The Paumanok Review, USA Weekend online, Retort Magazine, Opium, Stirring, Word Riot, The Adirondack Review, 42Opus, and others. He has worked for little or no pay as a video store clerk, a radio station intern, a freelance reporter, a medical guinea pig, and a photography model. He recently finished a novel (now being shopped to publishers) and he is a junior majoring in film at Yale University.
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issue 39: November - December 2003 

Short Fiction

Jesse Shepard: First Day She’d Never See
Heather Imani: Martini
Nick Antosca: Where You Can’t Go Again
Marc DuBois: Match End
H.A. Fleming: Who I Was Supposed To Be

   picks from back issues
Irvine Welsh: A Fault on the Line
Pinckney Benedict: Dog


Josh Capps
Pa Don’s Troops


18th-Century English Literature
Answers to last issue’s Book Titles

Readers' Poll

Vote for the best and worst of 2003

Book Reviews

Timoleon Vieta Come Home by Dan Rhodes
The Last Summer of Reason
and The Watchers
by Tahar Djaout

Kids’ Stuff by Henry Sutton
The Long Haul by Amanda Stern
Back Around the Houses by Amanda Boulter
Bliss Street by Ken Kenway

Regular Features

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TBR Archives (authors listed alphabetically)

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