originally published in Dali's Lovechild Issue 11
When I was young I fell in love with a dead girl who rolled only one hundreds at Skeeball. Night after night I gathered with all the other suburban boys to watch her turn in armloads of winning tickets to the old man working the boardwalk arcade prize counter. He shook his head as he handed over big-ticket prizes, like VCRs and stuffed pink elephants as big as Fiats.
The dead girl had blue lips and the dark-eyed determination of the damned. She always wore an old fashioned long black dress with a lace collar, like a pilgrim. Her beauty made me demented with desire. I loved all girls this way. I spent the preceding school year sitting behind Lisa Miller – the fate of alphabetical seating assignments often drew us together – counting the shades of her long blonde hair and fantasizing about ways to touch it without her noticing. I got the courage, if you could call it that, on the very last day of school. I knocked a pencil off my desk, kneeled down for it and ran a finger across the ends of her hair as I stood up. I whispered an apology. She didn't hear me. I was in love.
I counted this as my first intimate sexual experience, the precursor to what was destined to be a passionate summer of our tongues meeting along the ridges of soft serve ice cream cones. Instead I played silent, endless games of Skeeball next to the dead girl. This way I was able to stand very close to her without acknowledging her existence, my favorite and only method of seduction.
On the last Saturday before Labor Day, do or die time for summer love, I finally made a move. I pretended to trip as I collected my Skeeball tickets. I tried to grab her to break my fall but she jumped out of my reach. Still, it was my last chance. I crawled towards her on my belly and elbows like a solider under fire. I stretched my arms out over my head and wrapped a hand around her thin white ankle. Her skin radiated a chill, like a fever in reverse.
"Where have you been?" she asked.
"Nowhere," I said. Of course I had enjoyed Kennebunkport and Plymouth Rock from the backseat of my mother's station wagon but from the iciness in her voice I figured she meant something more personal that my favorite New England tourist hotspots. I let go of her ankle and we sat next to each other on the end of her Skeeball machine. "I want to kiss you," I said.
She rolled her eyes and laughed. "All men are the same."
I was flattered. "You think I'm a man?"
"There is so little distinction between men and boys I can hardly understand the difference between the words."
At the time I took this as a compliment.
"You're so pretty," I said.
"Do you know how many men I have kissed? I lost count! There have been at least two presidents, a Civil War general, David Cassidy and Joe DiMaggio. I kissed both Lewis and Clark. They never even found out about each other. Why would I ever kiss you?"
Her promiscuity aroused me deeply, but she had a point. I frowned and tried to look like a loveable world leader. She took pity on me.
"Give me a good reason and I'll do it," she said.
A good reason escaped me. "What are you doing in New Hampshire?"
She gestured around the arcade. "I love Skeeball. It's the greatest sport ever invented, and believe me, I've seen them all." She looked at my mouth. "Have you ever kissed a girl?"
I blushed too hard to lie. I said no and looked at my shoes. "Are you even a girl?"
"I am a woman. Unlike men and boys there is a difference."
"Maybe I like women."
"You are not a good flirt."
"I know. But I still want to kiss you."
"I would like you just as much if you were alive."
"Maybe so, but then you would not have had the nerve to touch my ankle."
My heart pounded wildly. I thought I was having a heart attack. I kissed her. It felt like bobbing for apples, like sticking my head into a bucket of cold water. She tasted like an ice cube. I shivered. I thought of icicles and eskimos. I thought I might ask her to marry me. I imagined hanging macramé on the walls our igloo.
She drew away and smiled her crooked little pilgrim smile. "Kiss a girl who uses strawberry-scented shampoo while she's waiting in line for a rollercoaster. Put your hand down the back pocket of her jeans. Pop her bubble gum with your finger and press your lips against hers and stick together."
"We could do that."
She waved me off like a fly. "Men who think they aren't terrified of the dead are only more terrified of the living. Go. Kiss the girl you really want to kiss."
She winked at me and disappeared in that way that dead people have of leaving without quite walking out the door. She left behind only a cold breeze and coil of Skeeball tickets as big as a garden hose.
Now, many years later, I wake up early in the winter mornings to shovel the driveway while Lisa and the kids are still asleep. Once my hands turn cold and white I like to drag two fingers through the snow and press them to my lips.