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Talking Table Linen


It was the summer of my twenty-first year. My girlfriend and I were making out in the basement of my parents’ house. I was still living at home and the basement apartment was where I slept, showered and pretended to be an independent bachelor. I had a private entrance off the driveway, and I often made use of it, especially in a late-night situation like this when my parents were sawing lumber in front of the tube.

I had been seeing Franny for a couple of years. My old-fashioned parents liked her, and her old-fashioned parents liked me. She was a “nice Italian girl from a nice Italian family,” as my mother would say several times a week to her inquisitive sister on the telephone. Franny was smart, too, a registered nurse studying to get a master’s degree. I was a “clean-cut Italian boy with a good head on his shoulders,” as her father would say to his wife in broken English after a few glasses of homemade vino. I was ambitious, too, a fledgling newspaper journalist working my way through college.

Franny and I had just returned from my best friend Carl’s wedding rehearsal. Carl and Vicki were about to get married, much too young, the following afternoon, but that’s what happened when a pair of decent Italian kids from the neighborhood rolled the bedroom dice—and came up El Prego.

Franny and I had more sense. We used protection as they taught us in our high school’s sex education class. I was so safe and paranoid, in fact, I’d insist on using a condom even with Franny on the pill and diaphragm. Franny would tease me ruthlessly about this as I fumbled with my wallet in the dark looking for the square package with the little lubricated ring. “Boy, you talk about a mood killer. Why don’t we just dry hump in our underpants,” she’d say with a giggle. “You’d think I was sleeping around. Don’t you think I’d make a good mother? You’d do anything not to get me pregnant.” You got that right, I’d think to myself. You got that right.

The night of the rehearsal, we had stayed out until 1 a.m., drinking shots of Sambucca with Carl and Vicki and toasting to the bambino she carried. The baby was due in three months, a fact that no white wedding gown would disguise. Looking for a fitting nightcap, the four of us gathered at the kitchen table of Carl’s parents’ house, the place where Carl and Vicki would begin their lives together. “Where are you going on your honeymoon,” Franny asked. “We’re taking a long weekend to Niagara Falls,” Vicki answered, quickly changing the subject to the color patterns of the wedding reception’s table linen.

As the girls fixed coffee, Carl and I sat at the table, watching them. He looked at Vicki with a scrunched up face and quietly confessed, “I could only afford to miss one day at work.” He seemed apologetic. I understood. I poured another round of libations. “We’re going on a long vacation next year, ain’t that right, hon?” he said. “Right, baby,” Vicki said without enthusiasm.

When Franny and I left Carl and Vicki, I couldn’t help but feel sad. Carl gave me his usual bear hug and thanked me yet again for the previous week’s bachelor party. It was the only time in our lives that I had really seen Carl let loose. He didn’t cheat on Vicki. He was too loyal for that. He was just ecstatic to have a pair of exotic dancers tie him up butt-naked in front of his friends and spray him with whipped cream. Carl was a good soldier. He could play the role of fool like nobody’s business just so everyone else could have a laugh.

It depressed me to picture Carl in the role of Daddy two months before he was legal to drink. He had only been dating Vicki for six months when she hit him with the news. Given Vicki’s reputation, Carl easily could have questioned the father seed, but he never once mentioned the possibility, at least not to me which makes me think he never said it to anyone. He was brought up to live with his mistakes and act responsibly. He proposed to her on the spot—and wedding invitations were in the mail not three weeks later. It ruined me to see his dreams squashed. Two nights prior to Vicki’s natal announcement, Carl had confided in me, “Vicki and I, we’re finished.” He planned to break it to her easy. He liked her a lot, he said, but he didn’t love her. “I want to play ball in Italy, Gary. I almost have enough money saved. It’s my only shot and my uncle’s got a contact in the European League. Imagine that, me playing catcher and getting paid for it.”

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I was nauseous at the thought of making a toast. As best man it was my duty and Carl had been reminding me of it with goading comments since the bachelor’s party. “Don’t want to tell any dirty jokes in front of the relatives now,” he’d said with the nervous banter of a doomed groom. “My Aunt Connie might have a stroke and croak on the dance floor.” Hey, at least that might detract attention from me, I thought. It was a big wedding reception, 200-plus people, and the thought of standing up and wishing my dearest friend a lifetime of happiness with a pregnant little brajole was more than I could stomach.

“I’m really stressed out, Franny. This stupid toast has got me crazy. I need to relax.” We were on the bed in my half-finished basement apartment. Franny was wearing a tight black dress with tan stockings and black pumps. She looked hot and horny and I was clammy and miserable. She rubbed my neck and loosened my pastel tie. “It’ll be over before you know it. You’ll do great, Gary. You will.” Franny started rubbing my back through my white cotton dress shirt. She then pulled the shirttails out of my longshoreman pants, reached up underneath the back of my guinea T-shirt and intensified her massage.

I looked over my shoulder and down at her legs, saw the skirt creeping up. The scent of her nylon made me hard. It doesn’t take much for a young man’s mood to change.

As we engaged in our standard missionary position, I paused to add protection. Franny sighed deeply. I struggled to tear the tin shield and waited for a sarcastic remark. Instead, her face brightened and her eyebrows lifted seductively. Before I could respond, Franny spun me like a wrestler and flipped me for a reversal. She now on top, I on the bottom, and the condom on the floor. I relented to her passion and assured myself, I’d lift her and pull out at the opportune time. I wasn’t used to Franny playing “ride ’em cowboy.” The sensation was marvelous. I began to push her away. “No, Gary. Come inside me,” she pleaded frantically. “Please, Gary. Don’t stop. Come inside me. Come inside … ”

Just then, it happened. As Franny and I climaxed together with me staying inside her for the first time, I heard my father’s voice. “Gary?! Gary! Franny! What the hell?!”

He turned away, disgusted, and walked up the stairs. I was mortified. Franny was crying hysterically. Her bare back had been turned to the staircase. He was gone before she had a chance to turn. I, on the other hand, had caught eye with him. His expression was one of horror and disappointment. “I’ll never be able to look him in the eye again,” Franny said. “At least you don’t have to live with him,” I said.

I gave my speech the following afternoon. I started with a quote by Coleridge—how the happiest marriage he could imagine was that of a deaf man to a blind woman. People laughed. The hard part was over.

That night, I got good and drunk. Franny and I fought, and nothing was ever the same. We continued to have sex, usually in the missionary position, but I never again came inside her. She went off the pill and stopped using a diaphragm. I increased my pharmacy runs and worked on my timing. She never again looked my father in the eye. I never brought it up to him and he mentioned not a peep. Franny and I broke up later that summer.

About Dan Cafaro

Dan Cafaro is the founder and publisher of Atticus Books, a small press based in Madison, N.J. When Dan is not following his wife around the country, he is known to sit for long periods of time pondering how to live off the grid. Atticus Review is his first literary journal.

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