Eyes like Sirens
By: Nic Silvestris
The trailer was bereft of any semblance of fresh air. Sunlight burned through the cracks in the side panels, a devilish reminder of the summer heat. Grunts were only interrupted by the echoes of curse words reverberating off the aluminum walls when a box labeled “fragile” fell from the top of the pile. Lightweight boxes acted more like wrestlers jumping from the top rope than delicate containers.
Unloading supply trucks for a retailer was not Carter’s first choice of occupation, but at least he didn’t have to deal with customers. The physical nature of the job was also aiding in his attempt at a serviceable “beach bod”, a beneficial byproduct. After struggling through the week, he’d stand in front of the mirror in the breakroom, check in hand and flex his ever so slightly growing arms, an occipital practice satisfactory enough for him to return each week.
It had been an unseasonably warm spring, Mother Nature ditching the transition slide between jackets and bikinis. Some felt she was jumping the shark, others blamed global warming. Carter could care less the reason. He was too busy gawking at the girls wearing only enough to capture your imagination, but not too much for you not to treat them like a Renaissance fresco.
The final month of his senior year was coming to a close, only prom and graduation remained as speedbumps before the first truly free summer vacation. Finding a date to prom had become extraneous since his crush, Kate had chosen to go with her new boyfriend.
Carter ignited the roach he had left inside the cinderblock on the backside of the store and leaned against the stucco wall. The thatched roof extended far enough to provide a cool shade during his fifteen-minute respite. He had barely inhaled a second hit of bliss when Jimmy’s footsteps crashed over the gravel.
“Hey kid”, Jimmy said, pausing momentarily to allow his brain to comprehend what his nose had discovered to either be a skunk or “Girl Scout cookie Kush”.
Jimmy was a cliché of an east-coast Irish man, about fifty, Carter guessed based on some of Jimmy’s stories. He came from a typical large catholic family, the second oldest of nine. Carter had given him a ride home from work a few times, since Jimmy had his license suspended after a DUI. Jimmy was court ordered to live in a sober house, but his sponsor was lenient as California sober, opposed to the traditional abstinent position.
“You catch the Sox game last night?”, Jimmy asked as he reached out a hand beckoning for a hit of whatever was left in the crisped Zig-Zag.
“Nah but doesn’t look like I missed much of a game. They’ve really been . . .”, before Carter could finish his bite-sized diatribe railing the team, Jimmy interjected through the parcel of filter and smoke.
“Listen, I need you to take my niece on a date. She hasn’t found one for prom, but that can’t be the first time yous guys meet.”
Jimmy had replaced the joint with a toothpick and began whittling the splint between his crooked front teeth, yellowed from the decades of smoking.
“Jim, I don’t even know what she looks like! Besides, I’m not going to my own prom, why the hell would I go to hers?”, Carter replied as he kicked dirt to bury the evidence.
“C’mon don’t be a douche. She’s a good egg, besides you’d be doing me a solid. Speaking of which, can you give me a lift home?”
If you stared at Jimmy too long without response, he’d begin rubbing his salted goatee, a tell that he was nervous and one that cost him too many poker hands.
“Yeah, sure. What time?”
“What the fuck you mean? When we punch out at five, dipshit. You think I want to stay longer and shop like some broad?”
“No Jim, what time you want me to pick up your niece? And how about her name? I don’t know anything about her for Pete’s sake.”
“Oh, right. Here’s my brother’s address” he replied as he scribbled the street down on a scrap of paper supplied by his back pocket.
“Her name’s Phoebe, and you don’t need to know anything other than that. That’s the point of the date Carter, you ask her all the questions and pay for her food. You kids don’t know shit.”
The alarm buzzed on Carter’s phone indicating the end of their fifteen-minute requiem, and they headed back inside.
.* * *
Jimmy grabbed a water from the employee’s fridge and met with Carter to punch out. They said goodbye to Mary, the store’s front-end matriarch and packed into Carter’s ’09 navy Jetta.
“C’mon Jim, you’ve got to tell me something about Phoebe. I need something to work with here. Does she play sports, or is she a theater kid? And is she privy to the idea of you playing matchmaker?”
“Relax Sherlock. I think she plays soccer, or maybe that grass hockey thing. I hope soccer because the other one seems like a lesbian game.”
“You shouldn’t say things like that.”
“Oh, didn’t realize I was riding with the P.C. police. Besides, tell me I’m wrong.”
“Ok, besides possibly playing a sport, is she into music or reading?”
“Look kid, she’s a good student and gots a good head on her shoulders. Only thing yous got to be worried about is her being too smart for you.”
“Thanks for the insight, Jim. I’ve got a vivid picture of Ms. Congeniality.”
“Just don’t be late! I told her you’d pick her up at 7.”
Carter pulled into the driveway and said his goodbyes to Jimmy, who had handed him a “sawbuck” to buy flowers.
When Carter got home, his mom was leaned over the counter, measuring some dry ingredients in an attempt to replicate her grandmother’s date bread.
“Hey honey! How was work? Can I get you something to eat? It’ll only take a minute to heat up the leftovers!”
She talked with such rapid persistence it wouldn’t allow for interruptions nor negative answers. Carter debated how to tell her about the date, because revealing his plans would equate to screaming on the mountainside and having the avalanche of questions be deluged upon him.
“I’m going out for dinner ma. So no thank you.”
While he made his best attempt to get a door closed behind him, his mom was too spry.
“Oooo”, she practically squealed as she clapped, emitting powder form the whisk still present in her hand.
“My baby is going on a . . .”, she leaned in for a dramatic whisper, “date!?”.
“Yeah, believe it or not Ripley”.
Carter held up two similarly patterned button up shirts, inciting a near grimace from his mom. She sashayed into his closet and simultaneously began mumbling to herself.
“Here, pair this shirt with some khakis, but not the ones you wear to work!”
She kissed his head and exited back towards the kitchen with the energy of a Disney movie. With her abundance of excitement Carter thought she should go in his place.
A shower that doubled as a session in a sauna and a rehearsal of his opening “hello” (or hey, or perhaps just a slight chin-lifting nod) in the mirror had him as prepared as he could be. Carter said good-bye to his mom and headed out towards the blind date existing between a state of loathing and earnest curiosity.
* * *
The “ding” of the GPS indicated his arrival. Carter picked up the small “mix-batch” bouquet he had bought at the gas station and headed up the driveway. He had knocked twice by the time he noticed the doorbell. His finger was on the precipice of the button when the door opened, revealing a middle-aged man in greasy, tan slacks and a shirt only buttoned halfway.
“Y’must be Carter. C’mon in.”
As soon as he stepped foot in the house, an overwhelming smell of cigar smoke migrated through his sinuses.
“You have a nice home”, Carter said, having to slightly raise his voice to be heard over Tucker Carlson.
“My brother said you’re a good kid. Don’t keep me up too late” he said as he looked right through Carter. Even though Carter had about three inches on him, he felt at least a foot shorter.
Phoebe’s footsteps echoed down the stairs. Carter was transported into a planetarium, stargazing at the brunette constellation revealing herself with each step. Each step light but decisive, causing her hair to bob ever so slightly. Her legs sculpted by Michelangelo himself, grander than the pillars erected at the Parthenon. A layman would mistake her arms to belong to that of an El Greco portrait, but to Carter they were lassos looping around his heart.
He remained unmoved as they finally made eye contact. Her tawny eyes magnetic, yet dangerous. They were the type to make you mystified enough to never consider looking at another set.
“Hello Carter” she said as she extended her hand.
“Hey, uh, these are for you” he said as he extended out the flowers.
“Thank you, that’s very sweet.”
Sweet would not begin to describe her redolent smell. Her fingers grazed his as she took the bouquet from him, an effervescent energy transmitting from her digits onto his skin. She turned to find a vase in the kitchen, leaving behind an impression of infatuation.
“Carter, do you own an iron?” her dad asked as he redirected Carter from his trance.
“Yes, sir, I think there’s a board in one of the closets.”
“Great, I suggest next time you use it, and not show up with a wrinkled shirt. You look like you just rolled out of bed. When it’s not Halloween, you shouldn’t dress like a clown.”
Phoebe reentered the room, grabbing her handbag off the banister and giving her dad a kiss on the cheek. He saw them out as they headed towards the pumpkin carriage. Carter’s head was on a swivel, trying to keep each step on the stones of the path and off the grass, while simultaneously trying not to get caught gawking at jewel beside him.
He hurried his steps, making sure to reach the car first and open the door for her. He walked around the back of the car to give himself more time to soak in the incredible luck bestowed upon him. His phone burned inside his pocket, yearning to be used as a beacon to let his friend’s in on an experience seemingly too good to be true.
Carter settled into the driver’s seat and attached his phone to the dangling aux cord.
“What kind of music do you like?” he asked as he scrolled through the myriad of playlists adorning his library.
“Just about everything really. Put on whatever you like!”.
Her voice was mellifluous, each syllable a sweet caress in Carter’s ears.
He decided on the playlist labeled “chill” and began driving.
“So, you play field hockey?”
“Huh? Oh no, I play soccer and do cross country in the Spring. Do I give off field hockey vibes?”, she asked with similar intentions to a bear trap.
“Oh no not at all. I . . . well, your uncle said you played. You’re too pretty to play field hockey.”
“Too pretty? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t mean anything bad by it. Just that you’d be wasting your face behind those ugly masks.”
His face became increasingly flushed with each word he uttered, the cracks of his false bravado beginning to reveal his true nervous nature. Phoebe hid her smirk as she glanced around the interior, an empty container of wet wipes in the door evidence of the very recent, haphazard, cleaning.
“What’d you have planned for us?”
“Well, I figured we could get food at Gerry’s.”
Carter had chosen Gerry’s because it was relatively close, but more importantly, nobody their age ever ate there. He has assumed the worst and would’ve been too embarrassed to be seen by his friends on a date. If he only knew what she looked like, he would’ve gone to Lovell’s, where he could’ve shown her off.
The music was merely an accessory of white noise as their conversation bounced back and forth, from school to favorite animals.
As they pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, Carter’s face contorted and his shoulder’s slumped. There was not a soul in the darkened building. He parked and walked up to the door, a paper revealing they were closed due to an emergency with the owner. Downtrodden by circumstance, he returned to the car and sighed.
“You should’ve made reservations, the line is out the door”, Phoebe joked, an attempt to lighten the mood.
“I’m really sorry” Carter apologized as he scrambled to Google an open restaurant.
“Don’t sweat it. Let’s go for a walk.”
Phoebe gave Carter an address, and they pulled away from the barren parking lot.
The directions led them into a shallow lot, with a small sign imploring walkers to pick up after their dogs.
“My mom and I have walked this path for years. There’s a spot near the end that’s probably my favorite place on earth.”
She gracefully descended the increasingly steep path, guiding Carter towards a bench, set back from the beaten path but close to the water’s edge.
As they sat on the wooden bench, doubling as a vessel headed towards wonderland, the sun began setting, reflecting it’s warm and tantalizing rays across the lake’s celestial body. It was a scene on par with that described in Thoreau’s vision of Walden Pond.
“Phoebe, I have to ask, and don’t take this the wrong way. Your uncle said you didn’t have a date to the prom. After meeting you, I’m having a real hard time believing it to be true.”
“Well, it’s a long story. Short answer is that I just haven’t been asked by a guy I’d want to go with. I had a contingency plan with my friend Louis, but this guy he’s been crushing on finally asked him, which left me without any date.”
As she spoke, the lingering beats of sunlight highlighted her iridescent eyes, harmonizing with the melodic volume of her hair.
She finished her thought and paused a beat, slightly biting her lip in anticipation of Carter’s response.
“You’ve got a face that could launch a thousand ships.”
“Is that a line you’ve stolen before?”
“Even if it is, it’s never been more true.”
She blushed, exposing the innocence of a naïve beauty. The iris of her soul flashed a genuine elegance, dressed in a laced poise.
As much as he yearned feel the fire of her lips ignite his own, he remained paralyzed, fixating on her flawless face. She had eyes that’d draw sailors from the sea like the sirens signing their sweet songs. She had not a nose, but an entire resort he daydreamed of cascading kisses down akin to a skier gliding down unblemished slopes. Her chin protruded only enough to be held when they would embrace under a shared umbrella.
“Carter, this may be crazy . . .”, she said barely above a whisper, still not breaking from their optical slow dance.
The way she said his name echoed throughout his head, a sound that he would cherish and haunt the hallways of his heart.
“Will you be my date to prom?”
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I actually read this last week and I thought it may have been you! Awesome story with wonderous description. Is there a part 2?