During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the eight (eight!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE. The deadline for submitting to the anthology has passed, but you can still submit and maybe have your story published this year!
Another mesmerizing story from Maren Bradley Anderson! Her writing effortlessly transports the reader to one of the nameless small towns that are spread all throughout the country. This is a story of nostalgia and guilty pleasures and how you can be addicted to a person. As I read, I wondered, does the past ever really leave us? And can we ever really leave it behind? -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor
Getting Pregnant on the Back of a Motorcycle
by Maren Bradley Anderson
I never figured out how Ellen and Eddy got together. My last trip home I saw them sitting on the back of his bike eating ice cream at the Freezee drive-in. How lame is it to be eating ice-cream at the Freezee when you're, like, 28? I was home visiting Mom, building her a porch, instead of taking a real vacation somewhere that wasn’t my shitty home town.
Ellen had grown her hair longer, so the curls sprung in ten directions, but otherwise, she was as luscious as she had been at graduation. And she licked that cone like she wanted to have its babies.
Eddy ate his ice cream like he didn’t trust it.
I nearly crashed Mom’s Passat into the car in front of me watching Ellen eat. Genius. Then I flipped a bitch into the Freezee parking lot and pulled in next to them. Double Genius.
But she was mine first. Those blue eyes and that curly black hair? Mine. Crooked front tooth? Mine. Diabolical mind? On my side first.
Eddy is a whiny little shit with money and no spine. He tries to make up for it by riding a very loud motorcycle. It’s not a Harley--he’s not that cool--just a knock-off rice grinder. I’d kicked his ass a couple times when we were kids for being a snotty little shit. Maybe that’s why he’s always been a dick to me. Maybe he’s just an asshat.
I don’t know what I expected when I opened the door, but I didn’t expect the blank look under Ellen’s precisely arched brows. Like hunting bows.
I wasn’t surprised by Eddy’s reaction, though.
“Hey, asshole. What do you want?”
“Ice cream.” Then I said, “Ellen? You don’t remember me.”
She made a show of squinting at me and then threw back her head and laughed just the way she used to in high school when we’d talk about someone she didn’t like.
“Justus!” she cried, with a half smile. “How the hell are you?”
I should have said, “Fine,” and walked away. I knew that look. At least, I did at one time.
Instead, I said, “I’m great. How the hell are you?”
She tossed her head again, her hair flying and a chain on her motorcycle jacket jangling. “Oh, you know. Still stuck in this town. Working. Having fun.” She nudged Eddy with an elbow.
“What do you want, Justus?” Eddy slid an arm around Ellen’s waist, and she wiggled closer to him.
But she locked eyes with me and took a huge bite of ice cream, leading with her teeth. Her crooked tooth made my toes tingle.
“Just to say hi,” I said. “In town at my mom’s. Thought I’d see some friends.”
“Wanna come out with us tonight?” Ellen asked.
“What?” Eddy and I both asked.
“Why not?” she said. “Catch up on old times, right?” She bit the cone again and wagged her eyelashes first at me, then at Eddy.
Eddy was glaring at me, trying to intimidate me, I suppose, but I wasn’t paying attention. Why would I? I had held him face-down in a muddy puddle, and my former girlfriend was giving me come-hither eyes.
“Sounds good,” I said. “I’m game for anything.”
Maybe this is a good time to state that I did have my reservations about actually meeting up with them. I’m not the most wholesome person in the world, but Ellen...Ellen is what her closest friends call “a piece of work.” I reminded myself that Ellen’s idea of comeuppance for the boyfriend before me was to steal his truck’s distributor cap and then spread the rumor that his penis was three inches long. His sin? He couldn’t make the prom because his grandmother’s funeral was the same day.
Our relationship didn’t end well, either. Senior year, I got an acceptance letter to an out-of-state college, and she didn’t. Somehow that was my fault. One summer and two sets of slashed tires later, I went to school and she stayed here.
Still, after a day of rebuilding Mom’s porch, I showered, shaved, and drove to the Alibi, the bar we used to sneak into with our fake ID’s. The place still held an element of danger for me. The fact that Ellen suggested the Alibi made the “you’re getting away with something” vibe even stronger.
It is one of those bars that never changes. In the 1970’s someone decided it would be groovy to tile every vertical surface with colored, mirrored glass. The shadowbox was mirrored, too, and all the horizontal lines--bar top, stools, tables--were painted black. Very psychedelic. Very dated. Awesomely Retro, or cheap, depending on your perspective. It was where I’d go when I was in town to act out with my friends, even though the ‘Niner’s posters were peeling off the walls and the black naugahyde on the stools was wearing thin.
It was Thursday, and kids from Humboldt State were there. I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t recognize the bartender, but she’d been working there long enough to know that a plunging neckline brings bigger tips. She told me she hadn’t seen Ellen yet, but she knew her. I was awarded a wink with my beer. “Where’d you meet Ellen?”
“So, I don’t need to warn you?”
I grinned and turned my beer around slowly on the coaster. “I probably need a refresher.”
“Yes, she is.” I looked up at her. “What kind of trouble do you mean?”
“I mean the kind of trouble cute boys like you don’t want to be part of.”
I laughed. “You don’t know me very well, Miss.”
“No,” she said, drawing the “O” out with a puckered lip. “I don’t, do I?”
Then, for some reason, she stroked my hand and walked to the other end of the bar.
A few minutes later she caught my eye and pointed to the door. Ellen’s graceful silhouette was in the doorway peering into the shadows. She was looking for me. I reveled in this knowledge for a moment before waving to her.
She smiled and walked towards me, alone.
“Hi!” She threw her arms around my neck, rubbing every part of her against me.
“Where’s Eddy?” I asked her hair.
“Who cares?” she said, arranging herself onto a stool.
The bartender set a napkin in front of Ellen, but looked at me. “What are you drinking, El?”
“Usual, Bev.” Ellen didn’t take her eyes off me, either.
A moment later, Bev slid a tall drink across the bar, and I slid a ten back. “Keep it.”
Bev put a finger on the back of my hand as she took the bill so I would look up at her. She smiled and tucked a napkin under my palm. I wadded it up with one hand, and she moved away.
“Do you know her?” Ellen asked.
Did she see anything more than a meaningful look? I said, “No. Cute, huh?”
Ellen narrowed her eyes.
“Gotcha,” I said.
She laughed without preamble, and I did, too. “You still like teasing the tiger. You always did.” She purred and dragged a fingernail up my thigh.
I took her hand. It was cold. I almost put it down again.
“How many years has it been?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Too many.” She touched my face with her other hand and looked in my eyes. “You haven’t changed at all.”
“You’re more beautiful.”
She smiled. “Let’s go somewhere.”
“Don’t you want to ‘catch up’?”
She snorted, an unpleasant habit I remembered from high school. “Talk. Talk is cheap.”
“Still,” I said. “Talk to me.”
She grumbled and fidgeted, using that lickable lower lip of hers to pout.
“What are you doing nowadays?” I asked.
She sat back and crossed her arms. Then she uncrossed them and took a long draw from her drink. “Let’s catch you up,” she said. “I dropped out of junior college sophomore year. Got pregnant on the back of a motorcycle. Had a baby. Did some time for DUI. Lost the baby to the state. Now I shuffle paper at a veterinary clinic. It’s a promotion from cleaning the cages. So, how’s your life been?”
“Jesus, I’m sorry,” I said.
“Yeah, me, too.” She pulled a cigarette out of my shirt pocket and lit up with her own lighter. The bartender simply put an ashtray in front of her. I eyed the “No Smoking” sign, and then pulled a smoke out for myself.
“On the back of a motorcycle?” I asked. My mind instantly flickered to Eddy’s bike.
Ellen was watching me. “Yeah.”
“That must have been tricky.”
“You want me to draw you a diagram?”
“I’ll just let my imagination run wild, if you don’t mind.” We grinned at each other.
“Oh, my life. Umm. Wife and three kids. I like my job...”
“What do you do?”
“Astronaut.” I laughed when she choked on her drink. “Just fucking with you. I do boring office shit that no one finds interesting except me.”
“Three kids?” It was dark, but her face looked a little softer, maybe.
“Joey, Ashley, Ben.”
“Lucky bastard.” She stabbed out her half-smoked cigarette. “Three kids?”
“Yeah.” I took her hand again.
She looked at me. I watched as the soft look took on familiar hard corners. Her hand was still cold.
“Are we done catching up, yet?” she asked.
“I think so.”
As we stood up, Eddy walked through the door and squinted into the dark.
I didn’t know where we were going. I was just following the loud growling of the bike and its single tail light because just above it was Ellen’s perfect ass. Eddy was in as foul a mood as before, but he let her lead him to his bike and tell him where to go. I followed in Mom’s robin's-egg Passat down deserted roads that were hauntingly familiar in the dark. Whispers of things I did in the woods back in high school tickled the back of my head.
I had time to reflect on our conversation. The “three kids” lie was almost as outrageous as the astronaut story. To have a wife and three kids would almost necessitate my having married someone. So far, marriage was as unlikely as my getting into the NASA training program. Well, maybe not that unlikely. I pulled out the wadded napkin and read Bev’s number again. She wasn’t as cute as Ellen, but few people were. However, Bev was probably not Ellen’s equal in a lot of respects, which was a good thing. I put the number face down on the dash and set Mom’s box of tissues on top of it. I’d learned long ago not to assume stuff in my wallet was safe from Ellen.
I also learned long ago not to trust Ellen’s stories. For example: no one gets pregnant on the back of a motorcycle. That was a totally Ellen-esque invention. I admired the quality of her lie, though; I had instantly wondered if Eddy were the father and felt the intended flare of jealousy. Now I wondered if there even was a baby. I hadn’t heard that she’d had a kid from any of my high school friends, and news like that would have found its way to me.
The single tail light slowed and turned into a pull-out. Soon, I stood at the head of a trail that led down a hill listening to a river rush far below. Ellen came to stand next to me grinning like a shark and then plunged into the darkness. “Stay on the path!” she called over her shoulder.
Eddy shoved past me, so I followed, overcoming my urge to push him into the dirt at the bottom of the hill.
It was so dark I couldn’t see them ahead of me, though I could hear their footsteps and Eddy cursing when a branch swatted his face. I realized the water I had heard was the Mad river which skirted the edge of town. Ellen and Eddy were crashing through the forest, her laugh dancing around the trunks of the trees, but I could still hear the spring peepers--tiny frogs--and an owl above their din. There was a smell, too, mixed in with the forest scent of earth and fir. I couldn’t quite place it, but it was sticky-sweet and green.
Eventually, there was a light ahead. As I got closer, I saw it was a tiny shack with one glowing window. I opened the door and was bathed in warm light bouncing off of a copper still. In the rafters stalks of pot were drying. The smell—green, sweet, sticky—hit me again. I grinned.
Ellen was on a tattered mattress in the corner, holding a jar of clear liquid and taking a hit off of a newly-lit joint. Eddy pulled off his shirt -- man, he was pasty and hairy -- and then turned to the still. I closed the door.
“Here.” Eddy shoved a jar into my hands.
I sniffed it. “Moonshine?”
“White dog whiskey, asshole,” he said. “It’s a new thing.”
“It’s not going to make me go blind, is it?”
Ellen laughed and made a show of downing the rest of her jar. “See? Good stuff,” she said between coughing spasms. She held her arm high above her to keep the smoking joint safe.
The moonshine burned my throat in a bad way. I shook my head and whooped. “I like how you kids party around here.”
Eddy actually smiled. “Granddad’s still. I’ve been perfecting the mash for years.” He took the joint from Ellen, took a long drag, then handed it to me.
“Perfect,” I said.
I looked at Ellen over the good, sweet smoke. She met my eyes and pulled off her shirt and bra in one movement. Eddy downed the rest of his mason jar and flopped next to her on the mattress.
“Dude,” he said. “No Bogarting.”
Well, what was I going to do? I knocked back the rest of the moonshine, put the joint in my teeth, and unbuttoned my shirt. I wasn’t nearly drunk or high enough to feel good about this decision, but I wasn’t leaving, and watching was not an option. That only left one thing to do. I sat next to them on the mattress and gave Ellen the joint.
“You haven’t changed since high school, have you?” Ellen purred. Eddy set his glasses on a windowsill and then kissed her neck, ignoring me. Ellen dropped the joint into an ashtray while she slid her other hand under my open shirt and smiled. Eddy bit her and she yelped and giggled.
She pulled me down and shoved Eddy to the side. Her taste brought back all those feelings: anger, rebellion, lust, danger. I slid my tongue over her tooth and moaned. Her fingers in my hair, wringing something from my head. She pulled me back and looked me in the eye. Maybe it was the pot or the moonshine, but her face smeared in front of me.
Then, I was in the backseat of my beloved '69 Mustang with her, eighteen, trying to explain why I was leaving town even while fresh hickeys stung on our necks.
"College," I said. "So I can get out of here. So I don't have to work at the mill."
"My daddy and uncle work at the mill," she sniffed.
"I don't want to," I said. "I want a real job. In an office."
"Don’t you want me?"
"'Cause, I'm not leaving."
"I'll come back."
"You won't," she said. "No one does."
I couldn't deny that I wanted to look out a window and see something other than the mill pouring noxious white smoke into the sky. I wanted to forget the shrill whistle that called the workers like cattle to their slots in the factory. I couldn't tell her what she wanted to hear, so I didn't say anything.
"You'll go somewhere else, get married, and whatever," she said. "But you'll always be fucking Justus!"
She slammed the door so hard the glass rattled in the jamb.
On the mattress in the shack, she pressed her nails into my scalp, and I wondered if she was trying to draw blood.
There was something very ugly in her look. Destructive. Inviting, but not wholesome. She was so incredibly sexy.
She knew it. Her lips parted, and I could see her pink tongue and crooked tooth, and I almost dove in again. I knew, I remembered the darkness, I would willingly sink into that well. It was familiar, but...
What does she want?
“I’m glad you’re here, Mr. ‘Three kids and a wife.’”
Oh. Right. Revenge.
I stood and had almost buttoned my shirt before Ellen said my name. “Justus?”
I glanced back from the door. Eddy was on top of her now, one hand over her mouth, another cupping a breast, and he squinted at me with a sloppy grin. Ellen was watching me, not fighting him. I wondered how far she would have gone this time if I had stayed. I closed the door.
I walked back more slowly, not thinking about where to go, just going. I stepped carefully around the pot plants I had crashed through before. I listened to the little frogs and the crickets. I watched the treetops catch the thin, lacy clouds that held the moonlight and kept it from reaching me down on the ground. I knew enough to stay on the path; Eddy was the kind of fuckhead who would booby-trap a marijuana patch.
At the foot of the hill below the road, I sat and looked back toward the sound of the stony river. I thought of Bev’s number on the dashboard and allowed myself the fantasy of calling her now and taking her somewhere private where she’d screw my brains out and make me forget the picture of Ellen looking at me with Eddy’s hand over her face. I imagined myself marrying the flirty bartender in Barbados and not inviting anyone from this town.
I looked at the motorcycle when I got to the top of the hill. I leaned against my mother’s car, smoked a cigarette, and really looked at that machine. I imagined the two of them walking back to town in the morning, him pushing while she complained. It was a very good picture.
But what would I be paying them back for? Him for being with Ellen, the girl who taught me self-loathing and who made all successive women sweet and charming by comparison? Her for trying to break up my fictional family?
No. They both deserved to suffer for reminding me.
Fictional kids and wife and astronaut job notwithstanding, I am, really, no better than either of them. That’s why I took the spark plugs.
I let the air out of the tires because sometimes I’m just a mean little fuck.
Maren Bradley Anderson is a writer, teacher, and alpaca rancher in Oregon. She teaches English at Western Oregon University. She fills her days caring for alpacas, playing with her kids, and reading books that make her laugh. She has written two plays for the Apple Box Children’s Theater, and her writing has appeared in The Timberline Review, Alpacas Magazine, and The Christian Science Monitor. Her novels Fuzzy Logic and Closing the Store are available online and through your local bookstore—just ask them to order them for you. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or her website.