When Polly walked next to him in the sun she glowed, but Nestor was too embarrassed even to request to hold her hand as they went along towards the market for sodas.
“Why do you act like such a goof-ball around me?” Polly looked out at him from the corner of her eye. She didn’t want to look right at him. She wanted to know the answer to her question, seriously, but was afraid to burst out laughing if she should look directly at him.
“I dunno.” Nestor wiggled his fingers in his pockets, shrugged his shoulders, did a fancy little skip step and swung around on the walk to face Polly as he kept pace with her while skipping backwards.
“Do I make you nervous?” asked Polly. “I make you nervous, don’t I?”
Nestor looked at the way her thumbs hooked into her belt loops at her hips as she walked. The way she tossed her hips made him sweat, feel real nervous about sex. So did all that hair of hers, long, straight, black, burgundy in spots in the sun, fluttering over her shoulders and across her neck and breasts in the breeze.
“No. Not nervous. Not really.” Nestor played at boxing with her as he danced around on his toes, faking combinations at her flat little tummy, gently poking her in the ribs as he fell back to walk at her side.
She laughed at his touch. It tickled. It felt good to laugh together and while they laughed they looked at each other with their mouths wide open and they both felt embarrassed at showing such a true and unrehearsed side of themselves but it felt awful good and it was spring and warm and they were new together, new to each other, new on the promenade.
Polly wanted to make Nestor say it, say that it was her who made him act silly like he did when he was with her. Other times, when she had stood off from him and watched him with the other boys, she had watched him be quiet, graceful, fully at ease in his long slender body. The way he was with her, well, she’d have to break him of that. Where she really wanted to be was in the presence of that even, focussed, attentive, and assured young man that she saw when she stood away and looked. She saw him there, far off, there in the way she wanted him to be. She could see it, but she could not get close to it, could not yet make it happen closer to her. He would have to admit it first, that it was her.
“You don’t know what it is, then, do you? Makes you dance around me like a bug on water?”
“A waterbug? You don’t make me nervous, Polly. Just, I really like you is all. You know?”
She heard it. Waterbug. That was the word that had made him say it.
“You like me?” Polly stroked some hair back behind her ear.
They paused in front of the entrance to the market. Polly turned a shoulder in towards Nestor and she rubbed a toe along the cement walk between them, looking down at her shoe as she did so.
“Yes. I mean, of course I do,” said Nestor, following her toes with his eyes.
“So what makes you act all silly around me then, Nestor, like you wanna be somewhere else, all nervous and jumpy like you get?”
“I don’t want to be anywhere else, really Polly. ‘Cept with you, I guess, I mean, I’m glad you know now. I just get all wound up, get out of rhythm with it. It’s you makes me do it, get that way. Other girls don’t touch me. But you, you got something works for you. It’s like it ain’t even hard for you, like you ain’t even gotta work at it to get all the guys to come ‘round you. I ain’t like them other guys, Polly. I ain’t, and when they’re around you, well, I’d just as soon stand off a bit.”
“Play it cool?”
Boji’s Market was a relief from the heat. They went inside. Polly loved it when Nestor paused to allow her first entry. When they were in front of the sodas Polly scooched close to Nestor so they were touching shoulder to shoulder. She looked into his reflection in the glass in front of the sodas.
“Those other boys don’t mean nothing to me either, Nestor. Do you know, sometimes? When I’m with them? Surrounded by them? I’m watching you. I’m looking around, looking around, then I see you. I watch you. You always look so cool.”
“Well, I’m supposed to look cool, Polly. I been cultivating it.”
“Yeah. The look. You know. You wanna see it?”
“Right here in front of the sodas?” Polly tried to stop the squeal but it came out anyway. She didn’t care. She put her fingers at her lips and told him to go ahead. “Go ahead. Do the look. Show me. I wanna see it up close.”
Nestor cleared his throat. Then he shifted all his weight to his right leg and produced an inkling of the look.
Polly hated to laugh but she knew it would happen. She should never have taken on the meeting with the look, close as she was to it now. She couldn’t handle it, was not prepared to receive it properly like a young girl ought to, with proper respect and admiration due the young man for showing a piece of himself that he had constructed, in part, for her.
“How come you laughed at my look? You wanted to see it! It’s cool!” Nestor folded his arms and frowned.
Polly thought there would be more to it after she saw it. She thought that a feeling would roar over her like a river bearing her as the maidenhead on it’s course across the land, strong and sure and relentless and destined. Nestor’s look hadn’t produced. It was only a mask anyway, a cover-up to hide who he was on the inside. But it was that real, easy part that she wanted to be close to, there on the inside. Not a mask or a parody or a caricature, but the real, deep thing that was turning into a man right as she looked at him. She bore witness to his growth, and was there to note it when he showed himself to be apart from the other boys. It hurt her to laugh like a silly girl at his demonstration of how he viewed himself, when she ought to have been prepared to accept him more like a lady, with grace and encouragement and tenderness.
“I don’t mean to laugh, Nestor, I really don’t. When I get nervous I just laugh. It’s like a reflex for me. Please, please don’t think I’m laughing at you, ‘cause I’m not.”
“It’s okay, Polly,” said Nestor, “it’s okay. I know what it is to be nervous around somebody that you might kinda, sorta, really like. Myself, I just can’t get it to be right around you. Here, pick out a soda, Polly. My treat. You know what I mean? I mean, I can be off doing something with Bobby and then, wham, you’ll come along, I’ll see you, and then it’s like there was a train or something ran over me so I can’t walk or breath or even move right.”
Nestor paid Sam for the drinks and they left, keeping on down the walk past the market towards the park. They went along in silence for a stretch and sipped at their sodas. Polly had chosen orange, Nestor grape. The can felt weighty in Nestor’s hand. Weighty, cold, wet. He looked at the droplets of condensation on the can, saw them build and run down the side onto his finger. Fifty cents wasn’t much to spend on a girl, but on a hot day a cold sweet soda went down good and made a nice memory to think about later as something they had shared.
Copyright © Horse of the Sun and Keith Haines 1999-2002. All Rights Reserved.