This story first appeared in Clark College’s 2003 Fiction and Poetry chapbook as their first place fiction winner, chosen by judge Gina Ochner
Fance thought she could get it done over in Odessa. A girl from the coffee shop went there for hers, and was back to work the next day. She looked just the same, only slower, and when Fance asked her about it she said it was nothing much, that the hard part was all before, when you were still deciding.
Fance knew about deciding. Once she’d wanted a tattoo on her shoulder, a tiny flowering rose. Her friends wanted the same thing. They were sixteen and bored with smoking pot and bitching about their boyfriends. They went to a tattoo parlor in Sioux City with fake ID’s saying they were eighteen. Fance went first, to show them how easy it was. It wasn’t easy. As the needle went under her skin she squeezed her hands into hard little fists. These are my hearts, she thought, looking at the fists. She had heard that a person’s heart was the size of her fist, and right then she felt brave enough to have two hearts. Her friends chickened out, and only Fance got a tattoo. She never thought about it anymore. She was twenty-three, and getting or not getting a tattoo didn’t matter to her now.
What she might do in Odessa did matter, and bothered her just to think about. Maybe she didn’t have to. Maybe there was nothing to decide. Maybe she’d start tomorrow, and that would be that. She might be late, from worrying. She could always get one of those kits in the drug store, the ones you peed on and hoped stayed clear, for twenty-two dollars. She was behind on her rent though, and on the payments to the auto shop where she got her Camaro banged straight, after some jerk hit her broadside at a stop light.
“Since when do I have any spare cash?” said her mother on the phone.
“What’s it for, anyway?”
Fance could see her at her kitchen table with a cigarette in her hand, staring out the window with her ice-blue eyes and that deep crease between them. There wouldn’t be a lecture. There’d be nothing, just a bitter laugh.
“Shoes,” said Fance. “For the coffee shop. They buy me the uniform, but not the shoes.”
And she would, when the moment was right.
Just then they were sitting in his truck by the bowling alley, waiting for Dwayne to sober up enough to drive. He took her bowling every Friday night, then afterwards they split a pitcher of beer in the bar. Fance stopped there, but Dwayne liked to finish with a few shots from the whisky bottle he kept under the front seat.
The summer moon rose over the parking lot and the flat country around them. The silver light it cast seemed to soak into Fance’s skin and made her long for something she couldn’t name, something simple and strong, like water, or wind.
She held her cigarette out the open window, the bright red ember pressed flat against the night, and remembered living at home, and putting out all the cigarettes her mother lit and left burning in the ashtrays or balanced on the edges of tables while she paced and wrung her hands about Fance’s father running off.
Dwayne took another cigarette from the pack on the dashboard, put it in his mouth, and lit it. His hands were slow and careful, which made him good with cars, and with her, thought Fance. Good, gentle hands would be important, and looking at him then, sitting still and strong behind the wheel, she thought he might just have it in him.
“How did it go today?” she asked. “You talk to him?”
“He split early for the weekend.”
Fance wanted Dwayne to ask his boss at the gas station for a steady shift five days a week, so he could quit living with his brother and get a place of his own, or with her, come to think of it. Then he’d be right there to help out in the middle of the night. It would save them money, too, only paying one rent.
Dwayne touched the back of her neck, then lifted up her hair. “Pretty,” he said.
She closed her eyes, loving his touch. Then he let go. She wished he hadn’t. Whenever he touched her and then stopped she felt lonely, lonely and a little sad.
She looked at him as he looked at the night. Two months, she thought. That’s how long they’d been together. He’d come into the coffee shop and saw her snapping at another girl about stealing her tips, and said he knew right then that her long red hair meant she was fiery all over. He liked comics, and driving out in the country, sleeping late, and making her scrambled eggs and toast. He was tall and good-looking, and kissed way better than anyone had before. If nothing else she’d have that, though if things went one way, she’d need a hell of a lot more.
She brought her hand back inside the truck, and dropped her cigarette into the hole of an old beer can that was lying on the floor.
Dwayne tossed his out the window onto the dead summer grass.
“Hey,” said Fance. “You trying to burn us up?”
He grinned. “And what if I was?” His voice was warm, but his eyes were cold and bright from the liquor, and Fance didn’t like looking at them.
He put his arm around her. “Come here,” he said. He kissed her hard, almost roughly. When he kissed her like that her mind went blank, only her mind didn’t go blank now. She was thinking, remembering that other night, not their first time but the best time, because it was all of a sudden, after he helped her in with her groceries, and he was late for something else. He didn’t have a condom, since he hadn’t meant to stay, and she said “No,” and then “Okay.” He promised to get out in time, and later swore he had, but Fance could tell later that he hadn’t.
She pulled back and looked at the moon again. Its face was almost like a real face. It knew things, that moon.
A girl with pretty blonde hair came out of the bowling alley. Fance had seen her in there, giggling like a twelve-year-old. Dwayne had seen her too, because when Fance went to send her ball down she looked to see if he was watching. He wasn’t. It was easy to get over it then, because she’d been up and moving, but now, stuck there in the truck, all she could do was watch him watch the blonde girl go down the sidewalk in her cutoffs and pink tank top.
He turned his head back, saw Fance, and grinned. “Looking’s free,” he said.
Nothing’s free, she thought. She looked at her watch. It was later than she expected.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
“Driving home. I want to go home.”
He leaned back and closed his eyes. “Maybe.”
“You don’t look ready.”
“I’m fine.” He reached for the ignition.
“No, wait. I don’t want to have an accident.”
He looked at her. “Make up your mind,” he said.
He put his hand down by hers, but didn’t touch it. Then he took his whiskey bottle from under the seat, drank from it, and screwed the cap back on.
“You’ll never get us home that way,” she said.
“One for the road, that’s all.”
The girl came back towards them with her arms folded, like a scared kid. She saw Fance and smiled a tight, nervous smile.
“I’m real sorry to bother you folk, but I was wondering if you all are headed back to town. My ride done fell through on me.”
Dwayne slipped the bottle back under the seat. Fance opened the door and slid over next to him.
“Get in,” she said.
The girl smelled flowery, like lavender. Her bare leg was warm against Fance’s cotton dress. She had rubber thongs on her feet, the kind Fance hadn’t worn for years.
“My name’s Mandy,” said the girl.
“Dwayne.” Mandy stared at Dwayne. He stared back until she looked away.
He started the truck and headed out of the lot towards town. No one spoke. The only sound was wind and the tires on the road. Mandy fidgeted in her seat. She didn’t seem to know what to do with her hands. First they were in her lap, then in her hair, then in her lap again, and every now and then she looked at Dwayne.
“I’m Fance, by the way.”
Mandy looked at her. “That’s a pretty name.”
“Mighty unusual too. How’d you come by it?”
“Tell her,” said Dwayne, looking at Mandy.
“Nothing to tell.”
“Go on. Tell her.” He kept his eyes on Mandy for a moment more, then looked back at the road. Fance sat up straight. It was uncomfortable, sitting there in the middle.
“Well, right after I was born, and my mother got a chance to hold me, she thought I was the fanciest little think she’d ever seen, so she named me Fancy.”
“Goodness, that’s so sweet,” said Mandy.
Dwayne glanced at Fance from the corner of his eye. The first night they’d been together, lying in his bed with the sound of crickets through the window screen, he’d asked her about her name too, and she’d told a different story, the real story, of how she was handed to her mother in a little pink blanket with pictures of houses on it, the same house over and over, with a tree on one side and picket fence on the other. Fence, her mother said in her drawling South Georgia accent and sleepy from the shot they gave her, so the nurse, with papers in hand, asking for the child’s name, wrote Fance.
I’ve been trying to make more of myself my whole life, thought Fance.
She had graduated from high school when her mother hadn’t, supported herself at the coffee shop when her mother collected welfare, and had plans for her future, like going to beauty college, or maybe learning bookkeeping.
She wouldn’t do it. She wouldn’t raise a child with a man who stared down pretty girls, who drank more than he should and didn’t want to make anything of himself. And she wouldn’t raise it alone, either. A child deserved two parents. Who knew that better than she?
It’s true, she thought. I’m pregnant. The eight days late are just that. I got to find out for sure, then make the appointment right away.
Some said it was wrong. She’d heard of the people who stood in front of the clinic in Odessa, praying and shoving disgusting pictures into the hands of women trying to get inside. She always thought they were stupid for thinking they knew better, and for telling other people what to do. You could tell someone a lot of things, but never what to do with her own body.
She closed her eyes, felt Dwayne next to her, and missed him already.
I’ll be okay, she thought. I know it.
They drove into town, and Fance him to drop her off first.
“You sure?” said Dwayne.
“Where you headed?” Dwayne asked Mandy.
“My aunt’s place, down the Culver Road. Is that out of your way?”
Dwayne shrugged in a way that said he had all the time in the world.
Let him do what he chooses, thought Fance. I am, after all. As soon as I get over to Odessa.