AUTHOR'S NOTES: Years ago in my church, they wouldn't let us have premarital sex. They said it might lead to dancing.
To sixth graders at Flat Lake Elementary, all teachers are old. Knowing this was Miss Hanson's first year didn't distinguish her that much from Miss McGraw who'd taught our parents. Miss McGraw had us for fifth and we were glad to be done with "fluxations -- a full minute of vigorous exercise between recitations to revitalize academic concentration."
I liked Miss Hanson from the first day, how she waltzed in, how she told us to be seated and how she informed us that glaciers scooped out our local water body. "It's not geography; it's geology. It's in the rocks."
I liked her because she knew so much about everything. She showed on our globe, for example, where Amelia Earhart crossed the Atlantic. (The girls were more interested, but so were some of us boys.) "It's a big old world, but not too big for getting there and back," she'd observed. Roosevelt beating Hoover, she explained, was because in America everybody gets his turn.
Probably another reason I liked her was that she was really pretty for a teacher, her yellow hair longer than Miss McGraw's jet black, her cheeks pinker and her lips more scarlet.
I knew that Miss Hanson was new in town, renting Mr. Story's mother's little house because Old Mrs. Story had died. Miss Hanson didn't have family here, and other than Mama now, neither did I.
I guess that Miss Hanson liked me OK, too. I studied for examinations and hardly ever got caught cutting up. When Miss Hanson wanted to move us onto the next subject, but nobody could answer the question about the last, she'd call on me. "Thanks, Andrew," she once confided when everybody else was grabbing their mackintoshes and galoshes. None of the other boys ever caught on that I was helping her teach.
I'd never hang around and miss being shortstop or anything important, but sometimes if nobody was noticing, I'd stay after and help Miss Hanson pick up. It didn't take long and we'd talk about things not school. That's how I found out that she made $225 a month and that's how she found out that I could yodel. (I'd never been shown; I just could.) As I was stretching to hit five feet, her extra six or seven inches made me look up when we exchanged information.
Once I asked if she liked the pictures. I'd just seen "Shanghai Express", really good.
"Can you keep a secret, Andrew?" she'd answered, to my surprise. Why would a teacher tell a kid a secret?
"Sure, Miss Hanson."
"Did you see 'The Sin of Madelon Claudet'?"
I shook my head; it sounded too complicated.
"Well", she explained, "Helen Hayes plays this lady who went to jail for a crime she didn't do and has to earn money," she picked her words, "to pay her son's tuition. She won a cinema award, Helen Hays." She grinned. "But don't tell anybody I told you, promise?"
I dutifully pledged.
"It's probably a little old for you, and anyway, it's not the type they bring to the Pavilion."
No, I agreed, because the Pavilion would stick with things like Shanghai Express.
Helping wipe her pen nibs clean was the first time I ever thought much about her body. When she leaned over my shoulder for the blotter, one of her breasts touched my arm. At twelve, you don't notice that sort of thing too much, but then you start to pay attention. Some girls in my class had breasts, but just little ones.
Maybe she didn't notice or maybe she didn't mind. But twice that week I touched her breasts on purpose. Once was when she was reaching up to shelve a book, I was behind and reached around and barely touched one on its side.
The other time was when we moved her podium, me grabbing around the edge from my side and her from hers. The back of my hands could feel the binding beneath the ruffles of her blouse. Even still, she seemed so soft.
It was one of those afternoons, me sitting at her desk to look at the National Geographic pictures of Abyssinia. Knowing I was interested in foreign places, she'd pulled our chair together so we both could read. People there are black but Christian, she pointed out. Some of the women were naked, but I don't think she noticed that part.
Miss Hanson's breast was so near.
It must have been because we were close that she rested my hand on her lap. I looked at the photo of Emperor Selassie as she explained about the Ethiopians beating the Italians in 1896. I knew by her voice that she wasn't looking at the picture, though, but at the side of my face. Somehow I knew from where she'd left my palm that she knew I'd wanted to touch her breasts.
When we finished the article, she laughed about how big the world was, how little of it we'd ever see.
When she needed somebody to mow her lawn, I was glad for the dime. Hanging around for the lemonade postponed my own Saturday chores, more since Papa had hitched to look for work in California.
We were eating cornbread at Miss Hanson's kitchen table. "Andrew?" I looked up from my plate. "Do you know how to dance?"
I shook my head. Mama wanted me to take lessons, but I wouldn't cooperate.
"I've got two new phonograph records: 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes' by Paul Whiteman and 'I Only Have Eyes for You' by Dick Powell. Heard them? They're both about eyes."
I shook my head, same as before. Maybe I'd heard them, but not particularly.
"I've never danced to them. Want me to teach you?"
"Naah," my mouth full.
"That's no answer. In a few years you'll be going to the prom," pulling me from my nourishment.
I didn't want to, but then I didn't not want to, either. It was with Miss Hanson, after all.
"Wrap with right; lead with left," articulating my stick-man configuration. "The boy leads, but not during lessons," pushing me backwards.
It wasn't that difficult and sometimes I'd even be steering her a little by the time she'd have to restart the record. Because of the height difference, though, my view over her shoulder was blocked and I couldn't turn right as easily as left. It didn't seem to matter.
We'd be more-or-less spaced the way she wanted until we'd simultaneously initiate a mutually-exclusive rotation and trip. But her eyes didn't tell me that I was clumsy. The first misstep or two, her breasts against my collarbone made me blush, but after a few collisions, Miss Hanson matter-of-factly parked me closer, explaining that we'd not bump so hard. I could see down her collar into the valley between her breasts.
I didn't mind her chest cushioning my mistakes. My right hand around her back rested where her brassiere connected. "That's the right place to put it. Always press the girl toward you so she knows you're holding her."
When the record ended, she reflected, "It's good to get to dance a little, isn't it?"
Her breasts still touched me because I was still pressing the back of her strap.
"You know how to tell your partner that it was fun?" not shaking me loose and knowing I lacked the answer. "With a little kiss, just on the cheek."
I wasn't sure if this was something I was supposed to do, as this was just a lesson, but it didn't matter. She kissed me on my forehead.
"No tell, OK?"
I shook my head. I wouldn't want my friends to know.
After the next time through, me working more on holding my left arm out straighter, she asked, "So how'd I do?"
"Fine," I judged.
"Like a dancer puts it."
I blushed, I'm sure, but tilted my head and bussed her cheek. It was, after all, how you tell your partner. Except for Mama and a few aunties and both grandmas, I'd never really kissed anybody else before. I liked the way she smelled.
"Good," she agreed.
By two or more three times through, it was automatic. She'd offer her cheek and I'd peck. Actually, I rather came to look forward to when the record ended.
But I didn't expect to catch the side of her mouth by accident. She'd made the mistake by turning too much.
"You're learning, Andrew," not letting go for an extra moment, her chest high on mine.
I knew that dancing sometimes made me get big, the same as what sometimes happened when we had goosing contests at Scout camp. Or would get sometimes when we'd look at a naked woman, like in Mike's flipbook from France. I was big sometimes just from waiting for the kiss. It wasn't exactly the same as flipping Mike's book, though; it was the flower fragrance of her hair.
Maybe that's when I first noticed how close Miss Hanson's legs got, her thigh sometimes against me when we'd take long steps. She said it's Argentinean and showed me the Pampas in National Geographic.
Dancing takes a lot of work.
"Now Andrew, what happens at a real dance is that people take little breaks, go outside for some fresh air, maybe."
I nodded. It's good to know.
"But probably we shouldn't go outside, this house being where it is, so we can just sit down... No, you lead me with your arm, say over there to the divan."
So seated, she didn't free my elbow, adding, "You may still give me the kiss you forgot."
I had forgotten.
I didn't get her cheek, though, because again she turned too much. And I didn't pull away because her mouth was just too red. And it just kept happening because I didn't now how to stop. Or maybe because of her pooched lips.
At the end, we were both giggling at my lipstick smudge. In the process, the front of my arm was even more against her bosom.
"Secret?" she queried.
"Secret," I happily concurred. As much as I didn't appreciate the larger picture, the specifics weren't things that other kids should know about.
"Let's try that again, then." So we did, Miss Hanson toward me and my arm again nuzzling.
"I'd be more comfortable in my slip, don't you think? Your mother wears hers when you're around sometimes, I'll bet."
It hadn't occurred to me she was uncomfortable, but it was indeed warm. Mama wore her slip to the bathroom all the time.
It only took Miss Hanson a minute to divest herself of skirt and blouse, slip and brassiere straps the only things left to protect her shoulders. I could see the swells and seams underneath. Mama in her slip, I'd never noticed anything, but then I hadn't looked.
"That's better," she agreed with her decision, reclaiming her place beside. "Just call me Jean Harlow."
I didn't think that we probably ought to start kissing again, but hadn't the argument to dissuade.
"Ummm," when she drew my reach to the side of her ribs, so close that my fingers lay against the silkiness, my wrist against softness.
But then she guided my hand away. "That's so nice, Andrew, but you're not that old." The way she said it had more of a question mark.
Twelve is almost a teenager. I'd heard of 14-year-olds lying to join the Great War and I wasn't too far from that. I wasn't too young for pride.
"Oh, no, Miss Hanson, I'm plenty old enough," sensing that I'd improve my stature with my hand again on the side her slip.
"They can't know," she objected, but not to my touch. I could see her brassiere cup where the slip fell away from her front.
"Not if it's a secret," the nature of "it" unspecific in my own mind.
"Well, just some more kisses," she conceded. "Everybody's old enough for that."
I gave her my best, probably more energetic than anything. I must have been a little effective, though, because of her nipple's hardness within her underwear. Her inhalation told me she realized I was touching on purpose.
"It's not such a good idea, me being your teacher," after she again moved my hand.
"It's our secret," I reiterated, sensing that a hard nipple felt nice to her.
"You've got to promise not to try to reach inside," cognizant that the vee in her slip wasn't that far away. "That would be really bad."
"I won't," picturing her valley. Was that inside?
"But what if somebody knocks?" appealing to my youthful deceptiveness.
"Back there someplace." I vaguely waved, realizing that I could actually see the diameter of her nipple pushing against her slip.
We gathered up the Victrola, Miss Hanson leading me to the bedroom.
We danced again, me reverting to my innate woodenness. At the end, we kissed mouth to mouth and sat on the bed. I did know that being on a woman's bed was different from being on her divan, but as I wasn't touching, it didn't seem that much different.
"That picture with Helen Hays?" She rested my hand on the silk of her knee. "You know what it's about?"
"I didn't see it, remember?"
"No, of course not. She makes love."
I looked at her, probably strangely.
"You know about it, right?" she continued. "How a man and a woman...?"
I nodded. At least in a sense -- everyone's seen dogs.
"That's why you're big," she ventured.
Me big? At first I was lost, but then the realization hit that she knew from the front of my pants! I'd never agreed to that!
"I didn't think you were old enough," she reflected.
I stated to get up.
"Andrew," Miss Hanson looked concerned. "You just go on home now. Nothing happened." She thought a bit more. "You'll be a good dancer, though, Andrew. I liked it."
All week I weighed my dilemma. Sure, I wanted to kiss her, to feel old. At the same time, she'd guessed about my penis, something I didn't want a teacher knowing. At the end, though, the kissing part won out.
Miss Hanson looked surprised when I peddled up the following Saturday. She was in a high-necked gingham dress, something she might have chosen for a picnic.
"Hi. I just was biking around and I wondered if you needed any help with anything."
She touched her collar and considered the offer. "Park it behind the shed. There're Mrs. Story's things still up in the attic to rearrange."
The attic was hot and cluttered. She and I stacked a few trunks under the eves, but after an incremental effort with Old Mrs. Story's third chest of drawers, Miss Hanson decided, "OK, now a dance lesson, since you're already here."
In the living room, I wrapped with right and led with left and marched her around until she took charge and steered us to the back, a credit to my gained ability that we danced all the way.
She looked out her bedroom window, not at me. "I'll make it swell for you. It won't hurt, I promise," her cheeks flushed. She stripped to her slip, her lack of inhibition speaking an agenda perhaps further than mine.
"You can't," I protested, my eyes riveted as she slipped off her hair band. She'd never undone her hair before. I wasn't sure what she couldn't, but I knew she shouldn't.
She paused, looked at me blankly, paled and said, "Oh."
But then she smiled with her eyes. "You still OK about kissing? You were great last lesson!"
I nodded and we sat down together.
"Sweet and long," and she showed me what she meant.
After a pause to re-latch mouths, she drew my hand to where it had wandered before.
"We get big, you and me both, don't we?" her suggestion not as threatening as before. I wasn't sure how she knew, though, as I'd twisted in the opposite direction.
"When we get big, the other wants to know it, Andrew," almost like a dancing rule. It wasn't that I wanted her to know it, but it seemed to be clear.
"There's something that the girl can do that's like what you're doing to me," rolling her shoulder to make her breast drag against my fingertips.
"And I'm going to show you," tugging my arm until we both fell backwards. "It's not how you make love, buddy boy, but it's part of our secret. Why you came over."
Spoken with authority.
Yes I struggled, but not because I was afraid. I just didn't want her knowing that I was big, how wrestling on her covers was making me bigger. The problem was that we were still kissing, even after she unbuckled me. I didn't really think she'd pull down my trousers.
Even seeing the shape of my undershorts wasn't enough. She pushed them down, too,
In the gaze of her room, I'd shriveled to my little size and I had only a fuzz of hair, so it wasn't as there was much to see. It hadn't been that many years since I'd not have cared, anyway. I at least knew she'd not tell.
Once her fingers found me, the contest was over. I quieted and I felt myself get big again, but this time to her command.
At home, I'd rubbed myself against my pillow for the friction. My buddy Clarence, anxious to share his newfound discovery, had already told me another way: "Just stroke it." I'd tried, but in the absence of mental focus, the pillow worked better.
Miss Hanson made me realize what Clarence meant.
"Don't!" I ordered as she acquainted herself.
"Don't move," she responded and I obeyed, motionless while she closed the blinds to make the ceiling dim.
Returning, she lay beside and taught me masturbation.
It seemed odd, her being a real teacher and a woman, but I'd no choice. We both knew that it felt good and that I'd cooperate.
It took three or four attempts before I mastered my role. At first I just jousted her hand. Then there was the time when I couldn't even stay big. Then we coalesced.
Alone on my pillow, I'd never gotten further than just tickling to pleasant excitement without culmination. Miss Hanson showed me the purpose, her fingers inviting my impending wonder. Droplets that seeped free, she used to wet me. Miss Hanson's hand and the tingling below my belly were all I felt. I must have turned red when my orgasm proclaimed itself.
I knew that she was happy, too, pleased that I'd found her nipple, pleased that she'd succeeded.
"It's good when it happens," she encouraged, still rubbing my flaccid underside.
I lay there, spent.
"It means that you can make a baby someday."
I knew that there was more Miss Hanson could do, things about which boys whisper, things involving no clothes for her too. But as long as she was in her underwear, I let her do what felt good.
I'd bike to her house and we'd always kiss when I climaxed. I knew Miss Hanson liked to peek and wipe her palm on her slip.
It was hard concentrating in Miss Hanson's classroom, my hand slipping to my penis instead to my notebook. It was hard watching her write on the blackboard, me the piece of chalk. It was hard when we'd look at National Geographics after school some days, her fingers teasing my fly, promises of the Saturday to come.
But somehow, even I knew we couldn't keep it going. It was Miss Hanson's decision; I was just the kid.
"Andrew, we're going to stop," one Saturday, without introduction. "Nothing bad's happened and nothing bad's going to happen. We're just not going to do it any more." And that was that. I guess I didn't even want more elaboration. I was positive we wouldn't be caught, but I knew that if we were, I'd get a whipping and she'd lose her job.
She never said anything else, though I knew she'd sometimes watch me during examinations. She didn't really need an after-school helper, I decided.
With Saturday hockey, not going to Miss Hanson's was a fillable void. I was growing up, could masturbate myself. Kids keep going.
I showed Helen Klassen how and she'd do me behind her folks' garage more than just on Saturdays. Plus she'd pull up her camisole. She'd not pull down her panties, though. I'd never even seen Miss Hanson's panties. Helen didn't wear a slip.
The Class of '42 was a somber lot, though of course we'd deny it. Eighteen-year-old males had assured employment, we joked. Eighteen-year-old females realized that their steady might soon be a statistic, not a joke. Most of us guys hoped to be sent to the Pacific where there were hula girls. We'd never seen the ocean.
We themed our Christmas Dance around "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby. Everybody had learned the words.
For the prom, though, it was "Paper Doll" by the Mills Brothers. More snappy. The girls even had life-size paper dolls cellophane-taped to the gym walls. As Flat Lake High School always did, we invited our old teachers to stop by, have some punch and see us all dressed up. Some teachers always came and some probably still remembered us too well. I'd taken Helen, but the way your buddies cut in, you really wouldn't see much of your date until afterwards, by the lake.
Anyway, I was in my Sears suit, jiving about numbskull Nazis, when in walked Miss Hanson.
Over my high school years, I'd seen her around town, said, "Hi, Miss Hanson," but never much else. What had happened so long ago was too far back to make any difference. I was just a kid then, sixth grade was all. Most everybody probably learns from somebody older, though probably not a teacher. She'd taught me two things not in the classroom, actually, but I still wasn't much of a dancer,
Miss Hanson was in a sky blue dress that made half the girls in my own class look dowdy, at least to me.
"Glad to see you, Miss Hanson," my grownup voice.
"Oh, Andrew," pleased to be greeted. "I was hoping. You're going into the Navy, I hear?"
"Maybe be a gunner. That's the plan, anyway," picturing myself in a sleeveless flak vest.
"Well, you'll be a great one and we'll see you in the newsreels."
"Too smoky, firing all those shells." Then the tune hit me, the one about paper dolls. "Know this one, our theme this year?" affecting a finger snap that might be used by sailors.
"Of course. Mills Brothers," before realizing my invitation. "I can't. This is a dance for you youngsters. I'm thirty."
"No you're not!" Actually, it had never registered how many years she was. But shoot, I was almost in the Armed Forces myself.
On the floor, nobody seemed to think it odd, me dancing with an old teacher. Politeness is taken seriously in places like Flat Lake.
"You know all the modern steps now?" she wondered before I demonstrated to the contrary.
Was it my doing, or hers? As I now stood above her by at least as many inches as she'd towered me, it wasn't just gravitation to old ways. But two-stepping, she leaned the way I remembered. The back of her dress even had the silky feeling of the slip I remembered. Nobody would have even noticed the gap narrow between us, rediscovery was so slow. (Maybe it was more like rediscovering discovery, if the indirectness makes sense.)
Without looking down, I knew that her nipples were hard, just as she must have known about my erection. I guess we both tried not to press together to confirm, but we knew. I realized I'd moved my legs just enough apart for her hip to masturbate me. It was as if six years were nothing.
"Thank you, Andrew," as we finished. "That was lovely. I just stopped by to see all you kids."
I hoped my brush to her cheek looked like what you'd give the bride at the reception, just a momentary touch. Her hair still smelled like violets. Her hand lingered in mine just an extra second as she parted.
I'd told the guys that this was the night I'd pop Helen's cherry. I knew that Helen didn't want to, but I'd probably get away with it because it was prom. That's when most kids in Flat Lake start, anyway. Parked at the lake.
But petting in the family Nash, the windows too steamed to see the moon on the water, I took on Helens nervousness. She let me undo her brassiere, but wouldn't turn for me to suck, how I'd bragged I'd get her ready.
And I didn't really know what I was doing. The guys say just to follow your hormones, push it where it fits, but that implies her wanting it to fit. Anyway, Helen's expert hand got my fly open I came on her chiffon, her virginity saved for some four-eyes who'd fail the physical.
It was still early and I knew that Papa (who'd never found lasting work in California, but Flat Lake now had a tool-kit production plant) assumed I'd be fucking away into the night. I could just hear him calming Mama, "It's their prom, remember? Andrew's grown up. We're going to love having grandchildren, so why make them wait till we're in rocking chairs?"
I was still wet where Helen had done me, so it wasn't that I was still horny. I was alone, always alone. At eighteen, you know.
The light was on in the back of Miss Hanson's and I slowed. I wanted to tell her that she'd been my favorite teacher. I should have told her at the prom, but she'd already left. I guess I wanted her to know that for one brief year I'd been not so lonely.
"Andrew!" genuinely surprised at my tap. "Do come in. Sorry I'm not dressed," waving at her bathrobe, more cover than the slip I remembered.
I followed her to the kitchen where, as if she knew, she pulled a pitcher from the icebox. "Sorry I don't have something stronger." As an afterthought, "Navy boy."
"Just lemonade, if you please, to dilute whatever they added to the punch."
She laughed and sat down to see me. I could tell from her flatter form that she'd shed her brassiere.
"I was pretty stupid, right?" she volunteered, her topic not needing preamble. She'd been thinking about years back, same as me. Why small-talk about gym decorations? "You were what?" she tried to calculate. "Way too young, anyway."
"You never made me," I justified. I hadn't come to blame. I'd wanted her to do it every time.
"That's not the point. You were too little."
We sat in silence, sipping the bittersweet.
"I was pretty young, too," she reflected. "I thought it wouldn't go anywhere."
She looked at me, brow furrowed, then breathed out. "If you'd have reached inside, what I said not to do, it maybe would have. I prayed you wouldn't and prayed you would."
To me it had been simpler, but I nodded. I knew that her being older was why we stopped so suddenly.
When she refilled my glass, she made no effort to mask the nipple contoured in her robe.
I returned to my intention. "I just wanted you to know that you were my favorite teacher."
But telling her something so innocuous spoke of something else, about what part of being lonely led me to knock. It wasn't to give her an apple. "I'm eighteen, now."
"I knew that when we danced. Thanks for asking me. I already said that, right?" She looked at me. "And you've never made love."
The bluntness didn't seem harsh. When someone's watched you climax, even years ago, boundaries vaporize. Sometimes she'd used talcum powder on me so I'd slide smoother. Sometimes she'd sponged me clean afterwards. Sometimes when we were shelving books, other kids still leaving the room, she'd turned so they'd not see my finger on her breast.
Here at the prom, so many years later, she'd felt me press her with the urge. Why lie?
She cuffed me across the table. "Relax, sailor man."
"I was going to with Helen, but she..."
"Said no," Miss Hanson finished. "She's got a head on her shoulders. Going to college, I'll bet. I'm glad you took a nice girl."
"I'm going to college, too, afterwards," I decided.
"So you didn't," returning me to the present. "Kids drop out when they have to get married."
It was OK, I agreed.
"You started when we danced tonight, Andrew." She wasn't cuffing me now; she'd put her hand on my arm.
"Making love to me."
Making love to her? "Oh no, Miss Hanson. You're a teacher!"
"It's not about me. It's about you."
It was about me.
"I'll do it with some South Seas girl," I predicted. "They'll give us rubbers, the recruiting sergeant says."
She knew I was bluffing before I'd finished. I wasn't thinking about a native in a grass skirt. My draw to Miss Hanson was the same as ever.
"No, not for your first time." Her objection spoke to not just the physical.
She let me think a moment. "It's prom night, Andrew. And I was your date."
"Maybe," I reflected.
She moved her hand up my arm. "We don't need to go the lake." Teachers know about their students. "To make love," she added.
"But guys always want to. It doesn't mean we should'" I argued against myself.
"I wanted to every time you came over. To take off my slip."
"I was too little. You said so."
"To make love, maybe, but you'd have been inside."
"So let's just dance some more," I stalled.
I guess we still had "Paper Doll" in our heads, because we didn't need the record. I'd always be a little mechanical, I realized, but she let me lead. When I pulled her against me, a down pillow.
She broke the beat just once. "Andrew, it's good we're going to finish. For both of us." Then in a more- assertive tone, "You're not going to pull it out, are you?"
She could feel my head shake against her ear. I'd do it the way she wanted.
"Just wanted to make sure," using her knee to steer me, Argentinean-style, to the room I remembered.
Nobody writes much about the loss of male virginity. We're supposed to deny that we ever were. Boys at Flat Lake tend to be frustrated until they have a steady, hoping for marriage. But even if the two are both "pure" (as they call it in church), all the focus goes to feminine surrender, even if in fact she's the one hoping to start the baby.
Miss Hanson helped me with my shirt and I helped her with her bathrobe, her nightie revealing the curves I'd remembered from her slip. She helped me with my undershirt and I lifted up her hem, uncovering her white panties. Her nipples were stationary under the sliding cotton.
"You can look," to my furtive glances. "I'm quite normal."
Her breasts, rounder than the projection of her brassiere, were cream with darker areole. She let me test the leniency of her bosoms.
After she removed my trousers, I wasn't quick enough, so she herself slipped off her panties. "Touch me," she suggested, unveiling her tuft of reddish gold.
She didn't take my underpants, but rather pulled me onto her, letting my erection, straining against my shorts, work up the inside of her legs.
I'm unsure how she stripped me, but my flesh first rubbed against her curls, then into her draw, along the wetness of her vagina, past the tightness and into the mystery. My stiffness knew without guidance.
I knew what to do, if not how to do it well. My hips told when to push in and when to pull back and her response validated my motions. I'd never realized how slick a woman would feel, how well we'd fit together.
I climaxed and knew that she didn't, but she seemed to accept me for what I'd given.
When I withdrew (was extruded might be more truthful), she caressed my forehead not unlike how she'd kissed me after we'd first danced. "You stayed in great!"
I mumbled something about the hour, hastily redressed and never went back.
I'd both proven myself as a man and failed as a lover. With Helen, I'd have cared, too, but not felt responsible. Miss Hanson, though, I'd wanted to give more than manly squirts and a messy sheet. I wanted to make her love me.
According to boot camp inductees, your first broads are just for practice, anyway. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am. Maybe if I'd fucked Helen first, I'd have done better with Miss Hanson.
There in the Nash, I could have taken Helen. Probably I'd disappointed her, too, making her masturbate me, not making her a woman. Did she go home, look at the chiffon dress and cry?
But I'd always wanted it to be with Miss Hanson.
Things work out the oddest ways. Gunnery School already had their quota, but I'd good grammar grades, so I'd be in Communications. I thought I'd hit fat city, but then found out that we're the suckers who hit the beach with the Marines, them carrying rifles and us, radios. But I never took a direct hit or stepped on a mine before the Japs surrendered and was redeployed as a Navy journalist. (It all fits under "Communications".)
The promised hula girls turned out to be thieving Filipina hookers, so although the rubbers from Quartermaster wasn't a lie, I'd rarely opted for the freebee.
I could have taken my discharge pay, but the journalism part seemed interesting and at least in uniform I could get the experience. Norway, of all places, was where the Admirals wanted press. "Sailor, you can choose any assignment from the list provided" and I got a list with Norway.
Oslo was still grim, but the citizens were free. The byline that won me the award was about the elderly Norwegians with a GI grandson whom they'd never met. This blond US Army skiing soldier slalomed to their doorstep the day Germany went kaput. He'd been in the country for reconnaissance and had figured out who they were from what his father had told him. My commander wished it had been a Navy man, however.
Reporting was my ticket out of Flat Lake, the vernacular, though more accurately in my case, how to avoid a ticket back to Flat Lake. Reporting keeps you paying attention, looking for connections, letting your job consume each day's extra 16 hours. There's little time for distraction.
The USO was where reporters hung out for the cheap stories, second or third hand, but maybe useful for background. Drinks were cheap.
The Norwegian employee in the USO dress emerged from the phone booth and stared. "Andrew?"
I must have looked confused.
"It is you!" clapping her hands and I knew! Not the voice (which of course I knew immediately), but the eyes.
"Miss Hanson? I mean, how...?"
"Flat Lake gave me a year to serve in the USO and I speak Norwegian. It's Greta."
"From my folks. Not in Flat Lake. 'Hvordan har du det?' means how are you?"
"Surprised." And that I was. Miss Hanson, exactly the same. The sexual tie was hardly yet recalled.
"So why are you here? You kicked the Krauts out."
"Me? I'm a Navy journalist."
"Well this is so great, in this big old world!" again clapping her hands. Her braid was the Norwegian style, woven around the back of her head.
"Are you...?" What was I asking?
"Same as ever. You?"
I wasn't sure what she'd thought I'd asked, but it seemed clear to her. "Same as ever, too," I ventured. The only difference was that I was in uniform. Plus I felt happy.
"Then we can dance while we catch up," she decided. The USO jukebox was playing "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" by Vaughn Monroe.
"Good grief, Andrew!" she declared as we started. Before I could apologize for my extra left foot, she laughed, "I hope you don't write a column about ballroom dancing. Here," as she got me in step.
"Just the one about the importance of having a good teacher," regaining my delight.
"Heading back to Flat Lake?" I asked during a lull. Two or three enlisted men had tried to cut in, but I'd said we were together.
"My job. I fit in. Lots to keep me busy. You?"
"To get my stuff."
"Got a girl?"
"Not enough time," almost believing myself. Maybe after I settled down.
"Guess so. Let's dance some more."
Afterwards, I walked her back to her flat, more of a dorm for USO staff. As much of my sexual history as she'd defined, that wasn't how I saw her tonight. I'd not seen an old friend for such a long time, one who even knew my folks! And as odd as a teacher being an old friend might seem in Flat Lake, Miss Hanson (Greta, I mean) seemed that in Oslo.
At the doorstep, though, an echo crept back. We'd not danced closely, but I'd felt her breasts. She, as had I, must have remembered prom night. How I'd climaxed so quickly and left.
"OK." I paused. "I guess I just want to say I'm sorry for showing up like that, you know..."
"And making love?" the Norwegian again.
She took both my elbows in her hands, placing herself where I could see her. "It was about love. You knew that."
"Yeah, but still...."
"We're never sorry about love, at least I'm not."
"You're not?" I wished I'd told Miss Hanson that I was sorry for being clumsy, but that I had loved her, even if I stayed clumsy.
"Andrew," still locking my elbows, "remember how to tell her it was a nice dance?"
"And how a girl agrees that that was a nice dance?" head tilted.
I gave her a kiss that hung there.
"And how we made love, just once?" against my lips. With the Filipina, it was connection without union. "Come on," taking my hand, not unlike years ago. "Mary Ellen and Doris can sleep somewhere else."
She'd take me in again? The grad who'd run off? Had she been lonely that night, too?
I followed, our fingers locked. Maybe we both were shaking a little, but it could have been the cold.
Indeed, we did have three beds to ourselves, thanks to her roommates. "This is my old friend Andrew. Really!"
Naked, she looked boldly Norwegian. Back in Flat Lake, her reddish-blond seemed secretive. Here, it was as if she were leading me to the sauna.
"You're beautiful," I stammered and she laughed at the thought.
I undressed more slowly, folding my uniform in the way of GIs who do their own ironing. Her eyes told me what to next remove.
"I don't have a rubber or anything," I admitted, wondering if she remembered what I'd said about the natives.
She surprised me. "We'll take our chances. It was just chance that we met tonight, right?"
I wasn't that sure, but it was nothing that either of us could have made happen.
I made love somewhat better than my performance after the prom. I should have gone slower, but I know I induced a spark when she arched and gasped. The girls I'd been with before had murmured things like, "Come on, big boy!" or "Oh man, make me come!" Greta wasn't verbal, speaking with alternation of her hips, trying to kiss until we both lost track of the other's face.
She just grinned afterwards. "They say that how many more times won't make a difference in baby-chances." In Norway, she was free of Flat Lake.
The second time I mounted, her heels held me and we let her wetness smooth the passages. When she moaned, it was for stroke after stroke. She stilled at the end so I could seed her deepest reaches.
"Andrew?" whispered afterwards. "I wish we'd done this by the lake."
"You were scared?"
I told her yes.
"So was I. But I even when you were too little," she reflected, "I wish we'd learned together."
"I was in sixth grade."
"I was a virgin when I started teaching, when you came over. Maybe that's why I wanted to teach you to dance. It seemed safe."
"It wasn't?" I wondered.
"Tell me how we'd have done it by the lake. On a field trip."
We rested, her cheek on my chest, while I chronicled a boy's fantasy. She'd have stood by the water to show the class where the glacier pushed away the land. We each must find a worn rock as evidence. I'd follow her into the pines, surprise her and strip her of her clothes. I listed each piece, how I'd undo it. I'd lay her back on a bed of pine boughs. As the other classmates passed this way and that around our hidden nest, I'd kneel between her knees and shove myself deeper and deeper inside.
"The needles would be scratchy," she scolded, relishing the scratches.
"OK, it was this grassy place. You called it 'Practicals'."
She laughed. "C-, since I got pregnant."
Again in Oslo, rested and re-entering, she yelped and pretended to buck me off. "I've got to walk tomorrow, sailor boy!" her protest belied by the elevation of her hips and the span of her knees.
"Shush, they'll hear," determined to save myself until she was in full orgasm.
"I want them to know, silly."
At breakfast, Mary Ellen and Doris and a couple whose names I didn't get set the table with Kellogg's Corn Flakes, almost impossible to acquire in a land of oat porridge. "Doris is engaged to a captain at Allied HQ," the explanation. The others smiled at the "engaged".
Mary Ellen and Doris were hunky-dory when I'd call, good-naturedly hauling their bedding elsewhere. Sometimes they'd hardly button their bathrobes to do it, Yankee breasts barely draped by their nightclothes.
Some nights, Greta and I would rotate bed-to-bed. "Mary Ellen's is the quietist, but too near the door." Sometimes we'd move all three together and wrestle without plan regarding connection.
On giggling occasions, Greta would slip me into the room while her roommates slept and we'd make no more noise than the swish of the sheet and the squeak of the springs. The two were supposed to be sleeping, anyway, but once I caught Mary Ellen's open eye. All she could do was grin red-handed and flutter her fingers. I never told Greta.
Once when Greta and I came out, a British airman was on the parlor sofa. Mary Ellen was on his lap, facing him, the comforter draping her back not quite covering the bottom of her behind and the bare knees beneath. The two froze and pretended to chat as Greta walked me to the door. When Greta and the airman weren't looking, I fluttered my fingers at Greta's roommate. We're even, she grinned, already starting to rise and fall.
Oslo was a time of freedom, a time of evenings. If I'd been born there, I'd have stayed, but my Navy papers said I was from Flat Lake and I guess I was. They say that the War changed a whole generation. In my case, though, perhaps it was more that it opened a door outward, but the same boy stepped through it.
I was posted to Naples to document Sea Bees repairing chapels. I got another Sector Award and it was warmer, but I just had to do it until discharge. I fucked an Italian girl on the beach. Her family had lost most of their farmhouse when we'd bombed. I think she was about sixteen.
Five years later, my GI Bill degree was still worth less to hard-line editors than what I'd learned in blue. It's not that I'd won the citations, but I knew how to sit on a story until it broke. The Portland Oregonian paid me to keep Oregonians informed about everything from timber sales to the legislature.
News beats can be solitary; good reporters rarely stay married. Inside scoops come from wives looking for companionship. Maybe they want to find out something from you, even. Dinner, drinks and a Holiday Inn -- work expenses. I've got colleagues who'll only bed married women, ones whose spouses make marriage worth their while. Single chicks are the problems. So they say, anyway. Others who'll only bed married women so they needn't worry about impregnation. Lots of reporters are shits.
Was I a good reporter? I was Goddamn good. Did I like it? I loved it. Did I need much else? Not really. Growing up in a place like Flat Lake, you're probably not going to go off and be a shit.
It was on the radio -- Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa".
At my first dance lesson, Miss Hanson had told me about eyes, hers as present as if I'd returned. But with my parents' move to Sarasota, Flat Lake wasn't a place on the way to anywhere. I hadn't danced much since the War, but then I'd been pretty busy, my work and all
I hadn't danced much because a dancer needs a partner. Even in ballet, the great performances are with partners. In journalism, anyway, a partnership isn't two writers each reporting half a story. Both write the whole piece.
I wrote features, not real stories. Probably I'd never get a Pulitzer nomination, but even if I won, my work wouldn't be as real as a piece clumsily crafted for the classifieds. A want ad is in itself a real story because as humans, we want. "Wanted. The rest of myself."
Good reporters follow the leads, but I'd lost mine in Oslo.
I sent Greta a Christmas card in care of Flat Lake Elementary, just a brief note telling her that I was still writing, nothing that she'd see, but still at it. That running into her in Norway was such a coincidence. "Running into" seemed the safest way to put it, the phone booth part. "Being with" was harder to work into a Christmas greeting.
There was no reply, however, and a reporter senses when a lead's gone cold.
I'd missed the others, but would catch my tenth reunion. Not that I had Flat Lake High School ties more than that of yearbook photos, but I wanted to remember the sameness, if just for a weekend.
Some of the '42 girls (the ones I'd not known well, but now seemed less stuck-up) booked the VFW Hall for our get-together. And in towns like Flat Lake, a ten-year reunion means everyone who'd been there a decade back. Sisters stop by to see if their brother's old girlfriend still peroxides. Neighbors look in to see if that Arnold boy's really an engineer. Is Barney's nephew still an alcoholic? Nobody had heard of the Oregonian, but some had been to Colorado.
I'd heard that Clarence married Helen, but didn't know they'd divorced and neither showed up.
Since she'd not answered my card, maybe Miss Hanson had moved. Maybe even stayed in Norway. Or maybe she was in Flat Lake, a mom and member of the Garden Club. Not everything can stay the same.
So when I saw Miss Hanson walking to the Carnegie Library (judging by the books in her string bag), I was unprepared. She'd a blond single braid, a hairstyle not seen on the West Coast except maybe for little girls.
I didn't know if she'd even want me here. Me, the fade- away sixth grader, the off-to-war senior and then the disappearing sailor. She had my number.
But Flat Lake's small. Marked by your rental car, you can't pretend you're elsewhere. I slowed beside the sidewalk. "Want a lift, Miss Hanson?" I wasn't sure why my heart was pounding.
She looked at the strange car, the driver who knew her name. "Andrew!" too spontaneous for the sake of politeness. "Nobody knew if you were coming!"
She'd asked if I were coming?
"The one who's in the papers?" my attempted frivolity.
"Well you are, at least in Oregon," the second syllable pronounced as "gone". In Portland, it's "gun".
When she turned crimson, easy enough to see, I realized it wasn't related to the state. She'd acknowledged my card.
I ignored it. "Hop in." Probably she'd been really busy that holiday season. Didn't matter.
"No, that's OK. I'm almost there." I noticed the absence of a ring on her left hand.
Who knows why, but I stayed. "So I need some exercise, too," pulling to the curb. "So how you been?" my awkward re-start. "Here, let me carry that."
"Seventeen years at it, less my year away." She avoided saying Oslo.
"That long?" to protract the conversation. Maybe I could ask her what she was teaching; sometimes they change around.
"Seems like three," she laughed the laugh I liked. "Kids keep you learning things."
"Like about glaciers," remembering. "Coming to the VFW tonight?"
"Probably. You're all my kids and you remember your first ones best." It had never really clicked with me that I'd had her, her first year.
"So what say I check if they have anything new at the Carnegie and we walk back to my car and I take you to lunch? That's if..." Actually, she'd not even asked me to walk with her.
"At the A&W?" she pretended to frown. "We'll have some lemonade first."
She surely remembers liquors in Oslo, I was certain, but doesn't remember she'd served me that drink ten years ago.
Headed toward her house (which she'd bought, she was pleased to report) she switched on the car radio. "I like Nat King Cole," as she twirled through the one from High Noon and found "Unforgettable".
"Me too," I concurred. Unforgettable is right.
"So you married yet?" looking my way.
"Hardly," wishing not to talk about it.
She stared away. "I'm sorry I didn't answer your card. You didn't say and I didn't want to presume." I'd not mentioned the card. Was my mind that transparent?
And I didn't say what? That I wasn't married? I'd left everything unsaid, actually. You don't write what you're not, not across from a smiling Santa. Maybe I just didn't want to follow the leads.
We were at her driveway. "I'll just drop you off," I decided. Flat Lake wasn't my town anymore. Was Portland, though?
"Because I loved you," she stated, almost voiceless and staring straight ahead. "I didn't answer your card because I loved you."
I didn't move until the fullness hit. "Loved me? When?"
"Then. When you graduated. Before, too. Maybe I didn't know it till Oslo, though." She was still looking ahead, not at me.
I thought of those years and I wanted her to know. "I didn't know what to do," unasked. "I guess I'd never loved anybody."
"Not even in Oslo?" her eyes now on mine. Were there tears? Whose, I don't know.
"It's part of my life, too." And there were tears, even if invisible.
"Was I a little crazy sometimes?" suddenly flooded with the lightness of those times.
"That's what my roommates decided," too serious to see the humor.
I was thinking, the funny parts slipping away, "Greta?"
She waited for me to figure it out.
"Maybe what I mean is I've never known... that I've loved anybody." I caught my breath and finished. "So can it make sense that I still love somebody?" If I knew this much, maybe I'd know something.
We'd not been touching, but she took my hand. "It makes sense to me. It's a big old world."
"You always said that, 'A big old world', Greta."
We sat together, remembering, hands still linked.
"Can we... I mean, even if it's the A&W?" The thought of her opening the car door terrified me.
"You dance still?" starting to sway her braid to Nat King Cole.
"You're the music," pulling her to me.
Her breasts were still so soft.
Of course I'd never hurt a woman. Physically, that is.
Years of pent-up realization burst outward. If I'd spent the decade reliving her touches, replaying my virginity, remembering rolling naked in the Norwegian night for the other girls' ears, the flood might have been expected. Pent-up frustration, some might have called it. But I'd not reclaimed the story until now. What burst out was my need to be completed. Sex was just the vehicle.
At first she seemed frightened. I wasn't the boy she'd erotically enslaved, the graduate she'd initiated, the lover who'd pleased her time after time on the USO mattress. I was a creature bent on consuming her. My erection was all I was.
Probably I did hurt her flesh, but she didn't cry in pain. Her tears were hungry too. I forced my way into her from above, from behind, from below, denying her climax. Maybe she was forbidding the same to me, for no sooner would I prime to impregnate her, than she'd displace me and contort for yet another penetration.
At one point, we bounced our bed so hard that a slat fell from the frame and we took our chances with the rest of the substructure. (Why did I think of it as "our" bed, I didn't process, but it was what she'd laid me upon the first time. I owned it. She owned it. I owned her. She owned me.)
At another point, my penis was in her mouth and I was caressing as far as I could reach between her legs. My chin ploughed through her juices while my tongue probed.
At yet another point, her twisting bent me, but even when it hurt, I didn't care. This wasn't about carnal pleasure; it was about conquest and surrender, both ways for both of us, the blitzkrieg of intercourse.
They say at forty (I didn't believe the number, but it was true), a woman wants her love slow and floating. But Greta, like me, wanted what we'd missed. When we finally let ourselves go, slamming on the bed where she'd once manipulated my boyhood, our skin was awash with smeared semen, sweat, secretions and saliva.
In Oslo, she'd still seemed older, creamy, exotically cool, almost. But here in Flat Lake a dozen years amounted to nothing as I pumped my pubescent reserve into the warmth of teenage virgin.
"Oh, God. I didn't know I still could hit the high note," her self-pleasure so merited.
Not leaving me wonder why she didn't know, "Maybe it's my Lutheran thing, but after you, the ones I slept with in Norway, I mostly had to pretend. The girls where I lived, we'd give each other 'Acting the Big Act" scores," she smiled. "But with you, then it wasn't pretend. That's why my roommates liked to stay."
I didn't smile. It made me sad, the idea of another in her bed, even there.
"Then you're not going to believe this either," to change the subject.
"No, I don't. You were a sailor."
"Easier plumbing, maybe," the Flat Lake maleness not wanting to admit how small the count.
"It was good I went to Norway, Andrew. I had to show myself I could be pretty. It just got old, though, pretending."
"You're very pretty. I knew that the first day you walked in and told us about geology."
And we both knew we were at last telling the truth.
Hardly anybody at the VFW recognized me, at least enough to drag me into the knots of exaggerated recollections. It didn't matter because I had Miss Hanson to talk with. "Greta" sounded odd in the setting. Fortunately, sitting in the corner where they'd stashed the parade flags, the scratches below my ear didn't show. She'd been appalled at our afternoon's carnage and I told her that we couldn't do it again until I was healed.
"So are you all well yet?" she whispered while the classmate with the most kids was applauded. Six, but he'd been married three times.
"I think so."
She reached below the table. "Yea, I think so, too. Bet I still can, if you sit straight."
"Let's dance," to stop her.
After the final toasts, a dozen cars made their individual ways to the lake, dispersing along the shore. From the first-love reunions I'd witnessed at the VFW, I wasn't surprised.
Greta sat on my lap, facing, our bodies connected top and bottom. Neither of us wanted it to end, me as still as when in sixth grade I'd surrendered to the measure of her fingers. Now it was to the rise and fall of her vagina, milking me into her as she flushed in fulfillment.
"Actually," she challenged afterwards, not bothering to redo her stockings, "you wanted me to, there under the table."
Later that night, after comparing notes on who was who ("That was Kathleen Penner? I didn't recognize her and her last name's different. I thought she was just a spouse."), we floated, me hard and immobile within her until she jostled. When she couldn't hold back any longer and came, the ripples rolled up and down around me, shimmering.
She had to have been internally raw from the afternoon's excesses. Certainly my penis felt so. But climaxing without motion exacerbated none of our abrasions; perhaps we could have loved as joyfully even inches apart, sharing just our eyes. Perhaps I'll never know completeness, but at least I know its taste.
Apparently no teacher at Flat Lake had ever left at forty. What would Miss McGraw have done besides go to church?
We married that Christmas in Flat Lake Lutheran because they were her family. When I twirled her around at the reception (Luther didn't worry about married couples doing it) only us nuptials knew we'd danced to "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" in Oslo. I'd found the 78.
Atlee at the barbershop noted that my rental parked at Miss Hanson's after the reunion hadn't passed unnoticed. But small town folk can turn an eye if nobody loses money or you aren't relatives.
"She's a little older, right?" as if Atlee didn't know exactly. "She'll make you a good wife, that Miss Hanson. Still pretty as a picture, if you don't mind me saying."
"No sir, I don't mind one bit."
He wouldn't charge for the trim; it was so I'd look like I was still from around these parts, he judged.
A tragic year, an annum that perpetuates a reporter's career. I'd gone to the Chicago Tribune and we lived just a commute westward. Greta, of course, had returned to the classroom. You don't deny what's God-given. The Kent State follow-up was only what I'd learned in the Navy -- follow the leads, assemble the pieces. It shouldn't take the press to do it, though, but that's why they have prizes.
Greta and I still dance and I'm still the student. Kids these days like gyrating to "Honky Tonk Women" or maybe "Bad Moon Rising". I know because of where I go to get my stories. Probably because I stay with my Atlee-style haircut, they trust me. They're confused, these kids, practicing free love in the liberated lecture halls while others take bullets on the Green. Not wrong about the war part, but without the invincible innocence we had when we went to fight. To fight and to love.
I'll never master the tango. Greta's pretty good and can induce standing sex when she leans way back, but that's just in our living room. Of course if she's in a squirrelly mood at a party and somebody throws on a 33, she can make me climax to about any tune. And that's not the worst part. She darkly suggests that a few of her closer friends know when to watch, but won't tell me who they are. I just try not to give it away with my expression.
If they masturbate you at twelve, you're in for a long haul. It's just partly about sex, but that's how you remind each other. She says that her friends who know aren't fooled by my vacant smile and agree I'm great. Great at getting masturbated? I just report what I hear.
Greta and I can dance to "Sweet Caroline" and "Someday We'll Be Together". There's still plenty of good music for lovemaking.