Açedrex Publishing is proud to celebrate February and its most famous holiday by presenting the winner of our semi-secret quirky love story contest. “The Passion of Emerson Perkins” is Enjoy!
Roger Leatherwood worked on the lowest rungs of Hollywood for almost 2 decades before returning to print fiction where he could tell his own stories. His work has or will appear in Circa Literary Journal, Oysters & Chocolate, Nefarious Ballerina, Punchnel’s, European Trash Cinema and others. He can be found at rogerleatherwood.wordpress.com.
THE PASSION OF EMERSON PERKINS
What Emerson Perkins always wanted to do with his life was clean up the environment. But he couldn’t do that himself; that wasn’t realistic. So first he resolved to clean up his life.
And so, one Saturday, after an afternoon of sitting alone in his apartment, after 35 years in the same city and two different addresses 5 blocks from each other, he started. In a methodical and final spring-cleaning, he collected all his possessions and went through them box by box, closet by closet and shelf by shelf, discarding what was no longer needed and reboxing only what was absolutely necessary.
He wasn’t quite sure how much was really necessary. Emerson Perkins needed change. He couldn’t exactly put his finger on it. He intended to clear through all the stuff, and make it into some kind of event. It turned out not very much was necessary to his life after all.
Books he’d read long ago and had strong attachments to he realized he would never reread. He loved them the first time, he knew them, and reliving the initial surprise of turning the pages was something he finally, realistically admitted to himself would not happen again, could never happen again.
He would trade them away. Boxes and boxes of books. It was his first, small effort to recycle.
Books he didn’t like so much, but that still held some unknown promise of grander wonders he’d been unable to put his finger on the first time – he actually did keep. Maybe he didn’t quite get them yet. These might actually supply enjoyment in the future.
Music he hadn’t listened to in quite a while was also discarded much easier than Emerson Perkins had thought they’d be. He had a collection of almost 200 records he hadn’t played since he was in school, and after all, most of it was available elsewhere, in stores or at the library. If he hadn’t listened to it in years, did he really need to keep it around? Many of them were souvenirs of when he’d had less refined musical tastes, and was swayed by popularity rather than by the beauty he might have heard. Most of these bold experimentations to find something new he’d heard only once, maybe a few twice. He would trade these away, too. And get much more money for them than for the books, even though the book were more rare. He took good care of his records. There were people out there who listened to music regardless of, thought Emerson, its inherent value or beauty.
His clothes were also sorted through. Old, worn beach towels and bed sheets without pillowcase matches – Emerson Perkins took it all to Goodwill and got a receipt, for tax deduction purposes.
Then his furniture. This stuff was the most profitable to get rid of. He took it all to the swap meet early Sunday morning in the back of a pickup truck belonging to a guy at work. Emerson had to buy him a six-pack of beer, and while this guy relieved himself on the pavement behind the truck every so often, ribbing Emerson over his new-found frugality between belches and cigarettes, Emerson quietly sold away his possessions, bargaining down the prices as the day went on, making over $400 neat. He got rid of his appliances and his extra plates as well, coffee mugs, and glasses. He sold his TV, and his chairs except for one. No more coffee machine or electric can opener. He’d use the manual means instead and save electricity.
The only luxury he kept was his cassette tape player. His stack of handmade tapes were not valuable in the current market.
Having divested himself of much that had encumbered him for more of his life than he found pleasure in remembering, Emerson Perkins continued his efforts by getting rid of his current job. At the small accounting office where he worked, he went into his superior’s office that Monday morning and told him, simply, that he wasn’t going to work there any more. He then informed his assistant of the decision, and walked out, past all the confused and doubting faces, thus erasing a major burden on his time and energies in one quick, painless announcement.
Emerson Perkins had succeeded in cleaning up his life. It was approaching being a blank, a person without burdens or connections. Soon he would be able to focus his energies on what he wanted to do, which was cleaning up the environment. He would have no distractions. Not of these things. Weighing him down, getting in his way of feeling streamlined and self-contained.
His memories were like photographs he had taken while on a trip of Italy. He could thumb through them as his leisure, and although he couldn’t offer them up as “proof” he had been there, they were cold comfort. But then, photos no matter how dear could be misplaced. What then? No matter. Nothing could take away the fact that he had experienced all those things.
Books, music, furniture, work, why hang on to the tawdry souvenirs of life with no value? He had lived it, Emerson Perkins told himself. Wasn’t that enough? What more was there to life?
And yet, one souvenir remained to be had – obtained, memorized, grown tired of and then discarded. Emerson Perkin’s life was uncluttered and unmessy. Too much so. Emerson Perkins was a virgin.
Emerson Perkins had not intended to remain a virgin all his 35 years. There were no religious convictions or moral trepidations he’d harbored that prevented him from ever getting into a relationship with a woman that he cared about or that cared about him; a situation some afternoon or evening in which they felt comfortable, began to kiss, to explore each other’s bodies, and to explore the sexual, sensual responses that came naturally and early if in a clumsy rush for most people.
And it wasn’t that Emerson Perkins had never been in love. He had in fact been in love twice. The fist time had been in grade school, but in retrospect he told himself it was more of a crush than really love. She was named Laura, and her skin, Emerson remembered, seemed to look very soft. She smiled a lot when she talked to her friends, although she never talked to Emerson. She never talked to any of the other boys, either, and wasn’t particularly popular, or funny, or loud. Her skin just looked – well, she smiled a lot.
All the other boys liked Laura, too. They talked about her in rude and disrespectful ways on the playground, Emerson remembered, as they tried to sound adult or knowing. They didn’t know anything about what they were talking about at all. Emerson didn’t join in these discussions. He only listened. She never talked to them either. After the school year ended Emerson never saw Laura again. Perhaps her parents had moved away.
Twenty-five years later, Emerson Perkins wished he knew where on this planet Laura had gone.
The second time Emerson Perkins fell in love, he felt like he had fallen in love for the first time. It was with the girl that lived in the house across the street and one over. After his first year in high school they spent the summer going to movies, delivering magazines, and once learning how to roller-skate at the rink when a minor flood closed the mall temporarily for a weekend.
They never consummated that romance officially. He had never actually told her he loved her, and she had never said it either. When they returned to school that September, in the same home room, happy coincidence, he’d accidentally found out that she was sleeping with the guy that used to give her rides home from his parents.
That wasn’t exactly how he’d first heard it. The guy’s name was Ron King, and during the lunch one day, out on the patio Emerson and two other guys, named Phil and Bobby, had been talking about nothing and everything and Ron, who was on the football team and had a dumb look and meant Emerson no harm, had gotten onto the topic of those rides home in his parents’ car and had mentioned that he had fucked her in the back seat the night before.
Emerson nearly choked on his sandwich. Phil and Bobby laughed and wanted to hear all the details.
Emerson Perkins never forgot Ron King. Emerson saw the girl every day in school for the rest of the year after that. And yet, her name he did forget.
He didn’t forget how it felt. Emerson Perkins stayed to himself. He was not what anyone would call a social animal. And now he was at a loss.
He knew, resolved, somehow, that he should figure out a way to be with a woman. He wanted to get laid. But he didn’t want to go downtown and drive slowly by the hookers on Lucent or along Parker. The thought made him too nervous and break out. Instead, he went to a bar known as a local pick-up joint. Even by him. It was within walking distance of his apartment, which was good because he had sold his car too.
The bar was called the Finish Line. Emerson Perkins sat quietly at a back table nursing a gin cocktail, in his newly pressed thin cotton gray suit, the only one he kept in case of a job interview. It was the suit he wore to weddings although he hadn’t been to one in over five years. He felt good in it. He loved the way it hung on his chest: he thought it make him look handsome, which was actually the case because Emerson Perkins was not an ugly man. He wasn’t particularly thin or gangly, or have a pock-marked face. He didn’t wear thick glasses and he was always well groomed. He just tended to act like he wasn’t very important. He’d learned to carry himself like he didn’t make a difference, as if his presence here, or there, or wherever he happened to be, didn’t amount to a whole lot in the larger scheme of things. And that countenance became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Emerson intended to change that shortly, to start working on cleaning up the environment, to give of himself and make a difference, instead of merely to co-exist, to survive in a gray blur of routine.
As soon as he got this business at hand out of the way. So in the meantime, he sat with his gin cocktail, at a back table.
And that’s how it went for much of the evening. He was too shy to approach anyone, so he tried to look handsome and available. He quickly got bored with this. Everyone ignored him. It wasn’t that he wasn’t used to that. But he didn’t want to go home, because there was nothing to do there, except read books he wasn’t really sure he liked and listen to music he was always listening to. He should have traded all that, too. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to do it last week.
And he still hadn’t really attacked the problem of how he would go about working on his environmental concerns now that he had all this free time and so few distractions. He might even have screwed up his references. Emerson Perkins didn’t know exactly how to go about doing what he had to do next.
Had Emerson Perkins lived? Really experienced life? Was it too late for him to turn it around, and change the directions of his actions?
“I used to be an accountant,” Emerson said.
He was talking to a woman who sat down next to him a short time later that evening. “Boring, isn’t it?”
She laughed. She became sympathetic to Emersion when he had reached for the check and spilled his third drink on the table, embarrassed and making a noise that caused half the people in the bar to look at him for the first time that night. He didn’t seem to be on the make, like everyone else seemed to be here in the Finish Line.
She was brunette. About five years older than Emerson.
“Now what do you do?”
“Right now I’m kind of at liberty.”
He saw the hint of a grimace cross her face.
“I do have some money saved up,” he awkwardly added. “I’m taking some time off. From working, to get my life in order.”
She nodded, as if waiting for more. She was drinking a greenish margarita, the shade almost had a glow to it. She held it between her relaxed hands, twirling it in a circle on the table.
He added, “What I really want to do is clean up the environment.”
She nodded and then she didn’t say anything else. Emerson thought her mind had gone blank, like his life.
“What do you do, Marilyn?” Marilyn was her name.
“I’m with the Travelgraph Resolute Company.” She smiled. “I sell projectors for classrooms. Overheads?” She was a little embarrassed.
“Why the look?”
“We’re not doing well. They’re rather old-fashioned.”
He thought to himself that she probably wouldn’t be able to help him with the environment.
She did later agree to go to his apartment with him, with the clear understanding that they were only going to have a nightcap. They walked there, of course, and when they got inside Marilyn was surprised to see that all his possessions were in boxes, and not many of them at that.
Emerson explained that he wasn’t moving. Just getting his life in order.
They talked for a while longer and they sipped wine out of the two water glasses Emerson still had. Soon the evening got to the point where it was going to be time for Emerson to either say goodnight or make a move on Marilyn. She knew this at the same time he did and sat on the floor, across from him, legs crossed.
She looked up at the wall, and counted nail holes, recently empty. She smiled to herself. She told herself she was in no hurry.
For a moment Emerson Perkins reconsidered why he had brought Marilyn to his apartment. His life was in the process of being cleaned out. He wanted more than anything to have something worth getting rid of, some memory a little more difficult to jettison than by merely going down to the nearest thrift store. Before restarting his life, before turning over a new leaf, Emerson Perkins wanted to feel like he had given something up. And Marilyn was being so nice so far. To him.
“Well,” she said. “Maybe I should get going soon.” There was a hesitance in her voice.
The moment was escaping him.
“Ah…wait a minute…” He inched closer. He sat across from her. “Marilyn.”
She uncrossed her legs and sat sideways, stretching them. “What are you trying to say, Emerson?” She smiled disarmingly. “You can tell me.”
“I’ve never done this before.”
“That’s okay. I have.” She placed her hand on his. “It’s easy.”
They went to the other room and sat on his futon, in the middle of the room by itself. The only other thing was the tape player, the stack of cassettes next to it.
And Emerson went to bed with Marilyn. He tried to be gentle and she helped him. He took his time because he was afraid of making a mistake. He also wasn’t sure if he would have another chance. Marilyn told him how to sit, and how to lie and how to balance. He didn’t want to be selfish, think only of himself, even though that was exactly why he’d initiated this tryst.
“It’s okay to be selfish,” Marilyn said at one point. But Emerson couldn’t be completely selfish. He had already decided that his own personal comfort was less important than what he could do for those around him. “You don’t seem to be all here.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I guess I’m distracted.”
Emerson had so much to do, not the least of which was to disentangle thoughts of Marilyn from the front of his consciousness, and from his self-proclaimed life’s work.
“I see,” she said, to herself. She rolled over and went to her clothes, which she’d laid neatly in a pile next to his. “I should be going soon.” The comment hung in the empty apartment like a Christmas ornament in July. “And I have to get up early—”
Emerson sat up also. “Don’t leave. Not yet.”
“Please? Stay a while…? I don’t know what to do. I have nothing here, Marilyn.” He gestured to the room.
“I can see.” And so she stayed.
“It’s lonely,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get my life in order. I gave it all up. To start over, to help the community. The environment. You see?”
She didn’t. At least, she said she didn’t. She actually did understand but it didn’t sound like he believed her. She asked him to explain.
He couldn’t, of course. He tried again the next morning, while Marilyn and him at breakfast, after they and made love again, slower this time, yes, even slower than last night, which drove Marilyn a little nuts, because it was sure to turn out all right that way. He served the food on a single plate because he’d used the other one to drain the bacon. They pecked the food with two forks.
He didn’t bring up the subject the following week, when they saw each other again. Or at all during the next few months. Marilyn didn’t move in. She insisted that she had a good head on her shoulders and didn’t want to rush into that kind of thing again.
But she came over to his apartment all the time because there were no prying neighbors, and she helped him with his resume and getting some new art on the walls, and gave him moral support while he interviewed for jobs. And she helped him celebrate when he finally landed a high-paying position at a renowned financial firm in amid a corporate turnover. Marilyn moved in shortly after that, when she realized it was the next, if not the right, thing to do.
What Emerson Perkins had wanted to do was clean up this life. Surround himself only with what was necessary.
The environment would have to wait.