Earth's the Right Place for Love
Sometimes Arthur snuck out of his house at night. He didn’t go anywhere, just sat on the back steps outside the kitchen door. Here, he pondered things that were too big to fit inside the bedroom he shared with his older brother, Frank. Even in sleep, Frank seemed a large and nearly incandescent presence. A person like Frank didn’t leave a lot of room for a guy like Arthur, unintentional though it was. And Arthur didn’t mind, really. Being outside was a reminder to him that there was a place for all things, and, in that respect, didn’t everything have equal value? Off to the side in the backyard, for instance, were daisies. Up above was the majesty of the moon and the stars and the rings of Saturn that he knew were there whether he could see them or not. And here, sitting on the steps in his pajamas, was Arthur, feeling that he was right where he should be. For him, life was like a gift perpetually ready for the opening. Cockeyed optimist, Frank called him, but Arthur wasn’t sure he was cockeyed at all.
He wished that a certain someone would care to hear his thoughts. Hear and understand them. He guessed that everyone came to a time in their life when they started to be aware of a specific kind of loneliness. It reminded him of filmstrips he’d seen in science class: seeds buried in the earth and then sprouting, growing what looked like arms reaching out. On the rough concrete beneath him, he traced out the letters to her name: NOLA. Then he went back inside.
The next day, after school let out, Arthur went again to the chain-link fence near the front entrance of the high school and waited, hoping to catch a glimpse of Nola McCollum. He’d been doing this for several days now. Sometimes he smashed down dirt clods, a poor attempt to seem like he was doing something. More often he stood sideways, as though his attention were taken up by something off in the distance.
If she did not come out, he knew she had stayed after for one reason or another: a club meeting, cheerleading practice, rehearsal for a concert or a play. But if she did come out, he watched as she descended the steps and turned left toward home.
Nola was very popular, and almost always with a group of friends and admirers; Arthur once counted twelve people with her. But today she came out by herself, and everything in Arthur ratcheted up to high alert.
She was looking down and smiling, seemingly lost in thought. He liked the brown tweed skirt and yellow sweater she was wearing, and the way her coat was open to the mild April day. It was a chance for him finally to talk to her alone, to say . . . Well, that was the problem. To say what? She was mythical to him, barely real. But there she was, carrying books and wearing socks and shoes like everyone else. Just as she passed Arthur, the wind lifted her black hair and blew it across her face. Arthur swallowed around the boulder in his throat and called out, “Hey, Nola!”
She moved her hair aside and turned to look at him. “Oh, hi, Arthur!”
He walked up to her, his heart banging in his chest.
“I’m glad to see you,” she said.
“Oh!” he said. “Well, that’s nice!”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you if you could do me a favor.” She turned her head and regarded him sideways, her eyebrows raised. Was she flirting with him?
“Sure! What is it?”
“Well . . . it’s just that, like a lot of other girls, I have a crush on your brother.”
Arthur’s heart sank. “Frank?”
“Uh-huh. Gosh, I’m embarrassed to ask you, but do you think there’s any chance . . . Can I give you my number to give to him?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Sure.”
She pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil and wrote down the number. When she looked up, she smiled at him. “I’m probably being foolish,” she said. She folded the paper and handed it to him.
Arthur shoved it deep into his pocket. “You know what?” he said. “I think it’s a good idea to let someone know you care about them. They might not be aware.” He tried to look meaningfully into her eyes.
But Nola only said, “You’re so nice to say that. Thanks for not making fun of me.”
“I would never make fun of you, Nola.”
She hiked up her shoulders. “Well, that’s that!”
“Right,” Arthur said.
“See you,” she said, and her gaze lingered on him for a moment. Then she walked away.
Arthur watched her go. It was awfully sweet, the way she’d said, “See you.” And he thought she’d looked at him in a way she never had before. Maybe she’d never really noticed him before, but now something could have been planted in her brain. Oh, sure, she’d approached him wanting him to give her number to his brother, but wasn’t it possible she’d been aware that she was giving it to Arthur, too?
As Arthur started to head home, someone else came out of the building: Harvey Guldorp, a boy even more invisible in their sophomore class than Arthur believed he himself was. Harvey was wearing a winter cap with the ear flaps down and the chin strap firmly affixed, despite the mild weather. “Hey Arthur,” Harvey said, “why are you always hanging around after school lets out?” “Ferret,” some people called Harvey, for the way he was always finding things out. “What are you waiting for?”
“Nothing,” Arthur said.
So far, it wasn’t a lie.
“You want to come over and read Green Hornet comics?” Harvey asked. “I got some new ones.”
Arthur didn’t. But he knew enough about rejection to say, “Sure.” And so he moved away from his fantasy of making headway with Nola and into the reality of Harvey Guldorp’s invitation to read comics in what Arthur imagined to be Harvey’s messy bedroom, overheated and no doubt smelling of Vicks VapoRub.