Blazing sun baked the pavement. Sweat soaked Amy’s bra. It dripped down her back and into her underwear. She sat on the brick wall outside the mall’s north entrance, exactly where she told Mom she’d be. She waited and waited. The smell of asphalt from the parking lot paving job was beginning to give her a headache. Cordoned-off parking spots might come in handy for back-to-school shoppers, but the work crew wasn’t in a rush to finish. Amy was hot and wanted to go home.
Amy looked at her thighs. She hated the way they oozed from her shorts like bread dough. “Gross,” she said aloud. Sensing eyes upon her, Amy peered over her white Wayfarers and in the general direction of the looker. One of the workers smiled and called, “Mamacita! You waiting for your man? Want me to give you a ride?” He made a thrusting motion with his hips, grinned, and looked toward the others. They laughed. Redness crept up Amy’s face. She choked back tears. “Where the hell is Mom?” she screamed inside her head. Then she spotted the sky-blue VW Beetle.
Gil rode shotgun with Uncle Moby driving. He saw her and motioned for Moby to pull around in front of her. “Thank God! Can you give me a ride? My loser mom was supposed to be here an hour ago,” Amy pleaded. “Sure. We’re going to pick up papers for my route. Leslie left you hangin’ again?” Gil asked. Amy didn’t answer. She climbed into the back seat. The vinyl burnt her thighs. She considered it a fitting end to the disastrous shopping trip.
Amy turned the key and flung open the door. Cold air greeted her. Leslie had remembered to turn on the air conditioning. Calls of “Mom? You home?” were met with silence. “Figures,” Amy thought. She flipped on the television. The universe seemed determined to pour salt into wounds. The first thing she saw was skinny Brooke Shields talking about how nothing comes between her and her Calvins. “Are you kidding?” Amy muttered and lunged toward the television to switch it off.
Still stinging from what happened at the mall, Amy flopped onto her bed. All she wanted was a pair of Calvins. She saved up her babysitting money for months. Leslie dropped her off, and Amy went straight to Marshall Fields. Those jeans were the first thing on her list. At the display of neatly folded denim, she gazed up at the placard of Brooke Shields. “May I help you?” the clerk inquired. “Uuuum. I’m looking for some jeans for school,” Amy replied. “We have some over there,” the clerk gestured toward the “Plus-Sizes.” “No, I mean these,” Amy pointed to the table. Her anxiety rose. “Hmmm. What size?” the clerk asked. She knew Amy couldn’t wear any of them. “Maybe the largest one,” Amy laughed. The clerk looked uncomfortable. She pulled a pair from the bottom of the pile, handed them to Amy, and said, “The fitting rooms are over there.” When all was said and done, Amy left the jeans in a pile on the fitting room floor. Tears streaming, she couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Amy surveyed the walls of her bedroom. Posters of bands and musicians covered every inch. Music was her salve. Opposite her bed hung a poster of The Beatles. Her dad loved them, especially John Lennon. She listened to their music with him when she was little. Revolver was his favorite album. After he left, she never saw him again. She blamed Leslie. Mom was a lot to deal with. Who could blame him for leaving?
Amy’s maternal grandmother, Mamo Doyle, felt guilty about the mistakes she’d made as a parent. “You have to show your mum some grace, love,” she would say in her lilting Irish accent, “She’s had a rough go.” Amy loved Mamo but often wondered how “rough” Leslie had it compared to the rest of the world. Everyone has problems. Mamo always made excuses for Mom. Everyone suffered while Leslie looked for answers at the bottom of a bottle or in some guy’s bed. Amy’s eyes began to feel heavy. Sadness melted into sleep. Sleep gave way to dreams of music and happiness and fitting into those jeans.
Even in August, summertime sunsets come late in southern Ohio. Amy awoke disoriented from her nap. She rolled over and looked at the clock. Wandering from room to room, turning on lights, she checked to see if Mom was home yet. She wasn’t. “Whatever,” Amy muttered. She was starving. She opened the fridge and found a Tupperware container of fried chicken with a note from Mom, “Don’t eat it all in one sitting, darling. Boys don’t make passes at plain and plump lasses!” “God, I hate you, skinny bitch!” Amy thought. Then, out of spite, she ate it all.
Amy plopped onto the couch and thumbed through a People magazine. Lady Diana Spencer graced the cover. She admired the slim, pretty, ivory-complected young aristocrat. “I wish I looked like her. I bet she’s size 2,” Amy said aloud. She was deep in thought and mentally calculating how much weight she could lose before school began for her to fit into those Calvins when the doorbell rang. It was Gil. “You okay?” he asked, pushing past her and entering without asking. That’s the way it was with them. He knew she needed him and that she’d never admit it.
Amy met Gilford Blunt back in grade school. They bonded over their shared experience with a bully named Danny Cotton. Danny had persuaded kids to call Amy “Amy Fat One” because she was chubby and her last name was Stratton. Gil was odd, skinny, gangly, and small. The Blunt family was even stranger. They were a large family and poor. Gil’s clothes were hand-me-downs from his older, much larger brothers. His clothes and stature were a favorite subject of Danny’s cruelty.
Amy and Gil also shared a passion for music. They spent hours after school listening to records on Amy’s junky record player. In the beginning, most were 45’s from the collection Amy’s dad left. As they got older, each introduced the other to new music. They shared LPs received as gifts or bought with hard-earned cash from Amy’s babysitting or Gil’s paper route. Gil was partial to heavy rock like Motorhead, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin. Amy liked all kinds, from pop and rock to disco and even country. The Beatles were her favorite, though. Their music reminded her of her father.
Gil sat opposite Amy at the kitchen table. “What happened at the mall?” he asked. “It’s embarrassing,” she responded. “You didn’t have enough money for your school clothes? That’s happened to me,” he sympathized. “No, it wasn’t that. I can’t wear the clothes other girls do. I wanted some Calvin Klein jeans, but I’m too fat.” As much as he wanted to, Amy knew Gil didn’t understand. He didn’t see her the way kids at school did. He didn’t see her the way she saw herself. “Forget about it. I don’t want to think about it anymore,” she said. Looking down, he nodded, “Wanna ride bikes down to DQ and get ice cream?” Amy flashed a broad smile. “Hey, you’ve got chicken in your braces,” he said. Hearing this from anyone else would’ve mortified her. But this was Gil, and he “got” her. “Thanks!” she laughed. Nothing more needed to be said.
September’s start of school arrived. Sophomore year proved challenging for Amy and Gil. Amy’s mom got diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and had only weeks to live. Gil’s dad lost his job and the family’s house. His siblings were scattered across the country and sent to live with various relatives. Gil moved in with Uncle Moby. Both Amy and Gil sleepwalked through schooldays. The thoughts, opinions, and talk of other kids was white noise amidst a maelstrom. Not fitting into Calvin Klein jeans seemed silly compared to losing her only remaining parent, as shitty a parent as Leslie was. Gil and Amy found shelter from the storm within their friendship, like they always had. One day after school, Gil invited Amy to accompany him on his paper route. “I’ll drive the bike. You can sit on the handlebars and toss papers into yards. It’s fun. I pretend I’m pitching for The Reds when I ride with Moby,” he said. Amy wanted to go, but she wasn’t sure about the logistics. “You won’t be able to pedal with my fat ass on there,” she replied, “I’ll just ride my bike.” Gil’s route was long enough to allow them time to process the day’s events. Afterward, they went back to Amy’s to listen to records, like they always did. It became their daily ritual.
On a frigid day in early December, Amy’s Calculus class was interrupted by the school secretary’s voice over the intercom. Her grandmother was there to pick her up. Amy knew why. Approaching the office, she could see Mamo. She looked distressed and pale. Mamo greeted Amy with a kiss on the cheek. She whispered, “Come, child, we must go. Your mum’s passed.” Leslie’s cancer had been too advanced for treatment. Palliative care was the only option. Hospice was called. From the start, Amy knew it was a matter of time. Every day after school, she expected to come home to the news. Every day after school, when it didn’t happen, Amy called Gil to come over so they could deliver papers. She wondered if it felt weird for him to be hanging out in a house with someone on the verge of death. If it did, he never said anything. Then again, Amy knew he never would. When she didn’t call him that day after school, he knew…and he came anyway.
Mamo knocked gently on Amy’s bedroom door. “Amy, love, Gil’s here,” she said quietly. Amy met him outside. “It’s okay,” Amy said, “There’s no dead body in there. They already took her away.” The rawness of Amy’s words stunned Gil, but, knowing her as he did, he understood and read her pain. “Wanna come on my route with me to get away from…all this,” he gestured toward the building. “Sure,” she replied. Her relief was palpable.
They rode in silence, punctuated by Gil’s occasional grunt with a long toss. “Have you watched any television or listened to the radio,” he asked. “Nope, we spent the day at the funeral home. Why?” she asked. “There’s something I need to tell you,” he replied, “I want you to hear it from me, not the tv or radio.” Amy stopped pedaling. Gil continued, “Uuuum. It’s John Lennon. Some guy shot him. Amy, he’s dead.” Amy felt like the ground beneath her gave way, and she was falling through a dark chasm. “What? Noooo! This can’t be happening!” she shouted. She stood, frozen astride her bike. “Are you alright?” a panicked Gil asked, “I know you love The Beatles…and him. I thought you should know.” Amy threw her bike down. “Let me up there,” she insisted, “let me onto the handlebars.” Gil sat back and steadied the bike. Amy lumbered onto the perch. “Peddle!” she demanded, “Peddle as fast as you can!” Gil obeyed.
Soon they were flying down Driftwood Boulevard. Biting wind stung Amy’s face and flowed through her long red hair, whipping it into Gil’s eyes and almost eclipsing his vision. Her heart pounded. She was sure she would soon rise into the sky and clouds would envelop her. When the road came to an abrupt end, Amy jumped to the ground and collapsed into a sobbing heap. It was dark now. Poor asthmatic Gil gasped for air. He laid his bike down, knelt beside Amy, and placed his hand on her back. She convulsed in tears.
The next day was even colder. The sky was a mournful dove-gray and dotted with big lacey snowflakes. Mamo laid out a black wool skirt and some black tights along with a fuzzy black sweater. The sweater had a white lamb on the chest to her heart’s right. It reminded Amy of a sweater she once saw Lady Di wear. The whole day was a blur of hugs and tears from people Amy pretended to know. The whispers and pitying looks made her feel like her head might explode. When she glimpsed a familiar face, calmness settled over her. “Hey,” said Gil. “Hey,” she replied. “You okay?” he asked. “Yeah,” she said. “Cool,” he responded, nodding. “Call me if you want. I could use your help with the route. It’s been cold, so Moby’s been driving me. The Bug needs an alternator now. He’s gotta order one, so it’ll be a while before he can help again,” he continued. “Yeah.” Amy said, “I can help.” Gil nodded, turned, and disappeared into the crowd of mourners. Amy knew he wanted to say more. She figured he couldn’t find the right words, like everyone else. She longed for him to hug her and regretted not reaching out to hug him.
Amy felt like she was watching some strange movie about someone else’s life. People bending over her, putting their faces in hers, touching her, hugging her, and crying. She stood like a zombie. She stood there watching the movie. Once everyone had gone, Mamo wrapped Amy’s coat around her shoulders and squeezed. “I know that was bloody hard for you. It was hard for me, too, but it’s over now. Thank God!” Mamo linked arms with Amy. The two made their way outside. Gil was waiting. “Go on, Mamo. I’ll see you at home,” Amy said. Mamo looked at Gil, then back at Amy, and nodded.
Astride his bike, Gil offered a tiny smile. He started singing. “You say you want a revolution. Weeell, ya know. We all wanna change the world.” Revolution was Gil’s favorite Beatle’s song. He said it had a hard rock edge he liked. Amy sang back, “You tell me that it’s evolution. Weeell, you know. We all want to change the world.” “Hop on,” he said. They headed down Canal Street. Gil peddled as fast as his skinny legs could. They sang Revolution at the top of their lungs. They rode and sang. They rode to the edge of town. They rode until they were out of breath from screaming the last “alriiight” of the chorus.
Gil was spent and stopped to catch his breath. Amy hopped off and sat down on the curb. Gil tossed the bike to the ground and joined her. Still gasping for air, Gil said, “It’s true, ya know.” “What’s true?” she asked. “It’s gonna be alright. Everything’s gonna be alright.” Amy was taken aback by the words…by the thought. She stared at Gil with tear-filled eyes. Her lip quivered. She glanced at her feet, then back up at Gil. She nodded, and, in that moment, Amy felt like it just might be.