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4674 words
SHJ Issue 7
Spring 2013

Maybe Baby

by Thomas E. Kennedy

The year is 1958. It is summer, three months since you turned fourteen, three weeks since you completed freshman year at Bishop Loughlin boy’s high school, and three days since Antonia Giangrande, the sister of your friend Joey, told you that Beatriz Gomez de Gomez likes you. Now, with your friends Joey and Pancho following, your polished Flagg Brothers shoes lead you with purposeful strides to the St. Bartholomew’s School girls annex where Beatriz Gomez de Gomez is in eighth grade. You intend to kiss Beatriz Gomez de Gomez. And because Joey and Pancho are aware of your intentions, you will have to do it. And you are frightened.

She is there on the play street outside the school. It is recess. She is wearing her school uniform, pleated grey skirt, white knee socks, white blouse with a maroon SBS embroidered on the pocket of the swelling front. Her face is part Indian, almond eyes, one of which is now squinted against the sun as she smiles at you. She has dimples. Your mouth is dry. She stands alone. Now is your chance. Then Bobby Anne Hague steps up and begins to speak to Beatriz, but Beatriz’s eyes are still on you.

“You gonna do it?” Pancho urges.

“Shut up,” you snap out the side of your mouth and step up to her, pinch the loose material of the sleeve of her blouse and tug a little. She follows you to the shelter of a tree.

You say, “Hi.”

She says, “Hi?”

You clear your throat, say, “Some of us are going over to Joey and Antonia’s. Would you like to come? With me?”

Still smiling, still squinting one eye against the June sunlight, she says, “I would like to. With you.” But she has to go home first after school. She will meet you at four. This is unbearable. You want to kiss her as quickly as possible in order to end the agony of your fear of doing so. But she touches your arm—your bare arm—she touches your bare arm!—and then for a second she lays the warm palm of one hand against your chest. It feels so good. Then she takes it away. The school bell is ringing end of recess. A nun in black robes and veil, her face framed in starched white, stares at you with small dark eyes from the doorway of the red brick school building. Beatriz starts toward the nun, looks back once, smiles.

Now you can not run. Shame would follow you forever. Because then you would have to start hanging around in another neighborhood, make all new friends, but who would want to be your friend, a boy who ran from a kiss? You do not want to run. You want this. More than anything else in your life you want this.

You wait in Joey’s half-dark living room for the minutes to pass until four, for Beatriz to arrive. A 45 plays on repeat on Joey’s Webcor, Buddy Holly & the Crickets singing “Maybe Baby.” Your stomach is queasy. Your left eye twitches. You look at your hand and see the trembling of your fingers. There is no exit. Antonia and Pancho and Joey sit eating from a fruit bowl in the dining area. You watch Joey select a fat peach, his thick black curls, black sideburns, full lips; Pancho, leanly muscular, his upper and lower teeth flashing in a Joker smile. There is a painting on the wall of a bare-breasted African woman. Pancho once sniggered at this painting, and Joey’s mother said indignantly, “That’s art!” You sit on the two-person sofa in the corner. Antonia, who is thin and dark with a wisp of dark fuzz on her upper lip, watches you with compassion. Joey is slurping juice from the peach, and Pancho is telling stupid jokes that he learned from his older brother Victor, so-called “Pierre” jokes. He does not understand that this is not a sexual moment. This is a moment of beauty unlike any you have ever experienced in all your fourteen years, something you have always wanted. You have always wanted to kiss a girl. You admit that freely to yourself now. Even when you were a little kid, forever, always, incessantly, you wanted to kiss a girl. More than anything you wanted to kiss a girl, but you never guessed how afraid you would be. Your older brother tells you stories about how he drives home from Rockaway Beach through Cross Bay in his ’50 Ford convertible while some bimbo nibbles his ear and jazz plays on his car radio, and he is so cool. You realize abruptly that you are not cool. You are scared, and Beatriz is so beautiful with her high cheekbones and almond eyes and white smiling teeth and dimpled cheeks, her round hips and narrow waist and the sweetness of her knees showing between her pleated skirt and knee socks and her...breasts. That is the word. Breasts. Not the other word—she deserves better than that.

And oh god now the doorbell buzzes, and it could only be Beatriz, and you are not ready, you are such a punk, such an uncool punk with your Buddy Holly glasses and hair that keeps collapsing, but Antonia opens the door, and it is Beatriz, wearing a pink, open-throated blouse, so sheer you can see she wears a blue bra, her legs bare in white shorts, tight between her thighs so you get dizzy she is so beautiful. You rise to your feet and start to hold out your hand to her but it is shaking so you only gesture to the seat beside you on the sofa, and she comes right over to you. She has made a deal and she is keeping it. She takes your half out-stretched hand, and the two of you sit and look into one another’s eyes.

She says, “Can I see you without your glasses?”

You know that people who wear glasses look weird when they take them off, but you see no way around this. You take them off, fold them, put them on the coffee table and look at her.

She says, “You’re cute without your glasses.” You feel your mouth sag, and she adds, “I mean, you’re cute with them, too,” and you remember that she told Antonia that she liked you before she ever saw you without your glasses. The blood is pounding in your ears, and you think, Well? Go on. And by god you kiss her. Just like that! You kiss her. On the mouth. Slowly, softly. Now you are glad your glasses are off, as you slide your lips across her cheek and fold your arms around her, palms flat against her warm back, and she leans into you, her body fits so wonderfully against yours, and you kiss the soft place where her neck meets her shoulder, kiss under her chin and alongside her nose, then one by one you kiss her hands, the backs and then the soft yielding cups of her palms. You close your eyes and are so happy and Buddy is singing “Maybe Baby,” and goddamn, now she is kissing your neck and squeezing your hand tight as if she needs to cling to you, and then her fingers find the back of your head, and her fingernails are playing in the short hair there, and you dare to put your fingers underneath the long black drape of her hair, secret place where it curtains the nape of her silken neck, and you kiss her and you kiss her and Buddy sings “Maybe Baby.”

The world changes then. Everything has become different.

She whispers to you that she has to be home to help with dinner, but tomorrow is Saturday and she tells you she is free, and you ask if she would like to go with you to Rockaway Beach, and she says yes. She will meet you at the Woodside bus stop at ten. She turns away to go, but then turns back and looks at your face as though she wants to memorize it, she is looking everywhere on your face so you can feel her eyes seeing you. She reaches to the coffee table for your glasses, opens them carefully and slips them onto your face. Her palms bracket your checks as she kisses you once more and then is gone.

Antonia walks her home. Joey and Pancho, who at some point disappeared, re-emerge from the back room, and you can see that Joey looks differently at you now—with respect and envy but also the pleasure a friend feels for the good fortune of a friend. Pancho grins with his big white Joker teeth and cackles. “So, did Pierre behave himself, or what? Down, Pierre! Down!

You look at him with disdain. He is hopeless.


At Rockaway, Beach 98, you flap a white sheet out on the blazing hot white sand. Beatriz has brought sandwiches and a thermos of lemonade and paper cups and napkins, and you quickly strip to your swimsuit and flop onto your belly as she lifts her orange beach kimono over her head. The wonder of what you see as the kimono comes up and off convinces you that you will never be able to stand up again; you are trapped flat on your belly, the blazing hot sand burning through the white sheet, and your agony makes you grateful that you have chosen the swim suit you chose, one that holds things down and in place.

The day proceeds with a continual escalation of ecstasy. You kiss her in the water, bobbing in the waves, your fingers interlaced. You kiss her under the water, the two of you swimming toward one another, eyes opened, closed smiling lips meeting. You kiss the sea salt from her lips. You kiss her brown shoulders and her hands. You kiss her under the boardwalk where the sand is cool, the light muted. You kiss her behind a support post, her back leaned up against it, and your bodies press and rub together, and you realize that she could only have noticed the solidity of your consternation, but her eyes seem to tell you it is okay, she understands. She understands!

Afterwards, in the amusement park, you eat corn on the cob, salted and peppered and dripping with melted butter, and you kiss butter and salt from her lips and lead her by the hand into a photo booth—four pictures for a quarter—all four the same, the two of you with your mouths locked together, tongues touching, fingers in hair. You wait together impatiently by the booth for the strip of photos to fall out of the chute, Beatriz leaning against you, her shoulder beneath your arm, her hip against your...consternation...her dimples as she looks up into your eyes, and you don’t care how long it takes for the photos to be developed, you just want to be here with her, anywhere with her.

The photos plop out then, and you smile at one another as you study them, looking from the pictures to one another’s eyes, marveling at this photographic record of this amazing thing that is happening between you and her.

You tear the photo strip across the center—two pictures for her, two for you.

Your first mistake. Evidence.


Next morning your mother wakes you for Mass—which for once in your life will be a pleasure, you and Beatriz are going to Mass together, to sit side by side in the pew. You remember a movie you saw with Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens in which he kisses her in church and says, “I will kiss you in the house of God!” Your mother sees the pictures that you carelessly left out on your bureau and asks, in her most skeptical tone, “What is this?

You remember suddenly the time when you were eight and she caught you and Joannie Teofilo in the basement, Joanie’s shorts and underpants around her ankles as she allowed you to behold the beauty of the essence of girl, and your mother said, “Go upstairs, Walt. Joannie has to go home now.” Joanie left crying, and your mother, washing dishes in the kitchen, her back to you, said, “It’s all right this time because you didn’t know any better. But don’t ever do that again.”

You told her you were sorry, but you knew, you knew you would do it again at any and every chance you ever got. You just never got another chance. Until now. And this time you will take a stand.

Your mother asks, “Is this your friend Beatriz? She’s Latin American, isn’t she? You’d better be careful, Walt, in that culture sometimes a kiss is as good as a marriage proposal.”

And so what? you think. Then I could do what’s described in that book you showed me about the Sacred Act of Motherhood and Fatherhood for Catholic Boys & Girls. Where the sacred organs of motherhood are joined with the sacred organs of fatherhood in order for the sacred seed to find the sacred womb and create sacred new life.

You would be happy to do that with Beatriz!


You are late for Mass. You sponge yourself, brush your teeth, Brylcreem your pompadour, pull on black chinos and black T-shirt and your polished black leather Flagg Brothers shoes, comb your hair again, and hightail it across Elmhurst to the church. You haven’t missed the first principal part of the Mass yet, and you stand by the holy water font and survey the crowded pews of the eleven o’clock, your skin pleasantly sun-burned and your mind aswim with memories of Beatriz’s salt kisses. But where is she? You look and look, scanning pew after pew. No Beatriz.

Then someone comes up alongside you. Antonia. She signals with her eyes for you to step outside, and there on the top step of the broad concrete stairway leading down to Justice Avenue, she reports the terrible news: Señor Gomez de Gomez has found the pictures and has sent Beatriz away for the rest of the summer. In September, she will be entering a convent school in Dobb’s Ferry.

Frantic, you demand, “But where is she now?”

Antonia looks at your mouth. You know that Antonia likes you, but she is your friend’s sister. Out of the question. Besides, she is not your type, she is not Beatriz. “No one knows,” she says. “When I saw her this morning, she didn’t even know where she was being sent.”

“You saw her!”

“She gave me this for you,” Antonia says and hands you a small, fat envelope on which is written your name and upon your name an imprint of Beatriz’s pink lipsticked mouth. With trembling fingers, you open the envelope to find not a letter, but a steel ID bracelet on which is engraved BEATRIZ.

Antonia says, “It’s a girl’s bracelet but she said there was no time for anything else and she wanted you to have something to remember her by.”

You slip it over your hand and click shut the clasp, watch as it slips down your wrist towards your sunburned hand, stopped by the thickening bone. You look to Antonia’s thin face, her brown eyes, her large mouth, the fuzz above her full lips. You stand with your arms by your sides as she hugs you tightly.

She says, “I’m sorry,” but you just slouch down the stairway to the avenue, skip the rest of the Mass, walk home through the summer morning, wearing the ID bracelet with fierce pride although you feel the source of your pride is fragile as an egg. At home, you climb the stairs, shut yourself into your little room, turn on your Motorola radio, twist the dial to 1010 WINS New York, the AM rock and roll station. You bunch the pillow behind you, punching it hard, fold your arms beneath your head, lie there distantly hearing Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Elvis, the Fleetwoods doing “Come Softly.” Then Buddy Holly comes on with “Maybe Baby,” and tears sting your eyes.

There is a tap on the door.

“Don’t come in!” you shout.

Footsteps recede along the hall runner. You want to die. Every foul word you know slips in a furious whisper through your teeth. The anger is salvation. Preserve this saving fury, you think and punch your mattress, punch it again. Then your eyes fill again and this time you cry. You crumple up against your bedspread and hear the strange high sounds coming from your throat.

The anger is better. You seek to nourish it with thoughts of Señor Gomez de Gomez. You know that he is a diplomat who works at the UN. You picture yourself taking the IRT Flushing line into Manhattan, to Grand Central Station, striding from 42nd Street down to East 34th, marching up to the reception desk of the UN Secretariat Building, demanding to see Señor Gomez de Gomez, demanding.... No. No demands. No. Just stating your case. Señor: I come from a good Catholic family. Señor, I have nothing but the highest respect for your daughter.

Respect! he thunders back at you. You call to take such a photograph of her, her, defilement, respect! No, my boy, no no no, you will never to see my daughter again. Not for one hour. Not for one minute. Never!

You are about to call him a spic, but he is the father of Beatriz. Please, Señor. Please!

You doze, dream troubled dreams too strange to remember. When you wake it is dark. You hear the television set from downstairs. Perry Mason theme music. The air in the little room is humid, close. You are sweating. A mosquito whines at your ear. Your radio still plays softly. You hear steps on the hall runner again. A tap at the door.

“Go away!” you shout.

The steps recede. Is she in on this? Did she tell Beatriz’s father about the photos? You look at the bracelet on your wrist, trace your fingertip delicately over the engraved letters there: B-E-A-T-R-I-Z.

Alan Freed is talking rapidly on the radio, inviting listeners to call in with requests and dedications. Then he is saying words that you hardly dare believe you are hearing: And this one is for Walt in Queens from Beatriz in Coney Island—Little Anthony & the Imperials with their big one: “Tears on My Pillow”!

Coney Island! She’s in Coney Island! You hop out of bed, hurry up the hall to your parent’s room where there is a telephone extension and you can call in private, without everyone downstairs listening in. You dial Joey’s number, get Antonia on the line. “She’s in Coney Island. I just heard...”

“I heard, too!” she says. “Let me make some inquiries.”

You shout down the stairway, “No one use the phone, okay?! I’m waiting for a very important call!”

You sit in the rocking chair in your parents’ room in the dark, gazing out the screened windows at the leafy summer trees outside, waiting for the phone to ring. The trees are different now, too—trees you have seen all your life, all of your fourteen summers. Everything is different. You think about what Antonia said—“Let me make some inquiries.” The sound of it gave you hope; it sounded like she knew what she was doing. Your fate is in her hands. You wait. You wait. You have to pee. You hold it. Then you can’t hold it anymore, and you run down the hall to the bathroom, start to pee and hear the telephone ring. You whimper, try to stop peeing, but you can’t. Your mother hollers up the stairs, “It’s for you, Walt! A girl!

Then you are lifting the receiver of the extension in your parent’s room, holler down, “Hang up down there, okay?” You hear the click on the line, and Antonia is telling you, “She has a cousin on Neptune Avenue in Coney Island. I got the number and called. She’ll meet you outside the Steeple Chase tomorrow at noon.”


From Broadway in Elmhurst to Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island is a long subway ride, through three boroughs. You have to leave Long Island, crossing the East River from Queens onto Manhattan Island, ride down through Manhattan, re-cross the East River to Long Island, now into Brooklyn, and continue southwest to the foot of the island. It is muggy in the train, and by the time you are entering Brooklyn, you have been on the train for over an hour and have lost count of stops. This area of Brooklyn is less familiar to you than where your high school is. For a while there are mostly white faces on the subway, then mostly black, then mostly brown, then there are men and boys in heavy black clothes, black coils of hair hanging from beneath the brims of their black hats.

Then you are above ground again, and the train windows are open, and you can smell the iodine smell of the sea. The elevated train screeches around a sharp curve, and you cross water again, and you look out the opposite window and see the Cyclone roller coaster, high and looping and dirty white, and the tall erector-set structure of the Parachute Jump jutting up 250 feet over the Coney Island boardwalk.

You leave the train, wading into humid heat, sweating as you step along sandy Surf Avenue, a rolled towel tucked beneath your arm, toward the grinning toothy clown face medallion of Steeplechase Park. You are half an hour early, and you haven’t eaten breakfast, so for fifteen cents you buy a foot-long hotdog at Nathan’s with mustard and relish, and you don’t know what is going to happen, but it is only June, the summer lies before you like an eternal field. You wait outside the Steeplechase gates, beneath the painted wooden horses that circle around on a rail outside the top of the building, and you wonder if Señor Gomez de Gomez is going to force Beatriz to become a nun and whether that is legal, but then you think that he might make her go back to Colombia, and you don’t even quite know where Colombia is except that it is very far away across water and mountains and jungle, and you get a leaden feeling inside your stomach that Beatriz might be taken from you. Once again, you tenderly trace your fingertip over the engraved letters of her name in the ID bracelet, and you wish that you had brought a present for her, maybe an ankle bracelet or a heart on a chain. You will bring one tomorrow. You will come every day to see her if she will let you. The whole summer is before you, and things can change by September. Maybe you will meet her family, maybe they will like you.

Then, from behind, hands cover your eyeglasses and her sweet voice says, “Guess who?” You spin, arms opened to encircle her, ready to kiss her mouth because you feel you have that right now, but you see that she is not alone. Antonia is with her. Your confusion must show on your face for the two girls giggle happily, and each loops an arm in one of yours, and they steer you toward the boardwalk.

Antonia spreads a blanket on the sand, and the three of you strip to your swimsuits and charge into the water. You dive into a wave, bob up and seize Beatriz to kiss her, but she twists away and swims around behind you and circles your arms tightly with hers. She is strong, and as you try to break her grip, Antonia surfaces in front of you, looks into your face and kisses you on the mouth. You laugh and swim away, still feeling her fuzz against your lip, trying to understand what is happening, but the two of them attack you in a splash fight, and you surrender to the fun.

Cooled down, you collapse on the blanket, a girl on either side of you, your laughter calming to a sleepy stillness. You turn your eyes to Beatriz. The side of her face against the blanket, she is watching you, one eye squinted shut above her dimpled smile. You reach your head forward and kiss her salty lips, and she kisses you back, but something has changed. It is not as it was before. After a moment, she draws back and says quietly, “Now kiss Antonia, too.”

You shake your head.

“She’ll feel left out,” Beatriz whispers, and you whisper into her ear, “I can’t just kiss anyone. I only want to kiss you.”

She smiles, watching you with her almond Indian eyes, then shrugs and says, “Time for my nap,” and turns her back. Things seem to be changing faster than you can follow; the moment of your certainty has vanished, and you no longer know what to do or say.

You put your hands behind your head and close your eyes and feel the sunlight tingling across the surface of your skin as you drift away from the order of your conscious perceptions into a place that is half beach, half train looping around a sharp curve into a tunnel that is a smiling clown mouth.

Abruptly you wake to find the two girls sitting on your outstretched arms, Beatriz on your right, Antonia on your left. You are pinned down. They are smiling mischievously into your face. You look from one to the other with a smirk. You feel certain you could shrug them off at any moment with no problem, but you like the attention and want to see what the game is, so you allow yourself to be pinned beneath them and wait.

Then Beatriz leans down and kisses you on the mouth. You feel her tongue sliding between your teeth, entering deep, exploring, and your blood leaps; you raise your face toward hers, reciprocating, but she draws away, and Antonia’s face is close at the ready and her mouth dives toward yours and kisses you. You acquiesce because you can’t think how else to respond, but you feel her fuzz against your lip and when her tongue snakes into your mouth, you try to jerk away, but can’t because Beatriz is pushing at you from the other side. In panic, you buck and snatch your arms free and jump up.

“Cut it out!” you snap.

Antonia’s wide, full-lipped mouth droops like a child’s, and you try to explain it away. “I’m sorry,” you say, “I just...couldn’t breathe.”

Beatriz’s gaze, as she looks up from the blanket, is not sympathetic. “You’re so serious,” she says, and those pretty lips you have so enjoyed kissing sneer around her judgment. She sits up and hunches over her knees. Antonia blows her nose into a Kleenex.


The day is not much fun after that, and before long you are on the train again, headed toward the river that you will have to re-cross again to get home. Antonia is staying overnight with Beatriz and her cousin. When Beatriz kissed you goodbye, she held her body from you and her lips were closed and resistant, and she did not offer to walk you to the train station. You watched the two of them walk away together along Surf Avenue, Antonia had her arm around Beatriz’s shoulder, whispering into her ear, making them both giggle, and you hoped Beatriz would look back, but she did not.

Now you watch out the window as the weird grinning Steeplechase face recedes, and you relive the sorrow of the moment when Beatriz said, “You’re so serious.” The train is moving underground now, and you can no longer smell the sea, and the beautiful light of a late June day disappears as you are carried beneath the earth.


—First Runner-Up in the Chautauqua Fiction Competition (2010)

—From Kennedy’s novel-in-essays, Last Night My Bed a Boat of Whiskey Going Down (New American Press, 2010); reprinted here by author’s permission


SHJ Issue 7
Spring 2013

Thomas E. Kennedy’s

latest books include the novels of the Copenhagen Quartet, which are being published by Bloomsbury world-wide: In the Company of Angels (2010) and Falling Sideways (2011), with the third to follow in June 2013 (Kerrigan in Copenhagen, A Love Story) while the fourth will appear after that.

His stories, essays, and translations appear regularly—this spring will see the publication of “My White House Days,” a wry account of his service in the White House in 1963 (in New Letters); “Humanitarians at the Grate,” about his visit to a maximum security prison’s writing group (in Writer’s Chronicle); and translations of the Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt (in American Poetry Review).

Others have appeared recently or will do so soon in the New Yorker on-line edition, Boston Review, Epoch, Ecotone, the Southern Review, the South Carolina Review, Poet Lore, Absinthe, McNeese Review, Main Street Rag, and on the pages of Serving House Journal.

Kennedy’s Getting Lucky: New & Selected Stories, 1982-2012 was published last year by New American Press. He teaches in the low-residency MFA program of Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey and lives in Copenhagen. +

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury