space"Look, the dance starts at ten, how about I bet you ten bucks I'll be in one's pants by eleven-thirty." As he spoke, Carl unconsciously shifted the phone from his left to his right hand and reached into his left pants pocket to finger the small wad of bills he always carried there, in a money clip. space"That ain't sayin' nothin', Clarence sneered, "at last year's so-called high-class Fraternal Order of Auxiliary, Firemens' dance I swear I got there at ten and had one in the back seat in the parkin' lot by ten-after! Same place too. The Palace Hotel in Meridian, where she didn't know if somebody coulda been lookin' out the windows of the rooms and watchin' her gettin' into the back seat with me. She didn't care! That's the effect I have on them bitches. Somethin' about me, I guess. And If I didn't (cough) have this damned cold, I'd be goin' tonight and I'd sure show you up! I don't see how you get any ass anyway, with that '95 Ford Escort, He! He! Ha! Ha!, you must be gettin' seconds after us guys with the real cars, Grand Prixes and stuff." space"Yeah, Clarence, you can talk all kinds of shit since you ain't goin'. You can claim to be the biggest player in all of Pennsylvania. But I bet at twenty-eight you can't hardly get it up any more, anyway not like you could five years ago when you were my age. Man, the bitches get one look at this lean young five-foot-nine, one-hundred-seventy pound body--comes from my roofin' work you know-- and they don't have no time for no Medicare types, like you. Ha! Ha! They wanna get rammed!" space"Ok, ok, Mr. quick-screw, tell me exactly how you gonna get one of them bitches, most of which is gonna be there with people that knows them, their neighbors and all like, to leave off and go to the parkin' lot with you and gap her legs up. How you plan to do it? Huh? Go on, tell me!" space" The same way I seen you do it. I pick one out, dance with her a coupla times and then tell her I have some joints and some booze out in my car, and lets go get high. We sneak out a side door of the ballroom and go to my car. I give her a joint and then a few shots from the bottle and as she's gettin' woozie I tell her how much I love her and that she should gimmie what I need. And Bingo!" space"But what if she says no, and starts outta the car?" space"You think I forgot? Shit! I just use Clarence's 'magic massage' and twist her arm behind her back and pull up on it 'till she gets the message! Right?" space"Carl, my man, you're a good student, even if you'll never be as cool as the teacher. You ought to be able to do two or three tonight. That's what I could do if I was (cough) goin'. Really try'n get that Louise Cornwall, Rev. Cornwall's daughter. Everybody says she's a virgin. I bet the Rev. would leave town if she got knocked-up. Ha, ha. I'm gonna call you tomorrow and you better have some awesome shit to tell me (cough). Just remember, none of them bitches is ever goin' to tell on you, because when you finish with them they have booze on their breath, the smell of the joint in their clothes and no excuse for gettin' in the back seat of a car. Anyhow, since they were kinda drunk and it only took five minutes, they like to pretend it never happened! Have your ass out of bed by noon tomorrow 'cause that's when I'm gonna call. Tell your mother to wake you up!" spaceThe City of Meridian's Palace Hotel is aptly named, since it is an elaborate structure indeed, especially considering that Meridian's population is only fifty-thousand people. The ballroom wing actually contains five ballrooms, all interconnected, so that when there's a big dance, like the Auxiliary Firemens', each ballroom has a different band. Dancers can hoof it from room to room and never sit down, if they have that much strength. A lot of the locals are into ballroom dancing and the Firemens' is their annual show-off time. The rooms are fitted out not only with the usual mirrored balls, reflecting colored spotlights, but some of them are also jazzed up with flashing strobe lights, falling balloons, confetti, and one room even has a dry-ice fog machine that brings mist up from the floor. It makes everybody feel like they're dancing in the sky, or in a dream. The lobby of the place is filled with framed letters from people who say that's where they met and fell in love. spaceAs soon as he parked outside the Palace, Carl took a couple of shots from his bottle of rye and smoked a joint to put himself in the right mood. When he entered the dance he lurked, somewhat self-consciously, around the fringes of the crowded dance floor, near the walls, looking for a likely prospect. He was also aware that he shouldn't take too long to get a partner, since people might think he wasn't desirable for some reason. He was confident that he was looking sharp, no matter what, since he wore his dark blue blazer and gray slacks with a light blue shirt and white tie. He checked that his black shoes were still shiny and his watch said 10:15 p.m. spaceHaving no luck in finding some gorgeous partner, or Louise Cornwall, it occurred to him that for appearances sake he should disappear for a few minutes by stepping in and out of the men's room, but then he spotted Crystal Ash. She was a stranger to him, but from her appearance he was sure of two facts, that she was smiling at him and that she was female. He glanced at the time. It was 10:18. spaceCrystal was a big woman. Carl estimated her to be about five-foot-eight and maybe two-hundred-ten pounds. She was heavy to the extent that she had no discernable neck, but fortunately, a string of black pearls lay on her shoulders, marking the spot where a neck had to be. She wasn't top heavy, rather evenly large, both up and down. Her legs stoutly held up a torso that included a thirty-six inch waist, Carl guessed. Her face was as round as any planet, and had features that were in proportion to it, but not distributed with much style. She wore a white cocktail dress with black accessories, and she was wearing her dark hair straight back, hanging below her shoulders. Carl guessed that she was maybe twenty, and living a life of being ignored by men. spaceCarl was looking Crystal over quickly.and would have ignored her himself and headed for the men's room, but on second thought he figured held better be seen dancing with somebody by this time, not just floating. So he stared at Crystal and smiled, while his thoughts were that she must have arrived straight from God's garden of eating, and that he needed this like a chicken needed a dental plan. He sidled up to her anyway, extended his hand and nodded toward the dance floor. She looked thrilled and they moved into the dancing throng at the moment when the band was starting to play the slow ballad, "Smile." Carl realized at this point that even though her shoes had very small heels, they still made her taller than he was and her perfume reminded him of his first grade teacher. spaceClarence had once counseled Carl that if ever you are forced to dance with a big woman, don't try to lead her. You have to let her take you where ever she wants to go, do the moves she wants to do, just try to hang on, like bareback bull riding. "Nothin' else will work," Clarence had said. Carl quickly remembered the advice because she was already dragging him relentlessly across the floor toward a slender couple who were in a tight embrace and swaying in one spot, enjoying a romantic reverie. spaceWhen Crystal bumped into the other couple it was clear to Carl that it was intentional. Then she pulled away a few inches and bumped them again, almost like a bumper car in an amusement park. She also added a sneer, atthe man, that so contorted her face that Carl could see it was about something very personal that was smoldering and burning in some cauldron deep inside her soul. The situation, and Crystal's look frightened Carl and he attempted to pull away from her and walk off the dance floor. Quickly, she clenched his left hand with her right and seized him around the shoulders in a caress so tight that she was like a giant vise! She then looked him directly in the eye and jammed the heel of her left foot into his right instep, almost making him scream out in pain, but he didn't want to draw the attention of the crowd. He now hated the idea that he had ever seen her and he worried that his foot was probably swelling in his shoe. He automatically checked his watch, as though he was serving a sentence, and he saw that it was 10:30. spaceCrystal continued to bump, sneer at and annoy the man in the slender couple until they finally left the dance floor. Her iron grip on Carl never slackened as she then dragged him mercilessly through one ballroom after another, dancing to everything any band might be playing whether waltz, tango, fox trot or anything else that didn't require her to loosen her grip on him. It wasn't until 11:45 that he got to see his watch again and he had become so tired that he was dizzy, almost passing out. Drenched in sweat he fought to cope with the beefy Crystal, the swirling lights, the flashing strobes, randomly floating balloons, and that murky mist rising from the floor. Then, in this state, his perceptions seemed to miraculously sharpen and he sensed that Crystalls stomach was getting larger every few seconds! spaceCrystal's belly got so big that her steely grip on him forced him into a banana shape that caused shooting pains in his back, like he was carrying the world on his shoulders. But he wasn't strong enough to stop Crystal from dragging him where ever she wanted to go, and she never even bothered to look at him. He managed a quick glance at his watch and saw that it was just passing midnight. Then, abruptly, he tried to recoil in terror as he happened to look down at his legs and saw three babies clinging to himself and her, while he struggled to keep up with her movements in the hustle. Moments later as the balloons and the foggy mist swirled around them, it seemed that Crystal had somehow changed clothes and was now wearing a house dress, an apron and house slippers. The band was then playing an up-tempo version of "They Can't Take That Away From Me." The three babies were suddenly in graduation caps and gowns and this was instantly followed by Crystal's clothes changing again--this time to a graduation outfit. His back was aching so bad that he wanted to cry and plead with her to let him go. But she wouldn't even look at him. He got a look at his watch and was overjoyed to see that it said 12:45 a.m. He remembered that the dance was to end at 1 a.m. spaceWhen he looked at Crystal again he was amazed to see that there were now small picks, a scraper, mirrors and tiny polishers braided into her hair which was tied up in a bun with dental floss. She stared at his mouth with a sadistic predatory gaze that made him tremble. He could also see that her hair was now streaked with gray and she danced less energetically than before. Her legs seemed weaker but she kept them close together as always and she always managed to maintain her grip on him. spaceBy the time they swung into the ballroom where they had met Crystalls hair was completely gray and Carl thought he saw the three children all grown up, standing by a wall and holding their offspring who kept calling out to Crystal, "Nana! Nana!" The band was winding up the evening with the slow ballad, "The Party's Over," as Carl witnessed Crystal's broad smile as she grew thinner, thinner and shrinking, losing her grip on him, actually turning into a skeleton, then into just a pile of bones and finally into a small heap of ashes. But he was so elated at his cherished freedom that he didn't give a damn about Crystalls fate. His watch said exactly 1 a.m. With what felt as if it were a bladder about to burst, he reeled on worn-out legs and feet toward the men's room. Right inside the door, as he was passing a row of sinks, on his way to a urinal, he glanced at himself inthe large wall mirror. He was dumbstruck in horror! His once erect five-foot-nine body was permanently hunched over at the shoulders. His head was completely bald except for a few lonely wisps of white hair directly over his ears. His mouth, gaped open inamazement, held teeth that were a deep yellowish-brown with a host of spaces in between. Aghast, he tested the reality of the image in the mirror by lifting his hands to a face that was deeply rutted, like celery stalks. He saw that the hands were involuntarily cupped, similiar to shells of turtles, with bloated knuckles that were homes for arthritis. spaceCarl burst from the men's room screaming! "Help! Help! Rape! Call the police!
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