John McCluskey

An excerpt from Ogden's Proverb

               Chloe was my first real girlfriend, meaning, unlike Nathalie, someone I might actually become an active participant with, not just the lucky recipient of keenly tossed, upper body parts. And I did become a participant. Sort of. But, to tell you the truth, every-thing about Chloe was and still is a blur. A lot happened between Chloe and me while at the same time absolutely nothing happened at all. In less than a year, and in no particular order, or with any discernible timeline of events available to my memory even to this day, I met Chloe; she laughed; she talked; I listened; there was a kiss (after the cemetery); it rained; I got my driver’s license; South America came to mind; my father continued to drink; I had pizza; my mother tumbled into further mystery; my heart pounded endlessly and entirely without reservation; I quite possibly fell in love; I fell out of a tree; I most assuredly fell in love (with something), and for the most part I was fully and gloriously nauseated from the time I met Chloe until the day she left, especially when it mattered most.
               And she did leave. I, sadly, and perhaps (though most likely not) unwittingly, built my first, prophylactically inspired, fence around Chloe, or me, just before she moved away, which was not at all her doing, or the direct result of any regurgitating displays of affection on my part, though an argument could be made against that particular point. No, she was eventually dragged overseas by an oil executive father (surprise!) who was transferred once a year to the latest metropolis located near the next biggest oil glut to exploit, so we poor, preppy saps could wait in endlessly long and orderly gas lines to drive around les femmes fatales du sud des Etats Unis and la République Française alike, which is where all similarities between Chloe and Nathalie seem to end. But maybe not.
               Chloe was a pretty cute girl, hailing at the time from somewhere unpronounceable in either Texas, Oklahoma, or Louisiana, but definitely connected to the domestic oil reserves far out in the Gulf of Mexico, and coming with the requisite Southern accent, and a talent for attracting males with every breath she took, arguably unintentional, but certainly, as her favorite President (surprise!) Honest Abe himself would put it, “with malice toward none,” and a bit of “charity for all.” So, any parentally fortified bastions to preserve her teenage modesty and accompanying chastity never stood a chance. Not to say her potential proclivities were a problem at all; au contraire, mes amis, when all was said and done, I admired Chloe, not so much for her eyes, and her hair, and her nose, and her appreciably minimal, summer wardrobe – those things were all worthy of highly focused and uninterrupted gawking. No, it was her unencumbered spirit (allowing her the full spectrum of intent behind good ol’ Abe’s 2nd inaugural address) that I envied beyond anything else. She sure boiled that speech down to the most basic twentieth-century, adolescent, hormonal needs, with no anxiety in her to be found anywhere. And yet she was selective upon her arrival in the neighborhood, seemingly choosing me (not unlike Nathalie did), making me at first uncharacteristically cool with the idea (not at all like with Nathalie), and causing me to inch toward her spread-those-wings-far-and- wide sensibility, most surprisingly.
               But ultimately, and in short order, I returned to me as I always do. But, oh! A girl worldly enough to make my head spin, if only for a fleeting, sparkling moment, who actually thinks, no, who knows, she can choose someone, maybe everyone, maybe no one, who cares–it’s her decision! And, dammit, if fate didn’t comply, courtesy of the trajectories of our collective fathers, by throwing us sadly, painfully, magnificently, cruelly, and forever longingly together. Briefly.
               I first met Chloe on a hot, summer weeknight, the night air heavy from the humidity, filling out my rather oblong head of long, unruly, cool (only to me), and eyebrow-raising (to everyone else), messy hair with enough unmanageable, though playfully springy, volume to keep the sweat pouring strategically down my cheeks, in what I alone was convinced was quite a sexy addition to my otherwise typically wallflower presence. The same group that would head over to Kylie’s on some future, summer evening to drink in the best of French female libations was hanging out at another kid’s house on our street, Old Neversink, deep in the most rewarding of seasons: summer, for being as far away from Hamden as possible.
               I headed over on what would otherwise have been a most boring, typical, and forgettable evening had Chloe Ellen Quinn not just moved into the neighborhood, had she not been walking her dog down the street and met Kylie and a few others on the way, had she not been invited to hang out on a back porch, had she not been wearing cutoff jean shorts and sitting in a kind of yoga-pose-lotus-position with her legs crossed and appealingly visible, her equally wild though supremely beautiful mess of long, thick, chestnut brown hair as meteorologically-induced as my own.
               I walked onto the porch, and I think our hair was the first of our body parts to become kindred, voluminous spirits of sorts, and in deference to the humidity and all the collective, overactive sweat glands pumping at full steam to combat the oppressive night, a certain secretion-related camaraderie was forged amongst us all, allowing Chloe to drink in the group and feel at home, initially, while putting me in a most surprisingly deflated level of anxiety not normally seen in these parts whenever a new female has broached the surface of my most guarded, emotional ocean. This was unheard of behavior on my part, most likely exhibited with no expectation of caution whatsoever, because Chloe, being brand-spanking-new to our neighborhood, was certainly by no means looking for a connection of any kind. She probably still had a boyfriend back home and was wrestling with the new strains of distance, so surely that and the probability of her still being under the influence of jet lag, or central standard time, put my anxiety to bed earlier than usual.
               My propensity for total, inward immersion relaxed a bit, and I put my feet up on the railing in a sort of nod of appreciation to the mental health benefits being unwittingly doled out to me through the marvels of modern aviation and time zone demarcation. And then the joke came. And I casually tossed a fall of hair out of my face with the slightest sense of misleading confidence, giving the trickles of sweat their moment to shine. And Chloe laughed and looked my way. And everything changed.
               I don’t even remember what the line was that prompted my bon mot of sorts, but it spewed forth with a dash of both whimsy and aplomb, pithy, yet decidedly harebrained and proudly empty-headed. Apparently, it was just the right slaphappy cocktail of mirth and merriment the night demanded for Chloe laughed aloud and comfortably, caught off guard in the presence of veritable strangers, not at all self-conscious about feeling too comfortable too soon, and even I could tell that her laugh, and her head-tilt my way were open invitations for me to get to know her better. And I did. Starting at either 9:31 pm, or 10:31pm, depending upon one’s preferred choice of time zone, I connected most fatalistically with Chloe on an otherwise meaningless and forgetful August, Wednesday night, courtesy of a surprisingly welcome, lame joke that let my anxiety slip momentarily though the back door like a sneaky cat.

John McCluskey has had poetry, fiction, non-fiction and visual art published extensively worldwide. Ogden's Proverb is John's 2nd novel. A Moment of Fireflies was published in 2017, and I Will Listen If You Tell Me Who I Am, a book pf poetry and short fiction, was published in 2019. John has worked in the IT industry and has a Masters in Writing (MAW) from Manhattanville College in New York. He lives in Connecticut with his wife.

Ogden's Proverb is available through Amazon and other booksellers.
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