The Country Gentleman

Be still my teenage heart.
Be still my teenage heart.

There aren’t many choices when you’re a matronly 15 year old virgin who wants to be someone else. You can’t be the beautiful girl you’d literally kill to become. You’re also locked out of innocent ingénue, femme fatale, and cheerfully slutty girl with no heart.

Your choices are pained-looking goth poet, nerd, and wallpaper.

It should have surprised no one that you decided to become a powerful middle-aged man.

It’s a simple transformation. In a town with a large population of retirement-age individuals, there will always be pleated polyester pants in various shades of neutral. There will be ugly patterned shirts with a breast pocket where you could put cigarettes if you dared. There will be balled-up argyle socks and you can get a couple of  pairs for a dollar. Best of all, there are big coats. Wool overcoats with thick-edged buttons, lined in butterscotch satin with deep shotgun pockets inside, cut to make you look like a long rectangle on stumpy legs.

One of those overcoats is a dappled grey and a knot of boys who don’t know you’re still human inside will pelt you with handfuls of peanuts when they decide you’re really an elephant. Don’t wear that one again.

In the blue one that repels water, you’ll walk past the window of that store called “The Country Gentleman.” Everything in the store is dark wood and buttery leather. There’s a whole other life in there made of silver-headed canes and mallard prints. There are pipes and imposing armchairs and if you could somehow turn your bedroom into an English country house then you’d climb out your window into the back garden at Manderley and Maxim de Winter would be there and he would take your hand and he’d have a laugh at how silly you are, dressed in men’s clothes. Silly.

But there’s nothing in there you can afford. You are not Maxim de Winter. Nor the first or second Mrs. de Winter, because no one will ever want to marry you and you can’t wear a dress anyhow. Walk through. That life is more than trappings, but there is this one thing.


Stainless steel flasks. There’s a markup on these, but not too much. For less than $20, you can get the long kind that’s curved on the inside to ride against your leg. For even less than that, you can get the little rounded one, flat in front and back, and a perfect fit in that deep shotgun pocket. Still too much for something is only a talisman. The respect you want cannot be bought.

No, no one saw you drop it in. They’re not even looking. Don’t walk out too fast. Linger. Touch something absently. Pretend you got a text. Duck out the door.

That was easy. You could do it again. Don’t make plans. Never plan on who you’ll be tomorrow.

You’d like to fill it with liquor, something that makes you grimace as it burns on the way down. But you’ve got killer heartburn that comes from nowhere. Actually, it comes from crushing anxiety and a deplorable diet and the gnawing tension of knowing that you can’t be anything but you. So you fill it with Maalox. The crusty white shit collects around the threads on the mouthpiece and it’s hard to get the lid back on.

You practice the things you will say right before you take a swig. Right after. You plan out your deadpan delivery, your wry smile, your artful dodge when you get caught with it at school.

“It’s for heartburn. I’ve got an ulcer. I’ve got the heartburn of the 45 year old beat cop.”

You are that beat cop. They’re going to take you seriously. You wait and see.

The few times you fill it with alcohol you’re disgusted by how it warms against your body. You’d like to drink it cold.  But you haven’t learned how. Not yet.

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