Clive 3

Self-made photo of Hillbilly Hot Dogs, a roads...

Self-made photo of Hillbilly Hot Dogs, a roadside hot dog stand located on West Virginia State Route 2 north of Huntington, West Virginia. The photo was taken on 8 July 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tess Harding

Tess Harding (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I walk off I hear a feminine little voice call out to me, Hey!

I turn round and see a blonde haired girl in short shorts with her legs crossed, slowly eating a hot dog.   I go to within a few feet of her and stop.  She smiles and says, I’m not gonna bite.

I go to within a couple of feet of her.

That’s better, she says, making a big show of licking her lips.  Did you get baptized?

No.

How come?

Mood wasn’t right, I say, smiling at her.

You coming to the revival tonight?

Why would I do that?

I’ll be there, for one thing.

I laugh and say, What’s your name?

Tess.

Of the D’Ubervilles?

Huh?

Never mind.  My name’s Clive.

Clive?  RU British or something?

Or something.

I thought so.  Love your accent.  It’s sexy.

If people only knew how I cringe when they compliment the accent.

Tess, how old RU?  I say.

Sixteen, she says with enough of an interrogative inflection that I know she is lying.

You might be sixteen next year.  You’re fifteen.  And fifteen gets you twenty.

Oh, she says, hurt.

And till you’re eighteen I can’t do what I would do with you.

What would you do, she whispers.

What I can do when you’re older.  If I go to the revival tonight will you come over and sit with me and hold my hand?  I’m shy, I say, lying.

Sure, I can do that.

The tent is impossible to miss; it rears up on a hill that the highway runs by.  In the pearly gray light of a solemn summer evening the big wooden cross standing outside the revival tent lends a stark and parsimonious air.   Brother Amos, the preacher that was at the river this afternoon, is standing in a saffron robe talking to his parishioners.  As I walk by I slip a pint of whisky into his palm and he says, God bless ye fer that, brother.

I move off and see Tess standing with two other girls in the pale cast of a light pole.  One’s in her late twenties, the other not a day older than thirty-two.  Both the age at which women are most stunning.  One is a spectacular red-head, the other a sullen brunette that looks at me with unfettered contempt.  By comparison Tess’ light blonde prettiness seems almost tepid.  As I approach they both leave and Tess smiles up at me.

You ready to go inside?  She says.

I’m ready, I say, kissing her on the head and putting my arm around my waist and marching her inside in avuncular fashion.

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