What They Say About Nurses, 1946

Hanratty is standing amidst a crowd of twenty-somethings, sipping from a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon, eyeing a slender girl sitting alone at the bar. She looks to be no more than sixteen years old with a sweetness of face that to the young man’s unpracticed eye indicates lack of sexual experience.

Does he want to waste yet another evening talking to a girl who at best will neck with him guardedly in the parking lot in the back seat of his mother’s 1938 Chevrolet while Posnick and Brigham and Vince are all getting laid?
It has been his pattern, picking out the religious girl, the tee totaling girl, the girl who finds herself curiously apathetic toward boys because she does not yet realize she is far more attracted to women.

But tonight, tonight perhaps, will be different. Always the reader, Hanratty has recently come across an advice column in Modern Man that claims that cutting back on masturbation dramatically increases a fellow’s success with the opposite sex. And so it has been two weeks since he last jerked off, a long stretch for a twenty year old male without a girlfriend.

By half past eleven, however, after failing to get up the courage to talk to any of the girls in tight skirts with slits up the side, or tight sweaters exposing great swaths of cleavage, he slides in next to her and orders another beer. Glancing down at the glass in front of her, he is surprised to see what appears to be a double whiskey on the rocks, encouragement enough to get him to mumble, “How come nobody’s snatched up a pretty girl like you?”

He delivers the line haltingly, woodenly, to the side of her head and is immensely relieved when she swivels on her seat, turns her face up to him, and smiles. “You really think I’m pretty?”

Up close like this he can see she is pretty indeed, with ebony hair and skin so pale he thinks it must be a coating of make up. But all she is wearing is very red lipstick and a little eyebrow liner, no more.

Years later, Hanratty will think back on this moment and wonder if it occurred to him, in that instant that his eyes met Emily’s for the very first time, that one day he would want nothing more than to outlive her.

“You’re not bad,” he replies, regaining some semblance of equilibrium.

“Most guys think I’m jailbait.” She takes a deep drag on her lipstick stained Pall Mall, blowing out the smoke expertly in a long, thin stream. “I’m much older than I look.”

“What, eighteen?”

“Twenty-three,” she declares with obvious relish. “I have my nursing degree.”

“Holy cow.” He scrutinizes her face, and she stares back at him openly, unafraid. “You know what they say about nurses,” he says.

What they say about nurses, at least in this case, turns out to be resoundingly true. She lives with several other young nurses near Portchester General in a one-bedroom apartment in a ramshackle three story boarding house. One of the roommates is asleep on the daybed on the far side of the room, yet the girl seems to feel no shame in pulling him down beside her. She unzips his fly, taking him in her hand, and he comes instantly, an unexpected downside of the no-masturbation plan.

“That’s okay,” she whispers gently. She stands, and he watches, mesmorized, as she slips out of her clothes in the shaft of moonlight streaming in through the uncurtained window.

She is tiny, not five feet, hardly ninety pounds. Aside from small, budding nipples and a shockingly large black triangle, there is nothing to suggest a sexually mature woman. She helps him undress, then begins sucking on his penis till it grows hard again. Pushing him down on the bed, she straddles him, finding his shaft with ease and letting herself slide down over it. He is aghast that such a tiny creature can have within her a tunnel that engulfs him so comfortably, so eagerly, so, so – familiarly.

Once again, despite a desperate attempt to call up car accidents, his Grandma Lorraine’s breasts, which he accidentally saw on a family outing to Jones Beach, and other erection-inhibiting imagery, he comes in seconds.

They make love thrice that night, the girl clinging to him with an odd intensity in the in-between times. Hanratty is lying on his back, his hands under his head, the girl curled in under his arm, asleep. He can’t wait to get together with the guys to compare notes. When he leaves, she writes down just her phone number on a piece of notebook paper.

“She looked like a high school freshman,” says Brigham.

“I have bigger tits than she did,” says Vince.

“Hey, he fucked her three times,” says Posnick. “Cut the man some slack.”

“Was she a virgin?” asks Vince.

“How would he know,” says Brigham.

“Believe me,” says Hanratty, “this was no virgin. We fucked with her room mate right in the same room.”

“What a slut!” says Brigham.

“You’re not kidding,” says Hanratty, although he feels curiously disloyal the instant the words leave his mouth.

In the ensuing weeks, Hanratty hits the local bars and dance halls with a heightened sense of confidence and expectation. He has lost his virginity. He is one of the guys. He no longer reaches the end of the evening without having approached one single girl.
His success rate, however, is little better than before his conquest of the nurse. He is too thin for his height. He wears glasses. Unlike Vince in his leather jacket, Brigham with his weight lifter’s build, Posnick with his John Garfield curl, there is something hopelessly bookish about him. His off-beat sense of humor, which so tickles the guys, either puts women off or goes completely unnoticed. He enunciates like a college professor. His attempts to slur his words sound inauthentic, like an actor in a play adopting a Southern accent.

He has abandoned his no-masturbation policy and almost always comes now to the memory of the nurse straddling him. In his mind’s eye, she looks like someone’s kid sister as she lets herself down over him. There is something forbidden about it. Hanratty is no dummy. He realizes that her child-like appearance is part of the appeal.

He sees her one night with several women friends in a dance hall in White Plains, a jumbo pitcher of beer in the middle of the table. They are all smoking. Hanratty catches her eye, but she looks away. He watches with dread as a group of guys approaches the table. Over the next hour or so there is a pairing off ritual, with different combinations of males and females trudging off to the dance floor.

From his perch at the bar, picking at the label of his ever present Blue Ribbon, Hanratty watches with a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach, certain that at any moment she will return from the dance floor, one of the young men in tow. Arms around each other, they will head out the door to the same Portchester rooming house in which she will perform the same acts she so unashamedly performed on Hanratty.

But when the dust settles, and the coupling is complete, the nurse is sitting there all by herself. Although prettier than her companions, perhaps other men have come to the same conclusion that Hanratty had: she looks too young and tiny and innocent to be sexually active.

With a mixture of tremendous relief and yet a feeling that he is somehow settling for second best, Hanratty walks over to the table and says, “Hi, um, how’ve you been?” As he reaches for her name, it strikes him she has never told it to him. Nor has he ever asked for it, nor volunteered his own.

“I’m okay,” she says, swiveling her head around as if expecting her friends to be arriving back at the table at any minute, as cool and aloof as if they’d never met. Hanratty is hoping she will say something, but she just keeps looking around, not meeting his eye. He stands there, hovering over her. Finally, because he can think of absolutely nothing else to say, he asks her to dance. Without saying yes or no, she stands up and walks with him to the dance floor.

It is a slow song. The six foot two inch Hanratty holds up his arms in the rather formal style he learned back in seventh grade in Mrs. Scoville’s dance classes; but the girl simply ducks underneath, wrapping her arms around his waist with that same sense of intimacy as the night they’d made love.

A sudden, almost staggering wave of pity washes over Hanratty as it occurs to him how much more battering it is to be an unpursued female in one of these places than a male with little courage to pursue. He nuzzles his nose in her bouffant of hair, inhaling deeply and realizing how much he has missed her aroma. It does not occur to him that in less that six months he will be married to the girl.


Post a Comment

<< Home