What They Say About Nurses

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 suggests 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 ‘47 Chevy while Posnick and Phayer and Lerner are all slipping their hands under sweaters and skirts, maybe even getting laid?
He and his three friends, college boys all, are doing what they call Posting, hitting one of the many road houses along the Boston Post Road in the hope of having sex with the secretaries and shop girls who go there to drink and dance of a Friday night, hoping somehow to meet a guy to marry.
It has been his pattern, picking out the religious girl, the tea totaling girl, the girl who finds herself curiously apathetic toward boys because she does not yet realize the depth of her attraction to women.
But tonight, tonight perhaps, will be different. Always the reader, Hanratty has recently come across an article in Girl Parade, one of the men’s pulp magazines, that posits that cutting back on masturbation will dramatically increase a fellow’s success with the opposite sex – ironic advice indeed considering the dozens of photos of bare-breasted women scattered throughout its pages. And so it has been two weeks since Hanratty last jerked off, a long stretch for a twenty year old male without a girlfriend.
However, by half past eleven, after failing to get up the courage to talk to any of the girls in tight skirts with slits up the side or clinging 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 first met Emily’s, that the computer that is our brain read, in what?, a quarter of a second, less perhaps, that the curl of this particular female’s lip, the twitch of her eye, the shade of her hair, whatever odors that were emanating from her feet, her pussy, from under her arms, the shade of her hair, the denseness of her lashes, the slope of her shoulder, the hint in her eye of pride and skittishness, selfishness and desire to please, that she, Emily Gilligan, was perfectly designed to be his ideal mate and competitor for the decades they soon would begin spending together, in bed and out, in sickness and health, triumph and failure. Did he somehow sense on some primal level, far, far from consciousness, that this was both the right team mate and opponent for him – not so strong as to over power him, not so weak that he would sweep her away, leaving him bored and restless. Was a similar instinct taking birth in her limbic brain – this is a man I want to be locked in lifelong battle with, a companion for the long haul.
“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-five,” she declares with obvious relish. “I almost have my nursing degree.”
“Holy cow.” Hanratty is only twenty. He squints, scrutinizing her face for wrinkles. She stares back at him openly, unafraid. He wants to say something smart, modern, a trifle combative – a talent that usually fails him around women.
“You know what they say about nurses,” he manages to eke out, then worries he has been too forward.
When the girl smiles, Hanratty feels relieved. “No,” she says, “What do they say about nurses?”
What they say about nurses, at least in this case, turns out to be resoundingly true. She lives with two other nursing students near Portchester General in a one-bedroom apartment in a ramshackle three-story boarding house. One of the roommates is away, the other asleep on the daybed on the far side of the room. Still, 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 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 cock with the practiced ease of someone who has done this before, perhaps often, letting herself slide down over it. He is aghast that such a tiny creature can have within her a canal 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 orgasm-postponing 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 has curled against his side, her head tucked in his armpit. He can’t wait to get together with the guys to compare notes. Slowly, he slides from under the covers. He hears the girl stir in her bed, sensing she is watching him as he pulls on his pants and socks in the dark. He pretends he doesn’t know she is awake. As he is leaving, she says, “Wait.” She writes a phone number on a torn piece of notebook paper and places it in his hand. He feels he should kiss her; but when he had trouble reaching orgasm on their last screw, she took him in her mouth. He bends down, steering his lips past her proffered ones, kissing her on the top of her head.
“Call me,” she says as he steps out the door.

“She looked like a high school freshman,” says Ray Phayer.
“I have bigger tits,” says Alex Posnick.
“Hey, he fucked her three times,” says Ethan Lerner. “Cut the man a little slack.”
Tim Hanratty and his friends are sitting in the Hartsdale diner. It is where they gather at the end of almost every weekend night, no matter how late the hour, no matter what the evening has held in store.
“Somehow I get the feeling she wasn’t a virgin,” says Phayer, by far the most ironic of the foursome.
“How would he know,” says Posnick.
Phayer has picked up a sausage with his fingers and moves it back and forth between his lips, simulating a blow job. He winks at Hanratty.
“Believe me,” says Hanratty, “this was no virgin. We fucked with her room mate right in the same room.”
“What a slut!” says Posnick.
“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 his friends with a new sense of confidence, with heightened expectation. He is one of the guys. He has lost his virginity. 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, his jaw too big for his head. He wears glasses. Unlike Posnick in his leather jacket, Phayer with his classy good looks punctuated by a premature streak of silver hair, and Lerner with his Tony Curtis prettiness and curl, there is something hopelessly bookish about Hanratty. 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 a theatre actor trying on 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, her pale pink nipples, her guileless face. Hanratty is no dummy. He realizes that her child-like appearance is part of the appeal.
One night in mid-May, Hanratty and his pals stop in at Ed’s Outpost, one of a dozen roadhouse bar and grills on the outskirts of Portchester. He sees her right away, sitting with several women friends in a large booth, a 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 observes with a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach, a crushing sense of doom, certain that at any moment she will return from the dance floor, one of the young men in tow.
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 Hanratty had: she looks too young and innocent to be sexually active.
“Tim, for Christ sake, go ask her to dance,” says Lerner. “She’s pretty.”
“Nah,” says Hanratty, “no tits.” In truth, he’s not sure she will remember him. He’s frightened of her sexuality. It is six weeks since he has last seen her. How many men has she brought home in the interim?
“I like the no tits,” says Posnick. “It’s like fucking your little cousin.” Hanratty watches as Posnick walks briskly over to the girl and leads her to the dance floor. Taking a seat at the bar, Hanratty turns his back to the dancers, locking his eyes on the jukebox on the far side of the room, determined not to turn around. He imagines Posnick and the girl swaying imperceptibly to the languid ballad coming over the speakers, eyes closed, bodies straining against one another. He is shocked when Posnick’s deep harsh voice cuts into his fantasy. “What a dog,” he says. “Bow wow.”
Hanratty tries but cannot keep from glancing at Posnick’s crotch. He has an obvious hard on. “She’s just young looking, that’s all,” says Hanratty.
“You can have her,” says Posnick. “Hey, Mac,” he hollers at the bartender, “bring me a Cutty on the rocks. Make it a double.”
Hanratty climbs off his stool.
“Where you goin’?” says Posnick.
“I don’t know. Just want to get some air.”
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. He stands there, hovering over her. Hanratty is hoping she will say something, but she just keeps looking around, not meeting his eye. 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 follows 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. After a few seconds, Hanratty asks, “How’d you like my friend?”
“Which one?”
“Alex. The guy in the leather jacket.”
“Not too much. He was pressing his thing into my stomach.”
“Oh,” says Hanratty, pulling back a little because he is doing the same.
“I thought you were going to call,” says the girl.
“I was going to. I just had gotten around to it yet.”
“That’s okay,” she says, pulling him closer and snuggling her face against his chest.
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 – particularly at the age of 25 – than a male with little courage to pursue. He nuzzles his nose in her bouffant of hair, inhaling deeply, recalling how much he had loved her aroma.
“I’m Tim,” he announces into the top of her head.

“Yeah, I know. Your friend told me.” She doesn’t say anything for

awhile. Then, as an after thought, “I’m Emily.”


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