Editor’s Note: “Living in Spin” is a recurring Albumism column, in which Grace Curtis taps into firsthand narratives and vivid recollections to examine the moments in life when the aural, carnal, and emotional impulses converge.
You don’t know what you like about this boy in front of you, but there is something dancing in his eyes as he looks at you that keeps you looking back at him. You are twenty years older than him. He buys you a glass of red wine and one for himself and asks if you want to sit at one of the low tables with a candle on it away from the bar. You go with him. You don’t even know why.
As he talks in a very chill voice about music and tours, you stare at him. He is a twenty-five year-old man, but he looks like a child. You are old enough that he could be your child. And if you had not had an abortion twenty years ago, you might have a child his age right now. What in the fuck are you doing here at this bar with him, letting him chat you up?
But it’s the records. You can’t help yourself, and you talk about the albums that matter to you once he starts to ask. He makes electronic music and wants to know all about the old soul LPs you collect. And the bar where you have met him is only a half a block from your house, which contains so much good vinyl. And he says, “I’d really love to hear that Ann Peebles record, do you partake in 420? I could roll a spliff and we could chill while you play that for me.”
You say, “Well I’d love to play that for you and I have some great smoke myself, but I don’t know you, and I feel a little weird about bringing you home with me. If you can assure me that you will be respectful, I suppose we could go. I live pretty close to here, and my roommates are home.” To which he replies, “I know you don’t know me that well, but I am totally respectful. I just think it would be cool to hang out and listen to records with you.”
And it’s that quick—he’s up the street and in your room, which is dimly lit and filled with rich reds and turquoise, and heated by the pipe that runs along the low ceiling. He breaks out his kit and starts rolling the mix of tobacco and sativa with a tiny curl of cardboard rolled up for a filter. You flip through the stacks leaned up against your record crates until you hit Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand the Rain (1974). He wants you to play your bass for him, but you demure. You are shy about it. You love playing, but you are not good at it, and you don’t know him well enough to risk it with him.
You clean the vinyl with a velvet brush and place it on the turntable. You are having pangs of guilt because this record reminds you of John, who you love, even though you are here with this lad instead of him. But this record has always made you feel sexy, since before you even knew him, so how can you let it belong to him now? And you admit to yourself that this situation is making you feel sexy. It’s the way this boy is looking at your low-cut t-shirt, and your big butt in a tight polka dotted miniskirt, and the way your knee socks hit your thighs, as you bend over to put the needle on the record.
You sit next to him on the red leather loveseat, and you pass the spliff between you. The music starts off with slow pops of sound that evoke the rain, and then the slow grind of the groove kicks in, and Ann is calm at first, then wailing a little, “When we were together / everything was so grand / now that we’ve parted / there’s just one sound that I just can’t stand.” And then she’s quieter again when she declares, “I can't stand the rain 'gainst my window / Bringing back sweet memories / I can't stand the rain 'gainst my window / 'Cause he's not here with me.”
You have been sipping wine, but you give up the glass easily when he takes it from you. Then he is kissing you, and you inhale deeply the scent of boy, of sweat and salt and smoke that lives in his hair. It is delicious to you. You breathe him in while you taste the wine and spliff on his tongue. His hands start to roam, down your back to squeeze your large, round butt, and something in the gesture reminds you of John, and you stop for a minute, your hands on the boy’s chest so that you can push him far enough back to look at each other.
You say, I love someone, and I don’t know if I can do this. You don’t reveal that it is over with John and you, that he loves another, and it’s time for you to move on. But, oh, the feelings you have stirring in you from that kiss, from your impossible attraction to this young skater boy in front of you. You are teetering. You don’t know which side you will land on.
Ann is singing, “I don't need no man / I already know the game / I need more loving in my life / To chase away the pain / You might be good to me / And I might be good to you / I don't need nobody that can't be true.”
He smiles and says, “Well, he’s not here, and we can do as little or as much as you want. I will stop whenever you tell me to. But you are so fucking hot to me, your body is perfect—so curvy. Your age is the biggest turn on of my life, your taste in music makes me want to taste you, and I just want to make you feel good. Will you let me?”
And then you are letting him kiss you again. And then you are kissing him back. His lips are singular. They do not feel like John’s would feel upon you now. These are deep kisses with passion behind them, but nothing like force. You relax into the rhythm of the kiss, the cadence of his tongue. Your heart is pounding hard in your chest. You feel the regret about John again. You push through it. You push John down, not for the first time, in your mind, in your feelings, but this time there is something else to fill the hollow that he leaves. This time there is the boy in front of you, and the lust he is raising in you, a distant din that is getting louder as the kissing goes on.
The record is spinning. You are spinning. The lyrics are taunting you, “Time is gonna pass you by / you won’t have time to cry / how can I say goodbye / You won’t know the reason why / Run, run, run is all you do / you’re doing the same old thing / you never do nothing new.”
He kneels in front of you. He runs his hands from the tops of your shoulders down the front of your shirt, lightly over the push of your breasts, slowly over the swell of your stomach, softly down the front of your skirt along the front of your thighs until his fingers graze the bare skin between your hem and your thigh highs. He asks, “Is this ok? Do you like this?” And you just nod, silently. You have nothing to say, except “yes,” so why even waste a single word?
Side A ends with horns and vocals fading out, and in the dim quiet there are only small gasps and whispers, and you surprise yourself with the scream you let out when he finds the right spot. It wakes you from your reverie. You are aware of your roommates upstairs and beg him to pause in his ministrations long enough for you to flip the record. He looks up at you with shining eyes and he makes you wait until he is finished finishing you off before you can get up. You hate having to be quiet, it takes you out of the moment, but that is what you force yourself to do.
You are shaky when you turn the record over. The first song is “If We Can’t Trust Each Other” and you wonder what John will say when you tell him about this. You guys are pretending like you’re totally cool now that you have broken things off. He tells you about falling hard and fast for the next girl he meets, and you gulp back the disappointment in your voice when he calls to give you the news. You wonder how John will feel once he knows you have a new lad. You wonder if he will feel a pang of regret about this milestone for you.
As if Ann is echoing your thoughts, she sings, “We don't need to shed a tear / 'Cause it's too late for us to cry / If we had known what we had goin' on / We would've never let this feeling die / We let a love vibration, pass us by / We let a love vibration, pass us by.”
You are two places at once. You are here in the physical now, and you are there in the past, where you would rather be. You can’t believe how limber you’ve become, how far you can stretch yourself until you feel the small rips from the impossibility of this existence. You are aware of the feeling of being quartered, and before there is a permanent rift, you choose without knowing it, to cling to this boy, and you let him take you into the next part, the part where you move on, imperfect as this segue is.
The last time you are aware of the lyrics you hear Ann singing, “You know it's wrong / this way of living / Sometimes you have to take less than what you're giving / But right now I'm satisfied / taking bitter with the sweet / Traveling the wrong way on a one-way street.”
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