Guarding Charlene

Ben Sneyd

Ben Sneyd

She’s reaching, her hands slithering along the console. I’m waiting for the bite, aggression and beauty and pain.

We head off the turnpike, going nowhere, and drive around for an hour. I look over at Charlene. She’s a boogie-eyed woman, a freaky human that never developed out like other girls. Her mother, Beulah, warned me to treat her right, to keep my hands where they ought to be and don’t let creeping things wander. She gave me a Gideon Bible to put between the seats of the car. I haven’t thought much of it until now. Charlene wants to get back on the interstate, but it’s hard to focus on anything when she’s staring—those glances linger in moments that should pass like cars do semis, like smoke breaths—wispy, from blackened mouths exhaling quickly instead of flailing, falling in open air, adrift on azure trailer walls. There’s no reason we couldn’t park, and I couldn’t lean over her tiny body and press my thumbs into her pelvic bones, deep and earnest, with conviction but soft as not to tear her beer-bottle sized legs from her torso. But I’d only catch my jeans on the shifter, propelling my head back between the two seats. And seal half my lips to hers before I couldn’t reach over the console any further. I want to believe I used to be a man.

When we met, she claimed to have a thing for younger guys. I was seventeen. She was twenty-one. We talked for an hour until she couldn’t take it anymore. She lunged towards my chair, which toppled over—and we went tumbling with it. I busted my head on the bed rail, but she stayed with me in the hospital while doctors ran CT scans and shared disappointed glances. I worried, and she leaned over and bit my ear. She said when we got out of there, she’d rip my shirt and hold my un-hairy chest muscles in her hands before attacking my throat and face and then climbing up and down over unzipped Wrangler jeans.

“Get back on the interstate,” she says. “And maybe you’ll get lucky later.”

My mother used to say the same thing to my father, in front of me, in front of friends who came over to drink beer and martinis during bridge and spades, sometimes poker, but only after the women went off into the living room to share uncomfortable stories about their husbands’ penises. I used to spy on them, hidden behind the calfskin couch. I discovered quickly that men are boring to observe. My father’s conversations generally turned in the same direction—first, they’d talk about work and the yard and somehow, three hours later and two six packs down, they’d argue over whose wife had the biggest boobs. They discussed having a wife swap night, but I don’t know if they ever did.

I pull into a gravel driveway and three-point turn. I learned this from my mother because my father was never around, although he lived in the house—more of an idea than a person. We head back onto the interstate ramp and out into the dark where no trailer parks or run down houses have street lamps close by to shine light for the tired and weary. I remember the Gideon Bible and parts of that verse. On the back of eagles, the weary shall ride. My mother made me memorize verses until I was seven.

Without warning, metal curls and clangs, and the car’s skating icy road and chaffing the guardrail. The sound is razor-sharp, crumpling paper times ten thousand. The metal rail caves to the car’s sturdy steel frame, and we hit the bank on the other side of the median. We’re airborne, floating away into the inevitable screech of crashing in the unknown dark and asphalt. We are adventurers, pioneering new passages like Sacajawea. We should have our faces on gold-plated coins and not copy-paper photos on flower arrangements by the road to tell passersby:

This is where kids were irresponsible. Be aware. Be warned. Don’t do drugs. Don’t sleep with girls too much older than you. For god’s sake, don’t sleep with boys. Support George Bush.

We land and the car groans. She’s louder than Charlene when I know she’s faking. On those nights, the sounds emanate from her through the car or room. I climb above her, elbows on bed or seat, butt raised, keeping rhythm with perfection. My elbows ache, heart races, and I can’t hold. She leans into my ear while I lie across her again and pump my hips. She says, “I love to watch you struggle,” and she grabs hold of my neck and quietly moans, breathing harder and harder.

Our car is facing the wrong way on the wrong side of the interstate. There aren’t any headlights for miles. In a minute, I’ll start the engine back up and head off into the night like a possum in the dark when no one is around. Charlene steps out of the car to survey the wreck. I follow, but turning the bend at the rear of the car, I slip and fall on my knees. I roll onto my back; the ground is freezing. Charlene looms over me. I close my eyes. She unzips my jeans. “Here?” I say. She reaches down into the creases of my underwear. I won’t tell her to stop.


  1. Nicely disturbing.

  2. I agree, Paul. Disturbing, yet intriguing. It makes me want to know so much more about both characters. I think this could be one of many stories involving the narrator and Charlene.

  3. I like the respect you have for your characters. The story is sweet and sexy. I do NOT find it disturbing. Young people all are freaks. You showed their freaky while all the while keeping them focused. Good kids. I like you sentences too.

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