Boyfriend on Main Street
I was in the car with Stephen and he was driving just to drive and I felt like being driven and he didn’t have class until 2pm and probably thought we would find a place to park and make out or do more, which we did do sometimes in the car, even though we weren’t in high school and I’d prefer to make out in a dorm room, or in the common space even – if he really wanted to and if his roommates were gone – or anywhere, really, aside from his rusty hatchback that smelled of wet socks.
Stephen was explaining his newest plan for post-graduation, if he did graduate. Convert a U-Haul into a food truck. Sell fancy granola and oatmeal around campus and parts of downtown. It would be vegan, the granola. Artisanal.
And the best part, he said, is the name: Haul’n’ Oats. Get it? Haul’n’ Oats?
He looked so proud I couldn’t ask who was going to make the actual food since Stephen can’t boil an egg without setting off the smoke alarms in the residence hall at 3 in the morning.
I said, Good idea.
I said, I can draw a logo. Sure.
We passed a new Thai restaurant on the corner of Main — right next to LaundroMutt Pet Grooming and Pita Pan Falafel. Thai Me Up it was called. I didn’t get it. Or else, I did.
Main Street was clogged because it was rush hour and because it’s the main street. I appreciated the name Main Street then. There’s a girl on our floor who calls her boyfriend Boyfriend. Can’t do dinner Friday, she’ll say. Boyfriend’s visiting.
This girl is dumb and flirts with Stephen in front of me, probably not even consciously, but if there is one thing I like about the girl, it’s how she calls things what they are and uses herself as the only reference. I’ve never heard this girl make a joke out of anything. I suspect that I never will.
Stephen had to stop at the same red light three times.
What about this, I thought, a home security company called Sure-Lock Homes? Or what about this: a bookstore-bar, Tequila Mockingbird?
I kept thinking of these and not saying them out loud because, for one, I was pretty sure Stephen had been thinking about Haul’n’ Oats for a while and here I was coming up with all these better, more clever ideas in the time it took us to get past the intersection and, two, if there’s one thing the world does not need, it’s more businesses with names that are puns.
Turn left, I said.
Stephen didn’t ask why. He turned left.
I was sick of traffic and I wanted to see the trees in the park, which maybe were starting to change color? It was early autumn and you can’t really see the trees from campus. It’s all manicured lawns and those blue lights with phones that are there for emergency calls. I heard once that nine times out of ten, when the blue light phones are used, it’s a prank call.
I thought a lot about the one out of ten times when it’s real.
We were coming to the park and it was nice to be somewhere with trees and where the average person on the street had been legally drinking alcohol for decades and where college is a mostly forgotten memory.
Stephen found a space in front of one of those brownstones that are almost too charming with their front stoops and their railings. I imagined every single person living on that block must be a professor or a historian or wear scholarly glasses at the very least to try to fit in.
He turned to me, expectant, smiling. His teeth are so big and his pores large. I didn’t feel like kissing him.
You have class in ten minutes, I said.
Shit, he said. Shit. Why’d you make me turn off Main?
I hadn’t made him do anything. He was the one driving. He started the car and pulled out quickly without looking in the mirrors. I braced myself for a crash but a crash never came.
Back on Main, we were stuck in the same traffic, undoing everything. On the sidewalk, I watched an old woman with a cane but she was hardly using it. She was walking pretty fast and her gait was steady.
How about this: home medical equipment from Cane & Able?
Was I getting better at this or worse? It was impossible to tell.
Stephen was anxious. He couldn’t be more than fifteen minutes late to this class or it would count as an absence. He couldn’t be absent from this class or it would count as a fail. He couldn’t fail this class or he wouldn’t graduate. The stakes were high.
You want some music? I offered, thinking music might diffuse or at least distract him. How about Hall and Oates?
He was so pissed. He snapped, right away, turning toward me, face like he just bit something rotten: No, Becca, he said. God, No. Hall and Oates? I don’t even know what they sing.
Rebekah Bergman’s fiction is published in Tin House Online, DIAGRAM, Hobart, and Joyland, among other journals. She is at work on a novel. Read more: rebekahbergman
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