By Caroline Beimford
For reasons that aren’t worth mentioning, I moved home with my latest serious boyfriend to live above my parents’ garage for a while. I started taking the train to work, and in less than a week, I run into a childhood friend, a woman named Sylvia, on the inbound platform.
The moment I recognize her, still round and dimpled in all the places I have never been, I think of the Dating Game.
Sylvia and I were best friends for precisely one summer. She lived down the block in a house with a turret and was the first person I met after moving to Rye. We both liked musicals, especially Grease, and we’d perform the song and dance numbers in the unused foyer of her dark, Victorian home almost daily. I pretended it irked me that I always had to be Danny Zuko, since I had the lower voice, but really I preferred it, since “Hopelessly Devoted to You” struck me as inane, even then.
The way I recall it, we were inseparable. With her silky hair and new bra straps, Sylvia was sophisticated with knowledge from magazines and a much older half-sister, while I was so proud of my callused feet I’d walk everywhere barefoot. Her sister lived in the city and gave her hand-me-downs. Sylvia lent me the jellies that pinched her toes.
Then fourth grade began, and Sylvia went to the private school two towns over while I enrolled within walking distance. I made new friends, she went to sleep-away camp, and when we were older, we’d pass each other in cars at the intersection of Parkway and Crescent. I would recognize her face, a pale moon behind the windshield, but we never pulled aside in the way of squad cars or taxi cabs. We never lined up our driver’s side windows to ask one another what we were “up to” now, or if we liked school, or whether we were seeing anyone.
Still, when I see Sylvia on the train platform, I don’t think of Greased Lightning, or borrowed jellies, or the scraps of odd updates passed on by my mother—that Sylvia had gone on to Oberlin, had married an older man, was at home now to help with her father. Instead, I think only of the Dating Game, and whether she’s thinking of it too.
The Dating Game had little to do with dating. At the shrewd age of ten, Sylvia and I saw right through romance and went straight for the sex. The game had two levels:
Level 1: A boy and girl went out. The boy expressed his undying love, the girl swooned, and he spent loads of time kissing up her arms. Then, “sex” happened (we didn’t know how this worked, only that it was the finale, only that it required us to lie on top of one another and see how it felt in our bones and stomachs and nubs of nerves to writhe and flop like eels). We’d named it the big shebang (we counted down and said it in unison—“5-4-3-2-1-SHEBANG!”).
Level 2: The girl played “hard to get.” She sent mixed messages (slapping, winking), and when the boy kept coming, the girl ran (there was a chase, ultimately a struggle). At last, the boy caught up, threw the girl against the wall, and well—shebang.
This, then, is what I think of when I see Sylvia, still white-blonde and busty, on the train platform. Does she remember as we smile politely and embrace? Is she thinking of the big finale (“we go together like rama-lama-lama-ka-dinga-da-dinga-dong”) while I’m thinking of the big shebang? Is she saying, “What a little pervert you were!” as the train chugs up and her words are lost in the keen of the approaching whistle? Or merely, “We should get coffee sometime!”
Later that night, at home with the boyfriend above my parent’s garage, I start to tell him about meeting Sylvia, how strange it felt. “Why strange?” he asks, kissing my jaw and neck and collarbone. I want him to quit and listen, or get on with it. “Level 2!” I want to shout, though I haven’t told him what Level 2 is, or that what I want now, but can’t seem to ask for, has been neatly labeled and filed away all this time.
Caroline Beimford's stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Zoetrope: All Story, The Massachusetts Review, TriQuarterly, Ninth Letter, TSR Online, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Fiction from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and has been the recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Sewanee Writers' Conference, New York State Summer Writer’s Institute and the Arkansas Arts Council.