Sweet and Clear, essay by Terry Barr

I saw her smil­ing at me in K‑Mart, over by the jeans. She had red hair, and no mat­ter which aisle I turned into—the Men’s groom­ing prod­ucts, the albums, the “notions”—there she was, smil­ing. I don’t know if it was her hair or her smile, or those eyes, green and wide like two Per­sian limes. She looked at me as if she knew me, as if she knew some­thing I didn’t know. As if she’d like to know more.

I turned back again and again to make sure it was me she saw. I was only fif­teen, and I knew she was old­er. I rec­og­nized her from high school, but I didn’t know her name.

That night after my par­ents fin­ished their shop­ping and drove us home, I looked her up in our last year’s “Largus.”

Denise Gosling.

There was only one Gosling list­ed in the Besse­mer phone book, and the next night, at a more decent hour, I dialed the num­ber and held the last dig­it on the dial for ten or fif­teen sec­onds before I let it go.

Hel­lo.” It had to be her.

Is this Denise?”

Yes, but who is this?”

It’s fun­ny, but though we talked for ten min­utes that night, I don’t think I ever iden­ti­fied myself as any­one but “that guy you smiled at in K‑Mart last night.”

Is this how guys do it,” she asked. “They just pick up the phone and call girls who’ve smiled at them?”

I don’t know. It’s what I’m doing though.”

I called her again the next night.

Do you want to go out with me some­time,” I said.

Can you even drive?”

No, but we could dou­ble with some­one, maybe my friend Steve.”

Any­way, I’m dat­ing Ricky Russo.”


Some girls are that hon­est, some even save the moment.

Do you have a favorite song?”

Uh, yeah. I guess it’s “Coun­try Girl,” by Neil Young.

Mine is “Rock and Roll Lul­la­by” by BJ Thomas. That song just hurts me,” she said.

Hurts her. What a thing to say.

I didn’t call her again, this girl who smiled at me, who tried to tell me some­thing with her eyes. That week­end I went back to K‑Mart, but of course she wasn’t there. It didn’t mat­ter. I bought the record anyway:

Sing it sweet and clear, O mama let me hear that old Rock and Roll lullaby.”

The next week at school, I saw her in the hall­way, argu­ing with Ricky. I could hear them clear­ly. Denise had been flirt­ing with anoth­er guy, a senior named Eugene who was the lead drum­mer in the march­ing band. Even­tu­al­ly, Ricky would black­en Eugene the drummer’s eye, but on this day, Denise turned her back on Ricky and walked away, down anoth­er aisle.

And when she did so, she caught my eye. Only this time she wasn’t smiling.

terrybarrTer­ry Barr's essays have been or will soon be pub­lished in Deep South, Red Truck Review, Belle Reve Lit­er­ary Jour­nal, Blue Bon­net Review, and Hip­pocam­pus. He is the proud own­er of a Car­oli­na Wild Dog, aka the Dix­ie Din­go. He prefers Alaba­ma bar­be­cue to the Car­oli­na ver­sion, though he'll eat it any­way you serve it as long as it's grilled in a pit over hick­o­ry, pecan, or cher­ry wood. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family.

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