Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song
Kara Vernor

Johnny calls me his Numero Uno groupie. I call me his girlfriend. We've been together since Sarah Loquat's graduation party a few months back. We were both single and bored and sitting on the same couch. You know how that goes. I remind him he doesn't have any groupies. He tucks my hair behind my ear and says, Yeah, but I got you babe.

Johnny's got a problem with the "L" word, except in his songs. In his songs he loves a lot of people: Karla, Leena, Farrah, Sue, even Eric. I gave him a yard-sale T-shirt—navy and orange from a 1973 folk festival—which I thought it might make him love me in a song. The way he looked at me after he tried it on, like I had turned from cubic zirconium to actual diamond, I swear it almost worked. But all he did was kiss my head and pat my butt and say, Ooh, ooh, tangled up in blue.

After my dad stole the family car and left us in Bakersfield, my mom tried to pawn her wedding ring. That's how she learned it was CZ. Shit was fake, she told me. She dropped it in her leftover mashed potatoes and tossed it in the trash at the KFC. I thought, You know what? It still looked pretty.

If Johnny's got another girl, she's way part-time, as in more part-time than his job at the laundromat. I know because I'm always around. Or he's playing a gig and I'm around then, too. I asked him the other day to be sure. We had had sex on his futon and he hadn't fallen asleep yet. He said, Uno—he calls me that for short—he said, Dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup with the promise of man. Then he farted in front of me for the first time, which was almost as good as I love you when you think about how it meant we were definitely a couple.

When Johnny's not around, I listen to music I don't tell him about: Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry. Sometimes a girl has to dance. Still, I start ukulele lessons because it's sexy and different, and I have a dream of playing instrumental versions of all of Johnny's favorite folk songs on the ukulele. Bands would invite me open for them, though I would never get a record deal.

I practice the ukulele with the hit song, "Call Me Maybe." When Johnny walks in on me playing it, he says, Dude, not cool. He plants himself on my couch, rolls a cigarette, lights it with his Zippo, and then puffs his way out the door. What I want to know is, how did he recognize the song.

My mom likes to say the best couples grow together, so after mastering some ukulele basics, I decide to present Johnny with a growth opportunity. Maybe he needs to dance? I write my very own ukulele original, a pop number inspired by the night I met him. I record it on my mom's handheld cassette player so I can play it in on a boom box outside his window like the guy in that '80s movie. Johnny loves anything vintage. Uno? he says after I call his name and hit play. Is that you? He leans out his window, lights a cigarette and listens for a bit. My arms get tired but I persist. He says, You know what, Uno? You should have learned "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." Then he shuts the window and lowers the blinds.

The thing is, I like that song too, I do. But now I won't get to tell him. I'll never get to tell him I do.

When I get home I can't go to sleep. I lie there thinking about Johnny, remembering the art opening we went to at the coffee shop next to the laundromat. Each painting was the size of a postcard, but looking at them—dark blue backdrop with different colored specks and dots—they were windows to outer space. I was talking loud, I guess, saying, Don't you wish you were inside of them? Don't they make you feel so small? He said, Shhhhh, and gave me a look. Then he walked away and left me thinking about all the galaxies that aren't ours, all the planets we could live on but never will.

Kara Vernor's fictions have appeared in Hobart, SmokeLong, The Los Angeles Review and lots of others. She co-hosts Get Lit, a monthly reading series in San Francisco's North Bay.

*Lyrics quoted in italics from:"I Got You Babe," by Sonny Bono; "Tangled Up in Blue," by Bob Dylan; and "Harvest," by Neil Young

Read more of KV's work in the archive.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Shankar Shiv.

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