When I meet her, she’s a poet - a brilliant fucking poet. Her work is unread, in thick volumes in the library, leather-bound with titles like Exercises in Restricted Liberty. Her verses are all little words crammed into big ideas.
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Every poem is a rebuttal to some preconceived notion you have.
Every poem is a contradiction to itself.
Every poem is covered in a fine layer of dust.
Her other poetry, if you could call it that, is seen in greeting cards. Saccharine and sticky, and it all uses the words “feeling,” “friend,” “love.”
“Heart is a word you see a lot in what she gets paid to write.
We’re lying in the dead grass at the end of a dry summer. She’s wearing a skirt so thin and worn I can see the shapes of her legs through the orange. She’s woven a chain of daiseies so big it could wrap around both of us.
The petals are brown and yellow. Some are cracked down the middle.
We’re lying in the grass and it’s so dead and brown I can feel the back of my neck rising in a red rash. My shirt is plastered to me with sweat, and she’s still baby-powder dry.
“I’m a whore.”
The greeting cards. She’s telling me about those.
“I have this talent and I water it down and pervert it for money. This thing I can do better than anyone else, I take it and warp it so other people can milk it.”
She’s hazy in the afternoon heat.
“I’m a prostitute for people’s intellects.”
“If you had any dignity,” I tell her, “you’d quit.”
I say this because she wants me to say this. What I’m really thinking is, at least she gets paid for doing next to nothing.
“If you had any pride,” I’m saying, “you’d be living in a garret, surviving on moldy cheese and month-old bread.”
I say this because I can feel her thigh right against mine, a million degrees hotter than the air suffocating us. What I’m really thinking is, her hair is gleaming in the tawny light.
“If you were really an artist,” I can hear myself, “you’d give up all the material bullshit and find a way to live on beauty alone.”
I say this I don’t know why. What I’m really thinking is, I wonder how the inside of her thigh might feel, if it’s any softer than the outside.
“Art isn’t always beautiful.” There’s pleasure in the bruise in her voice.
What I’m thinking is, I want to kiss her.
The grass shifts as she sits up and takes a beer bottle from Lindy, standing above us. I can’t hear the exchange in the wind, but she’s laughing when she hands me a second one. We clink the bottles together.
“Here’s to our own steady self-destruction in the pursuit of survival.”
It’s a six-pack later and the sun’s going down that I find her again. She’s been hiding in plain view, laughing and flirting. Every time I turn, I can catch a glimpse of her hair pouring over hr thin shoulders. Her skin glints white in the fading sun, like stars through the fabric of her skirt.
Her throat is exposed as she laughs at something Jonny has said when I approach. She meets my eyes, and her pupils are huge despire the light coming up over the dune. She tosses her bottle past me, into the trash, and grasps my hand.
“Let’s go for a swim.”
The run up the dune is hard, sand slipping away between the beachgrass and my toes. What I’m thinking is, her hand is hot and small and strong, somehow tangling itself in mine, tight as a rope.
She’s ahead of me as we hit the beach, dropping her skirt and dashing into the waves. Her skin is as white as the foam and what I’m thinking is, I don’t even know.
The water is chilly, even in the sunset and when I look around, I can’t see her anywhere. The waves brush past my thighs and then my waist as I push my way into the water. Breaking my neck trying to find her.
She has a nimbus when she rises from the waves. Mary Magdalen coming towards me with the sun behind her.
Most anyone else would say something entirely banal here - something that might make me want to slap her, or leave her, or laugh.
So I say it first.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
She nods, then throws herself back into the waves.
What I’m thinking is, how do I save this now?
Imagine she’s not the girl you always hoped you’d fall for. She’s pretty enough - a Jessica Rabbit figure and a face like a twenties’ film star, all flawless pale skin and big dramatic eyes. Imagine she’s got legs up to her face and when she wears skirts, all your friends ask how you, schmuck that you are, got so lucky.
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Imagine, she didn’t always have those perfect sardonic eyebrows. That underneath her perfect body, she’s got years of self-hate bubbling.
Imagine inside, she’s Mt. St. Helen’s.
Imagine you spend every day encouraging her and pushing her away simultaneously. Telling her how beautiful she is, then telling her to run and get you another beer.
Getting the picture?
Imagine you’ve decided to end it and that the least painful way is to just cut ties with her. And even when she [ludicruously] asks what’s going on, you simply clam up and do your best to make it a clean break.
Imagine at the party that night - she’s drinking. At first it’s slow, that glass of champagne, then a beer. A shot of Captain Morgan in a coke.
Imagine that you’re gone by the time she hits tequila shots, but that this whole time she’s been downing rum and vodka, wine and whiskey - and eating.
Chips. Salsa. Rice.
Imagine that you’re in your room down the hall, stripping one of your other roommates while the girl fondles your dick. Imagine that you’re listening to Let’s Get It On when the retching starts, and you just turn the music up.
Imagine that when you wake up in the morning, it’s all spelled out for you in the yard. The Y in orange that’s probably mostly cheese, but the I and E are more red; likely salsa.
Imagine that in vomit, your yard reads:
I HATE YOU.
Imagine Mt. St. Helen’s just erupted.
The moans are coming out from under her door again. Creaks and squealings force themselves around her doorjamb. Words crawl across the floor, lithe like spiders, and into my ears.
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And this one: “Jesus!”
And these: “Hurt me. Do whatever you want.”
The groaning and rocking slip through the drywall and careen into several pieces of furniture before climbing their silk into my brain.
They settle, oppressive and itchy as wool blankets over my lobes.
Amygdala: The part of the brain that recognizes smell, taste, sound, patterns, tactile things and connects them all to memories.
My amygdala is going nuts over the smell of her as it seeps under the door and across the floorboards to me.
She cries out: “Stop worrying about me. Fuck me! Hurt me!”
My amygdala is going nuts.
The steady creak, scream, moan, rock, creak from the other room.
Creak. Scream. Moan. Rock.
I’m trying to drown myself in pillows. Fill my lungs up with stuffing.
I really have to get myself some earplugs.
She settles herself on the edge of my couch, a queen with disheveled hair. A model with smudged makeup. The oval of her mouth, lips too thick for her bony face.
She’s a bird. A strong wind might blow her away.
She wears a green housecoat. Bright tea, and orange and pink fish flying across in delicate curlicues. It’s several sizes too big for her, and her tits, too big for her skinny frame, push out. More than visual?
She wants me to see them.
Her skin is so white in the brilliant winter sunrise, she could be a corpse rotting on the edge of the couch. I can almost feel the maggots inside her, squirming. Feel them though the layers of her skin and the thin robe.
She pulls a cigarette from my pack and strikes a match to light it. Shakes it out, thin fingers, and drops the charred wood on the floor.
Smell of sulfur.
She reaches out her frail hand and runs it through my hair. Her nails are short and they scrape along my scalp. Her hands are white birds dragging the claws of their fee and I think she’s drawn blood.
I haven’t eaten in four days and I think I’m maybe hallucinating.
“Sorry about the noise.”
Her smile is almost apologetic. A hair from sincerity.
There was a time when it was real, but she’s beyond real now. She’s Dracula. She’s Frankenstein’s monster.
She’s my creation and I’m not sure if I’m more frightened or proud.
“How about some grilled cheese?” she asks.
Six of one, half dozen of the other.
this is just to signal that I'm starting something new. yeah, nanowrimo month doesn't start till november, but I'm slow, so I need an early start.
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How do you apply a linear description to a non-linear event?
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When everything happens at once, you can't talk about it. You just sit in your place and let it happen and later, trying to explain, you search for the words you've forgotten.
Stand in your spot and wonder what's going on.
Some people are just voyeurs to life. Sit back, try to sort out a linear description of the life you're avoiding living.
It's a paradox, to watch your life unfold before you. Watch it roll out like a carpet, watch it unfurl like a rapidly decaying poisonous flower.
The thing you forget sometimes, as you watch your life shoot by, is that it's vanishing. Each sheet you rip off your calendar and toss into the wastebasket is a day.
The fourth of May.
The seventeenth of September.
The twenty-seventh of January.
Another meaningless day of a brown suit, a faded tie. Shoes scuffed about the edges. A haircut too long on one side, too short on the other. Another day of thick-framed scratched glasses. Another day of a briefcase with a clasp that doesn't work. With people thinking you're forty, not twenty-nine.
This is how your days go:
Wake up and get out of bed.
Cook yourself greasy eggs, half of which you won't eat. Clean up.
Go to work, where you eat lunch alone. Spend your day restocking books and driving the loud teenagers out of the stacks. Go to work, where you sit at the desk and watch people come in and out, wondering passively where they're going and if they like it.
Eat and egg-salad or dry turkey sandwich while working, without budging from your seat.
Read a book too dense for most people to get through. Order out a pizza or Chinese delivery or burrito take-away and tip the delivery boy four dollars.
Go to bed.
Rip another paper from your desk calendar.
The eleventh of March.
The thirtieth of November.
The ninth of June.
Rip the paper off the pad. Crumple it up, and toss it into the rubbishbin. When it's full, dump the binliner outside.
The twentyfirst of August.
The eighth of March.
The ninth of December.
Roll the day between your fingers, memories and possible experiences slipping down around your skin and through your cells. Roll your day -
The twentyninth of October.
The first of July.
The sixth of February.
- between two hands, watching the things you've never done and people you've never seen slip away, spilling dark between the soles of your scuffed shoes.
Friends you've never met.
Children you've never had.
Books you've never read.
Women you've never slept with.
Music you've never heard.
They dissolve into the rubbish, with all the other detritus, all the other days you've watched other people live.
Try to find the words to describe linearly what happens all at once.
Keep the ties color-coded. The books alphabetical, the pictures hung straight. Hang the coat up right away when you get home. Iron your pants to a military crease; get your flu shot every October, send a birthday gift to your mom every April.
If everything's the same, then everything's safe.
Rip the days off one by one, roll them up, and dispose of them in the wastebasket. Three hundred sixty-five white slips of paper, with thick black pre-printed wonders and numbers hidden inside them.
The young guy – lank dark hair falling over his eyes, patchy blotches of acne fading across his cheeks in the pink light of sunset coming through the huge picture window at the front of the café – picked up his bag, heavy with the laptop in it, and hustled towards the door, head down. Slinking.
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She put the chemistry book down on the counter, wiped her hands absentmindedly on her pale blue half-apron, and walked over to the table, clicking out a steady beat with her heels. A few crumbs, which she wiped off quickly with a damp rag pulled from her right pocket, and she lifted a napkin to reveal her tip. Twenty-three cents.
A dime, one nickel, and eight pennies, hidden under a crust of biscotti and a crumpled red-trimmed napkin.
She’d had small tips before – the smallest before this being a dollar. When the homeless guys fled the chill of the park and came in, she’d give them a discount and smile and laugh for them, making jokes and collecting their meager amounts as politely as she could. They’d leave her with tips of four cents, nine cents, just so they could retain some simple pride. In her mind, she didn’t count these as tips – they went straight into the register, so she could make up a little for the forty cents here, seventy-five there that she’d knock off their meals.
She scooped up the dirty coins, the copper of the pennies glinting through the grime. The dime’s edges were worn smooth from ages of being handled and passed from one person to another. The nickel was thin in the middle, so she could barely make out the words “five cents” on the front. She dropped them into the left pocket of her apron with one hand, brushing a long thread of dark hair back behind her ear with the other. She didn’t get angry often, or easily, but she did now. A bowl of soup, the guy had ordered – minestrone, and it came with a piece of bread. Four dollars, thirty cents. A small salad, no dressing – three seventy-five. A cup of tea – Earl Grey, not the cheap generic stuff – One eighty-nine. Biscotti for dessert, Two oh-five. Five percent tax, which factored out to sixty cents. Altogether, twelve dollars, fifty nine cents.
And suddenly, she was angry – violently angry, in the mood to hit someone. She marched through the café in the post-lunch/pre-dinner rush, heels striking out an angry tattoo, and charged through the door onto the harsh concrete of the New York street. She turned one way, then the other, not really expecting to still see him there, but to her left, he stood at the bus stop. He was huddled into his coat, black wool against the faint vestiges of his summer tan.
Her sleeves were rolled up and her stockings thin, but she walked over to him just the same, shivering in the wind that snaked down the street and toyed with the tattered hem of her “sensible” work skirt [black, knee-length, with a slit in the back. Too expensive at Sears, she’d gotten hers at the Goodwill around the corner from her tiny flat].
“Are you always such an asshole?”
Her voice was too-loud, brittle in the frozen air. She could feel her cheeks going numb in the shadows of the buildings. He turned to her, face distorted with confusion and annoyance.
“Excuse me?” He gave her a look that said she was beneath his notice; his eyebrows rose in condescension, his mouth lowered at the corners. “What are you talking about?”
“I asked if you’re always such an asshole,” she repeated the question, voice stronger now, anger laced through it. “You left me a tip. Twenty-three cents,” she informed him, feeling silly as it had just been a few minutes ago. “Twenty-three cents for a meal that was almost thirteen dollars. You do realize I have to live on that?” She could feel herself talking down him, brushed her bangs out of her eyes as she looked up at him. He seemed much taller now that he was standing, and his lanky frame hidden by the folds of the big coat made her feel borderline intimidated.
“I don’t owe you anything,” he informed her, turning away and looking – anxiously she noted with a thin glint of pleasure – up the street for the bus. “I like to eat out sometimes, but I leave what’s left for the tip.”
“You like to eat out?” She asked, almost lightly in comparison to her earlier tone. A conversational voice, almost, as if for clarification. Stress on the “like.”
“Yes, I do. Look, lady,” he gestured at her broadly, long arms too close to her body, but she stood her ground. “I don’t owe you anything. Go away.”
“Actually, you do owe me something, you jackass. You like to eat out, meaning you like to be served.” He nodded, a slight inclination of the head, and she charged on with her diatribe, full-speed. “You like to be served, but don’t want to pay for the service.” He stopped nodding, interrupting her.
“I do pay,” he said, as if she were an imbecile. “I get a bill, don’t I?”
“You have a responsibility to pay for your service,” she cut him off before he could continue. She shivered in the cold, speaking on, “A responsibility to tip. You leave a server a tip like that, you tell them their service ain’t worth anything. That’s fine, if it’s true. But if it ain’t-“
“Hey!” He cut her off as the bus trundled towards him, slower every second. “You shoulda thoughta that before you became a waitress, eh?” The bus screeched to a halt, brakes squealing in indignation about actually having to do something. “You want a tip? Here.” He gurgled a moment, then spat at her feet. With a chuckle, he climbed onto the bus.
She looked at the spit between her “sensible” shoes [black, low-heeled, a scuff about the toe of the left one]. An idea was coming to her, and she rather liked it.
yup - the nanowrimo thing's defunct, mostly because november's waaaay over and I don't usually have time to write at work.
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hence: journal shall be used solely for writing purposes. whatever, yaknow?
“And where were you last night?”
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The floorboard had creaked. That dratted floorboard had creaked - it had never once creaked when she was coming in in the afternoon to grab books for class or her meal card before dinner, but now, first thing in the morning -
Her roommate rolled over, oceans of blonde hair cascading across the blue flannel sheets. With a slight smirk, a delicate raise of the eyebrow, “Hmm?”
Marla dropped onto her own bed, dropping her shoes underneath the neat overhang of her coverlet. She’d spent the whole night in his room, listening to music and chatting about art and politics.
“Do you think art has a moral or ethical duty?” He’d asked her in the middle of her rant about Socialism and the Feminist Agenda. She’d paused, wondering where that question came from, and what he meant.
“I don’t know. I never claimed to have all the answers,” she’d told him softly, unconsciously biting her lip. “I mean, I suppose it’s all in how you look at it, right? Sometimes art just has a moral duty to be beautiful, to lighten the viewer. Portraits, landscapes, the fluff pieces, you know?” Her mind shot back to the piece she’d been doing before she left, a pop-art painting for class. “And sometimes it has a duty to show the viewer a reflection - of themself, of the world, of the nature of beauty and society and morals themselves.”
He’d kissed her again then, and it had made her feel giddy, the way his tongue had probed gently into her mouth, running along her teeth There had been something in the way he ran his fingers along her arm - so gently it made her want to cry out! - and up into the knot of her hair behind her head.
She’d watched, mute, as he played with the crimson strands beneath the unflattering fluorescent lights above his bed. She’d held as still as she knew how as his fingernails found their way to the back of her head, massaging and teasing her until she finally had to break away, amazed to find herself panting, and spit out one agonizing sentance.
“I should probably go now.”
Her hand had been resting on his chest, at the spot where his shirt buttoned, and she could feel his heart beating just beneath it. It had seemed to her that it should be moving faster, but it was as slow as if at rest.
“I’ll walk you back.”
“No, you don’t have to.” He was pulling on his shoes.
“It’s not quite three am. I’ll walk you back,” but he was smiling.
“I was just...out. With a friend,” she told Anna, hurrying to the bathroom and shutting the door. She took her toothbrush in hand, but for the first time in her memory, she couldn’t bring herself to clean her mouth. There was something inside of her that didn’t want to scrub out the taste of him, the sensation of his tongue inside her mouth just yet - she didn’t want the medicinal taste of toothpaste to marr the pressure she could still feel in her mouth.
She set the toothbrush back down, glanced in the mirror, and frowned at her hair. Miserable. It stubbornly refused to pick a color. Annoyed, she turned out the light and went back into the bedroom, lit now by a lamp on her roommate’s bedtable.
“I thought you were staying over at Mike’s tonight,” she stated, trying not to sound upset. Please don’t notice I’m drunk, she thought at Anna. Please don’t criticize me for being out with a guy I barely know while drunk.
I really do know better than this, she said silently.
She reached up, began removing her earrings. “I was, but...I don’t know,” Anna leaned up on one elbow, grinning at her friend. “He just isn’t doing it for me anymore.” A pause.
It stretched a bit longer as Marla pulled her hair out of its tight ponytail, dropped her overalls to the floor. Instead of hanging them neatly in the closet as she usually did, she kicked them into a corner and climbed into bed.
Please don’t ask.
And then, of course, the inevitable question.
“So, who’s this friend?” She hated the way Anna could do that. Stretch the ‘i-e’ sound out so it was as wide as the Grand Canyon, as gaping as any yente’s question. Insinuating. Taunting, almost.
“His name’s Jack. I don’t know if you know him. “ Roll over, face the wall. Anna took that hint at least and turned out the light.
“Jack, huh? Aaron’s roommate?” Insinuating again. This time with a long, broad ‘a’ from Jack’s name. She took a moment and considered what Anna’s face might look like with a metal spike thrust up through the chin, then shook her head at the image. Where did that come from?
That’s not me.
“Aaron bass-player Aaron?”
An affirmative noise from across the room.
“Well, he’s cute.”
Marla murmered a noncommital reply. Then, softly, “Can we just go to sleep now?”
A bit huffy. “Yeah, sure. Of course.”
The sunlight hit her eyes in just the wrong spot, and she groaned in annoyance at being awoken at what seemed like such an ungodly hour. What had gotten her up? She focused her eyes blearily on the clock. Only ten am.
She’d been sleeping since about three-thirty. Six and a half hours.
She hadn’t slept six and a half hours in a whole week, and now, all in one night? What was this about.
It was only a moment later when she realized that it was the phone that had woken her. It was still ringing, insistent as a baby, demanding that she pay attention to it already.
Rin- “Hello?” She sounded bleary; even she noticed it.
“Did I wake you?”
Eyes wide open, mind suddenly completely clear.
“No, no, not at all. How are you?”
“I want to take you out to dinner tonight.”
“What? Why? Where?” She gave a nervous laugh. “I’m sorry. People - boys, I mean men, I mean - don’t take me out very often. I don’t...go out very often.” Another nervous laugh down the line.
But he was laughing back. “That’s alright. I’ll stop by your dorm around eight, ok? And you don’t mind walking, do you?”
“Only way I travel,” she told him with a grin he could hear through her voice.
“Alright then. See you later.”
“Yeah...bye.” But the line was dead before her tentative farewell could reach the other end. She hung the phone up gently, turning to face the sunlight streaming in over her bed, and tried to think, carefully, about what was happening.
But that was too labor-intensive. Instead, she crawled out of bed and began painting.
He was going to call her. All he had to do was get it together, pick up the phone, dial her extension. Four numbers. One-seven-five-two. He could handle that, couldn’t he? He picked up the phone.
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He hung up.
They’d gone back to his dormitory, sat in the kitchen eating waffles [blueberry, his grandmother’s recipe] with thick syrup and greasy college-grade butter. They drank orange juice, their comments subdued and laughter shrill, trying to fight off that ability hangovers have to begin even before the drunkenness has worn off.
He offered her vodka for her orange juice, to stave off the ensuing headache, but she shook her head. “Down that road lies alcoholism, my friend,” she told him with a laugh that hurt both their heads. He’d nodded and put it away.
After breakfast he’d walked her back to her dorm before the heat of the day got to them and they did anything stupid. In the sunlight, he’d watched the way her lips moved, pink against the pale peach of her skin. Her eyes were an indiscriminate brown, but fringed by the longest, darkest lashes he’d ever seen on a woman, and framed by outlandishly dyed hair - the colors in it foretold of autumn - the tips a gold that merged into brilliant vermillion, which petered out into a dark brown, like snow left too long by the curb.
Her best feature though was her eyebrows. They arched over her eyes in dark curves, like exclamation points on her face. Anytime she got excited about something, they rose, as if to show her enthusiasm. When she grinned, they flat-lined, as if in submission to her mood. Across the smoky room, he’d noticed her eyebrows before anything else, and wondered if she darkened them, what they might communicate silently to him if he spoke to her.
He left her at the door to her room - inside he could hear her roommate snoring loudly, and the sound made him smile. She grinned up at him, then took a piece of paper from her pocket and scribbled four numbers on it.
“This is my extension. I mean, my room extension,” she told him. “Will you call me?” He’d nodded, and she’d waved her chipped nails at him as she ducked into the room and closed the door behind her.
Fast=forward to that now. His roommate, a bassist by the name of Aaron, with a talent for headbanging and a penchant for tattoos, was out for the evening. Aaron was tall, just as lanky, with a shaved head and a menacing look. His girlfriend was a beautiful black girl - anorexic but with a great smile. It was unlikely he would return as long as her charms remained.
The phone glared at him.
He looked at the number, stuck in the corner of the mirror, then at the clock on his bedside table. It was only seven; she might not even be back from dinner yet.
If she’s not back, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
He picked up the handset, held it to his ear, began dialing. One. Seven. Five. Three - he slammed it back down. Wrong number. Try again. One. Seven. Five. Two.
He slammed the phone back down.
“Fuck me!” He yelled at the walls. He just couldn’t do this to her, could he? He sat down on his bed, hard, bouncing off before settling back down properly. She was just too nice, that was the problem. She didn’t deserve a guy like him. She was neurotic and funny and had this wonderfully dry sense of humor and -
I like her, he realized with a sense of annoyance.
Pick up the handset.
One. Seven. Five. Two.
“Hello?” She sounded pissed off this time. That was good. Maybe if she didn’t sound too happy to hear from him - maybe this would be ok. “Hello? Look, I can hear you breathing, asshole.”
Oh yeah, Jack. You need to talk.
“Oh, hi!” Complete 180 in demeanor. She was happy to hear from him. This was not going to be easy, was it? No. She really was too nice. “What are you up to?”
“I was just about to ask you that.”
“Oh really?” It dawned on him, like a sack of bricks - she was flirting with him. That was different. “And why is that?”
“I was hoping you might want to come over. Hang out.”
“Sounds fabulous. My roommate’s bringing her boyfriend over tonight, and leaving sounds like the best possible thing. You want me to bring anything?”
Bring anything? He wondered. What did she mean by that?
“No, no, that’s ok. Just yourself.”
“Ok. Be right over.”
And then she was there. The first thing he noticed was that her hands were flecked with paint. The black, red, blue, green - they stood out strongly against her skin, but when he looked more carefully he could see the yellow and white that initially blended in so well.
When he looked at her more carefully, he realized that she was practically covered in paint - her overalls were stained from years of use, and her forearms bore traces of the day’s labors. Her hair was pulled up into a ponytail, but a few strands of it that hung loose showed that she’d been busy that day, and as she took her shoes off inside the doorway, he couldn’t help but grin.
She held up a bag. The lines of a bottle were clearly defined inside it.
“I’m on a liquid diet,” she joked. “And since I had so much of your wine last night...I brought some of my own over tonight.”
Before he knew what he was doing, he’d kissed her on the cheek. He was about to apologize but she’d already moved on, brushing past him into the room, looking at his roommate’s drawing on the wall. With one raised eyebrow, she turned to look at him.
“Classy digs.” Then, with a laugh and a point at the drawing, “Acid-induced?” He nodded. “Thought so. Got a bottle opener?” He did, and glasses too, and soon they were settled with glasses of wine and chinese food from his fridge. “Thanks. I’ve been painting all day, haven’t had a chance to eat yet,” she told him between wolfing bites of food and gulping down wine.
“You’ve been up all day?” He hadn’t risen till after five.
“Yeah. I don’t sleep. Don’t usually eat either,” she said with a laugh, shovelling more rice into her mouth.
He played the guitar for her. He’d never though of himself as being very good because he wanted to be like Jimi Hendrix, but the look on her face as he played - blissful, delighted - told him that perhaps he was better than he’d ever thought. With only a moment’s hesitation he began to sing along to the song - one he’d written himself.
Before she’d been watching the intricate motion of his hands on the strings, the repetition of chords and the way his hands slid back and forth during the solos. Now she leaned her head back, eyes closed, moving slowly to the music. When he looked up, her head was tilted back that way, neck exposed, flecks of palest gold and delicate pink all along her throat.
“That was pretty,” she told him, reaching for the wine bottle. She turned it upside down over her glass, then laughed. “Empty,” she informed him, attempting to diffuse the obvious tension of the moment.
He stood, opened the refrigerator by his roommate’s bed, and tossed her a beer. “Tap the lid,” he warned her, and she did so before opening it and sucking the foam - quickly, quickly now! - off the top of the aluminum tin. He got another for himself, then settled down beside her on the bed.
She was looking away from him - at the posters, the pale off-white cinderblock, the hallunogenic drawing his roommate had done on the wall, the mirror - she skipped past that awfully quickly for a girl as pretty as she - and onto the closet. Her eyes didn’t rest on anything, as if she were afraid to stop and look at him.
“I’m sorry it’s such a mess. Aaron and I’re kinda slobs.” Try to diffuse this tension. We both know why you’re here, he told her in his mind. We both know, but that doesn’t make it less awkward, somehow.
“It’s ok. Anna never cleans. I’m the neat-freak in our room,” she smiled past his shoulder, and he realized suddenly how nervous she looked, how the bottle of wine had done almost nothing to help her relax, and he took a moment to chug down his beer and grab another one.
As he was reaching in for it, he saw her down the last of hers’ and toss the can into the trashbin. It bounced off the rim, then into the basket, and he held up another.
“Yes, thank you,” she said, and caught it when he threw it to her.
I can’t do this to her.
She’s just too nice.
I really should ask her to leave.
Instead, he leaned in and kissed her.
He’d never had an amazing kiss before. He’d tried most everything under the sun trying to find out what would make him happy. He’d kissed girls, boys, men dressed as women, women on their way to becoming men. He’d had sex with one person, with two, with seventeen at once. He’d done everything, and nothing had satisfied him.
Oh sure, physically, he’d always gotten off. And maybe that was important. Ok, it was important. But it wasn’t everything.
This time, the earth moved.
She tasted of beer and wine and chinese food and vanilla. Her lips were like clouds - they looked so soft and warm, but when he finally touched them they fairly melted beneath him, enveloping him. Her breath was hot in his mouth, and even though her lips were barely parted, he found himself fairly aching with the kiss and wondering what in the world was happening to him. She smelt of turpentine and paint, but underneath there was something more pure, more natural. Something primal.
It was, in a word, intense.
He pulled away from her, took the remote, and turned the stereo on. There was the blast of power chords rattling the walls, the pounding of drums and screaming of a voice. They settled back with their beers, and listened to the music.
And he pondered what to do next.
It was kind of cheesy, she thought, but they walked together in the dark into the forest. The trees blocked out the brilliance of the stars in the black of night, and though the ground swirled beneath her, the vertigo she had from the beer made every shade of blue around her seem more distinct, more brilliant than she’d noticed before. The trees swarmed around them, the only indication of where the leaves hung the dark spots where the stars were hidden. The wandered slowly down the beaten dirt path and he teased her, playing the wolf.
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“Oh, little Red - you look so fine tonight!” At that, she giggled, and he tentatively touched a strand of her brilliant hair. She ran from him then, stumbling through the woods on inebriated feet, giggling and crashing in the bracken so he knew where to follow, until they broke into a clearing, at the crest of the hill they’d been climbing.
She didn’t know where the edge was, but she knew there was a cliff with sharp rocks below - afraid, she clung to the borders of the trees, back where it was safe, where the roots of the elms and the pines would protect her. But then he ran at her, full-tilt, chuckling and gasping from the effort, his arms about her waist, tickling her. They tumbling to the ground, laughing even as the bottle bruised the pale skin on her hip. She removed her flip-flops and he his boots. He set both pairs of shoes [with his socks curled in the toes of his] on the soft earth nearby, and they lay back on the grass.
In the darkness they struggled with the bottle, finally getting it uncorked and passing it back and forth between them. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes which they shared, crushing the butts into the mud, then tossing them into the ravine as they watched the stars in the August sky. They leaned on their elbows, finishing up the wine as the first glints of the sun began to reach their eyes, and in the dawn, he tossed the bottle over the edge of the ravine. They both watched it crash down, a million tiny pieces of green glass glittering in the darkness of the trees below.
At first they were silent, though not uncomfortable. He sat stiller than anyone she’d ever seen, more motionless than at the party. She could only catch him moving out of the corner of her eye, and then it was just the motion of him smoking, of his thin lips closing around the dark filter of a cigarette. It was when she finally heard him humming that she finally spoke.
“What are you singing?” He stopped, turned to her, fixing her with an almost-sober gaze that made her pause for a second. There was something in it, something she couldn’t quite -
“Hm?” It was gone, whatever she thought she’d seen. There was just him, looking at her curiously.
“I was just...wondering what you were humming, is all,” she murmered, turning to look back out at the sky. It was gold on the horizon now, and it bled into pink the color of a salmon’s belly. She stared at the way the sky was lightening, freezing the horizon in her mind for later, when she might break out her paints.
“Oh. Nothing.” He mashed up the end of his cigarette, tossing the butt away, down the ravine, most likely onto a shard of wine-laced glass.
It occured to her that she didn’t know his name, and so she asked, more casual now, not bothering with the formality of sounding nervous. She had never been a big drinker, and with all the alcohol she’d imbibed trying to get comfortable that evening, she no longer felt the need for ceremony or the presence of her usual neuroses.
“Jack,” he told her, running a nervous hand through his dyed hair. She was mildly disappointed by this - with a face as timeless as his, it seemed he should have a more elegant name. A bodice-ripper-type name, like Dante, or Carlos, Frederick or Pierre. He looked like a Jean-Luc to her, and, she thought with a shrug, that was almost the same thing.
“Marla,” she told him, and they shook hands.
He wasn’t much to look at, in the face. His hair was dyed black, gelled to stand up straight like so much scorched grass at the end of a barbecue. His body was slender, just as she liked them, with slim shoulders and skin - corny as it was, but it was the only word she could think of - as white as alabaster. His hands were musician’s hands - as narrow as the rest of them, with long elegant fingers and perfectly trimmed nails. His waist was narrow as a boy’s, but his face - oh, his face.
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It wasn’t that he was unattractive - individually, all the features of his face were attractive. The cheekbones were sharp, the chin narrow, the nose perfectly sized. If she looked only at the softness of his lips or the narrowness of his eyes behind his glasses, at the tender delicacy of the mole on his cheek or the downy pale brown hair on his chin, he was really quite beautiful. But when all the parts were combined, he somehow just...lacked something valuable.
And yet - there was something in the way he moved that attracted her. He sat perfectly still most of the time, but when he moved it was with distinct purpose, without any unnecessary energy expelled. He would flick cigarette ash onto his jeans - gray on black, and the gentle pink curve of his fingernail above the tawny filter - then scrub it in with a sudden motion of his ring finger.
She watched him out of the corner of her eye, uncertain about what she was seeing and trying to figure out why she felt as though she was missing a piece of the puzzle. When she got up to change a CD, or to dance with Shawn, or to get a drink, she could feel his eyes on her, through the dimness of the smoke and the red glow of the party-lights.
And every time she turned, he was looking at his roommate. He never spoke - the soft pillows of his lips stayed pressed together in the summer heat, his eyebrows knit in seriousness at whatever his roommate was saying, but every time she looked away, she could feel his eyes, flaming as the cherries of his cigarettes, on her face. She stole a cigarette from Shawn’s pack on the table, using the turn of her head to find the lighter to glance out from under her hair at him, locking eyes for just a moment.
She was shocked when he blushed, looked away.
In the bathroom, she played with her hair. She took the bright strands, looping them up on her head in a bun, then shook her head and watched them fall around her face in a limp, crinked mess. She glared at her reflection, washed out in the fluorescent lights. The pimple on the edge of her jaw flamed red at her, and she considered popping it, but the ensuing mess wouldn’t please her, so she left it. She toyed with her hair again for a moment, then let back down, frustrated.
“Fat lot of help you are,” she told the damaged ends before rinsing her hands and exiting back into the party.
Shawn was nowhere to be found. In the five minutes she’d been gone, the dynamics had changed completely. The few people she’d known had cleared out, and all of the other doors - the bedrooms, she noted with a stoner’s casual amusement - were closed.
He still sat in the corner, his eyes following her from under the dark veil of his lashes. She watched him as he pulled a cigarette from his pack, and lit it with a beaten black plastic lighter. He set the lighter and the pack on the edge of the armchair, careful to keep them from slipping over the edge of the green velvet and onto the trash-laden floor. He was deep in conversation now with his roommate - a tall boy with a shaved head and heavy silver earrings - and though she couldn’t hear his words, she watched the way his hand gestured elaborately, the smoke blowing one way, then the other as he spoke.
She didn’t even realize she’d been staring until he turned his head and smiled at her - a great, genuine grin, white teeth bared and so dazzling in the red light that she couldn’t help but smile back. She found herself looking away, doing her best to avoid blushing, as he had earlier, and forced herself to stare at the poster next to her end of the couch with great intensity, as if she’d never seen it before.
It was one of those classic retro-style beer ad posters, with a cheesy white guy smiling and holding a stein, gesturing with it drunkenly, and some allegedly witty slogan plastered along the bottom of the green page. She couldn’t focus her eyes enough to read it at this point - she’d had what? Six, seven drinks since she’d arrived? It didn’t matter, she thought, finishing the last of the beer in her cup and standing to get herself some more.
The keg was empty.
How the hell was the keg empty? It was a frat party - the keg was never supposed to get empty. She frowned semi-drunkenly at the large silver tub, annoyed at its rudeness in emptying out before she was done with it.
She droppd her plastic cup onto the top of a mound of rubbish flowing out of the bin, disgusted at the trash the party was generating. She turned, ready to head back to her corner of the party, under the blacklight, sitting on the seventies-style brown pleather couch with the cracks in it, but as she whirled about, she realized there was someone there.
Right in front of her, a cigarette in his right hand and a bottle of red wine in his left. The bottle was green glass, the label worn and old, formerly white and edged with brownish curlicues and painted grapes. She looked up, through the reflection of her face in his glasses, and found herself smiling.
She glanced once about the room as she followed him to the door, and then they were out into the warm night breeze.