Saturday, March 10, 2007

Like Me

Category: Issue 5, Short Story Winners

Drew introduces me to her. Three or four years back, the summer after high school, they worked together at the car wash. Her hair is brunette, cut off at the chin, the ends puckishly flipped in a U. “Hi, I’m Alethea.” she says, her voice suave. Noticing her eyes, I wonder if they are really that angular or if it’s just the eyeliner making them seem that way. My torso and limbs go warm, like embers. But then I realize she’s staring at me, waiting for a response.
“Hi, I’m Jen.”
“Jen,” she hums. “I like that name.” Alethea smiles, widely. Her incisor teeth are razor sharp, wild. “Jen and Drew, this is my friend, Danny.” She gestures to the girl sitting next to her on the brick stairs. Danny is petite and Asian, her hair straight and thin like paper, lips heavily glossed. She wears tiny shiny pink heels, a mini skirt, and a tight white spaghetti tank.
“Hi Jen!” Danny squeaks. “By the way—don’t call me Danny, my name is Dan-ielle.” She enunciates her name slowly, as if she’s talking to a person new to English. She then frowns at Alethea, who, in response, gives her that wild grin with those crazy teeth.
Danielle flips her hair behind her shoulders.
I smile reassuringly. “Don’t worry—I’ll call you Danielle.”
Drew sits on the stairs at Alethea’s feet, his legs sprawled widely apart. I sit beside him, in front of Danielle. Drew and Alethea talk of the car wash—how nobody continued working there for over a month. The streetlight behind us flickers and then turns on, illuminating everything in its vast reach. I notice that Alethea is wearing completely black attire. I try to imagine her working at the carwash with the large white tee-shirts, navy pants. I chuckle. This is impossible to imagine. But, intrigued, I let my eyes trace her, as a child would trace his favorite picture.
She crosses her legs, bobs the top ankle. Her boots are knee high stilettos, shiny, like a just waxed car, reflecting slivers of light. I wonder if when walking they are silent like a cat, or loud, annoying—Click—click—like a teacher. Her dark jeans are tucked into the stilettos, grasping the contours of her legs, tightly like saran wrap. Her shirt is a muscle tee—black, of course, with tiny circular pieces across the chest, silver and shining, like stars. And I notice her breasts—they are large, but round and well-formed like—
Something taps my shoulder, like a beak.
I shift. Danielle looks at me, beaming.
“Jem—that’s your name, right?” she chirps, while fumbling through her overly large white purse, extracting a large piece of pink gum.
“No. It’s Jen.”
She flings her long stringy hair behind her back and tosses the gum into her mouth. “Oh, okay—that’s what I thought. I’m so bad with names—like I can hear one, one second, and then forget a second later.”
I smile in response.
She pops a blister size bubble with her pink gum.
“So how old are you?” she asks in between the chewing.
“Twenty-one.” I reply, calmly.
“I’m twenty-one, too!” she exclaims. She smiles widely. In the light I notice how heavily glossed her lips are—like they are layered with Vaseline. She pops another bubble.
“So, are you in school, or are you working..?”
“I go to Traditie College.  It’s my senior year.”
“Oh that’s cool. I’ve always gone to private schools, and so has Alethea. We go to Wit College.” She smiles, proudly. “We’ve been in school together since kindergarten.”
Wit College. The most expensive school nearby. The Yuppie school. Danielle fits the stereotype perfectly, minus her lack of snobbiness. The cute tiny shiny pink heels, cute face, cute white tight shirt. I watch Alethea bum a cigarette off Drew. From her small dark purse she pulls out a shiny steel lighter. She flips the top open with the smoothness of a guy and lights the cig in record time.
Drew and Alethea just sit there, silently puffing their cigarettes, as if completely drowned in the taste, the sensation of the smoke. Behind me, Danielle begins to smack the gum loudly, popping a new bubble about every five seconds. I wonder if the chewing and popping noises annoy Drew and Alethea.
But Drew and Alethea remain oblivious while smoking their cigs. They watch a clan of middle school girls skip out of the movie theater and across the downtown mall, giggling, talking at once, arms linked.
Alethea spits. The loogie is yellow from the tobacco, and it lands a couple yards away.
Drew grins. “Niiice.”
Surprised, I study her once more. She’s curvy—her breasts large and well-formed, like round fruit; her hips wide. I wonder if she has any extra flub. I think of my own body, when not veiled by my shirt or tight jeans. When naked, my stomach isn’t a plateau, but a small bowl. And my thighs are wide, like pancakes, jiggly like Jell-O.
I wait for her to move her arms, so I can check them for flub. But she keeps them glued to her stomach, her right hand at her mouth, with the cig.
“So what are your hobbies?”
She’s positioned away from me, facing the theater, blowing smoke into the air like ribbons.
“Who—me?” Drew asks, confused, while flicking the ash off his cig.
“No—not you—everyone knows you’re obsessed with cars. I was talking to Jen.” She turns around and faces me. Her eyes are green and feral, like a cat.
“What are your hobbies?” she repeats.
I rub my arm, as if I there is an itch. “My hobbies?”
“Yes, your hobbies.”
I look at her, wondering if her completely random question was some sort of joke. But those angular eyes look back at me, unblinking. Coldness rushes through my chest and stomach and I look to the ground.
“Well—I like art.”
She smiles wildly, licks her lips. “Everyone ‘likes’ art. Are you trying to say you create art?”
I frown. “Yes.”
She stabs the cigarette butt into the ground, and leans forward, towards me. She smiles.
“What sort of art do you create?”
“I mostly paint—with acrylics.”
“What do you paint?” she asks, her eyes still attached to me like a nail in wood.
I rub my forearm, watch her lips instead of her eyes. Images of my art class fly through my head rapidly, like birds. “Well, I really like faces—and roses.”
“Is that it—just faces and roses?”
I think of my diary—an inch thick unlined book full of drawings. I think of staying up late at night, lying on the floor on my stomach, furiously drawing, the only
light illuminating the room’s darkness being the reading lamp. Print outs from the internet and cut-outs from clothing magazines surrounding me like a halo. Charcoal pieces placed on a napkin, a myriad of dark pens and pencils lying beside me, threatening to stain the white carpeting.
But I feel Alethea’s eyes now—intense—waiting for a response.
“Yeah, that’s it—just faces and roses.” I reply softly.
From the corner of my eye I watch her bite her lip, her eyes tracing me from toe to head.
“So what are your hobbies?” I ask, realizing I haven’t asked her any questions.
“I like a lot of things—” she yawns, stretching her arms. I notice that they’re delicate yet sinewy, like curtain rods.
Her eyes catch mine. They dart to my arms, and then back to my eyes. She smiles.
“I like dancing. Preferably to Trance, New-age, or African. I don’t do country, or ballet. I hate ballet.”
Danielle pops a bubble so loudly that it seems to echo against the movie theater walls. “She doesn’t like ‘my’ music either.”
Alethea laughs. Surprisingly, it’s a girly laugh, warm and kind, like a cashmere sweater.
“We’re not even going to talk about your music, Dan.”
Danielle loudly clicks her heel against the brick. “Ugh,” She pouts. “My name is Dan-ielle.”
Drew laughs. “Does Alethea annoy you, DanDan?”
“Yes! Since I was like five. Like there was this one time—”
“Hold on.” Drew interrupts. He stands up, throws his cigarette to the ground, rubs it clean with the sole of his shoe. He sits back down, next to Danielle.
“I didn’t want to speak over those two.” I hear him say behind me. I wonder if I am imagining it, or did he really say “those two” instead of “those two.”
No, he didn’t. He couldn’t have. Why would he?
Soon, Drew and Danielle become completely absorbed in each other’s conversation. Alethea and I talk of art, dancing, music. But now, we are silent. And again, she’s staring.
“So—” She pauses, licks and twists her lips into a halfway grin.
She leans forward. I can smell her perfume. Donkere by Homofiel. She’s still grinning.
“Are you gay?”
Tension rushes through my chest, limbs, like ice water from a quick faucet.
Again, I remember my diary pages, adorned with ink, charcoal drawings of bare women, breasts.
I remember the sensation I felt when watching that HBO movie with the two lesbians making love, secretly, when the other roommate was out.
I remember the time I got smashed at a party and made out with some blond chick under the willows.
My eyes are warm, insides frozen, iced over. I look at the ground. The crevice between the bricks is a clean white. But on top of the crevice is a piece of gum, soiled black, a shoe imprint covering it like paint.
“Are—you—gay?” Alethea repeats, crisply enunciating her words.
Her green eyes are lasers now, and I have to respond.
My voice comes out soft and forced, as if a parasite lives in my voice box, speaks for me.
“No.” I shift, avoiding the laser stare. “I’m straight.”
Through strands of my hair, I watch her pupils dilate. Her green eyes are completely pitch now, like round pans.
“Well, I am gay.”
Her voice is triumphant, honest—she is the one who is speaking.
A sharp pain pierces my chest, like a cold blade. I look at the gum in the crevice. I remember reading somewhere that gum has the capability to stay stuck in the same place for over a hundred years. But it looks so misplaced, with the dark black over the white.
I tuck my hair behind my ear and glance at Alethea. Her arms are crossed, lips pursed. She looks at me momentarily, but turns away.
I look at the ground. There’s no gum. Instead, there’s a tiny shiny pink heeled shoe covering the crevice.
“Alethea—look at the time!” Danielle exclaims. She shoves her silver watch in front of Alethea’s face. “It’s eight thirty!”
“We were supposed to be at Kyle’s apartment like—over forty minutes ago!” She shrieks, stamps her heel. Click!
“Oh.” Alethea’s eyes are still, like water, puffy around the edges. She stands up. I stand up too. My head reaches her nose. I can still smell the Donkere. I stand close, our arms almost touching.
I realize Drew is beside Danielle. He looks at Alethea, then me, his eyes granite question marks.
Danielle flashes Drew and I a glossy smile. “I’m sorry we have to leave so quickly—it was so nice to meet you…Drew” She hugs him, lightly, with one arm. “And it was nice to meet you too Jem.”
Flicking us a wave, she pulls Alethea away. Danielle’s tiny shiny pink heels echo against the walk, like a woodpecker—Click—click. Click—click. She walks with her shoulders high, allowing the tight white shirt to flaunt her bony blades. And Alethea walks with the grace of a black feline, silently treading beside her. But as I watch that thin, curvy silhouette get smaller and smaller and smaller, Drew stares at me, not saying a word. My eyes go hot and on my lips I taste salt. But I ignore it, let my hair fall before my face and sit back down, on the brick.

Posted by kathrynlee on 03/10 at 09:27 PM | Permalink
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