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Julia wonders if Andrew resolved to give her up in 2004. If, in the two weeks since their last rendezvous, he decided that this year he wouldn't resolve to make his bed every morning or to finally submit his stories for publication, but would resolve to give her up even though he never really gave "them" a chance. Even though she's the one who wouldn't care if he ever made his bed, the one who insisted he never do so anyway because, really, after he read her his stories, they wouldn't leave that bed until 2005. (Still. No phone call.)
The 19-year-old blonde has both heavily hairsprayed bangs and grand delusions that one day she will realize her lifelong dream of being the bestest actress on Broadway! What she doesn't realize is that the only way her girlish dream will come true is if she gets her head out of People magazine and into the lap of one of the many agents or producers who every day promise deluded girls just like her, bangs or no bangs, that that's all it takes. Any "talent" you think you have, darling, means squat. So squat you must. (And remember: no teeth!)
Tonight she hates everyone. Tonight, more than ever, she has more hate on her hands than she knows what to do with. Tonight she stews. She stews so thoroughly and so hotly that at 6:30 on the dot, she will be ready to serve herself on a burnt orange Fiestaware platter she bought for a song at a flea market where the seller had no idea what it was worth. Tonight she is a heaping plateful of hot hot hate, garnished with parsley, sage, rosemary, and all the time in the world to dwell on all there is to hate.
Emily spends 20 minutes peeling off her chipped nail polish with her teeth. Instead of spitting the bits into a spittoon like a lady, she swallows them (they don't taste like Cherry Cola, as the little bottle led her to believe). They're in good company in her stomach. There, they mingle with the fingernails she gnawed an hour earlier.
A Certain Someone still hasn't called. She opens her mouth to tearfully curse him aloud to her silent telephone, and out crawls a perfectly manicured hand, which wastes no time slapping her across her flushed face. "Get a grip," it says.
You are supposed to be reading every word I've written online. Mentally seeing my name on a bookspine on an alphabetized shelf. Google searching my name until my name looks like it's spelled wrong. Even searching for photos of me, even if they're from high school 3,000 years ago with feathered hair and a cowlneck. Researching the most obscure of my interests so you can impress me with your initiative by casually dropping the associated jargon into casual tea conversation. All of this: what I do regarding you.
But then again, just a phone call or email would be nice.
Remember, Lisa, remember. Remember, it doesn't matter if you're hungry. If your stomach grumbles a loud reminder and your brain clouds even when confronted with the simplest of addition problems. It doesn't matter that today you've taken in two pots of cold coffee, half a bowl of dry cereal, and a pickle. And don't forget the four cashews you tried to be bold about but which you couldn't allow to stay inside your body. Tomorrow you'll do better, eat less. Remember, all that matters is that even though weighing 60 pounds makes you almost invisible, everyone is finally seeing you.
Hayley and Bailey were the darlings of the local carnival set. Not only were both gjrls born with full heads of hair – growing not from their scalps but from their chins, as beards – they were also gifted hula-hoopsters whose tandem tricks were like nothing anyone in the tri-state area had ever seen or dared to imagine. Somewhere along the line, though, Bailey lost her beard and thus her popularity. But that was nothing compared to what happened to Hayley the day Bailey ran away. And no one ever found out how the barbed wire made its way into her hoop.
Every year Grandma Schenk sent Karen, her only granddaughter, the same gift for her birthday. And every year, Karen stuffed the itchy bright yellow cableknit pullover sweater and itchier bold plaid pants into the back of her bedroom closet, where they joined seven years of identical itchiness that never saw the light of day or dark of night after their initial unwelcome unwrapping. One year Grandma Schenk died a week before Karen's birthday, but still the familiar box arrived on Karen's parents's doorstep on time. Inside were Grandma Schenk's well-worn steel knitting needles, still sticky and warm with her blood.
I put all my eggs in one huge basket and heaved it across the threshold into my house. No sooner had I set foot in the kitchen with this twiggy carryall of warm hen-product than its bottom burst and its contents broke on the speckled linoleum floor. I decided I could either be pissed that they messed up a floor I'd just cleaned or be happy the floor was clean so I could scoop up the mess and salvage it to make a big tasty omelette. Or neither. So I left it there. Someone else could clean it up later.
A month after our last date, he started tossing me smiles like picked-clean bones, as if I were a dog starved for any scrap or bit thrown its way. Bones of a boiled chicken, prone to splintering and lodging in throats (Elizabeth Taylor, Mama Cass), rather than a sturdy T-bone meant to be gnawed by anyone or anything with the teeth, jaw, and muscle to rip through it. For a while I accepted what he threw me, pretending I was content with the imagined essence of long-gone meat. But now? No way. I'm throwing those brittle bones back at him.
How cliche it was. Marlene found a ticket in Steve's pocket for a roll of photos she didn't know he'd shot. She imagined they were from the overnight business trip to Dayton he'd taken the week before. Rebecca, the new associate, had accompanied him. "Probably photos of that tramp's tits," she thought.
When she retrieved the prints from One-Hour Photo, she was shocked to see they were all of Steve trying to blow himself. From the way his one arm was positioned, it was clear he'd taken the shots.
Idiot! Didn't he know that's why she'd bought him the digital?
I feel sorry for the untouched, freezer-burned strawberry in the quart of neopolitan ice cream. For the stale, unbitten donut with the pink frosting and colorful sprinkles. For the sticky pineapple hard candy, the only one in the dish for at least a week.
My heart aches for the cheese that stands alone after the farmer's wife and everyone else is taken.
The lone tree on the median strip, choking on exhaust fumes. The unbought bagels tossed into the mass grave of the dumpster. The last puppy picked from the litter. And his mom, who has to see him go.
I focus on his gum-chewing because I need something to hate about him so I won't continue thinking I feel anything more. I focus on something I deem wrong with him, so I won't think about everything else that seemed so right. His face. Body. The way his eyes looked in his darkened room, where we spent so much time – him pretending to adore me, and me actually believing it. So I focus on gum-chewing, even though I only saw him do it once or twice from afar. So I can forget about his eyes, seen more often and close-up.
Millie's mom serves her and her seven younger brothers and sisters their usual Friday night treat: torn-up cardboard box sides, simmered in a broth of rainwater and flecked with bits of shredded old tires that, Millie tells her siblings, if you close your eyes tightly and hold your nose, you could trick yourself into believing were bits of grilled chicken.
"What's chicken?" they ask. She forgot: she was six when the next-in-line was born. That was the last time the family saw real food. "It can't possibly taste any better than this!" they say, their eyes open and noses unheld.
All the emails I composed – both actively (typed) or otherwise (mentally) – a waste of time. I will not send any of them. He does not deserve the composition, the structure, the turns of phrase, the words, the letters. The punctuation. He does not deserve the sentiment. He has not earned the gift of my creativity, just like he never earned the gift of my body, my laughter, my company. I wish I could take back the attention I wasted on him and focus it instead on someone who would appreciate the effort it took to part with it at all.
Tomorrow at 4:52 p.m., as she leaves home to meet Charlie at the station, Nancy will fall on her icy driveway, and out of her arms will fly not only her keys and the letter to Damian telling him it's over, but also the warm blanket bundle containing her three-month-old daughter.
Today at 1:14 p.m., the baby is asleep in the crib, Damian is asleep in her bed, and Nancy is scowling at his chest hair. She has no idea that tomorrow she'll be a quadraplegic, the baby will die, and Damian will be picking out a shirt to wear.
Imagine my surprise when I opened my purse this morning to rummage around for a minty TicTac, and peering up at me from within the darkness was the disembodied head of Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States!
"Believe me, Madame," he said, chuckling, his old-fashioned accent strangely soothing, "I am as shocked as you are. I had no idea my humble visage would one day be imprinted on such a large federal reserve note."
I smoothed him back onto the bill, and told him I was very sorry but I had to use him to buy a Metrocard.
Years later, after he's married and living with his young son and strawberry-blonde wife in a big suburban house bought with the stacks of money he's made at the law firm where he wears stodgy suits, he calls me and tells me he made a huge mistake.
"It was you all along," he says. "No one since you has even come close."
I wonder why it's taken him so long to realize and admit this.
What a classy fellow! He can afford to cheat on his wife (and son) with me at the Ritz!
Like I'd even let him close.
I hope he's worn his dick to a bloody, sticky stump incapable of being jerked or pulled or handled in any way except for the same sort of vigorous rubbing he'd give to his sniffling, dripping nose at the height of flu season. I hope he rubs and scrubs that little nub raw and oozing, until both it and his frantic fingers (now huge in comparison) are covered with thick calluses. I want his fingers sensate, but his stump numb. I hope that with each desperate attempt to restore feeling, he feels first-hand the indelible pain he inflicted on me.
"We won't take you home unless you let Mike fuck you too," Steve says as Tara starts to sit up on the bare mattress and look for her pants. He zips up his jeans and stuffs in his shirt.
They are about six miles from her house. If she walks home there's no way she'll get home on time. But she doesn't even know the way home. And she can't call her dad to pick her up.
She lies back on the mattress and turns her head to the side as Mike's face comes closer to hers in the dark.
She's tough in front of her friends. Over tea, she rails against "him". How he doesn't deserve her. It's his loss. How, oh my god, even if he calls her (and he will, she tells herself), she won't have anything to do with him, because, really, it's over, it is. Never mind his beautiful face, his eyes, the way she feels when she's with him. Never mind all that. She hates him, she does, and she proclaims it loudly. Vehemently. That way she can drown out the wailing she doesn't want anyone to hear. But when alone? Quite another story.
"What can I do for you, Alicia?" Dr. Abrahams asks the beautiful girl sitting, posture perfect, in his posh uptown office. Leafing through the big black binder of Before and After photographs of his clients (was that ... Gwyneth ... and wait, was that ... Demi? ... so hard to tell when their eyes were covered). The girl that looked more like an After than a Before.
"I don't think you're in the right place," he says with a smile.
"Oh, I am," she says. "I'm hideous on the inside," she says. "I can't live up to this. Make me match on the outside."
My grandmother pushed food into the garbage disposal using her bare left hand. We warned her of the danger and told her to turn it off before she jammed her hand down to hand-feed it carrot tops and potato peels. Still, she insisted on leaving the switch on.
One night for dinner she served a new dish -- "Bubby Burgers" – clumsily handing us our plates using only her right hand.
"Let me give you a hand," I said.
"Don't bother," she said, pulling her ground-down stump from behind her back as I bit into my burger. "I just gave you one."
Lisa sits down on the edge of George's hospital bed and looks down at his pale, bandaged wrists.
"Everyone knows you slice them vertically if you want to kill yourself," she says. She runs her right index finger along her upturned left forearm. "See?"
"Well, I guess I'm not ‘everyone'," George says. "I didn't know. Thanks for telling me."
"So now you now. For future reference."
When Lisa gets home, she opens the window of her 12th floor apartment and climbs out onto the ledge.
"Everyone knows you jump if you really mean it," she says aloud.
So she jumps.
I'm afraid he'll think my tits are too small – not up to the standard I imagine he adheres to. Then again, he works with models, so perhaps he's accustomed to this. However, because he works with models, he'll think I'm fat, even though in the ordinary world I have been told I could afford to gain some weight. He's used to airbrushed perfection, and I'm unretouched.
Never mind that he has no muscle definition and a belly surprisingly distended and large for his rather small frame. He walks around naked as if his body were perfect. And I hide mine.
So much effort it takes, doesn't it, to mold my facial expression and body language into that of a girl who isn't even aware of your presence. So much energy, isn't it, to appear as if you haven't made your mark on me. Yet when you enter the room, I know you're there without even having seen you enter, and the mark you've made on me is carved deeply into my flesh. And all the effort and energy exerted to pretend not to notice you, as if you haven't affected me, deepens that wound until it reaches muscle and bone.
My daydreams place us in various situations and settings where we spot each other from across the airport or the field or across Times Square or some random wide open space where the sun's smile is insanely brilliant, and our audience of either airplanes or flowers or tourists or squirrels applauds in slow motion as we dash across that wide expanse and I jump up in your arms and you swing me around. Others just have me getting off the bus. And there you are, a block up the street, walking toward me, smiling before saying hello and hugging me.
Peter Frampton's "Baby I Love Your Way" and "Show Me the Way" on the eight-track player. An old plaid sleeper sofa in a finished basement of a split-level house. Fake-wood panelled walls. Shaggy rust-colored carpet. Pull-tab cans of ice-cold Fresca. Lights dim, thanks to the dimmer someone had the foresight to install years ago before they ever even knew they'd have a son who one day would be down in this basement with some girl, about to kiss her for the first time. That's the way it would have been for you and me, had we met 25 years ago.
I'm 20. I babysit four spoiled fucks under the age of ten who don't understand the word "no". Dad tells me to use "the belt" if they get out of hand.
And they do. But as much as I ache to snap the leather next to their faces to elicit terrified yelps, I don't. Instead I dig out spoonsful of frosting from a can Mom bought that afternoon.
Mom and Dad come home and Mom discovers the almost-empty can. Dad slips the belt from the hook and chases the boys upstairs as they tearfully insist they didn't eat the frosting.
Today when you tipped my head down slightly to cut my hair, I gazed at your wool-cloaked crotch, hovering just a foot from my face. Instantly I remembered a day in April when nothing separated it from my upturned face and it was cloaked in nothing except my mouth and throat. Today I sat in the vinyl chair, obediently tilting my head this way and that to ensure a perfect cut. In April I knelt in the tile restroom, obediently bobbing my head this way and that to ensure a perfect come. Oh what a difference a few months makes!
I don't believe he wasn't feeling everything I saw in his eyes whenever he looked at me. I don't believe the passion and desire, the caring and adoration, was an act. I don't think that depth can be manufactured so flawlessly.
But maybe he, like an actor, envisioned me as something else when he looked into my eyes. I was just a stand-in. A substitute. Maybe, to get me where he wanted me, he imagined he had been shipwrecked for a year, surviving on palm fronds, and I was a sizzling filet mignon placed before him immediately upon his rescue.
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