The Girl woke up to find her legs tangled in Egyptian cotton and gooseflesh spread across her bare chest. She blinked twice. The Man paced up and down at the foot of the bed, his smart black trousers unbuttoned, his white dress shirt and credentials piled on the corner chair. He fiddled with a small patch of brown hair on his chest, twisting the strands with his thumb and forefinger. It was the Girl’s first thought that she did not recognize the Man. She had a rotten headache. The Man muttered as he walked, his eyes glued to the musty orange carpet. The Girl felt her body beneath the sheets. No panties. The Man took note of her. Oh, hello, he said. Hi, she said. She wrapped the white sheet around her as she dragged herself around the room, collecting hastily discarded garments. The Man continued on his frenetic route. He had a nice chest. Well groomed. Muscular arms. The Girl secured her bra and ran to the bathroom to empty her stomach into the toilet. When she stood up he was in the doorway. You drink too much, he said. She rinsed her mouth and washed her face.
You have amazing nipples, he said as she buttoned up her blouse. Truly, he said. Um, thank you, she responded. He informed her in detail about the different nipples he’d encountered and which kinds he preferred. He ranked hers at number two. The Girl dressed faster. She made a beeline for the door but he took her shoulders firmly. The Girl looked up at his face. His eyes were bright like the sky. The world will end in three months, he said. The Girl tried to pull away but his fingers dug into her skin. Three months, he said. We have three months. The Girl grabbed her Model United Nations badge from the broken bedside table and ran.
Out on the streets of D.C. the Girl was assaulted by the day. There were too many people. Too many pigeons. Her head spun and the world threatened to crack in two. She bought a bottle of water and a pack of spearmint gum before heading to the metro station. It was worse below ground where the curve of the concrete ceiling never seemed to end. On the train she listened to Tupac and hyperventilated. Let it be Sunday, she prayed. Let it be Sunday. Let it be Sunday. Don’t let me have AIDS. Let it be Sunday.
The walk home from the Vienna station allowed her to put together a story about the Model United Nations conference that didn’t involve Jack Daniels, truth or dare, a fake ID, a line of cocaine, and a lot of black. The pack of gum was gone by the time she reached her front door. Hi honey, how was it, her father asked. Great, said the Girl. We came in second. I was Poland.
Go faster, said the Girl. We’re late. That’s not my fault, said the boy. Mr. Halstead won’t give a shit whose fault it is, she replied, I can’t get another tardy. Not my fault, repeated the boy. The Girl bit her lip and put her headphones on. Green Day. She closed her eyes and saw the Man without his shirt on. She saw the five o’ clock shadow on his face and how the black spread when his pupils dilated. Three months. Well, a little less, now. Fucking lunatic, she muttered. That’s it, said the boy. He pulled the car over and kicked her out. You can walk, he said. The Girl didn’t try to explain that she wasn’t referring to him. She tightened the straps on her backpack and went straight to Wendy’s. Did a line in the bathroom, left over from the weekend. The Girl had wanted to impress the Nigerian delegate who hailed from a small high school in West Virginia. Somehow she ended up with the Man in his hotel room instead. The Girl tried not to think about it while she read the chapter on Seward’s Folly. A blob of mayonnaise fell from her crispy chicken sandwich onto her pleated skirt. She burst into tears.
That night she walked the dog down to the park and sat on the swing set where her first boyfriend had fed her chocolate covered blueberries. Jimmy Eat World in her headphones. Some kids from school were drinking on the roof of the nearby elementary school. Their laughter ripped into the muggy evening. The Girl fantasized about throwing a brick through the school window. She went home and put her younger sisters to bed before covering her mother with a blanket and clearing away three empty wine bottles. Glen Ellen. The yellow walls of her room; she slid into her Star Bright pajamas. She fell asleep trying to remember if the Man had had a wedding ring.
Then we told the cop we were just climbing the radio tower, the boy said, concluding his story. The other girls at the lunch table giggled. The Girl stared at the half-baked chocolate chip cookie on her tray. It would be ten minutes before the teachers would let them out of the cafeteria and she wanted to kill everyone. Are you going to the dance, asked the boy. The Girl smiled. Of course, she said, wouldn’t miss it for the world. When’s your next Model U.N. thing in New York, asked the boy. There was a look of confusion on the Girl’s face; she threw up on her plastic tray.
Tracy Chapman played on the radio of the old VW. The Girl had it cranked up all the way to drown out the complaints of the engine. Three months, she thought. Crazy. The dirty white car sped down well-tailored Virginian streets, windows down. The Girl sang at the top of her lungs, off key. At the Academy class parking lot, she took a moment to spike her Starbucks and drink in the early autumn sun. The sky was polished baby blue and the air was soft on her lithe body.
The bathroom was located next to the black box theatre where drama and musical theatre students cried and sang and generally made a lot of noise. The girl sat in a stall, fingering the box that held two pregnancy tests when she heard the door squeak on its rusty hinges. Two girls whispered excitedly as they shared a cigarette. I heard he fingered her, one girl said. Are you serious, said the second girl, I thought she gave him a blowjob. Either way it’s gross, said the first girl, he’s a teacher. Their chatter echoed off the tiles and the Girl didn’t move. They disappeared out the door and down the hall. The Girl replaced the box in her backpack.
In between the stall and the bathroom door, the air was still.
School was canceled. A teacher workday. The Girl walked their old Scottie through the woods while her parents watched a sitcom. She sat on a rock in the middle of the stream and drank a Heineken.
The Girl cursed. Her dress was somewhere in the backseat, but it was dark, even with the streetlamps. She groped for the dress and felt nothing but leather seats. The Goo Goo Dolls played on the stereo as the cop shone his light on her chest. Second best, she thought. The guy stood alongside the VW in his Braveheart costume. Out, said the cop. The Girl found the bloody apron that was part of her morbid Alice in Wonderland costume and wrapped it around her chest. Parking lots are public, the cop said. You’re too young, he said. I could fine you, he said. But he didn’t. A group of passing trick-or-treaters pointed and giggled. When the cop let them go, the guy gave the Girl his shirt. Thank you, she said. He said nothing.
Surprise! they shouted. The Girl stood in the doorway with her backpack as her sisters wrapped her in a hug. Hi honey, her father said, the girls made you a cake. Lemon’s still your favorite, isn’t it, the youngest sister asked the Girl. Of course my love, she said. Her father passed her a knife. Where’s mom, the Girl asked. Just resting her eyes, sweetie. The Girl slid the knife into the green frosting between the 1 and the 7.
You’ll get something good, the boy said. We’ll see, said the Girl. You killed your audition, he said. The Girl smiled. I hope so. Students huddled around the board in front of the black box theater. She slid through and scanned the sheet for her name. A long dotted line indicated that she was cast as Korean Woman Number Two. The Girl pushed out of the crowd into the courtyard and lit a cigarette. The boy followed her. I’m sorry, he said. Whose stupid idea was it to turn M.A.S.H. into a play, she responded.
The Girl never understood why skirts were necessary for field hockey. There was a sharp chill in the air that left her legs covered in goose bumps. She liked it. Her school’s team was ranked third in the county. The boosters sold bumper stickers declaring as much. A large girl on the opposite team struck the Girl on the shin with her stick. The Girl body checked her in response. The whistle blew, the Girl was benched. Come on Cougars, the Girl yelled while she tried to pluck a hair on her knee she’d missed shaving. The Cougars won, bumping them up to number two in the county. The Girl lingered in the parking lot after everyone else left, blasting the heat in the car, Soundgarden on the radio. Scrolled through a text from her mom – sorry, can’t make the game today. She lit a cigarette as she watched the dusk gather.
The Girl touched the slight bruise on her inner thigh and wanted to keep it, all tender and purple. She wanted to pack it away in the shoebox beneath her bed along with a candle decorated in nail polish by her best friend in seventh grade and the cork from her first bottle of champagne. She hid the pregnancy test in an empty cracker box and stuffed it deep into the trash. Her family was in the kitchen. Pancakes and bacon, her sisters’ favorite. The Girl kissed her father on the cheek. Smiled at her mom who had her hands wrapped around an extra large coffee mug. I’ll start on the turkey around noon, said her mom, do you want me to show you how to do the stuffing. No thanks, the Girl said. She poured a bowl of Kix and returned to her room. Between bites of cereal the Girl researched universities and sexted with an ex-boyfriend. When her cereal and her ex were finished she turned off the computer and told her father she was going out.
The community center smelled of chlorine and sweat. The Girl slipped into her silver one-piece swimsuit, tied her hair back and balanced on tiptoes in the shower. Once in the pool she swam laps until her lungs ached. When she was done the Girl dropped below the surface and hung suspended in the water. Her eyes were closed and so she didn’t see the lifeguard until he had his arm around her, pulling her upwards. A misunderstanding, the Girl said. I’m sorry. Everyone stared. She wanted to scream at them. On the drive home she dried her hair with open windows. Don’t Panic, by Coldplay. The Girl licked her lips and tasted nothing. She applied cherry lip-gloss and turned up the volume. I didn’t do anything, she told the radio. I was just fucking swimming.
In her dream that night, the Man was touching her. He tried to run his fingers through her hair but it was wet and tangled. He pulled her head back and kissed her neck. Three months, he said. Then he wrapped his hands around her throat. Three months, he said as he shook her by her neck, her head snapping back and forth.
What about this one, her mother asked, holding up a turquoise number. The Girl shook her head. Did the math – a little over a month left. A month. He had said so. She made a mental note to avoid men in Calvin Klein suits. Never again, she thought, and shuddered. I think it’s pretty, her mother muttered. Yeah, it’s just not me, said the Girl. I like black. You have too much black, her mother replied. She rubbed at her temples. The department store was full of mothers and daughters and taffeta and headaches and money. When does dad get back, the Girl asked. His contract is done in a week and a half, said her mother. The Girl ran her fingers along a rack of silk gowns. He said three months, she thought to herself. Three. He definitely said three. Her fingers stopped on a forest green dress. This one, she said as she held the silk to her body, tracing the seam with her hand. It’s a bit out of our price range, her mother said, I’m sorry. Please, said the Girl. She felt her chest tighten. Please. Her mother sighed, paid for the dress.
In the car on the way home the Girl rested her hand on the silk inside the box. It’s beautiful, her mother said quietly. What, said the Girl. The mother forced a smile. Nothing, she said. Don’t mind me, just talking to myself.
That evening the Girl took the dog for a walk while her mother cordoned herself off in the study with a pen, notebook and bottle of whiskey and her sisters watched The Land Before Time. Nearly every lawn in the neighborhood featured a campaign sign. They were all red white and blue. The Girl gave the dog a treat every time he peed on one.
They were at the CD store in the mall when the boy asked the Girl to the dance. She laughed. When the boy’s face fell she realized her mistake but he was already walking away. Wait, she said, I thought you were kidding. I’m sorry, wait. The boy kept walking. The Girl swore and chewed at the inside of her cheek as she felt a flush rising to her face. She kicked at a wooden shelf and sent a display of Britney Spears CD’s crashing to the floor. Someone yelled at her. The Girl ran.
The Girl made fresh apple dumplings and delivered them to the boy’s house. His parents said he wasn’t there. She walked home listening to Pete Yorn. Helped her youngest sister with her English homework. Left six messages on her mother’s cell phone. Made macaroni and cheese for dinner, then taught her other sister how to play Texas Hold ‘Em. Helped herself to the liquor cabinet. At one thirty in the morning her mother still wasn’t home. She did an SAT practice test and then took an Ambien.
Understudy. The Girl despised the word. Cheer up, the boy said. It’s kind of like a promotion, he said. He had forgiven her. The Girl nodded, studied the lead as she strode along the stage. Her hair was dark and long and almost looked wet under the lights. While the lead smiled and sang, the Girl imagined cutting off her pretty locks with a rusty knife and flushing them down the toilet. You never know, said the boy, she might die or something.
Smile for the camera, said the father. The Girl obeyed. The green silk dress hung delicately on her pale body. Around her neck, a slim golden chain with a dove pendant – an early Christmas present. Why can’t I go to the dance, the youngest sister whined. Stop being such a baby, said the other sister. I’m not a baby, she said. Why isn’t your date picking you up, the mother asked. I told you, mom, we said we’d meet there, the Girl lied. I have to get going. Wait, the mother said, wait. She disappeared down the hall. The Girl looked at her father. The bags under his eyes had grown darker. You can’t postpone your trip at all, the Girl asked. Sorry sweetheart, he said. But it’s Christmas. I know, he said, I’ll make it up to you. This is bullshit, the Girl muttered. Hey, not around the girls, her father said. Her mother returned with a golden bracelet laden with shiny charms – among them an Eiffel tower, a thistle, a maple leaf. They clinked lightly together like tiny bells. It was my mother’s, she said. I thought it would go well with your new necklace. The Girl folded her arms. No thanks, mom. It’s kind of tacky, no offense. She left her mother on the foyer clutching the bracelet.
The Girl cranked up the heat in the VW but the vents blew frigid air. She shivered, tucked a perfectly formed and sprayed curl behind her ear. The dark shape of her house grew small in the rear view mirror. A mile on, she pulled over and threw up on the curb. A light drizzle started to fall, ushering in a dull, starless night. She could still make out the shapes of the trees that lined the road, craggy, bare and looming. The Girl drove to Wendy’s where she ordered a crispy chicken sandwich and took care to cover her lap in napkins before she ate.
When she pulled up to the apartment complex the rain was coming down hard. She checked her text message: apt 203. The door opened. Inside, nine pairs of eyes drank her in. She heard someone say, who invited the princess. She sat on the far edge of a purple fraying couch that smelled vaguely of sour milk. The beige wall-to-wall carpet hosted an assortment of stains and band posters were tacked haphazardly onto the white walls. A ragged kitten mewed in the kitchen next to an empty water bowl as a couple of guys took turns blowing smoke in its face. The host was a young man with a dark complexion and thin lips that formed a scowl even when he laughed. He offered the Girl a line. A large wall-mounted television played CNN on mute while Incubus blasted from standing speakers. The Girl did a second line and made small talk with the host. A joint was passed around. A few people started dancing. And still I ended up at a goddamn dance, the Girl thought to herself. She checked her phone. Almost ten thirty. When the host offered a pill, the Girl took it. She set an alarm on her phone, then pulled her feet up on the couch and stared at the screen. War. Elections. War. Natural disaster, somewhere tropical. A shooting. A statement. The President. Suddenly the Girl felt a tremor in her chest. There on the TV was the Man. He stood in a large group of officials a few rows back behind the President. He stood tall, his shoulders back, his ice blue eyes locked onto some distant focus. His shoulders looked broader on TV. Wait, said the Girl. Everyone ignored her. And then the image was gone, onto a piece about an injured football player. Wait, the Girl shook her head, go back. Go back. No, no, no, please make it go back. The hell is she on about, someone asked. Hey, the host whispered in the Girl’s ear, shut the fuck up or get out. Tears welled in the Girl’s eyes. You’re pretty when you cry, he said as he tucked a withered curl behind her ear and kissed her neck. The Girl shuddered and pulled away. Took out a wad of cash and handed it to the host. He counted it. The pill’s extra, he said. Traced his fingers along her neckline. The Girl left apartment 203 without her necklace, grabbing the kitten when no one was looking.
An early Christmas present, the Girl told her sisters. It took several hours and ended with a draw from a hat but eventually the kitten was named Colonel Binx. It was a fuzzy little tabby with a surprisingly big voice and wide green eyes.
The living room was a wasteland of bright paper, colorful bows and tinsel. Colonel Binx waged an enthusiastic campaign against the wrapping paper beneath the tree. The girls were delighted. I love her, the youngest sister squealed. The Girl smiled. She found her mother in the kitchen, elbow deep in duck. A half empty glass of champagne marred with greasy smudges on the counter next to her. The Girl pulled the open bottle from the fridge and poured herself a glass. John Lennon on the radio. Can I help with anything, the Girl asked. You can chop the carrots, said her mother. The Girl picked up a knife and went to work. I didn’t mean it, the Girl said. About the charm bracelet, it’s not tacky.
The Girl woke with a start. Her legs were tangled in the navy blue jersey sheets underneath the coal-colored comforter. Her mouth was bone-dry. The boy slept heavily, facing away from her. There was almost as much glitter on the sheets as on her naked body. Fuck, she thought. This is bad. Fuck. She didn’t remember much about the night. She recalled the New Year’s Eve rave. She recalled inviting the boy and how nervous and twitchy he was about getting a fake ID, and she recalled taking ecstasy. She didn’t remember how they got back to his place. The Girl fought the urge to cry as she quietly located her clothes. As she pulled the boy’s Flogging Molly sweater on over her skimpy outfit, she saw that the glitter on the sheets made them look like a crumpled starry sky.
The world will end in three days, the Man said as he was inside of her. The Girl opened her mouth but nothing came out. Suddenly she was in a tall tree and all of the leaves were purple. Three days, whispered the wind. Then the Girl fell.
She first had the dream after she slept with the boy, after she ignored his texts and avoided him at rehearsal. She hated the Man more every day. Never an early riser, the Girl had taken to getting up at four in the morning and going for a run through the woods before school. A light snow had fallen but refused to stick, so the trail was damp. The Girl hated running for running’s sake but the ache in her lungs and the burn in her muscles allowed her a distraction from her thoughts.
She had turned the corner and was close to home when she stopped in her tracks. A young buck stared at her from the middle of the narrow path ahead. The Girl stared back. A second buck, this one older and with antlers like candelabra, stepped into the path next to the younger deer. The Girl stayed still. Minutes passed. The deer moved to the side of the path. The Girl walked slowly past, hugging the edge of the path as the animals watched her. She stopped and turned around. They were gone. The snow began to fall again.
The words were muffled through the walls but the Girl knew that her parents were fighting. She found her mother asleep on the couch or in a chair more often than not, fingers tightly wrapped around a glass. Colonel Binx was asleep on the Girl’s pillow. As delicately as possible, the Girl laid her head down next to the kitten and stroked her little head with one finger until the house lay quiet.
The ravens that landed on the roof of the house made skittering noises and it almost sounded like a person walking around. Most of the birds were on the ground or in the sky and the air was thick with their calls.
The Girl pulled into the Academy Class parking lot. She waited a moment before she turned off the car. It was her turn that day to perform a monologue adapted from song lyrics. She had chosen Mr. Tambourine Man. It was her dad’s favorite. The winter had been dreary but today the sun cast a gentle golden sheen. The Girl spiked her Starbucks and stepped out of the car, watching the fog of her breath on the cold air. Mr. Taver wouldn’t mind if she was late. He was usually late himself, busy fucking one of her classmates in his office during the break.
The phone buzzed in the Girl’s pocket. It was the boy. She was halfway through her Starbucks and feeling warm. Bob Dylan in her headphones. Please talk to me, the message said. The Girl bit her lip. Meet me at Wendy’s after school, she wrote, and then she added –xoxo. The phone went back in her pocket. She sipped her Irish coffee. She didn’t like the taste but it reminded her of the family trip they’d taken to Ireland a couple years back. Everything had been so green and alive even on the dreary days. There had been a young bartender with bright blue eyes at the pub in Bantry. He’d given her an Irish coffee and her first kiss.
A kiss; the Man; three months ago. We have three months, he’d said. The Girl was lost in thought when the sky went white.
Born in Seattle and raised in Southeast Asia, Kate is an independent writer and filmmaker, avid traveler, and macaroni and cheese connoisseur. Since graduating from Florida State University film school in 2007 she’s lived and/or worked around the world in Los Angeles, Marrakech, London, Sydney, Washington DC, and Omaha.
She is currently directing and producing a feature documentary on forced and child marriage in the U.S. called “Knots: A Forced Marriage Story,” and a short horror film called “The Murder King.” She enjoys shenanigans, learning languages, snow surfing, and French malbec with good friends.
You can find and follow Kate at:
Photo by Gerd Altmann
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