Inspired by The New Yorker’s “Aspic” by Tatyana Tolstoya
posted Jul 5, 2016
Honestly, it’d be sadder if someone understood. Then it’s an understanding, and then it, what, sits like a rock, in the heart of the summer, the heart of the rock untouched as a dream by the heat, rock -solid. Drunk adoration comes surprising. There is a buzzing feeling in your head blood and arm veins. Your eyes are finally alive. You are a Picasso girl, colorful and misshapen and brimming. Exaggerated and underwater. But, wouldn’t you know it, she is not looking at you; her name floats around in my head— Anna Morrison, the blonde from the Faulkner Seminar, my junior year and her senior year (and the gay teacher’s voice reading that Faulkner phrase and temporary; and temporary; and temporary). She is right in front of me now, a little to the side, her back to me, making my unbrushed hair feel like a scraggly thing on the side of the road, like coconut brittle. No glass of water from the bartender is going to rejuvenate. Nothing’s going to give me a makeover now, not my two unclean hands or my lip gloss, so light it could be called lip-lack.
It’s a special anticipation, suddenly seeing her, lusting after this blonde girl when you’re straight as a board. Your friends have made out with girls, but you never have, never even wanted to. It’s a sudden hallucination, you and her us hands on throats on hair on knees on eyes, though it surely will pass like a cold or a drowsy drug (Benadryl). What would happen if she did turn and recognize me? It’s a big question mark.
But for some reason, it is happening, it will be done.
Then near the stage where Tom Wentworth sings. That’s where an Asian college boy is smiling like crazy at me and a guy with a mullet but tattooed in a gutter punk way bobs his head. That’s where Anna Morrison is, standing with a man who looks far too old for her, wearing a toboggan, his face lined and hardened. He’s on drugs. Here in this corner of Birmingham is Anna Morrison, that’s where we are, that’s where sisterhood is, on the chopping block of the night, the axe ready to grind (grind right into mild disappointment, I suspect, into nothingness). To her hair my eyes wander, that thick braid a loaf of bread. Call her to the guillotine. To this night, this schism. It is just us girls. Has it always been this way? Sisterhood is here, sisterhood is getting ready for her next big role, her next piece of meat.
“Frances, that coke line you gave me was Chile. Your line was Argentina.” Mary looks at me and lifts her High-Life to her mouth. Aaah—oooh, she puffs over the glass rim. Puts her lips on the edge, takes a sip, no lip-stick smears because those rubbed off many hours ago. Some people sip like they’re unconscious. Holding Mary’s beer now in my hand, feeling the cold, is sobering- what if suddenly I became very, very happy?
Now Anna is not totally alive. That’s the problem (along with the fact that I hate coke, I only like the elixir of dopamine known as Molly, shooting through me like a Christmas tree, a hickey all over inside me, one time I took it at a Lana del Rey concert and finally my body was my friend, Lana’s golden hair frizz like a halo, humidity was her best asset). The people I love from afar, love glowing like a single, skinny light on a single Evergreen in a giant forest, it is half-dead, it’s a suction cup to itself. It’s twisted. They never know.
Now it is time to do more coke because this town doesn’t have Molly, Mary does not know where to get it. The snipped off paper straw end in my pocket, the film of beer on my teeth, Tom’s helmet hair head after taking his hat off on stage, setting it on the chair beside him. Clang, clang, goes the guitar, the only other guy on stage, it’s a two-piece, it’s a couplehood. Our Alabama venues test our patience, our aesthetic, our joy meter. The coke in my pocket is weighing it all down, it’s going to jump out of my pocket—whoosh it goes—and twirl right out, ballerina dandruff, swan fur, moon chalk.
At Mary’s apartment where I’m staying it will be hot; I won’t know what to think about except Anna and wondering if I should have stayed in that other city, that other state. The night a dirty pot where you didn’t end up cooking anything decent. Now I am closer to her, the air is sooty with smoke and men’s bad skin and leering eyes, grey and scuffed, everyone’s face a scuff mark, an old shoe: all that’s stirring unfulfilled, all that’s heavy, abrasive and uncontrollable, all that wanted to run and find a beautiful place, a farm in the mountains, all of us who have sought comfort in our skin so constantly, doggedly, punishingly, us girls and us Southern girls and us brown headed and the blondes too; all we couldn’t love or let know we love and enjoy and appreciate; all that lack and doubt we couldn’t transform into abundance and trust; empty pie crusts: all of it gasps for breath and finally turns---
Then it’s time to talk to her, to say hello, hey, we’re both here, to thoroughly let her give me a once-over, to give me that disbelieving look she gave me two years ago when she saw me at another club in Birmingham, one that was so hip and indie that I guess she could not imagine me finding myself there except by mistake, like I’d walked in the wrong door. Oh, excuse me, is this not the mall? I do not shop at the mall, Anna. Let me check her shoulder for that tattoo of hers, the outline of the state of Alabama, just the outline, that I thought was awful. No dot for the capital, no little lines for all our grass. It’s meat, simply meat, our bodies. Hers (slimmed down) and mine (I’ve gained). This will be the briefest undertaking. It’ll fail.
Mary is here. She’s basically blowing bubbles beside me, she’s dancing a shindig in place. The bad news, she had told me earlier, was that she couldn’t afford a Kid Rock cruise despite her new job. The good news, she said, pausing for expert delivery, was that she couldn’t afford a Kid Rock cruise. We had done shrooms the night before and she cried and said she had just spoken with her grandma who had died a few months ago, and I had told her that her grandma was a bird now, an orange one, flying out of a rickety, ornamental cage. No one asks any tough questions.
Strain my neck, see if any cute guys have come in to take my attention off Anna, off myself. Mary says I have impossibly high standards, but they aren’t high or low, they just are what they are. I’m not looking for an arranged marriage, arranged by the gods of chance and loneliness and we happen to be at The Nic on this Friday night in early April, how other couplings have occurred, the olden days of king and queen, of this young royal girl matched with this man, and this royal girl’s mother, and the one before. Turns out love takes on many faces, shape-shifter lip-lack temporary face. Genes and money, gelatins that take hours to set, cookies that you can get right out of the box, platitudes and surprises. How many times do I have to remind myself not to eat sugar. You stretch your hand out and poof, there may be a man.
Outside Mary leads us because she wants to smoke. Cross your legs and bobble your foot, wish you had painted your toenails. Think about the words you could have said, the way you could’ve laid in her (Anna’s) bed together, the way she could have read to you, not Faulkner, heavens no, but something else. Let her take center-stage. Observe and watch, let her take a crack at preparing the meal. Identify not a single quality that you really know about her. Pretend you can smell something floral and oaky emanating off her blouse (it is a blouse she’s wearing). Ask her if she irons her bedsheets, how long it takes her before she changes her pillowcases. Let her kiss you everywhere she wants and then timidly try to kiss her back. Laugh when you tell her you’ve never shaved down there, your ex-boyfriend always did it for you. Take a whole roll of toilet paper when she falls asleep and dash right out into the night sky, the stars so thin looking, they’ve been mixed into the sky too well.
And if I want to lay my head down and sit on my hands on this bench outside the club, I guess I could. People will think I am doing it because I am drunk, have had a wild night. They won’t know that I find myself apart, that what I feel inside me loosens me away from the ability to put myself in a narrative, to give myself shape. Watch as Mary takes another drag on her cigarette, as she finds herself in a conversation with someone else. Because I’m here and nowhere else. Because things are either awake or they’re awake awake—and it is just so hard to tell.
© 2016 Lily Daly