Aleisja Lies Greg Paroff

Aleisja Lies
Greg Paroff
The bed sheets were red without pattern. Plain red. She pulled
them over her in the night. Her leg wrapped around the blanket, exposed.
White on red. Her skin peeked out from underneath.
The sun hadn’t risen yet. It was just before dawn. Pre-dawn red,
pink shown through the window. The light fell just above her face. It fell
on the radiator. The white, porcelain radiator. White on red.
Her lips were just apart. Just inside her mouth a void. Blackness.
Her lips, red chapped, at rest. Her skin and lips so distinct. Their colors
contrasting. White on red.
The bed just off the floor. No frame, just mattress lying on floor.
Polished wood.
I sat up in the bed. Waking from deep sleep immediately to total
alertness. My feet froze on the ground. Turning to the alarm clock: “5:49.”
Aleisja lies on my left. I turned to her, putting my hand on her arm.
I bent over her putting my lips to her forehead. Sitting up, I stretched. Aleisja
lay there, deep in sleep.
Resting, head in hand, I looked at her. She lies there sleeping. I
pulled one eyelid up. She looked at me blankly. I lay there watching her
sleep. Content to wonder.
Content to watch Aleisja lie.
It is me who washes blood out of sinks. Caked around the drain.
Turns on the tub to wash down blood and put razors away, left out from
the night before. More custodian than lover. More life-vest than man.
Coming home from work. Finding her passed out on the bathroom
floor. Her eye blackened from hitting the toilet seat on the way down.
Flushing her dinner, I carry her to the bedroom. Laying her down.
Or. Walking in on her kneeling at the porcelain alter. Praying for
life. A new body. Purging herself. Cleansing.
There is blood and scars lurking in secret places no one dares to
look. Her smile is her cover. She is an operative. Her fragility hides
In the lurking is wind. Blowing down Boylston. To the tiny crepe
shop we met in. Where she first smiled at me. Where I saw the future in her
Blowing to the ballet studio where she has spent her life. To whom
she has given all.
Blowing to The Fenway. Where she jogs everyday, unfailingly, for
two hours.
Blowing to the ocean where she sails on high.
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Blowing past sirens and screams.
Aleisja lies beside me. Her arm is across my chest. 5am. Shades of
dawn shine through the window. Boston sleeps. A truck rolls past, shaking
the room.
I open my eyes. Putting my hand over hers. She is cold.
The blanket is on the floor by the bed. Aleisja has pulled the sheets
around her. One leg exposed.
I wake up early. At two or three, if possible. Aleisja sleeps as late as
possible. I have to drag her out. She fights me – tooth and nail. I have the
scratches on my arms. Look.
Some mornings she is not there. Waking, I turn to her. No one is in
bed. I go into the kitchen. The cabinets are open. Cartons, containers, jars
all over. She is sitting at the table. Her face cradled in her hands. Crying.
I put my arm around her. She pulls into my chest. Quaking with
tears. Unable to move her hands from her face. Sobbing.
“It’s all right, Lee,” I say. “It’s OK.” Sitting with her until she relaxes.
Over an hour. Until she calms down. “Shh. It’s OK. Now: It’s OK.”
She grunts trying to speak. Trying to explain herself. She never
says anything. Alone with me, she relaxes. I hold her tighter. I let go when
she needs me to.
Walking back to the bedroom she is limp. Half asleep, I guide her.
Hold her up. Laying her on the bed. Covering her with sheets I kiss her.
She is asleep.
In the kitchen, I clean up. Putting things away. Cleaning dishes.
Tossing containers.
After one of those nights she walked into the kitchen.
“Morning.” The dishes still drying on the rack. Dozens of dishes.
“Who used all these dishes,” she says so innocently.
“Don’t you remember?”
“Remember what?”
“Last night.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Aleisja lies.
Tremont Street yesterday. Passing through Boston. There’s a
bookstore we frequented. Inside I look around. Paperbacks cascade from
every crevice. Behind a stack is a face I haven’t seen in forever. Sarah notices
me first; grabs me. She gives me a hug. I look at her. Still the same.
Sarah had been close with Aleisja long before we’d ever met. They
were best friends. Somewhere she and Sarah grew apart. What struck me
was how much they wanted to make-up. Sarah was too proud to forgive.
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Aleisja too stubborn.
For weeks they would pass on the street or at the studio. Everyone
talked about it for a few days. I wanted them to make-up. There was nothing
I could do.
It had started in class one day. Aleisja was late and warming-up
while the rest of the class worked. Sarah was on the floor, running
combinations. Sarah went for a drink. Aleisja called, “You’re turning too
fast.” That was that.
When Aleisja told me the story, she swore she’d meant to help.
That’s how she was. Always. She always wanted to help. Even if help wasn’t
needed, or wanted.
Sarah felt she had been made to look bad in front of the class. Maybe
Aleisja said it too loudly. Maybe there was someone in the class Sarah
wanted to impress. Maybe Aleisja shouldn’t have said it at all. Either way
it all got blown out of proportion. Everything would have been forgiven
unspoken if it had stayed between them. Needless to say.
Someone asked Aleisja about the story. It wasn’t true, Aleisja said.
She claimed she hadn’t done anything. Sarah, she said, had “made it all
up.” Worse. “Either that or she’s crazy.” From there it was sealed. Word
Why Aleisja did some of the things she did, I never knew. I let her
do them. I had to. I shouldn’t have. I know that now.
Sarah, whom early on I had grown close to, seemed different after
their little war. So did Aleisja, but less so. Sarah was extremely sensitive
inside and ice cold outside. I guess she had to be. Aleisja was pretty much
the same except less so. Less warm and less cold. They both had to survive.
Together they let down their guard for each other. Apart they seemed a
piece of them was gone.
I didn’t see Sarah much after that. And then not at all. I missed
her. I know Aleisja did too. She said so once.
And here Sarah was, holding me. Here she was, standing in front
of me. Here she was, smiling at me like she used to smile at me when
Aleisja and I would see her. Smiling at me like she used to smile when I
would see Aleisja. I was alone this time.
“Are you and Aleisja still together,” she asked.
It had been a long time. Longer in the mind than in minutes, days
and months. Sarah looked better. That’s more than I can say for most.
Baby blue t-shirt tight to the neck. Beige stretch pants. Cigarette at the ready.
Hair pasted back. This is notable: she had red eyes. Like cherry blossoms. I
never got over that.
Still together? I smiled. “No.”
“What happened to her?”
“She died.”
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Aleisja lies.
This morning she is in bed. The sheet tightly around her. Her leg
exposed. The white of the sheet bordering the white of her leg.
Red morning shines through the window onto her face. Her hand
is across my chest. I put my hand gently over hers. She is soft and fragile.
She is cold. I rub the top of her hand.
With my other hand I reach for the blanket and pull it over her. I
am afraid to wake her. She is a light sleeper but, still… she does not move
as I put the blanket over her. Her hands are still cold.
This is common. Her hands are always ice. The temperature doesn’t
matter. When she rests her hand in mine, I feel the bones chatter. Another
time she thrusts her hands, bent at the wrists, before my eyes. This morning
her hand is not shaking. That has never happened. It is a good sign. I hope.
Slipping my hand under hers, I lift it to my lips. I kiss the top of
her hand at the soft, between the knuckles. She is still. I put her hand onto
my collarbone. It rests there. The radiator behind the bed is on. White,
porcelain. It whirls. The floor is wood paneled. At the base of the radiator
are eight shoes. Pink silk and lace. Sitting there, drying, they wait for her.
Class is at ten today. In the studio. At Boylston.
Looking at the overhead fan turning, a spider spins down from
the ceiling. Crafting his web. Carefully he inches toward the blades of the
fan. Striking him, he flies across the room into the corner. Dead.
Aleisja lies beside me. Her hand resting on my neck. I turn my
head toward her. Watching her sleep. She is a delicate doll.
Like Pinocchio come to life from a marionette. Neither she real.
Otherworldly. A doll come to life. Porcelain.
My hand glides down her arm. Not touching her skin. I coast down
the hair of her arm. A nearly invisible fur. Protecting her from the world.
Keeping her warm from fear. Running my fingertips through the fuzz she
twitches. Almost. I think.
I want to wake her. To hold her. To see her eyes. Not yet. She needs
more sleep.
She was in the studio late last night. Working. Always working. I
ate before she got home. We had coffee together. With toast, which is good.
Sitting in the kitchen, gazing at each other, drinking instant coffee out of
too fancy glasses.
She looks at me. “I love you.”
“I love you more.”
“No, really.” Stone-cold serious she says, “I love you.”
“Do you?”
She nods her head slowly, looking at me as if I were far away.
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Wanting to tell her how much I love her. Unable. I couldn’t think of the
right words. I still can’t.
This can kill you. Slowly. The day after day. On the third floor of
an old brownstone, somewhere between reality and fantasy. Somewhere,
caught between life and death, I try to survive. And I do.
Turning off the TV in the den. Putting away the videotape we
watched last night. Late. Margot Fontayn and Rudolph Nureyev. Romeo &
Juliet. She was so old and he died so young. A perfect pairing. I stack the
tape back on its pile.
The coffeepot whistles. I pour milk into cups. And sugar. Ten
heaping tablespoons in her cup of coffee. Because, she says, “You can’t
supersaturate.” My friend, Brandon, used to call it: “candy coffee.” I like it
the same. Enough buzz to get you through the day. We both like that, which,
I think, shows we’re a perfect match. She drinks more of it though.
I’ve thought of breaking up with her before. It’s an endgame
though. Where your king is doomed to be captured. You keep moving him
out of harms way. It only delays the inevitable. The loss. But, why delay
what is inevitable? Because you enjoy the game. Because you live for the
When we first met, she told me she didn’t ever want children. Ever.
“They’ll ruin my body.”
“They’re so needy.”
“They take over your life.”
Then she needed to have them.
“I want to be a mommy.”
“I need to love them.”
“I want them to love me.”
Then never. Then maybe. Then definitely. Then never.
Ping-pong. Ping-pong. Ping-pong goes the bouncing ball.
A breeze brushes against my cheek. There o’clock. Cars drive by. A
cop stands behind his car aiming a speed gun down Boylston. High school
girls walk by in too short skirts, giggling. I read the Globe. Nobody notices
me. Aleisja walks toward me. A plane flies overhead. The arts center behind
me. Aleisja sits down. It’s spring. A woman walks by with a stroller. Flowers
in bloom. Aleisja takes my hand.
“Hey you.”
“Been waiting long?”
“Nah. How was class?”
“OK. You know.”
She kisses me on the cheek. Just a peck. I don’t look at her. I don’t
respond. Just stare out.
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Her head cranes in front of mine. She locks my lips. I reply.
“What’s wrong?”
“Tell me Rowe.”
I want to tell her but I can’t. I couldn’t do that to her. Hell, she
knows if only she’d listen. It’s best left unsaid. A lot of things are. Too many,
it seems.
Her mood flips. “Are you fucking around on me Rowe?”
“I’m gonna’ pretend you didn’t say that.”
“Well, I want to know.”
“Do you think I am Lee?”
She looks down. “No.”
“Then why you asking me? That hurts me Lee.”
“Well, it hurts me you don’t seem to give a shit about me anymore.
You just sit there like a lump of fucking… I don’t know what. Maybe you’re
not seeing someone else. Maybe you’re just not interested in me anymore.
You tired of me?”
She pulls out the Trump Card, to which there is no retort.
“You think I’m too fat.”
We walk to her place holding hands. Upstairs I make dinner while
she changes. We watch TV while I eat. All in silence.
In the morning we are holding hands, our heads touching. I wake.
My lasagna half eaten on the table in front of me. TV still on. A crick in my
neck. I fall back asleep.
My eyes open. Awake. TV off. Lights out. Aleisja and the food are
gone. I shower.
“Get out of me,” she screams in the long ago.
They are standing around her, behind her, in her. To her right a
man laughs drawing his zipper down. Is this man blushing? “Bitch,” says
another. He frowns.
“Get out of me,” she screams.
Upstairs the music blares through the house. Built in the 1920’s it
has a brick exterior and rests upon a hill. Suburban town: pop. 30,000. Barely
fifteen years ago no one on the block was under sixty. Now hardly any are
past forty-five. Kids are everywhere. Windows get broken. Parties. Noise.
“Get out of me,” she screams.
Someone call the cops, she thinks. Someone does. They report a
crime. No one will be arrested or fined. The crime is “noise pollution.”
“Public Disturbance,” reads the statute.
A patrol car pulls in front of 787 Millbrae. No lights flash. Officer
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“A. Johnson” rings the front bell. It is a black door with trim. When no one
answers he raps the old, lion knocker. Timothy Stewart answers the door.
He is drunk. He is stoned. He is sixteen. When he sees “A. Johnson” badge
number “2880” his eyes dilate. He stumbles away.
Stewart Hogan built this house in 1926. Before the crash, before
the Second War. Hogan fought in Germany in the First War, came home
and made a fortune in dry-cleaning. He was a pillar of the community. He
ran the church’s school. He was the mayor of the town. After the crash he
lost everything, became an alcoholic wife-beater. Poor and broken, he died
of a stroke on Christmas Eve 1946.
He sold this house (and the adjoining property, where the neighbors
house now sits) to Alex Comparo. Comparo sold it, in 1959, to Ronald
Lambert. Lambert died in his sleep, upstairs, in 1984. His heirs sold it to
Sebastian Lodge. Sebastian lives here now–though he is not home.
Sebastian’s son, Dave, is told there is a cop at the door. (“Um, dude,
there’s, like, a fucking cop, dude, at, like, your fucking door. Shit man.”)
Dave is the host of this party. More upset at this disruption than scared, he
comes upstairs from the basement. You can smell her on him.
“Yes, officer?”
“A complaint was called in, son.”
“I’m very sorry, officer.”
“Why don’t you turn down the volume?”
“Certainly officer.” He does.
“And make sure these kids get home alright.”
“Yes sir, officer. Thank you.”
“Alright. Just be smart. Watch your ass.” But it’s not his ass he’s
been watching.
The door swings shut. Dave will catch hell for tonight. His father
is furious. The living room speaker blew out.
“Get out of me,” she screams.
At some point she passes out. At 4 am she is woken. Donald
Matthews jars her shoulder. Where am I? she wonders. Where are my
clothes? She ponders.
Donald hands her a blouse and skirt. Hers. Crumpled up, tossed
in the corner she smoothes them out. She is fifteen. The only light is a
fluorescent in the corner. He offers her a ride home. She nods. Dried tears
caked on her cheeks.
In front of her house the jeep stops. He wants to put his hand on
her shoulder. To comfort her. To do something. To apologize? He doesn’t.
He can’t touch her, though he’s done so much more. His eyes disappear
PGR 146
into the light of the speedometer. Under his breath he whispers: “I’m sorry.”
He says, “I’m sorry.” All she can hear is the rush of wind.
She stands and straightens her skirt. She looks at him through the
window. He looks at her.
“How was your party,” her mother asks in the morning.
“I don’t feel well,” she says.
“What’s wrong, honey?”
“I have bad cramps. Please, can I stay home?”
Tomorrow at school Tim Lodge smiles, passing her in the hallway.
He winks. Donald Matthews looks down and thinks: I’m sorry. He’ll think
this for much of the next twenty years or so. Timothy Stewart walks past
her too. He doesn’t notice her. He doesn’t remember the party. He has a
math test.
The third period bell rings.
Downstairs, out of nowhere, she jumps into my arms. Looking up
at me, she beams. “Kiss me, I’m beautiful,” she laughs. I do.
Her eyes are dark and hollow, contoured in glitter. Two, thick lines
drawn off the sides of each. Cherry lipstick drawn as the puckered lips of a
geisha girl. Back and slick, her hair is flat to the skull. Her ears flap-out like
the flying elephant. I think, maybe that’s how they both fly. White micron
sheaths her frame. Sometimes, I think I might subsume her. She pulls her
lips off.
“Was I great?”
“Did you see me?”
“Tell me the truth. How was I?”
“I was in the second row. Second in, in Snow. Could you see me?”
“Do you love me?”
“KC tripped. Did you see it?”
“I was awesome. Was I?”
“Wicked awesome,” I say. We both laugh.
Again, we kiss. While she changes I stand in the hall. Marta, the
costume mistress, smiles. “Be good to her, you, Ron.”
“I will.” She passes.
In the wings. At the side of the stage I watch the set packed for the
Alexandra and Yuri walk downstage. Alexandra runs, Sugar Plum
alone. Naked stage. Lamp lit. She looks to Yuri.
“Nyet,” he growls. “Again,” he demands. Clapping out the rhythm.
She does. He stomps squinting. He turns to me. Loud enough for
her to hear he says, “Look at that shit. That look like dancing? Fucking
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bitch.” Her eyes fall to the ground. From his pocket he pops out his lighter
and starts it while the other hand finds a cigarette in his shirt pocket. The
roll, finally, meets his lips while the fire finds it. Flickering light of the Cancer
Alex’s make-up is dark and scary out of the show lights. Onstage
she is beautiful. Here she is Yuri’s puppet, a doll demented. The skin cleaves
to its form, tight. Each muscle a rock.
Two-two-three. Two-two-three. Two-two-three.
His face is old and wrinkled. A freakish Danny Kaye. Maybe he’s
in his early forties. Just as easily, his late sixties. Lanky, bespeckled, his
eyes are tired and detached. A beige t-shirt and suede jacket hide him.
“Nyet, nyet, nyet.” Something in Russian. “No, no, no.” Again,
something I don’t understand. “Nyet, nyet, nyet.”
Her face turns red. His hand flies away. I flinch. She falls. He steps
back. She sobs. He draws on the cigarette. I move. “Get up,” he lights
another. I stop. He pulls. She stands. I want to. I should. “Again,” two-twothree. “And smile,” two-two-three.
Glancing at me, his eyes cut to her. “Crybaby bitch.” He laughs.
He blows her a kiss.
Aleisja smiles. “OK, be honest. I can take it. How great was I?”
“Do you really want to know, sport?”
“Just tell me the truth, Rowe. I trust you. I want to know the truth.”
Aleisja lies.
We walk home in the snow. Much more now. I hold her warm.
I touch her cheek, stopping her. Lifting a strand of hair.
“You were wonderful.”
“I know I was,” she grins.
I know I wasn’t, she thinks.
We walk home.
Boston pales.
She looks at me. Like in a dream. I see her eyes. Blue, looking.
Haunting me. Soothing me.
Even now. Years after the funeral and the tears. I see her. My eyes
are lost.
But every sound, my darling, reminds me of you.
You are the wind brushing my cheek in the night.
The smell of budding flowers
I open the curtains. More light. It’s crisp outside. Sun melts dew.
The crystals. Her voice in my head. She was never here. And so I’m here
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for her.
Awash in morning light. Bathing. I know all the sudden, at once.
All the details of a life lived in reverse. All the insights from hindsight
reconstructed. My life becomes the jig-saw puzzle. The final piece in place,
complete. The studio. Four barres. Mirrors. She will always be the glass in
mirrors. She will always be those hours spent in our kitchen, cooking,
reading, laughing together. She will always be two, blue boots treading
piles of Boston snow. And now all these things we were. A universe unto
itself. A lifetime. All that. All we were together: are memories.
I lay my burden down.
And some nights, in bed, beside the woman I love, I feel your hand
in mine.
We lay together. In my heart.
And in my heart is where Aleisja lies.
Ana Rasmussen
PGR 149
Roxan McDonald
My mother cried a lot that month, she spent most of her time crying
anyway but she lived that first month of summer in nineteen-eighty-six in
a hurricane of tears. She’d cry the rest of the year in the same fashion, smiling
wildly with tears chasing themselves down her face and making hoarse
grunts from her throat. That was the summer I turned twelve and started
my period on July tenth; my Uncle Dale died the same day.
I’d waited for over a year for my period. I’d felt left behind when
Fran got hers in fifth grade and was sure Melissa lied when she said she’d
had hers the summer before. I didn’t want to be a child any longer and
knew seeing that blood was going to magically transform me. I thought it
was going to be something I told everyone about, something they would
look at me different after hearing. I would be an adult. I’d sit at the adults’
table at family functions and not be excluded from good conversations.
The actual event was so different than what I imagined. First, It was brown
and thick instead of red. When I first saw it I thought maybe I’d accidentally
shit my pants in my sleep. Second, I didn’t tell anyone. I came downstairs
to give my mother the news and she got the call about her brother and
You must know that my mother falling apart was not much of a
surprise. Being her child was like living in a house of cards on a windy
beach, when the shaking stops and it finally falls down, it is less of a tragedy
and more of a fulfilled expectation. My mother is BI-polar. She was either
radiant with the ignorant glow of the blissfully insane or psychotically
ranting or crying. Our house was like pretty field of full land mines. My
brothers and I became experts at gauging her cycles and knew how to leave
the house before she started throwing things or kicking down doors.
On August tenth we drove up the coast to where he had done it. It
was just me in the back seat, and my parents looked gray through the fog
and cigarette smoke. Mom freaked out when we parked. She started
screaming, “No, no, my brother’s head, his guts are under the car.”
We had to back up into highway traffic to re-park and before we
even stopped she was out of the car and trailing her long red hair in a wet
spot in the gravel. She was picking up gooey rocks and pressing them to
her face and moaning, “Why, Why, why?”
I stood by her mesmerized, transfixed by her, by the spot, the
reddish oil stain on the ground.
“Probably transmission fluid,” I didn’t dare say.
She was saying he was so good, so kind, so perfect, but I
remembered him as a chauvinist, a liar, and a drug addict. He liked his
women nasty and beaten. He always made me wash his dishes and his
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daughter was scared and stupid from all his put downs and passes.
He did laugh loud and honest though, his eyes sparkled like stolen
opals and he could throw me higher than anyone. I never worried if my
Uncle Dale would catch me.
My mother looked pitiful to me; she was the biggest liar, the kind
that lies mostly to themselves. I thought, this crumpled woman picking
through her brothers spattered brains for answers, was a sucker.
The night before he died I remember sitting up straight in bed and
looking out the window. I remember seeing him on the street, leaning up
against his old blue car with the sticker “Cowboys can handle any thing
horny” attached to the shiny chrome bumper. I remember his cigarette
shined like a red fire fly as he moved it away from his face. Then I discovered
the brownish red stain on my sheet and got too excited to remember to
wake my mom up and tell her Dale was here to talk about killing himself
When we got the phone call and Mom started her year of tears, I
decided to keep my mouth shut. I shoved toilet paper in my panties and
snuck off alone to view my new development. I saw the bloom of my own
sexuality. The separation between my step dad’s panting above me and
my brother’s curious probes. I saw my sexual power, my body opening,
saying it’s ready. I also saw apparitions of my uncle’s blood flowing over
me, and out of me. I saw the death of his sexuality on the birth of mine.
My uncle put a bullet threw his head because, in his words “
balls are rotting off, cancer is eating my dick and IF I CAN’T FUCK I DON’T
He wrote his note on the back of a receipt from Kragen Auto Parts
where he’d just bought new sheepskin seat covers and brake pads. He put
the gun to his head on a bluff one hundred and fifty feet above where
Scott’s Creek meets the ocean. He expected to fall down the cliff and drop
into the vacuum of the sea, to save us funeral costs but he positioned himself
wrong and fell back into the dirt parking lot. He was found by an unlucky
“Pick it up” my mother began to repeat over and over in her childish
babble. She tried to scoop it up into her hands. When my step dad reached
to pull her out of the dirt she threw the sticky mess in his face.
On the way home, with my mother rubbing snotty streaks on the
window and a garbage bag of wet gravel in the trunk, I prayed that I’d
never get my period again.
PGR 151
Alone as She’d Felt All Day
Natalie Serber
She teased the whiskey soaked cherry in and out of her mouth
with her pointy tongue, nibbled at it with her white teeth and then tossed
the stem in the empty Manhattan glass between her thighs. “I’m not that
But in fact she was. She’d missed her period before but never three
months in a row. She thought it was because she was too skinny to bleed.
She’d been living on mini boxes of Frosted Flakes, and Manhattans with
two cherries all summer long. She was pleased with the way her hip bones
jutted against the sapphire blue tank suit she wore to Jones beach every
day to slather up with Coppertone and swim out in the warm green Atlantic.
She was staying thin for Marco and September when he came back
and she could try again. Even now, with Ira’s extra small palm–what
implications did that have on other parts of his anatomy? Never mind, he’d been
telling jokes and mixing her damn good Manhattans from behind the bar all summer
long–patting the soft suggestion of a bulge on her belly, she had no inkling
of the billions of cells dividing within her body.
Marco had been to see her at Brown last May, during finals, and
she’d crammed Dickens over his shoulder during the entire week he stayed
in her dorm room and fucked her on the twin mattress. But she took the
pill, ninety-eight percent effective, if you took it every day. They fought
about time, he wanted more, and commitment, she wanted more, and then
he left for a summer in Rome, Arrivederci.
Faced with going home to watch the universe revolve around her
drunken father, she fled to Key West to cocktail and have fun, damn it. But,
she arrived two weeks into the season with most of the summer jobs filled
and ended up at The Flamingo Pond, a fading pink and black gay dive.
She was cute and with her teased hair, thick eyeliner, just this side of ditsy
demeanor, she’d become “Kitten” to the entire club of sagging queens.
The night Ira called her “Mamalach” and got her to thinking, they’d
taken drinks out into the luke warm night to stare up at the toenail sliver of
yellow moon. They’d sat on flattened whiskey boxes on top of the dumpster,
leaned back against the stucco wall, smelled the rotting oranges, wet
cardboard and piss.
“When was your last visit?”
“Your last visit from Auntie Mary, Kitten?”
“I didn’t think you knew me well enough to talk about where babies
come from.”
“You’re so bitchy you must be with child.”
Ruby preened, stretched her legs out in front of her, pointed her
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toes in her Peau de Soi ballet flats, “Whom I supposed to have fucked
with all you queens hovering around?”
But, the smidgen of a thought–maybe there was something to those
blue veins crisscrossing the white skin of her aching tits–crept in and it scared
her to death.
She was staring through the slats of the venetian blinds, looking at
the purple blossoms and the feathery green leaves of a Jacaranda tree in
the courtyard. Ira leaned against the trunk, his white shirt the only bright
spot against the lead weight of the sky. It was supposed to rain. I can’t be
pregnant; I can’t be pregnant... The nurse strode in, one hand on her hip the
other gripping Ruby’s chart, to tell her the rabbit died. Ruby didn’t say
anything, just stared out the window, then stared at her hands, then stared
at her tangerine mini skirt stretched tight across her almost flat stomach.
“When was your last period?”
It was nearly four months since she’d been with Marco. “Um, May,
June I don’t remember.”
The nurse uncapped her pen and wrote with sharp scraping sounds
against the metal clipboard. “Don’t know.... Didn’t you find anything
unusual about missing your periods?” She looked sharply up from the
chart. “Judging from the hormone levels in your blood, you’re into your
second trimester.”
How far was too far?
The nurse had one of those little chains holding the two sides of
her cardigan together, a crucifix clutched each side of the peach cashmere.
She stared down the elegant slope of her nose to the top of Ruby’s head.
She was bland faced as a cow and Ruby hated her.
“Do you understand?” the nurse continued, “Your baby has two
arms and two legs, ten fingers and ten toes. It has a beating heart.”
Ruby needed a cigarette, now. She was salivating like you wouldn’t
believe and the hangover threatening her horizons all morning, suddenly
broke over her.
Yes she understood. She still had one more year of school, her
boyfriend dumped her before heading off to Europe and she was too
goddamned far along to get an abortion. Her dad would kill her, her mom
would simmer in more quiet disappointment, and here she stood, pregnant
and drowning in her own spit.
“Surely you must have suspected, and now that you know you
have to start taking care of your baby. I’ll get you a prescription for prenatal
“No, no thank you.” Ruby bit off each word. You can mind your
own damn business.
“Would you like me to telephone your parents, or your partner? I
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presume you know who the father is?”
“No I don’t want you to telephone anybody and for your
information, I’m a virgin, just call me Damned Sister Immaculata.”
The revolving door spit her and her uterus out into the
courtyard with the Jacaranda and Ira. He took one look at her and pulled
another Salem from the pack, held the tip to his glowing cherry and passed
it off as she came to his side.
“I take it the Easter Bunny won’t be delivering come spring, you
She took a big drag, her hand shaking.
“Honey, come here,” Ira held his arms wide.
He put his arm around her shoulder. She stiffened, pulled away.
She felt stringy, her muscles tough as jerky and she had to stay that way.
“Don’t talk to me.” Her hand shook a little less each time she brought the
cigarette up to her lips and when it was sucked down to the butt, she was
“I’m sure we can find someone to take care of this, Kitten.”
“I’m too goddamned late according to Florence Nightingale in
there. I’m too far gone.”
“Do you want to call anybody. We could go back to the bar and
you could call The Guy. Is The Guy still in Europe?”
“Yes, The Guy’s in Europe. I can’t. He doesn’t even want to see
“What about your parents, you want to call them.”
“That’s a joke. I’ll work this out. I can do this. I don’t know what...
I... shit.” It started to rain. The clouds just opened up the way they do in
Florida in August and within minutes they were drenched and steam rose
up from the ground in front of them. Ruby smeared her bangs off her
forehead. “Ira, I’ll see you later. I gotta walk.”
“I’m coming too. I’ve got nothing to do.”
“No, I’ll be in later.” She let him kiss her cheek. “Thank you for
Ruby slapped her feet one in front of the other down the buckling
sidewalk past the pastel clapboard houses with weather vanes and widows
walks. Shit, shit, shit this ruined everything. My life is still supposed to be all
about me. Not some goddamned blob of DNA. I’m in charge here.
How could her body betray her, trap her in this way? She slogged
through the puddles straight home, if you could call it that. The Bluefin
Motel, neon tuna blinking wildly on the roof, seventy-five bucks a month
all summer long for her room, a flaccid bed, a hot plate, an icebox and fresh
linens once a week. Now she envisioned it with a bassinet, a bottle warmer,
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diapers and a pram. She liked the drama of it– for a minute. Ruby the
young and beautiful single mother, striving and sacrificing to do right by
her daughter, of course this blob is a girl. Working at The Pond, she’d have
plenty of sitters... That’s what set her over the edge, thinking of herself,
wasted, serving martinis for the rest of her life. She threw herself onto
the bed like Butterfly McQueen in Gone With the Wind, I don’t know
nothin’ bout birthing no babies. Then she had herself a long cry because
that’s what you’re supposed to do when you find yourself alone and
unexpectedly knocked up.
Next, she wrote a list. To Do - 1. Check about abortion, (the idea of
it horrified her. Not because the blob was a baby, but because she was
terrified of doctors and pain and death and gauze and blood and all the
implications.) 2. Find Marco, (the idea of this horrified her too. What had
happened all summer? Rejection was a distinct probability) 3. Call Mom
and Dad, (horror again. Her dad would kill her, tell her he expected no less
from her all along and was just surprised it took her so long to reach this
eventuality. Then he’d take it out on her mother.) She tore up the list.
Okay, who the hell is in charge here?
She decided to take over. She’d wear herself out so her body
couldn’t grow this thing. She slipped on her swimsuit and went out into
the rain. It was just four blocks to the beach, she ran all the way and plunged
straight in. The water felt warm compared to the coolness of the day. She
dove through three waves and then she was past the shore break and
swimming in the chop. It was hard going and her breath came in sharp
salty gasps. I’m not pregnant, stroke stroke gasp...I’m not pregnant, stroke stoke
gasp...I’m not pregnant, stroke stroke gasp. And so it went, out to mile buoy
and beyond. Exhausted, she stopped, treaded water, and turned her face
up to the rain, the beach just a tan smudge behind her. She was alone as
she’d felt all day.
Water the color of bourbon gushed from the tub spout. Ruby ran it
as hot as she could bear, hoping to raise her core temperature, hoping to
make her body a hostile environment.
She was tired and hungry when she’d gotten back from her swim.
All she had in the room were some maraschino cherries from The Pond,
she’d eaten a bakers dozen.
She scrubbed her skin raw with the rough side of a sponge so the
heat could seep in and when she rose from the bath, her body was red and
chapped. If there had been a snow bank outside, Ruby would have dived
in. Instead she turned the shower on cold and stood beneath it, shivering.
She was exhausted and it was time to go to work.
Her black bolero uniform still fit and that was a small good thing.
Before she left, she slipped a Tampax into her purse, just in case.
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Uncle Iggy’s tubby back. That was the first thing she saw every
night she came to work. His ponderous back and his cocktail onion head
parked at the bar by the waitress station so he could pop snacks all evening
long. Tonight was no different except for the baby blue party hat.
“Kitty Cat... She’s here.” Ira’s was a pink “It’s a girl” hat. He was
grinning wide behind the bar and held up a bottle of Cold Duck.
Ruby let the door close behind her but made no move to enter the
room. Uncle Iggy, his plump, white hand clutching a Gibson, his hat all
cockeyed on his slippery head, was grinning too, “Ruby, you’ll never know
how much happiness this brings to me.” He spoke around a mouthful of
salted peanuts and boozy emotion, “It’s a wonderful thing, a baby.”
Easy for him to say, sitting there gay and without ovaries.
Uncle Iggy raised his glass to her, his smile fixed on his face. There
was a balloon bouquet at the corner of the bar behind him with “It’s a boy”
— “It’s a girl” balloons all in a crazy mix. And Ruby started to laugh, seemed
totally appropriate for The Flamingo Pond.
“I’m glad your laughing Kitten, I didn’t know what to do today
when I watched you schlep off in the rain, your do going flat in that pathetic
way. I thought to myself, that girl needs a new point of view, so…Voila!”
He leaned over the bar, holding out a roll of dimes, “Go put on The Lady
Diana or something to make us move while I pop the cork,” and then in a
stage whisper, “I had to tell him.” He cocked his head toward Uncle Iggy,
who as far as Ruby knew, was nobody’s Uncle.
She shrugged, “Any excuse for a party, huh?”
She slid coins into the jukebox, selected the Supremes, and one
Mel Torme for Uncle Iggy. Ira flipped the switch for the mirror ball and
spots of light trickled around the pink vinyl booths. The Pond was empty
except for the three of them and a couple of bored tourists in Bermuda
shorts that accidentally stumbled in from the rain. “My World Is Empty
Without You Babe” came on and Ruby draped herself over the hood of the
jukebox. Her shoulders shook and she felt a puddle under her cheek.
“Come on Kitten, take this,” Ira held out a champagne flute.
“You know this isn’t exactly what I was hoping for.”
“I know but now it’s here, your stuck and good as you are with
that lower lip thing, you’ve got to show some chutzpah.”
“I’ve only known one day.” She leaned back and swallowed the
entire glass.
“Drink up, Kitten,” he filled the glass so fast champagne bubbles,
vigorous and delicate, foamed up and over the sides. Ruby licked at her
fingers and sucked this one down too. “Baby Love” came on and she and
Ira danced, passing the champagne bottle back and forth between them
like another partner. The tingling started in her feet and spread up her legs
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to her crotch, across her belly and her tits to her armpits. Her scalp
prickled. She felt light as air. Ira gripped her hand and whipped her
around the black and white linoleum dance floor like a kite tale. “Come
See About Me” came next, Ruby’s favorite in the jukebox repertoire.
“There’s a bloom in her cheeks,” Uncle Iggy called out. Mel Torme
singing about Paris in the springtime brought him to his feet and he swept
Ruby into his arms. With his hand at her back and his amazingly nimble
feet, he guided her around the floor.
“Why Uncle Iggy, I never knew,” Ruby smiled at his chins.
“There’s a lot you don’t know Kitten.”
She felt his soft underbelly pressing against her and she wondered
what it would be like to dance with him in a few months when they both
had guts. She slumped against him.
He patted her back, “We can all feel sorry for ourselves. I go home
to an empty apartment every night. You’re carrying around your family.”
How’s that supposed to make me feel better?
Ira clanged the bell at the bar, “We’ve got customers.”
A birthday party came in and pulled tables together along the lip
of the dance floor. They were loud and sloppy drunk, swaying in their
seats, dancing in a clump to Chuck Barry, drawing nothing but attention to
themselves. On another night, Ruby would have insinuated herself into
the group, shimmied her hips like she was climbing up a fire pole and all
the while balancing a tray full of cocktails. I could be right there with them,
charming them with my goddamned customer service. But tonight, she calculated
each step from the tables to the bar, her feet one in front of the other, she
felt brittle as her teased hair.
It was the second to the last Friday of the summer and the bar was
packed with holidayers desperate to meet before the season ended. Ruby
kept thinking about her belly, imaging cramps, hoping for damp and rusty
spots in her underpants. In the bathroom, she slid the tampon in just to see,
though she knew in her heart it would remain bleached cotton white. She
nursed a Manhattan until Uncle Iggy filled the glass with orange juice. The
birthday party kept drinking. He ordered her some French fries. In between
serving cocktails and complaining about her headache, she gobbled them
down so he ordered her a second greasy plate. He got her some aspirin, set
the two pills on the bar with a long drink of water and one dime.
She took it all, juice, fries, aspirin without ever noticing his eyes
watching out for her. When she remembered to thank him, after the party
had left, all together, all chattering like a flock of birds, and only a couple of
dark haired boys in Marlon Brando T-shirts leaned in to each other at the
opposite end of the bar, he was gone. Uncle Iggy went home to his empty
“Ira,” she hissed, “give me a smoke?”
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He flicked the package of Salem menthols down the bar top to her.
She saw him watching the couple. He’d folded their bill into an origami
swan and was now fluttering it down before them. Nobody wants to go home
She held the dime, light as a seed in her palm, before the pay phone.
She stood there through the whole cigarette before she picked it up and
dialed O.
“I’d like to place a collect call...Ruby.”
She listened to the jangle of the ring. Pictured her mom, curled up
on her side, her back to the window her father kept propped open with his
old pipe to let the air in off the gulf, the rust colored blanket pulled up
around the drooping corners of her lips. Her father’s side of the bed would
be empty. She saw him too. Passed out in his chair, a long ash from his
cigarette resting like a caterpillar on the navy flannel pajamas he wore year
“Hello?” It was her father’s voice she heard as if from the bottom
of a well, harsh and startled.
“Hello, will you accept a collect call from Ruby?”
“What, what’d you say?”
“I have a collect call from Ruby, will you accept the charges?”
He paused, such an unnatural thing for a father to do. Then he
cleared his throat and Ruby felt hers constrict.
“Will you accept the charges?”
Ruby stiffened, Watch me Daddy, watch what I can do…She knew
this struggle in her bones.
“Daddy, it’s me.” She yelled over the operator’s voice. “Daddy,
I’m pregnant. I’m going to have a baby.”
“Sir, will you accept the charges?” Ruby ignored the shock in the
operator’s voice, listened across the space for the bald and final “No,” from
her father.
“I’m sorry Miss,” the operator was so quiet she almost didn’t hear her,
“I’m so sorry.”
Ruby simply returned the phone to its cradle.
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Robert Barbutti
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Jeanmarie Harrison