2:54 a.m. He kisses me. And I kissed him.
This had always been my vice.
He kisses me, but I kissed him.
He kisses me, but I kissed him. Do you see what my problem was?
He is occupying a present moment, while I was occupying one of the past. A conflict of grammatical tenses. I was living a writer’s biggest pet peeve.
I could step out of my own body, shedding my flesh like an itchy parka, and stare at myself. Watch myself, like a character on a screen, existing in mere two hour increments. I could watch my hands move through the flat plane they occupied. I could stare at the way I was just a blotch of colors slapped against a page. A snapshot in a book. A book with pages. Written, printed, produced. The end. Over. An artifact to be experienced with the full knowledge that any illusion of present tense absorption was just that: an illusion.
“Your car is on.” My car is on.
“I know.” I knew.
“Do you want me to turn it off?” His eyes grumble, hungry for a taste of masculating affirmation on a silver spoon. Unfortunately for him, all my spoons were rusted.
I didn’t want him to turn it off. If I wanted it off, it would be off.
“That’s alright,” I turned on a robotic smile.
He scratches his head full of piss colored hair, and looks over his shoulder. He peers out the window unsure of what to do with himself now that I’d rejected his proposal of trivial manual labor. He stares into the empty night. It stares back into him, the empty boy.
“Your car battery is gonna drain,” he swings his head back towards me now that he has found something he deems substantive to say.
We were bent in acrobatic-pretzel shapes in the backseat of a 2010 Honda Civic, lurking in the parking lot of the Golden Egg: a diner which had burned down eight years before. All that remains is a rusted metal carcass of a building, and a twenty foot tall sign on the side of the road, haunting the town of Wilkins like an overgrown gravestone. It’s tragic, really. It should have caught flames much earlier-- the food tastes like ass. Truly. I even got myself tested for HIV after trying the cheesecake.
“The car battery will be fine,” my mechanical smile still held in place by well greased nuts and bolts.
“Your car could break.”
My car couldn’t break. I didn’t even have a car. I lied earlier. We were fugitives-- infesting roaches, if you will-- crawling around on Marlene’s polyester seats. Ah, Marlene. A beautiful woman with brown hair, doe eyes, and a heart too big for her brain. Marlene is the proud mother of a Wilkins Middle School honor roll recipient. So proud, that she slapped not one, but two bumper stickers celebrating this phenomenal feat on the rump of her car.
Marlene is 5 foot 4 inches and weighs an underwhelming 112 pounds. But her son, her gelled hair, snot nosed, punchable-faced son definitely broke 200. She keeps a photo of his pubescent and round face wedged behind her driver’s license in her baby blue JCPenney clutch. An accessory that was left to fend for its own on the passenger seat of her unlocked automobile. Also stuffed inside the clutch? A half eaten ThinkThin caramel granola bar (I gave this snack to the piss haired-boy when he suggested we grab dinner together), some tampons, and a punch card to the Golden Egg. Marlene is only two punches away from a free stack of ass-pancakes with her choice of either ass-coffee or ass-orange juice. She has kept the card for over one hundred months post fire, which means she either rarely cleans out her purse, or she is a hoarder in fervish denial of the shutdown, and anticipates a grand reopening of the diner in which it will accept her almost decade old punch card. Or she keeps it for sentimental reasons which is honestly sadder than the first two. So I found it generously appropriate to utilize the comforts of her stolen car in the abandoned parking lot of her beloved dead diner.
Marlene’s husband is most likely the sole genetic contributor of her son’s weight. So that makes Marlene a cowgirl. A stupid and overly trusting woman with a great deal of stamina.
“Could I at least roll up the windows?” his voice whines. My eyes glazed over his body and noticed the goosebumps propping up thousands of little tents under his skin.
It is a chilled November night, though sweat had been seeping out of my face. But I decided to placate the empty boy. “Sure,” my face had been sore for an hour from forcing a smile. My teeth had probably caught dust at this point.
He flashes a childish smile, the left corner of his mouth nudging into his cheek and forming a dimple. His body bubbles with joy, and his goose skin smooths out before he even reaches over to the front seat and rolls up the windows. When he flops back into his seat, I pounced on to him, twisting around his body, returning to our acrobatic-pretzel positions. My bare legs wrapped around his torso, feeling the brawny build of the Wilkins High renowned soccer star he is. His wet lips crystallize at my touch, and I could taste them rot if I hovered over them for too long. A moment hardening into a memory before my glass eyes.
“You’re so beautiful,” he whispers between his rock candy lips.
It’s a lightless night. The moon hides in newness, and the car is stuffed with a darkness that only breaks in three numbers and a colon breathing on the dashboard. The piss haired-boy can’t even see me. And yet I’m beautiful.
“And thin,” he mutters, gripping my arms over the long sleeves of my shirt. He then slips his hungry hands under my shirt, trying to lift it off. I twitched my hands down quickly and held the bottom of my shirt down against my waist. He sighed inside his mouth in sexual frustration.
And I’m thin. Thin and beautiful. Beautiful and thin. That’s the poetic way to compliment a woman in the 19th century. But it’s 2012, and I was not thin and beautiful or beautiful and thin. I was sickly and in the dark-- I was my own skeleton in the closet.
I lifted my head and glanced at the time glowing patiently beside the steering wheel.
“It’s three,” I announced, wringing out my spine in the air.
“Nooo,” he groans, and grabs my waist. “I want to stay. I am ordering you to let me stay,” he smirks at me unimpressively. I ripped his hands off of me, and reached for my denim skirt which lay on the floor of the car.
“It’s three,” I repeated with a smile, yanking my skirt on. His light eyes dart around my body, sucking in one final glance for the month.
He wraps a large hand around the back of my neck, turning me towards him. “Triz, I love you,” he breathes out so quickly, it sounds like Trizalayoo. I could tell he had practiced saying it over and over in his bathroom mirror, a roll of nearby toilet paper serving as a tolerant audience. I bet he had practiced saying it in slow motion, ensuring that each consonant and vowel would be palpable. But in the moment, his nerves swallow him up. He blurts it out foggily, and then de-swells, deflating like an untied balloon. Unlike his toilet paper, I didn’t have the time for his shit.
I smiled hastily, “Thank you. Now get out.”
“I’m serious Triz. Really. I. Love. You,” this time he puts his practiced enunciation to work. I inspected his eyes, the way they seemed to actually believe his tongue. I darted away from his puppy stare. “And I want more from you-- I mean, we’ve been doing this shit every month for a year now, but we always meet up in abandoned parking lots, in the dark-- I mean-- why don’t I even get to turn the lights on and see you? I wanna see you, Triz. I love you,” once more for dramatic effect. My nails were treasure hunting under my sleeves, digging into my skin.
“I need to go home, it’s three.” My mind was beginning to fill with foam, and I felt myself crawl around between varying levels of consciousness. I wasn’t tired though. I was dying.
“C’mon Triz, let me crash at your place tonight-”
“Get the fuck out of my car!” I snapped. My glass eyes expanded and cracked in front of him, and began to leak.
* * *
I squirmed into the driver’s seat and sat there with my eyes closed for a moment, groaning with my semen stained hand resting over my belly. It felt like someone had plunged a wooden spoon into my stomach and was mixing it around like a stew. I wrenched open the car door and hung my head out for a couple of minutes, expecting to vomit.
Nothing. My stomach was too empty to let anything out.
I recalibrated my head and opened my eyes. I stared out at the Golden Egg. It was unquestionably strange that Wilkins has left the building there for so long. But I understood it. It was a story. A building with its insides ripped out is a book stuffed with pages. The diner is an empty frame that held a photo that used to warm hearts— not mine of course, I never stopped resenting that cheesecake— but now all it spreads is shivers.
It never meant to hurt anyone. Nobody constructed the diner anticipating that it would one day kill eight people.
I drove the Honda Civic through empty roads, passing full houses. Full houses with full fridges and full bedrooms and full hearts.
I pulled into Marlene’s driveway. I stared her yellow faced house in the eyes, watching it bat its lashes. The windows are wide open, and the curtains of the master and guest bedrooms flutter with the night breeze. An overdue jack-o-lantern sits on her porch with a rotting smile. I smiled back at it, feeling at home.
I had about an hour or so until Marlene would wake up, brush her hair back into a well groomed ponytail, and then embark on her morning jog through the neighborhood. I pulled up my sleeves, and briefly stared at my multi-textured arms. I examined, with little room for judgement, the way the hundreds of little cavities and bruises were woven into my skin. The way my skin was tightly wrapped around the bone of my arm, like a seaweed roll.
I dipped my bony fingers into my shirt, into the strapped cotton cup which held absolutely nothing comparable to flesh on my chest. I removed my little orange bottle from refuge, and poured out a fingerful of white circular tablets onto the car dashboard. I glanced back at the retired porch pumpkin, and then back at my work. I arranged the pills into a jagged smiley face. Then with two short breaths, I pushed the back of a soup spoon I had stashed away in the glovebox into the dash, pulverizing the smile.
It looks like snow. The powder. Dry, dry snow. I ran a finger through it, making little snow angels. Soon, a syringe was freed, and being invited into my skin. As the metal poked through the seaweed roll, I locked my eyes shut, and let a thought rattle through my head. Don’t worry, it’s over. It’s over. And within a few seconds, it was Christmas. Songs of folly, jolly, and molly snaked through my brain. I kept my eyes closed for a minute-- just for a minute. I had to get the hell out of this vehicle before Marlene wakes up. I didn’t want to frighten her. I never meant to hurt anyone.
Hark silver bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say, throw cares away.
My mind, stuffed with white foam and white memories and white thoughts, soon was invaded with images of red and blue. And my song is being interrupted by the ruckus of sirens. I turned up the volume of my head, making the lyrics blast louder, trying to drown out the sirens.
HARK SILVER BELLS, SWEET SILVER BELLS, ALL SEEM TO SAY, THROW CARES AWAY.
The stainless steel in my skin, was soon all around it, yanking my small wrists back in a knot. And I thought, as they continued to tighten and tighten the metal behind me, why can’t they just let me rest in god damn peace. I was now crawling around as a roach on the leather back seats of Office Something’s sweet ride. She is outside the car, jotting down notes under the fresh sunrise, talking to a furrowed brow, well groomed-ponytailed Marlene.
She looks over at me once, and that was enough. She jerked her eyesight away from me, and started to sob, silently, outside the thick glass windows. I glanced back at the rump of her car. The two honor roll stickers that overcompensate for the fact that one of Marlene’s children is perfectly average, and the other, a wreck.
Officer Something returns. “Your mother isn’t going to be pressing charges. However, given the presence of paraphernalia and powder you left in the car, I’m gonna have to take you down to the station.”
HARK SILVER BELLS, SWEET SILVER BELLS, ALL SEEM TO SAY, THROW CARES AWAY.
I turned off the music for a second. And I heard the car rattling with me inside of it. The dashboard lights are on, but the car isn’t moving.
“Your car is on,” I said.
“I know,” Officer Something said.
“Your car battery is going to drain.”
Farha Khalidi is a freshman at UAlbany, studying English with a minor in Philosophy. She is a writer for the Women’s Media Center.