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January 26, 2011

Literary LEO 2011

SHORT FICTION — THIRD

Clothes

BY MADISON FAY

The mesh is thin and it feels cool against my tits. I smell smoke, old smoke like cardboard, or those West-end retailers where everything is rough and the suits are too big. It’s cold. Not shopping mall cold, not like tile or marble, but a cheap, wet cold, the way these polyester ridden stores tend to be. My nipples are hard. They’re little flesh-toned boulders on the mounds of my breasts. They feel sharp enough to tear the fabric. The underwire settles in under them. I feel mushy. I’ve never been thin, at least not that sharp, cubist kind of thin. I’m curvy like those Italian frescoes with the soft hillsides sliced down the middle by rosy paths. Still, it’s hard not to feel ostracized by fads. Skinny jeans cut me into an awkward shape, making my stomach look like a shiny white mushroom. And graphic tees look stressed when tugged down over my big (my more poetic lovers called them “pear-shaped”) breasts. My toenail snags on the cheap, stained carpet as I turn around to look in the mirror. I tug it loose and it makes this nasty little snap that makes my skin tingle. The waist band of the thong won’t lie flat; instead it curls into a little red tube around my hips. This pisses me off and reminds me of my daughter, Angie.

A month ago I found a lacy, black thong shoved into the corner of the hamper in a musky little ball. My first thought had been Dave. I picked up the rough little bundle and wondered if a piece of his secret life had silently crept into ours. I know there are other women, but I don’t see the sense in making it an issue. I don’t remember the last time I saw him as anything more than a body that sometimes ripples the air around me. There are times when I feel a little poke of jealousy, but it’s seldom. Some nights, when I’m in bed still reeking of coffee after closing the shop, I let him fuck me. Not because it’s my duty, but because I know that he needs the connection between lives. I think in a way the sex is the only consistent aspect of his life. He goes all over the world with nothing but a gym bag and he feels impermanent. He doesn’t feel too bad for fucking little geisha girls and tall Australian blondes because afterward he can come home and fuck me and it gives it all some meaning, it makes it his; his craving, his deceit, his obsession. He comes in, his shirt wrinkled, his eyes burning and shiny and he begins undressing immediately. He smells different every time, it’s the smell of other women. Sometimes I can tell where he’s been just from the smell. European women for instance, have a defined smell. It’s warm and yeasty, a little sour, like rye bread. Other times he smells dry and spicy, maybe Spain or Italy, I can’t always tell. It sounds strange, but sometimes I feel like I’m taking a tour of the world. After he comes he crumples a little bit, his face relaxes, and I can tell that he’s found some kind of peace with himself.

Of course, the thong wasn’t Dave’s as I came to find out it was actually Angie’s. Angie’s fourteen and when she isn’t in school she spends hours following the railroad tracks picking up coins, pieces of colored glass, mangled metal, and whatnot. She hangs the pretty pieces on strands of twine from her ceiling, and the rest she lines up on her windowsill. It’s a freakish little habit. It annoys the hell out of me. She does it on purpose I think, to irritate me. She’s so timid and soft-spoken that you’d never think her capable of antagonism, but she is. She just knows how to pull off that dreamy whimsical shit so she appears completely faultless. I see right through her though, that’s why there’s always been somewhat of a cold war between us. Angie is quiet for the most part. She takes after her father in that way. I on the other hand, am a loquacious bitch. I sew words together into a heavy burka shielding me from the outside world.

There was a boy who came into the shop at night to study. He wore a studded leather jacket even when it was seventy degrees out and he never smiled. Several months ago he started frequenting the shop in the daytime as well and seemingly only when Angie was working. He never looked at her longer than at anyone else — never allowed a grin to ripple the pale waters of his self-possession. It was shortly after this development that I found the thong. And after that I saw the thong in two knoll-like arcs rising slightly above Angie’s jeans. For reasons I can’t explain I found these two events to be inextricably connected. I said nothing but it disrupted my peace of mind. It was a little black talisman floating in and out of my life with an almost mystical relevance. In that tiny, strategically stitched piece of fabric was all the vulnerable self presentation of youth, and in a moment I felt dead and shriveled. That’s how I got here squeezing myself into flimsy lingerie for an exiguous twenty bucks. I can hear him sniffling outside.

“Any day now, Babe.”

His voice sounded tense, as if even those four words were a stretch for his scant vocabulary. I regretted my decision minutes after I’d made it three days ago at the café. His name is Ron, or Charlie, or something equally inconspicuous. He’s a pilot like Dave only not as lucky, he’s been a victim of the latest layoffs and the majority of his newly acquired free time is spent at the shop. He’s tall and nicely built, with just a few gray hairs dancing around his temples. And he told me I was pretty. Actually, he’d never said “pretty,” it might have been “sexy,” or even worse, “hot,” Not to mention he was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Alcohol is my religion. Want to pray with me?” There was no way out now though. I looked at myself in the mirror once more. The garter belt cut into my stomach uncomfortably and pressed into my thighs creating white, marbled bulges. I sighed and stepped out of the dressing room. He was slouched against the wall, his hands balled up deep inside the pockets of his faded, boot cut jeans. He straightened up and smiled when I stepped out. I stood awkwardly, my legs crossed at the ankles in an attempt to make my hips look slimmer.

“Fuck.” He let the word ooze slowly from him.

I kept my eyes on my feet. He tugged a fist out of his pocket and extended an arm out towards my oblique breast.

“No touching.”

“We never agreed on that.” He said with a smug half-smile.

“You know the rules.”

He yanked his hand back like he’d been shocked and I watched it fall thickly to his side. He pulled a crumpled bill out of his back pocket and thrust it at me. I snatched it out of his hand and went back into the dressing room shutting the stall door.

“Fucking cunt.” He emits as his black boots pound away.

I tugged off the diaphanous bondage that was cutting into my flesh with malicious pressure. I could see the way it winked at me, at my foolish attempt at seduction. My jeans struggled to slide over my white bulb like thighs. Dressed, I felt like a caterpillar shoved into a humiliatingly tight cocoon. The room was just so fucking small; it was a pod, a bleak, beige cage. Then the tears came. God! I couldn’t stop them. There I was on that dirty carpet sucking in the clammy air like my life depended on it. Maybe it did, but the fact that I feel self important enough to think so proves that’s probably not true. I rubbed the tears off and collected some composure. When I stepped out Angie was standing there in that boy’s fucking leather jacket like she’d worn it all her life. The way she let her narrow shoulders fold up into its black, fleshy mass infuriated me. It was like a metaphor, you know? Telling me that she belonged to him, he was always on her, around her, an opaque and impenetrable aura more powerful than any maternal control I had. We stood there a few moments in silence, me surprised and angry, her … well, I can’t say to be exact. Sad? Serious? Indifferent? I’m not sure. She opened her fat, cherry lips and let out a half sigh half moan sound.

“Did you follow me?”

Her eyes widened like two little clams. I could smell the distaste emanating from her. Had she seen him pay me? I pushed aside my fear, I’m the adult.

“Don’t give me that look.” I say, almost a reprimand. As if she had been the secret sinner.

She closes her lips then, heavily, definitively, like a period stamped on the sentence of her face.

“What is it?” I ask.

She doesn’t say anything. She just turns and walks away, a box with legs in that big jacket. That’s when I knew I’d finally fucked something up, something huge and anonymous. A gray fetus without the promise of birth seemed to hover over me, innocent and unreachable as a god; a god so distant that it bypassed the abstraction of religion. I was experiencing an aberration of divinity through my own lapse in morality and it felt like an ocean of doom.

The road is greasy and slick. I keep both hands on the wheel, especially now that my eyes are cloudy. My gut feels raw and acidic. The sun is nudging its head out from under the comforter of clouds turning the whole world sepia. Everything glints in the wrong place making the surroundings feel harsh and alien. A red smudge zooms past on the sidewalk. I strain my neck and see the back of Angie’s golden head pedaling fast away. I know without pause that wherever she’s going I have to get to first.

The leather coat is heavy as only flesh can be, and even more so in the rain. Slick little wisps of hair mold around Angie’s neck and face. Her hands are cold and white, the knuckles sharp, just barely covered by her translucent skin. The wind gushes over her face in greedy need. “Why is everything so hungry?” she wonders. Pedaling harder she cannot feel the strain in her muscles or the pull of her tendons. She is one with this bike, with this jacket, and with this rain. She evens out her breaths and turns down a side road. Here all the houses are made out of cheap cedar and none of the kids play outside. Sometimes there’s a dog, but it’s chained to a pole or a battered up tree stump, never free to roam or rummage through the garbage for green steak like a normal animal. Angie puts her bike into the lowest gear and stands up on the pedals to make it up the hill. Once at the top she stops and takes a few drawn-out gasps, then she rides into Lafayette Heights, the would-be European style subdivision that went bankrupt before they could build anything. All that’s there is a cul-de-sac around a concrete pond and a few geese. Angie bikes around the pond and watches the raindrops pock mark its smooth gray surface. From up there on the bluff Angie can see the city outline, slightly hidden by the fog, but defined nonetheless. She would have to get a good start. Otherwise she would fall onto the lower level of the cliff which might not be high enough to do the job, leaving her with broken arms, or even paralyzed. Angie positions herself at the far end of the oval pond. She is still, with one foot on the ground, she puts her palms softly on her stomach. If she had done things the right way she wouldn’t be here and Nick would still want her. But she had been so afraid and she thought he would understand…. She remembers, one last time what it felt like to have Nick tell her he loved her. She remembers the sweet dampness of his eyes, the way it made his lashes clump together. She remembers the way she felt when they made love, like she was a little trembling puddle cupped in his hands. She feels something like a rising a tide, a warm front of emotion, and if she doesn’t start pedaling it will envelop her. So she rides. She pushes hard through the grass to make it past that ledge. As she gets closer to the edge she tries to live everything at once, the sound of the grass bending under her tires, the black dots of circling buzzards, the wet air, and the sudden tightness of her clothes. It’s not like how she thought it would feel. A wise folk singer once said that freedom was just another word for nothing left to lose. Bobby McGee hummed in her brain. As Angie fell she felt initiated into some elite sense of being. “There is no better peace than realizing that you don’t matter…”was her last thought. People have thought those words, but no one will ever live them as completely as Angie did in that moment. And really, a moment of truth is worth a lifetime…

You’ll hate me now. Part of me didn’t want to make it, I’ve realized that. I was too late. Her pretty little head was split clean down the back and pieces of all sorts of things spilled out, like a melon bowl stacked high with slimy fruit. There was a wet rat hole where her eye had been. We picked up rocks and shoved leaves aside but never found the eye. Sometimes I have the strangest dreams at night that I’m in the woods, or I’m by the train tracks, just wondering. I know these dreams aren’t really dreams at all; they’re the eye rolling around and torturing me. I have to destroy it, before it destroys me … I’m sorry Angie.