I had my teacher forward a photograph of a painter’s handwriting to a writer I’m reading. I hope that if she sees it, she will think well of me for reading so attentively. This has always been my strategy. Read close, read deep, read intimate, read older. Forty at sixteen, she and I have this in common: our ages play dissonant chords with our faces.
“Taylor? It’s me, it’s Petunia!”
“Pet – d’you know what’s going on?”
“No, listen, I think there’s been a power-outage.”
“I mean – I think it’s not just the building! I looked outside and everything’s black, it’s creepy.”
“Well, want to come back to my place? I can find some candles or something.”
“Taylor, come on, is now really the time to hit on me?”
“What better time? It’s dark, there’s a sense of danger in the air, you’re all helpless…”
“It’s too easy to get you mad. And that hurt, by the way. How did you even manage to find my shins?”
“Okay, I can hear you rolling your eyes. Geez. Anyway, seriously, come to my place – I won’t hit on you! – and we’ll try to figure out what’s going on.”
“Alrighty, here we go. Just try to sit there – yeah, that’s the couch, right there – and I’ll be back in a second.”
“Don’t you have a flashlight?”
“Huh? I can’t hear you, just a second, I’m in the closet!”
“I said, don’t you have a flashlight?”
“Yeah, but no batteries, ’cause I’m an idiot. Here we go. Good thing I smoke, right? I’ve got about a thousand lighters floating around here.”
“You should tell your doctor that next time he tries to give you another nicotine patch: ‘No, no, it’s good I smoke, really, because if I didn’t, I’d never have lighters around!'”
“Seriously, you’re the most sarcastic woman I’ve ever met.”
“Thank you – I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“So why were you in the hall without a flashlight yourself? Or a phone, for that matter. I just went out to the fusebox – I thought it was just my place that lost power.”
“Oh, um… well, to tell the truth, I kind of locked myself out of my place.”
“Yeah, yeah, you can stop laughing now, it’s not that funny! You know how I got that new door-handle last week that makes it so you can’t open it from the outside without a key? Kind of worked against me tonight. I thought it was just my place that was out of power, too, and I went outside and I forgot to take my keys with me… Oh, shut up, will you?”
“Sorry, sorry, it’s just- that’s hilarious. Miss Excuse-Me-But-I-Think-A-Hundred-Bucks-Are-Worth-Extra-Safety uses her new safety against herself.”
“Shut up, Taylor. Geez. Seriously, can you just try to figure out what’s going on?”
“Sure, sure, I’ll see if my phone is still online…”
“Good, you do that. Okay, I’ve seen your apartment before, so I know that that’s new.”
“I mean, what deranged girlfriend gave you that thing? It’s hideous! I mean, come on, a fake antelope head? How tacky can you get, boy?”
“Huh? What? What’s wrong?”
“I’m not… quite sure. The network on my phone’s working, but the news is saying some really strange things…”
“Okay, now you’re freaking me out.”
“Um – there’s some sort of death-threat on Google News. It says ‘The Magliorandi are a peaceful race, but have expressed in no uncertain terms that they will destroy our planet if the human race will put up a fight.'”
“What?! Let me see that!”
“I can’t believe I had you going again! You’re just so easy, I can’t believe it! Ow! Ow, okay, no need to punch me so hard! I was just kidding!”
“You had me trying to decide between chocolate and pasta for my last meal, you jerk!”
“Pasta? I mean, seriously, pasta? That’s a lame last meal.”
“You know who’s lame? You are.”
“Nice, nice, I see you turn into a six-year old when you’re scared.”
“As opposed to you, who’s a six-year old all the time. Jerk.”
“Fine, but you’ve got to admit that aliens landing on earth is way more interesting than ‘Power should be restored in several hours, and all residents are asked to stay inside while work-crews will be on the streets, rectifying the mass power-line failure.'”
“You’re still a jerk.”
“Fine, fine, fine. But seriously, pasta? As a last meal? Pasta?!”
“Why, what would you have then? Jerk?”
“I don’t know – maybe a really expensive steak with fancy sauce stuff. Or some tiny gourmet French dish or something like that.”
“See, I would totally want to go with someone I just know I love. Like chocolate. Or pasta.”
“Yeah, but if it’s your last meal, shouldn’t you milk it for all it’s worth?”
“You’re such a- a- I don’t even know what. If it was my last meal on earth I wouldn’t care about trying to use anybody, I’d just want to eat something I like.”
“Oh, well, okay then, Miss Holier-Than-Thou.”
“Geez, Taylor, seriously, will you shut up?”
“I’m offering you hospitality and all you’re doing is abusing me! Is that any way to treat a man?”
“Fair enough. Want a game of Scrabble?”
“Sure, might as well do something useful while I wait – like kicking your butt.”
“Uh-huh. We’ll see about that.”
“Fifty bucks say I beat you?”
I hate Brad. I’ve hated him ever since first grade when he grabbed me from behind and shoved my face into the sandbox. Let me tell you, that was not a fun experience. It was even worse when it became a daily thing, a sort of routine form of torture. It wasn’t until third grade that I hit him back. Boy, did I pay for that. Ever since then, Brad beat me up almost every day. Poor Mom, she kept thinking that Dad was doing something to me when I was at his house. But that’s Mom’s fault for only taking me one day a week. Dad knew what was going on, alright. He knew, and he tried to teach me how to fight back – he’s that kind of a guy – but it never really stuck. We used to have the biggest fights, since I never agreed to tell him who was beating me up. He called school to complain a few times, but they kept assuring him that “there’s no bullying problem at our school, sir” and “the nurses say that your son is simply very clumsy and that there’s no reason to assume he’s being hit. We have very good boys here, sir.”
See, that’s the other thing. I went to an all-boys school. Guess what? That wasn’t fun, either. I don’t think I spoke with a girl who wasn’t Mom or Auntie Rose until I was in high-school. That’s where the next fun part started. Brad went to the same high-school I did. Now, you may think that he’d grown up a little, and that if his parents were sending him to a co-ed school, that meant that he would be too busy hitting on girls and would stop picking on me. But, of course, as luck would have it, Brad found those girls who liked seeing that he was big and strong and could hit an obnoxious nerd with glasses like me.
I’m a senior now. We’re both seniors. I’ve still got the glasses, but I’ve got some muscle on me now. See, Dad finally had it with my split lips and black eyes. He started sending me to the gym twice a week when he saw that even in high-school I was coming home bruised a couple times a week – at least by then, Brad had less time for me. So even though nobody’s noticed, I’ve been building up muscle over the years, and my pimples have gone away, and you know what? Brad’s going to go bald early and I’m not. Still, that hasn’t stopped him from leering at me or threatening me or banging my locker as he passes by so that I squeak. I have this tendency to squeak. I know it’s not attractive, but what can you do?
Anyway, tonight’s Prom Night. I think it’s about time I proved to Brad, myself and everyone else that I’ve gotten stronger than him. I guess a decked out hotel lobby full of my fellow students and a bad hired band is a good place to do it. Plus, we’ll both be in suits, so my beating him to a pulp will at least look classy. You know, just in case someone films it and puts it online.
Shana laughed, throwing back her head and opening her mouth wide. She had a laugh like no other, an uproarious, full-throated, loud laugh. At parties, people always looked behind them to see who had interrupted their shallow conversation so rudely, but then they saw Shana. After they watched her laugh, they couldn’t stay irritated.
“Are you, like, coming onto me?” Shana’s eyes were bright with mirth, her laughter having just subsided. She stared at the weedy, scrawny, pimpled freshman standing in front of her. He was resolutely holding up a bottle, ready to refill Shana’s shot-glass. It had taken mounds of courage for him to come up to her and ask, with what he thought was a sly, alluring smile, if she wanted a refill, babe.
“Well?” Shana’s eyes were already wandering, looking for someone else, someone cool and trendy and beautiful to talk to. There was quite a pick of young men – lots were in togas, this being their yearly let’s-crash-the-sorority-girls’-party-without-underpants-on event. Pimply freshman forgotten, she wandered over to where some tasty looking guys were gathered.
“Yo, hey, can you fine fellows pour a girl a drink or what?” She smiled coquettishly, her naturally blond hair flipping over one shoulder in an expert move to show off her bare shoulders. A black haired, toga-clad frat-boy turned to look at her. Shana’s smile disappeared. Her face fell, mouth hanging open stupidly, a look of shock stamped into her usually lovely features. The frat-boy looked her up and down, deliberately slowly, and grinned, revealing very pointed canines. When he spoke, Shana could feel the shiver creeping up her back like a line of ants.
“Hello, my heart. I told you we’d see each other again.”