Ethan

It seemed that no matter how his hair fell, he looked fabulous. If it was in his eyes, it looked boyish. If it was curled up a bit, it looked sexy. If it was cut short, it showed off his perfect forehead. That was the kind of man-boy he was. He could wear whatever he wanted, and did. Anything from black boots, black jeans and a biker jacket to a waistcoat, pinstriped pants and loafers. In his pocket, you could easily find either a pack of cigarettes or a watch on a chain. If all that weren’t enough, he also projected his comfort and self-esteem and acceptance of who he was. His presence was enough to make anyone weak-kneed, men and women alike. He wasn’t even twenty yet.

He stood smoking outside of his apartment building. As I walked by, he looked up at me, and I saw that his eyes were wet, on the verge of spilling tears. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out “Ethan? You alright?”

He mutely offered me a cigarette, lit it for me, and leaned back against the brick wall, one leg going up to prop himself. He was wearing his black boots, I noticed. I stood beside him, puffing away, feeling more intimate with him than I ever had before, despite being his neighbour for over six months, and despite us having many mutual friends. It seemed that I saw him all the time – around the building, at clubs and pubs. He was a fixture of the Soho night-life, and I often found myself dancing just a few people away from him. It wasn’t that he was a snob, exactly. He wasn’t posh, his father didn’t go to Eton and he hadn’t even finished university. He was just a regular bloke like me. Of course, I couldn’t pull off half the image he had, but then, that’s me.

“Boyfriend,” he sighed. He took a last drag and then threw the butt down. He stomped on it with a force that made me shiver a little. He looked at me, and I think I must have looked a little guilty, since his eyes flashed from heartbroken to angry to resigned in quick succession. “You knew?” He’d already ducked his head, pulling out another cigarette from his pack.

I couldn’t deny it, but I didn’t want to let him in on the fact that, well, we all knew. We all thought he knew it, too. We’d seen them together almost every night of the past few months, but we all knew. The boyfriend lived in Manchester, only came to London every month or two. He’d been over just three weeks ago. So, obviously, we all thought that Ethan knew.

“Sorry, mate.”

He shook his head. His hair flopped, looking perfect no matter what he did. That hair, that hair that my eyes always fixated on, it was still as glossy, as perfect, as natural as it always was. But the rest of him… Well. For the first time since I’d met him, I wasn’t intimidated.

“When’s your birthday?” I asked. I knew it didn’t matter one whit, but I asked anyway.

“February. February 9th, ’88. Why?”

“No reason. You’re two days younger than me. I always thought you were older than me. Never mind. Come upstairs, come on, I’ll make you some tea and we can watch whatever football game is one tonight, right?”

He chucked his smoke way across the street so it hit the building across and a little spray of sparks shone red-hot before falling to the ground. Brushing a hand through his hair, he followed me into the building.

Going Soft and True

Leroy glanced down at his watch for what felt like the hundredth time. They were late. Very late. And he was out on a limb here, risking his ass for Mr. Tony Boss-man. As if the Boss-man ever did a day’s work in his life, sitting there on his throne of black leather on wheels, computer screen hiding half his face, playing at being all modern. Sure, he was modern. If modern was looking at dirty videos all day.

Patting his pockets, Leroy searched for his lighter. Realizing it was already in his hand, he drew his pack of Marlboro cigarettes from his jeans, shook one out, and lit it. He glanced at his watch again, breathing in the smoke as if it was much needed oxygen. They were so late, he thought again. He could feel the prickles on the nape of his neck; he was sweating so badly that his hair seemed to be leaking. There was no reason for them to be late. Not unless… But he wouldn’t go there. Not yet, not consciously.

Glancing at his watch yet again, he realized that this was the first time in a long damn while that he’d been up in the small hours of the night. He remembered the last time vividly now, as if it had been yesterday instead of eight years ago. He could almost smell the smoke from the barrel of the gun – but no, that’s the cig, he reminded himself – and could almost see the hole in that man’s chest. That was a long time ago now, and Leroy tried to forget it more often than not. Only right now, with them being late and all, it was getting hard to separate his quickened heartbeats from that other night when he’d felt them so strongly too.

He realized he was muttering under his breath and shut up quickly. It was a habit he’d picked up at the pen. Some banker who’d offed his business partner had told him that muttering made people stay away from you. Leroy’d started doing it one evening when one of the thugs seemed willing to come beat on him for some sport, and he’d found that the thug turned away pretty quick when Leroy didn’t respond to his taunting but just kept on muttering. The thug had made his dumb friends laugh by making fun of the crazy dude talking to himself, and that had been it. The habit of muttering had stuck. The Boss-man told him to cut it out, that it was freak-show quality stuff that would scare away his clients. Didn’t need the muttering, though, to scare them away. Since they were so late that Leroy just assumed that they weren’t coming.

Just as he took his last puff and was flicking the butt into the road, he caught sight of headlights coming towards him. That moment seemed to stretch into forever. Leroy saw the headlights, saw the flare of his cigarette hitting the ground, saw the man’s chest torn open eight years ago, saw the bars of his solitary confinement when he’d raged at first, saw the eight wasted years. He saw it all in that one instant, and instinctively turned and jumped over the railing of the highway into the adjacent field. He ran through it, the dew making the ground slippery and the plants moist. He slipped, fell, hands covered with mud where he caught himself in the wet earth. He stayed down, heart beating, and listened.

He heard the idling car. He heard voices, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. The blood was pumping so loudly in his ears that he felt that they must have turned into beacons of sound, broadcasting to all the crooks he’d ever known, telling them all that Leroy’d turned soft. That jail had reformed him. That Leroy wanted to clean up his act and never think of how another deal gone bad could turn into a gaping hole in a man’s chest.

He stayed down for a long time, long after the car had gone with the dealers in it. He lay in the damp earth until the sun rose, until the plants and ground around him seemed to start steaming. When the sun warmed the back of his still sweating neck, the warmth gave him goosebumps and shivered. The involuntary movement jarred him, and he finally managed to make his stiff limbs listen to his brain. He sat up, and stared around him. The field he was in looked nice, tended, except for the long path he’d made from the highway where all the plants were trampled, bent and broken. Like him, like Leroy the ex-crook, the ex-brave, the ex-badass.

There was a house a few hundreds yards away, at the end of the field. Leroy got to his feet, shaking, and took a good long look at it. He’d go there, ask about making amends for the ruined crops. Ask if he could work to pay for some food. Maybe if he’d prove he was strong and just as able as any man to work a long day in the sun, they’d let him stay for a while. Rent a room for his labor. That is, if there was anyone in there. With his luck, it’d be some old bag who hired illegals to work her fields, or some senile man with fifteen sons who did everything that needed to be done. But then again, maybe it’d be a husband and wife and a little boy who needed some extra hands to help get the harvest in proper. Leroy started towards the house, thinking that soon enough he’d find out.

Mirror

Look in the mirror.

Who do you see?

Do you see yourself?

Do you see your parents?

Your brother or sister?

Do you see your friends, standing around you?

Or do you just see yourself?

I used to see myself.

I used to look in the mirror,

and see the truth.

Not good or bad,

just true.

I saw, plain as day,

the length of my hair falling over my shoulders

and the green of my eyes, lost sometimes in the gray.

I saw my mouth and my nose and my chin,

and my face as a whole.

Not good or bad,

just true.

I saw the length of my neck

and the breadth of my shoulders,

the collarbone always pronounced.

I saw the swell of my breasts

and my wide ribs that moved when I breathed

and my stomach rounding down

with the bellybutton right in the middle.

I saw the curve of hips and my thighs,

the length of my legs

with the knees looking funny

as they always do,

and feet with nice toes that weren’t too big.

Not good or bad,

just true.

Today,

I don’t see myself in the mirror anymore.

I see everything that isn’t there,

or the things that are there but too much.

I don’t notice my hair or my eyes,

except when I’m in a really good mood.

I don’t remember the good things behind the facade,

I obsess over details.

Not good,

Bad,

and true.

Only not really true.

But it’s hard to disbelieve an irrational truth.

I try not to look at mirrors much, anymore.

I Remember… (When I Was Really Little)

I remember the house we had in Los Angeles when I was really little.

I remember eating ice-cream in front of the television after nursery-school.

I remember begging my mom for cookies when she was on the phone, and bugging her until she’d give them to me just so I wouldn’t bother her.

I remember that I planned that strategy in order to get more cookies.

I remember my nursery-school teacher, Robin, and how I would get scared if I was parted with her.

I remember the red tricycle I had and the way I liked to stand on the back of it and move it forward with one leg, pretending it was a skateboard.

I remember my crib that I slept in until I was three years old.

I remember refusing to answer my father in Hebrew and only speaking to him in English until we moved to Israel and I had to speak Hebrew.

I remember rocking so hard on my little rocking chair that I unbalanced it and fell backwards, hitting my head hard.

I remember getting my first Barbie doll from my mother when she went on a vacation, and I remember that my brother got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action-figures.

I remember my friend, Ally, from nursery-school and my next-door neighbor, Gina, whose toys I was jealous of.

I remember a lot from before I turned three – I’m told it’s rather unusual. The memories are strange, though. They’re fuzzy and soft, all in pastel colors and moods and disconnected visions. Early memories are strange, but I’m glad I have them.

Boots [Part III]

Part I

Part II

“Awesome?” Sandy asked. The boots did look good. They clung, made her knees look good, gave a few inches to her height – they looked incredible on her legs. But with the light blue dress… She thought to herself a bit. Came to a decision. She gave the red-haired woman a half smile.

“Almost awesome,” she said. “I’ll take them, though.”

The red-haired woman rung the boots up, but was puzzled. As the sweet girl left with her new boots in a big bag, she looked determined; her face was set, her mouth a hard line. The red-haired woman had expected the girl to be ecstatic with her new gear, to leave the store with a smile and a bounce in her step. She’d looked instead like someone who had made an important decision, and maybe not a welcome one. Well, she thought to herself, what do I know? Maybe that’s just how the girl shows she’s pleased. She turned to the TV screen, peered surreptitiously at the doorway to make sure no one was there, clicked a button on the remote and sat back happily.

Between shifts at the restaurant and the tutoring she did at the elementary-school, Sandy spent her little spare time that week working on her closet at home. She piled lots of things into a big box. She shoved the box into a corner and left it there. At the end of the week, Sandy looked at what was left in her closet, and frowned, worried. She’d have to go back to the store, she decided. She put her hair up, shoved a couple of black chopsticks through it, smeared some of her cheap new make-up on, donned her boots, and left her apartment.

When Sandy walked into the shop this time, the red-haired woman was just switching on the tape of the horror film on the TV. She looked up from the remote, smiled a distant smile, and said “May I help you?”

“Don’t you recognize me?” Sandy was surprised. She had gotten the feeling that this woman was one of those who didn’t forget anything. Then she saw the red-haired woman’s jaw drop as she looked her over. My, my, the red-haired woman thought. Lookie here.

Sandy was attired head to toe in black. A knee-length black skirt, a black top that clung to her and showed off her white arms, a black band around her throat, and of course the boots. Her eyes were surrounded by thick black make-up, and her lips were tinted to a dark color as well. “Aw, Honey…” the red-haired woman breathed.

“I’m here for some clothes,” Sandy declared. “I don’t own enough black stuff to get me through a whole week, unless I do laundry at least twice.”

“But- I mean- Well, why?” The red-haired woman felt flustered. She had not seen this coming. “What’s wrong with what you used to wear? You know, those cute dresses you had on those times I saw you.” Frankly, the red-haired woman was disappointed. She’d thought she’d found someone who really got it. But no. Maybe not.

Sandy’s lip quivered just a bit as she answered. “Because,” she sighed. “I can’t pull off those boots without the whole- well, the whole look, you know.” Then she mumbled “Like you…”

The red-haired woman stared at Sandy. Then at the TV. Then at Sandy again. “You’re telling me you thought you needed the black clothes so you could wear the boots?”

“Yes.”

“Well, do you like black clothing?”

“Um,” Sandy looked shifty. “No. Not really. My mom always said it made me look pale as death. Which is kind of good for the look, I suppose…” Looking up, Sandy saw the red-haired woman giving her the warmest smile she’d ever received. There was compassion in that smile, appreciation and amusement as well, but most of all, kindness.

“Honey, let me show you something.” The red-haired woman flicked the remote at the TV. The image changed. From a screaming woman, it changed to Tara Banks and a line of girls in front of her, waiting to be judged. “That’s my favorite show.”

Sandy gaped. “America’s Best Top Model?!” She squeaked. “But… aren’t people like you too- too, I don’t know, too cool for that show?”

“That’s why I can’t have it on here. I beg my boyfriend to come and take over the evening shift here so that I can watch it at home, but two days a week he’s working another job and he can’t. So I make sure no one’s in the shop, and switch off the video. Until someone comes in, that is, and then I’ve got to turn the video back on real quick before anyone sees.”

“But then,” Sandy began. “Is it all a show? Are you just faking the whole thing? I mean, why do that?”

“Well, the fact that I wear black and I like big skull rings and spiky boots – all that’s just fashion. I like wearing this stuff. It makes me feel good and it makes me feel cool. I admit that. But sadly, I own this place and I don’t have enough business that I can afford to drop the image of the perfect gothic woman. Some of the clients really do care about all that nonsense – keeping the image, philosophizing about what it means, et cetera. So I hide my love of Tara Banks and too-skinny girls playing at being models and drama-queens.” The red-haired woman was speaking fast now, her words tumbling over each other in her enthusiasm. “But you, Honey, you came in here and had your own look! You just wanted to add to it! I’ve never seen a cooler outfit than that sweet little dress and the kick-ass boots. That’s what made it special, unique! I thought you didn’t care about the whole image bee-ess, and I was thrilled.”

Sandy had listened to the red-haired woman’s speech with amazement on her face at first, then acceptance, and then at the end, amazement again. When the woman finished, she felt silly. “What’s your name?” came out of her mouth without her expecting it.

“Sue,” said Sue. “Yours?”

“Sandy,” replied Sandy.

From that day onward, it was quite common to find a red-haired woman with black clothing visiting a small diner where a girl with a name tag reading “SANDY” greeted her with a squeal and a hug and good service. It was also quite common for a brown-haired girl wearing various pastel colored dresses and very dramatic boots to visit a small shop called “ROCKIN’-ROLL GEAR,” claiming every time that her cable at home didn’t work and begging the woman at the counter to turn on America’s Best Top Model for her. Every time someone asked, the woman at the counter would blame her friend for the show and would roll her eyes. They’d giggle about it afterwards.

Boots [Part II]

Part I

Sandy wasn’t sure what to say, so instead of responding, she looked around the shop. It was like she expected it would be. The shop was only sparsely lit, the clothing racks were mostly full of black garments, with the occasional shocking pink or electric blue peeking through. A television that was hung on the wall was showing an old horror film with the sound muted. Sandy gulped, eyes fixed on the fake blood spraying from a man’s stomach.

She tore her gaze away from the gruesome image, worked up her courage, and spoke.

“Um, can I see what boots you sell, please?”

“Sure thing,” the red-haired woman chirped. “Size seven-and-a-half?”

“Yeah, how could you tell?” Sandy was so surprised at the lucky guess that she looked up into the red-haired woman’s face and met her eyes.

“I know about boots. ‘Cause of that, I know about feet. Anyway, I’m the same size, so I know what seven-and-a-half looks like,” she winked at Sandy, and disappeared into a back room.

A half hour later, Sandy had tried on three pairs of boots and hadn’t liked the look of any – either they had too many laces and complicated bits of string, or the buckles were too big or they didn’t cling right to her calves.

“Maybe I should just forget it,” she moaned.

“Oh, Honey, don’t think like that – we’ll find the perfect ones for you.” The red haired woman was packing the discarded boots back into their large boxes, folding the tops meticulously over the gigantic heels. Sandy cast a sideways look at the curtain that hid the store-front window from the interior of the shop. As the woman finished replacing the last pair of boots, she said shyly “What about the ones in the window? You know,” she paused, received an encouraging smile from the red-haired woman, continued. “The ones I was looking at last week.”

The red-haired woman smacked her forehead, an act which Sandy thought should have left marks there because of the amount of heavy and spiky silver rings were on the woman’s hand. “I should have brought those out first thing!” The woman exclaimed. She smiled apologetically and bustled out of sight into the back room again, yelling over her shoulder. “They’re an older model, you see, which is why I didn’t think of them straight off!”

Within a trice, she had Sandy’s feet in her lap, the boots from the window on and clasped. Sandy found herself lifted to her feet and steered towards a full length mirror at the back of the shop. She looked at herself- light blue dress, brown hair cut in a simple, good-girl style, arms and legs tanned from the sun, and there, at the bottom of the image in the mirror, the boots. They clung to her legs, the buckles glinting faintly in the feeble light, deadly and beautiful and cool.

“They look… I look…” Sandy was lost for words. The red-haired woman laughed a throaty, deep voiced laugh.

“The word you’re looking for is awesome,” she said.

Boots [Part I]

Boots, black and full of silver buckles, beckoned to Sandy from a store window containing a couple of corsets, a long velvet skirt, a collar with spikes on it and a jacket with so many artful rips in it that it didn’t look like it should be on sale. Unlike the other items in the window that rather alarmed Sandy, the boots seemed beautiful, like roses – tender and elegant but full of dangerous thorns.

Sandy realized she’d been staring at the store window for some time only when a red-haired woman appeared in the open doorway. She cocked one perfect eyebrow at the sight before her – Sandy, light brown hair tumbling in the wind, wearing a flowered white sundress and staring open-mouthed at the boots in the window.

“Need some help, Honey?” the red-haired woman asked. Sandy jerked out of her reverie. The wind died down just at that moment, and her bangs settled back on her forehead. She ducked her head, hiding behind her hair, shook her head “no” and walked away briskly. The red-haired woman ambled back into the shop, and knew that she’d be seeing that shy, flowery girl again soon.

All week long, Sandy thought about the boots. She tried not to, but couldn’t help it. She also thought about the red-haired woman a lot – there was something in that woman’s gaze, in her voice as she said “honey” so casually, that exuded a confidence that made Sandy profoundly envious.

It kept coming back to the boots, though. The red-haired woman had been wearing boots very like those in the window, Sandy remembered it well – the way the boots reached up all the way to her knees, with black and white striped pantyhose peeking above them. The boots, with their multiple-inch heels and the silver buckles along the sides, had made the red-haired woman’s legs look endless, beautiful and deadly. Sandy felt that if only she could have boots like that, everything would feel better.

By the end of two weeks, Sandy made up her mind. She collected her paycheck from the diner’s manager, changed out of her yellow waitress uniform and into one of her favorite pale blue dresses, walked to the bank to cash the check and then strode, with more confidence than she felt, right into the shop where she’d seen the boots.

The red-haired woman looked up from behind the counter, smiled, and said “Well, hello there, Honey. I had a feeling I’d be seeing you again.”